The Lavender Beast of Konoha
Summary: In a fit of hubris, Hiashi forced Hinata to attend the same Academy class as Neji. Having never been in the same class as Naruto, who shall serve as her inspiration to grow stronger when she graduates? AU Team Gai: Lee, Tenten, and Hinata. Gen for now.
Disclaimer: Naruto was created by Kishimoto Masashi. No disrespect is intended in its use.
She leaned on a red-painted bridge, her head cradled in her arms as she stared into the water below. "I don't think I can do it," she admitted out loud after she felt the vibrations that indicated someone had leaned on the rail next to her.
There were a few seconds of silence, before Gai spoke. "It is up to you, Hinata. It is your self-rule, after all. No-one besides you can enforce its conditions. I shall not judge you for it, no matter what your decision is."
She shook her head. "I… I know I should, but… You don't… you don't know my father."
"Not well, no," he agreed. "Still, seeking the approval of the ones you love can often be more terrifying than facing a veritable horde of angry assassins. I can certainly understand how frightening it can be to disappoint those that you admire or love. But in the end, my student, you must ask yourself one question. Which situation would you prefer to choose: facing your father should you enact your self-rule, or facing your young teammates should you not?"
With those words, he gently pushed himself off the bridge rail and started to walk away. After a few steps, a soft voice interrupted his stride.
"I… I can't."
He closed his eyes, an inaudible sigh escaping from his lips.
"Not… not by myself. If I do it… then will you… will you be there to support me?"
Gai grinned as he turned back to her. "Hinata, I will always be there to support all of my youthful students. It's the promise of a lifetime." His teeth shone as he sealed his pledge by posing like a nice guy. After a few seconds, he dropped the pose. "Now then, you cannot have a proper sparring match without warming up first. Follow me."
Two figures ran around the outskirts of the village, their bodies moving fast enough to seem to be a blur to most who observed.
"Sensei," Hinata blurted as she barely kept up with her teacher, who was setting a punishing pace. Her body leaned forward and her arms trailed behind her like the wings of an airplane, as she adopted the common ninja running form, while he pumped his arms in the running style more commonly used by civilians. "Why are we doing this?"
"We're stoking the fires of youth!" Gai shouted in return as he started to go even faster. "Do you feel it, Hinata? That is the euphoria that only comes from pushing yourself as hard as you can. Embrace it! Harness it! Use it! Push yourself faster, my student. Faster until you feel like you're flying. Then, and only then should you keep your self-rule!"
The banging of the door violently sliding open abruptly broke the calming quiet of the Hyuuga clan leader's study.
"Father! I challenge you!"
Hiashi sighed as he heard the sliding door skip in its tracks from its forceful opening. "Not now, Hanab-" The clan leader's voice trailed off as he looked up from his documents to see his elder daughter, not his younger. Certainly his two daughters voices were different, but he could be forgiven for his mistake – his older daughter had never spoken to him in such a forceful tone. Not once, not ever. His face remained impassive, but the ink brush he had been holding silently dropped from his suddenly loose hand.
Hinata stood there, still catching her breath from shouting so soon after her hectic run. The girl could feel the clammy feeling of her clothes sticking to her, the realisation slowly dawning that she was standing in front of her father while still soaking in the sweat of her race with her sensei. She felt her limbs going cold as the confidence from her adrenaline rush began to wither away under her father's gaze. Her body began to tremble as she registered the calculating look in his eyes. As her mouth opened to apologise for her forceful entry, her teacher's hand rested on her shoulder. She looked back at him for a moment, her trembling stopping as she registered the smile on his face, before she turned back to the clan leader.
"Um… that is… Father, w…we have not sparred in over a year. I…" she looked down at the floor for a moment, took a deep breath, then looked up and continued, "I wish to test myself against you!"
The silence stretched between them. For a few seconds, Hiashi made no visible reaction. Then, he nodded.
As they walked to the Main House dojo, with Hiashi several steps in the lead, Gai leant down so that he could whisper to his youngest pupil. "Remember, my student, that this is not about winning or losing or showing anything to your opponent. This is about proving to yourself that you have become stronger. Fight smart, fight well, but above all else, fight with everything that your youth can give you. And know that above all else, I am proud of you Hinata." As they reached the dojo's entrance, he imparted on her his final words before letting her go through before him. "Now then, show him what hard work and determination can accomplish."
As Hinata quickly ran through some stretching exercises in the five minutes preparation time that was allowed her in a challenge, she tried to distract herself with her surroundings. The Main House dojo was, like the rest of the Hyuuga clan holdings, austere and functional and not much more. Only the more discerning eye could have spotted the high level of workmanship involved in the perfectly aligned floorboards and roof beams, and guessed at the true price paid to master builders to construct this training room.
In theory, the only witness to her fight would be Gai – in theory, at least, since she was in the middle of the holdings of a clan full of people who could see through these surrounding walls whenever they chose. Privacy was an illusion in this household, and the Byakugan was also known for seeing through all illusions. Still, she was very glad to see that none of the Elders were physically in the dojo for the coming spar – even with her instructor's support she didn't think she could have faced a fight under their direct gaze.
While she was glad that her teacher was there, she was conversely glad that her teammates were not. She did not think that they would have understood this. From their conversations and her observations she suspected that both had chosen their path in life, rather than having it chosen for them. They worked and trained in order to further their own expectations of what they could do. Maybe in time she could tell them what it meant to train with a clan's Expectations in mind.
She glanced at her green-clad sensei, who was standing out of the way, almost against a wall. Clutched in his hands were her sandals, and draped over his arm was her jacket – as with all of her previous spars in the Hyuuga Main Family, she would wear just her basic black pants and top for this match. When he spotted her gaze upon him, he gave her a nice guy pose, his confidence in her shining almost as blindingly as the light reflecting off his teeth.
