Chapter Three: Capture the Flag

Standing in the middle of the field, clad in the traditional blue jumpsuit and green flack vest of an upper-echelon Koon ninja, was their instructor for physical training, Asuma Seljuk. A large, powerfully built man with short black hair and olive colored skin, Asuma towered over his students with his arms crossed, patiently waiting for the last of the stragglers to emerge from the locker room. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his lips, smoldering embers falling to the grass as he puffed on it. Any other class might have pointed out that an instructor smoking in front of his students was nothing short of inappropriate, but the senior year of Koon High was already aware that any complaint to their teacher about his habitual smoking was met with feigned deafness. Over time, they just ignored the fact he smoked like a chimney. In fact, the only thing that came close to rivaling the amount Asuma smoked was the amount of ass he kicked as a Junín…or so he claimed anyway.

"Hurry up people." Asuma scanned the students, and made sure everyone in his class was present. Assembled before him were thirty-six boys and girls clad in their white and blue PE uniforms, sunlight reflecting off the forehead protectors each wore. "In case any of you have not noticed we're going to be playing capture the flag today."

Carter could not help but grin even with the trepidation of facing Sara's wrath looming over his head. Capture the Flag was the ultimate exercise for a ninja at Konoha High, a test of all their skills. It was nothing like the version of Capture the Flag that he had once witnessed some village children playing several years ago. They relied on individual speed and strength in numbers to win without hardly any use of teamwork, guile, or technique to aid in securing victory. It was laughable. No wonder the villagers relied so heavily on ninjas to fight their wars for them.

"We've done this a thousand times before, so I won't waste your time." Asuma muttered. He spat the spent cigarette stub in his mouth and lit a fresh one. "There's a red flag in a valley about three kilometers to the east, and a blue one equally as far to the west. Everything in between is no man's land. First team to get their opponent's flag back to their own territory wins."

"What do we win?" bellowed Chen from somewhere in the back of the crowd.

"What?" asked Asuma, blinking.

"What do we win?" The big ninja repeated.

Their instructor scowled. "You've been asking me the same question for ten years Chen, and the answer is always the same."

"Still, there should be some incentive in it. Otherwise, how else can we guarantee our best?" said Dash cagily. "I'm sure we can reach some sort of compromise."

"Ice cream! Strawberry! Chocolate! Vanilla!" yelled Chen clearly excited about the prospect of free food. Or maybe it wasn't even that it was free. Maybe it was just the thought of food period that had him so worked up.

"How about I let you pass my class, Weston and Slade, if you win?" Asuma growled. He was using their clan names –never a good sign. "How does that sound?"

"That doesn't sound like a very good compromise to me," Dash grumbled, but he and Chen subsided into silence.

"Now if we're quite done," the Junín muttered. "At the request of the sousui we have to implement some ground rules." He produced a sheet of paper from his vest and looked it over. "Something about too many injuries.

This was met with a few chuckles, though Carter noticed one heavily bandaged boy wasn't laughing with them. Capture the Flag quickly became a tense competition when students went toe-to-toe with each other. Outside squabbles were known to be settled on the playing field, and sometimes students became so set on fighting it out amongst their peers that the flag was completely forgotten. Serious injuries were not an uncommon occurrence, and as a precaution the sousui had a medical team on standby for such an occasion.

"She says no high level techniques." Asuma glanced at his class. "I'm assuming she's talking to you two, Jake and Nathan."

Jake smirked, Nathan remained characteristically silent, and Carter scowled irritably at having been excluded from Asuma's list.

The Junín checked his paper again. "Also, no weapons are allowed. No kunai, scrolls or anything of the sort. Sorry Tenten, but that means you too."

Tenten, a girl whose brown hair was tied up in two neat buns, gave Asuma a long, dark, scathing look that would have sent most normal people scurrying for cover. While normally pleasant and cheerful, she was also renowned for her quick temper and her ability to throw things with uncannily perfect accuracy. The two traits made her a formidable opponent and an intimidating presence even amongst a classroom with prodigies like Jake and Nathan.

"Get rid of them, Tenten." Asuma said. "Now."

It was amazing how many weapons Tenten had managed to hide within the tight contours of the form fitting green and pink jumpsuit she wore. A variety of daggers, swords, bombs, throwing knives and even a couple scythes were produced from the most unlikely places, and soon a small arsenal was gathered at her feet.

"Now the rest." Their instructor prompted.

Cursing steadily under her breath, Tenten continued to pull forth another armory from her outfit. Summoning scrolls, hatchets, and a collection of armor piercing needles joined the growing collection of weapons. Most of the senior year boys could only stare and drool at the beautiful markswoman, dreaming fancifully where exactly she hid them all.

