Chapter 3 - Noticible change

Hinata was following the road that went from Konoha to Amegakure. She spent the last two days traveling to Ame in order to find Naruto. The Hyuga Heiress was very nervous; she didn't know how this was going to play out since she hadn't seen Naruto in a year. For Kami's sake she told the guy how she felt about him in the heat of the battle and didn't have a single moment to talk to him about it.

Hinata pushed the thoughts out of her head when she felt her stomach growling at her.

"I hope I get to the next town soon. I really should have taken a map with me when Tsunade gave me this assignment," Hinata said to herself as she rubbed her stomach.

As Hinata continued walking she saw a man with a hood over his face. He wore raggedy clothes and had a straw hat laying in front of him, with money sitting inside of the hat.

"Spare some change for a man down on his luck?" the man asked, revealing a grey bearded face under the hood.

"Sure," Hinata said with a smile as she dropped a couple ryo in his hat, "If you don't mind me asking, sir, would you happen to know how much to get to Amegakure from?"

"Yes ma'am, continue down this another mile or two and you can see it from there," the man said with a pleasant smile on his face.

"Thank you," Hinata said before bowing respectfully to the man.

As Hinata walked back down the road, she failed to notice the evil smirk that suddenly formed on the old man's face before he proceeded to give a nod to the trees across from him. The tree branches rustled slightly after he did this, revealing the presence of a small group of bandits that were hiding in the trees and were now tailing Hinata. After a couple of minutes of following her, the men in the trees jumped out and surrounded Hinata, catching her off guard. The men all wore black headbands with no metal bar, black pants, and brown jackets.

"Well look at this, boys. A young kunoichi from Konoha with no team with her. How unfortunate," the leader of the group said as each of the group circled around the Hyuuga heiress.

"I bet she's got a good amount of money on her too," another bandit said as he stood at Hinata's left.

"I don't want any trouble. Please leave and we won't have to fight," Hinata said only to get a laugh from the four rouges around her.

"We're not leaving until we get what we came for. Now why don't you be a good girl and hand over your wallet?" the leader asked/demanded as he walked closer to Hinata.

Hinata responded by reeling her right palm back and striking the leader in the gut. The attack was enough to knock him back thirty feet. The other bandits started to attack Hinata with knives. Hinata for the most part was able to hold her own, dodging the attacks and countering each of the three with little difficulty. Unfortunately Hinata was so focused on the three henchmen, who were attempting to get back up, she completely forgot about the leader who clubbed Hinata in the back of head which knocked her to the ground. Hinata tried putting her hands down to push herself back up, but was kicked in the gut before she could even get to her feet. Hinata was now on her back, trying to catch her breath before she was punched in the face, causing her head to smash into the ground. Hinata felt her vision and mind go fuzzy from the punch.

"You should have just handed your money over peacefully, but since you decided to fight back and make this more difficult than it needed to be... I'm gonna take your life as well," the bandit leader said as he pressed his knife against Hinata's throat.

Hinata's vision cleared up in time to see the man preparing to slit her throat. Just as he was about to pull back his knife, however, the man's eyes suddenly shot wide before he stiffed up and fell over Hinata. As Hinata now struggled to push the apparently very heavy man off of her, she heard the other bandits scrambling past her before she heard them get cut down. When Hinata finally got the leader off of her, she looked up in surprise to see Ame shinobi walking past her to search the bandits bodies. When she got to her feet, she looked over the shinobi before she heard a familiar voice.

"Hinata? What are you doing here?" the voice said.

Hinata turned around and soon found herself face-to-face with Sasuke Uchiha, much to her surprise.

"Sasuke? I should be asking the same thing: What are YOU doing here? And why are you with these Ame-nin?" she asked in shock.

"I've been helping Ame out for about a year; we were hunting these bandits since they've been attacking travelers to and from Ame for weeks. I never imagined I'd be saving you, of all people," Sasuke said as if it he was talking about the weather.

"You're with Ame? I thought you weren't aligned to any village," Hinata said. The Hyuga Heiress was still surprised by these turn of events as she was definitely not expecting to see him.

"Well... lets just say that the leader of Ame offered me and my team safe haven there... along with a friend of mine," Sasuke said as his men returned to his side.

"I see... you're talking about Naruto, aren't you?" Hinata asked; Sasuke was suddenly alarmed by this question.

"How did you know he was here? And does anyone else knows that he's here?" Sasuke asked. That last of Uchiha, like Naruto and anyone else in the know, didn't want their cover blown.

"Just Tsunade. She tracked him with the help Jiraiya-sama's spy network and sent me to find him. Luckily Danzo hasn't tracked him down as well for the time being," Hinata answered.

Sasuke relaxed a little at hearing this.

"So, why do you need to find Naruto?" Sasuke asked her as he was still reluctant to let her into Ame.

