AN: Dear Readers, I know this may have confuse you as to why I am putting up a chapter that has already been finished, but, please believe me, there is a reason for it. I am starting the next arc after this chapter considering where I want it to begin and this one to end. I should have done it before hand, but, alas, I didn't even realize what I had done till now.
So, without further ado, the next arc will be named 'Suitors'.
For The Good Of The Village
Ch 26 Coming Home
Everyone was gathered at the bridge, the Great Kaiza Bridge.
There had been some hopes to call it the Team 7 Bridge by Tazuna for the quartet he guilted into staying at the cost of his life, Uchiha Sasuke Bridge by the villagers who saw him take down over a score of thugs by himself at their very doorstep, or the Fall Of Gato Bridge by everyone who finally felt the shackles of the monstrous tycoon who held sway of their lives finally fall from their necks. After some insistence from Naruto, after seeing Inari's crestfallen gaze go no higher than his shoes, it was he that spoke heatedly to name it in the honor of Inari's father. The team agreed, even if Sasuke didn't disagree about it being named after him, it would be a better way to honor someone in their own country considering the magnitude of this moment. Tazuna, the old drunk and crabby bridge builder, tried to console Inari and Tsunami, as they wept into his shoulders, at the honor of putting the name of the town's hero, his daughter's husband, and Inari's adopted father to his creation.
A plaque of polished bronze had his words, "Protect whatever is important to you with these two arms. No matter how tough or sad it is, even if it costs you your life."
Over it was a picture of Kaiza, smiling, flexing his right arm proudly and gazing back at the viewer with a strong, earnest, and humble smile.
The two teams waved their good byes to the villagers, making their way back home with their prisoner, Haku, in tow. Naruto and Hinata went to tell her, since they had yet to realize his real gender, thank you.
It was with a simple shake of her head that said 'she' was more than happy to do it.
"You have both found your important person to protect. How could I not help you?"
Both Hinata and Naruto agreed that, if Haku was ever released from her sentence and allowed back into their world, he would be both of their friends...whenever that day should be.
They would even see him in prison...together.
Team Guy and Team 7's trek would have been a joint venture had it not been for one moment after the first few miles.
Hinata and Naruto walked, shoulder to shoulder, looking away, blushing, but stealing glances when they could. When their eyes met, an innocent, bashful smile creased their lips, warming the stoking the fires of the other's affections.
"Hinata-sama," Neji appeared on her other shoulder, glaring like some vengeful wraith. "You are needed."
Naruto's blonde brows furrowed at their interrupter, ready to say something, but it was Hinata who kept him from reacting aggressively.
"No, Naruto-kun. I will s-see him."
Just being with her for this past week had been enough to worry for her, just as she had seemed to worry for all of them. He liked her as soon as those moon light eyes squinted at him, merrily acknowledging him back at the Hokage's office. Then it was that day...
There she was, alone and outnumbered.
He could still hear her screams and see her fear.
There was just so many of them. So, so many of them overpowering her. It was as if he was watching her drown and there was nothing he could do to reach her, help her, save her...
Yet, there she was, growing stronger, her indomitable and fearless spirit rising to the occasion despite her grossly being outnumbered, fighting them with chakra claws and her family's Jyuuken style, defending her despite their circumventing positions, nearly defeated several times over and helpless their desires should she falter even once. Hinata wanted to help yet be helped, and, even in her thickest fears and her most vulnerable moment, she not only disengaged herself from her enemy, leaving her back exposed, but used her remaining strength to save him.
He can still remember that soulful regret in her eyes that said her heart and soul would leave her body to help him if she could. Despite her own imminent violation, he, Uzumaki Naruto, was more important than herself.
What was there not to love in a girl like that? How could he ever be worthy of her, or anyone, like that?
He had never seen it in Sakura...or, well, any girl, for that matter.
Then she came to him, the night before last, speaking to him. He wasn't sure what she said, but it was her voice that brought him from a nightmare that kept him on the brink of sleep. Her voice, that melodic, gentle, tender alto whispering to his ear.
Leaning over him, with those solemn eyes, she, Hyuuga Hinata, kissed him.
Kissed...actually kissed him.
There was no way he was going to deny her anything from him. If she wanted to give him her heart, it was all for the taking without limits, without doubts, without fear.
Now here was this family member of hers, Hyuuga Neji, dominating her with his glower and stern voice, taking advantage of her gentle and polite nature.
It was enough to make the dark soul inside of his prisoner stir.
