Games Without Frontiers
Sleep is an entirely underrated aspect of a human's natural cycle. The body craves it, repairs itself during it, and nourishes the brain through it. Sleep is something all of our bodies desire on a deeply subconscious level. Even the most hardened resolve eventually crumbles under the basic physiological need to replenish the body's energy.
Hanabi hadn't realized how long she was running on auto pilot until she got done her report. The call of sleep began almost immediately after she left the mission center. She felt as if she added another 200 pounds to her shoulders. Thankfully she was able to indulge in the luxury of a good rest for about five hours before she forcefully shook herself of the necessity. The key problem with sleep is that it took time, a lot of time. Time one usually didn't have.
Shaking the cobwebs away, Hanabi awoke in her room to find that she never made it to the shower before collapsing. The sweat, blood and grime from her mission still caked to her skin like a worn garment.
'I reek of death. I need to get a shower in the worst way.'
Slowly, she stood up. Stretching her arms to the ceiling made for a pleasant sight as her firm belly was exposed through her slightly undone top. The bottom of her breasts caressed the fabric in a sensual dance, desperately crying for release from their confinement. Hanabi obliged their plea as she undid the remaining buttons on her shirt and let it casually fall to the floor. She moved towards the bathroom as she stripped. Her pants were next as she deftly let the attire glide down her silky smooth stems, touching the ground effortlessly. Panties were just as easily removed with a swift motion bending straight over touching her toes.
All this of course was done without thought as Hanabi's sole goal was to rid herself of the mission. She waited for the water to reach a proper temperature and shuddered as she entered. Still a bit cool as she came into it but it served to rid her of any lingering slumber urgently clinging to her psyche. The heat began to rise as she let the droplets cascade over her heavenly form. Little by little, the weight of everything washed away.
A strange sense of peace passed over her while she fully came to terms with the fact that her whole team save one lucky idiot was annihilated. Yet she not only held her own, she dominated her enemy. They were on a completely different level than her teammates and yet she managed to kill all three.
'The old me would have been laying in a ditch with them for sure.'
No, that wasn't entirely true. They targeted her specifically. She doubted she'd have had the easy way out.
She wasn't arrogant enough to think that she had a reputation outside of Konoha enough for a kidnapping. Perhaps it was just her bloodline.
'Of course, I am the clan head's daughter. Hinata was kidnapped once upon a time. Anything is possible.'
She ended the blissful warmth of the shower with a quick turn of the knobs. Drying herself off, she pondered what it all meant. What were those creatures? Why were they after her?
'I need another opinion. I wonder if Naruto is back yet.'
Hanabi valued Naruto's insight. Part of that was just a natural result of being his pupil but when you sat down and listened to him, he truly did have a keen mind that saw things in different ways than what was conventional.
'I hope he's back. I kind of… miss him.'
A genuine smile came to her beautiful face as she pictures him. She recognized that she may have developed a little crush on her sensei over the course of the last few months. As loath as she is to admit it, he has a way of growing on you. His abrasiveness is countered by his charm. His infuriatingly aloof demeanor at times opposed by his patient and calm explanations. As much as she wants to dismiss him as a jerk, he is impossible to resist. Like a force of nature, you can't escape his personality.
'Oh well, not like it's ever going to happen. He's too guarded. I can't tell if he feels at all the same. Part of me wishes he would just make a move instead of all this teasing. Maybe it could be something more than a crush.' She sighed. 'I guess I should just leave it be.' She tried to reason with herself.
Hanabi certainly didn't want things to get awkward between them. Not when she was seeing such impressive results from his training. She had never been better than where she stood at this very moment in terms of being a ninja. Personal feelings took a back seat to growing stronger no matter how much she wanted to.
'There's too much riding on this to screw up my training now. I need this to survive no matter what lies ahead for me.' She rationalized.
She allowed her mind a brief pause on her potential future but quickly forced it from her brain. She wasn't going to let that happen. She would be no one's slave.
Hanabi decided it was time to seek out her wayward sensei and let him know all that had happened. She was certain that he would have an opinion on the matter.
Using the towel to dry his hair, Naruto strolled from his bathroom to his closet needing to get ready for the day. The tiny streams of water shimmering down his back were ignored as he was used to letting his body air dry aside from the mess on top of his head. He pulled out a standard outfit; black sweat pants reinforced with an inner woven carbon fiber mesh for added protection, steel chain mesh muscle shirt and standard issue combat boots with full steel plate padding.
Not particularly caring how he looks, Naruto hastily put on the outfit and ran down to grab some food before making his way to the Hokage tower. There was a lot to do and very little time to do it in.
