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It's No Secret

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Chapter 1: A Familiar Face, A Familiar Feeling

 

“Oi, Hinata!” a bold voice called her from up ahead.

“It’s good to see you again.” A deep voice followed.

“Kiba-kun! Shino-kun!” Hinata rushed over to her best friends since childhood. After exchanging a warm hug with Shino and enduring a particularly rough squeeze from Kiba, Hinata beamed up at the two who had always made sure to keep in contact with her throughout her time away. “Thank you for waiting for me at the gate!”

“Ah, it’s no problem! We couldn’t leave ya hangin’,” Kiba broadly smiled.

“Kiba is right. We wouldn’t make you go around alone on the first day. The reason is that we're your friends,” Shino explained.

Hinata felt the nerves that had built up over the past week melt away with their words of assurance. Even after spending five years abroad in Moon Kingdom with only a few trips back home to Konoha, she had managed to maintain a relationship with Kiba and Shino, who were like brothers to her.

Walking through Konoha High School together, the three caught up with each other since the last time they had met up.  Hinata admired the architecture of her new school as they headed across freshly cut grass lawns. KHS wasn’t considered the most prestigious and established school in the nation for nothing. Tall trees spread their limbs wide, providing dappled shade across walkways. The rounded, white-plastered buildings rose from the ground, blending with the trees, their roofs a charming, warm oak. Students bustled through the hallways, and bursts of laughter rung out as students rowdily greeted each other after a long summer break. Soon Hinata found herself approaching a group of such teens.

A pink-haired girl hit a blond boy on top the head with no reserves.

“Ahhhh, owww Sakura-chan!” he whined.

A long-haired blonde laughed, while a dark-haired boy who looked like an idol singer turned away as if he didn’t know them.

“Jeez, seriously, Naruto, it hasn’t even been 5 minutes into senior year. Give me a break!” The pinkette accentuated her words with a threatening fist.

Kiba grinned at the scene. “Hey guys! Look who we have with us!” he loudly announced.

Hinata felt her cheeks color as all eyes turned towards them. She forgot to breathe when ocean blue eyes met her own. It was him. She would never forget him. Not in a million years. Memories flashed by of the times she had talked to him, which mostly ended in her fainting. But not this time. Hinata exhaled. Five years of practiced grace in the Moon Kingdom didn’t go to waste after all. “Hello,” she offered shyly.

Intelligent, green eyes squinted at her in recognition. “Hinata? Is that you?”

She nodded. “Sakura-san, it’s nice to see you again.”

“Ehhhhhh!!! Hinata! Oh my gosh! It’s been forever! How have you been? Where have you been? Oh my gosh! How many years has it been? Woah! Oh my gosh! You’re looking great!” Ino gushed excitedly.

Students heading past curiously looked there way, making Hinata feel more self-conscious.

“Yes, it’s been 5 years. You look good, too, Ino-san!”

“Ohhh, you remember me! And no need for honorifics! We’re friends! Ah, Sai, Shion, you guys don’t know Hinata! Hinata, this is Sai. Sai, Hinata. You two will get along great. And Hinata, this is Shion. Shion, Hinata. Both of you are like birds of a feather. Super nice people. Ah! Hinata went to elementary school with us but left before intermediate school. You...went to the Moon Kingdom - is that right? That’s right, right?” Hinata only had a brief moment to nod her head. “Yes, I knew it. Shikamaru, Choji, Naruto, Sasuke-kun, you guys remember Hinata, right? Ahh, Hinata, we have to catch up. What’s your class sched-”

“‘Sup, Hinata. Long time no see,” Shikamaru lazily cut Ino off.

Choji began politely, “Hello, Hinata. It’s nice to see you aga-”

“OH HINATA! Yeah, ‘course I remember you! Long time no see!” His bright words and huge smile directed right at her was like the sun pouring warmth straight into her veins.

She had almost, only almost, forgotten what it was like to be in his presence.

The dark haired boy nodded in her direction. “Long time no see.”

“Shikamaru-san, Choji-san, Naruto-kun, Sasuke-san, it’s nice to see you all again,” Hinata nodded and shyly smiled.

Kiba smirked proudly and Shino gave a small smile as they watched Hinata reintegrate herself into Konoha life.

 

Students crowded into the auditorium for the start-of-year assembly.

“Hey, Hinata, Kiba, Shino, over here. We’re sitting over here,” Sakura motioned them over.

Sliding into the cushioned chairs next to Sakura, Hinata glanced around the large room, but didn’t see the person she was hoping to see.

“Looking for the idiot? You’ll see him,” Kiba grinned knowingly at her.

Hinata scrunched her face up in embarrassment of being caught so soon. “I-I wasn’t looking for anyone in particular.” Hinata clapped her hands over her mouth. A stutter?! She hadn’t stuttered in years!

Kiba smiled deviously at her, and all Hinata could do was shut her eyes in an attempt to will the embarrassing moment away. Thankfully Sakura had been engaged in some deep gossip with Ino for the entire exchange. The last thing Hinata wanted was everyone to know she still harboured feelings for him.

Not long after, four students walked onto the stage. Chatter died down as attention turned to a tall, blond boy at the mic.

“Welcome, Konoha High School students to a new year! We are your Student Council. My name is Naruto Uzumaki, and I am your Student Council President. We have so much in store for you all, better look forward to it! Together we will make this year the most epic year yet!!”

Students clapped and cheered loudly in approval at his infectious positive attitude. Hinata watched in awe as he continued his welcoming speech. His words, although simple compared to the formal speeches she had grown accustomed to hearing in the Moon Kingdom, somehow could affect his audience so much more powerfully. Familiar admiration bubbled up within her as she watched the animated blonde close up his speech on a more serious note.

“We each hold the Will of Fire within us! Remember to represent yourself, this school we call home, and this family we have in each other with pride and carry an undying passion for the pursuit of knowledge to make this world better than it is today. Let’s have a great year, everybody!”

As he headed off the stage to bring the school headmaster, everyone clapped and cheered for his motivating speech.

“Can you believe that knucklehead is our Student Council President?” Sakura snickered to Hinata as the assembly ended. “Who would have thought he could be so eloquent? The last time you saw him, he was just screwing around everyday.”

Hinata gave her a confused look. She had always known he could do it. She had always seen the leader in him. “Naruto-kun has always been a serious kind of guy, though, hasn’t he?”

Now Sakura gave her the confused look. “Are we talking about the same Naruto? Ugh, Hinata, you are still too nice for your own good. If you get too close to him, the stupid will rub off on you, you know,” she smiled cheekily and laughed. “I’m just kidding. Or not,” she then frowned and dramatically sighed. “He’s still an idiot sometimes. It’s like one moment he seems like he’s grown up. And then the next it’s like he’s just...urrrgggg.” Sakura gestured dramatically as if to wring an imaginary neck.

Hinata gave an amused smile at Sakura’s dramatics. “He’s not that bad, is he?”

“Ah well, you’ve always been understanding,” Sakura tilted her head as if to observe the workings that make up someone like Hinata. “Where’re you going now? Can I see your schedule?”

They took out their class schedules to compare. “Oooh yes! We have Calc together with Kurenai-sensei!” Sakura cheered.

“And Bio with Aoba-sensei!” Hinata added. “Oh, wow, Sakura, you’re taking Chemistry, too?”

“Oh, yeah,” she brushed it off as if it wasn’t a big deal to take both at the same time. “I couldn’t decide which one to take, so I just decided to do both and cut my language elective out.”

“Ooooo, are you guys comparing schedules? Let me see!” Ino cut in and ran her eyes down their lists. “Ew. You both are gross. It’s your senior year! How can you enjoy life if you’re only taking AP classes?”

“What are you taking, Ino?” Hinata asked.

“Fun classes, of course! I’m especially looking forward to creative writing and psychology! I’ll be psychoanalyzing you, Hinata, mwahahaha. Get all your secrets from the last five years figured out with just one look at you.”

“I don’t have any secrets, Ino.”

“Mhmmm. That’s what they all say.”

Laughing and talking, the girls headed out ready to begin their first day of a year that was sure to be eventful.

Chapter Text

“So next week Monday Teams 3 and 4, you have your debate on the Uchiha v. Senju decision.  Everyone, this weekend your homework is to read pages 87 through 121. Be ready for our discussion on the differences of government formation between republics like Fire Country and monarchies like the Moon Kingdom.”

 

“Seriously, Kakashi-sensei assigns too much homework.  I thought this was supposed to be the easiest AP class!  Doesn’t he know we have other classes, too?!” Kiba complained as they hung around outside of their AP Government class.

“...Well we did have last weekend, too, to prepare for our debate,” Hinata considered.

“Yeah, but I had two soccer games last weekend.”

“You have soccer every weekend, don’t you?”  

“Exactly!  There’s never any time!”

But now we have to do all of our preparation this weekend since you didn’t want to meet last weekend , Hinata mused.  Instead, she smiled and said, “You’re too busy.”    

“You’re busy, too, Hinata, but you never complain.  How do you do it?” Kiba sighed.

Hinata gave a pained smile and said, “I’d just rather get the work done, I guess.”

 

“Hey, thanks for waiting, guys.  I couldn’t get the extension,” Naruto said as he stepped out of the door.

“Ugh I was counting on you, Prez!” Kiba moaned.

“Hmm, let’s figure out when we can meet?” Hinata asked.

“Yeah, how about tomorrow morning?” Naruto suggested.

“Hinata’s usually busy on Saturdays and I have soccer on Sunday,” Kiba said, answering for Hinata.

Hinata looked up at Kiba and nodded, secretly avoiding eye contact with Naruto.

“Uhhh, I guess that leaves night times?  How about now? School’s over.” Naruto asked.

“Now?!  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a slave-driver like Kakashi-sensei!”  Kiba blanched at the thought of not having a break after a long week of school.

“Hey!  Don’t compare me to that old perv!” Naruto argued.

The two glared aggressively at each other until they heard a soft giggle float up between them.  

“You guys talk like Kakashi-sensei’s the worst.  He seems nice to me.”

“Of course he’s nice to you!  You’re nice, and everyone’s nice to you!” Kiba laughed with Hinata.

“Oh.  I don’t know about that.”  Hinata lightly blushed.

“Don’t you have to ask your dad for permission to hang out after school?” Kiba questioned.

“Hm, yes, I will.  I’m sure he will be fine with it.  It’s for school, and he knows you.”

“Woah, woah, I have Hyuga Dad-approval?  Yes!” Kiba comically punched his fist up in the air.

As Hinata laughed at Kiba’s continued jokes about her family, Naruto watched their interaction, wondering at their closeness.  

“Kiba-kun, stop!  He’s not so bad.  And shhhh, I’m going to call right now.”

Kiba continued to do silent impersonations of her father as Hinata stifled her laugh.

A slight cold, uncomfortable sensation began to creep up on Naruto, a feeling that rarely reared its face.  But before he could begin to grasp at its distant familiarity, he noticed Hinata shyly looking his way.

“My dad said okay, so I can stay after school.”  Hinata smiled, warmth spreading through her at verbally confirming the news that she would get to spend time with Naruto.  

“Alright, cool!” Naruto grinned widely.  “I need to go to my locker to put stuff away.  Meet you guys at the library?”

“Yeah, we’ll meet you there!” Kiba affirmed.

Naruto abruptly turned around as Kiba put a hand on Hinata’s shoulder to steer her towards the library.  Not fast enough, however, for Hinata to not notice the disconcerted look on her crush’s face.

“What’s wrong with Naruto-kun?” Hinata quietly asked Kiba when he was a safe distance away.

“Huh was something wrong?  Maybe he’s stressed about stuff.  We all are.” Kiba shrugged.

 

By the time Naruto entered the library, he had figured something out.  He felt like a third wheel around them. Unsurprisingly, Hinata was silently giggling at Kiba’s antics as they sat across from each other at a work table.   First Sasuke and Sakura, and now this.  Well, they aren’t actually together now, but they will be once Sasuke gets his act together.  And at least I’m best friends with them. I don’t know Kiba as well. And I hardly know Hinata . Steeling himself for a long, uncomfortable afternoon, he greeted them with his best smile.

“Sorry to make you guys wait.”

“Yeah, took you long enough,” Kiba joked.  

Hinata vigorously shook her head in disagreement.

“Shut up, Kiba.” Naruto lightly punched Kiba’s arm and smiled when he saw Hinata quietly laughing.  “First, let’s figure out the reasons Tobirama Senju wanted the police force to remain with the Uchiha.”

“This would be so much easier if we were on the Uchiha’s side,” Kiba complained.

“Yeah…” Hinata quietly agreed.  “But, we can still win the debate if we are more prepared than the other team.”

“And we will be!  I won’t let you guys down,” Naruto confidently declared.

“You said the same thing when you asked Kakashi-sensei for the extension,” Kiba pointed out.

“Uh.”

Hinata giggled.  “It’s okay, Naruto-kun.  We’ll work hard, too.  Right, Kiba-kun?” Hinata smiled sweetly at the brown-haired boy.

“Of course, of course.  I can’t have you and Naruto take all the credit,” Kiba quickly defended himself at Hinata’s quiet jab.

 

After an hour of productive discussion on how to break down roles and research, Kiba stood up.  “I gotta go bathroom. I’ll be back.”

Silence fell as Naruto and Hinata quietly did their research.  Hinata comfortably worked in the silence, but Naruto’s nerves picked up as he subconsciously compared the moment to when he had first entered the library and seen them.

“Sooo how do you like Konoha High School?”

Hinata looked up from her book, seemingly surprised that he would speak to her.  He noticed her cheeks turn pink, and wondered why she was so shy around him but not Kiba.

“Oh, I like it a lot,” Hinata quietly answered.  She softly smiled. “Everyone’s so nice here. The school is beautiful, and we do a lot of funny things, like Spirit Week.  My old school didn’t have events like that.”

“Oh yeah, Spirit Week was hilarious.”  Naruto grinned at her. “Remember Rent-A-Senior Day?  Sasuke got so many bids. I think like over half the funds raised were from all the girls who wanted him.”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah, Sasuke was so mad.  He had to carry Ino’s cousin’s books around all day.  He hated it!” Naruto quietly cracked up.

“Why is he so popular?” Hinata let herself wonder aloud.  It didn’t really make sense to her.

“Right, though?!” Naruto raised his voice and then quickly calmed down when he remembered he was in a library.  “Finally a girl who gets it.” He slowly nodded, looking directly at Hinata as if seeing her for the first time.        

She squirmed inwardly under his gaze.  To not let the conversation die, she added, “Sasuke-san seems so introverted.”   He’s also not that nice from what I remember in elementary school .          

“Right?  He’s not even a nice guy!”  

“Uhh, well,” Hinata turned her gaze up as if to think about it.  She didn’t like to say mean things about people, but she had to agree.  She shyly turned her head down and gave the slightest nod.

Feeling victorious, Naruto smirked.  “You don’t have to hide it, Hinata. You can say what you think.  It’s only me. I don’t judge.” He raised his hands up to emphasize his words.

Hearing him say her name so casually, Hinata blushed again.  She looked up timidly at Naruto and opened her mouth as if to say something, but then Kiba seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

“Don’t know who you guys are talking about, but if you’re trying to get Hinata to say something bad about someone else, you might as well give up.  This girl’s a saint.”

“Hm.” Naruto shortly responded giving Hinata a knowing look.

“What, she actually said something bad about someone else??”  Kiba looked in shock between the two of them. “What, was it about me?”

“Wha- I, no.  No, Kiba-kun, not you, never you!”  Hinata calmed Kiba down with eyes wide in realization at what she had revealed to Naruto in that tiny moment, a snippet of her true thoughts.

“Phew...wait.  Then who?” Kiba dramatically turned to Naruto, his hand unconsciously pushing their forgotten books towards the edge of the table.  “I have to know who it is. Who does Hinata hate?”

“Well…” Naruto glanced at Hinata, who was looking at him with the most puppy-dog eyes he had ever seen.  “I don’t think she hates him.  Uhh.” His chest tightened at the adorable look she was giving him.  He couldn’t handle the pressure. “Why are you asking me?? Ask Hinata!”  

Hinata’s face flattened back out to a happy smile.  Naruto realized he had somehow been played.

“Argh, Hinata’s not going to tell me.  Look at that!” Kiba gestured to Hinata’s happy smile, which was directed toward a book as she read a page, as if in blissful ignorance.  “Fine. Fine. Be that way. Dang it! Shouldn’t have gone to the bathroom,” Kiba muttered as he got back to work.

Amused, Naruto looked at Hinata curiously, in no small wonder of her unexpected playfulness.  Hinata looked up at Naruto and sent a grateful smile his way. Naruto shyly smiled back, a fuzzy feeling settling at the bottom of his chest before turning to his own work.  

Cheeks coloring, she bit her lip and looked down again.   Naruto-kun is...so cute.  Ah, I can’t stop it. These feelings .  Hinata pressed her hands against her cheeks to try to suppress the warmth that spread across them.

 

        

 

We will be closing in 10 minutes.  Again, we will be closing in 10 minutes.  Please bring books to check out to the circulation desk.  We will be closing in 10 minutes.

 

“Ahhhh, man, we were here for so long!” Kiba stood, stretching out his arms and back.

“I think we got a lot done.  Do you guys think we need to meet again?” Naruto asked, looking to his group members.

“I would feel better if we did,” Hinata said, unsure.

“Oh, naw man.  We’ll be fine. Let’s just do a video chat or something on Sunday night,” Kiba suggested.

“Yeah, good idea!  Is that okay with you, Hinata?”  Naruto turned to the bluenette.

“Oh, yes, that’s fine.”

“Well, I have both your numbers.  Do you two have each others’ numbers?” Kiba asked with pretend innocence.  His deviousness was not lost on Hinata, and she resisted the urge to swat at him.

“Hey, yeah, let me get your phone number.”  Naruto pulled out his phone.

“Um, it’s…” Hinata stepped up to him and gave him her details.  Kiba watched on in silent approval.

“I’m calling you.” Naruto turned his eyes up from his phone, and was slightly startled to meet her pearl gaze.   Her eyes...she used to get teased for their color...

“Oh!  Let me take out my phone.  Yup, got it.” Hinata waved her phone up to show him.  “Thank you, Naruto-kun.”

“Yeah.”  Naruto broke out of his memories and scratched the back of his head.  “Talk to you guys on Sunday? Around 8:30 okay?”

“Yep, sounds good,” Kiba confirmed.  

Hinata nodded her head with a smile.

Naruto found himself looking forward to Sunday.

 

***

“Sorry, guys.  I think I have bad connection tonight.”  Kiba’s face appeared on the screen after dropping out of the call for the third time.  “But I think I’m good on my--” Kiba exited the call again.

Naruto sighed.  “I hope he is. Does he actually do his work, Hinata?  I don’t know him as well as you do.”

“Um, yes, he gets pretty good grades.  Since he’s the heir to the Inuzuka Pet Hospital, he actually does try to work hard.”

“Hm, alright.  I’ll trust you on that.  It’s weird that he suggested video chatting if he doesn’t have the Internet connection at home to do it.”  

Hinata’s and Naruto’s phones buzzed with an apology text from Kiba.  

“Yeah, it’s too bad.”  Hinata actually had a good idea as to what was really going on.  She had video chatted with Kiba and Shino while in the Moon Kingdom numerous times.  At this moment, she was sure Kiba was tapping his fingers together in glee at his evil plans to set the two of them up.

After going over for a last time their arguments and counter-arguments, Naruto broached their previous topic again.  “How come you didn’t want me to tell Kiba?”

“Oh.”  

Even through the screen, Naruto could see her rising blush.  A heavy weight pressed against him for a moment. “Do you like him?”  The question popped out so suddenly, and Naruto desperately wanted to take it back.   I’m not so close to her I can just ask her questions like that!  He quickly reasoned, “So you don’t want him to think badly of you?”

Unexpectedly, Hinata’s face was so blank, that “surprise” would really be the only way to describe it.

“I don’t like Kiba-kun like that!”  Hinata started to laugh. “And he doesn’t think of me that way either.  We wouldn’t like it like that.”

Hinata laughed so freely, Naruto started to feel silly for asking such a question.  As she continued to giggle, he grew defensive. “How do you know he doesn’t like you?  You guys seem pretty close.”

“Oh, believe me, he doesn’t.”

“How do you know for sure?”

Hinata stopped laughing and looked at Naruto through her phone.  What could she say? That Kiba knows who she likes? That he likes to play Cupid for her?  Was this her moment to confess? Hinata backpedaled on that thought and shook her head. “I don’t know what to say to convince you.  But we know each other well enough to know that that’s not how it is between us.”

Naruto understood the conviction in her words and again, felt silly.  “Uh, sorry to press it.”

“Oh no, I guess I can see how you misunderstood.  Kiba-kun’s kind of a hands-on guy.”

A breath of a moment passed before Naruto continued.  “So why were you so against me telling Kiba that you think Sasuke’s mean?”

Hinata looked away and blushed.   She’s...weird , Naruto concluded.

“Well, you’re right that I don’t want people to think badly of me,” Hinata started.  Especially you .  “I try not to think badly of anyone.  And I do my best to not complain about others.”

“It’s not wrong to sometimes complain, though.”

“Yes.  I don’t really think it’s wrong of others to complain.  It’s just conditioned in me, I guess. After my mother passed away, I didn’t want my father to worry about me.  I didn’t want him to think he was a bad parent. So I never complained.”

“Your mother passed away?  I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Mhm, it was...an accident.  And it was years ago. As a family, we’re fine now.  I have too much to be thankful for, so I won’t complain.”  Hinata smiled.

Naruto felt troubled.  He hadn’t expected a reason like that.  And the way she said “accident” made him think that it wasn’t.  He itched to know more, but decided against pushing it.

“Don’t feel bad about it, Naruto-kun.  It’s not something that I hide necessarily.”

He gave her a half-smile.  “I kind of understand what you mean.  We got in a car accident with a drunk driver.  I’ve lived with my godfather ever since.” Naruto realized as he spoke that this wasn’t something he had even explicitly told Sakura.  Not that he had been hiding it. It just never came up whenever they hung out. “I like how you think about it. You’re right that there’s ‘too much to be thankful for’ to complain.”

Hinata gave him a small smile.  A moment passed again. “My mother actually died because of me.  I remember some man I recognized started talking to me at the park.  I took his hand and he picked me up. I didn’t realize he was trying to kidnap me.  My mother chased after the man into the street. They were both hit by a truck. I was thrown to the side, so I was okay in the end.”

Naruto didn’t say anything.  He didn’t know what to say.

In his silence, Hinata began to wonder if she overshared and felt self-conscious.  “Sorry to say so much-”

“No, don’t be sorry.  Thanks for telling me.  I..actually wanted to know.  I just didn’t know what to say… It’s not your fault, Hinata, you know that right?” Naruto said, finding his voice again.

“Yes, I know,” Hinata said with a small smile.  

“I’m glad you lived.”

Hinata smiled more happily.  “Thanks... I’m glad you lived, too.”

“So, I guess, we have something in common,” Naruto said awkwardly.

Hinata laughed.  “I guess so. It’s kind of a morbid thing to have in common.”

Naruto’s low laugh in response warmed Hinata.  “Then we better find something else in common.”

“Hmm, we both take AP Government?” Hinata offered.

“Ehhh, yeahh, I guess, that wasn’t what I had in mind.”  Naruto laughed some more. The weight of their previous topic lifted with Hinata’s surface-level suggestion.

“You know, we both also take AP Calculus, we’re just not in the same class,” Hinata suggested again.

Naruto laughed harder and then groaned.  “Ugh, that class was such a mistake for me.  I need so much help.” Naruto face-palmed and ran his hand through his blond locks.  

“I can help you if you like.”  Hinata wondered where this confidence was flowing from.  Just last week she had hardly spoken to him. Now it was as if he knew almost her whole life story.

“Really?  You’ll help me?  Sakura-chan tells me I need to try on my own first.  I am trying.  And stupid Sasuke just says I’m stupid.”

Hinata smiled warmly at him.  “You’re not stupid, Naruto-kun.  And yes, I can help you. We could do our homework together?  Our classes move at the same pace.”

“Ahh Hinata, you really are a saint.  You’re nice to everyone,” Naruto echoed Kiba’s words from before.

“I don’t know why you guys say that.  It’s not true.” Hinata laughed.

“It’s true.”

Something about the way Naruto looked at her made Hinata melt inside.  “You’re nice, too, Naruto-kun. You used to stand up to the bullies.”

“You remember that?”  Naruto bashfully scratched behind his head and looked everywhere but at her.  “Wooooah it’s 10:20 already!”

“Eh?  Oh yeah!  You’re right.  Wow.”

We were talking for a long time , they simultaneously thought.

“Then, good night, Naruto-kun.  Good luck to us tomorrow!”

“Yeah, have a good night, Hinata.  We’re gonna kill it!”

Reluctantly, they ended the call.  

Hinata squealed a little at getting closer to her crush, but quickly sobered up.   It’s not going to lead anywhere.    

Naruto softly smiled at his phone.  Anticipation for tomorrow bubbled within him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Friendly Arguments

 

“Alright, let’s get started,” the stylish white-haired man began, as he leaned back in his chair and pulled out a questionable orange paperback.  “Teams 3 and 4, please take your places at the tables. Very good. As you all should know, Uchiha v. Senju was a court case that ultimately changed the very social fabric of Fire Country.  It completely abolished the clans system. Team 3 will be representing the Uchiha side. Team 4 will be representing the Senju side. We will begin with each side giving their respective arguments.  We will then have our rebuttals and summaries. Team 3, take the floor.” The teacher promptly opened his own book.

By 2nd Quarter, no one was surprised by their teacher’s supposed nonchalance.  They all knew he was meticulously watching them. It turned out he was a hard grader.

 

Team 3 made the expected convincing arguments.  The Uchiha were being manipulated by the government, and were marginalized for their role of discipline.  There was no autonomy to achieve anything greater out of the clan for the individual. No Uchiha clan member could attain real roles of leadership in government as long as they ultimately controlled the police.  There was no system for checks and balances if clans had sole authority over certain aspects of society, particularly in sectors of justice.

As Team 3 continued, everyone in the room agreed.  Growing up in a democratic society, how could anyone not agree with these statements that seemed obvious now?  

Naruto could feel the air in the room turning against them before they had even had a chance to speak their part.  He still felt confident, but wondered how his own team members were holding up. He was surprised to see general unconcern in Kiba’s posture.  Kiba noticed Naruto’s look of confusion and nodded his head to gesture toward Hinata on his other side. Naruto looked over at Hinata and was even more surprised.  Hinata sat poised. Her eyes revealed nothing other than cool attention. Her hands were folded on the table, her aura emanating calm, bordering on apathy. Naruto looked at Kiba again, slightly more confused.  