Though they weren't far away, Neji and Hinata were talking...well, more him talking, lecturing in some soft spoken way that seem to lower her gaze, curling her shoulders the way he had first met her.
He was breaking her...just like her father and sister did when they were about to depart from the village that day.
Stomping over to Neji, he started to hear some of the lecture she was receiving as he got closer.
"...father's last words to me were to ensure you came back unharmed to greet your suitors."
Suitors? Is she looking for a man that makes suits?
"Hey," Naruto purposely walked between Hinata and Neji, placing Hinata behind him and purposely extending a hand out to her cousin. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. I'm Uzumaki Naruto and you are...?"
Neji made the point of letting his stern silver eyes glance at Naruto, condescendingly lower to his offered hand, fold his own hands over his chest, and then back up to resettle his gaze on Naruto's purposely interfering blue.
"Our discussion is none of your concern. This is the business of the heiress. You can dismiss yourself and we will continue without your...presence."
Hinata hummed uncomfortably, fidgeting at the eyes of her nii-san's glower at Naruto.
"I don't think so," Naruto took a bold step forward, curling his offered hand into a fist and poking himself in the chest with his thumb. "You see, she's my girl now and unless you want to get your ass kicked for talking to her impolitely then I'm just going to have to teach you."
Neji scoffed, leaning forward, lowering himself to meet Naruto's challenging glare with one of his own. "You sound like your 'genius' failure Uchiha. However, allow me to clarify the situation you and Hinata are in right now, so as not to confuse it with some ridiculous delusion."
"Oh? Like what?"
"You remind me of this stray dog I saw when I was escorting Hinata-sama to school when we were young."
"Neji nii-san," Hinata began, but he silenced quick with a glance.
She cowed instantly.
"These...peasants, simple human creatures were playing with it, kicking it, tying things to its tail and, finally, throwing stones and other garbage at it. It never left their side, despite it's abuse. Do you know why?"
Naruto didn't answer, just peel his lips back angrily.
"Because that bitch would take any kind of attention it could get." Neji turned to face Hinata, making his point clear. "It would love anything, everything it got just because it couldn't be the creature it was meant to be. Pathetic, simply, pathetic."
"You know, it's funny. You sure do know how to lord over her and all, but if you're so sure of your position being better than hers," Naruto growled, his teeth clenched in a passionate declaration, "then why is it you call her, Hinata-sama?"
Neji's glare intensified.
"For all your big talk, you sure know your place when you address her."
Now, Neji's gloriously smug smile returned. "Oh no, Uzumaki Naruto, it is not my station or place to tell her what to do, but that of her father's, Hyuuga Hiashi, Clan Head and one of the political leader's of Konoha."
For all it's worth, it was obvious Naruto only understood 'father' and 'Clan Head'. Being a political leader meant absolutely nothing to Naruto.
Neji clarified it for him.
"What it means, you thick shanty dwelling, bottom feeding life form, is despite her disappointing capabilities and substandard achievements among other kunoichi of our Clan and those at the Academy, she is still an heiress and a Hyuuga. Therefore, even as we speak, for her to even allow herself to stay quiet when you say she is 'your' girl is a reflection of how poorly she represents herself or her obligations as a Hyuuga."
"Hmph," Naruto shrugged his shoulders, obviously unaffected by Neji's proclamation. "I hear Hyuuga this and Hyuuga that, but, in the end, this is all you need to know."
Naruto wrapped his arm around her shoulder possessively, much to her frightened delight.
"She's a part of my team, Team 7, and you belong to your team, Team Guy. She says she wants to be my girl, and I want to be her man, so if you don't like it why don't you go back to your team where you belong."
Neji started to open his mouth, but Guy was there at his side, gripping his shoulder, "He is right, Neji. Come, lets worry about our prisoner. As of now, it takes priority over your personal family business."
"Neji," Tenten called out exasperation, "Leave them alone! You know she's going to have to come home eventually so let her enjoy her time out." She hooked her arm with his, "Besides, did I mention that Hiashi-sama asked me to come visit anytime I wanted?"
That caught Neji's attention.
"I'm not sure, but he certainly wanted to know about my family and other things. Do you think he's planning something?"
Neji considered it, then, realizing Naruto was pulling Hinata away from him, blatantly dismissing his duty, he regained his priority of completing his message to Hinata.
"When you get back, Hinata-sama, your father needs you to prepare to meet your suitors. Don't be late."
Tenten, Lee, and Guy shook their heads, disappointment thick in their expressions.
"Neji, that was very unyouthful." Guy addressed gravely.
