The first thing taught to all young ones in every hidden village was to never trust your eyes. These are both the most used organs of the human body and the easiest to fool. Second, comes the ears and tongue. Then the nose. And finally the skin. The eyes are tied so closely with the mind and the heart that once one of the three is tricked, the others are soon to follow. To trust the eyes is to invite weakness into one's most personal defenses. The dependence fighters have on sight make them the easiest target as well as the first things Naruto learned to attack. Shino knew this, and wasn't surprised at all when the yellowish-gray fog filled the air about him. The sharp, bitter smell would have gagged anyone not used to the Aburame green houses that were filled to the brim with many exotic plants; ones that often smelled far worse. This particular scent was somewhat familiar, but he couldn't place it and didn't have the time to mull over it. He had no fear of the smog being anything too terribly dangerous; Naruto favored longer fights, no matter his opinion on actual fighting. This wasn't poison, but stung his eyes and throat.
A very slight breeze ruffled his kikaichu, so slight it could have been missed if Shino hadn't been paying attention. Hadn't been waiting for that exact sign. There was a low chink of metal links clashing; from the right but no sound from the left. He was coming to face him on his own, without the Saimyosho. Naruto suddenly appeared from the ugly mist, falling from above; heel of his hand pushed forward to strike Shino's orbital bone. He dodged Naruto's attack completely instead of just moving his head, not trusting Naruto's empty palm to actually be harmless. His thrust continued to the ground, where he caught himself with an flat hand. Naruto's wrist twisted in a way that seemed painful and his body smoothly followed; his curved foot headed straight for Shino's face in a surprisingly graceful kick. His glasses went flying, but there was no damage to his person; Shino knew better than to allow his friend to hit him. Naruto was as graceful as any Hyuuga and had physical power behind his moves that seemed disproportionate to his short and slim stature.
"Are you eating?" His blue eyes were almost completely hidden by the longish mop of blond hair. A small group of strands were longer than the rest, running from his temple to shoulder, that was wrapped by a thin silver chain that ended in a pure black ball not even half an inch in diameter; it was the noise of the chain that always gave his position away. The metal glinted in the light as Naruto straightened into his usual stance, his hands curled into loose fists and held protectively over his chest, right foot behind him.
"Not currently." Shino jumped forward, into Naruto's fighting stance. "Right now I'm winning." His style relied on free space between the enemy to deliver crippling kicks. His charge was cut off prematurely as Naruto's heel drove into Shino's hip, pushing him back a good three feet away. Shino knew he was bruised; he could feel the difference in his stride as he drove forward before Naruto could fall back into his stance.
"Only in that moment." Shino's kunai rested against Naruto's cheek, who's foot rested behind Shino's knee. The two were precariously balanced, if Naruto continued with his strike to the Achilles Tendon, Shino would topple down and his kunai would tear into his mouth. They separated carefully and stood facing each other, neither in any type of fighting stance. Shino eyed the smoke still swirling about them, trapped from escaping into the sky by the densely interwoven tree branches overhead. "Is this new?"
"Tear gas created from syn-Propanethial-S-oxide. It comes from onions specially bred in the Forest of Death." A long needle appeared from inside Naruto's sleeve. "Want to quit?" Shino didn't answer, as he couldn't speak anymore. Naruto felt the same paralysis, the creeping darkness that was the shadow bind held them tight. Wind tore through the trees, disintegrating the miasma while twigs and such scratched the two combatants.
"Sorry boys, looks like I win again." Asuma called to them jovially from a nearby branch. Shikamaru sat below him, hands frozen in a familiar seal. "Hien!" The kunai sped towards the two caught fast by Skikamaru's Kagemane, unable to move. Naruto and Shino shared a look, then crumbled to the ground in piles of scuttling insects; the projectiles sailed harmlessly overhead. The wasps were quiz to take to air, disappearing in seconds. Not that Asuma or Shika had stayed long enough to see where they went; they separated and took opposite directions away from the site.
