Waiting with Hope

Face to Face

Chapter Two: Face to Face

The pre-morning mist hung in the still air like a bride's veil, muffling what little sound there would be at this hour to nothing more than a murmur to Hinata's ears. The sun was just beginning to rise, casting a pale glow over the surrounding area, and combined with the quietness and the tendrils of mist condensating on Hinata's skin she felt like she was underwater. Brushing that thought away, she continued focusing on the wide, worn dirt path leading out of the village through the tall gates. She straightened out her back slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position against the tree she was leaning on, just out of sight of the guard post that the sentries manned, but still providing a clear view of the road into Konoha. Despite a combination of the earliness of the day and the nervousness she felt at Naruto's impending return preventing her from getting a wink of sleep that night, she didn't feel tired in the least. She had eventually given sleep up as a lost cause, and decided to go down to the gates to wait for Naruto. She knew it was far too early for him to still be travelling, but it was the only way she could quell the butterflies in her stomach. At very least it would also lessen one of her anxieties: namely, that she would have slept in and missed Naruto's entrance.

A gust of cold air blew past and Hinata shivered slightly, glad that the sun would soon be up. It was surprisingly cold and the mist was making her fringe stick to her forehead. She silently thanked the fact that she had taken a hot thermos of cocoa with her, and took a quick swig, enjoying the way that the sweet drink left a warm trail inside of her as she swallowed. To ward off the chill still further, she thought back to the visit she had made two days ago…

-o-o-

Despite Kiba and Shino both questioning what had happened in the Hokage's office after they had left, Hinata had made sure to only tell one person of Naruto's impending arrival and it was definitely the person she trusted most in the whole world, other than Naruto himself, of course; her jonin sensei, Yuuhi Kurenai. The genjutsu expert hadn't been well enough for active duty recently – she had been complaining of dehydration on the last mission she had been on – so Hinata had decided to pay a visit to her apartment two days ago, to see if she was feeling any better and tell her the good news. Kurenai had certainly looked ill when she had answered the door, with bags under her eyes and slightly untidy hair, but she had been pleased to see her favourite student come to give her company and ushered her in. Hinata noticed a faint, acidic smell lingering in the air and wondered if her sensei had been vomiting, but Kurenai had assured the young Hyuuga girl it was nothing serious and that she was hoping to return to active duty by the end of the week, after being given some time off missions by the Godaime to recuperate from her illness (hence her non-appearance the day before on the mission to capture Tora).

Relieved to hear that her sensei would soon be fully recovered, Hinata been unable to hold her tongue any longer and had told Kurenai the news of Naruto's imminent return in a breathless voice. The red eyed woman laughed at Hinata's obvious enthusiasm but had been genuinely happy for her and didn't fail to notice the way that her student's eyes lit up at just the mention of his name, as well as the way her cheeks pinked under the same circumstances. Though she knew of Naruto's reputation amongst the majority of villagers as an annoying prankster at best and a monstrous demon at worst, Kurenai wasn't quite so blinkered and in her opinion the influence he had on her only female student was certainly a good one in terms of work ethic and determination.

However, the conversation between teacher and pupil was interrupted by a knock on Kurenai's door and, as Kurenai-sensei was still not feeling particularly well, Hinata had gotten up and opened it for her. She didn't know who she had expected to see, but Team Ten's former sensei, Sarutobi Asuma, was certainly not on that list. He looked just as surprised as Hinata, his ever-present cigarette dangling loosely from his mouth, before Kurenai-sensei had asked who was there from her position in the living room, huddled up on the sofa covered in blankets. Hinata, blushed, as did Asuma, who ground out his cigarette and quickly entered, wiping his ninja sandals on the doormat as he did so. The fact that he went into Kurenai-sensei's living room without any direction from her tipped Hinata off that he had evidently visited before and after listening to Asuma and her sensei talk for a few minutes in a very familiar fashion the Hyuuga heiress came to the conclusion that the two must have been in some sort of a relationship. She was thinking of leaving, as she didn't want to intrude on their privacy, when the conversation shifted back to Kurenai's illness and Asuma immediately vowed to deliver her groceries whilst she was unwell. Kurenai's protests that she was well enough to do it herself had fallen on deaf ears, and were swiftly silenced by a kiss on her lips from the bearded man. Asuma had evidently forgotten that Hinata was in the room with them and the shy Hyuuga girl's muffled, "Eep!" from behind her hands made him jump backwards from Kurenai, hastily walk to the door, promise to bring the groceries later that evening and bolt, his face almost as red as Hinata's.

