(I don't own any characters etc etc)
Hinata wasn't sure what woke her, just that she was awake.
She remained still, trying to take stock of her surroundings before she opened her eyes.
Activating her byakugan, she could make out...Shino, with many bugs. Kiba, without Akamaru, she realized, frowning to herself.
No Kurenai-sensei, though she remembered that their team had split up, so that made some sense...
And, there, two more chakra signatures. Weak ones, not high level shinobi?
She slowly opened her eyes, as all signatures were some distance from her.
As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she sat up and rubbed her hands over her face, then through her long hair.
She was in a cell, on a dirty, dingy floor.
Sighing, she ran her hands over herself, taking further inventory. She was not disrupted, in any way, so that was something to be grateful for.
Unsurprisingly, her weapons had been removed, not that she had had many on her.
Trying to get her bearings, she thought about the events that led them here.
Team Eight had been sent on a C-rank mission, which clearly should have been a higher rank. As occurred more often than anyone would ever admit, the customer had opted for a lower rank so they could pay less, knowing that there was, in fact, a higher risk to the whole thing.
It should have been a simple delivery mission, but there had been...she wrinkled her forehead as she thought about it. A trap? They were followed? An insurance scam?
She wasn't sure. Point was, they had ran into a group of missing nin who had not wanted them or their items to leave the area, and had fought, hard.
That was why she hadn't had many weapons on her before coming to this place, Hinata recalled, due to the fight.
Kurenai, Kiba, and Akamaru had gone one way, with the...scroll, she remembered, secured in a hidden pouch on Akamaru.
She and Shino had gone another way, with the hopes of lessening the fight against the others.
It had worked, at first, but something had gone wrong.
Hinata sighed. She couldn't quite remember what that was, though she thought there had been reinforcements for their opponents.
And...a bomb, some explosion of some type, possibly a gas, she thought.
She really couldn't remember much of what happened, but clearly the group had gotten the three of them, and locked them up wherever this was.
All she could hope now was that Kurenai and Akamaru were safe.
"A Hyuga does not get captured," she could hear her father's voice say, from deep within her brain.
Hinata took a deep breath to ground herself.
"No shinobi is perfect," she reminded herself. How many of those in the Bingo Book, for example, had found themselves captured time and time again?
Taking another deep breath, Hinata focused on the chakra signatures again.
Their supposed guards were walking, pacing, and...coming closer?
She laid back down, eyes closed, and monitored them.
There, they paused, near Kiba's chakra signature. And there, near Shino's.
Unsurprisingly, they neared her cell, opening the door and looking in, before closing and locking it.
"All passed out, still," she heard one of them sigh.
"And no scroll on them, just our luck," the other replied. "This is ridiculous. We got the short end of the deal, guarding these stupid kids. Let's get out of here and get dinner."
"Yeah," the first one agreed. "No one will know."
Sighing softly, Hinata noted them leaving, walking away, and stood up, stretching and planning.
A shiny black beetle flew past her face, and she reached a hand out, watching as it lightly landed on her palm.
"You don't seem like you belong here," she mused, and it tittered as it walked in a circle on her hand.
She smiled at it. "Hello to you too," she said, softly. "Tell Shino that Kiba is here too, no Kurenai or Akamaru. And our guards left. Oh, and I've got a plan, I'll see him soon."
The bug lightly jumped once, a signal she remembered Shino teaching her that was affirmation, as he had wanted some level of communication with his team, for situations just like this one.
The beetle flew off, and she reached into an inner pocket of her jacket, bringing out a small, slim pick.
Weaving her chakra into it, she slid it into the lock on her door, and focused her chakra, controlling the pick this way and that, until the door opened with a soft click.
Nodding to herself, she activated her byakugan again. Still no enemies.
She slowly crept down the hall and opened a door, stirring Shino, who looked exhausted.
"Chakra depletion," he muttered as she helped him up. "I'm not sure how, it's all a bit foggy."
"I know," she comforted him, as she leaned under his left arm to help him out the cell.
Next was Kiba's. He was in better shape, relatively speaking - he had clearly been stabbed in the shoulder, and was in some pain, but less exhausted than Shino.
"This way," she said, leading them to the door.
They left their main holding area, heading down a long hallway.
Holding up a hand near the end, she paused them and cursed under her breath.
"They're coming back!" she whispered to her team. "Kiba, protect Shino!"
The door opened, and three of their so-called guards entered, muttering about whatever dinner misfortune they had encountered.
"Hey!" one shouted. "What are you doing here?"
"Get them!" another shouted, and Hinata watched as they pulled out kunai and other weapons she didn't want coming near them.
Raising her right hand in front of her face, she cried out.
"Protective eight trigrams, sixty four palms!"
Her hands flew in a fury of movement, one she had used time and again.
Some may say that it was too much for what she was facing, but she was the only able-bodied one of her team, going up against three much bigger and better armed foes, and did not want to leave anything to chance.
The enemies had advanced, thinking they would win against "that girl," but were no match for her.
Hinata stopped, her arms outstretched, bracing on her right leg, not caring about the scene of death in front of her.
"Let's go!" she said, turning to help her team.
They made it out safely, and found themselves outside a small building on the outskirts of the town they had passed on their return leg of the mission.
Heading back the way they had originally set out on, grateful to not be in the middle of the village, they stuck to a route off the path, as it would be only a matter of time before their absence was known.
About ten minutes into their journey, Hinata gasped.
"What is it?" Kiba asked, as they had been travelling in silence.
"You'll see," she said, smiling, just before Akamaru bounded onto the scene, nearly knocking Kiba down.
"Hey, you're here!" Kiba said, happily, scratching Akamaru's head.
"You're all out! Thank Kami!" Kurenai said, arriving just behind Akamaru. "Are you hurt?"
Her team brought her up to speed, and Kurenai set up a barrier to hide them so she could bandage up her students.
For Kiba, it was his shoulder. Shino, a bump on the head. And Hinata, some deep scrapes she hadn't felt before.
Kurenai pulled out soldier pills for them as well.
"You should have taken the scroll back," Shino said to their jonin-sensei.