Passing through the living room, Naruto saw the state of disarray his apartment had fallen into. The nonstop missions combined with his training of Hanabi had left him little time to tidy up when he was home. He had a couple minutes so he started picking up some of the mess while he shoved a breakfast bar in his mouth.
By the time he was content with the relatively clean state of his humble abode, a knock greeted him at his door.
"Come in." Naruto had an idea who it was from reaching out with his senses.
Hanabi greeted him with a dazzling smile that shed his mind of any foreboding. It set him at ease to see her happily entering his home. Something so simple yet so comforting.
"What's up, princess? Just get back from a mission?"
"Yesterday actually, I wanted to talk to you about it." Her smile faded into a much more serious look.
Naruto's mood shifted to a worried tone. "What happened?"
Hanabi took a deep breath and sat down in one of his more comfortable chairs. She seemed pleased with the soft cushions as she threw her stunning legs over the side of the arm.
'Kami she's beautiful' he thought mesmerized. He shook his head. 'Whoa gotta be careful not to fall for my student.'
She let out a huff. "It wasn't good to say the least."
Naruto let the silence hang there for a second figuring she was collecting her thoughts. Hanabi finally started again.
"It was just border patrol. You know, run the checkpoints, see nothing, and then come home. A simple week long mission. Things were going fine till the thirteenth checkpoint. We were suddenly ambushed by three monstrous ninja creatures."
This caught Naruto's attention. The conversation from the previous day at Ichiraku's came to his mind.
"They were far above normal. Their speed was pretty good but their strength and pain tolerance were inhuman. My team set an ambush for them and they shrugged off the kunai strikes like they were merely twigs. Two of my team members were dead within minutes. One other was injured and eventually killed. The final one somehow managed to get knocked clear of the battle and fell unconscious."
Her whole team was taken out!? This wasn't good.
'They went after MY Hanabi!' He fumed unaware of the implications of what he just thought.
"What!? Did you make it out ok? Are you hurt anywhere? We should probably go see a doctor to make…"
"Naruto, I'm alright." She said with a reassuring smirk.
Hearing his name from her lips visibly calmed him. "Are you sure? Don't need my precious student having any excuses on missing her training." He joked to cover his true feelings.
"Of course, sensei. Who do you think you're talking to?" She finished with a wink and a cute smile.
'Damn it girl, do you know what you're doing to me.' Naruto inwardly groaned.
"Ok, well how did you make it out of there? These things sound pretty nasty."
Hanabi's grin turned cocky. "I took care of them. Yea they were fast and yea they were freaks but I handled them." She declared with confidence.
The beaming smile on Naruto's face could not have been brighter. The swelling of pride bursting from his chest was a wonderful sensation he had never felt before.
"Nice. So did you get a good look at these guys?"
"Two of them were grotesquely blown up muscle wise. Huge shoulders, ridiculous forearms and biceps. Their upper body was way out of proportion. They also fought like wild beasts. It was effective but they showed no skill. The third seemed to be more in control. He managed to wield a sword effectively but the beefed up muscles and speed were still there. Not as big as the others but still beyond normal. The veins were bulging from all of their necks."
"Did you see a village symbol at all?" Naruto had an idea but wanted to know anyway.
"Yea, I figured."
"But honestly, I have no idea if they were Cloud ninja at all. The forehead protector was the only distinguishing mark."
"Yea, and they can certainly be faked if someone wanted to. But anyway, it's good to see you took them down no problem." He sat down on the arm of the chair she was in relieved that she was ok.
"I thought so. When I focused in on the attack, everything just slowed down. It was like they were moving in slow motion for me and I just knew what to do from your training."
"Well at least I know something is sticking in that thick skull of yours." He patted her head.
Hanabi stuck her tongue out at him and gave him a light nudge in his stomach with the foot closest to him. "Uh huh, with the nonsense you spew from your mouth sometimes, it's a wonder I learn anything at all."
They shared a small laugh both feeling comfortable in each other's presence. Naruto absently stroked her hair with his hand still resting on her head. 'This is nice.'
Hanabi's face grew a red tinge but she didn't push him away.
"Umm Naruto, I'm ok. I promise." She placed her hand on his reassuringly.
Naruto realized what he was doing and quickly pulled his hand away. "Oh, of course. Yea, of course you are. Why wouldn't you be?"
'Smooth, real smooth, idiot' He berated himself.
She giggled at her flustered sensei. After she settled down, Hanabi turned serious again.
"There was something else though. The way they looked at me. It was like they were targeting me."
Naruto grew tense. "What do you mean?"
