CHAPTER 27: Precious
Standing outside the restaurant, Sasuke peered upwards at the bird circling in the sky. He did the required hand seals before forming his thumb and index into a circle and bringing it up to his mouth. Heaving in a breath, he released it into his hand, creating streams of orange flames, gliding up with ferocity of a wild beast.
The bird stopped its circles and screamed, dodging the heat from the flames. The flames weren't aimed to injure, merely utilized as a means to get the bird's attention, seeing as it wasn't coming down. However, once the blaze died, the hawk swooped down like a bird of prey on the hunt. It landed with precision on Sasuke's shoulder, causing him to scowl as the talons grasped onto his flesh, not enough to damage, but enough to hurt.
Sasuke greeted the animal with a pet of its golden belly before catching sight of the note tied to its leg. He narrowed his eyes on it pensively, knowing it was a message from Juugo. Since the separation, he had only received one note from the man, a note asking him to return to Konoha. If Hinata was happy with Naruto, he saw no use in returning. Nonetheless, he removed the note and carefully unrolled it, laying his deep eyes on the neatly printed characters.
Hinata is in danger. I am heading to Kumogakure.
He didn't have anyone in his life anymore, not even Hinata, but the knowledge transcribed on the flimsy paper was enough to cause an ache in his chest. Regardless of whether Hinata chose him or not… Sasuke launched himself forward, breaking into a sprint up the path he had entered the village on. Any sedative effect from the alcohol was gone and his eyes morphed into the familiar red of a Sharingan wielder. The world around him was obliterated, leaving nothing but the foggy image of a hurt, damaged, abused Hyuuga Hinata.
Once he was out of the village, he leapt up to the tree branches before he sped up his pace, moving from one tree to the next. As far as the raven-haired ninja was concerned, it was all up to him to save his precious Hyuuga. If Juugo was coming from Konoha, it meant that Sasuke was closer to Kumo than the blonde, so he made to move especially fast.
Three days captive and Hinata could feel her resolve start to disintegrate. She was definitely not in a good frame of mind before the capture, her mind only on finding Sasuke, it only worsened in these circumstances.
Hidden under the ragged blanket, she turned herself over and fluttered her eyes open to see the door creak open. A slender man walked through, one different from the other that had been the one to give her the chakra dispersing shots. He wore thick glasses and no ninja apparel. Adorning his body was simple, white clothing.
"My, my," he praised, shuffling on his feet and coming to kneel down in front of her, "aren't you quite the specimen?"
"D-don't…" she whimpered and recoiled in the blanket, pushing herself further against the wall to gain distance between them. "Don't touch me…"
The man's lips curled into a sympathetic smile, "sorry, but to perform the surgery properly, I need to get a good look at those eyes."
"No…" Tears brimmed at the corner of her eyes, "pl-please don't."
A sob left her when she felt his cold fingers touch her temple, and there was a surge of chakra. She screamed and threw her head back, crashing into the ground beneath her. It didn't hurt as much as the man's touch, which caused the remaining, miniscule amount of chakra flowing around her eyes to twist and churn until she felt the familiar feeling of her bloodline activating.
"Perfect," uttered the monotone voice of the man, "exactly as I expect from the Hyuuga heiress."
Then his finger fell away and the chakra dispersed itself, allowing her escape from the unwilling activation of her Byakugan. She gasped a quick breath of the musky air, her tears falling freely. The man gripped onto the hem of her blanket and pulled it down to take a look at the rest of her figure, mentally deciphering how well she would take the oncoming ordeal.
"You don't need these," he grabbed at the restraints on her wrists, "you can't do anything anyway." So, he picked out the specific key on his ring and delicately unlocked the restraints with a click before completely removing them. Then, the blanket was brought back up and tucked around the quivering girl. "Get some rest, you'll need it if you want to survive the procedure tomorrow." She pulled away from him and turned her head to ignore him, causing him to smirk. "I only intend to take those eyes of yours. I'm no barbarian." With that said, he stood to his feet and made his way to the exit with calm steps.
