The Substitute @wasabisugar
Winter Embers

Hey y'all.

Thank you so much for the amount of support on this FanFic. Far more than I was expecting, to be honest! Keep up the reviewing and I'll try my best to get off my ass and start writing more!

Disclaimer: I mean, does anyone actually own anything? I know for sure at least, that I don't own Naruto.

Winter Embers

Hinata's eyes snapped open and she quickly sat up in what turned out to be a futon in a room that wasn't her own. White, smooth walls, a rather large balcony, tilted ceiling and view of the kitchen from the bed - she was not at home.

It was silent, apart from the faint sound of pencil against paper. There was a familiar scent, along with many new ones, but she couldn't quite identify any of it. Her head was spinning uncontrollably, but she remained seated up. Where am I..?

"Mm…" She groaned, placing a hand on her head as if to keep it steady.

"Take it easy." Hinata immediately looked up to see Naruto sitting at a small desk by one of the ceiling windows, writing what appeared to be homework of some sort. His eyes didn't leave the paper as he spoke again. "Your fever hit 41 degrees before we left the school." (Note: 105 degrees F)

"W-where… Am I…" She asked, watching Naruto as he continued to study. When she spoke however, he looked over at her and cast her a warm smile.

"You're at my apartment, remember?"

"What…?"

"We talked about it in the taxi. You asked where we were going and I kept telling you that I had no choice but to bring you to my place. Felt terrible to just drop you off at a hospital after you'd gone out of your way to come to school and write that exam despite how you'd been feeling."

"...Oh…" Hinata's eyes drifted downwards. So I'm at Uzumaki-sensei's apartment… Wait! Am I… Am I in his bed…? She looked down at the futon, laid herself back down and inhaled deeply through her nose. It smells… Like him… Ahh…

"Hey!" Naruto threw himself from his chair and approached her quickly. "Your face is turning red, how are you feeling?!"

"I-it's f-f-i-fi-fine!" She squeezed out in embarrassment. Okay Hinata, calm down! Don't faint!

"You sure..? Your face is completely red..!" Naruto watched her, his brows knitting together in concern. He reached out and placed a hand over her forehead, clearly worried. "Maybe I should take you to the hospital…"

Hinata felt her life force drain from her as his hand pressed down against her skin. Oh my god, if this keeps up, I'm going to faint..!

At the very next moment, she had grabbed his hand and held it a few inches from herself, eyes shut tightly. "I-I'll b-be-be fine! So please… Don't take me to the hospital…"

"... Uh…" She heard his confused voice and instantly realized what she'd done. Silence enveloped the apartment and they remained still more a moment before Hinata quickly released his hand and bowed her head in embarrassment. I… I just… I grabbed him without thinking…

"I-I'm so sorry…" She whispered. Naruto seated himself next to her, a troubled expression on his face. He peered into her eyes as she stared holes through the floor and placed his hands in his lap before speaking.

"No, I'm sorry. I must be stressing you out when you're clearly sick." He leaned back and ran a hand through his hair, letting out a long sigh to calm himself.

"Wh-what time is it…?" She eventually asked, to which Naruto checked his watch and responded:

"Almost midnight." His voice was quiet as he pulled out her phone from his pocket and handed it to her. He was wearing a sweater and a pair of workout shorts that cut off above his knees.

"S-so late…?" She took her phone and unlocked it only to see that it was practically empty from notifications, apart from a few messages from Kiba and snapchats from Sakura and Ino. "I-I'm sorry about this…"

"Has your dad tried to contact you yet?" He asked, ignoring her apology. Hinata's eyes drifted downwards.

"N-not yet…" And he probably won't anytime soon, either. He probably doesn't even know I'm gone. Not even Hanabi has tried to call...

"Well." Naruto looked out at the dark, snowy skies. "I guess there isn't much we can do."

"Huh…?" She looked at him curiously.

"You're welcome to stay here tonight, if that's okay with you." Her eyes widened in shock. Me… Stay over and Uzumaki-sensei's house…? He started to stand up. "I'll take the sofa, you can use my futon."

She watched him as he returned to his workspace, at a loss for words. "Th-thank you…" Where would I be now, if not for him?