"This just became troublesome." These weekly spars alwaysturned into something annoying like this. Winner was first to blood thrice, and determined the shared meal of the week. It happened every Friday afternoon; Tuesday to Thursday was spent learning their respective familial jutsu, or experimenting with the ANBU in Naruto's case. They came together for a spar and meal before resuming training with Asuma. It gave the team a chance to understand each others power, brought them closer through battle. The jonin never lost, so they always ate barbecue. Shikamaru was tired of it.
He didn't feel anything except weightlessness as his legs collapsed from underneath him, his body landing hard on the rough bark. Vaguely, Shikamaru realized the forest perhaps hadn't been the best place to challenge the insectoid duo. 'I shoulda realized…' The pain in his neck slowly mad itself known through his foggy mind; nine pin points, two parallel lines of four senbon, ran down the back of his spinal column, about half a foot apart. They pierced his flesh just deep enough to deaden the nerves, but a spot on his nape throbbed more than the rest; one of the wasps had gotten him in the soft spot where the skull ended and the neck began. The smothering darkness chilling his mind and taking over his vision were sure signs. 'Least I got a nap outa this.'
The small red insect detached itself and flew silently threw the air, returning to its nest. The scent of the hive led it through the thick yellow jungle of hair and down its host's neck. At his nape, the wasp burrowed a hole into the skin and crawled inward. The Saimyosho lived inside Naruto's chakra pathways, many more in number than the kikaichu since the demon's influence swelled them beyond those of any other nin. The pathways braided together but also coiled about themselves to fit in the confines of the small body. Like a beehive, a queen wasp directed the day-to-day living of the colony, but was otherwise a silent observer to the use of her children. She lived just about Naruto's navel, tied directly to the both the seal and demon.
Their host blinked as his teammate collapsed. He was sure Shikamaru would have heard his approach, or at least have been able to sense the attack coming for him. Paranoia was a shinobi's best, bittersweet, ally. The venom would only last half an hour at the most, just enough time for Shikamaru's nerves to recover and respond. With a skill gained through repetition, Naruto carefully drew the senbon from his friends skin. He was sanitizing them when Shino landed on the branch above his teammates. Naruto couldn't help but smirk at the pair of new glasses perched on his face; the last ones were shattered from his kick. "Sensei?"
"Too close. We need space or he will sense us."
Naruto stood and collected his needle case, returning it to his inside jacket pocket. "I will lead him off. Shika will be out for a bit longer." Shino nodded even though he was already vanishing into the gloom.
Shikamaru groaned as his dream of being gently rocked to sleep in the sun by his favorite hammock vanished and was replaced with Naruto's concerned face looking down at him. A cut was slowly healing on his cheek and he smelled singed. "Why'd ya wake me up? It was a lovely dream." Naruto chuckled and placed a hand on his neck, checking Shikamaru's pulse. He then lifted a limp hand up to his face and poked a tiny needle-more like a sewing and not an senbon-into his fingers, watching as they twitched.
"You were out for too long, reacted badly to the apamin. But your nerves are responding to pain. Can you feel this?" Naruto pushed his thumb into his palm. "No? The nerves are reacting, but not reporting. That should clear up soon. But why?" Shikamaru chuckled himself as he was stood up; Naruto was apt to rambling when faced with a conundrum of his own abilities. Once, he had an hour long, complete conversation with himself, out loud, over the pros and cons of using two different drugs to knock a person unconscious, depending on everything from weight to intelligence. It was an odd experience to walk without feeling the pressure on his feet or the hard branch underneath his sandals.
"So, I'm assuming you have a reason for doing all this." Short-term 'teams' of two always dominated these fight/spars. They never stayed the same throughout the match, switching between allies even mid-flight, but never being able to defeat Asuma no matter the combination. After the opposing team was defeated, the jonin would take down his teammate.
"We're tired of barbecue." Naruto was leading them through the trees, deeper into the inky darkness of the thick forest where the trees twisted together in natural renditions of embracing limbs.
"Asuma-sensei always chooses the same restaurant because he always wins, no matter how we attack him. There is only one solution."
