Within the early hours of the night, the alliance of clan heads and consorts had spent the hours feasting outside. There were two tables, one bigger than the other, for the express purpose of segregating the adults and children. Chouji would have been in bliss with the amount of food placed in front of him, however, there was just one problem.
Ino and Kiba were fighting again.
Everyone knew that Ino and Kiba always seemed to bring out the worst out of each other, and this was reflected by how their combined intelligence seemed to dwindle down to dangerously low levels proportional to how long they were both in a two-mile radius. One time, Kiba had been stupid enough to break into Ino's lockers and ask Akamaru to do his business on Ino's gym clothes, and since then, both of them were forever banned from the lockers.
And there was the other time when Ino spiked Akamaru's dog food with LSD and Kiba's water with some obscure poisonous flower. That was one of the weirdest days ever seen in the academy and also caused a gigantic scandal that ended with Ino being force-fed the same flowers as punishment.
Even years later, Shikimaru still found himself surprised at the extremes the duo went to piss each other off. Next to him, Chouji sweated uncomfortably.
"Shouldn't we stop them?" Chouji asked, as Ino smashed a tea-cup over Kiba's head and a white dog dashed over and bit Ino in the foot. Not far away, Shino's bugs buzzed with irritation.
Shikimaru sighed as he withdrew a pinky from his ear.
"Don't worry. Ino isn't functionally retarded-"
Shikimaru ignored how Ino just shoved a plate of mash potatoes into Kiba's eyesright in front of her father and fifty other consorts.
"-most of the time."
A genjutsu later and both Ino and Kiba were both slumped on the ground twitching and moaning. Chouji simply looked relieved that the entire conundrum was over, while Shikimaru uttered a "troublesome" under his breath. Inoichi Yamanaka on the other hand, found himself standing over the two with a frown on his face.
"Ino, when we get home, we are going to have a talk. Kiba, "don't compare that filthy pig to a female dog you whore"is not a mature response to the word "bitch". Please refrain from further aggression, if not I will tell your mother."
The other fifty consorts composed of merchants, landowners, the wealthy, and so on and so forth, simply smiled with amusement while a handful shook their heads in disgust. Some outright laughed at the sight, and Shikimaru simply noted that they didn't have to deal with their feud on an everyday basis.
Really, it got less amusing and more worrying (not to mention sad) as time went on.
Inoichi Yamanaka, if only to save face, ended up herding all the children into the households in the middle. There was Shino from the insect clan, Chouji, himself, Ino, Kiba and a few other children from wealthy lands. The Uchicha and Hyuuga were not here for obvious reasons, as to them even the richest in Konoha was not fit to be in their presence. And then there was the heir from the Hiruzen household, who apparently died when he was five. The whole thing had been very hushed up from what he remembered.
Not that he cared anyway.
As usual, during the festival he simply sat around while Chouji stuffed his face with food on the tables. The other children were a bit more polite with their utensils, while Kiba and Ino were simply the most disgusting eaters at the table.
Thus, it was a surprise to see a new boy being brought inside.
He was short and slim, with a white mask over his face. He was very nervous looking as well, which was conveyed by his jumpy posture.
"Hey Kids! We have a boy here!"
A few glanced up, Kiba and Ino didn't stop their off-hand jabs at each other, but for the most part nobody cared. The only constant people that came to their hosted festival was the clan children in Konoha excluding the Uchicha and Hyuuga, and the boy could have been the son of an obscure merchant for all he knew.
The boy ended up sitting in the corner, not touching anything.
Chouji ended up being really bothered by this.
"Shikimaru…he's not eating anything."
"Gee, I can't see," Shikimaru replied in a bored tone.
"You don't get it. My mom made this food. It's a crime for people not to eat it."
Yes, it was true that Chouji's mom was one of the best cooks in Konoha. So it was a little peculiar, so what?
"Your mom didn't make all this food. And besides, he probably already ate."
"But still…mother's food is the best no matter how full you are…"
Shikimaru sighed; only Chouji would get all that worked up about food. But then again, good food was basically the philosophy of the Akimichi clan, so he shouldn't have expected otherwise. It was basically the driving force of Chouji attempting to approach the boy. Otherwise, the normally gentle and laid-back boy would have sat back and let things run his course.
Shikimaru found himself distantly shuffling around to watch; out of harm's way but still in a position to help. Chouji was a sensitive guy, and used to get bullied a lot because of his weight. Somehow, he doubted that Chouji was approaching the new boy just for food.
The surprised boy half startled in to a taijutsu stance that Shikimaru didn't recognize. He was a ninja? He was a ninja influential enough to be allowed into the compound? Sure, there were other ways to become a ninja, but those were much more risky and illegal than the prestigious establishment of the Konoha academy. Any person rich enough to be allowed in to his (or their) compound was definitely rich enough to enter the academy…unless one was being taught by far better teachers.
It was an interesting thought that Shikimaru filed away for later reference.
The boy apologetically lowered his arms and looked sheepishly to the side while he bowed constantly. Chouji was in a panic.
