Journey of the Three Failures
Hi! Almost a year after I get an account, I finally decide to write something! Here's my first fanfic here, my second fanfic ever, and my first ever Naruto fanfiction! I hope to give you a good read! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: If I owned NARUTO, it would probably be called HINATA.
Journey of the Three Failures
One: Setting Out
'The winner is… Hyuuga Neji.'
Oh, how one event could change the future – but to say it merely changed would be an understatement. More accurate would be warped, stabbed repeatedly, tossed into a blender and crushed to tiny pieces, scattered in the wind to be collected and rolled into a fresh ball of clay, mashed haphazardly into something new that got fired far too long – which was dropped and broken – and then reformed in an entirely new way because no one had a clue what the heck it was supposed to look like.
Uzumaki Naruto's defeat at the hands of Hyuuga Neji jarred not only the destiny of three individuals, but Konohagakure no Sato, Hi no Kuni, the Godaikoku, and the entire shinobi world as we know it.
Fate is a funny thing.
I picked myself up off the floor, gasping as I raised one palm before me, the other near my side.
"A-again," I gasped.
Chakra pulsed through my feet, propelling my sprint forward. He did the same, meeting me halfway to effortlessly block one palm strike, thrusting aside the next. I began to fall backwards, off-balance, as I blocked a high, heavy strike, and instantly two fingers jabbed sharply into my bicep as a palm crashed into my belly. He closed in in a blur as I stumbled back, and with lightning speed a very sparring-unfriendly palm smashed brutally into my sternum.
Chakra-imbued Juuken strikes were not permitted, of course. It was for this reason that Neji-nii-san merely attacked me with the ferocious entirety of his hatred-fueled strength.
I wasn't sure whether or not I should be grateful.
I landed several yards away, struggling to draw a proper breath, head ringing at the pain in my chest. Stunned, I rolled onto my side, coughing wetly.
"Nii-san," I heard Hanabi say timidly. No one particularly enjoyed talking to Neji when he was in one of his rages. "I – I think you're … hitting too hard…"
"Maybe," he scoffed icily, "or perhaps Hinata-sama is too weak."
My teeth clenched in pain and determination as I stood, fighting tears. I raised my right arm in front of me, the left near limp at my side.
"A…gain…" I croaked.
He shook his head in disgust. "Why do you even keep standing? You're no match, Hinata-sama. Accept that you're not destined to win."
I glared at him, even knowing the look couldn't be half as menacing as his cold, calm scowl. "I can't give up! Naruto-kun wouldn't give up, so I won't either! As long as I can stand – I will!" Three passing Hyuuga shot me a look.
"Oh? I defeated Uzumaki. You think you're stronger than your precious Naruto-kun?"
I opened my mouth, and then closed it. I wasn't sure what to say to that. He frowned.
"If you want to defeat me so badly, order me to lose – or even better, activate this seal!" he screamed, and in one motion ripped off his hitai-ate, exposing his curse mark in a challenge.
"No!" I cried, appalled.
"Pathetic!" he spat, and suddenly there was little distance between us. I blindly raised an arm to block, but a strong hand grabbed it, pulling me forward and down. He attacked from low, rising to slam a palm into my chin. Pain shot through me.
I realized in a moment I was on my back, and tried to blink away the darkness creeping in along the edges of my vision. Hanabi shrieked something like, "Nee-chan, you're bleeding!"
"Activate the seal, Hinata-sama. Go on – punish me for my words and disrespect. One hand, one sign, and I would suffer."
"I … won't," I whispered, trembling as I got to my hands and knees. To Hanabi's rising horror, I coughed up the specks of red I'd been choking on.
"I – I'm getting Father!" she cried, "And he's hearing about this, Neji, don't think he won't!" She ran off, leaving us alone.
I rose to my feet, swaying and lightheaded.
He shook his head. "You can't be serious."
"I … said … again…."
"I'm done with this insipid nonsense. You're not even worth my time," he spat, turning his back to walk away. Anger and despair flared up inside me.
"I'm not finished yet!" I cried, running at him. He stopped a short way down the walkway that ran along the manor, but still did not face me. Chakra collected in my palm when I was eight yards away. I drew back my hand…
A hard fist had buried itself in my gut, and all wind had fled me. Stunned beyond belief, I stared into my cousin's eyes, which were so suddenly inches from my own.
His mouth was set in a frown, his white eyes cold and despising. Though his eyes were cold, his face calm, just beneath the surface of his pale orbs – so like mine, but at the same time so very different in too many small ways to comprehend – churned an unfathomable animosity, a barely contained and incredible fury like I'd never seen before. Neji-nii-san…
He spoke very slowly and pointedly.
"Elite … Failure. This will never change."
The world momentarily listed to one side as, unblinking and dazed, I slipped limply off his unmoving fist. I dropped to the ground.
"You're weak, Hinata-sama – and you always will be."
He left me there.
I hissed the only word I felt I could right now – a word I did not use lightly.
Then I cried.
After securing the mask and checking that it concealed my whiskers, I tugged the hood of the dark cloak over my head so that it covered my obvious blond hair. With any luck, it would also shadow my eyes from view.
Certain I was unrecognizable, I removed the panel of wood that had replaced my broken window. I frowned, seeing the fresh profanities and scribbles of 'bakemono' and 'kitsune' that adorned it. And when I was so close … to being respected … accepted… I would clean it later.
I peeked cautiously out the window, surveying to the left and the right, even above. Slowly, still glancing side to side, I stepped out, lowering myself onto the balcony…
"OH MY FREAKIN'–!!"
