A/N: I don't know about any of you guys, but whatever I write always sounds like its rushed to me... Weird huh? Anyway I tried my best on this one so if there are any mistakes do tell me and I'll fix em up if I can. And seriously if you don't like the way the fic is then simply don't read it; just stop. Or you could help by offering constructive criticizm; I did state before that I was not entirely sure of Naruto fics, but am still giving it a shot.
"This stinks, how come nobody told me we needed goggles for this mission?" Kiba complained with a hand covering a majority of his eyes as the three, along with Akamaru, went through the relentless storm.
"We told you to come prepared. It should not have taken someone to remind you since sandstorms are quite common in the Land of Winds." Shino retorted. "Your own carelessness is at fault." Akamaru whined in response.
"You know you could've reminded me, Akamaru..." the large canine barked loudly at his friend with a smug grin. "Yeah, yeah..." he grumbled.
The three continued to walk through the waves of sand rushing through them unaware of a pair of turquiose eyes watching them from afar. The sand beast could clearly see that the three of them were from the Leaf if they were strong enough to ignore his sandstorm. The cloaks they wore were a special material that could withstand a strike of kunai and the by the rate his sand was rushing at, it was enough to tear their flesh with many cuts that were significantly harmless by themselves, but as a whole they would pose quite a problem for even a person of ANBU level. Even Akamaru was cloaked from head to toe to fight against the weather.
Certain of his sight despite the countless grains, Gaara went forth to meet with the small group. When he appeared in front of them, the sand cleared a way for him as a swirl of sand came together to create his body. They stopped in surprise of the sudden action and quickly jumped away to take on a defensive stance to whatever would obstruck them from completing their given assignment. Gaara took no notice of their reaction and continued to materialize at an even pace with his arms crossed over his chest and tail swaying with the wind behind him. Near completion he opened his bright colored eyes to address himself properly.
"I am the Sand Guardian of Sunagakure; Gaara. Please show your proof of the Kazekage's requested item." he said in a formal tone making sure never to break contact with them, but taking extra notice of the large scroll strapped to Hinata's back and narrowing his eyes slightly in suspicion.
"The Sand Guardian, eh? So it's safe to say that you're the one in control of this sandstorm, right? Mind if I ask that you go a bit easy on us?" the canine specialist questioned as he brought out a rather thick, but narrow box from his bag. Upon seeing the familiar rectangular item he nodded and turned to clear a path free of the biting particles and looked back at them with a cool expression free of emotion.
"Allow me to be your escort to the Kazekage's tower."
Both Hinata and Kiba smiled gratefully as they began to follow him while Shino merely remained silent. The walk towards the village was now calm and pleasant compared to their sprinting from tree to tree and bearing the dry storm head on.
When Gaara saw the box in Kiba's hands he couldn't help but feel a little irked at the sight and turned his head towards Hinata opening his mouth to ask, "Might I ask where the one to request such a valuable item is at the moment?" Hinata couldn't help but smile shyly at his obvious question.
"He was needed for another mission and was unable to make it here to thank the Kazekage properly. Shikamaru-san felt really bad about not being able to and even made arrangements to thank the Kazekage with a present. He placed it inside with the item before he left it to the Hokage. We were asked to deliver it and apologize for him."
Gaara turned ahead to think over what the girl had said and closed his eyes in silent acceptance, he then turned his attention to the questionable scroll behind her. "That scroll is familiar. Is it perhaps a part of the Toads?" he asked. Starting up a conversation was certainly something Gaara was not known to do, but this was for his friend and he had an odd suspicion that he probably had not made it to the Land of Fire even though such a thought was preposturous to even think about. Naruto always meant to finish out whatever he had set his mind to and it was hard to even think that he would stop for a bit just to rest, it was common sense to do so, but Naruto's common sense didn't really match everyone else's.
"Toads, you mean like Jiraiya-san?" she asked and then shook her head in the negative, feeding Gaara's curiosity further and practically voicing the answer in his head. "No, this scroll is special... It doesn't summon frogs or snakes. It's-"
"Look we're here!" Kiba said too loud for their liking despite the howling of the rushing winds. The two looked up to see that they were indeed at the entrance of the village where two jounin came up to meet with them. With one glance to Gaara, they immediately straightened up stiffly and gestured for all of them to carry through to the Kazekage.
