It was a fairly recent ritual that the three people inside the dim room had started – one an unaware spectator, the other two acting like they'd been doing it for a long time. For the past three weeks, Hinata had spent the last three hours of her day before she turned in for the night beside Naruto's bed. On her last hour of visitation, Sasuke would pop inside the small private hospital room through the solitary window.
A nod of acknowledgement would be shared, maybe a hesitant smile on Hinata's lips which he pretended not to notice. In turn, Hinata would pretend she didn't notice that he didn't.
She had taken to bringing a boxed dinner with her. Whenever he arrived, she would softly call out his name and offer him a neatly-arranged obento. The first time he had refused. He remembered she had looked at him with a wistful smile and said:
"I cooked this for Naruto-kun. He loves ramen so much that he seems to have forgotten how to eat anything else." She had laughed softly after that, like a fluttering of bells he remembered vividly. In a more somber tone, she had continued with a slightly dazed look, "But I don't want to waste food every time he doesn't wake up."
Or to see the food I prepared left untouched.
The statement hung heavily on the air. Although she never said it out loud, her face betrayed what she really felt.
It reminded him of the times he would wait for his older brother on the training grounds, his shuriken neatly lined out on the ground, gleaming against the harsh sunlight as it waited in perfect stillness for the time that it would be thrown into the air. And he would wait. And he would stare at the line of shuriken on the ground. Sometimes, he thought those killing tools shaped like the proverbial star would smile at him mockingly as the sun's rays finally disappeared for the night.
And through frustration, sometimes through tears, he would throw them haphazardly at the trees marked as targets. And it would make him feel better in a sadistic sort of way.
So, he had taken to eating the food she had prepared whenever she gave it to him when she would always say that the food was going to get cold soon. Tonight, though he took it from Hinata's caring hands, he hadn't come to eating it, leaving it untouched on his lap as time continued to pass.
What he did continually do was to close his eyes as he sat on the cold tiled floor in a position as comfortable as he could find and then listen to the young woman's voice two yards away from him. Sometimes he would take in what she was saying; sometimes he would just let the sound of her voice wash over his clouded thoughts.
It soothed him – her voice. It exuded so much warmth even if it was high-pitched and too soft sounding to his ears. He had entertained the idea that he kept visiting Naruto because of her—voice, he added as an afterthought. But that wasn't so. The Kyuubi wanted him there, and it was for that fact alone. How else was the dead-last going to heal himself if the damn demon was now acting like a child by throwing tantrums and not tending to Naruto's every whim?
He knew that the Kyuubi's uncharacteristic behavior started upon the unsuccessful end of Orochimaru's invasion of Konohagakure, even before he fled the hidden village (for the second time). Naruto was aware about it. And so was he as soon as he noticed something amiss from his movements—rebellion maybe at knowing that the village of Konoha was finally going to get its peace. His palm met the cold floor, using it as leverage to push his body up.
"You're leaving, Uchiha-san?"
He nodded once, mentally noting that the silent woman—who had her back facing him—noticed as soon as he stood up.
"Oh," Hinata's gaze went straight to the untouched obento. Immediately, her eyes went to the floor. "I… I see."
He stiffened, forcing his gaze on the wall with the window as soon as he sighted her downcast eyes. He waded his way to the window, albeit a little stiffly.
Hinata watched as his form bent on the window and let himself out with silent grace. Even as he jumped to the ground, he hadn't given her a cursory glance.
She stood up, carefully laying Naruto's IV'd hand on the bed. She went over to the abandoned obento and picked it up with heavy hands. Surprise etched her relaxed face. Then she permitted a small smile.
The tomatoes were gone.
Avoiding the moonlit and peopled areas of Konoha, Sasuke flitted from building to building. In no time, he was able to reach the outskirts of the Uchiha compound, stealthily going over the occupied houses of the area. Once he was on his house, he made a beeline to the garden in the back, carefully eyeing his guardians for even the slightest movement of recognition. Satisfied that his movements remained undetected, he entered the six-tatami meditation room quietly, his gaze automatically focusing on his bunshin that was silently meditating inside.
"You could at least hide its presence like you do yours if you want to trick us into thinking that you're here," a masculine voice taunted from somewhere behind him.
He slowly turned to see Nara Shikamaru coming out of the shadows from the corner of the meditation room.