He mouthed, “You’ll see.  She’s boss.”

Naruto sat back in his chair, reinvested in the Senju’s cause.  Come their time, they presented, just as rehearsed, the Senju argument.  The country had been founded on family principles, and had been founded on the agreement between clans.  Relationships across families were meant to be replicated down to the format of society. Everyone has their role in society to play, and if everyone knows their part, society can run smoothly.  Clan pride upholds the highest standards.

 

Finally the rebuttal.  Everyone in the class knew that this was the real test in the debate.  The first part just showed if you did your research. Here was where the real debate began.  Naruto’s blood ran a little faster as his adrenaline picked up.

A lanky boy on Team 3 reemphasized, “In a clans-run society, there is no one to hold the clans accountable for their decisions.  Rather than decisions made for the good of the society, clans make decisions that are for their own benefit. A society such as this will tear itself apart.  Rather than coming together as our founders Madara Uchiha and Hashirama Senju hoped, clans wield power that will invariably isolate the sectors of society. For Fire Country to be united as our founders envisioned, clans will have to become secondary to national identity.”

There it was.  The argument that ultimately swayed the court.

Naruto and Kiba glanced at Hinata as she stood and began as rehearsed, “A clans-run society will not tear itself apart.  Clans hold each other accountable due to the nature of reliance between providing goods and services for each other. Clans specialize in their role and are easily able to find solutions for the difficulties of their trade.”  Head tilted up, she continued eloquently, “Each clan understands to the very core of their history the role they play in society, the importance of their role, and upholds fair and just standards for the sake of their name.”

As she gave her rebuttal, Hinata realized she was defending more than just the Senju’s case.  Standing taller, a final argument dawned on her. “Hashirama Senju emphasized allying with neighboring countries, and his successor Tobirama Senju continued his legacy.  The allyships Tobirama Senju forged during his time as Hokage are instrumental in providing these checks and balances you say are lacking. As the leader and role model in country formation between clans that were once at war, we are under watch by our neighboring countries.  Just as we have assisted in settling affairs in Wind Country, like in the Kazekage Assassination Affair, other nations have authority to question any incidents here. We rely on our allies to provide insight and support on our government and systems, just as we are watching them.”  Hinata spoke clearly, calmly reflecting on her current relationship with the Moon Kingdom. “Our system is not broken, so it does not require fixing. Hashirama Senju appropriately laid the foundations for our clans-based society with checks on power running across national lines. It is with this reliance on other nations that we have attained peace.  It is our duty to continue the vision he and Madara Uchiha laid in their initial agreement with pride in our lineage and history.” Hinata exhaled softly, holding her head high. This was her duty, her responsibility to Fire Country and to the Moon Kingdom, to the Celestial Crown to which she would in a not-so-distant future swear her loyalty. Most days she felt trapped by the path laid before her, but voicing aloud the role ingrained into her for the past five years reinstated her loyalty to her Hyuga name, her clan.  She sat down.

 

I thought she was shy, but she’s...actually… “Dang, Hinata,” Naruto quietly voiced in stunned appreciation.

Kiba nodded at her, impressed.  “I knew you’d be awesome, but that was awesome.”

Hinata blinked, breaking from her reflection.  

“And that’s it.”  Kakashi-sensei shut his book and tucked it away.  “Team 4, that was a well-done rebuttal that I have not heard before in all my time here at Konoha, but it is exactly how modern monarchies function today.  Good job connecting the reading assignment for today’s discussion to your debate.”




“It was definitely entirely thanks to you we won the debate,” Naruto emphatically said for the third time after class ended.  

“We all did it together,” Hinata insisted, adamantly burying her face in her hands as they walked down the hall.   

“No, no, Hinata.  Don’t be like that.”  Kiba tried to pry her hands away from her face, Hinata panicked and swayed into Naruto, and the trio made a bumbling mess amongst the other students in the busy passing period.  Kiba stopped abruptly in front of her, causing annoyed traffic behind them. He bent down to look her in the eye, smirked at her now modest demeanor compared to her debate persona, and nodded at Naruto.  “I had no idea you guys came up with an argument like that, but I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the Student Council President and Fire Country’s only teenage foreign ambassador!”

“I actually had no idea that was a part of the plan, either,” Naruto said, waving both his hands to emphasize that he had no part in Hinata’s genius.  He turned to look at the flustered girl between them. “Did you come up with that on the spot? And what’s this about being a foreign ambassador??”

Kiba crossed his arms and nodded his head like a proud parent as they finally continued and headed down the stairs.  “Hinata won’t brag about it, but I can for her!”

“Kiba-kun!  You don’t-” she interjected.

“She knows all about foreign relation policies!  She can fluently read the Tensei Language, which all of the Moon Kingdom’s old texts are written in-”

“Kiba-kun!  Sto-”

“and she hosts all foreign dignitaries from the Moon Kingdom, so whenever someone important comes here, she’s the one to show them around,”

“You don’t need to-”  

“Oh, hey Shino!  I’m telling Naruto all about Hinata’s grand accomplishments on the international stage!”

“Yes, Naruto.  Hinata is well-versed in politics.  The reason is that she is the heir to the Hyuga clan, who are related to the Otsutsuki Clan of the Moon Kingdom.”

“Shino-kun!”  Hinata nearly yelled, as she felt pressed on all sides.

“I don’t really know anything about the Moon Kingdom.  Who are the Otsutsukis?” Naruto asked in genuine curiosity.

“Enough!  Enough! Stop it already!  You guys!”

“Oh, let me tell you about them, Naruto.”  Kiba continued with seemingly innocent obliviousness.  “The Otsutsu-mmmf”

Hinata covered his mouth with her hand with a chiding look.

“Please continue, Shino,” Naruto encouraged, a sadistic glint in his eye.

Hinata quickly covered Shino’s mouth, too, and looked at Naruto with disbelief.  “You guys are making a big deal about me when it’s nothing!”

Naruto began cracking up as Kiba and Shino wrestled the struggling Hinata’s hands away from their faces, until a swift chop came down on his head.  He didn’t even have to turn around to know who it was. “Owwwwwww!! Sakura-chan! What the-”

“THE BELL IS ABOUT TO RING.  What are you still doing here?!  Your Physics class is across campus!”  

“Oh crap.”

“Better run like hell!” Sakura forced him to take a few steps down toward the exit.

“Hey, Naruto, we’ll sing more of Hinata’s praises later!” Kiba called, laughing.

Hinata had a pleading, defeated look on her face.

Naruto considered Hinata’s expression for a fraction of a second and grinned.  “Yeah, this is not the end of it!” Naruto laughed as he took another unwilling step.  

“You’ve already got two tardies!” Sakura scolded and pushed him hard.  Naruto jumped down several stairs into a sprint. She sighed and shook her head.  “Seriously, if he’s not careful...I mean, who’s ever heard of a council member serving detention?  He only needs two more!”

“Wow, Sakura, you know his whole class schedule?” Kiba asked in amazement.

“Believe me.  It’s not because I wanted to know.  The idiot doesn’t watch out for himself.  C’mon Hinata, let’s go to Calc.”

Relieved with Sakura’s well-timed arrival, Hinata quickly took to her side.



“Hinata!”  Naruto’s beaming smile appeared on her phone screen.

“Good evening, Naruto-kun.” Hinata replied as calmly as she could, but she couldn’t help the smile that lit up her face.  

“Thanks again for agreeing to help me with Calculus,” Naruto sheepishly said.  Noticing her bare arms, which were usually covered with a light sweater during the day, and her change of clothes, he wondered aloud, “You weren’t going to go to bed already, were you?  I’m not bothering you, am I?”

“Oh, no.  I have Gentle Fist practice at night, so afterwards I always shower and change right away.”  Hinata covered her Tshirt-clad shoulders self-consciously, wondering if she should have worn something nicer after all.  “And you are definitely not a bother! I want to help.” She said it so sincerely, Naruto knew she was genuine.

“Gentle Fist, huh.  You must be tired, then.”

“I’m okay...I’m used to having practice.”  Hinata peered at Naruto in her screen. “Naruto-kun, you’re the one who looks tired.”  Despite his usual cheerfulness, she could make out slight wrinkles in his forehead, as if he was forcing his eyes to stay open.

“Me, tired?  That’s not a thing!” Naruto confidently stated.  

Hinata giggled.  Naruto’s energy was refreshing.  Most of their peers complained about how tired and busy they were, and were always trying to best each other on who was the most loaded with extracurriculars and difficult classes.

“If you’re not tired, then I’m not tired, either.”

Naruto grinned at her for a moment, then turned to business.  “So, I tried the first problem, and I think I got it right. Can you look at my graph?” Naruto turned his phone to face his paper.

“Yes, that’s what I got.”

“Phew.  Okay, but for the second one I was totally lost.  What does the negative sign here make it do? And then which part do I start with?”

Naruto listened intently to Hinata’s explanations.  As he did the second half of the problems on his own, Hinata worked on readings.

“Aaaah, Hinataaaaa.”  After an hour of productive work, Naruto stretched back in his chair.  Checking he got her attention first, he then flipped his phone to face his paper.  “Can you check my work?”

“Mhm...Mhm...Mhm.  Yup...Looks good, Naruto-kun!”

“YES!”  Naruto held his phone high above his head.  “Thank you, Hinata!”

Hinata laughed and smiled warmly.  “You did the work, Naruto-kun. I didn’t do anything.”

“This is the first time I got all my problems right all semester!  So, Hinata, take the credit!”

“Well, that’s hoping I got all my problems right, and I didn’t teach it to you incorrectly.”

“Even so, you just spent an hour on me.”

“Oh, it’s nothing.  I did homework, too.”

Naruto stared at her for an extended moment.  He wasn’t used to this. If it were Sakura, she’d be ordering him to get on his knees and bow to her with the utmost gratitude.  If it were Sasuke, he’d be gloating at his ineptitude.

“Hinata…”

“Hm?”

“Hinaataaaa.”

“...Naruto-kun?”

“TAKE THE CREDIT!”

Hinata flinched a little at his sudden scolding.  She tilted her face away and blushed. “But I really didn’t do anything.”

Naruto shook his head and sighed.  “Well, thank you, Hinata. Even if you don’t think you helped, you really did.”  

Hinata gave him a small smile.  “If I can help you even just a little, I’m happy.  I know you’re a part of all these different committees and you’re on the Judo and Wrestling teams, too.  You do so much for the school, so I’m happy to support you.”

Naruto felt warm.  A mixture of embarrassment and pleasure at her recognition filled him, and he didn’t know what to do with it.  He scratched the back of his head and looked down. “I don’t do so much. It’s all team efforts.”

Hinata giggled.  “See, Naruto-kun, you’re the same.  Take the credit.”

Naruto looked up and gave a crooked smile at the irony.  “Heh, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

The two looked at each other smiling, each absorbing the peaceful energy.  

“Ah.”  Naruto broke the silence awkwardly in realization that he had been staring at her.  “I better let you go. It’s pretty late.”

“Will you be able to go to sleep soon?” Hinata shyly asked.

“Pretty soon.  I have a couple more stuff to work on.”  

“Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Yeah.  Thanks again, Hinata.”

“Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

She smiled.

His screen turned blank.  In the silence that seemed to suddenly permeate his bedroom, Naruto wondered about Hinata.  She was so different, and she made him feel different.  He felt...relaxed with her.  



Naruto spotted long blue hair in the crowd of students.  “Hey, Hinata!” Seeing the small girl turn to look around, he smiled and ran up to her.

“Naruto-kun!” she breathed in surprise.  A smile spread across her face at the sight of the huge grin on his.

“I just took my math test and I think I did pretty well.”

“Oh, that’s great!”

“Yeah, I probably made some mistakes, but I felt like I knew what to do.”

“Well, we’ve been working hard on the homework every night.”

Naruto flashed a mischeivous smile at her.  “Yeah, it’s thanks to you if I do well!”

Hinata gathered her courage and met his gaze with just the slightest blush.  “You know I don’t agree with that. You’re the one doing the work.”

“And you’re helping me.”  Naruto crossed his arms, ready for the argument.

Hinata continued, “But in the end, it’s up to you.”

“But you’re the one checking my work.”

“No, no.  Take the credit for your own work, Naruto-kun.”  Hinata shot a sly smile at him.

“YOU take the credit, Hinata.”  Naruto gave an expectant look at her.  

“No, you.”

“You.”

“I really think this one’s for you.”

“You know, I really think this is thanks to you.”

They laughed at the fake argument they have had almost every night for the past month as they made their way to their group’s lunch area.

Hinata stopped and looked at him.  “I really am glad, though, Naruto-kun.  I hope you did well!”

Naruto smiled.  “Thanks, Hinata.  You’ve been helping me so much, I want to do well.”

Hinata squinted her eyes at his comment and just shook her head, unwilling to get into another “argument.”  Naruto watched as she turned, her attention caught by something Kiba and Shino were doing. She took a step toward them and quietly giggled at whatever she had seen.  Naruto followed her as she neared Shino.

“Hinata, really, thank you.”  He watched her eyes flick back up to him and her smile grow.

“It’s no problem at all.  You know I enjoy our calls.”

Something inside Naruto swelled at her words.  They gave a small wave to each other and Naruto left her side to join Sakura and Sasuke.  Despite eating lunch in the same area, the size of their group of friends forced them to make smaller cliques, and everyone was accustomed to eating with certain people.  

“You look stupid.”

“What the hell, Sasuke?” Whatever glow Naruto had carried in him was quickly extinguished at his best friend’s words.

Sasuke didn’t explain himself, and Naruto filled his silence with his own words.  “Sakura-chan, did you hear that? I don’t know what you see in this guy. I don’t even know what I see in this guy.  How do you have friends?”

Sakura smirked, knowing exactly what Sasuke was talking about.  “Hinata’s been helping you with math, right?”

“Huh?  Yeah, she has.” Naruto was slightly taken aback by the seemingly sudden change of topic.  “She helps me every night. Unlike some best friends , Hinata’s nice .  She doesn’t call me names or hit me for no reason.  I should hang out with her, instead.” Naruto pointedly looked in her direction and couldn’t help but notice how happy they all looked.  He scratched the back of his head and turned his attention back toward his own friends.

What greeted his eyes was a view of Sakura’s fist.  “What, Naruto?? I do so much for you! I have saved you from your stupidity countless times and this is the thanks I get?   I printed your report last week at the library when your printer supposedly broke and you woke up late!   I gave our homeroom teacher so many excuses about you having Student Council work in the mornings so that you won’t be marked tardy!”

Naruto backtracked quickly.  “Ahh Sakura-chan, you know I appreciate you!  And my printer really was broken last week! And I actually do have Student Council meetings in the mornings sometimes!  Really, really. You’re the best!”

As Naruto pleaded with her to calm down, Sasuke just muttered, “Moron.”  

“What, Sasuke?  I get Sakura being mad at me, but what do I ever do to you?”

“Noisy.”

“You know, you could learn to talk in full sentences like the rest of us.”

“Naruto, you really do yell a lot, and you know Sasuke doesn’t like noise,” Sakura cut in.

“I’m not the only one who talks a lot.”  Naruto hinted.

“Um, Naruto-kun?”

The three paused their bickering.

“Shion!  What’s up?”

“You rushed out of math so quickly.  I wanted to ask you what you thought of the test.”  Shion took a seat next to Sakura.

“Oh, yeah.  What’d you think of it?” Naruto asked.

“It was so hard!  The problems felt so much harder than the homework.”

“Hmmm, yeah, it was hard.  I felt prepared for it, though,” Naruto said carefully.

“Wow, really?  You must be so smart,” Shion complimented.

Sakura rolled her eyes.  She knew Shion was completely taken with her idiotic friend, but she had already tried bursting her bubble on past occasions.  She turned to Sasuke and began a mostly one-sided conversation.

“I’m not really all that smart,” Naruto sheepishly replied.

“Really?  You must be, though, if you understood that test!”

“Well, I get help from Hinata.  Hinata’s really smart!”

“Hinata?  She’s not in our class, though?”

“Yeah, but she still offered to help me.  If you like, you could join us-” Naruto was about to invite her to their nightly study sessions, but the rest of the words stuck in his throat.  “You can ask Hinata for help, too! I’m sure she’d be happy to help.” I probably shouldn’t just invite her.  That would be rude to Hinata , he reasoned.  

“Hmm..I still don’t know her that well.  She mostly just talks with Kiba and Shino, and I don’t know them that well, either.”

“Oh yeah?  They’re all really nice!  Kiba’s funny and Hinata’s nice!  Shino’s kind of quiet but he’s cool, too.  You should try talking to them more!”

Shion frowned.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I should be more friendly.  I just feel kind of intimidated by them?  Kiba seems kind of...wild? Shino looks scary.  And Hinata seems so...she has this kind of...I don’t know, she seems hard to approach or something.”

“Huh?”  Naruto looked at them.  Kiba’s messy brown hair and prominent sharp canines stood out as he laughed loudly.  Shino, like always, had his dark hood up. Hinata was sitting up straight with her hands neatly folded in her lap as she quietly laughed with them.  “Huh...I guess I see what you mean...”

“Do you think you could help me?” Shion looked at Naruto.  She pressed her hands together as if in prayer and widened her eyes.

Her eyes are purple.  Hinata’s eyes are kind of purple, too .  “Yeah, sure, I can try.  I don’t know how much help I’ll be, though.”  Naruto scratched his head nervously.

“Thank you!  You’re so nice, Naruto-kun.”

“Oh, nah, I’m not.”

“Yes, you really are!”

“You’re a nice person, too, Shion.”

Shion smiled, stood up, and with a skip in her step, she returned to sitting with Ino.

Hm, she didn’t continue it , Naruto vaguely noted.    

“So, you’re going to help Shion with math, huh?” Sakura directed toward Naruto.

“Seems like it.”

“Heh, don’t make it worse for her.” Sasuke shot at Naruto.

“I won’t!” Naruto defended.

“You aren’t holding Hinata back, too, are you?” Sakura looked accusingly at him.

“I’m not!”

“Are you thanking her properly?”

“Yes!  I say thank you to her all the time.”

“Hmm…” Sakura made a face like that wasn’t enough.

Naruto threw his hands up.  There was no winning with them.  

But what Sakura asked stayed in his mind.   Are you thanking her properly?  He really didn’t do anything for Hinata yet to repay her for her kindness.  As the days grew colder, he wondered what he could do for her.      

Chapter Text

 

 

“Yes, he asked, so we’re going together.”

A bunch of girls “aww”ed and squealed as they passed through the hallway.

No one nearby missed their excitement, including one tall blond.

Naruto was thinking hard about it.  None of the guys talked about it, but they were all thinking about it.  They thought about it more than any one of them would ever admit.  Who to ask to Winter Ball.  Sure he could go stag, but as one of the organizers of the event, was that acceptable?  As a senior was that okay?  He had gone stag in the past, but that was when he was younger.  Naruto counted the weeks he had left in his head. Two and a half weeks.  He had to ask Sakura soon. It was practically tradition for him to beg and beg, only for her to turn him down multiple times, culminating in one dramatic and angry refusal.  Last year, she tripped me and dug her foot in my back so I couldn’t get up, Naruto recalled with a wince.  The year before...she kicked me on both shins.  Hmm, the year before that...she hit me with a textbook.  He had to wonder, what would this year be?  Or, he didn’t have to find out. He could ask someone else.  But that would be cheating on her, wouldn’t it? Wasn’t she counting on him asking her?  What if, just what if she agreed this year?  Sasuke is definitely not going to go since he never goes, so maybe for once, she would go with him.  It was their last year after all. Today’s a good a day as any, he thought as he tried to push down his doubts.  

 

“Naruto-kun, hello!”

Hinata.  “Hinata, hello!”  Naruto slowed his strides.  Seeing her little skips to catch up with him, he smiled.  “You just had choir?”

Despite the cooler air, Hinata felt warm.   He remembers!  Nodding, she looked up at her secret crush and smiled.

“Are you guys going to sing at the Christmas assembly?”

“Yes.  We have four songs: ‘Carol of the Bells,’ ‘Sleigh Ride,’ ‘Winter Wonderland,’ and ‘Christmas Time is Here.’”

Naruto glanced down at the bluenette.  A smile graced her lips, and he realized she seemed to always be smiling.  She was so easy to be around. “Four, huh. Which one do you like the best?”   

“Mmmm, that’s hard.  They’re all such nice songs.  I guess if I have to choose, I like ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘Winter Wonderland.’”  

“I like ‘Carol of the Bells.’  It’s so intense for a Christmas song.”

Hinata giggled.  “It is, isn’t it?  But ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ just feel so much like Christmas.  Spending time with loved ones and having fun together.”

Naruto glanced down at her again and felt a jolt of surprise when their eyes met.  He looked away quickly as his heart suddenly made his chest hurt. “I...yeah. You know, it’s just that it doesn’t snow here, so I guess I never connected with those songs as much.  But they are nice in that way.”

“Hmm, you’re right!  In the Moon Kingdom, it snows so much, everything gets covered in snow!  It’s really pretty in December.”

“Really pretty?”  Naruto looked for the smile on her face that he knew was there.

“Yeah.  Everything sparkles and glows.  All the streets get decorated, and it’s really festive.”

Naruto hummed to show he was listening as he watched her eyes light up with memories.

“I didn’t think I would miss the cold, but I guess I kind of do now that I’m thinking about it...I’ll get to see it again this Winter Break since I’m going back.”

As Naruto saw her smile drop to a thoughtful look, he unconsciously mirrored her.  Her words pressed against him uncomfortably. “You’re going back?”

“Yes, I’ll be there for the whole two weeks.  I’m leaving after the last day and coming back the weekend before, so I’ll be spending the holidays up there.”

She’s missing the dance...and the party.  He felt his throat thicken in disappointment.  He managed to continue. “That’ll be nice for you.  You miss the Moon Kingdom?”

“Mmm...it will be nice, I think,” she said slowly.  “But I like it here.  Really a lot.”

As Naruto pulled the door to their Government classroom open for her, he wondered at the sudden weight in her voice.  He glanced down to see her expression as she passed by him to enter the classroom.

He barely heard her whisper, “I wish I could stay.”

Concern knit his eyebrows as he followed her in.  Had he heard her right?  She sounded...almost sad.  He meant to ask her about what she said, but by the time they made it to their seats, she was engaging in a conversation with Kiba, and a smile lit her features again.

 

Naruto was uncharacteristically quiet at lunch.  Sakura was stuck between relaxing from the break from his voice and feeling worried about him.  It was Sasuke who broke the silence.

“What is it, loser.”

Naruto immediately got annoyed.  He “tch”ed at Sasuke calling him a loser, but he still responded.  “Ahh, I don’t know.” He ran his hand through his hair and looked up.  Seeing Sakura looking at him inquisitively, he remembered he still had to ask her to the dance.  He wasn’t feeling as gunned up for it, though, as he had been earlier. He turned his attention back to Sasuke.  “You’re not planning on going to Winter Ball, are you?” Naruto noticed Sakura lean forward a little -- he knew she had hope; she always did.

“No.”  Sasuke’s pointed response left no room for convincing him otherwise.

In his peripherals, he saw Sakura deflate, and again, he felt annoyed.  Not the annoyance that he felt on a regular basis for his friend, but rather, almost edging on anger.  It worked its way up his legs and crawled into his stomach. You’re a real asshole, you know that?  The words were on his tongue.  However, for better or for worse, Naruto had matured.  He kept the words in and chose to try to communicate through a glare.

Sasuke ignored him.

Naruto let out a silent sigh.  He mentally readied himself for it.  He looked up and grinned cheekily at Sakura.  This was how it always was, and he was glad to play the part.  He would push her until she let it all out, all of her disappointment.  He could take it, and he would take it, over and over if need be. If it meant she would return back to her normal, aggressively spirited self.  “Sakuraaa-chan.”

Her eyes remained cast down.

“Saaaakura-chan,” he repeated.  He leaned closer to her and smiled widely.  “Do you want to go to Winter Ball with me?”

No response.  He had to push her more.

“Sakura-chan, you know, it’s our last year~  How about it?”

Sakura dropped her head for a moment, and stayed in silence.  She seemed more disheartened than years past. Some more. He had to push her more.  

“I was really hoping, you know.  I was thinking, ‘This year for sure.’  C’mon. For me? I mean, I’ve asked every year, and it’s the last time,” Naruto jabbered on, worrying about her silence.  Sakura quickly wiped her face with her hands.

Was she crying?  Naruto worried.  He was about to look to see Sasuke’s reaction, but then she looked up.

“Idiot.”  To Naruto’s surprise, she gave a small smile before dropping her gaze.  “I didn’t think you’d ask me this year,” she said, barely above a whisper.  

Confused and encouraged by her words, he responded a bit too loudly, “Whaaaat?  Who do you take me for? I’d never give up on you! So, will you go with me?”

Sakura paused in consideration.  Naruto watched her steadily. He was prepared for her to say no.  He didn’t know what he’d do if she said yes.

“You don’t want to go with someone else?” Sakura’s eyes turned up, searching his face.

Confused, Naruto just looked at her.

Sakura sighed.  “Like Hinata?”

“Oh.”  Naruto averted his gaze, his confident cheerfulness dissipating into seriousness.  “She’s going to the Moon Kingdom over Winter Break, so she won’t be here.”

The change in air around him was so obvious, even Sasuke narrowed his eyes.  “You asked her.”

Startled by his interjection, Naruto blinked at Sasuke.  “Uhh, to the dance?”

Sasuke continued to stare at him, noting the sudden slight color to his blond friend’s cheeks.  

Naruto looked away again.  “No...no, I didn’t ask her.”

But he considered it, Sakura surmised.  “Then what about Shion?”

“Shion?”  The blank look on Naruto’s face confirmed Sakura’s suspicions.

Poor Shion.  She glanced at the platinum blond girl who was busy studying psychology with Ino.  

“Sakura-chan, I don’t want to go with anyone else!” Naruto declared, suddenly returning to his previous exuberance.  “Please go with me.  Please, please, please, please, please, please…”

Sakura stared at Naruto with growing annoyance.  “Cut that out.”

“Please, please, please, please, please, please,” he continued, in his most whiny voice possible.

Sakura held up a clenched fist.  Naruto knew it was working.

“PLEASE, SAKURA-CHAN!  IT’S OUR LAST YEAR!” he passionately burst out, drawing everyone’s attention.

Sakura immediately slammed her fist in his face.  “FINE. FINE. I’LL GO WITH YOU. JUST SHUT UP!”

Naruto fell to the ground with a hand on his throbbing cheek.  He stared up at Sakura, not quite comprehending. She stood above him with her arms crossed.  The entire group fell silent.

