Chapter 5: Possibilities
In the end, it hadn't been a problem. Kitami had taken one look at Maigo's sunken cheeks, thin frame, ragged clothing and had forgiven the man for the theft of the plants.
"It was really no harm done," Kitami said. The five other farmers nodded.
Besides, they were more than willing to take in somebody who could help ease their way of life. If Maigo had the ability to make the arduous trip to the market less than it needed to be, they were happy to do so.
Maigo had been quiet, but he seemed willing to really give it a try. The years of scavenging had taken a toll on his body. He knew deep down that he'd prefer to be comfortable—if these were going to be his last few years.
But, hopefully, not.
The villagers had looked at him suspiciously at first, but had shown understanding when they'd found out the reason why he'd stolen the Setsunasa plants. Kitami had talked to the villagers and had even found someone willing to share their home with him.
It was none other than the brown-haired girl who'd shared her meat buns with the Konoha shinobi. "My mother and I could do with the help around the house," she'd said. "Plus, he shouldn't be alone by himself."
The morning of their departure, the girl had given Lee a quick peck on the cheek. "Thank you for helping us."
Lee had blushed as he bowed politely. "You're very welcome, ma'am. It was our duty as shinobi of Konoha. We're pleased that we were able to aid you and the village."
She'd laughed at his formality. "If you guys come back, there'll be more buns waiting," she said with a wink.
Naruto watched it all with amusement, but he couldn't get Sai to join him in all the fun.
"You're in a relationship with Hinata and you're still this juvenile?" Sai said. "Poor Hinata."
Naruto did a little dance of happiness. "Yeah, but she loves me just as I am."
"Exactly. The poor girl." Sai said.
Naruto closed his eyes. "Hinata, I'm coming home," he thought.
He grinned to himself, remembering the last time he'd been back from a long mission. It was still during the early days of their relationship. He was heading to the Hokage's office for his report, chatting with Sakura and Sai.
"Naruto!" he heard Hinata call out his name and he turned around to see her, walking out of the Hokage tower's door, Kiba and Shino right behind her.
Then she was running—heading straight for him, eyes shining, hair streaming wildly behind her, finally launching herself in his arms. He caught her and hugged her with all the force of his longing, so happy to be back home.
Aware that they were still surrounded by other shinobi in public, he set her down slowly, reluctantly. He didn't want to embarrass her in front of their friends.
As he did so, he thought he felt her lips brush the side of his neck. But no, Hinata wouldn't do something like that. It was just wishful thinking on his part. His ears burned and his face flushed.
He set her at arm's length, smiling, but it slowly faded when he saw the tiny frown on her face looking up at him.
"You-You're not going to kiss me?" she asked in a strangled voice.
He was startled and he looked around at their friends, who were trying to give them space.
"Everyone's still around, so I thought it would make you self-conscious…" he said with an embarrassed laugh, one hand rubbing the back of his head.
Her eyes widened, and he saw resolve and determination set in her face.
"Well, I want to kiss you," his shy, gentle Hinata said as she suddenly reached up with both hands, grabbed his shirtfront, yanked his face down, and solidly planted her lips on his.
"Naruto!" she'd said with an exasperated laugh as she pulled back. She was flushed and happy. She shook him and lightly smacked him on the chest. "You're supposed to kiss a girl if you haven't seen her in weeks!"
His blush deepened. He'd committed another social blunder.
"Smooth, dumbass," Kiba said as he walked past with a smirk on his face.
"Kiba, don't tease them," Shino said as he also walked past the couple. "Why? Because this is how they'll always be."
Naruto looked down at Hinata. "Oh, really?" he said with a devilish gleam in his eyes. "Want to give it another go?"
He grinned when she flushed red again. "I am still learning, after all."
The three of them waved to the villagers they passed on their way to the gates. It was good to see their smiling, happy faces. Another mission completed.
They looked up at the imposing mountain they had to climb on their way back to Konoha. The hard, narrow paths, the craggy mountains awaited them.
Naruto took a bouncy step forward, whistling. He was looking forward to his homecoming. He couldn't wait to see Hinata and talk to her about this latest adventure.
"Let's go home boys, back to Konoha," he said with excitement.
He looked back expecting to see happy expressions on their faces but was startled to see Lee looking glum and Sai frowning. Their feet were dragging as they started out.
"Come on, guys! We'll be home in a few days. What's with the long faces?" he said in a gratingly cheery voice.
Lee pointed at the mountain. "Well, we still have to climb that."
Sai pointed to the dark clouds gathering. "We also have that to deal with."
"That's nothing! Let's go! Step lively."
Sai looked annoyed. Lee was puzzled.
"Which reminds me, Naruto, what kept you fired up during the trip here?"
Naruto laughed. "It's easy! Just think of something that makes you happy," he said, then tapped a fist against his chest. "And then you just remember it when you feel down."
Sai smiled in dawning understanding.
"Something that makes me happy?" said Lee. He brightened, thinking of a man in a green leotard suit with dark bushy brows, a twinkling smile, and a ready thumbs up.
"Happy," Sai said, thinking of long blond hair that fell all the way to the waist, that same blond hair falling over emerald eyes that always flashed with delight when he showed up at her store.
Naruto grinned, thinking of lavender eyes and long dark hair, still wet from the shower, making spots on his t-shirt.
He glanced at Lee and Sai. "You ready?"
"Let's go back to Konoha."