Shikamaru slid his arm down his thigh, opened a brown pouch attached to it, and took out a kunai. Without even trying to aim, he threw it dexterously at the meditating body. The clone immediately turned to smoke while the smoke disappeared into thin air. He crossed his arms in front of him and raised a mocking brow. "Aren't you going to ask what I'm doing here?"
When he wasn't able to illicit a response, Shikamaru sighed audibly and told him, "Not in the mood for friendly banter, eh?"
When the silence kept going, he let out another sigh, his hard form plopping onto the floor as he narrowed his gaze on the unmoving Uchiha.
"Of course you know that Tsunade-sama is still pissed with you. If she ever found out you weren't even following the ANBU's orders, she might just go berserk the very next time you see her. On another note, the bank has reopened the Uchiha's frozen account with the request of the Hokage. They will, however, be monitoring your expenses. We can't have you buying weapons and whatever to destroy the world." The last sentence was coupled with a wink. But returning said sentiment wasn't something that Sasuke had the slightest interest in at the moment
"Oh, by the way, if you keep up being a 'good boy' for the next two weeks they—well the Hokage really—are going to pull off the ANBU guards stationed here. Though by then you need to report to the Hokage daily and there will still be authorities to check on you every now and then."
He stood up, walking towards the opened exiting sliding door. "One last thing," Shikamaru paused, his right hand on the edge of the fusuma while the other was inside his green pant pocket. He looked up at the dimly lit night sky, his eyes caressing the cumulus clouds clearly outlined by the moon's light. "Naruto's awake."
To anyone with untrained eyes looking at a dimly lit room such as the one he was currently residing, it would look like the Uchiha didn't even react at the news. But to a shinobi, you would see with ease the imperceptive tightening of his jaw and the slight narrowing of his eyes.
Shikamaru smirked. He spoke again, but this time at a lower volume, almost a whisper. "I won't pester you for the details as to where you went off to for the past half hour after leaving the hospital premises. You better make sure it's nothing that would hurt the people of Konoha."
With that parting threat, Sasuke stared at the moonlight that had spilled into the room after Shikamaru left. Slowly, he stood up from his seiza, walked towards the entrance, and slid the fusuma close with a decisive click.
Sakura nimbly ran through the narrow corridors of the hospital, taking care not to hit anything or anyone that might suddenly block her path. So great was her excitement at finally being able to see the energetic blonde shinobi that adrenaline rushed throughout her body as she ran up the stairs to the third floor, making her fingers and feet tingle in response.
"Na—" She stopped before she could even open the door midway thru. Hinata was latched on to Naruto and was currently sobbing on his chest. She had forgotten that it was her that had patched through a message on the hospital that Naruto had awakened.
"Oi, oi," Naruto gently rebuked a sobbing Hinata tightly latched on to his chest. Her head was buried on his healed stomach while her hands tightly clutched at his back.
"Uchiha-san," Hinata started, making Naruto stiffen in response at the mention of the shinobi's name. "Uchiha-san visits you everyday."
Behind them, Sakura stifled an audible gasp upon hearing that Sasuke visited the hospital – and he was supposed to be under house arrest! And what was this about only Hinata knowing about his clandestine visits? Her grasp on the doorknob tightened. Wasn't Hinata supposed to be the one who was the outsider to their friendship? This time, she couldn't stop the audible gasp that escaped from her lips. She was aghast at where her thoughts were taking her. It must be the adrenaline that was pumping her brain into over-activity.
A few moments of silence passed through the small room. Her breath caught in her throat, thinking that the people might have noticed she was there at the door already to explain the silence. Instead, Naruto broke it by saying:
"Of course! We can't have my girl going unprotected!"
Hinata blushed. She buried her face in the crook of his neck while she gasped out a muffled "Naruto!"
Sakura finally had the courage to interrupt them by knocking on the door twice.
"Hey," Sakura replied with a forced smile.
"Wow, news sure does travel fast!"
"Huh?" Sakura's brows knitted at Naruto's thumbs-up sign thrown at her—or rather—behind her. She whipped her head to her back, only to recoil inside the room when she found out that Rookie Nine's Ino and Chouji plus Lee and Tenten were behind her, all of them sporting goofy smiles and waving a hand in greeting.
