The final part of the fiction. Feel free to e-mail me if you have in-depth comments or suggestions for a sequel or follow-up of sorts.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed or commented on any of the writing. Sorry it took me so long to actually finish, but I think it was worthwhile.
If there's no indication anyone's interested in reading more related material I'll be working on an unrelated fiction depending on how I feel.
Again, thanks, and merry christmas!
Naruto's release from the hospital had been to his greatest joy. His injuries had been numerous and yet he had recovered before anyone else on the mission who'd taken significant damage. Recuperation with Naruto was instantaneous it seemed, sometimes. It was no more than the day after his release that he found himself walking down one of the many streets of Konoha with Sakura guiding him along. They were engaged in idle chatter, but Sakura found Naruto more bearable lately:
"So, Sakura, when'd you start doing the whole flower thing?"
"After Lee got sent to the hospital after… Gaara… you know. With Sasuke too, there… because… yeah. I got them both flowers."
"It's often unnoticed, especially by… your gender," Sakura added with a small amount of distaste, "But each type of flower has a separate meaning."
"I guess. Anyway, we have to deal with Ino-pig if her mother isn't working."
"I don't care."
"Well I do. She's so depressing lately."
"Pfffft. People need to cheer up, believe it."
Sakura managed a small smile and Naruto let his fingers interlock behind his head as he walked. They turned into the shop Ino's parents owned, one of the only flower shops in Konoha for that matter. Soon they were walking out, Sakura holding two and Naruto holding a single one. Ino hadn't been there, instead her mother kindly helped them in their selection. Now they simply had to return to the hospital, an act they did in silence. When they finally made it Naruto glanced at Sakura and they split up quietly.
The sterile corridors of the hospital were no less inviting than they had always been. Naruto hated being in the hospital under care, he didn't hate the hospital or the staff itself. He counted the doors as they went past, preparing for his right turn. Immediately at the turn he wasn't surprised to see Kiba lounging on a chair just outside of Hinata's room. He looked slightly tired but glanced up. Kiba had missed a fair but, but Shino had informed him of what details they were allowed to give to the public of their mission. Kiba was the first to talk:
"So, hey, Naruto… uh…geeze… care… to… uhm… share more than the basics."
"I dunno, Kiba. It's not as much as you make it out to be. You're just nosy."
"No kiddin', eh? Even you're keeping quiet about it. Must be something big."
"Really, it was mostly us getting kicked around. Between you and me they don't want the other ninja to be embarrassed."
"I'm already embarrassed being around you."
"Bah… how's she doing."
"She was asleep when I went in… what's that you got in your hand?"
"Nothing at all. Nosy."
"Where's Akamaru, anyway?"
"Sleeping in the room as a watch dog. Just in case."
"Man, people are so depressingly paranoid lately. Geeze. We're beaten up so now you feel that everything needs a total defense."
"You're just moody, Naruto."
"Pfffft. People need to cheer up, believe it."
Naruto walked into the room after slowly turning the door handle. He walked inside and instantly Akamaru sniffed him, but decided not to bark. The intelligent little dog laid down again right beside the door and went back to sleep in seconds. Lazy, eh? Naruto thought, but drifted over to the bed without lingering to amuse himself with Akamaru's actions. Hinata was indeed sleeping peacefully. Unlike the last time Naruto saw her sleep she had her mouth closed but he could still hear the gentle breathing. There was no point in waking her up, so each step was carefully made to be silent. He pondered over how to place the flower, then realized Hinata's eyes had opened a little bit.
Suddenly his plan of being sneaky had failed and Hinata glanced at him. She still could only look into his eyes for a brief moment before looking away but the trait amused Naruto. On the voyage home they had been the only ones incapable of being on the upper decks due to their injuries, in fact both of them were confined to their beds, but Naruto had still moved around. Thus, they had talked, and it seemed a week of talking to each other had actually earned Naruto some trust. Now Hinata would glance at the floor and stumble through words, but she'd talk:
"Sorry, I… uh… tried to be quiet and all… but… yeah. Sorry."
"N-no… it's okay. I was… I was hoping to see you today. Th-thanks for coming… I know… it's probably… just… t-trouble to you."
"Nah. I like seeing you. Geeze, I'd tell you to cheer up if you didn't always act like this."
"Don't apologize, it's fine."
"So, when are you being released again?"
"Four more days."
"Ah. You must be happy. I couldn't take it here."
"It's fine… I… I'll still have a cast… either way…"
"It'll come off sooner or later. Look… Hinata… you don't need to be so shy around me, I don't bite."
"I… I try not to…"
"I know," Naruto sighed, Hinata was always like this, "I just thought reassuring you would be good."
"It… it is."
"Either way, I felt that I should… you know… I mean…"
"I know it's not much, but I got you a flower. Sakura said it'd be a good choice."
"I think it's a little stereotypical, but I thought it'd be better to trust the one that knows something about flowers. Plus Sakura reassured me that it was the right pick."
