At noon the following day Hinata was patiently waiting outside in the courtyard with her father, Neji and a not quite willing Naruto. They had been helping the gardeners tend the garden, a task it turned out Naruto cared very much for, and cared very little to leave.
As the carriage with the anticipated guest arrived, the party noticed that there were not one, but two people sitting inside. Halting the horses, the coachman jumped down and opened the door. Out came the person Hinata assumed was Hatake Kakashi. He looked somewhat strange to her; silver hair in wild disarray, his left eye covered in what appeared to be a black silk cloth, and to top the madness; a mask covered the entire lower half of his face. Indeed he seemed much like a very strange person to her. Naruto didn't stir beside her.
After him came a young man, probably a year or so older than herself, and placed himself beside Hatake. Donning black hair, pale skin and refined features, she could practically hear Sakura swoon already. "Sakura will probably pester him to no end," she thought to herself, and skilfully suppressed a smile. To her surprise, though, she could clearly hear Naruto omit a low, animalistic growl when he spotted the other boy, and she quickly pinched his hand to warn him to keep in place. He glanced over at her, growl replaced with curiosity and a slight hurt at the fact that she had actually pinched him, but she ignored him and instead greeted the visitors.
"Hatake," her father said and strode forward to shake hands with the man. "I was expecting only you. Who is this young man?"
"Ah," Hatake said, and Hinata was taken aback at the lazy drawl of his voice, "this is my assistant, so to speak. Or my secretary. Either way, he usually accompanies me when I'm called away somewhere and need someone to take notes for me. His name is Uchiha Sasuke."
They were a strange pair, Hinata thought to herself. While Hatake's hair was silver to the point of white and gravity-defying to the point of ridiculousness, Uchiha Sasuke's was black, and formed a strangely attractive cowlick. Half of his face was hidden between bangs, but a pair of black eyes shone through and pierced her with an oddly stern stare, like he felt three times his real age. He looked like he considered himself far above everyone else.
Their arrival just missed dinner, which meant that Sakura, instead of sitting down with her beloved book, had to go down to the kitchen and heat up some of the leftovers. She did so, albeit grumpily and swore that Neji had some kind of secret vendetta against her.
At the table, her father discussed the 'annoying' matter at hand, aka Naruto, with Hatake Kakashi. Her father's approach to the subject irked Hinata. Was there really no other name he could find to refer to Naruto with than 'this obstacle'? It seemed, though, as if Hatake was a bit more observant than his laid-back appearance gave him credit for, and he quickly steered the conversation so that he was speaking to Hinata, not her father. Hinata obliged him in his attempt, and sent him a silent 'thank you' in her head.
"You said you found him in the forest near the estate," Hatake said between mouthfuls of re-heated chicken. Beside him, Sasuke picked on his own food.
"Yes," Hinata answered, watching how Sakura was sneak-peeking at them through a crack in the hallway doors before she returned her attention to Hatake. "I found him, or rather, he found me, during a search we conducted throughout the forest, as my father had heard rumours of an unknown animal residing there."
"And how did he act when you ...met?"
"He seemed friendly enough. Not afraid, like the pack of foxes he was running with. And..." Hinata halted.
Hatake raised a quizzical eyebrow. "And?"
Hinata blushed. She hadn't told her father the exact details of everything that had happened when they found Naruto, and she doubted Neji had either. Now both her father AND Hatake would know at the same time. Great.
"Well, he, um, he touched me – "
A loud crash indicated that Hiashi had just sent his chair tumbling to the floor in his hurry to get up. He was rapidly working up a rather impressive shade of red, and his fisted hands were visibly shaking as he tried to angry-glare a hole in an unknowing Naruto, who was in turn angry-glaring at Sasuke. "HE ACTUALLY – "
"Continue, please," Hatake said through Hiashi's rant and his own mouthful of mashed potatoes.
"Well, he didn't touch me in the way my father obviously thinks he did. It was just my face, and... h-he petted my hair." Hinata sincerely hoped she wasn't blushing as vividly as she felt she did, but judging by Hatake's smirk, she could probably be the lost cousin of the beetroot.
" – I WANT THIS MONSTROSITY OUT OF HERE – "
"And then what happened?" Hatake inquired, waving his fork as if he was trying to flap away something annoying. He didn't even bat an eyelid when her father snapped the knife from his hand and used it to pin an unfortunate napkin to the table. "He must be used to this, however that is possible," Hinata thought, before she answered him.
"He, well, sniffed for lack of a better word. And that was when Neji found me. It kind of escalated into a fight between him and Naruto when Neji tried to take me away."
Hatake stilled for a pregnant moment, a pensive frown painting his features.
"So," he said after some silence, "he is obviously very protective of you, am I right?"
When Hinata nodded, he continued; " He is protective of you, and doesn't like neither your father nor Neji. And from what I've seen this far, he doesn't like Sasuke very much either."
" – UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL I ALLOW – "
Hatake fell silent again. Hinata absentmindedly watched her father rant at Neji for 'not taking good enough care of her' as she waited for Hatake to finish thinking.
"Well, then that will be the first thing we will take care of," he said simply, and with a disturbingly happy smile to her he continued eating. Taken a bit aback for a moment, Hinata waited for him to continue, but when it became obvious that the food held his focus more than her, she settled for calming her father down and making Naruto not attack her father, as he seemed to be well on his way to do if she was any judge of feral children with an overprotective streak.
The next day started a tad bit too early for Hinata's liking. Hatake himself came into her room to wake her (with a frying pan and a metal spoon, no less) even before the sun had started to rise. He insisted that 'early to bed, early to rise' was a motto his dear mother herself had taught him when he was young, but when a grumpy, sleep-tousled Sasuke pointed out that 'early' did not mean 'before the birds wake' his glee had somewhat diminished. Naruto had just shifted and slept on after identifying the sound as non-lethal, until Hinata gently shook him awake. So therefore, half an hour later, Hatake, Sasuke, Hinata and Naruto found themselves in the drawing room, watching the clock on the far wall slowly ticking towards 5 A.M.
