Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, the manga or the anime. A month and a half since the last update… But I'm not giving up! I'm really gonna try to finish the next chapter as soon as I can to get the best run up possible for the Chuunin exam finals. In the meantime…
Chapter 39: A Change in Luck?
"Who are you?"
If the blade against his throat hadn't been the subject of every thought currently going through his head, Kiba would have once again been cursing his evidently terrible luck. It was almost as if he was being mocked, being allowed the success of taking two ninja down without any chakra, only to be ambushed by a third.
However, understandably, he was currently trying to think of a response to the question that wouldn't end up with his blood decorating the forest floor. Considering the short time he had to give an answer, the trapped boy decided to go with the truth.
"I'm a shinobi from Konoha, my team was fighting an S-Classed enemy and I got separated. I can't use chakra." He explained quickly, leaving Akamaru out of his explanation. He still didn't know what his ambusher planned to do with him.
"Konoha…" the ninja behind him mused as Kiba wondered whether he had made the right decision. The sword stayed where it was.
However, even with ninety percent of his attention still on the blade at his throat, the Leaf ninja still heard the rustling coming from the trees above, and before he could say a word he found himself released and then thrown roughly across the ground.
When he looked up, he found himself staring at an increasingly tense stand off.
Three more people had turned up, and taking the way they were dressed into account Kiba found himself forced to assume that they were with the similarly garbed two he had incapacitated barely a minute before. Each of the three wore grim and determined expressions.
The person they had surrounded, a tall, masked and tightly clothed ninja reminded him of an ANBU operative. The mask certainly helped the whole ANBU look but though the styling of the clothes was also similar, it was the colours emphasising dark browns and greens rather than blacks or greys that marked the difference. The sword the figure was holding in one hand also identified the masked man as the one who had ambushed him.
The stand off continued and none of the four ninja spoke, only increasing the tension in Kiba as he sat motionless at the base of a tree. Through the tension though, it surprised him that even though all three of the newcomers looked in his direction, they all seemed to quickly dismiss him. It seemed that he wasn't important enough to warrant a second glance.
Looking between them, the helpless Konoha ninja tried to work out who he wanted to win the fight: the one who had been holding a blade to his throat, or the ones whose friends he had blown up…
As the killing intent rose to a pitch that even Kiba in his chakra starved state could sense, the fight began.
Springing forward into the blind spot of the masked ninja, the smallest of the three drew a pair of kunai and twisted in the air, aiming to cut his opponent from shoulder to hip and forcing the much taller ninja towards the other two.
Avoiding the wide slash, the put upon shinobi stepped forward and parried the incoming blows of the second attacker with his sword arm while drawing something with his left hand and leaping into the air to dodge the shuriken scything towards him sent by his third opponent.
Two of the rapidly spinning weapons embedded themselves inches above the watching Leaf ninja's head and as he rolled behind the tree for cover he missed the leaping mask ninja throw a kunai downward and into the midst of the three other shinobi, the wire attached sporting a number of explosive tags spooling out as it and it's owner travelled away from each other.
The ensuing explosion scorched the tree that Kiba had just darted behind, and only two of the three ninja managed to leap away unscathed, the largest of the group too slow to escape the blast completely, his sleeve on fire as he landed awkwardly on a nearby branch.
Falling back down to earth, the masked shinobi readied his sword and pointed it at the burning man. However, though he was injured, the muscular man seemed to concentrate on the flames rather than focus on extinguishing them, and as he did so they began to rise from his arm and coil lazily around it, leaving blackened areas of flesh and clothing where it had been burning before.
Quickly focusing on his incoming opponent, the burned man flicked his arm and sent the coiling mass of flame upwards at the rapidly descending ninja above.
Reacting immediately, the falling ninja sliced at an incoming branch and kicked sharply downwards, sending the severed wooden limb at the incoming fire attack. But as it exploded in mid-air the two ninja who had managed to escape the earlier blast reappeared on either side of their sword wielding opponent, their hands flashing through two sets of elemental seals.
