Author's note: This can be seen as a sequel to The Quiet Stop or it can stand alone.
Naruto knocked softly, even though he knew Gaara had been aware of his presence since he had entered the hallway. Without waiting for an answer, because neither of them really wanted to disturb the person asleep on the bed, he opened the door and slid into the darkened room.
His eyes scanned the room, noting that the girl's position on the bed had not changed. She lay curled into a fetal position and from time to time, still, she would shudder and groan as if she were fighting pain even in rest.
He saw Gaara sitting on the beat-up sofa beside the bed. His hands rested on his knees and though his head was bowed, Naruto saw his eyes glint in the dim light from the open door.
"Is my shift over already?" Gaara's voice was rusty with disuse, since he hadn't used it in the eight hours since he had entered the room.
"Yeah, I left dinner on the table for you. Any change?" Keeping his voice quiet, Naruto dropped silently onto the couch beside him and spread out, letting his arm sling over the back and his leg brush comfortably against Gaara's.
Gaara sighed, allowing the touch between friends and shook his head, "Nothing. She wakes up and I feed her, but I don't think she even recognizes me or where she is or what happened."
"Hmmm, well why don't you go grab some rest and report to Tsunade."
Gaara stood, stretching tired muscles, "Shall I report to her father, as well?"
Naruto snorted quietly, "If you think it will get him to come visit his daughter. But I doubt you'll have any luck. This is exactly what he would have wanted. Daughter one out for the count and daughter two in as heir." His voice was bitter and sad and they both glanced over at the dark-haired girl asleep.
Gaara walked to the door and left. Naruto heard his footsteps echoing in the empty hall.
He was about to get fresh water for the pitcher beside her bed when a hoarse voice stopped him.
"Naruto? Is that you?"
He whirled around to face the grown woman in shock. She had spoken! After weeks of endless sleep and sightless eyes, her pale face was fixed clearly on his own.
"Hinata! You-you're awake, thank God. We were so worried about you and you didn't seem to recognize either of us and we were just so worried-wait, I said that already didn't I?" Giving a sheepish grin, Naruto sat on the edge of her bed and turned on the lamp beside it.
Squinting in the dim light, Hinata's white eyes searched Naruto's face.
"We? Who's we?" Hinata sat up against the headboard, wincing as the wounds on her stomach protested the movement.
Naruto gently moved a pillow behind her back, "Well, me and Gaara have been sitting with you for weeks! We even cooked for you, well, Gaara really cooked. I just made ramen for me and him. Guess I'm still really bad at this homemaker stuff!"
Hinata smiled at him, an all-too brief smile that made his heart ache. Hinata had always smiled such breathtakingly open smiles. He wondered when he'd see them again.
She looked around the room, "Where is Gaara?"
"Oh! He went to report to the Hokage. We have to give a report to her every other day. Last night he lost at Go, so he had to report it."
She quirked an eyebrow at him, "Gaara lost at Go? But I thought you were awful at it?"
Naruto rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed, "Ah, yes, well, I think he felt bad for me because he always wins . . . so I think he let me win. But I wasn't about to call him on it, I hate reporting to Tsunade."
Hinata's eyes darkened at the thought, "Does she . . . does she ever come by?"
He dropped his gaze and picked at the comforter, "Well, she's really busy with running the village and stuff, so she doesn't really have time, I guess. That's what she says and all." His voice trailed off and he looked aimlessly around the room. He had a feeling, however, that Tsunade wasn't half as busy as she said she was. Now that the villages were at peace, he figured she should have even less business to deal with.
"Nobody else comes, do they, Naruto?"
"Gaara does, of course. And me." He wanted to avoid it, that topic, because he wasn't sure if she was ready to hear the whole of what the village had said about her. It still made the blood roar in his ears and his vision tinge red at the thought. Even Kyuubi, deep inside his body, would growl in outrage.
She smiled at that, "I had a hunch he would make someone a loyal friend someday. I just didn't think it would be me."
Naruto smiled, thinking back to all the times the sand ninja had surprised them both.
He got up to replace the old water in the pitcher with fresh. Pouring her a glass, he reseated himself on the bed. "How do you feel? Is the seal holding?"
Ah yes, the seal. No wonder Gaara was so protective of her, Naruto knew. She was no longer known as the weaker of two Hyuuga daughters.
Hinata wasn't recognized as a daughter at all anymore.
Or a person.
Hinata was now ostracized as a demon, like Gaara and Naruto, himself.
She bit her lip in thought, as though reaching out for the seal.