He turned to her, a reassuring smile on his lips. "No need to thank me. What kind of person would I be to not help someone in your position?" Hinata's heart sank a little at his words. Of course… It's not because it's me that he offered to let me stay… He would do it for anyone else… But why am I so disappointed about that? I should be happy that he's being so kind. I guess… I just wanted him to be this nice to me…

She grew silent and decided to redirect her attention to her phone. Kiba had asked why she didn't come to tennis practice, while Ino and Sakura seemed to have had a great time together at McDonald's and a karaoke bar in Shibuya. They sent videos of each other singing equally bad and Hinata giggled to herself. Suddenly, her laughter was replaced by shock and she froze.

Wait… I'm in Uzumaki-sensei's apartment! I'm just sitting here, in his bed, looking at snaps as if this is normal! Her heart started to pound in her chest as she took another look around. His kitchen was a complete mess, with instant ramen cups strewn about the countertops as if it was the only thing he ever ate. Her eyes moved on to the living area they were in. It was a simple apartment, with his futon on the floor, a sofa and TV, and a desk with a laptop and enough documents to make one think he must be studying more than English. It smells so nice in here, so much like a home… And his scent is emanating from his futon… I wonder… If I smell like him… She turned beet red and had to take a moment to gather herself.

After a few seconds, she stood to her feet and started making her way out to the balcony. Naruto watched her with a suspicious eye as she carefully opened the door before speaking.

"I doubt going out there when you have a fever is the best idea." He said phlegmatically. Hinata stopped in her tracks and turned to him.

"I-I'm feeling a little better, thanks to your help…" His eyes lit up as if a thought had struck him.

"That reminds me - an old "friend"... Okay, not friend… Well - kind of…" Hinata cocked her head to the side while listening to him debate with himself. "Anyway - someone I sort of care about gave me something that might help." Sort of care about…

He pushed his chair back, pulled a drawer out and picked up a small ceramic bottle that looked to be ancient. He reached out and handed it to her. Hinata looked at it, then quizzically at Naruto.

"Drink it." He probed and Hinata's heart skipped a beat. He… He's acting so casual with me… And he's just sitting in his chair… In leisurely clothes… Looking after me… She suppressed a grin but felt a jolt of excitement in her body as she opened the bottle, a blush quickly spreading across her rosy cheeks. Naruto's curious, blue eyes were on her as she drank the contents and grimaced after finishing.

"Ah…" She coughed several times, trying to rid herself of its flavor. Naruto let out an airy laugh at her reaction.

"Hah! Just what I'd expect from that old man Jiraiya!" He took the bottle from her and inspected it. "It's some kind of medicine. I can't really say what it is, but it worked for me when I was sick."

His smile was so natural, so sincere. Hinata watched him as he seemed deep in thought while looking at the bottle and found herself smiling. At his home, he really looked like a university student, not like her teacher. The gap between them didn't seem so big anymore.

"Thank you, Uzumaki-sensei." She suddenly said.

"For what?" He looked up at her from his seat. Hinata's cheeks flushed and she averted her eyes.

"F-for… Taking ca-care of m-me…" Her voice came out so silent, it was nearly a whisper. "Y-you're genuinely k-kind… And so understanding... And I have you to th-thank for everything… I do-don't know where I'd be… If you hadn't he-helped me today…"

"..." When he didn't answer, Hinata's face grew even redder. What am I saying?! It's almost like I'm confessing to him! I need to calm down, he'd never be interested in someone like me.

"When… When it's just the two of us…" He started hesitantly, and Hinata immediately looked at him. His eyes were averted, and perhaps it was wishful thinking on her end, but it looked like she could see a hint of a blush on his cheeks. "You can just call me by my first name. It feels weird to have you calling me that here." He turned back to his desk and shook his head lightly, allowing his thick blonde hair to fall before his eyes.

"O-oh... " Her eyes widened. His… First name…? "N…." She gulped, holding her hand up to her chest nervously. "Na…"

"Mhmm…" He nodded impatiently, pursing his lips.

"N…" She tried harder, and he nodded encouragingly. "Naru-Naruto…"

"Ye-"

"-Sensei." Just as he was about to nod again, he froze and shut his eyes disapprovingly.

"...No, that's not what I me-" Hinata quickly hid her face in her hands to hide her blush. I said it! I called him by his first name! I'm so happy!

Seeing her sheer excitement from saying so little, Naruto's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Yeah, okay. That works too." He smiled despite himself. "By the way..." He caught her attention again. "It might go without saying, but let's not mention this at school."

