Elementary, my dear Naruto

XXI. Tying up loose ends

Naruto held his tongue while Shikamaru did his thing. He could have thrown more sarcastic remarks at old man Fujishima, but what good would that do? He wasn't the real villain of this affair. Hidekatsu was that, and he'd been dead a week. There was no one else he could in all conscience punish. If Hinata had been seriously hurt—well, that would have been an entirely different situation—but as it was, she'd only been drugged, and well taken care of in that state. He couldn't have asked for a better outcome.

Yet he was still angry.

He knew he was being unreasonable, but he'd never cared about someone in this way before. He didn't know how to deal with the anxiety and fear. This was all so new to him. Even Sakura had never brought out so many protective feelings in him. Yet he knew he had to come to terms with the idea of Hinata in danger. She was a Kunoichi. It would happen again. And he wouldn't always be there. He had to learn to deal with it—or go crazy whenever she was out of his sight.

He felt Hinata's worried eyes on him. He knew he wasn't hiding his anger very well. He wondered if she could see his anger with her Byakugan. She could see so many things that he couldn't with her blood limit. It was odd to think that she could actually look through him. He wondered if she ever had. He wondered how much she could see inside him. Would she Kyuubi if she looked into him? Or would she just see his chakra channels and Kyuubi's chakra when he called it up? He'd have to ask her sometime.

For now, he squeezed her hand and rubbed his thumb over her palm. He liked the feel of her soft skin under his fingers. Even for a kunoichi she had soft hands with only traces of calluses. And her hands were small. He could fit both of hers within one of his—and to think that at one time she was taller than he was. He hoped his little play with her hands—which was actually calming—reassured her that he wouldn't do anything stupid. Although maybe old man Fujishima's wall needed another opening. That action had given him a certain amount of satisfaction and relief from all his negative feelings, but he'd like to aim at someone he really disliked—Constable Hayama for example. In his place Sessue Hayama might do, if he opened his mouth to say something stupid again. He still couldn't believe the guy had actually tried to lie to him when he'd asked where Hinata was.

Why was Shikamaru taking so long to think? What did it all matter? Since there was no one to pound, he didn't really care what was decided. He was just thankful that they could leave this village real soon—the sooner the better as far as he was concerned. So instead of prolonging things by opening his mouth to verbally vent and possibly disturb Shikamaru in thought, he remained quiet like the others, although not as still while he waited for the great brain to finish thinking.

Finally Shikamaru lowered his hands. He'd completed his thought processes. He raised his head and looked at Lord Fujishima. "Many people would find your openness about this business disingenuous, but knowing the background of the ninja who was killed, I have no doubt that your version of events was essentially correct."

"Thank you," Lord Fujishima said, and inclined his head gratefully.

"Therefore," he continued as if he'd never been interrupted. "I'm inclined to help you as far as duty allows. Tell me, Lord Fujishima—are you willing to give up Nohara Shibuya?"

"I—yes. I can do that."

"Then we'll bring Nohara Shibuya into the village and explain that the dead man tried to rob you. You defended yourself and he was killed. You were afraid of being incarcerated and someone stealing your mine so you disguised him, left him outside the village, and pretended to find him. If they decide you need to be brought to justice, we'll tell the villagers that we're taking you back to Konoha for trial. That would necessitate the end of Nohara Shibuya and should take care of this mystery to the villager's satisfaction. If you need to give up Shibuya, I suggest you completely block the southern entrance to your tunnel so no one can find it even accidentally. I'd hate to have to come back here because someone has gone missing searching for your mine."

He bowed to Shikamaru. "Yes, I agree to everything. Your solution to this problem is most merciful. Thank you, young man. As well as being intelligent and resourceful, ninja's are just and noble as well."

"Flattery, Lord Fujishima? Don't bother. If you like Konoha justice, you might see your way to sending some reimbursement to the Sand Village. You wasted the time of two valuable ninja trying to track down their stolen artifact. If not for you the thought of theft might never have entered that ninja's head. Although you can't be held responsible for his actions, if you had returned the stolen fan, they would not have come here looking for it, and we might not have discovered the truth about this mystery. Think about that the next time you allow greed and expediency to dictate your actions," Shikamaru lectured. He rather enjoyed his role as the all knowing and all wise arbiter of justice. It wasn't too often he was able to lecture his elders.

"It shall be done." He bowed again.

Shikamaru stood up. "It's starting to get dark. I suppose we ought to get back. There's a dinner awaiting us back at the village.

"Aw, do we have to? Hinata's not up to it yet," Naruto asked not budging from his comfortable seat. However, he did remember to drop Hinata's hands before someone caught him holding them.