I bit back the string of curses that followed, instead bellowing them furiously in my mind as I sat down. Someone had set some sort of metal hunting trap below my window; when I had stepped on it, it had snapped shut to bite into my leg with sharp teeth. It was the kind of trap you saw in movies or books, that had always caught some poor wolf or fo–
"Oh, very funny," I hissed through my teeth as I carefully removed it. A mess of red was dripping to my foot; I re-entered my house to quickly clean and wrap the wound. It would be gone without a trace in an hour.
I threw a glance at the clock. "Kuso!" It was getting late. If I didn't hurry, the shop would be closed by the time I got there!
Screw stealth! I thought, launching myself out the window and to an adjacent rooftop. In a flash I was in the shadow of a water tower, and then that of a group of barrels near the edge. I grabbed a drain pipe, sliding swiftly to the ground, and then flickered across the street to another building's shadows. I shot diagonally across the street to more buildings, completely undetected by passing civilians. All ninja were given a wide berth.
Near my destination I began walking normally, head down. Luckily my cloak and mask weren't extremely out of place; it was mid-fall, and nights were getting cooler. Masks weren't uncommon among ninja, like Kakashi-sensei, for instance – who happened to be the one who had given me this mask when he'd forgotten my birthday. And I thought I'd never need it!
I looked up slightly as I passed a mildly tense group of familiar faces; Sakura, my teammate, and Kiba, Akamaru, Shikamaru, and Chouji were walking together. A sharp pang of guilt shook me as I observed Sakura's bandages and two broken arms.
Closest to me, she glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, a subtle glint of recognition lighting it. Of course, we both knew that she couldn't tell the others right now, invite me to join them, or even say hello; it was a risk I refused to allow. We wordlessly passed each other.
I entered the (thankfully, near empty) stand with a sigh of relief, pulling my mask down past my nose to better draw in the array of heavenly aromas. A smile spread across my hidden face as I sat down on a stool. It was good to be back here…
"What would you like, S… Sir? Your mask is wet…" I accepted the napkin he offered, dabbing at the drool seeping through the mask before speaking.
"One miso ramen, Teuchi-jii-san," I whispered, glancing up to flash my eyes.
"N–! Yes, coming right up," he caught himself.
I almost jumped as someone sat down on the stool next to mine and became absorbed in reading the wall menu. A Konoha hitai-ate covered his forehead, but he was one of the few shinobi I didn't know well.
What I did know is that he had once thrown shuriken at me when I was six, and, from his drunken cries, Ninetails had killed his brother.
"Here you are," Ayame-nee-chan said with a warm smile, setting down a bowl. I whispered a quick "Arigatou" and turned so that I faced slightly away from the ninja. He was still engrossed in the menu.
I sighed; I was getting paranoid, but then again I had every right to. What did I do to deserve this…?
That's it, I thought with a sudden burst of inspiration, I can use the Kyuubi's chakra! My trembling hands formed the sign of the ram, hitsuji.
Neji smirked. "It's pointless, I told you."
I can do it! I won't lose!
–"I vow to win."–
–"The loser beating the gifted genius through sheer willpower … now would not that make for an exciting match?"–
–"Don't forget to come watch me wipe the floor with Neji!"–
"Why fight a hopeless battle trying to defy your destiny?" Neji scoffed at my efforts.
I opened my eyes. "'Cause someone told me … I was a failure!"
A roar tore from my throat as the fox's chakra sprang to life inside me, engulfing me in an explosion of power. The earth trembled slightly as the massive raw energy danced and spiraled around me. Neji observed with his Byakugan, a look of awed fear plastered on his face.
Then he ground his teeth and raced toward me.
I was caught off-guard, and still getting a handle on the sudden power. Before I knew what had happened, two fingers jabbed my stomach, emitting a sharp burst of foreign chakra.
Within seconds, something – several things – I hadn't anticipated took place.
It seemed, when Kyuubi had lent me its chakra, the energy had also rapidly replenished my own. My personal chakra, having been in constant contact with and suppressing the demon's strength since the day I was born, had somewhat adapted and gained an immunity to Kyuubi's destructive chakra; for this reason, it was necessary that my own chakra flowed strong in order to mostly protect my body from being damaged when Kyuubi's awoke.
Neji hit a vital tenketsu. My chakra flow was cut.
At the sudden imbalance, Kyuubi's power in turn exploded out of control. My body, unprotected, felt like it was fried from the inside out. The flare of chakra blasted Neji into the arena wall thirty yards away, despite a split-second attempt at a Kaiten, and a massive crater formed around me as the soil was incinerated.
My body was on fire and bleeding as a fox-shaped aura suddenly wrapped around me, and as I loosed a demonic roar of agony at the sky, a giant chakra image of Kyuubi materialized above me to do the same.
The chakra fled back behind the seal before it killed me.
Then it was over, and in a blur the ground rushed to meet me.
"We close in five minutes. Might want to hurry."
I blinked. I'd been swirling my ramen in the bowl with my chopsticks. Teuchi looked worried by this unnatural lack of appetite for ramen.
I split the chopsticks, lowered my mask, and slurped up the bowl's contents in forty seconds – a long time. As I fished the money from my pocket, a coin fell to the ground and rolled a few yards away. I handed the rest to Teuchi before getting off the stool to retrieve it.
The ninja still sitting next to me was stepping on the end of my cloak, I was soon to realize. I moved, and it was left behind.
I froze mid-step.
"I knew it!"
I dived for the coin, rolled as I snatched it, and threw it at Teuchi in one motion before bolting outside.