Lee simply nodded in earnest agreement.
Tenten's large brown eyes flinched, "Why do you do that, Neji?"
The elder Hyuuga kept his eyes on Hinata, waiting for it.
Hinata's face crumpled, whatever defiance or pride built up throughout the mission crumbled.
"Hey," Tenten purposely grabbed his cheek, making him look at her. "She's happy. Why do you have to ruin that for her? Why do you have to make her feel miserable because you are?"
"There is no happiness or sadness in being a Hyuuga, Tenten, only the fulfillment of duty." He answered coolly.
"And what of your duty to your heart?" Tenten angrily shoved him, frustration thick in her words. "And mine?"
"That bastard doesn't have one," Naruto hissed, pulling Hinata back to an awaiting Kakashi and Sasuke.
"I don't need to have one," Neji pressed himself ahead of everyone, eying Haku. "and neither should anyone of you. Fate has already set us on a path to follow. To have hopes, dreams, or expectations outside of that is presumptuous."
"You're so brilliant," Tenten expressed sadly, deeply wounded by his ongoing perception of fate and duty, "And, yet, so incredibly stupid."
"Tenten, lets go." Lee guided his kunoichi partner to their prisoner. "If we can do anything for Naruto-kun and Hinata-san, then let it be to have them enjoy their time while they can."
Tenten agreed, allowing herself towards Guy and their prisoner.
"Kakashi," Guy gestured, "Go on ahead. We'll catch up."
"Hinata?" Naruto reached for her hand, but she turned away from him, keeping her arms over her shoulders trying to comfort herself.
Silent greeted him.
"Naruto," Sasuke took him by the shoulder, reflecting none of his arrogance that was normally etched into his regal features. "I warned you."
Naruto shrugged his hand off, looking back at Hinata. "Hinata-chan?"
"Lets go," Kakashi took off, taking the lead.
Hinata followed, then Sasuke.
Naruto turned around, giving Neji one last soul melting glower that promised vindication...
Neji returned with a triumphantly, gloriously superior grin.
...and chased after his team mates and girlfriend...he hoped.
"I was wondering," Haku called out from the middle of Team Guy, his soft brown eyes purposely looking at Neji, "am I the only prisoner here?"
"I think we've told you before to be silent." Neji slowly rounded on Haku.
"You have, but, just so you know, I may not have the eyes of a Hyuuga," Haku raised his shackled wrists to the prodigy, "but even I can see you are bound just like I am."
Haku's gaze chased after the direction Team 7 left to, seeing them disappear in the distance. "Pity, even when I was with Zabuza-sama and running from Hunter nins, I was allowed to laugh and play, grow and have expectations of my choosing. It would seem you are more a prisoner than I am. I even was allowed to have a pet rabbit."
Tenten, Guy, and Lee waited for Neji's rebuttal.
"Lets go. We are wasting time on the road." Neji started to march forward, pulling at Haku's bindings.
They never got one.
Hinata wasn't ready to explain what suitors meant to Naruto. She was so happy with him, but she hadn't expected for her world to come crashing around herself so soon. She had hoped...hoped...
Thinking of Sasuke's angry words at the beach and her own nii-sans were making it crystal clear that her delusion was just that, a delusion from a girl who wasn't normal.
She was a Hyuuga.
Hinata wasn't allowed to have things like her own greedy wants or selfish desires to be with Naruto. All she could do was find contentment in whatever plans her father had for her. At the very most, she could hopefully, someday, perhaps, find a way to save her Naruto-kun and he'll be able to reach his dreams.
Yes, that she could do, but now she had to-
"Hinata-chan," Naruto asked, keeping in step with her, "are you angry with me?"
Her cheeks tinted an ugly red, unable to look at him.
"If I did something wrong, I'm sorry! I'll make it up, I promise! If you want me to beg, I will! I'll do it now or in the middle of the market place! Please, don't be mad at me!"
Naruto jumped in front of her, nearly crushing his own skull into the ground to show his sincerity.
She gasped, unable to believe he would do this...for her! She wasn't worth it!
"Naruto-kun, stop it!"
Kakashi and Sasuke stopped, seeing their two team mates falling behind. Sasuke only had to look at Kakashi to get what was being left unsaid.
"We'll let them catch up."
They sped off a hundred yards away and waited.
Hinata fell to her shins, trying to pull Naruto up to look at her, but he wouldn't budge.
"No! You have to forgive me! If it was how I talked to your cousin, I'll apologize! I'll let him beat me up! I'll-"
"N-naruto-kun, stop it! You didn't do anything wrong!"