Kurenai scoffed at the suggestion. "This piece of crap? It's more trouble than it's worth. I wasn't going to leave my team behind. Akamaru and I were watching and waiting for the guards to leave, or at least switch out, but you seem to have beaten us to the plan."
"You mean Hinata did," Kiba said. "She got us out, and took out the guards when they caught us by surprise."
Kurenai looked at Hinata and smiled. "Why am I not surprised? Great job, Hinata!"
Hinata smiled bashfully. "Just doing my part, but thank you, Kurenai-sensei."
"Okay," Kurenai began, standing. "Let's head back, we won't have much of a head start soon. If we head straight through, we should get back to Konoha by about dawn."
The others stood and nodded, and set off at a grueling pace, fueled by the soldier pills.
"Thank you for your service," Iruka said, accepting their mission scroll two days later at his desk in the missions office. He read it over, raising an eyebrow here and there.
"Well, sounds like quite the change of plans," he said, reaching for a stamp to approve the report. "Hinata, it sounds like you're a valuable asset, as always."
She smiled softly and bowed her head. "Thank you, Iruka-sensei."
"Yeah, she's the best!" Kiba cheered, and Shino nodded.
Kurenai stood behind them, grinning.
"I'm going to pass this along to the Hokage for extra reading," Iruka said, glancing at Kurenai, who nodded briefly. "Konoha appreciates your service," he said to the team, as they bade him goodbye and left.
"Let's get food to finally celebrate!" Kiba suggested. "I know we got back yesterday, but I'm still beat!"
"Yes," Shino sighed. "It took more out of me than I expected."
"We'll take a few days off before we get together again," Kurenai told them as they walked to get lunch. "I have some arrangements to make for future missions, and some words to have with higher ups about who from that village we should perhaps not work with again."
This was nothing new after such a mission, and so no one thought anything of it, including Hinata.
That is, until Kurenai asked her to join her for lunch about a week later.
Hinata arrived at the training ground Kurenai had instructed her to come to, and found her sensei with takeout balanced on a large log on the edge of the field.
"Hello!" Kurenai greeted her, and they began to eat, talking about this and that.
It was something they did every so often, as their own bonding, or perhaps personal training, and Hinata had thought nothing unusual of it, until Kurenai sat with a cup of tea in front of her, and studied Hinata.
"I wanted to again commend you for your role in our last mission," Kurenai said.
"Thank you, but it was a team effort," Hinata said, bowing her head in appreciation.
"Hinata, you played a pivotal role, and showed strong skills. And even now, being modest of it is a strength. Not everyone would view it as a team action."
"Thank you, sensei," Hinata said, unsure of what else to say.
Kurenai cleared her throat. "That's why I decided to submit your name for consideration to join ANBU."
Whatever Hinata had thought Kurenai might say, ever, it was nothing close to that.
Her gaze snapped to her teacher.
"Wh-what?" Hinata asked.
Kurenai nodded. "I have connections there, that should be no surprise. And they're always looking for good, strong trainees. And with this last mission, it supported something I had thought about already. It made...quite the impression for you."
"I...I don't know what to say," Hinata said.
"You don't need to say anything, yet," Kurenai commented. "There would be a test to pass to be a trainee, or so I've been told in the past. And then I'd imagine it's quite the process to actually become an ANBU."
"How...how would I even do that?"
Kurenai sipped her tea and shrugged casually. "I imagine it will be a slow process for you. Not because of your skills, per se, but it can't be too obvious that someone of your status and clan is part of it. You couldn't just..." Kurenai paused and waved a hand, searching for words. "Disappear to train for a few months, you know?"
"My clan," Hinata sighed. "Father will not approve this," she said, frowning.
"I don't think you need family permission," Kurenai said. "Hinata, you have entered the shinobi's life. You could die on any mission, on any day. You can die as a shinobi, so why not die as an ANBU?"
Hinata gasped at the weight of those words, but Kurenai didn't appear to be saying it lightly.
"I...you're right," Hinata said, softly. "That's...that's a powerful statement."
"Just consider it," Kurenai encouraged her. "With how hard you've worked and trained, I believe you would be good for ANBU, and they would be good for you. And," she continued, smiling over her cup. "It could be a good distraction while a certain blond shinobi is out of the village to train for another year or so..."
"Kurenai-sensei!" Hinata admonished, before giggling. "I can't believe you would say that when you talk about something like this!"
Kurenai laughed. "You're not disagreeing with me..."
They moved the conversation onto other topics, but it remained in the back of Hinata's mind that day, and for a few days.
Over and over, she thought about it.
Her, an ANBU?
She, who overcame so much adversity, from within her own family even? Could she really continue to rise above it all and join the elite soldiers?
"I could further my training so much," she thought to herself one night, as the moon streamed into her room. "Learn so much more, do so much more. Help so many more people."
She yawned, and burrowed further into her pillow.
"Maybe...maybe I could do it..." she thought to herself, as she fell asleep, dreaming of possibilities she almost didn't even dare to imagine.
She let Kurenai know of her decision a few days later, and then....waited.
For what, she wasn't sure.
There were preparations to be made, she assumed. Perhaps...perhaps ANBU was not waiting for her decision to begin, as much as she was waiting for their full decision.
After all, she reminded herself, Kurenai had only said she had submitted Hinata's name for consideration.
"When do you think I'll hear anything?" Hinata asked Kurenai one day, as they were finishing training. Kiba and Shino had already left, allowing them to be able to talk a bit more openly.
Kurenai smiled at her. "I'm not too sure," she admitted. "How long has it been now?"
"Almost three weeks," Hinata said, practically whispering. "Maybe they decided they're not interested? That I'm not appropriate?"
Kurenai shook her head. "I believe in it, in you. And if they are hesitant, they'll test you themselves. So, you'd get a chance one way or another."
Hinata nodded, her hair ruffling in a breeze. "Patience, I just need to be patient..."
She didn't have to wait much longer, fortunately, as one morning the following week she woke to a soft tapping on her bedroom floor.
Bolting upright, kunai in hand, she looked around her room, only to find a messenger hawk standing near her bed, on the floor, watching her curiously.
"Uh...good morning," she said, bowing her head slightly, awkwardly.
The hawk blinked at her, turning its head this way and that, before jumping up and landing on her bed.
