A Naruto OneShot
Premise: Ino complains that all the Konoha boys don't know how to loosen up and have some fun on a Friday night, which makes the girls wonder what a fun-loving guy like Naruto does on his days off. Drinking? Clubbing? Laundry? Or something more profound?
Author's notes: This fic is NOT a songfic, but it features some classical music (Bach, Pachelbel, Chopin, Beethoven, etc) and traditional Japanese music such as tsugaru-jamisen (shamisen), so I'd suggest having a browser tab open to YouTube so that you can have a free listen while reading. ENJOY!
"Neji... okay, he's gorgeous, BUT he's so damn traditional! He wouldn't know how to have fun even if you gave him an Idiot's Guide!" Ino wailed.
"I hear ya," TenTen groaned in agreement.
"And Shikamaru! That lazy oaf's idea of fun is staring at the clouds go by! Anything more fun than that would be too TROUBLESOME for him!" By now Ino was practically pulling the hair out of her scalp.
"Chouji is sweet and all, but he's such a family man! Spending time with him would probably make me feel like a wife and I'd probably gain five kilos in the process! I'm not ready for that!" Ino was now slamming her forehead against the wall out of sheer frustration.
"And Shino! When he's not being all creepy with his bugs, he's actually the tall, dark, and cool type... but he's a little TOO cool! It's like talking to a refrigerator!" Ino proceeded to rip Konoha's poor selection of guys.
"And Rock Lee! Oh my god, he has 'JUST FRIENDS' written all over his freaking forehead! It's just utterly impossible to imagine myself going to a club with someone like him!" Ino ranted.
"And as much as I hate to admit it, Sasuke-kun is just as guilty! What's the point of looking drop dead gorgeous if he doesn't DO anything? You might as well just build a damn statue of him and put it in your bedroom! Not like there'd be much of a difference!" Ino groaned.
"Wow, Ino's on a roll," Sakura giggled. "Who's next? Kiba? Naruto?"
Suddenly Ino stopped dead in the middle of her tirade. "Wait... Kiba... and Naruto? Wait... NO WAY! Don't tell me that those two are the ONLY guys that know how to loosen up and have some fun? NO! THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING!" Ino wailed, sinking deeper into her plush bed. "What is wrong with all the guys in this damn village?"
"Well... those two do look like the types of guys who'd go wild on the weekends," TenTen hesitantly agreed.
"What do you think they do on Friday nights?" Sakura asked curiously.
"I overheard Kiba-kun talking to Shino-kun about crossing the border over into Rice Field country to party," Hinata quietly contributed to the slumber party gossip.
"Wow, impressive. I heard that Rice Field Country is famous for its crazy clubs and top-notch rice wine and alcohol!" Ino added excitedly. "Their legal drinking age is down to sixteen too, so we'd be free to drink whatever we want!"
"But its enemy territory," Sakura frowned.
"Oh, don't be so old-fashioned! That's what makes it all the more exciting!" Ino boasted. "We should get Kiba to hook us up next week!"
"That sounds like so much fun compared to all the lame parties here in Konoha!" TenTen laughed. "We should go!"
"Well, if we do go, you know that I'm completely against drinking," Sakura stated firmly.
"How about you, Hinata? You in?" Ino asked eagerly.
"I don't know..." Hinata nervously twiddled her fingers. "I'm not really good with parties..."
"Don't worry! With breasts like these, the boys will be killing each other over you!" Ino grinned as she came up behind the quiet Hyuuga and cupped her massive melons in her hands, causing her to squeal.
"Ino, stop that!" Sakura scowled. "You know how sensitive Hinata is about her figure."
"Hey, I'd kill for these breasts! Be proud of them, Hinata!" Ino laughed.
"Naruto? What are you doing here?"
"Uh... what else would I being doing at a laundromat?" Naruto laughed as he set down his laundry hamper and opened up one of the machines.
Iruka smiled a little and shrugged as he watched Naruto load up his laundry into the washing machine. "I just thought that you'd have better things to do on a Friday night."
"Hey, Friday night is the best night to do laundry," Naruto replied. "This place is usually so damn crowded."
Iruka laughed and nodded in agreement. "True... just the two of us losers doing laundry tonight though. Everyone else must be out having fun. How sad is that?"
Naruto dumped in a cup of detergent and inserted enough coins to get the machine started. "Iruka-sensei, you really need to a get a girlfriend before you get too old."
Iruka just frowned and conked Naruto over the head. Just like old times. "Still as rude as always."
"Hey, Iruka-sensei..." Naruto grinned. "How about we grab dinner at Ichiraku Ramen more often from now on?"
Iruka smiled a little as warmth spread up from his heart. "Yeah, I'd like that. We haven't gotten to see each other much lately..."
"Something bothering you?" Sakura asked as she joined Hinata out on Ino's balcony. Ever since Ino's little rant about the boys, she had noticed that Hinata had become quieter than usual.
"N-no, nothing really," Hinata stammered, looking up at the stars in order to avoid Sakura's gaze.
Sakura smiled as she hopped up and sat on the balcony railing, while Hinata merely leaned against it. "You don't have to feel pressured to go clubbing next week just because Ino and TenTen want to go."
Hinata bit her lower lip for a moment. "Well... it's not that exactly. I actually... I think I might actually want to go to be honest."
Sakura's eyes widened in surprise. "Really?" Here was Hinata, the shy and quiet girl, actually wanting to go clubbing? Sakura herself was somewhat of a bookworm, and though she wouldn't go as far as calling herself a nerd, that was what she was essentially. The idea of going to a nightclub didn't exactly thrill her too much. "You don't really look the type though."
Hinata shook her head. "I've never been to a nightclub before. I don't even know how to dance," she murmured in a soft and nervous voice. "It sounds kind of scary actually..."
Now there was the Hinata that Sakura knew. "Yeah... it's all dark and there are a lot of drunk guys trying to hit on you," Sakura agreed. "The atmosphere is so sexually charged that you never know what'll happen... it kinda creeps me out too."
"But... Naruto-kun and Kiba-kun really do seem like they would enjoy that type of thing... nightclubs..." Hinata let out a sigh. "I don't want them to think that I'm a boring girl..."
"Oh..." Sakura rested her chin on her hands. "I've never actually thought about it that way..."
"You haven't?" Hinata asked, a bit surprised.
Sakura giggled a little. "Or more like... I guess I don't really remember anymore... it's been over four years since I stopped chasing after Sasuke-kun... four years since I stopped caring whether a boy thought I was boring or annoying or ugly."
"But Uchiha-kun is back..." Hinata pointed out. "Naruto-kun brought him back."
"Yeah, but it's not the same anymore," Sakura shook her head. A sad smile crossed her lips as she dangled her feet from the balcony railings for a bit. "I don't think I can love him like that anymore."
"But I don't think you should have to force yourself just so that the guys will see you as a more fun person," Sakura assured. "I'm sure they think you're plenty fun already."
"Well... Naruto anyway... even though he complains a lot about being bored... I think he just does that because that word 'bored' is so ingrained in our generation... to be honest, I don't think Naruto really understands what it means to be bored," Sakura said with a laugh.
Hinata paused to twiddle her fingers for a moment before softly murmuring, "Sakura-san really understands Naruto-kun..."
At that, Sakura almost fell backwards off the balcony.
"Oi, Naruto... you look terrible..." Sakura frowned worriedly as she met up with Naruto the next day for lunch at Ichiraku Ramen. Then she sighed, remembering what the girls were talking about the night before. "You weren't up late partying, were you? Seriously, Naruto, there has to be a limit to how much fun you can have."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't partying."
"Then..." Sakura gasped. "You weren't with a girl all night, were you?"
Naruto's expression darkened even more at that accusation. "Has Ino been corrupting your perception of me? Who the hell do you think I am?"
Sakura blinked as Hinata's words from last night echoed in her mind. 'Sakura san really understands Naruto-kun...'
"Iruka-sensei, Sasuke, and I ended up having to go out on an emergency recon mission because we were the only ones sober and not wasted from partying so much," Naruto muttered, spitting out those words as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. "Jeez, just because it's Friday night doesn't mean that the enemy is taking a break too. We were up all night securing the northwest border from scout ninjas from Iwagakure. I don't even know how they got through Grass Country into Fire Country."
Sakura sat down at the Ichiraku ramen stand with a somewhat guilty look on her face. 'Has Naruto always been this serious about these things? Hinata was wrong... I really don't understand Naruto at all...'
"Argh! And those damn grass ninja piss me off!" Naruto growled, continuing is grumpy rant. "They had the freaking nerve to accuse us of infiltrating their country! We suspected that maybe they let the damn rock ninjas through their country, so we ended up having to spend all morning making amendments to our alliance treaty. Sasuke was THIS close to shredding those treaty documents with a chidori! That's how pissed off we were!"
"Sounds like you had a rough night," Teuchi chuckled as he set two bowls of ramen in front of them. "These are on the house."
Naruto grinned and snapped apart a pair of chopsticks. "Thanks, old man. Sorry for ranting. Itadakimasu!"
Sakura quietly started eating as well, but Naruto's mission was still on her mind. She had always associated Naruto with missions that didn't require any thinking, missions that he could literally solve just by using his fists, but it seemed that he was really adept at diplomatic and political missions too. If it had been her on that mission, she would have been so scared that she wouldn't know what to do. Regular missions were one thing, but politics were a whole different story. The fate of the entire Fire Country could rest on that treaty; that would have been too much pressure for her to handle.
Naruto then noticed Sakura's sudden silence. He sighed and put his chopsticks down for a moment. "Sorry for ranting... really. I'm just grumpy because I didn't get any sleep, that's all."
"N-n-no, it's okay," Sakura stammered suddenly. "Anyway, are you free next Friday?"
"Next Friday? Hmm..." Naruto paused to think. "If you're asking me out on a date, then, yeah, I'm free, but... otherwise, for anything else..." He finished his sentence with a shrug.
Sakura frowned. "What do you do every Friday night anyway?"
"That..." Naruto grinned. "Is a secret."
"Oh, Sakura, what brings you here?" Hinata asked as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.
Sakura glanced over at Kiba and Shino for a moment, who both seemed to be locked in an intense sparring match. "Kiba seems to be pretty energetic considering he spent the night partying over at Rice Field Country."
"Um... apparently the girl he was with ditched him for some other guy... and now he's using Shino-kun as a punching bag," Hinata explained in a worried tone. "I hope he feels better soon..."
"He'll get over it... it was probably just a one-night stand anyway," Sakura shrugged nonchalantly. "His pride is probably hurt more than his heart."