"When they attacked the others, they just ripped into them like rabid dogs. When they saw me, they paused and recognition lit up in their eyes. It has to be something to do with the Byakugan."
Naruto was not happy at this thought. "Possible. Are you certain they were after you?"
Naruto pondered these implications. Not to mention the dread he felt imagining what may have been in store for her if they succeeded.
"Ok, I have to report this to Tsunade. Possible cloud ninja targeting one of our main clans especially the Hyuga clan needs to be investigated thoroughly. Things are getting out of hand quickly here."
Hanabi nodded in agreement. "There seems to be a nervous air in the mission center these days. It feels like something big is happening."
"Well don't let the paranoia get to you. Even if something big is happening, we need our ninja to remain calm and focus on their jobs. I know you will do this for me." Again he grabbed her hand without thinking and used his thumb to gently caress the back of it.
Hanabi seemed to enjoy the contact. "Yea, I know, sensei."
Naruto was really concerned about who could possibly be targeting her and for what reason. His own paranoia was starting to get to him.
"Listen, Hanabi, be careful when you're at the Hyuga compound. Something doesn't feel right there. And now these things targeting you, I don't like it."
Hanabi stiffened a bit at the mention of her home. "I – I know sensei. I can sense it too. Hiashi does not seem himself. Our training sessions are shorter and shorter and his outbursts are growing irrational. That's just not like him. I think someone may have done something to him."
Naruto debated letting her know more about his investigation. He decided he cared too much about her to leave her in the dark. He leaned in close. "Well just between you and me, I'm looking into it deeper. If anything is happening, I will find out."
She seemed relieved that he was taking up the task. "I know you will, Naruto."
Her demure smile gave him the confidence he needed to get to the bottom of this. They sat there for a long moment just looking into each other's eyes letting the rest of the world around them go mute.
Naruto finally realized he was staring and pulled back again.
"Well I need to tell Tsunade about your mission immediately. If our border patrols are getting directly attacked and our bloodlines targeted, we may be on the verge of a war. Don't go too far though, there's still plenty of training to be done." He grinned at her.
Hanabi smiled right back. "I'm not going anywhere, Naruto."
The image of her beautiful form sitting comfortably in his home, her legs bouncing playfully, eyes full of mischief and fondness, was undeniably tempting. Naruto briefly allowed himself to wish her words were more than just face value before stifling that feeling.
'I... I can't let my heart go there. But maybe it would be different?' His inner turmoil raged on.
His mind was not his own. He could see things but not act upon them. It's like he was watching a movie of someone playing his life. The madness of it all was beginning to eat away at him.
Naoki had only fleeting moments of control with his body anymore. It's been this way for months now. He couldn't exactly remember when it had started but he was certain someone had done something to him.
He clearly saw his conversations with a shadowy figure. Whether he was the one who did this to him directly or not wasn't as important anymore. The shadow man was the major threat in all of this. Yet he couldn't do anything about it.
Everything was so vivid and clear but the moment he returned to his body, the memories faded and he went about his life like nothing occurred. It was all the more infuriating when he'd have to relive all of them once he was back in this limbo.
He couldn't speak out about what he'd seen for he couldn't remember it. He wondered even if he suddenly remembered would the shadow man let him speak? He had no way to warn anyone. He was a prisoner in his own body.
He could see his body making the rounds of Konoha. Searching, analyzing, recording. He was the perfect spy. One Konoha could never crack. His mind would be wiped clean if ever captured. No trace to the source.
The things he had already done were enough to make him ill. Killing team members on missions, falsifying intel for other teams, kidnapping Hyuga members for the shadow man; it was insane.
Who was this man?
How did he get his claws into him?
Why can't he BREAK FREE!?
Naoki knew what his current mission was. Observe and analyze Hanabi Hyuga and report back all details on her. Normally this would be a task well above his skill level but whatever they did to him caused a ridiculous increase in his stealth ability.
He'd been tailing her on and off ever since their last mission together. His body was currently reporting his latest findings to the shadow man. Unlike the other Hyugas, the shadow man was deeply curious about her.
Naoki did notice the shadow man seemed like a simplistic being on the surface; curious like a child. More accurately though, he was like a mad scientist. Below that calm facade though was a predator. New tidbits of information that intrigued him would elicit a sinister chuckle. It turned Naoki's stomach. He knew there were no good intentions hidden in that laugh. Whatever he wanted Hanabi for would not end well for the girl.
"Most interesting. She is the apprentice of dear Naruto-kun. That will prove useful when the time comes." The shadow man spoke his thoughts out loud since there was nothing Naoki could do about it. So confident he was with this mind control jutsu.
