Chapter 5: Home

Hinata chuckled. Oh, god. She loved her sister to pieces. And Naruto had been adorably grateful to Hanabi. Hinata knew she would never admit it, but she thought her younger sister adored Naruto like an older brother. They'd often teased each other whenever they were together. Either that, or they combined both of their powers to tease Hinata, both competing to see who could make her face redder.

Sakura and Ino heard her chuckle and they both smiled.

"Hmmm? Something you want to share with us, Hinata?" Sakura said.

"I was just thinking of Hanabi," she said. "She's getting even more cheeky than usual. She's so sassy. I guess she's at that stage now, but I have to say that she just seems so much wiser that I am. And she's so bold."

"Oh, your sister's such a cute little thing!" Ino cried, which somehow made the future heir of the Hyuuga clan seem like a plaything, not the efficient killing machine she was becoming. "She is cheeky, though! But she's at the academy now? She'll be graduating soon, right?"

"Yeah, we all have really high hopes for her. I think she's at the top of her class. She's training really hard at home, too."

Home, Hinata thought with anticipation. She couldn't wait to get home.

Three weeks ago, she'd met Naruto just as he was leaving for his mission to Sunagakure, The Village in The Sand.

"Naruto!" she'd called out, panting. She was happy to have caught up to him before he'd left. They were just stepping out of the gates.

Naruto had looked back at her when he heard her call his name. He then turned to Tenten and Lee, his teammates for this mission. "Can I have a minute?"

Tenten grinned. "Sure, it's still early! We'll head off then and you can just catch up when you're done. Bye, Hinata!"

"Ah, Tenten and Lee! Hold on a second," Hinata said. She reached into the bag she was carrying and handed each one a small package. "I made all of you guys lunch. It's a long way to the Sand."

"Oh, thanks Hinata!" Tenten said with a grateful smile. "I love your cooking!"

Lee accepted his with a solemn bow. "Thank you Hinata. I will enjoy it to my utmost."

"Have a safe journey," Hinata called out as they left.

She turned to Naruto, who quickly gave her a hug then a kiss as soon as the two turned their backs. He grinned at her. "You didn't need to come see me off! I saw you last night."

She smiled at him. "I know. But I wanted to see you one last time. It's going to be a while before you're back in the village. I'll miss you."

It prompted Naruto to hug and kiss her again. He didn't want to let go. He sighed into her hair. "Don't do this to me, Hinata. It's hard enough leaving you while we're in Konoha, but to be away from you for weeks…"

He looked into her face as if to memorize her.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But you'll see Gaara again, and that's a good thing. It's been almost a year since you've seen him."

He brightened. "That's true!"

She laughed, "I probably should say the Kazekage. It's not good to be so informal with him."

Naruto grinned. "Nah, he'll be pleased. I think he'd like it more if people weren't so formal around him. I really will be happy to see him again."

But the expression on his face became serious again. "But I hate that it's at the cost of not seeing you."

Her heart skipped a beat, but she kept the smile on her face. "You're very sweet, but I know you were looking forward to seeing him again. I know you'll enjoy your time with him and everyone. You'll forget about me as soon as you guys step foot in Suna."

He looked at her, an expression of disbelief on his face. He glared then shook his head. "Forget you?! Are you crazy? Never! Hinata, you're always in my heart."

Hinata felt her heart squeeze. "I love you," she said as she hugged him.

He sighed deeply. "I know, but not as much as I love you, I think."

He pulled away from the hug, gave her a brief smile, and put his hand into his pocket. He took her hand then placed something in it. He closed his fingers over hers.

"Listen Hinata," Naruto said. "That's the key to my apartment. If you want to use it, you're more than welcome to. I won't be home for two, maybe three weeks, depending on how long the whole training exercises will take, but if you feel the need to escape the stress of home and the clan, it's available for you. No pressure, though. You don't have to. But if you want to use it, do anything you want."

He looked at her for a long moment, then opened his mouth as if to say something more. But then he must have changed his mind because he suddenly shook his head and grinned at her instead.

"I'll be here when you get home. Tell everyone I said hello."

"Okay," he said, then gave her an opened-mouthed kiss. He lingered at her lower lip, nibbling gently before pulling away.

He grinned at Hinata, who was red in the face.

"Something to remember you by," he said mischievously.

She laughed and waved him away as he ran to catch up with Tenten and Lee.

Her face turned solemn as they rounded a corner and disappeared from view. She was already missing him, feeling his absence like the loss of the sun.

And now, here she was, back in Konoha as the girls finally got to the village, tired but excited. She couldn't wait to see him. He'll be back home tonight.

The girls had just passed by the gates, waving to Kotetsu and Izumo, who were forever stationed at the entrance, watching the people go in and out of Konoha.

Sakura, Ino, and Hinata needed to report the results of their mission and were now heading to see Kakashi at the Hokage's office.

He met them at the table with a pleased expression on his face.

"Well done, my fine shinobi!" Kakashi said.

Ino waved the compliment away with a playful flutter of her fingers. "Piece of cake! Next time, give us something more challenging, please, Hokage-sama."

Sakura laughed. Hinata smiled.

The three of them parted right at the doors. Sakura headed to the hospital, forever a medic. She'd heard that her master, Lady Tsunade was in Konoha and wanted to talk to her for a little bit. Ino was tired and was heading straight for her house.

