Title: Dress of White

Chapter One: Reunion

Rating: Teen (Mild language)

Timeline: AU

Disclaimer: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I do not own Naruto.


Naruto groans at the offensive blare of his alarm clock. He rolls over and swats at the annoyance until the trumpeting finally seizes. He waits for his ears to stop ringing before slipping out from under the comforter and shuffles across the room to the kitchen.

The second I get the money, I'm buying a new mattress, he thinks as he stifles a yawn. He stretches out his aching muscles and rifles through the cabinet next to the refrigerator.

As he pulls out a cup of instant ramen, a dog with reddish-brown fur pulls at his pant leg, growling hungrily. Naruto lowers his squinting eyes at the canine's blurry outline against the white tile flooring. He grunts and returns his attention to preparing his noodles, dragging the dog along with him to the sink.

"I'll feed you in a second, damn mutt." the blonde mumbles drowsily as he staggers towards the microwave. The dog snarls and pulls in the opposite direction in retaliation to his master's insult.

Naruto presses onward with all his might, only to lose his balance and topple onto the floor. The contents of his ramen splatters onto the tiles as the dog sits back and smiles in satisfaction. The young man sighs and sits up, betokening his canine companion with a glare.

This ritual occurs every morning before he leaves for work, and it always ends the same. He frequently leaves his apartment hungry and pissed off, but he keeps trying. He's convinced that one of these days, he'll be able to beat this dog at his own game.

Naruto rises to his feet and rummages through a cabinet beside the sink and pulls out a large bag of dog food. He walks into the empty space adjoining the kitchen, which currently serves as the demon spawn's living quarters.

This space would have been recognizable as a dining room, but he didn't exactly have a steady enough income to wager enough furniture to accommodate his studio apartment.

The blonde pours some of the Kibbles&Bits into a food dish, just barely able to fill it. He crushes the empty bag in his hands and tosses it into the trash.

"Looks like I'm gonna have to buy you some more on the way home, that is if I feel like it." Naruto snickers mockingly at his furry roommate as the dog glances up at him with malice in his eyes.

The blonde chuckles to himself and heads back to the kitchen to clean up the remains of his breakfast.

When he finishes, he walks back to the side of the room that housed his bed and checks the time. Naruto throws his head back and releases an exasperated sigh.

I'm definitely in for an earful this morning, he thinks as he peels off his pajama shirt, searches through his dresser drawer for a clean shirt, and slips in on over his spiky head of hair.

He grabs his keys, wallet, and cell phone off the dresser top and takes a moment to glance in the mirror as he considers to change out of his jeans. He shrugs and decides against it. He didn't exactly have a clean pair of pants to change into since his washing machine broke down.

It's not like anything of importance would happen today. Business is usually kind of slow during the morning hours.

He turns away from his reflection and heads for the door. On the way out, his dog runs up from behind him and sinks its teeth into his back side. The blonde yelps and jerks away as a surge of pain shoots up his spine.

Grimacing, he picks up his fallen wallet from the floor and hurries out the door in a huff, leaving the dog with more than just the bitter taste of denim in his mouth.

--

Naruto enters his place of business twenty minutes late and out of breath. His car broke down three blocks away and was forced to run the rest of the way.

An eerie silence settles over the building after the chime of the bell dissolves into the muted background of the city outside. He scans the perimeter in search for any sign of his boss.

Fortunately for Naruto, his boss is nowhere to be found.

Relieved, he makes his way to his work station behind the counter on the far-right side of the building. He eases onto his stool and searches for the morning's newspaper. He frowns when he can't find it. His boss usually left the newspaper out for him in the morning so he could read the comic strips.

Today, he was particularly anticipating his chance to read the funny pages. He was in need of a good laugh...

Suddenly, the door to the storage room on the opposite side of the store swings open as a thundering voice fills the space. Naruto shoots up in a panic and in his rush, topples off of the stool and onto the floor.

"You're late, Naruto!" the older man exclaims as he stomps over to the counter and greets his employee on the other side with a scowl.