Shikamaru thought he knew where this was going, but it was interesting to see Shino actually expressing his displeasure at the thought of Asuma winning yet again. "There is only one combination we haven't tried yet." Their eyes met as he sped up so that they were walking together and not just Naruto leading. "A three-on-one assault. We are a team after all."
"So what do you have in mind?"
Naruto grinned and pulled something from the bark of a nearby tree; thin wisps of translucent threads covered his fingers. "Something…troublesome."
It was too quiet. All cliché aside, it was actually too quiet in the training grounds. The massive, fenced in area of trees was its own ecosystem; plants and animals roamed free within its borders. But even the birds were silent. Asuma jerked his head to the right as a nearby twig snapped and then sighed at he could see nothing was there. Something in the air was bothering him; the silence was as unnerving as a true battle between sworn enemies. Paranoia is a bitch. A full hour of chasing a small yellow dart in the air didn't help his temper any; Asuma had lost sight of he bug in a small confrontation with Naruto. He knew following a wasp would be the quickest way to find the hidden students and it did. The jonin was left limping from a needle in the leg while Naruto barely got away. He believed in fighting full out, even against his own student, because otherwise their training wouldn't be enough in a real world fight. A twig snapped again, near his head this time, and Asuma attacked without thought. One of the giant tarantula that inhabited the darkest portions of the Konoha forestry burst from the canopy above him, chelicerae clicking together menacingly. The spider was fast and armored against predator attack, but its thick hairs were no protection from chakra-enhanced kunai. "Hien!" The body fell twitching to the ground.
Right as he was stepping over the corpse, it burst outward and a mass of swirling black and yellow took to the air. Saimyosho, and a whole lot of them, heading straight for him. Asuma jumped away, dodging the arms of the swarm as they tried to surround him. Something yanked at his ankle, bringing him down towards the dark underbrush. Falling, he could see Shikamaru in his Kagemane pose and the shadows closing in on him; Naruto was braced behind him, the chain wrapped around his ankle in his hands. He would deal with them second. "Haisekishou." The ash overtook the incoming insects and combusted, burning about half and dispersing the mass. Spines in the chain dug into Asuma's leg and slammed him into a nearby branch. On the bark in front of his nose, there was a bug; a kikaichu to be exact…more like a whole army. Asuma sighed.
"Ah, now this is nice," Asuma said extra loud as he speared a piece of pork and popped it in his mouth. "Best barbeque in the village." He was the only one eating or happy for that matter. In the booth across from him were two disgruntle faces and one worried. Naruto was putting a medicinal patch on a sulking Shikamaru's cheek while Shino was silently glairing at the meat cooking on the table. It was all very funny to the jonin. "Come on guys, that was a well thought out plan. I'm sure if I was a little less experienced, it would have worked perfectly."
"You are saying we are only 'a little' too weak?" Shino spoke for the first time in twenty minutes.
"Sheesh. Ya'll are a hard bunch to compliment." He sighed, then turned serious. "The truth? From the very beginning, there was no way you three genin could beat a jonin, even in the best of circumstances. The best you could hope for is to injure and be able to get away for help." His eyes settled of Naruto, who had thrown himself before Asuma and taken the punch aimed for Shikamaru, who was too worn out to dodge. "Others will tell you different, but in battle for life and death, there is no honor in dying in battle to save your pride. And it is just as foolish to sacrifice yourself for another if you can save both lives. You, Naruto, have both the power and speed to carry your teammates away without problems." His student slid down a bit in the booth. "Shino, you could have attacked before I had caught sight of your insects. Shikamaru, you should have trapped me before the Katon jutsu that got Shino." They all looked so down that it made the next part had to say over his chuckles. "But, you all did wonderfully. I am very proud."
"Wait…what?" Shikamaru's face was hilarious. "We got destroyed…and you…this was so not worth it. I'm going back to sleep." His head made a thunk as it hit the bench behind them.
