Naruto and Hinata walked down the road towards the big gates that marked the entrance to Konoha. Naruto's hand twitched to reach out and grab Hinata's, maybe even to pull her up next to him and wrap his arm around her shoulders.
She was right there next to him, but he couldn't touch her. Not with the guards watching.
They had both agreed that the generous amount of affection Naruto liked to shower on her probably wouldn't go over too well with the rest of the village, especially her father. They were going to have to tone it down in public, at least for a while.
It had been a long time since they had left the village on a mission with an old friend of the Hokage, a woman who had become like an older sister to both of them. Now they were walking back towards their home and she was walking back to her home, several days journey away.
They both wished that she was here with them, for more reasons than just the mission. With Sora already gone and Hinata out of reach, Naruto was already starting to feel lonely.
They approached the guards who were eyeing them wearily. Naruto supposed that two people arriving in the middle of the night probably was suspicious, especially two ninja that they didn't recognize with Konoha forehead protectors. Neither of them looked much like they had when they had left at fourteen.
"Who are you and what business do you have in Konoha?" one guard asked when they got within fifteen feet of the door.
"Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata. We've just returned from an extended mission," Naruto said, stopping.
Both of the guards started slightly in surprise, looking between each other and then back at the pair. "You're Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata?" the other one asked suspiciously.
Naruto smiled. "You know of another pair with white eyes and whisker marks?" he asked, his voice holding a hint of amusement.
The guard snorted. "Hmm…you're early," he said. "We weren't told to expect you for a few more days, and there was supposed to be three of you."
They both had to hold themselves back from wincing. "Our companion had things she needed to take care of. We hurried here so she could get back to them," Hinata said quietly.
The guards looked at her, vaguely surprised that she had spoken. Everyone in the village knew about how extremely timid the Hyuuga heir was. The other one grinned and knocked on the door, starting to yell. "Hey, open up the gates! We got a couple of shinobi returned home!"
Noises could be heard coming from the top of the city wall, before one of the giant doors swung partially open to allow them entrance. The guard walked through the opening, motioning the pair to follow him.
"Oi, Genma!" the guard yelled out to a group of ninja standing around the door mechanics, laughing at some joke. A man with shoulder-length brown hair held back by a bandana and a senbon between his lips turned to look at them. "You wanna take these two to the Hokage? She wanted to see them as soon as they got in."
The man grinned, the senbon dangling precariously from one corner of his mouth, but not falling out. "Hey, it's the loud kid from the Chuunin Exam a few years ago. Sure, I'll take 'em. Come on," he said, waving goodbye to the group he'd been talking to and starting to saunter down the street with his hands in his pockets.
Naruto and Hinata began to follow him through the lit streets of the village, half hearing the sound of the gate closing behind them. They had left before rebuilding from the Sand invasion had been completed. It was odd, walking past the closed-up shops, houses and restaurants that looked familiar and yet not. Konoha had always been somewhat of a hodgepodge of architecture, mixing old styles with colorful stucco walls and brightly colored roofs. After a few generations of battles, the buildings had had portions rebuilt so many times that it was almost a patchwork.
The sights and smells around them, the sent of food drifting out onto the street from an open restaurant, the hum of the streetlights overhead, the twisting streets and colored walls were all definitely Konoha. But it wasn't quite the same. It wasn't quite the village they left behind.
"So, how long you been gone for?" Genma asked casually over his shoulder.
"Three years," Naruto said rather softly, as if unable to really believe it himself.
Genma whistled softly. How he was able to do this with a sharp metal stick in his mouth, neither Naruto or Hinata could figure out. "Long time to be gone at your age."
"It was an important mission," Naruto said, with a half grin, the confident, rambunctious child returning.
"Oh, I see," the man said, looking back over his shoulder at them as he opened a door into a large cream-colored building. "Well then, it's probably confidential, right?"
Naruto's grin widened as he entered, stopping to hold the door open for Hinata. "You got it."
They walked three flights of stairs before heading down one of the hallways. This wasn't the building that the Hokage's office used to be housed in; they must have decided to move it sometime within the last three years. Looking out of a window, Hinata realized why. The new offices were directly opposite the hospital. Tsunade apparently wanted to be close to any potential patients.
