Soul Fire a NaruHina fan fic

Volume 3

Chapter 30: The Leaving

The girl stood by the window, watching the sun cast a softening light over the Hidden Leaf Village as it slowly dipped toward the treetops. Her gaze shifted from one building to the next, lingering on the ones she knew best; the Hokage tower... the academy... her favourite tea house. She strained her weary eyes to try and find the cluster of ancient structures that she had called her home. She wasn't sure if it was the pain in her chakra pathways or the tears blurring her eyes, but she couldn't quite make them out so far in the distance. In some strange, saddening way it didn't seem to matter. After all, it wasn't her home anymore.

She was almost grateful for a knock at the door to distract her from those painful thoughts. "Who is it?" she asked, barely loud enough to be heard.

"Hinata, may I enter?" called a familiar male voice.

"N-Neji?" She was surprised, and yet somewhat happy to hear the voice of her cousin. "Uh, p-please come in."

The young man entered, carrying a backpack over his shoulder. "Good evening... Hinata," he said politely and with a slight nod.

The girl couldn't help but notice that he had stopped himself from using her title of 'Lady' – the title that was no longer hers. "G-good evening, Neji," she replied softly.

He placed the pack on her bed. "Lady Hokage requested that I bring some things for you... for your journey."

"Oh... th-thank you." She stepped over to the bed and began to open the pack to check its contents. The girl paused when she noticed her cousin turn away suddenly.

"Uh... I apologise, but I had to go through your room in order to find some... personal items," he said, with an uncharacteristic hint of nervousness in his voice.

The girl was more than a little confused by his behaviour. She could have sworn she saw a slight blush on his cheek, though it paled in comparison to the crimson flush that covered her face when she opened the pack and found several of her most personal clothing items hastily stuffed inside.

"Oh, um... th-that's q-quite alright, Neji." She quickly stuffed them further inside and checked the rest of the items he'd brought. There were several other clothing items, mostly travelling clothes for various weather conditions, a toiletries bag with all of the essential, and a few more personal, items. Then she found something far more personal than anything else that could have been in the bag. She took a fearful sideways glance at her cousin as she held the small book.

"I assure you I did not look inside," Neji said.

Hinata smiled lightly and let out a silent sigh of relief. She knew her cousin well enough to be sure he wasn't lying. She put her diary back next to the case of writing tools. Then something else caught her eye. She carefully pulled out the large flat folder.

Neji cleared his throat quietly and looked away again. "I took the liberty of assembling some of your photographs for you."

Hinata looked up at her cousin with no small measure of surprise. She'd never have imagined that he would go to so much trouble for her. She opened the photo album and looked at each of the pictures one by one. The first to catch her eye was one of her and her team mates from when they were younger – a picture that had previously been sitting in a frame on her dresser. Next to that was a matching picture, taken about six or eight months ago. It had been taken the day after she had finally been promoted to chunin. She flipped the page and found pictures of herself and her family. A lump arose in her throat when her eyes came to rest on her favourite picture – one of the few photographs she had of herself and her mother.

"Neji... I..." she swallowed a tear, "Thank you so much. I can't believe you would do this for me."

Neji gave her an uncharacteristic smile. "It's nothing. I wish I could do more."

The girl was about to respond when her eyes fell on another picture. Taken when she was just seven years old, it was a picture of her and her sister, Hanabi. The tiny little girl seemed so happy, grinning wide at the camera. That was before she was old enough to understand the harsh, unforgiving life that she would have to live. It was the last picture of her innocence.

The girl gently ran a finger over the photograph of her sister as though trying to caress her cheek. "Oh, Hanabi..." A single tear ran down her own cheek. "I wish I could have said goodbye."

"Hinata...?" Neji caught her attention. He looked into her eyes with sincerity and regret written plainly upon his face. "I know that in the past I have been resentful of your position. I have despised my duties as a branch member and shown disrespect toward you." He bowed his head in apology. "I am sorry for treating you the way I have, and I regret that I will not be able to atone by continuing to protect you after you are gone."

The girl was completely taken aback. "Neji, please, y-you don't have to..."

"Please, Hinata, let me finish," he interrupted her. "Since I will not be able to atone by protecting you anymore, I vow to protect Lady Hanabi, instead. I swear I will stand by her and watch over her, the way I should have watched over you."

"Neji..." The girl felt another tear trickle down her cheek.