No. No, she had to admit to herself that she wasn't working just to meet Expectations any more. The constant stamina exercises, Gai's special non-Jyuken taijutsu moves, and the ninjutsu she had just started to learn – none of these were things that her clan Expected her to know.
"Very well," her father's voice broke through her contemplation. She turned to face him as he said, "You may begin."
She nodded, dropping into her initial stance while he remained standing with arms at his side. It was a clear indication that he did not think that he needed to adopt a stronger defensive posture. Hesitantly, she formed the signs required to activate her doujutsu. After her vision expanded, her nerves settled a little at the sight of her teacher looking on, his face serious and calm. If he wasn't worried, then she shouldn't show it either, right?
The girl took a deep breath, blocking out her nervousness as best as she could, before she charged forward. As she drew closer, she launched herself off the floor into a flying kick in the hopes that her father would be surprised by the unusual tactic. The almost casual ease with which he blocked and deflected her kick on his forearm indicated he wasn't as shocked as she had hoped.
Using her other foot to push herself off his arm, she dropped to the floor before spinning into a sweeping kick to take out his legs. When he easily avoided the attack by jumping back, she launched to her feet, her palms glowing as she switched to the more traditional hand attacks of the Jyuken style. She concentrated on hitting his arms as she attacked, as she knew that his counter-attack would be punishing if she attempted to get past his reach to get to his chest. Each strike was deflected, however, with no damage done. It did not help that she had to be very careful of what she was doing – her father's height and reach advantage meant that he could keep her far away from him while still being close enough to easily reach her.
After five minutes of this she was very grateful for her sensei's regime of exercises. She was soaked in sweat, but that was as much from her earlier run as it was from this battle. Five months ago she would have collapsed in exhaustion by now.
But stamina alone would not get her through this. With her Jyuken failing to breach Hiashi's defences, she started to mix in some of the taijutsu moves that Gai had taught her. Various acrobatic kicks were mixed into regular palm strikes.
At seven minutes into the fight, her father's eyes narrowed. Sidestepping her next attack, he casually twisted around her, pushing on her back to force her away from him. She turned, recovering her balance, just in time to see him mouth one word and drop into an attack stance. "Byakugan."
It was probably only the thought of looking weak in front of her sensei after all his encouragement that stopped her from flinching at the extra level of harshness that the Hyuuga doujutsu leant to her father's eyes. Her eyes quickly identified the intention of his attacking stance, as he was not trying to mask his movements. Although it had been a while since they had sparred, Hinata had fought him often enough to guess his most likely target – her right shoulder to cut off the chakra to her dominant hand. After that he would either take out her other arm, or else take out one of her legs. It was not that her father was usually so predictable in his fights – she could never read what he was going to do when he was up against Hanabi, for example. It was just that he didn't really put his all into his fights against her. Why would he when the same attack continually broke through her guard and defeated her? Even now, after all of her additional training, it was unlikely that she would be able to dodge it – his reach still exceeded her agility.
She was faster, stronger, and capable of lasting much longer in a fight than the last time she had fought him. But none of that would mean a thing if he took her out now. She hadn't proven anything – not to herself, not to her father, and not to her teacher. It couldn't end like this!
In the split-second that he started his attack, she made her decision.
Jyuken relied on pushing chakra through the fingertips or palm into the tenketsu of your opponent. While it could precisely target specific tenketsu if you had the talent and pinpoint accuracy required to do it, the Hyuuga style of palm strikes leant itself to causing wide damage on multiple points at once. This was because chakra was channelled through the entire palm, which was a far larger area than the needle-width tenketsu points. A side effect of such attacks was that it not only attacked the tenketsu, but all of the underlying internal muscles and organs as well. Even a glancing blow from a Jyuken palm strike could be extremely painful.
Instead of angling her own counter-strike to go for her father's chest (which would have failed, given his far superior reach advantage), or angling it so that it deflected his strike (which may work once or twice, but would eventually fail due to his superior speed), she chose another option.
Palm met palm in an explosion of intermingled chakra. Their hands were blown back from the mutual chakra exchange, their bodies twisting away from the forces exerted. Hinata fell to the floor, her face contorted in pain, while her father took a few steps back.
Hiashi recovered first, taking the time to further step out of the girl's attack range in order to check his palm. At first he had thought that she was attempting some unusual new blocking style that her teacher had shown her. When he had realised her true intention at the last moment, battle instincts had caused him to release chakra into her palm, much as she had done to him. Some of his tenketsu points had been closed, which meant that he would find it difficult to perform Jyuken strikes with his dominant hand. But his Byakugan told him that Hinata was in a worse position – every one of the tenketsu points in her smaller hand had been blown by his strike. This in itself was not bad – the points could be reopened – but chakra had also flooded into her entire hand, damaging the underlying tissues. She wouldn't have full use of her hand for quite a few days.
"Sometimes we must sacrifice an advantage in order to obtain one," the green-clad jounin noted from the sidelines.
Hinata nodded, her pained face gradually calming as she used her good hand to push herself to her feet.
Hiashi's eyebrows rose. A sacrificial attack – taking out one of your enemy's weapons by sacrificing one of your own in the process. A curious tactic, but ultimately self-defeating. Even if his daughter managed to do it to his other palm (which she would not manage, now that he was aware of her kamikaze plan), he still had access to several techniques that did not require the use of his hands. She could not win this way.
