Disclaimer: Stuff you recognize is not mine. Stuff you don't recognize is probably also not mine. No money is being made from this. This applies to the entire story.

edit: Hinata is 19.

Once upon a time, there was a princess.

She was the first daughter of the king and queen of the Moon Kingdom. Both the king and queen were of the Hyuuga clan, a powerful noble family that led the kingdom to a golden generation of peace and success. The king's council of advisers all agreed that the crown princess would lead the kingdom to new heights, for she had the blessed eyes. While most Hyuuga children were born with pale violet irises and pupils, the princess was born with eyes the color of moonlit snow. All the children who had such eyes grew to be great warriors who possessed unparalleled Byakugan. It was a sign of great power, and it was because of her eyes they were willing to overlook so many of her other faults.

The princess grew to be a fearful little girl. She instinctively understood that she was living in a nest of vultures. She feared leaving the queen's side, and she feared the stern-faced king even though he held her with careful hands. She hid her face in the queen's robes from the towering strangers who lacked kindness in their faces. She trembled even when her mother assured her that her maids could be trusted, and allowed no one but the queen to wash her face and brush her hair.

"What a spoiled little princess," the servants would whisper.

"What a timid little princess," the council would grumble.

She knew "Princess" was part of her name, but it sounded like a curse. They all scrutinized her with piercing eyes, waiting for something, and she was afraid. But she didn't try to be brave, because she could hide behind the queen's robes and her mother would always protect her.

And so the princess thought she could hide forever.

Prey for the Hunted

By Airyo

Chapter 1

The tiny trading town of Sado sat at the edge of the Sun Kingdom border, just before the terrain disintegrated completely into a vast desert wasteland. Sometimes, if a cool morning was unmarred by heat waves, the mountain border of the Moon Kingdom could be seen across the sand at the horizon. That was only tavern rumors, as far as Hinata knew, because she never stayed long enough to look. When low supplies forced her into civilization to restock, she kept her cloak closed, hood drawn up, and finished business as quickly as possible.

The sky was bruising with night when Hinata approached the main gates. One of the guards recognized her and waved her through. As always, her first stop was a seedy tavern next to an even seedier brothel. One of the girls by the door embraced her, nimble fingers already making their way to her coin purse. Hinata paused only to confirm that the thief wasn't Sumire before shoving her roughly away.

The inside of bar was dimly lit, but pink hair was always easy to spot. Sumire was sitting in some guy's lap, though the pained expression on her face was rather out of place. Hinata approached and drew one gloved finger down Sumire's cheek before tapping her chin twice. Disgust flickered across Sumire's features before a flirty look replaced it as the girl jumped off the guy's lap. The abandoned party protested until he glimpsed the sheath of her naginata peeking from behind Hinata. With a grumble, he simply grabbed another girl and turned away.

After a fake giggle, Sumire led Hinata to the private rooms in the back of the tavern. Her green eyes were practically glowing with relief. Hinata shook her head and followed. Sumire was one of the new girls, and was clearly unaccustomed to the roles she had to play. But it was the girl's business, and Hinata had made it a personal rule never even to speak unless necessary. Sumire approached a door that was indistinguishable from the others. She knocked the current code pattern, and the door opened to reveal a second bar room. The only difference was that the walls were plastered with wanted posters.

Sado was also a hub of information for bounty hunters. The town was far from the capital, and enjoyed little more than a passing glance from the leaders of the Sun Kingdom. Technically, bounties could only be collected by the samurai serving the Sun King, but officials tended to turn a blind eye when criminals eliminated other criminals.

Sumire left after Hinata tipped her, while Hinata approached the burly official in the booth at the back. She dropped a bundle on the counter. He opened it to reveal the still-fresh head of her target. She usually killed them close to the collection points so she didn't have to deal with the reek of old flesh. Even after three years of this, the smell still nauseated her.

