A/N: Hey all. Long time eh? Sorry about that. Been busy and had a bit of writers block with this chapter and ended up re-writing it a few times. In the end I like how it turned out. That said, I originally planed to jump right in the wave arc but it just felt rushed to do that. So, to those who were looking to see Haku and Zabuza make an appearance, it will likely happen next chapter rather than this one. Gomen yo. Ok, all done. Please read and enjoy.
Eyes Like No Other
"You're pretty good at that."
Hinata's eyes shifted a fraction of an inch, not that she really needed to as her activated bloodline limit had allowed her to see the person who had intruded on her early morning practice session. "Thanks." She turned to face the girl slowly and her eyes returned to their normal state. "I'm sorry, I know I've seen you before, but I can't remember your name."
The girl smiled as she stepped out of the pre-dawn shadows. Her hair was pulled up into two tight buns at the back quarters of her head. "That's ok. We only met for a few minutes when I stopped over to collect Neji that time he was late." She scratched her cheek and her deep brown eyes seemed to dull for just a moment. "He got really mad at me that day. I think I embarrassed him a little when I told him he was late."
Hinata nodded as she remembered the incident now. "That's right, he wasn't himself that day at all." She paused as she tried to remember the details of that day. "It was Ten-ten-san, right?"
"Yeah, that's me." Ten-ten affirmed. "But you can drop the formalities. After all, your clan makes you a much higher rank than me."
"That's…" Hinata shook her head. "A clan's position shouldn't really matter. We're both shinobi after all." She smiled, sadly, so that it was hidden in the darkness. "Besides, my standing in the clan isn't really all that great in reality, so we'd be on pretty equal terms even if we were going to follow your idea."
For anyone else Hinata's facial expression would have been lost, but Ten-ten's eyes were sharper than most jounins'. "If you're sure then. Thanks." She stepped a little further into the clearing of the training field. "I've never seen anyone else out here this early. When'd you start coming here?"
"Just a week ago." Hinata moved towards the training targets and began to collect her kunai. "I thought it was time to move to a more difficult set of targets. The last training ground was starting to become a bit to easy."
Ten-ten's grin expanded considerably. "You also like to fight long range then?" She watched interestedly as Hinata sat down on a nearby log and began to clean the blades in preparation for the next round of targets. Instantly her respect for Hinata rose considerably for seeing that.
"Not really." Hinata shook her head as she pulled out a sharpening stone from her hip pouch. "It was something Naruto-kun's father said about my father, an old training method that they used sometimes. Minato-san didn't really understand all the details but he said it boiled down to something like, if you can hit a target that's far away you can hit a target that's right on top of you."
"It sounds like a coordination drill." Ten-ten nodded. "My mom uses that same idea with me all the time."
Hinata stopped in mid-sharpening as she looked up at Ten-ten. A second later she looked down and continued to repair her kunai. "I see."
Ten-ten bit the inside of her cheek as she realized how foolish she was. This girl probably thought that she had recovered some piece of her father, the great hero, that only she knew about. In a single spoken thought, Ten-ten had dashed that hope to smithereens. "But…who knows. There's a lot of stuff about your clan I don't know about. Maybe it's different."
Hinata nodded, trying to recover whatever little bit of her foolish dream she could. "Yes, that could be." She spun her kunai about her finger by the ring-hilt testing the balance before catching it in her palm. "The fact that the training styles seem similar must mean that it has merit." She looked up and forced a smile. "Now I know I'm not wasting my time."
Ten-ten's eyes narrowed and her mouth curled into a disappointed frown. "Don't do that."
Hinata blinked in confusion. "Don't…do what?"
"Don't force smiles like that." Ten-ten clarified. "Don't force emotions that aren't really there." She sighed disappointedly. "That's almost as bad as your brother trying to pretend he doesn't have any emotions at all."
"That's…how our clan…our family is." Hinata shook her head. "At least that's what I've heard." Her lips seemed to thin as she considered if she had already said too much. It was true that Ten-ten was Neji's teammate, but there was only so much that should really be told to a non-clan member. Hinata couldn't deny the possibility that because of Ten-ten being a teammate to Neji that maybe she should be even more careful not to reveal anything. Just in case Ten-ten betrayed them someday. "I don't really know much. My knowledge of the clan history is rather limited."