"The only advantage gained here was in slightly prolonging this session," The clan leader noted as he shifted to a new stance, using the arm with the damaged palm as a counter-balance. He beckoned to her. "Come then. Show me you have learned something besides a willingness for self-mutilation in the past few months."
"Y… yes father." The Hyuuga girl took up a stance, placing her damaged hand in the less dominant position like her father had. A moment later, she was racing forward.
The clan leader took her attack without trouble, his hand blocking her Jyuken strikes, his body swaying back from the occasional kicks she threw in to try and take him by surprise. After half-a-minute of taking the defence, he flowed around her next attack, letting her arm fly past him as he shoved a chakra-less palm strike into her chest. His arm drew back for another strike while he kept moving forward to stay within her defence.
After initially stumbling back, she started to move with the momentum rather than fighting it, bending her spine and arms back at an angle that most people could not have copied without wrenching their shoulders out of alignment. As her hands landed on the floor, she used her momentum to start pushing into a handstand. Her legs scissored up, attempting to trap Hiashi's attacking arm, but he drew back in a small jump to escape her attempted leg hold. The Hyuuga leader couldn't help but notice that she wouldn't have been able to maintain the hold anyway – her handstand had quickly collapsed as her damaged palm could not maintain her weight. The girl used her still-good palm to push up and twist her body, turning her collapse into a spinning crouch.
"I taught all of my students some basic moves," Gai continued in his commentary. "Hinata proved to be most adapt at the highly acrobatic manoeuvres."
Hiashi chose to not respond to the jounin this time.
Hinata stared at her father, desperately trying to think of something else to try. She was moving around far more than he was, which meant that she was expending much more energy. This just wasn't working. But what could she do?
Mentally she reviewed her daily spars with her teammates. What tactics had they used which were most successful against her? Quickly she threw out the ones that worked due to Lee and Tenten's height and reach advantage. After a moment, she hit upon something that might work if she was lucky in the way her father reacted.
Decision made, she ran towards the clan leader. As she drew within his attack range she dropped to her knees as his palm narrowly missed her head. Her good hand came up, ready to attack the tenketsu in his leg, but he had not moved the way she had thought he would, so she missed the tenketsu point, barely grazing his leg.
His leg was not in the place she expected because it was being used to support the other leg, as Hiashi counterattacked by kicking her in the chest. Hinata felt the air explode from her lungs as her back struck the dojo wall. She hung there a brief moment, before gravity started to slide her down the wall.
Her father looked at her for a moment before turning and heading for the exit.
As her eyes started to close, she could see her sensei moving towards her. What would he think of her, she wondered. She still hadn't proven anything – her father had tossed her around the dojo like a limp rag doll. After her teacher had put aside so much of his personal time to help her learn ninjutsu. After he had done nothing but encourage her while building her strength and skills up. After he had done so much for her, she could not fail in front of him!
Hiashi paused, turning to face her as she struggled to her feet.
"I… I did not concede yet, Father."
Gai looked at his student, his face unreadable. "Are you sure, Hinata?"
"Yes. Thank you, Sensei. I… I am sure."
He nodded before dashing back out of the way.
"Very well," Hiashi as he moved back to the center of the dojo. "One last chance. Come at me, then."
After gathering herself for a few moments, Hinata nodded and charged towards her father. She put her all into her next attacks, pushing her strength, will and power into a series of chakra laden strikes as she tried to shut down his remaining hand. For three minutes she pushed her father hard enough that he took one step back, then two, and soon enough to five.
On his sixth step, he grabbed her attacking hand's wrist with his slightly damaged hand while he used his good hand to attack. There was the briefest moment for her eyes to widen, before she was falling back from another blow to her chest.
He looked down at her as she struggled to get back up again for a third time. After a few seconds, he shook his head. "Enough. This is a spar, not a fight to the death. The match is over."
Hinata stopped her struggles, her gaze dropping to the floor. After a few more seconds, her father spoke again.
"Hinata." He waited until the girl looked at him, before he continued. "That was-" he stopped, considering the right word. "Better."
Hinata's eyes widened, her eyes coming up to track him as the clan leader turned and walked to the dojo exit. He paused when he reached his girl's teacher.
"Maito Gai, was it not?"
The jounin nodded, eyes not moving from his student.
Hiashi studied him for a moment, before he spoke. "She seems to have finally found her will, but she must still get much stronger. I leave her in your hands."
She was still half-lying on the floor, supporting her weight on her good hand, when the green-clad jounin walked up to her.
"He didn't really try at all," she murmured as she stared at her damaged hand, which was covered in bright red burns. "But I did. I really tried." She blinked, trying to hold back her tears. "I swear I did, and I couldn't do anything. I'm… I'm not strong enough."
Gai sat down in front of her, crossing his legs as he looked at his student. After a lengthy silence, he spoke up. "I do not agree. Your father was not demonstrative, but I believe that he acknowledged your growth. However, if you do believe what you say… well then, there's really only one solution. I shall simply have to help you to get even stronger."
She looked up at him, her eyes widening at the easy smile and lack of recrimination on his face. She hesitated, before she nodded in response.
Hinata winced as her teacher gently tied off the bandage that covered the palm and wrist of her right hand.
"Are you sure that you do not wish to go to the hospital?" Gai asked as he put away his medical kit.
She shook her head. "No, thank you. The… the poultice I used will help it heal. It should be fine in a few days. And it's… it's a good reminder of the price of bad promises."
