"Kamen Rider Joker: Uzumaki Driver"
Chapter 2: "Black Wildcard, White Eyes"
Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, Shonen Jump, and VIZ Media. Kamen Rider Double belongs to Toei and Ishinomori Productions. I make no money from the use of either property in this story.
Author's note: I know it's been eight months since the very first chapter I posted. I apologize for that, and with the help of some good friends, I have gained inspiration through which I can make up for this terrible delay. In any case, it's time for the new Kamen Rider Joker to show everyone in Konoha just what he can do! Of course, he's not exactly the first or only one to acquire the power of a Gaia Memory – but what will that mean for him and his comrades in the Hidden Leaf? For the answers to those questions and others, read on!
As everyone in the massive audience gasped in shock, awe, and a little bit of horror at seeing Naruto Uzumaki's transformation, Naruto himself was more contemplative. Are you watching me now, Hinata? I know now, you've always watched me, always had my back, even when I couldn't see you. You waited so long for me to acknowledge you, and I waited so long for someone to acknowledge me. . . . I guess we both got our wish, so one more time, Hinata, watch me. Now that I know you're watching, watch me one more time as I fight for our ninja way!
Within the audience, an old man with hard features partly concealed by bandages over the right side of his face and an arm in a sling grimly observed the scene before him. That brat, he thought angrily. He's endangered the entire scenario . . . transforming like that out in the open, and with observers from the other Elemental Countries, no less. We'll have to move quicker now, to harness the power of the Memories against the Hidden Leaf's enemies. . . .
"Have I left you speechless, Neji?" Naruto taunted. "Is this as far as your belief in fate goes? Are you actually scared you'll lose to a 'loser' like me?"
Neji's eyes narrowed as the Byakugan fully manifested, the clear pupil forming in the center of his irises and veins bulging out around his eyes. "You couldn't touch me in a million years, not even with that transformation," Neji boasted. Inside, he wasn't nearly as confident as he'd sounded; his Byakugan couldn't pierce through Naruto's new armor to see his chakra nodes, and that baffled him.
The next thing Neji knew, Kamen Rider Joker was coming at him with a flying knee. Neji threw out a Gentle Fist strike to block Joker's knee, succeeding in that much as Joker lost his balance and twisted into a collapse . . . only for that twist to lead into a low sweeping kick that knocked Neji's legs out from under him. Having anticipated a more frontal retaliation from Naruto, the Gentle Fist practitioner was quite shocked at his opponent's subterfuge, but not so shocked he couldn't roll out of the way of Naruto's following elbow slam to his stomach. Even so, he was surprised at the sheer power of the elbow slam, as it had made quite an impressive crater in the ground.
It was even more surprising, though, to find Kamen Rider Joker in his face no sooner than he'd gotten to his feet, throwing a fast punch at said face. Neji blocked with another Gentle Fist thrust, using it to throw Joker's punch off-course only to get a hard elbow to the gut with enough force and speed to knock the breath out of him. Using Neji's body as a fulcrum on which to twist himself upward into a back-flip, Joker landed with a body-slam that knocked Neji to the ground.
"Damn . . ." Kotetsu remarked from where he was observing the match. "Uzumaki's beating his ass like he owes him money."
"I heard about what happened in the prelims," Izumo commented. "That's why Neji's getting his ass beaten like that."
"You mean Uzumaki's trying to avenge Hinata or something like that?" Kotetsu surmised. "Never figured you for a romantic, Izumo."
"You said it, not me," Izumo rejoined amiably. "Still, I wasn't expecting that kind of power . . . or speed . . . or skill, for that matter, from that kid, of all people. He must have had a really good teacher."
Hiashi Hyuga was every bit as surprised as the others to see how poorly Neji was faring. "He is the best of this generation's ninja . . . and he is losing to someone like Naruto . . . Perhaps I overestimated him . . . or underestimated his opponent."
"Father, how is that boy beating Neji?" Hanabi inquired softly yet with an undercurrent of outraged bewilderment. "For a Branch member, he is supposed to be especially skilled. That is what you keep saying, and yet this boy is trouncing him."