She slowly reached out and took a small sealed scroll attached to the bird, before thanking it.
Even more curiously, the hawk bobbed its head in an almost bow itself before...disappearing. Not flying out, just vanishing.
Hinata blinked at the spot it had been in, her mind and heart racing.
Was this...could this be...
She pulsed her chakra into the seal and it released. Slowly, Hinata opened the scroll and read a brief, unremarkable message, instructing her to be at a specific address at eleven that morning.
Checking the time, it was only eight in the morning, and she released a breath she had not realized she had been holding.
Flopping back down onto her bed, clutching the scroll to her chest, she closed her eyes tightly and let out a silent scream of excitement.
This was it, it had to be!
The morning passed in a blur. She ate a small breakfast, did light exercises and stretching, then showered, changed into her usual clothes, and ate a slightly larger meal, before wandering around town a bit, not wanting to head straight to the address, just in case.
She couldn't help but feel that she was now being watched, studied, measured.
Perhaps, she mused to herself, it had even begun with the bird, that morning.
Regardless, she entered a cafe across the street and just down from the address she had been given, sipping tea and people-watching....as well as taking inventory of the area.
Just before eleven, she left and slowly headed to the address.
It was a small shop, selling this and that. Antiques, books, weapons. A little bit of everything, and perhaps some of nothing, all at the same time.
"Good morning!" the shopkeeper called out, a kindly older woman.
Hinata bowed and smiled. "Good morning," she replied.
"Anything you're looking for, dear?" the woman asked.
Hinata smiled and looked around. "Actually, yes. One of my friends is having a birthday soon, and I'm looking for a gift for them. Would you happen to have a copy of 'A thousand bridges but no valley'?" she asked, recalling the name of a book she had been instructed to ask for.
The shopkeeper smiled warmly, but Hinata did not miss the sharpening of the woman's gaze.
"As a matter of fact, I do," the woman said. "Just in the back room here, follow me, won't you?"
Hinata nodded and bowed slightly in thanks, following the woman through a few aisles and into a back room lined with books.
The woman softly knocked twice on a plain-looking door and when it opened, left the room.
There, Hinata found herself face to face with an ANBU, silently looking at her.
The ANBU stepped into the room and aside, turning slightly towards where it had come from, and Hinata bowed her head and stepped into the darkness, past her new guard.
She heard the ANBU step past her and the door closed, blocking out light, but her eyes soon adjusted to the dim lighting in a dark hallway as they walked down it in silence.
Soon, they came to another door, and the ANBU opened it and led Hinata into a medium sized-room before leaving. There sat none other than the Hokage herself.
"Good morning, Hokage-sama," Hinata greeted her, bowing, and Tsunade smiled.
"Hello, Hinata. Please, sit."
Hinata did, and Tsunade passed her a cup of tea.
The two women sat, drinking tea in silence for a moment.
Finally, Tsunade sat back and tented her fingers.
"Let's get to business," she began. "I'm here as this is an especially delicate case. Your jonin-sensei has nominated you for ANBU, based on your skills demonstrated in and out of the village, especially on that last mission that went...unlike we would have hoped, but still with the desired results." She paused. "ANBU has reviewed your file, your missions, your reports, and a decision has been reached. Do you wish to train to be an ANBU, Hinata?"
"Yes, Lady Tsunade," Hinata said, sitting straighter in her chair and looking the older woman in the eye. "I am prepared to train to do as my village asks."
"No matter the cost?" Tsunade challenged.
"No matter the cost."
Tsunade nodded. "It will be a life of double identity, as with all ANBU. You will be, to others, still Hyuga Hinata, clan heiress, member of your regular team, and so forth, but you will endure extra training and missions as a Black Ops member if you make it to that level. Life will not be what you expected, and there may be tough choices to make down the road, given your role in your clan."
Hinata nodded again. "I understand, and I am still prepared for it."
"As with shinobi missions, female ANBU may play certain roles that their male counterparts may not, though seduction missions and the like are a possible mission for any shinobi," Tsunade clarified.
Hinata felt her cheeks blush against her will but nodded.
They sat in silence again for a moment.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity to Hinata, Tsunade nodded.
"Very well. We are forgoing tests for candidacy for you as we normally might, due to the uniqueness of your situation."
"Lady Tsunade?" Hinata asked, unsure of what that meant.
Tsunade sighed and cupped her tea. "Some ANBU candidates would be sent out of the village, on paper, for a period of testing, or perhaps given a long overnight or early morning series of tests. It could be trickier in your situation, due to your clan, so we will be trying an alternate evaluation for you, and your general training period will be longer, especially since you need to remain as visible as you already are. Though, we will be arranging for you to stay with Kurenai more, citing that she will be helping with extra chakra training for you, genjutsu and the like, to buy us more time away from your family with fewer questions raised."
Hinata nodded. "I understand."
Tsunade smiled. "I'm proud of you for taking this step, Hinata. I wish you luck. Now, unfortunately, I have a dreadful meeting to attend elsewhere that is not as exciting as this, and you have some training to begin."
Hinata looked at her wide-eyed, surprised it would start so suddenly, but stood and bowed.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama, I will work hard!"
"I know you will," Tsunade said, before leaving through the door Hinata had come through.
A new ANBU, judging by their mask, appeared in front of Hinata.
"Come with me," they said, before placing their arms around her and running through hand seals.
Hinata felt ground connect with her feet and stepped back to brace herself.
In front of her was the ANBU who brought her here.
Standing with their arms crossed, they were in the standard ANBU uniform. Grey vest, black high necked shirt, black pants, tucked into high black sandals. Arms covered in black arm guards and grey gauntlets, hands covered in black gloves. Their mask was white with small round ears on top of it, blue circles around the eye holes, and a blue slash across it on a slant, with dark brown hair about two inches long sticking out around it.
The ANBU bowed, and Hinata returned the gesture without thinking about it.
"I am Panda, and I will be your point of contact within ANBU," the ANBU said, in a masculine voice. "As you already know, you will not know my identity, and I will be the only one to know yours other than the heads of ANBU. I am your main trainer and ANBU captain at this time. You, Hyuga Hinata, are now entering ANBU training to become a full member, and have no name here like that. From now on, you are Homura, and if you continue into an ANBU career, that will remain your name in our organization. Not all of us have animal names, though the village believes otherwise," he sighed. "Here is your new uniform, go change in the next room and we'll move on."