"Hinata." He rested his hands on her shoulders while looking at her with a serious expression. "There are no bad promises if you are promising from your heart. Today you did not do well against your father. Do not despair at this – instead, use it as an impetus to improve for the next time." He smiled, and added, "You have seen my eternal struggle against my own too-hip rival. For the 49 wins I have gained, I have also experienced 49 losses. I remember each of those losses just as fondly as I remember each of those wins, because they were all an opportunity to learn and improve. And after all, the day where we stop trying to improve is the day we should quit being ninja." He took his hands off her shoulders. "Now then, rest up. After training tomorrow, we shall be going on a mission."
Her eyes widened. "A… a mission? But what about… um, won't my injury be a burden?"
"There are no burdens to those with a ready spirit, Hinata – there are only opportunities for improvement." He stood, grinning as he added. "Tomorrow we shall use this opportunity to begin improving your ambidexterity."
In a seedy bar on the outskirts of a seedier town that was nestled in a neutral space on the border of the Land of Fire, an unkempt bandit was regaling his story to some acquaintances. "-and she wasn't even looking at them. Totally blind throws, I'm telling you! No-one could survive that girl once she decides to kill you."
His compatriots turned to each other, murmuring worriedly about the news. Everyone knew to avoid the jounin and chuunin ninja, but if even the genin were getting that good, then how would they ever sketch a living from stealing off of others?
The word cut through the conversation, slicing it into silence. As one the bandits turned, eyes fixing on a man with a wiry build who was lounging nearby. His body was covered in a long travel coat made from the some tough materials as ninja flak vests, while his head was shrouded in darkness from shadows that were cast by the coat's rain hood.
"Why don't you shut it, hey?" The tale-telling bandit growled. "No-one asked for your opinion."
"And yet you will receive it anyway," the wiry man answered, taking down his hood to reveal a fairly nondescript face. What did draw the men's attention was the slashed symbol of the Grass nation that was tied around his neck. As the bandit drew back, his face paling as he realised he'd mouthed off to a missing-nin, the ninja smiled and asked, "You don't have a problem with that, do you?"
"Good." A kunai appeared in his hand. He looked between the weapon and the men for a moment. "Watch, learn, and despair at your inadequacies." With a smirk, he casually flicked the throwing knife at the back of an extremely large and muscular man who was sitting at the bar. The bandits did not have time to blink when faster than sight, the large man's right arm shot back, his index finger catching the kunai's hilt ring. Momentum let the kunai swing around his finger a few times, but the large man did not make any other motion. Only when the weapon finally slowed and stopped did he turn around, his body moving at an almost leisurely pace. When he faced the bandits, they could see that he wore the same symbol as the man who had almost killed him.
"Must you involve me in your object lessons?" The large man rumbled as he threw the kunai back at the wiry man, who caught the weapon with ease.
As the large man turned back to his drink, the wiry man put away his weapon and looked at the bandits. "Do you see?" he asked. "Your terrifying bandit killer means nothing to a true ninja. Awareness of your surroundings and catching a weapon when it is thrown at you are no hard tasks at all for a chuunin such as me. I certainly have nothing to fear from some slip of a girl if that's the extent of her skills. And my friend over there, as you could see, is even better than I. There is nothing you can throw at him that he cannot catch. Nothing. His defence is absolute. Your little killer would not have a chance against him."
The survivor of the original attack looked at his companions, before looking at the man. His eyes narrowed at the indirect insults the man had made to his dead friends by inferring that their skills were not good enough. "Hmph," he snorted. "I bet she'd kill him too if he went after her."
There was a moment of silence. The bandit's eyes widened as the room seemed to darken. Looking down, he could see that a huge shadow was covering him, causing the drop in light. He turned around, his eyes soon catching in the gimlet eyes of the large man who had previously been at the bar.
"Really?" The man rumbled, his eyebrows shooting up to emphasise his disbelief at the bandit's words. "How much do you bet, then?"
Hinata walked into the training ground with her teacher beside her. Before she could blink, her two teammates jumped in front of her.
"Hinata-san, what happened to your hand?"
"Yeah, who did this to you?" Tenten's eyes narrowed. "Is this why you didn't want to spar with your father? Did he hurt you?"
"It… it's okay." Hinata waved her hands in a conciliatory gesture before she realised that it was bringing attention to her injury. She quickly crossed her hands behind her back, and added, "It was my fault entirely."
"Are you certain, Hinata-san? Because if you wish us to pursue this then Tenten and I shall gladly have words with the person who did that."
At that point, Gai's laughter rang around the field. "That's the spirit, Lee! If you're going to pick a rival then you should pick a powerful one." He frowned, and added, "Although it will take quite a while of strenuous training before you are ready to engage someone of the Hyuuga clan leader's calibre."
"So it was him?" Tenten frowned. "Damn it girl, I know you don't like confrontations but you can't let him do this to you!"
"Tenten, calm down." Gai waved his hands in a 'please stop' motion. "Hinata was telling the truth. Her injury was a result of her own attack as much as it was due to her father. Full Hyuuga sparring matches are dangerous at the best of times, after all. If Hinata doesn't wish to take it any further than that, then we should all respect her wishes."
The weapons girl looked unhappily at their leader for a few seconds before sighing and nodding. "Fine."
"Good. We shall begin our training today as usual, but we shall keep it shorter than normal. We shall be going on a C-rank mission after lunch."
"C-class? Great! Looks like I'll be able to buy that sansetsukon this month after all. Oh, and that reminds me." Tenten pulled a small bag out of her kunai pouch and tossed it to the pale-eyed girl next to her. "Here you go."
Hinata looked at the bag before hesitantly opening it. Inside was a small amount of money. "Um… what's this for?"
"Our mission yesterday." The weapons girl replied.
"But… but I failed that mission."