Once Asuma was satisfied that Tenten was disarmed of her weapons, he fished into another of his vest's many pockets and drew forth a whistle. He blew it loudly. The shrill sound echoed throughout the field and instantly commanded the attention of all his students. "Teams are boys versus girls." He bellowed. "Any complaints?"

There were none. In fact, many of the students were now chatting amongst each other eagerly. There was a long standing rivalry between the girls and boys of Konoha's senior year, one that extended far beyond just a petty squabble about the superiority of the sexes. It might have started as that back in their formative years, but now it was a matter of pride and honor. Neither side was stupid enough to underestimate the strength of the other. For every weakness the enemy had, they had a strength to compensate for it. The equality only accentuated the competitive air between the rival genders, a rare spice in an already exciting meal.

"Dismissed!" Asuma yelled. The moment the words left his lips, his students scattered in all directions, disappearing in blurs of motion or obscuring clouds of thick smoke. The Junín smiled and lit another cigarette. The sousui would be furious when she discovered that Asuma had placed the boys and girls against each other. She would rant and rave about the likelihood of injury and accidents, but in the end she would see things his way.

Besides, what was life without a little danger?

The boy's team had gathered around their flag where it had been stationed in the middle of the forest. Already some had dispersed to begin early reconnaissance of the girl's movement, but most of them were huddled around in a circle, speaking was amongst them as was Jake, Nathan, Chen, Kyo, as well as several others. As usual,Dash was at the head of the conversation, scratching lines in the dirt with a stick.

"Nathan I want you to choose a squad and head towards the line. At the same time, Jake, I want you to take Chen and attack their flank."Dash said as he drew out his instructions into the forest floor.

"Chen will slow me down," Interjected Jake. Chen glared at the young Utica and growled angrily, but Jake ignored him. "I'd need someone faster and less conspicuous if you want me to pull off an attack successfully."

Dash shook his head. "Trust me. Take Chen. You'll need his bulk."

Jake relented with a small shrug, much to everyone's surprise. Jake seldom ever listened to anyone but instructors. The fact that he was willing to follow Dash's advice only testified to the level of respect that everyone gave the Dash's planning. While lazier than even Carter was it came to school work, Dash was a brilliant strategist. If anyone could come up with a solution to an obscure problem it was Dash.

"Dash, what about me?" asked Carter.

Dash looked at the blonde haired ninja. "Patrol the area and watch for penetration." He turned back to the rest of the group. "Now Nathan, who do you want for your squad?"

"Wait a second!" intruded an outraged Carter. "I have to stay on defense while the rest of you attack?"

Nathan's gaze turned to Carter and quietly he said, "Half the team is assigned to defense. Any more on an offensive mission will decrease our chances of undetected infiltration and success in accomplishing our objective. Your presence would be a burden to us."

"That's right," Jake sneered coldly. "An idiot like you would only get in the way."

Carter was on his feet in an instant, his hands clenched into a tight fist. "What did you say, Jake?" He growled.

"What? Are you deaf as well as stupid?" The young Utica retorted. Carter lunged at Jake, but instantly a dozen sets of hands were pulling the two quarreling ninjas apart.

"Enough!"Dash bellowed. "We don't have time for this childishness, Carter. You have your mission and Jake has his. Now, Nathan, who's going to be in your group?"

Carter turned away from the group furiously, his fists still clenched at his side. Seething with rage he stalked away into the trees, not caring about the rest of Dash's plan. It was a stupid plan anyhow, Carter decided as he idly kicked a stone away. He was a talented ninja, but everyone had a tendency to overlook his skills, even his own friends. They always gave Jake and Nathan the good assignments and stuck Carter with less than prestigious ones like standing guard. It was an important job, sure, but hardly one that would earn Carter any attention from anyone.

"Stupid Jake," he muttered under his breath. The other ninja's taunting words still stung. Carter did not want to believe that he was being delegated the job of defending the flag merely because he wasn't good enough to lead the attack, but what if there was even a bit of truth in Jake's insults?

Stupid, stupid, stupid, Jake. If things continued at this rate, he or Nathan would capture the flag, further reinforcing their romanticized image of greatness in the minds of all the girls. And that was something Carter definitely could not allow.

A small smile formed on his face as he slipped through the trees. He would capture the flag. He would. Screw Dash's careful planning. Not Jake or Nathan, but he, Carter Kendo, soon to be the greatest ninja in all of Konoha, would bring the flag safely back to the boy's line and show the girls just how wonderful he was. After such a display of daring courage, even Sara would have to be impressed enough to forgive him.

Beside Carter, the sound of leaves rustling could be heard. Instinctively, the young ninja crouched down, suddenly alert. An intruder was nearby. He listened carefully, straining for any hint of the cause of the noise. For a moment, Carter thought of doubling back and getting some reinforcements before checking out the disturbance, but decided against it. If he was to win any glory today, he would have to earn it by himself.