"That's him," he growled. He turned to drop the head into a cart behind him and grab a handful of coins. Hinata watched with careful eyes as he counted out the correct amount and dropped into her hand. She felt the weight of the coins. There was enough to for several week's worth of supplies before she had to track down another bounty. Satisfied, she nodded at the collection official and headed for the door.

"Stop." A sword blocked her exit. Hinata turned, muscles tensed for flight. Fellow bounty hunters rarely talked to each other, which was the whole reason she became one in the first place. No one hunted a sheep in wolf's clothing. So someone directly confronting her was never a good sign.

It was even worse when said bad sign had the sharp features of someone of noble descent. He was far too pale and pretty to be a regular here, which meant that he was out here in Sado for a very specific reason. Not good. Reminding herself that her face was hidden by the dark veil many locals tied around their heads to protect from sun and sand, Hinata forced herself to draw in even breaths. Maybe he was simply trying to flag down any competent hunter he could find. She pushed the sword out of her way and exited the room.

He followed her. Hinata knew her hands were shaking, but she kept her steps at a fast, steady pace.

"Hunter, I have a mission for you. It pays well." He said her title like an insult. Bounty hunters were considered little better than criminals themselves, since those with any ability served the Sun King instead of living on the edge of the law. However, Hinata gave up trying to earn approval long ago. Bounty hunting was simply the most efficient means to survive. She lifted a shoulder nonchalantly and kept walking. They were almost in the front tavern room. If worst came to worst, she could always throw a chair and start a bar brawl. The confusion would be more than enough to cover a hasty escape. Hinata felt the noble grip her shoulder and she shrugged him off.

"Stop. Listen to me." His voice was hinting at the rising temper tantrum, an unfortunate side effect of someone used to people obeying his every command. With a sigh, Hinata halted and face him. She could see the main door across the room from here.

"I need you to find this girl." He unrolled a tattered wanted poster. A picture of her own face stared back at Hinata. She couldn't help but read the details listed below.

Name: No-Name Hinata, previously Princess Hyuuga Hinata of the Moon Kingdom

Description: black hair, white eyes, average height

Abilities: Byakugan, minimal chakra abilities, unknown weapons training

Crime: Murder of the King Hyuuga Hiashi of the Moon Kingdom

It hurt to reading the damning text, even if it was so faded with age. Hinata bit her lip in an effort to hold back her tears. She looked up at the noble haughtily, taking comfort in that her face was obscured, and shook her head.

"Triple," the noble offered. She dismissed him with a wave of her hand, knowing that her rude action would enrage him, and stepped into the tavern. Anger was good - he would pay less attention to her sorrow. She could feel the tears draining into her nose and clogging her throat with a hard lump.

"Hunter, you will stop and face me at once!" From the corner of her eye, she saw him knock a drunk out of the way and almost smiled in relief. The affronted drunk immediately returned the favor. The noble's snotty attitude was like oil on fire, and Hinata slipped away to the escalating chorus of a full-out bar brawl. She caught a glimpse of pink as she exited, and found herself hoping the Sumire wasn't tangled in that mess. The girl was pitifully naive and Hinata was reminded of her younger self.

Despite her passing worry, Hinata determinedly made her way to the supply shop a few buildings down the street. Though all she wanted to do was slink away and hide, her coin purse weighed heavily against her hip. She needed supplies, and it's been days since she'd had a proper meal.

"Evening!" The clerk behind the counter gave her a cheerful wave. Hinata vaguely remembered him introducing himself as 'Menma'. As usual, she ignored him and made a beeline for the bins of preserved food. She grabbed all the bare basics for survival before dumping the lot on the counter.

"Going for a long trip?" the clerk asked as he rang up all her purchases. Hinata didn't reply and drummed her fingers on the counter to hurry the chatty clerk along. Another dumb blonde of a newbie who has yet to learn that it was better just to ask less questions. Now that she considered it, two new people in the past few months was already two more than usual. Very few people ever really reached out as far as the border. And both new additions were to places that she always frequented. Hinata's eyes narrowed. It was probably unwarranted paranoia, but constant fear was what kept her alive for so long. It was time to find another bounty hub.