“You’ll go with me?”  Naruto asked in disbelief.

“I’m not going to say it again, Naruto.  Remember that it’s only because it’s our last year, and I haven’t gone before.  AND I SWEAR, if you ruin Winter Ball for me, you are going to regret it.” Sakura glared at him, green eyes flashing.

Everyone watched in awe.  Naruto could only sit there, still holding his cheek, still in utter shock.  This wasn’t part of the plan. She wasn’t supposed to say yes.

Sakura could see a disturbing glitter come into his eyes, and she worried she had reignited an extinguished hope from long ago.   

“Let me make this clear.  We. Are. Going. As. Friends.  This. Changes. NOTHING. Do you understand?!”

Naruto continued to stare at her.

“Answer me!”  Sakura held up a fist.  “Do you understand?!”

Naruto scrambled to his feet and saluted with his unoccupied hand.  “YES, SIR!”

Sakura did not appreciate being called “sir.”  She punched him even harder in his unprotected gut.  

Naruto fell back gasping, clenching his stomach.  “Sa...kura...chan.”

Kiba couldn’t hold it in.  He let out a bark of a laugh, which set off catcalls and hoots from Ino and Choji, which prompted loud sighs and sarcastic remarks from Shikamaru and Sai.  Shino adjusted his sunglasses. Shion’s mouth hung open in surprise at the violence she had just witnessed.

Naruto looked at Hinata.  Even she seemed to be stifling a chuckle into her closed hand.  “No one cares about me!” he cried out in comedic despair as he collapsed on the ground, which sparked a new wave of laughter.  Naruto turned to Sasuke for sympathy he knew he wasn’t going to get.

Sasuke just shook his head once and turned away from him.

“If you’d just go with her, I wouldn’t have to endure this abuse,” Naruto quietly accused.

“I never told you to take her.”

Naruto rolled over.  “You know you owe me.”

Sasuke met his statement with silence.  

 

“I regret this so much,” Sakura lamented.  Yet another stranger had hollered “Power Couple!” at them as the bell rang, signaling the end of the day.  Not even three full hours had passed, and it seemed like the whole school knew the popular Student Council President and the smartest, possibly in the whole country, all-around perfect pink-haired knockout were going together to Winter Ball.

Ino just snickered at her.  “What did you expect? Of course everyone knows after both of your declarations of undying love for each other.”

Sakura shot a glare at her leggy friend, but was too exhausted to make a retort.  Wearily, Sakura turned to Naruto and was about to speak, but Naruto spoke first.

“Nope.  Nope. You can’t do that to me, Sakura-chan.  You gave your word and there’s no backing out.”

Sakura gave a heavy sigh.  It was going to be a long two and half weeks until the dance and Winter Break.

 

*****

Hinata walked down the ramp, and was greeted by a smartly dressed lady, who insisted on taking her carry-ons.  

“Hinata-sama, welcome back.  Your presence was sorely missed here.  Please follow me. Your luggage is being taken care of.”

“Oh, thank you.  It’s good to be back.”

 

Hinata gazed out of the window at the passing houses as the lady began to discuss her schedule, even though Hinata had already memorized her engagements for the next week.

“Hinata-sama, we will be heading straight to the palace to see the King and Queen.  After, we’ll take you to your suite at the Imperial Garden Plaza. You will have the rest of the night to yourself.”

Hinata nodded to show she was listening.

“Tomorrow morning you will have hair and makeup at 7:45.  At 9:00 you will have brunch with the Crown Prince at Crescent Court.  He will then accompany you to view this year’s Moon Stone Inspirations from our schools in the Ice Festival.  You will also be assisting him in judging submissions in the junior category for the Snow and Ice Sculpture Championship…”

Hinata let her mind wander to the frozen nightscape.  The sprawling town looked like a scene from a snowglobe.  Lights twinkled through intricately designed windows on grand houses.  The thick roofs were heavily laden with shining snow, and towering pine trees lining the road spoke of the historic age of the community.  Hinata had not been lying. She had missed the Moon Kingdom in the winter, but that did not mean she wanted to come back.  She would have liked to spend Christmas with people she could actually call friends.  Hinata fingered her necklace charm, its cool face smooth, its ridged edge soothing her nerves. As much as she loved and cared for the Moon Kingdom, she couldn’t help but feel resentment toward it at the same time.  It was hard to be happy when she had not had any choice in the matter.  If she could choose her life path, she would choose...him.

Hinata warmed as she recalled the day before when she had last spoken to him.

 

He had found her after school by her locker.    

“Hinata.”

She looked to her left to see him leaning against the lockers next to her.  Her heart wasn’t prepared for it.  He was so close.  And he exuded such natural confidence.  

“Naruto-kun?”  She somehow managed to stay composed.

“I know you said you were leaving tomorrow.”  He looked down and shifted his hands in his jean pockets.   

“Yes…”

“Every year, we have a Christmas party at Ino’s house.”  He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, but didn’t lift his head.

“Mm.  She invited me.  I really wish I could go.”

“...I was hoping you would be going.”  Naruto scratched the back of his head quickly, a nervous habit that didn’t escape her attention.  He continued, “We exchange small presents with each other.  Play games.  Decorate a gingerbread house…Anyway!  What I want to say is...well, I wanted to give you this.” He pulled out a small, wrapped box from his pocket. “For helping me so much this quarter.  I think I got an A, you know.” He faced her then with a serious expression, holding up the present to her.

Hinata couldn’t respond.  She was so surprised, and she felt her expression must have given her away because Naruto grabbed her hand and forced her to take it.

“Hinata, please accept it.”  He closed her fingers over the gift.

His large hands over hers didn’t help.  At all. She looked at her hands, covered in his, and looked up at him, to see his blue eyes piercing hers.  She looked down again, looked up again, looked down again, and couldn’t find her voice. She looked up again and finally whispered, “Naruto-kun.”   

He lifted his hands off of hers suddenly and stuffed them in his pockets.  Hinata immediately missed his warmth.  He looked away. “It’s not much, so it’s nothing to make a big deal about.  It’s nothing compared to what you’ve done for me.”  He looked down.  “I got it awhile ago, thinking I’d give it to you at the party, but..yeah.  I saw it and thought of you.” He glanced at her for a second and looked away again.  “I hope you like it.  If you don’t like it, then...you can give it to your sister or return it.”

Hinata hummed her disagreement.  “Naruto-kun. I’m sure I’ll love it.  Can I open it?”

He looked at her then.  “Uh.  Um.  Yeah.  Yeah.  If you want to.”  He stepped closer to her side.

Hinata felt her heartbeat quicken.  He was so close, if she just shifted her weight over, she could brush against his shirt.  She snapped her attention to the box.  The wrapping paper was cute.  It had penguins, clad in little hats and scarves, sledding and building snowmen together.  Her family never used adorable wrapping paper like this.  Hinata smiled as she untied the little red bow and undid the tape that closed the edges. 

“Heh.  You open it so carefully.”

Hinata glanced up at the nearness of his voice, to see his eyes even closer than before, this time, shining with a warmth that made her heart flutter.  She quickly refocused back at the task at hand. The wrapping paper revealed a glossy white box.  She folded the wrapping paper neatly and placed it in her bookbag.  

“Are you going to save the paper?” Naruto chuckled lowly.    

“Ummm...maybe?”

He laughed.

Hinata dared to look up at him again, but unable to handle his proximity, she looked back down at the box.  She caressed the lid for a moment.  “Is it jewelry?” she wondered aloud.

“Go ahead.  Open it,” he encouraged her.          

She lifted the top.  It was an iridescent white Mother-of-Pearl, about the size of a coin, encircled with gold on a delicate chain.  

“Oh, Naruto-kun.  Oh,” she gasped. “It’s so beautiful.”  Hinata lifted the necklace off the cotton padding and held it up to the light, letting the colors shimmer.  She admired the glistening pinks and hints of blue before undoing the clasp.

“You’re going to wear it now?”

Hinata nodded her head and brought the chain around her neck.

Naruto watched her, his hands raising just a bit.  “Do you need- oh, you got it.”

Hinata looked down to see the stone resting below her collarbone.  She touched it and looked up at Naruto.  He saw it and thought of me.  His words replayed in her mind, and she felt a renewed rush of love for him flow through her.  It was overwhelming, almost painful.  “Thank you, Naruto-kun.  I really like it.”

Naruto didn’t respond at first and just looked at her.  

Hinata, feeling the bold force of her feelings, gazed up at him, letting her emotions run rampant through her like adrenaline.  She was sure it was spilling out of her, she felt it so strongly, as everything came into distinct focus. The weight of the necklace on her skin.  Her own shallow breathing.  His ocean eyes, shadowed, regarding her neck.  A heated pull in her core as his eyelashes lifted slowly, his traveling gaze meeting hers.     

A long moment passed before Naruto turned his head, breaking eye contact.  He took a step away from her and rubbed the back of his neck.

Hinata wondered if he could see it, her love, spelled out across her face.

“It’s nothing special.  It wasn’t expensive or anything.”  His eyes flickered back to her.

Hinata didn’t say anything.  She touched her necklace and smiled, hoping she could convey her gratitude in her expression.

He gave a small smile.  “I’m glad you like it.”

She nodded.  “I really do.”

Naruto dragged both his hands through his hair, pushing the strands away from his face.  He shook out his legs and let out a huff of air.  “Ha.  Wow.  I was really worried you wouldn’t like it.”  He shook his head.

Hinata laughed quietly.  “I’d probably like anything you give me.”

Naruto gave her an amused smile.  “I know that now.  The way you reacted to that little thing-”  He gestured to her necklace.  “It was like, I dunno.  I don’t know.”  He looked at her and paused.  He didn’t finish his sentence, and Hinata wondered what he wanted to say.  

“...what?” she pushed.  Could he see it?  Did he know?

“You…” he hesitated.  He looked at her, brows furrowed.  “You really  like it.”  The way he said it sounded like he couldn’t fathom how anyone could like a necklace so much.

Hinata couldn’t help it.  She laughed.  She laughed with a release that she hadn’t known in years, and it hurt her stomach and squeezed her heart.  Between her gasps for breath, she heard him questioning her.  She opened her eyes and saw him start to laugh.  “Sorry, I-” Hinata started, before breaking into another fit of giggling.  Naruto’s light-hearted tone in his questions made it harder for her to stop.  She forced herself to calm down, taking deep breaths.  “I’m sorry for laughing.  I do really like it.  And I’m just very happy.”  She couldn’t help smiling widely.

Chuckling, Naruto shook his head and scratched his temple.  “I should get you gifts more often then.”

“No, no, no.  You don’t have to get me anything else!  This is enough.  More than enough.  Thank you.  Really.” Hinata couldn’t stop smiling.  She turned to finally shut her locker, feeling a warmth that she only ever felt around him.  She turned back to Naruto, who was smiling, too.

 

“Hinata-sama, we have arrived.”

Hinata was taken back to reality.  She silently let out a sigh as a staff member opened the door for her.  She raised her head, fixed her posture, and tucked the memory away.  If she could, she would choose him, a million times over.              

Chapter Text

 

 

“Welcome to the Grand Annual Yamanaka Christmas Party, done in the one and only Yamanaka way…” Ino turned to a side table and gestured with graceful arms extended to a row of bottles.  “With...champagne and wine! Courtesy of my progressive mother and father, who have already asked approval from each of your parentals for first-time drinking done in the safety of our secure household!”

Hollers of surprise and approval filled the living room.

“That’s not all folks.  I have…” Ino’s eyes gleamed mischievously and she held up a big box.  “An extra large version of Twister!”

“Oh my gosh that’s going to be absolutely awful,” Sakura laughed.  

Ino nodded in pleased agreement.  “ And , follow me…”  She took her friends to another room.  “This beautiful backdrop done by none other than our wonderfully gifted artist for our photo booth, complete with props and accessories.”

“Woooah Sai!  That’s awesome!  You should have done that for Winter Ball!”  Naruto clapped Sai on the back, admiring the sparkling blue and silver painted canvas.  “Seriously, I gotta talk to you about this after. Don’t let me forget.”

Back in the main room, Ino passed a glass out to each person.  “Now, if you don’t want to try the alcohol, there’s also sparkling cider, soda, juice, water...so no pressure.  This house has security cameras everywhere, my parents are home somewhere, we’ve all known each other for years...kay?  There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Ohhhh, do not worry, Ino, we are not worried.”  Kiba was already working the cork off a bottle.

 

A couple of Twister games, some unwrapped presents, and a couple of empty bottles later, everyone was sprawled out across the carpet and couches.  

“Ino, that was such a bad idea.”  Sakura looked over at the blonde, who was rolling the dotted mat away.  

“Hahaaa, no, that was the best.  You causing everyone to fall when you reached for the blue dot was even funnier than you tripping on your heels at Winter Ball.”  Ino broke into cackles of laughter at the pinkette’s expense.

“INO!”  Sakura threw a wad of gift wrap and tape at Ino’s face, but missed entirely.  

“Ughhh stupid wine.”  Sakura got up off the couch, grabbed the crumpled paper, and started attacking Ino with it.  

“AH!  Sai protect me!”  Ino ducked behind Sai.  

“Sai, outta the way.”

He quickly sidestepped.

Ino gasped at the betrayal and scurried over to Shion.  “Shiiion, save me!” she laughed.

The three girls collapsed over each other in a heap on the couch, Sakura pushing the paper and ribbons into Ino’s face as if to smother her.

“We do NOT speak of that.  That never happened.”

“Ack, Ino!  Sakura! Why am I a part of this?”  Shion struggled under the combined weight of the two girls, but was laughing all the same.

After a bit of a tussle, Ino pushed Sakura off of them.  “You are so heavy, I swear.”

Shocked, Sakura hugged her stomach.  “I’m not heavy. If anyone’s heavy, it’s you, Ino-pig!”

“Huh?  At least my face is proportional, Forehead!”

Their playful bickering taking a turn for the worse, Shion decided to step in.  “You know, girls, I have an idea.” She stepped in between them, holding them apart from each other.  “How about we go take some pictures?”

“That’s a good idea!  Let’s go, guys!” Naruto seconded Shion’s attempt at peace-making.

“Ugh, troublesome.” Shikamaru reluctantly started to get up.

“Wait, pictures?  My hair’s a mess, wait, wait!”  Ino frantically started fixing her ponytail.

“Oh no, I gotta check the mirror.  Shion, my face isn’t red, is it?” Sakura worriedly turned to her blond friend.

Flustered, Shion grabbed her friends.  “Stop that. You two are as pretty as ever.”

“Aww, Shion.  This is why we love you.”  Ino squished her cheek up to her friend and squeezed her as they moved to the next room.

 

“Ooooh, I’m sending this to Hinata.  We need to show her what she’s missing out on!”  Ino began messaging their group funny picture on her phone.  “Oh you know what, better yet, let’s video call her!”

“Video call her?  What time is it over there?” Shion wondered aloud.

“It’s about 8:00 in the morning tomorrow.  It’s already Christmas Eve in the Moon Kingdom,” Kiba helpfully replied, swiftly doing the calculation after checking the time.  

“So the time difference is about 11 hours ahead?” Naruto asked him.

“Yeah.  She should be awake by-”

“Hinata!!  You’re awake!”  Ino’s elated cry interrupted Kiba.

“Good morning, or rather, good evening, Ino.”  Hinata’s voice came through the phone’s speaker clearly.  

“Oh, Hinata, we miss you sooo much!  I wish you could be here. Look, everyone’s here, minus Sasuke-kun.”  Ino turned her phone around so that everyone could see her. “Look, you guys, it’s Hinata!”

Wishes of “Merry Christmas” filled the room as everyone waved hi to their bright-eyed friend.  

Ino began to pass the phone around so that everyone had a chance to talk to her.

“Ooh, Hinata, you look nice.  Where are you going today? Hot date?” Sakura asked, noticing Hinata’s makeup and done-up hair.

“No, no, nothing like that.  Just work.”

“You go to work looking all nice like that?  You have work on Christmas Eve?”

Kiba popped up to join their conversation.  “Never-ending, huh? I feel sorry for you. And I bet you have to go around with that serious guy.”

Sakura turned to Kiba with curiosity.  “Serious guy?”

Before Kiba could explain, Shino cut in.  “Working on Christmas Eve. It’s because the work of government never ends.  A country must always be functioning. I hope you get to rest tonight.”

Hinata sighed in response.  “It’s not so bad, and today’s work isn’t very much at all.”

Naruto chose this moment to join them.  “Merry Christmas, Hinata.”

“Merry Christmas, Naruto-kun.”  The soft lilt of her voice felt magnified in his buzzed state.

“You look nice.”

“Thank you.”  Hinata blushed.  “I have to look like this for work.”

“Work?  You gotta work today?”
“Yes, I call it work, but that’s not right.  It’s charity, so I’m not in any right to complain.”
“What do you have to do?”

Sensing this conversation could get long, Sakura passed Naruto the phone to go take more pictures.

“We’ve been going to the outskirts of the Kingdom to personally donate gifts to the temples for the children.  Today we’re heading to the southeastern regions. The Moon Kingdom is pretty small, so we should get there by mid-afternoon.  We’re leaving in about 30 minutes.”

“Donating gifts, huh?  You have to do all kinds of things as this foreign ambassador.”

“Yes, I guess, so.  All kinds of things,” Hinata said thoughtfully.

“What else have you been doing up there?”

“Meetings, conferences...but I also helped to judge ice and snow sculptures!  It was so hard to choose the best ones since everyone worked so hard on their submissions.”

“Wow, ice sculptures?  What were they like?”

“Oh, Naruto-kun, they were amazing!  There was one that looked like swans taking off into the sky.  There were huge dragons and beautiful horse-drawn carriages like in Cinderella.  My personal favorite one was a mother and daughter ice-dancing. What was so hard to believe was that it was people our age or younger who crafted these sculptures.  I don’t really feel qualified to make judgments on their hard work.”

By now, Kiba and Shino had drifted off to join in the picture-taking.  Naruto sat and leaned against a wall as he continued the conversation with Hinata.  

“Yeah, I wouldn’t feel qualified to judge work from people our age.  How come you have to do those things?”

“Mmm.”  Hinata considered his question.  There was a long answer and a short answer.  Hinata opted for the easier one. “Well, I guess they want an outside perspective.  And it’s also just for show so that the close relationship between Fire Country and the Moon Kingdom is very visible.  That’s the kind of role I serve here.”

“Hm.”  Naruto nodded his head to show he understood.  “Do you get paid to do these things?”

“Um.”  Hinata paused.  “Well, I get paid for some things and for other things I don’t.  I’m not getting paid for donating gifts to children. I wouldn’t want to get paid for this, either.”  Hinata giggled at the thought.

Naruto laughed at his own mistake.  “Yeah, I guess you wouldn’t get paid for that.”  He looked over Hinata again, appreciating her smile and the sound of her laughter.  “I feel like I should take out my math homework.”

“Your math homework?”  Hinata laughed again. “We only video chat for homework, don’t we?”

“Yeah.  See, Hinata, I wanted you to check my #20.  I wasn’t sure about it here.” Naruto joked and pretended to shuffle around him for papers.  

Hinata laughed some more, to his delight.  Playing along, she faked a concerned frown.  “Oh really? Let me see. Maybe I can help. I can’t quite remember which one was #20.  Was that the one with the exponent?”

Naruto laughed hard.  “Yeah, gosh. It just got me so confused.  I was just so lost without you, trying to do it on my own.”

Hinata giggled uncontrollably.  She held a hand up and shook her head as she continued to laugh.  “Oh, you. I hope you don’t always think of math homework when you see me.”

Naruto regarded her smile.  A memory of her contagious laughter from the day before Winter Break flashed before him.  “No, I don’t.” He shook his head vehemently and smiled widely to show that he meant it.

Hinata beamed at him.  “I’m glad. I don’t want to be the face of math in Naruto-kun’s mind.”

“The face of math?”  Naruto chuckled at her word choice.  “Oh no, definitely not. We’re not even in the same math class.”

“Oh, that’s right.  Sometimes I forget we don’t take math together.”

A flash of gold caught his attention.  “Hey, you’re wearing it!”

“Hm, the necklace?”  Hinata picked up the Mother-of-Pearl to show in the screen.  “Yes, I’ve been wearing it everyday.”

Naruto looked at Hinata’s smile, which had yet to fade.  He realized the last time he had spoken to her was when he gave her his present five days ago. I missed...talking to her .    

“I missed you, Naruto-kun.  I’m so used to seeing you every day and night.  I’m glad Ino called me,” Hinata suddenly admitted, running on the high that came from their earlier jokes and laughter.  She smiled affectionately at her crush.

Naruto felt like there wasn’t enough air in the room.  His heart soared and he blushed, his feelings haywire at her unexpected words.  “Hinata.” He paused trying to find the language to encapsulate his fuzzy thoughts.  He returned her warm smile. He felt like he was glowing. “Hinata, I missed you, too-”

“Hinataaaaaaaa~!”  The phone was grabbed from his hand.  “Naruto’s hogging you all to himself.  C’mon Naruto. Share the Hinata-love.”  Ino pouted at him. “Hinata, I need to show you what we did tonight.  My parents let us…” Ino’s voice trailed off into the next room.  

Naruto was left blinking at the sudden change in scenery before his eyes.  He had almost forgotten he was at a party. He sat there as his heart’s erratic beating began to calm.  

“Dude.  Man, you are so into her.”  

Naruto looked up at Kiba.  “Huh?”

Kiba sat down next to Naruto.  “What ‘huh’? You were flirting with Hinata the whole time!”

Naruto looked at Kiba as if he was joking.   How drunk is he?  “I wasn’t flirting with her.”

“Uh, yeah, you were.  It was hard to not notice.  You were completely ignoring the chaos that Ino was causing to Shikamaru and Choji at the photo booth.”

“Uh.”  Naruto tried to remember what his friends were doing while he was talking to Hinata.  He came up empty. “Well, that doesn’t mean I was flirting with her!”

Kiba smirked.  “This isn’t the only example, though.”

Naruto furrowed his eyebrows.  What could Kiba possibly mean?

“Whenever you see me, you look for Hinata.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.  You two always come into Government together, and you always hold the door open for her like some kind of gentleman.”

“Well, maybe I am a gentleman.”

“You don’t hold the door for Sakura.”

“Sakura-chan is Sakura-chan.  She wouldn’t want me to hold the door open for her.”

“My point still stands.  You never swear when Hinata is around.  You don’t act like an idiot around her, either.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“You’re practically a different person!  And, you’re always looking at her. You think no one notices, but of course Shino and I notice!  Hinata’s like a sister to us. We notice when guys are looking at her.”

“Shino?”  Naruto glanced around the room self-consciously.  A chill raced down his back when he saw Shino staring at him from a corner of the room.  Well, it looked like Shino was staring at him. It was hard to tell with the sunglasses he always wore.  Naruto glanced back at Kiba. “What are you trying to say, anyway?”

“You really are stupid, aren’t you?”

Naruto was about to protest, but Kiba continued.

“You like Hinata.”

I like Hinata?   The thought made his chest hurt.  “You’re the stupid one. You’re drunk!  Everyone knows I’m devoted to Sakura-chan.  She’s my one and only.”

Kiba snorted a laugh.  “Don’t you like Sakura like a sister?  Imagine kissing her. Doesn’t that freak you out?”  

Hearing her name, Sakura turned from her conversation with Choji.  “Kiba, why are you guys talking about me?!”

Naruto did as he was told.  The slender bombshell kissing him.  Green eyes closed, pink lashes drawing near.   Hell, yes!  A dreamy smile appeared on his face.  He turned back to Kiba with an extremely serious face.  “Kiba. Any. Day.”

Kiba raised his eyebrows skeptically.  He hollered over at Sakura. “You hear that?  The blond over here wants to kiss you.”

Sakura looked absolutely revolted at the thought.  “What the fuck, Naruto?” She started stomping over to him.

Naruto tried to back up, but couldn’t as he was right against the wall.  “Kiba’s joking! He’s joking! I didn’t say anything like that! I would never!”

“You better not have!  I’m going to pound your face in if you ever try!”

Seeing her return back to Choji’s side, Naruto glared at Kiba.  “Kiba! Why did you say that?”

Rather than answer him, Kiba simply said, “Now imagine kissing Hinata.”

Naruto glanced at Kiba distrustfully, but the scenario began to unfold in his mind before he had any control over it.  Her petite body was just a breath away from him. The necklace he bought resting above the swell of her chest, graceful neck leading to a small chin and full lips, slightly parted.  Her glassy eyes that had always reminded him of the clouds at sunrise, pulling him in. They had held a secret message that he so badly wanted to discover. Had he allowed himself that day to find out, he would have...reached for her.  Circled his arm around her waist and drawn her even closer. Caressed the midnight of her hair in his fingers. And met her lips with his own.

His heart was thumping wildly.  He blinked rapidly at the ground, avoiding eye contact with Kiba. He felt crazy.  His thoughts felt so wrong and so right at the same time. He felt embarrassed, as if Kiba had actually seen his daydream.  He felt like he was caught red-handed, in the act. He couldn’t look up.

Kiba scrutinized Naruto.  “Ah-ha, see. I thought so.  And I was right,” he concluded proudly.  “You like Hinata. You’ve fallen head-over-heels for her.  You can’t stand being away from her. You want to hold her.  You want to have her. You want to marry her...oh shit.”

Kiba’s sudden cursing in his annoying train of words made Naruto look up.

“Ughhh, damn it!  I’m so stupid. I forgot about that.  I didn’t really forget about it, but damn.  I didn’t think you’d actually fall for her. Hinata’s so shy…”

“What?  What is it?”  Naruto had no idea what Kiba was going on about now.    

“Uhhh, no, nothing.  Nevermind.” Kiba seemed to be giving Naruto a pitying look.  “Good luck with her, man. I’m rooting for you.”

Surprised at Kiba’s sudden well-wishes, Naruto furrowed his brow.  “Thanks?”

“Yeah…….sorry.”  He stood up and quickly joined a conversation with Shino and Shikamaru.

Abruptly left to his own thoughts, Naruto began to process this new discovery.  He hugged his knees, envisioning once again her expression on that last day of school.  He felt the pull to draw nearer to her, to touch her. He missed her so badly. He liked her.  Naruto rubbed his face in his hands, trying to clear his mind. But he couldn’t. All he could see now was her.  Suddenly, his chest felt heavy, and he felt lonely. She wasn’t here. Her easy laughter and smile weren’t here. What was he doing here?

“-kun...umm...Hinata”

Naruto looked up immediately.

“..had to leave, so she hung up already.  But she asked me to tell you Merry Christmas.”  Shion looked at Naruto expectantly.

“Oh.  Thanks.”  Naruto gave a small smile, retracting back into his own world.  