For the duration of the walk Gaara did not speak a word of question to Hinata's unfinished sentence already knowing that it was Naruto's scroll without a doubt in mind. Hinata didn't bring it back up either feeling that it would be too much to speak with those she did not know much about. It wasn't often that the villagers see the 'Monster of the Desert' as they have called him before, move among them and a majority of the population were not comfortable in his presence at all, but none said a word to him or the company around him either. Soon enough, they finally made it to the Kazekage's Tower.
They knocked once before Gaara allowed them entrance by personally opening the door and looked at them to go in. Sitting on the single large chair was indeed the Kazekage reading through various documents and at the side holding another stack of papers was a young girl around their age group with a large heavy looking gourd strapped to her back.
"Ah, hello there. I assume you are the ninja of the Leaf, correct?" the man straightened up, setting down his pen and smiling kindly at the three.
"Yup. We're of the Inuzuka, Aburame and Hyuga clan sent here on behalf of the Hokage." Kiba was the one to go forward and hand the box over to him.
"Ah yes, a perfect combination to protect the treasured Fan." his smile widened at the sight of the box and was eager to open it. He was not disappointed in the least when he saw the purple colored fan stare back at him with a single red ruby embedded at the end of the black lining of the closed fan. There was a note hidden underneath the velvet bottom of the box, but he chose not to look at it until later. "I presume the contract went well for the Nara boy, hm?"
"Heh, it wasn't all a walk in the park, that woman was a frightful thing!" Kiba held no reserve for mentioning the summoned creature and shuddered at the damage she had done back home. His words only made the man chuckle in understanding.
"Yes, that Temari was never one to go easy on a soul, but it is nice to know that all has went well for them both. Oh yes, where is the boy?"
"I'm afraid he couldn't make it here, Tsunade-sama had already assigned him to another urgent mission and was unable to come and thank you properly."
He nodded once. "I understand, well I am glad that we were able to be a bit of extra help to the Leaf after all the trouble they went through to help us in the past." Satisfied with the turn of events he sighed and turned his attention to the silent escort. "Thank you Gaara for accompanying them here, I would have sent Matsuri, but I'm a bit short on help here as you can see..."
The girl standing shyly beside the Kazekage merely bowed slightly in greeting. "I am sorry I could not greet you at the entrance of the village." she said quietly while sending an apologetic smile towards all of them.
"Whoa wait a minute, are you the one who summoned Gaara to make that huge sandstorm?" Kiba asked with narrowed eyes. Immediately the girl averted her eyes at his words and shook her head lightly.
"No, my father is the only one able to summon Gaara of the Desert. I am still trying to learn the technique." she gestured to the gourd on her back and smiled sheepishly at them. "I've only signed the contract, but I still have a long ways to go before I can be able to do it." she explained until something else caught her attention. "Hm?"
"Oh, I wasn't aware that any of the Hyugas could summon a beast. If I may ask, which one is that one?" she pointed to the crimson colored scroll. Poor Hinata was not one to lie and it was something she detested unless it was inevitable for missions and such, but she was not supposed to know what the scroll was either after Tsunade's words, so imagine the subtle relieved expression she made when Kiba took the opportunity to answer instead of her.
"We're not so sure what it summons yet. We're still trying to get info on the previous owner." he winked at her and she only smiled. None of what was said and done escaped the watchful eyes of the Guardian still standing at the doorway of the Kazekage's office.
"How strange..." Matsuri mumbled, tilting her head to the side in confusion before straightening herself. "I suppose it isn't any of my business to pry, please excuse the question." she bowed with her apology, but Hinata was quick to raise up her hands in protest.
"It's no big deal, please don't worry about it."
It really was no big deal for them at least, but Hinata really wanted to be with Naruto again and she was absolutely determined to try her hardest to do so. As they continued to talk about the going ons of each village, Gaara was careful to analyze the scroll as best he could from his place and was left to wonder how Naruto could have missed running into the girl. It was irking to say the least, but he would not question for there was no one to question at the moment. For a moment he wondered if he should take the scroll himself and return it to the Foxes knowing that such a thing was vital for the small clan, but there was a chance that Naruto would be at the village waiting for it. He was never certain on trusting his gut on the boy who was no older than him, yet the Hyuga girl had a certain aura to her. Something that told him to stand his ground and let things go as they may. In the end he was left to simply watch as an opportunity slipped past him.
"Now Naruto, I know that you're in a hurry and such, but I assure you that putting up a tantrum will do nothing. Hinata and the others will be back within the day, it's just a matter of patience."