She paid the clerk and left for the gates. The guard let her through, and pulling her dark cloak around her body, Hinata broke into a silent run. She didn't stop until the first traces of forest had thickened to a dense thicket. By then, the moon had risen high and shone bright through the branches. Her legs ached from the exertion of chasing down her target earlier, and now from the run. She needed rest.

Hinata scouted out a sturdy tree that had yet to completely shed its autumn leaves. She deftly climbed until she reached a high branch that was concealed from below. She settled herself in where the branch met the trunk, and tucked her dark cloak around her knees. The coolness of the night hinted at winter, and would stiffen her muscles if she didn't keep warm. After eating a piece of bread to soothe her hunger, Hinata fell into a fitful dose.

It felt like only minutes later when she opened her eyes again, but the watery sunlight filtering to the ground below indicated otherwise. It wasn't the sun that woke her; the odd silence of the forest made her uneasy. Hinata slowly shifted to a crouch, one hand reaching back over her shoulder to grip the handle of her weapon. The ground below was undisturbed after she had covered up her own tracks. Then, a lone bird chirruped, and it was scolded by a chittering squirrel. Hinata slowly relaxed. The sounds of the waking forest reminded her it was barely dawn.

Yet, she sensed someone behind her.

Hinata leaped from the tree and landed into a bad tumble. The ground was far harder than she was accustomed to. A sharp prick of pain gripped her ankle as she rolled to her feet. Running was out of the question now. She kept a tight grip on her naginata and turned to face the intruder.

Sumire followed her easily down to the ground.

The pink-haired girl held both hands up in a show of harmlessness and walked towards her. Her peaceful action might have been convincing if her eyes weren't so contemptuous. Hinata backed away. Her footsteps sounded odd, and then Sumire's gaze flickered suspiciously behind Hinata. She whirled around to see Menma, who had discarded his clerk apron but still kept his wide grin. However, his grin had changed from the plastic welcome of a service worker to that of a triumphant predator. With a snarl, Hinata scrambled away so she could keep her eyes on both of them. She whipped her naginata from its sheath and dropped into a ready stance. Her ankle throbbed in tandem with her pounding heart. Hinata discretely rolled her foot around. If there wasn't a fight, it could maybe hold long enough to let her escape.

A flare of chakra behind her disabused that notion. She heard the third member of this team land on the ground. She was surrounded. With a sigh, Hinata sheathed her weapon behind her. She was scared, not stupid. All three were clearly professionally trained, and her injury lowered her chances of escape to just about zero.

Hinata walked slowly to a nearby tree and leaned against it to ease the pressure off her ankle. She crossed her arms so her fingers brushed the daggers hidden by her ribs.

"Are you willing to listen now?" After Sumire and Menma, Hinata wasn't surprised to see the noble. He faced her while his teammates moved to flank him, effectively trapping Hinata against the tree. It was mildly disconcerting to see such hostile expressions on people she had originally dismissed so easily. She shrugged and angled her head so they knew she was looking at the noble expectantly. Her hood was still in place, as was the sheer material that covered her features. They probably didn't even know she was female, since Hinata never spoke to anyone in Sado. There was still hope in her situation. Hinata gripped the two daggers in her hands hard in an effort to calm herself.

"Two years ago, you helped kill the renegade Moon Princess. But the body disappeared, and there was only her bracelet. You couldn't collect the bounty." The noble unfurled that cursed wanted poster again. Hinata said nothing, though she was careful not at look at the accusing expression of her portrait. She had been forced to become a bounty hunter to survive. A few months in, she realized that only way she could have some peace was to fake her own death. It was supposed to be the end of that, since the bounty on her head had been voided.