Shion searched his face, noting the warmth in his eyes, not directed at her.  She waited for a bit, but with nothing more coming from him, she reluctantly walked away.  She headed straight for her best friend, Ino, and gave her a full squeeze.

“Woah, Shion!”  Ino squeezed her back.  She looked down at the girl and noticed how her face was planted on her shoulder, not looking up.  “Shion? Hey, you okay?”

Without any answer, Ino quickly drew conclusions.  

“Alright, everybody, party’s over!”

“What?  It’s not even 11:00!” Kiba yelled his complaint.

“It’s late and it’s time for everyone to go home.  So go home! It’s a girls’ night from here! Sakura and Shion, stay the night!”

“Ughh...I can’t drive.  Who’s driving?” Shikamaru called out from his position on the floor.

“Can’t drive,” Kiba responded.

“Me, neither.”  Sai had his head on the table.

“I am unable to drive.  The reason is I just finished a glass of champagne,” Shino explained.

“Nope,” Choji replied while eating snacks.

“Choji!  You can drive!  You hardly drank anything, and you’re the biggest one out of all of us!” Kiba accused.

“Naruto, can you drive?”  Choji passed the responsibility on.

Naruto looked up from his spot on the floor at hearing his name.  “Uh, what?”

“Kay.  It’s decided.  Naruto’s driving.” Kiba concluded while gathering his gifts.

“Oh, alright.  Wait, I just need to find my keys.  And my wallet. I thought I had them.  Wait, guys, anyone seen my frog?” Naruto started mumbling as he got up from the floor unsteadily.

Pushed past the point of patience, Sakura burst out, “What is wrong with you guys!?  You have a few drinks and suddenly you can’t use those college-prep brains of yours? Call a freakin’ Hitch!  Honestly, I have to do everything for these stupid birdbrain boys.” She took out her phone and started ordering the car.  “You’re all going to owe me so much after this. You all owe me your lives.”

“Ah, Sakura, you’re so dependable!” Ino cheered on her annoyed friend.

 

Once the car came and the boys left in a stumbling mess, the three girls sat close on the couch together, and Ino got down to business.  “It’s been awhile since it’s been just us girls. So? Who wants to spill their feelings first?”

“Shion?” Sakura asked in concern.  The poor girl still had yet to raise her eyes.  

Shion shifted uneasily.  She sighed. “You guys know how I like Naruto-kun, right?  How I’ve liked him since junior year.”

Ino and Sakura chanced a look at each other.  They knew where she was going with this. They both nodded and waited to hear her continue.  

“It’s so obvious.”  Shion’s voice dropped.  “He...he likes.” She choked on her words.  “I’m not blind. I watch him a lot. He’s always looking at Hinata.  He likes her, doesn’t he?” Her heart dropped painfully at hearing the lines that had been balled up inside for awhile now out in the open.  She looked at Sakura, waiting for the dreaded confirmation from his best friend.

Sakura didn’t know what to say.  She saw the pained look on Shion’s face.  She couldn’t cause her more heartbreak, even if her violet-eyed friend already knew the truth.  Sakura dropped her gaze, unwilling to answer, but Shion still waited. Sakura looked up again. “He hasn’t said anything to me about her specifically.  I don’t know for sure…”

Sakura’s tone was enough for Shion to know that she thought the same.  If Sakura thought so, the girl who was closest to him, then it must be so.  Shion felt tears sting her eyes, her heart clenched. “Why not me? What’s so wrong with me?...Am I not pretty enough?  Or sexy enough?...even you, Sakura. You’re so pretty, and Naruto-kun is attracted to that.”

Sakura furrowed her eyebrows, listening to Shion.  She had wondered herself, about this. Why Naruto was ever attracted to her in the first place.  And what similarity there was between someone like herself and Hinata, two extremely different body types and personalities.  She had an idea as to what it was, but now was not the time to voice her opinions. “Shion…” Sakura whispered sympathetically.

“I’m sorry.”  Shion wiped her eyes.  “I don’t mean to make this your fault because I know it’s not.  I’m just so…” Shion felt a new wave of disappointment. Of heartbreak.  New tears filled her eyes.

“Don’t apologize, Shion.  Sakura’s the real heartbreaker.  It’s always her fault.”  Ino cut in loudly.

Sniffling, Shion looked up, confused.  

“She stole Sasuke-kun from me.  She gets all the guys to turn their heads.  And does she accept any one of their invitations?  No! She’s not even dating Sasuke-kun! Like, if it were me, we’d be getting it on already,” Ino said all this casually with a poised nod.

Sakura audibly gasped in irritation.  “I did not steal him from you! You know that!  We’ve been through this before! And, it’s not like he doesn’t know about my feelings.  He knows...he knows...” Sakura’s voice drifted out.

Ino quickly turned sympathetic.  “Sorry, Sakura. You know I was just kidding.  I like to poke fun at you, but I know it hurts.  Sasuke-kun is such a...such a! Ugh! Why does he lead you on like this?  Like, what does he want?!”

Sakura sighed.  Now she felt the tears coming on, too.  

Ino looked at her two friends, both sniffling and crying.  “Oooh, come here, you two.” Ino gathered them up in her arms and did her best to rub their backs.  Eventually their shoulders began to heave and their breaths came out more controlled. Ino let them go as they wiped their faces, calming down.  “Feel better?” she asked with a concerned smile.

“Ugh.  Sorry. I hate crying.  But I guess I had to get it out.”  Sakura shook her head and slapped her face a few times.

“We can’t always be strong, beautiful women.”  Ino shrugged in agreement.

“Strong and beautiful?  I’m like a potato next to you guys and Hinata.”  Shion frowned at the carpet.

“A potato??  You’re not a potato!”  Ino protested.

“Ino.”  Shion turned her frown to her friend.  “You have nice legs, nice butt, nice boobs.  You’re like a model. And Sakura is naturally skinny, has pretty hair, and a pretty face.  And Hinata has nice skin and huge boobs. I don’t have anything.”

“Don’t say that, Shion.  You sound like our haters.”  Sakura pursed her lips together in disapproval.

Shion gave Sakura a confused look.  

“They say things about you, too.  Didn’t you know?  They get jealous because we’re close to all the ‘cool’ guys.  Like, little do they know, those boys are all just a bunch of stupid dorks who can’t do anything right without us.”

“What do they say?” Shion asked, intrigued.

“Seriously, you don’t know?  Shion! Oh my gosh, it’s hilarious!”  Ino threw her head back laughing. She shot Shion a mischievous look.  “They say I suck their dicks.”

Shion’s mouth dropped at the vulgarity.  “Who says that about you? Why do they say things like that?”  

“Oh, you know.  The fangirls. They all have at least a few fangirls, actually.  Shikamaru’s, Naruto’s, and Sai’s are the least annoying. Kiba’s are pretty bad, but Sasuke-kun’s fans are actually the worst.  And they say those things because they’re jealous. It’s not like I’m unaware of the body the gods have blessed me with.” Ino struck a pose.  “I’m not going to hide myself just because they’re talking about me.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to break the dress code and get detention.”  Sakura grimaced.

Ino just laughed in response.

“Sasuke-kun’s fans really are the worst.  I’ve gotten 'love letters' to go kill myself in very graphic ways.”  Sakura made a face that seemed to say ‘oh well.’ Then she smiled. “My favorite one this year said, ‘Go rip your sick, bubblegum hair out, slam your pretty face in a ditch, and die.’  It’s nice how they managed to compliment me while telling me to die.” She paused and then continued, “Kiba’s fans are pretty messed up, too. Hinata has gotten a couple of letters about inflating her boobs and plastic surgery.  That's partly why she wears sweaters all the time.”  

Shion was horrified.  “Oh my…I haven’t gotten notes like that.  Not like I’d want to, but you said that they talk about me, too?...What do they say?” she asked hesitantly.

Ino and Sakura looked at each other.  “It’s interesting that you haven’t noticed.  Their fans whisper it around us, you know. Like, right in front of us.  Are you sure you want your eyes to be opened to the real Konoha High School?” Ino asked overdramatically.

“Ummm...I kind of want to know.”

“It’s hurtful,” Sakura warned.  “Here I thought you were thick-skinned, but you were just oblivious this whole time.”                    

“What do they say?”

Sakura paused to assess if Shion really did want to know.  Judging by her determined face, she decided to tell her. “They say you act cute and that you’re helpless.  They think you’re charming the guys by acting like you can’t do anything by yourself.”

Sakura and Ino watched the words sink in.  Shion’s eyes were cast down, thinking about others’ perceptions of her.  Finally she looked up and awkwardly smiled. “It is hurtful, isn’t it?”

“What they don’t get, what they really do not understand, is that we have a history with these guys.  We didn’t just suddenly start hanging around them.” Sakura glared angrily into space.

“Right?  That’s exactly it!  I grew up with Shikamaru and Choji.  We’re practically cousins. I got scolded by all of their parents at some point in my life.”  Ino nodded vigorously in agreement.

“That’s why I started liking Naruto-kun in the first place.”  Shion softly said.

“Oh yeah, he helped you move into the dorms and got you acclimated to the city when you first transferred here,” Ino remembered aloud.

“Yeah.”  Shion softly smiled.  “He was the only one hanging out with me when I was feeling really homesick.”  

Sakura and Ino looked at Shion sympathetically.

“We’re here for you, you know,” Ino whispered softly.  “You don’t have to rely on any of those stupid-heads now.  Sakura and I are so much better than them.”

Swallowing her tears, Shion smiled at them gratefully.  “Awww, I’m so blessed to have you guys. I don’t need anyone else!”

“That’s right, Shion.  The rest of them are idiots, and definitely not worth crying over,” Sakura affirmed, for herself, too.  

The three of them smiled at each other for a moment, relishing their sisterly bond.  

Ino broke the comfortable silence.  “So...I wanted to announce something.  I don’t think it’s the best timing because we just called all the boys stupid, but I wanted to let you guys know.”

The other two looked at Ino curiously.

Ino blushed down at her lap and fussed at her short dress.  Her eyes darted up towards her friends. She smiled. “I like Sai.”

“Sai??” Sakura questioned loudly.

“Oh, Ino, that’s so exciting!” Shion chirped.  

“But.  But. SAI??” Sakura was beyond confused.

Ino clapped her hands over her blushing cheeks.  “Yes, yes, Sai. Oh, Sakura, you don’t understand.  He’s so cute!”

“CUTE??  What about him is cute?  That fucker called me ‘ugly’ the first time he spoke to me!”

“Yes, but, he’s so socially awkward, but in just the cutest way.” Ino continued to blush.

“No, nope, no.  Ino, I don’t and will never understand.  I mean, good luck to you and all that jazz, but nope.  Sai is as far from cute as possible.”

Seeing that Sakura was over her little tirade, Shion offered her own well-wishes.  “I hope it works out for you, Ino.”

Ino beamed at Shion.  “Thanks. I think it will take a little work, but...I have confidence in myself!”  She set her eyes forward determinedly. “I can do it.”

Shion smiled.  Despite Ino’s appearance and fronting, she was really earnest.    

“Ino, me, too!  I need to get over Naruto-kun.  It will be hard, but, I can do it!”  

The two looked at Sakura expectantly.

“What.”  Sakura looked at them deadpan.

“C’mon, Sakura!  Get pumped!” Ino encouraged.

She sighed audibly but looked at her two friends with a smile of defeat.  “That Sasuke-kun! He is going to take me to prom. No matter what! We are going to prom together if it is the last thing I do on this blasted earth!”  

Ino and Shion grinned at her.

“I mean, I have other things I want to do, too.  I want to go to Med School, become the best doctor there ever was.  Save peoples lives, make tons of money. Take vacations on tropical islands,” Sakura continued.

“Sakura.”  Ino shook her head.  “THAT’S NOT THE POINT!  Get with the program!”

Sakura laughed at Ino’s frustration.  It was a release of pent-up emotion. Shion started giggling, too, and before long the trio were laughing together.  Whenever they began to calm down, one of them restarted, which triggered the other two.

Finally, after a few minutes of uninhibited laughter, Ino laid back.  “Oh, god, we’re just three lovestruck teens trying to find our way in the world.”

Shion pondered her words, specifically the emphasis on the three of them.  “Do you guys know...if Hinata likes anyone? Does she like Kiba or Shino? Does she like Naruto-kun?”

Sakura and Ino exchanged looks again, unsure as to how to answer.

“I mean, if someone is going to get Naruto-kun, I want it to be one of us.  Not some random girl I don’t know of.”

“Urggh, Shion, you are such an angel.  If I were you, I’d be cursing Hinata to hell.  That’s what I did to Sakura when I was competing with her.”  Ino laughed.

Sakura glared at Ino, then gave a self-deprecating smile.  “Hah. That’s so true. I did the same thing.”

The two laughed, reminiscing on their preteen days.

“Well, truthfully, I was a huge brat before coming to Konoha.  If I were how I used to be...”

Ino widened her eyes at Shion’s revelation.  “Wow. I never would have guessed.”  

Shion sheepishly smiled.  “Yup, I was no angel. But....do you guys know?  If Hinata likes anyone? If she likes Naruto-kun, I’ll give up.  I won’t try to get in their way.”

“Honestly, I don’t know about now .  I know she used to.  Sakura, do you know?”

The pinkette carefully considered her response.  “Like Ino, I don’t know for sure. But the two have an exceptionally strong history together.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she still does.”

Shion furrowed her brows and looked at Sakura with a tilt of her head.  

Seeing her curiosity, Sakura explained, “Hinata used to get really bullied for her eye color in elementary school.  Not like your regular teasing, you know. Like actually bullied .  And Naruto was something of a wild child.  He was constantly defending her from them, and she was the only one who wasn’t afraid of talking to him.  The rest of us were worried about ruining our own reputations by hanging around Naruto, but not Hinata. Anyway, she started to like him.  At one point, it got so bad in sixth grade, she used to faint whenever he got too close to her. Since her return, though, I can’t tell. I haven’t asked her.”   

“Wow...they have something like that, huh…”  Shion paused, gears turning as the details filtered through.  “Did you say she used to faint?”

“Yeah, it was...really...it was really something.  Full-on fainting. No matter where she was. She was constantly in the health room.  And Naruto never figured it out.  I actually asked him to see if he had even an inkling as to the cause, but nope.  Nothing got through to him. Goes to show what an idiot he is.”

Shion nodded her head slightly.  She had never believed Sakura before when she called Naruto an idiot, but with this new evidence brought to light, she had to agree, just a little.  Outloud, she wondered, “Can you get over something like that? She must still like him. She’s just gotten better at hiding it?”

Sakura shrugged.  

“It’s not impossible.  Time can change things.  I mean, look at me. I thought I’d be pining after Sasuke-kun forever.  Then Sai showed up,” Ino reflected slowly.

Shion thought about both of their replies.  She sighed. “I...I don’t want to get between something like that.  If she does still like him, they should be together. And it just...it just really hurts.  Knowing that I’ve been next to him for the past two years, and he’s never looked at me the way he looks at her…”

Ino and Sakura stayed silent.

Shion looked at them and managed to smile.  “Will you guys help me out? Introduce me to some hot guys or something?”

Ino returned the effort with a conniving smile of her own.  “Some hot guys, huh? Well, wait just a moment, let me get my phone out.”  

Shion laughed.  “I was just joking!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure!”

“You sure you’re sure?  I know of a few guys I can send your picture to...”

“Oh my gosh, no!  Don’t do that.” Shion laughed.

Sakura looked between the two of them, and drew them into a hug.  “I love you guys so much.”

Shion began giggling.  It only took a moment for Ino to join in.

“Oh, no, not this again.” Sakura squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to ignore their giggling, but it was no use.  They burst into another bout of laughter.

“Haaaaahhhhhh.”  The three sighed together.  They giggled.

 

***

Young children and their parents waved goodbye to them as their car pulled away from the temple.  With the window open, Hinata smiled and waved back. She could feel Toneri right behind her, doing the same.  As the car took a turn and the families disappeared from sight, they both leaned back into the cushioned seats and relaxed after a long day.   

For a moment the two defrosted, enjoying the heater.  Getting ready for a long drive in the warm car, Hinata unbundled herself, pulling her dark mauve peacoat off and folding it neatly between the two of them.  She leaned toward the window, disengaging from the world. After volunteer work, Hinata always felt strangely exhausted. Snapshots of the people and places she had seen over the past few trips to the borders replayed in her mind.  The worn expressions on still young adults. The village children with holes in their shoes. The boarded windows. Her eyes narrowed as she contemplated the difference between the capital city and these smaller towns. It was never enough.  Despite all the social policy she had learned, despite all the hours working in meetings, working in the public, learning about Fire Country’s and the Moon Kingdom’s most successful campaigns to end hunger and homelessness, she was never enough.  There was never enough. Change couldn’t come soon enough, and the inequity was even more apparent in the winter. When she was queen, could she make a difference?

Unknown to Hinata, Toneri was taking account of her serious expression.  Her mouth set in a frown. Her usually kind eyes, devoid of joy. And he understood.  “Hinata.”

She snapped out of her thoughts.  “Toneri-kun?”

He gave her a sympathetic smile.  “Thank you for helping me with our Christmas Campaign again this year.”

Hinata shook her head.  “I’m happy to do it. It’s a good event.”

“I’m planning more in-person charity events for next year.”

Hinata’s eyes widened slightly in interest.  “You are? That’s great!”

Toneri smiled, pleased that she seemed to cheer up a little.  “Yes. I know you are graduating high school in Fire Country, so you won’t be able to attend the spring season’s events, but maybe over the summer, you can come back and join me.  When you attend Imperial Moon University in the fall, you can also participate then.”

Hinata dropped her gaze.  “Yes, for sure over the summer I will join you.  Acceptance letters don’t come in until March or April, so I can’t say right now, definitively, that I will be attending Imperial Moon, though.”   

“Nonsense.  Of course they will accept you.”

Hinata paused.  In a level tone, she added, “I am also considering Konoha University.”

Hardly anything ever caught Toneri by surprise, but this did not align to what he knew about Hinata.  “Konoha University? I would think Imperial Moon is more prestigious.”

“I can still learn a lot more about Fire Country, though, before moving here permanently.”

“Imperial Moon can better prepare you.  You would be able to create a stronger vision for your life work, and the connections you would establish during college would be useful later.”

“Yes...I think I could say the same for Konoha University.”

Toneri lifted his eyebrows.  “You seem decided.”

Hinata considered his words.  “No, I’m not. I’m torn. I care deeply for the Moon Kingdom, but…” I also miss my home.  “As Fire Country’s representative, I need to learn much more about my home.  I spent a good deal of my education here. Sometimes I feel like I know more about the Moon Kingdom than Fire Country.  Since moving back, it has become much more apparent to me how lacking I am in knowledge concerning affairs in Fire Country.”

“Does Hiashi-san know about your plans?”

“Yes, he is leaving the choice up to me.”

Toneri turned away, again, surprised.  He would never admit it, though. “I know you care about the Moon Kingdom.  You care more than some of our highest officials.” He turned to face Hinata again.  “Take my opinion into your consideration. The people like you. You do a lot of good for this country.  Since your return…” His chest felt tight suddenly. He cleared his throat. “Since your return, the work is easier for me, too.  I would like you to attend Imperial Moon with me.” He averted his eyes, but was still acutely aware of Hinata’s gaze upon his face.

Hinata looked at Toneri in wonder.  He rarely spoke about himself. In all the time she had known him, he hardly ever shared his own feelings.  And she considered herself one of the people closest to him. It was hard for him while I was gone .   He really wants me here.   “Toneri-kun,” she said softly.  “I will carefully consider your thoughts.  Thank you for your kind words. I do not do so much.  I will try to make a decision that is best for the kingdom.”

Toneri met her gaze.  “That is all I can ask for from you.”

They held each other’s gazes for another moment in mutual understanding.  Hinata finally dropped her eyes and turned to look out the window again. It would be a hard decision.  At this moment, she felt the better choice would be Imperial Moon, but she knew. She knew that when she returned home, she would want to stay in Konoha.  She was so blissfully happy there. Responsibilities were fewer. No one treated her like royalty. She could be herself. Toneri-kun wants me here.  Perhaps he relies on me...more than I thought.   It was a decision she didn’t want to think about.  Hinata closed her eyes, letting exhaustion overtake her.

Toneri regarded Hinata.  His brief moment of vulnerability had left his heart pounding, and he hoped it hadn’t shown.  He hadn’t realized how much she meant to him until he had seen her again a few days ago. Until this moment, he hadn’t realized how much he had been counting on seeing her by his side, at the same school again.  He still had a year and a half of university studies. He furrowed his brow, realizing that it might turn into another few years of being alone. Hearing her light, unguarded breathing, he guessed she had fallen asleep.  He took the chance to look her over. Her fair skin, long, dark hair, and full figure was pleasing to him. He wondered if what he was feeling was love or just desire spurred on by stress and loneliness. He figured it didn’t really matter in the end, what he felt for her.  But he still wondered. He wondered what it felt like to love someone, and he thought it would be nice if he did love her. He knew for a fact he admired her. She was so young, yet took her role so seriously. She’s intelligent.  She’s kind. He stole another look at her.   She’s beautiful .  As his future queen, he couldn’t have asked for anyone better.

Chapter Text

Hinata checked her calendar on her phone.   Just three more days.  Sighing, she leaned back in her armchair, mentally preparing herself for the conference in an hour.

Brrrmmmm.  The buzz of her phone interrupted the morning quiet.  Even louder was the pounding in her heart.  Naruto was calling.  

Quickly smoothing her hair into place, Hinata swiped to accept the video call.  “Hello? Naruto-kun?”

“Hinata, good morning.”

Although she knew it would be him, the appearance of his charming smile still sent warmth to her cheeks.  “Good morning.”  Hinata shyly smiled back.  They had talked on the phone many times before, but this was the first time he was calling her unplanned.  Hinata was sharply cognizant of this fact, and she couldn’t help feeling self-conscious of herself.

Naruto stayed silent for a moment, and Hinata tilted her head in curiosity as she wondered why he was calling her.  He quietly cleared his throat. “Are you busy right now?  I’m not bothering you, am I?”

Hinata shook her head.  “I just have to leave in thirty minutes.”

Naruto nodded to show he understood.  After another moment, he asked, “How have you been?  What have you been doing?”  A gentle smile settled on his face.

“Oh, I’ve been well.  Busy, I guess,” Hinata began.  His soft voice, unlike his usual exuberant tone at school, made her heart flutter, and she still felt shy.   

“Yeah?” Naruto encouraged her to continue.

“Mmm, like today, I have an all-day conference to attend.”

“What is it about?”

“Tourism industry leaders are presenting on ways to bolster the Moon Kingdom’s economy.  A few of the sessions I am attending concern marketing strategies and ways to promote the Moon Kingdom’s image overseas.”

“The Moon Kingdom’s image?”

“Yes, the big question is whether the Moon Kingdom should mainly market itself as an outdoor adventure due to its natural beauty, as a destination for historical sites, or as a getaway for romance and refinement.”

Naruto nodded.  “It sounds interesting.  I’m kind of jealous. I hope one day I get to go to things like that for Fire Country.”  

“You still want to be Hokage, right?”  A memory of little Naruto shouting his dreams across the playground flashed in her mind.

He grinned.  “Yeah, I do...I guess I don’t talk about it as much as I used to, but I still want to be the Hokage one day.”

“...And I still think you’ll be a great Hokage.”  Although quiet, the conviction in her voice was unmistakable.

“Ah, thanks.”  Naruto looked down.  A burn rose to his cheeks.

He’s embarrassed? , Hinata wondered, noting his rapid blinking and his nervous habit of rubbing the back of his neck.

Naruto eventually looked up again with a smile and continued their conversation.  They talked about their New Year’s celebrations, his shrine-visit with Sasuke and Sakura, her other meetings, his meetings for Student Council, and before she knew it, she had to leave.  Reluctantly, Hinata closed their conversation. “Naruto-kun, my ride is here. I have to go.”

“Oh.  Yeah, I guess it’s been thirty minutes, huh?”

“Mm…it went by quickly.”  Hinata realized that he had called her just to talk.  The thought sent a thrill through her. “Thank you for calling me.  I…” Hinata pushed herself to complete her thought.  “I really enjoy talking to you.”   Will you call me again?  Can we talk tomorrow?  Can we talk everyday like this?  I’ve missed you so much.  These anxious thoughts couldn’t make it past her tongue.

“I do, too…Do you think we can talk tomorrow, too?  Or will you be busy at this time?”

Hinata felt like her heart would burst.  “Yes, I am free at this time in the mornings.”  She felt breathless.

“Great.”  Naruto smiled.  “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.  I hope your conference today is good.”

“Thank you.”  Hinata smiled.  “Tomorrow, then.  Bye-bye, Naruto-kun.”   

“Bye, Hinata.”

 

Naruto put his phone down.  His heart was beating a mile a minute.  He had hoped calling her would settle his thoughts, but they still ran on repeat, only it seemed worse than it had been before.   Does she like me, too?  Does she feel the same way as me?  Is she just nice?  Does she only say things like that to me?  She said “still.”  So she’s always believed that I have a chance at becoming Hokage?  Since when?  Since we were kids?  She said she enjoys talking to me.  She likes me, but does she like me?  She’s so nice.  She’s so…  Naruto’s heart clenched.  He got up from his chair and fell into bed, exhausted.  He had worked up all his courage to call her. He had been waffling on it for days, replaying her words “I missed you, Naruto-kun” over and over in his mind to build up his confidence.   Does she like me, too?  He had tried to read her facial expressions throughout the call.  Her small smiles, her careful and caring way of speaking, the fall of her hair when she tilted her head to listen to him speak--he found them all so attractive.  He realized, belatedly, that he had gotten so lost in just looking at her, she must have thought he was acting strangely.  He realized he was in deep. It was like Kiba said--he was “so into her.”  He already missed her.  Naruto swiped through the pictures on his phone, confirming the fact that he only had photos of ramen.  Too restless to sleep, he got up and headed to the living room sofa.  Way past the point of feeling any embarrassment for his desperation, he searched around his friends’ social media profiles, looking for photos of her.  Digging a couple of months back, he finally found a photo of her with Ino from Spirit Week.  Her hair sprouted from the top of her head in a high ponytail, baggy athletic tank tops layered over her sweater, and a tulle skirt floated over her skinny jeans.  She was laughing with Ino, probably over their Wacky Wednesday outfits.  Warmth spread through his chest at the sight of her smile.  Cute, he couldn’t help thinking.

“The blonde one or the blue-haired one?”

“The blue-hair.”  

“I agree.  Big tits.”