Ten-ten shrugged. "Yeah, well, it's still not a good thing to deny your emotions anyway." She looked over at the now empty targets. "Not to change the subject, but I came out here for some target practice. Not to mention this conversation is getting a little to girly for me." She grinned and nodded between Hinata and the targets. "Want to train together?"
Hinata looked up at the sky and could see the first rays of light beginning to break through the cloud cover. "I have about an hour before I have to meet Sensei for training. Working together sounds like a great way to pass the time until then."
The birds in the surrounding forest took off suddenly a moment later. They called out in terror as the sound of six kunai hitting the target reverberated through the trees. It was almost as though the birds were trying to warn Konoha of some big change that had taken place.
Anko looked over at her blonde haired student. "What the hell do you want now brat? Bad enough you finally wore me down for that break you guys wanted. Why are you still bothering me?"
Naruto frowned and pointed at Hinata's sleeping form slumped up against the tree. "What did you do to Hina-chan? And why is she getting special training alone with you before our team training?"
Anko smirked and folded her hands behind her head as she leaned back on her tree branch. Although he didn't say anything, Anko could feel Shino watching her and expecting an answer from her as well. She had to admit, she was surprised it had taken them almost a month to finally work up the nerve to ask the question.
"Hey!" Naruto jumped to his feet and thrust and accusing finger at his teacher high above him. "If you hurt Hina-chan I'm going to make you pay for it, so you better not be thinking up some excuse!" He fell backwards as a hundred yen-sized rock shot from Anko's hand and hit him squarely in the center of his forehead guard.
Anko's eyes had narrowed and it was quite clear that she was grinding her teeth. "You've got a lot of nerve threatening me chibi. Besides, if you want to know about what she's doing you should ask her yourself."
"We have tried." Shino spoke quietly. "She will not give her reasons. Were it not for the fact that my allies have noted considerable wear on her physical body and exhaustion of her chakra systems I would have believed she was receiving preferential treatment."
"You think I'm spending more time with her and you're jealous?" Anko asked in disbelief.
Shino shook his head slightly. "I care not what kind of time you spend with her as opposed to us." He pushed his glasses up a bit with two fingers. "However, her current state of health puts the team at risk. That I can not allow."
Anko bit the inside of her cheek to keep from snapping at Shino. She couldn't really deny his reasoning or his motivations, but she couldn't tell him why Hinata was getting extra training without exposing the girl's secret. "I'm not making her do anything she doesn't want to do." She finally answered. "You want more than that you're going to have to get it out of her." She swung her legs over the branch and fell silently to the ground. "Wake her up and let's go. Practice is over, time for some missions."
Naruto nodded, grudgingly, and moved over to gently shake the sleeping girl's shoulder. "Oi, Hina-chan. Time to get up."
Hinata came awake almost immediately, but it was still clear that she was far from fully aware of her situation. "Did I fall asleep again? How long was I out?"
"About ten minutes." Shino replied as he moved past them following Anko toward the village. "Hyuuga-san, I admire your conviction in training but even the strongest of creatures need a time to rest."
Hinata blinked as the boy continued on. "Nani?"
Naruto sighed. "You're working yourself to the bone Hina-chan. You need to slow down or you're going to burn out." He stumbled back as, for the first time he could remember, Hinata frowned at him.
"Would you slow down your training if I told you to?" She asked forcefully.
Naruto opened his mouth to respond, but no sound came forth. He wanted to say he would, even if it was just for the sake of this argument, but he knew it would be a lie. Ever since they had gone up to the Hokage monument almost a month ago they had all changed, Hinata most of all it seemed. "No, I guess I wouldn't."
Hinata stood, the adrenaline rush from her anger having given her a second wind. "Then please don't ask me to not do my best." Her smile returned as Naruto nodded in a half-defeated manner. "Come on, we should catch up to the others. We have missions to complete."
Naruto watched as Hinata jogged off to catch up to their other teammates. He scratched the back of his head for a moment as he tried to collect his thoughts. "She really has changed from that time." He whispered to himself as he ran to join the others. "I think we may have been a really bad influence on her Sasuke."
Minato looked up as his door opened and sighed dramatically. "You guys are back again?"