Several pairs of arms immediately grabbed me, and even more began to pound and cut ruthlessly. I was winded painfully; my nose was smashed; I screamed as my arm broke at the elbow; someone had a kunai and ran it across my belly, but, disappointed by the armor, embedded it in my shoulder.
I was on the ground now, and the kicking began. I opened the eye that wasn't swollen a moment. Half of them are civilians – I can't fight back!
I managed to curl into a ball, waiting for it to end. I've survived worse. They beat me to an inch of death, but I survive! It'll be over soon!
My prayers were answered sooner than I'd hoped as the beating suddenly ceased.
"Kagemane no Jutsu success."
The attackers had been ensnared in an extremely contorted and irregular shadow. I beamed at my savior.
He nodded. "Naruto," he called, tossing something to the ground beside him. "Got it!" I said, forming a hand seal, "Kawarimi!"
I replaced with it, appearing beside Shikamaru as a shuriken clattered on the ground where I'd been. He caught me before I could fall.
"Let us go, idiot!" someone yelled.
"Yeah, kid, why are you protecting the demon?!"
"Mendoukuse…" He shook his head in exasperation. "Naruto's a good guy. You all are the fools. So what if he's got the fox spirit inside him? He's not the demon, and if you troublesome people can't get it straight, we're not about to let him suffer for it."
Someone suddenly appeared beside me; Shikamaru gently placed me on Chouji's back. "Let's get going," the Akimichi said.
"So," I said as he ran, "Shikamaru's one of … ours?" I wasn't sure how to word it. "He really is a genius, and he's heir to the Nara, right? I mean…"
"Shikamaru has a sense of justice. Lazy as he is, he's not up for tolerating the superiority their side believes in, and he's not about to put up with bullying, either. He chose his side. It's not so strange, really – Kiba did the same thing, but mostly to watch out for Hinata."
"Hm… So what do the sides look like?"
"Shikamaru, Kiba, Hinata … Sakura, and Lee are with us. Neji's got Tenten, Shino, Ino, and Sasuke.
"But see, nothing's completely solid; basically, we're all tied up by team bonds on the other side, which is probably why things haven't gotten too bad yet," he continued. "They mostly just bully and humiliate us; no real fighting can start without retaliation from allies. For example, the only actual battle we've had started over Kiba's mouth, but it fell apart when Sasuke slugged Tenten for almost putting a kunai in Sakura, getting Neji on him for loyalty … and Shino set a swarm on Ino when she tried to go for Hinata … who was busy stopping Lee – who was about to attack Shino while he was distracted. Sasuke's kind of torn, and there's rumor he sometimes shadows you, chasing off civilians who prepare to ambush you – of course they listen to him. Then there's Shino, who agrees with them but isn't about to lay a finger on Hinata. He's been threatening Neji for being rough in sparring sessions with her." He shook his head. "Man, I pity Hinata – living in the same place as their "leader." Then she's the only one of us that stands up to him..."
I thought a moment. Neji's their leader … who's ours? "And the villagers?"
"Hm… They're not on any side; they just attack you, and sometimes Lee, on sight, and anyone who they associate with you. Of course, they're left alone. Can you imagine them picking a fight with the genius Uchiha, or the Hyuuga hero who "stopped the demon," or a guy filled with bugs?"
"No," I sighed. "This is all so stupid. The Chuunin Exams started a war between us. How can we let this drive our friendships apart?"
We were on an empty street when, very suddenly, Chouji stopped running. I fell on my rear as he let go of me and turned to face me. "Ouch! Chouji, what was that for?"
He frowned. "Sorry, Naruto."
It was then I noticed Shino walking up, Ino's body – abandoned, I realized – limp in his arms.
"Ino, Shino, why?" I asked as Shino began to tie up Chouji.
Shino pushed up his glasses. "You'll thank us later for this, Naruto. You all need to learn when to give up, to accept that at times, you are outmatched. When this happens in the real world, the only option is to give in."
"I don't believe a word of that! It's never time to give–!"
"My teammate could have died, Naruto." There was a cold edge in his voice, and I could tell he was angry. "Neji almost killed her that day, because she was inspired enough by your admirable comeback to refuse to stay down. Her heart may never beat as strong as it could again. I will not lie; I hold you largely responsible for this."
"I – I'm sorry…" I hung my head.
"The gap between Hinata and Neji quickly proved far greater than that between yourself and Kiba. Anyone could see that she should have forfeited."
My eyes hardened, and I glowered up at him. "I'm sorry, but only if I pressured her into a decision she didn't want – because it's not my place, or yours, or anyone else's to tell someone when to give up! It's up to the individual! So…" my voice softened, "why don't we just leave it at that, and call all this off? I'm scared of this … of what we're doing to each other. It has to end before –,"
"It will end – when you admit defeat."
"We won't do that!"
He shook his head.
"I'm done," he told Ino. She nodded. "Kai!" Her body on the ground sat up, while Chouji blinked, confused. "Dang it!" he cried, sighting the two and realizing what had happened.
"Whatever Neji says, I will not hurt Naruto while he's already injured. Let's go," Shino said, vanishing. Ino looked at the ground. "Sorry, guys." She was gone.
"Wait! You can't just leave us here!" Chouji whimpered, "I'm hungry…" I crawled toward him, already beginning to heal. "I'll get you out of there."
"No," he shook his head, "I'm not really in much danger, but if you get caught…"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah! Any dummy could get out of here in a few minutes with the rope escape jutsu!"