"I have plenty of room and bedding here. Why don't you stay the night? Wouldn't we all be better served if we rested before facing the villagers tomorrow?" Lord Fujishima suggested.

"Now that I've made my decision, I see no conflict to us enjoying your hospitality. What do you all say?" He addressed the others.

Everyone was in complete agreement. No one was interested in the villager's dinner. The food might be fine, but endless numerous questions and curious stares would not be.

Lord Fujishima gave orders to Sessue to prepare some rooms. It was determined that Temari would share Hinata's room. The futon was big enough to sleep four. Naruto wished he could stay at Hinata's side to watch over her, but he had no right to ask. Their relationship hadn't even gotten started yet. No one would consider it proper since she wasn't exactly ill, and he wasn't even her official boyfriend yet. Reluctantly, he stood up.

"I'll have Sessue bring in a table. You can dine here so the young lady won't be left alone. Now that the drug is wearing off, she can hardly be tired yet," Lord Fujishima suggested genially.

"Yeah, let's do that," Naruto agreed readily.

"You'll be joining us, won't you, Lord Fujishima? I'd like to hear about your metal men," Shikamaru suggested.

"Certainly. I'd be happy to describe them to you at dinner."

The meal they shared with Lord Fujishima was much better than the meals they'd had at the inn while under village scrutiny. There was also a wider variety of dishes. Shikamaru thought the lord of the manor must either be expressing his gratitude with his opulent hospitality or attempting to sweeten them up so they wouldn't change their mind. He hoped his reading of the situation had been accurate. If the Fifth disagreed with his decision she could always send in more ninja, but he didn't think that likely. Lord Fujishima might have allowed greed and a lack of judgment to guide him, but he wasn't dangerous. And now that they'd impressed him with the mystique of ninjas, he wouldn't try anything overt again.

During dinner, Naruto was able to watch Hinata to his heart's content without anyone caring. She stayed in bed, and he elected himself as her server. She didn't appear to need any help eating and the food seemed to revive her strength even more. But he kept watch, willingly fetching whatever she required.

Lord Fujishima seemed delighted with the company. He had so few occasions to converse with others. Shikamaru and Temari were most interested in his metal men. They listened to a complete explanation and insisted on a demonstration. However, no one present except Lord Fujishima could command them. Shikamaru had been hoping to have found a new tool for Konoha ninja, however the power wasn't in the metal men, but in Lord Fujishima himself. Unfortunately, he was too old to recruit.

Choji ate as much as he wanted without anyone complaining or rushing him. Too bad there were no barbeque dishes. He would have rated the mission excellent if they'd offered barbeque any where.

Daiki was subdued. He ate some of whatever Choji heaped on his plate, and he listened attentively to the various conversations. Temari saw to it that the conversation never strayed towards a reminder of their mission. She was sensitive to his feelings. Even if he and Hidekatsu hadn't been close, they were still family. Family could do many unforgivable things before you actually stopped forgiving them. Hidekatsu had crossed that line, but it would still be difficult to forget. Daiki needed much more time for that.

After dinner, Lord Fujishima showed them some of his more remarkable heirlooms. Many were encrusted with jewels or gilded. Many were purported to have mystical or magical properties. Many were weapons. The fan would have been only one of many for Lord Fujishima. Temari felt no guilt over keeping it even when there were sometimes gentle hints about its prominent place among his heirlooms. After a time, even he could recognize an implacable female when faced with one.

And so the evening passed more enjoyably than they'd feared that morning. Everyone retired quite pleased with the results of the mission.

When they brought Mr. Shibuya into the village, they were confronted by the mayor, the constable, and the self-proclaimed members of the village council they hadn't met, all looking disapproving and affronted.

"Where have you been?" Mayor Kobayashi asked.

"We held back dinner for hours," reproved the restaurant owner whose name they'd never learned.

"Everyone was most disappointed," Kazuhiko Endoh, the innkeeper told them.

"I expected that kind of rude behavior from ninja," Constable Hayama announced with ill-concealed satisfaction that his expectations had been met.

Shikamaru held up his hands to quell the grumblings to a dull drone. "We had some unexpected success late yesterday evening. We couldn't get back to you in time for dinner."

"What happened?" demanded several voices.

"I'd like to introduce you to the person responsible for your mysterious death. Mr. Shibuya," Shikamaru brought him forward, and told the story they'd decided on.

Once the news of their discovery and solution to the mystery of the dead disfigured man was heard, no one could reasonably chastise them over the village banquet they'd missed. They were too relieved at the news. The story filtered around the village even while they told it, and a crowd gathered around them.

