The teams' might is put to the test as Hinata battles to find the power and determination she so desperatly needs.(HinataxNaruto)
Chapter Three: Danger in the Shadows
Leaves hissed passed her ears. Her feet barely made contact with the branches before she was airborne again; she was free. Alive. It didn't matter why she was here at the moment. She simply relished the feeling of being out and mobile.
"How are you, Sakura?" Lee called as softly as was possible for the tai jutsu master, clearly making certain he never strayed too far from her side as they skirted through the treetops. She repressed a sigh at the question.
"Lee, if you keep asking me that I'm going to have to kill you." She replied softly, trying to sound light. That question had been sweet the first five times, but throughout the day Lee's constant worry had begun driving her crazy. She flashed him a smile to take the sting from her words and his eyes lit up.
"Hey, Lee," Ino's voice was small yet clearly beguiling in the transmitters worn by all, "how 'bout you come carry me? I wouldn't mind." Lee's cheeks stained crimson and Sakura giggled.
"Focus people," Jiraiya warned, "we've got a job to do."
There was a snort in his earpiece.
"Since when do you take anything seriously, Ero-Sennin?" Naruto quipped and the older man smiled slightly, not minding the mild insult for once.
"Come now, Naruto, you know perfectly well I've always taken my research very seriously." A grunted chuckle sounded from the blonde; than silence.
Better than nothing, he thought. Naruto's sullen attitude had begun to worry the old sennin and he fretted that the cheerful, spunky boy that had once been Naruto would be gone forever after this. But a laugh was a start and Jiraiya would simply take it from there.
Silence returned for a while as the group maintained their pace, but it didn't last more than an hour.
"Ino," Shikamaru's voice hissed a little excitedly, which instantly got everyone's attention, "did you see that?"
"Shika?" Naruto leapt lightly to the next branch, trying to avoid breaking formation until a sighting was confirmed. He couldn't alienate Kakashi's group to his right without knowing someone else was in danger.
"Ten o'clock," Shikamaru was obviously speaking to Ino and Anko who comprised the rest of his team. Silence. Naruto's pulse quickened.
"Got it!" Anko confirmed. "That is definitely not a squirrel!"
"Shit!" Ino squealed, followed by a rumble and static. Naruto veered to his left, no longer concerned with keeping formation. His team followed.
"What!" He demanded urgently.
"We've got incoming," Anko's voice rose excitedly.
"Pull it in on Green Team," Naruto ordered the others, "Ino!" The girl had seemingly taken a hit. But a string of profanity echoed in his ear and his anxiety lessened - slightly.
"Bastard almost burned my hair." She growled.
Sasuke... Naruto's insides tightened and he increased his pace to a nearly reckless speed, urging Kakashi's group on as well.
"We're on 'em!" Sakura called out after a moment and grunted a sound Naruto recognized as Sakura on the offense.
"Watch it!" He called, "we're almost on you..."
"Damn, it's him!" Shikamaru sounded annoyed, but then again Shikamaru always sounded annoyed. "Yeah, go Jiraiya. Anko; on the ground." Shikamaru may have had two far more experienced shinobi with him at the moment but that did not stop him from taking command. "Sakura, good. There. Wait for me. Lee, you remember?"
An explosion of orange light came into view and Naruto recognized the Katon Goukakyuu no Jutsu even though it was still mostly obscured by the leaves.
It IS him. Naruto pointed to his left and forward and the two men with him split formation while Naruto took the right; the direction he guessed to be closest to Sasuke.
A flash of green and Naruto realized Lee was already there; behind Sasuke. Of course, so did Sasuke; his eyes red as the sharigan glided over Naruto before settling on Lee. Sasuke moved.
'The fastest thing I've never seen,' Kiba had once laughingly called Lee, and with good reason. Lee's movements defied the human eye.
Unless that eye was a sharigan.
Sasuke flipped into the air, the sole of his sandal brushing Lee's chin; the tai jutsu master spun around avoiding the brunt of the blow and Sasuke alighting onto a branch above and behind him.
Lee's leg weights crashed to the ground below and the tree they stood on began to creak and groan; the weights severing its roots deep underground, and Lee was already moving again.
Sasuke opened his mouth.
"Lee! Back off!" Naruto bellowed and hurtled a kunai at his former teammate. But Sasuke whirled, his own kunai deflecting Naruto's, and partially expelled the snake from his mouth.
