It was quiet as Sakura, Shino, and Hinata leaped through the forest. The rain had silenced all the sounds the forest usually had an abundance of. All this seemed to do for them is make them more nervous than they all ready were.
Shino looked forward towards Sakura and Hinata recounting how they exactly ended up here.
"Yes sir, the mission was a success. The bandits were eliminated." Shino said emotionlessly.
"Excellent work Shino." Tsunade said with a hint of surprise. "I must admit I am surprised that you managed to take care of this alone."
"I am never alone Lord Hokage." Shino replied.
"That's not what I….. Never mind, Here is you payment." Tsunade said tossing several hundred ryo to the Aburame.
"Thank you. If I may, I would like to ask for a few days off. My hive was severely depleted from the mission and I need some time to repopulate it."
"Uh…. Yes of course." Tsunade replied with some nervousness.
"Thank you. Is there anything more you wish to discuss?" Shino asked.
"No. You are free to go." Tsunade confirmed.
Hearing this Shino nodded his head and walked out of the office.
"Strange kid." Tsunade thought to herself as she leaned back in her chair. "Effective, but strange. Then again he is an Aburame. I should expect this by now."
As Shino walked through the Village, he failed to notice the strange glares he received from people. These glares were not filled with hate like the ones Naruto suffered. Rather they were glares of simple curiosity. The Aburame are among the most loyal clans in the Village but that didn't stop them of being thought of as weird among the populace. They mostly kept to themselves and didn't get involved in Village politics like the Hyuga or others which in a large and clan dominated Village is rather rare. Shino was proud of this fact and had learned to ignore the stares long ago.
He continued walking as he came to the Village's Main Gate. He would have kept going except for the fact that a Ninja that he himself fought a few weeks ago during the Chunin Exams was walking into the Village.
"Hey Bug guy mind giving me a hand?" Kankuro cried as he saw Shino. Hearing this Shino relaxed his guard a bit and went over to him. As he drew closer Shino realized that the thing Kankuro was carrying was Kiba and quickly sped up.
"What Happened?" Shino asked with a hint of worry as he reached Kankuro.
"Dog boy here was fighting a Sound Nin and losing so I came in and helped him out." Kankuro replied "There will be more guys coming. I need you to take this guy to the Hospital while I go back out and find Gaara and Temari." Kankuro said as he handed Kiba over to Shino.
As Shino picked Kiba up he realized something. "Where is Akamaru?"
Kankuro looked confused so Shino clarified. "Akamaru is Kiba's dog. Do you know where he is?"
"I gave the pup to a Medic Nin who said he was taking him to the Hospital." Kankuro replied before dashing off into the forest.
Sighing with some relief, he lifted Kiba up and raced to the hospital.
When he reached the hospital he saw to nurses running toward him and Kiba.
"Thank you for getting him here. His dog is already inside. We'll take it from here." The nurse said as Shino handed Kiba to them.
"How many does that make?" the other nurse asked.
"He's the third one. That leaves four more that aren't here yet. This one doesn't look as bad as the others." The other nurse replied. "Let's get him inside." Both stared to rush .Kiba into the Hospital
"What is going on?" Shino asked hoping to get some answers.
"We don't know exactly but apparently a retrieval mission went wrong and the survivors are ending up here." A nurse turned around and said before continuing inside. Hoping to get some answers Shino followed.
The nurses took Kiba down the hall and into one of the rooms leaving Shino on his own. Wanting to know who the other two people already in the hospital were, he headed to the front desk. Once there he was surprised to see his other teammate sitting outside a door looking extremely worried.
Hinata is, depending on who you talk to, regarded as either the most polite or the most useless ninja in the Village. She is exceedingly caring and is often the first one to take care of you but isn't much of a fighter skill wise and almost never the one to lead an attack. This lack of ferocity on her part as created some strain between her and the rest of her family in the Main Branch of the Hyuga. Her father and to an extent her sister view her as a disappointment and the Clan Elders view her as unworthy of being the Clan head. The Branch families however see her as a remarkable young woman who can someday remove the Seal that binds them to servitude. The strain caused by the pressure of this situation has severely depleted her confidence levels by the time Shino had first met her.