"I'm sorry! My dog-- and then my car broke down--"

The older man raises a palm to silence the blonde, "And I'm guessing through all that chaos you forgot the keys to the store as well? I mean, you were suppose to open today after all."

Naruto's skin pales as he begins to pat down his pockets for the keys to the store. He chuckles weakly when he finds them to be missing, "Uh, busted?"

The older man releases an exasperated sigh and walks behind the counter, crossing his arms over his chest as he shakes his head at his employee. Sometimes, moments like these make him think he's too soft on the Uzumaki boy, but he couldn't help but to feel this way.

When the boy first came to him a few months ago with this job-crisis of his, Naruto seemed so desperate for work... Even with his job history, he couldn't turn the blonde away-- Technically, they were family after all.

"I wasn't even suppose to be here right now. I had a very important meeting with that publishing company I was telling you about the other day."

"You mean the one that wants to buy your novel--"

"--if you can even call the smut you write that,"

"It's going to be difficult to convince them to schedule another meeting with me..." his dark eyes shut tightly and the room settles into silence.

Naruto stares up into the olive-colored face of his superior, his heart heavy with guilt. He hadn't meant to destroy the man's dream of becoming an author, even if all he ever wrote was smut...

"Pervy Sage, I'm--" The blonde's apology is cut short when the man swats Naruto with the newspaper clutched in his fist.

"How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that??"

"I'm sorry, Pervy--" the man lifts his arm in preparation for another swat, "Nevermind."

Jiraiya snorts and drops the newspaper into Naruto's lap, "Here. I saved the comics for you,"

Naruto beams up at the man and smooths out the crumpled paper on the floor. He commences to read the funny pages on his stomach with his head propped up in his hands.

Jiraiya tries to mute his hysterical laughter with his hands, but ends up failing each time he glances down at the blonde. He hurries back to the storage room to continue his laughing spree.

--

Within the next few hours, the store receives its first customers of the morning. The sound of the bell chiming as they enter draws Naruto's attention away from his comics.

He peers over the counter to see a woman pushing a stroller. Standing beside her, a heavy-set man. They both emit an air of familiarity to the blonde, but he overlooks this and resumes reading the newspaper.

"Remember," the woman says, "we're only here to pick up diapers, so stay out of the junk food aisles."

The man grumbles something unpleasant under his breath and rambles down the aisles for the baby supplies with his wife and child in tow.

After awhile of listening to wandering footfalls, Naruto clears his throat and states the location of the diapers. His presence unknown to the couple, gasp at the sudden sound of his voice. They share a few hushed words and garner their groceries.

Naruto finishes reading the comics a moment before the couple and their child approach the register. He stows the newspaper on a shelf behind the counter and eases himself onto his stool.

"No wonder that voice sounded so familiar!"

Naruto looks up from the register and his jaw drops in shock. He rubs his eyes and blinks a few times to assure himself that his mind wasn't playing tricks on him.

"Choji? Ino??"

Ino shrugs and dismisses Naruto's reaction with a wave of her hand, "I was certain we'd stop getting these kind of reactions after the first two years."

The blonde leans forward to get a better view of the small bundle of life inside the stroller. She smiles and giggles as her big, bright blue eyes gleam radiantly under the fluorescent lighting above them. She babbles incoherently at Naruto, tugging at the pink bow in her golden curls. He grins at her cute attempt of speech and returns his attention to the child's parents.

"Two years, huh? I guess I didn't get the memo..." he chuckles awkwardly as he finishes ringing up their items.

Choji pulls out his wallet as the total amount flashes up on the small screen on the register, "Sorry about that. I would've sent you an invitation but I couldn't get ahold of your mailing address."

That's probably because I didn't have one, Naruto retorts under his breath as he hands the bag of groceries to Choji. He places it in the undercarriage of the stroller and leans against the counter. He opens his mouth to begin a new topic, but his wife beats him to it.

"Naruto, aren't you still dating Sakura? When do you plan on tying the knot already?" Ino gossips, her lips turn up into an expectant grin as she waits for the blonde male's answer.