"Hokage-sama?" Genma said, knocking on the door. "Hokage-sama, we've brought Uzumaki and Hyuuga to see you."
There was a series of quick, quiet footsteps on the other side of the door before both halves swung open to reveal Tsunade. Naruto grinned. She hadn't changed a bit. Same blond pigtails, same ridiculous bust, and not a single sign that she had aged a day.
She smiled back. "Welcome home."
"I'm sorry Obaa-san; we weren't able to bring Sora back with us," Naruto said as he hung his and Hinata's coats up on the hooks next to the door.
"You don't seem upset about the fact that you failed," Tsunade said, leaning back in her desk chair. It wasn't so much that she was upset, as she was surprised. She would have thought a failed mission would have made Naruto defensive and have him spouting off about how he was going to succeed eventually.
Hinata picked up the teapot on Tsunade's desk and poured all three of them a cup. "Onee-chan needed to take care of Yasu and Miki," she said. "They need her right now."
"Besides," Naruto said, plopping down in the chair next to Hinata and taking the cup of tea. "It's not like she's disappeared. We just have to wait for a better time." He grinned at her. "Then we'll get her here."
Tsunade looked at the pair sitting across from her. They were definitely the same two that she had sent away, but they had changed. Naruto still hummed with energy, but he sat half slouched in his chair, whereas three years ago he had sat on the very edge. At least until he decided to stand on it. He didn't seem to feel the need to shout how he was going to succeed, although all of his old confidence was still present in his statement about getting Sora here eventually.
He had also grown. A lot. He was at least six feet tall, maybe an inch or two more. Fortunately, he also seemed to have grown out of some of the awkwardness he had as a pre-teen or his long limbs would be going everywhere. Somewhere along the line he had also abandoned his bright orange suit in favor of long black pants and a rust red jacket with a stand-up collar. The spiral design, she noted, was still there, but only on his shoulder, the symbol embroidered on in black. It was like everything about him was the same, but slightly calmed down.
The girl on the other hand seemed to have opened up. She still seemed relatively quiet and soft spoken, but her stutter had disappeared and she was sitting up straight in her chair. She looked down as Ton-Ton butted it's nose up against her leg and smiled as she bent slightly to scratch between it's ears, making the little creature grunt happily. Her hair, apparently rather long now, had been twisted up into a large bun held in place by a pair of sticks topped with silver and decorated with a short fall of pearls. Like Naruto, she wore long black pants, but she wore a fitted creamy wool tunic that fell to mid thigh with slits up to her waist. The sleeves stopped halfway between her wrist and elbow and the collar was cut in a square, framing the Leaf forehead protector tied around her neck. Tsunade noted the swirl that symbolized the Hyuuga house had been embroidered in its standard red onto the lower left corner of the shirt.
"Who's Miki?" she asked. She recognized Yasu, Sora's old partner from her mercenary days, but Miki was new to her.
Naruto and Hinata looked mildly surprised that she didn't know, but didn't think much of it. Sora must not have mentioned Miki in her reports, although that did seem odd. "Miki is Nori and Yasu's daughter," Hinata said quietly.
"What happened to them?" Tsunade asked. "Why do they need Sora?"
They both stared at her for a few seconds before Naruto started exploded. "What do you mean what happened to them? They're in mourning from Itachi murdering Nori!"
"Itachi?" Tsunade repeated, shocked.
"Yeah, Itachi and Kisame!" Leaning forward to bang his fist on Tsunade's desk, Naruto continued. "Those bastards ripped down their defenses, killed Nori and were trying to kill Yasu and Miki when we arrived. All to get to me! And now, Yasu is so messed up that she can't even really take care of herself, let alone Miki! They won't come down off the mountain!"
"Are you telling me that the two of you fought Itachi and Kisame?!" Tsunade said, practically shouting. It was enough to startle Naruto out of his rant, leaving him staring at her slightly gaping. Then he looked over with a questioning look at Hinata.
Hinata gulped. "Um, yes; about six months ago," she said.