"The princess is still alive," the noble accused flatly. Hinata clenched her jaw. She'd been too secure in her fake death. Her partners had witnessed the princess fall over a cliff. A search for the body among the jagged rocks below yielded nothing more than splashes of fresh blood and a jeweled bracelet. It was enough to convince the authorities, so what tipped off this team of ninja?

"The matching bracelet recently appeared on the black market," the noble replied. Her confusion must have shown through in her body language. "The seller was a tall young woman fitting the princess' description." Hinata tilted her head in consternation. She had lost the second bracelet after a near-fatal fight with a target nearly a year ago. For months, she'd watched the black market scene in vain. It couldn't have been her. Why did it turn up now?

"Unfortunately, we've lost the lead. But we have the bracelet." The noble pulled the bracelet from his pocket, letting the jewels glitter in a stray beam of sunlight that made it past the trees. The reflected light blinded Hinata, and for a moment, she thought she saw the form of her mother's wrist through the bracelet. She reached for memory of that hand.

The noble abruptly pulled it out of her range with a sneer, interpreting her action for greed. Hinata felt her chest tighten. The other bracelet had to be sacrificed so she could survive, so the loss of this one had hurt even more. She had to get it back.

"Help us find Hyuuga Hinata, and we will pay you triple the original bounty. And you can keep the bracelet." It was an offer that any hunter could only dream of. Any hunter but Hinata, that is. Sensing her hesitance despite the exorbitant payment, the noble continued as he tucked her bracelet securely into his hip pouch. "You may be wondering how we managed to find you. We have a medic-nin, and she's highly skilled in placing chakra tags on people like you. We will be able to find you even if you try to back out. I'm sure the samurai of the king would be more than thrilled to have you. Especially someone who routinely collects the rewards that should be going into their pockets."

Hinata had already known she was caught the moment they revealed that they were ninja. She could use the Byakugan, but could never master the harder tricks with chakra that made ninja so formidable. That was fine. She'd planned to lead them in circles until they lost patience and fired her. But judging by the way that noble had worded it, they will turn her in to the authorities if she did not garner some proper results. It was like slapping on manacles when she was already in a cage.

She slumped her shoulders forward in defeated acquiesce, even though her mind was already racing through numerous escape strategies. She needed to stall for time, and wait for a chance when all three were distracted enough for her to destroy that chakra tag. Hopefully, she could make enough of a nuisance of herself that they gave up on her. Hinata doubted she could manage to kill them, and the thought of senseless murder was rather distasteful. However, the will to survive was just as strong. She knew that if they caught her, her future would be bleak. If it really came to that…

A large pouch swinging in front of her face brought her back to reality. She turned her gloved hand up, and the noble dropped the coin purse into her palm. Hinata was surprised by the weight of the bag. There was a lot of trust (or arrogance) to give her so much money ahead of time.

"We have a deal then. Here is the full amount of the original bounty," he drawled condescendingly. "If you actually do your job, the rest will follow. We procured the bracelet in Sado, but the buyer got it from Areno. We will start there."

There was a silent agreement between the three, and then they jumped up into the branches above. They vaulted through a few trees before realizing that she wasn't following them. The noble dropped to a lower branch with an annoyed expression. Hinata slowly lowered herself to the ground and tugged off her boot. Her ankle was four times its original size. Now was as good a time as any to annoy them, so Hinata dragged out the time it took for her to find bandages. Above her, the noble and Sumire had started arguing. She tilted her head to hear.

"…fix him," the noble was saying. The medic-nin was going to heal her after all? A medic could easily discover that she was female, which was just another clue to who she really was. She could escape notice if the medic was distracted.

"He couldn't even escape us - I still don't think hiring him is a good idea."

"He got a lot farther than we managed. Just do your job."

Hinata looked up to see the girl reluctantly drop back down to the ground. She had thought that Sumire was simply discontent with her lot in life. But the disdain in the girl's eyes was telling. Hinata found it interesting that she seemed to loath bounty hunters more than the drunkards that pawed at her breasts. Perhaps a bad encounter with another bounty hunter? Regardless the girl's past, it was a useful thing to know since it was causing disharmony.