There was some discussion of a trial and jail time, until Mr. Shibuya announced that he would pay the ninja fees, their room and board as well as funeral expenses for the dead man. After that the murmurs of justice died down, and everyone declared themselves satisfied that the story he told was quite reasonable. The culprit wasn't really one of their own since he technically lived outside the village. The dead man had nothing to do with their mine. And they weren't out the expenses of the investigation. They could all go about their business not in the least worried that they'd be targeted in the future by an unknown assailant. Mr. Shibuya did right to protect himself and his mine. He'd probably saved the village from a similar robbery attempt. The solution couldn't have been more convenient for them.

Now that their mission was completed, the villagers seemed eager to see the ninja on their way, but not as eager as Team Shikamaru was to be gone. Good-byes were effected swiftly. Even the constable only said "Good riddance" under his breath before walking off with the mayor.

It was still early morning, so they had no problem leaving almost immediately. First they went back to their rooms, to make a check to be certain they'd left nothing behind. Mr. Shibuya had already given both ninja groups their pay in gold, before settling with the innkeeper and taking off to the south and his cabin.

"Shikamaru, could I see you a minute in private before we leave?" Temari asked and beckoned him into her room.

Puzzled, he followed her giving orders to his team to wait at the inn entrance for him when they were ready. Once he'd closed her door behind him, she grabbed him by the shirt pulling him towards her, and planted a liplock on him so fast, he didn't even see it coming. But his surprise gave way to cooperation very quickly. It wasn't like he'd never kissed a girl before, but he'd never been met with such enthusiasm. Kissing took on a far more interesting prospect when the girl initiated and actively participated in the activity. He felt his usual lethargy disappear completely. Maybe that's what had been missing in his earlier romantic forays—a girl who was as into him as he was into her.

When they came up for air, he said huskily, "Temari, I never figured you for a tease. We don't have time for this. I've got three impatient team mates waiting for me out front. What are you up to?"

She pouted and kissed him again lightly. "I'm not teasing you. I'm giving you a sample of coming attractions. Next time I expect to be the pouncee not the pouncer."

He slid his hands around her waist, and held her against him. He wouldn't risk a kiss. He might not be able to stop with one more kiss. He already felt a little light headed. The girl really knew how to kiss. "I'm looking forward to it. When will that be?"

She rested her head on his shoulder and put her arms around him. He was almost a head taller than she was. "Soon. I think. A few weeks at best. A few months at most."

He rested his chin on her hair. "How can that be? The chûnin exams don't come up again for another year."

"You'll see. Let me retain a few mysteries."

"Believe me, sweetheart, you always will."

She raised her head, drew back and placed her hands over his gently removing his hands from her waist. "Shikamaru, that's one of the sweetest things you've ever said to me," she sighed. "I guess we'd better go before everyone begins to wonder where we are. Good thing I don't wear lipstick on missions or we'd both need some cleaning up."

"You don't need make-up. You're beautiful just the way you are," he said sincerely. He didn't know when he'd started to find her so attractive, but he was struck by just how much he enjoyed looking at her. She drew his eye with every toss of her head, flutter of her eyelashes or swivel of her hips. She had him completely fascinated, and he didn't mind it one bit.

Her smile was almost shy. "I don't know why I ever thought you needed practice flirting. You've become a master in no time."

"I'm not flirting. I'm serious."

"I know. That's what makes it even more intriguing. I can't wait to experience it on a more regular basis. Who would ever have thought that you and I could be interested in one another?" She shook her head in wonder.

"I've always been interested. I just never thought you'd be." He wasn't ready to put a stronger name to his feelings. They were too new.

"Me, too. Well, it won't be long, and we'll see if there's something real to our mutual interest. We'd better go." She took his hand and tugged him to the door.

He was suddenly reluctant to leave. Despite her promises, he didn't know when he'd see Temari again, and he realized he wanted to see her—often. Her teasing pursuit of him was incredibly attractive. On his own, he might never have approached her. He would have thought it a forlorn hope. That was his greatest failing—not trying for something when the odds were against him. Some would say his ability to calculate the odds and quit while he was ahead required high level intelligence. But he'd seen others like Naruto strive against overwhelming odds and win despite all evidence to the contrary. Unless forced to by circumstances, he almost never took on a losing fight. He was beginning to realize that his intelligence might be as much of a handicap as a help.

"Temari," he said quietly and stopped her before she opened the door.

He took her chin in his hand and this time gave her a quick, hard kiss. "Make it soon," he murmured against her mouth.

