"You need to make a decision. Is this one argument going to decide the rest of your life? Will you disregard your entire relationship because of one conversation?"
"Trust is so fragile. It is such a long and painstaking thing to create, yet it's so easy to break it. Without a doubt he broke the trust I had in him. He always said…that I was a strong person…b-but…that night…"
"Broken things can be repaired. You once called yourself a 'broken thing' when I first met you."
"Is that supposed to convince me? I don't consider myself fixed."
"Ha. Very funny."
"Sensei, was there ever a point in your relationship with Asuma-san when you thought he didn't respect you?"
"…before we technically started dating, he did have some –"
"No. After you were dating maybe upwards of a year. Did you ever once feel that maybe he… maybe he didn't…?"
"Would you have stayed with him if you had thought –"
"I don't know. He's dead."
"You and I both know that Naruto is as necessary to you as breathing. What will you do if he moves on? Even if you thought he didn't respect you – which everybody else knows is completely untrue - would it still hurt to see him to see him with someone else? What if he died? Would you be okay with knowing that he was alone when he did? That you never got to show him how much you care? Before you hurt both him and yourself, talk to him. Really talk to him. Find out why he said the things he did. Naruto isn't the smartest person around, but he knows damn well that you're a good ninja, and as I recall, he was one of the first who really cheered you on. Maybe the things that he said weren't so much his real opinions as they were mistakes made in the heat of a battle, so to speak."
Hinata left her sensei's house with conflicted feelings. After Naruto's public humiliation of her, she'd subconsciously considered the matter closed; there was definitely no way he actually held any respect for her if he pulled a stunt like that.
Kurenai put her firm findings into doubt. It was true – Naruto, though he was a very powerful ninja, was not nearly as knowledgeable in affairs of the heart as he was with those of the shinobi world. He was an orphan, raised in the orphanage and then the streets, reviled by those he was protecting. The fact that he wasn't a serial killer was a testament to his heart of gold. Even after having very dependable friends for so many years, he was still somewhat clueless when it came to relationships. To condemn him for his actions one time, when, in so many other instances, he had proven himself seemed unfair.
But what if his anger hadn't been "in the heat of a battle"? What if he had meant it genuinely? Her father had once said that things spoken in anger were the most true.
But where had her father been when she made chuunin, and then jounin? When she was hospitalized for weeks after a mission? When she'd needed a father – or just needed someone?
"Damn i - eh?"
Hinata barely managed to keep her balance as the ground rumbled beneath her feet. Civilians around her were stumbling and falling; a couple of junior shinobi in the near vicinity immediately looked at her. She held her hand in a certain position that all shinobi were taught after reaching chuunin level or above – it meant go to Hokage Tower for more information. The two ninja took off, dropping their groceries as they did so.
Hinata herself immediately headed for the Godaime Hokage's residence. Despite what Naruto thought, Tsunade still had all of the best contacts – she would know exactly what was going on.
"I said, sit still!"
"Don't look at me like that! Damn it Naruto, I'm trying to reattach your arm, you ungrateful bastard!"
"Ino, if you don't calm down, you'll screw him up forever," said Sakura, who still looking green off to the sides. Sasuke crouched low next to her, rubbing circles on her back. Everybody else – their entire force besides Sakura, Ino, Sasuke and Naruto – had gone back to Konoha at top speed led by Shikamaru , hoping to head off the invading Iwagakure shinobi. The two most prominent medics in Konoha, save only for Tsunade, had stayed behind in order to attempt to make Naruto battle ready. It was not going well.
"He already is screwed up – and over – forever," hissed Ino under her breath. "As well he should be - !"
Naruto, who had been almost totally silent, stiffened his spine and glared at her. It was obvious she was alluding to his relationship troubles – or lack of a relationship that could be troubled. Ino glared right back, unfazed, maybe even angrier than before.
"This is not the time," Sasuke gritted out, teeth clenched tight together. "Think about it like this – if we don't hurry up and get back to Konoha, you two may lose the person you're fighting about."
Naruto became totally still; Ino bent over further to concentrate on her work. Neither of them wanted to lose Hinata.