Fire burned in Tsunade's eyes. "All right, you two are telling me everything that happened, starting from the beginning, right now!"
"I'm going to kill her! What part of 'under the radar' does that girl not understand?" Tsunade was furious and making no efforts to hide it. She punctuated her last word with a punch to the wall, although apparently her full strength wasn't behind it because it only left a deep dent and not a hole.
Hinata flinched, but Naruto just sat there slumped in his chair. He was still steaming over Itachi and Kisame, the retelling bringing all of his anger back up to the surface.
Tsunade pushed the heel of her hand against her forehead and ground her teeth together. "So, just to make sure I have this straight; she took you out of a well-protected area to go live on a farm?" she growled.
"It was a well-protected farm," Hinata remarked timidly. Actually, in the end the farm had proven to not be protected enough, but it didn't seem to be a good time to mention that.
"Then she took you across the mountains and into the East where she got you mixed up in the military coup where you were nearly executed and then forced to fight to the death?"
"It was more of a political coup than a military one, and when we got around the fighting to the death part, we didn't actually have to kill anybody," Naruto said, hoping to placate her.
It didn't work. "Then she has you live with these people, making side trips all over the bloody east where you consistently get yourself in trouble and end up captured, injured, and almost killed!"
"None of those were really all that bad, Hokage-sama," Hinata said.
"And then, to top it all off, the three of you go head to head with four of the most powerful ninjas in the world! The same ones that happen to be after you!" she yelled, pointing a finger at Naruto.
"THAT Sora had nothing to do with; she didn't want to fight them either! And it was two and then the other two, not all four at once; plus we had Yasu and Nori to soften Itachi and Kisame up for us before we got there! We kicked their asses!" Naruto yelled.
"It hardly makes a difference! It doesn't change that fact that it is an absolute miracle that the two of here at all!"
They really couldn't argue with that. When all was said and done, it probably was a miracle that they were here
"Hokage-sama, I don't understand why all this is a surprise to you. I thought Sora was sending you reports," Hinata said, confused.
She exploded again. "Reports? Do you know what I got in the way of reports?" Tsunade shifted through a pile of papers before pulling out a couple of sheets and standing up to hand them to the two ninja. Hinata held them while they both leaned they heads together to read it.
Naruto burnt his pants today trying to do one of the fire jutsus. I don't know what was funnier: him running around screaming until I hit him with the water jutsu, or how red Hinata's face was when he was standing there with his pants in cinders.
She'd drawn stick figures of all the action, labeling things like "Flames coming out of Naruto's butt" and "Hinata's super-blush."
They groaned under their breaths they remembered the incident. At least Sora hadn't sent the photos. They both knew that somewhere Sora had photographs. Her camera seemed to always be at her fingertips in the pocket of her coat, and there was nothing she liked more than pictures of embarrassing Naruto and Hinata moments. Hinata turned to the next page.
I've decided that trying to teach Naruto to cook is a completely wasted effort. The boy can chop things up and clean dishes like a pro, but he can't follow a goddamn recipe to save his life. Speaking of which, here is the latest recipe for Chocolate Espresso Torte I've been making. You should give it a try (not that you're much better of a cook than Naruto, if I remember right).
She had written the recipe on the back.
Tsunade scowled. "I can cook just fine, too."
Naruto shrugged. He knew he couldn't.
"For the past three years, THAT is all I have gotten in the way of reports," Tsunade said, waving an irate hand at the papers on her desk. "She wouldn't write for months and then all of a sudden I'd get one of these drivels. I should have 36 full reports on your progress, detailing where you were and what you were doing, and instead I have 10 of these." She held up the thin stack of 'reports' that Sora had written, shaking them at them.
Both of them pulled back slightly, Naruto sticking his hand behind his head and attempting to laugh. "That's Nee-chan for you!" he said.
Tsunade tweaked one irritated eyebrow at them before slamming the reports back down on her desk. "Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking, putting the three of you together. I would have thought that Sora would have developed a slightly less reckless attitude over the years."
"They make each other worse more than anything else," Hinata said.