"But if I could just rush over there and bump into them, then it would make everything go faster..." he grumbled leaning against a tree as he watched the three of Kakashi's students spar in a training field. With every kunai, shuriken or ink created bird flew in his direction all he had to do was wave his tail across in front of him to bat the things away and avoid getting hit. Once in a while the sharp edges would prick and slice at his tail, but even that was not enough to get him to wince or make a sound of pain.
"Hinata would be headed here, common sense says that there's a complete one hundred percent chance that you'll see her here. You could however do some training or roam the village a bit to make the time go faster. Perhaps read a book," to this he raise his eyes to him. "I could give you a few suggestions." he hinted at him. The boy only made a face at him in disgust.
"I've heard a lot from the toads and I am certain that I'm underage for that kind of stuff."
"You're no fun." he hummed a chuckle and returned to his current page. "Oh well, I suppose you wouldn't even understand half of the glorious storyline anyway."
Despite his comment Naruto did take into consideration on how to pass the time. He could roam around a bit in his fox form and pull a few pranks just for old time's sake or even see how the people changed. A spar with Kakashi's team didn't really sound so bad either, but the smell of burned ink did not suit well with his nose and he most definitely didn't want to be in the recieving end of the pink haired woman's punch after witnessing a fresh crater blossoming from her knuckles when she missed the Uchiha boy. He shuddered at that last part and decided that simply staying on the sidelines would be enough for now.
"So I suppose you're the summoned beast of that red scroll that Hinata had been carrying around?" Kakashi asked after a bit of time had passed. At his words Naruto could only stare at him in confusion.
"I guess, but what I don't get is how my scroll managed to come here of all places."
"I will say that I don't completely get the whole thing myself, but if memory serves correctly, Kurenai-sensei had said that before the passing of the Third Hokage, he had given her a scroll to keep."
Naruto's eyes widened at the words he spoke of. He knew that the old man had passed, but the mention of it always made his heart sink a little more inside. He vaguely remembered the kindness the man portrayed whenever he visited his parents and even brought a toy for him a couple of times. "But that can't be, I've only had my scroll for a couple of years now, not that far back." he explained. "It couldn't have possibly been in his hands then."
Kakashi could only shrug at him. "I don't suppose there could have been two scrolls, hm?"
The conversation had unfortunately stopped there and the blond could only mull over his thoughts over and over about the scroll, but all the possibilities just wouldn't add up in the end. The evening came around and the long training session had finally ended with all three of the ninja exhausted and ready to go home. Hinata and her teammates had yet to return and it was still driving Naruto up the wall with impatience. Of the team, Sasuke was the first to leave for home followed by Sai who simply said he was in need of more ink and drawing utensils leaving Sakura with Kakashi and Naruto.
"I take that they haven't returned yet, huh?" she asked lightly while wiping a hand on her forehead. The two nodded at her and she sighed. "Well, I guess I'll go home and wash all this grime and ink off me. Stupid Sai and his stupid ink..." she mumbled bitterly while heading off for home.
"Well Naruto, I have some other business to take care of. I trust that you won't cause some trouble?" he asked with a raised eyebrow and he only mumbled an annoyed 'yes'.
"Good. However, if they haven't come by nightfall, I don't mind making room at my place or arrange for another place if you're not too comfortable." he offered, but the once energetic boy only shook his head.
"Thanks, but I already have a place in mind." he smiled widely at the man and though surprised he already had somewhere to stay, Kakashi didn't question it further and bid him farewell.
Now on his own, Naruto decided to see exactly how much things had changed in the course of the years he had been absent. He did as was suggested from Kakashi and hid his ears and tail once more to look around the stalls and stores of the village, but was mostly drawn towards a familiar old park that thankfully remained standing in the same place with a few added constructions to its collection of swings and slides. He couldn't help but smile at the times he played with the Hyuga girl that helped him all those years ago and wondered if she missed him as much as he missed her. He really didn't want to leave when they had to, but like every kit born into the Uzumaki clan he had to start training. It seemed unfair that he couldn't even tell her about it, but there was simply nothing that could be done.
"Maybe I could at least get her a gift or something..." he wondered to himself with a faint smile tugging at his lips. A small laugh slid through as he remembered quite well that Hinata liked cinnamon rolls and could barely contain her happiness when his mother tried her hand at baking them. His smile only widened to a grin when he thought of seeing her smiling face and just simply dashed back to the bakery he had seen that had such treats out on display.