He looked back at the village entrance. Kitami was there, bowing and waving good-bye. The girl who gave them the meat buns was also there, her eyes fixed on Lee. And Maigo held one hand up in farewell. He looked better, a warm blanket wrapped around his thin frame.
"Farewell, Naruto Uzumaki!" he said in his raspy voice, and the sound carried all the way to the shinobi.
"Good bye!" Naruto shouted as he waved his arms, wishing the man all the best in the world.
The night before their journey, he'd stopped by to see how he was doing. He was also curious about this other man named Uzumaki.
"Yeah, it's not bad, having people around. They're very kind," Maigo said, sitting in an armchair, with a cup of steaming tea beside him. He smiled suddenly, the years falling off his face, making him look younger. "This family can cook. Beats eating dead mice and berries."
Naruto made a face, but agreed, remembering the meat buns. "I'm glad. It's good to have people in your life."
Maigo could only sigh in agreement. The rattling in his chest seemed to have gotten better with his new situation.
He looked at Naruto. "So you guys are heading home tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that's why I came to see you."
He paused for a moment, then he went on hesitantly, "Do you want to come back with me to Konoha? You'll be welcomed there."
There was a look of understanding and kind sympathy on Maigo's face.
"Look, kid," he said. "Thanks, but I don't think I'd be able to make the trip," he said as he gave a racking cough that shook his entire frame.
Naruto was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Are there any more Uzumakis around?"
Maigo sighed. "Yeah, but it won't be easy to find them. You know the village of Uzushio and it's destruction, right? How everyone got spread out and had to hide because they—we—were targeted for our chakra and sealing skills?"
"They're all over. You can find them."
"Hmm." Naruto looked intrigued. Members of the Uzumaki clan, people who shared his name, all over the world, waiting to be discovered.
He looked at Maigo's hair.
"And most of them have red hair?"
Maigo glanced at Naruto's blond hair and smiled. "Yeah, kid, usually. You're the first one I've met who didn't have it. Do you know anyone alive with red hair?"
A vision of a girl with glasses who'd chased after Sasuke when he was younger.
Naruto grinned. "Maybe."
"You could start there," Maigo said with another smile.
Yeah, I could, Naruto thought as he took the steps that would take him closer to Konoha. It would be interesting. He could talk to Shikamaru and Kakashi-sensei about it, too. It could be something he could do, when he wasn't so busy with his missions—finding other members of his mother's family. No, his family.
It was all very bittersweet. He was glad he'd met Maigo, another Uzumaki. But he was tired of always meeting people, making a connection, creating bonds, and then losing them. He smiled inwardly. It was just the way his life was meant to be. Besides, it wasn't really a loss. He'd gained more by making that connection than losing it.
Something suddenly flickered in the mists of his brain.
They kept walking, straight toward the mountain.
Sai looked at Naruto, who was looking off into the distance with a thoughtful look on his face. He could guess what was weighing on Naruto's mind.
"Uzumakis," Sai said. "So they're out there, huh?"
"Yeah," Naruto said, still thinking. An idea was trying to make itself clear, but he wasn't seeing it.
But what Sai said, they were out there—however, they always seemed to be alone, always by themselves. He sighed. He wondered what it meant to be a clan.
What was it like to belong? To have a large, wonderful family surrounding you?
He thought of his friends and their families. The Naras were a clan. The Akimichis. The Inuzukas.
The Hyuuga Clan.
Something was clicking in his mind.
Uzumakis, Sai had said. As in plural.
His mother's clan…
The Hyuuga Clan…Hinata and her situation with her family.
We do this together.
Hinata and him. Hinata, not Hyuuga, but Uzumaki.
His bright blue eyes burned with hope, he stopped suddenly and leapt up with a shout. He laughed, the sound joyous and free.
He looked down and placed a hand on his stomach. "Right, Kurama?"
"Yes," came a low, answering rumble, a blessing from the beast.
Sai and Lee looked at him with a questioning glance.
Naruto grabbed Sai's arm and they stopped walking. He looked at Lee.
"When we get to Konoha, I have to stop by the jewelry store. Will you guys come with me? Give me your opinion? What do you think?"
They saw the look of excitement and hope on his face and smiled broadly.
"Yes, Naruto," Lee said with a thumbs up.
"Sure, Naruto," Sai said. "No problem."
Naruto looked at their supportive faces. He was suddenly glad that it was these two men who were with him at this very moment. Lee and his generous, open heart, grinning unabashedly at him with twinkling eyes. Sai and his tranquility, a genuine smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, making him even more attractive in its sincerity.
It seemed fitting. After all, Lee and Sai had also grown up without clans of their own.
Naruto kept beaming at them until Sai reached behind him, rummaged through his back pocket, and took out the notebook and pencil he always carried with him for situations like these.
"I'll need to take notes," Sai said. "I like learning from your examples first. When you mess up, at least, I'll know not to make the same mistake."
Naruto's look of incredulity matched his exasperated cry. "Sai! You-you ass!"
Sai started walking again. "After the ring, maybe flowers?" His dark eyes lit with anticipation. "Then we can stop by Ino's later."
Naruto chuckled quietly. "Thanks, Sai."
Endnotes: Maigo (迷子）in Japanese is "lost child." Sometimes, it can also be translated to "missing person."
If you've read to the end, thank you for taking the time to do so. This story was a lot of fun to write, but it took a lot out of me. I feel like I just birthed a baby. I might have to try the shorter one-shots in the future. Thanks again, and would love to hear your thoughts. Comments and criticism are welcome. They'll help me become a better writer.