Naruto looked at her, crossed his arms, and started to pout. Hinata smiled gently and reached across the distance between then to rest her hand on his bicep. They stared at each other for a few seconds before Naruto sighed and detangled his hands enough to put one of his on hers and give it a gentle squeeze.
Tsunade smirked and raised an eyebrow at the pair. Hinata's cheeks instantly reddened as she put her hands back into her lap. Naruto scowled. "What?" he asked.
"Gotten closer in the last three years, have you?" she said, leaning on the desk with one hand, the other resting on her hip.
Hinata instantly reddened.
"Yeah!" Naruto said with a grin.
"I see. And what is your relationship now?" Tsunade asked with an arched eyebrow.
Naruto's grin widened as he jumped up to grab Hinata around the waist while her flush deepened. "Hina-chan's my girlfriend! She says I'm a great boyfriend and she's the greatest girlfriend in the whole world!" He squeezed her tight.
Hinata was rapidly starting to resemble a tomato. "Naruto!" she whispered desperately.
Tsunade's eyes went wide before settling into a fierce scowl. "I swear to god if Sora let the two of you have sex, I'm going to-"
Naruto had let go of Hinata and was leaning across the desk in a flash. "I'm not a pervert like Ero-sennin!" he yelled, ruffling Tsunade's hair.
She politely cleared her throat. "Well, hanging out with him certainly had the opposite effect on you," she said mildly. "Have you thought about how Hinata's father is going to react?"
Naruto scowled while Hinata looked down at her hands. "We'll figure it out," Naruto mumbled.
"Still, I assume you two are going to…tone it down some in public for a while," she said with a slightly irritated edge to her tone.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah…" he said dejectedly.
Tsunade smiled. "Well, you should be happy to note that I am going to make you guys write up the reports for the entire last three years jointly. That means that you'll have to spend time together in order to write them no matter what Hinata's father wants. And considering how many things you've done-"
All of a sudden she stopped. Tsunade looked at them for a long minute before a slightly frightening grin came over her face. "You two passed some sort of test when you were with the Kaze?"
"Yeah, we got our blacks."
"Which is halfway between a beginner and a full warrior?" She leaned forward onto the desk.
"Yeah," Naruto said, still slightly puzzled.
"So essentially you two tested for chuunin," she said with a smug smile, resting her chin on the back of her interlaced fingers.
"But, Hokage-sama, the Kaze test was nothing like the chuunin test," Hinata protested.
Tsunade waved her protests aside with a flip of her hand. "Yeah, but you two could probably pass that now no problem, right?"
They looked at each other, both vaguely shocked. Could they? Well, they certainly would be a lot better prepared than they were now. Thinking back on the challenges and the fights they realized that they probably wouldn't have too much trouble with the chuunin exam. It wouldn't be a walk in the park, but it wouldn't be too bad either.
The evil grin returned to Tsunade's face. "Plus if we divide all of the things you've done into separate missions rather than just one big one, I'd say you've accomplished quite a few in the last three years, wouldn't you?"
They both nodded hesitantly.
Her grin widened. "Then I expect both of you to be at the qualifying rounds for the Jounin Exam in four months!"
"All right!" Naruto said, pumping one first into the air.
"Jounin Exam?" Hinata said nervously.
Tsunade nodded. "It works a little bit differently than the Chuunin Exam. Fighting comes first, but it's only done in front of a panel of Konoha judges. After all, we don't want other countries to see the abilities of our up-and-coming jounin. From there, candidates are selected and divided into teams of five. Each team has two months to develop into a cohesive unit before the mission."
"Mission?" Naruto asked.
The woman nodded. "It's a different set-up every year as villages take turns hosting. The only requirement on the part of the village is that the mission must start and end in the capitol city and that there is a two week time limitation. Once those two weeks are up, all teams must have completed the mission or they will fail the exam."
"You mean all five pass or all five fail?" Naruto asked, flabbergasted.
She shook her head. "The team must pass in order for any member to be passed onto the rank of jounin. However, what members of the team pass is up to the home village."
"And, the mission is difficult?" Hinata questioned.
