Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter, or Naruto. Any characters you recognize, I did not create, but any you don't, well then I take complete credit for those.
Warnings: Death, Magic abuse, OOC'ness, OC'ness, Gen, language, vague sexual suggestion
The closer Neji came to the house, the bigger his anxiety grew. He activated his Byakugan, using his kekkei genkai for his main purpose- finding people- and felt like screaming when he couldn't find Shou in the house. He didn't feel in control of his body as he crashed into the house, hoping that Shou was simply playing with magic and it hid him from Neji some way. He didn't want to believe that Nanbu had taken Shou away from him. Neji pushed opened Shou's door and felt his heart freeze as he spotted Shou's messy futon.
Scrambling, Neji searched the entire house before Kiba arrived with Akamaru. Neji didn't need the dog to lead him home, he knew the way and he long past ran ahead of the shinobi and his pet.
"He's gone!" Neji yelled. "Kiba, Shou is gone!"
Kiba's solemn face did nothing to comfort Neji. "Maybe he's at the market or something? Shou wouldn't simply leave with a stranger without putting up a fight. There's no signs of struggle so he left the house willingly at least."
Neji felt like stamping his foot and throwing a right fit because he knew, his instinct was screaming at him that Shou was in trouble. His charge may have left the house willingly but that didn't meet harm once he left. This meant Neji needed to track down Shou.
"Kiba we need to find Shou. Once we find him, hopefully alive, the suspect should be there with him," Neji steeled himself. He couldn't live in a fantasy world where Shou would be alright. He had to accept that possibility that the little boy he came to care for could already be dead, his body waiting to be found. If he didn't and went out searching anyways, he may not be able to keep his senses if he found Shou dead. The world was cruel and even children die and suffer for the schemes of evil men.
Kiba dropped a comforting hand on Neji's shoulder but didn't refute his words. "The trail is fresh so we will find him soon." 'Dead or alive' was left off, but Neji knew that Kiba was thinking them.
"Who knew a diplomatic mission could turn so rotten?" Neji rhetorically asked as he turned and left the room.
Shou groggily felt his head being tugged to the side and then something hard start to preen his hair. The action reminded him of Hedwig, his wonderful owl that he had to regrettably leave behind. She had been one of the best friends he could have ever had. He missed her terribly, and he felt a wave of warmth envelope his body at the mere thought of her. They only knew each other less than a year, but she was his precious owl that he loved dearly.
Slowly, and with a lot of effort, Shou pried his eyes opened and blinked as the harsh sunlight battered against his still sensitive eyes. Blinking some more to grow accustomed to the light, Shou eventually become more aware and managed to keep his eyes open. Noticing that the tugging persisted, Shou moved his head to the side to be met with a mass of white feathers. A small bubble of hope started to form and with slow, cautious movements, Shou lifted his eyes up more and stared straight into the eyes of his owl Hedwig.
"H-hedwig? Is that really you?" Shou asked feeling more elated with each passing second. Hedwig still felt the same to him. It was like she was exuding a sense of warmth and home. The only thing he noticed different about her was that she looked more feral. She was still preened quite prettily, but there was a more wild edge to her eyes and posture.
"How did you get here girl?" Shou asked as he went to raise a hand to pet his owl but was met with resistance.
Looking down, Shou noticed for the first time that he was tied tightly to a tree trunk. His mood nose-dived as he took in the new situation. The last thing he remembered was running through the forest with Minobu before everything black. Feeling scared for his friend Shou quickly searched around him and was happy to find his friend safe and sound, tied to a tree across from him. Minobu still seemed to be sleeping, but at least he was safe.
"I don't suppose you know what's going on, do you girl?" Shou asked in a sad tone. He just reunited with his owl only to find himself in a bad situation. The universe was mean like that.
Hedwig barked out a few words and flapped her wings as she tried to explain the situation to him as best she could for an owl. Shou listened to her and once she settled down he decided that the worst action as no action at all. While the bad guy was still gone he would need to escape. Hardening his resolve, Shou turned towards Hedwig. "Can you cut through the ropes?"
Hedwig huffed at him and jumped off his shoulder, digging her claws into him slightly in reprimand, telling him 'how dare you doubt me!' Shou smiled as he watched his owl latch on to the middle of the ropes and start cutting the top rope with her beak.
Only, a loud noise in the distance startled his owl and with a startled bark, Hedwig beat her wings and flew off.
"Hedwig!" Shou called, wanting his owl to come back. "Hedwig!"