Hinata, meanwhile, didn't go straight to the Hyuuga compound.

She put her hand in her pocket and her fingers closed around the key Naruto had given her. She'd loved having the key to his apartment, to enter it at will, any time she wanted to.

She turned the key and opened the door. A feeling of home enveloped her as she walked in.

A quick shower refreshed her, making her feel like she hadn't been sleepless and tired after her mission with the girls. She found one of Naruto's shirts and put it on over her shorts, breathing in his unique scent. Hinata grinned to herself. She hoped he didn't mind that she'd completely and thoroughly made herself at home in his apartment.

When he'd handed her the key, it looked like he wanted to say something but had held back. She thought she knew what he'd wanted to ask, but she just wasn't sure. Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part, but she thought maybe he'd wanted to ask her to move in with him.

She was uncertain, but she'll find out tonight. Hinata looked at the clock. There was just enough time to whip up some dinner. She opened the fridge and a look of satisfaction set on her face as she saw it bursting with fruits and vegetables. She'd filled it with healthier options, shaking her head when she'd opened it that first time and found nothing but a carton of expired milk.

Hinata took out the vegetables and started cutting, humming to herself as she anticipated his homecoming. She took out the one, single pot he had in his house, filled it with a little bit of water, and placed it on the burning stove.

A few minutes later, Hinata heard the door open and his voice quietly call out, "I'm home," from the doorway. She ran out of the kitchen with her own greeting.

"Welcome back!" she cried out happily and ran out to greet him at his entrance way.

As she approached, though, her steps slowed. She saw the sheen of tears in his eyes.

"Naruto?" she asked. She stopped as he continued to gaze at her.

"I was coming home and saw the lights were on in my apartment. And I was hoping it was you, and then…"

Her eyes filled with tears and her heart twisted, breaking at the sound of his voice.

"Hinata, you're here, " he said in a voice full of emotion. He gave a ragged breath.

"That's the first time anybody's answered me back in this apartment. The first time in my life that anybody's ever said, welcome back."

His tears finally spilled and rolled down his cheeks.

And Hinata ran to him, trying to save him from falling into despair with the strength of her love. He caught her in his arms and he buried his face in her hair, letting his tears fall freely. He inhaled her scent and he gave another jagged sigh as he continued to silently, and openly, weep.

They sank to the floor and she scrambled onto his lap as she continued to hug him, holding him close to her, wishing with all her heart that she could save him from the pain of his lonely past, that she was enough to give him hope and look to the future, to a life they could build together.

She let him cry, not saying a word, even as her own tears spilled from eyes, heart breaking for this lonely man, who'd been alone in this apartment all this time.

She hadn't realized it, and she cursed herself for being so blind.

She couldn't imagine the loneliness. No, she didn't want to imagine it. It hurt too much. At least, there had been people in her life—her family. She'd had Hanabi, who teased her mercilessly as her way of showing adoration. She'd had Neji, who'd been so supportive and encouraging in her battle to get stronger. And her stern father, who'd tried his best to atone for the sins he'd committed against her. Even now, he was doing his best to understand this gentle daughter who didn't have the hardness of the Hyuugas.

No, she'd had people in her life, her family, imperfect as they are. It hadn't been completely empty. Not the way Naruto grew up. She wouldn't be able to completely understand, but she could help him now.

"And I'll be here, Naruto. Everyday. Always."

She felt his arms tighten around her. "I'm leaving home and staying with you. I talked to my family. They understand. I want to move in with you, Naruto. That is, if you'll have me in your home."

"Have you?! God, Hinata, I need you." He hugged her so tight, it stole her breath away.

He looked at her, his beautiful blue eyes yearning for her and bursting with love.

They sat in his entryway, letting the silence envelope them. And Hinata knew this was where she wanted to be, forever in his arms, safe and warm. She would make sure that he would never be lonely again.

He pressed another kiss on her head and then leaned his head back against the wall. He placed a hand over his eyes.

He sniffed, then gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Not very manly of me, crying all over you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," she said, looking up at him. "I love you, and I just wished I'd done this sooner. I don't like the thought of you being by yourself."

"I'm not, not anymore—not since you came into my life. I told you before, you're always in my heart," he said with a grin. "Kind of like Kurama, always there, lurking, never leaving me alone."

Hinata laughed softly as she felt him suddenly jerk back as if being hit. She saw his face twist into a grimace. "Okay, maybe, not like Kurama. You don't hurt me as much."

He was silent for a moment. "But you mean it, Hinata? You'll stay with me? Move in with me?"

She nodded. "I do."

"Thank you."

Another heartfelt, grateful sigh. His arms kept gripping her.

"Oh, God, Hinata. Thank you."

Just then, the smoke alarm suddenly screeched, piercing through the house as black smoke billowed through the entryway.

Hinata jumped up with a shriek, heading for the kitchen. "I forgot to turn off the stove!"

"Hinata!" Naruto scrambled after her, howling, "Don't burn down my apartment!"

Authors Notes:

Thank you so much for reading!

As much as I'm very grateful to Kishimoto for giving me Naruto in my life, I feel like the female characters got shafted so much in the anime. They had so much potential. In the earlier chapters, I wanted to convey the girls' strengths and their capabilities as awesome shinobi. In the later chapters, I wanted to show a different kind of power as Hinata made her choices and took matters into her own gentle hands. I hope I accomplished that. I'd appreciate any feedback!