"My dear Naoki, do not fret. After you have brought her to me, I will no longer have a need for you. Your agony will cease as payment for a job well done. So for that, you're welcome."
Sickening bastard. If only he could break free and warn someone, anyone!
"Off you go then. I have a delivery to make after all. Wouldn't want poor Gaikun to punish me."
The ominous laughter coming from the hologram froze Naoki's blood. Something about this individual just didn't feel human. He cursed fate for dumping this on him.
Naruto had set out to return to Tsunade again and report what Hanabi had discussed with him. That left Hanabi alone with nothing much to do. She decided to see if Hinata was home.
Making her way towards the Inuzuka compound, Hanabi contemplated the conversation she just had with Naruto. He was much more open and affectionate than usual.
'It was... nice. I wish he would open up to me like that more often.'
Her thoughts then shifted to what was happening inside her clan. She knew Hiashi wasn't right and with everything else that's escalated outside of the village, she'd forgotten about the inner turmoil going on there. She may not have a very fond image of her clan anymore but she didn't like where things were headed. Naruto said that he had Neji looking into it for him. Hanabi only hoped that Neji could find something soon before anything bad happens.
When she arrived at the Inuzuka compound, the guards greeted her cordially and invited her in. Hanabi entered Kiba and Hinata's home to find her sister and brother in law eating a late breakfast.
"Hello, Hanabi-chan. How are you this morning?" Hinata greeted with a polite bow.
"What's up squirt? Haven't seen you in a bit." Kiba bellowed.
Hanabi's eye twitched. "How many times have I told you? I'm an adult now. Calling me squirt is embarrassing."
Kiba didn't seem to be bothered. "Meh, once a squirt, always a squirt." He chuckled.
Hanabi let it go since this was just how Kiba acted. Immature to the end.
"Anyway, I am fine nee-san. I had some down time and figured I could discuss things with you."
Hinata seemed to notice the serious demeanor Hanabi possessed. "Very well. Come to the living room and we'll chat."
Hanabi followed Hinata through the house towards the living room leaving Kiba to finish his food. Akamaru was sprawled out on the ground in front of the fire place, dozing lightly when they walked in. Hinata gave him a gentle rub under his chin much to his delight as his hind leg began to pat happily.
"So, it seems there are many things to discuss."
"You could certainly say that. Have you been to see Hiashi lately?" Hanabi began.
Hinata cringed at Hanabi's disrespect for their father. "I have not seen father recently. A few weeks ago I had a meeting with him to discuss duties of an heir and what to expect. I expected there to be more to follow but our schedules have been conflicting since then. I will have to make time to see him."
"Yes, well he's becoming increasingly irrational and hostile. Something is not right." Hanabi leaned in closer to Hinata to whisper. "I think someone might have done something to him."
Hinata gasped. "Why do you think that?"
"Just his actions and mannerisms. I noticed in our trainings that he is not nearly as refined and his strikes hardly inflict any pain lately."
"Couldn't that be a result of your training with Naruto-kun?"
"The pain tolerance maybe but that doesn't account for his sloppiness. My increase in ability should not have caused him to taper off. If you'd seen him spar recently, you'd know what I mean."
"Well what else is there?"
"You know how stoic Hiashi typically is. Well he's become very belligerent recently. Anyone that displeases him is shouted at or worse."
"It's true father isn't the loud, brash type."
"Plus, I can tell he's laboring in simple tasks such as walking. Normally he is meticulous in his posture but he is physically exerting himself to try and maintain the image. He looks to be in pain."
"I suppose I should see him then. This doesn't sound well."
"Don't get me wrong. I don't particularly care for Hiashi or the clan with all that's happened but a coup is not something Konoha can afford." Hanabi unknowingly repeating the words of her sensei.
"A coup? Who's talking about a coup?" Kiba stepped into the room at that moment.
Hanabi grimaced. "Just discussing Hyuga clan matters."
"Yea I know. Inuzuka hearing isn't used for just the battlefield. You guys are overreacting here. It's probably nothing. Hiashi-sama probably just got a cold or something."
"But you haven't been to the compound or felt the tension there." Hanabi insisted.
"Old guys get cranky when they are sick. He's the clan head so everyone's on edge to make sure they don't piss him off. It's not unheard of."
Hanabi could see her sister beginning to side with her husband. "Perhaps Kiba-kun is right, Hanabi-chan. Maybe we should wait before we rush to judgment."
"Wait!? This involves our family. If something is happening, we need to act now. You're the heir. This is a very big deal, nee-san."
"I'm just saying that it would be silly if you did all of this running around and made accusations against people if there was nothing going on." He continued. "I'd let it go if I were you guys. Your dad will be fine."