Holly Henderson cursed softly. Despite her caution her leg had accidentally rubbed against a tree and rustled its branches. It had not been a very loud noise, but if there was anyone nearby there was a good chance they might have heard it. She stole through the forest, taking care to plant each foot around dead tree branches, leaves, or anything that might threaten her concealment. Her one mistake was already too much; she could seldom afford a second one.

It was rather foolish for her to be here, behind the boy's line, all alone so early in the game. Normally, they would slip into enemy territory in traditional squads of four, but Sara and Terri's planning session had degenerated into another mindless squabble about their idol, Jake's, affection and Holly had grown weary of their petty arguments. She doubted any of the girls would notice that she had left for at least another half hour; that was plenty of time to scout for the boy's flag on her own.

The trees were proving troublesome for Holly, though. They were so thick it was hard to see for more than a few feet in front of her. It would take ages to find the flag in these conditions. Fortunately, Holly had a solution to this problem.

"White Eye!" She muttered quietly. Instantly, blood and aura rushed to her white eyes, and veins around her temple bulged out to accommodate the flow that fueled the Henderson family's bloodline technique. The familiar blinding rush of energy filled Holly, and when she could see again the world around her had changed. No longer was her vision obscured by the constraints of mortal men. They transcended the barriers of flesh and physical confinements of the world, allowing Holly's gaze to pierce through the trees as if they did not exist.

In the distance she spotted her cousin, Nathan, rushing through the treetops with some team mates behind him, but they were not heading towards her. Another squad lead by Jake was running in the direction of the front line, and a few stray boys were standing around on watch. However, the flag was nowhere in sight.

She frowned. While very powerful, the White Eye was limited by its user, and though Holly practiced rigorously to master her bloodline technique, it still had not reached the potency of some of her clan mates who could easily see things miles away without any difficulty. If she wanted to find the flag she would have to sneak further in.

Stealthily, she crept ahead, keeping a wary eye out for the boy's patrols. Holly had not spotted Carter amongst them, which meant that it was possible he could be nearby. The idea terrified and elated the young girl simultaneously, and unconsciously she found herself blushing at the thought of the blonde haired trouble maker. It was hard to explain her feelings for Carter. There was just something about him that made him more interesting than all the other boys that her friends chased after. He might not have the grades of Nathan, the raw ability of Jake, or the cleverness of Dash, but nonetheless Holly found his personality irresistible.

But alas Carter barely even noticed her. It frustrated her to no end, but then again, it was mostly her fault. While Holly liked Carter, she had trouble summoning the courage to even approach him much less confess her feelings for him. She sighed miserably. An unrequited love was a terrible thing.

She was about ready to press on again, when suddenly someone grabbed her from behind. Holly's gasp of surprise was stifled by a hand clasped over her mouth, and her body was pulled firmly against her assailant, so firmly that she could feel the rhythmic beat of their heart against her back. She struggled briefly, but the one arm her captor had wrapped around her waist was enough to hold her. Internally, Holly raged at herself. She had been so distracted by her thoughts about Carter that she had not even noticed someone sneaking up behind her.

Holly's body stiffened as the arm encircling her waist began moving further up her body with tantalizing slowness, almost as if teasing the young ninja, until they came to a rest, nestled gently under her breasts. A pair of warm lips gently kissed the side of her neck, sending a shiver down her spine, and then a soft whisper delicately caressed her ears.

"Got you." The voice whispered. "You're caught."

Holly froze and her eyes widened in horror. She knew that voice! With a surge of desperate energy she broke away from their grip and spun around to face her assailant. None other than Carter stood in front of her, chuckling softly with a roguish twinkle in his eye.

"Hi, Holly," he said cheerfully.

Holly could only stare at Carter. Her mind raced, thinking of something suitable to do or say. Anything. She was an expert in hand to hand combat. She should punch him for daring to touch her, Holly, the heiress of one of Konoha's most powerful clans! Or should she kiss him like she wanted so badly to do, to punctuate an already romantic encounter? What clearer confession of her affections could there be? Surely then Carter would know how much she cared for him.

Finally, Holly settled for a compromise. She fainted.

Carter lurched forward to catch Holly as she fell, and for a moment he held her in his arms, enjoying the feeling of her almost weightless form against him. She was so innocent, he almost felt bad for toying with her like that. Almost. Gently, he rested the black-haired ninja on the ground and propped her head up against a tree. This wasn't the first time she had fainted like this, and knowing Holly, it wouldn't be the last.

"Sorry, Holly," Carter whispered. He kneeled down and kissed her on the cheek, and for a moment he could have sworn he saw the unconscious girl smile. Laughing to himself, Carter walked away. The game had only begun.