One Week Later…
Beep! Beep! Beep!
“GAH!” Naruto rolled over quickly and grabbed the alarm clock, his eyes doubling in size as he noticed the hour. “Crap!”
The blond all but threw the electronic back on the nightstand and jumped out of bed, cursing himself for oversleeping. He should have been at the hospital hours ago! Nozomi was getting discharged today, and he knew she wanted him to be there!
It had been rough, trying to entertain an extremely irate cat girl; keeping her temper in check every time she demanded to be released from the cursed hospital. He’d even gone as far as to sleep in the armchair in her hospital room so she wouldn’t feel alone. It wasn’t very comfortable and Naruto got little sleep throughout the week.
Soon Nozomi realized how sleep deprived he was and insisted he go home and sleep in a comfortable bed. Naruto had begrudgingly agreed, knowing she wouldn’t argue about such a subject. He was surprised by the relief he’d felt when his body sank into the mattress. He’d gotten so comfortable that when the alarm went off hours later, he’d hit the snooze button. Again and again. Until it was nearly lunch time.
‘Please don’t be mad.’ Naruto snatched his clothes up off the floor, hurriedly pulling them on and slipped his ninja sandals on. He went in the bathroom and brushed his teeth and splashed some water in his face. When he was ready he burst out the door, nearly forgetting to lock up in his haste.
“Nozo-chan, I’m coming. Please wait for me!”
Nozomi rolled her eyes upward as Tsunade went on about how she needed to be more careful since she now had Kumoraku’s chakra, especially if Kurono’s return was possible, and blah, blah. If that happened she’d likely get hospitalized again, blah, blah, blah.
The brunette frowned, sighing inwardly. Was she ever going to be discharged? Tsunade knew how much she hated hospitals. Why keep her any longer if she’d made a full recovery? She was itching to get up and walk, and she wanted to change her clothes; she was sick of wearing hospital gowns.
‘I want to see Naruto-kun!’ She felt her face warm up as the blond’s face popped into her mind, and her irritation was momentarily calmed. He really had gone above and beyond for her this week. She hoped that his absence was because he was getting much needed rest. She could tolerate that much easier than she could the idea of him at Ichiraku’s. Especially since she’d refused breakfast so she’d be hungry for ramen later when the two of them celebrated.
Nozomi jumped, smiling sheepishly as she realized Tsunade was glaring at her. “Umm….can you repeat that?”
The Hokage folded her arms tightly across her chest and shook her head. “I knew you weren’t paying attention.” She sighed in annoyance. “I SAID we will have to come up with a way to keep your dark side from returning. Until then, you’re free to go if you promise to be careful.”
“Oh…yeah, I didn’t hear any of that.” Nozomi mumbled, ashamedly.
Tsunade fixed the cat girl with a pointed look. “What were you so lost in thought over to have not heard me say you could leave?”
A toothy grin appeared on the brunette’s face as she blushed awkwardly. “Sorry about that! It was nothing, really. I just spaced out, haha!”
“Uh huh…” The blonde haired woman eyed Nozomi critically, not believing her. “So it was Naruto, just as I thought.”
“Th-that’s not true!” Nozomi stammered, feeling her blush deepen. She groaned inwardly, not in the mood for this. She wanted to get out of here already!
“Has anybody ever told you that you’re a terrible liar?” A voice sneered in her mind, and Nozomi blinked, startled as she realized it was Kumoraku. “Sheesh, even I heard the woman!”
‘Not now, Kumoraku...I’m not in the mood for this.’
Nozomi frowned, realizing Tsunade was waiting for her to say something and she sweat dropped. “Um….Thanks for the help this week...I’ve gotta go. Big plans.”
Before the Fifth Hokage could say another word, the brunette scrambled to her feet, snatched up the discharge papers, and darted out of the room.
“Stupid Kumoraku...Tsunade was bad enough- why’d SHE get involved?!” Nozomi grumbled under her breath as she walked through the village. She heaved a sigh and closed her eyes, soaking in the sounds and smells of Konoha. Slowly the stress from before left her body and she relaxed, a small smile settling onto her face. She’d missed this. The excitement and chaos of everyday people in their daily routines. It made her feel much more comfortable than the silence of a cold, lonely hospital room did.
The brunette inhaled deeply, her stomach growling hungrily as she caught the scent of various kinds of foods. It was almost lunch time. She had wanted to find Naruto but she figured she’d be more likely to find him if she went to Ichiraku’s. He always ate lunch there, so she’d just wait there until he showed up.