Hinata nodded and accepted a parcel wrapped in plain fabric, leaving through the only door in the room and entering a plain, though tidy and comfortably sized locker room.
A locker was already open, and she assumed this was meant for her.
She placed her parcel on a bench in front of the locker and opened it, finding a standard ANBU uniform with a plain white mask.
She quickly changed out of her current clothes, and felt a flurry of emotions as she dressed in her new gear.
Closing the locker door, she smiled, noting that her ANBU name was listed on her locker.
Looking down at her last item, she realized she was unsure of how to wear the mask. She put it halfway on and fussed with her hair for a moment, realizing that she would need to figure out later how to wear a mask with long hair.
For now, she pulled her bangs out and let them fall over the mask, as they did not obstruct her vision.
Pausing, she took a deep breath, feeling the ANBU uniform on her body, on her face, and realizing the weight of it all.
Steeling herself, she left the locker room and found herself momentarily alone, before Panda reappeared.
He studied her for a moment before nodding.
"Looks good," he praised her, before leading her out a new doorway.
There, she was surprised to find herself outside in a new training ground, before kicking herself mentally - of course it would be new, this was an ANBU training ground, wasn't it?
"As your trainer, I want to get a feel for you, your skills, fighting style, everything," Panda said. "For the next few days it will just be us sparring and training, and then we'll move on."
Hinata nodded, and they looked at each other in silence for a moment.
"I'll make it a bit fairer, for now," Panda said, and took off his ninjato sword from where it was strapped to his back, and laid it on the ground by a bench. "No weapons today, just ourselves."
He moved back towards Hinata, and she moved into a defensive position, right leg behind her, left arm further out in front, ready to fight.
"This is it," she told herself.
However, before she could think anything further, Panda struck out, throwing a fury of fists and kicks towards her.
Hinata fought back, blocking some, but quickly took a kick to the stomach that winded her.
"Come on," Panda called out to her.
She stood up taller and went on the offensive, throwing hand jabs and kicks. Not quite striking him, but making him block more furiously than he had.
They traded blows, and she took more hits.
Running through hand seals, she activated her byakugan, and threw herself into the fight more.
His chakra network was strong, she saw, but she used it to her advantage, going for his circulation. However, this proved to be harder as Panda was taller and kept her at arm's length more often than not.
She got one hit on him, finally, and made him stumble back.
Approaching, Hinata lashed out more, dodging some strikes from him, and crouching down to try to sweep his leg out.
Panda easily dodged it and reached down and grabbed her by the vest, physically throwing her.
She landed, hard, and could feel her body ache, but got back up, and went at it again.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Panda ended the sparring.
"We'll call it there," he said, and they walked over to the bench, where he opened a scroll and summoned water, passing her a canteen.
Hinata pushed her mask up slightly to drink, wincing as she did so.
"Not bad," Panda said to her when she was done. "Go change and head home. I'll see you in three days, we'll use weapons then. I'll pick you up from training ground three at seven in the morning," he instructed her.
Hinata nodded and bowed before she left, heading to change at her locker. She found that a seal had been placed on it that, once she pulsed her chakra into it, placed her back in the backroom of the store she was in that morning.
"Hello again," the older woman called out as she entered the room. "Lovely to see you again."
"A-and you," Hinata said.
"Cup of tea?" the woman offered.
Hinata bit her lip, debating staying or heading home to use healing ointment and rest.
Upon seeing her internal conflict, the woman smiled. "It helps soothes what aches, if you know what I mean," the woman said, winking.
"Oh," Hinata said. "Oh! Then, yes, please!"
The woman smiled and beckoned her to sit on a comfortable looking chair at a table near the front of the store as she left through another door. She reappeared not long after, with a pot of tea and two cups, serving them.
"There you are," she said, passing Hinata a cup. "It'll help, trust me."
Hinata sipped it, feeling the warmth flood her system with healing, and sighed happily. She looked at the older woman. "Are you...do you....did you..."
"I can't really say," the woman said, eyes twinkling. "But, yes," she said, both answering and not answering. "Now I run this store and help customers, as well as the village overall."
Hinata nodded. "Thank you," she said. "Oh! I haven't introduced myself!"
The woman shook her head. "No need, of course I know who you are."
"Oh," Hinata said, again, wrinkling her brow. "And, please, you are?" she asked, before her eyes landed on a card near the counter. "Adachi-sama?"
The woman smiled. "My, aren't you observant? Good girl," she praised her. "I suspect I'll be seeing quite a lot of you, Hinata."
Hinata sighed. "I hope so," she said. "It's just the beginning."
"Everything has to start somewhere," Adachi said, smiling softly. "I remember when I started out..." She shook her head, still smiling. "My, such a long time ago. Seeing you, it brings back so many memories."
Just then, the door opened and a customer entered. Adachi set her cup down and smiled at Hinata as she stood. "Finish your tea, I'll see you next time," she said, and Hinata watched her greet the customer as she sipped her tea.
And so, Hinata began to mix her ANBU training with her regular training and missions with her genin team. As had been discussed, she couldn't just suddenly stop one for the other, nor could she start taking lengthy periods of time to be away to train, so it was slow but consistent training, with practically no time off from either for the first month.
The second sparring with Panda did in fact involve weapons, and unsurprisingly they were accompanied by an ANBU medic, who did have to patch up quite a few cuts on Hinata. She was healed smoothly, as new scars at this time would raise too many questions.
"Not bad," the medic said to her as their glowing hands healed her. "Stick around, kid."
She had smiled to herself through the pain, and returned for more sparring time and again. There were eventually newer opponents, at times larger numbers of them, and in different weather and fighting conditions.
Taking some time after each session to drink the remedy tea with Adachi and talk about village gossip helped her, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and she began to suspect that perhaps the older woman wasn't quite as retired as one would think.
Kurenai begun to have her spend time at her apartment on the days she trained with ANBU, to help not raise questions at home of why she was tired and/or in pain, and encouraged Hinata regularly.