Darting back around the side of the tree he was hiding behind, Kiba only managed to get a glimpse of the ANBU-esque shinobi before he was engulfed by the lightning/water combination released by the two ninja he had been caught between.
So when only a split-second later he emerged, still falling and completely unscathed, Kiba found himself at a complete loss as to what had just happened. No hand seals, no replacement, and evidently solid, conclusively proved by the earth shattering impact that then sent the burned ninja careening into the ground below.
The shocked Konoha ninja looked across at the two team mates of the one who had just been defeated and then hesitated again. Yes, there was surprise in their eyes, but there was also a strange recognition.
"Ishikawa" the smallest one muttered, sharing a glace with his remaining female team mate.
Glancing between the two sides, Kiba found himself wondering how he got into these situations.
Back in Konoha, the two who had been training non-stop over the past number of days were, unlike Kiba, immensely enjoying themselves. After what Naruto had laughingly described as a 'warm up', once again proving his ridiculous stamina to Hinata, Naruto had lived up to his promise of the day before and sat down with the indigo haired girl to tackle the issue of her upcoming opponent.
Sitting cross-legged opposite the lavender eyed girl, he watched with a smile as she absent-mindedly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before drawing out what she had written about her opponent. She laid the pad of paper out, opening it towards him. To her surprise, he immediately turned it back around and shifted himself so that he was next to the now reddening girl.
"Now we can both read it." He grinned, eliciting a small noise of assent from Hinata's throat. He looked back down at the page.
"Maybe we should start with this thing he got you with in the forest, the one that damaged your foot."
The blonde took a sideways glace at the girl next to him.
"By the way, how is your foot?"
"I-It's okay." Hinata assured him, touched by his concern. Beginning to turn away, she jumped slightly at his next sudden outburst.
"I know! You can see when it's coming with your Byakugan right? If you dodge it then there's no problem!" he looked pleased with himself for coming up with the answer so fast, Hinata felt kind of bad for bursting his bubble.
"But… well, he pinned me in place first… w-with that grass attack…" she explained as Naruto's face fell.
"Oh well." He shrugged.
"Any idea is a good idea, as long as you're coming up with them. I think Iruka-sensei said that once…" he smiled again, positive energy almost physically coming off him in waves. It was the sort of smile that made Hinata's heart flutter.
"Y-Yeah…" she managed. She smiled to herself as Naruto's expression became serious again. He really was putting a lot of effort into this. For her… She felt her chest go light again and almost missed the blue eyed boy's next suggestion.
"So you have to stop that attack first?" he mused, falling backwards to lie on the ground.
"Mhmm… b-but Shugohakke Rokujūyon Shō leaves me open to the other attack…" Hinata explained.
"I-I thought about using an explosive kunai to destroy the attack-"
"Hey, that's a great idea!" Naruto rose to his elbows.
"But… well… his attack comes from all directions. I-It would only work if all the grass was bunched up…"
"It's still something you can use, it's a good idea Hinata, don't be so hard on yourself." He encouraged her, fixing her with his blue-eyed gaze.
"S-Sorry… I-I mean okay." Naruto smiled at her and lay back down, closing his eyes in thought. What could Hinata do that might be useful in this situation…
Hinata herself was thinking over the same problem, with about as much success. Whatever way she looked at it, to protect herself against the blades of grass she would have to stop to use her defensive move. But stopping left her open to her opponents other attack. It was so frustrating when your thoughts went round and round in circles…
"Geez!" Naruto exclaimed next to her, leaping up to his feet. It seemed he felt the same way as her. In a way, that at least was comforting.
"I'm gonna do some training. I think better then anyway. You don't mind do you?" he asked, giving her a concerned look. She shook her head and watched as roughly a hundred Naruto's burst into existence and began an all out brawl.
Maybe Naruto-kun had the right idea, Hinata thought to herself. If she worked on something else then maybe the answer would come naturally. No need to force it.
"Maybe I can work on that…" the lavender eyed girl thought, prising her gaze from the visual feast in front of her eyes.