"Your foot," snapped Sumire as she squatted in front of her. Hinata indolently leaned back, and waved her foot, making Sumire reach for her ankle like a servant. A dark frown squeezed the girl's face. Pale green chakra glowed around Sumire's fingers and curled around her ankle. Hinata winced as the chakra rather violently forced the inflammation down and tendons to snap back in place. Her little farce may have been too successful, but the medic was so eager to get away from her that it was unlikely she noticed anything suspicious.

As soon as she was finished, Sumire immediately returned to her original position high in the branches. Hinata tugged her boot back on and began to follow at an easy pace towards Areno. It was nothing near the speeds she could go if she strained herself with chakra, but the key to convince these three that she was incapable of chakra techniques and that she would only slow them down.

Instead of another argument, Hinata only heard a hasty conversation above before Menma dropped down to the ground to run beside her. When she spared him a glance, he made a face at her that clearly said "I don't like you". Hinata almost chuckled. She'd never met ninja who wore their emotions so openly. Kiba would have liked–

Hinata ruthlessly quashed her line of thought. It was dangerous to connect these ninja to anything in her past. She can't regard them as anything but potential targets. Not if she wanted to keep her freedom. Forcing a cold sneer to her face, Hinata refocused herself the task of getting away from these ninja.

It should have only been half a day's journey, but thanks to Hinata's lethargic pace, they did not arrive at the gates of Areno until sunset. The friendly guard waved them through with a smile after a quick glance at the noble's seal. Even though it was almost dark, the town was still buzzing with activity. Though Areno also was also a border town, it was far away from the desert that the people could still maintain a sense of security. Families were still strolling in the marketplace, and several children played off to the side of the road. Hinata rarely visited Areno, as her dark cloak and covered face were sorely out of place here.

The noble led them to the only inn in town. Inside, the atmosphere was more fitting for Hinata's disguise. Several mean looking travelers glowered at them from the corner. A few scantily clad girls blew kisses to them as they threaded their way through the crowded tables to the owner.

"Two rooms," the noble said tersely.

"Four silvers for the night."

"That's robbery. Three."

Why was he even bargaining such a small price when he had just given Hinata such a large amount of money earlier? Hinata muscled her way forward, shaking the enormous purse of money they'd given her as loudly as possible. She could feel the owner's beady eyes on her hands as she pulled out a few silvers, ostentatiously spilling a few gold pieces on the counter. By now, probably all the morally questionable parties were eyeing their group as well.

"Are you daft?" the noble hissed as the owner led them upstairs. "Every dirtbag in the vicinity is going to eyeing us now!" Hinata held up a gloved hand and made a motion for him to wait. The noble's mouth twisted as if he'd smelled something rotten, but he complied. The owner unlocked two adjacent rooms and then gave the noble the keys. He bowed obsequiously before leaving them. The noble unlocked one room and ushered them in.

"Well?" he snarled as soon as the door was closed. Hinata dug through her bag until she located a piece of paper and charcoal.

"Seler liks $," she scratched out in rough letters. Menma leaned over to read it with difficulty.

"Sayler licks money? What the hell?" The blond scratched his head. The noble snatched the parchment with a frown.

"Seller likes money?" he interpreted. Hinata nodded. Menma made a 'duh' face, but the noble perused Hinata's note carefully. "Is that what will draw her out?" Hinata shook her head and scribbled another phrase.

"Princess too smart not sell," the noble read. He thought for a moment. "The princess is too smart to personally sell her bracelet? That makes sense. So someone else sold it for her?"

"Are you sure?" Sumire asked suspiciously. "You're implying that the princess may not even be connected with the bracelet at all. Seems a little too convenient for you that she may be dead all along. However, that doesn't explain why it took so long for the bracelet to show up on the market. The area of her alleged death was searched very carefully." Hinata narrowed her eyes even as she made a gesture of innocence. The medic-nin was a little too sharp. This is going to make it difficult to trick them with anything else.