Naruto's face was turned into a deep scowl. "Well what do you expect? All you've been giving us are these little D-rank missions. Honestly, how does weeding gardens and delivering groceries and catching stupid cats supposed to help us become ninja? That's academy level stuff!"
Hinata hung her head in embarrassment for her friend as her own cheeks flushed bright red. "Naruto-kun…I know he's your dad, but he's still the Hokage. You should be a little more respectful."
Naruto's response was cut off as Anko pounded her fist into the blonde's head, leveling him with the floor. "She's right chibi. Watch your mouth in front of the pretty boy."
"That's even worse…" Hinata whispered to herself as her cheeks seemed to redden even more.
Minato couldn't help but laugh a little bit at the display, especially since Shino was as stoic faced as ever despite the antics of his teammates and sensei. "Ok, so the latest mission is completed." He pulled out the reward vouchers and handed them to Anko to be distributed later. "You guys know the drill with redeeming these at this point."
Anko nodded. "Our next mission?"
Minato sighed and sat back in his chair, his fist propped under one cheek so as to support his head. "Another mission? That was your fifth one today alone. Give it a rest for the day Anko."
Anko's eyes blazed at the blonde Hokage's words. It didn't matter the rank, she did not like being challenged as to how she managed her affairs. "This is my team. I'll decide when they're done for the day."
Naruto watched with a mixture of awe and terror as the two experienced shinobi seemed ready have one of their legendary brawls. He turned suddenly as he sensed the arrival of a group of people behind the door to the office. "Eh…sensei? Tou-san?"
"Yo. Sorry we're late. We got lost on the road of life and…"
Hinata smiled a little as she recognized her friend's voice, and couldn't help but giggle a little as she remembered what Sakura had told her about Kakashi's habit of being late to everything and then making up excuses. Her attention then went to Sasuke. They made eye contact for a brief moment and then both quickly looked away.
Ever since Sasuke had found out that Hinata's team was doing two or three more missions a day than his team he had been quite awkward around her. Hinata's expression darkened a bit as she saw Choji enter the room and found herself unconsciously shifting away from the boy. The memories of their past encounters still vivid in her mind.
"Ah! Kakashi-nii!" Naruto's face lit up in an even brighter smile than usual. "What are you doing here?"
Kakashi shrugged. "Well, these guys were complaining a lot about their mission assignments lately so…"
"We were not!" Sakura insisted. "We just asked when you thought we'd be able to start taking on some higher ranked missions."
Choji pulled out a bag of chips and began to eat the contents none to quietly. "I don't see the issue with our recent roster. It gives us plenty of time to meet up with our friends and the pay gives us enough for snacks to spare."
Sasuke seemed to slump a little at this. "Do you want to be a shinobi or not? You think this is a game fat…"
Hinata moved across the room so swiftly that even she was surprised by the action. Her hand clamped over Sasuke's mouth and a thin sheen of sweat could be seen on her face. "You really don't want to finish that sentence." She warned in a whisper so that only Sasuke could hear.
"Oi! Sasuke! How many missions have you done today?" Naruto demanded, seemingly forever in competition with his friend and rival.
Sasuke pulled away from Hinata's covering hand, revealing the slight blush on his face, and turned his gaze to the ceiling to avoid letting the others see that fact. "Four. You?"
Naruto laughed triumphantly. "Ha! We did five! We win!"
"It's not a competition." Shino remarked quietly. "All drones work to the betterment of the hive."
Anko's and Sakura's eyebrows twitched madly. "Did you just call us drones?"
As much as he found this little display amusing, Minato knew he had other matters he had to see to today and he had to call this to a close. "Ok, ok." He clapped his hands together loudly to gain everyone's attention. Once everyone was quiet he looked over the assembled force. "You know…I may just have something for you guys."
Naruto looked on eagerly as his father pulled something out from one of the drawers of his desk. "Are you really going to give us a higher ranked mission?" He looked around and his face turned slightly in worry. "You're not going to give the mission to Sasuke's team rather than ours are you?" In his distraction he failed to notice the questioning looks that Anko and Kakashi shot at each other.
Hinata however, thanks to her years of practice watching people from isolation, did see the exchanged glace. Her mind raced at possibilities, but for the jounin to be caught off guard meant it was far outside her scope of knowledge. Occasions like this usually meant a semi-straightforward approach was best. "Naruto-kun, why don't we just wait to see what Hokage-sama has to say?" She suggested with a gentle smile.
