This is my first post here, so bear with me if I haven't gotten into a 'groove' just yet.

Disclaimer: I own none of this. Masashi Kishimoto, your master, does.

Any extra information about the story, including often asked questions (should any come up), concerns (Are there going to be OC's, Why did you write this part here etc.) Will be put up on my Profile, provided there's enough reason to.

Quick Author's Note: I'm a big fan of immersion when it comes to this sort of thing, so while I hate that I'll be interrupting your story now and then, I think it will help. Every so often if I feel a particular scene can be augmented with music, I'll include a URL in parentheses that you can follow. Just stick that sucker into Google, and let the video that loads play while you continue reading! Feedback on this little feature would be greatly appreciated.

Chapter 1: A Hero's Return

The Land of Fire was in high spirits. Usually the country suffered through the heat of the last weeks of summer during this time, but instead the air had graciously cooled over the past few days and there was pleasant breeze drifting across the trees, hinting at the coming autumn. The midday sun was shining brightly, warming the leaves of the vast forests the country was famous for. The air was rife with the lively sounds of birds and other wildlife, as they expressed their joy at the beautiful weather.

The Village Hidden Among the Leaves was no different, with the change in weather being greatly appreciated by all. Despite the recent tragedy, Konoha was hard at work rebuilding their homes and businesses, and were very pleased with the progress they were making. Civilians and shinobi alike diligently worked on whatever tasks were needed within the village walls, as well as some of the surrounding settlements that had suffered some minor damage from the invasion. However, there was a strange feeling permeating throughout the villagers. Though they feared the coming war, this was something else tugging at the back of their minds. The village couldn't help but feel… empty, like they were missing something.

Or more accurately, someone.

Naruto Uzumaki had saved Konoha once again. With his triumph over the Akatsuki leader Pain, the village had finally acknowledged him as a truly remarkable ninja, and had welcomed him back with open arms. He became somewhat of a celebrity among the villagers, and they welcomed his presence wherever he went. After a while, all the attention actually began to wear on Naruto, who decided it was time he took a vacation. After some light prodding (or more like near-constant nagging), Tsunade finally gave in, and granted his wish. The village was in dire need of construction materials and other emergency provisions, and so Naruto Uzumaki, accompanied by the rest of Team Kakashi, set off to various countries on a diplomatic mission to garner more supplies. It had been 2 months since they had departed, and the village had begun to notice the absence of their favorite loudmouth.

Especially a certain Hyūga.

The past two months had been hard on Hinata. Her pacifist nature was not comfortable with the idea of the upcoming war, and tensions had been higher within the Hyūga household ever since Hiashi had appointed Neji, a branch member, to lead the clan's forces on the battlefield. Many members of the main house were against this idea, but were not about to question Hiashi's rule.

However, practically everyone in the village knew that what was really bothering Hinata, was Naruto being gone. Her long-standing crush on the blond shinobi was known to everyone, it seemed, except Naruto himself, though only a few people truly knew the depths of her admiration for Naruto, as well as her confession of those feelings during the attack. She missed him terribly, but put on a brave face and did her best to help rebuild the village along with everyone else.

Because of her and her teammates' specialties in tracking, they were often assigned to patrol the border of the village, usually to hunt down bandits and other lowlifes who sought to take advantage of the aftermath of Pain's invasion by scavenging the wreckage for any remaining valuables. This had been their fifth catch this month.

"Man, when are these guys gonna learn that stealing from us is a bad idea?" Kiba chuckled as he roughly tossed the last bandit on top of the others before wiping his hands on his pants. Shino, the last member of their little squad was leaning against a nearby oak, and nodded in agreement.

Hinata gave a small smile to her teammates. She was happy they had been so successful over the past two months, and with all these missions, it was easier for Hinata to keep her mind off of Naruto.

'Naruto-kun, I wonder what how you're doing?' She thought to herself. "If you could see me now, I hope you would be proud'. She brought her hand up to her chest, as she often did when thinking about the Uzumaki, a sad expression growing on her face as she thought more and more of the object of her affections. In fact, she had become so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't heard Kiba trying to speak to her.