"Aha… yeah…" Really good thing I'm not tied up…
"Besides, Shikamaru would find me if I couldn't get out. You just try to walk, and cast a henge."
"Right!" I said, standing. "Henge no Jutsu!" I transformed into Iruka-sensei.
"Now go – and be careful, boss."
A chill trickled down my spine, my fears confirmed. I didn't want to be a leader in this…
Each step brought a collection of aches; I tried to walk normally, but any ninja would notice the slight signs of injury in my movements. I avoided the busier streets, keeping to the shadows and being inconspicuous as possible.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
In a poof of smoke, I was no longer Iruka-sensei.
"It's him!" the man behind me called, kicking me in the back. I stumbled forward as a dozen villagers jumped a nearby fence. I swore, running as fast as I could manage. I was pelted with rocks as I fled, and the mob followed. A stone glanced off my shoulder, tearing open the kunai wound from fifteen minutes ago. One struck just below my neck with enough force that I stumbled forward; as my hand reached the ground, I pushed myself back up without breaking stride. The villagers were shouting.
"Look at him, scorched through by the demon's chakra and up walking days later!"
"My dad was burned by the cursed beast, and he died!"
"He's really a demon in disguise!"
A stone collided with my head, and I tumbled gracelessly to the ground. I looked up, gasping in pain from the run and the fall. The group looked at me like I was something disgusting.
"Look at his scared eyes – just one of the filthy demon child's tricks!"
"Get ready, you monster!"
I raised my arm as a hail of stones flew toward me. I closed my eyes… Did a shadow just pass over me…?
My eyes snapped open. In a blur, each stone was deflected.
"Bushy Brow," I whispered.
He turned his head, flashing a smile; despite the dark, light from somewhere was bright enough to reflect off his teeth and glint off in a sparkle … or maybe his teeth actually produced their own light.
My eyebrow twitched.
I shook my head. "Thanks, you totally saved my tail!"
"It is nothing, Naruto-kun!"
A villager shouted, "Look, it's the friend of the demon!"
"Move outta' the way, kid, we'll deal with you later!"
A rock soared at him. I couldn't see from behind him, but collective gasps sounded from the group. The next moment he held his arm out to the side, and dust fell from his hand. "I, Konoha's handsome green beast, ROCK LEE, will NOT allow you to harm my YOUTHFUL comrade!!" he proclaimed.
"You can't attack civilians, demon-friend!"
"I do not plan to!" he declared, flinging a small, black sphere to the ground. It exploded into a smokescreen that filled the area. Someone lifted me with great ease and shot onto a rooftop. A few rooftops away, near the village's edge, we returned to ground level.
I gasped, surveying the wreckage before us. The streets were empty and littered with fallen, near leafless trees; houses had been crushed as though constructed of paper-thin glass. Massive holes had been punched through some buildings. In the near distance, a monstrous break was gaping in the wall of Konoha.
"This … this is…"
Lee nodded. "This is the place where Gaara – or rather, the sand spirit entered the village. Luckily, Hokage-sama managed to subdue him before he could cause further damage."
"I … apologize if this disturbs you, Naruto-kun, but we will be safe cutting through this area. The villagers do not come here."
"Yeah, it's fine," I assured him.
"That aside, what is important now is getting you to the hospital!" he said, "You are a mess!"
"Nooo," I drew the word out. "Not the hospital. I can never be sure I'll get a doctor who likes me – and frankly the number of people who like me has dropped a long way since last week. Could you take me to my apartment? Don't worry," I said, seeing his face, "Side effect of the stupid kitsune – I'll be just about good as new by morning."
Lee nodded, and we were silent a few minutes as he walked.
"Why are the villagers doing this?" he asked, "And why has Sandaime-sama yet to intervene?"
I thought a moment. "I gave them a scare, there's no question about that. Then – not two hours later, I'm told – Orochimaru and Oto invaded Konoha and the Ichibi attacked."
"So," Lee thought aloud, "the idea that a repeat of the demon attack almost happened so soon after the incident in your match … That does not make a lot of sense…"
"And Hokage-jii-san… I have no idea. You know we're at war, right – you know, us rookies plus your team."
"How could I not…" he said, his face falling. He was the only one on our side with both teammates as enemies.
"You'd think he wouldn't let this go on … he should have broken up this little feud by now."
"Then, our sensei would have intervened – after all, not one of our teams remains undivided – but Hokage-sama sent them all out on confidential missions. There is no telling when Gai-sensei and the other jonin will return…" He sighed.
I studied his face. My eyes widened as I noticed for the first time a white square of something taped to his cheek.
It clicked as I remembered something Chouji had told me earlier.
"Lee, were you injured?!"
"It is nothing…" He turned his head away. I looked harder in the moonlit darkness. "You have a black eye, too! What happened – who did this?!"
He avoided my eyes. "You see … your match went on longer than expected; I was there at the … end. I did not care in the slightest that the spirit of the Kyuubi had just sprung from your body to roar at the sky; I could not believe you had lost. I shouted desperately that you would stand up again, and Hinata-san did the same. The villagers … now call us the demon-friends, and claim we are under the Kyuubi's spell…"
I ground my teeth. "They attacked you!" I growled, furious.
"It was a group of civilians, one a retired jonin. A retired shinobi is counted as a civilian; I could only try to defend and escape."
"And Hinata…?" I whispered.
"I believe Hinata-san's status within clan Hyuuga protects her in the village … however, according to Kiba-kun she is treated nearly as badly on clan grounds as you and I in the village."