Her eyes widened momentarily. "O-oh…" I guess that makes sense...

After that, Hinata stayed awake while Naruto finished his studies and did homework of her own. They didn't talk much, only listened to music and studied. When Hinata slept, Naruto occasionally stole glances in her direction, making sure her fever wasn't getting worse.

Hinata slept over at her teacher's apartment for the first time in her life and made sure it was a memory she'd never forget.


February was upon them, and despite the finals being right around the corner, Hinata could only think about the upcoming Valentine's Day. Of course, that was what was on all the other girls' minds as well.

"So you're feeling better now?" Sakura asked, peering into Hinata's eyes in the classroom. "You were acting so weird yesterday." Hinata nodded for the fifth time, a knowing smile playing upon her lips. Somehow, the witch's serum that Naruto had given her turned out to actually work and the fever was entirely gone the next day.

"By the way Hinata, why weren't you on the train today?" Hinata jumped a little at Ino's inquiry.

"A-ah… I took an e-earlier train today…" She lied, but it seemed convincing enough for Ino. Am I thinking too much about this? She had taken the train from Naruto's apartment, which was a completely different line, but hadn't seen anyone from her class on it. She placed her hands on her cheeks and grinned to herself. I can't believe yesterday happened!

"Hinata!" Kiba called out to her, slamming his bag down on her desk and causing her to jump back in her seat. "Where were you yesterday?!"

"I-I…" Her eyes met with his own, demanding ones. Kiba smacked his hand down on her desk and leaned towards her without breaking eye contact. She could feel his breath of fresh mint cascading upon her face as he spoke. Does he have to come so close…?

"You never miss tennis!"

"I… I-I wasn't… Fe-feeling so well…" She wavered, averting her eyes nervously to the ground.

"You weren't?" He responded, his expression softening. "Oh, I had no idea... How are you now?"

"I-I'm much better, thank you for asking…"

"Kiba likes Hinata!" A guy in the back called out. "Careful not to get too close or he'll kiss ya!"

Sakura looked in the direction of the person who spoke and scowled. "Not this again..."

"Grr…" Kiba growled, balling his hand into a fist, his face turning slightly red at the accusation. "WHO SAID THAT!?"He started walking in the direction of the voice with a spring in his step, ready to pounce. He spotted someone looking guilty and grabbed his collar. "Was it you!?"

"N-No! It was him! I swear!" The guy pointed at someone else, who looked equally guilty.

"Man, guys can be so annoying." Ino scratched the back of her head, watching Kiba jump from person to person. "Can't they just give it a break already?"

Sakura watched Kiba silently, not saying a word.

"Well… Kiba is especially loud, I think…" Hinata said, taking her books out. "He's… Always been like that."

"Good morning." Just then, Naruto entered the classroom and Hinata immediately felt her body heating up. Oh…

"Sensei help!" A boy named Rock Lee who sat at the back of the class yelled out in panic. "Kiba is threatening everyone because someone said he likes Hyuuga-san!"

"Hm?" He cocked a brow, closing the door behind him. "Is that so, Inuzuka?"

Kiba let go of Lee's collar with a huff and turned to face Naruto. "Someone said it, I gotta find out who and beat him the hell up!" Naruto chuckled at his response and made his way towards the front of the class.

"If you have nothing to hide, then you don't need to lose your temper over something like that." Kiba's eyes widened and a deep blush spread out over his cheeks.

"I-I don't like her!" But the guys were already causing the commotion of a lifetime.

"Y-y-y-you stuttered!" One mocked.

"Damn, Kiba got told!"

"It's not like that! Kiba's eyes dropped to the floor as he balled his hands into fists.

"I stand behind that." Sai said, standing to his feet. Kiba looked at him in surprise.

"Sai… Thank y-"

"He's gay. Hinata-san is a girl, so it's not possible."

"Why you little…!" More laughter erupted from the classroom, but even though everyone was just teasing Kiba, Hinata couldn't help but steal a glance at Naruto. When she turned her head, she was surprised to see that he was already looking at her, a serious expression on his face. Hinata gasped and quickly looked away, as did Naruto. How embarrassing! He saw me look at him!

Class started as usual, but Hinata found herself unable to look at him again. I can't believe I've been at his house… Slept in his bed… I wonder if it really even happened…

"He's so cool!" A girl who sat almost next to Hinata whispered to her friend in front of her. "I can't get my eyes off him, and his gorgeous blue eyes…" He really is handsome… But there's just no way that he could ever come to like someone like me… It would never work…


Finally, Valentine's.