When Naruto returned about an hour or so later, slightly battered and bruised, he found a very concentrated-looking Hinata kneeling down and focusing very intently on her clasped hands. The blonde didn't know what she was doing, but he decided to let her know he was there.
"Hey Hinata, I'm back!" he announced, wiping his brow as he sat down beside her. Strangely, she hadn't yet acknowledged his return.
"Geez, I wish the sun would give off a bit." He looked at the lavender-eyed girl.
"Aren't you hot in that jacket?" he asked. But instead of answering, the pale girl turned herself towards the blonde.
"I did it." She stated simply, holding her hands out.
They were full of water. She seemed very pleased with herself. In fact, she had on one of the happiest smiles he had ever seen. And the poor blonde couldn't work out why.
"Hinata, that's just-" he started, cut off by a sudden face full of water. He spluttered for a moment before finally managing to get words out.
"Hey! What was that for?" he asked incredulously.
"You said you were hot…" she replied with an oddly mischievous smile, trying to stop herself from giggling at the mixture of surprise and confusion written all over his face.
She felt a little delirious. Whether it was because of what she had just achieved or her proximity to Naruto, or probably a mixture of the two, she suddenly felt invincible.
Still unsure about what was going on, he realised that it definitely didn't seem like anything was wrong. At the same time a light flickered on in the prankster area of Naruto's mind. She had splashed him. That couldn't go unpunished.
As he rummaged around in her bag, through her elation, Hinata wondered what he was up to. Until, with a glint in his eye, he produced the water bottles.
"N-Naruto-kun…" she murmured, simultaneously backing away and getting to her feet.
"Revenge!" the blonde shouted with a grin, springing forwards after the laughing and fleeing Hyuuga girl.
"I don't like this." Sho complained with a sigh, his huge frame slumped heavily over the table in front of him.
"Neither do I you know…" Mihoto replied, her tone of voice similar.
"We're going to be found out, and killed. There's going to be a major diplomatic incident and we'll be responsible for another war and hundreds of deaths…" the green eyed girl continued, her long coat pooling around her.
Sho looked up from his position.
"You don't care about what we'll be doing to this guy?" he asked, more inquisitively than accusingly.
"I don't care about him at all." She paused.
"I mean… I don't want to go through with this because I care about Eri, and you, and our village. The consequences…"
"So remove them. Hypothetically I mean. If he was here, right now. No consequences. Would you do it?" Sho eyed his friend carefully.
"It would be tempting… but…" she paused again, trying to gauge the brown haired boy's reaction.
"…you can't take events out of context, otherwise they become meaningless. We could say 'what if?' forever and never get anywhere… This is a bad idea, because we will fail." she eyed the slumped boy facing her.
"What about you? We know that at the very least his sensei killed a number of people in your family." She pointed out. Sho sighed.
"When I agreed to this, all that time ago, I'll admit I was naïve. I figured every resident of Konoha was an evil bastard and that taking one down, especially one who had hurt you two, would be the right thing to do." He laughed slightly before continuing. It was a laugh with no humour.
"It's weird that the missions I went on that made me strong enough to do this showed me that it was the wrong thing to do. I met so many people, and they all wanted roughly the same thing. The people I've met here as well, the ones I've made friends with, they're not any different from us." He sighed again before continuing.
"But you're right, I agreed to this, and if we don't go through with it, Eri will be killed doing it alone." His head met the table again. Mihoto regarded him with a puzzled look.
"So you're not worried about the consequences?" she asked. Sho did not lift his head.
"I'm not worried about the consequences because with both of us involved I don't think there will be any. This isn't a bad idea because it will fail. It's a bad idea because it will work."
Hinata was soaked. A large portion of her long indigo hair was now sticking to the back of her drenched jacket as she walked back to where they had been sitting, giving her an oddly dishevelled look that didn't quite match up with the smile etched on her face. Sitting down again, the pale girl retrieved a small towel from her bag and wiped her face on it, removing the water dripping down it.