As the cat girl walked, she would occasionally pause to window shop, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at what was on display in the stores. For as long as she’d lived here, Nozomi had been amazed by the variety Konoha’s shops had to offer. They sold anything; from trinkets, toys and keepsakes to clothing. All sorts of clothing. What usually caught Nozomi’s eye was the dresses. They were so silky and elegant, the brunette didn’t even dare imagine herself in them; they were far too pretty for a ninja, especially one like her.
“They’re really pretty, aren’t they?”
“Yeah…” Nozomi gazed dreamily at a sleeveless gown made of black silk. “If only I could afford one.”
‘Wait a minute.’ The brunette turned, jumping slightly as she locked eyes with her team mate, Sakura. A drop of sweat slipped down the back of her head. “Sakura-chan! What are you doing here?”
The pink haired girl folded her arms, appearing slightly offended. “Well geez, Nozomi-chan, hello to you, too! I heard you were getting out of the hospital today so I came to see you!”
“...Oh.” Her words surprised Nozomi and she frowned, grabbing her jacket sleeve nervously. “Sorry, Sakura-chan. I’m glad to see you, really! You just scared me.” The brunette gave a sheepish, toothy smile. “I didn’t know anybody was watching me. I’m really supposed to be getting lunch but I got…”
“Distracted?” Sakura supplied, smiling as the girl nodded. “That’s normal. It’s easy to get distracted- especially when it comes to such beautiful things!” She glanced in the window at the gowns on display and sighed dreamily. “I’d love to have one…”
“Yeah, me too.” Nozomi smiled, relieved that her friend wasn’t upset with her. It seemed like it had been forever since she’d seen the girl. What was the last thing they’d even talked about? Something about Sakura being in the wedding? Her life had been so busy lately that it was hard to remember.
As if sensing her friend’s thoughts, Sakura brought the subject up. “So...it feels like it’s been a long time since we talked, Nozomi-chan. What have you been up to?” She paused. “What’d you do to land yourself in the hospital this time?”
Something about the tone of her voice made Nozomi grin sheepishly. As much as she hated hospitals, she spent a lot of time in them, and she knew that was what Sakura was getting at.
“Well, you see...it’s a long story…” The brunette heaved a soft sigh, trying to figure out the shortest way to explain just what had happened. Realizing that there WAS no short way to tell such a story, she decided to start at the beginning.
‘I’m here! Please still be there!’ Naruto panted as the hospital came into view and he burst through the doors, calling out, “I’m here to see Nozomi! Where is she?”
All he got was blank stares from the few people in the front room, and he took a small step back, looking around awkwardly. “Wh-what’s going on? Why’s everyone looking at me like that…?”
“Because, Naruto.” Tsunade approached the confused boy, rubbing her temple tiredly. She really hated it when he charged in like this. He was so loud and often startled her patients, as he had done now. “You barged in shouting like a maniac.”
“....Oh.” Naruto turned to look at the Hokage, blushing faintly, and scratched the back of his head sheepishly. He hesitated, unsure what else to say. He doubted it would make much difference if he apologized at this point. “So, um….Where’s Nozo-chan? I promised I’d be here to take her home today.”
To his surprise, the blonde just looked at him, shaking her head. “Sorry, you’re too late. She left about half an hour ago.”
Naruto’s eyes bulged and he groaned. “Whaaat!? Oh man! So then where is she NOW?!”
Tsunade winced, annoyed once more by the loudness of his voice. “INDOOR voice, Naruto!” She reprimanded him, and he apologized sheepishly. “Anyways...I have no idea where Nozomi went, just that she seemed to be in a hurry. Were you two planning anything special today?”
“Something special...hmmm…” Naruto frowned, thinking hard. After a moment, a light bulb went off in his head and he smacked his fist into the palm of his hand. “OH! That’s right!!” He glanced back at Tsunade, who was glaring at him and sweat dropped. “Sorry...anyways, I’ve gotta run...see ya later!” As the words left his mouth, he turned and bolted out the door, nearly knocking over an incoming citizen in his whirlwind exit.
Tsunade stared at the door for a moment before she laughed softly. “They’re so similar...I wonder if he knows how much he’s influenced her.”