When he got there, however, he forgot the whole fact that he did not exactly carry money with him. Currency was never really on his mind when he had been searching for the blasted scroll, but whatever cash he had did not amount to much; not even for candy, but was it really hard to trick a few villagers while a fox? For him, not even a lick of effort was needed and was quick to transform into a normal looking red fox with the same grin plastered onto his snout. Yes, getting a small batch of cinnamon rolls was bound to be an easy task. Just when he was about to slide into the store something grabbed hold of his tail and tugged none too gently away from the door. The jutsu immediately broke off.
"And what do you think you're doing, fox?" a very displeased female voice questioned. Looking up he saw that the one to stop him had been none other than Sakura herself.
"Aww, it was just a bit of cinnamon rolls, no one would miss them! Besides I had no money to give." he said lowly crossing his arms over his chest in annoyance. "I just wanted to get them for a friend. And I thought you went home!" he added a little later, pointing an accusing finger at her.
She only sighed at his explanation. "I went home to shower quickly and came to get a few things myself, but unlike someone I don't have to steal."
"Can you really call it stealing if you plan to pay back later? That's why there are such things called tabs!"
"I'm sure with you, no one would buy that. Just wait here, I'll be right back." she smiled at him and went off into the bakery. He could only stand there curiously and wait, but it didn't take long before she came back out with a bag full of what he had been trying to get. "Here." she pushed the warm bag into his hands and smiled again. "Now instead of oweing the store, you owe me."
"But why would you do that for me?" he asked with a bit of caution as he numbly took the bag from her hands. "And after all that fighting before?"
"Hmm, well I really don't know. You could call it a peace offering or maybe 'cause it'll create much less of a hassle later on or perhaps add more if you don't pay back." she smirked at him when his face grew a bit pale at having to face her rage if he didn't keep to his debt. "It doesn't hurt to help someone out a little is what I'm saying." she smiled one last time before turning to go down the street. "See you around Naruto." she waved at him in goodbye as he simply stood there staring at her back.
Whatever the reason for the sudden show of kindness Naruto made a mental note to pay back the debt as soon as he could, but at least for now he wouldn't greet Hinata empty handed. It was the least he could do even though he didn't do much.
Happy that he had something, he knew where his next destination would be and he was sure after the events of the morning he would be in worse shape if he got caught near the place; the Hyuga Complex. He never really ventured into the place, but he thought that visiting just once wouldn't be much of a problem as long as he didn't get caught by Neji or anyone else for that matter.
The easiest action to take would be as he was when he always sneaked inside of the village; a nimble yellow fox that just wouldn't give up even if it meant taking a kunai to the stomach. He took care to turn into his other form in a barren area; it had been too long since he last used this form and he admitted that he was certainly not so small as to fit through a few cracked holes like he had as a child, but he was still fast enough to escape a few eyes. With the handle of the bag in his mouth he made his way through the shadows and towards the building he had passed on occasion. A few windows were lit and few people were walking about, there was the same faint smell of that perfume and had instantly thought of her cousin that may still be around to notice him.
A low growl escaped him as he turned away from the entrance to look for another way. The area was a bit vast, but he managed to find a window that lacked light and as risky as it was he decided to take his chances and go through. Climbing up to the window he gently pushed his nose against the cool glass and found that it wasn't closed all the way. He practically screamed in silent joy in his head and wasted no time in slipping through the opening. He didn't expect the fall to be so long and had dropped the bag when a small cry of pain tore at his throat. The sound startled him so much he dashed under the nearest object, which happened to be the bed, and waited for a minute or two for feet to come pounding through the door.
Long seconds passed and not a single muffled sound of feet reached his keen ears. The room he was in was beginning to fall into darkness with the drifting sun which meant there was no one around and the scent he finally took notice of made his tail wag in barely contained glee when he darted out from under the bed. It was a room that definitely belonged to a girl as shown by a bunny sitting at the far side of the room beside the door.
He was told of the perfume from earlier, but he knew that this scent was not just of artificial smell, but of a distinct one that he would always recognize without fail. This room was one he could safely call Hinata's and now he could just wait here for her. His smile turned soft as he allowed old memories to swim on through his head and remember fun times.
Darkness of night reigned over the sky as people made to retire to their homes after the events of the day and it was then that they had finally returned.
"Well that took longer than expected..." Kiba stretched his aching muscles and continued on towards the Hokage's Tower. "You guys can go home, I'll do the report this time." he offered with a wide toothy grin.