"It appears Naruto Uzumaki is, at the very least, living up to his boast as this village's most unpredictable shinobi," Hiashi replied stoically, his face and tone belying the tension in his thoughts.
"How the hell is that supposed to be working?" Kiba asked. "Neji's hitting Naruto with his Gentle Fist, and yet it's not doing anything to him! And even with the Byakugan, Naruto's still coming at him! What the hell is going on?"
"It's that armor!" Sakura concluded. "Somehow, it must block Neji's Byakugan from seeing his chakra nodes or closing them off!"
"But where did he get it?" Ino wondered.
"Who cares?" Kiba asked. "He's giving Neji all nine circles of hell. Never been too big a fan of Naruto myself, but I like Neji even less."
"Because of what he did to Hinata in the preliminaries," Ino observed.
Kiba nodded grimly, before shouting out at the field, "Hey, Naruto! Kick his ass!"
That cry reached Naruto's ears rather well, causing the black Rider to smirk beneath his helmet. "I intend to, Kiba," he murmured as he rose to his feet, Neji rising along with him. "Good, you're not dead yet. Means I get to kick you around a little more for what you did to Hinata."
"Why the hell do you care, you loser?" Neji sneered.
"Because she noticed me when no one else did . . . and I was too stupid and blind to notice her noticing me," Naruto whispered, his voice tinged with self-contemning regret. "Too stupid and blind to notice her at all . . . and she cared more than almost anyone else I've ever known . . ."
Neji snorted out a brief, harsh laugh. "Is that what this fight has been about for you? Avenging someone who's just as pathetic as you?"
Kamen Rider Joker didn't say anything, opting to just remove the Joker Memory from his Driver and place it inside the slot mounted on his hip. "JOKER! MAXIMUM DRIVE!" could be heard loud and clear.
"Rider Punch," Joker whispered harshly as purple energy surged into his upraised fist. If not for Neji activating his ultimate defense, a dashing Joker would have hit him hard enough to break something vital.
"Rotation!" Immediately, Neji spun at high speed, chakra exploding from every pore of his body and spinning with him in such a way as to form a defensive barrier that threw Joker into a wall from the force of his reflected finisher. When the dome of spinning chakra died down, it could be seen quite clearly that Joker had been embedded in the wall . . . and that Neji's Rotation defense had dug a deep crater in the ground where he'd been standing.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Kiba exploded in shock from what he'd just seen – metaphorically, of course.
That was Neji's ultimate defense, Tenten mused to herself, a defense even more effective than Gaara's sand. By spinning rapidly and violently opening all of his chakra nodes, he creates a barrier of chakra designed to perfectly shield him and turn any attack by his opponent back on that opponent. You've gotten better, Naruto . . . but you're not good enough to beat Neji. Not yet.
"Naruto . . ." Hinata whispered softly, clutching her heart.
"Rotation is a technique exclusive to the main house of the clan, Father," Hanabi spoke again. "How did Neji learn it?"
No one taught him, Hiashi thought. He must have learned how to do it from watching members of the main house do it often enough. That boy is even more gifted than I estimated . . . in a just world . . .
Kamen Rider Joker dragged himself out of the wall Neji's surprise defense had embedded him in. "Nice . . . didn't see that one coming. Shows what I get for being cocky," he grunted to himself. Then he shouted at Neji. "Nice move! Let's see how many times you can keep doing it before you pass out from chakra exhaustion! Shadow Clone Technique!"
A swarm of black-armored Jokers came down on Neji like a tsunami, surrounding him on all sides. Even worse for him was that since he couldn't see the original Joker's chakra nodes to begin with, he could not tell where he was in this sea of identically armored replicas. As such, he was very much on the defensive against the hellish black tide, even though his Byakugan gave him 360-degree vision. Worse yet, the clones seemed to move in near-perfect coordination, using each other as springboards for sequential assaults that pushed even the Hyuga clan's scorned prodigy to his limits.
How? Neji wondered. How is he doing this? He was supposed to be nothing but a dead-last! His victory against Kiba was a mere fluke! How is he beating me like this? No . . . I will not . . . allow this to happen!