Sakura stared at Nozomi in wide eyed shock. If all that had happened since their last get together, she really needed to go see her friends more often! She thought she was busy, what with her medical training under Tsunade and running errands for the woman. However, the story Nozomi had just told her made her feel like her life was just...ordinary. Well, maybe it was in this case. After all, Sakura was no demon host and had never experienced anything like this. She had no way of knowing if maybe this kind of thing wasn’t ordinary for people like Naruto and Nozomi.
It was then that she noticed how quiet Nozomi had gotten and she sweat dropped, realizing she was waiting for her to say something. As badly as she wanted to be able to relate to her friends she'd never truly know what they went through. “Wow, it sounds like a lot happened!” She spoke carefully, remembering Nozomi’s firecracker temper. “A lot that I’ll never fully understand.” It made her heart hurt a little. Once again she could only do the little things for them. The things that everybody else could. This realization made her feel more than a little helpless and she resisted the urge to slam her fist into a wall frustratedly.
“I’ll probably never know how you or Naruto feel, cause I'm not a demon container." Sakura smiled sadly, but it cleared as determination filled her eyes. "But I’m still here for you, Nozomi-chan. You're my teammate and if you ever need help don't hesitate to call on me!" So what if she didn’t understand? She knew deep down in her heart, she’d still do anything she could to try to help them. Even if those things were things that anybody else could do...at least it was better than doing nothing..
If Nozomi’s expression was anything to go by, she’d said the right thing. Or at the very least, she’d avoided offending the girl. Gold eyes were wide and seemed to bore through to her soul as the brunette stared, slightly slack jawed at her. After a minute she snapped out of it and did a double take.
“Sakura-chan...thank you so much.” Nozomi gave a warm smile. “That means so much to me. You know, I used to think that the Hokage messed up putting me on Team 7. I thought Naruto was a weirdo and you guys were too hung up on your last team mate.” The cat girl laughed sheepishly, averting her gaze. “Now that we’ve grown up, I can honestly say I’m glad that you’re my team mate. You and Naruto have really taught me so much about life and about myself.” She smiled dreamily, only to gasp shortly after. “Oh my gosh, that’s right! I was going to meet Naruto-kun!”
Sakura threw her hand over her mouth, stifling a laugh. Times like these made it clear just how much their blond team member had influenced her friend. “Where are you two meeting?” She asked, still fighting back a giggle.
“Well...he was supposed to be at the hospital when I got out but he never showed, so I was hoping to catch him at Ichiraku’s.” Nozomi explained. She raised an eyebrow at her friend. “Hey...what’s so funny?!”
“Nothing, nothing!” Sakura sweat dropped, glancing around Nozomi. “Anyways, let’s get going, I’ll help you find Naruto!”
Before the cat girl could protest, Sakura had grabbed her elbow and ushered her into the crowded streets of Konoha..
Nozomi groaned inwardly at the growling of her stomach. Maybe skipping breakfast hadn’t been such a hot idea. She was starving!
‘It’s ok, we’ll eat soon!’ She promised herself silently. The only response she got was another growl from her impatient stomach and she frowned, walking a little faster. She didn’t remember the walk to Ichiraku’s being so long. Maybe it was because of how hungry she was?
She didn’t have much time to think about it, as she walked past a store only to stop and take a few steps back, looking in the window.
Sakura soon realized she was alone and glanced back at the brunette, confused. “Why’d you stop?”
Nozomi could only point at the window display, her eyes wide in awe. “There!” She sputtered. In a blur of green and black, the kunoichi was in the shop, grabbing up the items that had caught her interest.
Sakura blinked, looking at the spot that her friend had been standing in just seconds ago. What was that all about? Her question was answered as she saw the window display that had caught her friend’s eye and she laughed softly. Oh. So that was what she’d seen. It all made perfect sense now.
“Oh, Nozomi…” She shook her head and folded her arms, watching in amusement as her friend bought the stuff that had caught her eye. “Hurry up already!” She tapped her foot impatiently as the minutes ticked by. What was taking her so long? “Nozomi-chan!”
A few long minutes passed before the brunette emerged from the shop, a bag tightly clutched in her hand. “Sorry, I just had to..” She said sheepishly as she noticed the rather put out look on her friend’s face.
Sakura just nodded. “I take it you’ll want to change before meeting Naruto now, right?”
When the cat girl nodded she smiled a little wider and shrugged. “Alright then. For whatever reason you were in there for a while, so I’ll just let you go so no more time is wasted. See you later!” Stepping back, the pink haired girl gave a wave. “It was nice talking to you again!”