Neji followed Akamaru, his Byakugan constantly searching his surroundings. It seemed Shou was travelling somewhere in the woods. He could see his charge's footprints and those of another as they ran. There were no drag marks signaling that Shou was being pulled along, but the prints showed that they were running close together.
Neji was scanning the forest again when he spotted them. Two people, civilians, were in a clearing ahead. "Shou…" Neji whispered, relieved that his charge was alive. "I see him!" Neji stated happily to Kiba and rushed forward, passing the dog and his master again. His eyes would lead him to Shou.
Akamaru barked loudly and dashed after him, and with the noise Neji spotted a bird take off near Shou. He didn't care about the animal; his focus was entirely on Shou. Absently Neji instructed Kiba to hold the second person, while he tended to Shou. The second person had to be Nanbu after all.
Together the leaf trio burst into the clearing but they once again failed to credit their suspect. Neji rushed to Shou's side, but the weight of Akamaru versus the force of the dog trying to stop caused a large dust cloud that was mixed with a suspicious white powder. Neji raced quickly and covered his mouth and nose while diving at Shou and using his long sleeves to cover the boy's. Kiba and Akamaru who had been right in the middle of the cloud weren't as lucky or quick and inhaled a good portion of the powder. Together they passed out on and ground, slumped over in a large useless heap.
Neji positioned himself between Shou and the second person, his Byakugan telling him that the second person wasn't moving. Neji waited, not wanting to be taken by surprise again. As the dust settled, Neji lowered the hand covering his mouth and nose and used it to take a kunai out of his pouch and cut Shou free. Knowing that if he moved across the clearing he would disturb he powder again, Neji ripped his sleeve and tied the fabric around Shou's face.
"Keep that on until I say so, got it?"
Shou nodded, his eyes full of fear. Neji repeated the action, only this time covering his own face. He had experienced an attack like this before, but from experienced shinobi. It was one thing to take precaution against enemy ninja but he honestly underestimated this civilian. Maybe that was why Kakashi-sensei always wore a face mask. Had he been on the receiving end of these attacks enough to be forever paranoid and prepared? It wasn't a bad thought.
Looking at the second person, Neji was surprised to see him tied up. "Shou, who is that?" It didn't make sense for Nanbu to tie himself up.
"M-minobu. He's my friend," Shou answered.
Neji narrowed his eyes. He heard of the mysterious boy before but never met him. If Shou left with Minobu then it explained why Shou left without a struggle.
"Tell me what happened exactly," Neji demanded. He turned off his kekkei genkai, wanting to conserve his chakra just in case.
"Someone woke me up this morning looking for you. There was a fire and they wanted you to check it out. Minobu stopped by and after breakfast he wanted to show me something. We ate and then left. As I was running behind Minobu I blacked out and woke up tied to a tree," Shou explained as quickly as he could.
"Minobu was in front of you when you blacked out?" Neji asked for clarification.
"Did he make the food?"
"No. He washed the rice but I did the rest, why?" Shou asked.
Neji sighed in frustration. This didn't make sense. The mystery was just starting to come together but the answer was still out of his reach just like Nanbu.
"Let's check on Kiba and Akamaru first. Step lightly and try not to stir the dirt. I don't know what that powder was but it had an ill effect on Kiba," Neji instructed.
Together they walked towards to unconscious pair, Neji stirring less dirt than Shou. Once they reached them, Neji bent down and did a quick evaluation. It seemed they were merely in a deep sleep, no hissing breath or signs of internal bleeding which was good. Neji ran his hands lightly down Kiba one more time, checking for any external injuries he may have sustained from the fall but found none. Bar being asleep, Kiba was perfectly healthy.
The sharp noise of a whistle reached his ears, and Neji activated his Byakugan as he looked up. His eyes instantly locked on the approaching figure. It was another civilian, and Neji felt anger. Was this Nanbu? Was he returning to finish Shou off? Neji carefully slid the handle of his kunai into Shou's hand and whispered to his charge, "Shou go cut your friend free and hide."
"Go Shou!" Neji hissed.
Shou scrambled across the clearing, but Neji kept his focus on the whistling person. The happy tune was taunting, but Neji held his position, wanting Nanbu to come to him.
Neji could hear the sound of Shou trying to cut the rope, mentally urged his charge to hurry up. Shou needed to be hidden before Nanbu arrived or else he would witness Neji killing the man. Shou didn't need to see anymore killing. Neji didn't want to scar the poor boy any more than he already was, but he wouldn't be able to help it if Shou didn't hurry up and hide.
"Shou?" Neji heard the groggy voice of Shou's friend say as he finally woke up. "What's going on?"