"Hey, Earth to Hinata! Are you even listening to me?" Kiba grunted with his arms crossed, a hint of annoyance showing in his eyes.

"K-Kiba-kun? I'm sorry, what did you say?" Hinata mentally scolded herself for letting her thoughts wander off again, even if they were about messy blond hair, cerulean eyes, those adorable whisker marks….

Kiba coughed loudly, snapping Hinata out her Naruto-induced fantasy. She sheepishly looked over to him, letting him know he finally had her attention.

"Anyway, I was asking if you could give one last look over of the surrounding areas and make sure we recovered all the stuff these scumbags had stolen," lightly kicking at the pile of unconscious bodies in from of him.

"Of course Kiba-kun, one moment," she answered as she formed the familiar hand sign.


She began to survey the nearby forest, her piercing lavender eyes not missing a single detail. She saw animals moving about the forest, but nothing out-of-place. After she had given the area what she considered a thorough inspection, she deactivated her bloodline and returned her gaze to her team.

"There's nothing in the immediate area," the kunoichi exclaimed. "I'll look over the list one last time to make sure we didn't forget anything, but I think we're done." Hinata clapped her hands excitedly at her statement, glad she could finally rest.

The Inuzuka, however, was much more willing to show his satisfaction at their latest success, pumping his fist in the air in victory.

"Awesome, that's a new record! Man, me and Akamaru are getting good at this. I bet I can even squeeze an early promotion out of Tsunade-sama, and then I can go on even harder missions, and show everyone what a bada-"

"I don't need to remind you that this was a team effort among the three of us, do I Kiba?" Shino interrupted, and although the dog-ninja couldn't see his eyes behind those dark glasses of his, he could feel the glare the Aburame was giving him.

Kiba grinned nervously. "Ahaha… of course, Shino! I just meant that maybe all three of us could get promoted to Jōnin, because of all the successful missions we've had." He averted his gaze, embarrassed that Shino had once again caught him bragging.

The bug ninja seemed to accept his excuse, and returned to his normal, stoic self before continuing.

"Alright then. Since we've completed our mission, I suggest we return to the village as quickly as possible so we can report to Hokage-sama."

Kiba groaned. "Awww, come on, Shino! We just caught these bastards a few minutes ago! Couldn't we take like a five-minute break?" Taking his teammate's silence as his answer, Kiba mumbled to himself as he slung one of the bandits over Akamaru's back, before hoisting up one of his own. Shino lifted up the last of the thieves, and the former Team 8 began the trek back to the village.

It wasn't until they were about halfway back to the village that Hinata realized her thoughts had once again drifted to Naruto. Ever since Pain's invasion, ever since Hinata had finally confessed her love to Naruto, and nearly died for him, she had begun to notice the jinchūriki had given her strange looks. They would pass by each other in the streets, and although he greeted her happily, there was something off in the way he looked at her. Almost as if he was struggling with something. Hinata knew he already had much on his mind, with the entire war being an effort to keep him out of the Akatsuki's grasp, so she didn't press the matter, despite how much she wanted to.

'Naruto-kun, I'm worried about you. Is there something wrong….did I do something to upset you?' Her cute features distorting as she grew more and more worried. 'Please…I want to help you, Naruto-kun. I want to be there for you, to talk with you and ease your mind. Please Naruto-kun…let me in.' She blinked back a few tears, hoping to hide them from her teammates. However, Kiba had already noticed the subtle changes in her movements as they made their way through the trees. He grew concerned.

"Hey Hinata, what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

"It's n-nothing, Kiba-kun, please don't be worried." She turned to him with as genuine a smile as she could muster, but the Inuzuka's senses could not be fooled.

"It's not 'nothing', Hinata. You've acted strange ever since we finished up with these guys," motioning to the unconscious man on his back. He continued to study her face until a knowing smile cracked across his own.

"You're thinking about that knucklehead Naruto, aren't you?"

Hinata's face began to heat up as she almost tripped on the next branch. She hated that her teammates could always see right through her. Kiba laughed. One of his favorite hobbies was teasing his teammate about her infatuation with Konoha's newest hero.