Soon, training turned to other areas for evaluation. Target practice, chakra control, field signals, physical fitness.
Hinata could sense her strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others, and found herself wondering, waiting, worrying, as time continued.
When would her evaluation period end, and her full training begin? Would she even make it that far?
She tried to not allow these questions to keep her up at night, and relished in finally having a day off from any training, choosing to sleep in and later taking herself to get a nice lunch, before wandering to a secluded area of a park and sitting under a tree, peacefully watching ducks on a pond.
Suddenly, without warning, Panda appeared in front of her.
"P-Panda-san!" she said, scrambling to stand.
Panda held up a hand. "Sit, relax," he said, weaving hand seals to secure their location before he sat next to her.
She tried to relax, but found it to be easier said than done.
Still, they sat in silence, watching the birds.
Finally, Panda spoke.
"You have been accepted," he said. "You will become a full member of ANBU and begin your actual training, tomorrow."
Hinata, still looking forward and not at him, gasped, her eyes wide. "Really? Thank you!"
"It's due to your skill and persistence," he told her. "That was the easy part, the training will be harder."
"I understand," she said.
"Good," Panda said, and they sat in silence for a while longer. "Tomorrow I will see you at the usual time and place. It will be my last time escorting you, you will soon take yourself where you need to be on your own."
Hinata nodded, and sensed his chakra leave and the area return to normal.
Her heart sung, her spirit rose.
She had passed!
No longer able to sit still, Hinata left the park and went to visit her Adachi. Hinata informed her that after today, she would only be stopping by for social visits, and only through the front door, and Adachi smiled widely and praised her.
Later, Hinata met Kurenai for dinner and discretely told her the good news, and Kurenai took her out for a celebratory meal, making sure she went home early so she could properly rest.
The next day was a bit of a blur.
She went to her locker and found that her plain white mask had been replaced with a new one, a "proper" ANBU mask. She now would wear one with an upside down "V" for a mouth, round eye holes, and thick red lines that ran straight down from the top, over the eye holes, and then at sharp angles towards the edges of her mask, following her "mouth."
Staring at it reverently, Hinata felt the weight of what it meant, what it represented. For her, for Konoha.
Her nerves fluttered, and a chill ran down her spine.
Hinata changed her clothes, feeling an almost tingle as she put on her ANBU uniform, though it seemed no different from any other time she had put it on.
She wrapped bindings on both arms just above her elbows, and on her right thigh, strapping a weapons pouch over it.
Reaching behind her head, Hinata wove her hair into a thick braid, a style that had become her usual preference in this uniform.
Satisfied, she grabbed her gloves and mask and closed her locker, sealing it with her chakra. Putting on her gloves first, she took a deep breath and pulled on her mask, allowing her bangs to settle just above it, before shaking her head and tucking them in.
She had this new identity, and wished for nothing to hide it. No longer was she going to hide anything of herself.
Glancing in a mirror in a corner of the locker room, her breath hitched in her throat.
Gone was the old Hinata, the once painfully shy Hinata.
Now, here, stood Homura, proud Konoha ANBU.
Standing a little taller, a little prouder, she left the locker room, and met with Panda, who studied her and gave her a brisk nod.
He turned and set off, and she followed him out of the areas she had been in, into a larger area of what she assumed was a compound.
To her surprise, though she internally laughed that she was surprised, there were a fair number of ANBU milling about as they walked.
Some, sharpening weapons. Others, reading maps or debating scrolls. Others still, walking around chatting holding cups of tea, or leaning over desks writing reports.
They turned down different hallways, and soon came to a nondescript room, where, to her ever-growing surprise, Adachi was waiting for them.
"Homura! Lovely to see you!" the older woman greeted her.
Hinata laughed, and bowed. "And you, Adachi-sama. I'm surprised to see you here?" she said, half turning to Panda, who shrugged.
"You need your ANBU tattoo, and she's particularly skilled at the type you'll need," he explained.
She turned back to the older woman, who patted a stool as she sat on her own.
Hinata complied, and the woman turned her so she could focus on Hinata's right shoulder.
Stretching her fingers, Adachi began to speak. "Female ANBU have their tattoos on this shoulder," she explained. "And you'll need one that is rather...discreet, given the nature of all this. With some chakra it will be visible, but otherwise hidden, though it will still act the same as the others. You'll feel it when summoned, that sort of thing. Ready?"
Hinata nodded, and Adachi ran through hand seals before picking up a needle and ink and infusing her chakra into it, before starting to create Hinata's tattoo on her.
It felt strange, a slight pricking, a slight burn, but also a warmth that she could feel spreading out, reaching to her very core.
Hinata kept her breathing steady and focused on her chakra, and before long it was complete.
Adachi wiped the area with disinfectant and ran a glowing green hand over it.
"All done!" she said.
Hinata looked down, only to see...bare, unmarked skin.
She tilted her masked head, unsure of how to react, and the older woman laughed.
"Here," she said, grazing the area with a glowing finger. The dark swirls representative of ANBU swam to life, and Hinata visibly jumped. "You try," she said to Hinata, after she made it vanish.
Hinata focused chakra into her hand and gently touched the same area, and the tattoo came alive again, and stayed there.
"It will remain visible until you release it," Adachi told her. "You'll learn to control it with time, so that you can hide it easily as needed."
"Will anyone's chakra work?" Hinata asked, slightly worried.
"No," Panda chimed in. "ANBU only, plus, obviously the Hokage. Well, and some medics, who have clearance." He thanked the older woman, as did Hinata, and they left, heading to another area to get her full weapons, including her own ninjato, before Panda led her out to a field to begin to train with it, insisting her full training begin without any delay.
Hinata had bloomed with Team Eight, but she found a whole new family in ANBU.
There, no one knew who she was, who she had been.
They only knew her as her codename, so to speak, of her ANBU identity.
There was an unspoken level of respect within ANBU, as they knew they were few and elite. Not just any shinobi could be an ANBU, as not just any child in the village could be a shinobi.
Comradery, respect, pranks, initiation, it was all on a whole other level in ANBU, and Hinata loved every bit of it.
No one who trained her or sparred with her wore kid gloves, treated her like the princess so many saw her to be. They pushed her, challenged her, drew out a new side of her, a tougher, more dedicated side.