"So," Hatake started cheerfully, "what we'll do today is getting to know this kid," he pointed towards Naruto, who looked quizzical, "and let him get to know us." He pointed to the rest of them.
"And we couldn't do this at a decent hour of the day because...?" Sasuke grumbled, obviously lacking sleep and not liking it.
"Because I felt like doing it now."
Hinata could only stare at him, catching Sasuke's eyerolling in her peripheral vision. Judging Sasuke's lack of vocal resistance, it seemed he was well versed in the complexity that made Hatake's mind, but Hinata wondered if her father had made a wise choice when he asked this particular man to help them with Naruto.
Throughout the session, which involved waking Naruto, who had fallen asleep on Hinata's shoulder, her opinion of Hatake changed, though. He seemed to know what he was doing, from the way he handled Naruto's dislike of nearly all males, to how he, at the end of the session, actually had managed to make Naruto stop his growling at Sasuke. It seemed like a big step to Hinata. If only they now could get him to stop trying to fight Neji...
That evening, as she was sitting at her desk, drawing, Naruto suddenly left the fascinating, half-knit sweater she had been working on since last Christmas and came up behind her. She didn't acknowledge him at first, but when he tugged on her hair she turned.
And found him much, much closer than she was comfortable with. His head was leaned over her shoulder, and he wasn't looking at her, but at the drawing she had in front of her. It was a bluebird she had seen earlier. Naruto seemed fascinated with it. His intense blue eyes perused the drawing with poorly concealed curiosity and enthralment. And then they shifted back to her, and a shock, almost electrical, went through her. For a mere fraction of a second his eyes were no longer childish and innocent, but darker, deeper, and she felt herself become completely absorbed in them. Her breath became the tiniest bit shorter, and some unexplainable feeling knotted in a pool in her stomach. It left her breathless, and she didn't even notice when he turned away again, obliviously and happily ogling her half-finished drawing. Shaking her head, she tried to uncoil the turmoil in her head. This could only mean trouble...
Hatake's plan for the next day involved more socializing and 'getting used to Sasuke'-ing, and also included the first steps of teaching Naruto how to speak.
"I understand you have already tried to teach him some words," Hatake said, voice shaking with mirth, when Naruto suddenly plopped down in front of Hinata during one of the lessons and uttered his beloved word, 'lips'. Hinata didn't think it was humanly possible to blush as much as she did at that time, and it left her with a pronounced stutter throughout the rest of the day.
Her father came and visited in the afternoon, to 'mark their progress', as he said. He left with a sour air when Hatake told him, quite patiently, that there would be no progress to mark until well into next week. Naruto didn't fancy having to sit still for the amount of time needed to force a few words into his skull, so Hinata had to bribe him with quite a few fishcakes to get him to stay calm.
In the evening, Kakashi took Hinata aside and questioned her further about details of her and Naruto's meeting.
"What I would like to find out is why he seems to be so excessively attached to you, and why he's so hostile towards especially Sasuke and Neji. As far as I know, there's no obvious reason to this; I haven't seen it in the cases I've studied earlier. They tended to be more apathetic and indifferent, rather than being as energetic, lively and curious as Naruto is. At the moment, I think that he lived the first couple of years with humans, his parents, I guess, and then was somehow lost in these woods, and then the foxes must've found him." He shrugged. "To me, this seems to be the most likely explanation. At least as of now. We'll just have to wait and see how things turn out."
Hinata nodded to this, and added: "I can to some extent understand why he doesn't like Neji, and to a certain degree my father, but why he would dislike Sasuke the moment he met him I can't really fathom."
Kakashi gave an indifferent shrug, in an overly 'I-don't-give-a-shit' way. "We'll figure it out."
After Kakashi had left her, and brought Sasuke along with him, Hinata was alone in the living room with Naruto. He had been picking up the framed photos on the mantelpiece one by one, and now he padded over to Hinata with one of them in his hand. Plumping down in front of her, he held it out to her. She recognised it immediately. Taking it, almost timidly, she studied the person on it with an almost sad smile.
"This is my mother," she said, and showed it to Naruto again. "She died when I was very young."
Naruto studied it intently. "Mother?" he repeated, and he sounded positively quizzical.
She smiled. "Yes. And you probably have one, too." She could see that he didn't understand what she had said, but it didn't matter. If everything went as it should, he soon would.
A sudden knock almost startled her out of the chair she was sitting in.
"Who is it?" she called, and a second later the door was tore open and in came Sakura in a flurry of pink dress and frills. Hinata tried to keep her mirth at bay when she saw her.
"What in the world are you wearing? Isn't that the dress you used for your 18th birthday?"
"Yes!" Sakura exclaimed, quite happily "It is!"
Hinata waited for the rest, or at least an explanation, but when none came, she said: "And what is the occasion?"
Sakura flung herself down in the chair beside her. "Don't tell me you didn't notice him?"
"That guy who came with Hatake, Sasuke or whatever!"
Hinata quirked an eyebrow. "And how is this related to you playing dress-up?"
Sakura sent her a flat look, looking miffed. "You're so gullible sometimes, Hinata. Didn't you see how hot he was? I'm so gonna get him. And the first step to that is," she pointed at her dress, "is to dress nicely."
Hinata just shook her head and laughed, both at Sakura's 'obvious' reason for wearing the dress and Naruto's expression as he perused it, and couldn't help but wonder how her life had become so strange in such a short amount of time.