"Oh... I guess..." Hinata hesitantly agreed.
"Anyway... it seems like Naruto isn't the partying type," Sakura informed, cheerfully patting Hinata on the back. "In fact... he had a pretty long and angry rant earlier today about ninjas that get drunk on Friday nights."
"Really?" Hinata brightened considerably. "Then... what does he do on Friday nights?"
Sakura then scratched the back of her head sheepishly. "I... uh... actually don't know."
"But last night, he was over in grass country with Iruka-sensei and Sasuke-kun," Sakura replied with a shrug. "Apparently they got into a pretty serious dispute over border security."
"Oh, wow... so Naruto-kun is always on standby for emergency missions?" Hinata wondered.
"I guess... I'll have to ask Tsunade-sama about it though," Sakura shrugged. "Naruto's being all secretive about it though, so now I'm all curious."
Hinata giggled a little.
"Well, I'll give you an update if I find out anything new," Sakura said as she turned around to leave. "See ya."
"See you later," Hinata waved and returned to her daily training.
Sakura then made her way over to the Hokage Tower, wondering why Naruto refused to tell her how he spent his Friday nights. "Tsunade-sama?" Sakura asked as she slowly opened the door to her office.
"Yes, Sakura?" Tsunade seemed to be relieved to have an excuse to take a break from all the paperwork. "What is it?"
"Um... about the emergency mission last night..." Sakura started.
"Ah, that..." Tsunade laughed sheepishly. "Jiraiya and I were pretty drunk last night, so I didn't even find out about the mission until this morning when Naruto submitted the report."
Sakura's eyes widened in surprise.
"Naruto, Sasuke, and Iruka handled it beautifully though," Tsunade said with a proud smile. "Iruka came in this morning and wouldn't stop ranting about how Naruto handled the alliance treaty with the grass ninja with such maturity. I might as well just hand over the title of Hokage to Naruto right now, since he's already pretty much doing my job."
"Wait... so Naruto spends his Friday nights processing emergency missions?" Sakura asked quizzically.
"No," Tsunade shook her head. "That's Shizune's job. She just happened to find that Naruto, Sasuke, and Iruka were all sober enough to handle the mission."
"Then what does Naruto do on Friday nights?" Sakura wondered out loud.
Tsunade raised an eyebrow, that thought never having occurred to her before. "I actually don't know either..."
"Hey, Chouji, do you know where Shikamaru is? He's not at his usual cloud-watching spot," Ino frowned. "Hokage-sama asked me to deliver something to him."
Chouji looked up at the sky, studying the clouds for a moment. "Hmm... judging from the position of the clouds... right now, he's probably up on the Hokage Monument."
"You can tell where Shikamaru is just by looking up at the clouds?" Ino's jaw dropped. She knew that Chouji and Shikamaru were close, but not that close.
"Nah, I'm just joking," Chouji laughed and shook his head. "It's the weekend, so he always goes up to the Hokage Monument to watch the clouds from there."
"Why there?" Ino raised an eyebrow. "Knowing him, it'd probably be way too troublesome to climb up all those stairs."
Chouji laughed. "True, but he doesn't go up there just for the clouds," he explained. "He goes up there hoping to catch the ghost of Konoha."
That took Ino completely off guard. "You're joking, right? The ghost of Konoha? What the hell is that?"
"Just go," Chouji shrugged. "You'll see."
Now Ino was really curious. Shikamaru was definitely not the type to go ghost hunting. Something like that would require way too much effort on his part. Did Shikamaru even believe in ghosts? Sure deer were supposedly messengers of heaven or something like that, but she didn't think the Nara clan took that whole deer mythology seriously.
As she climbed up the steep steps up to the top of the Hokage monument, she paused for a moment as the horizon suddenly came into view, giving her a spectacular view of the setting sun. Fire Country didn't have an ocean to the west to accent the sunset, but the way it blanketed the bustling city below and the forest beyond was still awe-inspiring. "Wow..." she murmured to no one in particular as the incredible vista took her breath away. "Is this why Shikamaru comes up here? To watch the sunset? That's his ghost of Konoha?" Ino wondered out loud, never having pictured Shikamaru to be such a romantic. Clouds were one thing, but sunsets were a totally different story.
Once Ino made it up to the top of the mountain, the sun had already dropped below the horizon and twilight began to blanket the village. And there was Shikamaru as Chouji had predicted.
"What are you doing up here?" Ino asked. Obviously he wasn't hunting ghosts because he was just lazily splayed out on the rocky ground, staring up at the darkening sky. Typical Shikamaru.
"Shhh!" Shikamaru frowned.
Ino's eye twitched a little. She didn't like it when people talked back to her, and it was especially irritating when it came from Shikamaru because he was usually too lazy to argue with her. She was about to berate him, but then she stopped as a soft and haunting melody passed through her ears.
'So this is the ghost of Konoha?' Ino wondered as she sat down next to Shikamaru.
"Lie down," Shikamaru commanded suddenly.
Ino frowned a little at being ordered around by Shikamaru of all people, but complied, using her arms as a pillow. Then she was treated to a view that rivaled the sunset that she had just seen earlier as the stream of stars crossed the heavens above her. That, combined with the soft music in the background created an atmosphere she had always wanted to share with Sasuke back when she and Sakura had been obsessed with him. But now, she didn't mind too much that it was Shikamaru that was next to her and not Sasuke or Sai.
"What is that instrument?" Ino asked in a soft voice. It sounded familiar, but she just couldn't put her finger on it.
"It's called a violin," Shikamaru explained. "It's a popular instrument over on the continent across the southern sea, but it hasn't really caught on over here. This song is a violin arrangement of 'Air' from the 'Third Orchestral Suite' composed by Johann Sebastian Bach called 'Air on the G string.'"
"It's so sad..." Ino sucked in a sharp breath a little as the sheer beauty of the melancholic melody sent shivers down her spine. The poignant song was the only sound that could be heard, like a lonely hand reaching out into the darkness, searching for someone to take the solitude away. She soon found her heart aching to reach out for that hand and to guide it to a happier place. That feeling was so overpowering that she couldn't stop the tears that were slowly welling up in her eyes and sliding down her cheek one by one.
"Ino..." Shikamaru blinked in surprise.
"Shikamaru..." Ino sniffled a little and buried her face in Shikamaru's sleeve to wipe away the tears. She usually hated sad tear-jerker movies, but this type of sadness that the music made her feel wasn't that type of sadness; it was a sadness that set her free and washed away her burdens with tears.
Then, she didn't know what drove her to do it, but all of a sudden she reached up for Shikamaru's lips with her own, enveloping them in a soft kiss. It was as if the music was giving her emotions wings to fly upon.
The last Uchiha raised an eyebrow as he saw his former teammate approach him. "Yeah?"
"I heard you were out on an emergency mission all night," Sakura remarked, studying his weary face a little. He definitely looked as if he hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. "You okay?"
Sasuke shrugged nonchalantly and went back to his evening tea. He always enjoyed a nice cup of tea at the local tea house after a nice dinner. "Can't really complain."
"I heard those grass ninja were really unreasonable," Sakura smiled a little, remembering Naruto's rant from earlier that day.
Sasuke sighed, scratching the back of his head. "Yeah... negotiations would have gone much quicker if I had just annihilated them all, but that idiot Naruto insisted on drawing up a new alliance treaty."
"And people wonder why the Uchiha never became Hokage," Sakura giggled, at which Sasuke merely scoffed. "So were you with Naruto last night when you guys were called up by Shizune-san for the mission?"
Sasuke shook his head. "No, I was helping Shizune-san with paperwork."
"Oh... then what was Naruto doing? I mean, it was a Friday night... he must've been doing something..."
Sasuke cracked a small smirk as he fought the urge to laugh as the thought of Naruto doing laundry on a Friday night came to mind. "That's a secret."
"Allergies?" Ayame raised an eyebrow, serving him another bowl of ramen.
Naruto shook his head, laughing a little. "Somebody must be talking about me."
"You're pregnant," Sakura deadpanned, holding the pregnancy test in her hand.
Ino's jaw dropped as the shocking results sank in, and then she started banging her head against the clinic wall. "It was my first time! Damn it, Shikamaru!" she roared.
"Ah, so it was Shikamaru," Sakura sighed.
"How can you be so calm?! I'M PREGNANT!" Ino exclaimed hysterically.
"Well... do you want emergency contraception?" Sakura asked, still fully in medical doctor mode. "When did you two have sex?"
"DON'T SAY IT SO BLUNTLY!" Ino screamed, her face turning all kinds of shades of red.
Sakura giggled and patted Ino on the shoulder. "I'm just playing with you," she assured. "But this is great, isn't it? Since when did you two start seeing each other?"
"A few days ago... since Saturday night... on top of the Hokage mountain," she muttered under her breath.
"Oh, so you put out on the first date? Outdoors even, how bold," Sakura laughed teasingly as she placed a small bag of emergency contraception pills on Ino's lap. "If you take these today, it might work even though you're already pregnant."
Ino stared hard at the pills and gulped hard as the weight of the situation was finally starting to settle on her. "But... isn't that... abortion?"
"Technically, yes," Sakura nodded.
"I... I'll have to talk to Shikamaru first..." Ino murmured softly.
Sakura smiled and brought her best friend into a warm embrace. "It'd be nice if you two could raise it together..."
And, at that, Ino began laughing a little as tears rolled down her face. "Yeah... that'd be nice..."
As Sakura had been making her evening rounds around the hospital, she was surprised to find that there was a loud ruckus coming from the elderly wing of the hospital. Apparently Tsunade had hired a musician to entertain the elderly patients, but she hadn't expected that musician to be Naruto.
But there he was, dressed in traditional kimono and hakama, and jamming away at a shamisen, a traditional Japanese three-stringed instrument. His back was to her, so he hadn't noticed her yet, so she smiled a little as she leaned against the doorway and watched.
Naruto was playing a very lively traditional song, hearkening back to the days of old, telling the romantic story of a loyal samurai bodyguard and the beautiful cherry blossom princess. It was very popular with the elderly, who believed the current ninja way to be dishonorable to the memory of the samurai.
And Sakura was impressed at how Naruto was able to tell such a tale without ever actually saying a single word. His music was so expressive and deep, deep enough to carry an entire tale on its notes and harmonies.
Once the song ended, she couldn't help but applaud along with everyone else who had been listening. "Sakura-chan?" he grinned, turning around to face her.
"I didn't know you played the shamisen," she remarked.
"Oh... uh... you do now," he laughed sheepishly, returning the shamisen to its summoning scroll. "It's just something I picked up from Ero-Sennin during our two-and-a-half-year journey... no big deal."