Huh?  Naruto jerked his head around and turned his screen face-down.  “Dad!!?”  He had been so far-gone, he hadn’t noticed his godfather looking over his shoulder.

“What?  You were sighing and looking so moony-eyed.  I was just worried about you.”

“You- you don’t have to say things like that, though!  And it’s not like that!  She’s not..that’s not why I… You shouldn’t look at my friends like that!  You’re so old!  Why do you have to be so perverted?! Hinata’s not like that.  It’s not like that.”  Naruto stumbled over his words.  The innocent girl he had only just realized he was in love with got eye-raped by his perverted, old godfather.  It was mortifying.

“You know I can’t help it.  This perverted mind is what puts food on the table, so you should appreciate it,” Jiraiya reminded him.

“Still, though!  And writing those stories isn’t your real job!”

“It’s the money-maker, and you know that.  That’s why I can afford to send you to Konoha High School.”

Naruto buried his face in his hands.  Somehow he had lost the argument even if he had been in the right.

“...So her name is Hinata.”

“Yeah,” Naruto muffled through his hands.

“Her eyes are white.  Is she a Hyuuga?”

Naruto finally looked up.  “Yeah, her name is Hyuuga Hinata.”

“Hmmm.  So is she the older one or the younger Hyuuga?”

“Older.”  Naruto flipped his phone back up to gaze at her picture again.

“I thought you liked your pink-haired friend, Sakura-chan.”

Naruto slowly shook his head, still gazing at the smiling girl on his phone.

Jiraiya regarded his godson, who was completely wrapped up in his own world.  “A Hyuuga, huh?  I guess I should wish you luck with that.  She’s a modern-day princess.”

Naruto turned to look at his godfather as he contemplated this new information.  “Modern-day princess?”

“Back when Fire Country was clans-run, the Hyuuga clan were considered royalty.  Their white eyes were believed to be proof of their heavenly lineage, tracing back to the Sage of Six Paths.  In fact, a lot of people still believe that the Hyuuga are related to the gods.”

Naruto turned his godfather’s words over in his mind.  “That explains why she has to do so much political work.”

“Is that why you like her?  Sounds like she’s right up your alley.”

Naruto blushed.  He shook his head.  “Even if she didn’t do all that…”  He turned to look at her picture again.  He scratched his head.  It was hard to explain.  He was still tripping over the fact that he liked her.  He hadn’t had time to think about his reasons for liking her.  He just did. “I don’t know.  She’s just...nice.”  Even that didn’t feel exactly right with him.  “I feel comfortable around her…” She really gets me.   “We’ve both lost parents in car accidents.  We both had a difficult time when we were kids…”  He wondered if these were his reasons, but even with all of these, something was missing.   I feel so happy around her .  “I don’t know…exactly...”

Jiraiya nodded his head to show he understood.  “Well, get to it, then.  Better ask her out before some prince snatches her up.”

Naruto squinted at his godfather, unable to tell if he was joking.  “I can’t just ask her out!”

“Why not?”

“I...I…I just can’t.  I don’t know what she thinks of me.  And I...I don’t want to ruin things with her.”

“Don’t be a wuss.”

“I’m not being a wuss!”

Jiraiya raised an eyebrow at him.

“She’s an important friend.”  She’s the only person who doesn’t call me an idiot.  “I don’t want to lose that.”

Jiraiya patted his back sympathetically.  “I’m going to go do some work.  You should go to bed.  It’s getting late.”

Naruto nodded but stayed planted on the couch.  His attention was already back on his phone, now caught up in trying to find another photo of her.

 

****

 

The morning of the start of second semester, Naruto had looked himself over in the mirror more than he had ever done in his life.  Today was the day.  The day he’d get to see Hinata in person, and she would get to see him...with his new haircut.   Is it too short?   What if she likes guys more on the wild-side?   But maybe she likes clean-cut guys?   On his ride to school and as he walked to the usual spot where everyone meets in the morning, he couldn’t help agonizing over how to win her heart.  Buy her more presents?  Carry her things?  Compliment her?  Work out more?

“Wow, you’re looking fresh!” Kiba nodded in approval, cutting into his thoughts.

“Yeah, wow, Naruto!  You look…” Sakura eyed him analytically.  “Smarter,” she concluded.

“He’s still the same idiot on the inside.  Don’t let the outside fool you,” Sasuke commented.

Naruto’s sheepish grin abruptly deformed.  “What, Sasuke?! You wanna go?! I’ll beat your a-”

“It is a nice haircut.”

Her soft voice filled up his heart like a balloon.  He could have floated away right then and there.  He turned to see her putting her bag down.  “Hinata…” All previous worries were washed away as he zeroed in on her smile.

“Good morning,” she greeted cheerily.

His heart pounded, and he found he was at a loss for words.  How did he usually speak to her?  He couldn’t figure out language as he grappled with the re-realization that he likes her.  He lost his chance to say anything as she was swept into a conversation with Shino and Kiba.  Disappointed in himself, he clenched his fist.

“You couldn’t even say thanks?  You really are an idiot,” Sasuke murmured next to him.

Naruto glared at him, but couldn’t think of a comeback.  He glanced over at Hinata, and felt his heart jump into his throat when he unexpectedly made eye contact with her.  She blushed a surprised smile and looked away.  She had been looking at him.  He considered the possibility that she was checking him out, and it was such a stroke to his ego, he smirked a little.  She looked at him again, openly admiring him, and smiled shyly.  Naruto returned her shy smile with a small one of his own as he shifted his weight over.  He felt so attractive.  He never felt so handsome in his life.  He felt suave.  He felt-

“If your head gets any bigger, it’ll pop.”

Sasuke’s voice had never sounded so annoying to his ears.  He glanced at Sasuke.  “Just shut up, will you?”  He looked at Hinata again, but she wasn’t looking at him anymore.  He turned to Sasuke again, strangely upset. “One of these days I’m going to wreck that pretty boy face of yours.”

“Hn” was Sasuke’s short response.  

Naruto looked back at her longingly, but she seemed to refuse to meet his gaze again.  At least it felt that way to him.   Look at me look at me look at me.  A needy desire for her full attention crept into him, and his legs moved on their own accord.  

“...is this Saturday.”  Hinata’s soothing voice met his ears.

“We’ll definitely be there!  Right, Shino?”

“Yes, we wouldn’t miss it.  The reason is we want to cheer you on in one of your last high school competitions.”

“What’s this weekend?” Naruto entered their conversation.

“Oh Naruto!  You won’t want to miss it!” Kiba smiled widely.

“Ahh!  Kiba-kun!”  Hinata shook her head rapidly in desperation.

This piqued Naruto’s curiosity even more.  “What’s happening?” he repeated.

Hinata mouthed a silent “no” and continued to give little shakes of her head.

Naruto began to feel his heart drop, seeing that she didn’t want him to know whatever it was, until Shino answered.

“Her Gentle Fist competition is this Saturday.  It is at 8:00 AM at Might Gym.  She is predicted to win first place as her Gentle Fist is unparalleled within her age group.”  

Naruto’s eyes widened in excitement, but then narrowed in concern over Hinata’s reluctance to let him in on it.  “You don’t want me to go?”

Hinata looked away, fingering her necklace nervously.  “It’s embarrassing…”

“No, it’s not!  You’ll be awesome!” Naruto reassured her.

She hesitantly turned her eyes up at him.  “I might mess up, though.” Especially with you watching, she couldn’t help thinking.

“No way, you’ll be fine!  Kiba, Shino, I’ll be there!  Count me in!” Naruto grinned at them.

Hinata scrunched her eyebrows together and pouted.  

His heart was seizing up in all kinds of ways.  She’s so cute.  “Hinata…”

At the sound of her name, she looked at him, puppy dog eyes and all.  

So cute.  “Don’t worry!  You practice every night!  I know how hard you practice.”

She silently nodded a little, her mouth turned up in a little frown.

So cute.  So cute.  “I’ve been wanting to see you actually do it for awhile now.”

Her eyes widened, and as she looked down, he didn’t miss the blush that dusted her cheeks.

She’s so cute.  His heart squeezed.

 

***

 

She’s lethal.  Hand pressed over his mouth and chin, Naruto was deeply engrossed in her fights.  

Hinata was poised over her opponent, who lay on the ground after Hinata had narrowly avoided a jab, grabbed her opponent’s wrist, struck her in the neck, and sent a blow to her abdomen.  Her opponent slowly stood up after Hinata was declared the winner of that round.  The two bowed to each other.

“Woohoo, yeah!  Go Hinata!” Kiba loudly cheered.

Hinata glanced up at the bleachers as they left the ring.

Naruto clapped and cheered loudly, smiling, hoping to catch her attention.

She smiled at them and continued to the side to rest.

Naruto sat back again.  

“Aren’t you impressed?” Kiba asked cheekily.

Naruto nodded his head.  “Yeah, it’s really…” Hot.   “Amazing.  She looks like she couldn’t hurt anyone.”  

Shino nodded in agreement.  “For awhile she wanted to quit.  She thought she was too weak for Gentle Fist training, but after going to the Moon Kingdom, she changed.  That must have been...seventh grade.  When she came back for that year’s competition, she told us that she was going to keep doing it.  She has grown stronger each year since.  The reason?  She never told us.”

Naruto listened intently to Shino.  His words struck a memory.  The wisps of it were faint, but he remembered Hinata.  He had been with her after a fainting spell at the Health Room.  He wasn’t sure how the conversation had gone, but that was when she told him she was moving, and that she was scared.  Scared because she was weak against bullies, scared because she didn’t know what would happen to her without him.  He couldn’t remember, either, what he had told her, but he knew that he never once thought that she was weak.  He must have told her that.  He would’ve wanted her to know that.

“It’s the final round!”  Kiba excitedly leaned forward as Hinata and a boy stepped into the ring.

Naruto broke from his reminiscing to watch the match.

 

Hinata slid into her stance, her arms tilted, palms flat, their grace hiding her strength.  She had been observing her opponent throughout the competition, making a note of his strengths and searching for any weaknesses.  From what she had seen, he was slower than her, but as a boy, he was naturally strong, and he smartly used his weight to his advantage against girls.  Hinata took a steady breath in and exhaled slowly.  Although she had confidence in her skills, if she got hit by him, it could still be her loss.

The boy spread his legs and arms back, mirroring her.  The referee gave the signal, and the two began to circle each other.  Their long steps gained speed.  The boy finally closed in on her and the two began their dance of evasion.  His fingers sought her ribcage, but Hinata swiped his arm away.  She slid under his arm, but the boy turned before she could jab at his back.  He arched away from her hand and quickly circled away from her.  Hinata, however, didn’t let up.  She spun twice, too fast for him to get a hit on her, ducked abruptly, and kicked at his hip joint.  Her momentum caused him to stumble back, but he managed to stay on his feet.  Hinata continued her offense.  She circled toward him rapidly and feinted her hand toward his right side.  The boy moved to block her away, but she withdrew; his own arm circled only air as she turned and struck out at his left side.  In a show of quick reaction, he pushed her arm out and attempted to land a solid hit below her collar bone.  Hinata quickly pushed his arm away from her chest.  He tried to jab her again at her ribs, but Hinata managed to block him again.  Both his arms thrown wide, Hinata ducked below him and jabbed her elbow into his back.  The match was decided from there.  She circled her hand up and hit him below his neck.  Her focused force sent him to the mat below.

 

Naruto, Shino, and Kiba cheered for her in the stands as the two faced each other and bowed.  

“She makes it look easy,” Kiba commented with an amazed shake of his head.

“Yeah, it really makes me wonder how I’d do against her with my judo.”

“You would lose,” Shino said with no uncertainty.

Naruto turned to Shino and frowned.  “You really think so?  I’ve placed every year.”

Shino nodded.  “You are good, but you would still lose.  The reason is that Hinata is too fast.  Second, the Hyuuga clan specialize in Gentle Fist.  A Hyuuga family member wins every year.  Last year the winner was her cousin Neji Hyuuga.  Next year the winner will probably be her sister, Hanabi.”

“Don’t feel bad about it, Naruto.  She’s stronger than all of us combined,” Kiba joked.

Naruto nodded a little and turned his attention back to Hinata, who was lining up next to the second and third place winners.  If he had to describe how he felt about that, he would have to say he felt...weird.  She was strong.  There was no denying that.  He had always known that.  But stronger than him?  That was just...wrong.  The girl wasn’t supposed to be stronger than the guy.  Breaking out of these discomforting thoughts, he clapped loudly for Hinata as she received her trophy.

 

“Woohoo!  Look at this bangah!” Kiba cheered as Hinata approached them after the awards ceremony.  

Hinata gave an embarrassed smile.  “I can’t believe you guys actually came to watch me again.”

“We watch you every year.  It should be no surprise,” Shino stated with a small smile.  “And your win was of no surprise, either.  Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Shino-kun.”  Hinata returned his smile with her own.

Naruto stood their in stunned silence as they congratulated her.  Her cinched purple vest revealed her smooth arms, small shoulders, and thin waist.  Her chest deliciously hung over the wide belt.  Her tied up hair revealed her neck that lightly glistened with sweat.  Seeing her up close now, wearing figure-hugging, skin-revealing clothing she never wore at school or on their video calls, he found himself attracted to her in a way he never had before.

“-ruto was totally impressed.”    

Hearing Kiba mention him, Naruto snapped out of it.  “Yeah, Hinata, you were awesome,” Naruto praised.  “I knew you could fight, but watching you do it was something else.  You’re really strong.”

Hinata played with her ponytail in embarrassment.  Avoiding eye contact, she said, “Thank you, Naruto-kun.  It’s thanks to your encouragement that I decided to keep going with Gentle Fist.”

Naruto cocked his head.  “Thanks to my encouragement?” he repeated.  “Let’s not go through this again, Hinata.  It’s obviously thanks to your own hard work that you’re as strong as you are!”

“Eh, no, Naruto-kun.  You don’t know how much you helped me back then,” she said bashfully.

As the two began their little inside joke, Kiba and Shino found themselves looking at each other knowingly.  

After listening to their back-and-forths and poorly-veiled compliments, Kiba finally decided to interrupt.  “You guys argue like a married couple.  Go get a room.”

Hinata let his words filter through.  She reddened at the idea that they argued like a couple, but... Go get...a room?  To argue in?   “Huh?” Hinata asked in confusion.  “We’re just playing.  We’re not arguing for real.”

Shino just coughed, and Kiba snorted at Hinata’s misunderstanding.

Naruto’s mouth had dropped in shock at Kiba’s suggestion.  He then looked at Hinata in amazement upon hearing her questioning.   She doesn’t get it?  So...innocent!  His own face red, Naruto, for a second, didn’t know which concern to address first.  

Naruto gave Kiba an angry look and then turned to Hinata, who looked like she didn’t know if she said something funny.  “Ignore Kiba,” he told her.

“What is it?” Hinata narrowed her eyes at her snickering friend.

“You don’t want to know.”  Naruto was still surprised that she hadn’t heard that euphemism before.  The knowledge that her mind was so spotless filled him with contrary desires over her.  

Hinata turned to look up toward Naruto.  Her cheeks had reddened in that moment as her brows knit together.  She averted her eyes.  “Is it...something dirty?”

“Uhh…”  Naruto didn’t know what to say as he realized he had clued her in too much.  He could only look down at her blushing figure.  Her blushing figure that he could do a lot of dirty things to.  Naruto blinked hard to return his mind from the gutter.  “It’s nothing for you to worry about.  Kiba’s just being stupid.”

Hinata frowned at Kiba, who continued to laugh at the awkward situation he had put them in.

Naruto decided he had to change the subject.  “So...Shino is certain that you could beat me in a fight.”

Shino nodded his head calmly to reassert his opinion.

Hinata put a fist up to her chin in thought.  

Naruto eyed her, realizing that if she was thinking this hard about it, she must think she does have a chance at beating him.  “You think you can beat me?  I’m a judo champ, you know.”  Naruto smiled at her provokingly.

Hinata looked up thoughtfully.  “Well, I haven’t seen you in a formal fight before.  I don’t think it’s fair if you’ve gotten to see me, but I haven’t gotten to see your fighting capabilities.”  This time Hinata looked at Naruto with a challenging smile.

Naruto regarded the glint in her eyes with a smirk.  Damn, she’s hot.  “Alright.  Come watch my judo competition next month.  Then we’ll decide who’s stronger.”

“Hinata, don’t waste your time.  You could give him the beatdown any day,” Kiba said, brushing off Naruto’s invitation.  

Hinata shook her head.  “I’ll go, Naruto-kun.  To support you, too.  Not just to see who’s stronger.”  Her expression changed into a sweet smile that melted away Naruto’s desire to fight her.

Naruto’s own smile turned tender.  Heart pulsing with the new desire to kiss her sweet smile, Naruto began, “Hinata…”

“Ughh.  I can’t be around the two of you.  Go get a roo-”

“SHUT UP KIBA,” Naruto turned and yelled.  He reached out to choke the wild-haired boy, but he leaned back just in time.  Naruto chased Kiba out into the parking lot.

Hinata turned to look at Shino questioningly, but Shino just adjusted his sunglasses and shook his head.

Chapter Text

“I got accepted to Suna University yesterday.”

“Suna?  You didn’t tell me you applied there!”  Ino turned to Sakura in shock.

Recently, the girls of the group were more frequently sitting together at lunch.  After the Christmas party, they had made it a point to hang out more closely.

“Yeah, it was sort of a last minute decision,” Sakura replied with a sheepish look.  “They have a pretty good medical program.”

“Didn’t you want to study under Tsunade-san at Konoha University?” Shion asked.  “She runs the best medical program, doesn’t she?”

Sakura nodded.  “I still do...but…” Sakura turned to look at Sasuke, who seemed to be tolerating a conversation with Naruto.  She turned back to her friends who had followed her gaze.

“Sasuke is planning to go to Wind Country?” Shion surmised, surprise evident on her face.

“He mentioned it.” Sakura sighed.  “Last time I asked, he said he didn’t have any definite plans, though.”

Hinata watched Sakura thoughtfully.  She realized they were in similar positions.  “You got into Konoha University, right?” she asked.

“Yes, I found out last week.  You did, too, right?”

Hinata nodded.

“Where else did you apply?” Sakura asked.  The girls turned their attention to their blue-haired friend.

“I’m also considering Imperial Moon University.”

“Ahhh...I could’ve guessed that.”  Sakura nodded. “So, which was your first choice?”

Hinata looked down.  If she went with her heart, she would say Konoha University.  “Honestly, I’m not sure. They’re both really good schools.”

“Naruto is going to Konoha University,” Shion stated, as if the thought had just occurred to her randomly.  But really she was watching Hinata’s reaction to her words.

“Oh, really?” Hinata’s eyes widened.  She looked back down. She hadn’t asked him.  She was scared to have his plans influence her own.  She knew that if he was going to Konoha University, it would make it that much harder for her to accept Imperial Moon’s offer.

Shion exchanged looks with Ino.

“It would be sad for everyone to split up.  Don’t leave me!” Ino cried out dramatically.  

Hinata looked up at Ino.  “You’re going to Konoha University?”

“Hah!  Are you kidding?  I don’t have the grades for that!  I’m planning on attending Biwako College for psychology.”   

“Biwako College is the all-girls school in Konoha, right?” Hinata asked.

“Yep!  I’ll be there with you, Ino!” Shion said excitedly.  

“Yayy!” Ino celebrated.  The two high-fived each other.

“Ughh.  I wish I was that decisive.” Sakura put her head down on the lunch table.  She looked at the two blondes enviously.

“Sasuke-kun doesn’t know for sure what he wants to do?” Hinata asked her sighing friend.

“No, well, I think he does.  I know I shouldn’t try to follow him.  I don’t want to burden him.” Sakura said quietly.  The three leaned in closer to hear her. “He has aspirations and dreams.”

“Aspirations?  Dreams? Like what?  Like how Naruto wants to be Hokage?” Ino asked.

Sakura just shook her head.  She knew she couldn’t talk about Sasuke’s thoughts to others since he was a rather private person.  “If I want to support him, I just need to become so awesome, he can’t ignore me! Konoha University it is.  Tsunade-san, here I come!”

Ino clapped her on the shoulder.  “That’s the spirit!” She then turned to Hinata.  “What about you? Why would you want to go to Imperial Moon?”

Hinata hesitated.  Everyone was so honest with their feelings.  She was starting to feel like she was lying to her friends whenever the Moon Kingdom came up in conversation.  “If I go to Imperial Moon, I’m closer to my job.” Hinata couldn’t find it in herself to tell the whole truth.

“Your job?” Shion asked.

“Oh, that’s right.  That’s why you had to go to the Moon Kingdom over Winter Break,” Sakura recalled.  “You’re a--what did Naruto call it? You’re a teenage ambassador.”

Hinata nodded and gave a tight-lipped smile.  It wasn’t exactly a lie, so why did it feel like one?

“So, you have to go there then?” Shion looked at Hinata with concern.

Ino pouted.  “Nooo! We’ll be lonely without you.”

“Yeah, and recently Naruto’s been easier to deal with.  It must be because you’re keeping him in check.” Sakura turned a sneaky grin at Hinata.

Hinata blushed a little.  “Well, I don’t think I have to go to Imperial Moon University.”

Ino clapped her hands together once.  “Alright!” Seeing that she had everyone’s attention, she went on, “Then don’t!”

“Yeah, stay with us!” Shion added.

Hinata smiled, a bit in pain.   If only it was that easy .  “I don’t know.  I have a lot of responsibilities there and I don’t know how much longer I can put them off.”

Ino gave her a skeptical look.  “College is supposed to be the best time of our lives!  You know, partying, meeting people, discovering ourselves.  That’s what the movies all say.”

Hinata wanted to scoff, but held it in.  “Ino-chan, my life is, whether fortunately or unfortunately, not a movie.”  She shook her head to emphasize her words.

“Hmmm...well, you know, Hinata.”  Ino took a sip of her drink. “I believe that life is what we make of it.  If you want your life to be like a movie, then it can be. It all depends on your choices.”  

My choices?  Do I have a choice?  Hinata shook her head again.  “I don’t know, Ino. I don’t think I have that kind of freedom.”

Ino frowned.  “That. That’s not healthy thinking.  Don’t let other people tell you how to live your life.  Be you!”

Hinata just looked at her.  Something was stirring at the base of her chest, and she didn’t like the feeling.

Ino continued.  “Take your sweaters for example.  You wear those because you’re self-conscious of your boobs, right?  All those haters make you think what you have is something you should hide, but what you have is a glorious gift.  Flaunt what your momma gave you!”

Hinata unconsciously moved her arms in front of her chest.  “Don’t…” she paused. What exactly did she want to say? Don’t talk about my body?  Don’t talk about my clothing choices?  Don’t talk about my mom? Don’t talk as if you understand the pressure I’m under?  Before she could control it, a scowl crossed her face.  

Sakura and Shion, who had been observing the interaction, quickly realized that Hinata was not comfortable with it.  Sakura shot Ino a look that said “shut up.”

Shion awkwardly said, “It’s okay, Hinata.  I think it’s fine if you don’t want to flaunt.”

Hinata snapped out of her spell and noticed Ino’s look of guilt.  Regret etched into Hinata. This was why she didn’t like complaining.  The less she spoke of her work, the better.

“I’m sorry, Hinata.  I don’t know what your responsibilities are like,” Ino began.  

“No, you don’t have to say sorry, Ino.  I just get stressed out when I think about my job.”  Hinata gave Ino an apologetic smile.

Sakura looked curiously at Hinata.  “Can I ask…why do you have to do this?  Do you enjoy it? It sounds to me like you don’t like it.”

“Oh.”  Hinata gave her knee-jerk response.  “It’s important to me. The Moon Kingdom is important to me, and I care about their people.  It’s hard work, but it’s work that can do a lot of good.”

“I see.”  Sakura peered at Hinata.  “How did you get started with this?  Does your family have connections to the Moon Kingdom or something?”

“Um.”  For the first time in a long time, Hinata was at a complete loss for words.  Troubled, Hinata looked away, only to see a large grin on a tanned face right next to her.  The smile was so at odds with her current mood, Hinata was taken aback. “Na-Naruto-kun!”

“Yo!” he greeted cheerily.

“Naruto.  Can’t you see we’re having our precious girl-time.  Move out.” Sakura said with a glare.

“Sasuke’s here, too.  Don’t just make me go away.  Plus! I can answer your question!”    

Hinata looked at Naruto in shock.   He knows?  What does he know?  Did Kiba-kun tell him?  Hinata couldn’t appropriately react to his claim.

“Hinata’s a princess!”  

Shion turned to Hinata, her eyes aglitter.  “You’re a princess?” she asked in awe.

“Um.”  Hinata was still at a loss for words.

Sakura shook her head.  “What are you saying? Do you even hear yourself?  We don’t live in the medieval era.”

“I’m not lying!” Naruto whined.  “My godfather told me the Hyuuga clan were considered royalty back in the day.  Even the Uchiha clan...Sasuke, tell them what you told me!”

Sasuke sighed.  “The dimwit is right.  The rest of you need to brush up on your history.  The Hyuuga were believed to be descended from the gods, the proof being their unique eye color.  The Uchiha clan used to make up the police force, right? Even before the clans came together to create a just society, so, yes, in the ‘medieval era,’ the Uchiha were a samurai clan, who served the Hyuuga.”

“See!  Told you guys.” Naruto gave a smug smile.

“Woah.”  Ino looked at Hinata.

“You are a princess.”  Shion turned back to Hinata in amazement.

Hinata felt relief flood through her.   So he doesn’t know.  Yet just as quickly, a weight pulled her mood back down.  She realized that she should tell him. She should tell all of them.  That she’s engaged. That she’s set to be a queen one day. The more she dodged their questions, the more she felt like she was lying to them.  

Sakura analyzed Hinata.  Something didn’t seem right to her about Hinata’s expression.  “You didn’t want us to know that you’re a princess?”

Hinata looked up.  “It’s not that I didn’t want anyone to know.  It’s just not something I feel comfortable saying about myself.  It’s kind of weird.”

“Hm.” Sakura continued to analyze her.  “So because you’re a princess, you have to do this stuff?”  Sakura tracked their conversation back to the original intention.

Hinata dropped her gaze again.  She had to tell them. She had to.  She steeled herself.

The bell rang.                  

“Ughhh.  I hate Pre-Calc.  Worst hour of the day.  Hey, Choji, did you do the homework?” Ino picked herself up and begrudgingly joined her friend to go to class.

Hinata let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.  “I guess we should get going.”

Sakura gave her a measured look before standing.  “Yeah...see you guys later.”

“Oh, wait!” Naruto called.  “Hinata, you, too.”

“We’re going to be late.  Make it quick.” Sakura rolled her eyes.

“I wanted to invite you guys to see my judo tournament.”

