Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Hinata does not know how long she stands there, dumbfounded. She does not know what to say. What can she say, for that matter? And Naruto stands in front of her, seashell in hand, equally silent.
"You're her." He breaks the silence first, shock evident in his crystal blue eyes. "You're that girl."
Her tongue is dry. "Yes.."
She does not have time to react as he engulfs her in a bone-breaking hug. She stiffens with shock, but quickly melts into his embrace. Something tells her that things will be different from before. There is something startlingly different about the way he pulls her close to him. She has hugged him before. But this is not the same, and it never will be, ever again...
"You're real," he murmurs, again. "You're real."
He pushes her away so that they can look at each other. And she gulps, heart leaping to her throat, at the amount of emotion she can see in his eyes. Emotion that is different from before.
She hadn't realized how much would change by bringing up the past.
"You... I mean..." Hinata bites her lip. Oh, god, not those feelings. She thought that she had succeeded in burying them deep in her heart, but standing this close to him, knowing that they had been close before..
And before she knows it, she is crying.
He ushers her inside and slams the door shut. He brings her to the couch and offers her a box of tissues. "What's wrong?"
Her emotions come rushing out with the tears. "Everything!" she bursts out savagely, "nothing's right anymore!"
He furrows his brow. "What do you mean?"
"Naruto-kun... it would have been better... if... if I'd never come..."
"If we'd never found out about the past. If we'd never..met.." The last word is uttered in a whisper.
She reluctantly looks into his eyes. "What are you talking about?" She can hear the steel, the ice that has crept into his voice.
"It's not like we can be together," she says, hurriedly.
"We will be together," he states, and she is surprised by the amount of determination in his voice. "We will."
"Naruto-kun!" She herself is surprised by the emotion that pours out into her voice. "I'm getting married!"
Shock registers on his face. "...what?"
"My father... has arranged a marriage for me..." She cannot look up at him.
"To who?" He is calm. Much too calm.
"The...Kuchize Clan. Of the Sand."
"I'll talk with Gaara," he says, decisively.
"But this is my father," Hinata pleads. "He - you don't know what he -"
"Do you want to marry him?" For the first time, there is uncertainty in his voice. Hinata is taken aback by it. It is unlike him to ever be uncertain.
"No, of course not. But I - I don't want you to get hurt, either..."
"I won't get hurt." He smiles. "When are you meeting with him?"
"To - Tomorrow night."
He sighs, frustration appearing on his features. "That's a problem. But it's okay, Hinata-chan, we'll figure it out."
"Figure it out?" She doesn't understand.
"He's not going to marry you," Naruto repeats, simply, "because I won't let him."
And all Hinata can do is trust in him, in his voice, as she leans against him and falls asleep.
The loud beeping of an alarm clock shatters her illusions of slumber, and she sits up, rubbing her eyes. There is a larger figure beside her, still snoring. For a moment, she panics, but once she sees who it is, calms down instantly.
"Naruto-kun." She shakes him. "Naruto-kun."
The snoring dies. "Mmmmph."
"Naruto-kun." She resists the urge to laugh at him. "Your alarm clock just went off."
"Leave it," he murmurs, "I never pay attention to it."
"You have a mission," she reminds him, gently.
To which he sighs, loudly, and finally opens his eyes.
She smiles, widely, something she only does when she is with him.
Then she moves to get up. "I'll make breakfast," she tells him, "before you leave."
However, he reaches out for her, and clasps her wrist. She turns back to face him, curious.
"You'll...wait for me, won't you?" He asks, not quite looking her in the eye.
She is all too suddenly aware of something warm flooding her chest. She looks at him, at this man, who has saved her more times than he will ever know.
"Of course," she says. "Of course."
When she finally makes it back home, all she wants to do is lock herself up in her room. She should have known better. There was a large station of guards around her house, and a feeling of impending doom settled in her stomach.
Hanabi stands outside, and impatiently gestures for her sister to come forward.
"Hanabi.." Hinata looks confusedly at her surroundings. "What's happening?"
"I covered for you," her sister mutters, looking as though she herself isn't sure of the reason. "You were at Naruto's again, weren't you?"
Hinata flushes at the way she speaks.
Hanabi scowls. "I don't care," she continues, "but the fairy tale is over. The Kuchize clan is here."