He decided to drift off into a reflective, coma-like state, since he hadn't had much time to do that in the previous week. Thoughts of the village's safety and the safety of one person in particular dominated his thoughts for the next ten minutes as Ino slowly reconnected nerve endings and muscle tissue. His Kyuubi chakra was working overtime, so much so that it was visible to the human eye. It healed so fast that sometimes Ino would have to sever the tissue again and heal it cleanly to fix the haphazard job that the other chakra had done. Eventually, Sakura stumbled over to Ino's side and began supplying her with chakra. She was still too weak to assist herself; her control was shot.
The process took the better part of an hour. By that time Naruto was tapping his foot, clenching his fists, and making soft, annoyed noises of impatience. His village was in danger. He needed to leave as soon as possible.
"Naruto!" said Sakura sharply. "If you were anyone else, you would've lost this arm. If you want it back to the fullest extent, you need to let us finish. We're almost done anyway –"
"If my arm was gone like a normal person's would've been, I'd already be back home and fighting by now," Naruto grumbled mutinously under his breath. He had already lost Hinata. If he lost the village, any sense of purpose he felt would be totally erased.
"If you were normal, you'd be dead from the blast, along with almost all of our best ninja, and Konoha would have no hope," said Ino as she sealed up the last of his wound. "There! Now – "
But it was too late. As soon as she had leaned away and relinquished her hold on his arm, Naruto was gone.
"Damn that Flying Thunder God jutsu!"
Hinata resisted the urge to fidget with her fingers or tap her foot in annoyance. She had been waiting outside the previous Hokage's house for at least half an hour after the initial knock, and Tsunade was being remarkably uncooperative considering that the village was likely in grave danger. Even now, she could sense other ninja waiting nearby, expecting Tsunade to guide them in this time of crisis.
"Tsunade-sama, this really is kind of important," said Hinata loudly from between her gritted teeth. Suddenly there was a spike in chakra – and then the door swung open. Hinata jumped away just in time.
"What is it?"
"The village is being attacked, Godaime-sama," Hinata said with a touch of impatience. "I was under the impression that a Hokage, current or previous, likes to be informed."
Of course, Tsunade already knew that the village was being attacked. Despite the fact that she was nearing her mid-sixties, she was still a ninja, one of the most famous ones ever to walk to Godaikoku.
It was a wonder she hadn't joined the fighting yet.
"We do," she acknowledged. "That's why I haven't come out yet. I was waiting for you."
She couldn't possibly –
"So you broke up with Naruto," Tsunade said bluntly. Her eyes briefly drifted to Hinata's left hand, bereft of a ring, before staring her in the eyes. "Wanna tell me about it?"
Hinata was silent for a full minute while trying to formulate an appropriate response to this – this – attack. There was no other word for it. It may not have been physical, but it was still an attack.
"Tsunade-sama, not only would that be totally inappropriate in a normal situation, the ridiculousness of your request is only heightened by the fact that this village is under siege," Hinata said. Her voice was strained, but still polite. "If we must talk about this, let it be after we have saved the village from imminent doom."
"You have a backbone! Excellent. I'd been worried about my little brat."
Hinata took a calming breath, biting back her annoyance. Tsunade smirked a bit at the expression in her eyes.
"Look. I spent enough time as Hokage to get a damn good measure of who you are, Hyuuga Hinata. And I think you are the only one that can make Naruto as happy as I want him to be for as long as I want him to be – that is, for as long as you both shall live."
"With all due respect, I believe that your observations must be mistaken. In fact, it was the night before he left that Naruto listed off a long litany of reasons why I was not the person for him."
Tsunade narrowed her eyes. Naruto was her little brother – not of the blood, but of the heart – and she was going to make damn sure that he was happy. If that meant making this girl see sense in her way, then so be it.
"Bah! The things Naruto says are nothing compared to what he does. Don't judge him by his words – judge him by his actions. Yes, he may've said some things – but has he ever put the things he said about you into practice? If he said that you were somehow inferior, did he act in a way that made you feel so?"
Hinata bit her lip.
