"Hard to believe there actually was a time before public baths." Naruto said while he and Hinata were standing beside a lake.
"Well hot water wasn't always so common in the past Naruto-kun." Hinata told him, using her hand to test the temperature of the water. "Brr. It's cold, but not freezing."
"Oh I know that. I just figured people used to heat it before using it, not take baths in lakes instead. Not that I can't handle it, I've bathed in cold water many times. I just don't like it, and I figured you'd like it even less."
"Why's that?" She asked. 'Does he think of me as some spoiled heiress who can't fathom bathing in anything even a bit below warm?' She worried, hoping Naruto didn't think of her as some stereotype.
"The main reason is your jacket."
Hinata blinked. "W-what?" She certainly hadn't expected that as an answer.
Naruto nodded. "Yeah, you're always wearing your jacket. I think I've seen you without it maybe twice, three times in as many years. I figure it's either your choice of a fashion statement, or maybe you just get cold easily."
Feeling better, Hinata lightly shook her head. "No, it's more... mostly because I feel comfortable in it."
"Like me and my outfit?" Naruto replied and got a nod for an answer. "Alright, well, I'll give you your privacy."
"Wait, you're leaving?" Hinata asked.
"You didn't expect me to bathe with you right?"
At the moment Hinata was experiencing a bit of a moral quandary. While she was too nervous to actually bathe with him, she was at least comforted by the knowledge he would be around. Not because she wanted him to see her, she certainly wouldn't object if he wanted to, but this was a strange place they were in and apparently full of threats they weren't familiar with. Hinata wasn't sure how far away she wanted Naruto to be while she was bathing.
"Naruto-kun, can you at least remain where we can talk and hear each other?" She asked, blushing a lot. "I'd feel a lot better knowing you were close by. Demons are a lot more common here than back home after all."
"You sure? In my experience when a girl's bathing she considers any distance between her and a boy is too close." He said.
Hinata nodded. "Yes, I'd feel safer knowing I can at least hear your voice if you say something. Besides, I'm not Sakura so I'm not going to hit you."
"Thanks." He said with a friendly grin. "Well, if you insist." He then went to sit against a tree, ensuring he wasn't looking at her.
"Hey Naruto-kun?" Hinata called out.
He looked around the tree. "Yeah?"
"Just so I don't wonder, if... if I h-had o-off-offered for us to... to b-bathe to-together, w-would you have a-accepted?" She asked, her stutter on high because of her nervousness.
It took him a moment to decipher her question because of the stutter, and it made him turn red too, but not as red as she was. "Umm... probably not but only because I'd feel obligated to say no."
Hinata lightly smiled. 'That means he'd want to say yes but he'd be respectful and decline.' "Thanks Naruto-kun." Without another word she turned around and took off her jacket, prompting Naruto to look away. Certain she had privacy, Hinata stripped bare then waded into the lake.
"Whoa, this is colder than I expected." She said while shivering. "I'm not going to be in here long then." She commented before taking a breath and ducking under the surface.
Back in the village Kaede was requested to see to one of the village women, who had mysteriously collapsed earlier and was now inside a hut resting.
"She was just fine this morning. I don't understand." The mother of the afflicted woman told the elderly miko.
"I'll see to it." Kaede reassured, stepping towards the girl in question. Right away she sensed something was 'off' but she couldn't place it. To her surprise the girl immediately sat up, arms stretched out, but overall looking like she was sleepwalking more than anything. "Move away." She advised the others in the hut.
This warning became more justified when the girl began to hover in the air like a puppet being held up by strings.
"She's floating?" The mother said, scared by the unexpected sight.
'No, she's being held. By... hair?' Kaede thought, seeing something she couldn't see before in the shadows. Strands of hair were wrapped around the girl's arms and torso, acting exactly like puppet strings. Where it was coming from and how it was doing this, Kaede had no idea, but she was certain a youkai was involved.
Things got worse when another strand of hair wrapped around a cleaver and brought the weapon to the girl's hand. She grasped it and raised her arm as if ready to chop something. Unfortunately, the only things to chop were Kaede and the others.
Needless to say they ran out of there, but the sound of metal hitting flesh and blood spurting was heard.
Having enough, Hinata climbed out of the lake and sat on a rock. She combed her hair with her fingers to get excess water out while looking around for the towel she left by her clothes. Although 'towel' was used loosely here, as opposed to the type of towels she was used to back home this one was just a plain strip of fabric.
'Better than nothing.' She told herself before using it to wipe herself dry. The fabric got wet really quickly and after a while it felt like she wasn't getting any drier anymore. Irritated, she wrung the towel to dry it out then started again, this time getting a better result. 'This will take some getting used too. I just hope I can convince Kagome-san to bring real towels here from her time if she can.'