Three days later, Sakura went to Naruto's hospital room to find Naruto and Hinata still close to each other, though this time their faces and tone of conversation held happiness and relief. Inwardly, she was glad Hinata was laughing again – not to mention she had that permanent blush on her cheeks whenever she was with Naruto. She was too cute for her own good.
"Ah—Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed as soon as he saw her hover at the open door uncertainly.
Sakura scowled playfully, stomped her way towards the bed, and bonked him on the head with the clipboard she had in her hand when he went on to ask her for a hug.
"Don't flirt with girls in front of your girlfriend!"
Hinata giggled, more so when Naruto faked a pained expression. Sakura noticed Naruto's hand tighten affectionately for a moment over Hinata's. She looked at her former teammate with gentleness. "You excited about getting out of the hospital?"
"No way! I'll miss wearing this," he pointed at the hospital gown he was sporting. "It's so cool and comfy!"
"Stupid!" She shouted as her eyes twitched. "That's because save for the gown that's covering your front, you've got nothing underneath, you pervert!"
"NO! Please spare Hinata's innocence!" He shouted theatrically as he covered both of Hinata's ears.
Hinata smiled in response at the two's playful banter.
"Naruto," Sakura spoke, her face turning somber at her next words. "Hokage-sama would like to talk to you as soon as you are able to."
"O—a new mission?"
"It's about Sasuke, baka!" Sakura reacted rather harshly.
"Sorry, Sakura-chan, I was just fooling around."
"W-well, it's not something to be taken lightly!" She said with her voice cracking, her eyes downcast, hiding the fact that she was on the verge of tears.
"Sakura-chan," Hinata stood up, letting go of Naruto's hand with an apologetic smile, and used the same hand to gently close around Sakura's wrist. "Let's go get drinks," she said with a small, comforting smile. She lightly tugged at Sakura's hand, silently urging her friend to follow her outside.
With a nod, Sakura let Hinata drag her out of the room.
As soon as the door closed in front of him, Naruto turned to the solitary window in the hospital room, his big grin fading as his face took on a grave look.
Outside, the two walked side-by-side, silence governing them as each were lost in their own thoughts.
"Hinata," Sakura called out her name softly when they were gliding down the stairs.
"Hokage-sama would also like to talk to those who were involved with Sasuke that day."
"I see. I'll be going with Naruto, then?" She inquired after some silent pondering.
"No, she'll talk to us a day after her talk with Naruto."
They entered the hospital lounge with none of them speaking. Wordlessly, Hinata took out a handful of coins from her pant pocket and dropped it onto Sakura's waiting open palms.
"I wish everything would go back to the way it was seven years ago," Sakura said wistfully as she inserted the coins on the vending machine.
"If that happens then I wouldn't have had the nerve to confess to Naruto-kun."
"God, you're right!" She exclaimed with widened eyes, her hands grasping Hinata's slender upper arms. "I'm sorry, Hinata-chan! I was being selfish, wasn't I?"
"Not at all, Sakura-chan," she stated with her usual smile.
A day later, the Hokage agreed to release Naruto from the hospital. Hinata had taken the day off from the academy to help him. After all, it had been more than a month since he last slept in his apartment.
Hinata carefully laid down the bags of groceries onto Naruto's wooden breakfast table. She started the task of emptying the contents of the paper bags into the overhead cupboards. In the background, she could hear Naruto padding on his bare feet around the apartment, taking and dropping things carelessly.
When she finished with the groceries she proceeded to the sink and filled a kettle she had taken from one of the cabinets under the sink and filled it with tap water. When it was settled down on the heated stove she grabbed one of the three bowls of instant ramen and opened it.
"Hi. Na. Cha—n!"
Naruto latched his arms around her waist from her back, breathing in her scent from the crook of her neck as he did.
"Naruto, that tickles!" She announced breathlessly, her neck shying away from his nose as she dropped the plastic ramen bowl on the kitchen counter.
He grinned. "That's better. You looked like a ghost standing here on my kitchen all silent and stuff."
Hinata smiled. She couldn't really keep a serious face when Naruto was like this. She turned around, putting both her hands on his shoulders during the process, and stood with the tips of her toes to drop a kiss on the angle of his jaw. But she was met with his lips instead when he dropped his head to meet her halfway. He followed her lips with his when she drew back. She felt Naruto's arms tighten around her waist, making her body mold closer to his.
