CHAPTER 1 – Stalker

The Godaime's affection for him as if he were her own son, is already a fact known across the village since he was 13. It is therefore expected of him to attend her birthday party even though he has been, in the past years after the fourth Shinobi war, withdrawing into himself more and more. It is an unfortunate happenstance, especially to the Godaime, as he has always been a bright ray of sunshine, positively impulsive, gregarious, generally the most unpredictable and kind-hearted ninja the Leaf has ever had in his generation. He was able to plough through the fourth war, holding on to these traits and his strong sense of camaraderie, signature brashness and bravery. The Godaime's heart is full, seeing him tonight here – not only to attend her special day, but also to take some quality time for himself.

"It has been a week – are you finally settled into your new place?" the Godaime asked after taking a quick swig of her sake. It feels good to freely indulge in her favorite past time, compared to sneaking in a few gulps here and there at work. And workdays can be long, unfortunately for her frequently parched throat. She could not wait for retirement. If only she could pull this blond, good looking brat out from her Anbu force, to fully concentrate on his Hokage training. Unfortunately, he is her most skilled ninja, aside from Sasuke who currently patrols the outer borders of the village, with success rates currently unparalleled.

"Not really…yet…hopefully soon or at least before you throw in another long mission for the team" replied the spiky blond who is also her Anbu Commander. His cerulean blue eyes bored, despite the effort for his smile to reach them. His sole point of interest this evening, a certain blue haired Hyuga, suddenly moved out of his peripheral view, leaving him wanting…waiting…cold…abandoned. All of a sudden, the party started to suffocate him albeit he hid it well.

"Sorry kid…I'm afraid you'll have to get everything organized faster in between missions", the Godaime's eyebrows twitched in slight irritation. Only this brat would have the audacity to somehow blame her for his apparent lack of interest in domesticity. "…your team departs this midnight…make sure you're sober by then, so you don't spend more time than is necessary to get back to me with that scroll and intel. I expect you back in 3 days tops."

"Jeez baachan!" his deep, attractive voice could not hide the whine and slight irritation towards his demanding superior, drawing from the Godaime fond memories of him when he was an obnoxiously bratty teenager.

"…it's as if I don't have good control of my alcohol unlike someone I know and…" he didn't expect the Godaime to suddenly smack him upside the head – he is a fully grown up man, for fuck's sake!

"Stop calling me that name baki! How many times do I have to smack you to remember?" growled the inebriated big-breasted, blond. "Now go have fun with your friends – Kami knows you need to take that stick up your ass, out once in a while!", she smirked then added "get laid, smell the flowers and whatever it is you young people do".

"Cut it out baachan!" a dusting of red tinted his cheeks, "who says I'm not having fun? And stop insinuating stuff about my sex life!" his whine more pronounced, but the twinkle in his eyes making his slight amusement obvious. Tsunade is the closest thing he has for a parent, and she would always have a special place in his heart. His fondness and respect for her has grown through the years and he could deny her almost nothing despite both their flaws and, numerous disagreements. He now was many times over stronger and more feared than her, being the nine-tailed Jinchuriki and, the current Hero of the Shinobi world - yet she will always be his precious baachan, who can smack him upside the head anytime she displeases him.

Making a hasty exit while waving his hand to his "grandma" as he fondly calls her since his teens, his cerulean gaze started to seek the blue haired Hyuga's whereabouts, leaving the noise of his friends and comrades behind. The party was still at full swing and nobody seems to have noticed his sudden departure, aside from an insect loving Anbu – his always observant, quiet, and weird subordinate, Shino. Black tinted glasses followed the tall blond as the latter silently made for the exit, apparently looking for something or someone. He finds it unusual for his normally cold and nonchalant Commander, seemingly trying hard to hide his quite unsettled façade – obviously frustrated at something or, someone. Interesting. Curious black glasses followed the black clad blond Anbu Commander until the latter disappeared from his sight.

"Baachan can really be troublesome lately…I don't know why I put up with her sometimes", he thought while quickly scanning the surroundings for blue hair or a whiff of lavender and vanilla. "Now where could she have gone to?" his sigh was irate and impatient. "The only time I expected her to stay put, mingle, have fun…I just couldn't catch a break…Kami, she's fuckin' testing my sanity!"

One can almost hear the screech of the soles of the whiskered Anbu Commander's on-duty boots, as he tried to duck and hide his physical presence – he was pretty confident his chakra suppression skills are top notch – when the blue haired Hyuga made a sudden turn towards the quieter part of the village.

At 23, though still kindhearted, brave, and loyal, he had significantly mellowed down and unknown to almost everyone, except perhaps his most inner circle, hollowed out. He is relentlessly in pursuit of strength despite being already the strongest in the village, and quite possibly the entire Shinobi world, with perhaps only Sasuke to stand toe to toe against him in battle. As the future Hokage, he has seriously taken it upon himself to be strong enough to protect his beloved village, with wearing the Hokage hat his ultimate dream…that is aside from…

"Hinata", a masculine deep voice disrupted the blond's silent musing and slowly piqued his curiosity.