"I should be going now." He gave one last bow and turned toward the door. As he was about to leave, he paused. "I thought you might like to know, I will be guarding Lord Hiashi's hospital room tonight... alone."

The girl understood his hidden message. She looked down and saw a picture of herself as a child, being held by her father. She was just a few years old, and for once, he was smiling. "Th-thank you, Neji."

Night had fallen over the Hidden Leaf Village. The indigo haired girl sat on the edge of her hospital bed, her backpack by her feet. The hospital was dark and quiet now. She sat facing the door, waiting for the time to arrive.

She had made her decision. There was no turning back now. It was going to be painful for her to leave behind all her precious people, but she was sure that this was the best thing she could do for them. She knew some of them would miss her, but others would be glad that she was gone. She was sure they would be better off without her being there to hold them back. It would hurt, but at least she was going to be with him. Her only lingering fear was that she would hold him back as well.

After what seemed like an eternity of anxious waiting, the quiet knock finally came. "Hinata, are you ready?" whispered the voice of the Hokage's assistant.

Without a word the girl stood, slung her pack over her shoulder, padded over and opened the door.

Shizune simply nodded and began leading her through the dimly lit corridors.

The guards that had been posted outside her room were mysteriously absent. Not a single nurse or orderly crossed their path. Soon they turned a corner to find The Hokage and the blonde haired boy waiting for them.

The boy smiled at her as she approached, though his heart clearly wasn't in it. The girl could see the sadness in his eyes. She offered him a half-hearted smile of her own before turning away.

"Are you sure you're ready, Hinata?" the Hokage asked, keeping her voice low.

The girl looked at the floor, shuffling her feet and fidgeting. "I...Um..." There was one last thing that she wanted to do, but she didn't know how to ask.

The Hokage stepped closer to her and bent down slightly so she could look her in the eye. "Do you want to say goodbye to your father?"

The girl just nodded, silently grateful that the Hokage understood.

Placing an arm around her shoulder, the Hokage led her through the hospital to another room. A young man with long brown hair saw them approach, but made no attempt to confront them.

Hinata looked up at her cousin, giving him a slight smile as the Hokage opened the door for her. Neji bowed his head in return.

The girl stood in front of the open doorway for a moment. The slow, rhythmic beeping of a heart monitor echoed in the silence. Taking one last deep breath, she stepped inside the darkened room.

The door clicked shut behind her and she took a moment to let her weary eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Her heart was in her throat. She knew it was silly for her to be nervous – he was in a coma after all – but still she felt uneasy being in his presence, especially after what she had done.

Slowly, hesitantly, Hinata walked over to his bedside, her eyes glued to the floor. The beeping of the heart monitor seemed like the booming of thunder in the otherwise silent room. She swallowed hard as her footsteps brought her alongside his motionless form. The girl kept her eyes on her feet for at least a minute, too afraid to look at his broken body. When she gathered her courage enough to look, she almost collapsed in shock. The oxygen mask over his face, the wires taped to his chest and the intravenous tubes in his left arm all looked horrifying to her, but it was the sight of his right arm that sent an icy chill down her spine. Bandages covered every inch of it, from his fingers to his shoulder. But in the light from the small lamp over his head, she could clearly see the dark, bluish-purple lines that crept out from under the bandages and across his chest. Hesitantly, she peeled back the bandages on her own right hand and saw a hint of the same sickly discoloration on her fingertips.

Hinata held her hands to her chest as she felt more tears begin to collect. She tore her gaze away from his arm, turning it toward his half covered face. Her mouth was dry and her lips were trembling, but she needed to say the words.

"F-Father... I... I'm s-sorry F-Father..." She squeezed her eyes shut and struggled in vain to keep her body from trembling. "I'm s-sorry... f-for everything..." she sobbed, her voice barely a whisper. "I'm s-sorry I c-couldn't be what you wanted... I'm s-sorry I couldn't b-be s-strong..." A familiar weight settled in the pit of her stomach. The girl almost felt ashamed to be displaying such weakness in front of him. She could hear his voice in her head berating her for her pathetic snivelling, as he had done so often. All those times she had tried as hard as she could to keep it in, but this time she let herself break down right in front of him.

"B-but it's alright now," she squeaked out between sobs. "I won't be a d-disgrace to you or the c-clan anymore. Hanabi will be the heir... j-just like you wanted." The girl buried her face in her hands, letting tears flood her aching eyes. "I'll g-go away... a-and never be a... a b-burden to you again." She tried her best to wipe away the tears and leaned in close to his face. "G-goodbye, Daddy," she whispered, before giving him the slightest peck on the cheek.