As far as she was concerned, his words were untruths dipped in a transparent layer of empathy, like he knew or cared for what she was going through. In the end all that mattered was that she would lose her eyes soon, the eyes she was entrusted with as a prominent Hyuuga clan member. Hinata would fail in her duty of protecting the precious Byakugan. Dejected, she curled up into the ragged blanket and let her eyelids drift down. If only there was something she could do… or if only he was here to save her like the last time.
With the setting of the sun, the three shinobi continued to push forward, legs pumping with each burst of chakra from their agile feet. But with the sporadic crash of tree branches, Sakura winced and withheld comment. Ahead of her and Juugo, Naruto was putting all his energy into his movements. The chakra beneath his feet erratic and tearing off thick chunks of the bark of every branch he stepped off. The medic nin didn't need any special deductive skills to know her friend was in a volatile state, evident by the wooden splinters she actively avoided as they sprayed into her path.
"Naruto." She forced the muscles of her thighs, thrusting forward until she came out beside him. "We've travelled the entire day. Let's rest for a bit."
"No," he growled, looking into concerned emerald eyes, "we don't know what they're doing to her. We keep moving."
The blonde turned back to look ahead, into the dark depths of the forest that would eventually lead them to Kumogakure and Hinata. But before he could leap ahead, a hand latched onto his elbow and yanked him to a halt. Naruto almost lost his balance, but managed to call on his skills and find the ground with his feet, then was followed by Juugo and Sakura.
The taller of the two males looked anything but the person Naruto had grown to know over the last handful of months. Juugo no longer exuded the peaceful aura that resonated and seemed to penetrate every shell of a person, leaving a warm comfort behind.
"She's right." Juugo looked evenly to the Kyuubi vessel with sternness in his eyes. "We'll be useless to Hinata if we cannot do anything to help her."
"And while we're resting here with a nice little fire, we don't know what they're doing to her,"
he countered, stepping up to Juugo as though the height difference didn't make the rebuttal any less threatening.
Juugo's face appeared to sadden with those words spoken aloud. He turned his gaze away and looked up to the sky, setting sights on the white glitter of stars high above. If it weren't for the apparent contemplative expression on his rugged features, Naruto would have smacked him. It would have been a poor attempt to knock some sense into him, but their present predicament seemed to leave everyone on edge. "Whether it's us or someone else," Juugo started, gaze still inclined towards the darkened sky, "someone will save her. It's better to regain energy and think this through thoroughly before we act impulsively."
Without warning, Naruto's hand shot up and grasped a handful of Juugo's shirt and pulled him down to his level. "Bastard, you're acting like you don't care about her anymore." His normally brilliant, cerulean eyes flashed a bright crimson momentarily as his chest heaved anxious breaths. "We already have a plan from Tsunade, so either we act now or lose Hinata."
"Naruto," Sakura voiced softly and stepped up to the pair, gently placing a hand over his grip on Juugo's shirt. "Let's just a get a bit of sleep," she proposed while her fingers slowly pried his off the material, "we've made good time anyway. So half a night's rest won't do any harm. They probably won't even do anything to her until daylight at the very least."
"Fine," Naruto grumbled and fully released Juugo's shirt before stomping off to a patch of grass and dropping down.
With his bloodline activated, the three tomoe rotated with ferocity as he watched from the high tree, hidden by the ample greenery its braches provided. Deep below him was a ninja cell of three, similar to the one he was a part of in his genin days, full with two males and a female. They were the epitome of carefree times, laughing as they sat propped on large boulders along the sides of the desolate path. Whether they had anything to do with Hinata's kidnapping was irrelevant. All that mattered was that the one girl he had ever revealed his heart to was missing, and those three wore cloud's emblem with pride on their foreheads. It was a pride he was determined to wipe out regardless of his prior ideals about preserving lives of the innocent. Kumo could burn to the ground and as long as Hinata was safe, it wouldn't change anything to the Uchiha.
Drawing his Kusanagi with the echo of the metal leaving its sheath, Sasuke stood from his spot and leapt down into the open spot in front of the three. "Where is Hyuuga Hinata?"