"You worry too much, Hinata. I'm sure Naruto and the rest of his team will be back before you know it, and you can go back to fainting and blushing around him just like old times!" Hinata turned even redder at his prodding.

"Kiba-kun!" She tried giving him a scolding look, but only succeeded in making him laugh even harder.

"A-hahaha! Hinata, you should see the look on your face! Hahahaha, stop it, you're gonna make me trip!"

"Team Kakashi will be returning from their mission sometime tomorrow."

Hinata's heart soared at Shino's sudden comment. 'Naruto-kun is c-coming back! Maybe I can finally talk to him about what's wrong. Oh, what will I say to him?'

Kiba, for the first time in a while was completely ignoring the chance to poke fun at the fact that Hinata had (once again) gone off to Naruto-la-la-land, and instead focused his attention on the sudden interruption by Shino "How do you know that, Shino? You get some inside information or something?"

"No. I merely overheard a conversation between Hokage-sama and Shizune-san regarding their return."

Kiba smirked. He wouldn't ever admit it out loud, but he was looking forward to seeing his self-proclaimed rival. "Heh. I can't wait for to see the look on Naruto's face when I tell him we've been out kicking bandit ass while he's been running around sipping tea and playing politics. I bet I can even beat him in a fight now since he hasn't gotten any training done during all this time. What do you think, Shino?"

"We should hurry. The sun will be setting soon, and Hokage-sama is expecting our report." Kiba snorted at his teammate's dismissal, but picked up the pace nonetheless.

'Naruto's coming home tomorrow, eh?' He took a quick glance over at Hinata, snickering to himself. 'I wonder how Hinata's gonna handle that?'

And with that the remnants of Team 8 continued on their way back to Konoha, unaware that Shino had been wrong for once. You see, Team Kakashi wasn't expected to return tomorrow…

They were expected to return home today.

Just outside the village, the surrounding woods were beginning to quiet down. It was now late afternoon, and most of the wildlife had returned to the deeper parts of the forest, preparing for the coming night. Only the songs of a few birds remained, and soon their calls joined the chirping of crickets. The area was the definition of peaceful….


The blond shinobi's distinctive voice cut through the quiet like a razor, scaring off any remaining wildlife.

Naruto's tanned features expressed pure joy at the prospect of returning home. While he was glad he got to take his vacation, he missed his home and friends terribly. His trademark grin flashed across his face as he began to reminisce about the people most precious to him.

'Alright, who all do I have to see? There's Fuzzy Brows, Iruka-sensei, Chōji, Shikamaru, Ino, Neji and what's-her-name (Lol Tenten), Kiba, Shino, Hinata-'

Naruto stopped. Over the course of his two-month mission, Naruto periodically found himself shifting his thoughts to the shy Hyūga, and he knew why. During Pain's invasion, when the Akatsuki leader had Naruto pinned the ground with his chakra disruption rods, and it seemed like he had failed in his mission to protect the village, Hinata had come to his aid. She had been willing to give her life to protect him…

And he couldn't remember why.

It was another part of being a jinchūriki that he hated. Whenever he gave in to his rage, and let the Nine-tails' influence overwhelm him, his memory of the events surrounding his transformation all but disappeared. It was just disjointed sounds and blurred pictures in his head. Usually, there was someone who could relay what had happened, but this time it had only been him and Hinata. He couldn't remember why she wanted to protect him so desperately and he couldn't even remember what happened that made him slip so easily into the Kyūbi's grasp.

And it frustrated him to no end.

'Argh! Why can't I remember what happened? I can't help but feel that Hinata said something really important, and then I go and forget what she said? What kind of friend does that make me?' He clenched his fists in his frustration.

He desperately wanted to talk to her, to ease his mind, but was afraid she would be upset that he had forgotten something so important, even if it really wasn't his fault. Also, discussing his…tenant wasn't something he liked doing, this case being especially so since his latest transformation had been the first time many of his friends had witnessed the horror of the Nine-tails' power.

And so, Naruto had put off discussing the matter with anyone, trying to find a way to deal with the doubt that clouded the back of his mind every so often. But now that he was about to be back in the village, Naruto wasn't sure he'd be able to put it off any longer. He decided then and there that he had had enough.