“It’s this Saturday, isn’t it?” Hinata felt excitement begin to replace the heaviness of their previous conversation.

“Yeah!  It starts at 8:30 here at our gym.”

“I’ll be there.  See you guys,” Sakura quickly waved and turned to go to her class.

Hinata watched Naruto turn to her with a hopeful shine in his eyes.  “I’ll be there, too, Naruto-kun. I’ve been saying that I’ll go, haven’t I?”  For a second, she felt dazed by his wide smile. Folding her arms, partially to conceal her thrumming heart, she added, “And I didn’t forget...I need to see if you’re as good as you say you are.”  Hinata turned a challenging look up at her crush before beginning to walk toward the building their classes were in. She saw a look of shock, or maybe surprise, flit over his features before he followed her with a chuckle.  

Catching up to her pace, he gave her a confident smirk.  “Well then, I promise to not disappoint.”

Hinata would have squealed if she was alone.  Confident Naruto was always the hottest in her opinion.  “Mmm, I have high expectations for my hero.” The words had already left her mouth by the time she realized what she had said, and she squeezed her eyes shut in embarrassment.  It crossed her mind that now would be a good time to faint, but she knew she simply wasn’t capable of it anymore. Cheeks blazing, she peeked at the boy next to her, only to find he wasn’t there.  She then looked down, and was surprised to find him squatting, his crossed hands hiding his downturned face as his thumbs propped his temples. “Naruto-kun?” Hinata noted the redness of his ears.

He rubbed his hands down his face and popped back up to standing.  They continued their walk to their classes, but Hinata could only make out the slight blush on his cheek as he kept his face turned away.  Right when Hinata thought that maybe she should apologize for saying something so strange, he turned a bashful smile at her. “Even now, I’d do it again...for you.”  Hinata felt her heart stop. He grinned. “But you don’t need me to save you anymore.”

Hinata didn’t know what to say.  Their gazes met, and the warmth in his eyes made Hinata feel like she was worth something.  

Naruto abruptly turned.  “Talk to you later.”

Seeing him walk toward his own class, she headed to her own.  Her body moved on autopilot as she opened her book for her literature class.  Her mind was abuzz with visions of her crush. Even now, he would fight for me?  He would protect me? The thought was swoon-worthy.   And he seemed like he was proud of me.  Proud that I can protect myself.  Her heart swelled.  All she had wanted since returning home was to gain his attention to show him that she had grown into someone he could rely on.  The extent of their friendship was more than she could have dreamed. As she robotically wrote down some notes, her thoughts drifted back to his reaction to being called her hero.  His blushing. His words that were almost...romantic. Even now, I’d do it again for you .  A thought she had never dared to entertain floated to the forefront of her mind.   What if he…  Hinata stopped herself.  It was impossible. Someone like her couldn’t get someone handsome and cool and hot and everything sweet and wonderful in this world like him to look at her in that way.  Yet she dared again.   The way he looked at me.  Is it possible? That he...could like me?  And I like him. And… Hinata felt like a rock was hurled into the pit of her stomach.  She had forgotten. Somehow being around Naruto made her forget who she was.  That she was already in a relationship. That she was already practically married.  That she needed to tell him. Her gut twisted into knots. Maybe she didn’t have to tell him.  After all, it’s not like they were dating or anything. They were just friends. If she didn’t tell him, what difference would it make?                                        

 

**********

 

Hinata pulled out her phone.  She opened her message thread with Naruto.  They rarely messaged each other, so it was easy to find the one he had sent to her the morning of her Gentle Fist tournament.  He had sent her a message saying, “Good luck!” Although the message itself was simple, the emojis attached were random. The first ones were a normal thumbs-up and a wide smile.  The next was a fist, which she guessed made sense. Then it got a little weird. A fox face, a sun, a frog, a bowl of ramen, and confetti. She smiled, remembering how it had given her a boost that day.  She had made a mental note later to return the gesture. Tapping the message box, she typed in, “Good luck today, Naruto-kun!” Now was the emoji part. She wondered if she should be random like his. She wondered if he always used emojis, or if he only used them for her.  She next wondered if she was becoming vain from his attention. Breaking from her thoughts, she decided to go with a face that probably looked like her. She chose a blushing smile and added a shining star.

Almost as quick as she pressed send, she got a message back, saying “Thank you!” with a happy face.  Another message came: “I won’t disappoint you!”

Hinata pondered her response for a second.  The temptation was too strong. She replied, “You’ll do great!  You’re my hero!”

The dots saying he was typing something appeared.  Then it stopped. She realized he was thinking about what to say.  She waited a little longer. A blushing face with comically wide eyes appeared.

Hinata giggled.  She could almost picture his embarrassment.  He was too endearing. She paused to think again about what to reply.   Would a heart be too much?  Something about not being able to actually see him gave her a strange sense of confidence.  She decided on an orange-colored heart. She knew orange was his favorite color. “I’ll see you there!” she typed in.

As soon as she sent it, she worried that the heart really was too much.  She waited a few seconds, a few seconds that seemed to confirm her fears.  But then he replied, “See you there.” It had a winking smiley attached.

Hinata imagined him winking at her.  If he actually winked at me, oh my gosh.  Hinata closed her eyes in bliss.  She would die.  She would absolutely die and go to heaven.  



  

“Yeah!  Crush him, Naruto!  CRUSH! HIM!”

Hinata stared up at Sakura, impressed, and if she had to admit it, slightly scared.  Sakura was cheering loudly, fists pumping, as if she were watching the finals in the Superbowl.  Hinata turned her focus back on Naruto, who had just exchanged bows with his opponent.

The two stepped up toward each other, knees bent.  Naruto grabbed the other boy’s lapel and secured a hold on his wrist.  The other boy attempted to counter his pull by grabbing under Naruto’s arm, but Naruto kicked his leg out and pushed the boy’s legs apart.  The boy flew into the air for half a second as Naruto hurled him onto his back. The ref called it. Naruto had already stepped back, knowing it was his win.

“WOOHOOO!  NA-RU-TO!” Sakura hollered.

Hinata stood and clapped as loudly as she could.  She looked at Sasuke, who sat on the other side of Sakura.  Even he was clapping. And for him, it seemed enthusiastic.

The boy got up and they bowed to each other.  As they exited the mat, they bowed again.

The two girls sat down.  Hinata turned to Sakura. “Sakura-chan, your cheering is really…”

“Loud?”  Sakura smirked.  “I didn’t always cheer like that.”  She turned thoughtful. “I used to be kind of a bitch to Naruto, well, actually I still am, but...a couple of years ago, Sasuke-kun set me straight.”  

Sasuke looked away like he wasn’t listening.

“He pointed out to me that he doesn’t have parents.  He doesn’t have anyone encouraging him except for us.”

Hinata nodded.  She looked around.  Out of the people gathered, she couldn’t tell who could be Naruto’s godfather, or if he was even there.  She looked back down to where Naruto was talking to his coach. Another fight was occurring on the mats. “He’s really good.  His matches are really fast.” Her own Gentle Fist matches were pretty quick, but his were even faster. If you blinked, you would miss it.

After a few more matches, Naruto was up again.  The boy he was paired with was somewhat shorter than him.  Sasuke leaned forward. “This might be difficult for him.”

Hinata glanced at Sasuke.  He didn’t often talk, and she wanted to ask him what he meant.   Isn’t it usually an advantage to be bigger than your opponent?  She didn’t have time to voice her thoughts, though, since his match was already starting.

The two seemed to be in a grabbing and little kicking competition.  Their feet moved quickly to avoid each other’s steps. The shorter boy got a hold of his lapel, but Naruto did too.  In a sudden and surprising move, Naruto bent down, practically between the other boy’s legs. He pulled the boy over his back, which threw his momentum forward.  The boy tried to catch himself, but Naruto stood and flipped the boy over. Naruto completed the throw by using his weight to shove him onto his stomach. The match was called.  

Sakura stood and yelled, “WOO!  YEAH!”

Hinata stood, too.  Cupping her hands on the sides of her mouth, she gathered her courage and cheered, “Yay, Naruto-kun!”

Naruto bowed as he left the mat.  Looking up from his bench towards them, he waved with a large smile and sat down.

Waving, Hinata watched him turn to his teammates.  Remembering what Sasuke had said, she turned towards him and Sakura.  “Sasuke-kun, what were you saying? Why would Naruto-kun have trouble with a shorter opponent?”

“In judo, you have to get below your opponent to throw them.  So naturally, if you are slightly shorter, you may have an advantage.”

Hinata smiled.  “I guess if you’re more skilled, then it doesn’t make a difference.”       

Sasuke made a face that Hinata guessed was most likely an agreeing smile.  

Hinata sat back and observed the current match.  It struck her that that may have been the first time she spoke to Sasuke on her own accord.  Considering that he’s Naruto’s best friend, she realized that she was kind of curious about the quiet boy.  She turned to Sasuke again. “Sasuke-kun, you play soccer right? Do you play any other sports?”

He turned his attention from the judo match to her.  She noticed a very subtle twitch of his eyebrow. She realized she had no idea what any of his body language meant.  Was he annoyed? Was he surprised she was talking to him more? She was kind of surprised with herself after all.

“Yes, I play soccer.  I do kendo outside of school.”

Hinata felt uncomfortable under his unwavering gaze.  “Oh, I didn’t know that you do kendo, too.”

“Oh, Hinata!”  Sakura’s hands were bunched together in small fists below her chin.  Her eyes were sparkling. “Sasuke-kun’s kendo is amazing!” Sakura pretended to swing around a sword.  “He’s like hah! Hah! And then he gets the guy!”

Sasuke watched her with an unreadable expression.  “I wouldn’t call it ‘ha’ and ‘ha,’ but yes, I do ‘get the guy.’”  The corners of his mouth turned up just the slightest bit.

“You know what I mean, Sasuke-kun.”  Her eyes lingered on him for a moment.  A small blushing smile appeared as she turned back to Hinata.  “Hinata, he’s really great at it. You think Naruto’s matches are fast.  Sasuke-kun’s matches are literally one second.”

Hinata was confused and interested by their interaction.  Rather than be offended by Sasuke’s repetition of her words, like Hinata thought she would, Sakura looked happy, as if he had been the one complimenting her.  She concluded that theirs was a strange relationship, but strange as it was, they seemed to understand each other, and she guessed that’s what made them work .  Hinata smiled.  “Sasuke-kun, you must be really good.”

He didn’t verbally respond, but his face seemed to say, “of course I am.”  

Sakura pulled out her phone.  “Look, I took videos from his tournament a few weeks ago.  It’s kind of hard to tell, well, not for me, but he’s the one with the red tag on his back.  You see how the other guy has a white tag?”

“Oh.  Wow.” Hinata watched as Sakura swiped through video after video.  “It really is pretty much one second.”

Sakura continued to show her videos, even going into previous seasons.

Sasuke eventually cut in.  “The idiot is next.”

“It’s the final match!” Sakura said excitedly.

Hinata straightened.  As Sakura whooped her support, Hinata took inspiration from her and pulled out her own phone to record him.  As Naruto and his opponent stepped into place, Hinata quickly yelled, “Go, Naruto-kun!”

They bowed.  Stepping closer to each other, they suddenly locked into something like a bear hug, with one arm wrapped around each other’s backs and their other hand tugging on each other’s gi.  Naruto managed to step around and catch the other boy’s ankle. He pulled the boy toward him, lifting the boy’s caught leg over his knee at the same time. Naruto threw him to the floor, and for a second, Naruto was in the air, too, as the boy’s weight pulled him off the ground.  This only served to ensure the other boy fell on his back. Naruto immediately got off of him.

“Oh!  He won!” Hinata cried in glee.  She stopped her video.

“YES!  That’s right!  You SHOW ‘EM!” Sakura yelled and clapped.



After the tournament ended, Hinata watched Naruto quickly jog up to meet them.  She felt like she had stars in her eyes. He really is wonderful .  She couldn’t help feeling in awe of her crush all over again.  It didn’t hurt that his gi was somewhat falling open from all of his opponents’ tugging, either, giving her an unimpeded view of his chest.

“Good job, Naruto!” Sakura cheered.

“Yeah, good job, dobe.”

“You were really great, Naruto-kun!”  

Naruto smiled.  “Thanks for coming to watch me, guys.”  He took a step back from them. “Uh, I’m kind of stink right now.  I’m gonna go shower in the locker room. But I wanted to know if you guys wanted to go out to eat after?  I have a provisional license, so I can drive one person.”

“Yeah!  Let’s celebrate!” Sakura agreed excitedly.  “Sasuke-kun, did you drive yourself today?”

Sasuke nodded his head.  “I can drive, too. Go shower.  We’ll wait for you.”

“Thanks.”  Naruto nodded and smiled.  He turned to Hinata. “Do you think you can come?”

Hinata felt blinded from all of the beauty that he was showing her, seemingly unknowingly.  “Um. I need to ask.”

He nodded again.  “Well, I hope you can come, too.  I’ll try not to keep you guys waiting too long.”

“No, don’t worry about us.  Take as much time as you need!”  Sakura scrunched her nose to emphasize her point.  

Naruto laughed and headed to the locker room.

As Sakura texted her mother, Hinata dialed her father.  She waited in anticipation as the line rang. She had never really hung out with Naruto outside of schoolwork, and she hoped upon hope that she could.  It was with the greatest relief that she heard her father answer. “Otou-sama, hello. My friend won the tournament, and everyone wants to go out to eat to celebrate.  May I please join them?”

“Who will be going?”

“Haruno Sakura, Uzumaki Naruto, and Uchiha Sasuke.”

“...Fugaku and Mikoto’s kid.  I didn’t know you were friends with him.  Haruno Sakura...sounds familiar. Was she one of the National Merit Scholars?”

“Oh, I am not sure.  She is very smart. I would not be surprised if she was.”  Hinata glanced at her pink-haired friend, whose eyebrows were raised at hearing that she was being talking about.

“Uzumaki Naruto is the one you went to watch?  He won the tournament?”

“Yes, Naruto-kun won.”  In the pause that followed, Hinata knew her father was evaluating her friends’ reliability.  

“Where will you be going to eat?”

Whatever value-meter her father had, they must have passed.  “I do not think we decided, yet. Please hold for a moment.” Hinata turned her phone down and looked at Sakura and Sasuke.  “Where do you guys think we’ll be eating?”

Sakura laughed.  “Ramen Ichiraku. Without a doubt.  Naruto lives for their miso ramen.”

Sasuke shook his head as if Naruto was a lost cause.

Hinata smiled.  That was simpler than she thought.  “Otou-sama? We will be eating at Ramen Ichiraku.”

“How is everyone getting there?”

“Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun said they can drive us.”

“...You have my permission.  Call me to pick you up as soon as dinner is over.”

Hinata beamed a smile at her father’s words.  “Otou-sama, thank you! I will.”

“When you come home, I have something to tell you.”

“Okay.”  Hinata assumed it had something to do with work.

“Have fun.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.  Be safe.”

“Yes, I will.  Bye.”

“Bye, Hinata.”

Hinata hung up, the smile still strong on her face.  “I can go!” she announced to her friends.

Sakura and even Sasuke were smiling, having listened to her side of the conversation.

“You speak really formally to your dad,” Sakura commented.

“Oh, yes.  I do.” Hinata didn’t know what else to say about that observation.  It was so normal to her, it didn’t feel odd or different.

“Your dad sounds protective.  Is he as scary as Sasuke-kun’s dad?”  Sakura grinned at Sasuke, who rolled his eyes.

“Mmm, when you first meet him, he probably comes off as intimidating.  He just cares a lot about my sister and me.”

“Sounds like Sasuke-kun’s dad.  Except his dad carries around a gun as chief of police.  It just makes him that much scarier.” Sakura grimaced.

Hinata laughed.  “My dad doesn’t need a gun.  He has Gentle Fist.”

The three wandered over to wait by the locker rooms.  

Sakura checked the time.  “Kay, we’ve been waiting for almost 15 minutes.  What is he doing? Don’t guys take half as much time as girls to shower since you guys don’t have as much hair?”

Sasuke frowned.  “The idiot is taking longer than I thought he would.”    

After a few more minutes, Naruto ran out, a stuffed gym bag slung on his shoulder, outfit completely changed to jeans and a burnt orange v-neck.  “Whoo, sorry to keep you guys waiting. At least I’m not stink anymore.” Grinning, he looked at Hinata. “You coming?”

Hinata nodded, unable to speak as she pondered if it was actually physically possible for him to get more handsome each time she saw him.  His casual look, unhindered by the school’s dress code of collared shirts, was refreshing and reemphasized the fact that they were going to be hanging out together outside of school.

He smiled widely at her.  “Great. If you need a ride, I can drive you.”

Hinata nodded, still unable to speak for a moment as her heartrate picked up.  She was sure she must have the stupidest smile on her face. Finding her voice again, she said, “Yes, please.  I need a ride there.”

Naruto matched her smile.  “Well, then, let’s go! Ichiraku’s here we come!”

Sakura smirked at Hinata.  “See?”

Once in the parking lot, Sakura followed Sasuke, and Hinata walked with Naruto to his car.  Walking beside him, she could smell a faint fragrance. Is he wearing cologne?  It wasn’t too much, and it smelled nice, like something a little earthy and spicy.  Stepping imperceptibly closer to him, she breathed in his scent. It smelled nice. The thought that this felt like a double-date crossed her mind.  Hinata was amazed at the audacity of her own thoughts, but couldn’t deny how the situation seemed to be like one, minus the fact that neither of the pairs were dating.  Her thoughts sobered, however, as she entered the car. She realized that if he drove himself, that must mean his godfather didn’t come to watch. “Did your godfather come?”  

“No, he usually doesn’t.  He spends the weekends writing his books.”

“Your godfather’s an author?  What does he write about?”

“Uh...well...uh...He writes about, you know, stuff.”

“Stuff?”  Hinata tilted her head at Naruto as he started the engine.  “Have you read his books?”

“Well…”  Naruto blushed and scratched his head.

Hinata observed him curiously.  She couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

He sighed.  After pulling out of the space, he glanced at her with a bemused smile.  “I just can’t lie to you. My godfather writes...well...he writes adult books.  You know, the series Kakashi-sensei reads...”

Hinata blushed in response as she realized the implication of his words.  “Oh…” She went quiet for a moment. Out of nowhere, she felt a little evil.  Naruto brought out sides of her she didn’t know she had. She peeked at him with a mischievous smile.  “So, have you read his books?”

Naruto looked at her in complete shock, mouth gaping open.  “Hinata!” Blinking rapidly, he turned his attention back to the road.

Hinata giggled uncontrollably.  “You don’t have to answer that. But then I can only assume that you have.”

Red-cheeked, Naruto shook his head at her surprising naughtiness.  “Hinataaa...Fine! Fine. When I was younger, around 12, I might have read one...”

Hinata smiled innocently.  “Just one, Naruto-kun?”

“Yes!  Just the one!”

Hinata continued to smile at him with expectation.

“Okay...maybe two.”

Hinata erupted into giggles again.  

“Looking back on it, there was hardly any plot, hardly any character development.  It was awful! Honest! I’d never read another one again!”

Hinata continued to laugh at his expense.

“Gods, Hinata.  Don’t you dare tell Sakura-chan.  This stays between you and me.”

Despite his words, Hinata noted that he was smiling, too.  Stifling her laugher for a moment, she responded, “Sorry. I couldn’t help it.  And I won’t tell Sakura-chan.”

Naruto shook his head incredulously and gestured at her.  “Who is this in my car? What happened to the sweet Hinata who couldn’t say a bad thing about anybody?”

Hinata giggled in response.

Naruto flashed a grin her way.  “Nah, it’s okay. I like this Hinata, too.”

It took a second for his words to sink in.  Hinata knew she was as red as a tomato.

Naruto coughed.  Quickly changing the subject before the sudden silence got too awkward, he said, “Uhhh, so, sorry.  About this car. It’s old.”

Hinata shook her head.  “I don’t mind at all. Thank you for driving me.”  Not wanting to linger on the meaning behind his words, she turned to look at his hand that was grasping the transmission.  “You can drive stick shift?”

“Yeah!  My old man taught me how.  Is it cool?” He brought his hand up below his chin in the shape of a gun to pose a smile.

Hinata giggled again.  “So corny!”

Naruto broke into laughter.

“But yes, Naruto-kun, it is cool.”  Hinata looked at him shyly.

Naruto glanced at her and smiled.  They sat in their shy happiness for a silent moment, until Naruto spoke up again.  “Aaand what did you think of my fighting skills? Did I meet your high expectations?” he asked teasingly.                     

Ohh, Naruto-kun.  You don’t even know.  You surpass all expectations .  Hinata didn’t realize she had answered his question with silence.

Naruto looked at her and back at the road.  “Really?! I tried my best. I won! You still think you can beat me?”

Hinata broke out of her thoughts.  “Oh! Naruto-kun, I thought you were really cool.  Right now you are 100% coolness.”

Naruto blinked at her.  A furious blush rose to his cheeks as he focused on the road.  “Oh...oh. Thanks.”

Hinata took in the sight of her embarrassed crush.   He’s so cute .  “Congratulations on winning!”

“..Thank you.”  He glanced at her, his blush coming under control.  “I actually think you’re the cool one. Doing all that international stuff.  And your gentle fist is amazing.”

Hinata frowned.  She didn’t want to think about anything Moon Kingdom-related.  It would ruin her mood. Pushing that thought as deep down as possible, she replied, “Hmm.  You know, I honestly think you could beat me in a fight. Maybe I would have a chance at winning if I strike you fast enough, but you’re fast, too.  If you even got a hand on me, I’d be in trouble.”

“Heh, same here.  If you hit me, it would hurt.  In gentle fist you go for the pressure points, right?”

Hinata nodded.

“Please don’t hit me.  It would probably hurt worse than Sakura’s.”  Naruto grimaced at the thought.

“Then please don’t throw me.  The way they hit the ground, it looks like it hurts.”  

Naruto smiled at her.  “I would never throw you .  And well, it’s not like I just drop them.  We’re supposed to kind of guide them down as much as is possible in the moment.  Well, considering the person’s weight, momentum, and that, yes, it is called a throw.”

Hinata squinted her eyes.  “So you drop them nicely.”

Naruto cocked his head and grinned.  “Hah. Uhh. Yes? Don’t think about it too hard.”  He pulled into the parking lot for Ichiraku’s, where they could see Sasuke just getting out of his car.  “Finallyyy! I’ve been craving this place all week,” Naruto cheered.

 

“Ayame-neesan!  Long time no see!  Old Man Teuchi!”

“Oh, Naruto!” Teuchi called from the kitchen.

“Naruto!  Long time no see!  For four?” Ayame asked.

“Yes!  We’re celebrating my judo tournament win!”

“Congratulations!  Hello Sakura-chan, Sasuke-kun, and...who’s this?”  Ayame looked at Hinata with a smile.

“This is Hinata!  Hinata, this is Ayame, the daughter of the owner of Ichiraku’s.  She’s like a sister to me.”

Hinata smiled at the brunette.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

Ayame smiled between Hinata and Naruto for a moment, as if expecting something more.  

“Hey, so where can we sit?  Is that table okay?” Naruto pointed at an empty table.  

“Yes, over there is fine.”

 

As they waited for their food and talked about the differences in martial arts and getting their driving licenses, Naruto couldn’t help sneaking looks at the fair-skinned girl across from him.  Every time her eyes widened or she nodded her head for him to continue talking, he felt really cool .  Every time she spoke about gentle fist, he had an excuse to watch her unabashedly.  The tiny blush that rose to her cheekbones each time they locked eyes set his heart aflutter.  Even watching her eat ramen made him feel like he had never actually seen anyone eat ramen before.  And as they were paying for their meals, he found himself looking for reasons to prolong their time together.

“Hey Naruto, I’m going to take Sakura home.”

“Alright man, thanks for coming out to watch me.”  Naruto and Sasuke bumped fists. Turning to Sakura, he hugged her.  “Thanks, Sakura-chan, for coming to watch me.”

“Of course.  Congrats on your win!”  The pinkette flashed a smile to her blond friend.  She waved at Hinata. “Bye, Hinata! See you on Monday!”  

Hinata waved to her and Sasuke, who nodded his farewell.  Hinata and Naruto watched the two head to Sasuke’s car. Every so often, Sakura would look up at the raven-haired boy adoringly.  

Naruto shifted his weight uncomfortably and turned his attention to the small girl next to him.  “Do you need a ride home? I can drive you.”

“Oh no, my father is on his way to pick me up.”

Naruto felt his heart sink.  “Well, I’ll wait with you until he comes, then.”

“You don’t have to do that.  If you need to go home already, you can.”

He knew she was speaking from common courtesy, but a part of him worried that she didn’t want him to stay with her.  When he was with her, everything felt like extremes. “Don’t worry about me. Hanging out with you is fun, too.” He grinned at her as she shyly smiled back.  He noticed Hinata take a step closer to him. He felt like his heart would leap out of his chest, but he stood his ground. She seemed to lean in. He was right about to question her, when she spoke up.

“You still smell really nice.”  She closed her eyes for a second.

When she opened her eyes, Naruto found himself reflected in her pearly gaze.  “That’s my cologne. I wear it sometimes.” He didn’t mean for his voice to come out so quietly, but it did.  A level just above a whisper. He couldn’t look away. He had held her full attention all day, and he intended on keeping it for as long as possible.

“Mmm,” Hinata hummed a little.  

The sound stirred something in Naruto.  He continued to watch her intensely as she stepped away, and it took everything in him to not pull her close and force her to continue smelling him.   I’m such a creep , he thought in passing.  Subconsciously, though, he knew he could be worse.  She made him feel obsessed.

“You don’t wear it to school?”

“No, only when I go out.”   And for you .

“It’s nice.”

“Thanks.”

Hinata looked out at the street, but Naruto continued to look at her.  In the setting sun, her skin seemed to glow. Everything around them was bathed in gold, and her eyes seemed to soak in the sun’s last rays.  Hinata looked at him with glints of honey in her eyes, perplexed, and Naruto knew it was because he was blatantly staring at her, but he didn’t care.  He realized he wanted her to know. He couldn’t keep it in because he needed her to know. He had practically confessed to her in the car. He really just couldn’t keep a secret from her.  As he took a step closer to her, he felt his heartbeat quicken. I like you.  I like you.  If the words were so small, why couldn’t he say them?  “Hinata…” he began.

She smiled a little.  “Naruto-kun?”

Her soft voice made his breath catch in his throat.  He vaguely thought about what every day would be like with her by his side like today.  He watched her eyes turn back toward the parking lot.

“My father is here,” she said quietly.  She took a step toward his car, but looked at Naruto, unsure.