"Ummm. I will," she promised breathlessly, and opened the door.

She led the way out of her room, and they walked slowly out to the entrance to where their team mates were waiting. They walked side by side, and anyone scrutinizing them closely would have noticed that they walked closer together than mere acquaintances would. But no one was paying that much attention. The others were impatiently waiting to get on the road.

They said their good-byes quickly, and the teams headed off in opposite directions.

Shikamaru and Choji took the lead. Naruto and Hinata trailed behind.

Naruto slowed his walk waiting for the other two to get out of ear shot, before addressing Hinata. He wasn't in the least bit curious about Shikamaru and Temari's last meeting. If he needed to know, he'd be told. He had his own concerns to deal with.

"You're still feeling alright, Hinata?" She looked fine—better than fine. She didn't appear to be suffering any ill effects from being drugged all yesterday.

"Yes, thank you. I feel very good. All that sleep yesterday was most beneficial."

"I'm glad. Really glad. If anything had happened to you—"

She put a hand on his arm not allowing him to complete his sentence. She didn't want to see him angry again. "Let's not think about that, Naruto. Everything worked out most satisfactorily. Lord Fujishima was really a nice old man despite what happened."

He shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. Shikamaru believed him, so I guess I should, too. But I find it hard to think of him as nice."

She had a sudden thought, and changed the subject. "Oh, Naruto, I forgot to tell you! You'll never believe what I found out!"

"What?" He smiled indulgently at her excited voice. He was ready to drop the subject if that was her wish.

"Do you remember the name Fujishima from before this mission?"

He scratched his head. "Sorta. It sounded familiar when I first heard it, but I can't remember why."

"Well, do you remember that shrine we stayed at when I had the mission to bring you home from the city?"

He grinned. "How could I forget a single second of that mission? I'd never seen you dressed up before. You looked beautiful in that red dress."

She blushed. "That wasn't the part of the mission I want you to remember."

"Why not? That's the one part I can't forget. I hope you still have that dress. I'm looking forward to seeing you wear it again."

She continued to blush. "Yes, I still have it. It weathered the mission with only a few wrinkles. But you do remember the shrine?" she persisted.

"Yeah, sure. What about it? I slept peacefully most of the time we were there."

"Remember, I told you about the dream I had about the priestess, Tsubaki? She was in love with a warrior named Uryu Fujishima?"

"Hey! Yeah! That's where I head the name before. So, is he related to old man Fujishima? Is that what you found out?"

She nodded her head. "I think so. He had a great uncle of the same name who lost his legs in the war. From what Lord Fujishima told me, he must have died close to the same time that Tsubaki died. It can't be a coincidence. It must be the same person."

"So what are you going to do with that information?"

"I'd like to return to the shrine. I want to tell Tsubaki what happened to the man she loved—that he didn't deliberately desert her. I think her spirit would find some rest if she knew." During this mission until she'd heard the name Fujishima, she hadn't given any thought to Tsubaki and the promise she'd made to discover what happened to her lover. She'd completely forgotten that Tsubaki had said Uryu Fujishima had come from a mountain village. What luck that it had all come together so easily. She almost felt guilty that she hadn't thought to pursue the matter before.

"Okay. Let's do it," he agreed.

She looked at him in pleased surprise. "You'll come with me?"

"Of course. Maybe this time, she'll let me actually meet her and not sleep through it all."

She clapped her hands together. "That's wonderful. Thank you, Naruto."

"Just so you know—that trip won't count."

Her brow furrowed. She looked at him in askance. "Won't count? What do you mean?"

"A trip to the shrine, won't count as our date," he explained determinedly. This was the topic he'd really wanted to bring up, so he thought this a nice segue. "When we get back to Konoha we're going to have a real date? Remember? You promised."

She smiled happily. "I know I did. And I never go back on my word. That's my ninja way."

He grinned back. "Good. We'll go out the day after we get back. I'll make sure Granny Tsuande doesn't assign us to another mission for a few days."

"Okay," she said agreeably.

A date with Naruto.

Her impossible dream, incredible fantasy and cherished wish come true. She could hardly believe it. Where would they go? What would they do? She didn't care. Anywhere with Naruto would be wonderful.

She began walking a little faster. They needed to get home as quickly as possible.

A date with Naruto.

She'd wear her red dress, of course. He'd said she'd looked beautiful. She wanted to look beautiful for him.

Would he kiss her again? Oh, my! She blushed just thinking about it.

A date with Naruto.

She couldn't wait.

The End part TWO.

The story continues in PART THREE tentatively titled:

"The courtship of Naruto Uzumaki."