Tsunade leaned back in her chair. "Generally, the missions are tough, dangerous and only the best complete them. That is one of the reasons we test here first; we don't want to send ninja who aren't ready. Otherwise they don't come back."
Hinata gulped. "But you think we are ready?"
Tsunade nodded. "At least ready enough to fight in the trials. I don't know if we'll put you on a team, but I'd like to see what you can do."
"All right!" Naruto yelled, jumping out of his seat. "Just you wait, Obaa-chan! We're going to be the best two there! Everyone else better watch out!"
The older woman smiled while Hinata looked slightly nervous. "I'm glad-" Tsunade started, but was interrupted by a knock on the door.
A guard poked his head in. "Hokage-sama? Neji-san has arrived to escort Hinata-san home whenever the debriefing is finished."
Hinata's spine stiffened but simply acknowledged the guard with a short nod before turning back to Tsunade.
She looked at the clock and noting the ridiculously late hour, shook her head. "Well, I think that's enough for the night. I expect you to have all of the reports on my desk within the next week. We'll have the two of you qualified for the Jounin exam yet."
They both stood to get their coats when suddenly Tsunade stopped them. "Oh, Naruto wait, I forgot something." She reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a small object which she promptly threw at him. He caught it in one hand and looked at it. It was a set of keys.
"A document surfaced about a year and a half ago, although it took us a while to check its authenticity. It's been in the archives forever, but no one paid much attention to it." She smiled. "Apparently Yondaime Hokage made you his heir."
Naruto's eyes widened. Did this mean she knew the reality about who he was, where he had come from? Had everything somehow come out into the open in the three years he had been gone?
"Apparently, the man felt a connection to you considering that he sealed a demon inside you," she said with a sad sort of smile. "In any case, he left everything to you, including his house for when you turned sixteen."
Naruto gulped. "His house?" he whispered.
Tsunade nodded. "It's a townhouse on the west side of town. It's been boarded up for years now; no one knew quite what to do with it. I remember when Yondaime used to live there; it was rather charming. Clearly a bachelor pad, but some of the village matrons had helped fix it up for him so it wasn't so bad." She smiled. "Take good care of it; a lot of us have fond memories of that place."
Naruto just continued to stare at her. His father's house. It was almost too much for him to think about.
"In any case," Tsunade continued, "I had your things moved over into the house a week ago in anticipation of your return." She glared at him. "Couldn't you have emptied out your refrigerator before you left on a three year mission? I had to give hazardous duty pay to the people who cleaned it out."
He chuckled apologetically, still reeling from the news about the house.
She shook her head in resignation. "I'll have one of the guards show you where the house is. Now both of you go home and get some rest."
As they finished gathering their coats, Hinata laid her hand on Naruto's arm. "Are you okay?" she whispered in Western.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied, squeezing her hand as they stepped out onto the hallway. His eyes fell on the man standing opposite the door. "Neji-san," he said with a nod of his head.
Neji nodded his head back. "Uzumaki-san," he said, his voice low and clear. He looked down at where Naruto's hand was still covering Hinata's, then up at their faces.
Hinata quickly removed her hand to walk towards her cousin. "Neji-niisan, it is good to see you again," she said formally, but with a small smile.
Again, Neji nodded. "It is good to see you as well, Hinata-sama. Your father has sent me to escort you home, if the Hokage no longer needs you," he stated, looking up at Tsunade, who was leaning against the doorframe, sake bottle in her hand.
She shook her head. "No, we're through for the evening. Go home and get some rest you two. Juro," she said to one of the guards by door, "do you know where Yondaime Hokage's house is?"
"Hai, Hokage-sama," the scarred man said with a nod.
"Good. Take Naruto there; he's the new proprietor. Sleep tight you two," she said finally, closing the door to her office.
There was a dull silence in the hall. Naruto was staring at the closed doors. No matter what he said, Hinata realized that her boyfriend was in fact not fine. The news of living in his father's house, a house he had probably never even seen before, was hitting him hard enough that he was drawing back in on himself. She wanted to go with him so that they could see the house together and she could hold his hand as they walked through the door. But Neji was waiting to take her back and she knew there was no way she could get out of it.