"No, you're really good," Sakura insisted. "Can you read sheet music?"
"Nah, the notes just look like little tadpoles to me," he shrugged. "I just play whatever Ero-sennin taught me."
Sakura giggled. "I see."
"Are you done soon? You wanna grab dinner or something?" he grinned.
"Hmm... I'm not done until ten, but I do have a break right now if you don't mind eating at the hospital cafeteria," she shrugged.
"If it's with Sakura-chan, anywhere is fine," he laughed.
As Sakura led the way to the cafeteria, she noticed that Naruto definitely had a different air about him. It wasn't just the fact that he was wearing traditional garb, though she did have to admit that he looked quite striking, almost like a samurai. But rather, it was as if all of his stress and anger had evaporated from him, leaving him with a sense of serenity. She figured that maybe playing the shamisen had been good for him, letting him release his emotions through his music.
When they arrived at the cafeteria, Sakura ordered some chicken curry, while Naruto went with ramen as usual. "Hey, Naruto, has Shikamaru talked to you at all since Saturday?" she asked as they sat down at an empty table to eat.
"No, why?" Naruto asked through a mouthful, wasting no time to dig in.
"Oh... it's nothing," she shook her head. It had been a couple days since Ino had come to her asking for a pregnancy test, but she hadn't heard from her since, so she didn't know if she had told Shikamaru about it yet or not. She really wanted to know what they were going to do. "If you got a girl pregnant, what would you do?" she asked suddenly.
Naruto had to fight the impulse to choke on the food that was already in his mouth. "Wait... what?" he asked, gulping his food down hard. "Is Shizune pregnant?!"
"WHAT?!" Sakura's eyes widened in shock as she slammed her fists on the table. "Y-y-you and Shizune are in THAT kind of relationship?!"
Naruto then burst out laughing, trying hard not to fall off his chair. "I'm just kidding, Sakura-chan."
Sakura's eye twitched in anger as she fought the urge to punch him so hard that he flew all the way to the northern tip of Lightning Country. "Please try to be serious," she muttered through grinding teeth.
"Well... if I got a girl pregnant, I'd probably love her enough to want to start a family with her," he said with a sincere smile. "A family is a wonderful thing, Sakura-chan."
Sakura then smiled sadly as tried to avoid Naruto's gaze. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Naruto was an orphan. He was just so cheerful, always so happy. "Yeah... family..."
"So? What are we going to do about it?"
Shikamaru let out a deep sigh as he stared up at the stars. They were on top of the Hokage mountain again, at the edge of the woods, where they had first made love. The Ghost of Konoha would not be playing tonight though.
They had already decided to keep it, but they hadn't decided on what to do with it yet, whether to put it up for adoption or to raise it as their own. "Do you want to try?" he asked. "A relationship..."
"I don't know if I love you that way though..." Ino admitted softly. "That night... I don't know if it was just our bodies getting the better of us, or if there was actual love behind it..."
"The keyword is try," he shrugged. "I'm willing to try it if you are."
"Don't say it so casually," she muttered, looking away.
Shikamaru let out another sigh and sat up. "Ino, I'm as unsure as you are. I can't honestly say that I like you, much less love you, but I'm willing to try and find out. Maybe I can grow to love you... or maybe I already do... or maybe this could all just be a waste of time, I don't know, but I'm willing to try."
"Shikamaru..." she blushed as her heart starting beating more rapidly. "Fine... how do you propose we go about it?"
"We could have sex again," he deadpanned.
"No, you pervert!" she squealed, pushing him away.
"I was just kidding, jeez," he muttered rolling his eyes. "We could start by holding hands at least... I guess..."
"I think I could manage that," she murmured, biting her lip nervously as her hand slowly inched closer to his. But then, the moment their fingers brushed against each other, a deluge of torrid memories of their night of passion flooded her senses, causing her to suddenly pull her hand back as her face turned a crimson red. And Shikamaru seemed to be in a similar state.
"On second thought, maybe I need a day or two before we can even hold hands," she stammered, holding her hands over her racing heart.
"Jeez, we managed to have sex but can't even hold hands?" Shikamaru muttered.
"Don't say it so casually!"
"Hey, Sasuke, you didn't get Sakura pregnant, did you?"
"WHAT?!" Sasuke practically sprayed out all of the tea that had been enjoying. "What are you talking about?!"
"Just making sure," Naruto shrugged, satisfied with Sasuke's response.
"Sorry, I know we agreed to go clubbing on Friday, but I'm going to have to back out," Ino said with an apologetic grin.
"Eh? Why?" TenTen whined.
"Well, she's pregnant," Sakura replied bluntly, which earned her a hard smack across the head.
"You're... WHAT?!" TenTen's jaw dropped.
"Pregnant?" Hinata gasped.
"Yeah, well... it's kind of complicated," Ino scratched the back of her head sheepishly. "Shikamaru and I decided to keep it though."
"Congratulations!" Hinata said cheerfully.
"Yeah, that's great!" TenTen agreed, slapping Ino on the back. "So are you two dating now?"
"Well... kind of, I guess... it's complicated," Ino explained with a sigh. "We're going to a concert on Friday night, as sort of a first date... but it'd be nice if you guys came too, since it's still kind of awkward between me and him."
"What kind of concert?" Sakura asked. She hadn't heard of any concert recently.
"The ghost of Konoha?" Hinata asked.
Ino's eyes widened. "You know about it?"
Hinata nodded, a small smile crossing her lips. "The ghost only plays on Friday and Saturday nights in the woods behind the Hokage monument. A long time ago, I got lost in the woods once... I was really scared, but then the ghost started playing that music for me... and then I wasn't scared anymore... she played for me until my father came to find me." Hinata had always remembered that moment well; because it had been the only time her father had ever demonstrated his love for her.
"I've never heard of a ghost around Konoha," Sakura raised an eyebrow quizzically.
TenTen shook her head. "Me neither."
Ino had never heard of the story of Konoha's ghost either, but after listening to her song with Shikamaru, she had done some research. "They say that she was a young musician. She played beautiful music, but she played a very obscure and foreign instrument called a violin, so she wasn't very popular and didn't make much money. Her boyfriend had been listed as MIA, missing-in-action, in a faraway battle in Rock Country, so she always played her music up on the Hokage monument, hoping that her music would lead him back home. But he never came back and she eventually passed away as well."
"Th-that's so sad!" TenTen was already on the verge of tears and was gripping Hinata tightly.
"Shikamaru spends his Friday and Saturday nights up on the Hokage monument listening to her ghost play, so I figured I'd join him as kind of an innocent first date," Ino nodded. "It'd be great if you guys could come too, maybe bring dates or something."
"In that case, I guess I'll drag Lee and Neji along," TenTen giggled.
"I'd like to go too then," Sakura smiled. "I haven't heard a violin in a long time."
Ino suddenly froze, her shoulders tensing up tightly for a moment before deflating. "I... Sakura... I'm sorry..."
Sakura shook her head. "It's okay. My dad passed away a long time ago..."
Sakura let out a sigh as she rummaged through some of her father's old stuff. She coughed a little as all of her movements stirred up the layer of dust that caked the attic of her house.
She opened up the creaky old violin case and stared at the beautiful instrument that was inside with longing eyes. "Dad... I miss you..."
'Sakura... even if your father never tells you that he loves you, he really does... he's not good with words... so whenever he has something to say that he just can't put into words, he lets his music do the talking... just listen to his music, Sakura...'
"Hey, look, it's Naruto," Kiba grinned, cocking his head to one side as he spotted Naruto eating dinner over at the Ichiraku Ramen stand. "Let's go join him."
"Ah, but... I should really join my family for dinner," Hinata suddenly stammered, her heart picking up the pace at the thought of eating dinner with Naruto. "My father is really strict..."
"Aw, c'mon, you need to spend time with your team outside of training and missions every once in awhile too," Kiba insisted, putting his arms around Hinata and Shino and leading them to Ichiraku. "Oi, Naruto!" he called out before Hinata could protest any further.
"Here for dinner?" Naruto asked through a mouthful of noodles.
"Total lack of manners as usual," Kiba laughed heartily as he forcefully sat Hinata right next to Naruto, causing her to blush bright red. "Show some manners in front of a lady."
"I... I'll have a miso ramen," Hinata squeeked, hiding her face in one of the menus.
Shino then coolly took the menu out of Hinata's hands, eliciting yet another squeek from her. He browsed through the menu, but Hinata could tell that he wasn't really looking at it. "Mou, not you too, Shino-kun!" she whined in a whispered voice.
"You've got to take steps forward, Hinata!" Kiba urged in a not-too-subtle voice.
"Yeah, Hinata, Kiba's right! I'll always support you, so don't be afraid and keep pressing forward!" Naruto pitched in, even though he had no idea what the hell it was that they were talking about.
"N-Naruto-kun?!" Hinata stammered. By now, steam was starting to waft out of her ears.
"Captain Clueless," Kiba sighed, slapping his forehead.
"I'll have a shoyu ramen," Shino said stoically before Naruto could derail the situation even further with his cluelessness.
"Yeah, me too," Kiba shook his head in exasperation. He didn't know what pissed him off more, Hinata's inability to move forward or Naruto's total lack of social awareness.
"Coming right up!" Teuchi responded cheerfully.
"Hey, Naruto, you doing anything this Friday?" Kiba asked offhandedly.
Naruto shrugged. "Not really, I guess."
That caused Hinata's ears to perk up. She remembered that the girls were going to go up to the Hokage Mountain to listen to the Ghost of Konoha and wondered if she should invite Naruto as well. Ino did suggest bringing dates.
"Go for it," Kiba grinned, knowing that Hinata was debating with herself at the moment.
However, interrupting Hinata before she could even begin, another customer sat down on the other side of Naruto. "I'll have a miso ramen."
"Coming right up!" Teuchi nodded.
When Hinata was sure that there would be no other side conversations going on to interrupt her, she finally gathered enough courage to speak up. "N-Naruto-kun..." she stammered shyly, desperately trying to calm her beating heart.
"Oh, by the way, can I have some sake with my ramen?" the other customer suddenly asked, breaking Hinata's concentration.
And then, Naruto suddenly got up. "Sorry, Hinata, but maybe some other time," he said with a sad smile before leaving some money at the table and then disappearing.
"Wait, what?! What just happened?!" Kiba bolted up furiously. "He didn't even hear her out completely!"
Hinata bit her lip as she tried to use her hair to hide her eyes which were already welling up with tears. "It's okay... Kiba-kun," she murmured in a barely audible voice.
