Sakura paused in the middle of folding her laundry. A small, short sigh escaped her, and then she continued her work, arranging her favorite strawberry-red dress in a professional store clerk style, the way she liked it. Her room was neat and pretty, since she preferred it when her surroundings were nice-looking. Coming home from training wasn't pleasant when your room was a mess. When you were exhausted and injured, your place of rest had better be easy on the eyes. Anything else made for a disturbed evening.
"Sasuke, this is one of those times I really wish you were here."
She'd liked the boy ever since she could remember, and found his clear thinking (among other good qualities of his) a relief from both Naruto's spontaneous ideas and her own emotionally-driven thoughts. And this was definitely a time for clear thinking. Naruto had changed into something inhuman and assaulted Hinata, who was currently trying to figure out how to get him to meet with the person who turned him into this. Well, actually, that was really her job now. But telling Naruto wasn't exactly an emotional process for Sakura, as she was just an observer of the situation. …But still.
It was always so much worse for the observers. The ones who couldn't do anything substantial.
It was one of the reasons she'd wanted to become a medic-nin. It put her into the position that she'd longed to be in before – she wouldn't be waiting, she'd be doing. She wouldn't be stuck worrying about what was going on with her friends, she'd be taking care of them.
Come to think of it, it was exactly the opposite of what she was doing right now.
She huffed, dropping the last of her socks into a drawer and sliding it shut. No more fretting. Tomorrow, she'd tell Naruto and they'd figure this thing out. Right now, she needed to sleep and rest up for the next few days. She had a feeling she was going to need it.
Naruto yawned loudly, sitting up out of his bed and stretching lazily.
Without bothering to brush his teeth (or shower, or change, or splash his face with water), he walked slowly into the kitchen, working muscles stiff from sleep. The apartment was warm, exactly the way it usually was when he got up at noon. He filled a kettle with water and pulled out a packet of instant ramen, finding a yogurt cup to drink while he waited. With the pressure of what he'd done to Hinata somewhat abated, his appetite (for normal food) had returned, and some ramen was exactly what he needed (even if Hinata might disagree).
The new kettle, courtesy of Hinata, with its un-dented bottom, had the water boiled quickly, and his breakfast was soon steaming. He demolished the ramen quickly, surprisingly full with just the one packet, and finished up the report Tsunade was probably bursting a blood vessel about. As a general precaution against faulty documents, all ninja had to fill out mission reports before receiving any more missions. For him, this meant his paydays getting too far apart. His apartment was old and decrepit, yes, but it was still owned by…someone, and he needed to send something to the guy whose name was on the white envelope he got every month, otherwise he'd be accused of squatting. Not fun.
After writing out a crummy report, which he knew from experience would earn him a glare from whoever it was that had to look over it this time, but not an order to re-write it, he shoved it into an envelope and made a clone to take it to the Hokage's mail slot. He didn't have much desire to leave the house himself. The easy sunshine was making him sleepy and the light was a little too bright, even though he'd spent what should've been a sufficient amount of time up and about to prevent squintiness on his part.
Deciding to catch another half-hour of sleep before beginning training, he trudged back to his room and fell into his bed pressing his face into the wonderfully cool pillow and inhaling the smell of the dust particles floating in the rays between the window and the floor.
Only to wake up five minutes after falling asleep with a particularly shocking memory playing out behind his eyes. His clone had dispelled, bringing with its demise the news that Hinata had met with the stranger who'd caused his transformation.
The stranger wanted to meet with him.
Hinata's appetite returned full-force, Sakura's miso soup being the main cause.
"You ran into h-him on his way to the Hokage's office?"
"His clone," Sakura said, gently stirring her soup to avoid blowing on it and accidentally getting some on Hinata's blanket. Not that she'd know from experience that that was what miso soup did when someone blew on it too fiercely. Even if it was at fault, for not cooling down on its way to the Hyuuga complex. "It probably dispelled and he found out. Unless it didn't dispell. But it probably did, if only to let him know."
"Good thing w-we can be sure of that," Hinata said, sipping her soup daintily, and scooping another warm spoonful of miso. "This is d-delicious, by the way. What is the recipe?"