"Kuso…" I whispered through my teeth. "I hate this! All my friends are in danger for having anything to do with me! Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba – they've got status to help protect them, but who's ever even heard of the Haruno?" I ranted, "Do you know what happened to Sakura-chan four days ago? She was tailing me without my knowing it, and when I was attacked, she helped me escape. When they caught us, she was beaten to a bloody pulp next to me!"
I found myself in tears. "Except you all don't heal overnight! I'm done letting you get hurt for me, and I don't want to be our side's leader! Put me down, I can make it the rest of the way!"
"I will not leave you here, Naruto-kun." His voice was hard; there was no arguing.
My voice was quiet as I calmed down. "Then once I'm home … stay away from me. And tell the others to do the same."
He didn't answer.
We were out of the demolished area soon, and Lee began running to be safe. The streets were deserted at this hour, and in under a minute we were near my apartment.
There was smoke above it.
Lee frowned at the building and the people gathered around it. "I am sorry, Naruto. It appears the fire has long ended; they would not have left anything, but either way we can not check now." We were moving again.
"Lee! Where are we going?!" I protested.
"I live alone. You can stay at my house."
"Naruto! I HAVE made my decision – whether you like it or not, we ARE in this together! I PROMISE!" he said in his declaring voice.
I closed my mouth; I couldn't argue with that, after all. His decision was his decision, not mine or anyone else's.
Rendered unable to move on a much used walkway outside the Hyuuga household was not a good situation to be in. This was even more so true if you were lying prone and face down in an unsightly manner; were committing the disgraceful sin of crying; and if you happened to be a little respected and much despised weakling heiress and word was flying that you were once again trounced by your branch family cousin.
My position was definitely not a good one.
The walkway was well used, but not this well used; obviously, news was passing…
Naruto would stand up…But I wasn't Naruto, I wasn't as strong as Naruto, and this time I couldn't find the strength to stand up.
So, for my pathetic display, I was punished. Painfully.
"Demon-friend," a man snarled.
A foot connected with my side.
"Trash," someone muttered.
A quick kick was thrown at my ribs.
"Pathetic little mouse…"
"Disgrace to our name!" …Oh, shoot. An elder.
Kick! Kick! KI–!
I screeched a squeak-whimper of pain. The woman gave another crippling blow and stormed off.
The tears began to fall anew. Trembling, I bit my lip to keep from crying out again. …What did I do to deserve this?
I already knew the answer.
I stared in unblinking horror as the effects of Neji's attack took place. The fierce red chakra, so unlike Naruto's own, went haywire and rapidly began eating away at his body. Naruto reared his head back, and the chakra around him – so intense and vivid I felt sure it was visible to the unaided eye – instantly formed into a monstrous, demonic fox. At the same time I realized that the cloak of red surrounding Naruto's body had become the shape of a fox … with nine tails.
As one, the now demonic Naruto and the life sized kitsune spirit loosed a wild and terrible roar of anguish at the sky.
I shuddered violently, clasping a hand over my heart. I thought my blood froze.
Then, suddenly as it had appeared, the chakra vanished, and Naruto collapsed.
"Naruto-kun!!" I cried as tears streamed down my cheeks.
In a moment, the proctor, who had retreated a good distance up the arena wall, hopped to the ground and cautiously approached him. I saw Neji moan and stand, weakly shaking off rubble that had fallen on him from the depression he'd made in the wall. An arm lay across his body, cradling his ribcage, and twin lines of red trailed from the corners of his mouth. His impulse Kaiten may well have saved his life.
Genma closed his eyes. "Uzumaki Naruto is unable to continue, so–,"
"No!" I cried, standing. I realized faintly how loudly the scream rang in the shocked silent stadium, and that most of said stadium was now staring at me. I didn't care. I couldn't bear the thought that Naruto, my unstoppable Naruto, had lost. My world came crashing down on me. I couldn't comprehend… It just … wasn't … possible…. "Naruto-kun will stand again!"
Genma raised an eyebrow.
"She is right!" Rock Lee bellowed from his spot in the stands, about forty yards from me. "As long as he BREATHES, Naruto-kun will NEVER give up OR concede defeat!!"
In the corner of my eye I spotted a disturbance in the still crowd heading in my direction. A strong hand locked almost painfully around my wrist, and another forced me back into my seat. "Are you out of your mind?" Father hissed in my ear from behind as Lee shouted something else.
"Let go of me!" I cried, escaping his grasp. I clutched the rail in front of me with both hands. I wanted him to get up, even knowing, somewhere in my mind, he would not. But I was desperate.
"Naruto will win! He said he would, and he won't go back on his word! That's his nindo, and he–!!"
My breath caught as two fingers jabbed painfully and precisely into a point on my neck. My jaw slackened, and my fisted hands loosened, arms slipping from the rail to hang limp at my sides. My legs swayed with sudden lack of strength, and the world spun sickeningly as I slumped forward.
An arm wrapped around me to catch me before I could fall. Dazed, I blinked very slowly, trying to force heavy eyelids to open wider with little success. Each time they drooped shut, but I opened them again a bit less than the previous attempt as my strength slipped away.
A distant, echoing voice pierced fleetingly through the thick silence.
"The winner is … Hyuuga Neji."
The world at last went dark, and I knew no more.
My world had shattered that day. Naruto should have won, but he hadn't. He was my inspiration, my idol, my inner strength and drive to keep going. When he failed, what was I to do? I didn't know, so I was now broken, confused, and hopelessly lost.