"I don't know but we have to hide," Shou answered.
The sound of ropes dropping made Neji smile and it was followed by the beat of two pairs of feet running behind a nearby bush. Shou was safe.
Finally, the whistling person entered the clearing and looked surprised to see Neji waiting for him. He was a young man and Neji had seen him before. He was a local bully that had tried to approach Shou a few times but Neji always stepped in before he could. The profile fit- an angry young man that liked to see others suffer.
"Here already? Well, aren't I lucky," the man grinned.
"Who are you?" Neji asked.
The man laughed loudly and casually leaned against a tree. "Who do you think I am? You have been looking for me have you not?"
The young man's grin grew wider. "That's what they call me. But who are you? I've seen you around, always getting in the way of my fun, but I never learned your name?" Nanbu's eyes strayed to the side and locked on Kiba. "What happened to your little friend? Nothing terrible I hope."
"Hyuuga, Neji. It's only polite to tell you before I kill you," Neji stated coldly.
Nanbu's eyed widened and he put up his arms about to protest but Neji didn't let him. Scum like this that liked to swim in the misery of others didn't deserve long lives. Had Nanbu been raised by someone decent outside of Gato, Neji was sure he would have been a fine young man, but the one standing in front of his was a bully, a sadist, and a psychopath.
Pulling another kunai from his push, Neji threw it across the clearing and straight through Nanbu's head. He watched as the blood started to trickle down Nanbu's face before the body fell to the ground. For all Nanbu's smarts and planning there was one thing a civilian could never do. They could never run from a shinobi's weapon. Shinobi were simply too fast for them, too skilled. But Neji could admit that Nanbu had put him on quite the chase.
"What a poor life this boy lived. I'm sorry it had to come to this Nanbu," Neji whispered as he kneeled beside the dead boy, taking in the face of person who pit three villages against each other because he wants to avenge the death of his family.
"How sad indeed…but I'm afraid that's not Nanbu. I am." Neji whipped around at the statement and nearly screamed in frustration when he saw that Minobu held Neji's own kunai to Shou's throat. This couldn't be happening.
"You're Nanbu?" Neji asked. Neji felt dizzy. The young man beside him had admitted to being Nanbu, had purposely taunted him about it, but…Minobu?
Minobu laughed loudly and smirked. "I am. You just killed a local village boy that I paid. It's amazing what these idiots will do for a few ryo. I handed him the cash, told him to come to this clearing and say his name was Nanbu and taunt the people he found here. The moron at your feet was already sporting a hard-on just at the sight of all the money I promised him. I just needed him to distract you while I captured your sweet and precious little Shou. I already had a plan to incapacitate that dog lover rand his mutt but I knew you would be harder. I would need something more elaborate to get you to drop your guard so I could get into a favourable position," Minobu explained.
"Minobu, what's going on?" Shou asked quietly. The poor boy was so confused.
"I'm sorry Shou, but you are just too naïve. It was so simple to spy on you and learn about your personality. Then I just had to pay some idiots to rough me up a little as you got off work and instantly gained your sympathy and friendship. After that it was just a matter of going to see you when your guardian was gone. You talk a lot when you're comfortable. You always talked about where your guardian was that day, how frustrated he was with not getting anywhere in his investigation. I even snuck around the house and read some of his reports, and you didn't notice a thing.
"When Neji here showed up, he almost questioned me on his first day, and ruined everything. I managed to slip behind a villager and hide in a shack until he moved on. After that I learned that these villages were under Konoha protection. Finally they were being looked after BUT WHERE WERE THEY WHEN MY PARENTS WERE DYING?" Minobu screamed. "Where was Konoha then? Sitting on their asses ignoring the cry for help from little villages that didn't give them resources? Ignoring the unimportant lives outside their big impressive wall?" Minobu –Nanbu- spat out.
"Let Shou go…" Neji said slowly.
"No! And don't you dare come a step closer or I will slit his throat and Shou will die before your very eyes. Not until you leave. Leave this forest, this village and mission, and just go. Don't come back until I have my revenge. Once those three villages finally destroy each other you can return and collect Shou. I promise to keep him in one piece, perfectly safe and sound," Minobu grinned hysterically. "So safe and sound tied to my bedroom wall…"
Neji growled at Minobu.
"What? You don't like hearing that? Shou is just so pretty though. If you expect to keep raising him you will encounter comments like that often. With a dress and wig he would be perfect marriage material for me or any guy that doesn't mind the extra bits hanging between his legs, but then again… we can cut those off."