Channeling his fury, Neji's chakra burst from his body, forcing back the Joker doppelgangers as he began to move for another Rotation, throwing them back even further from the sheer force. The collapsing Jokers all vanished one by one, leaving behind the original. With the energy from the Rotation fading, Neji began to pant heavily, but the cost to his chakra supply was worth it to finish off that damned fool who thought he could beat him, even if Neji couldn't see his chakra.
He stalked toward the seemingly prone Kamen Rider Joker, ready to deliver the coup de grace to the presumptuous loser. Just then, he heard the strange mechanical voice shout . . .
"JOKER! MAXIMUM DRIVE!"
"Rider Kick!" Neji heard Naruto's voice as another Kamen Rider Joker came at him with a flying kick charged in purple energy. Neji barely reacted in time to create a brief burst of chakra to shield himself from Naruto's supercharged kick. The shield also caused the force of the kick to rebound on Naruto, knocking him back into another wall . . . or it would have if Naruto hadn't compensated with a midair tumble to land semi-gracefully on the ground. Neji turned to the Joker he'd been about to finish off, and that Joker dispelled, revealing itself to be another Shadow Clone.
"A decoy," Neji sneered. "Clever. You used him to distract me while trying for a sneak attack. That would have worked on anyone else . . . but you're not dealing with anyone else. You're dealing with me, and it is your fate to lose here!"
"Why is it my fate to lose?" Joker asked. "Just out of curiosity. Who gave you that idea?"
"We are all born in predetermined positions and with predetermined traits and abilities," Neji explained. "That is why you have those who are called prodigies or geniuses and those who are called losers or failures. The predetermined traits that we are all given are what make us either geniuses or failures, and no matter how hard we may try, there is no defiance of that predetermination. We are all consigned to our roles, and there is no escape from that. Hinata learned that the hard way. So will you."
"Really?" Naruto remarked. "No escape? Is that why you tried to kill Hinata? When it was your predestined role to be her protector? Is that what you were trying to escape from, you freaking hypocrite?" Not wanting to hear another word out of Neji's mouth, the black Rider charged toward his opponent and attacked furiously and frenetically, his speed astonishing Neji so much he could barely react in time to defend himself.
This speed . . . I haven't seen anything like this since . . . since Lee took off his weights to fight Gaara! Neji thought. How did he ascend to this level in a mere month?
Indeed, Naruto was little more than a black blur and if it hadn't been for Neji's Byakugan, he wouldn't have been able to see him move at all. The audience was even more astonished, particularly the ninja in said audience. "He's moving just like Lee!" Sakura exclaimed. "How is he doing that? Is it that suit?"
Anko chuckled. Only half the story, girlie. You'd be amazed what a little hardcore Snake training can accomplish in two weeks' time, suit or no suit. Give him hell, Naruto.
Neji fought his hardest, but Kamen Rider Joker was fighting with the kind of speed he hadn't seen in anybody else but Lee . . . and if it had been Lee he was fighting against, he might have fared just as poorly as he was now against the Skilled Warrior. The worst part was that like Lee, it wasn't just speed that Joker was using; every blow that Neji managed to evade still came with such force that Neji had no doubt it would have put holes in the arena walls and small craters in the ground. Then he corrected himself; the worst part was that Joker was moving so fast he seemed to intermittently disappear even from his Byakugan's near-360-degree sight.
Then Joker reappeared with a brutal spin kick that knocked him to the ground. No, this is the worst part, Neji thought, the power of the kick being such that his bones felt it.
"Come on, Neji!" Joker taunted. "Is this the best you can do? You were the one who said I was fated to lose! Who's on the ground like a loser now?"
Neji rose to his feet, the veins around his eyes bulging more from sheer hate than from the Byakugan's activation. He mocks me . . . how dare he mock me? What does he know? Then a small smirk came at the realization that Kamen Rider Joker was walking toward him. Not speeding, just walking, as though he thought his victory was so assured already that he didn't have to race to seize it. Neji would teach him to regret assuming he would win so easily, and he shifted into an unusual stance, twisted to the side while facing Naruto and with one arm stretched back and the other stretched forward. "You are in my path of divination . . ." he whispered dangerously.
"What the . . . ?" Naruto uttered as he suddenly envisioned a yin-yang symbol underneath Neji's feet and a black floor with green ripples extending from that yin-yang symbol under his foe's feet. This will be pain.