"We will see then," the noble mused. "If you're cheating us, we will find out soon enough."

After freshening up, they returned downstairs for dinner. The owner immediately brought trays of stew and bread. The stew – if it could be called that - was a strange glop that looked inedible, even compared to the old bread on the side. Hinata eagerly pushed her veil to expose her lips. She purposely discarded her table manners, shoveling the gruel into her mouth with the gusto befitting a rough, uneducated bounty hunter. It was actually a lot better than the food she usually ate. Since the noble was footing the bill, Hinata allowed herself to be greedy. When she finished her share, she looked up to see that the three ninja looked slightly green. Hinata pointed at their untouched bowls.

"Take it," Sumire groaned. She pushed her tray across the wooden table. The noble and Menma quickly copied her action. Hinata gave them a cheesy thumbs-up in thanks, and polished off the offered food. The other three managed to choke down some bread before the owner came and took their trays away.

The rest of the night was spent gathering information. Or at least attempting to. Unlike Sado, Areno did not have a thriving underground community. The collection booth for bounties was a sad table and binder in the local guard's office, and the merchants kept to their vegetables and cheap handmade trinkets. The noble was still thorough enough to investigate each market booth that sold jewelry, but even liberal coin shaking engendered nothing.

"What a waste of a day!" Menma muttered when they had finally retreated back to their rooms. He flopped onto one of the beds. "I'm sleeping first."

"Dead-last, I determine the shifts." The noble kicked Menma off the bed, before realizing that Hinata was still watching silently. He recomposed himself. "This room will be for the current guard and the hunter. The other will be for rest. Dead-last can take the first shift, I'll take the last."

"This sucks," grumbled Menma after his teammates left. He glared at Hinata, who had tucked herself into the corner. She laid her naginata by her side for easy access, and wrapped her cloak tighter around herself. "There are two beds, Hunter. And I can't sleep anyways, so you may as well catch some z's."

Hinata ignored him. She did not plan to sleep tonight either. If any one of those three even suspected her true identity, her life would be in danger. She needed to keep her guard up.

"Che, asshole." To Hinata's horror, he stepped over to squat in front of her, peering into her hood with a frown. "Why do you keep your face covered anyways? Got a wart on your nose? You can't speak, you can't see, you can't even run properly...what good are you? Can you even use that naginata?"

Even with his features twisted in a scowl, Hinata couldn't deny that Menma was a handsome man. She could hardly remember the last time she was this close to an attractive member of the opposite sex who wasn't trying to kill her. Although he was crouched so their faces were level, she couldn't help but be aware of how much larger he was than her. Most of the men she had to deal with back home were conniving and ambiguous - it was refreshing to face someone who was so straightforward. His brilliant blue eyes seemed to pierce her soul...if he wasn't focusing somewhere closer to her eyebrow. Feeling the rising pressure of a full-on blush, she smacked his face away.

"Yowch! You asshole!" Menma tensed into ready stance, only to freeze at the cool sensation of Hinata's glaive resting on his cheek. "Okay, okay, I get it. Don't touch the face. So prissy."

Thankfully, Menma retreated to his side of the room and left her alone for the rest of his shift. Sumire was the next guard. Except for a disdainful glance when she relieved Menma of his duty, the medic did not acknowledge that Hinata was even there. The room was quiet except for the occasional rustle of the scroll that Sumire was reading. Slowly, Hinata felt her heavy eyelids start to fall shut.

She thought she heard screaming. Groggily, Hinata looked up to see Sumire tensely looking out the window.

"Bandits!" Menma kicked the door open with a bang. "Bastard and I are going to take care of them. You watch that asshole." He ran back out before either of them could say anything. Hinata ran for the window. Bandits so far into the Sun Kingdom had to be impossible.