Hinata's mouth falls open, "But... they're not supposed to be here until tomorrow..."
"Change of plans," Hanabi replies, simply. "Just change into a proper kimono. I picked one out for you."
Hinata suddenly feels a sense of urgency. "Hanabi, I can't - I can't marry him. I don't love him."
Hanabi, for the first time in her life, dons an expression of frustration and regret. "I know that! But what do you expect me to do about it? I've been covering for you, you know, telling Otousama that you've just been doing extra training with Kurenai-sensei during your disappearances. I don't know what else I can do!"
A look of surprise crosses Hinata's face. "Hanabi...?" she begins.
"You're my sister," her younger sister says. "And this is the sort of thing sisters do. Right?" She looks up, uncertain.
"Thank you," Hinata finally says, smiling. "I... Just...thank you, for everything you've done. I'll take care of the rest."
"Trust me," is all Hinata will offer. She bows politely, turns, and leaves. She misses the soft whisper of her younger sister's voice as she utters, "Good luck...Oneesan."
The new lavender kimono feels stiff against her skin. She ties the obi around her waist and stares at her reflection.
What am I going to do?
"Hinata-sama," a maid calls softly, through the door. "Your father is waiting."
"I'm coming," Hinata answers, just as quietly.
The maid tells her that she looks beautiful. Her hair has been styled, and the kimono complements her complexion and figure. Hinata utters a small smile of gratitude and takes a deep breath as she prepares herself to enter the room.
The room is full. At the head of the table sits her father and the head of the Kuchize clan. Hanabi looks up at her with an expression of indifference, and she nods towards a handsome man who sits across the table.
"Hinata," her father calls, smoothly. "This is Kuchize Tadashi." He gestures to the older man sitting next to him. "And that is Kuchize Ryoki."
Hinata numbly takes her seat. She has been going through dozens of entirely different scenarios in her mind, varying from calmly taking her leave and announcing that she will not be taking part in this marriage; to downright bursting into tears and throwing a tantrum. A small smile crosses her face at that thought.
"Hinata-san," Ryoki says, nodding politely.
"Ryoki-san," she acknowledges, taking her seat next to him.
Dinner is served promptly after that. Delegates from the Kuchize clan speak with the elders of the Hyuuga clan. From the corner of her eye, she sees Neji sitting there too, no expression on his face whatsoever. A spark of hope lights up in her. But what is she to do? She can't exactly waltz over to him and start talking!
"Are you all right, Hinata-san?" Ryoki's smooth voice jerks her from her thoughts. She turns to face him, and idly notes that he has blue eyes, too, like Naruto's, but Naruto's are brighter and clearer.
"I'm -" She pauses. "-not, actually."
"Why not?" A hint of concern finds its way into his eyes.
Hinata closes her eyes briefly and prays for courage. "No offense is meant by this, but... Ryoki-san, I don't... I don't want to marry you."
A soft laugh erupts from his mouth, and his eyes crinkle into a friendly expression. "And what makes you think that I want to marry you? No offense, of course."
Hinata's eyes widen. "But...?"
"Why didn't you speak up for yourself?" he retorts.
"Ah.." Hinata swallows. "My father wouldn't listen."
"Neither did mine."
They ate in silence for a few moments.
"I suppose," Ryoki says at that point, mildly, "that if neither of us is willing to agree, we could very well step in and say something, couldn't we?"
"Only if you do it," Hinata murmurs.
"But it's a shame to interrupt this pleasant dinner," Ryoki continues. "How about later?"
Hinata nods, a smile forming on her face. "Yes. Thank you."
Ryoki delicately chews on a piece of sushi. "So who's the lucky guy?"
"Lu - lucky guy?" Hinata's cheeks color.
"It's written all over your face. Someone's in love." Hinata suddenly felt that if she'd ever had an older brother, this would be how it felt.
"Is it that obvious?" Her voice drops to little more than a whisper.
"I'm good at reading people," he replies, "I usually go on missions as a spy."
She goes on to tell him briefly about Naruto, and can't help but feel that things could very possibly turn out all right after all...
"Could you at least try to look like you're interested in the mission?" Shikamaru raises his eyebrows at him.