"You're sure Kiba-kun?" Hinata asked feeling a little unsure.
"Yeah I can do it. See you guys later." he waved at them before darting away with Akamaru hot on his trail.
"Would you like me to walk you home, Hinata?" Shino offered softly.
"Oh no thank you Shino-kun. You should go home and get some rest, I'll be fine getting home myself." she smiled gratefully at his offer, but thought that he deserved to get some rest.
"If you are sure. Goodnight Hinata." he nodded at her and disappeared in a swarm of insects. She waved at him in return before taking a path towards her home.
The scroll felt surprisingly heavy on her back and she wouldn't mind taking it off and taking a nice shower before going to bed. She was disappointed that she couldn't learn anything else about Naruto from the Guardian of the Sand, but supposed that she could always try again the next day.
She said a quick "I'm home." before making her way towards her room, saying a quick hello to Ko who had seen her coming in and explaining that the mission was okay aside from a few bumpy stops along the way. She was sure that everyone else was asleep by now and eagerly wanted to join them, but she just had to drop the scroll off on her bed and then she could take a quick bath or something to wash away the dirt and sand from her body. When she came to her room, she could only gasp loudly at the beautiful sight of a brightly colored fox lying on her bed with its tail curled around its thin body in sleep. Her gasp only made a single white-tipped ear twitch but nothing more than that as he continued to sleep comfortably with the open bag of cinnamon rolls lying next to him with a few of them gone and one half eaten.
The girl didn't know what to do, but stand for a couple of more lingering seconds as she tried to gain her bearings as well convince herself that it wasn't a hallucination from the dry sun.
"N-Naruto-kun?" she whispered softly, but the fox still did not stir from its sleep. Afraid of breaking the serene sight she entered her room and gently slid the door to a close. Compared to the first time she saw him, he was bigger and probably stronger too. The scroll that followed her to the ground brought up a few bits of dust as she sat down against the door, her eyes becoming heavy despite her protesting mind, but she couldn't really complain after seeing him after so long. She could only pray that this was no other dream that she had from other various scenarios. "Sweet dreams, Naruto-kun..." she mumbled as she too succumbed to the night's influence.
"She knows now?" a cool feminine voice asked in a dimly lit room.
"Well I would guess that she has an idea." another spoke, but it was deeper and more light compared to the other.
The room though dim was lit with a single candle sitting on a wooden table. There was only one person occupying the single chair situated at the table and it was Minato who had one hand against his cheek and the other was lying flat on the surface of the furniture. His face was expressionless as he stared at the darkness shrouding the rest of the space. "In your condition you shouldn't really be concerned about this." he said softly and the small flame seemed to flicker at him.
A single thick red colored tail slithered over the floor to curl around the form resting atop of a fairly large couch. Tired red eyes seemed to glow when the woman opened them to look at the two-tailed being looking back at her with fearless eyes. "Your wounds are still healing from the snake's venom." the male added after seeing her try and lift another heavy tail.
"Minato..." she whispered. "You mustn't tell her about that... she wouldn't want that... Naruto wouldn't want that..." she sighed as a low growl escaped her from the pain of the slow venom that was still in the process of being drained from her body. She was ignoring his words of warning and still tried to move her tails to a more comfortable position. Her form was not so towering of the buildings like normal. She had shifted into a smaller one at least the size if the king-like couch to better take care of the wounds she sustained from the giant purple snake that had done a sneak attack to her party making her take the brunt of his attack. Minato stood to move to her side and look at the gash torn from her shoulder to the bottom of her ribcage.
A pointed snout bared gleaming fangs at him when he approached her in a warning, but he knew that it was just for show and he simply touched the bottom of her jaw, leaning down to look at the wound. Even though he had been with her for many years, her feral growls were still enough to make him a little uneasy, yet she had never snapped at him once, but being the original nine tailed fox did have its tolls. Her body though still strong was not accustomed to newly built poison. Manda was a genetically altered creature specially made from the most sought out ninja; Orochimaru. She would have been able to find and kill him had it not been for that single mistake of a sneak attack.
"I let myself get carried away..." she sighed and he only chuckled at her.
"Well it's not the first time." he was answered with a piercing glare. "All joking aside, please refrain from moving any further, a medic will come soon to check out the wound and bound it."
"I don't need a medic, my body can heal itself!" she snarled, but she knew better than to argue with the man who simply smiled kindly at her.