"Toneri", the soft yet confident feminine voice replied. "Good evening. Fancy seeing you at this time of the evening…" her warm smile, an automatic reaction for someone of her pedigree, especially in conversing with business associates of the clan, stirred something within the whiskered blond's chest. Something he loathed to put a name to at this time.

"I take it you just finished the meeting with my father?", she asked while slowly flipping her long silky blue locks away from her shoulder, with elegant feminine fingers.

The action eliciting an alluring smile from the white-haired male, as it has given him a rather pleasant view of her exquisite visage as she further straightened her back and looked up to him with lavender tinged pearl eyes, that seemed to glitter in the moonlight.

"As a matter of fact, yes, I just did. Dinner was excellent as usual. Your father's skills as a host and business acumen always exceeds expectations", Toneri replied with much enthusiasm, that surprised even himself. The Hyuga woman under the pale moonlight, is quite a sight he would not mind seeing again and again. "Are you on your way back home Hinata?" he added, hoping he would have a chance to glance upon her soft and exquisite face longer, by walking her home.

"Thank you for your kind words Toneri…ummm…actually no…" she replied quite uncomfortably, yet politely. She originally intended to quietly slip away from the Godaime's party and have a peaceful and relaxing time at the onsen, after returning from her mission this afternoon.

Elegant, pink, unstained plump lips opened, then closed hesitantly. She thought about explaining to him, if only in a few unexciting words, of her intention, but held out on the last second, thinking that she owes him no explanation at all. He is but an acquaintance, a business associate at most, with her being the Hyuga heiress. At 20 years of age, she matured into an exquisite, shy yet confident woman who knows and acts the station that she was born into.

"Then I bid you good evening Hinata…", Toneri said politely, pale blue eyes slightly hinting disappointment. He bowed his head elegantly and continued his way to his hotel.

"Good evening", long blue locks cascaded back onto her shoulders as she bowed to the handsome white- haired man and likewise continued walking, feeling relieved and at the same time impatient to reach the onsen for her well-deserved bath and relaxation.

All throughout the polite exchange between the blue haired Hyuga and the solicitous pale gentleman, the Anbu Commander was fuming in the shadows.

"I can smell his intention from a mile away…" his thoughts almost screaming. "…is there more to this casual conversation than meets the eye?", cerulean blues shining with annoyance "…it hardly matters…or does it?". Self-doubt, which is an alien emotion to him, rearing its ugly head at this inopportune time. The irregular heaving of his chest, an unusual physical manifestation of the inner turmoil, that is Uzumaki Naruto right now. Strong masculine hands covered his whiskered face, while he closed his eyes in frustration. It will stop tonight. He promised himself with conviction – not realizing how irrational or, possibly obsessed, he sounded.

He was tired of this game, of her game. Tired of playing the field, hoping that some hot-blooded female out there, would likewise set his blood on fire – all the while subconsciously waiting for the lavender eyed beauty to approach or show effort for him to notice her. Yes, he was at fault for being stupid and oblivious to the then, pretty lavender-eyed Hyuga's feelings for him – despite her confession during Pain's attack, and all the adorable stutters and blushes she always seem to find herself in, whenever he was around. There was just too much going on at that time, for a mere teenager to handle – more so for someone like him, who has never known any form of love, aside from ramen, being an orphan from birth.

"I am a fighter, not a lover!" – an inside joke he would share with Kurama, his demon tenant and friend, whenever loneliness would catch up to him lately. And lately, the cold and loneliness would always creep up on him at the most unexpected moments – conveniently whenever the gentle heiress is around – during mission briefings in baachan's office, where, as Anbu Commander, he would usually be standing by the Godaime's side; or on the road on his trips to the grocery store during his days off; or like tonight, during intimate parties where the legendary Konoha 12 were all gathered.

Golden iris opened, with its trademark horizontal slits and surrounding orange tint that stretches near his temples. Activating sage mode, the whiskered blond locked on to Hinata's location – the onsen – as the beautiful Hyuga was being handed her hotel room keys, the room number not escaping the sage's keen eyesight.

"At last! A well-deserved good night's sleep after a trip to the onsen later!", the lavender eyed Hyuga whispered contentedly to herself. "No boys, no old men, no missions for another week!", she exclaimed cheerfully while taking off her Jounin vest, walking towards the king size bed, then throwing herself into its comfortable embrace. Life is good. Today was a relatively good day as well – except for that rather awkward exchange with the handsome Toneri. But yes, life is still good. She closed her eyes, underestimated her fatigue, and dozed off.