Disappointment and relief filled him simultaneously.   It’s probably for the best.  I should plan it .  He smiled and realized he had been staring at Hinata really seriously.  “Thank you for coming to watch me. And for the message this morning. And for cheering for me throughout the tournament.”  He reached down to hug her, something he did out of habit with Sakura, but he realized belatedly he had never done so before with Hinata.  He was hyper-aware of his arm wrapping around her small back, and her arm crossing around his, only able to reach so far. As he bent down, her chin rested on his shoulder and her chest pressed up against him.  He held her a couple seconds longer than was appropriate for a goodbye hug, and when she didn’t try to distance herself, he briefly wondered if she was enjoying his cologne. Reluctantly, he stood back up, but he couldn’t hide the smug smile that had snuck onto his face.

Hinata’s mouth straightened into tight lines in embarrassment.  She raised her eyebrows as if to say, what could she do? “You smell nice,” she admitted.  Sheepishly smiling, she began to walk into the parking lot.

Naruto laughed.  “Have a good rest of the weekend, Hinata!”

“You, too, Naruto-kun.  Congrats on your win!”

“Thanks!”  He watched her enter her car and waved at her before heading to his own car.



As Hinata secured her seatbelt, her father pulled out of the lot.  Her father looked back through his rearview mirror at the blond boy who was getting into his own car.  “That was Uzumaki Naruto?”

“Yes.  He was waiting with me until you came.”

“He’s grown up.”

Hinata turned her face away slightly as an unbidden memory of the view of his chest beneath his gi rose to her mind.  “Otou-sama, you remember him?”

“Well, yes.  He was one of your best friends all the way up until around fifth grade, wasn’t he?”

Hinata smiled.  “You did not have a good opinion of him.  You thought he would be a bad influence on me.”

Her father humphed.  “I was only worried because he had a bad reputation, but I guess he turned out okay.  Then you made friends with the Aburame and Inuzuka boys. I was seriously worried because you only made friends with boys.”

Hinata laughed.  “They are all good boys, though.”

Her father just smiled in response.  “Have you made a decision for your college?”

Hinata frowned.  “Did I tell you that Toneri-kun wants me to go to Imperial Moon?”              

“Yes, that sounds familiar...It’s not unexpected.  Of course he would want you to attend Imperial Moon with him.”

Hinata processed her father’s words.  His succinct way of summing it up felt at odds with the way Toneri had earnestly requested her to attend his school.

“Hinata.  Where do you want to go?  Without taking Toneri’s opinion into account.  Where do you think would be best for you?”  

Hinata took a deep breath.  Her father didn’t like it if she stuttered or paused in her speech.  Everything she said had to be said with intention. “I want to attend Konoha University.”

“I thought so.”

Hinata turned to look at her father, trying to gauge his expression, even though she knew he always had the greatest poker face.  

“You have been happier in this past year than I have seen you in a long time.  Toneri guessed you would want to attend Konoha University, too.”

Hinata furrowed her brows.  “When did you talk to him?”

“Thursday morning.  He intends on visiting Konoha in April.”

“Oh.”  Hinata tried to remember if there was any important engagements happening in that month.  Coming up empty, she asked, “Why?”

Her father stayed silent for a moment.  Hinata knew he was carefully considering his next words, which made her feel more nervous.  Whatever the reason was, it was not routine. Finally her father spoke. “That boy never says what he means to say.  He is worse than the Hyuuga elders.”

Hinata held back a giggle.  Her father could be the same way, too, sometimes.  Like now. Hinata knew her father really meant to say that talking to Toneri could get annoying.

“Toneri will be graduating college next year.  Understandably, he is getting serious about his future, and as you know, that includes you.”

Hinata stayed silent.  Wherever this conversation was leading, she didn’t like it.  

“He said that over Winter Break, he saw that you are reluctant to leave Fire Country.  He said he would like to get to know more about your home. In other words, he wants to get to know you better.”

Hinata silently let out a breath of relief.  She never told anyone, but recently, she had been worrying about him proposing to her.  “How should I assist in his stay here?”

“I have already contacted your school.  You will assist in taking him on a school tour.  His visit also coincides with your school’s prom.”

The implication of his words crashed into Hinata.  “I will be taking him as my date.”

“Yes.  As you know, the Moon Kingdom does not have our customs.  I thought it would be an enjoyable way for him to learn more about Fire Country and you.  It would also be inappropriate for you to go with anyone else, so I felt it worked out.”

Hinata knew this.  She hadn’t needed her father to explain, but his reasoning still served to resolidify her role.  To ground her in reality.

“Yes, Otou-sama.”               

Chapter Text

The longer he looked, the heavier the weight in his chest grew.  He dragged his fingers through his short hair. Varying images of a tall, white-haired young man and Hinata were lined up on the search page.   What the hell.  What...?  Naruto wanted to stop, but he couldn’t.  In a couple of images, her hand rested in the crook of his arm.  He clicked on a recently taken picture that took him to its news story.  

Crown Prince Otsutsuki Toneri was accompanied by Fire Country’s Byakugan Princess Hyuuga Hinata for our annual Ice Festival...

None of the stories he clicked on identified their relationship or if they were in any kind of relationship at all, but they stood so closely together.   Fuck.  Hinata’s never said anything about him.  Is he her... His heart twisted.  He refused to finish the thought, but he couldn’t stop trying to figure it out.  What had begun as jealous curiosity about her prom date had quickly distorted into the mess he was now.  He glared at a picture of them as he remembered what the advisor had told the prom committee during their lunch meeting.  

 

“We are having a very important visitor at our prom.  The Moon Kingdom’s prince, Otsutsuki Toneri, will be attending as Hyuuga Hinata’s guest.  Naruto, as Student Council President and as head of the prom committee, you will need to introduce him before the court is announced.”

 

He had nodded dumbly at the time.  His heart felt like it had been stabbed.  He had checked out for the rest of the meeting as he mentally watched his plans to ask her out and to prom fall to pieces.  As soon as he got home, he had searched “Otsutsuki Toneri” on the internet. In the search results, he noticed a picture of the two of them together, which lead to him finding more.  Much more. He hated it. He hated the way their white eyes and fair skin spoke of their royal blood. The way their hair contrasted like yin and yang. He hated it. He hated how pretty Hinata looked in each picture, like she had been done up in that dress just for the man next to her.        

What the fuck.  Are they…  He put his head down in his arms.   Did she ask him?   He felt his heart break.   She must have, otherwise why would he be coming?  He felt like a fool.  She had complimented him a few times, and his ego inflated to the point where he couldn’t distinguish the difference between kindness and love.   Damn it.   He squeezed his eyes shut.   Damn it.  His throat constricted painfully.  Heat shot to his clenched eyes. He didn’t answer his phone.


“Naruto-kun?”

Her voice was a weight in his chest.  He exhaled, trying to collect himself.  He had planned to face her with his practiced smile, but he couldn’t seem to find it as he turned to face her.  

“Naruto-kun?”  Hinata looked up at him with concern.  

“Hi, Hinata.”  As soon as he saw her, he loved her.  Her gentle features. Her quiet presence.  He found himself looking away.

“Last night, I tried to call you.  Did...something happen?” He felt her opalescent eyes studying him.  Those eyes that were like that prince’s. “Are you okay?”

He looked at her again, and it was as though just looking at her was sealing up the cracks in his heart.  How could it be that the same person who was causing him to hurt was making him feel better? “Um...yeah. Sorry.  I was busy.” The lie felt bitter on his tongue.

“Oh…”  She made that little frown that he loved so much.  She tilted her head. “You were okay with the homework?”  

He lied to her, and yet she was concerned for him.  His deception was cruel, most of all, on him.  He couldn’t lie to her. “Actually...I didn’t do my homework.”

“What...happened?  Are you okay?” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, filled with concern.  

He stared at her.  Something between irritation and anger simmered within him, and its suddenness was discomforting, a frustration in and of itself.   “What happened?”  Why didn’t you tell me?  Why did you never say anything about him?  Who is he to you? What am I to you?  Why are you so good to me?  Look what you’re doing to me!  He jerked his head away.  He shook his head. “Hinata...I…”   Can’t say this, I can’t do this.  He glanced at her again.  She was looking at him with such care, and the horrid feeling melted away as if it hadn’t been there a few seconds ago.  “I’m okay.” Another lie.

She nodded her head.

He felt relief and regret that she didn’t press him to know more.  “Sorry, I gotta go. I have a Student Council meeting.”

“Talk to you tonight?”

He really didn’t want to.  If it was going to be like this every time he saw her, this fluctuation of emotions, it was too confusing.  But he found himself nodding. It would be worse to see her disappointed in him.

 

He had lied to her again.  When it came time to call her like he usually did, he couldn’t do it.  She called him, and he didn’t answer. Instead, he sent her a message of apology with an uninventive excuse.  It had felt like the shittiest day of his life, right up there next to the day his parents died. He had made sure to go to his Gov class alone.  Had made sure to avoid her locker after school. Had made sure to block out the excited whispers of his classmates who found out that Hinata was a real princess and was dating a prince.  And it filled him with irritation and regret.  Regret for his lies. Regret for his feelings. Regret that he couldn’t face her.  He couldn’t concentrate on his homework. It all seemed ridiculously trivial compared to the questions he needed to ask her.  He knew this wasn’t like him. He was known to be a problem-solver, a mediator, a straightforward, act-first-think-later kind of guy.   Just ask her.  Just call her and ask her about it.   He repeatedly urged himself to pick up his phone, but when he tried to imagine how the conversation would go, it inevitably lead to him confessing, and this was not how he had imagined it.  He had imagined flowers, her blushing smile, tickets to prom. Not over the phone. Not accusations. Not confusion. Not heartache. His eyes burned and his body felt heavy. He felt like shit.

 

“Hinata, sorry about yesterday.  I’ve just been really busy with student council and prom things.”  He had meant to just brush over it, but for some shitty reason he had emphasized the word “prom.”   What the fuck is wrong with me?

As he expected, she gave a sad smile and nodded in understanding.  “I hope you’re getting enough rest...if I can help you in any way, tell me, okay?”

“Thanks.”  Abruptly ending the conversation, he walked away.  He could feel her watching him leave. He felt like there were searing holes throughout his chest.   What you can do to help me? , he thought angrily.   You could start by mentioning you have a foreign boyfriend!  Who’s a prince! Before you go all smiling at me. Before being so fucking sweet.  Before being so damn cute. Before being so nice. And kind. And lovable. He could feel his anger dwindling, and in its place rose a fear that he would start crying right there in the middle of the hallway.  He picked up his pace again, finding escape in the student council room.

 

“I checked the results from yesterday’s vote, and it will be announced in today’s bulletin.  Do you all want to know already?” the prom committee advisor asked with an excited grin.

Naruto sat there listening vaguely as his fellow committee members urged their advisor to spill the results to them.

“Prom court nominations are…”  Their adviser paused for dramatic effect.  “Tetsuno Yagura and Nadeshiko Shizuka, Futton Futsu and Hotori Kiri, Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura, our very own Hirakawa Sora and Kurama Yakumo, and”  She was interrupted as everyone clapped for the blushing couple. She continued, “And the one who got the most votes for prom king is our very own Uzumaki Naruto!”  

Naruto sat up in confusion.  If people didn’t vote him to be with Sakura, then…

“Who’s the queen?” Yakumo asked.

“Hyuuga Hinata.”

“Ohhh I knew it!”  “She’s so refined and nice!”  “Ino told me she’s an actual princess!”  “Ri~ght? That’s so cool!” “She’s so fitting for prom queen!”  The committee members chatted among themselves.

If Naruto had been confused before, it didn’t compare to the mix of fear, anticipation, depression, embarrassment, and disbelief that hit him then.   Everyone knows she’s going to prom with that prince.  Why...why would they vote for me with her?

As if on cue, Sora turned to him.  “The two of you are friends, so I figured you guys would make a cute pair and wouldn’t mind dancing together.”  Sora grinned at him. Without any positive reaction from the blond boy, he elaborated, “You know, Konoha’s princess and our Student Council President!  It’s a good pair!”

“Oh,” Naruto choked out.   “A good pair.”  That’s what he had thought.  He thought that they worked well together.  Apparently everyone else thought so, too.

As the bell rang, everyone got up to head to their homeroom.  Naruto received claps on the back as he slowly gathered his things.

His advisor walked up to him, concerned.  “Naruto, if you don’t feel comfortable with it, then you know you can refuse the position.  You don’t have to do it. It’s voluntary.”

Naruto averted his eyes.  If he was going to decline, now was his chance to do it.  “I…” I need to refuse.  Dancing with Hinata...it would be…  “I need to think about it.”   ???  Why did I say that?

“Alright.  Maybe talk to Hinata?  If you don’t want to do it, then come tell me at lunch.”

Naruto nodded and dragged his feet to class.  Still several meters away from his homeroom, the announcements came on over the PA system.  He stopped and leaned against a hallway window, settling his eyes on a patch of grass.

 

“...And last, we would like to announce this year’s Senior Prom Court nominations.  All nominees are to report to the Student Activities Office at lunch to accept or decline their nomination.  This year’s court nominations are Tetsuno Yagura and Nadeshiko Shizuka, Futton Futsu and Hotori Kiri, Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura, Hirakawa Sora and Kurama Yakumo, and for prom king and queen, with the most nominations, are Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata.  Please report to the Stude…”

“Naruto!!...Where is he?”  “Must be in a meeting.” “Konoha’s princess, huh?  Wowww, that lucky bas - I mean - that lucky guy, I’d dance with her!”  “Hah! I’m a girl and I’d dance with her!”  Laughter and chatter drowned out the rest of the morning announcements.    

Her classmate turned to her and whispered, “Sakura!  Are you and Sasuke-kun going to do it?”

Sakura came out of her temporary shock.  “Uh..” She chanced a glance at Sasuke, who looked like he’d kill anyone who spoke to him.  “No. We’re not dating or anything, so it would just be awkward.” Sakura gave a closed-mouth smile.  

Her classmate’s eyes widened.  “Oh, I’m sorry. I voted for you because people were saying you guys were dating now.”

“Huh?  No. We’re not.”  Sakura said the words more harshly than she meant to.  Once in a while, these sorts of rumors about her relationship with Sasuke and Naruto spread around their grade level.  It hurt everytime. Each denial she said to set people straight felt like a slap across her face. With Naruto, it hurt because people just couldn’t seem to understand that she could be best friends with a boy without romance.  With Sasuke, it hurt because she wanted his recognition more than anything. And in general, she subconsciously felt that it was due to her looks. She was too pretty to be just friends with boys.  At the same time, no matter how pretty she was, she couldn’t win the affections of the boy she loved most.         

“Oh.  Sorry.”  Her classmate looked embarrassed and turned away to talk to someone else.

Sakura refocused herself.  Right now, it wasn’t about her discomfort.  She faced Sasuke. “Sasuke-kun, at lunch, I’ll go turn it down for us.”  She said this in her most level voice. It hurt, but she wasn’t going to let it show.  

She watched him.  To others, they likely couldn’t tell, but she could see him relax.  His aura of intimidation fading away. The tenseness in his shoulders and neck disappearing as he breathed easier.  He turned his attention on her. It was unspoken. She knew he had heard her. She knew he appreciated that she said it first.  

Even though it hurt, or maybe because it hurt, she smiled.  She was strong. And her love for him was stronger.  She could deal with any kind of pain for him.

 

Sakura opened the door to the Student Activities Office.  Surprisingly, Naruto wasn’t there, yet. She realized she had hardly seen him over the past couple of days.  

“You are...Haruno Sakura, correct?”

Sakura turned to the teacher, who she assumed was the prom committee advisor.  “Yes, and I am declining the nomination for both myself and Uchiha Sasuke.” The clarity with which she spoke made her feel proud of herself.  

“Alright, got it.  Thank you.”

“Thank you.”  Sakura turned and spotted Hinata.

Going over to her, she greeted “Hey, Hinata!”

“Hi, Sakura-chan.”

Hinata looked anxious.  It suddenly clicked in Sakura’s mind.  The rumors, her job, everything. Sakura stopped in front of her, refitting the pieces of the puzzle that was Hinata together.  Hinata was a princess. An ambassador of Fire Country. “You probably have to go around with that serious guy.”  Kiba said that at the party.  She spent 5 years in the Moon Kingdom.   Doing what?  She was considering Konoha University, but was being pressured to return to attend Imperial Moon University for responsibilities.   Why?  “It’s not that I didn’t want anyone to know.  It’s just not something I feel comfortable saying about myself.  It’s kind of weird.” Preparation to marry.  She was betrothed to the Crown Prince of the Moon Kingdom.  She wasn’t dating him. She didn’t love him. She loved Naruto...for years, and she couldn’t truly act on it.  “Hinata.” Sakura didn’t know what to say. “You and Naruto…are you okay?”

“He’s not here, yet.  I’m waiting for him. He’s been…”  She looked really troubled. “I haven’t really gotten to talk to him at all recently…”  Her voice began to trail into a whisper. Sakura heard her breath catch as she leaned closer to hear her.  “Sakura-chan. I think...I think he...I think he’s avoiding me. I think he’s m-mad that I...that I didn’t tell him...about…”

Sakura grabbed her shoulders and guided her outside before they caught others’ attention.  “Hinata. Calm down. Breathe with me.” Sakura took deep breaths in and out.

Hinata obeyed.  

Sakura felt like she was facing the bullied girl from eight years ago, only this was so much worse.  Her friend who had just recently been so cheerful looked so lost. When Hinata started to settle down after a few deep breaths, Sakura asked, “You’re betrothed to that prince, aren’t you?”   

Hinata’s eyes widened, confirming her suspicion.  

“I understand why you couldn’t say anything.”

“Don’t!  Don’t tell him.  Please.”

“I won’t.  You need to tell him.  Yourself.”

She saw Hinata process her words.  Slowly, her panicked face hardened into resolve.  Hinata looked calm again as she faced Sakura and nodded.  After awhile, she spoke. “I will. I’ll tell him.” She nodded again, looking more assured.     

“Hinata...We’ll talk more about this later, okay?  You don’t have to feel alone. You’re not alone.”  Sakura opened the door for Hinata, who nodded determinedly and thanked her.  Sakura sighed when the door closed. She turned and saw Naruto several paces away, slowly heading to the office.  She noted his self-pitying face. It was a face she hated. “NARUTO! What are you doing? Hinata’s waiting for you!”  She marched over to him. His stupidity was unfathomable to her. How could he not know that Hinata only loved him?  

He stopped walking when she reached him.  He looked at her with that depressed look that irritated her more than anything.  “Sakura-chan. I can’t do this. I can’t dance with Hinata. She doesn’t..”

“Naruto!”  Sakura interrupted him and shook her head hard.  It wasn’t her place to tell him anything, but she wanted to.  She was dying to knock him over the head. “Naruto. You need to talk to her.”

“I’ve tried.  I can’t. I…”

Sakura looked at him incredulously, blinking her eyes rapidly with disbelief written all over her face.            

“Nevermind.  You don’t get it.”

This only served to annoy her more, and it was evident in her clenching fist.  Sakura wanted to smack him. You’re the one who doesn’t get it!

Naruto looked at her and shook his head like he was pissed off.  He walked away from her, this time with urgency in his steps.

Sakura rolled her eyes as she watched him reach the office door and suddenly faltered, as if he only just realized that he had gotten there faster than he wanted.  “They’re waiting for you! Get in there!”

Naruto glared at her and opened the door with force.  That look of shock crossed his face again as if his hand had moved without his permission.  He walked in gingerly.

Sakura turned around and shook her head.   He’s so stupid!  Hinata’s the one who’s suffering more, but he’s always too wrapped up in himself!  He’s so stupid! He’s going around, carrying around that woe-is-me look. So stupid.  But as she headed toward the lunch area, she started to feel bad.   He’s so stupid that he actually believes that Hinata doesn’t love him.  Even though she shows him her love all the time. At least Sasuke-kun knows that I love him.  Sasuke-kun…

“Sasuke-kun!”

He looked up and then looked down at his lunch again.            

Sakura sat down next to him.  She knew he was listening, so she started talking.  “I met Naruto on the way back. He’s really...not in a good place right now.  He’s really upset about Hinata.”

Sasuke looked up at her.  Sakura knew this straight-forward look.  He was waiting for further information.

“He believes the rumors that Hinata is dating that prince.  He thinks that Hinata doesn’t love him.”    

Sasuke’s eyebrows raised just the slightest.  “He’s an idiot.”

“Yeah.  So I told him that he needs to talk to her.  But he said that he can’t. Anyway, I can’t convince him, and if he keeps on like this…”  Sakura shook her head. She was concerned for him. She was concerned for Hinata. She faced Sasuke.  “Please talk to him.”

Sasuke sat up and turned his face away from her.  Sakura watched him deliberate.

He shifted back and glanced at her, their eyes locking for a fraction of a second.  He turned his attention back to his food. “I’ll talk to him.”

Sakura felt relief flood through her.  “Thank you, Sasuke-kun. He’ll listen to you.”  She opened her lunch and ate quietly next to him.


Two hours later, he was still reeling from it all.  He had arrived at the meeting late, and they had already been starting practice.  The other court participants pulled him over next to Hinata, who seemed equally confused as him.  At that point, with the girls being asked to flip their hair while the boys kneeled on one knee, it had seemed untimely to tell his advisor he couldn’t do the prom court dance.  He couldn’t tell his advisor when Hinata was cross-stepping into a turn, and her skirt floated up just the tiniest bit as she twirled around. Not when he had to take her hand, kiss her fingers, stand up, and pretend to take a picture of her acting coy.  Not when he had to pretend to pop his collar, slick his hair back, pretending like he was all that and more, and Hinata posed in pretend adoration of him, with very real blushing cheeks. Not when the couples around them were shyly giggling at the silliness, and their cheerfulness was starting to rub off on him.  He was a ham at heart after all. This kind of acting was second-nature to him. And he, for a moment, forgot that he hadn’t wanted to do this in the first place. For a moment, he got into it. For a moment, he had fun trying to inspire those blushes and giggles from her. But when the music was shut off and the lunch period had ended, he ran.  He heard her asking him to wait, but he was afraid. Afraid of the feelings she rung from his heart that he was desperately trying to hide. So here he was, after his after-school meetings, resting his head on his locker, trying to dispel from his mind the images of her laughing smile, the feeling of her small hand fitting in his.

“THERE you are-”

Naruto looked up.

“-you sonofabitch.”

Naruto took a step back as Kiba came up at him aggressively.  Shino restrained his best friend.

Naruto was taken aback.  “Kiba, what-”

“You’re a real fucker treating her like that!”  Kiba gestured at him with a snarl. He shook off Shino and turned around in agitation, grabbing at his wild, brown hair.

“Wha-”

Kiba raised his hands in exasperation and faced him again.  “She gives you so much of herself.  You don’t understand how hard this is for her?”

Naruto continued looking at Kiba in complete confusion.  “What are you talk-” Memories of their previous conversation at the Christmas party hit him like a ton of bricks.  “You knew…” Naruto remembered how Kiba wished him luck. “You KNEW…” He glared at Kiba in disbelief. “You…” He looked from Kiba to Shino.  “You both knew…” A rage unlike anything he had felt so far this week filled him. He knew now who to direct the blame at. He knew now where to vent his frustration.  “YOU GUYS KNEW! YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME. What the fuck…” He grabbed at Kiba’s shirt.

Shino tried to pull him off of Kiba.

Naruto let go of Kiba and shoved Shino.  “Get off of me. You!-”

Shino hit the lockers, which caused a crashing sound that reverberated around the hallway.

A teacher came out.  “HEY. WHAT...Naruto.  What’s going on out here??”  

Shooting glares at Shino and Kiba, Naruto quickly tried to reign in his anger.  He turned his attention to the teacher. “Sorry, sir.”

The teacher audibly sighed.  “No fighting! You boys are in your last quarter.  You don’t want to get suspended when you’re this close to graduating.  Naruto, you’re an exemplary student, so I’m letting you boys off with a warning.  I better not hear any more of that.”

The three of them muttered “Yes, sir”s.  

The teacher gave them stern looks and went back into his room.

Naruto crossed his arms and leaned against the lockers.  He glared at his “friends.” “You both knew!  This whole time!  You guys must have gotten some sick satisfaction watching me bend over backwards for her.”

“It’s not about you-!”

Shino interrupted Kiba.  “Naruto. I understand you are upset about it.  However this is something that was not up to us to share.  Do you not understand the reason?”

“The reason?!  What would have been so fucking hard about just mentioning it?  Before I fucking fell for her?”

Shino furrowed his eyebrows.

Kiba looked at him with complete disgust.  “You don’t understand her perspective at all.  I was rooting for you, but I was wrong, man, you are…”  Kiba stared at him hard, shaking his head.

Naruto felt sick.  First Sakura and now this.  What would have been so hard about mentioning that Hinata already had a boyfriend?  He closed his eyes and put his hand up to his face. He felt like he was going to get a headache.  “Fuck off. One of you could’ve told me. It wouldn’t have been a big deal.” He couldn’t bring himself to say that word, “boyfriend.”  That’s what he wanted to be for Hinata. That’s the kind of relationship he thought was possible for them. That’s what he thought Hinata would’ve liked from him.  The knowledge that her real affections lay elsewhere even after everything they had done together this year made him feel nauseous. The realization that he wasn’t the one who was closest to her heart made him wonder if he just one-sidedly imagined the spark between them.  He slid down the lockers to the ground and put his head between his knees.

 

“Naruto.”  

That eerily low, piercing voice aggravated his eardrums.  He looked up to see Sasuke standing in front of him. He noticed his hair was wet, probably from showering after soccer practice.  Kiba and Shino had long since left him alone to wallow by himself. He felt exhausted. He had never felt so tired.

“Get up.”

Naruto did.  He was too tired to refuse.  And he needed to start heading home.  The two exited the building. The sun was beginning its descent, casting warm rays that sent lengthening shadows across the ground.  The school was quiet with the majority of the students and teachers having gone home quite a few hours ago. They walked slowly, and for once, Naruto was thankful for Sasuke’s silence.  Before he knew it, though, he was breaking the blissful afternoon quiet. “Sasuke.”

“---.”

His heart clenched painfully.  “It hurts...so much.”

Sasuke glanced at Naruto.  Seeing that he was looking down at the ground, he vocalized his thoughts.  “What hurts.”

Naruto stopped walking.

Sasuke stopped, too.

“It hurts so much,” he repeated.  “I love her so much. And she doesn’t...she doesn’t feel the same way.”

Sasuke turned to look off in the distance.  Speaking as if to the air, he said, “Did you ask her.  How do you know she doesn’t feel the same way.”