"Hinata-chan?" Naruto called out.
"I'm almost done Naruto-kun. Give me a moment to get dressed." She replied without looking his way.
"Hinata-chan run!" He said with a bit of panic in his voice as opposed to just a warning.
The Hyuuga heiress looked his way and saw he was flying towards her with his fist out as if to strike her, though his face showed a complete expression of confusion and desire not to do this. With an eep Hinata jumped back and avoided his hit.
"Hinata-chan, something's controlling my body. I can't stop myself." He said, sounding as unnerved as she looked.
Relieved he wasn't deliberately attacking her, not that she suspected that even for a second, Hinata was now concerned about what was controlling him like this. Not knowing what else to do, she activated her byakugan. 'What? He's got... very long strands of hair wrapped around his arms and legs? Like puppet strings maybe?'
Naruto turned and was forced to strike again. Hinata dodged around him and used a juuken strike on the hair on his right arm. She cut it and his arm went limp.
"That's great Hinata-chan, now do whatever you did again for the rest of me." Naruto told her, unable to see the hair around himself. But he could see the fact that Hinata was stark naked at the moment and didn't seem to realize it. He blushed a deep red but other than that chose not to call attention to it. If he did, Hinata would faint and be left a sitting duck for his involuntary attacks.
Hinata waited for him to come back towards her, and for a brief moment in her byakugan she saw where the hair was coming from. It led off to a woman with short black hair held by a ribbon, wearing a semi-skimpy black outfit, weaving hair between her fingers as if she was playing cats cradle with it, all while the hair held a connection to Naruto.
Naruto came at her and again she maneuvered away from him, but this time he turned just as quickly, showing the puppeteer was a quick learner. Hinata ducked down and used her juuken to cut the ones on his legs, hoping this would at least slow him down.
His feet now free of control, Naruto was just hanging from the air by his left arm. "Ow! It feels like my arm's going to be pulled off!" He yelled painfully. The hair holding him raised up while tightening, as if trying for such a result.
"Naruto-kun I can't reach it. Cut the hair." Hinata shouted, at least by her standards of volume.
"What hair are you talking about?" Naruto asked.
'He can't see it?' Hinata realized. 'No time, I got to get to him somehow.' Thinking quickly she ran up the tree closest to him and jumped once she got high enough. With a well-aimed strike she managed to cut the last hair and free the whiskered blonde, who fell to the ground with a hard thud, with Hinata landing on top of him.
"Thanks Hinata-chan, sorry about all that." He said while withholding a wince.
"It wasn't your fault. Someone was controlling you, sort of like that puppet guy from Suna." Hinata reassured, referencing Kankuro since this reminded her greatly of his tactics.
"Umm... Hinata-chan? Now that that's over you probably should get dressed now." He added sheepishly.
Confused, Hinata looked at herself then realized that all this time she had failed to put her clothes back on. 'Naruto-kun saw me completely naked?' Her face invented a new shade of red and she promptly passed out, still on top of him.
"I just hope that helps her shyness a little." He said to himself.
Off in the distance he heard a shout, forcing Naruto to look away from the nude girl on his lap. "I better go see what's wrong." He created some clones to do the job itself, not wanting to leave Hinata by herself nor leave her in the care of a clone.
The clones left and he looked at her clothes. "Should I put them back on for her?"
Away from the area the woman controlling the hair felt some of it go lax but not all.
"Hmmph. One of my prisoners got free. How so?" She withdrew the hair in hopes it would offer a clue. Instead, it brought her some blonde hair. "Oh my oh me, I've never seen hair this color before. It's clearly from a man, not an animal. I simply must have more. But first..."
She began to weave a new pattern with the hair still attached to other people, hoping to cause more calamity while she had the capability for it.
In the village Naruto's clones saw people hanging from the air like the original had been, only these ones looked unconscious instead. Some people were hiding, or on the ground hurt. One of those people was Kaede, bleeding from a cut that was staining her white haori.
"What's going on?" The clones asked Kaede while checking on how bad the injury was. So far it just looked painful but not threatening.
Kaede was slow to respond, but only because this was her first time seeing a shadow clone. "How...? No, it's not important. Something is controlling these people. Ye must release them from their binds."
"Shouldn't be that hard." One clone said while pulling out a kunai. "Just attack the general area Hinata-chan said the hair is."
With that all the clones tried to free the prisoners, but they couldn't see the hair and kept missing. A few strands were cut, but most were still intact.
'He can't see the hair?' Kaede asked herself, noting the clone's haphazard methods. 'He knows it's there but he cannot see it. So he's instead cutting the general area it should be in. Acceptable, but not fast enough to be effective here.'