Behind them, the kettle's spout whistled, signifying that the water in it had reached boiling point. She broke off the kiss, her eyes focusing on Naruto's passion-glazed eyes. "Y-your ramen…" she pointed out weakly.
"Later. Much, much later," he said huskily as he recaptured her lips.
She closed her eyes, willing her restless mind to shut itself away from its confused thoughts. She wanted to feel, to forget what had happened. But she couldn't. Not when he had almost died on her. She forcibly pushed him away. With determination echoing in her steps, she plodded her way to the stove and turned the dial off. Taking a much needed deep breath, she turned around and faced him, eyes set grimly at him.
"We have to talk."
Uchiha Sasuke sat on his hunches, a cup of green tea cradled in between his hands, his back leaning against the closed shoji. His head was tipped up, looking at the heavens above. He didn't seem to mind that his tea was going colder by the minute as he continued to leave it untouched.
It was the erratic movement and abnormal rattling of the shrubberies that alerted him that the event was anything but out of the ordinary. For one, there was no breeze. Another thing was that the Uchiha compound was so far from the Konoha entrance gates, untamed animals that strayed the premises were next to nothing – at least as far as he could remember. The possibility could not be thrown, but to his highly sensitive ears, the movement was too accidental and not at all natural.
His right hand instinctively went for the weapon pouch situated on his lower leg but it grasped nothing but air. It was only then that he remembered that it was confiscated from him. Without any weapon in hand to check out the situation, he chose instead to stay on his current position and wait for further movement. For the next minute everything was absolutely still.
"What was it?"
He turned around at the sound of a man's low voice behind him and saw the two ANBUs keeping guard of him since his return, one flanking each of his side.
The three froze in response to another movement of the shrubberies—a movement triggered not of fear but of concentration—this time twenty feet away from the original source. The two ANBUs bulleted towards the thick shrubberies a second later, leaving a mildly contemplative Uchiha standing on the hardwood floor.
Hinata lightly treaded one of the bare Konoha streets that led to the block of apartments she was living in. She had left a complaining Naruto in his apartment. She hadn't understood why Naruto had been acting objectionable to what she had been saying. She still couldn't. She had the sudden urge to hit something—anything—to let out her frustrations. Sakura loved doing that, making her think it might be really effective (even if her target was Naruto's head).
While she was walking while still pondering about Naruto, two chakra signatures filled with murderous intent entered her area of awareness, making her heart stop for a moment before her instincts quickly took over.
However, as soon as she had activated her bloodline limit, a large hand closed over her small throat and pushed her down with great force. Less than a second later, she was lying on the ground, her eyes training on the full moon. Her Byakugan had deactivated, but not before seeing the black silhouette of a person that had been running at an incredible speed on her path and was most likely the one that had tackled her to the ground.
A few seconds past, two forms wearing ANBU uniform and masks zoomed past her normal line of vision, an aura of offensive intent emanating from them.
She wasn't really hurt, merely winded by the impact which she cushioned herself with using a little bit of chakra at the moment of knowing she was going to slam to the ground. She vigorously nodded her head, making it rub painfully against of the rubble beneath her. She winced.
Her eyes widened when it registered on her brain that she was lying down on a dented and cracked road. Her mouth followed when she realized who the voice belonged to.
She took the hand that was offered with little to no resistance, her heart beating against her ribs as the young man hoisted her up and against his chest.
"You were following me?!"
She flushed red at the sight of a pair of bright cerulean eyes staring back at her with so much shock flickering in them. She herself was surprised with the force and volume her outburst had taken.
Hinata stared at him blankly at the sudden apology. For a second there, she thought she had been the one to apologize.
Naruto turned red at Hinata's blank look. He immediately let go of her and turned around.
It must have been his reaction and his face that triggered her to move and grab his wrist to stop him from leaving. They had to fix this, she thought to herself.
They just had to.
Uchiha Sasuke watched the exchange between the two at a safe distance. He had trailed behind the two ANBU's a few seconds after their swift pursuit. He only stopped when he felt Naruto and the Kyuubi's chakra signature close in on the area. Swiftly, he turned around and retraced his steps back to the Uchiha compound.
Major credit to Shiranui the Brave for proofreading this chapter. He makes writing so much easier. Reviews would be nice.
Disclaimer: This fiction is written for entertainment purposes only, thus, the authoress will not be profiting from this. Naruto and its characters are owned by Masashi Kishomoto.