After laughing, Kurenai had explained that, yes, she and Asuma were in a relationship, though he didn't feel particularly comfortable revealing it in public. Despite her embarrassment Hinata had stammered her congratulations, thrilled that her sensei had found someone precious to her that treated her so kindly. As Kurenai wistfully recounted some of the experiences she had shared with Asuma, Hinata wondered whether someday she would be able to reminisce about her memories of Naruto and their life together with her children, then blushed as she thought of the process of making those children with Naruto. 'Well, he does have good stamina…' Hinata's blush deepened.

As Kurenai paused for a moment to grab a box of tissues to blow her nose with, Hinata asked her sensei, in a hesitant voice, what her plans for the future were with Asuma. Kurenai looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. "I don't really know, Hinata. As shinobi of the Leaf, Asuma and I are fully aware of the risks we face and planning too far ahead is difficult when you don't know what the future holds."

"But do you not want to get married someday? Or have children?" Hinata asked, stutter forgotten. She felt absorbed by what they were discussing, though saddened by the fact that the ninja lifestyle that her sensei lived may negatively impact on some of the most important decisions in her life. Kurenai was like a mother figure to her and Hinata wanted her to have the happiness that she deserved. Could her sensei really choose to leave all hopes of one day settling down with a loving family aside to continue her career as a professional kunoichi?

Kurenai smiled, taking hold of Hinata's hands in her own. "Yes, some day I think I would like to. But Hinata," she chided gently, "You don't need to feel pressured by the choices I make. You are a capable kunoichi and a mature, independent young woman now. You know that Kiba, Shino and I would support you in any life changing decisions you make in the future, don't you?"

Hinata felt her eyes tear up at her sensei's kind words. She closed her eyes for a second, to prevent herself from crying, and jumped as she felt her Kurenai-sensei's strong arms envelope her in a soft hug. At this, she couldn't help let the tears flow and Kurenai's arms tightened around her, gently stroking her back with one hand. After what must have been a few minutes of this at least – Hinata had lost track of the time, cradled in the red eyed woman's arms – the long haired jonin finally released her. Hinata had felt like a little girl again in her sensei's embrace, but the safety and security she had felt had been a welcome relief from the highly stressful last few days. All the emotions associated with Naruto's immanent return – fear, joy, worry, hope – had left her feeling strained to her limits and the hug had reduced some of her emotional tension.

"I'm s-sorry, s-sensei," Hinata had choked out, her face stained with tears. "I didn't m-mean to l-lose c-control like that, b-but –"

"It's quite alright, Hinata," Kurenai interrupted firmly. "Now, let's get you cleaned up, hmm?"

With Kurenai's help, Hinata had run a sink of warm water for herself in the bathroom and washed her face free of the salty paths of her tears. The warm water revived her and Kurenai had then offered to brush her now dishevelled hair. Hinata felt very hesitant at first, not wanting to be a burden to her sensei, but the genjutsu mistress had refused to take no for an answer, taking a hairbrush out of a cabinet, guiding Hinata to sit at the dressing table in her bedroom and setting to work. Her sensei's tender ministrations were very relaxing, as she was taking great care to avoid hurting her when the hairbrush got caught in any lugs or tangles, and the remainder of Hinata's worries and fears just seemed to melt away – she felt like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders by the simple emotional and physical contact she had shared. After thanking Kurenai-sensei profusely, which prompted another hug, although without tears this time, Hinata had left her sensei's warm, cosy apartment, feeling very lucky to have people that cared about her so much and looking forward to Naruto's return more than ever.

-o-o-

It was mid-afternoon now and it seemed like a perfect day for Naruto's arrival, a far cry from the bone-chilling cold earlier that morning. The sun was now beaming down brightly, the birds in the trees were chirping merrily and the breeze in the air was gentle and soothing. Hinata could feel her anticipation rising once again, but tried to quell it, at least a little. She had already been disappointed on multiple occasions so far, when she had seen two distant figures, but as they had gotten nearer there was no distinctive grin. No stand-out orange jacket. No sun-kissed blonde hair. No Uzumaki Naruto.

