I do not own Naruto…

THE RING THAT BINDS

She couldn't hear the birds chirping outside, couldn't even feel the morning breeze blowing through the window. The bright light of daybreak filtering into the kitchen was neglected just the same…

Everything felt insignificant this morning. Even the cup of tea in her hand had long turned cold and all she could do was sit, like a mannequin at a display window – unmoving.

Hinata stayed that way for a long time. The only thing that was evidence of her being real was when she intermittently rubbed the ring on her finger. Yet, even though she was almost frozen at her stance, her mind was reeling with thoughts, painful and heartrending.

Naruto had called the name again last night in his sleep – 'Sakura.' It was his third slip in the last six months. The first time, they had hardly been married two weeks when her husband had mumbled the name. She had laughed it off then, conjuring up her own idea of him having a fight with Sakura in his dream. She was stunned to hear it a second time, one month later, but had quietly brushed if off too. It was easy to mishear things sometimes… even though that little slip did leave a mark on her memory.

However, last night, it had been too clear. He had already fallen asleep when she had walked into the bedroom. Quietly, she had climbed into bed when she heard him call the name. There was no mistaking it. She wasn't just stunned this time - her entire body stiffened at the name and suddenly, she could feel a painful kind of tightness in her chest. Soon afterwards, everything started to fall apart. The walls that had held all the happiness she had shared with Naruto came crumbling down; she could almost feel the bricks falling on her - painful and heartbreaking.

When the shock finally settled, she started to cry. She had cried the whole night, sobbing quietly into her pillow. Naruto had never really loved her, that fact was never that pronounced until now. Yet she had to admit that ever since their academy days, she had known that he only had eyes for Sakura. She was aware that when his pink-haired teammate married his best friend, all Naruto could do was give them his blessings even though it had hurt him badly. Nevertheless, Hinata had also known that his geniality was just a facade. Reality was actually killing him.

She had stayed close throughout his whole ordeal. It had hurt her seeing him in so much pain and it had hurt her even more when he had to fake his smiles on too many occasions… those bright blue eyes had lost their gleam. Not long after, he had thrown himself into work, accepting the title and responsibility of Hokage without much joy or fuss. Life had become meaningless for him. He was like a body without a soul. She could only pray that he was going to survive.

They never discussed the very cause of his misery. Somehow, as months passed, things started to look more positive. On some instances, she could almost see the sparkle in his eyes. And then, it happened… They were having dinner at Ichiraku, when he had sheepishly drawn out a small velvet box from his pocket. She could still remember how awkward he had looked. He had pushed the box towards her while his other hand automatically went to the back of his head, rubbing and scratching in a way that was so typical of him when he was out of his comfort zone. And then he had raised the question that she could only dream he would ask – 'Will you marry me?'

Ayame had criticized him on the spot. The lady of the ramen shop had thought that his manner of proposal was too simple. He should have been more enthusiastic about the whole affair. She had argued that Naruto should have brought Hinata to an expensive restaurant and proposed after a romantic candle-light dinner. He should have bought flowers for the occasion, red roses to be exact and he should have knelt on one knee while proposing.

Hinata didn't care… all she knew was she had always wanted to be with Naruto. She had loved him for too long. So, with as much strength as she could summon not to faint from pure happiness, she had said yes. Two months later, they had gotten married in an elaborate wedding ceremony and reception. They had both wanted it to be simple but it couldn't be helped. He was the Hokage and she was still, the eldest daughter of Hyuga Hiashi. It would have been unreasonable to deny the Hyuga clan a highly structured service.

But now, as she sat at the kitchen table, Hinata realized that saying yes was probably the biggest mistake of her life. When had she let her own sense of happiness cloud her eyes? How could she have forgotten all of Naruto's past feelings towards Sakura? Why was she willing to start a life with him even though a small part of her had always known that he will never truly love her? Didn't she already know that she would never be able to win his heart?

The questions whirled incessantly in her mind. Somehow, she realized that she was partly at fault. She should have stayed away when he was in his weakest. She should have let him mourn his loss and then allow him to stand up again like he always did. She should have left him as he was and not cared so much. And she should never have been his means of escape.

Finally heaving a sigh, she took a sip of her tea before quickly putting the cup down… tea was better drunk while it was warm. Then, she stood up and walked towards the bedroom. She wanted to know how Naruto really felt, needed to know his feelings right then.

Her husband was in the bathroom when she walked in, the door left ajar. Without much hesitation, Hinata took off all of her clothes and walked towards the bathroom. Naruto was in his shorts, brushing his teeth when he saw his wife, naked. It took him some seconds to process the scenario before he quickly rinsed his mouth and washed his face.

"Hey," he said as he quickly grabbed her in a hug, water from his face dripping into her hair as he snuggled into it.

"Morning," she carelessly tempted.

But that was all she needed to say before he started trailing hungry kisses along her neck. He was kissing her with passion – a kind of fervor she could always appreciate. But then this time, she wouldn't allow his enthusiasm and her eagerness to cloud her mind. Unknowingly to him, she was assessing his every move – every kiss, every caress, every stroke. She wanted to know if he had been faking them all these time. She sought to find out if he really loved her or was it just a natural desire between men and women, was it just convenience? She needed to know if he had been imagining her to be Sakura every time they made love.