The ease of a quiet night draped over them, still hours away from the sunrise, but it was better this way. Rolling off the dirt ground, Juugo stood up onto his long legs and looked up to the glittering sky, its silver stars shining down on the world. They looked so tranquil, nothing like how he felt they should be. No, on a night like this they should be mourning the disappearance of a dear friend. But perhaps their happiness was because, from their view up high, they could probably already see Hinata, or at least that was how Juugo reasoned. The fact that the stars were still happy must mean that Hinata was fine. They were sparkling with joy, and the sky was clear, with no sign that it would rain down on them. Indeed, no one was in mourning and it would remain that way.
Heaving a breath of the crisp air, he turned on his feet to look down at his two companions. To him, they were only acquaintances, but he was grateful for their dedication. "It's time to head out," he stated sternly.
The two bodies shifted. Emerald eyes fluttered open before Sakura sat up and stifled a yawn. "Mm, alright." She nodded. "Naruto?"
"I'm up…" a raspy voice replied. Naruto waved his friend off and turned over again, his back now facing her.
"Get up." Juugo nudged the usually enthusiastic ninja with his dirt clad shoes.
Springing up, Naruto narrowed his eyes, "I'm up, but you didn't have to kick me with your dirty feet."
Sakura stretched out her limbs, eyes wandering the forest and then up to the sky. "A couple hours until sunrise, let's head out."
"Right, I'm ready," Naruto answered affirmatively; though his mouth was wide open in a deep yawn.
"You seem less energetic," Sakura remarked, her head tilting curiously.
"Because Hinata's fine, I just know it."
Hearing the blonde's words, Juugo inclined his gaze back up to the sky. "How are you so certain?"
"I just know it," he responded, stepping out in front of the two, "I had a dream and she was fine." Looking back, he shot the others his signature grin before turning back and jumping up into tree, and then another. Juugo and Sakura followed suit.
Just like earlier, the three leaf nin leapt from one branch to the next, and they continued until the high buildings and mountains near the cloud village started coming into view. The sun was due to rise in an hour or so.
With his senses on full alert, Naruto pushed off a thin branch, sending him forward before landing on the ground. He sniffed the air, much like how Kiba had done many times for the missions they had gone on together, but the blonde's sense of smell was significantly inferior to Kiba's. Nonetheless, he smelt something oddly familiar, but misplaced.
"What is it?" Sakura landed beside him, then followed by Juugo.
"Do you smell that?"
"Smell what?" she questioned, sniffing the air herself.
"It smells like blood," Juugo answered for them, starting off first in the direction of the metallic tang.
"Hinata?" Wide cerulean eyes locked onto the brush of shrubbery where the stench seemed to emanate from. Breaking into a sprint, he raced past Juugo and into the covering of forestry. Naruto continued to follow the scent, hastily kicking his way through thorny bushes and low-hung branches. The entire time he could feel his heart pounding erratically in his chest, threatening to burst out. His jaws were clenched and the chakra in his body was growing in intensity as his mind tried to reason the other possibilities of a bloody scene somewhere Hinata was believed to be. Finally finding a particularly strong whiff, Naruto pushed through the last of the leafy barrier.
He cringed as the smell of fresh blood hit him and then looking up, he cringed at the gory scene portrayed to him. Scanning the scene, his blue eyes roamed the battered bodies until the sound of feet shifting brought his attention over to the side, where he was met with crimson red eyes. His knees gave out and he fell to the ground, lungs heaving for air as his face contorted. It was like he had been ripped out of his body only to be jolted back in. Genjutsu… With his muscles already tired from the journey, he felt the pronounced effect of the Uchiha bloodline. "Sasuke!" Naruto growled. Looking up to his best friend as his own eyes morphed from its usually bright blue to a fiery red.
"Naruto!" Sakura's voice called out, soon to be answered by the screech of a hawk's cry. She stepped out from the forest but froze once her emerald eyes found Sasuke standing close by and Naruto doubled over. "Sa-Sasuke…" she whispered.
The golden bellied bird spread its wings and took flight, gliding past a stunned Sakura and into the woody area behind her. In a matter of seconds it remerged propped on Juugo's shoulder, a barely there smile on his lips as he stroked it chest with a finger. "You came."