"Sir, next time, we'd like you to keep in mind that we usually don't serve alcohol until after nine," Teuchi said in a gruff voice as he set down a bottle of rice wine in front of the customer.
"Ah, my apologies," the customer bowed in appreciation.
"Damn it, what the hell was that?!" Kiba grumbled angrily, glancing over at Naruto's empty seat. "He didn't even finish his ramen!"
Ayame sighed as she picked up Naruto's unfinished bowl of ramen and placed it in the sink to be washed later. She felt bad for Hinata to have gathered all that courage but to have to go to waste, just like Naruto's ramen. It was just bad timing. "I guess you guys don't know yet, but..." Ayame put a comforting hand on Hinata's shoulder, "Naruto is really bad when it comes to alcohol. He really hates it when people drink."
Hinata then suddenly remembered what Sakura had told her a few days ago. 'Anyway... it seems like Naruto isn't the partying type. In fact... he had a pretty long and angry rant earlier today about ninjas that get drunk on Friday nights.'
"Mind if I bum a smoke?"
Shikamaru was already used to it by now. Naruto would only smoke when he was really angry, and the only thing that could get him angry enough to smoke a cigarette was alcohol. He didn't know why Naruto got riled up by alcohol so much, but it really wasn't his place to ask if Naruto didn't want to talk about it. Shikamaru just sighed as he tossed the entire pack and the lighter over.
"Thanks," Naruto murmured as he balanced a cigarette between his lips and inhaled as he lit it.
Shikamaru's favorite cloud-watching spot, the rooftops in one of Konoha's quieter districts, was actually a nice stargazing spot as well, so he laid back and decided to enjoy the show, since he knew what was coming next. He usually preferred the Ghost of Konoha's violin to accompany his stargazing, but he wasn't one to complain; he liked Naruto's shamisen just fine too.
Naruto summoned his shamisen from a scroll and made sure that it was in tune. He then let out a spirited kiai and started playing a complex and rapid sequence of notes that conjured up images of an era long ago, an era of the noble samurai and the wayward ronin.
Naruto closed his eyes and allowed his anger to float away down the endless stream of musical notes he created. It was quite a sight, an orange-clad ninja puffing a cigarette while furiously pounding away at a shamisen. Naruto's shamisen was so intense and aggressive that it almost sounded as if he were challenging the rest of the world to a duel. That was the way he had always lived his life after all. Until he became Hokage, it would always be just him against the world.
Naruto had learned to play the shamisen from Jiraiya during their two-and-a-half-year training journey. Jiraiya didn't always do those crazy kabuki poses for nothing; it was part of his disguise. On their travels, they were a pair of entertainers, a dueling shamisen duo. It was the perfect way to travel through many lands without attracting any unwanted attention.
As Naruto's song neared its climactic end, Shikamaru's thoughts wandered towards Asuma. Asuma had often joked that if he were to have battle music playing during his fights, he would have definitely wanted a shamisen.
"Thanks," Naruto got up and crushed his cigarette under his foot as he sealed his shamisen back into its scroll. "By the way, you should quit smoking, it's bad for you."
Shikamaru chuckled. "I will... I'm going to be a father soon anyway."
"Where have you been, Hinata?"
Hinata bowed respectfully as she entered the Hyuuga household. "Good evening, father. I had dinner with my teammates."
"Next time, inform me ahead of time," Hiashi said sternly before turning around to return to his duties.
"Yes, father... my apologies..." Hinata whispered softly despite the fact that he had already left. It was true that her relationship with her father had gotten better over the years, but it was still very hard for her to crack his cold exterior. Before, back when she had been at the academy and as a genin, her father had completely ignored her and pretty much gave her away to Kurenai, but at least now he acknowledged her existence.
"I would have been punished if I had done something like that," Hanabi murmured stoically, having witnessed the scene. Hanabi was being raised as the next heir to the Hyuuga clan, so she really envied the freedom that her older sister Hinata enjoyed.
"Hanabi..." Hinata bit her lip and unconsciously reached out for her little sister with her hand, but Hanabi had already turned around to leave. Hinata still didn't know how to act like an older sister to Hanabi. In fact, Hinata had never seen her smile, not even once. The Hyuuga household was definitely a place lacking warmth.
Hinata sighed as she returned to her room and, exhausted and drained, plopped down onto her bed. Her thoughts then turned towards Naruto. In a way, she was glad that Naruto didn't drink, but she knew that something very painful must have happened to him for him to hate alcohol so much.
"Naruto-kun... what is it that's hurting you so...?"
Finally, the slow week came to an end, and Shikamaru sighed when he saw the amount of people Ino had brought with her. He usually enjoyed his Friday nights alone in peace under the stars with the Ghost of Konoha's music wafting quietly in the background. "Did you have to bring the entire village?" he muttered sarcastically. He had expected it to be just him and Ino, but it had somehow expanded to include everyone from the old Rookie Nine group, except with Gai's team taking the place of the conspicuously absent Sasuke and Naruto.
Ino rolled her eyes as she laid down a couple beach towels. "You should be glad that you're not spending your Friday night alone."
Chouji opened up a bag of gummy snacks and smiled cheerfully, glad that the old group had finally gotten together again outside of missions after such a long time. "Where are Sasuke and Naruto?" he asked, tossing a few gummy bears into his mouth. He preferred chips, but he had decided on some quieter snacks that didn't crunch.
"Sasuke-kun is on standby again for any emergency missions," Sakura sighed. "And Naruto just disappeared. I couldn't find him anywhere."
"Hinata tried to invite him, but he turned her down before even hearing her out completely," Kiba muttered, still angry over that entire episode.
"Kiba-kun... it wasn't like that," Hinata insisted. "Naruto-kun had his reasons..."
"You asked Naruto out?" Ino gasped in surprise, causing Neji's eyebrow to twitch.
"I said, it wasn't like that!" Hinata buried her burning cheeks in her hands.
"NARUTO-KUN! WHERE ARE YOU?!" Lee yodeled out from the edge of the cliff so that all of Konoha could hear.
This time, it was TenTen's turn to twitch in annoyance as she dragged the spandex-clad ninja away from the cliff. "You're so... jeez, I don't even have any words to describe you!"
"So troublesome," Shikamaru sighed as he lay down as he always did to enjoy the sky that stretched out far above him. "It's starting."
The once rowdy group suddenly quieted as a ghostly melody began to drift out from the forest beyond. "Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D major," Sakura whispered, almost inaudibly, as the very first few notes took her breath away. It was her favorite piece from her father's old music collection, but she had never heard this piece carry such sorrow and melancholy before. She was so enraptured with the music that she didn't even notice the tears that were already sliding down her face.
'Sakura... even if your father never tells you that he loves you, he really does... he's not good with words... so whenever he has something to say that he just can't put into words, he lets his music do the talking... just listen to his music, Sakura...'
That was what her mother had told her. As a child, Sakura never understood why her father was so cold and distant, but after really listening to him, listening to his piano, she had found his warmth, his love.
Hinata too found her heart filling with a rush of emotions. Back when she was still a little girl, she had gotten lost in the forest and the Ghost of Konoha had played this very song for her to keep her from getting scared, until her father had come rushing to her side. His face had been torn with worry, his eyes strained from desperately stretching out his byakugan's range to the limit, his voice hoarse from calling out her name for so long. It was the only time that she had seen her father like that. It was the one memory that Hinata held onto dearly, it was the one memory that assured her that her father indeed loved her.
'Hinata... good job...'
'Hinata... you're my beautiful daughter, don't forget that...'
'Sakura... you're my beautiful cherry blossom, and I'll catch you when you fall...'
'Hinata... even if you can look behind you and ahead of you at the same time, always walk forwards...'
'Sakura... stay strong, even when I'm gone...'
'Hinata... my daughter... I love you...'
'Sakura... my daughter... I love you...'
'Hinata! I'll always support you, so don't be afraid and keep pressing forward dattebayo!'
'Sakura-chan! I'll always be there for you... it's a promise of a lifetime dattebayo!'
Sakura blinked in surprise and looked up to see Naruto grinning right in her face. "Your face is too close," she frowned, pushing him to a more comfortable distance.
"What's that?" Naruto started walking with her as she continued on her way to her afternoon shift at the hospital. "Sheet music?"
"Ah, yeah," Sakura smiled a little. "I was reminded of something last night, so I suddenly got the urge to play music. Oh, by the way, where were you last night? What the heck is it that you do with your Friday nights?"
"Last night? Hmm..." Naruto paused for a moment as his face scrunched up in an attempt to remember. "Hung out with Iruka-sensei a little bit... I guess..."
"You should've joined us last night," Sakura sighed. "Iruka-sensei too..."
"All of us, we went up on top of the Hokage mountain at the edge of the forest to listen to the Ghost of Konoha," she explained. "We're going again tonight, so come! Invite Iruka-sensei too!"
"The Ghost of Konoha? What the heck is that?" Naruto laughed, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
"Don't laugh! It's a very romantic story!" Sakura pouted. "Her boyfriend never came back from a dangerous mission over in Rock Country, so she always played her violin to try to lead him back home. But eventually, she passed away as well."
Naruto blinked in surprise but didn't say anything.
"What?" Sakura asked, confused. It was very strange when Naruto had nothing to say.
"I never knew such a story was going around Konoha," he said suddenly with a laugh, but Sakura knew better, she knew when Naruto was forcing his smiles. "Yeah, I guess I'll join you guys tonight. Well, I gotta run, Neji and Kiba need me for something, see you later, Sakura-chan!" And with that, he was gone.
"Naruto..." Sakura let out a deep sigh as she glanced back down at her sheet music. Was Naruto hiding something from her again?
"Hey, Shikamaru, have you ever tried looking for her? The Ghost of Konoha?" Ino asked as she sprawled out on Shikamaru's bed, enjoying the first movement of Mozart's symphony number forty out of his growing classical music collection. Ever since Shikamaru had learned about the Ghost of Konoha, he had begun collecting the classical music that originated from the continent across the southern ocean. Ino, as well, had taken up an interest in classical music and had been spending a lot of time at Shikamaru's house lately listening to his collection. Before they knew it, they had actually grown quite close.
"Yeah," Shikamaru replied lazily. He knew this topic would come up sooner or later. Curiosity was part of human nature after all. "But why put an end to a beautiful thing by catching her?"
Ino tilted her head a little in disappointment. "Yeah... I guess you're right."
The real reason though was that Shikamaru didn't really believe in ghosts. He figured that the Ghost of Konoha was really just one of the local musicians who happened to like playing music in the woods, so he didn't have any particular interest in catching such a person.