And, yes, they hurt her, as such an intense level of physical and mental training would be expected to do at times. But they were also there to pick her back up each time.
She grew faster, stronger, more confident, more aware and alert.
After all, she now led a double life, and always had to be aware of who might ask her about where she had been, with who, doing what?
Still, she spent much time with Team Eight. As she, Kiba, and Shino grew and developed their own individual skills, Kurenai gave them more time off to work with their clans or others who would train them.
For Hinata, she made it known that she was training with Kurenai and one or two others to improve her chakra control and fighting.
A white lie, perhaps, but overall it was true.
Things seemed to be going well until the next chuunin exams were announced, and Kurenai informed her team that they would be nominated again.
"You seem distracted," Panda said to her when they next trained.
Hinata sighed underneath her mask. "It's the chuunin exams," she explained.
"So, I didn't pass the last time," she reminded her captain.
"Almost no one passed," Panda reminded her. "Other than the Nara."
"That's true," Hinata agreed, admittedly having forgotten that point.
"And, anyway, you're guaranteed to pass this time," Panda said.
Hinata looked at him. "You don't mean to say there will be cheating!" she gasped.
"No, of course not," Panda assured her. "I mean, you're an ANBU, look at your skills. Why wouldn't you pass now? You've grown so much since then, even before joining us."
Hinata nodded, he had a point. "But, could that work against me? Me being ANBU? Could I be...overly skilled?"
Panda shook his masked head. "The exams don't happen so often that it would be noticeable, any more than what would be expected in a year or more in between them. Plus, since people fail, and some aren't even nominated for it for a while, there's always a range of skill. But I imagine many of your peers will also be upping their game. We haven't taught you anything overly lethal or forbidden," he reminded her. "Yet."
"Yet?" Hinata asked, but he chose to ignore her.
"So, now that that's out of the way, let's return to training," Panda prompted her, and she did, glad for the distraction.
Hinata continued her training, meeting more ANBU and eventually settling into a team. Her captain was Panda, and teammates were Ox and Hikari. Ox lived up to his name, a tall, stocky man with a gruff sense of humor and an eager desire to train his newest teammate. Hikari was also much taller than Hinata, and of a similar build to Kurenai. She was their medic and watched over Hinata like a mother hawk, spurring her to be harder, faster, better, but always ready to heal her and get her ready to bounce right back out.
Hinata fell in love with them instantly, and relished her new team.
Though she was a shinobi already, she was still a rookie ANBU, and spent considerable time training, for both ANBU and the chuunin exam.
Just before the exam, she was sent on her first ANBU mission with her team. They headed to another village two hours away, racing through the trees.
Hinata didn't know if she had ever felt this alive. It was thrilling, to run through the trees as ANBU.
Her gear felt so light, her body so strong. And something about wearing a mask through it all, it was like she could, should be a new person.
She was more focused and determined than she thought she could be. Almost possessed, by the mission, the identity, the experience.
The mission itself was not very involved, and she suspected they were given a lighter information gathering mission of sorts as it was her first one.
Still, being ANBU led to bullseyes on their backs at all times, and she gladly put her increased stealth training to use as they dropped into an orchard on the grounds of a daiymo they were sent to get information on, as there was reason to believe the feudal lord was engaging in illegal activities.
Activating her byakugan, Hinata used field signals to communicate an all clear with her team, and they kept to the midday shadows as they approached the main house.
She and Ox stayed in place as Panda and Hikari moved to survey the outside of the whole house, returning some time later.
"All clear," Panda informed them.
"Doesn't seem like he's there, but his office is," Hikari added. "Should we go in?"
Panda nodded. "Take Homura, both of you have stronger chakra control should there be locks or traps."
Hikari nodded and turned to Hinata. "Ready?"
Hinata took a deep breath and nodded.
"Good. See you soon," Panda said, and Hinata and Hikari leapt away, Hikari taking the lead.
They jumped up a tree and onto the wall of the house, using chakra to scale it up to the roof, where they quickly darted across it in a low stance.
Down the next wall they went, and Hinata kept watch as Hikari opened a window, dropping into the room, followed by her teammate.
"Keep an eye on the door while we look around. We need a ledger, probably something hidden," Hikari instructed her.
"Right!" Hinata replied, looking around and lightly running her gloved hands over all surfaces, looking, feeling for...a catch? A trigger? Something.
A few minutes later, she heard an exasperated sigh behind her.
Turning, she saw Hikari pulling a painting from a wall.
"Civilians and their stupid hiding places," the ANBU sighed. "Of course it would be in a safe in the wall."
Hinata bit back a giggle and watched as her teammate opened the safe, grabbing two books and a scroll.
Hinata sealed them into a scroll, passing it back to Hikari after the safe was closed and painting replaced, and they left the way they came, locking the window behind them.
Dropping down next to their teammates, Panda and Ox looked at them.
"Success," Hikari said, and the others nodded.
"Good," Panda said. "Let's head back."
The way back was a smooth trip, and they found themselves safe and sound back at ANBU headquarters, turning in their report and materials obtained.
Her teammates turned to her as they left that part of the compound, and clapped her on the back.
"Your first ANBU mission!" they crowed, and others in the area cheered.
Hinata felt her face heat up underneath her mask and raised her gloves hands to cover her face, receiving more laughs as she realized she would only be covering her mask.
"You'll get used to it," Hikari said, slinging an arm around her and giving her a side-hug. "Ah, I'm so excited for you!"
"Yeah, way to go, kid!" Ox agreed. "Let's celebrate!"
They headed to the compound's canteen area, a place Hinata had begun to go to not long into her training.
There, her team spoiled her, to her surprise and delight having her sit and bringing high quality foods to her, things she hadn't even known the staff made.
"Ox here knows all the cooks well," Panda laughed. "I mean, look at him!"
Ox shrugged and piled food onto Hinata's plate. "I'd argue, but why bother?" He poured sake for them all, and they raised their cups.
"To Homura, and the first of your many successful missions!" Ox said.
"And if they're not, may you return safely home," Panda added.
"To Homura!" Hikari cried, and Hinata thanked them as they toasted and ate, slipping food and drink underneath their masks, identities never to be known.