Initially he and Kiba had tried helping her build up her confidence levels but the Aburame aren't exactly motivational people and Kiba while encouraging tends to go a bit too far so little progression was made. However since the Chunin Exams she has started to gain some confidence in herself in no small part from one Naruto Uzumaki. Shino had never understood why Naruto had the ability to inspire random people but he knew for Hinata it was more than simply inspiration. Now Hinata was becoming a fine Kunochi who one day would become the Clan Head of the Hyuga. At least according to Shino.
"Hinata. What are you doing here?"
Hinata let out a little gasp of surprise when Shino made himself known. "S-Shino, I didn't notice you there. I'm uh just waiting outside to c-check on Neji."
"Neji? Did he just recently come into the hospital?" Shino asked.
"Y-Yes. My father wanted me to check up on him. He came in about an hour ago so I s-stoped by to s-see him but. He and Chouji a-are s-severely injured and in surgery." Hinata said sadly.
"I just got Kiba here. He's not in surgery." He quickly added after seeing Hinata's worried face.
"Oh thank goodness." Hinata said relieved.
"Hinata do you know what's going on? Why are our teammates coming back to the Hospital severely injured." Shino asked his teammate hoping for some better answers.
"I don't k-know exactly. Some nurses s-said that some s-sort of mission w-went wrong. But why would they send out Neji, C-Chouji, and Kiba when they aren't a team?"
"That's what I'm wondering. The nurses I talked to said it was a retrieval mission but why would a simple retrieval mission get them injured this bad? Something is wrong here. We need to know who else was on this mission. Do you know if anybody we know is still in the Village?" Shino asked Hinata.
"I um think Ino is out with her f-father today, and I think Tenten is on a s-separate mission with G-Guy sensei. I also think Sakura is still here in the Village."
"Which leaves Lee, Shikamaru, Sasuke, and Naruto and there are four people haven't come back from the mission." Shino finished leaving Hinata to put two and two together. "I'm going to see if I can find Sakura and see if she knows where Naruto and Sasuke are." Shino stated before heading to the exit.
"I-I'm going with you." Hinata replied getting up. "I n-need to make sure N-Naruto is safe.
"Won't your father get mad if you don't stay with Neji?" Shino asked.
"He…He d-doesn't really care about where I g-go." Hinata stated depressed.
Shino silently berated himself for asking that question before continuing. "Alright, let's go find Sakura.
Now going through and trying to find a single person in a village the size of Konoha would normally take at least an hour for an average ninja, but with a little help from Hinata's Byakugan it took only a few minutes. They found her in her teams' training field.
"Hey Hinata, Shino what are you guys doing here?" Sakura asked as she sat down gulped down some water.
"Sakura, where are Naruto and Sasuke?" Shino asked.
Sakura froze up at the question. "I…..don't know."
"That's not the answer I wanted to hear." Shino replied keeping his monotone. "We need to know where they are."
"Why? What's wrong?" Sakura asked having an ominous feeling. Hinata was the one to respond this time.
"Sakura. K-Kiba, Chouji and Neji are at the h-hospital with serious injuries. The nurses told us that a mission went w-wrong and that four people are missing."
Sakura was floored by this news. She had been there when Naruto, Chouji, Kiba, Shikamaru, and Neji had left to find Sasuke.
"I-I need to make sure that N-Naruto isn't one of them. Please just tell me he's in the village somewhere." Hinata pleaded to Sakura.
Seeing the fear in Hinata's eyes Sakura was reminded of how deep her affection was for Naruto. "She really does care for him."
"Neither of them are in the Village." She confirmed sadly.
"So they are out on this retrieval mission. Do you know what it was for.?" Shino asked
"I have orders from the Hokage and from Kakashi sensei not to tell anybody about the mission." Sakura replied.
Shino and Hinata's hope quickly faded after this statement.
"However, that was before I knew my friends were in the hospital." Sakura continued.
"So you'll tell us." Hinata asked for confirmation.
"Yes. Naruto was with Neji, Chouji, Kiba, and Shikamaru, who were tasked with going after Sasuke who left the village." Sakura said looking down. "I…..I pleaded with Naruto to go after Sasuke. I had tried to stop him myself but I….couldn't." Sakura told them starting to form tears in her eyes.
"So Sasuke has betrayed us." Shino confirmed.
"We don't k-know that Shino he could have been t-taken or been under some sort of g-genjutsu right Sakura?" Hinata bending down to comfort Sakura.
"I…..don't know…I just don't know." Sakura replied never once looking up at them.