"Um... do you want to try it again?" she asked, her cheeks suddenly turning pink. "Holding hands, I mean..."
He was glad that they had grown more comfortable with each other, but he had been a bit surprised at how shy Ino was when it came to these types of things. Their relationship had been progressing at a snails pace, they hadn't even managed to hold hands yet, but it didn't really bother him. He liked taking things at a snail's pace after all, or rather, a cloud's pace.
He did have to admit that a shy Ino was fine too though. Very cute.
Kiba laughed, seeing Hinata's reaction to Naruto's presence inside the Hyuuga compound. "Relax, Hinata!"
"What's N-N-Naruto-k-kun doing here?" she stammered nervously, peeking around the corner to see Naruto chatting with Neji and her father, Hiashi.
"We brought him here, of course," Kiba rolled his eyes. "It took a lot of effort to get Neji to agree to this, so don't let this chance go to waste."
"Neji-niisan too?!" Hinata wailed in embarrassment. It was one thing that Kiba and Shino knew about her crush on Naruto, but having Neji in on it was a totally different matter.
"C'mon, let's go!" Kiba grinned, urging her forward.
"N-N-Naruto-kun... wh-what brings you here?" she stuttered nervously.
"Neji here is going on an undercover mission soon, so he asked me to show him some tricks of the trade," Naruto explained with a grin.
"Oh yeah..." Hinata had almost forgotten about Neji's next big mission. The byakugan was an excellent tool for undercover intelligence-gathering missions, but the Hyuuga were generally never assigned to such missions. The reason behind that was that the Hyuuga were closer to the dignified samurai in terms of ideals rather than the deceptive ninja. A trickster like Naruto could easily pass as an entertainer with his shamisen and comedic personality and infiltrate an enemy daimyo's court, but a stiff Hyuuga like Neji would instantly be the focus of suspicion. It was like asking a samurai to do a ninja's job, so the decision to send Neji on such a mission had been a bit of a headscratcher. It also worried Hinata a lot. Neji was a genius when it came to Hyuuga techniques, but he hadn't used even simple techniques like henge no jutsu since graduating the academy.
Hiashi was also concerned about the mission, but of course he didn't show it. He had already lost his brother, so he didn't want to lose his brother's son either. "Train him well," Hiashi nodded at Naruto.
"You got it, Old Man!" Naruto grinned with a mock salute, which elicited a couple of gasps from some of the other Hyuuga that were in earshot. Even Hanabi, who had come out to see what all the ruckus was about, had heard it. Such disrespect towards the head of the Hyuuga clan was unheard of.
"Oi, Naruto!" Neji muttered harshly under his breath as he elbowed the impudent orange-clad ninja in the ribs.
"What? The Old Man is just worried about you, so act a little happier about it!" Naruto laughed, slapping Neji on the back. Neji just groaned and face-palmed in exasperation.
Hiashi raised an eyebrow and then cleared his throat a little. "Well then... I shall leave him to you."
"You can count on me! And you should lighten up, Old Man! Being so stiff ain't good for your health!" Naruto advised cheerfully as he rubbed his chin in mock wisdom and patted Hiashi on the shoulder.
Hiashi, unable to come up with a response, merely nodded. "I'll... keep that in mind."
Hinata had to fight the urge to giggle, but what she found strange was that Hanabi also seemed to be enjoying seeing her father at such a loss for words in the presence of the tactless ninja. It was the first time Hinata had seen Hanabi smile.
"Well, then, shall we get started?" Naruto grinned, cracking his knuckles.
"C'mon, Hinata, you too," Kiba nodded his head towards Neji and Naruto who were already on their way to the Hyuuga training courtyard.
"Ah, me too?" Hinata stammered. She was about to run after the three boys but the suddenly remembered Hanabi's smile. She nervously bit her lip and turned towards her younger sister. "Ah... Hanabi... would you like to come too?"
Hanabi frowned and looked away for a moment as if to think about the current situation. Then she finally nodded, and Hinata could swear that there was a small blush across the smaller girl's face.
"Kiba-kun and N-Naruto-kun are nice... I'm sure you'll like them," Hinata said, trying her best to cut through the awkward atmosphere as the two sisters followed the boys down the hall.
"Yosha! Let's do this! Henge!" Naruto shouted suddenly, transforming his clothes into a traditional kimono and hakama set with a blue and gray color scheme and then making his forehead protector and whiskers disappear. Hinata had to blush a little at how striking Naruto looked in traditional garb.
"Henge!" Neji formed the seals that he hadn't used in very long time and followed suit.
Suddenly Naruto and Kiba burst out into laughter. "Y-You look like a GIRL!" Naruto exclaimed, clutching at his stomach in amusement. Neji had made his forehead protector and branch family seal disappear and changed his eye color to a striking blue. But not only that, he had messed up on the henge seal and ended up with a red and white hakama and kimono set, making him look like a shrine maiden.
"Shut up you!" Neji muttered furiously as he grabbed Naruto in a headlock to shut him up.
"Hey, it's not my fault that you suck worse than me at basic ninjutsu!" Naruto chortled, struggling to get out of the stranglehold.
Hinata smiled a little, noticing that Hanabi seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. It definitely had been a while since the Hyuuga compound had been so loud and rowdy, so filled with life.
Once Naruto and Neji put their squabbles aside, Neji tried the henge again. This time he got the more masculine color combination of blue and gray, but that didn't really help his naturally feminine features.
"Alright, let's get started... ossohh!" Naruto let out a spirited kiai as both he and Neji summoned shamisen and started playing. "Let's if you can keep up!" Naruto taunted as he let loose a furious and aggressive torrent of music.
Hinata was almost speechless. "Naruto-kun and Neji-niisan can play the shamisen?" she asked in surprise. Naruto had his eyes closed and had a look of determination across his face, and while Neji seemed to have some trouble keeping up, he was quite skilled as well.
"It's easier to go undercover if you have some kind of non-ninja-related skill... whether it's as a chef, a butler, an entertainer... but Neji has none of those skills, so he had Naruto teach him how to be a court musician," Kiba explained. "Naruto had spent his two-and-a-half-year journey away from Konoha undercover as a court musician and entertainer, so of course he'd be a natural at this kind of stuff."
And suddenly the music was interrupted by a loud SMACK. "Damn it, don't lose grip on your henge!" Naruto shouted, smacking Neji across the head with a paper fan.
"Naturally, it'd be hard to hold a henge while concentrating so intently on something else like playing the shamisen," Kiba sighed, leaning back to watch the show.
"Henge!" Neji frowned as he pulled his disguise back up and started playing the shamisen again with renewed vigor.
"That's more like it!" Naruto grinned in approval as the two shamisen once again began their furious duel of music.
And Hinata found herself quickly drowning in it, enraptured by all the feelings mixed in the music. She could feel Naruto's determination, strength, kindness... but also his anger, sadness, and pain... and she could feel Neji's resolve, loyalty, integrity... but also his indifference, arrogance, and solitude. Their music conveyed so much that their words alone could never show her.
As the song came to a climactic end, Naruto grinned and gave Neji a soft punch on the shoulder. "That was awesome."
And Neji couldn't help but return the grin. The music gave him the same feeling exhilaration that fighting a strong opponent did. He was glad that he had picked up the shamisen from Naruto, if not for the mission, but as a way to find himself.
"That was amazing," Hinata smiled happily, clapping in applause. To her surprise, Hanabi was clapping as well.
"Thanks," Naruto puffed out his chest proudly.
"Oh, by the way, N-Naruto-kun... this is my sister, Hanabi," Hinata said, introducing them to each other.
"Nice to meet yah! Remember me well, Hanabi-chan, because I'm gonna be Hokage someday!" Naruto announced as he patted Hanabi on the head, causing her to blush furiously. She had never been called 'Hanabi-chan' before, nor had she ever been treated in such an intimate way either.
"N-nice to meet you, N-Naruto-kun!" Hanabi bowed quickly. Then, realizing that she had called him 'Naruto-kun' on accident because that was what her sister had called him, she started stammering an apology. "Ah, I mean, Naruto-san!"
"That's cute!" Naruto laughed heartily. "You can call me Naruto-oniichan!"
Suddenly Neji, going into overprotective older brother mode, grabbed Naruto back into a suffocating headlock. "No, she won't, you pedophile!"
"What are you talking about?! She's grown into a perfectly fine young lady!" Naruto choked out on his defense, while struggling to free himself.
But to everyone's surprise, Hanabi let out a small embarrassed squeak, "Uh... Naruto-oniichan..."
"Oh wow... that's actually kinda embarrassing," Naruto laughed sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. "But it feels kinda nice."
And that was when Hinata had come to the heart-shattering conclusion that Hanabi had fallen in love with the man that had brought warmth and laughter back into the Hyuuga household, Uzumaki Naruto. She bit her lip and hung her head in defeat as she let the consequences of what she was about to do next play out in her mind and in her heart.
Then finally, with a bittersweet smile, she put her hands gently on Hanabi's shoulders and faced him. "Naruto-kun, would you like to join us for dinner tonight?"
Surprisingly, no more stuttering, because now it was for her beloved sister's sake and not her own.
"Sakura? Dinner! Where are you?"
"Up here, Mom!"
Sakura's mother poked her head up into the attic and found Sakura surrounded by mountains of sheet music. "What are you doing up here?"
"I kinda wanted to learn how to play the violin, I guess," Sakura replied sheepishly. "It was always Dad's dream to play the violin, huh?"
Her mother smiled gently as she wrapped her arms around her daughter. "Yeah, but he was never any good at it," she laughed. "Always sounded like a cat dying whenever he tried."
Sakura giggled in agreement. "Yeah... but his piano was wonderful..."
"It was," her mother nodded.
"But... it doesn't feel fair..." Sakura murmured sadly, gently cradling the violin in her arms as she fought back the tears. "He died... it was my fault... I stole his life... and now I'm stealing his dream too... selfishly chasing after my dream even though he had to give his up..."
Her mother tightened the embrace and shook her head fiercely. "Don't ever say that, Sakura... it wasn't your fault... and your father would be proud of you... a child's dream becomes the parent's dream... that's what being a parent is about... once you were born, helping you achieve your dream became his new dream... so don't ever say that it was your fault... the only way to make him happy would be to chase after your dream."
"I miss him, Mom... I really miss him..." she sobbed, burying her face into her mother's loving embrace.
"I do too..." her mother whispered, softly running her hand through Sakura's silky pink hair. "Now dry your tears... he wouldn't want you shedding your tears over him."