"It's holding. I wasn't sure if it would work, because I was so much older than you two were at the time when you went through it. But my body doesn't seem to be rejecting it, however much it wants to."
Her eyes filled with tears and he looked around frantically for a tissue. Not seeing anything, he used his fingers to brush them away as they fell.
She covered his hands with her own, pressing them to her wet cheeks.
Her voice was soft and so full of pain his vision swam in response, "I'm glad it's holding, Naruto, I really am. So long as it works, I can handle the village hating me because it means the village is alive to do so. I swear it, I really am glad." Her voice crumpled in the last sentence and she leaned into him, her body shaking.
Naruto slid his arm underneath her back and cupped her against his chest as she cried. He knew her pain, knew the hurt she must be drowning in because the village would no longer acknowledge her as a Jounin ninja.
The powerful woman they had known was dead in their eyes.
Hinata was only a demon, now.
He let her cry, let her babble out how truly happy she was that it had worked, though he had silent doubts about that one, until she had worn herself out.
He let her slide back into the bed and he tucked her in before standing up.
"Are you hungry, Hinata? I can make ramen! Gaara usually does the coking, like I said before, so I'm afraid that's all you're going to get from me." He gave a rueful laugh and was rewarded with a weak smile.
"Ramen sounds fine, Naruto, thank you." He grinned and bounded out the door, glad to have Hinata awake and speaking again.
Left in the dark, Hinata's voice was a shaky whisper.
"Stop talking to me, Orochimaru."
Gaara walked down the street to the Hokage's home, painfully aware of all the people that sidestepped him and those that tried to rudely bump into him but were pushed back by sand.
He passed Hinata's little coffee shop, it's windows dusty and the large closed sign making it seem abandoned.
Which, after having been on a mission for months trying to stop Orochimaru, and later being the vessel that sealed him and the healing that was taking place after that, her shop had been abandoned.
He wished, as yet anther person gasped and tried to avoid him (from the opposite side of the street) that she was walking next to him, chatting quietly and pointedly brushing against him from time to time, showing that some people were not afraid to touch him. He couldn't decide if that had been for his sake or the villagers, but he wished for it all the same.
The first time he had really talked to her, after the Chuunin exams, she had just opened the coffee shop, moved out of her father's home and into the tiny apartment above her shop. The windows had been bright and cheery with a pretty yellow curtain draped on each side.
She had been the only person to speak to him as though he had feelings and thoughts and opinions. It made him furious that people had taken that from her, now, as they had taken that form him.
He finally ended up at Tsunade's door and entered the office without knocking. He was sure she had noticed him and the commotion in the streets long before she had seen him.
But he had decided, in the past few weeks, that Tsunade had long since lost any respect he had once had for her.
Her treatment of Hinata, and her lack of action against the townspeople for acting the same way made him sick to his stomach and ache to bury them all in sand.
He resisted, however, because then the whole village would be dead and what would come of Hinata's sacrifice?
He walked past her secretary, who looked like she wanted to say something. When he glanced at her, she bit her lip and looked down at her paperwork. He rolled his eyes. Typical response, that one.
Tsunade didn't look up from her desk when he walked in, nor when he sat down, nor when he stood back up, and not even when he leaned over her and glared.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity to him, she smiled serenely and looked up from her letter.
"I'm sorry, Gaara, did we have an appointment?"
He continued to glare, determined to not lose this battle, "You know we didn't. I don't make appointments. I'm here to make a report."
She sighed mock-regretfully and tsked him under her breath. "Did you not notice this is an office building? I have a secretary to make my appointments."
"Yeah, I passed her on my way in." he scoffed. "Nice watch dog, by the way. Not even a growl to protect our dear Hokage."
Tsunade's eyes turned cold and she sat up a little straighter, "Do remember who you're talking to, Gaara of the Sand. I am the one letting you stay in this village. I am the one letting Hinata stay here."
Hot fury flared deep inside Gaara's body, but his voice was deceptively calm. "You're letting Hinata stay here?"
Tsunade nodded angrily, "Do you know how many villagers wanted her thrown out? What if it turns out to be like Naruto, where he can't control his demon?"
"Can't control his demon? I wasn't aware that stopping the demon fox from destroying the village, harnessing its power and then using it to yet again save this worthless place was defined as not controlling it!"
Tsunade stood and glared at the man, now so much taller than her. "Hinata's reaction to the sealing is unknown. She is dangerous and a threat to this village. Watch your mouth or you'll find yourselves kicked out of here in a heartbeat."