"Your teamwork is levels about that of the other genin in your year, and even better than those of previous years. Working together towards your goals even outside of a life-threatening battle, building camaraderie even though you all learn separately. It seems that this way of teaching has been perfect for your growth. And I have a surprise for you, a C mission." That got the genin's attention, even Shikamaru. "Kakashi's team got his team one last week, well, a bored Inuzuka and sulking Uchiha got the team the mission. The Hokage was much more comfortable with giving out this one after hearing a report of our progress." Asuma grabbed a few more chunks of meat, chuckling at the shocked expression on their faces. "Oh, and we leave in two hours; better go change and grab supplies for a week and then meet me at the gates."
To his great surprise, it was Naruto and not Shikamaru that was the slowest to leave the restaurant. He was walking in a jerky manner, as if every joint ached and every movement was painful. "Naruto," he turned with head on a stiff neck, "Are you injured?"
"It will heal soon Sensei. Don't worry about it."
Two hours later exactly, Asuma walked up to the gates and smirked as his genin sat talking together in low voices. Shikamaru and Shino were watching Naruto as he worked on his legs; stretching and twisting his muscles very carefully as if he were a dancer. There was a purple speckled bruise covering the top of his foot that he was handling it gingerly as he wrapped it. "Seems like your paying for hitting me in the face Naruto."
He slipped his streamlined cloth boots over the bandages before grinning up at his teacher. "It was the first time I've landed a solid hit on you. My foot will heal." His team shouldered their packs and followed him out of the main gate, ignoring Izumo and Kotetsu's joking jeers. The forest surrounded their path, quiet and serene. The day seemed perfect for travel; sunny with a cool breeze.
"So what's the mission? Can't be too serious if we had no formal briefing." Shikamaru was walking right in front of Asuma, arms behind his head in a lazy manner as he walked. His pack was the smallest, really nothing more than a cloth backpack hanging off his shoulders.
"We are delivering a couple med kits to a small community near the coast; they've been having a few minor problems with illness. Its not worth the time and people to send out a squad of mednin, so they sent us." He casually lit a cigarette and took a drag. "We also need to report the conditions of the sick to the hospital," he pulled a slip of paper from a pocket, "symptoms, modes of infection, rate of spread, and mortality rate if applicable."
"Sounds like they are worried. Why not just send out an investigative squad?" Shino looked to not be listening as he was observing an insect that had landed on his hand, but was more intuitive than most thought. Asuma would have to be careful of his words.
"The higher ups aren't all that concerned, just want some info on it."
"The hospital keeps immense records of every outbreak, no matter what the illness. They often send a squad of chunin out to sites to gather data, usually medical students." Naruto would know, spending all that time with Ibiki, who valued knowledge in all fields. "But if the staff thinks it is something minor, not worth sending mednin out, they will trust med gear to genin. Or, if there is no data on it, or the threat is minimal, or even in some cases, if they are feeling lazy and don't want to travel the distance. You said it was on the coast?"
"Exactly, several days travel on this bare path going southeast between Otafuku and Tanzaku Gai and then straight to the coast. Simple delivery with no worries." And it was. The day passed easily in comfortable silence, only broken by short conversations That was fine by everyone, who enjoyed the silence of the team. Even with the sun set, and under the silvery light of the full moon, they continued at a smooth pace towards the coast. The moon was directly above them when the team stopped for the night in a clearing off the path, just in case someone came down the road while they were resting. The brush had grown in between the trees, closing the gaps and securing the area; it also served as excellent kindling for the smokeless fire Shino started in the middle of the space. They ate and drew straws for watches; Naruto taking the first 3 hour shift, then Shino, and finally Shikamaru. Once they were closer to the coast, or if it were a more dangerous mission, they would camp earlier and get more travel in. But Asuma thought his team should just work at their own pace for the beginning of their first mission outside the gates of Konoha.
"Now this is perfect," Shikamaru murmured. His cloth bag had been unrolled out into a hammock that he had strung between two trees. The low breeze was just enough to rock him gently to sleep. The others chuckled as they settled for the night; Shino entering his tent set up into the bushes surrounding the clearing and Asuma settled at the fire.
"How is your foot?" Naruto, who sat next to him, slipped off his boot and wrappings to show the now bruise-free skin. "Good. Now, how are you feeling? You are the fastest one on this team, yet even Shikamaru was in front of you while we traveled."