"Okay. Now we know who was on the mission and that three of those people are in the hospital injured which means in all likely hood this retrieval mission has failed and that whoever else hasn't come back yet may very well be dead." Shino said emotionlessly.
Sakura and Hinata became extremely depressed by this logic and neither of them spoke for a few minutes.
"Well t-there is only one w-way to be s-sure." Hinata said as she got up. "We need to g-go out and f-find them."
Sakura looked astonished by this, and Shino for his part raised his eyebrows. " Us?" Sakura asked for confirmation.
"Y-Yes. " Hinata replied.
"Hinata. You do realize that if we just take off and go looking for them without the Hokage's permission, the Village will either punish us or remove us from the ninja program." Shino stated to Hinata making the consequences clear. "Not to mention what our families will do to us."
"I….I k-know the risks that I'll face for this, b-but….I don't want to just st-stand around and do no-nothing while N-Naruto is out there h-hurt." Hinata said boldly. "I've done that for far too long." She added in her mind.
"Will you two h-help me?" Hinata asked Shino and Sakura. Shino was the first to reply.
"Of course. You are my team mate and they are my friends." Shino said simply.
Hinata turned toward Sakura who was silent before saying. "I failed to stop Sasuke and because of that three of my friends are in the hospital and two more are out there injured or dead, I should have went with them to begin with. I'm definitely going." Sakura stated getting up off the ground.
"Th-Thank you." Hinata said.
"Let's get to the front gate." Shino commanded and they dashed off towards the gate.
When they got toward the gate they quickly hid behind a building when they saw Shikamaru and Lee being assisted by the Sand Siblings entering the Leaf Village.
"Okay that just leaves Naruto and Sasuke out there." Shino confirmed as the Siblings passed by heading toward the hospital.
"Let's go." Sakura said and with that they dashed through the gate and into the forest.
"Hey Shino." Sakura yelled back to the Aburame bringing him back to reality. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course Sakura we are friends after all." Shino replied while leaping through the air.
"That's just it. I didn't think you and I were friends. I know we are team mates and fellow ninjas but…I never really thought of you as a friend. To me you always seemed like the creepy guy who likes to be by himself. You just always seemed to be standing alone in a corner away from other people." Sakura replied ashamed. "I realize now that I was completely wrong. I just wanted to say thank you for coming with us and I'm sorr…."
"There is no need to apologize." Shino interrupted. "It's not strange for you to think that. I've never been as public with my feelings as people like Naruto and Lee are. It's a trait that the Aburame have had for generations. You are right. I do tend to stay by myself. I don't fraternize with other people as much and I am usually the one who sits alone. This leads a lot of people to believe that I don't care about people and that I don't think of any of you as friends. This is simply not true."
Sakura listened intently while keeping up the pace almost slipping on a wet branch.
"I believe and care for each and every one of my comrades as a friend and I will gladly lay my life down for them. No matter whom they are even though I may not openly express it as much as others do. " Shino stated simply.
Sakura went silent before nodding with small smile.
" I think I see Naruto!" Hinata suddenly cried snapping both Sakura and Shino back to what they were doing. "His chakra is very weak and something else is with him…but I can't make out what it is."
"Is Sasuke with him?" Sakura asked in a hopeful tone.
"I-I don't see him. Sorry Sakura." Hinata called back leaving Sakura disappointed but still eager to get to Naruto.
As they all doubled their speed, Shino immediately felt a dark presence in front of them. His insects began to fester inside him as if something truly menacing was awaiting them. They had never done this before and Shino didn't like it.
"Stop." He commanded to Sakura and Hinata as the landed on a wet branch.
"Why? We need to keep going." Sakura told Shino.
"Whatever is with Naruto, it is not natural." Shino told them with a hint of worry. "My insects don't like what it is they are sensing and I don't like us just charging in and facing it.
"Y-You have a plan then Shino?" Hinata asked her team mate.
"I have one in mind. We can't take this thing in a full fight. My insects confirm that. Here's what we're going to do." Shino said as the others leaned in to hear it.
"Wow. This is surprisingly easy."
"See I told you he wouldn't put up much of a fight." The Black side agreed.
"Shut up (pant) you (pant) bastards!" Naruto wheezed out as he was kneeling on the ground. "Damn it. What's with this guy? I must have thrown at least one hundred clones at him and he's not even winded." Naruto thought to himself worried.