Minato couldn't help but grin a little, knowing full well the ulterior meaning to Hinata's suggestion. "We recently got a request for a mission with some unique provisions."
Sasuke's attention perked at this. "Must be something big if your telling two teams about it. You've never done that before."
"That's true." Minato nodded. "You see, the request came in under one heading, but it will need two teams to fulfill it." He turned his attention to the door. "Come on in." The gennin all turned at the same time so as to view the two clients came in.
One was clearly older, at least judging by his hunched posture and gray beard. His clothing was worn and dusty as if it had been covered in dirt and dust so many times it would never look clean again no matter how many times it was washed. He carried a large pack on his back from which numerous papers and scrolls could be seen sticking out. His face was slightly flushed, and the sake flask tied to his hip gave a good indicator of why that was. Coupled with his large straw hat and tiny glasses on the edge of his nose he looked like looked like a kind, if tired, old traveler. That was, at least until he opened his mouth. "Oi, don't tell me these are the brats you're assigning to protect us."
"Who the hell are you calling a brat old man?!" Naruto demanded angrily as he took a step towards the man. "You better take that back right…" A second later his face was in the floor as Anko smacked him over the head.
"Now, now Pops." The second man chided with a friendly smile. "I'm sure these guys are capable of doing the work we need. Otherwise the Hokage wouldn't give them to us right?" He turned to the shinobi and bowed in apology. "Sorry about that. The boss has been under a lot of stress recently and uh…" He made motion with his hand as if drinking from a bottle. "It helps him relax."
Hinata looked at the younger man, and despite having called him "Pops" she could see no family resemblance of any kind between them. The assistant seemed to be in considerably better shape judging by his muscle tone. His clothing was in similar state to his boss, faded and tattered, but somehow it gave him a rather rugged look that the older man couldn't pull off. What Hinata found most interesting though was his smile. It wasn't forced despite the fact that she could see the man was in pain. He walked with a limp, though it was small and he hid it well, and his face had a fresh, cross-shaped scar on his chin.
"These men are from Wave Country." Minato spoke, pulling the gennin from their silent evaluations. He motioned to the older man and then the younger man. "This is Tazuna, and his assistant Kaiza."
Kakashi nodded in greeting to the two men and then turned to his former teacher. "I suspect it's a body guarding mission?"
"To simple." Anko shook her head. "Even if they are gennin on a low rank C mission, two teams are over kill. What's really going on here?"
"Sharp as ever you two." Minato nodded. "Although they are both returning to Wave Country, they are returning by different routes. That's why we need two teams."
Choji finished his chips and shoved the empty bag into his pocket. "If they're going to the same place, why don't they go together?"
"What difference does it make brat?" Tazuna demanded.
"Boss, please." Kaiza attempted to calm the other man. "It's a fair enough question to ask." He turned to Choji and nodded as he began to explain. "The boss has to get back to our village as soon as possible, but I have to go with the supply convoy. That's my responsibility. You understand? I have to make sure the bridge supplies get home safely."
Kakashi nodded. "I thought the name Tazuna sounded familiar."
"You've heard of this guy?" Anko asked in disbelief.
The cycloptic jounin nodded, then shook his head. "Not in the most direct sense. There was a character name Mazuna in my books and he was also a bridge builder. The author must have met him…" Kakashi's explanation was cut off as Sakura attempted to pound her teacher over the head. "Hey, she asked."
"Sensei no hanta baka…" Sakura muttered as she pouted angrily for missing her attack. "I swear, when I get stronger I'm going to take those little orange books and…"
"So?" Naruto turned to his father again, inadvertently interrupting Sakura's rant in his excitement over a mission outside the village. "Which team gets which assignment?"
Minato shrugged his shoulders and sighed. "Well, it's not a definite thing yet." He grinned slightly as he looked over at the two supervising shinobi. "After all, your teachers have to accept the missions first."
Anko glared daggers at her commander. "You son of a…" She muttered under her breath.
Naruto grinned, and edged slightly away from Anko. "What was it you told me before? To watch my mouth, wasn't it?"
"I hate you all." Anko growled. "I should be relaxing with some dango after an S-rank interrogation or something not…"
"I-if we were to take the missions…" Hinata began. "Team eight is better equipped for the convoy portion. Team seven is better established for a personal defense mission." She looked at the floor again as she realized everyone was watching her. "At least, that's what I think."