The bright moon illuminated all the misdeeds of the attackers. Women ran for their lives, only to be dragged into a dark corner. Men tried to fend them off with unfamiliar weapons, but were quickly cut down. Hinata watched as a screaming child was thrown into the middle of the road. As the small form tumbled to a dazed heap on the ground, a bandit laughed and raised his axe high. It was too far to do anything. Hinata mentally urged the stupid child to get out of the way.

The blade of the axe landed with a sickening crunch. A dark red began to spread out around the child's shirt and leak onto the ground.

"Dammit!" Sumire screamed. She unlatched the window and slipped outside. She glared back at Hinata. "Don't go anywhere, Hunter. I still have that chakra tag on you. And we will find you." And then the medic was running for the gruesome scene. She punched the bandit hard enough that he literally went flying. Hinata found herself glad that she hadn't truly angered Sumire up until now.

Unfortunately, that was going to have to change. As much as her conscience bristled, Hinata was someone who was not allowed to be hero.

She hadn't expected her chance to occur so soon, but beggars can't be choosers. The enormous dinner she'd had gave her just enough energy to activate her Byakugan. Sumire had the control to create a tag that was perfectly functional with minimal chakra. Trying to find such a tiny marker on her body was much like trying to locate a particular freckle on her skin. Long minutes crawled by as Hinata scanned her chakra system square inch by square inch. Sweat trickled down along her face, stinging her eyes and tickling her cheeks.

A loud crash startled her, and her Byakugan flickered away. Gritting her teeth, Hinata forced the chakra back into her eyes. Tears from the strain on her eyes welled out to join the beads of sweat on her face. There were more screams outside, and the effort of maintaining her concentration began to make Hinata's vision blurry.

Just a little...there is was! Removing it was anti-climatic after such a difficult search. With her last reserves of chakra, Hinata sent a burst from her finger to knock the flag away from where it clung to her chakra coils. Hinata staggered to her feet for her bag. She ate a chakra pill she saved for such emergencies, and within moments, she could keep her balance. Her limbs still felt weak, but she was strong enough to run. She gathered her gear and headed for the door. After only a brief second of hesitance, Hinata left the heavy purse of coins that the noble had given her with the noble's bags in the other room.

Several raiders made the mistake of attacking her as Hinata bounded down the stairs. Using her height advantage from several steps up, she pushed them out of her way. Leaping over the railing and the attackers' crumpled bodies, she left through the open exit that already had the door ripped off the frame.

Outside was complete chaos. Fire now joined the moonlight to light the scene, hungrily devouring the simple wooden buildings. The bright flames seemed to dance in tandem with the rise and fall of the screams puncturing the air. To her right, Hinata saw the noble and Menma take on an endless number of attackers. There were so many that it looked like they were caught in a mass of writhing bodies and glinting weapons.

To her left, Sumire was still trying to heal the child, a spikey-haired boy, but she kept having stop to defend them. She couldn't take her hand away from the wound, or the boy would bleed to death, leaving the medic severely handicapped in range. Her attackers had realized it as well, for they were starting to form a ring around her, just outside the radius of her punches and kicks. They laughed as they took turns prodding her or her ward with long swords and spears, one by one.

The pink-haired kunoichi was far too occupied to hinder her. Hinata hardened her heart and jogged down the street to her left, past the cruel game of baiting the medic. She kept to the flickering shadows cast by the fire, and no one noticed her. Hiding was what she did best. She was not some hero to try to save innocent lives. Trying would only result in more deaths.

Hinata kept an eye on the ring of bandits, however, in case they let the medic break free. Sumire screamed in frustration as a spear she kicked away splintered in her face. Simultaneously, she narrowly evaded the hard swipe of an axe. They were getting bored, and no longer teased her one at a time. In an effort to distract them, Sumire stomped the ground with a chakra charged foot. The ground rumbled and cracked, but the bandits had already jumped up over the roiled ground.