Hinata couldn't help but suspect that her first ANBU mission was timed to occur before the chuunin exams, perhaps to give her an extra confidence boost, but either way, she would take it!
She, along with her former classmates, passed their tests. As expected, so many had worked to improve their skills since the last tests, and Hinata was still new to ANBU, so she did not have to restrain her skills, nor worry about standing out in the crowd And so, she celebrated a new shinobi rank with her peers as they basked in their new vests and ranks.
Panda was the only one to know about this promotion for her, and had quietly offered his praise, congratulating her when he next saw her.
Time moved on, and she grew, developed, as both regular shinobi and ANBU.
More missions with both, more successes, and some near-misses, some injuries.
She saw her share of medics for both, and having missions with Team Eight and various other teams allowed any new scars from ANBU missions to blend in.
No one suspected her comings and goings. She figured this was due to the new group of chuunin being mixed and matched with each other, no longer set to only work within their teams, though they still largely did so. She also continued to spend time at Kurenai's apartment, resting, relaxing, and at times just being "normal."
Though, she told Kurenai she worried about infringing on her relationship with Asuma-sensei. Kurenai had laughed and assured her it was fine, but that she could begin to spend time at his apartment when Hinata was at hers, if it worried her, and began to do so from time to time.
Then, one day, she received news.
A solo mission.
Hinata stared at the mission scroll, then at Panda. Just a few minutes ago, she had been leaving dinner with Team Eight, when her tattoo began to signal to her.
Quickly leaving, she appeared in front of Panda, in full ANBU uniform.
"You will succeed," Panda instructed her, passing her a small vial. "Use this. Half will easily do the job, but remain present to confirm."
Hinata nodded, accepting the small container of clear liquid.
"Depart at dawn, take your opportunity, confirm death, return, report," Panda briskly reviewed.
Hinata nodded, and left.
She headed home, writing a note that she had training the next day and would be leaving early, before going to bed and willing herself to get some sleep, however unlikely it seemed.
All too soon, she was up and getting dressed, unsealing her ANBU armor from a scroll.
She used a new jutsu to leave the village, and took off in the trees, on high alert as she travelled.
Three hours later, she found herself entering the outskirts of a new village, heading to one house in particular.
Finding a large tree nearby, she blended into its shadows and watched, waited.
There, through the windows over an hour later, she saw her target. A portly man, in his 40s, wearing bright red silk pajamas.
She frowned. The report had indicated that he was wanted in another country but had eluded authorities there, and finally pressure had been enough to warrant seeking ANBU's assistance.
Hinata had done some quick research, and learned that he was a dealer, a seller. Started off with antiquities, then weapons, then illegal weapons, and was venturing into people, of all things.
This provided a strange reassurance to her, for her, though she reminded herself that a mission was a mission regardless of such information.
She remained in her position, studying the situation.
The man appeared to feel invincible, she thought to herself, as he was wearing such clothing, not trying to hide. His living quarters were not a hotel room, though not a rented apartment, but something along the lines of a suite within the house.
"He must have been living here for some time," she said to herself. "And probably expects to keep doing so. Not his country, no one's been after him for a bit. He probably thinks the trail is dead and everyone's given up."
She lightly tapped her armor where the vial was safely secured, running her eyes over the suite, what she could see.
"I don't know what this does or how long until it takes effect," she murmured. "So I need to think of how to get it into him..."
She used her byakugan and noted that there was another person next door, a large presence.
"Bodyguard," she said to herself, nodding.
She continued to watch as the man read some letters, writing some of his own, and couldn't help but frown at him still being in pajamas as the morning marched on!
Then, the door of the suite opened, and the bodyguard entered, placing a tray of food and a pot of tea on the table before opening the windows of the room, a sitting room of some type.
Hinata thanked the universe for this good fortune, and watched the guard retreat to their former room.
She watched her target eat and drink, writing more letters, before he stood and moved out of the room.
In a flash, Hinata entered the room through the window, silently arriving and looking around.
Heart pumping quickly, she kept her byakugan activated as the sounds of a shower met her ears.
Allowing herself to relax just a fraction, she quickly topped up the cup of tea and added half of the vial of liquid, holding her breath as it blended in with no trace.
Casting a small jutsu on the cup, she heated the tea so it was slightly steaming, hoping to make it more attractive for the man to drink, just in case.
Then, as quickly as she arrived, she left, heading to the same tree as before.
She tried to take a deep breath to ground herself, but found it hard to do so, as she willed the man to end his shower.
After what felt like an eternity, he did, and she was grateful that the bathroom and bedroom windows had curtains pulled even though they were in an isolated area, as she did not have to see things she did not wish to.
Then, the man finally emerged, wearing similarly flashy clothes as to his pajamas - expensive blues and yellows.
"At least I won't have a problem keeping an eye on him," she laughed to herself.
She bit her lip as the man walked around the room, before returning to the table and grabbing his papers, placing them in a bag.
Then, at long last, he grabbed the cup from the table and drank it, or at least enough that it seemed to be nearly finished, Hinata thought.
She finally let out a long, steady breath as she watched the man leave, his bodyguard standing to meet him.
Hinata then moved her attention to the front door, as a horse and cart were there and she didn't expect the target to actually walk the fair distance into town.
It was then that Hinata realized she didn't know anything about the liquid. There had been no information in the report, and none given to her by Panda. What did it do, she wondered? How? When?
Sighing, she resigned herself to waiting and watching for as long as it took. Would it be soon? Could it take hours, days even? Would the man be bedridden for some time before he met his fate?
She was still mulling these questions over a short time later as she stood on the tree limb as the man emerged.
She watched the bodyguard bring boxes out and load up the cart as the target settled into the seat on the front, and soon the bodyguard was also sat, picking up the reigns and starting the horse off at a brisk trot.
Hinata followed along the only road into the village, darting silently from tree to tree, keeping tabs on the mundane small talk the men had.
It was almost noon before they entered the village, as the man had woken late and remained at his residence for some time before leaving.
Hinata leapt from rooftop to rooftop, byakugan activated, aware of her surroundings, as the man and his bodyguard drove to the market, parking the horse and cart near the edge of it with a younger man they seemed to know.