Hanabi was not pleased with her brother in law's attitude. "I appreciate your opinion, Kiba-san, but kindly mind your own business."
"Hey, this is my business! You're coming in my house with conspiracy theories about my wife's clan. So yea it's my business." Kiba didn't seem that upset but he was becoming more animated.
"Hanabi-chan, perhaps we should wait to see what occurs. I will visit father this week to see how he is doing. I'll let you know what I think." Hinata offered trying to cut off any further argument.
The lack of action was frustrating to Hanabi. "Fine, yea. Hiashi could be dying but we'll wait and see who takes over the clan when it happens." She sighed as she stood up. "Look, if this involves Hiashi, then someone may be after you as well. Just be careful. You're the only real family I have left."
Hinata's motherly smile put Hanabi at ease. "Do not fear, Hanabi-chan. I have Kiba-kun, Akamaru and the whole Inuzuka compound here to protect me. Their noses would smell any poison and they could hear a spy coming a mile away."
'Unless they were already inside.' Hanabi thought to herself. She didn't want to antagonize Kiba further. She wanted to mention the encounter on her recent mission but she didn't know who may be listening in.
"I guess I'll be going then. I'm sure Naruto-sensei will have some training for me soon as he gets back from the Hokage again."
"Ha! Naruto is training you? Good luck with that." Kiba chimed in.
"What's that supposed to mean, dog breath?" Hanabi didn't like his tone.
"Just the dead last of the academy teaching the former Hyuga heir. Ironic I guess to me."
"That dead last has saved this village many times over. He's probably the strongest ninja in Konoha right now. And he's been a wonderful teacher! I'm way better than I was three months ago. I could probably even kick your ass, chow for brains." Hanabi unleashed her fury in defense of her sensei.
"Yea right! I know I could still take him."
"Uh huh, when was the last time you sparred with him? Hell, when was the last time you even spoke to him?" Hanabi was getting in Kiba's face now.
"I don't know, a couple years."
"Exactly! You don't know anything about him. He'd mop the floor with you before you'd even hear the word go. You'd wish you were hit by Tsunade-sama's fists compared to the pain he'd inflict on you. You'd be begging for mercy within five seconds against him. You know nothing about Naruto-kun!" She screamed in his face while pointing a finger at him.
Hinata stood there shocked at her sister's vehement outburst. Hanabi was still breathing heavy but Kiba had given up the argument.
"Tch whatever." Kiba walked into the other room.
Hanabi composed herself again. "I'm sorry nee-san. He just... I can't stand it when people are ignorant of others."
"It's okay, Hanabi-chan. Kiba-kun is very... boisterous. He was only posturing. He means no disrespect."
"Yea well, I'm still sorry for acting that way in front of you at least."
"It's quite alright. It seems you have grown fond of Naruto-kun much like I had many years ago."
Hanabi sputtered. "W-what? No, nee-san. I don't like him like that. I just don't like people bad-mouthing him when he's not here is all."
Hinata gave her sister a mischievous smile. "Sure you don't, Hanabi-chan."
Hanabi buckled under the pressure. "Alright, fine! Maybe I have a little crush on him. Despite his annoying attitude and his ability to be a jerk, you get these glimpses underneath of a genuinely good guy in there."
Hinata smiled a true smile. "I remember that good guy. Hopefully you can bring it out of him again."
"Come on now, nee-san. There's a difference between a crush and a relationship. It's probably just hero worship or something. The man is a god when it comes to the shinobi arts. He can do almost anything and explain it in a way that I can figure out. His mind is incredible." Hanabi looked off in a daze.
"His mind you say? You sure it's not something else that looks incredible?" Hinata teased in a rare moment for her.
"I didn't say the view wasn't nice. Especially when we get more... hands on." Hanabi turned the tables on her sister.
Hinata jumped for a second most likely imagining what hands on training would be like under Naruto. "I'll bet that is very difficult to endure."
Hanabi smirked. "You might even say it's... hard... to withstand that kind of torture. What with the chiseled abs, pristine pecs and a butt you could bounce a quarter off of. Let's just say I don't mind the days where we go shirts vs skins."
"HANABI!" Hinata shrieked at her statement.
"What? I mean it's mostly him that's skins when we do." She grinned, teasing her sister more.
Hinata's mind must have melted because she began twiddling her fingers as she did in her youth. A deep blush adorned her face.
Hanabi giggled at being able to get a rise out of her sister. "Well, I really should be going now." She said turning serious. "Do be careful, nee-san. I don't like what's happening and I don't know if I can survive losing you."