Sighing, she took a bite out of the bento she had hastily packed in preparation for the wait. She didn't want to leave this spot for a moment, not even for something as insignificant as picking up some lunch. If she had planned ahead for waiting here she probably would have brought more with her – she hadn't had breakfast that morning before heading to the village gates to wait for Naruto and still felt rather hungry after finishing her small lunch. Ignoring her stomach, she focused back on the road for any tell-tale signs of the boy she was waiting for.

At times she had been tempted to use her Byakugan eyes to scout ahead, but dismissed the idea almost immediately. It seemed too much like cheating to her and she didn't doubt that Naruto would return that day with one iota of her being. She knew he would come back. He had promised. And she would wait for him, for as long as it took.

-o-o-

The evening sun was beginning to set, leaving blood red streaks across the sky. The sun itself was a vibrant ball of orange, casting long shadows over the road, which Hinata still watched intently over, patiently waiting for any sign of the boy she admired. A squirrel scurried past the Hyuuga girl and she smiled peacefully, giggling at the cute way that its little nose twitched and its bushy tail perked up. In some strange way the squirrel seemed to remind her of Naruto, particularly when it cocked its head inquisitively to the side as it sniffed the air… though that wasn't really saying much; everything reminded her of Naruto.

Hinata turned her back on the small woodland creature, focusing back on the road again, and her breath caught in her throat. Against the dying sunset two figures were walking purposefully and surely towards the village. She willed herself not to let herself get her hopes up only to be disappointed again, but as they got closer and closer the figures, although still blurred by the radiant sunset behind them, looked more and more like Naruto and his sensei with every passing minute. She still wasn't certain – the shorter one on the right, which must have been Naruto (if indeed it was him), was much taller than the boy she remembered leaving the village so long ago, but any remaining traces of doubt were obliterated by a single shout.

"Alright! We're finally home!"

Hinata gasped. The voice was deeper and richer than she remembered, but the childlike enthusiasm was unmistakeable. It could only be one person.

Before she even realised what she was doing, she stepped out from behind the tree and called out, "Naruto-kun!"

She hadn't even registered that she had spoken until the words had already slipped out. What was she thinking? She hadn't planned to actually come out and speak to Naruto, all she had wanted was to see him again after so long without him in her life. Just his physical presence was supposed to be enough for her, but her body had moved like it was a dream.

Hearin her voice, Naruto looked around for its owner, spotting Hinata standing beside a tree with the look of a startled animal about to bolt and a cherry red blush across her face. Naruto cocked his head to the side for a moment, in much the same manner the squirrel had, before his eyes lit up in recognition.

"Ne, Hinata, is that you?"

And Hinata knew, as she gazed up at him with wide, pearly eyes, that her dreams would have a new face in them that night.

Author's Notes: Ok, that's Chapter Two down! First things first, I'd like to say thank you to everyone that took the time to read this story. After posting the first chapter, I didn't have a chance to go online for a day. The day after that I went on my computer, opened my e-mail account and did a double take. I had TWENTY-FIVE e-mails about people reviewing, favouriting, or getting updates from this story. In the space of a single day. That is staggering, and that figure just kept going up! So thank you to all of you (especially helpful reviewers, and especially-especially reviewers that left NaruHina fanfic recommendations, I'll have to keep a look out. I've favourited some of the authors I particularly liked already). On to the chapter notes, this was quite difficult to write, as I tried to get a good balance between the emotional turmoil Hinata is going through at the moment, advancing the plot and building up the anticipation. Next chapter will finally see some interaction between Hinata and Naruto as well, so that should be coolio. In the future there will also be some major fight scenes, though I'm not absolutely certain about the sort of writing style that encapsulates the action best. Personally, I always prefer fights where specific detail is left as minimal as possible and the reader is left to visualise things for themselves, though that's not to say I'm just going to leave it vague and noncommittal, as that would just be stupid. Guess I'll just have to experiment a bit. Any comments would again be appreciated and I promise that I'll at least take them into account. Oh, and a bento is a take-away or home packed meal containing rice, meat and vegetables, stored in a small box. See you next time then, my faithful readers, bye!

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