“Yeah it was...I’ll see you later!” Nozomi gave a wave of her own before turning and disappearing in another blur of green.
Several moments later, Nozomi stood at home, scrutinizing her appearance in the bathroom mirror as she zipped up her new hoodie. It stopped just a few inches below her bust, and aside from the sleeves, which were black, the whole thing was green, like her previous jacket. As an afterthought, she’d paid more to have an orange swirl stitched on the right sleeve, identical to the Uzumaki crest Naruto wore.
Instead of her normal green and black skirt, she had slipped into the orange skirt she’d surprised Naruto with on his birthday. She’d traded her netting for a black tank top that poked out from beneath her hoodie, and a pair of black shorts that stopped at her knees.
She’d even changed her shoes, switching the ninja sandals for a pair of green and black ninja shoes that stopped just below her kneecaps. Last but not least, the Konoha headband was no longer on her tail, but tied securely to her forehead.
Nozomi smiled. She looked...different. After all she’d been through, she felt different too; her outlook on life had been changed so dramatically. Surely this new appearance would allow her friends to see such a change. She only hoped that Naruto would like it. Especially since much of the new look had been done with him in mind. She hoped she’d be able to find him soon. Despite having seen him the day before, she missed her fiance.
The brunette gave herself one last examination in the mirror before deciding she was good to go, and she left the bathroom, turning off the light.
Nozomi jumped, startled at the voice and glanced around, gasping as she spotted Naruto sitting on the couch. He looked just as surprised as she felt.
Before she could stop herself, the brunette pointed at him accusingly. “You--you’ve been there this whole time?!” She sputtered, disbelief on her face. “How? How come I didn’t sense you?! Were you hiding?”
“What?! No way!” Naruto’s blue eyes were wide as he jumped to his feet, hands out in front of him in protest as he shook his head vigorously. “I was out looking for you...I just got here a few minutes ago!”
“...Oh. I see.” Nozomi glanced at the floor, feeling silly. That made sense. She really needed to just let him explain himself instead of jumping to conclusions all the time. Though she’d been so surprised to see him, she couldn’t help herself!
“Heh…” A hush fell over the pair as Naruto approached the cat girl, his eyes roaming over her body rapidly. “Nozo-chan...what are you wearing…?” He spoke softly.
The way he was looking at her made Nozomi nervous but she wouldn’t let herself back away from him. ‘The OLD Nozomi got worked up and did things like that...I can’t be that girl anymore!’ She reminded herself silently, biting her lip gently. She flipped her hair out in a showy manner, giving a flirty smile. “It’s..just a new look I thought I’d try...do you like it?”
Naruto hesitated. She really looked different. Could it be...because he’d called her clothing provocative? He swallowed softly, giving a slight nod of his head. “It’s really nice, Nozo-chan. You look really...different.” He broke off. The last thing he wanted was to upset the girl, but he really did wonder why she’d made such a dramatic change to her appearance.
Nozomi tilted her head at him, smiling softly. “Well...I feel different...and I want everybody to know.” She shifted a little so he could see her right sleeve and Naruto inhaled softly.
It was hard to miss. Aside from the color, it was a perfect replica of the Uzumaki crest on his jacket. His eyes filled with tears of pride as he nodded quietly, a smile stretching his features. “I see that.” A thought hit him and he frowned slightly. “So...no more netting then?”
Nozomi bit back a giggle. He’d almost sounded sad! She snickered softly. “Not anytime soon, Naruto. Maybe when we’re married.” She gave a teasing wink, causing the boy to pout.
“...Oh. Okay.” Now Naruto was sure of it. She’d ditched her old look because of how he’d behaved. Now he’d done it- there would be no more netting...at least, as she’d said, not until they were married.
His eyes widened as her words fully sunk in and he looked at the brunette, surprised. Wait a minute. His ears perked up in surprise. “You just mentioned us being married, didn’t you?” Without waiting for a response, he continued on. “I don’t get it, you HATE talking about that stuff- I can’t even get you to discuss the wedding so--what’s going on? Are you teasing me Nozo-chan?!”
The look on his face was too much and Nozomi couldn’t control the laughter that tumbled from her mouth as she hugged her sides for support. “Yeah, I know...No, I’m not trying to tease you.” She waited until she’d calmed down to say anything else. “The old Nozomi didn’t like the idea of commitment beyond dating and she avoided marital discussion...but....” She paused, looking for the right words. “The new Nozomi wants to be more open minded. She’s really going to try, so just..give her a chance, okay?”