Hinata had recovered from her vivid imagination. She gave her sister one last warm smile. "I will, Hanabi-chan. I promise."
With that, Hanabi made her way out to find her sensei again to see the results of his meeting.
"This is very serious then." Tsunade did not look pleased from the additional information Naruto had just provided. It would have made its way to her eventually but he was right in bringing it to her immediately.
"I know. Wars have been started for less." Naruto offered, leaning casually against the wall of her office with his arms crossed.
Tsunade was calm and business-like on the outside but beneath the surface she was seething. 'This has gone on long enough. Whoever is doing this thinks they can fuck with Konoha?'
"Enough is enough, Naruto. Attacking our border patrols is bad enough but when word reaches the clans that bloodlines are being targeted, they're all going to be calling for blood."
"What do you suggest then?"
"We need answers and we need them now. I'm sending Shikamaru out."
Tsunade knew what an important asset Shikamaru's mind was to the village. He's been invaluable in devising defense strategies and infrastructure improvements that have helped keep the village safe for many years. It's why she designated him the head Jounin after his father took the position as advisor to the Hokage. Shikamaru's foresight and analysis is quite possibility the best in the Elemental Nations. He's only ever sent out when it was absolutely necessary.
"Has the Intelligence Division been able to make any headway on the intel and whether it's Cloud or not?" Naruto inquired.
"They've discovered that the intel is authentic but still can't tell if it's Cloud. That muscle-headed idiot of a Raikage's lack of communication isn't really helping things." She added with a grunt.
Tsunade had given up on getting anything out of A. Despite the new era of peace, it seemed old habits die hard. Smoke and mirrors and redirection are all she ever gets from him. It's either an instinct he just can't give up or he really is hiding something. Either way, Tsunade can no longer take the benefit of the doubt from the built up goodwill of the last few years.
"In any case, this situation needs his expertise. I know you can usually figure these things out, Naruto, but Shikamaru will be ridiculously thorough in his search. Whoever is behind it, he'll figure it out."
Naruto held up his hand in apology. "No need to worry. I haven't gotten the job done. A fresh set of eyes will be good for this. Besides, I have that other thing to take care of anyway."
She of course knew he was referring to his ongoing Hyuga investigation. No need to say it out loud in case someone's ears were burning.
It suddenly dawned on her how casual they were speaking to one another. He wasn't nearly as rigid as he normally was. Despite the serious nature of the events unfolding around them, he seemed more at ease in her presence than he has in years.
"Yes, Tsunade?" He responded without thinking.
She wanted to tread carefully. She was getting something out of him for the first time in a long time. Like stumbling across a majestic, woodland creature, she didn't want to make any sudden movements so as not to scare it off.
"H-have you forgiven me?" Tsunade offered weakly with her gaze averted from his. Despite all of her power, she was emotionally fragile. She ventured out onto a precipice that could send her emotions spiraling.
Naruto had a look of contemplation. He didn't respond right away and it was driving her mad. 'Please, Naruto-kun.'
"Let's just say, you're not the only one that can be a stubborn idiot… Baa-chan." He threw in at the end with a smirk.
Her heart soared as he uttered that simple term of endearment. There was hope yet. Her Naruto did exist. She may yet live to see him take this hat from her.
She regained her composure. "Well brat, I can see your manners haven't changed."
The chuckle he produced sounded positively radiant. Tsunade didn't think she could hear a more beautiful sound as this.
"It just wouldn't be me if they had."
The cocky smirk on his face warmed her heart but she couldn't let this renewed fondness go to his head. She grabbed the closest thing on her desk and chucked it at his head. He made no effort to dodge allowing it to land home as acceptance of their first step in repairing what they once had.
As he lay in a heap reminiscent of her old teammate, Tsunade steered the conversation back to business.
"I'll send word to Shikamaru to assemble a team. He'll leave tomorrow."
Naruto suddenly stood up unharmed and with his former poise. "Keep me informed. Let me know if you need me to do anything. I'll get that other thing wrapped up as quick as I can."
He left the office and Tsunade couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. 'Welcome back, otouto.'
Naruto felt lighter as he walked away from Tsunade's office. He never realized just how much his grudge was weighing on his mind. He figured enough time had passed and he should at least allow his precious people back into his life for more than just business. Coping alone could only do so much.
'I'm sorry Baa-chan. I promise I'll make it up to you.'
Seeing the old arrogant smirk on her face again gave him a warm feeling inside. Tsunade acting like herself once more made him feel a little better about life.
He had wondered why now after all this time did he finally allow her back in?
'Oh well, something for another time. There's things to get done.'
