The situation becomes precarious as more that just lives are at stake.(HinataxNaruto)
Chapter 2: Pensive Hearts
"There is no way - in hell - that you are ready to go after him, Naruto!" Ino punctuated the statement pointedly. "You just got out of the hospital. Sakura's still got bandages on her legs! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"This is a volunteer mission, Ino," Naruto gritted, "so if you wanna back out, that's fine. Go ahead." Ino's jaw dropped and she gazed about the room at her teammates.
Neji's office was spacious, but twelve people made the room seem small, the air oppressive. Or maybe it was the thought of going up against Orochimaru.
But Ino had never been one to back down.
"Fuck you, Naruto," she hissed. "You want us to watch you die? Fine."
"Ino!" Sakura was exasperated. Why did the blonde woman always have to get so abrasive when she was upset? "Stop it already! He's fine. I'm fine. Have a little faith, okay?" Ino rolled her eyes dramatically; as disgusted with Sakura as she was with Naruto. But this time she clamped her mouth shut.
"We'll break into four groups of three," Naruto continued as though Ino had never interrupted, "and spread out. Traveling together is begging him to drop a Katon Ryuuka no Jutsu in our laps. He seemed to have a problem killing Sakura, Kakashi and me before, so the three of us will each go with a different group and hope that gives him a reason to hesitate."
"What about the fourth group?" Shikamaru asked.
"You'll go with that group, Shika," Naruto responded, "you can think faster than any of us."
Figures, the laid-back shinobi thought wryly.
"Anko and Tenten are passing out the transmitters," Neji explained as the women made their way through the crowd, "the frequencies are already set, just keep the volume low. You get into trouble, you scream like bloody hell for help."
"Yeah, we got that part." Jiraiya nearly chuckled and glanced at Gai with a tight smile, "since when did the young get so intense."
"Since our friends were slaughtered by someone we trusted, Ero-Sennin." Naruto replied coldly. Jiraiya's mirth dissipated and he cleared his throat awkwardly.
"I'm saying this now," Naruto scanned the room, "anyone who wants to back out: this is your chance. Nobody's gonna stop you and nobody's gonna hate you for it. This is gonna be hard and there's no guarantee of living through it. After this point there's no turning back and if you bail then you may as well stay gone - permanently."
The room was silent, heads turning to see who, if anyone, would accept the offer.
"I think," Kakashi spoke, his eyes closed, arms folded over his chest, "you've got your full team Naruto." Inwardly he could not help but marvel at Naruto's growth; though it was a tragedy what it had taken to get him to this point. The teen was clearly on target with his thinking and, for the first time in Kakashi's memory, completely in control of the situation.
"Gear up, people," the blonde shinobi ordered his team, "and wrap up any business you may have left over. We leave at six AM sharp."
There's something I've gotta do before we go, he thought as he dismissed the team.
"Don't be mad, Hinata," he said plaintively, though the Hyuga woman had given him no indication that she was.
"I'm not," her small voice was sincere, "I just wish I wasn't so... weak. I wanted to be there." Naruto carefully took up her wrapped hands.
"You're not weak - not by a long shot. And you will be there," he said softly and turned slightly so that she could see the three hitai-ate around his arm. Her eyes shone as she gazed at the bands. The names of her old teammates stood out sharply on the polished metal, and though the third band bore no unusual markings she knew it was hers.
"I'll give it back when this is over," he said, coming dangerously close to reading her thoughts. It wasn't that she would miss the band, though. A tear slid down her cheek as she remembered what the Uchiha was now capable of.
"I... don't want anything bad to happen to you..." It was the closest she had ever come to admitting her feelings. Through the years Naruto had been a steadfast part of her heart, but she had cherished his friendship too much to ask for more.
He tried to summon up that grin, but the best he could do was a sad smile. "Don't worry," he said, knowing how dumb that sounded.
Of course she'll worry, she's seen what can happen. Hinata's chin puckered, but she nodded sharply. He wanted to beat the shit out of Sasuke for putting her through this; for putting them all through this. Her expression tormented him and he pulled her against his chest, earning a slight gasp from her. He retracted his arms quickly.
"I'm sorry," he punched out, "I didn't mean to hurt you." Hinata's face crumpled a bit and she looked down at her lap.
"That's okay." She said softly. "I mean, that is, you didn't hurt me." Naruto saw another tear plop down into her lap.
"Hinata," why did his chest feel so tight? Why is it so hard to breathe? He took her up again, carefully this time, and held her there. Her hands tightened on his arm and he felt her face grow hot against his chest. It was getting late and he knew he should go prepare for tomorrow, but he couldn't bring himself to leave her just yet. When her body began to shake silently he felt his own eyes begin to sting.
"It's okay," he whispered into her hair, "it's okay Hinata."
"I don't want you to go," she admitted. "I don't want you to die."