"Hinata!" Sakura ran up to Hinata and pulled her into a warm hug. "Happy Valentine's day!" She handed her a box of chocolates from a nearby bakery along with a small card with a flower on it.

"Oh, Sakura…" Hinata smiled happily. "Thank you so much…" When they finished hugging, Hinata pulled her own chocolates out of her bag and handed them to Sakura. "Happy Valentine's."

Sakura beamed. "Wow, you made these yourself?" She took them in her hand and picked one up to eat. "I should've known - you're a great baker!"

"Th-that's not true… I just followed the recipe, really…"

"The one you wrote yourself in our first year of high school?" Hinata blushed and Sakura chuckled. "Come now, you give yourself too little credit." Sakura smiled and patted Hinata's shoulder, only to catch sight of two more bags of chocolates in her school bag. "Who're those for?"

Hinata's blush deepened as she fumbled to shut her back. "Oh… I-I… Uhm…W-well-"

"One for Ino, I'm guessing… So the other one?" A thought seemed to hit her as she finished her sentence, because she quickly followed it up with: "Could it be - Na-ru-to sensei?" She smirked, peering into her nervous friend's wide eyes.

"U-u-uh-uhm… I… U-uhmm…"

"It's fine!" Sakura let out a short laugh. "I'm sure Ino's also got some. I put mine in his letter box outside of his office."

"Y-you too…?" Hinata exhaled a small sigh of relief upon finding out that she wasn't alone in her doing. But… Can we all really like the same guy…?

"Yeah, well…" Sakura's normally assertive tone grew hesitant. "I mean, I like him, but the guy I really like-" She stopped herself. "Nevermind!" She forced laughter and put her long, beautiful pink hair up in a high ponytail. "It's not important." Wait… The guy she really likes?

Hinata picked up Sakura's hands and held them within her own. "Sakura… Who do you really like?" Sakura's expression wavered slightly at her words. She thought for a while, then opened her mouth to speak.

"Well, the truth i-"

"Yaho!" Ino called out, holding two small bags of beautiful chocolates in each hand. "Happy Valentine's, my besties!"

Sakura seemed relieved at her friend's arrival and quickly turned away from Hinata, who remained focused on her. I wonder who Sakura likes… I thought we knew so much about each other…

"Before you ask - I gave Uzumaki-sensei the nicest ones!" Ino giggled mischievously. "I got up at 5 just to be able to pick up the best ones from the bakery!"

"Wow Ino, aren't you something special." Sakura said, snatching the chocolates from her. "How'd you give him your chocolates?"

"I saw him this morning on his way to school and gave them to him then!" Sakura and Hinata gasped.

"Y-you what!" Was all Sakura could say. Ino planted her hands on her hips and laughed triumphantly. "H-how?!"

"I just told you! I was a brave warrior and decided to confront him."

"H-how did he re-respond?" Hinata asked.

"He thanked me - but get this, he already had like 5 bags of chocolate in his hands! So many of them were handmade, too!"

"No way…" Sakura gasped in disbelief.

"Yeah, and I caught him before school! Poor guy's gonna be eating chocolate for the rest of his life at this rate."

While Ino and Sakura continued to talk, Hinata looked into her bag nervously. I wonder if he's even going to notice my chocolates among all the ones he's getting.

"Anyway, where are mine?" Ino held her hands out to both Hinata and Sakura, who smiled in unison as they placed their gifts in her open hands. "Yay!"

"Let's go to class!" Sakura smiled, putting her arms around their shoulders. "Today's gonna be a great day, I can feel it!"

"M-mm…" Hinata responded somewhat hesitantly.

"Hey, Hinata!" She heard a familiar voice from behind her and stopped to turn around. "Mornin'!" Kiba's beaming face lit up the school corridor like the morning sun, blinding Hinata as she turned to him.

"Good morning, Kiba-kun…" She whispered, a small smile spreading across her pink lips. Kiba scratched the back of his head somewhat nervously and chuckled carefully.

"So… Happy Valentine's… I guess?" His voice cracked.. "I-I mean-" He cleared his throat. "Happy Valentine's, Hinata!" Hinata cocked a brow and tilted her head to the side in bewilderment.