"...We dated sparsely during college, but it didn't take long for us to break up. We... just felt it was better to remain friends." Naruto confesses reluctantly as Ino snickers in amusement.

"It's pathetic how Billboard Brow couldn't even bag the knucklehead!"

Naruto frowns at her comment, the words having more of an impact on him than she probably had realized. She quickly raises a hand to her mouth in regret upon noticing his expression.

Choji takes Ino's arm in one hand and grabs the handle to the stroller with the other, "Don't mind her, Naruto. She's always been that way." he consoles his friend on the other side of the register as he smiles jokingly.

The corner of Naruto's mouth turns up into a slight smile but it quickly fades, "Um, yeah,"

"Anyway, we've got to get going. Nice seeing you again."

Naruto waves in silence, his disgust in himself too great for him to speak as the family of three leave the store. He sighs and buries his face in his palm, After college, all of the others were able to find happiness. What happened to me?

The storage room door opens again and Jiraiya steps out to check on his employee. He approaches the counter and leans his arms against it, catching a glimpse of the family through the bay windows at the front of the store, "Old friends of yours?"

Naruto frowns and turns away from the older man's gaze, embarrassed to be seen in his vulnerable state. He takes a moment to gather himself and nods.

Jiraiya sighs, his eyes softening to the noticeable sadness on Naruto's face, "What's eatin' you, Naruto?"

"It's nothing," he lies.

Jiraiya begins to repeat his question, but is interrupted when the front door of the store opens again. A woman walks through the doorway, her movements timid and ungainly.

The two men turn their attention to the woman. Her cheeks tint pink, feeling their gazes bore through her. She lowers her eyes to her sandals, her long dark hair hiding her blushing face.

"Ma'am? Is there anything we can help you with?" asks Jiraiya, taking his time to oogle the woman's figure as she turns to face them. He attempts to mask the lust in his eyes by smiling politely at the woman, but Naruto elbows his boss, seeing through Jiraiya's innocent facade.

The woman stares at them from under her long, thick lashes and fiddles with her fingers, "Oh, um... I-I'm just l-looking..."

Jiraiya rubs his sore arm and shoots a glare at his employee, "Well, just let us know if you need any help." The woman nods and disappears down one of the aisles as Naruto turns to face Jiraiya.

"Pervert."

"What?? I didn't do anything!"

"So you're a pervert and a liar..."

Jiraiya smacks the blonde upside the head, his forehead creasing as he frowns, "You aren't doing much better, Slacker."

Naruto trails his hand over the sore spot on the back of his head, wishing away the knot that would surely form there. He groans and shuffles over to the back of the store where the ice-packs were kept.

On the way there, he bumps into the young woman as she rounds the corner. The vegetables she had gathered drop from her grip from the impact.

The woman scrambles to pick up the fallen goods, "I'm so s-sorry! P-please forgive me! I didn't see you t-there!" she apologizes frantically as she picks up a plastic bag from the floor and lowers a handful of vegetables inside.

Naruto stoops down to assist her, a warm smile gracing his lips. She blushes at the sight and averts her gaze to the carrot in her hand, "It's my fault, so don't worry about it. I shouldn't have come storming down the aisles like that."

"I-I probably should have been paying more attention to where I was going..." she mumbles, still feeling guilty about the incident. She turns the carrot over and over in her palm, trying her best to keep her focus off the brilliant smile of the blonde.

Naruto watches her for a moment. Her mannerisms arousing a hint of familiarity within him, but he couldn't, for the life of him, remember where exactly he's seen this woman before.

He clears his throat to break the silence that had settled between them, "Um, I'm Naruto bytheway." He extends his hand out to her and she hesitantly returns the favor.

"I-I know who you are..." she announces, her eyes drooping slightly at the thought of Naruto forgetting who she was.

Naruto blushes in embarrassment. He pulls back his hand from her grip and scratches the back of his head. "Damn, I feel like such an ass. Where exactly do you know me from?"

The woman places the bag of recovered vegetables on her lap, holding it close to her body as she replies, "We didn't talk that much back then, but we had the same gym class in high school."