"What!" Lee's eyes bulged and he leapt backward, the snake's fanged jaws crashing to the spot Lee had just vacated.
"You may be fast, Sasuke," Lee skidded to a halt along another branch, bark shredding in his wake, "but you will never be faster than me!" A burst of green and jet black slashed across Naruto's vision and Lee was behind the traitor, a solid downward kick driving the man to the ground below.
Anko was on him before Naruto could blink.
"Miss me, you bastard?" She hissed and leapt at him, arms extended. "I've been saving this just for you! Souja So-"
"Not today," Sasuke's strange voice jeered and the snake pounced again, clutching Anko by the throat and knocking her onto her back. The woman choked, her hands flying up, trying to pry the jaws from her windpipe.
"Sasuke!" Naruto dropped to the earth beside his opponent, weapons drawn and a threat on his tongue.
"Predictable." Sasuke sneered around the serpent. A flurry of shuriken hurtled at the snake, but Sasuke retracted it before any damage was done, leaving Anko wheezing on the ground.
Sasuke grunted as Neji, previously unoticed, struck from behind, landing blow after blow, on the stunned Uchiha. When the Hyuga's assault paused Lee came crashing down from above, his heel driving Sasuke's face several inches into the dirt. Naruto was sliding into the dirt, an extended leg launching his foe into the air and against a tree. Uchiha pushed himself up without hesitation, his arms turning him feet-over-head and pushing him into up until he was no longer surrounded.
"Kanashibari no jutsu!" Neji, Naruto and Anko froze instantly, Lee having switched position the moment Sasuke had risen from the ground.
"Kai!" Sakura shrieked as she plummeted from the treetops, fingers grazing the two petrified men. Naruto and Neji blinked, scattering immediately. Ino dropped lightly beside Anko, echoing the release and pulling the stunned woman out of the way before Sasuke could restart his attack. Naruto was now the one to bare his teeth maliciously.
"Predictable." He mocked. "Rasengan!"
Sasuke sprawled backwards, his body severing a tree trunk with its momentum.
"He's not doing that well," Ino stated; shuriken gripped between fingers.
No, Naruto scowled, he's not. Yet Naruto wasn't relieved.
"Chidori!" The cry came from above and Anko had only enough time to throw herself against Ino before a streak of white-blue energy bolted down on her position. Kakashi followed, swinging his arm up; severing the head of his enemy in half.
Sasuke's body fell to the ground with a sickening wet thump at the blonde leader's feet. Naruto's hair stood on edge.
"Too easy..." he whispered. Sakura backed up a step. They remembered this trick...
A popping sound accompanied a small white cloud and a stump of wood lay where Sasuke had fallen, a sizzling scrap of paper pinned to it with a kunai.
"Trap!" Naruto shrieked loudly and bolted, catching Neji's fleeing form out of the corner of his eye.
There was a concussion of air and searing heat and then Naruto knew no more.
Hinata stood gingerly, white knuckles grasping the footboard to steady herself.
She had spent enough time feeling helpless, she decided. Naruto had lost friends as well; he had come under attack from the same person. But he was not lying in his bed wishing he could do more. He was out there, hunting Sasuke down. He was doing it not only for himself, but for his friends, and for her.
I won't let him love a woman who isn't worthy. She decided with renewed determination.
Hintata released her grip from the bed, fingers spread wide within their gauze as she fought to hold balance.
"What are you doing?" Hinata did not look up, but continued to stare at her hands, willing them not to grab onto the bed again. "You're at it again?!"
"I have to get better," she grunted, "I have to get out of here. I need to be out there with them."
"The hell you do!" Kurenai's hands wrapped around the girl's waist and tried to gently push her back to the bed, but Hinata pushed her off. "Straining your body is not going to heal you any faster!" The red-eyed woman argued.
"Sakura still has burns and she is fighting." Hinata pointed out.
"Sakura is crazy. Always has been." Kurenai argued and was shocked to receive a scathing glare from the Hyuga woman. "What has gotten into you?"
"I need to be out there, Kurenai. They were my teammates."
"I know." Kurenai relented and stepped back from her former pupil. "I miss them too, dearly. But running headlong into the woods after the same man who killed Sandaime is suicide, especially now that he has the sharigan." Hinata's eyebrows gathered.