"Sometimes, the words that come out of that mouth are gripping. Inspiring. And sometimes, they make him sound like a total bastard or an idiot. But his actions are always honorable. The things he does always show how he really feels, and what he really means. So if you're still deciding about whether to spend the rest of your life with that man, think about that. I can tell you that without Hyuuga Hinata, Naruto will be a very different man one year, five years, or ten years from now." A jaded, heartbroken man. Naruto had suffered a harsh life that was only beginning to improve to a level he deserved. Tsunade hoped that Hinata would make the right decision.
Hinata tensed suddenly – crouching down on the ground, she sprung up above the level of Tsunade's shoulder and threw several kunai into the darkness of Tsunade's foyer. Pained moans answered her. Tsunade flipped on the light switch and turned around.
Five enemy ninja from Iwagakure were either dead or dying on her floor. She sighed. Hinata was apologetic.
"Sorry about your carpet."
"Eh. I never liked that color anyway."
"Godaime-sama!" Izumo, one of the Godaime's former assistants, rushed over to the two women. "We need your help at the North Gate! Hinata-san, in the east residential district the jounin are lacking –"
"Think about what I said," Tsunade said briefly, putting a hand on Hinata's shoulder. Then she was running, leaping from rooftop to rooftop on her way to the north side. Hinata nodded to Izumo and took off herself. She'd already wasted enough time talking to Tsunade.
Naruto appeared with a near-inaudible pop right over the seal he had inscribed into the North Gate. He saw Konohamaru struggling against two Iwagakure ninja and sent them to their deaths with kunai. Konohamaru's face lit up when he saw him.
"Boss! You're back!"
Before he could respond, someone punched the ground with a great deal of force and a wave of earth flew in the air for a precious second or two before immediately collapsing. The dirt continued to cave in a thick, winding line for some ways. It branched off, growing larger and larger, like a web.
"Baa-chan! You've found the tunnel system!" Naruto crowed at her, grinning like a madman. "Thanks a bunch!"
The former Hokage was standing at the point from which the explosion of earth had started, the obvious perpetrator. Her genjutsu was wearing off, and she was breathing heavily. She glared at him.
"Where the hell have you been!" she snapped at him, not really meaning it. "I'm far too old to be doing work like this!"
"You finally admit it! Hold down the fort here, granny, I've got to do the rounds! See ya!"
He was off again, leaving Tsunade much like the Godaime had left Hinata. Everywhere he saw fighting, he stopped, kicked sufficient ass, and made sure his ninja were okay. Just the sight of him seemed to bring their spirits up. Then he would ask for a little intel, and move on. Naruto saw many dead, but less than he had expected, which relieved him. Everywhere Iwa ninja were falling to the superior skill and numbers of Konoha. Naruto only made things worse for the enemy, simply because he was so recognizable as his father's son, the most feared and hated of all Iwagakure's enemies.
What worried him was that he hadn't seen any of the Rookies. And he hadn't seen H -
Suddenly, Naruto felt a huge upsurge of chakra from the very last place he'd yet to visit – the very center of the village. He sprinted in that direction, the fastest speed he had reached in a long time. On the internal chakra radar that every mature ninja possessed, Naruto started to make out familiar energies – both generations of the Ino-Shika-Chou trio were fighting nearby. He could feel Kiba and Shino a little farther west. But there was one chakra that made him freeze instantly in his tracks and change direction.
It alternated between throbbing and fluttering, like an animal drawing a last, shuddering breath. There was a malignant presence next to it, nearly overtaking her –
She was bleeding all over, leaning forward, heavily favoring one leg over the other. Her breathing was shallow and strained. Yet she did not collapse, or show any sign of mental insecurity. Her eyes glinted with dangerous determination as she stared into the face of her enemy, a tall, dark-haired man with eyes like steel. Neither did she acknowledge his shout, which most likely could have been heard by most of the village. Was she ignoring him?
"Give up now, Hyuuga-chan," said her enemy with a mocking edge, daring her to attack. "You really don't stand a chance against me!"
"I'll beat you," she said, very quietly. "I will, because…"
"Because?" he threw back at her, grinning maniacally.
"Because I… will prove his words wrong!"
It was like her voice was on the loudest volume possible – he had rarely heard her reach that tone. Naruto watched, utterly transfixed, as Hinata forgot all of her injuries and pain and rushed her enemy head on.