"Yeah, actually as it turns out, the client wasn't really expecting us to be able to get our hands on the magazine. Apparently she heard about it from some of her friends and thought it would be worth looking at, so she just requested it on the off chance that there'd still be a copy. When Lee and I tried to apologise for not getting it, she just laughed and said it was all right, before giving us a note to take back to the mission bureau to prove we'd completed her D-rank. So we picked up the pay, and here we are." Tenten shrugged in a 'oh-well' gesture as she finished off her tale.
"You… You mean I didn't have to… I could have…" Hinata's eyes widened as her brain shut down.
As the Hyuuga girl fainted, falling into Gai's ready arms, Lee turned to Tenten. "See, I told you to have a little more faith in her. She took that much better than you predicted."
The Sandaime's eyes ran over Team 9 before his gaze stopped on the bandages covering the Hyuuga girl's hand. He glanced at the team leader for a moment, but upon seeing no worry on his face, the Hokage mentally shrugged. If Gai thought she could handle the mission, then he would trust his jounin to know the limits of his students.
"One of our chuunin teams was injured in the line of duty," he began, before raising a hand at the obvious question one of them would probably ask. "No, I'm not asking you to replace them. What their injuries mean, however, is that one of the teams we assigned to protecting the western border towns will not be relieved and shall need to stay out there for an extra three months. A messenger bird has already been sent to them informing them of their extended tour."
He gazed at them for a moment. "What I need your team to do is to take their pay to them, since they will need to cover their expenses for their additional months. Usually the relieving team takes enough pay to cover the mission, but obviously that will not be sufficient in this case."
Tenten hesitated, before asking, "Hokage-sama, why can't we just send the money in an item scroll via another messenger bird?"
The Sandaime chuckled. "Because messenger birds can be intercepted and summoning seals can be broken. That is why we encode all messages sent via them, after all. Such encoding methods will obviously not work for money. There should be little need to worry, however; this is an unusual situation – bandits won't be expecting a payment shipment at this time of year so it should be an easy mission for you."
The journey started easily enough, even if Gai pushed them to go at a fast pace. On the second day of travel, he allowed them to stop into a roadside village for lunch. As his team finished their meals, he ducked out to the men's room.
"So what's the bet that we don't get to do anything on this mission either?" Tenten noted in their teacher's absence.
"Um... Should… should we be talking about this here?"
Hinata's teammates blinked, looking around at their surroundings. There were several disinterested men sitting around them – presumably other villagers who had ducked into the store for a lunchtime meal.
"I guess you're right," Tenten agreed, toning her voice down to a whisper. "Let's just talk about casual topics then." She raised her voice again as she asked Hinata, "So, I noticed that the kunai you use have some top-quality workmanship. Where do you buy them from?"
The farmer walked out of the inn, whistling to himself as he returned to his home. Once he was there, he whipped out a small scrap of paper and furiously wrote some words down. Walking over to a cage, he took out a homing pigeon and attached the paper to it. After the bird was released into the air, the farmer shook his head. "I don't know why you wanted us to be on the lookout for a kid with a panda hairstyle, but you better keep your word and pay for me for doing this."
On their second night, it was Hinata's turn to prepare dinner. She was quite nervous, since it was her first time doing the task. Gai and Lee had taken their turns on their first C-rank mission, while Tenten had taken the previous night. After preparing the meal, she handed portions out to her teammates, her hands shaking so much that she almost threw the food in their faces.
She leaned forward, her eyes widening as she watched them take their first bite, before she realised that she was rudely staring. Hinata glanced away, looking to the sky, but couldn't maintain her indifference for more than a second before she returned her eyes to her team.
"Wow, this is pretty good," the weapons girl noted before taking another bite.
"I agree," Gai noted. "A good meal greatly helps in strengthening your youth."
"Tenten-san and Gai-sensei are correct," Lee agreed. "You must practice cooking regularly to have prepared such a delight over something as rudimentary as a campfire."
"Um… actually…" Hinata hesitated, flustered at all her teammates' praise. "I've only cooked a few times in my life. The… the chefs were always nervous about the clan head's daughter doing such things. But…" She looked down at the ground and admitted, "but I like to cook."
"Hinata-san," the genin boy hesitated, before asking, "how many times is a 'few'?"
The Hyuuga girl quickly counted in her head. "Five." Seeing the haunted expression on his face, she quickly added, "-or so."
"That's pretty impressive," Tenten admitted. "I mean, I don't cook all the time at home, but I do it whenever I'm not training and Dad's working back late. He can get pretty busy in the shop for long periods of time – if I hadn't started buying the groceries years ago we'd probably have both starved. But even with some experience, the dinner I made yesterday wasn't anything like this. You must be a natural."
"Tenten-san is correct," Lee agreed. "I have been cooking for myself for several years now, and as you would remember, the meal I produced on our last C-rank was nowhere near as good as this. Hinata-san," he paused, before suddenly standing and pointing at her, "You are clearly a genius of the cooking arts! I promise to work hard to improve my cooking skills so that one day I too can become an excellent chef!"
His teammates stared at him for a moment before Tenten shook her head. "I can feel a headache coming on, so I'm going to bed. I'll take the last guard shift."
The third night brought Lee's turn around again in the dinner rotation, and brought a new problem to Tenten.
"Look, don't drag me into this."
"But Tenten-san," Lee argued, "as our teammate you would be the best person suited to judging the meals that Hinata and I produce."
"No offence Lee, but if she's this far ahead of you with so little practical experience then you'll never catch up. So therefore I'm not going to get in the middle of this. If you want to get into a competition then talk to Gai-sensei for a moderator, not me."
Twenty seconds later she regretted her suggestion as she heard her instructor's loud voice.
"Why Lee, I shall gladly help guide you in improving the cooking fires of your youth!"