Minato nodded. "That's a good assessment Hinata." He smiled and looked over to Anko. "Well, are you going to offer a different assessment to correct your student?"
Anko sighed and shook her head. "All right already. We'll take the damn job." She glared at Minato. "But you owe me when we get back."
Minato grinned, much like Naruto usually did. "Hai, hai. I'll have some of that special dango you like so much put aside for your return." His gaze shifted a little bit. "And you Kakashi?"
"Yeah sure." Replied the other jounin. "They could use a little bit of a step up in their training."
"If you showed up on time we would have already gotten a step up in training." Muttered Sakura.
"Ok then. Both teams will report to the main gate tomorrow and head out together." The Hokage pulled out a few pieces of paper and placed his seal on them as having been accepted. "How you split up your teams after that will be up to your jounin-sensei. If there are no questions, you are dismissed. I suggest you use the time to prepare." He smiled at the children. "Good luck out there."
Hinata followed silently as the two teams left the Hokage's office. They were really going to leave the village, and she couldn't really decide how she felt about that. Konoha was her home, and she had already decided that she would be its protector. However, she couldn't deny that some small part of her was looking forward to going somewhere that people wouldn't know who and what she was. Some place, any place, that she would have something of a clean slate and people wouldn't stare at her.
"Oi!" Naruto raised his voice as Hinata continued to ignore him. "Konoha to Hinata." He waved his hand in front of her face. "You listening to me?"
Hinata blinked as she was pulled from her thoughts. "What? I'm sorry…" She bowed her head. "I guess I was kind of far away."
Naruto grinned. "It's ok. I'm really excited about our first real mission too."
"Yeah…I guess that's what it is." Hinata agreed, not wanting to ruin Naruto's excitement. "So, I guess we should go get prepared right?"
"Agreed." Shino nodded. "Wave country is about a three day walk. The canals that we will travel are faster, but are longer in distance. Most likely a four to five day trip, best to plan for a week long excursion."
Naruto frowned and folded his hands behind his head as they walked. "A week? Man, that sucks."
Hinata blinked in confusion at her friend. "What do you mean? You were the one who wanted to take the mission most of all."
"Yeah, I know." Naruto agreed. "It just means I'm not going to be able to have any Ichiraku ramen for a week." He sighed. "And there's no way ka-san is going to let me bring enough instant to last me the whole trip."
"It is amazing how much you let your stomach dictate your thoughts." Shino remarked as moved to the front of the group. "Please learn some self control."
Hinata raised her hand to cover her mouth to try and stifle her laughter as she watched Naruto's jaw go slack at Shino's comment. "Well, I suppose we should stop by the supply shops in town." She stepped between the two boys before Naruto could try to launch some kind of counter comment to Shino. Her smile returned as both boys nodded, though Naruto continued to glare at Shino as they walked.
"Well, as long as we're going to have a new level of mission..." Naruto began. "Maybe we should try visiting some of the better quality shops. See if they have any equipment that's more sturdy."
Shino nodded. "A worthwhile assessment."
Hinata blinked as the two boys began to walk in a different direction than the stores they usually went to. "Anon…" While she wanted to look at the new stores, she really hadn't been to any of them before. The old stores she knew would sell her items, even if some of them did glare at her or over charge as they did so. If these new stores refused her service, or even entry, there would be a lot of wasted time for her team.
"Oi Hina-chan!" Naruto called. "Hurry up! You're falling behind."
"H-hai!!" Running to catch up with her teammates, Hinata looked over the surrounding stores with a careful eye. Her gaze locked on one of the more run down looking stores as she looked through the window. "Naruto-kun? Shino-kun? Could we look in here?"
Naruto looked over the crumbling mortar of the building front and the faded, cracked, wooden sign that hung over the door. Given that the building was in such bad shape he wondered why it was in the more expensive area of the financial district. He was about to suggest they press on to another store when he remembered his father's and Kakashi's favorite saying. "Underneath the underneath…" He muttered quietly.
Shino nodded silently. He had come to understand that Hinata was often very accommodating to others and rarely asked favors of her team. When she did, Shino had discovered that Hinata's reasons and instincts were usually dead on.