'I can't come up with excuses anymore! I'll find a way to talk to Hinata about what happened, and if I make her cry, I'll do whatever it takes to cheer her up!'

After he had mentally reinforced this new promise to himself and Hinata, he returned to his normal, happy, self, and turned to the rest of his team who had just caught up to him, their breathing hard and ragged. ( watch?v=c7e0L8ixysk)

"Jeez, Naruto, couldn't we have gone a little slower! I'm sure that Tsunade-sama wouldn't have cared if we were just one day late," Sakura gasped. Sometimes her teammate's boundless energy was a curse, and she had been the most vocal against Naruto's insistence that they pick up the pace for the rest of their journey home.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry, Sakura-chan…just got a little carried away I guess!" Sakura sighed, dismissing him with a wave of her hand.

"I agree with Naruto-kun. I have read that extended periods away from those you care about makes you anxious to see them again," Sai exclaimed as he caught up to them. "Naruto-kun misses his comrades, and wishes to see them again because of how important they are, right?"

A look of embarrassment flashed across Naruto's face. "Well…yeah I miss them! But you make it sound so…."

"What, Naruto-kun? You do care for your friends, correct?"

"Of course I do! It's just that you…..well you make it sound like I'm….shut up, Sai!"

Sakura giggled at her companion's embarrassment, while Sai only looked at the two of them quizzically, trying to understand why Naruto was angry with him. Whilst they were bickering with each other, the last member of their team had caught up to them.

"Okay guys, enough of that," Kakashi warned, the slightest hint of a smirk showing through his mask. "If it weren't for Naruto's suggestion that we increase our pace, we would be behind schedule, but if you three are just going to stand there arguing, we'll be late with our reports." The three looked away guiltily, knowing he was right.

"Oh, NOW you're all about being on time.." Naruto grumbled, all too aware of the hypocrisy of Kakashi's words.

The Copy-ninja lazily turned his gaze over to Naruto. "You say something, Naruto?" something about the tone in his voice making the knuckleheaded ninja uneasy.

Naruto laughed nervously. "N-nothing at all Kakashi-sensei! You're right, we should get back to the village as soon as possible!" 'That look reminds me of Captain Yamato's' Naruto shuddered at the mental image of the Wood style user's infamous 'creepy face'.

Kakashi turned back to the road ahead of them, amused he could still intimidate the jinchūriki so easily.

"Good. Now then, if we hurry, we can still make it back to the village before sunset. Oh….and Naruto?"

The blond gave him a puzzled look. "Yeah, Kakashi-sensei?"

"The last one to the village has to treat the rest of us to some Ichiraku ramen," said Kakashi, before shooting off towards the village.

Sakura was the first to join the impromptu race. "Oh hell no! There's no way I'm paying for all the ramen that idiot eats! He'll bankrupt me!"

Sai was the next person to set off, though he seemed to set off at a pace that was deliberately slower than how fast he could really go. 'I have read somewhere that offering to pay for someone's meal is a sign of friendship. This will be a good opportunity to strengthen my bond,' he happily thought as he leisurely made his way after the others.

Only Naruto was left at the makeshift starting line, a wide grin on his face. When it came to his precious ramen, he knew there was no way he could lose. He took one last look at the sun, now on its downward path towards the horizon, before dashing off towards Konoha with such speed that even his own father would have trouble keeping up with him.

'Watch out everyone, Naruto Uzumaki has returned!'

Sorry about the crappy quality of the first song. It's part of the soundtrack that remains unreleased, so there's nothing I can do about it. Instead, you should be happy that the Youtuber took the time to make a decent version of it.

Author's Note: And that's the first chapter down! Now, whether I continue this story is entirely dependent on you, so comments, questions, reviews, or any other feedback would be great if it's not too much trouble. Starting after this chapter, if there are any concerns that enough people run into (like if I'm using an incorrect honorific, or if you felt a character was OOC etc.), just let me know and I'll address them in the author's note at the beginning of the next chapter, as long as it's not just completely unwarranted flaming (unless said flaming is funny). Then I'll just post it for the lulz.