Sakura paused, partly to recover from the shock of tomato-face Hinata eating her soup without her skin so much as pinking and doing it so elegantly, as well, and partly to think. "You know, I'm not sure. I think my mom just buys the pre-made cubes and adds them to boiled water. I told her you were sick, and she added some ginseng for you." Sakura smiled.
Hinata mirrored her expression politely, "That was very kind of her. P-Please tell her thank you."
More genteel stirring and sipping. Hinata paused to scratch her neck, drawing the attention of Sakura.
Hinata colored immediately; Sakura checked her watch. A record. "N-No, Sakura-san! It only itches a bit, in the – the spot…" Hinata pointed lamely to the side of her neck that had aided Naruto in discovering the truth behind his condition…somewhat.
"Let me check it," Sakura said, setting her soup bowl down as nicely as she could and walking over to brush Hinata's hair out of the way, her medic-nin's hands somehow still cold, despite her having held the hot soup not a moment ago.
'Perhaps,' Hinata thought, 'It is just an innate quality of medics. Or they specifically channel chakra to their hands to keep them cold.' Still, she remained motionless, as seemed to be the universal reaction of anyone examined by an authority figure, whom, in this case, would've been Sakura.
"Oh, wow, it's really red." Sakura's icy finger trailed over the spot and Hinata jumped, suddenly realizing that an ice pack would've stopped the itching much better than constant scratching. Though it might've had the unfortunate side-effect of making goosebumps rise up all over her body, which Sakura's unexpected touch had just done.
"I-Is it?" Hinata asked, trying to get Sakura's face away from her neck, "W-What is wrong?"
"I can't quite be sure, but I think it's bleeding a bit, too," Sakura looked apologetic, "I'd recommend a salve, but I don't know how any remnants on Naruto's saliva would react to it, what with him not being human and all." Hinata nodded, placing her hand on the spot and satisfying the urge to scratch it again, pressing her lips together in embarrassment when Sakura gently took it away from her throat and set it on her lap. "Come to think of it, would your family doctor try and put one on you?"
Hinata nodded, "Y-Yes, probably."
"Do you have a turtleneck?" Sakura stood, walking over to Hinata's closet and opening it to her vast array of jackets, jackets and jackets. "O-o-kay. I think we might be able to work with this," Sakura said, pulling out a somewhat-formal sweater with some decorative stitching on the breast off the rack and holding it up for Hinata's approval.
The black-haired kunoichi nodded, but furrowed her brow in contemplation of her pajamas and the room's array. "We'll have to re-arrange it in here so that it looks like I'm not as bed-ridden as wearing that would imply. I don't believe I have any sweaters that don't expose the neck suitable for staying in bed," she said, slipping seamlessly into 'ninja-mode'. "Besides that, I could start perspiring from the blankets or," she glanced at their abandoned lunch, "From the miso. It would be best to clean up." She pulled herself out of bed, stumbling a little and relying on Sakura to stand, before balancing and using the opportunity to stretch her legs without knocking over a tray rustling the bedcovers in a way unbefitting of an heiress.
Together, the girls began re-organizing the room, and then returned to their lunch on Hinata's floor, their trays serving as good a purpose there as when Hinata's bed had served as an impromptu height for eating off of with folding trays. The girls finished the lunch, made some more small talk, and bid each other goodbye.
And, without Sakura to pull them away again or draw attention, Hinata's fingers again began scratching at the itchy skin of her throat.
Naruto adjusted his weapons and various tools for the third time, ensuring they were out of view and unnoticeable – though, with ninja facing other ninja, it was close to impossible, as it was just implied the other was carrying weapons – and heaved a sigh.
Sunset. Alley behind his building. Creepy Orochimaru wannabe to meet with. And he could've been eating ramen.
"Good evening, child," a voice whispered behind him. Naruto turned, his eyes fixed on the exact spot the sound had originated from.
"I'm not a child," he said evenly, "And I'm definitely not your child."