Naruto joined her a few seconds later, sitting opposite the girl with a mischievous grin written over his features.
"That'll teach you to mess with me!" he joked, looking at the now almost empty bottles in his hands and downing what little liquid there was. As he finished his drink he looked more closely at the two containers and frowned.
"Hey Hinata, if all the water was in these bottles, how did you splash me earlier?" he enquired, his gaze flickering to the kunoichi who was now wringing out her hair with the towel. Her look of concentration transformed into a small smile at the question and she put the towel beside her.
"I-I've been working on this for a while, but… this is the first time it's worked…" she explained, holding out her hands again and cupping them. Naruto peered at her outstretched hands, his expression inquisitive. He was about to ask what was going on when he noticed Hinata had closed her eyes and was concentrating.
Concentrating chakra into her hands, she focused on the sensation of its flow through her, paying special attention to build slowly. This was still in its early stages. Steadying her breathing, she pictured it clearly and increased the flow of chakra.
Still unsure of what was meant to be happening; Naruto's gaze flickered from Hinata's calm face to her palms and almost missed the start of her success. Fixing his gaze on her hands he sat and watched the water filled the pale girl's closed hands, slowly at first and then, gaining enough confidence to open her eyes, a small waterfall appeared as she increased the flow of chakra. The delight at her success was evident in the smile that graced her face.
"Wow Hinata, that's incredible!" Naruto exclaimed, causing a little colour to enter the kunoichi's face.
"T-Thank you Naruto-kun. This is actually only the second time this has worked… I-It seems to be getting easier though…" she said, her gaze not leaving the gradually growing mass of water. With a little more concentration, she formed the body of water into an expanding sphere, small ripples forming as the breeze blew by.
"Um… Could you get one of those bottles for me p-please Naruto-kun? I-I'd like to try something." Hinata asked tentatively, her gaze not shifting, as if she were performing a balancing act. As the blonde held out one of the containers, Hinata began to focus again.
Naruto watched in amazement as a rope of water began to snake from the sphere and cautiously lean over to feed itself into the neck of the outstretched bottle. It was only when the bottle reached about three-quarters full that the indigo haired girl finally lost control.
"Ahh!" the lavender eyed girl exclaimed in surprise as both of their feet were drenched in the remaining water. She looked up at the blonde apologetically. He grinned back.
"I'll let you off this time." he joked, handing her the partly filled bottle.
"That was really incredible though, how did you do that? That was an elemental jutsu right?" the blonde enquired as she took it from him. Hinata blushed slightly at the compliment and tried to explain.
"Yeah… Um… Well… There's the hand seals and the chakra manipulation… but there's more than that…" she paused, thinking she might sound a little strange. Naruto, however, only looked interested. Closing her eyes slightly, she tried to describe the feeling.
"… it's like… sensing what the water is like… and then… and then allowing your chakra to move in that way. Water flows… and it's clear… and pure." She opened her eyes again and looked at the blonde in front of her. He seemed excited.
"So, can I give it a try?" he asked. Hinata found herself caught a little off guard but recovered quickly. This was one of the traits she really did love about him. Whether or not he fully understood something, he was always willing to try it out. Her answer though, was a little more tentative than the thoughts running through her head.
"Err… I don't know… Do you have an affinity for water?" Naruto looked puzzled.
"An affinity?" Hinata smiled at him and tried to explain that too.
"M-Most ninja have an affinity for a certain element… an element that they can manipulate their chakra into more easily than the others…" she paused for a moment before continuing.
"O-Of course, it's possible to learn how to employ other elements… but your natural elemental affinity is the easiest to perform…" Naruto was nodding.
"But… even then… it's not that easy. This has taken me about six months…" she admitted. The blue eyed boy seemed surprised at this, which quickly turned into a grin.
"I'm sure I'll be able to cut down on the time!" he declared confidently, before his expression changed slightly.
"But how do I find out my elemental affinity?" he asked the indigo haired girl sitting opposite him.