"Hn." Sasuke lowered his eyes from the trio, down to the blade of his sword where the tip glistened with beads of bloods. Those beads trickled down the length, creating a ripple in the puddle below. He flicked his wrist and then sheathed his weapon. Any outward signs implied he was calm, but Sasuke knew the anger and rage thundering through him was ready to spill out. With little regard for the lifeless bodies carelessly thrown below him, he stepped over and found himself firmly standing inches from Juugo. "You didn't protect her," he stated, his eyes narrowed and burning with ire.
Juugo nodded solemnly. The man regretted not being able to protect the Hyuuga heiress. The earlier fury he had unleashed upon hearing of her disappearance was replaced with a deep, self-loathing guilt. He hadn't just let down Hinata, but he had let down Sasuke, and he knew it all too well. "I'm sorry." The taller man bowed apologetically.
"Your apology is worthless right now," Sasuke countered irately.
"Wait a second," Sakura interrupted. She had her arms slung around Naruto's waist to ease him off the ground. "What's going on? Why are you here, Sasuke?"
Once Naruto regained his balance, he refrained from leaning on the pink-haired girl for support. "Sasuke," he ground out the name, laced with resentment.
Sasuke shifted his eyes slightly to catch sight of his former teammate. "I don't have time for this."
"Bastard!" Naruto lunged forward, his hand fisted and driving towards Sasuke's head. The fist was easily caught in Sasuke's own hand. "I don't have time for this either teme!" The blonde kicked his leg out, aiming for the Uchiha's shins. Sasuke let go of the fist and pushed off the ground, propelling backward.
Even with the mission at hand, Naruto unleashed a wave of strikes and Sasuke continued to dodge each one with his insightful eyes.
"Let go of me," Sasuke pulled forward, trying to loosen the grip of Juugo's hand on his shoulder.
"Ow, Sakura," Naruto rubbed his shoulder from his spot a good distance from Sasuke, "did you have to hit me? I mean, Juugo just grabbed Sasuke." He motioned with a wave as his bottom lip puckered out.
"Serves you right, Naruto." She paced up to him and held her fist up threateningly.
"Tch," Sasuke scoffed and jerked his shoulder away from the taller blonde's grip. His face wore the usual scowl it was accustomed to. With that scowl, his obsidian eyes narrowed on his former teammates, glaring with malice and discontent.
Juugo was standing as tall as he had ever been and his eyes betrayed a glimmer of sadness, similar to how he had looked upon Sasuke's first encounter with him. They were eyes laden with grief and guilt, yet the Uchiha prodigy felt no sympathy to the conflict the man must be experiencing. There was only one image flashing in his Sharingan, and it had beautiful, lavender eyes. "Leave," he commanded in a stiff tone.
"Ha, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Naruto mocked as he pulled himself up to his feet and dusted off some of the dirt. "Too bad, I've got someone to save and there's no way I'm turning back now."
There was a nod of agreement from the medic ninja. "We're on a mission and we will not turn back."
Sasuke glanced between the two, eyes determining their will to continue. "Suit yourself," he replied and then pointed his blade to the bodies in emphasis, "just don't get in the way of my mission, or you know what I'm capable of."
It chilled Sakura to the core hearing him speak so coldly to them, reminiscent of their last encounter. Even so, a small smile cracked across her features as he briskly marched passed them and leapt up to the high branches of a tree. Naruto followed enthusiastically after his friend, yelping something about never getting in anyone's way and beating Sasuke this time for sure.
"Naruto has suddenly loosened up," Juugo noted, stepping up beside the lone female of the group.
"They're best friends, after all," she answered softly before shifting her feet to face him, "Juugo, what exactly is Sasuke doing here?" The smile previously occupying her lips faded, giving way to a pensive expression. "I know you were with him prior to moving to Konoha, so you must know what he's doing here."
There was a sigh before Juugo inclined his head downward to look at the girl, then soon after, he cracked his own smile. "He's here to protect something precious to him."
"Huh?" She blinked, while a look of utter bafflement was written all over her countenance. It was replied with an ambiguous nod as Juugo took off as well, leaving Sakura questioning what was so precious to Sasuke that he went this far out of his way to protect it. "Could it be…" she whispered to herself, "he came to make sure… Naruto was safe on this mission?"
A/N: Happy holidays!