Now he looked at her, a small welt forming on his forehead. "I didn't?"
Reaching into one of her pockets, she took out a handkerchief, wiping it across his brow. "You hurt yourself. Naruto-kun, what were you thinking?"
Looking away guiltily, he mumbled, "That you didn't want to be with me anymore."
"That's so...silly." She touched his cheek, shaking her head at how distant she was being and how it hurt him. "It's not that, Naruto-kun, not at all."
"Then what is it?"
His large, hopeful eyes were desperate to help her and save them. It was so endearing.
One small soft hand touched his cheek, lovingly pulling him close to touch her forehead against his, "Naruto-kun, being with you...anytime I'm with you is...wonderful. You fill me with a happiness I've never known."
A small twitch of his lips lifted, smiling goofishly.
She nodded, acknowledging him. "Really, Naruto-kun."
He cocked his head to the side, curious as to what was bothering her. "Then...what's wrong?"
She nuzzled her head against his before pulling him to their feet, "Lets keep walking and I'll tell you, ne?"
Naruto agreed with a nod.
They continued to keep a steady pace for a while and Naruto, out of desperate confirmation and hope, took her hand into his.
She didn't let go.
Exhaling in relief, he saw that she, too, was happy to receive his affections.
"Naruto-kun, do you know what a suitor is?"
"Yeah," Naruto grinned, pulling at his shirt, "They make suits and pants, right?"
Hinata giggled into her hand, "No, that's a tailor, Naruto-kun."
"Tailor? Who wants to have someone make them a tail? That's some kind of weird cat fetish thing, right?" He asked, playing curling his fingers into a paw like mitten.
Now she really giggled. After she caught her breath, a grey shadow seem to fall upon her mood.
"No, Naruto-kun, a suitor is when a family has someone seek out permission for them to marry into another."
"Eh?" Naruto's gears slowly turned, till eventually his smile fell a little. "Your...family has done that, right?"
Hinata hiccuped a small noise, unable to look at him.
"Did you know this before you k...ki..."
Chewing her lip, she gave the barest nods.
"So...you really didn't mean what you-"
"Yes!" Hinata rounded on him, grabbing him by the sleeve. "Yes, I swear to Kami and my very soul, Naruto-kun, I meant every word! Please, believe me, if I could just be a normal girl and be with you, I would! I really, really, really would!"
A spark of his former cheer surfaced.
"But, you just said-"
"Naruto-kun," She leaned forward a little, her toe digging into the ground, "I don't want to meet anyone else. I never have. It's my family who is doing it, not me."
"So, this is what Neji meant about fulfilling your obligatorily?"
"Obligations, Naruto-kun," She grinned behind her fingers, but her smile soon lost its warmth by her next admission. "Yes. My family has a few suitors for me to meet."
"Apparently, when I get home, they will be there waiting for me."
Scratching the back of his neck uncomfortably, "Do you...want to meet them?"
"No," She shook her head, "I've never wanted to meet them, even when I was five."
"Five?" He asked incredulously.
"Naruto-kun, please understand," She touched his arm, "with my marriage I am supposed to help build Konoha, the Hyuuga, and bring honor to myself...none of it has to do with love or what I want. Do you...believe me?"
It was in the deepest part of her eyes, the way her lips curled, and the way she held her breath that he knew, without a doubt, she sincerely didn't want to do with any of the suitors or anything that didn't involve him...relationship wise.
It made him relax.
"So what do we do?"
A dainty shoulder shrugged. "I don't know." Hope, another ray of hope crossed her lips, "We keep our promise to each other?"
Naruto's teeth peeked through his smile, "I can do that."
Briefly, shyly and ever so tenderly, they shared a third kiss.
While pleasantly chaste and simple, it lit her soul aglow.
For Naruto, it felt like all of those years of misery, neglect, and abuse was all worth it.
The day was looking better already.
"I do have something I need to tell you about, though," Naruto answered shamefully, clearly embarrassed.
"Eh?" Hinata cocked her head to the side.
"I...uhm...need to cancel a date I have waiting for me when I get back to Konoha?"
Hinata's cheeks pinked instantly. "You have a...date?"
"I swear I didn't set it up! Kakashi-sensei said he wanted me to meet a really nice girl, Anko-chan I believe is her name! But, I swear, this was before I and you...well...I'm not going to see her, but I have to at least let her know, right?"