"H-happy Valentine's day, K-Kiba-kun…" She found herself blushing for some reason. Why did he come to me just to say that?

"I uhh…" His eyes darted to the side as his hands rested idly at his sides. "I think you left your shoe locker unlocked." Hinata's eyes widened momentarily.

"O-oh..! Thank you for letting me know!" She spun around and hurried down the hall towards the lockers on the first floor.

"Ah, wait!" He tried, but she was out of his sights before his words could reach her. "Damnit…" He mumbled, balling his hands into fists and kicking the wall next to him. "Now I really made it clear…"

"What are you up to?" Ino asked, a judgmental look on her face. "You know she's totally gonna figure you out now, stupid!" Sakura remained silent, looking down the hall where Hinata had ran.

"Hinata..." She mumbled to herself.

At the same moment, Sai and Shino came out from around a corner. "Tactless fool." Sai muttered. "It's obvious now. Even after coming into school early to help you out with what you were gonna say to her, you still managed to mess up."

"I don't need everyone rubbin' it in my face!" Kiba retorted angrily. "It's bad enough knowing it myself…"

"Guys." Shino spoke up. "We're late for class."

"Ah!" They cried in unison. As if on queue, a gentle voice called out from down the hall.

"What are you guys doing out here?" Naruto asked, walking towards them with a few books in his hands. "Class started five minutes ago, didn't you hear the bell?"

"Dammit!" Kiba blurted out. "I'm gonna make Hinata late!" His distressed voice and expression caught Naruto's attention and he almost immediately looked at him.

"What are you talking about?" He asked, his voice slightly annoyed. "Make Hyuuga late?"

"None of your business!" Kiba picked his bag up and started down the hall, but Naruto was quick to catch him, stopping him dead in his tracks by placing a hard hand down on his shoulder.

"Where is she?" His voice was devoid of emotion.

"Dude, I can talk to her!" Kiba persisted, but Naruto looked down at him and their eyes met. Kiba's wide, dark eyes protested anxiously while Naruto's blue depths glared back.

"Where is she." He repeated, this time slightly annoyed. Kiba's eyebrows furrowed sharply, but his body suddenly relaxed and he sighed in defeat.

"She's down by the lockers. I sorta… Told her to go there." He couldn't bring himself to meet Naruto's glare again and instead settled for staring at the ground. "I forgot about the time and, well-"

"Get to class, I'll go get her." Naruto released his grip and everyone but Kiba hurried to class. Kiba gripped his bag tighter as he watched Naruto descend down the hallway, his brows knitted together in frustration. That guy... He's giving me a bad feeling.

When Hinata finally reached her locker, she found herself out of breath from all the running.

"I thought he said it was unlocked…" She spotted her locker, but it was most definitely shut and locked, as she always made sure of before going to class. "I always lock it… I guess Kiba-kun must've mistook it for someone else's…"

Just then, she noticed a letter sticking out from one of the gaps in the edge and although she tried to pull it out, she ended up having to unlock it in order to get the letter out safely.

Eyes cold like winter

You gaze out of the window

I could watch you forever

She raised a brow, a nervous blush developing on her cheeks. It's almost a haiku… Yet the final line has one too few syllables. I wonder… Who wrote it… She placed the letter carefully into her bag and looked into her locker to see if there was anything else. Before she could get anywhere, however, she heard footsteps approaching and her attention was redirected.

"Hinata." Hinata's heart started to pound at the sound of the familiar voice and she straightened herself, turning around to catch sight of Naruto approaching her calmly. Did he just call me... "You're ten minutes late to class." It was then that she noticed that the halls were completely empty and it was just her and Naruto in the corridors.

"O-oh..! Ho-how did I miss that…" She asked herself, clearly confused. Naruto heaved a sigh and threaded a hand through his hair impatiently. His tone is different… Not as kind…

"Just get to class." She tried to turn around to lock her shoe locker, but he was quick to speak again. "Now." His voice was firm and demanded obedience, nothing like the tone he had in class. I wanted to give him his chocolates, but now doesn't seem like the right opportunity… I wonder if i'll get another chance to speak with him today…

She reluctantly left her locker open and hurried to class with the chocolates left in her bag. After she was out of sight, Naruto released a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and walked over to the locker. He caught sight of something inside and took it out to inspect it. He let out a short scoff and shut the locker nonchalantly, walking away with it in hand.

I don't think so, Inuzuka.


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