Hinata practically ran to the door, pausing for just a moment before opening it and stepping out. She closed it behind her without letting herself look back.

She rubbed her sleeve across her face, sniffing back the flood of tears. The Hokage was waiting patiently for her down the hall, but there was one more person she had to say goodbye to. Hinata glanced at her cousin who was standing to the side with his head down. The girl could see the subtle signs of sadness in his face. She turned away, afraid she would break down again if she faced him. "G-goodbye, Brother."

Neji didn't look up. He stood straight, keeping his pale eyes on the floor. The girl was about to leave when he finally spoke. "Goodbye... Sister."

Hinata couldn't hope to hold back the fresh wave of tears. Without warning, she threw her arms around her brother and hugged him.

Neji was more than a little surprised at her actions. But after a moment's hesitation, he lifted his arms to gently hug her back.

Soon Hinata pulled away from him. She didn't say another word as she walked with the Hokage to rejoin the others.

Together the four of them silently left the hospital and made their way through the empty, darkened streets. They kept to the back alleys, avoiding the few shops and businesses that were open at this late hour. Only a thin sliver of moon illuminated the village, and not a single person crossed their path. Soon the walls loomed before them and a small side gate came into view. As they approached, they caught sight of a slender young woman standing beside the road. With the moonlight so thin, they couldn't see her face until they were within a few feet of her.

"Sakura!" the boy exclaimed when he recognised his friend.

The pink haired girl didn't respond at first. She just shuffled her feet and looked at the ground. When she did look up, it wasn't at the boy but at the indigo haired girl beside him. "Hey, Hinata," she said in a sad tone. She walked over to her and pulled something from behind her back. "I thought you could use these since you're going away for a while."

Hinata took the small box and scroll, squinting her tired eyes to identify them in the thin light.

"It's a special med-kit and a medical ninjutsu scroll," Sakura explained. "Sorry I won't be able to give you any more lessons. But I bet you can still learn a lot by studying this."

"Oh, thank you, Sakura," Hinata said quietly. She looked the gifts over again before slipping them into the pockets of her backpack. "S-so I guess this is goodbye."

The green eyed girl smiled sadly. "I guess so." She pulled her friend into a hug. "Take care of yourself, Hinata," she whispered into her ear. "And don't be afraid to punch that knuckle head if he gets on your nerves."

Hinata smiled a little at her friend's remark. Though she knew she could never do anything like that to Naruto.

The pink haired girl pulled away from her and took a deep breath before turning to the blonde boy. Both of them kept their eyes glued to the ground.

"Hey, Sakura," the boy said quietly, scratching the back of his head. "Looks like I have to be going away again."

The young med ninja sniffed and wiped the back of her hand across her face. "Seems like you only just got back from the last time."

"Sorry to leave you all alone again," the boy said sadly. "But don't worry. This doesn't mean I won't keep my promise." He lifted his moistening eyes to look her in the face. "We're still gonna bring Sasuke back someday. And I'm still gonna be Hokage."

She looked up at him, tears spilling from her emerald green eyes. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out.

The boy looked away, afraid he would start crying, too. "So, did you get anything for me?" he asked, with a sheepish chuckle. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for her chakra powered fist to strike him across the face. But that wasn't what happened.

At first he didn't realise what it was. A sudden wisp of breath followed by something warm and soft pressing against his cheek. By the time his mind had caught up, it was over. His eyes flew open and he turned to face her, but she had already turned her back to him.

"You'd better not forget," the pink haired girl said sternly, though her voice was cracking.

Tsunade and Shizune stood off to the side, giggling amongst themselves. The boy lifted a hand to his cheek, which was now tinged a bright red. He could only gape at the young medical ninja as she walked over to join the two older women.

Not one of them noticed the look of defeat on the face of the indigo haired girl who stood just off to the side.

An awkward silence reigned over the small group for a few moments. Then the sound of soft footsteps from the far side of the gate caught everyone's attention.

The thin moonlight seemed to reflect off her mane of snowy hair as Hitomi strode into view. "Well I hope you guys have all finished your teary goodbyes, 'cause I can't stand that stuff," she announced with a characteristic smirk.