"Looks like your informer was correct," the wiry missing-nin noted as he looked through his binoculars. "Here they come. Thankfully we'll be able to conclude this farce of a bet quickly."
The leading bandit nodded while the missing-nin looked at the other ruffians who had joined them in their raiding party.
"How did you convince this lot to help?" the missing-nin asked, mildly curious.
"I told them that the ninjas were carrying a lot of money for their mission," the bandit whispered back. "Damn fools fell for it. It doesn't matter just as long as they distract the adult shinobi for a while so that the girl is taken out."
"I wouldn't worry about their team leader," the missing-nin noted as he looked back into his binoculars. "If he fights like he dresses, then my five year-old nephew could take him down."
The large missing-nin shifted into position behind his quarry. In a few minutes the Konoha team would be in range of the bandit ambush. When that happened, he would confront this supposed wonder girl and soon thereafter he would be counting his hard-won gambling money. An easy job if ever there was one.
His eyes narrowed from his vantage point as he watched the girl run forward. What was she doing?
A second later, she quickly crouched and then stood again, while twirling something in her hand. After the third revolution, she twisted around and tossed the item straight towards the bushes he was hiding behind. His smile widened. So, she had spotted him, had she? Well, she was welcome to make the opening gambit, but he could guarantee that she wouldn't like the counter attack that would follow.
Now then, what was it that she threw? A piece of rope? She was seriously throwing a piece of rope at him? With a small smirk, his hand shot out, catching the girl's weapon in his hand. As he looked down at his captured prize – mainly to ensure there were no explosive tags attached – his smile slipped.
As Gai jumped into the overhanging branches and leapt away, Tenten walked up to Lee and asked, "Are you all right?" Her two teammates were looking at her oddly.
"I am fine," Lee hesitantly answered. "But what was that which you just threw?"
"Oh that? I saw it coming straight for you and it didn't look happy. I figured I'd better get rid of it before it took a bite out of you."
The brown tree viper, seen throughout the Land of Fire, was normally a placid creature despite its highly poisonous nature. Only two things could get it truly riled – the first was stepping in its path.
The second, apparently, was grabbing it by its tail, swinging it around a few times and then chucking it away like it was a bola or some other throwing weapon.
Like most animals of instinct, it quickly retaliated when it landed. One bite, while extremely painful, was not immediately fatal - especially not for Grass ninjas, who often carried common poison antidotes and antivenin on them.
Six bites delivered in a frenzied, enraged blur, however, certainly were.
"Tenten, don't you think that was a little cruel?"
The three genin blinked as their sensei rejoined their party, coming in from behind. Hadn't he been ahead of them just a minute ago?
Tenten blushed as her teacher's gaze remained upon her. "Yeah, I guess it was," she admitted. "It's just that… well, that animal was about to attack so I had to act before someone got hurt."
Gai kept his stern expression upon her for a few more seconds, before he nodded. "Very well. Just remember that there are ways to fulfil your duties as a shinobi without resorting to such harsh means."
The weapons girl hung her head at her teacher's remonstration, unused to negativity from him. Still, he was right. She had been a bit rough on that poor snake. "You're right. I promise it won't happen again."
"That is good to hear. Oh, and Tenten?"
She looked up at him.
The wiry man put down the binoculars, his face blank and unreadable. Snakes? Who thought of using a snake as a throwing weapon? Only someone who could apparently covertly discern their enemy's weakness and turn it against them. That girl must be a genius of the killing arts.
"Is he in position? Can we attack?"
The missing-nin turned to the bandit who had goaded his now-dead friend into attacking the young weapons prodigy.
"Yes. You can attack." With that said, he turned and faded into the foliage, leaving the bandits to their fate. After all, there were people who would want to know of this. As he moved out of earshot, he whispered to himself, "I told you your luck would run out one day, you over-confident idiot."
After they had walked about 100 metres away from Tenten's snake rescue, Hinata's hands formed familiar seals so that she could perform one of her twice-hourly scans of the area. It was unfortunate that she couldn't keep the doujutsu going indefinitely; she certainly didn't want to miss any more of those snakes. Her eyes widened as her ability took effect.
"There… there seems to be a lot of armed men sneaking towards us."
"Yes, they're not very good at being stealthy, are they?" Gai agreed. "How many are there?"
There were a few seconds silence. "I… I think there's sixteen. No, wait, seventeen."
"If they are bandits then why are they not attacking?" Lee asked.
"I presume they were waiting for us to fall into the large, concealed pit-trap which is covering the road just up ahead," Gai noted conversationally. "Everyone, get ready to turn your hard work into action. I'm sure they'll come for us in a moment when they see that we've stopped."
Each of the team quickly dropped their travel packs. True to their sensei's words, the bushes surrounding the road ahead began to rustle as the bandits surged forward.
"Lee, with me. Hinata, cover Tenten so she can concentrate on her throws. And Tenten, try not to kill them if you can." Hinata shook herself out of a moment of fear-induced paralysis when she realised that she needed to protect her teammate. Lee started to move forward, his eyes gleaming with excitement. Tenten looked at her sensei for a moment before mentally shrugging at his comment. Well, she was the one wielding all the pointy weapons after all, so his comment did make sense.
Ten of the bandits swarmed towards the jounin, trying to take him out with the weight of numbers. Three more converged on Lee as he moved to cover his teacher. The other four all raced towards the girls.
No, Hinata realised, her doujutsu giving far more precise details on their trajectories than normal eyesight could. Not towards them. Towards Tenten. They were all going for her teammate. As the weapons girl leapt into the air, her weapons scroll unfurling, Hinata made her decision and raced forward to intercept.