Naruto scowls. "What are you talking about?"
Shikamaru sighs. "You are so troublesome sometimes," he deadpans.
"What?" Naruto demands, hotly.
Shikamaru exchanges a Look with Sasuke.
"Idiot," Sasuke states, not looking at all at Naruto. "At this rate, you'll be more of a liability than any help."
Naruto still doesn't quite understand. "What are you talking about?"
Shikamaru sighs. "Okay. How many kunai have we had to save you from so far?"
"You're not concentrating on the mission at all," Shikamaru continues, ignoring the blond's protests, "and as Sasuke said, you'll be more of a liability than anything else."
Naruto slouches in defeat. "Okay," he relents, "so I don't exactly want to be here. It's not like I've got a choice. We've got to follow this through."
"If you keep it up like that, you're going to be killed."
"No, I won't!" Naruto bristles.
"Why don't you just tell us what's up?" Shikamaru tells him, shooting him a glance. "We are teammates, aren't we?"
"..." Naruto visibly scowls. "Fine. It's about Hinata."
"..." No response.
"She's getting married."
"No! ...not yet."
Sasuke actually snorts, and is unfazed by the steely glare that Naruto sends his way. "Arranged marriage?" he asks, indifferently.
"...yes." Naruto scowls again.
"So," Shikamaru asks, slowly, "what are you doing here?"
"...I'm on the mission." Naruto glances at him as if to check if he's okay.
"So the love of your life is back in Konoha, about to get married, and you're here, on a mission." Shikamaru states, dully.
"...dammit." Naruto scratches at the back of his head. "She promised she'd wait," he says, feebly.
"I'm sure she will." Shikamaru's tone is oddly comforting. "But don't you think that she needs you there with her?"
"..." Naruto bites his lip.
"Just go back, idiot." Sasuke actually decides to contribute to the conversation. "God knows, maybe if you marry her, she can change you into a better person."
"Are you...sure?" Naruto shows a rare sign of hesitancy.
"If you don't turn back now, I swear I'll drag you back myself."
Naruto allows a grin to slip onto his face. Yes, Sasuke and Shikamaru could most definitely take care of themselves. He had other places to be...
"Thanks, you two," he says, before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
The meal is finished, and the dishes are put away. Hinata clutches at her kimono, feeling anxiety rise up within her. She is comforted only by Ryoki's presence, a solid rock at her side.
"What if they don't listen?" she murmurs.
"We'll make them," he replies.
"You two seem to have gotten along well enough," Hiashi says, imperiously. Hinata notices, not for the first time, just how tall her father is and how graceful and commanding his mere presence is. "Is it settled, then?" He turns to the older man next to him.
"Actually.." Ryoki stands up. "I'm afraid that I cannot marry Hinata-san."
A contorted expression crosses Hiashi's face. "Is there something at fault with my daughter?" he asks, stiffly.
"I don't want to marry her, and she does not want to marry me."
"Arranged marriages often start out that way," Ryoki's father contributes, "but as the years pass by you will both grow to love each other."
"There is something else." Hinata furrows her brow at those words. He glances at her briefly, his eyes telling her, go along with me, please, and she can't help but trust him. "Hinata-san has already been with someone. I have no desire for a woman who has already been with another man."
Gasps are uttered around the room, and Hinata's face is beet red. What is he thinking? She hasn't been with anyone, not like that, so what could he -
"Furthermore, she is deeply in love with this other man. Again, I have no desire to marry a woman who has so in love with someone else."
Hiashi's face is expressionless as he turns to his daughter. "Is this true?" he asks, quietly.
Hinata swallows. If she said yes, then surely, she would not have to marry Ryoki..
"Yes," she bows her head.
Deafening silence, and she avoids the eyes of everyone in the room. She is tired and faint, and her heart is beating wildly in her chest. She can't handle this alone. She never could. She needs him, only him..
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" A loud, angry voice bellows, and all eyes on the room turn towards the door.
Hinata's heart pounds louder than ever as she sees him, him, standing there, a furious expression on his face. She gulps audibly, and Ryoki turns to her curiously. He doesn't have to say anything, though, because it's evident enough who this person is.
"What's going on?" Naruto asks. His voice is quieter, but none of the anger has left it.