Fidgeting with her fingers, Hinata looked extremely uncomfortable. However, with a few swallows of air, and pride, she said, "I-if you...want to go on a date with her...Naruto-kun, you can. It would be a shame to deny her since...since...I'm going to be with suitors."
"No, do you hear me, Hinata-chan?" He answered firmly, taking her hand firmly into hers. "I am and always be here for you as long as you'll have me."
Hinata couldn't help but think even with his limited vocabulary her Naruto-kun said the sweetest things.
"I just have to apologize and tell her that I won't be able to see her, right?" Naruto stuffed his hands in his pockets. "That would be the polite thing to do, right?"
While Hinata thought of how things would look if she, Hyuuga Hinata, could politely dismiss her suitors in some way, shape, or fashion, it would definitely be the most considerate thing to do for Naruto as well.
"Hai, it would."
Naruto and Hinata continued on their way, with lifted spirits and hope still in their hearts. The gates of Konoha were three days away. Most of that time, Hinata and Naruto simply chatted, held hands, and enjoyed their time as any normal teenagers would with innocence and love in their hearts.
As all things that are weighed by time, those three days came and went.
Kakashi greeted the gate guards and explained their need to report to the Hokage.
"Everyone, go a head and head home. You're off for the rest of the day. Replace or repair any equipment that needs to be. Naruto, go get another set of clothes. I'll take care of the report, so, all of you, get some sleep. Good job, everyone."
In a puff of smoke, Kakashi disappeared.
Sasuke eyed Naruto and Hinata, his thoughts ticking as to what he should or should not say. Eventually, he decided to head towards his home.
Sasuke stopped, waiting for Naruto to say whatever was on his mind.
"Want to join Hinata and I for a bowl of ramen?"
As usual, this was a standard to any and all Naruto's requests. Sasuke had never actually taken him up on it, however this time...
Like the ambushing kunoichi she was, Sakura appeared out of near thin air, minus crutch and cast, squealing in a plume of long pink hair to latch on Sasuke's arm, "I'm so happy you're back! I've missed you so much! Did you miss me? Did Naruto get in your way? Look, I got my cast off so I can walk now! It was such a hassle and it took me a while to walk on it, but I'm all better now! Want to go on a date with me so we can talk about it?"
Sakura's large green eyes glowed, hoping for any kind of recognition in her Sasuke-kun's eyes.
"You're really not human are you? You're some sort of pink haired demon summoned or some curse of retribution I must pay for the sins of my clan, aren't you?"
Sakura stares at him, then goes off in a titter of laughter. "You mean a cute pink haired demon, like a succubus, Sasuke-kun?"
Naruto could feel Sasuke's impatience and exasperation growing.
Sakura, undeterred, continued to press him. "So, how about it? My treat."
He had only to take one look at Sakura and then Naruto with Hinata to get his answer.
"Sure, I'll go with you."
"You will?!" Sakura squawked, unable to believe her luck. She was already thinking of another rebuttal or chance of suggestions, but she never would have believed he would actually say yes! "Oh, Sasuke-kun, there's this cute little bistro I wanted to show you! Oh, I can't wait for all the girls to see us together! They'll be so jealous-"
"Hi, Sakura-chan," Naruto waved, giving her a friendly smile. "I'm glad to see you're doing bet-"
"No, I won't go on a date with you, Naruto-baka!" Sakura snarled, fist clenched and poised in her habitual upper cut warning.
Naruto's hand fell to his side, a bit of a sting still lingering when Sakura, his long time crush, didn't even have a single nice thing to say to him after all this time. He had almost died, succeeded in surviving, found a new love outside of her, and he had really wanted to tell her that he was happy she was doing well and couldn't wait for her to come back to the team, but...
"I guess I'll see you later, Sasuke, Sakura. Ja ne."
"Naruto-kun?" Hinata daintily waved her fingers at Sasuke, then, facing Sakura with a very hurt lower of her brow, she hooked her arms with her blonde boyfriend. "Are you okay?"
"I've got you, don't I?"
That seemed to make Hinata happy.
"Eh?" Sakura blinked in disbelief. "Hinata and Naruto are...what happened on that mission, Sasuke-kun?"
Sakura found herself standing by herself with Sasuke following the boy she threatened to send to the moon with her fist and the Hyuuga heiress.
"Sasuke-kun? Where are you going? You said you'd go on a date with me!"
Sasuke turned towards her, continuing to walk backwards to try to still keep up and answer Sakura's question at the same time. "I did agree to go out...but it wasn't with you, Sakura. I'm going to go eat with my team mates. Ja."
"Sasuke-kun! Wait for me!"