"Well… Once Kurenai-sensei found me manipulating water as part of my training… s-she let me do this paper test-" she was cut off by the sound of Naruto groaning, and suddenly realised what he had thought.
"N-No, not an exam! It's paper that's sensitive to chakra… I-If you're water natured, it goes wet when you focus chakra into it… if you're fire natured it burns. E-Earth affinity makes the paper crumble and lightning makes it scrunch up… I-I think Wind cuts it…" she finished explaining and Naruto was lost in thought.
"Which element would I prefer…?" he wondered, as a small but insistent thought tried to make itself heard.
"Cuts it…" he murmured, trying not to let the thought slip away. His blue eyes focused on Hinata, who almost took a step back in surprise.
"Hinata, you can make blades of chakra in your hands can't you?" he asked, almost rhetorically. She nodded silently, trying not to break Naruto's line of thought.
"Could you do the same thing… but with your feet?" he wondered aloud, sounding more excited now the idea had formed itself more fully.
"I… I've never tried…" she admitted, slowly realising what he meant.
"That's it then! If you make blades at your feet he'll never be able to get them with those plants!" he grinned at the long haired girl.
"What are we waiting for, we've got a week to perfect this!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet.
"O-Okay!" Hinata agreed.
"Ishikawa?" Kiba thought to himself, looking at the masked shinobi carefully. His name maybe? A family name? What did that mean? And how had the two others identified him like that?
"When he avoided that attack!" Kiba realised. A family technique, possibly a bloodline…
Whatever it was, obviously the other two knew something about it. If he had to fight this guy later then he had to pay special attention now.
In complete contrast to the beginning of the fighting earlier, the tension was not allowed to build at all and the female member of the remaining pair flashed through hand seals, ending by pressing her hand into the tree next to her. Wondering what she had done, Kiba found himself left with a jarring sensation when he next blinked.
And all the trees had moved.
"What the hell?" he asked himself in confusion. He had been crouched behind a tree for the past few minutes, and now… He reached out a hand.
"It's still here!"
Somehow, that woman had managed to create the illusion that all the trees were in different places. On the plus side, that meant that if he stayed here he would still be safe behind the tree. On the down side, he could no longer watch how the battle developed.
Over on the forest floor the masked shinobi had sheathed his sword and then closed his eyes, though it would have been impossible for anyone else to tell. Having memorised the layout of the battlefield already, the confusing and incorrect images shown to him by his eyes would have only got in the way. His only disadvantage now was that he couldn't risk using his bloodline technique.
A little way away, the pair of ninja observed the unmoving figure for a moment and exchanged a signal. Had he been watching, the lone ninja would have seen the two of them blur with speed as they approached, but he could not see.
He was listening.
It was only at the last second, when the woman heard the tell tale sound of a crackling explosive note, that she realised the tall figure had rigged himself to explode. Shouting a warning to her faster team mate that she knew was too late, water rushed from her sleeves to soften the impact the explosion would still have.
Phasing out and pulling off the technique as late as he could, the masked shinobi still found himself surprised by the brightness of the explosion through both his mask and his eyelids. But he was not complacent. There had been a shout just before the explosion, and though his hearing was badly impaired by the noise he could still remember where it had come from.
Leaping through the smoke, he risked opening his eyes to see if the illusion had been broken. When, to his shock, he saw the kunai blades swinging towards him, he only had enough time to block it and winced behind the mask as the two sharp weapons bit into the hands that caught them.
Now injured, and unable to properly focus chakra to the damaged hands and use his bloodline to escape, the trapped ninja watched as tendrils of water crept from the woman's sleeve and towards his face.
She was trying to drown him. He was out of options.
"Finally!" Kiba sighed inwardly, watching the illusion disappear with relief. Now he just had to find out who had won.
It took him a few minutes to get his bearings again, but through the trees the Inuzuka boy spotted something that stopped him in his tracks.