Naruto continued walking through the village contemplating how he was going to approach the Hyuga investigation once Neji gave him some more info. He knew he'd need hard evidence before making any definitive decisions on what to do with them. He had to be extremely careful.
Clan business was about as sacred a law as there was in Konoha. It's what the village was founded on. Groups of nomadic clans joined together to share a place that they could practice their beliefs without interference while receiving protection from the larger alliance. Even if a clan hated another one, they would side with that clan whole heartedly if it meant protecting the rights of the individual clans.
Of course, the Hokages over the years found ways to circumvent this law through shrewd political maneuvering, back door deals and sometimes flat out intimidation. If there was a threat to the village, the Hokage usually acted without regard to a clan's rights in order to preserve the safety of all. These actions were dangerous precedents that thankfully never came to light lest a civil war were to break out. That didn't make the attempts any less treacherous.
'Whatever I come up with, it can't tie back to the Hokage in anyway. It has to look like the clan resolved it from within.'
While he was devising a strategy for surveillance, he couldn't help but over hear the various conversations shinobi were having with one another.
"God, another one? How many is that this week?" A young looking chunin was speaking with a group of his comrades.
"That's at least five now we've lost." His larger friend grimly explained.
"Those damn monsters. What the hell does Cloud want?" A pretty little brunette kunoichi around Konohamaru's age chimed in.
"I know. Didn't we just help them end a war and they want to start another one?" Another kunoichi with black hair spoke up.
"War brings in business. It was only a matter of time before another one happened." The eldest of the group, a middle-aged man sagely provided.
"Doesn't mean we have to like it." The original pouted.
"No it doesn't but you better not let the higher ups hear that you're scared."
"I'M NOT SCARED! I just don't like seeing friends die when we have no idea what's going on."
"If they wanted us to know, they'd let us know."
"Or they don't know themselves!"
Another Chunin sitting in the back decided to enter the conversation. "I heard Cloud is testing a new demonic weapon. I mean I don't know how we can trust them when they have two demons at their beck and call."
"Shh don't say things like that." One of the girls chided. "Naruto-sama also has a demon sealed in him. Do you think he's a demon too?"
"No! No, Naruto-sama is different. He is from Konoha so he knows how to handle these things. I just don't trust the other villages to handle theirs."
Naruto never joined in. He just listened. The paranoia was spreading. Direct attacks on Konoha ninja, turmoil in one of the founding clans, bloodlines being targeted by their enemies; he was reminded of something Jiraiya told him during his training trip.
'Naruto, there are going to be times during this job that everything seems to be falling apart around you. You have to push through because this is the profession we chose. This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.'
They needed to regain the upper hand here before they had a panic.
'I hope you can figure this thing out Shikamaru. Something big is coming. I can feel it.'
"I trust you are satisfied with the test results I've provided then?" The shadow man spoke plainly to Gaikun.
The eager gleam in Gaikun's eye gave away his thoughts. "They will do quite nicely. I have been hearing the various skirmishes on Konoha's forces. I suppose those are the tests you speak of?"
The shadow man only offered a nod as confirmation.
"Then it appears they are quite effective."
They were currently meeting well outside of Konoha proper. A secluded safe house well hidden in the depths of the forest was established many decades ago by Hyuga clansmen as a contingency. The knowledge of these locations has been lost to all but a few in the clan. Those few would be Gaikun and his fellow conspirators. They were currently using one of the more expendable locations. It was secure from the prying eyes of the village but Gaikun knew he could never use it again after meeting directly with the shadow man.
This was the first encounter he had in person. It was only the two of them for security reasons. Viewing the image beneath the cloak with his Byakugan, Gaikun felt confident that he would be able to handle him should he try a double cross.
The shadow man brought his hands together in a satisfied clasp. "Well then, I suppose it's payment time."
Gaikun nodded. He handed the man a scroll. Enclosed within was the exorbitant sum he requested. His other request, living Hyuga subjects, had been provided through various mission assignment briefings. He felt the less he knew about their abductions the better. He was not happy about it but the sacrifice of a few branch members was worth what he was trying to achieve.
The shadow man tucked the scroll in his robes without inspecting it.
"Will you not verify the contents?" Gaikun was unsettled by someone so trusting.
"Why? Are you trying to cheat me, Gaikun-sama?" The shadow man chuckled. "I have faith that you paid in full. Here's the coordinates where the weapons are stationed."
He handed Gaikun a different scroll.
"And they will respond to my commands?"
"As requested. You may find some of them less than friendly I would imagine but they all have been programmed to follow your orders. They will not disobey. I guarantee it."