Naruto's eyes widen as memories of his high school years flood his mind.

"Yeah, I remember now. You were the quiet one... Hinata, right?"

Hinata smiles weakly as another blush rises to her cheeks. She nods and lowers her eyes to her bag of vegetation.

She hasn't changed much from our days at Konoha High, Naruto thinks to himself as a small grin ascends his lips.

"Naruto! Stop flirting with the customer and do your job! I'm not paying you to sit on your ass!" Jiraiya scolds from the mouth of the aisle.

The blonde turns and glowers at the older man, "Pull the pole out of your ass and calm down!"

Jiraiya scowls and charges down the aisle, digging his heel into the back of Naruto's head as he forces his face into the floor.

Hinata jumps at the brutality of the attack, her cream-colored eyes wide in shock. "A-are you sure you should be doing that? Y-you could really h-hurt him." she stutters timidly as she pulls her bag of groceries into her chest.

"Listen to her! Listen to her!" the blonde pleads, his eyes watering from the pain.

Jiraiya grunts and reluctantly eases his foot from Naruto's head. He straightens the collar on his shirt and bows graciously at Hinata, "I'm sorry you had to witness that, my fair lady. Please forgive me."

Naruto pouts as he sits up. He glares up at his superior, disdain evident in his eyes. "Whose the one flirting now?"

Jiraiya waves off his employee's comment and takes his leave to the storage room. Once his boss is out of sight, Naruto rises to his feet and dusts himself off.

"A-are you alright?" Hinata asks.

"Yeah, I'm kinda use to it by now though." Naruto chuckles, a reassuring smile easing onto his lips as he extends his hand out to help her up. She takes his hand and in one fluid movement, he pulls her up off the floor. "Well, if that's everything, I'd be happy to take care of those groceries for you."

"Oh. Um, thank you." Hinata says as Naruto turns to leave for the register. As he walks away, Hinata can't help but giggle to herself while she follows him to the counter. The blonde's brow furrows, unable to figure out why everyone has been laughing at him today.

He slides onto the stool behind the counter and rings up the bag of vegetables. She pays her tab and grabs her groceries. She makes a move to leave when Naruto grips her pale, slender arm.

"I just really want to apologize for not recognizing you earlier. To make it up to you, how about we go out for some lunch or something?"

Hinata lowers her head, considering the blonde's offer. She hesitates to answer at first but finally comes to a decision, "I-I guess it'd be alright." she replies, her eyes connecting with Naruto's through her lashes.

He releases his held breath and smiles brightly as the young woman waves and exits the shop. Shock washes over him as he realises the sense of relief that came over him from Hinata's answer.

Jiraiya emerges from the storage room once again with his apron slung over his arm, "Do you want to go grab a bite to eat?" he asks as he approaches the counter.

Naruto hops down from his seat and hoists himself over the counter, "Yeah! I'm starving!"

"How about we try that new curry shop down the street? I heard that they're pretty good."

"But I want to go to Ichiraku's!"

The older man hangs his apron up on a hook and ruffles the whining blonde's hair, "And that's why you're as short as you are now." he says jokingly.

Naruto slaps the man's hand away and pulls off his apron, slinging it onto the counter, "Fine, we'll go to the fucking curry shop..." he grumbles as he storms over to the front door.

Jiraiya erupts into laughter once again, his eyes tearing up from its intensity. Naruto spins around in irritation, "You might want to bring your apron!" the older man wheezes between spurts of laughter.

"What the hell is so funny??" exclaims the blonde as he throws his hands up over his head.

"Are you serious?? You can't tell??"

"Tell what??"

Jiraiya gestures toward the bathroom as he continues to laugh at the blonde. Naruto glares at the man and walks into the dimly lit bathroom at the back of the store, but Jiraiya's laughter still manages to penetrate through the closed door.

Naruto examines himself carefully in the full-length mirror in the unisex bathroom. Finding nothing wrong with the front of his body, he turns around to examine his back side.

His face pales when he spots the missing jean pocket which reveals to the world the singing frogs on his boxer shorts.

"Dammit, Kyuubi!!"