He didn't stand a chance against her deadly technique, the perfect, pure Kaiten that Neji would never have the chance to refine. However, she didn't stand a chance either: it only took a few seconds after her enemy fell for her to follow.
She collapsed, blood spurting out of her mouth, her arms clutching at her midsection in pain. Her leg had finally given out from under her because of the immense stress.
Naruto saw red.
"What is he doing?"
"What do you think, carrying in one of the injured. You know, like a Hokage should."
Tatewaru Ikkiro finished his bandage job by securely attaching the edge of the dressing to his patient's covered wrist. "There you go, Shinji-san. Don't use that arm for a week, and only light labor for a month after."
Tatewaru Ikue pouted slightly and barely heard the older chuunin thank her twin graciously. Her eyes were locked on the form of the distressed Rokudaime, who was being comforted by a few of his closest friends as he clutched the severely injured Hyuuga Hinata to his chest. Most all of them looked worse for wear, with the exception of the Hokage. Ikue had had her eyes on the blonde since he had ascended to the position of the highest rank in Konoha, but Hinata had always been in her way. She had thought there was some hope after their supposed breakup, but apparently it had never happened.
But that couldn't be right – Megumi-chan had told her all about the embarrassing scene that the Hokage had made for that Hyuuga. A girl from that prideful clan couldn't have possibly ever taken him back after he did a thing like that. Clearly, the Hokage was just doing his duty as a comrade and former classmate of Hinata. Clearly.
And now she could make her move – the sympathetic medic nin, coming to treat her beloved Hokage. Totally innocent, right?
Engaging all of her stealth skills, Ikue followed the Rokudaime and the cloud of people who surrounded him to the nearest empty room. Room, in this case, was a term used loosely; in the overflow from the hospital, a large warehouse had begun to function as something of a clinic. Makeshift "rooms" were divided by sheets, if they got one.
Luckily enough, the position of Hokage basically meant you got the best of everything without even asking, as long as it was within reason. A secluded corner was reserved for the Hokage – or more accurately, anybody whom the Hokage would want to be treated. The Rokudaime was rarely injured himself, and if he was, it was usually treated on the battlefield by his teammate Haruno Sakura.
"Please, everybody else needs your help," said the Hokage clearly, his eyes reluctantly leaving the form of his fallen comrade. He was speaking to the six or so medic nin who were attempting to follow him. Ikue raced to the front of the pile, smiling brightly at him. "Please sir, I've only just got on duty, I've plenty of fresh chakra so that I can carry on helping people afterward."
Her go-for-it-ness was rewarded when he nodded, and repeated his request that remaining medics – and his cloud of close friends, who also wanted to stick closer to Hinata - go and help in any way they could. Ikue got a few dirty looks from her fellow female medics, but brushed them off easily; she was going to be in close-quarters with the object of her affection!
Ikkiro watched this from afar, and sighed. Hopefully, this would serve as a valuable lesson to his beloved baby sister.
"I saw you in battle, Hokage-sama. You were excellent."
"You are truly an amazing Hokage!"
"It must be so difficult –"
"I'm no expert, but don't you need to concentrate on this sort of process?"
Ikkue recoiled. "Of course, Hokage-sama! My apologies!"
Well, he must have lingering feelings for her… easily explainable…
Silence reigned. It wasn't awkward – it was tense, heavy. Ikkue resisted the urge to look over at him from across the bed. It was a losing battle, and she looked over at him adoringly in series of glances. His eyes bore intently at the scene in front of him – they were such a deep, intense blue, now – but seriousness really didn't suit him. He was meant to be happy and smiling, to be grinning and laughing. This was wrong.
The agony in his eyes as he looked at her was gut-wrenching.
Slowly admiration faded from her gaze. The realization was so cold and made her feel so stupid – he loved this prone woman so intensely that Ikkue doubted if she even registered on his romantic radar. That fight, even if it had been fabricated, was obviously not enough to tear them apart; and if they didn't become a couple again, Ikue knew that she had no place trying to win his heart anyway. She had always pursued him for the wrong reasons.
It felt like an eternity of being the awkward third wheel for Ikue - but it was really only fifteen minutes or so of intensive healing - before someone approached the Hokage with a matter that required his full attention. One of his ANBU guards materialized behind him and reached over to tap him on the shoulder - but Naruto held a hand up in warning, asking for just one more moment.