"Are you ready to give up yet because if not we may have to start actually putting some effort into getting you." The white half spoke to Naruto.
Naruto hearing this created twenty more clones and sent them to attack.
"Stop trying to talk to him. He's too stubborn to listen to reason." The black half told his other half before creating a hand sign.
Dozens of spiked vines suddenly emerged from the ground and impaled the clones. Dispelling them immediately and going after Naruto.
"Damn it!" Naruto cried as he jumped away from the vines only to have more vines erupt from the ground and knock him back into a tree before wrapping themselves around him trapping him and cutting against his body causing blood to pour out and him to scream out in agony.
"Careful now we don't want to scratch him up to much or he'll lose too much blood." White Zetsu cautioned his counterpart.
"He'll be fine he's got an increased healing factor anyway. We'll wait until he passes out from the blood loss and then take him to the leader." Black Zetsu replied.
"Child use my chakra now! You will fall into their hands otherwise." The Kyubi commanded Naruto,
"No...No….I can still…." Naruto's consciousness began to fade and he couldn't finish his thoughts. As he slipped deeper and deeper into unconsciousness he was reminded of what he did to Sasuke. "I'm…..sorry." was his last thought before darkness took him.
Realizing Naruto was unconscious Zetsu released him and sent the vines back underground.
"And that takes care of that. Let's get him and go ho- Ughhhhhh!" White Zetsu exclaimed as a swarm of insects overtook him.
"Hinata now!" Shino ordered from the trees. Hearing the signal Hinata jumped down and dashed toward Naruto.
Once she had Naruto, Hinata called out "Sakura!"
Sakura immediately jumped down from the trees and dashed straight toward…..Zetsu.
"Get these damn bugs off of me!" Black Zetsu cried as the bugs kept flying around him blocking his and White Zetsu's vision.
"Shannaro!" Sakura exclaimed as her raised fist collided with Zetsu's face launching him back several meters crashing into trees.
"Let's get out of here NOW!" Sakura exclaimed before racing back the way she came followed swiftly by the others and an unconscious Naruto.
Zetsu lied down against the fallen tree as Shino's bugs that had been absorbing their chakra slowly fell of its body dead.
"Well that was unexpected. At least we weren't assigned to catch Naruto though so we can't get blamed for not getting him." White Zetsu said relieved sinking into the ground.
"Shut up. Wrap your head around the fact that we just got punched and snacked on by a girl and some bugs from an Aburame child and try to feel optimistic. They'll pay for that." His black counter said ominously as they disappeared into the soil.
As night begin to make it's appearance known,Kakashi met with the Anbu captain in the forest.
"Did you find them? Kakashi asked tired.
"Negative Kakashi, We are still waiting on a team to report back so there is still ti…"
"Sir!" An anbu cried as he landed next to Kakashi. We found them. They are a few miles north coming our way."
"Is Naruto with them?" Kakashi asked.
"Yes sir." The Anbu confirmed.
Kakashi immediately dashed north towards the Genin.
"I must say Sakura that was impressive. Where did you get that strength from?" Shino asked curious.
"I uh sort of reversed engineered it from something Naruto told me. He said he had seen Lord Tsunade break entire walls with her punches so I wondered how she did that. I figured that the only way you could do that was to push a huge amount of chakra into your hands. So that's what I did. The only down side is that I don't have a large amount of chakra so I can only do one punch." Sakura said through heavy breaths. "Kind of sad isn't it?"
"Far from it. It's actually rather genius that you were able to figure it out just from someone describing it."Shino replied as he landed on a branch. "Hinata. How is he doing?"
"H-He is okay just u-unconscious." Hinata said carrying Naruto piggy back style with a rather large blush on her face.
That scene alone would make just about anyone laugh except the fact that Sakura was still depressed about not finding Sasuke and Shino was….well Shino.
"I hope you don't blame Naruto for not catching Sasuke, Sakura. You know Naruto will hate himself enough." Shino stated to Sakura.
Sakura was quiet for a moment before looking to him.
"What ever happened.........I don't blame Naruto."
Shino nodded in acceptance and the three continued on toward the Leaf Village.
"We should reach the Village by midnight. If we are lucky we might be able to slip back in the village without being noticed." Shino stated to the others.
"Oh really?" A familiar voice spoke. The three genin looked over to Kakashi with squad of Anbu next to him.
"Well so much for that idea." Shino thought to himself.