The smile on Naruto’s face widened as he realized what she was saying, and he nodded slowly. “Okay...I get it.” He felt his heart soar as he once again looked her over from head to toe. She’d really done all this...for him? "I love the new look."
Carefully he reached out and touched the orange symbol on her sleeve, marvelling at the accuracy to his. He felt an overwhelming surge of pride rush through him. She’d truly come to terms with their future together, and had taken up the Uzumaki clan symbol to let everybody know. It really wasn't like her, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't like it.
Though, at the same time, Naruto couldn’t help feeling a little bit guilty. She’d seemed perfectly fine with her old outfit before. Even if they were engaged and living under the same roof, she’d lost so much of her freedom to him already...Did he really have the right to tell her how she could and couldn’t dress around him? On top of that, he was still feeling bad about the whole situation with Kurono before. If he hadn’t gone and upset her so much, the whole thing would’ve never happened to begin with.
Maybe it was the way his smile began to fade as he stared at her, or maybe it was the complete silence. Either way, Nozomi could tell he was troubled. How? She didn’t know. She just knew him. “Naruto-kun?” She rested a hand on his shoulder gently. “What’s wrong? You look down.”
He did? Naruto snapped out of his thoughts in surprise. Without realizing it, his face mirrored the way he was feeling; his regretful, guilty feelings; his wish to go back and do things differently so his kitten wouldn’t have had to suffer so much pain in the past week. “Oh, well...it’s just..” He sighed and gave a sheepish look, trailing off. Of course she would be able to tell something was off with him. He should expect nothing less of his fiancee, right?
“What is it, Naruto?” Nozomi urged him, her eyes dulling with concern.
The blond inhaled and exhaled heavily, closing his eyes as he lowered his head. “I guess...I just still feel bad about what happened before.” He paused briefly. “It’s because I kept such a stupid secret that Kurono came out, and I almost lost you!” There was another pause as he struggled to regain his composure. “Then when you came back you were in so much pain...you should really hate me for everything I made you go through...but instead you’ve gone and changed your entire look, for me.” The boy sighed heavily, fox ears drooping. “I just don’t know if I deserve all that.”
“Naruto-kun..is that what this is all about?” The brunette’s eyes grew warm with understanding. “Don’t you realize that if it weren’t for you I would be gone? It’s because you gave me hope and reason to survive that I was able to overcome Kurono to begin with...if ANYBODY deserves my loyalty it’s you.” She beamed at him, smiling so hard that her fangs poked out from under her lips as she placed her hand on his chin, gently tilting his head back so he looked her in the eye. “Also...if you really feel that responsible for what happened...then we’ll just make a promise to one another.”
“Hmm?” Naruto frowned, curiosity getting the better of him. “What kind of promise?”
“Let’s promise right now not to keep secrets from each other.” Nozomi retracted her hand from his shoulder, still smiling. “Sound good?”
Relief flooded Naruto at her words and he pulled her into a tight hug, unable to contain his happiness. “You got it, Nozo-chan.”
The brunette was tense in his arms for a few seconds before he felt her melt into his embrace and he beamed happily. She really was serious about being more open minded. He rested his face in the space between her shoulder and neck, inhaling her scent deeply. “I’ll never keep another secret from you again, I promise.”
Nozomi wrapped her arms around his middle, giving a tight squeeze and sighing happily. “I promise you the same thing, Naruto-kun. So long as I live, I’ll never keep another secret from you again.”
“Really? Nozomi not acting mysterious?” Naruto smirked, raising his head to look at her. “That’s something I gotta see!”
“Oh you!” Nozomi rolled her eyes, resisting the urge to smack him. It was true, as private of a person as she tended to be, it would be a challenge for her to change her secretive behavior. Still, she was going to give it her best. She’d promised him, after all, and while she was and had been many things, a liar was not one of those things.
The cat girl shook her thoughts away as she heard Naruto’s voice and she looked at him. “Yes?”
“I love you.”
She had no chance to voice her reciprocation, as that moment his lips found hers in the sweetest of kisses and again she felt herself melt into his warmth.
She kissed him back, moving slow until they had found a rhythm that worked for them. She may not have had a chance to say it directly, but Nozomi knew her embrace would tell him how she felt about him. He was her heart and soul, her savior from the darkness. He was her everything...and she’d give everything just to stay with him in this moment.