He reached up and brushed a few stray hairs behind her ear before leaning down toward her. He whispered something in the most tender voice Ikue had ever heard - the sheer emotion that accompanied whatever he had said felt like a physical weight in the air - and brushed his lips on hers lightly.
"Thank you for your help," he said finally, turning away from the prone Hyuuga woman and toward the medic. Ikue only nodded, her head hung low.
He nodded goodbye and then was off, listening careful to the ANBU who was speaking into his ear about the damages and the number of civilian casualties. What he didn't know was that in the exact moment wherein he had kissed Hinata, Ikue had made a promise to herself to bring this stupid girl into her right mind - and make sure that she was alive to do it.
When Hinata woke up, she realized she was in a bed.
She also realized that she was in a Konoha hospital bed, because whenever her body made the slightest shift to get more comfortable, the bed seemed to compensate by making another place on her body uncomfortable.
This in turn helped her to realize that she was, indeed, alive. Either that or the afterlife was not all it was cracked up to be.
A ninja nurse was leaning over her with an irritable look on her face, as if she'd been a particularly annoying patient. She wasn't sure how that could be the case, seeing as she'd been unconscious. Not wanting to cause an unnecessary scene (the woman was taking care of her, after all...) she kept her mouth shut.
"You've been in and out for two weeks, you know. Even when we moved you into the hospital you barely blinked."
She pursed her lips, but ignored the jab, feeling silly for being annoyed. It wasn't her fault she'd been knocked out, so she had no reason to be upset.
"... and then we had to change you to one room after the other because your father was complaining - "
Hinata couldn't help but feel offended at the obvious irascibility in her voice. "I'm sorry my being unconscious has been such an annoyance for you."
The medic flushed. "Well, whatever," she hissed through clenched teeth as she straightened Hinata's blanket with a little more force than was necessary. While she huffily set about straightening up the room and checking her vitals, Hinata sat up and looked around. Next to her bed was a table full of get-well gifts. She felt touched to have recieved them - her friends and family had been thinking about her despite the hardship of the village. There were flowers mostly - her love of gardening and plants was well known.
There was a huge bouquet from her team - daisies, azaleas, and white camelias made up that one. Sweet-smelling sweet pea had been sent by Hanabi (and she saw Neji's reluctant scrawl under her name - clearly hesitant to be associated with such a girly plant). Tasteful white lillies from her father. Ino had put together an all-purple creation - irises, lavender, and pansies. Hinata grinned a bit; Ino did have the tendency to put a little bit of herself - in this case, her favorite color - into her bouquets.
Last she noticed the single stem of morning glory in a stout, circular glass with translucent, iridescent stones at the bottom. Light streaming in through the window hit the stones prettily and framed the flower with a little halo. Though it was by far the simplest of all her gifts, there was an understated elegance and a personal touch to it that the others lacked for all their heartfelt sincerity.
She knew it was from him.
Apparently the medic had noticed her overlong stare.
"You know who it's from, don't you?"
"Excuse me..." Hinata's eyes slid down to the name tag pinned to her uniform. "Tatewaru-san. Is there something about yourself that you'd like to share with me that makes it so difficult for you to carry on a pleasant conversation with your patients? You have, by far, the worst bedside manner I've yet seen."
Ikue whirled around; she looked absolutely livid. "Is there something about me? Me? NO! The problem is you!"
With the tic on her brow bulging ever further, Ikue exploded.
"You are the problem! You have the most powerful man in this city - no, in the world! - under your thumb and you don't even realize it! Not only is he the strongest person alive and incredibly rich from three different fortunes that were left to him, he's also damn sexy! What in the world could you have reject a man like that? There is clearly something wrong with you! Well, besides the fact that he could do way better!"
Ikue was heaving like a wounded elephant half a foot away, looming over her bed. Hinata wiped the spittle from her face as gracefully as she could.
"There were a few things you forgot to mention," she said softly, straightening up in her bed and clearing her throat. "One: Uzumaki Naruto is a great man. He treats me well - he respects me as a woman, and as a ninja. He cares for the people of the village unconditionally, despite all of the things they've done to him. Barring all of his aforementioned assets of riches, strength, and attractiveness, all of which, I suppose, have their own merits... he has the biggest heart this world has ever seen. And two..."