Sakura nodded slowly and wiped her tears on her sleeve.
"So how much progress have you made?" her mother asked cheerfully.
"Um... well..." Sakura tentatively placed the violin between her shoulder and her cheek and rested the bow against the strings. And then...
Sakura laughed sheepishly once she got rid of the horrible ringing in her ears. "I guess I'm as bad as Dad was..."
"Naruto?" Shikamaru asked in surprise, raising an eyebrow when Naruto had suddenly appeared with Hinata, Neji, and Hanabi.
"What? Am I not supposed to be here?" Naruto laughed, seeing Shikamaru's reaction to his presence. "Both Sakura-chan and Hinata had insisted that I come listen to the Ghost of Konoha, so of course I'd come."
After having dinner with the Hyuuga family, Hinata had invited Naruto to join them at the edge of the woods on top of the Hokage mountain, and of course, she had brought Hanabi along as well.
"Yay! Now everyone is here!" Sakura cheered, shaking a nonchalant Sasuke by the shoulders.
"Wow, I didn't know you guys loved music so much," Naruto laughed, scratching the back of his head. Hinata and Sakura had explained it to him, but he hadn't expected the entire gang to show up.
"Well, you'll understand if you listen," Ino replied matter-of-factly. "The Ghost of Konoha plays very beautiful music."
"Yosha, Naruto-kun, are you ready to shed manly tears with me?" Lee declared with his usual enthusiasm.
"Beautiful enough to shed manly tears, eh?" Naruto chuckled.
"Naruto-kun, come sit with us," Hinata offered, laying down a blanket for them to sit on. She was sitting next to Neji, allowing Naruto to sit next to Hanabi. Though, Hinata's sudden lack of stuttering did not go unnoticed by Sakura, Ino, and TenTen, so they all made mental notes to grill her about it later.
"Thanks, Hinata," Naruto grinned, taking his place next to Hanabi and causing her to smile happily. "So when's it starting?"
Shikamaru shot Naruto a suspicious glance before answering. "Any time now, I guess," he said, and then lay back to enjoy the view of the starry night sky.
"I hope we get to hear some Chopin or Beethoven today," Ino remarked, joining Shikamaru in lying down and surprising him by resting her head against his shoulder.
"Shouldn't it have started by now?" Chouji wondered out loud, realizing that the sun had already set. The Ghost usually began playing once the sky had started to turn red, but now the stars were already shining.
"You guys better not have dragged me out here for no reason," Sasuke muttered impatiently.
Shikamaru glanced over at Naruto's carefree expression once again and frowned. He always had some suspicion that perhaps Naruto was indeed the fabled Ghost of Konoha, but he had never had any logical evidence to back it up. He usually didn't like to come to conclusions based on gut feeling; he liked hard logic.
They waited for a while more, but no music came out of the forest. Finally, it seemed, that Shikamaru would have some evidence pointing to the fact that Naruto was in fact the person playing the violin deep in the woods. He noticed that Neji seemed to have come to the same conclusion as well by the way that he was trying to mask his activated byakugan with a genjutsu.
"Maybe she's shy now that she has an audience," Ino suggested.
Sakura then, on a whim, pulled out a summoning scroll, which produced an old-looking upright piano. She looked through her folder of sheet music and then decided on a piece that she was most familiar with. When she realized that all eyes were fixated on her, she blushed a little and cleared her throat.
She gingerly placed her nervous fingers on the keys and opened the piece with a shaky string of notes. "Oops," she laughed sheepishly when she hit a wrong chord. "Maybe this was a bad idea..."
Naruto grinned as he got up and put his hands comfortingly on her shoulders. "No, you're doing great, Sakura-chan... just relax," he assured as he massaged her shoulders gently.
Sakura could suddenly feel the tension evaporate from her body at Naruto's touch and then nodded. "Okay..." She let out a deep breath and started the piece over again, but this time with much more confidence. "This is Frederic Chopin's Nocturne number twenty in C-sharp minor..."
Sakura's music wasn't refined and she was definitely out of practice, but it reflected her newfound passion for music. Even as she stumbled over notes and chords, no one could mistake that her heart, her soul, and her love was in her music.
And that was when the violin joined in. At first, she felt that it was a shame that the Ghost's exquisite violin had to be accompanied by a pianist as clumsy as her, but as she closed her eyes and allowed the Ghost's elegant melody intertwine with her own, all doubt was dispelled. She felt the Ghost's music lead her on a romantic dance across the Milky Way. The love that the violin carried filled her with so much warmth that it almost felt as if her mother or her father was holding her in a loving embrace. But as they continued their dance, Sakura realized that it actually felt more like Naruto for some reason. It felt as if the music that was holding her in a protective embrace was in fact Naruto's embrace. That's what she felt.
But as much as it was a romantic piece, it was also a tragic and heartbreaking one. That's what Hinata felt. Naruto had long since returned to his seat by Hanabi's side, allowing her to use his lap as a pillow so that she could have a comfortable view of the stars, and seeing them together like that, despite Hinata's decision to give up on Naruto and support Hanabi's first love... she could feel her heart slowly being crushed under the weight of the beautiful nocturne. It was as if the piano and the violin represented two people who could no longer be together, sharing one last heartbreaking dance.
Neji, being the observant person that he was, handed her his handkerchief.
"Shikamaru, isn't your house that way?"
"Huh?" Shikamaru blinked in surprise. He looked around and saw that they had passed the street that his house was on. "Oh... I'll just walk you home," he shrugged.
"Are you okay? You've been spacing out this whole time," Ino pouted. "Something bothering you?"
"Hmm... it's nothing," he shook his head. Though, honestly, the fact that Naruto had been there with them to listen to the Ghost of Konoha sort of bothered him. He had always figured that the Ghost of Konoha was really just one of Konoha's local musicians, and Shikamaru's number one suspect had been Naruto for some reason he could not explain. But because the blond musician had been there with them, Naruto couldn't possibly be the violinist, could he?
"No really, tell me," Ino insisted, tugging on his arm.
"Hmm... this may sound stupid, but I always thought that maybe Naruto was actually the Ghost of Konoha," he laughed sheepishly. "But I guess I was wrong."
"Naruto?" Ino giggled. "Whatever made you think that?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "I have no idea... it makes no sense, but that's just the feeling that I got after listening to their music."
"Naruto can play the violin?" Ino asked incredulously. "Are we talking about the same Naruto?"
"He can play the shamisen," Shikamaru shook his head. "Quite well in fact. And when I listen to him, I kinda get the same vibe as I do with the Ghost."
"Really? In that case, I guess I'll have to listen to him play sometime," Ino noted.
"Well, here's your place," Shikamaru remarked, looking up at the darkened windows. "No one home?"
"My dad has an overnight mission, so do you wanna stay the night?" Ino asked teasingly.
For a moment, Shikamaru was struck speechless.
"Just kidding!" she giggled and then gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'm starting to think that maybe it won't be so bad having you for a boyfriend, but don't want to move too fast, so maybe next time. Good night, Shikamaru."
And, through all that, Shikamaru was still dumbstruck speechless.
"Naruto-oniichan is really funny!"
Hinata smiled as she braided her little sister's hair. It was already time to go to sleep, but Hanabi was still chattering non-stop about Naruto. It was now all too clear that Hanabi had in fact fallen for Konoha's future Hokage. Love could change a girl.
Dinner that night with Naruto had been an interesting affair. The Hyuuga family dinner was usually very solemn, but Naruto had managed to toss that serenity out the window. He had regaled them with tales from his travels all over the world, some of them thrilling, but most of them absurdly funny. Hanabi had especially enjoyed the story where Naruto had accidentally killed the tyrannical and oppressive Mizukage when one of the strings on his shamisen had snapped and whiplashed the old man across the face, thus making Naruto the temporary Mizukage for a week until the Mist Village council had decided on a new leader.
"Oneesan, can you invite him over again?" Hanabi asked hopefully.
"Of course, but now is time for you to go to sleep," Hinata smiled warmly, switching off the lights. "Good night, Hanabi-chan."
"Good night, oneesan."
Hinata allowed herself a small giggle as she closed Hanabi's bedroom door behind her. But once the door had clicked shut, that giggle was followed by a sigh as she leaned back against the door, head hanging.
She let out a small squeak of surprise. "N-Neji-niisan... you surprised me."
"Are you planning on giving up on Naruto?" Neji asked, already having come to that conclusion from observing Hinata's actions for most of the evening, through dinner and the Ghost's concert.
Hinata blushed a little, not being used to talking about her relationship problems. "Yes... Hanabi-chan is old enough to know what it means to fall in love... so, as her older sister, I will support her."
"Are you really okay with that?" Neji pushed onwards. He didn't want Hinata to do anything half-heartedly; he hated it when people made half-hearted decisions.
"Yes," Hinata nodded. "I have never been close to Hanabi-chan... never reached out to her... never been a good older sister to her... if I had to choose between being Hanabi-chan's sister and Naruto-kun's girlfriend, I think being a good older sister to Hanabi-chan would make me happier. Naruto-kun brought warmth to our home tonight... I'd like to keep that warmth going with my own power."
Satisfied with Hinata's resolve, Neji nodded. "Very well."
"Besides... Naruto-kun has given me so much already... the strength to keep moving forward... the courage to reach out to others... the power to change myself... asking for more would be selfish," Hinata said with a serene smile.
"You have changed, Hinata-sama," Neji said with a chuckle.
"So have you, Neji-niisan," she replied warmly. "If you don't mind, I would like to hear you play the shamisen again."
Neji chuckled a little as he led her to his quarters to retrieve his shamisen. As he began playing, Hinata could immediately recognize the difference between Naruto's aggressive tsugaru style and Neji's much more graceful and subdued style. Without Naruto's leading accompaniment, Neji's true music could now shine through.
And she loved it. She loved her family.
"What? Ichiraku Ramen is closed today?" Sakura scratched her head in confusion as she stood outside the closed-up ramen stand. The girls had been planning on eating lunch there, but they hadn't expected it to be closed.
"Did Teuchi-san say anything about this?" Ino wondered.
"Maybe he's sick," TenTen suggested with a shrug.
"And I was looking forward to trying this famous ramen that Naruto-oniichan likes so much," Hanabi sighed, having tagged along with her sister. Being tethered down to the house as the Hyuuga heiress, she didn't get out too much.
"Ah, it's Iruka-sensei," Hinata pointed out, spotting their former academy teacher at the kaiten sushi house across the street.
"Might as well get sushi instead then," Sakura nodded her head towards the sushi house and led the way. "Iruka-sensei! Mind if we join you?"