"Hey, hey…there's no need to bow. There's no need to bow."
Soon, the duo was gathering attention as even Kiba and Ino were stopping their arguments to send a curious glance their way. A few mutterings occurred within the other merchant kids at the sight and Shikimaru found himself interfering to help out a little bit.
"Troublesome," he sighed.
It wasn't his first time dealing with socially awkward kids though.
"So you're mute huh?"
The trio found themselves sitting on the barrels and crates outside and watching the festival from the elevated platform of the pagoda. Every now and then, Shikimaru would send a stone skipping through the lake just meters away from them, while Chouji munched on an apple.
Idle conversation preceded idle conversation, but for the most part, they were content watching the festival. Periodically, fireworks were launched into the air while they gazed at the lanterns that adorned the bridges. Truly, Konoha deserved the reputation as the fire country, despite their green leaves. It was one of the many observations Shikimaru made…
So what's the academy like?
Shikimaru perked up with interest. So this boy was curious about the academy? How…interestingly troublesome.
"It's pretty boring most of the time. We don't really do much, but the things we do are troublesome."
"Why don't you enter the academy?"
For a brief moment, Shikimaru thought he felt a drastic change in body language in the new individual's composure. Shikimaru couldn't help but notice the abrupt clench of fists and falter of breathing.
…I don't really belong there. Do you know about a blue-haired girl?
"You mean the Hyuuga heiress?"
There was something unsettling about the way he framed the question. Not to mention the fact that it was one of the hottest topics in the academy now. Chouji let out an involuntary shudder.
"That's a really sensitive topic right now," Chouji whispered.
There was the abrupt change in body posture again.
"I don't know. But there's a rumor going around all the clans that she was abused…I shouldn't say too much. But there's a big red flag that shows the whole world that something is wrong with the Hyuuga clan, not to mention how Hinata is coping…"
What do you mean?
"She's changed," Shikimaru interjected. "I remember she was really shy and cute. Everyone stayed away from her because of her father, but other than that, we kind of forgot about her over the years. At least until the fight."
Chouji winced at that.
"It was pretty horrible. Half-way through the fight I think they were aiming to kill each other. I don't know. Ino didn't exactly take it well."
That was an understatement. Out of the three of them, Ino had made the most effort to secretly look out for the girl. Not that they did much; they often forgot about her. But they were regretting it now, and Ino just… spiraled down.
She was getting a little better about it now, at least her feud with Kiba was resuming.
The silence that ensued afterwards was no longer what it originally was. Moments ago, Naruto was the one fidgeting endlessly among two apathetic people. Now, Naruto was the one in ice-cold silence while agitation started to grind into Chouji and Shikimaru.
What happened? What's with the fight? Naruto finally gestured.
"Everyone knows about it. I'm surprised you don't."
More ice-cold silence; Chouji found himself getting more and more unnerved. Shikimaru found himself getting more and more calculative, while his voice droned on.
"It happened two months ago, and it started with Hinata challenging the best taijutsu-user to a fight. He didn't seem to take it seriously at first; until Hinata struck at pressure-points…I think they were torture points."
"Then he got really mad, and went all out. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary; it wasn't the first time he pushed himself to his limits, though it was the first time in a long time. It wasn't until he started a jutsu that the teacher started to interfere, and he blew this big fireball out of his mouth."
"Hinata jumped through it; I think that she was aiming to kill him via a strike to the heart. She missed, and then the teacher got involved. At that time, they were halfway in following through a killing strike. It was a really big shock for all of us."
Who was the fight with?
"It was with the best rookie in the class. Everyone calls him a genius; he's Sasuke, the last Uchicha of his clan."
The silence was almost unbearable now, and this time Chouji was slightly, but visibly fidgeting. Half-way through the next batch of fireworks, Naruto stood up suddenly, hands poised in ANBU sign language.
Where's the bathroom?
"Down the hallway to your left."
Naruto left, walking down to the bathroom. The further he got away from the two, the more he rushed. Finally, he reached the isolated room.
The moment the door closed behind him, his silent demeanor erupted into a series of choking breaths and self-hatred as he banged futilely on the floor. Killing intent roared into the room, projecting a cloud of tremors. He banged futilely against the wall.
The Uchicha! They're always…! THEY'RE ALWAYS TAKING EVERYTHING AWAY-
She's not even yours to begin with. Didn't you leave her? She doesn't deserve you, and you don't even care about her you cold-blooded monster.
It was like a bucket of cold water thrown over him, and Naruto suppressed the boiling anger and the mindless worry clouding his mind. Thoughts of further questions about Hinata were forced out. Without caring about the prospect of knowing how Hinata was doing, Naruto's breathing got a little better. His heart rate began to slow.
That's right. I don't care about her, I don't like her. Why should I be bothered if she lived or died?
That's right. It's better that way.
The youki buzzing under his skin irritated him, as well as the anger.
The killing intent did not diminish.
I said behave!
