Uzumaki Naruto pulled his cloak tighter about him, as the wind began to pick up once more. He suppressed a shiver, but still he trudged through the snow, his breath coming out in thin white puffs before him.
He had to get home to her in time, for tonight was no ordinary night. It was the night that marked the end of the Winter Festival, a night celebrated by every single one of the Konoha shinobi. On this night, only a select few were required to still go on missions, for the Winter Festival was recognized as a holiday. It was a time to celebrate, to relax, to spend time with one's family, to forget about the perils that filled their lives each day.
It was also a time for giving presents to the ones they loved.
Naruto flinched at that. It had always been a custom for their village to give each other presents on that day, but he had never figured out what sort of gift was a "good" gift or not, for he rarely got gifts, after all. On the other hand, she always seemed to give him really good gifts…always his gifts seemed mediocre—if not downright horrible—in comparison.
But not this year. This year was going to be different. Not only was this year the first Winter Festival they would spend as husband and wife…this year, he had the perfect gift for her.
He had given utmost thought to what he would get her this year. He knew she would never think of gift-giving as a contest, but he did. As with everything, he considered finding the perfect winter present for her as a challenge, an opportunity to prove to her and ultimately, to himself, that he could do well in anything.
Besides, he did love her, so the least he could do was to give her the perfect present, right?
He suddenly chuckled to himself, remembering all the winters that had passed by, and of all the gifts they had given each other. He thought back, in particular, to that first gift she had given him.
"H-happy Holidays, N-naruto-kun."
That was all Hinata could say to him then, and she looked as if she wanted to run, but Sakura, who had somehow gotten it into her head to play matchmaker, had blocked any path of escape for her. Hinata's eyes were riveted to the floor as she handed her gift to him, hands shaking.
"For me?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. "Why for me?"
Sakura had sighed in exasperation at him, and said, "Just accept it, will you, Naruto? It's a present. And it's not polite to not accept presents, is it?"
He scratched his head, and took the present from Hinata. He tore the wrapper (earning a withering look from Sakura), unraveling an orange knitted muffler.
"I—I made it myself," Hinata stammered. "I—I'm sorry that I'm not very good at it, but I—"
"Thanks, Hinata-chan!" he cut in, grinning at her. "Are you kidding? You're really good! But…" His face clouded, and he stopped, looking at her.
"But I'm not cold, Hinata-chan," he said. "I don't think I'll need it."
"What…? But Naruto-kun…" Her cheeks paled even more, and she finally looked up at him, pale eyes mirroring her distress.
Sakura looked extremely mortified, and she was looked as if she was about to deliver a heated reprimand about his utter lack of sensitivity, but he only kept shaking his head.
"Thanks, really, but I think you need it more than I do, Hinata-chan," he said. "You're cold, aren't you?"
And he wrapped the muffler about her neck, still frowning. His expression eased into a smile when he was done, however, a smile which he directed at her.
"There," he said, oblivious to how Sakura was gawking behind him. "I noticed how your hands were shaking, and how pale your cheeks were. You were even stammering because of the cold!" Her cheeks were already starting to become rosy again, and he was relieved at that. "I hope you're warmer now? Thanks really, Hinata-chan, but you should think of yourself first, all right? I don't want you to get a cold or something."
"Th-thank you, Naruto-kun," she said, and he noticed that her cheeks were becoming redder and redder by the minute. "But…this was a present for you…"
"Oh, okay," he said, scratching his head again. "How about if I get you your own muffler? Since you made one for me and everything."
She was still stammering… "Maybe I ought to buy you a bonnet, too. You're really cold, aren't you?"
"Oh, no, Naruto-kun," she said. "It's not very cold at all. But thank you…"
"You're welcome," he said, shrugging. "Hey, so we'll go get that muffler now? Maybe we can ask one from Iruka-sensei. Would you want to go eat some ramen too, to keep you warm?"
Now, many years later, he looked back on that incident with a rueful shake of his head. He fingered the orange muffler that he still wore now, wondering how he could never even have the slightest clue on why she would ever get him a present then… then again, he was older now, but sometimes he still felt as if he was no wiser than he was so many winters ago.
The year after she had given that first gift, he finally thought of giving her one, after several dropped hints by several of the people his age. As it happened, however, he forgot until the day before the gift-giving, so he didn't have time to get her a decent gift.
That year, she had given him a cake she had baked herself, while he… he had given her six packs of instant ramen.
Several days after that, he'd had to endure thinly veiled chastisements from Sakura, gleeful teasing from Inuzuka Kiba, and several man-to-man talks from Iruka-sensei. And Hyuga Neji, apart from the icy stares he bestowed upon Naruto, delivered one of the shortest, and yet most scathing lectures Naruto had ever had.
"Hinata-sama picks her gifts for you with utmost thought, Naruto," he said. "Shouldn't you do so as well?"
But he really thought that giving her ramen was a good idea. It would keep her warm during the winter, it was easy to prepare, and it was one of the best foods there ever was made. She even seemed really pleased about it, too, but obviously he was the only one who thought that way.