"Ah, Sakura, Hinata, Hanabi, Ino, and TenTen," Iruka grinned happily. It always made him happy to see his old students doing well.
"Eating alone? Where's Naruto?" Ino asked.
"Ah... Naruto," Iruka paused for a moment and stared up at the ceiling in thought. "He's with Old Man Teuchi and Ayame right now."
"Did they go somewhere? I've never seen Ichiraku Ramen closed on a Sunday before," Sakura inquired. Naruto would probably throw a fit if Ichiraku Ramen wasn't open seven days a week.
Iruka allowed himself a sad smile as he grabbed a plate of salmon nigiri and placed it in front of Sakura. "You like salmon, right? And if I recall correctly, fatty tuna for the Hyuuga princesses," he chuckled playfully, taking a couple of expensive plates of tuna nigiri off the conveyer belt for Hinata and Hanabi. "And... TenTen likes eel. And shrimp for Ino."
"You don't have to treat us," Hinata insisted.
"Nah, compared to Naruto's endless bowls of ramen, sushi is nothing," Iruka laughed.
"So where did Naruto go?" Sakura asked as she mixed some soy sauce and wasabi together for her sushi.
"Well... up until about seven years ago, Ichiraku Ramen was actually a full restaurant, not just a stand," Iruka explained. "There was an accident and the restaurant burned down... and one of the waitresses died in the fire. So Naruto, Teuchi-san, and Ayame went to the cemetery today to pay their respects."
"Oh... I never knew," Sakura gasped softly.
"I didn't actually eat at Ichiraku Ramen much back when it was a restaurant, so I didn't remember her too well," Iruka shook his head with a sigh. "I'm not sure about Naruto though... he doesn't like talking about it too much. I do remember that she was a wonderful musician though."
"A musician?" Sakura's ears perked up.
"Hmm... what was it called again?" Iruka's face scrunched in an attempt to remember. "A violin... I think that's what it was called. Yeah, a violin."
"Mitsuki-neechan... I've always missed you... but your music has always been with me... your music is what gave me strength for all of these years... thank you..."
"Find anything?" Sakura asked as she rapidly flipped through stacks of old newspapers from the Konoha archives to find anything from seven years ago. However, the Sandaime Hokage, having been a genius known as 'The Professor,' completely neglected any semblance of organization, and Tsunade hadn't been much better about it, so she knew Hinata and Hanabi would have much better luck sorting through the mess of newspapers with their bloodline limit.
"I found it!" TenTen exclaimed waving around an old newspaper. "Read this!"
"Ichiraku Ramen burns to the ground. Two casualties..." Ino read the headline out loud. "Jounin Kira Takuto, age twenty-four, tried to save Ichiraku Ramen waitress Kouyama Mitsuki, age twenty-three, who was trapped inside the burning building... unable to escape, both passed away..."
"Kira Takuto had been assumed dead for disappearing on a dangerous mission in Rock Country for over six months... he had miraculously returned, alive, to Konoha less than an hour before the fire had started... Kouyama Mitsuki was his fiancé... oh my god... it's just like the story of the Ghost of Konoha," Sakura gasped, her eyes tearing up.
But it was the next paragraph that shook Hinata the most. It was what made all the pieces fit together, why Naruto got so angry over alcohol. "The fire was started by two drunken ninja... provoked by the presence of orphan Uzumaki Naruto, age nine, they began to recklessly use katon jutsu inside the restaurant to terrorize the child... waitress Kouyama Mitsuki and jounin Kira Takuto had valiantly managed to allow the child to escape the fire at the cost of their own lives... oh my god, Naruto-kun..."
And that's when they heard it. It was the faint sound of the violin drifting in through the open windows. "The first movement of Mozart's symphony number forty..." Sakura murmured, recognizing the song right away.
"It's not coming from the Hokage mountain," Ino pointed out, listening carefully.
"The cemetery," Hinata gasped.
"Let's go!" Sakura quickly jumped out the window, followed by the Hinata, Hanabi, Ino, and TenTen, and quickly dashed off through the streets of Konoha, following the sound of the violin.
As they got closer to the outskirts of the village, they could hear more and more instruments join in one by one until it sounded as if there was an entire orchestra to accompany that single violin. The closer they got, the louder, the more powerful, the more passionate the music became.
And Sakura could hear it, the wishes and sentiments, the voice behind each instrument. Each one said something different, each one with a different emotion, happiness, sadness, companionship, solitude, laughter, lament... but each one was united in a single harmony, a single message.
'Thank you... and goodbye...'
And Sakura suddenly found tears spilling out of her eyes. "NARUTO!" she screamed as they burst into the cemetery grounds.
Then it was gone and silence filled the air. There was no one there but them.
The five girls solemnly walked through the aisles upon aisles of gravestones. When they finally came upon the graves of Kira Takuto and Kouyama Mitsuki, Sakura collapsed to her knees in emotional exhaustion.
"Naruto was carrying such a burden all this time..." she murmured softly, gently running her hands over Kouyama Mitsuki's name. "Naruto..."
"Listen to me, Naruto! You're not allowed to die yet! You now have both mine and Mitsuki's dreams to carry on your shoulders... you're not allowed to die until you've lived out your dreams!"
Before Naruto could continue, Tsunade smacked him across the head. "Don't call me that!"
"You know you like it," Naruto grinned devilishly.
"So? What brings you here?" she asked.
"Hmm... I was wondering if I could get this week off," Naruto laughed brazenly. "I definitely deserve a break, with all the awesome things I've accomplished lately... like that alliance treaty with the Grass last week!"
Tsunade raised an eyebrow for a moment and then smiled. "Yeah, sure, brat. You deserve it."
"Really? Alright!" Naruto cheered. "I'll treat you to dinner sometime during the week then."
"I look forward to it," Tsunade laughed. It had been a while since they had casually spent time together.
"It'll be awesome! Believe it!" Naruto grinned, giving her a thumbs-up.
Naruto paused for a moment, but Tsunade could see his shoulders slump, his air of cheerfulness shot for a split second. "What are you talking about? Of course I'm okay!" he laughed. "Thanks for asking though, Baachan."
Tsunade smirked a little. "No problem, brat."
Sakura sighed as she rested her head against the keys of her piano. She had really wanted to talk to Naruto and see if he needed any support, but apparently he and Shikamaru had already gone off to the Sand Village for some reason. She could understand Shikamaru, since he was Konoha's liaison to the Sand, but Naruto really had no reason to go, especially since she had heard that he had the entire week off from missions.
"Maybe he just needs some time to himself," she thought.
"Hmm... more like... this..." Neji said, correcting Hinata's form. Hinata had decided to learn how to play the shamisen as well, and Neji had been glad to teach her.
"Hmm? You two have gotten pretty close," Hanabi remarked, peeking in on them as she passed by.
"Heehee," Hanabi giggled as she ran down the hall as Hinata chased after her. Ever since Naruto had reminded them how warm a family should be, they had grown closer and closer, and Hanabi had been really enjoying herself lately. She finally felt as if she had an older sister in Hinata and an older brother in Neji.
"Gotcha!" Hinata grinned as she pounced on her little sister.
"We didn't have to go all the way to Suna just for that, did we?" Shikamaru sighed, finally finding themselves back in their home territory. "Not to mention that we only spent two days there..."
"What are you talking about? We accomplished a lot in two days," Naruto insisted. "Besides, if you're gonna do something, I believe you should do it properly!"
Shikamaru groaned and slapped his forehead. It was because of Naruto's insistence on doing things properly that he had gone through the trouble of explaining his relationship with Ino to Temari. He never had any feelings for the Sand kunoichi in particular, but apparently Temari had taken a liking to him. And while she had been very understanding, Kankurou and Gaara had been another matter altogether.
"See? Aren't you glad that you've gotten your ambiguous relationships all cleared up?" Naruto exclaimed cheerfully, slapping Shikamaru on the back.
"What about YOUR ambiguous relationships?" Shikamaru shot back.
"Mine? What are you talking about?" Naruto asked, his fox slit eyes showing how confused he was.
"Never mind," Shikamaru sighed, shaking his head in exasperation. "Here comes one now."
"Hanabi-chan!" Naruto grinned when the small Hyuuga girl jumped down next to him from up in the trees.
"Back from Suna?" she asked, still feeling a little shy around him. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, Hanabi-chan," he chuckled. "And I got you a present too!"
"Really?" she asked, her eyes widening in surprise as a small blush spread across her cheeks.
Shikamaru sighed, slapping his forehead again. He couldn't really blame Naruto, but the combination of his friendliness and ignorance made him a really easy person to misunderstand. He remembered that Kiba had told him that one time Naruto had needed one more person for an important mission, so he had asked Hinata to 'shut up and come with me' and Hinata had just fainted right on the spot.
"Do you like it?" he grinned, handing her a cute teddy bear. The Sand was famous for its artisans, and toys such as puppets and stuffed animals were no exception.
"I love it!" Hanabi exclaimed happily, hugging it tightly to her chest. She had never received anything like it before, being raised in such a strict environment and everything. "Naruto-niichan, do you want to come over for dinner again?"
"Hmm... yeah, sure, why not?"
"Hey, you know, Naruto's back from Suna," Ino reported off-handedly, almost causing Sakura to choke on her ramen. "Jeez, you're wound up pretty tight when it comes to Naruto, huh?"
"I am not!" Sakura pouted.
"Well, Shikamaru told me that he's having dinner with the Hyuugas," Ino added. "Seems like he's getting along with them pretty well."
"Not any of my business," Sakura frowned.
"Oh, don't act like you're not jealous," Ino laughed, patting her on the back. "And I'm sure you're still worried about him."
"I am not," Sakura muttered.
"And you shouldn't," Ino said slyly, teasingly wrapping her arms around her best friend. "I'm guessing you still haven't figured out why Naruto went all the way to Suna, yeah? That's why you're so cute, Sakura-chan."
"Your face is too close," Sakura deadpanned, trying to push Ino away.
Ino giggled and playfully bit on Sakura's ear, causing her to squeal. "I owe Naruto one for dragging Shikamaru to Suna with him and clearing things up with that Temari girl, so I'll tell you this at least... try to get a day off from work on Friday."
"Friday? Why Friday?"
"Well, thanks for having me over again," Naruto grinned. "The food was great! Believe it!"
"You're always welcome here," Hinata said cheerfully, walking with Naruto to the front of the Hyuuga compound. "I'm sure Hanabi would be really happy too, so come back anytime."
"In that case, I'll definitely take you up on that offer," Naruto assured, giving her the nice guy pose as he stepped outside the main gate.