Tenten cursed as Hinata moved into her field of vision. She couldn't risk attacking the four while her teammate was in the way, not with the chance that Hinata would jump into one of her throws. Reluctantly she began targeting the ones swarming Gai, aiming for legs and arms and trying not to think about the blood that she was about to spill.
Hinata managed to take down the first bandit easily enough, knocking him unconscious with a strike to his weapons arm, followed by one to his sternum. Instead of attacking her, the second bandit tried to run by her. Her eyes widened as she realised that they were still going for Tenten. She hesitated for a split-second. The weapons girl might be able to take care of herself, but on the other hand maybe she couldn't while she was in the air activating her scroll.
Besides, her sensei had told her to protect the girl. Decision made, she made up for her moment of indecision by racing up to the second bandit and striking several points on his back. When he collapsed, the other two bandits seemed to give up on reaching Tenten as they concentrated on her instead.
Both men attacked her right side, no doubt having seen her injured hand. Improvising, she pivoted on her heal and kicked the man in the chest with the same technique as one of the ones that her father used on her in their sparring match. To her, it wasn't a very powerful kick. To a man who had not spent the last five years training to be a ninja, it felt like his ribs shattered. As the third man fell to the ground, the fourth attacked.
Unlike the other bandits, this one had some skill. He definitely knew how to wield the sword he was carrying, and he was moving a lot faster than the other men. If she hadn't been so busy dodging his attacks, she might have had the time to guess that he had some ninja training. Hinata kept dodging the sword strikes, at one time bending her back so that it was parallel to the ground for a moment as she avoided a horizontal swing. The experienced bandit took this opportunity of imbalance to kick her feet out.
He raised his sword to give the impetus for a killing blow, when his wrists were struck with a bo staff. Yelling in pain as he involuntarily dropped his weapon, he looked to his right. The bandit's face paled when he saw who was wielding the staff. "What? But if you're here then that means you…" After a moments hesitation, he turned and started to run off, only to have his feet tripped up by Tenten's bo staff a moment before his face met Lee's fist.
As the bandit crumpled to the ground, Lee grinned at his female teammates for a moment. His brow was covered in sweat, probably from pushing his body to perform at its peak while wearing his weights. "This mission is certainly shaping up to be more interesting than our last C-class!" he noted. Behind him the girls could see their sensei tying up the thirteen bandits who had never made it to them.
Tenten nodded. "Yeah, it was good to finally get a chance to try out some of my moves."
Hinata slowly rose to her feet, her eyes hidden in the shadow of her hair as she looked at the ground. She'd almost got killed, and this time her defeat wasn't by her teammates or the skilled leader of her clan. It was by a bandit who had probably only ever received minimal martial training.
"Well thrown, Tenten!" Gai complemented as he walked up. "The ones you hit will be feeling those wounds for a while, but they'll be fit for facing the closest town's justice."
"And superb job, Hinata."
The Hyuuga girl looked up, puzzled.
"Not only did you take down three opponents with ease," her teacher continued, "but you also kept the only bandit with any weapons talent busy for long enough to be surprised by your teammate."
"But… but he almost got me."
Gai nodded. "Do not forget that your enemy had a considerable reach advantage with his sword, and he also appeared to have genin-level fighting abilities. Still, this presents you with a great opportunity to train and improve your ground-to-standing recovery time when we get back to Konoha."
Their teacher turned to their male teammate. "I see that you managed to move at a good speed during that fight. Good job Lee, you're clearly adjusting to the weights." As Gai walked away, he added over his shoulder, "We'll add some more to them when we get back to the village."
Lee gaze a shaky thumb-up in response, before his legs gave out from the strain he had put them through.
The bandit groaned, consciousness quickly returning.
"Sensei, we've got a live one here!" A light voice called out, piercing through the man's headache.
His eyes opened to see the face of the girl who had haunted his nightmares for the past month. The bandit shivered as he stared up at her, the weapons mistress who stood there without a scratch on her after she must have taken out that large chuunin missing-nin. Was he to be her next target?
"Please don't kill me!" The bandit begged as the pink-clad killing machine towered over him. She looked at him for a moment, before knocking him unconscious again with her bo staff.
"What a drama queen," she muttered to herself as she dragged him over to be tied up with the rest of his unconscious companions.
The rest of their mission was uneventful. They reached the town where the ninja were stationed and handed over their next three months of pay, while also informing the town's police of the location of the captured bandits.
Unfortunately they arrived late in the day, and so they did not have much time to sightsee before they retired to an inn for the night after which they left the town early the next morning. On their ninth day since leaving Konoha, they returned to their home village.
As they headed for the Hokage Tower, Gai gently guided Tenten aside for a moment and whispered, "There may be a reward for your actions before the battle. I realise that some shinobi do not enjoy being compensated for such things, so I wanted to check with you first on whether you wanted to claim it."
The weapons girl blinked. What was he talking about? The only thing she did before the battle was… ohhh, he meant the thing where she threw that snake away and maybe saved Lee's life. If they rewarded you for things like saving your teammate's life, then she could see what her teacher meant about shinobi getting embarrassed over such a payment. As Lee had once reminded her, the whole point of teamwork was to help each other out without expecting something in return. On the other hand…
"Well money's always good, I guess… but I didn't do anything that the other two wouldn't have done for me. If there's any reward you should split it equally."
Gai smiled, tears of pride shining in his eyes. "Yosh! You're a credit to your team, Tenten. But I can see that you're embarrassed about this, so do not worry - I shan't bring it up in front of your teammates."
Once the genin had reported in, been paid, and left, Gai turned to his leader. Before he could speak, the Sandaime shook his head and said, "So what was the body count this time?"