"You don't agree because you do not know," said the man, now stepping out of the shadows and coming into an acceptable range. Perfect for kunai and shiruken. "But you will. I'm afraid I've been a bit inconsiderate, with my abrupt departure so soon afterwards."
"Fine. Whatever. Change me back."
"Impossible." The answer came immediately, "What's more – you have already created another problem for yourself to address before you work on any of your own. Care to guess what it is?"
Naruto's shoulders lowered from their anxious height. Slightly. "Hinata."
"Yes. The beauty who smells of rainwater and lilac. Quite an abnormality. An endangered one."
"What do you mean?" Naruto felt his new fangs poke into his bottom lip; he opened his mouth to let them out, slightly satisfied in seeing the creep look a bit more apprehensive upon their 'unsheathing'.
"Your bite will have left Hinata in a dangerous state of infection," the green-eyed man clarified, "There are two options for her: death and vampirism."
"Vampirism. That's what I am? A vampire?" He'd heard of the rumors – colorful Halloween books from childhood described toothy, pale boys who drank tomato juice and turned into bats, and spooky dares from early Academy years told them to go into Attic No. 4 of the school building and risk getting every drop of blood sucked out of their body by an undead monster. The latter was looking close to his current condition and it had never sounded very appealing to him.
"There is…" the man hesitated, "…A way to reverse the process…"
Naruto's gaze snapped back from the shadows, which he'd been staring at in contemplation, to the older man's face. "I thought you said it was impossible."
"Because of the pain," the stranger said quickly, "The pain is unbearable and untolerable."
Naruto didn't take his eyes off the man, though it was difficult to trust them; he kept slipping in and out of his sight, like the dark was wrapping around him like a shroud and subsiding again. A neat trick for a shinobi, but not a good one for an enemy to have.
"We're ninja," Naruto said, tone hard, "We're used to it."
"You most of all," the stranger said with a sympathetic tone, reaching out a long, skinny-fingered hand consolingly, "Wouldn't it be nice to have someone like you?"
For a moment, panic flooded Naruto. Jinchuuriki? Was that what this man was talking about? When he didn't elaborate, the blonde called his bluff, "Thanks, but I have lots of friends. One of them's in danger. Because of you."
The vampire scowled, "Fine, then. Bring her here tomorrow. I will explain the transformation to both of you." The shadows swallowed him again, but not before Naruto's speed had gotten him well away from him.
With some trepidation, Naruto realized that his attempt to dodge an uncomfortable conversation with Hinata was in vain, and he'd have to talk to her about it, anyways. Shit.
Hinata walked carefully down the dark street, hand deep in her jacket pocket, closed around a shiruken. With her miraculous recovery, she'd been able to put up a decent front to the few who'd visited her and convinced enough people she didn't need to be watched over during the night. Which meant sneaking out was much easier.
Currently, she was walking to Naruto's home, made extra challenging due to the fact that her recent sickness had still not abated as much as she'd told everyone and she most definitely wasn't at the top of her game. Thus, the overly-paranoid walk and weapon-clutching. And the fact that every shadow looked like that creepy guy who'd made Naruto bite her. And that she was really, really tired.
But she needed to see Naruto.
She needed to know what the man had said. And she needed to make sure he was eating the vegetables she'd bought for him, not just ramen.
She was ready to pass out by the time she reached his place, but managed to call out her name when he asked who was there and to smile a bit when he opened the door. She couldn't quite hear what he said after that, though, because the room was dimming slightly and it was very distracting. Naruto's eyes were still bright though, which was surreal.
Oh. They were silver.
She recognized this scenario.
He smelled kind of sweaty, and his hold was kind of tight, but the itching on her neck was gone. That was good, right?
Oh. It wasn't just dimming slightly, anymore. Black spots. She leaned into Naruto for support, delighted to find that her own strength wasn't required for standing up anymore.
"N-Naruto," she murmured, unsure why moving her jaw made her neck so uncomfortable, "Wh – What did he say?"
Oh. She couldn't hear him.
A/N: Long break, short chapter, see? I've managed to start and finish an eighteen-chapter fic, which got me all motivated to finish this one. Keep your fingers crossed, folks!