"Gentle Fist Art: Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms," Neji growled, and then began to enact his technique. "Two strikes!" He hit Joker twice. "Four strikes!" He hit Joker two more times. "Eight strikes!" He hit Joker four more times. "Sixteen strikes!" Eight more strikes to Joker. "Thirty-two strikes!" Sixteen more strikes bombarded Joker. "Sixty-four strikes!" Thirty-two more strikes, and each time Neji had doubled the number of Gentle Fist blows, he had also doubled their force and pace. Even if Neji couldn't pierce his chakra nodes, he could still give Kamen Rider Joker one brutal pummeling in retaliation for the hell the Rider had given him by daring to fight him on what he thought was even footing.
By the end of the technique, the Skilled Warrior could barely stand, he was so weakened. Even worse for him, the technique had been enough for a Memory Break, ejecting the Joker Memory from the Lost Driver and the Lost Driver from his waist, reverting him to everyday Naruto Uzumaki. Without the power of the Joker Memory, there was nothing really stopping him from collapsing outright, though he had enough pride to catch himself on one knee.
Inside the audience stands, Hiashi's hardened eyes viewed this latest display of unexpected skill and power from his nephew. Another one he managed to learn for himself, even though there was no one to teach him, no one that should have taught him . . . he thought. Truly, Neji, I was wrong to underestimate you so quickly . . . and I am sorry that fate took such a turn with you.
"Neji's foe is finished, isn't he?" Hanabi surmised. "Against such skill and power, even that device couldn't give him enough power to win."
Elsewhere in the stands, Hinata watched with sad eyes. "Naruto . . ." she whispered mournfully.
"In the end, that wasn't really your power, was it, Naruto Uzumaki?" Neji taunted. "Just some toy you hid behind like a crutch. And now that I have stripped you of it, you are nothing before me." He smirked. "Where are your brave words now, Naruto Uzumaki? Your defiance?" He saw Naruto's shoulders shaking as Naruto was still bent over on one knee. "Are you weeping for your lost chance at victory? Are you weeping now that the truth has seeped into even your thick skull?"
To his shock, Naruto threw his head back and let out a wild laugh, which also shocked everyone in the audience. "You're laying it on thick there, aren't you, Neji? If you're gonna beat a guy, you might as well be decent enough to just get it over with, because you don't look like a proud Hyuga gloating like that."
"What do you know about the Hyuga?" Neji exploded wrathfully. "You know nothing of us!"
"I know that for some reason, half your family is supposed to protect the other half and you don't like it one bit," Naruto replied. "Why else would you have tried so hard to destroy Hinata's spirit, and then just break her body when you couldn't do the same to her spirit?"
"You wouldn't understand!" Neji snarled.
"Then make me understand!" Naruto screamed as he straightened up. "Make me understand what would drive you to try to murder an innocent girl who never wanted to hurt you! Tell me! Tell me why!"
Neji snarled and ripped off his forehead protector, revealing a manji symbol on his bare forehead in green sealing ink and two wavy green lines framing the symbol. "Do you see this symbol on my forehead, Naruto Uzumaki? It is the mark that all in the Branch Houses of the Hyuga clan must bear, to prove their lifelong servitude to the Main House of the Hyuga! Triggered by the right hand seal, the seal known only to members of the Hyuga clan's Main House, this mark can bring incredible pain to the one bearing it, such horrible pain that you'd feel like your brain was on fire!"
Naruto looked at Neji in horror at what he and other members of the Hyuga clan's Branch Houses must have endured. "There is another use for this mark, though, a far more important use to our clan than merely preserving the dominance of the Main House over the Branch Houses. Upon the death of a Hyuga clansman cursed with this mark, his Byakugan will be sealed, preventing it from falling into the hands of enemy shinobi. That is how my father, the twin brother of Hiashi Hyuga, was sacrificed for the safety of the Hyuga clan's bloodline!"
Naruto was aghast at this. "Twin brother? Your father was Hinata's father's twin? Then how . . . ?"