Naruto gently handed it over and shrugged a little bit. In all honesty he was embarrassed somewhat and wondered if Sakura had simply set him up entirely. He went towards the door and decided to leave before it was obvious he was at all turning red but as his hand reached for the door knob he heard Hinata speak up. It was rare she ever initiated saying something unless it was a question, "It's…. it's… uhm… very… s-sweet… Naruto. Could you… uhm… c-come here…?" She was being genuine, Naruto knew, but he dreaded shuffling back over to the bed for the smallest moment.
Hinata smiled a little bit as he stood there and offered up a card up to him with words accompanying the gift, "It's n-not much either… but… I got S-Shino to get it for me… and… uhm… it's just a little thanks… and… I… uhm." Naruto accepted the card and stood there for a moment. He had a brief moment where he thought to read it as Hinata placed the rose aside on the table carefully, within reach, her eyes set on it longingly. Nothing to loose anymore, idiot, Naruto thought to himself, then he placed the card by the rose and hugged Hinata. Surprisingly, Hinata returned the hug:
"T-t-thanks… I… uhm…"
"Hey… uh… afterwards… when you're out of the hospital… how about when I have time off from a mission we can gather some herbs together or something."
"Are… you… uhm… sure?"
"Yeah. I want to see you more often? Or does that sound stupid."
"N-no… it sounds nice, N-Naruto."
Kiba then burst into the room, pointed at Naruto accusingly, and shouted, "Aha! I knew it. You came in here to ask her for a date! Hahaha! That's hilarious. That's just great." Naruto promptly fell over backwards and Hinata blushed furiously. The blunt nature of Kiba's accusation didn't die off. Naruto wasn't quite sure how to react, but Kiba had made it quite clear the nature of Naruto's request. A nurse glanced in and decided to carry on after glancing something down the hallway.
A moment later something dark and shadowy appeared behind Kiba and Naruto and Hinata were shocked for a moment as Sakura smacked him upside the head then gracelessly began kicking him whilst he was down screaming, "You inconsiderate nosy idiot and your stupid tricks! Can't you see this is making Naruto less annoying! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Don't curl up! Don't you think curling up'll save you! I'll make you bleed!" Akamaru mauled one of her legs and Sakura fell over. Naruto got up, dusted himself off, and sighed. He sat down beside Hinata on the bed and glanced at her. She still avoided his eyes but seemed glad he was sitting there:
"Is it me, or does it seem we grew up a little more than everyone else on that mission?"
"Because in retrospect this happens way too much.
Naruto sighed and allowed Sakura and Kiba to duke it out in an altogether pointless fight of insults and half-hearted attacks accusing the other of amazing, unforgivable atrocities whilst he began reading the card. Hinata's handwriting was as he had strangely expected it. It seemed that what Hinata couldn't get out in words it was easier for her to get out on paper. The card had nothing but Hinata's writing in it. His eyes moved from line to line as it went whilst Sakura had began using Akamaru as an instrument to hit Kiba with.
I'm hoping that this will be easier for me to say on a card or a piece of paper than to your face. I know I must be annoying sometimes. Throughout these months, not even months but years, you've been my inspiration to become a ninja even when I wanted it the least. Even if it's a fate destined for me because of my bloodline I thank this lifestyle for sending me on that mission. Even if I nearly had to die, it made me realize that I don't want to be on the sidelines all the time. I got to be special for once, to save you instead of being saved myself. In the end everyone now knows you as the person who avenged Kakashi, but I can't I can't see it that way. To me you were the angel who saved me. Maybe it's silly to say that, but now you're someone special to me. So even if I'm not someone special like that to you, that's okay. I know that maybe I need to accept that. But I need you to know at least that the entire time I was watching.'
Naruto set the card down again and sighed, glancing at the two fighting. He shrugged and turned towards Hinata and smiled warmly. Hinata was blushing from the knowledge of what he had read, yet Naruto waited for her to catch his eyes again, "That's nonsense. You shouldn't have to accept it at all because of course you're special, Hinata. You're special to me or I couldn't have done what I managed to do in the end. Look… afterwards, when you're okay again, we'll gather herbs together. Until then I'll come every day and talk to you when I can, but you've got to promise to be less shy."
Naruto couldn't blame Hinata for being practically wordless. She was blushing horribly but managed to nod nervously. Naruto grinned a little and grabbed her hand, gave it a squeeze, then raised it up and gave it a small kiss on the back of the palm. Immediately Hinata panicked to some degree and nearly pulled away, but instead she ended up the reddest Naruto had seen her to date. In the background Sakura apparently found the moment sweet enough to fawn over, though Kiba didn't share that view and began battling her again with insults.
Naruto sighed and simply walked towards the door where Kiba and Sakura were hosting their little battle. Naruto stopped there and for once had the right to say, "Geeze, you people need to grow up, believe it." Sakura and Kiba paused and Naruto ushered them into the hallway. A moment later Kiba accused Sakura of being on her "happy time" and Sakura began another more physical assault before rushing after Naruto, who once again had his hands behind his head, grasping the card in the right.
Walking down the corridor Naruto realized he didn't care for being an avenger, even if that's all everyone else saw. Having Hinata admire him as a savior was beyond any other emotion.