They've had training.

These weren't bandits.

Rather listing the political implications of that, Hinata found herself distantly wondering how the boy could still be alive even though his shirt and pants were completely soaked through with blood. As if he knew her thoughts, the boy weakly opened his eyes and met her gaze.

He had brown eyes. The blood smeared on his face glowed bright red in the firelight. Hinata thought she heard dogs barking.

She ran.

The medic gasped as Hinata blocked a hit with her arm guard. Several wide sweeps with her glaive drove the bandits away from Sumire and the boy, so that Hinata now stood between the two groups. To Sumire's credit, she said nothing and immediately began pouring her full effort into healing the boy as Hinata defended them.

One guy leaped high, bring his sword down in a high blow. Hinata redirected his strike with an angled movement of her own blade. A quick twist, and the weapon went flying. The butt of her naginata swung around to clip him in the jaw. She felt the bone shatter. The next contender earned a hard kick to the groin even as his partner toppled over when his leg suddenly detached from his body. Before his blood even wet the dirt ground, Hinata had already driven the blade of her weapon into the jugular of the man next to him. Her last broad strike missed as the remaining raiders quickly decided to move on to easier prey.

Hinata flicked the blood away from her naginata. Her melee skills were one of the few areas she had confidence in, and fighting for survival out by the border had taught her to be ruthlessly efficient. If she couldn't take down her targets in one blow, they would kill her.

She turned back to the medic and her patient. The boy was healed and sleeping. He also looked nothing like him. Realization of where she was suddenly gripped Hinata and fatigue overtook the adrenaline coursing through her body. She leaned on her naginata to keep herself upright.

"Thank you," Sumire said. She gently laid the boy on the ground and walked several feet away to grab her medpack. Hinata nodded awkwardly, unsure if she should still run away. Her limbs felt like lead.


A terrifying blast of killing intent and chakra hit her from behind. The shock was too much for her overtaxed system. Hinata felt her legs give out and she toppled forward towards the boy.

She was still holding her naginata in front of her.

As she fell towards the gleaming blade, Hinata reminded herself that this was why she never tried to play hero.


"Sado" is another Japanese word for sand.
"Areno" is another Japanese word for desert.

In my mind:
Naginata = glaive
Wakizashi = short sword
Tanto = dagger
Katana = sword

Feel free to skip the following notes, but I'm going to ignore you if you flame me complaining about the things addressed here. (Just read the bolded words for the short version)

1. The characters are going to be slightly different. Why? This is an ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. Because they did not experience the events in canon, and will therefore have new histories driving them. Biggest example would be Sasuke not being a avenging maniac since Itachi didn't torture him (along with killing his family and such). My goal is to keep the essence of their characters (as I've interpreted them) the same. So if you think a certain character is reacting in awkward ways, please call me out on it. I could have a fun history to explain why, or I could have lost my mind. Please tell me if I have lost my mind.

2. The high rating is for violence and cursing. There is no smut here. In fact, the romance is going to crawl forward like molasses. It's tagged Sasuke and Hinata, but the real fun probably won't pick up until a few chapters in. And you'll probably need to read in between the lines a lot of times. Because I don't believe in love at first sight. And because calling each other's name lovingly 36 times gets old.

And I'm going to save both of us the torture and awkwardness of smut. No one wants to read (or write) something that sounds like a IKEA instruction manual. Because that is what will happen. Don't believe me? Then Sasuke inserted A into Hinata's B. After insertion he twisted A until reading the end of B. Next, he took part C and matched it up to D...(may your eyes bleed)

3. This is written in third-person limited. Which means the characters are going to glaringly wrong statements a lot of the time. This is where it gets fun. :)

4. And finally...*insert shameless plug for reviews here * You know how laptops run on electricity? I run on coffee and reviews. Since I'm not going to tell you my address for you to send me coffee, please send reviews my way instead. I'm not writing in a vacuum over here, so I do listen to feedback.