It was likely for these reasons that I'd blindly challenged Neji earlier today (disregarding my recuperation), lost my near nonexistent temper, and was currently lying prone on the floor, receiving a kick to the ribs from every Hyuuga who passed – for now I was not only the clan failure, but the fool who had disgraced the Hyuuga by standing up for the "demon" over supporting the fellow Hyuuga who had "saved the village."
I ground my teeth and waited, prepared for a kick and not sure how much more I could take.
"You will answer me when I speak to you!" I realized too late it was Father. A savage kick in the side flipped me onto my back. I retched and spewed blood.
"H-h-hai, O-t-tou-s-sama," I gasped.
"Hanabi says Neji did this to you."
"H-h-hai, h-he d-d-did."
"Did he use Juuken on vital points?"
I hesitated, but I couldn't lie to him. I had felt it. "…In h-his final a-a-attack, yes."
Hiashi's face hardened further, and he frowned. "It is forbidden in sparring. He needs to be reminded of his place."
As he turned to leave, I suddenly had the strength to reach out and grab his ankle. He glared at me. I tried to find my voice.
"P-please … please, you c-can't punish Neji-san f-for this. It's n-not h-his fault … his h-hatred is m-misguided … he is c-confused…"
His foot jerked free of my hand … and slammed onto my chest.
"Disgrace!" he roared, enraged, "To falter in putting the Branch in its place!"
My vision flickered; my head spun. I felt the neck of my shirt tighten as I was roughly hoisted into the air.
"This is the final straw, you filthy disgrace," he hissed venomously. I trembled as his Byakugan flared menacingly around his furious eyes. "You are no heiress of mine…"
He drew back a palm that glowed with chakra.
"Chichi-ue!" a small, despairing voice cried.
I hesitantly opened my eyes in a moment, and Hiashi slowly lowered his hand.
We'd attracted a considerable audience; several pairs of white eyes observed from a safe distance. Even more were surely watching through walls with their bloodline. Hanabi, pale with fright, eyes wide and brimming with tears, stood a few feet away, far closer than anyone else dared. Her arms were in front of her, a finger to her lips in a gesture more commonly used by me.
"P… Please don't, Chichi-ue … p-please," she whimpered quietly in distress, utterly terrified.
Father's face softened with remorse. The veins marking his bloodline instantly relaxed.
His gaze returned to me, and suddenly I was flung against a wall, hard. I slid to the ground, gasping and weak and broken – but thanks to Hanabi, alive.
"You'll be sealed in the morning," Father said quietly. He walked away.
I realized I was tired. It was cold, but I didn't care. The pain was finally too much.
A nap sounds like a good i…
The world went dark.
I could sense movement, but my body certainly was not moving. I could feel the tops of my feet dragging slowly over the floor. My knees hung low near the ground.
…What … is this…?
My upper body was resting against something that was warm in contrast to a cold breeze, and my arms were hanging in the air, each held in a firm grasp.
I next registered a pattern in the motion, and soon took note of the sound that matched that pattern. Footsteps … someone walking … slowly… There was another rhythmic noise; very soft panting, I realized.
Slowly I half opened my eyes. It was very dark … late night. To the right of my face was a curtain of dark brown…
The motion stopped a moment. My body was shifted slightly, as I'd been gradually sliding downward. I let out a long moan as dully aching breaks and bruises throbbed painfully at the adjustment.
"Almost … there…" a soft voice whispered between breaths. The grip on my arm gave a gentle squeeze.
"Imouto-chan…" I whispered hoarsely. My eyes closed again.
I faded once more into peaceful oblivion.
It was warmer when I woke. I was lying down, and could feel a soft blanket covering me, as well as bandaging covering my bruises. I opened my eyes to see a dimly lit room, a window showing that it was the dead of night.
"I'm here, Nee-chan." A small hand rested on mine.
"Thank you," I said weakly, "You s-saved m-me … twice…"
"Yeah, well…" I could tell from her voice she was blushing. "Did you have to pass out on the other side of the grounds? And sheesh, do you know how heavy you are?" I studied Hanabi's face from the corner of my eye; though she was trying hard to sound like her normal self, she was still slightly pale.
"Not my f-fault … you're so sh-short," I teased back lightly, getting a small, brief smile in response. I looked around. "This is … your room... How did you g-get me h-here…?" I murmured.
"I carried you on my back," she said with a hint of pride for her feat. "I waited 'til it was late and Father was asleep, then I snuck out of my room to go get you. Of course, no one who saw us would bother me, but they didn't make any effort to help, either." She scowled. "I didn't even bother asking any of them to carry you – they'd probably "accidentally" drop you or something…. Once I got you here, I went out and ordered one of our medics to see you. He complained to an elder and was excused. Apparently Father declared earlier that no one was to be prevented from helping you, but no one has to.… Anyways, I just had to do my best with Academy first aid, so you need to see a doctor."
She stood, and my gaze drifted from the ceiling to her. I noticed for the first time the dark splotches of red down the left side of her white shirt.
My head quickly turned toward her as I tried, without thinking, to sit up. My eyes snapped shut as a sound of pain rose from my throat. Hanabi was kneeling by me in an instant, helping me to slowly lie back down. "What's wrong, what is it?" she asked fearfully.
"Hanabi," I hissed, the fury in my voice giving it a very unfamiliar tone. "Did they hurt you?!" I demanded through my teeth.
She followed my eyes to the stain and blanched, wincing visibly. "While I carried you, you … coughed in your sleep…"
"Oh … Gomen … for m-my outburst." It was my blood, not hers. I knew how disturbed she was by the sight of the life fluid; it was a secret she shared only with me. She must have been very concerned about me, to get here and not immediately change out of the gore-spattered shirt.