So the year after, he sought advice from everyone on what to give her. The advice he got ranged from the romantic (a candlelight dinner) to the academic (new scrolls) to the outrageous (a set of lingerie, the idea courtesy of Jiraiya of course)… until he couldn't make up his mind anymore.
He went with the lingerie set idea, since Jiraiya claimed to be an expert on such things, but the present only earned him several slaps across the face by Sakura, pointed glares from probably half the female population of the village, a week of lectures on women from Tsunade, another round of man-to-man talks from Iruka-sensei, and a whole month of having to protect himself from Neji's wrath.
Hinata still thanked him for the present, amidst her blushes, but he never could tell if she ever was disappointed with any of his gifts. She always seemed to like them all, no matter how horrible they were.
He eventually gave up and followed no one's advice the years after. But each year she still beat him. When he gave her a new weapons pouch, she gave him a new shuriken set, specially made by the best weapons smith in the village. When he bought her a new jacket to replace the old one that she always seemed to be wearing, she gave him a new sleeping cap she knit herself; to replace the one Konohamaru had accidentally destroyed that same year.
One year, she even gave him more than one gift… the other gifts turned out to be the presents she never was able to muster the courage to give him, way back even when they were still studying in the Academy. Those gifts still made them laugh until now, for they reminded him of how strange she could be, and how he loved her for it.
The years passed by, and the gift-giving went on. Eventually they got together, and stayed together through the years, until they finally got married.
Naruto stopped walking, breathing a sigh of relief. He had finally reached the door of their house.
But something was wrong.
He stared for a moment at it, wondering why there was no light coming from the windows, as there should have been. His eyebrows furrowed, and he began to worry. Just that morning, Hinata had been sick, but she assured him that she was all right. She even said that she would be strong enough to cook for dinner.
But knowing her…
"Hinata?" He slid open their front door and he went inside. Everything was dark, the fireplace was cold, and his wife was nowhere in sight. He stood there for a moment, stamping his feet on the floor to keep them warm. "Hinata?" he called out again. Several minutes passed, but there was still no answer.
"Hinata!" he called out, and he was about to rush inside their bedroom, when he noticed a presence behind him. He turned around, one hand automatically going to his weapons pouch.
"Naruto!" the person said, and he let go of his kunai, relieved at seeing a familiar pink-haired kunoichi before him. Sakura looked flustered, her breath coming out in short gasps. "I was looking all over for you. Don't panic, but Hinata's in the hospital—"
"In the hospital?" Naruto cut in. "Why? Is she all right?"
"I just took her to there for a check-up," Sakura said hastily. "She was feeling sick this morning, wasn't she?"
"I'll go see her right now," he said. "Thanks, Sakura-chan." He ran out of the front door, Sakura at his heels. Five minutes later, they reached the hospital, and Naruto immediately demanded from the front desk, "I'm looking for an Uzumaki Hinata…I need to know where she is, please!"
"Calm down, will you, Naruto?" Sakura snapped. "I said Hinata's all right! Do you not trust the word of a Medical Nin?" She turned to the woman at the front desk and said, "Don't mind him, please."
"Hinata's a Medical Nin too, isn't she?" he said. "What's happened to her that she needed to go to the hospital?"
"She's not even confined, Naruto," Sakura said. "She just went for a check-up, like I said."
"But for what? And where is she then—"
"Naruto," came a soft voice behind them, and Naruto looked up, seeing Hinata emerge with Tsunade from a door at the end of the corridor at his right. He ran to her, taking her hand into his own.
"Oi, Hinata," he said, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, Naruto," she said, and she smiled at him. "It's all right, nothing's wrong with me."
"I told you not to worry, you idiot!" Sakura said, slapping her forehead.
"That's good then," he said to Hinata, letting out a sigh of relief. "I was really worried! And today is the end of the Winter Festival and all. I even had the perfect present for you, and I have to give it to you…"
"A present!" Hinata's pale eyes widened, and Naruto looked at her, startled. There were tears in her eyes, and her cheeks had gone white.
"I—I'm sorry, Naruto," she said, looking down at the floor. "I was supposed to finish your present by this morning, but I…I couldn't…and…"
"Hinata!" he interrupted, shaking his head at her. "It's all right! You don't need to apologize…I understand. You were sick this morning, and you even had to go to the hospital."
Here, let's sit down for a moment," he said, making her sit down on one of the benches at the corridor. Tsunade and Sakura kept standing, exchanging meaningful glances with each other as they watched the young couple before them.
"It's all right, Hinata." He rummaged through his pack, and brought out his present. "I'd still want you to have it. I made sure that I'd give you a really good gift this time. To make up for all those other winter presents." He laughed sheepishly, running a finger through his blonde hair.
Hinata carefully unwrapped the present, unraveling a wooden box, intricately carved with a leaf design on its cover. "Open it," he urged her, and she pulled the cover, revealing its contents.
"Medicinal herbs," Hinata breathed, caressing the contents with one hand. The box contained dried leaves and flowers of various shapes and colors, packed individually in small plastic bags, with the correct labels.