"It's nothing Sensei. I'm fine."
Asuma frowned. "You don't need to lie to me, Naruto. No ninja is all powerful all the time, especially a genin." The smile on his face faltered and then fell. "Is it the," how to say it? "…fox?" His student grabbed his stomach in a sudden panic, pupils sharpening into slits before he could control himself. "You can talk to me without worry. Nothing you say will change how proud I feel for all of you, my students." Asuma laughed and shook his head. "I'm no good at this kind of stuff."
"I'm not…fine, but I am recovering. It isn't anything to worry about." Naruto relaxed slowly. "The fox won't ever be a worry. The Saimyosho feed directly on his chakra. If it were to increase, they would just eat more."
"That's good." His? "I'm trusting you to tell me if something changes or you don't feel up to snuff, okay?" He waited for Naruto to nod before standing. "I'll see you in the morning. Wake me if you see anything odd."
"Hai Sensei. Goodnight."
Hours later, Shino awoke. He didn't know the reason, just a feeling inside his mind that yanked him from his rest. The kikaichu were restless, moving about inside and outside his body. His skin was itching from their movement. Forgoing his coat, Shino stepped out of the underbrush and into the moonlight. Shadows danced on the ground, moving like waves of the sea hitting the beach.. Above him, at the very peak of the tallest tree ringing the clearing, stood Naruto with his arms up into the sky, as if he were embracing the clouds; the entire hive of Saimyosho undulating around him like a storm cloud, gossamer wings glittering in the full moon like living diamonds. They gracefully wove patterns in the air, circling about the boy and the tree and the sky without rest or falling into chaos. They were free and it took Shino's breath away. Without really thinking about his actions, Shino was standing at the edge of the swarm on top of the closet tree to his friend. He must have been seen, for Naruto's arm lowered to motion him closer.
"Are you afraid of them?" He was still looking up to the sky, up at the moon, even as he spoke. Shino was in awe of the shimmering maelstrom that encased them both. It was a sharp and bitter scent carried on the wind that drew his mind from the wasps swirling about the place.
"No. I do not fear the Saimyosho."
"I can smell it. They can smell it. They live off fear as if it were chakra." It was only once he got closer that Shino could see the blood; it was almost black and flowed down Naruto's cheeks like tears from his eyes. He braved the swam to walk to his friend. Once close, he could see that Naruto's sclera were completely blackened by the fouled liquid.
"All I smell is blood. Are you injured?" The insects suddenly charged the two, reentering the hive with a speed and force that Shino had never seen before. Small rivulets of blood ran down from the holes created from the burrowing, but they soon closed due to Naruto's supercharged healing factor. His arms fell to his side and he looked Shino full in the face for the first time that night.
"Not anymore." His tears slowly turned clear, his eyes returning to the bright blue they were know for. "After breeding inside that spider, there were too many Saimyosho, Sensei's attack didn't wipe out enough of them. The weak and useless had to be culled. It was painful to move with them all inside the hive. They were consuming my chakra because there were too many. It hurts to keep them and hurts to kill them." He shivered and grabbed a hold of Shino's arm, looking up at him with hopeless eyes. "I could feel every single one die and rot away into the demon energy they were created from." Shino was lost; he understood the situation, but had no personal experiences to tell him how to handle the situation. He was a creature based on logic and felt very little when kikaichu passed. Since their life spans were just over five hours, there is no time to form a personal attachment. He was devoted to his insects as a whole, but Naruto named almost every single one of his symbiotic wasps. Shino had nothing to compare his pain to and no idea how to make it better. He awkwardly laid an arm over Naruto's shoulders and let him cry is sorrow out to the sky.
A/N: I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I won't make excuses for my horrid lateness. For some reason, even after I started to work on it, this chapter wouldn't come to me! I know its short, but I know what is going to happen in the next chapter and now that I've been working on it, I can focus on my Naruto fanfiction. I hope the fighting makes sense and isn't boring; nothing else really happens. I hope this shows more team interactions, a lot of the reviews wanted more of it. Again, I am sorry. Thank you for reading. Oh and...5 more days till my birthday!