"How did he end up in the Branch House?" Neji finished with a bitter smirk marring his otherwise handsome face. "He was born second, and Hinata's father was born first. Let me tell you a story, though, a story about a treaty between the Hidden Cloud and the Hidden Leaf, a treaty that was no more than a ruse for the Cloud's 'ambassador' to infiltrate our village and kidnap a young Hyuga child for her bloodline. That child was Hinata, and Hiashi, like any father who had spotted a strange man trying to make off with his then-only daughter, attacked and killed the fool who dared attempt such a thing.
"The Hidden Cloud played innocent, like they had no idea what they'd actually sent their ambassador to do, and demanded Hiashi's head lest there be war between Cloud and Leaf, something our village could not afford in the wake of the disaster of the Nine-Tailed Fox. Hiashi figured out a way around it, though – sending my father, his brother Hizashi, to die in his place to appease Cloud's anger and yet deny them the Byakugan. Even better, they couldn't complain about getting the wrong brother, or else their true motives would become apparent and they wouldn't be able to play the aggrieved victims.
"That is what it means to be of the Branch House of the Hyuga clan – to live in eternal servitude to the Main House, to be their defenders, their shields, and even their sacrificial pawns! That is the true fate of the Hyuga clan, a fate none of us can escape!"
Hiashi looked down at the arena in horror, realizing what his actions years ago had created. "Neji . . ." he whispered regretfully.
Hinata had already known the story, but hearing Neji lay it out with such clear pained anger in his voice was something else, something that made her heart ache for him even in spite of the beating he had given her in the preliminaries last month. She pressed her hands to her heart, clenched in sorrow for the boy she had thought of as her brother.
Inside the arena, Naruto looked at Neji with sorrowful eyes. "Believe it or not, I understand your pain, Neji Hyuga. I was also marked as a child, marked from the moment I was born, even. This mark made me an outcast, shunned by everyone in this village and treated as though I wasn't even human. But you know what?"
He hooked his Lost Driver back onto his waist, and the belt unfurled to fasten the Driver there. "Your pain doesn't give you the right to take it out on people who never did anything to you. Hiashi was a jerk to sacrifice your father like that, but Hinata had no part in that! She was just a child; did you expect her to fight off a grown man and trained ninja by herself? Poor pathetic fool . . . so blinded by your pain that you can't see she's suffered as much as you about the so-called fate of your clan. And I'm going to teach you one thing, the only thing that really matters . . ."
He thumbed the Joker Memory in his hand. "JOKER!"
His eyes flashed red with slit pupils as he glared at Neji, red like the Nine-Tailed Fox's eyes, like the chakra he had been channeling the whole time he'd been listening to Neji's speech. "There is no fate but that which we make! Henshin!" He slammed the Joker Memory into the slot of the Lost Driver and flicked the switch.
Instead of glowing purple, the Joker Memory began to glow red, as did the radiating particles that fused to Naruto to form the black armor of Kamen Rider Joker. The armor had changed as well, the purple highlights replaced instead by blood red and the eyepieces glowing like hellfire.
"Kamen Rider Joker, NT Mode," Naruto whispered, and in a blur of red-edged black, he had thrown a punch in Neji's face, only for Neji to block it with another chakra burst shield. Undeterred, Kamen Rider Joker flipped back onto the arena wall, just in time to dodge a barrage of shuriken Neji threw at him and slip behind him with enough speed to almost take him by surprise.
"JOKER! MAXIMUM DRIVE!"
"Rider Kick," Naruto whispered, prompting Neji to whirl to retaliate while flaring his chakra to use as a defense from the crimson-charged roundhouse kick Naruto was swinging at him. The collision of Neji's chakra field with the Nine-Tails-reinforced finisher technique caused an explosion of sound and light and force that nearly shook the arena to its foundations. When the dust cleared and the audience's eyes had recovered enough that they could try looking at the arena again, they saw Neji slowly rising to his feet, scratches and dirt marring his skin and outfit, while Naruto lay on the ground in a black heap.
"Call it, Proctor," Neji snapped as he walked up to survey the beaten Naruto. When he tipped him over with his foot, Naruto looked up at him and raised his middle finger in a rather vulgar but clear display of contempt.
"Sucker," Naruto sneered before popping into smoke.