"Rare herbs, too," Sakura suddenly spoke up. "Herbs you can only get from the other countries—and they're very difficult to get too, aren't they, Tsunade-sama?"
Tsunade nodded. "How did you get them, Naruto?"
"I accumulated them throughout my missions," Naruto said. "I used a simple jutsu to preserve them until today, and there you go." He grinned impishly at Tsunade and said, "That's actually the reason why I 'suddenly' seemed to develop an interest in medicinal herbs. Hinata once told me of how she wanted to develop a jutsu that would require little chakra, but could heal even the most fatal of wounds. She told of a research that touched on the subject somewhere in the other countries—that's why I asked you about that."
"Of course," Tsunade said. "You could do that by incorporating medicinal herbs into the jutsu. You really wished to do this, Hinata?"
"I…" Color crept up Hinata's cheeks. "I wanted to develop such a jutsu, since it would be a big help to the apprentice Medical Nins in the village. They would be able to save lives while they still had not mastered the difficult techniques that more advanced Medical Nins already use… in the case of an emergency." She smiled, but there was a tint of sadness in her smile. "It's just that the village didn't grow the herbs that were needed to start the research."
"So you have them now!" Naruto said, pointing one triumphant finger into the air. "She thought that if she only had the herbs, she could probably grow them in the village too, so it would be available for anyone who wished to learn the jutsu that she was going to develop. But I knew she didn't want to ask for herbs from anyone, so I decided to get them for her myself."
"Why didn't you ask help from me or the other Medical Nins in the village, Hinata?" Tsunade said. "I know where to get them, and I could have given the proper funding and people to help you in such a research."
"I didn't think I deserved to work on the research," Hinata said, looking down at the floor. "I decided I would give the idea to Sakura or Shizune-san instead, since they were your apprentices, and I was not. But there never was the opportunity to present the idea to you…"
"You thought of the research, Hinata," Sakura reassured her. "So you should do it."
"And I believe that you have the capability to develop this jutsu," Tsunade added. "It doesn't matter if you were my apprentice or not, since you're an excellent Medical Nin in your own right."
"You see, Hinata?" Naruto said, giving her a playful punch on the head, "So many years have passed by, and you still don't believe in yourself?"
"Thank you," Hinata said, tears now falling freely."Thank you so much, Naruto... "
"Finally, Naruto," Tsunade sighed. "Looks like those lectures I had given you finally drove the message home, didn't it?"
"It really was the perfect present, Naruto," Sakura agreed reluctantly. "At least, unlike the past ones."
"But I've always loved your presents," Hinata reassured him. "But this one…this present…" Her voice trailed off, too happy was she for words. "Oh, thank you, Naruto…"
"Heh," Naruto grinned, ruffling her hair. "Anything for my wife." It was a success! He had given her the perfect gift!
He turned to Tsunade and Sakura again, and said, "Well…now that's done, maybe you could now care to explain why Hinata had to go for a check-up?"
Hinata, Sakura, and Tsunade all looked at each other, and Sakura suddenly burst out giggling. Naruto ogled at them, wondering what was going on.
"Congratulations, Naruto," Sakura said, between gales of laughter.
"You see…Hinata's pregnant, Naruto," Tsunade said.
Naruto's eyes widened, and for the first time, he was at a loss for words.
"Yes, Naruto," Tsunade said, patting his shoulder. "You're going to be a father."
"Me?" he croaked. "A father?"
"That's right," Tsunade said. "And I do hope you're going to be a good father, Naruto, being exposed to Jiraiya as long as you have…"
"Hinata, is this true?" was all Naruto could manage to say. He stared at her, his mouth still agape.
"What, you think this is all a joke?" Sakura said, miffed. "This is a serious matter, after all."
"And it's true, Naruto," Hinata said, taking his hand. "That would explain my sickness this morning. And it's been more than a year since we got married, so…"
"It's about time, Naruto," Sakura finished, smirking.
Naruto could only embrace his wife after that, still overcome with awe and happiness. He was going to be a father. He didn't know if he was going to be good at it, but he had been waiting for so long…
But beneath all the joy he felt, Naruto couldn't help feeling a twinge of regret. This piece of good news, and the life she carried within her, was better by far than any present he could give her.
She still beat him.
But never before had defeat filled him with such a sense of triumph.
They said their farewells to Tsunade and Sakura, and after Hinata hugged them both by way of thanks, they stood up. They went out the door, and finally headed for home.
This fic is dedicated to Tensai…who I got for the Secret Santa at the Himitsu Desu forum… Merry Christmas to you! I know you love NaruHina, and I hope you enjoyed this fic as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Some notes: I really wasn't sure if they did celebrate Christmas in the Naruto universe, so I gave them a festival instead that was like Christmas, but wasn't it, exactly. ; Somehow that seemed more right. (I'm OC that way...gomen!)
Merry Christmas, too, to all the NaruHina fans reading this story. (Belated, that is.) Reviews are, again, very much appreciated...thank you!