She walked over to her love and softly said his name. When he looked at her, almost as if he was surprised to see her, she wrapped her arms around him in a hug. It only took him a split second to hug her back.
"I'll come by the house tomorrow morning, alright?" she asked into his shoulder, switching back into Western so only he would understand.
She could feel him nod before he released her, running his hand up and down her back once before letting her go. "Sleep well, Hina-chan," he said with a smile that was only partially forced.
She smiled back, then leaned down to grab her bag before nodding towards Neji. The two of them walked down the hall in silence.
Naruto turned back to the guard picking up his own bag. "All right, you wanna show me where this house is?"
He stood at the foot of the front steps, staring at the house. Juro had pointed out the house and then headed back to Tsunade's office. Naruto stood alone on the street, staring up at the house. His father's house.
It was on a corner in a quiet, residential neighborhood that Naruto didn't remember very well, although as a kid he used to run all over the village. The lot it was on was apparently long and skinny, but the house appeared to be three stories tall. The stucco was painted dark green from what he could see in the dark, broken up by many windows and a chimney along the side. Tsunade had said that it was boarded up, but apparently someone had taken the boards down recently and the house looked to be in relatively good shape.
Slowly, Naruto walked up to the front porch. The boards creaked beneath his feet. He pulled the keys out of his pocket and stared at them for a second before holding his breath and inserting the biggest one into the lock. He turned it and the door swung open with a moan.
It was dark inside, but with a few quick seals and words, Naruto had a ball of light playing along his fingertips. For some reason he was hesitant to turn any of the lights on. Slowly he made his way through the first floor of the house. Most of the front of the house was a living room with a large stone fireplace flanked by bookcases. There was furniture, couches, chairs, and couple of tables, all covered by large dust cloths. The large framed picture over the mantle was covered as well and Naruto carefully removed the cloth. It was a picture of Konoha from the rooftop of some building, just as night was falling.
He wandered farther back and found the kitchen, horribly dated but still spacious. Three of the walls were dominated by long stretches of dark countertop and lightly-colored cabinets. Tucked into the back corner was what Naruto assumed was a table under a large drop cloth. Behind it was a door leading to a small bathroom. There was also a door that opened to reveal steps down to a basement. A quick trip down revealed that it was a large pantry of some sort.
Heading back up the stairs and into the living room, he climbed up to the second story. There was a traditional hallway with sliding doors and another stairway going up to the third story. Naruto decided to keep going up and look at things from the top down. He was surprised to see a small spiral staircase. Hesitantly climbing it and opening the door at the top he found himself in what must have been a rooftop garden. There were raised beds and pots scattered around a patio area. They were all massively overgrown with weeds, but he could see what lay beneath. He smiled slightly, remembering the days he had spent hunched over in Nori and Yasu's rice fields. It might be fun to try to grow something again.
Back down on the third floor he discovered the master suite, complete with a traditional bath. Like the rest of the house, clothes covered all the furniture, but even without the furniture exposed, he could imagine what the room looked like. And he could almost picture his parents sitting on the sofa in the sitting area, looking out the window at the moon over Konoha.
He quickly left the room and headed back down the stairs. The second floor held two smaller bedrooms, another bathroom, and a small informal sitting room. It was the second bedroom that caught Naruto's attention. Something about the yellow room seemed vaguely off, but it took him a moment to realize what it was. Underneath the sheets, all of the furniture seemed vaguely small. Hands shaking, he walked over to the rectangular lump underneath the wide picture window and pulled the cover off with his free hand. For a moment he just stood there staring at it, and then his eyes started to water. It was a white crib made up with puffy light-blue bedding.
His bedroom. This was his bedroom.
Slowly he fell to his knees, and then rocked back so that he sat on the ground with his legs drawn up to his chest. His arms closed around himself, ending the light jutsu and leaving him in total darkness. He let himself go and simply cried.
He hadn't felt so alone in years.
The primary author of
this work is Dame Wren. The authors are not affiliated with the
owners of Naruto(TM).
All materials associated with Naruto(TM) are used under the "Fair Use" provisions of copyright law.