"Before you go... I want to thank you, Naruto-kun," Hinata said, tugging at his sleeve slightly. "Ever since you came into this house, it's become a lot brighter and lot warmer. Hanabi has opened up a lot, and so has Father."
Naruto shook his head. "I didn't do anything. It was all you, Hinata," he said, patting her on the shoulders. "Mending bonds can be tough, but you stayed strong."
"Naruto-kun..." Hinata studied him carefully. "Are you going to be okay?"
Naruto blinked for a moment, surprised at the sudden question. Then he smiled, "Yeah, of course."
"That's good," she smiled in relief.
"And... oh yeah... Hinata."
"You've stopped tripping over your words," he remarked with a grin. "Does that mean that you're finally comfortable around me now?"
Hinata blushed a little, not knowing how to respond. She felt a little ashamed that all this time Naruto had thought that she had been uncomfortable around him. Then, she took a deep breath and came to a decision.
"To be honest, Naruto-kun... I've actually had a crush on you for a long time... ever since we were back in the academy," she confessed, bowing her head a little to avoid his gaze. "That's why I was always so embarrassed around you."
"Wow... I never knew... I'm sorry," he replied sheepishly. She then felt a gentle hand lift her head so that her eyes met his. "But I guess this means that you're over me already? That makes me kinda sad," he laughed.
Hinata smiled a little, surprised at how easy it had been to confess her feelings to him. She now felt that an important chapter of her life finally had some sense of closure. "You missed your chance, Naruto-kun," she replied jokingly.
"You'll find someone who deserves you more than I do," he assured with a kind smile. He then surprised her by pulling her into a warm hug. "Don't forget to always keep moving forward, Hinata..."
"I won't... and thank you, Naruto-kun..."
"So... are we going to tell our parents yet?"
Shikamaru blinked. "Tell our parents what?"
"That I'm two-weeks pregnant, idiot!" Ino groaned.
"Well... technically it's not two weeks yet, but... I guess I'll give it to you now," he sighed, fishing for something that was in his pocket. He then pulled out what looked like a fancy case for a ring, causing her to stifle a gasp.
"It's a promise ring..." he said, opening the case and revealing a beautiful silver ring. It was very simple, nothing fancy, no gemstone or anything, but she could immediately tell that it had been crafted by the best artisans the Sand Village had to offer. "That my heart will always be yours..."
She then flung her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. "Idiot... you didn't have to..." she said through muffled sobs.
"Well... I'd figure it'd go over better with your parents if you at least had a ring," he shrugged.
And she had to laugh at that. "Idiot."
Once Friday finally rolled around, Sakura had found that Naruto had planned to take her out on a picnic. He had found a peaceful and quiet spot over by Lake Haruna at the far outskirts of the village. It was a beautiful and clear day with a refreshing breeze, perfect for a picnic.
As Naruto laid out the picnic blanket and set out the food, Sakura studied him closely. It had been less than week since the anniversary of Mitsuki's and Takuto's deaths, but he seemed fine. Maybe she had been thinking too much. Maybe he had already come to terms with their deaths after all.
But she still had to make sure. "Hey, Naruto..."
"Yeah, what is it, Sakura-chan?" he asked cheerfully.
"How have you been doing lately?" she asked simply. "You doing okay?"
Naruto tilted his head to one side and looked at her strangely. "What's with everybody asking me all of a sudden? First Baachan, then Hinata, and now you. Of course I'm okay, why wouldn't I be?" he laughed. "Spending the day with you like this... it's a dream come true."
Sakura sighed. Sure his words made her happy, but she found that getting him to open up to her would be harder than she thought. "Naruto..."
"Ne, Sakura-chan, could you play for me?" he asked suddenly with a grin. "I really enjoyed your performance last Saturday."
"No, I'm no good," Sakura shook her head modestly.
"Aw, c'mon, Sakura-chan, that's not true," Naruto insisted cheerfully.
"No, really, it's only because... I only sounded good because... she was playing the violin with me..." Sakura said softly, fiddling with her hands uncomfortably. She then threw a cautious glance over at Naruto. "It was only because Mitsuki-san was playing with me..."
Naruto's eyes grew wide for a moment, and then he resigned himself to a small sad smile. "So you know..."
"Naruto... are you okay?" she asked one more time, placing her hand gently over his.
Naruto laughed a little and shook his head. "I'm fine, Sakura-chan. Don't worry."
"Tell me the truth," Sakura insisted, looking at him with pleading eyes.
Naruto paused for a moment to look up beyond the clouds, beyond the vast blue sky, up towards the heavens. "Mitsuki-neechan... she was the first person to ever show me kindness... I met her when I was seven... I had just gotten kicked out of a bakery, and she found me out on the street... so she brought me to Ichiraku Ramen and fed me...
"Takuto-niichan was Mitsuki-neechan's boyfriend... and they became sort of a family to me... the first time I knew what having a family felt like... family is a nice thing to have, yeah?" he laughed a little.
"Yeah," Sakura nodded, smiling warmly, thinking about her loving mother and her father who had already passed away long ago.
"But one day, Takuto-niichan went out on a mission and never came back... so Mitsuki-neechan went up on top of the mountain every night and played the violin... hoping to guide him back," Naruto murmured. "But the day Takuto-niichan finally came back..."
"The fire..." Sakura said softly.
"Mitsuki-neechan and I were trapped inside... and Takuto-niichan came to save us... but I was the only one that made it out alive," he sighed. "It was my fault... my fault that those drunken ninja started that fire... my fault that Mitsuki-neechan and Takuto-niichan had to die..."
"Naruto," Sakura shook her head and pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I'm okay now, Sakura-chan," he assured. "So will you play for me?"
"Yeah," she nodded, pulling out a summoning scroll, but instead of a piano, it was her father's old violin. "It was always my dad's dream to play the violin, but he passed away before he was able to learn... but I don't want to let that dream die... I'm not very good, but I've been practicing... so please listen to my song. This is Bach's Minuet number three in G-major."
It was a very simple song, and despite Sakura's inexperience and lack of skill, it was clear that she poured all of her love into that song. She was so concentrated on the song that she almost didn't notice Naruto wrap his arms around her from behind. And like what had happened when she had played piano that one night, his touch gave her music even more confidence and emotion.
He then began humming the piano accompaniment part of the song into her ear, creating a harmony with her violin. Sakura didn't know how Naruto knew this song, but she didn't care, it just felt so wonderful. It felt as if they were dancing on air even though they weren't even moving their feet. Their music was dancing for them, his humming entwining with her violin, becoming one.
And she could hear it. The thing Naruto was telling her through his music, their music. It was the same thing that her father could only tell her through his music. 'I love you, Sakura-chan... more than anything...'
"Naruto..." she murmured softly, as she leaned back into him once their song had come to an end. It felt as if it had been forever since the last time he had held her. She would always punch him into oblivion if he had ever tried it, but right now it felt so perfect.
"Happy Birthday, Sakura-chan... you forgot about it, didn't you?" he whispered into her ear, sending shivers of pleasure down her spine, and then placed a necklace around her neck.
Sakura glanced down at the beautiful silver lariat necklace with a cherry blossom design. "But... Naruto... this is..."
But she was immediately cut off by a gentle kiss to the lips, a kiss that took her words and her breath away.
That night, they had gathered up at the Hokage mountain again to listen to the Ghost of Konoha play again. They were beginning to consider making it a weekly event, since it wasn't often that they could all get together like this.
"The Ghost is late again," Shikamaru murmured, glancing over at Naruto. He still had his suspicions about him. It was much better than admitting that ghosts were real anyway.
"I don't think she'll play without you, Sakura-chan," Ino giggled, noting that the Ghost had not started playing yet despite the fact that the sun had already set.
"Alright," Sakura nodded with a smile, summoning her father's old piano once again. She gently ran her fingers across the moonlit keys and then decided on a song. "This is... Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata..."
The song was a hauntingly beautiful piece, blanketing the night with a poignant enchantment. And then, lured by the captivating piano, the sound of a violin began calling out to it, sending shivers down the spines of all who were witness to it.
Then a second violin joined in. Then a cello... then flutes, oboes, clarinets, and horns... until an entire orchestra had set the stage for Sakura's piano. And when the very last violin joined in, she was surprised that the sound was coming from right next to her.
"You wanted to know what I did with my Friday nights, right?" Naruto chuckled, his eyes closed as he masterfully conducted the rest of the orchestra with his violin. "Well, I'm the Ghost of Konoha..."
The Ghost of Konoha had been right next her all along, it was Naruto. The entire orchestra was Naruto's shadow clones. She knew that now and couldn't believe that she hadn't realized it sooner.
She then began playing the piece with renewed passion. It was just like that afternoon when he had hummed the chords of the song into her ear as she played. It felt as if their music was binding them together as one, one soul, one heart.
But, just as the orchestra had grown, it suddenly started disappearing, one by one, until all that was left was Sakura's piano and Naruto's violin. It didn't bother her. It only made the music even more beautiful.
And just from watching Naruto and Sakura play for each other, it was clear that they loved each other. Hanabi could see that and allowed herself a small defeated smile as she clung to her older sister. She was happy for them, but she couldn't help but feel her heart sink; he had been her first love after all.
"Sorry..." Hanabi whispered, sobbing a little. "Thank you for trying so hard for my sake..."
Hinata felt her heart shatter at seeing her little sister's first love come to an end, but deep down, she knew that Naruto's heart would belong to no one else other than Sakura. "I'm sorry, Hanabi," she said softly, embracing her comfortingly in her arms.
And in turn, Hinata felt Neji put his arms around her. "Hinata-sama..."
Hinata smiled and nuzzled her head into Neji's strong shoulders. "Thank you... Neji-niisan..."
"I'm so happy for them," Ino murmured contently as she draped her arms around Shikamaru.
"Me too," he nodded, taking hers hands in his as he watched the two musicians, the violinist and the pianist, bathed in moonlight, using a sonata as their declaration of love.
'I love you, Naruto...'
'I love you, Sakura-chan...'
Author's notes: Okay, if you didn't get it already, the theme of this story was supposed to be about family. Ino's story represented creating a family, Hinata's story represented healing family bonds, and Sakura's story represented coming to terms with family who have already passed away. I think family is very important... I live five hundred miles away from my family, so I can understand that much. I hope you, the reader, can too.
As for disclaimers and references... Kouyama Mitsuki and Kira Takuto are actually the main characters in Full Moon wo Sagashite. The trip to Suna and the lariat necklace is actually a reference to my previous fic Icha Icha Fantasy.