"Another –?" Neji didn't have time to finish his outraged exclamation before an un-transformed Naruto Uzumaki clocked him solidly in the face, knocking him to the ground.
"Yeah," Naruto replied. "You'd be surprised how well someone can disappear in plain sight if everyone else is looking everywhere except where they should be looking. And at this point, I doubt you're up to further fighting, so I'm gonna stand here and tell you something."
"What?" Neji spat.
"I used to hate clones," Naruto confessed. "It was the one technique I could never get right in the Academy, no matter how hard I tried. But Shadow Clones? They're just perfect. They take more chakra than the standard Clone Technique, which is a mere illusion. It takes even more chakra to reinforce and solidify an illusion, which is why the Shadow Clone Technique is normally forbidden. Me? I got more than enough chakra for an entire freaking army of ninja . . . and I figured that out despite being a two-time loser and failure. If I can accomplish that, then a 'genius' like you hasn't got a right to complain about 'fate' stopping you from doing what you want to do. And you wanna know something else?'
He crouched down to whisper in Neji's ear. "You're looking at the next Hokage, and when I get that hat, the first thing I'm going to do is help you change the way the Hyuga clan works, free you all from your curse. Because I know what it's like to be cursed, too." He extended his hand to Neji, offering to help him up onto his feet. After a moment of great consideration and thought, Neji took Naruto's hand and let his erstwhile foe help him back onto his feet.
"I suppose I can call the match now," Genma remarked. "The winner is – Naruto Uzumaki!"
The crowd looked down at the arena in shock from what they'd just heard and seen. Naruto Uzumaki, the idiot prankster, the cursed child they had all shunned, the two-time failure whom they were all sure would never amount to anything, had beaten Neji Hyuga, the pride of the Hyuga clan with a combination of skill, misdirection, and a strange device they couldn't even begin to fathom how it worked. Slowly, the shock gave way to applause, started by none other than Sakura and Kiba and spreading through the crowd like a virus until everyone was cheering and applauding for Naruto.
"So this is what respect feels like," Naruto murmured. "It feels nice."
As the crowd applauded, Sarutobi smiled from inside the Kage booth. "You do live up to your title of Number-One Unpredictable Ninja of the Leaf, Naruto," he proudly remarked.
"He's quite the talented boy, Sarutobi," the Kazekage remarked next to him.
"Not really," Sarutobi answered with a slight chuckle. "But he works for every ounce of skill he has and that's as good as talent any day."
"I suppose I'll concede to your superior experience on that account," the Kazekage assented with a smirk.
"I suppose you will," Sarutobi rejoined pointedly.
There was one person not applauding in that crowd, and it was the bandaged man who had one eye covered and one arm in a sling. He is going to ruin everything, he thought. Now that everyone has seen the power of the Memories, other nations will seek that power. You foolish boy, Naruto Uzumaki, you have laid a target upon the very village you seek to lead. Measures will have to be taken, to protect the village, and to ensure that a wildcard like you doesn't utterly FUBAR the scenario. Yes, I will make sure that the Hidden Leaf is still standing, and standing much taller once all is said and done, even if I must take you out, child.
Endnotes: There you have it, my triumphant return to Kamen Rider Joker: Uzumaki Driver. Hopefully you guys like it, and aren't so angry at me for dithering for almost two years before working on it again. All the same, if there's anyone I can thank for giving me the jolt I needed to start working on this story again, it's Kutasan, the current writer of the Naruto/Spider-Man crossover fic "The New Demon." His latest chapter for that story was nothing short of awesome, and it inspired me for how I handled the Naruto-Joker vs. Neji fight in this chapter. I will admit, however, that I was thinking Vegeta from DBZ when I was writing out some of the lines.
In any event, I'm sure you all know who that bandaged guy eyeing Naruto so furiously is, but what is his real agenda for the power of the Gaia Memories? What will the other Hidden Villages do now that they have seen the kind of power Naruto used to beat Neji? What about a certain serpentine schemer and his own plans for the Hidden Leaf? And on a more personal note, will Neji be able to find some closure for his father's memory? Has Naruto finally realized Hinata's feelings for him? For the answers to all those questions and others, you'll have to stick around for the next chapter. Count up the days till the next ride.