I shouldn't say it. "I won't die." You can't promise that, dobe!
"You," Hinata's words broke painfully with sobs, "can't know that." Naruto buried his face in her hair wishing he could comfort her.
"Don't cry, Hinata," he pleaded, "please don't cry." The stinging in his eyes worsened.
Don't you get weak on her! She doesn't need to see that shit from you!
"I don't want to lose you!" Her breath caught in her throat when she realized what she had just said. Naruto didn't seem to notice her alarm and shook his head, his face tangling in long silky strands. He pulled her chin up with a knuckle and kissed her cheek.
"You won't." He whispered.
Her face, he stared into her eyes, milky white like Neji's yet very different. Kind, sincere, and...
He couldn't help himself. He dipped his head and kissed her, on the lips, slowly. Hinata's eyes widened for a split second before closing and she leaned into him. He cupped the back of her head, pulling her lips into his gently, feeling her respond to his touch. When at last he pulled back and opened his eyes he found the creases of despair gone from her features.
Hinata looked up into his eyes.
I may never get another chance.
Say it, Hinata! Her mind screamed.
"I love you, Naruto."
"Do you think this is wise?" Iruka sloshed the contents of his glass around pensively.
"I don't think we have much of a choice." Kakashi said. "He has to be stopped."
"I meant drinking tonight." The other man corrected.
The eldest four members of the team sat at the bar of the closest joint to the Hyuga compound. Neji had invited everyone to stay over for the night, boasting plenty of space, but the senior shinobi had opted to excuse themselves for a while, chosing to spend some quality time getting shit-faced.
"Did you have better plans for tonight?" Jiraiya asked, tossing back another mouthful of sake and pounding the cup onto the bar loudly, signaling he needed a refill.
"No," Iruka sighed and followed the elder's example, "just thinking out loud."
"I thought we came here to give up thinking." Jiraiya smiled.
"You seem so at ease," Gai commented an empty pyramid of glasses before him belayed the fact that the man could hold his liquor, "aren't you worried in the least?"
"About dying?" The legendary-nin asked. "No. About failing? Yeah, I am. But if this is going to be my last free night I'm going to enjoy it."
"So why aren't you at the baths with your eye pressed against the screens?" Kakashi quipped. Jiraiya shrugged.
"Too far," he said flatly.
"I can't believe him," Iruka's chin was now laying on his hand upon the bar as he contemplated the contents of another glass, "he's so strong now; and not just physically."
"Naruto is not the boy we knew." Kakashi didn't bother asking who Iruka referred to and set aside his fourth empty glass. "He's growing up."
"He's a fine young man now," Gai said heartily. "You should be very proud of him."
"Yeah," Iruka said quietly, "I am." Jiraiya leaned forward, staring into his cup thoughtfully. It was quiet amoung the four for a moment and Jiraiya finally sighed.
"I miss the old Naruto, too."
"You called?" Shizune stuck her head into the office and found Tsunade staring blankly out her window. The pinks and oranges of the dawn sky were clearly visible through the pane and Shizune found the view quite pretty.
"What time is it?" The hokage asked softly. Shizune eyed her master worriedly for a moment. There was a clock of the far wall; all Tsunade had to do was turn her head for her answer.
"It is a quarter passed six," the dark-haired woman answered. She was about to ask the hokage if she was ill when the realizion of why Tsunade acted so strange hit her. "I am certain they have left already." Tsunade said nothing. "Do you regret letting them go?" There was another pause.
"I regretted it the moment I signed the order."
"Green Team." Naruto said softly into his mic.
"In position." Shikamaru's voice came back through the earpiece.
"In position." Kakashi reported.
"In position, leader." Jiraiya sounded.
"All teams ready and waiting." Naruto confirmed.
Naruto glanced back at the two traveling with him; Iruka and Neji. Neji's fingers pressed to his earpiece as he listened to the exchange. Iruka nodded encouragingly.
"Maintain spacing. Don't let your guard down. You know the drill."
"Can we get on with it?" Ino's voice chirped into his ear. Naruto smirked, her voice sounded less perturbed and more teasing. Sakura must have had a good talk with her last night, he gathered. He reached up and touched the bottom hitai-ate on his arm, Hinata's sweet face coming to mind.
I WILL come back. He remembered saying to her. I'll come back to you, Hinata. Wait for me?
She had nodded, a watery smile fighting to stay in place. He had kissed her again, a promise, he had told her, of a future together.
The sobs he had heard at his back once he entered the hallway, though, had broken his heart.
I'll come back, Hinata. he vowed silently. I promise.
"All teams, move out."
Second Chapter done! A lot shorter than the first, I know, but I want to keep things flowing along. Now, who's up for a little violence? (Okay, a lot!) Ya gotta keep reading!
As before, I want to get better, so please leave me reviews with your opinions, suggestions, plot requests or complaints! Thanks!