"It's nothing," she waved aside my apology, and more likely the thoughts she'd guessed and picked up from my face as well – Hanabi and I shared an uncanny knack for doing that around each other. "Now, you need treatment. Since no Hyuuga medics will help, that leaves the Konoha Hospital. Can you move?"
Very slowly, she helped me to sit up. The multitude of bruises didn't throb so painfully; Hanabi must have applied some sort of ointment. In a minute I was situated on her back again, feet hanging to the floor with our size difference. She started toward the (thankfully, nearby) estate exit.
"So, I was thinking…" she started, "Your teammate, Aburame-san – he only lives about a half mile away, right? The guards would probably refuse to let in a guest to help you … so what if, once we're outside, I leave you and fetch him? The hospital's far, but he could carry you easily."
I hoped she didn't catch my small shudder at 'Aburame-san.'
"Shino-kun is … away on a m-mission…"
"No he's not."
There was virtually no use in lying to Hanabi; sometimes I had to hate our uncanny talent. But she didn't press, having read the subtle uneasiness in my voice, the pain of the topic, as well.
"Kiba-san isn't much farther, then…"
"Arigatou … a-again," I said gratefully.
"Not like I could just leave you," she said, "especially because in this condition, you m-might … not … survive being sealed."
When it came back to me, I was glad she couldn't see my face.
In the morning. The caged bird seal.
She understood my silence. "It'll be okay," she whispered comfortingly, and for a moment it felt I was the younger sister.
When drops of water silently began falling onto her, she remained respectfully silent.
I rolled over again on the couch. It was not because I was on the couch instead of my bed – which I had spent five minutes politely arguing and insisting that Naruto should use before he accepted – that I could not sleep. I had camped on enough missions that I could probably be perfectly comfortable on the floor.
With a sigh of defeat, I once again reached for the picture frame that lied face down beside a lamp on a small stand. I had promised repeatedly, each time I put it down, that I would not look again, but each night I did – doing six hundred or so push-ups the next morning as self-rule.
I stood on the left in the photo, one arm around Neji's shoulders and the other giving the camera a thumbs up as I proudly struck the nice guy pose. Neji was scowling, narrowed eyes glaring off into the distance and his arms crossed. From the right, Tenten gave Neji bunny ears while smiling vibrantly. Gai-sensei had a hand on mine and Tenten's shoulders, leaning over so that his face was between mine and Neji's as he winked and flashed a radiant smile.
My face further fell as I took in the scene from over a year ago. "I miss … those times," I mumbled, fingering the wooden frame. In a minute I reached out without looking to place it back on the stand; it slipped from my hand as it met the edge.
Throwing my blanket off, I was off the couch in an instant, picking up the photo.
The glass had cracked.
I stared a moment.
Then the tears I'd been fighting all week fell. I removed the picture from its frame and began gathering the broken glass fragments with trembling hands. "If I look again at this picture to promote more unyouthful moping, I will do eight hun–!"
A rock crashed through my window, and I noticed at once the familiar note stuck to it.
My hand unconsciously tightened on the photo as I shot through the door to my room, slamming it shut. In one move I pushed my bed onto its side (Naruto fell out with a startled noise in a tangle of blankets), vaulted over it, and braced my back against the bed.
The wall behind us was blasted in as the paper bomb exploded, blowing out the room's window and sending splinters and chunks of wood flying into the opposite wall.
"What the heck?!" Naruto exclaimed, instantly awake and alert.
"We are under attack!" I shouted as a second detonation downstairs shook the room. I grabbed a sheet, laying it on the floor. Fire was beginning to spread to the room as I hurriedly pulled a drawer out of my dresser and dumped its contents; I repeated this with the one beneath it before gathering the sheet's corners. Finally, I snagged the bag I kept stocked for short notice missions. The process took up a total of four seconds.
The floor lurched and shifted to an angle as the side nearest the first explosion began to collapse. Naruto and I were tossed off our feet; my nails dug into a floorboard as I began sliding toward the new edge of the floor.
"Bushy Brow!" Naruto shouted, pointing with one hand. I looked to see a collection of exploding tag kunai bury themselves in a remaining part of the side wall. Flames began to lick at the tags.
"Jump!" Naruto cried, scrambling on all fours and leaping out the window. I rolled to dodge a falling chunk of ceiling and launched myself after him, into the cold, moonlit sky.
Naruto grabbed my hand. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu…!"
My home exploded behind us.
Fifteen Narutos locked hand to ankle to become a living chain. The one farthest ahead grasped a high line of lanterns strung between two buildings. Sixteen cries of thrill and terror were heard as we swung down. My foot nearly grazed the ground – and then we were hurtling forward.
The shadow clones dissolved into smoke a moment later, flinging us across the night sky.
"There!" I pointed to the building we would land on. We soared in an arc over two others before reaching it; I landed in a roll, while Naruto crashed and skidded before springing to his feet. Then we ran like never before, shooting from rooftop to rooftop with adrenaline-fueled fury.
Naruto looked me seriously in the eye.
I nodded, face grim as I gave a thumbs-up.
We are in this together.
Two shadows raced for the wall of Konoha, one holding a sheet full of supplies in one hand … and crushing the corner of a now sweat-streaked photograph in the other.
"What business do you have in the village at this hour?" the gate guard asked.
"I'm fetching a friend to bring her to the hospital," Hanabi said, all professional. "Unless you would like to, Hitori-san…?"