Now it was Hinata's turn to give her companion a contemptuous once-over.
"He's actually quite smart. That's why he can choose strength of character over a mere trophy."
"That's not true."
Naruto was standing in the doorway, his arms crossed and leaning nonchalantly against the frame. Hinata looked up at him with wide, aching eyes. Maybe this whole time she'd been deluding herself, thinking he'd want her back. Maybe he did think that he could do a lot better than her and what exactly had turned her sensei and the former Hokage so batshit insane to think that he was still in love with her, Hyuuga Hinata - it just didn't make sense -
"Well, I do think I've gotten a bit cleverer in my old age. But I've never had to make the choice between beauty and brains. You, dear Hinata, are a true marvel - brainy brilliance and a goodness that knows no bounds, all wrapped up in a super sexy package. That is what I choose. Babe, you got it all."
Hinata blushed a pretty pink and looked down with a small, knowing smile. For one second, Naruto looked at Ikue and all of the warmth faded from him.
She scurried out of the room, head down, and did not look back.
In a second, Naruto was at her bedside. He sat down carefully, avoiding contact, as if he would break some invisible barrier or unspoken rule. She looked into his eyes and saw an uncertainty that broke her heart. She wove her fingers into his and for a moment, she marveled at how right their hands looked laced together.
"Why don't you go first?" They said as one.
The two grinned helplessly at each other.
"I don't think you're weak or unworthy - I've never thought it," he blurted suddenly, gripping her hands tightly in his. "I'm sorry I ever let you think that."
"I know you don't think that," to her surprise and embarrassment, her eyes felt teary. "I meant everything I just said, you know - you are so strong, so brave, so wonderfully you - and sometimes, I wonder why you even bother staying with me, when all I do is hold you back."
"You don't hold me back - you keep me grounded. I wonder if you know that you're the center of my universe."
"Still?" She looked up at him with wide, scared eyes.
"Still. Baby, you have your own gravitational pull."
Laughing sweetly at his corny compliment, she really looked at him for the first time in what felt like an age. She saw how nervous he was, but mostly she saw his sincerity. He meant it - meant every word and gesture, every apology that needed to be made. Hinata pulled him into a close embrace.
"Does this mean we're back together?" she mumbled into the familiar, tough green fabric of his flak jacket. He tensed.
"Do you want us to be?" He sounded as nervous as she felt.
"Me too. I've missed you so much."
"You haven't been away more than a few days..."
"But going out there, knowing I had nothing to return to... it made everything seem pointless. If the whole thing came to an amicable agreement with Iwagakure, what did I care if I didn't have you by my side to enjoy it with - you to help sustain it? Nothing. I'd give up this village and everyone else in it forever if it meant I could be with you. Don't you know how blessed I feel that I can have both?"
He had pulled her away from his chest as he started to talk so that he could look her square in the eye. This fact flattered, delighted, and scared her more than just a little, and she was sure Naruto knew it.
"You were the first person to love me," he said simply. "There is no one who could ever compare to you - unless we have kids one day. Even so it would be no question - us against the world, if I had to choose.
"I love you," she said, feeling she had to respond but also knowing that what she really wanted to say was indescribable in the spoken word.
"I love you, too," he responded happily, pulling her back into his arms.
"And, um, just so I know exactly where we stand... Uzumaki Naruto, will you marry me?"
Since she did technically break off the engagement at the beginning, I thought there might be a little unsurety in her mind as to whether or not they were still engaged, even though they were clearly back together. And "soo... we still engaged?" is just kinna lame. AMIRITE?
Hey guys, really shouldn't be here... it's finals weeks for gods sake but inspiration struck and I couldn't say no. Especially since I haven't updated in like, what, over a year now? Egad. Anyway I wrote this story in such a fragmented way I'd be surprised if it makes a lot of sense, so do let me know if you catch anything weird/awkward/etc. If there is anybody out there still reading, I'd love to hear from you :)
-MissWorded, the artist formerly known as Ferousha
PS: Reviews are cheap and relatively painless holiday gifts that I would love getting... HINT HINT