In front of him, four people were bound and unconscious, each sporting some sort of paper seal that he didn't recognise on their foreheads. But what had stopped him was the sight of the woman who had been fighting only minutes before, impaled through the chest on a spike of rock. In front of her stood the masked shinobi, who seemed to be wrapping something around his hands.
"I hate using other people's techniques… Oh…"
"Konoha." Kiba had a hard time not stepping back. This guy really was tall, a hundred and eighty centimetres at least and the mask did not help the intimidating appearance. To his relief, the sword was still sheathed. He took that as a good sign.
"Yes?" he replied tentatively as the person who had threatened him earlier joined him.
"I think I should say sorry for threatening you earlier. Especially since you took out two of the people I was told to capture…" he paused and Kiba tried to shift his brain through the sudden change of pace it had just been forced into.
"You said you were out of chakra… is it permanent?" the masked shinobi asked, his voice seemingly worried.
"What? Well… I don't know..." Kiba replied honestly, more than a little confused.
"Do you know someone who can help me?" the Konoha resident asked in return. The figure nodded.
"But I don't think that's a good idea." He stated simply. Kiba's questioning glance was answered immediately.
"Taking a Leaf ninja to the hidden Rock village is definitely a bad idea. Plus… I don't really want to go there." the way he said it made Kiba feel as if that line of enquiry was closed. There was a strange awkward silence.
"Well, thanks anyway…" Kiba said slowly, starting to turn away.
"Wait! Oh screw it…"
The Inuzuka boy watched as the Rock shinobi removed his mask to reveal a sharp featured face, green eyes that tapered out at the irises to a grey colour, and a dirty mess of hair around his ears that couldn't quite decide whether it was brown or blonde.
"Huh, that's better…I shouldn't really have to hide, you're not a threat anyway…" he said cheerfully, placing his mask in a pouch on his waist.
Deciding not to take offence, Kiba continued trying to suss out the person in front of him.
"You should get out of here; I've called for a team to take them back to the village for questioning and I don't think they'll be very welcoming to Leaf ninja in the Land of Earth." The leaf shinobi frowned at this.
"What did they do?" he asked, gesturing towards the four unconscious ninja and the corpse. The taller boy looked around.
"Them? I dunno… I was ordered to capture them so I did… that's not important though-"
"How old are you?"
"What? Fifteen, but I don't get it…"
"Sorry." Kiba apologised, before continuing.
"Things have been… strange, ever since I left Konoha. I guess I just have questions…" he smiled, and got one in return.
"Yeah…" the Rock ninja agreed. He seemed to reach some sort of snap decision.
"I'll help you get back to the Fire Country then; it looks like you've had it rough recently. Finishing this off should give me some free time."
"Consider it repayment for helping me take this lot." He continued, reading the look on the other boy's face.
"You're not going back with them?" Kiba asked, indicating towards the captured ninja. In truth, he wasn't sure whether he should be grateful or scared by the offer of help. Unfortunately, considering what the strange newcomer had said along with the fact he would need help with Akamaru, he didn't really have much choice.
"Nah, like I said, I have issues with my village… 'Mutual exile' or something, if that even makes sense…" he smiled again and changed the subject.
"We should get going. If anyone finds out you're here, and I get ordered to take you out… I'll have to do it."
Kiba looked at the smiling boy and tried to work out whether it was a joke. Reading his expression the tall Rock ninja shrugged, and made it clear. It was just one of those things…
"My name's Hideyoshi by the way."
"Kiba… I need to introduce you to a friend as well. It might make all of this a bit harder though…"
His new acquaintance smiled unconcernedly, and Kiba figured that even if this he was a bit odd, at least he was agreeable.
Hehe, love writing NaruHina fluff. New character, kind of introduced as a plot device to be honest. One more training chapter and then the final stage of the Chuunin exams. The end of the Chuunin exams will pretty much wrap up this story, but I've left hundreds of open ends because I wanna do a sequel. Like I said, I am already writing the next chapter now, but I have a dissertation introduction to do for next week so it may have to wait until after that. Hope everyone had a good Christmas.