"Not that this is any of your business," Hiashi, says, silkily, "but this is Kuchize Tadashi from the Sand."
Naruto furrows his brow. "Who's he?" he demands, pointing to Ryoki.
"Kuchize Ryoki," Hiashi replies. "He will be marrying Hinata -"
"Not if I can help it," Naruto interrupts, harshly. "Listen," he turned to Ryoki, "hate to disappoint you, but you're not marrying her."
"I assure you I have no desire to do so," Ryoki tells him, calmly, "so you can let go of that kunai in your pocket."
Naruto loses his steam. "...what?"
"I have no desire to break up such a happy couple." Ryoki glances at Hinata, teasingly. "I'm not going to marry her. What you two do is completely up to you."
"Is he the one, then?" Hiashi snorts derisively. "He's the one you've been with?"
"Been..what?" Naruto looks completely bewildered, and Hinata sends him a pleading gaze, silently telling him to just go along with everything that was happening. He seemed to understand the message, and said no more.
Hiashi turns to Ryoki, icily. "So there is no way that you will ever marry my daughter?"
Hiashi turns to Tadashi, who shakes his head slowly.
Hiashi exhales in defeat. He turns to Hinata and Naruto, with some strange expression on his face. Hinata cannot figure it out what it is, or what it means.
"Leave," he says, quietly.
Hinata clutches her sleeves. "Wh - What?"
"You have disappointed me. You have shamed me. You have lain with this boy outside of marriage. Leave. Pack your things quickly, and leave within the next twenty-four hours."
Hinata lets out a startled gasp, and clutches her hands into fists. "Otousama, I -"
"Okaasama wouldn't have wanted this," Hanabi puts in, clearly.
Hiashi suddenly stiffens, and closes his eyes briefly. Then he turns to exit out the door.
The succession of events happened in a blur. Hinata can vaguely remember packing up her clothes and belongings and bidding a short goodbye to Hanabi.
"I'll visit you," she says, so firmly that Hinata doesn't dare to question her.
"Invite me to the wedding, will you?" Ryoki smiles at her.
"Of course," Hinata laughs, "Ryoki-niichan."
And then she remembers leaving with Naruto, and going to his apartment. She knows that it is small and cramped, but there is an extra room that she can stay in until...well... they get married.
"Thank you," she tells him, softly.
"For what?" he asks, confused.
He smiles at her, and laughs. "Of course."
"We'll be okay..won't we?" she asks, uncertainly.
He puts an arm around her shoulders. "Yeah. We will."
"Hinataaa!" Nearly a year after their marriage, Hinata is now four months pregnant. "You need to sit down!"
Hinata sighs exasperatedly at her husband's antics. "Naruto, I'm fine," she reassures him.
"Still! Just...Just sit down, okay?"
Hinata sighs again. "Fine."
Five minutes later, she's decided to stand up again. "I need to come with you to go buy groceries, Naruto.."
"No!" he exclaims, in a piercing, loud voice. "I'll do it myself!"
"Naruto...the last time you went grocery shopping, you bought a year's supply of ramen."
"Fine, fine!" Naruto throws his hands up in defeat. "Just... walk slowly. Okay?"
Hinata resists the urge to roll her eyes. "I know."
As Naruto goes back inside to change, Hinata goes to put on her shoes. She is promptly stopped in place by Naruto's loud yell. "Woah! No! Those have heels, Hinata!"
"They're only an inch and a half," Hinata protests.
"No! Flats! Wear flats!"
Hinata rolls her eyes this time. He could be so irritatingly overprotective sometimes...
She smiles to herself as she reaches forher flat shoes. She doesn't really mind.
YES! DONE, DONE, DONE:dances: You have no idea how much agony this took me. XD The only scene that really came easily to me was the epilogue - and you can guess why, can't you? XD Since it's pure fluff/comedy, which is the only thing I'm really good at writing. Heh.
Just want to say a really, really heartfelt thank you to all of my reviewers. I'm sorry for taking so long. I hope the ending was okay... as most of you are aware, I just totally lost interest towards the middle of it. Ahah. For any Detective Conan fans, though.. :insert self-plugging music in here: I am working on a few Detective Conan/Magic Kaito stories, so if you'd like to check them out, you're more than welcome to. Heehee.