Shou whimpered and Neji felt his heart clench. Shou didn't deserve this. He deserved to live in a nice safe home away from any crazy men like Minobu. "Give me Shou and I will leave. I won't get in your way anymore," Neji bargained.
Minobu laughed. "Like I would believe that. No, I want you to do what your good at- ignoring us little people. Leave!"
Neji cast his eyes around, looking for a solution. Kiba and Akamaru were still down for the count and the distance between him and Minobu was too great that he couldn't use his speed. The moment he started running he didn't have a doubt in his mind that Minobu would move that kunai and end Shou's life. But he couldn't leave either, not when Shou needed him.
Looking at his charge, Neji wanted to apologize to him for being stuck like this, but something about Shou's actions were off. His little charge kept looking to the side, trying to direct Neji's attention elsewhere. Following the line of sight, Neji looked to the side and up to see a…snow owl? The bird was sitting on a branch and glaring at Minobu as he held Shou. The sight didn't make any sense to him. It was like the owl was mad at Minobu for handling Shou in such a way, but it was simply a bird. A bird that had no connection to Neji, Shou or Minobu for all he could tell. Why was Shou even looking at it?
Looking back at his charge, Shou seemed to be trying to silently communicate with the bird. Looking back in forth, Neji felt slightly dumbfounded when the bird would nod and flap it's wings according to Shou's different facial expressions. Finally the pair seemed to reach an agreement and the bird bobbed its head up and down before taking off into the air. Neji looked at Shou and the boy winked at him. Winked at him! In such a situation Shou somehow found it appropriate to wink. Clearly the stress of the situation was getting to the 11 year-old and Neji needed to resolve it quickly before Shou went completely mad.
"Minobu, I'm sorry," Shou whispered.
"For what?" Minobu sneered down at Shou.
"For what my owl is about to do." Neji arched an eyebrow in confusion. His owl? The snowy owl that was recently perched in the trees? What was it going to do?
A loud shriek sounded from the sky above and Neji looked up just in time to catch the start of what he could only describe as a feathery white cannonball spiraling down from the sky. He watched as it quickly plummeted and just before it reached Minobu two white wings burst out and the owl unleashed it's claws and aimed for Minobu's eyes. Minobu screamed and pushed Shou away as he raised his arms to protect his eyes. Neji took his chance and dashed forward, pulling Shou from the ground and to the side to safety. He placed Shou behind Akamaru's large body; Shou didn't need to see this, and ran back to Minobu to finally kill the bastard.
Minobu was flailing around, trying to fend off the bird that was leaving long gashes on his arms and face. In the confusion Neji slipped in behind him and with one swift punch of Neji's gentle fist, he stopped Minobu's heart. The owl stopped its attack and gently flew over to Shou, while Neji closed the dead boy's eyes. The path of revenge never did end well.
"Shou, we're done here. We'll stop at home but after that we are going straight to Konoha. I'm going to have so many people protecting you there that you won't even be able to catch a cold," Neji swore.
"C-can Hedwig come?" Shou asked from behind Akamaru.
Neji smiled gently. "Of course. The owl will be one of your best protectors after all. Let's wake the idiot and his mutt and get home to Konoha." Neji was ready to put this whole mission behind him and start a new life with Shou.
Shou had a giant smile on his face as he placed the last tray of peach buns on the counter. He had finally opened his own shop. 'Shou's Peach Buns' were a big hit with all the shinobi and after only taking mail in orders for the first two years he lived in Konoha, Shou had finally saved enough moment for his own store. Neji had offered to pay for it all, but Shou refused, wanting to do this on his own.
He had found the perfect balance between elixir and peach bun to ensure that any shinobi that ate it would get a burst of energy that lasted at least 24 hours depending on their activities, and if someone ordered the medicinal bun that any recent ailment would be healed.
He knew that he couldn't cure the blind and give the residents eternal youth, but he could help them in little ways. A cold was easy to cure and energy was nice to give, but he never went beyond that. Tsunade had tried getting his secret out of him but Neji had been holding a ledger of money hostage and every time she tried to get the secret out of Shou, Neji vowed to hide another bank account.
It worked for them and Shou was happy. Really happy. He had a family with Neji, and his friends. They helped teach Shou the ways of the world, and while Shou still practiced magic when he was alone, he didn't miss that life any more. He loved Konoha and its people. It was home.
"Shou, it's almost time to open. There's a huge line outside waiting, do you think you made enough?" Neji asked as he guarded the door in case any zealous customer tried to break in early.
Shou smiled at his adoptive father and nodded, "I think it'll be fine. Please let them in."