Things went on like they always did and somehow, they stumbled into the room and onto their bed.

"I love you," she said, as he hovered over her not too many minutes later. She had meant it, every word that she said.

"Love you, too," he mumbled as he entered her.

Those words would have easily pleased her on other occasions… Not today. Somehow, she was starting to doubt his words…

Half an hour past before they finally ambled into the kitchen for breakfast. She was back in her clothes while he casually pulled a short-sleeved red coat over his black, long-sleeved, high-collared shirt. The coat bore black flame-like motifs on its hem. Hinata never failed to think how poised and cool Naruto always looked in it - Naruto, her husband... the Hokage.

"I've cooked some soup," she said as she walked towards the stove. "Let's have ramen,"

"Great! I want three bowls," he cheered as he searched for milk in the refrigerator. "We've run out of milk?"

"There's tea on the table." She pointed.

He shrugged before reaching for a cup and pouring himself some tea. Then, he pulled out his chair and took a seat.

"Anything interesting today, Hokage-sama?" Hinata started offhandedly, many seconds later as she placed a bowl of piping hot ramen in front of Naruto.

"Well, Kazuhiro-sama needs our help to start a ninja academy in his village… he's from the Land of Oil," Naruto said as he reached for a pair of chopsticks and started stirring his ramen. Then, he put a big mouthful of it into his mouth and started slurping like a hungry child.

"Oil?"

"Yup... It's a... long-term mission…" he said between slurps of ramen. "…at least... three years."

"That long?"

"Yeah, actually they have already put up a building for the purpose," he continued, after another swallow. "But if you take into consideration the whole administrative setup…, the education requirements…, the… the military necessity and… and everything else," he took another slurp. "It would take at least three or at the earliest, two years to accomplish that."

"So… who's been assigned?" Hinata asked with a subtle hint of curiosity as she placed two more bowls of ramen onto the table.

"I thought Iruka would be the best person for this but… I hate to see him leave," Naruto said as he lifted his bowl and gulped down his noodle. "It's going to be a long time."

Hinata kept quiet as she watched her husband reached for his second bowl of ramen. She had always loved watching him eat. In some way, Naruto's love for ramen and the way he always ate his noodle with gusto, had never changed all these years. Other than the time when he was grieving over his loss of Sakura.

"You're not having any?" he asked as she took a seat beside him.

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

Sitting beside him, she quietly studied her husband's outward appearance as he happily ate his ramen. She was actually taking time to pay more attention to him today. For a long time now, she had forgotten that Naruto had whisker marks on his face. She realized that she had taken that for granted. How could she have forgotten Kurama's great influence on him? Her husband did and still held a most powerful beast within.

Other than that, Naruto's blonde hair had grown a little longer than how it used to be when they were younger. That was fine. He actually looked better that way, more like the Hokage title he held rather than the young immature boy he could sometimes be. On top of that, many people who had worked with his father before had always compared him to Minato in terms of physical appearance. They said he was a replica of his old man. Hinata had no doubt that Minato had been a handsome man.

Silently, she wondered if she had ever told Naruto that he has the most beautiful eyes in the whole of Konoha. Those bright blue eyes had often mesmerized her. So dark and deep in color compared to her pale, white eyes. She also wondered if he knew how often she had paid attention to those eyes and questioned if he knew that when he was sad, there was no glimmer in them. Yet, now that she observed, she realized that it had been a long while since she had seen those eyes sparkle with joy - to really sparkle like it could brighten the day with its gleam. She remembered how happy he had been when he had returned after defeating Pain and the whole village was there to welcome him like a hero. The gleam in his eyes had been captivating. She could still recall how his eyes had shone when they won the last war and Sasuke had finally agreed to return to Konoha with him. It had been something he had been eagerly anticipating for a long time - he couldn't be happier. Then again, she could also call to mind how proud he had been when Tsunade had proclaimed that Sakura was the most fitting person to take over all her medical practices and that she was as strong and capable as she was. His eyes had shone the brightest then…

"What's wrong?" he asked when he noticed dark shadows beneath her eyes, unaware of how she had been looking at him. "Didn't sleep well?"

She forced a smile as her hand involuntarily started twisting the ring on her finger. "I couldn't sleep… Do you know you talk in your sleep?" she finally asked as he finished all three bowls of his ramen.

"I kept you up?" he asked, amused.

She smiled again.

"So what did I say?" he urged as he stood up, put all the three bowls into the sink and then turned and gave her a quick kiss on her cheek. "Come on, what did I say? Was I conjuring up some forbidden jutsu or was I swearing aloud or what?"

"What did you dream of last night?" she consciously raised the question as she stood up and put her hands around his neck.

He chuckled as he grabbed her waist. "I don't know… can't remember a thing. So what did I say?"

She looked right into the pair of blue eyes, wondering when she'll get to see those glimmer again and pondering on her answer before leaning closer, "You were calling Sakura's name..."

A/N: …reviews?