Sand swirled around Gaara's body as he listened and understood, finally, that there was no haven for people like him.
"Are you listening to yourself, oh great Hokage?" He sneered, "You were there, dammit! She sacrificed herself to stop the greatest threat to the world! She let you seal an evil, evil man inside her body and you let her stay here in this fucked up village with it's judgmental and cruel inhabitants whose sole purpose in life is to hurt others! She, like Naruto, saved you and your people when you couldn't! You, the Fifth Hokage, could do nothing more than stand by while a newly appointed Jounin risked her life and her soul for you!"
Tsunade pushed away from her desk and stood, nose to nose with him. "Do you want to leave this village, boy? I can do it. I can remove you, remove Hinata, and throw Naruto out with you! Nobody in this village wants you here. Now give me my report and go back to your post."
Gaara growled low in this throat, "I won't leave without knowing it's what Hinata and Naruto want. After all they lost for you people . . . you make me sick." He turned and stalked to the door. With a flick of his wrist, a spear of sand smashed the door to smithereens but he paused before exiting.
"You want my report? Fine, here it is. You won't touch her without going through me and Naruto first. When she wakes up, when she's ready, we'll leave here and never return. And the next time you find yourself with a power-hungry ninja, or an uncontrollable fox, who will you turn to next? Because we sure as hell will not be back."
He left, not stopping to listen to her outraged cry. He hit the front door with a wave of sand and was almost out when a disdainful sniff caused him to stop. He turned to the secretary, watching as she eyed him with distaste, prejudice cancelling out her fear for the moment.
He walked over to her, towered over her and waited until she cowered beneath his glare. And then he smiled, slow and dangerous, "And you, my dear woman, have a wonderful rest of your day. May it be your last and may I have the pleasure of making it so."
And then he went home.
When Gaara came back into Naruto's small apartment, his temper had cooled, but his heart still hurt and sand still swirled in his gourd, venting his frustration and pain little by little.
He dropped the gourd by the door and slipped off his sandals, feeling his body relax in the safety of the closeness of his friends.
He knocked on the door to the single bedroom, hearing two voices quietly talking.
He entered when they called him in and saw Hinata propped up on pillows against the headboard.
Naruto rested beside her to her left, regaling her with tales of stupid things that had happened to him since she had been sleeping.
They both smiled at him when he entered and he crossed the carpeted floor to the bed, coming to stand before Hinata on the free side of the bed.
"Hello Gaara. Long time no see." Hinata smiled up at him and he saw through the weak smile to the pain lingering in her eyes. But she was happy to see him, he felt it, and he smiled back.
"Welcome back, Hinata. You were out for a long time, we were worried."
She patted the empty spot beside her and he sat down.
"I'm sorry, I guess I just needed some time to adjust."
He nodded, understanding like only he and the blonde man next to him could.
Giving up against fighting the urge, he leaned over and pressed a soft kiss on the crown of her head. Resting his forehead against hers, he wrapped a warm hand around the back of her neck and held out the other for Naruto to take.
He closed his eyes and just breathed her in, "I – we . . . we were so scared. We missed you, Hinata."
Naruto hummed in agreement and laid his free hand on Hinata's back. "Glad you're back, girly."
Tears welling in her eyes and spilling over her cheeks, Hinata burrowed against her two friends and let them cover her and block out the world.
Sometime later, when Hinata had cried herself to sleep, Gaara looked up and locked eyes with Naruto. A frown marred the blonde's normally smooth forehead and he jerked his head towards the direction of the Hokage's building. Gaara's brow drop and he shook his head.
"We have to leave." He whispered to his companion. Hinata shifted restlessly against the two men in her sleep and they each smoothed hands over her hair.
Naruto closed his eyes against the knowledge that the village never would change. He opened them and met Gaara's protective gaze fiercely.
"Fine," he whispered back. "They won't ever hurt her again."
"No, they won't ever hurt us again, guys." Hinata's sleepy eyes met each man's gaze, but her words were firm. "We leave in the morning, okay?"
"You bet, Hinata-baby, now sleep."
"Yes, Hinata, we'll leave tomorrow."
All three ninjas moved closer to each other, trying to block out the world and it's people.
But nothing could block out the three whispering voices in the back of each of their minds.
But that was okay.
Because it was just one more thing that bound the three friends even closer.
Demons they might be in the eyes of their once friends
Alone they couldn't survive.
But together, the three of them gave each other what they had been looking for all their lives.
Depressingly sweet, right? I can't seem to get out of this Hinata/Naruto/Gaara kick so I hope you guys enjoyed it.