Tsunade chuckled as she stepped forward and embraced her. "Just a few more to go," she said, squeezing her tight. "It was good seeing you again."

"You too, Sensei," Hitomi replied. She pulled away and turned to Shizune. "So I guess I'll see you again when this has all blown over?" she asked her dark haired friend.

"I'll come find you as soon as it's okay to bring them back," Shizune answered as she pulled her into a hug. "Say hi to Masaru if you see him," she whispered in her ear.

Hitomi just rolled her eyes. She pulled back and looked over at the blonde boy. "Hey, what's up with him?" she asked, noticing his dazed expression.

Shizune giggled. She walked over and nudged the boy in the arm. "Goodbye, Naruto. It's gonna be kinda boring around here without you."

The boy shook himself out of his trance and laughed sheepishly. "Oh... bye, Shizune." He turned to face the blonde standing next to her, keeping his eyes down. "Goodbye, Grandma," he said quietly.

"Goodbye, Naruto," she said, looking down on him with a deep sadness in her amber eyes.

For a moment they both just stood there, saying nothing else. Then the boy reached behind his head and untied his headband. He looked down at the polished metal plate with its familiar leaf symbol. A frown crossed his features. "Now that I'm gonna be a missing nin, I guess I'm supposed to carve a scratch across this, right?"

Tsunade wasn't sure how to answer.

The boy shook his head slowly. "No way... Not me." He held the headband out toward her. "You take it, Grandma."

"Naruto, you don't have to give it up if you don't want to," Tsunade assured him.

"It's okay, Grandma," the boy said, looking up into her eyes. "I just want you to hold onto it for a while... until I come back for it."

Tsunade smiled sadly as she took the headband. "Alright, Naruto, I will." Then she bent down and held his chin. "Now it's my turn to give you something," she said, before gently pressing her lips against his forehead.

"Aw, Grandma..." the boy grumbled and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Then he thought of something. He turned to look for the lavender eyed girl. "Hey, Hinata, what about yours?" he asked, pointing at her headband.

The girl looked up at him for a moment, then down at the leaf headband tied loosely around her neck. She untied the knot and looked at the engraved symbol for a second, before slowly walking over and handing it to the Hokage. She averted her eyes, not wanting to look at the woman, or the boy.

"Don't worry, Hinata," the Hokage said, doing her best to sound reassuring. "I'll do everything I can to convince your father to drop the charges so the two of you can come home."

The girl just nodded, still not looking up. She wanted to believe the Hokage, but her heart told her that this would never be her home again.

"Okay, guys, time to go," Hitomi announced.

The two teenagers prepared themselves. Naruto took one last look at the three women behind them. He smiled and waved to them sadly. His eyes lingered on the pink haired girl for a moment. He could see her wiping away a tear and he struggled to hold back his own. Then he looked past them at the mountain in the distance. He could barely make out the five faces carved into the cliff-side. A look of determination spread across his face. He turned to the indigo haired girl by his side and smiled. "Let's go, Hinata."

The girl gave him a brief smile in return, before turning away to hide the tears that began streaming down her cheeks.

Three women watched with heavy hearts as the two teenagers followed the snow haired woman out of the gates and into the darkness.

"Do you think they'll be okay?" Shizune asked.

Tsunade sighed. "I'm sure they'll be fine. In fact, I have a feeling that this will be a good thing for all of them."

"All of them?" Shizune asked. "You mean Hitomi, too?"

The Hokage smiled sadly. "If I know Naruto as well as I think I do, I'll bet they'll all be very different people when they come back."

"I don't know about that," Sakura said, laughing a little through her tears. "He didn't change at all the last time."

"Don't be so sure," Shizune whispered to herself. For once, she honestly believed that her mistress had made the right bet.

Authors notes:

Yeah, this is like my ultimate tear-jerker chapter. I know I'm cruel. It's also the last chapter in the volume. I'm not sure what I want to do after this. I have things written up to chapter 46, but I'm only properly edited and finished up to chapter 35. I may post more here, but it's certainly not a priority for me at the moment. I'm far too busy working on my first original story.

If you really have to read more, you can find the rest of what I've written on deviant Art. Keep in mind, though, that nothing beyond chapter 35 is what I would consider finished, and I was planning to make massive changes to everything beyond chapter 40. Things get seriously off the rails after that point and the story goes nowhere.

Thanks for all of your support and reviews. Feel free to pester me for more updates, though I don't know if I can actually be persuaded.