As Hinata entered the store she found herself filled with a slight feeling of apprehension. Barrels and crates full of weaponry filled the floor space almost completely leaving only narrow walkways to travel. The walls of the small building were covered floor to ceiling with even more weapons leaving barely an inch of open space between each item. Even so, Hinata found most of her attention focused on the shopkeeper.
She was about the same age as Hinata's uncle or perhaps a little younger. Her long, brown, hair was pulled back by a simple hair band and a few stray strands were held in place behind her ears. Her eyes were matched in tone to her hair and focused intently on the large, heavy broadsword braced against the counter top and her knee. Her hands moved deftly over the blade as she made full use of the polishing kit at her side. She was dressed in a simple gray Chinese style shirt and black pants.
Despite the fact that the woman was so absorbed with her work on the sword, Hinata got the impression that not a single movement made by the three children escaped her attention. She couldn't help but wonder if the store had been arranged in this way so as to limit customers' movement and allow the owners better chance of catching shoplifters. Although there was a certain something about the woman that was familiar, Hinata turned her attention to more immediate concerns.
"The quality of these are amazing…" Naruto whispered as he looked over the various pieces around the store. "Kunai, shuriken, razor wire, katanas…and for really cheap considering…"
"We pride ourselves on supplying the shinobi of Konoha with the finest weapons we can." The woman spoke without looking up. "We prefer to invest the money we make into refining our craft, rather than adding superficial beauty to our shop."
Shino nodded in appreciation. "A non-to-common mind set unfortunately. I shall have to remember to return to this shop."
"Nana!" Called a man's voice from the back of the shop. "Where'd that shipment of iron get stored? I wanted to start smithing it for that custom order we got!"
The woman at the counter sighed. "It's a damn good thing you're good with a forge...cause Kami knows you're dumb as a brick with everything else." Nana sighed and gazed at each of the gennin a moment. "Don't do anything stupid. I'll be right back."
Naruto pouted as Nana slipped back behind the curtain to the back of the store. "What does she think we're going to do? It's not like we're thieves or something like that."
Hinata let a little smile cross her lips as she continued to look over the supplies, selecting pieces as she found something she liked. The woman, Nana, seemed to take Hinata's presence somewhat neutrally so there didn't seem to be any risk of not being sold to. "I'm sure she's just looking to protect her store, that's all."
"Yeah, I guess…"
Having selected the items she felt she needed Hinata moved over to the counter to prepare her money. She stopped however as she came to look at the broadsword still on the counter. Crouching down a little Hinata studied the edge of the blade, for something so large it was incredibly sharp.
"You like it?"
Hinata snapped upright as she heard Nana's voice. "What? Oh…yes. It seems like an excellent weapon."
"You think so?" Nana smirked a little. "Want to give it a test cut?"
Hinata blinked in surprise, but couldn't deny that the idea of trying to wield the giant blade thrilled her. With Jyuuken at their disposal, the Hyuuga clan considered unarmed combat to be the pinnacle of fighting prowess. To need a weapon to fight was considered a weakness. "I…perhaps I shouldn't. I've never held anything more than kunai or shuriken. I have no skill with kinjutsu."
Nana raised an eyebrow as she looked at Hinata. "Come with me." Hefting the sword easily she motioned for Hinata to move behind the counter. "I know that tone. Same as my daughter had when I started her training."
Hinata felt herself moving as if on autopilot after the older woman. There was really no reason for her to even attempt using the sword, she never would own one in any case after all. The allure to hold a weapon larger than a kunai however was too good to pass up though. As she moved past the back curtain she saw that the back of the shop was in much the same state as the front of the shop. The only difference being that the floor was littered with the raw materials for the construction of weapons.
As Hinata looked a little farther back she swore she could see what looked like living quarters. The notion of someone living within a blacksmith shop seemed most uncomfortable to Hinata. She was also fairly certain that the village at large frowned upon such practices. The young girl shook her head; it was not her place to judge others and how they lived. How much had she hated being judged after all?
"Yo, come on now." Called Nana from the back yard. "You going to give me a hand or not?"
Stepping up her pace, Hinata found herself in a barren back lot filled with broken weapon parts and a single tree in failing health. She felt a little bit of bile rise in the back of her throat as she saw a large pig carcass hanging by it's hind legs from one of the upper branches. "What is this for?"