His white eyes narrowed a fraction. "Unfortunately, I would not, Hanabi-sama," he said, permitting us to exit.
Hanabi set me down, and shot Hitori a glare worthy of Neji's rare praise. "Don't you touch her."
"Of course not. I would not dream of harming her, Hanabi-sama."
She looked to me and crouched down. "Hey … Nee-chan…?"
"Come on," she said, dabbing at my tears with a handkerchief. "It's not the end of the world … I'll be right there with you tomorrow, okay…? So… Nee-chan, please don't look that way."
I bowed my head a moment, lowering my already downcast gaze. "Arigatou…" I said, barely above a whisper.
She forced a smile. "Now hang in there, and I'll be right back with Kiba-san, alright?"
I paused perhaps a moment too long.
She turned and began to run. I said something I probably shouldn't have.
Her steps stopped. I didn't meet her eyes.
I knew she was giving me a weird look.
"See ya," she said, confused and a little concerned. I heard her run off.
In the morning, I'll be branded with the seal. I'll never be able to make Otou-sama proud, or change the clan … because I'm a weak failure, and I always will be… Neji-nii-san was right. There's no changing that.
…Or was there?
Maybe Neji had been half right. If my destiny were sealed to the Branch, I would more than likely never have a chance to change the way of the clan. But he was also half wrong. People could change – of that much I was certain.
That meant that it was my responsibility to do what I could while I was free – but to do that, I would need to defend my freedom…
I'll do it. I'll become stronger! I shakily rose to my feet.
And … I'll prove it to Neji that people can change!
I was deep in thought as I sprinted for the Inuzuka house. Something was wrong.
That dead look in Nee-chan's eyes…
I'd taken that to be fear of receiving the curse mark, and sadness – her dreams of improving the clan were about to be dashed, and she'd never get a chance to prove herself…
But that wasn't all of it – I could feel it. She'd avoided my eyes and spoken short words to keep me from reading it. Hinata was up to something … but what…?
I skidded to a halt and reversed direction, eyes wide with the realization. Through that uncanny talent we shared, I'd oh so unexpectedly picked up on her thoughts.
But I knew she would.
"Almost there…" I gasped, leaning against a building a moment to rest. The wall was thirty meters away. "I c-can make it…" Drawing shallow breaths and gingerly cradling my ribcage, I walked on.
I froze as I sensed a presence behind me, and then sighed in defeat; I would recognize that chakra signature anywhere, as easily as she would know mine. I turned around, dropping my henge guise as Hanabi stepped from the behind a building.
She took a tentative step. "…Why, Nee-chan?"
I winced as guilt gripped my heart, and shifted my gaze, unable to meet her eyes. "Please, Imouto-chan … this is something I have to do…" I began to turn away.
In a moment she'd closed the distance between us and was tugging on my sleeve. "Please don't l-leave m-me…" she whimpered, moisture collecting in her wide, disbelieving eyes.
It was very possibly the hardest thing I had ever done to refuse as I held her pleading gaze. "I have to go. It's the o-only way I'll ever b-be able … t-to help the clan…"
"Who cares about the clan?!" she cried, tears falling as she gave a betrayed look. "Just look at what they did to you! You'd risk your life to help the people who did this?!"
I put a hand on her shoulder. "It's n-not their fault, Imouto-chan. I can't b-blame them, and I c-can't be selfish. They hate me f-for showing them … I'll do poorly at my job … I owe it to them t-to do this. It's t-time … it's time I worked to make a difference."
"Nee-chan, if you leave you'll be a m-missing-nin! You're hurt – you can't even breathe right! Your heart's weak … You can't make it out there!"
"I'm worse off h-here… If I stay, I'll be the f-first heir in clan history to b-be … banished to the Branch. Think, Imouto-chan … the one responsible for the e-end of the sacred "purity" of the Hyuuga l-line's blood – what happened today would h-happen again, but worse … and then I w-won't even have status to protect m-me from their rage…"
Her pale lavender eyes shone with tears. She hiccupped softly. "N… Nee-chan…" She threw her arms around me in a gentle hug, softly pressing her head against me. The embrace was so gentle that hardly a slight ache was drawn from my wounds. Her voice shook. "Then i-if there's absolutely n-n-no w-way you can s-stay, Nee-chan … then let me come with you!"
I wrapped an arm around my sister's trembling form and cupped her head in my hand with the other, gently stroking her dark locks. My precious Imouto-chan…
"…Okay," I answered.
Her teary eyes beamed up at me as we separated.
"Thank you, Nee-chan!"
I got her hard in the stomach.
She crumpled like a paper sack.
Shock was written all over her face as she went down. Forgive me… I turned to leave, but felt a tug on my pants leg as I tried to take a step. I turned my head.
Hanabi's eyes were unfocused as she almost soundlessly spoke.
"Nee … chan…"
"It's something I have to do."
In a moment, her small, quivering hand released me.
"I will return … I promise."
I body flickered away, and in another minute had left Konohagakure no Sato behind.
ナルト / リー / ヒナタ \ ハナビ \ ネジ
End Chapter One
What do you think? Good? Bad? Terrible? Fast paced, slow paced, nicely paced, bad at some points? Should I continue? Constructive criticism, suggestions, and opinions are welcome and highly appreciated! And if you spotted any mistakes, please let me know!
Oh, and I realized (some later than others...) that I changed more things than just Neji defeating Naruto. In this fic, Lee was never wounded by Gaara, and Hinata didn't pass out during the finals, for example. Just thought I'd point out I knew before someone corrected me – you know who you are! ;)