They then went to a few stalls, before entering a store, where she spotted them exiting the main front area, heading to the back.
Hinata scouted the area, noting there were only two entrances to the store - a front door, and a back door. She decided to find a secure perch on the roof and monitored both, as best as she could.
Frowning to herself, she couldn't help but again wonder how long until the liquid took effect. Was it a serum, a sedative, a poison? She wasn't sure.
"Though, if I knew the timeframe, perhaps I wouldn't be as vigilant," she admitted to herself.
After an hour, the men left through the front door and Hinata watched them walk down the street. The target was talking with another man about where to have lunch, followed by the bodyguard.
Then, it happened.
The target, who Hinata had noticed had begun dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief, wheezed and grabbed at his chest before falling to the ground.
She watched with widened eyes as the bodyguard and other man yelled for help, the bodyguard leaning over his boss to check his symptoms, the other man shouting for a doctor.
She clenched her gloved hands as the bodyguard and a new man hoisted the target up and ran, carrying him in the direction she assumed was medical attention, and broke into a light run to keep up.
A man rushed out of a restaurant yelling he was a doctor and sending another person to his office to get instruments.
Hinata paused on a rooftop as the bodyguard laid the target out on the sidewalk, per the doctor's orders, as he wanted to begin to check him right then. The bodyguard began to run off the symptoms the man had exhibited and how he acted before passing out.
It was all for no use, as though the doctor attempted to work on the target, they eventually informed the bodyguard that his boss had in fact passed away, "a heart attack, it seemed."
Hinata listened as the bodyguard pleaded for the doctor to check, but the medical expert said there was nothing that could be done except to head to the hospital's morgue.
Nodding to herself, she set out to return to Konoha, beginning to process just what she had done. It was not the first life she had taken, and it would not be the last, though it was the first one she had done on her own in such a nature.
"It could occur even if I wasn't ANBU, but this is part of the job," she reminded herself, taking some comfort in knowing of the trafficking she had ended, or at least significantly disrupted.
An ANBU commander she had not met before was on duty to receive her report, praising her for her efficiency and success.
Panda, too, was pleased with her progress, as were her teammates, and her ANBU career continued, including with training specific to her abilities and chakra.
She improved her overall fitness and ninjutsu, and trained to increase her chakra control.
And then there was the start of her gender-specific training. She was considered too young still to go on seduction missions, so she started with the very basics in that area.
Hinata couldn't help but laugh to herself about all of that. She was able to go on ANBU missions, with her team and alone, to kill as ordered, but still had to begin to learn how to date, to flirt.
Though, her laughter was short lived, as it was a whole new world for her!
ANBU, it turned out, had certain volunteers in the village for it, nice civilians, who would enjoy pleasant, innocent times with ANBU before having their memories of it wiped, and sent home with some money in their pockets. The more adult activities, she was told, were kept within ANBU for training and she would not be taking part for a long time.
Instead, Hinata found herself on dates with several cute civilian boys, in secured locations on the ANBU compound, and began to learn to make small talk with them, to share a bit about herself, to spend time on a date.
To be viewed as herself, not as a title or role, even if she was still playing one.
To hold hands, and then, a big step - to kiss.
She had been nervous about her first kiss, but the boy had been cute and equally flustered, and all in all it was a pleasant memory she would forever cherish.
And, it gave her a great story to [mostly] tell Ino and Sakura when they next hung out and had girl talk, after they were sworn to secrecy.
How they squealed and shrieked for her! Hinata had been glad they were having a sleepover at Ino's house and that it didn't raise much attention.
She was also glad for those times of still being the Hinata people were familiar with, to balance out ANBU with sleepovers, girl talk, Team Eight training and missions.
"It'll keep you sane," other ANBU would tell her. "Have a life outside of here, don't be one of the ones who get swept up in it all."
Then, possibly her biggest test to date occurred.
She was walking one day to meet Shino and Kiba but paused as she neared a corner, pressing her back against a wooden fence.
A voice, a loud voice she had not heard for two years rang out.
"N-Naruto?" she thought to herself, pressing her palms flat against the fence. "I heard that he returned to the village...what should I do? I'm not ready for this...after all this time..."
A wave of emotions washed over her. Fear, confusion - how was she to act? She had not thought about the boy for just about all of the past year or more, ANBU dominating her life.
Sure, she still had feelings towards him, she realized, but she was no longer that shy girl, flustered easily and longing for his attention.
But...no one knew she wasn't that person anymore. Again, Naruto had been away for two years, so no one saw any such reaction from her.
But...how to act around him now? She couldn't just play it cool, could she? Two years was a long time...but then again, maybe she should ramp up her reactions and mimic those she used to display...
Before she could decide, the blond turned the corner.
"I thought that was you, Hinata! What's up?" he shouted, and her head snapped up at the sound.
Worried, she turned to look at him, taking in his new look.
"Why are you hiding?" he asked her.
She felt her cheeks heat up against her will, and was embarrassed enough to admit that she was still unsure of what to do.
Taking a deep breath, she smiled at him.
"I'm not hiding," she laughed, "but I am surprised to see you. Welcome back, Naruto."
Now it was her turn to watch as he appeared surprised and flustered, scratching the back of his head as he studied her.
"Everyone ready?" Kurenai called out, as they were headed out to a mission. "Oh, hello Naruto. Welcome back."
"Hi, Kurenai-sensei," Naruto greeted her. "Man, I was hoping I could grab one of them to join my team for a mission of our own..."
Kurenai smiled but shook her head. "Sorry, but we're on our way out."
"I told him that, he just didn't want to hear it," Kiba grumbled. "Let's go!"
Team Eight began to walk towards the west gate, Naruto trailing behind them.
"Uh...Hinata, now that I'm back and settled, maybe we can grab ramen together sometime?" he asked her.
Hinata turned towards him as they walked. "That would be nice," she said, not pressing for anything further about it.
Naruto stopped in his tracks, nodding as the others continued, and Kurenai turned towards Hinata and winked as Kiba joked about the look on Naruto's face.
Hinata continued walking, head held high, proud of who she had become. No longer seeking anyone's approval or attention, knowing she's important as she is, but determined to be better, little by little.