Gai blinked. "Just the one, sir. Her choice of assassination methods was a little unusual, but Tenten again spotted the danger and neutralised it before I intervened." He took some papers out of his vest and handed them over. "Here, I took his identification off the body."
Sautobi nodded, pulling out a bingo book from his drawers and matching the passport photo up to a description. After reading it, he looked up, eyes narrowing. "According to this the man comes from a clan renowned for its focus on 'absolute defence'. How did Tenten manage to take him down?"
"She enraged a poisonous snake and threw it at him so that it would start biting, sir."
The silence hung in the air for a few moments, before the old man nodded. "Innovative. If she keeps this up we may have to investigate inducting her into ANBU when she's a little older."
"-and then I conked him on the head and tied him up," Tenten said, finishing her tale to her father.
"So you're alright? No injuries?"
"I'm fine, Dad. And luckily I even managed to get through it all without having to kill anyone. A few of them will be limping for a while, but I guess it's better than the alternative."
"Well, hopefully it will be a while yet before you're forced to do that. But just remember that I'm here for you if it ever does happen, Blossom."
Hinata smiled, looking up at the decorations that Tenten was putting up, before she put a box of empty balloons down between the weapons girl and her sensei. The Hyuuga girl brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes with her right hand, which was now fully healed. Behind her, Lee was setting the cutlery on a long table.
Purposedly, none of the team voiced aloud or even tried to think about how a D-rank mission to set up a house for a boy's birthday party could go wrong.
"Ah, good, so our client did have some balloons after all," Gai noted. As Hinata tentatively reached for one of the balloons, he shook his head. "No, no. I'll blow those up. I have another task for you, Hinata." He pulled a list up from a nearby desk and handed it to her. "Here. We are still missing these items to make this celebration a truly momentous one. If you could head to the local stores and procure them, that would be most helpful."
The Hyuuga girl blinked. "Shopping? But after last time… after last time, wouldn't someone else be better suited for this?"
Gai chuckled. "Nonsense, Hinata. Now is the perfect time to 'get back on that horse', so to speak. I'm sure you'll do a fine job in getting everything."
Hinata looked at the list, before looking up at her sensei and nodding. "I won't hesitate this time. I promise."
As she was about to leave, Tenten waved to her and said, "Just remember – there's only one rule to shopping - it's not theirs until they pick it up."
She wasn't going to make the same mistake again as last time. As soon as she stepped into the largest market in Konoha, Hinata activated her Byakugan, quickly expanding her sight to find and take stock of the items on her list. The store was extremely large, with shelves stretching into the distance on both sides of the entrance, forming an impenetrable wall of goods before her. But with her clan ability, she could prevail. Hinata rapidly made her way down the list, marking comments next to each item as required. The market was well stocked, so for most items she was quickly writing down 'plenty'. When she reached the third last item – BBQ chips, she paused. After focussing her vision, she soon found her prey lying in wait ten aisles over. Her eyes widened when she realised that there were only three chip bags left, which were sitting on a specials table in the middle of the aisle, and someone who had to be an Akimichi was heading straight for them.
Deactivating her doujutsu, in a moment she had made her decision. She had promised that she would not hesitate again. Tenten had much more experience at shopping than she did (since the weapons girl had been buying her family's groceries for years) so she must have a better idea of what was the correct shopping etiquette. If she said it was only over once someone picked it up, then Hinata would trust her judgement. It seemed terribly rude to do this, but for the sake of the mission, she would try her best.
Her body tensed, head snapping back to look up. With a leap, her hands caught the top of the shelving in front of her. She tucked her body, drawing her legs up until she was almost vertical in a handstand, before she bent her arms and used her strength that was hard-earned through exercise in order to push herself up. A moment later, her chakra-emitting feet were sticking to the ceiling of the store.
As she began running upside down, carefully maintaining her gait so that one foot was always attached to the ceiling, she couldn't help but be glad for once that she was so short. If she'd been any taller, she'd have had to keep ducking out of the way of the stock that was stacked on top of the shelves, and wouldn't have been able to run at full speed.
The noticeably chubby boy stopped, his face lit with awe. It was true. It was all true. When he had returned to the clan holdings after classes for the day, he had thought that his kin had been playing a joke when they told him that his favourite food was being sold for half-price in a one-day sale. But here it was. The near empty table told him that he was clearly not the first to have partaken in this holy grail, but there was still just enough stock left to light his face with joy.
As he started to reach for the ultimate prize, a flash of movement from above caught his eye and his head lifted to track the oddity. His mouth dropped open when he saw a dark-haired girl dropping from the ceiling onto the floor in front of him. In a moment, she was staring at his quarry with determination on her face. Instincts realising her intent, even if his head had not, his hand started to reach towards the precious treasure, even as his eyes remained glued to her.
In a moment, she shot forward, arms held back and stiff to reduce wind-resistance as she ran with all her speed. Before he could blink, her momentum was sufficient, and she jumped. The boy could only stare as the girl leapt high over the table, her body flipping so that for a moment she was upside-down. In that moment, her hands stretched down, grabbing the three last bags of chips, before her momentum pushed her over the table and her spin righted her orientation so that she landed on the store's floor on her feet. Without any hesitation, she burst forward into a run, quickly reaching the end of the aisle.
"I'm really very sorry! It's… It's for a mission!" the girl shouted over her shoulder before sprinting around the corner.
The pleasantly plump boy looked between the corner that the girl disappeared to, and back to his empty outstretched hand. He grabbed at empty air for a moment, in disbelief that his prize had been snatched from him at the last moment, before he shook his head and asked, "What just happened?"