"What is wrong with you?" She whispered and the elder balked. "I thought you were shinobi."
"Hinata-" The girl was unusually bitter.
"Kakashi is out there trying to save us; so are Gai and Jaraiya and Naruto!" Hinata's hand flew up to gesture out of her window. Kurenai sighed.
"So that's what this is about." She said and seated herself at the foot of the bed. "You're worried for Naruto."
"I need to be out there."
"So Naruto can worry about your health?" Kurenai asked. "So he can be so preoccupied with your safety that he may not see a surprise attack until it is too late?" Hinata bit her lip. "I know you care for him," Kurenai continued, "but you have-"
"I told him." Hinata confessed in a whisper and Kurenai's words died off in her mouth. For a moment she could only look at the Hyuga.
"You told him?" She couldn't believe it. It had been popular opinion that Hinata would have committed suicide before confessing her feelings to the man she loved. Hinata nodded.
"And?" Hinata blushed.
"He kissed me again."
"Again?" Kurenai's jaw dropped. "You mean he's kissed you before?
"Just before he left," Hinata confessed. "He kissed me, I told him how I feel and then he kissed me again." Kurenai smiled.
"I'm happy for you, Hinata."
But the girl gazed off at nothing, apparently not sharing in her mentor's joy. A sad, empty expression crept over her and she stared out of her window.
"He has to come back." She whispered finally. Kurenai said nothing.
Naruto groaned and pushed himself up slowly, his ears tuned to the sounds around him; waiting. Nothing. The back of his neck stung and his forehead throbbed. But other than that he was fine.
"Report," he croaked into his mic. There was a pause and then a grunt.
"Lee," the tai jutsu's voice crackled into his ear.
"Iruka," his former sensei followed.
"Neji," the Hyuga sounded thoroughly pissed.
One by one the team checked in, finally gathering in on Naruto's position, checking one another for serious injury. Naruto turned to the people he had reserved to cut off escape routes.
"Did he get by?"
"I didn't see a thing," Iruka shook his head. The others echoed iruka's report and Naruto growled.
"He was gone when we got here."
"But he's close," Kakashi said, the brow of his visible eye raised, "we're almost on him. He wouldn't have bothered with a substitution if he could easily get away. He needed to buy himself some time."
"Why's he running, anyway?" Shikamaru groaned. "Why doesn't he just fight us and get it over with. He knows he could probably take us."
"Shikamaru!" Lee's tone was scolding and the lazy-nin simply rolled his eyes.
"I'm a little curious," Tenten chirped, "if a substitution took that much work to take out - not that I thought it was hard - what is the real deal gonna be like?"
"He's gonna be like ground pork when I get done with him." Naruto yanked one of his kunai from a nearby tree trunk with a violent tug.
"Back into formation but tighten it up this time. If he's close I want only seconds between each team. Sakura, Tenten, Gai and Iruka, you guys take the cut-off positions this time and wait for the call. The rest I want on him." The group began to break away.
"But... why is he running?" Sakura hesitated, calling everyone's attention back. "I hate to say it, but Shika's right. Sasuke's no fool. He knows the odds, and he knows what each of us has got under our belts. What is this cat-and-mouse game about anyway?"
"Didn't he hesitate because of you three," Tenten asked, "his old team? Maybe he knew you guys are with us and he didn't want to fight you?"
"I think," Kakashi knew he was going to get hell for this yet the words poured out anyway, "Sasuke is trying to save us from Orochimaru. I think he's trying to help." Naruto whirled, eyes flashing red for a moment before regaining control quickly.
"What, like he helped Shino and Kiba?" Naruto seethed, his voice rising in fury. "Like he helped Hinata? Is that it? Is that what he's doing? Well he can take his help straight to hell when we send him there!"
"Naruto is right," Neji broke in and rose quite a few eyebrows with those three words, yet he paid it no mind. "Sasuke has lost his chance to be the good guy. He's got too much blood on his hands. It's over; he's done." Kakashi nodded.
"Well?" Naruto turned, meeting his teammates in the eyes. "What are you waiting for? Let's go!"
My first action scene! Short, I know, and I don't know if it came out as exciting as I had hoped, but it is my first. Besides we can't blow all the fun on a substitution, can we? ;) Reviews, comments, suggestions, ratings and rantings are encouraged and practically begged for! Don't make me get on my knees! Thanks again!