Killing intent contracted until it disappeared altogether, leaving Naruto an empty, coughing husk. The tell-tale swish of ANBU robes alerted Naruto to their presence, no doubt summoned here by the acting up of his youki-tainted blood.
"Naruto-sama. Your seal summoned the earliest squad to your presence."
I'm fine, he gestured off-handedly. Just…send me home.
Thirty minutes later, a worried Chouji entered the bathroom, searching for the masked boy. Meanwhile, Shikimaru trailed behind with a ponderous expression, clearly in the throes of frenzied deduction.
"Chouji, did you know? That boy was the Kyuubi's container."
Mitarashi Anko wasn't exactly having the best of days. Of course, it wasn't bad either; it just didn't go exactly as she planned.
She never was a cautious person anyway.
Hinata Hyuuga hm? Hinata had been a powerful subject of interest within the academy walls, and secret psychological evaluations had been done behind Hiashi's back. Unlike what most people thought, the academy was a place chock full of political manipulation and interest, and everyone wanted a slice of the pie.
They were talking about the next generation of clan heads after all. Even the kids themselves weren't immune, if the clamoring over Uchicha Sasuke was any indication. Uchicha Sasuke had no overbearing parents to restrict marriage (clan heads tended to place ridiculous restrictions and regulations on this, let alone inheritance), had no relatives to share property with, and owned an entire district of Konoha. Now, even the most prominent of clan heirs were busting their assholes out to marry the damn emo bitch, and the lowlife civilians were especially aggressive about it.
Hyuuga Hinata had also been vaulted into the same position, suddenly displaying unnerving skill. There was talk about reinstating her as clan heir, ever since she fought Sasuke Uchicha to a stand-still. Anko snorted at this; if Sasuke had gone all out at the beginning, the pathetic heiress would never have landed those five pressure-point strikes and she would have been taken out like a lowly kitten.
Still, there was some merit to her skills considering that her scores in the academy had sky-rocketed. Especially in taijutsu; from what Anko saw, she was third or maybe even second best. Too bad Sasuke and Hinata had been kept away from each other at all costs. Pah! Let those little fuckwits strike it out and kill each other, so that Anko could chalk up another death to Darwin.
Hinata did garner a lot of her interest though.
"Did you see how she beat Kiba?"
"Bah, Sasuke's better. But she's pretty good."
"Pretty good? She's really good! I think I'm lesbian over her!"
Anko rolled her eyes, and melted back into the shadows. Information gathering over a classmate was often the hardest to do because of how suggestive children could be and also how stupid children could be. Man, if it wasn't for the pay, she wouldn't be doing this shitty job.
Anyway, the academy hours were boring. Even she felt herself falling asleep at how the teachers somehow made every lecture so slow it was almost like they were going backwards. So far, the first day of her new job fucking sucked.
Oh well, she only had to do a week of this and report to her client; a creepy old man wrapped with bandages. She kept one eye on the blue-haired bitch.
Damn Hyuuga bastards. Think they're so high and mighty. This girl wasn't all that different, and Anko couldn't care less.
"Wake me up when school ends," she told a snake summon.
For the rest of the academy hours, she slept upside down like most ANBU learned to do. She was one of the lucky ones with summons; most ANBU had to sleep really lightly.
Eventually, Anko found herself following the girl out of school, most probably going to the den of bastards where she belonged.
She went the opposite way.
There was a long winding road uphill. Anko blinked; why was she going to the abandoned academy that was used before the second great shinobi war? Still, Hinata proceeded to gracefully move past the creaky gate, towards the training ground at the back of the discrepant building.
The girl took off her shoes as she moved towards one of the big oak trees in the area; Anko noted a lot of burn marks along the girth of the tree. For four hours, Anko watched as Hinata struck with every part of her body (forearms, elbows, feet, hands) and visible chakra burns manifested themselves all over her arms and the tree.
After four hours, it looked more like the girl was beating the crap out of herself, and every sign pointed towards this being a daily ritual.
Blood flew as the girl struck with her bare knuckles. The red substance frayed across her skin. Anko noted that her arms didn't have any visible scars, until she realized that the Hyuuga had really good medic-nins.
So that was how a clan heir could be abused without anyone finding out. And here she thought that the whole thing was bullshit. Anko found herself growling at the training method though; didn't the idiot know that she was potentially damaging her arms permanently? She found herself intervening.
"That's not the right way to train," she stated as she caught Hinata's arm just before she threw another punch.
She ducked under a Juuken strike aimed at her head.
"Feisty aren't you?"
"Y-You sh-shouldn't be h-here." The girl's eyes were sharp. "I-If you d-don't g-go away, I-I'll kill you."
Anko smiled. She took that as a challenge.
A/N: Wow, thanks for the support last chapter. I can't believe it took me so long to get the next chapter done but oh well.
Really sick right now, bad case of runny eyes, nose, stomach ache and headache. Had it for the entire week. Wish I could individually thank everyone for the reviews, but I'm just so damn tired.
Transition chapters are kind of meh to me. I'm working towards a powerful resolution that will relieve Naruto of all his goddamn angst, but it won't come until a few more chapters.