"For the test cut." Nana stated as though it should be obvious. She moved to the dead pig and gave it a couple of light back-fist strikes to ensure that the flesh hadn't rotted too much. "During the war we were allowed to test the weapons on prisoners slated for torture and execution, but now-a-days such things aren't allowed." Nana turned to face Hinata again. "Piggy here is the next best thing we can get to accurately test how good or bad our weapons really cut."
Hinata jumped as Nana spun the broadsword effortlessly so as to extend the pommel toward her. Taking a few steps forward, and swallowing hard, Hinata gripped the handle. "So…all you would like me to do is cut at the pig with this sword?"
"Yep, that's all." Nana nodded as she released her own grip on the sword. The moment her hold fell away, the heavy iron blade plummeted to the ground and bit deep into the hardened soil. "You might want to use two hands."
Hinata bit her lip to try and suppress the hiss of pain from escaping her. The blade had fallen so fast she was sure she had sprained her elbow trying to keep it upright. Even as she placed her other hand around the blade handle she sincerely doubted that she could lift such a heavy sword on her own, not that she was going to give up.
It was at this point that Naruto tore his eyes away from all the things he wanted to purchase and finally realized that Hinata had still not come back yet. He looked to Shino and nodded towards the back room where the two women had disappeared. After a moment of thinking both boys moved quietly to the rear of the shop to see Hinata struggling with the sword. Naruto's head cocked to one side as he tried to determine what Hinata was trying to do, but then shook his head. "What is she trying to prove?" He asked aloud as he tried to step forward.
Shino's arm raised and extended out to bar his teammate's path at that same instant. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end, the same as it had the first day that they had been assigned to a team together. There was also the fact that his insects were ready to flee from even his body as if there was no shelter for them. Though he did not feel as if he was in any danger, he knew better than to overlook the sentiments of his allies. "Wait."
Naruto nodded warily as he watched bugs scurry over the exposed portions of Shino's skin. "Never seen that happen before." He remarked in a half-joking tone.
Hinata's arms burned as she poured more and more chakra through her channels to keep her muscles from tearing under the strain. At last she hoisted the broadsword into the air and held it more like a club than an actual sword. Knowing she wasn't going to be able to maintain her pose for much longer she swung, barely maintaining her balance let alone her control. With a grunt of effort she felt herself move the blade through the air and into the body before her. Pain suddenly ripped through her arms all the way up to her shoulders forcing her to let go of her weapon.
"Hina-chan!" Naruto ran toward his friend as she fell to the ground. Behind him Shino was also moving quickly to the girl's aid.
Nana looked between the girl and the sword that was still stuck deeply within the pig. "Such a small child…and able to make so deep a wound." She murmured quietly so the other children couldn't here. "She truly is his child."
Hinata slowly pushed herself up off the ground and smiled weakly at Naruto and Shino. "I'm ok. I just lost my footing is all." She looked up at Nana. "How did I do?"
Nana nodded. "Very well. Thank you. You've been a great help."
Naruto glared at Nana. "Help? What do you mean? Hina-chan could have been really hurt."
"Weapons have to be evaluated for a number of different properties." Nana easily pulled the sword from the gapping wound in the dead animal. "The cut test was only part of what I wanted to see."
Shino for once seemed confused openly. "Explain."
Nana nodded and walked over to the tree that supported the carcass. "If all I wanted to do was test the edge of the blade, I could have done that myself." She spun the blade with one hand and then brought it down in a quick slash.
Naruto scrunched his face as nothing happened. "What was that supposed to prove…" His words trailed of as the tree began to slide on an angle and then crashed into the yard. He walked through the cloud of dust and studied the perfectly smooth edges of the base where the tree had been cut. "Whoa…"
Hinata swallowed hard as she saw the difference between herself and Nana. She had already seen the difference in being able to simply holding the sword, but to cut through the tree which was many times harder than a body only served to reinforce that idea. "Then why did you need me?"
Nana whipped the blade through the air, flinging off the dust and blood that remained on the blade. "Because you are not trained, and because you are not strong enough to use such a weapon. You are the perfect simulation." She chuckled as she saw the looks of confusion on the gennins' faces. "Think of it this way, if someone had trained to use this blade but then became injured on the battlefield, would they be able to wield it properly?"