Gaikun perused the locations. Exactly where he requested them. They will be the perfect surprise when the time comes.
"How many were you able to produce?"
"Roughly six thousand of the standard grunts. They will be brutal and merciless but ultimately cannon fodder for the elite jounin. They have an incredible pain tolerance and durability but they have very little thought capacity. Just send them in a direction and forget about them. A dozen or so should be enough to overwhelm even a hardened squad of chunin." The shadow man explained.
"Another three hundred elites are spread out evenly at each location. These will be able to handle most jounin one on one. They have much better higher order thinking skills. They can formulate plans and use jutsu in effective strategies. Konoha's elites will have trouble with three or more of these at a time."
"Then we have the Akuma. My ultimate creations have been able to blend the mutation perfectly to adapt the strength modifications and maintain their thought processes. You will find them most disagreeable verbally but they are fully programmed to follow your orders. I can personally guarantee that these units can handle jounin the likes of Hatake Kakashi." The shadow man's grin threatened to split his face.
Gaikun was amazed by this but maintained his aloof demeanor. "That's quite the boast. I wonder if they will prove it correct? How many have you provided?"
"These units were created from extremely powerful shinobi before I began to work on them. It is an incredibly painstaking process the details of which I won't bore you with. Thus I only have eight of them, two in each of the groups. Rest assured, Gaikun-sama. If you knew who I used for each of them, you would understand my confidence."
"Very well. I suppose this ends our business together then." Gaikun had much to do to prepare before starting his liberation.
"There was one last thing you might be interested in." The shadow man tantalized.
Gaikun turned back around to face him. "Be quick. I am quite busy."
"I'm certain that you are. However, I have something to offer you that may prove useful in your endeavor." The shadow man produced a vile with a dark liquid inside. "This serum is the base used to enhance the strength and durability of my creations. On weaklings it merely enhances them into mindless beasts. For the truly strong of mind and body such as yourself, they can become much more. With this, someone of your stature would be able to take on a kage."
The pure desire in Gaikun's eyes could not be hidden. This concoction was too good to be true. It was just the thing he needed to complete his goals. With something like this, he'd be able to personally remove Tsunade from power. There had to be a catch though. No one offers power of this kind for nothing.
"I see. That is quite an offer. What is it that you are asking in return?"
"I seek a certain Hyuga for testing. Hanabi Hyuga. She is most interesting from the reports I've read."
Gaikun was immediately defensive. "Unacceptable. She is of the main branch. We had a deal that they were not to be touched."
"Well then, I'm sure you don't really need my serum to complete your tasks. I'm certain you're plenty strong enough as is to take on the Hokage and her personal lap dog."
Gaikun knew exactly what the shadow man was doing. He was a keen negotiator himself and he knew how to prey on people's weaknesses in order to gain a deal. He had to adjust this in his favor though.
"Perhaps there is some other compensation that can be provided? Why is it that you seek Hanabi?"
"Her prowess and skill intrigue me. She is powerful beyond her years. I wish to study that power and mold it into an even greater creation."
The man was sickening if not effective. Gaikun had no familial attachments to Hanabi in the slightest. He would sell his own son if he felt the deal was weighed in his favor but this deal was not. Giving up a main branch member was too great a risk.
"What if I offered another powerful Hyuga member instead?"
"I'm not sure. They would have to be an incredible specimen."
"I could provide you the third most powerful member of our clan next to only Hiashi and myself."
"Interesting. Who would this be?"
"Neji Hyuga. He is undeniably skilled. A once in a generation talent that had the misfortune of being born into the branch house. Since he has the seal, I have no qualms about you taking him."
The eyes of the shadow man were hidden by the dark cloak he wore but the sinister smile on his face grew larger at the idea. "Yes, yes. He would prove a fine subject. Very well, I accept." He handed the vile over to Gaikun. "Deliver Neji to me after you have taken care of your business."
Gaikun could not believe his good fortune. He had obtained the power to fight a kage at the mere cost of a branch member.
"Do be careful with that now. Only use it when you are ready. There are painful side effects that occur before the transformation finalizes. You will want to be prepared for that. I'm certain someone of your considerable talents will have no trouble handling it though." The shadow man smirked.
"I understand." Gaikun made his way back towards Konoha as swiftly as possible. Finally, he had the power to obtain everything he ever imagined.
'Soon, Konoha will be mine.'
In an attempt to get myself psyched up to write a new chapter, I've added names to the chapter titles that I feel encapsulate the chapter's theme. See if you can guess where they come from. Only hint is that is related to music.
A new chapter should be coming soon. By soon I mean any time over the next few months. So stay tuned.