"This is too slow. We need Hinata-chan for this." One of the clones shouted to the others.
"I'll go get her." One of the clones said before stabbing himself and dispersing, greatly confusing Kaede.
"What are ye doing?" Kaede asked the remaining clones.
"Buying time now." One of them responded.
The original Naruto got the memory of his deceased clone, something he learned long ago was possible and was frankly surprised no one had bothered to point out to him before. "Well that answers one question." He looked at Hinata, who he at least covered with her jacket by now, and began to lightly shake her awake. "Hinata-chan, wake up. People are in danger."
Fortunately Hinata never stayed passed out for long. "Huh? What is it?"
"Whatever attacked me is attacking the village. I can't see what's controlling them but you can, so we need to get there quickly. And you might want to put the rest of your clothes on first." He informed her.
Hinata was at first confused, but then suddenly remembered her unintentional display and turned red again.
Seeing that color change and knowing for once that this was just a blush, Naruto acted quickly. "Hinata-chan, don't faint right now. We're needed now and fainting will only slow us down. Get dressed, help me, and then you can hit me for seeing you."
The severity of the impeding situation was all that made Hinata stay conscious enough to dress herself, during which Naruto looked away and kept his eyes closed for. "Remember what I said Naruto-kun, I am not Sakura. Don't expect me to do something simply because you'd expect her to do it in my place."
"No but you are a woman and no unmarried woman ever wants a man to look at her naked." Naruto insisted.
'That depends on who the man is.' The shy girl added in her mind, feeling saying it now would do no good.
Without another word the two went to the village, seeing Naruto's clones keeping the controlled villagers from hurting anyone else or themselves any further.
"Byakugan." Hinata activated her doujutsu and right away saw the hair that was turning these people into puppets, but more importantly she saw where the hair was coming from. All of the hair went into the forest hidden in the trees and condensed into fewer strands, or at least many strands compressed tightly together to make it look like one thick hair instead. And those hairs led back to that mystery woman in the trees near the edge of her range of vision.
"Naruto-kun, follow me but leave the clones here. I've got an idea." Hinata said. He nodded and followed her, heading to the opposite side of the village. She came to a stop by some trees. "The hair controlling them comes from here. If we cut it here, that would save us time compared to cutting all the women free one at a time."
Naruto nodded and took out a kunai. "Where is it?"
Hinata grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it on the hair. Fortunately some stuck and gave Naruto a visual reference point, which he gladly slashed at. Using one of her own kunai Hinata cut at the hair too, and with two slashes each all the hair had been cut and the trapped villagers collapsed on the ground, none hurt but all sore from the landing.
"Who's doing this?" Naruto asked.
"Some woman in the trees, and she knows the hair's cut now." Hinata answered, seeing the black-haired woman frowning and muttering to herself about the sudden slack in her weapon. "Her chakra isn't normal, it's like she's not human."
"You mean a youkai?" Naruto asked.
"Whatever she is, she's coming this way now. We should divert her somehow. Any ideas?" Hinata replied.
Naruto smirked. "If you mean like we prank her, just leave that to me."
"Drat, the hair's no longer taut. Someone cut it." The hair-weaver complained. "Looks like I'll have to get the Shikon Jewel and this appealing yellow hair directly."
"Kagome? Where have you been?" Kagome's mother asked when she saw her missing child in the yard of her house. She was so grateful to have her daughter back she completely missed the man standing beside her as she engulfed her in a hug.
Kagome hugged her mother back. "Mama, I've got the craziest story to tell you all. I'm still not sure I believe it myself." She looked over and saw Inuyasha was right there with her as expected, checking out the strange new surroundings and scents. "But if it's not true then I'd really like to wake up now."
Mama finally noticed the newcomer, and her eyes first went to his unusual red ensemble then his silver hair then his dog ears. "Who's this?" She asked, releasing her daughter before going up to Inuyasha and grabbing his ears gently. "Are these real?" Inuyasha did not look at all comfortable with what she was doing.
"Mama stop that. Now's not the time for it, though I do understand why you're doing it. I did it too when I saw them." Kagome admitted.
Having her fill, Mama released the hanyou. "Why don't you both come inside? I have many questions and we might as well be comfortable while we talk."
Inuyasha looked confused. "Wait, you're actually inviting me into your house?"
"Of course, why wouldn't I?" Mama asked. "You look tough, but obviously you're not dangerous otherwise Kagome would be trying to get away from you. And here she is with you. So come on in and tell us what's going on."
Confused, Inuyasha made no effort to oblige her request until Kagome grabbed his sleeve and made an effort to pull him. After that, he simply shrugged and followed, not looking forward to the conversation to come.