"Tsunade-sama wanted to extended a connection to Naruto and keep him informed of what's happening in Konoha," Hinata explained before Sasuke quickly connected the dots.

"So she could inform him when he could possibly go back to Konoha -And probably to see that Naruto is safe, given that confession she made to Naruto-," Sasuke reasoned before he made his decision.

"Ok, then; come with us. We'll take you to Ame."

Hinata nodded and followed Sasuke; after a few more miles Hinata finally gazed upon the drenched village of Amegakure. As Hinata, escorted by Sasuke and his team, walked around the village she was surprised to see that it was far from what she was expecting. According to the reports back in Konoha, Amegakure was supposedly a somewhat poor village with quite a few homeless people in the streets. As Hinata took in the sights it didn't take her long to realize that those reports were bogus; even though it indeed raining nonstop in Ame, the steel buildings looked fixed up and there was not even a single homeless person out in the streets. There also seemed to be a great deal of trade and commerce coming and going through the village, meaning it was actually very well off, which also Hinata surprised Hinata as couldn't quite figure out how this was possible.

After several minutes of walking Sasuke lead Hinata to one of the larger towers in Ame and took her to the top room. When they got to the main room on the level, Hinata instinctually got into her fighting stance when she saw Konan, whom she recognized as Pein's accomplice during his attack on Konoha a year prior.

"Relax Hinata, she's a friend," Sasuke explained before he walked up to the former Akatsuki member and introduced her.

"Hinata, this is Konan, the leader of Amegakure. Konan, this is Hinata Hyuga; she's a friend from Konoha."

"Why is she here? I thought you were trying to keep a low profile," Konan questioned; like Sasuke, Konan was also worried about them being discovered by Danzo and his forces too soon.

"According to what Hinata told me, Tsunade apparently has taken over Jiraiya's spy network and has been using it to locate Naruto, which is why she was able to track him down to Ame. Fortunately, it also appears as if that damned warhawk Danzo hasn't found us and in fact doesn't seem to be interested in finding us for the moment," Sasuke explained as he leaned against a wall.

"That is indeed fortunate news," Konan said before she turned her attention to Hinata.

"Now then, why are you here?"

"Tsunade wanted me to locate Naruto in order to keep him informed on what was going on in Konoha, so as to decide what would be the best oppurtunity for him to return," Hinata replied as she looked Konan dead in the eye.

"That is a sound plan; that said I regret to inform you that Naruto is currently out of the village on an assignment," Konan explained.

Hinata, as one could imagine, wasn't expecting that bit of information at all.

"But then... When will he be back?" Hinata asked curiously.

"He should be back soon since he's been gone for a few days already; if he's on time he should be here in a few hours," Sasuke said to which Hinata nodded in understanding.

"By the way, I noticed that Amegakure is doing rather well; can you explain to me how this is the case? From all the accounts I've read back in Konoha the village was supposed to be in much worse shape," said Hinata, as she was curious how a village that was not one of the Five Great Shinobi Villages could be doing so well.

"We have Naruto to thank for that," Konan said with a smile on her face.

"He has been rather busy this past year and part of his work was building up Ame from almost nothing. He got us a trade agreement with the Lands of Waves, Spring, Tea, and even Wind, among others, which brought in resources that we had never before. With these new resources coming in, we were able to give jobs to many of the homeless and to also inspire them to make this village a beacon of hope for others. The people of Ame now call Naruto 'The Saviour of Ame' and look up to him a great deal. In all honesty, Naruto coming to our village has been an absolute blessing for our village."

Hinata smiled after hearing Konan's story. She was happy to hear that Naruto was still able to continue helping other people that were in need even in exile. He had made the most of said exile in a very positive light, all but confirming to Hinata that Naruto was still the same man she fell in love with.

"Anyways, I imagine you're quite tired from you're journey. We have plenty of spare rooms for you to stay in while Naruto is away," Konan suggested.

A grateful Hinata smiled at the offer.

"Thank you very much," Hinata before an Ame shinobi led her to an empty bed room.

"So, shes the one Naruto spoke of from Pein's attack... it's amazing how she was the one who fought against Pein alone to protect him," Konan said as she looked over to Sasuke.

"Yea, though he said he hasn't talked to her about it since he was banished; between his fight with Pein and his subsequent imprisonment he never got to chace to do so," Sasuke said as he thought about Naruto's situation with Hinata.

"Well, I'm sure they'll have plenty of time to catch up now; it'll probably do the both of them a world of good," Konan mused before leaving Sasuke to his thoughts.

"Hm... you'll definitely have quite the surprise awaiting you when you get back, Naruto" Sasuke thought to himself as he headed back outside.

(A/N: Wazzup! So first things first, I owe a shout out to Rocker1600 for helping me out big time with his chapter. Thanks a lot man. Anyway, I felt this is a good set up chapter for whats to come. However, my attention must return to Fox's Dawn and continue that tale. Tell me what you guys thought. Till next time.)