Shino shook his head. "You needed to see how effective the weapon would be if someone was seriously debilitated."
"Yes." Nana nodded and turned to head back to her shop. "A weapon is only as good as you can be even at your worst. Remember that for the future."
Naruto frowned. "Why do we need to remember that?"
"To look for weaknesses in your opponents, and in yourself." Nana smiled. "You come see me when you're ready for specialized weapons of your own. In the mean time, I'll give you guys a discount on your purchases today for helping me out."
Hinata smiled as she saw Naruto's mood turn around. "A weapon of my own…" She thought aloud as she decided to pick up a few more items since she could afford it now. "I wonder what I'd get if I could train with a weapon…"
"Thought I'd find you up here."
Hinata turned slowly and smiled as Sasuke sat beside her atop the Hokage monument. "I guess I'll have to start finding new places to think then. It's not good for a shinobi's actions to be so predictable."
"That's true sometimes." Sasuke nodded. "But at other times it can be good to be able to predict where someone would go. Like if you were hurt and someone else was trying to find you."
"I suppose that makes sense." Hinata nodded. "Though, if I were hurt I don't think I'd come all the way up here." She smiled. "I think I'd go to the medical center first."
Sasuke smirked. "Yeah, that probably would be better."
Hinata watched him quietly. His smirk was present as it was most times they were together, but there was a light in his eyes that she had not seen there in some time. "You're excited…about tomorrow."
Sasuke nodded, and indeed his eyes did seem to brighten in response to her question. "Yeah, I am. It all…finally means something."
Hinata blinked. "I don't understand what you mean."
"It's like Naruto said earlier." Sasuke turned his head to look at Hinata better. "I didn't become a ninja to weed gardens or catch stray cats. I became a ninja to become stronger. To rebuild my clan and regain my…my family's honor."
Hinata sighed slightly as she saw the light fade from Sasuke's eyes once again. Even in his happiest moments he could not shake the memories of that night and the emotions they regularly brought up. "Your father…" She almost stopped as she saw Sasuke's head jerk up right and his body tightened. "If you had told him about your mission tomorrow, he would have said something like 'As expected of my son' right?"
Sasuke stared at his friend for a few seconds as if unsure of what Hinata had just said. His expression then relaxed and he smiled. It was not his usual arrogant smirk, but a true smile that was seen so little and by so few. He turned away from Hinata and rested his head in his hand so that it obscured his face to Hinata's view. "Yeah. At least, I hope he would have said something like that."
Hinata smiled softly as well. They both knew full well that when Sasuke sat like that he was trying to hide his emotions, but Hinata did her best to pretend that she had no idea of this so as to give Sasuke the moments he needed. If the change in his breathing was any indication, she wouldn't be surprised if he had a few tears on his face right now. She couldn't give him back his family, but she could do her best to remind them of all the good points and hope that was enough to get him through the dark times.
It was hard to tell how much time had passed, but the moon had shifted quite a bit by the time the silence was finally broken. Sasuke, after trying to wipe his face as discretely as possible, stood up. "It's getting late. We should probably get home, get some sleep before our missions."
Hinata watched as Sasuke began to walk away, watching the Uchiha family crest become less and less visible in the darkness of the night. "Sasuke-kun…" She barely whispered as she worried where his thoughts might be at right now.
The raven hair clan heir looked back over his shoulder as he came to a halt. "You coming or not?" He asked simply.
Hinata stood quickly and moved to walk besides him. "Don't do that."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Don't do what?"
"Don't just…don't leave me behind like that." She blushed a little as she realized what she said. "Don't leave us behind without saying anything like that. It's worrisome."
Sasuke smiled and continued to walk, seeming not to catch Hinata's slip in choice of words. "How could I leave you guys behind? You're the only ones who'll talk about the past anymore."
Hinata didn't entirely trust his answer, but she decided to leave it alone for now. Neither spoke as they came down from the Hokage monument and only exchanged a simple good night as they went their separate ways toward their ancestral homes. Hinata looked up at the moon in the sky once more as she neared the Hyuuga Estate, her thoughts a mystery even to herself.
A/N: So? Good? Bad? Other? If you have a moment please leave a little something to tell me what you think. It helps me improve later chapters and, in all honesty, reminds me not to be lazy and write more often.
'Till the next, live well all.