Naruto looked up at Sasuke.   Where has Sasuke been?  Living under a rock?  “She has a boyfriend!  She’s dating that fucking Prince Otsutsuki Toneri shithead from the fucking Moon Kingdom.”  He couldn’t control the words coming out of his mouth. He was too emotionally exhausted to manage the process of his thoughts to language.  

Sasuke turned to face him.  He repeated himself. “Did you ask her.”

Naruto glared at him.  He had a nudging feeling that Sasuke was trying to make a point, but he couldn’t connect the dots, so instead, it just irritated him.  “No, I don’t need to. I can’t. I’d just end up confessing to her and getting rejected oh-so-nicely in that damn cute Hinata way.”

Sasuke raised his eyebrows at that.  “Do it. Tell her how you feel.”

Naruto ran his hand through his hair in growing frustration.  “I can’t do that!...And why the hell should I listen to you! You can’t even talk to Sakura-chan!  You fucking can’t even tell her how you feel about her!” Naruto knew it was mean. He knew Sasuke was traumatized by his parents’ divorce and his brother’s near suicide over a girlfriend who passed away.  But he couldn’t stop himself. He wanted to bring someone down with him. “You’re just dragging her along with your pity party because you know she’ll follow you through it!  You know that she loves you to the moon and back, but you can’t appreciate it!  You don’t appreciate her! You don’t fucking do anything for her! You just rely on me to try to make her happy.  Damn it, you can’t even ask her to a dance. You can’t even muster up the balls to go out with her on your own.”

Sasuke looked angry.  His jaw was set and he was glaring at him.  

If Naruto was anyone less, he would have been intimidated, but instead it spurred him on.  “I saw her today. You let her go on her own to decline the nominations.  And she was standing tall. She was her usual proud self.  But we both know how much it must have hurt her inside, how much she would have loved to do it with you.  You should know more than anyone how strong Sakura is for others, for you!  Imagine!  Imagine her now!  At home! When she’s by herself!  Thinking of you and everything she’s missing out on because she loves you so much .  What do you think she’s doing, huh?  What do you think?!”

The two of them glared at each other, neither of them turning away.

“You can’t even ask her to the dance!  Even though it’s the last one, even though you aren’t going to see her next year when your travelling the world trying to find yourself or whatever your shit’s about!  You can’t even fucking ask her!”

“You take her if you want her to go so damn badly!”        

Naruto could see the regret skit across his face as his glare faltered.  Naruto would have been smirking for this victory in breaking Sasuke’s mask if it wasn’t for the fact that what Sasuke said hurt.  It implied he wasn’t going to be asking Hinata, so he might as well ask Sakura to be his date.  

Sasuke averted his gaze.

Sasuke acted like he was so much better than him, but Naruto knew it was just a facade to keep himself from slipping up and acting just as much of an idiot as him.  Naruto forced himself to relax. He probably deserved that after everything he said to Sasuke. “I’m not taking her.” He said quietly. “You are.”

Naruto’s statement hung in the air.  He felt that he could see it seeping into Sasuke’s conscience.  The contours of his face working almost imperceptibly as he tried and failed to turn his words into non-truths.  Sasuke closed his eyes for a brief moment. They started walking again.

“What are you going to do about Hinata?” Sasuke asked.  His voice was a little gentler than his usual tone, which to Naruto, seemed like a major difference.                  

A major difference that made him want to tell his best friend everything.  Naruto sighed. “I don’t know. You know, we used to be friends when we were little.  We grew apart at some point, and then she moved away for five years. When she came back, I thought she had changed.  She looked different, but then, when we started talking again, she seemed the same as I remembered her. So nice, truly kind!  She...she makes me feel like…when she tells me things like she believes that I can become Hokage, or like when she said I was cool-”

Sasuke made a sound similar to a snort.

“Fuck you!  She did! She said that!  And when she says things like that, it makes me believe it, too.  I feel like I’m the only person who matters. Doesn’t Sakura-chan make you feel like that?  Like, you matter. Like you can be your best self when she’s around. Hinata makes me feel like I can do anything.  Doesn’t Sakura-chan make you feel that way?” Naruto glanced at Sasuke and was amazed to see the glow behind his friend’s expression.

Sasuke noticed Naruto was staring at him, and just that quickly, he extinguished the light behind his smile.  

Naruto looked away like he hadn’t seen anything in the first place.  “I just can’t move on.” His face twisted into a pained smile. The rate at which he spoke quickened.  “I thought we had something. I really thought, I really believed I knew her. We talked about all kinds of things.  I thought I knew her.  I told her everything about me.  I thought she was opening herself to me, too.  More than Kiba and Shino. I thought she trusted me more than just a friend.”  His voice went quiet. “I don’t know anything about her. I feel like I don’t know her anymore...But I love her.”

They had since reached their vehicles and now stood leaning against Naruto’s car.  Sasuke watched Naruto. It was always astonishing to him how Naruto could so easily talk about himself and his feelings.  “Idiot.”

Naruto glared at him, but his expression turned questioning when he saw that Sasuke wasn’t looking at him with the usual contempt.

“Tell that to Hinata.  Not me.”

Naruto met Sasuke’s serious gaze.

“Talk to her.  Ask her. Get to know her.  If you can’t move on, then win her.  If you love her, make her realize she loves you, too.”  

 

Naruto drove home as if a fire was rekindled in his heart.  He was going to talk to her. He was determined to do it. He ran up the stairs to his bedroom, threw himself on his bed and stared at his phone.  He needed to talk to her. He needed to hear her voice.

Chapter Text

The call connected.  Naruto could feel his heart racing, its beat travelling a mile a minute as her face appeared on the screen.  The static of his mind silenced as his eyes settled on the familiar curves of her visage. Suddenly, he felt at peace.  “Hi, Hinata.”

“Naruto-kun, hello.”  

She was smiling, but she also looked concerned.  He couldn’t blame her. It was the first time he was calling her after not speaking to her since early that week.  What surprised him was how relaxed he felt. Well shit, if I knew it was going to be this easy, I should have called her sooner.  “Hinata…”

“Naruto-kun?  How are you feeling?”

Even more regret lashed into him.  After the way he had ignored her all week, she was still concerned for him.  

“Hinata…”

“Naruto-kun?”

“I’m so tired.”

“Oh, Naruto-kun!  Is there anything I can do to help?  You must be really overworking yourself to say that.”  Hinata furrowed her brows and frowned.

Naruto was loving it.  He couldn’t believe he had denied himself this happiness, this opportunity to be emotionally indulged, all week.  After everything that had happened that day, he wanted to be spoiled. “Yeah, I’m exhausted, y’know.”

“Can I help with anything?  Do you want to do math homework together?  I can stay up with you while you do your work in case you fall asleep.”

Naruto closed his eyes to the lilt of her voice.  He could already feel himself on the verge of unconsciousness.  He shook his head slightly. In the back of his mind, he knew that he had pressing questions to ask her, but for some reason, he couldn’t remember them.  I just wanted to hear you.

“...If it’s too much for you to do the prom court dance, I don’t have to do it.”

His eyes snapped open.  

“I don’t want to be another burden on you.  I don’t want you to think that you have to do it just because of me.”

“NO!”

Hinata looked stunned.

“I mean, sorry, for yelling, but no, Hinata.  I want to do it. As long as you’re okay with it?”

Hinata’s eyes widened.  She averted her gaze and blushed a smile.  She nodded. “It was fun today...at practice.  You were so funny.”

Naruto grinned sleepily.  His heart felt warm and his mind felt fuzzy.  Everything felt right with the world. “I like...making you….laugh…”

“Hm?  Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that.”  Hinata tilted her head.

Naruto continued to grin at her, even as his eyes closed.  “I’m not giving up.”

As he drifted off, he could hear her encouraging him and wishing him good night.   

 

“Will you go to prom with me?”

Naruto looked at the small girl before him, who was looking at him with fear and determination.  She was really pretty. Naruto wasn’t blind to the beauty of the opposite sex. Her black hair was braided to frame her face and her tan skin was unblemished.  He even noticed her in PE class two years ago and they got along ever since. He was pretty sure she had been in a relationship at the time. He guessed not anymore.  He worked his jaw. There was no way to let her down nicely. “I’m sorry.”

Her features flinched.  Eyes narrowing, she looked down.  “Are you already going with someone?”

Naruto was surprised she was pressing it.  The girl who had asked him early that morning had just nodded and ran away without saying anything.  “I don’t have a date.”

She looked at him with...a glare?  As quickly as he saw it, though, it disappeared.  “Is it because of Sakura?”

He was starting to feel very uncomfortable.  Why is she asking me so much..?  “Sakura?  No…...I have someone I like.”

She looked at him with such horror, he felt caught off guard.  “Who-” she began, but then she seemed to think better of it.  She scrunched her eyebrows together and turned away.  

Somehow, he felt like a horrible person, almost like he had betrayed her or cheated on her.  He searched the floor tiles for an answer to alleviate his strange sense of guilt. “I’m sorry…”  

She shook her head and walked off quickly, her head down and her hands balled in fists at her sides.

Naruto watched her go.  He had hurt her. They hadn’t been really close, but she had been a friend nonetheless.  She was a friend.  Not anymore, he realized with a pang.  This had been his fear from the start since he realized he liked Hinata.  If he confessed to her, and she turned him down, he would want to know why.  He would want to know everything. He would hate her for... leading him on or some stupid sexist idea like that, and he would hate himself even more for even thinking it.  They wouldn’t be able to be friends anymore. It would hurt too much to even look at her. Hell, I was practically at that point yesterday.  Naruto sighed and looked at the space where the girl had stood.  He had resolved himself the night before to take whatever lay before him regarding Hinata.  But he wasn’t going to go down without intentionally trying to win her. Even if she ended up cheating on her boyfriend.  He knew it was selfish, but he wanted to make Hinata his. Shouts of nearby students woke him from his thoughts.

 

Running to the Student Activities Office, he pushed the door open.  He was late.

“Again, Naruto?!”  “You’re supposed to be setting the example!”  “You missed some choreography already.” The boys jostled him over to Hinata.

“Sorry, sorry.”  Naruto smiled his practiced grin and rubbed the back of his neck.  He looked at Hinata, who seemed relieved that he came. He leaned over toward her ear.  “I’m sorry I’m late,” he whispered. The color that blossomed across her cheeks was worth every second of tardiness.  He smirked and turned to Sora. “What did I miss?”

Sora frowned at him and muttered, “It’s kind of boy band-y, but the girls love it.”

The boys had to do a combination on their own.  As their advisor retaught the moves, the girls watched and cheered them on from the side.  Naruto knew Hinata was watching him, and every once in awhile, he shined a grin her way.

Each time, without fail, she had some kind of reaction: a blush, a shy smile, hands pressing her cheeks, a whisper of his name that he couldn’t hear but could see.  

He felt alive in a way he hadn’t felt all week.  As the advisor played the music, the boys practiced putting their part together to the song, and the girls whispered and giggled together, even screaming a little fangirl squeal when the boys had to gesture at them to come closer.  Their advisor had to remind the girls who were steadily growing more and more excited that they were supposed to seem aloof during this part.

Hinata was no exception to the girls’ giddiness.  Naruto was surprisingly good at this, and she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.  If she had a meter to measure how much she was attracted to him at this moment, she knew it would be off the charts.  She was certain she had a permanent stain on her cheeks from the way Naruto kept on looking her way, but when the girls turned to each other to comment and squeal, they all had the same blushing smiles pasted on their faces.  To hide her increasing excitement, Hinata covered her smile in her hands.

This only seemed to spur Naruto on as he became more confident in the steps.  He started throwing in facial expressions to go with the moves, like a raise of his eyebrows, an intentionally placed smirk, or a voicing of a certain part of the song - all directed at Hinata.  The other boys were getting a kick out of exciting their girlfriends, and they all started to sing various parts as they danced.

Their advisor rolled her eyes.  “Alright, alright. Looks like you boys got it pretty good.  Move on the side. Girls, come.”

The girls hopped up and exchanged words with their boyfriends as they switched places.

“What did you think?  One hundred percent coolness?” Naruto asked Hinata lowly so that only she could hear.

Hinata couldn’t hide the smile that was plastered across her face.  She quickly put her face in her hands to try to wipe away her dazed expression.  She looked back up and met his studying eyes. She shook her head and pursed her lips.  “Maybe that was an 80%.”

Naruto took a step back and looked at her teasing smile in mock disbelief.  “Eighty percent? Barely passing?!” He stepped closer to her again and whispered, “I guess I have to step it up for you, Miss High Expectations.”

Despite his proximity, Hinata managed to hold the tease in her smile.  “I guess so.”

“Hey, hurry up.  Lunch is half over already,” their advisor interrupted.

Hinata broke from his gaze and got into place between Yakumo and Kiri.  The advisor started the music and the girls rehearsed their part.

“When did they learn this?” Naruto asked Yagura.

“Before you came.  You were pretty late, and the girls were quick to learn their part.”

The boys got quiet as they watched.  While their own dance required a lot of step-slides, shoulder pops, spread feet, and general moves that shouted self-confidence, the girls’ dance seemed confident but in a sassy way.  

“Don’t be so shy at this part.  Remember in your prom dresses, it won’t look like anything, so your movements have to be bigger than you think,” their advisor coached.

The girls picked up their skirts slowly past their knees.  With the dress code being rather strict, the boys never saw thighs, and Naruto felt like his eyeballs were going to pop out of his face.  The flash of creamy skin below her skirt knocked the wind from him. When the girls were facing the back and had to swing their hips with their wrist resting on one side, Naruto couldn’t help staring, couldn’t help wonder what she was going to do next.  He didn’t expect her to look over her shoulder straight at him. Naruto looked away, embarrassed that she had caught him gaping at her, but noticed that the other guys were still outright staring at their girlfriends.

“Damn,” Futsu whispered.  “Kiri better be ready for me after school.”    

Sora and Yagura clapped Futsu on the shoulders with “yeah”s and “get it”s.  Naruto didn’t know what to do with his eyes and ears. If he looked at Hinata, he started to feel hot.  If he listened to the guys next to him, he felt like he was hearing something he shouldn’t. His own innocence surprised him somewhat.  He felt like he was losing his man-card as he heard the guys snickering next to him. Well, Sasuke’s not the type to talk about this stuff.  Neither is Shikamaru, though he’s probably the most active out of all of us.  Kiba can be kind of vulgar, but he doesn’t have a girlfri-”  His eyes inevitably trained back on Hinata as she flipped her hair and did a body roll.   Holy shit.  He could tell Hinata knew he was watching her.  She had a blush dusted across her face and her movements were more subdued than the other girls’, but her shyness didn’t at all take away from the very slight suggestiveness of the dance.  

Finally their first run-through ended.  Naruto let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.  Hinata refused to look at him as they reset.

Sora bumped him.  “Don’t look so embarrassed, man.  You’ll only make her feel more self-conscious.  You have to relax, or she’ll just feel awkward.”

Naruto nodded.  “You’re right. Thanks for that.”

Futsu turned and whispered, “Though I don’t blame you.  Hinata’s hot.”

Naruto looked at him with a double take.  “What the fuck, Futsu?” He barely kept his voice at a whisper.

Futsu just shrugged.  The music started and Naruto shot a glare at him even though he wasn’t looking.  Naruto turned his attention on Hinata as she was pulling her skirt up. What am I acting so embarrassed for?  I want her to know!  I want her to feel self-conscious about me, not the dance.

Hinata glanced at him.  She felt her heart stop.  Unlike before when he got distracted by whatever the guys were talking about, which had been a relief, he now seemed very focused.  On her. He was leaning forward over the desk with his hand under his chin. His intense gaze made her feel like she couldn’t breathe.  Hinata tried to act like she hadn’t seen him blatantly staring at her as he glanced at Sora, who whispered something to him. Hinata chanced another peek at him.  He was back at it. He’s watching me!  And he’s not stopping!   Why is he looking at me like that?!  Suddenly she wondered if the dance looked sexual, even though she had felt only mildly uneasy about the boldness of the dance when they first learned it.   What is he looking at?!  Why is he staring?! What?...Why?... She and the girls turned around, and for a second, she felt relief that he couldn’t see her face.  She swung her hip out and looked back. Eye contact.

He winked.

Naruto saw Hinata stop as if she forgot the next move.  

She’s so easy to- Naruto practically fell out of the desk as he lunged and dove for her.  “Hinata!”

“Woah!  Nice catch!”  “Is she okay?!”  “Oh my gosh, Hinata!”  “What happened?” The court participants gathered around Naruto as he adjusted her in his arms.

“Move on the side.  Let me see her.” Their advisor gently pushed the teens on the side.  

Hinata stirred.  She first registered the pop music and the anxious voices around her, and that she was being held up on the floor.  It had been awhile, but the feeling was all too familiar. Oh gods.  Did I…?  She opened her eyes and let her vision come into focus.  She gasped as she found blue eyes scrutinizing her in concern.  

“I think she fainted.”  Naruto’s prognosis was more a statement than a suggestion.  

Hinata sat up in alarm.  Her hard blinks flickered the images of everyone’s curious and worried expressions.  They all at once started to ask her questions. Hinata couldn’t reply as she burned with shame and embarrassment.  “How long was I out?” she whispered.

“Only a few seconds, really,” Naruto answered, also in a whisper.  He continued to look her over in concern, especially since she wouldn’t look at him.  “You okay? Do you want to get water?”

Hinata nodded.  “Water sounds good.”

Naruto looked up at their advisor.  Everyone stopped their questions as he spoke over them.  “Hinata said she’s fine. I’m just going to take her to get water.  We’ll be back in a moment.”

After further questioning from the advisor, the two exited the room.

“That’s so princess-y,” Shizuka sighed.

“Right?  It so is.  I’ve never fainted in my life,” Kiri agreed.

“I’ve never seen anyone actually faint before,” Sora added.

“Oh, you know, I went to elementary school with her, and she used to faint all the time,” Yakumo recalled.

“All the time?” Yagura laughed.  “‘Weak disposition’ or something like that?”

“Err, I don’t know about that,” Yakumo replied.

“The dance isn’t that strenuous.  I wonder why she fainted,” Kiri thought aloud.

“Maybe she was dehydrated?” Shizuka suggested.

“Dehydration doesn’t make you faint all of a sudden like that, though.  She would’ve felt sick earlier,” Futsu reasoned.

“She did seem fine earlier.” Kiri nodded in agreement.

“Well, until Naruto came.” Sora said offhand.

Everyone went quiet.  

“You know...whenever she fainted in elementary school, I heard that it was only when he was-”

Yakumo was interrupted as the door opened, but the gist of what she was about to say was not lost on any of them.

“Sorry for the holdup!  She’s all better now!” Naruto loudly announced.

“I am so sorry for that.  I don’t know what came over me, but I’m fine.  I can continue.” Hinata apologetically smiled.

The court participants looked at each other and turned their attention to study the two.  “It’s fine!” “Don’t worry about us!” “Are you feeling better?” They cheerfully inquired about her health, but suddenly everything between the two seemed to take on new meaning to them.  Naruto’s lingering looks on the bluenette next to him? Hinata’s glances his way? His gentle smile, seemingly uncharacteristic for the gregarious blond?

As they got into formation to rehearse the part they learned the day before, Shizuka muttered to Yagura, “I thought she was dating a prince?”   

Yagura glanced at Naruto, who was getting down to the kneeling position.  He turned back to his girlfriend and frowned in uncertainty.

 

After only one runthrough and a reminder of meetings for the next week, their advisor let them out before the bell rang.

Naruto and Hinata left the room together.  It felt almost like nothing had changed, but they could feel the discomfort between them now that they didn’t have the excuse of the meeting to hide behind.  

“Naruto-kun.”  Hinata steeled her nerves.  “Do you have time after school today?  I want to tell you something.”

Naruto could hear the gravity of her voice.  Her seriousness dashed any wild hopes of the possibility that somehow she broke up with that prince, and he wouldn’t be coming to the prom.  “Yes. I don’t have anything after school today. And I have some things I wanted to talk to you about, too.”

The solemnity that lined her face as she nodded her head etched previous fears into his heart.  Fear that she would only see the ugly jealousy and hurt within him, and not the honest love he felt for her.  Fear that she would deduce the real reasons for his friendship and reject him. Don’t push me away before at least giving me a chance!  He shoved his worries back.  “I’ll meet you at your locker.”              

Hinata nodded.

The bell rang, and they parted ways.

 

“So it’s true then.  You like someone, and it’s not Sakura?”

Naruto shifted uncomfortably.  News travelled really quickly. “Yes, I’m sorry.”

The brunette took a deep breath.  She looked up at him with a serious gaze.  “Prom is only a couple of weeks away. When are you going to ask her?...or him.”  The girl blinked, averting her eyes, as she self-corrected her assumption.

“Errr.  It’s a her.”  Naruto paused.  It didn’t feel right to be discussing this with someone he had just rejected.  “I can’t ask her.”

She furrowed her brows as she processed the possible meanings behind his words.  “So you’re going stag?”

Naruto bit his lips at the label.  “Yes.” He slowly nodded as he let himself get used to the idea.  “Yes, I’m going stag,” he reasserted. He hadn’t really thought about it, but that was where he was headed.  He had no intention of asking anyone, and he had rejected every girl who had asked him that day. In a moment of sudden reflection, he wondered, Is this normal for a guy to be asked by three girls in one day?

To his surprise, she smiled.  Her brown eyes still held disappointment, but her lips curled up.  She nodded, curls swaying as she spoke. “Good for you. Whoever it is you like, I hope she returns your feelings.”

Naruto looked at her with new appreciation.  “Thanks.”

She smiled a little wider and tilted her head up.  “Have a good weekend, Naruto-kun.” She turned and ran away.

Naruto watched her disappear behind a building.  He sighed, trying to relieve the weight of rejecting girls off his chest.   Hopefully with the way rumors spread, I won’t have anyone asking me anymore...Why are these girls asking me anyway?  Where did all of this sudden interest come from?   Naruto stood there as he pondered this mystery of his social life.   It must be one of those stupid rumors again.  People must think Sakura-chan and Sasuke-teme are really dating.  They were nominated for court. Stupid rumors.  He rarely concerned himself with school gossip, but he wasn’t completely unaware of what some people said.  His source of gossip was from friends outside of his usual social circle, like Sora, or from Ino, who was a hotbed of information, but she had the sensitivity to not chit chat about the relationship among Sakura, Sasuke, and himself.   Am I actually attractive to girls?  Just as quickly as the thought entered his mind, his spirit deflated when he realized it didn’t matter if Hinata didn’t like him.   Hinata...Hinata!

Naruto raced up the stairs to the lockers.   Please still be there.  Please still be there, he prayed earnestly.  To his great relief, she appeared in his field of vision across the hallway.  “Hinata!” he yelled as he continued to run towards her. Slowing down before her, he let out a steadying breath.  “Sorry for making you wait.”

She hummed her disagreement.  “I wasn’t waiting long.”

The realization that they were going to have a talk hit him.  Nervousness tightened his chest, but he didn’t want to show it.  Opting to give her what he hoped was a caring smile, he said, “Let’s go somewhere we can sit?  Maybe the lanai?”

Hinata nodded, and they headed out to the open-air gallery.  Although a popular space in the morning and at lunch due to the novel feeling of walking among the surrounding trees’ canopies, it was now mostly empty as students rushed out of school after a long week.  The two sat down at a bench near the railing and looked out at their school.

Naruto glanced at Hinata.  

She was staring ahead, brows furrowed.  She was obviously gathering the courage to say whatever it was she needed to tell him.  

He figured it would be easier on both of them if he started.  Step 1 of the Sasuke Plan - Talk to Her was completed the night before.  Step 2 - Ask Her, Get to Know Her was now going to be commenced. Naruto rallied himself.  “I never got to ask you about your time in the Moon Kingdom.”

Hinata turned to him, eyebrows raised.  “It wasn’t anything special. School, work.  It was as you would expect.”

Naruto shook his head.  “No, I want to know...what happened to you.”

Hinata tilted her head in confusion.  

He elaborated.  “Five years is a long time.  And for me, I know I changed a lot in some ways.  I try harder in school, I got over Sakura-chan, I got my driver’s license, I can fight for real now, I don’t pick fights anymore…”

He got over Sakura-chan?   Hinata was curious considering how he acted on a daily basis towards the pinkette, but she couldn’t ask for clarification as he continued.

“And for you, you know, when I saw you again the first day of school…”  He rubbed the back of his neck. “You seemed different. You looked different and you sounded different.  Well, getting to know you again, you are the same, still so nice, but, you know, I just can see it more now.  I knew you were strong back then, but now, you’re even stronger, you know?” Naruto stumbled over his words as he tried to express himself.

Hinata looked thoughtful.  She nodded. “You mean to say I do not stutter and faint like before?”

“Well, not only that, but-” Naruto had an unbidden memory of her fainting that day.

Hinata saw the way he was trying to hold back a smile, and she narrowed her eyes as she guessed what he was thinking about.  “You. You were trying to mess me up today, weren’t you?” she asked in an accusing tone.

Naruto looked around obliviously.  “Huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hinata puffed her cheeks.  “You were...I don’t know what you were doing!  You were staring at me, and then!  Then you…!”

Naruto looked at her, entertained.  “What? What did I do?”

“You-!”  Hinata couldn’t say it.  You winked at me!  She settled on glaring at him accusingly.

Naruto smiled widely at her.  He looked up toward the blue sky.  “You’re too cute, Hinata.” The smile dropped from his face when he realized what he had just said.

Hinata flushed.  She felt lightheaded, but willed herself to calm down.  He’s just teasing me.  Pink still evident on her cheeks, she turned her eyes up at the blond, who was looking away.  “Naruto-kun,” she called sweetly.

He turned to her.

“On Monday, you’ll be the one fainting.”

Naruto smirked as he tried to match the threat with the cheery smile that had spoken.  What is she going to do that would make me faint?  “That.  Hinata. I want to know.  You rarely verbally stood up for yourself before you left.  I want to know...what happened to you in the Moon Kingdom.” Naruto cleared his voice.  He was going to start pushing it. He needed answers. “I want to know...who supported you while you were away.  The people you connected with. The...challenges you went through to become who you are today.” I want to know who this prince is.       

Hinata looked down.  Images of her old classmates, their perfectly arranged curls, their noble air, their designer shoes, bags, and stationary flashed through her mind.  A memory of the disappointment she felt upon seeing Toneri kissing a girl in the courtyard--the realization that he was not a prince out of a fairytale.  She shook her head. “I didn’t have real friends.”

Naruto furrowed his eyebrows.  “How can that be? You’re so cool and nice!  Everyone must have been real jackasses then.”

Hinata took a deep breath.  She had to explain. It was now or never.  “Naruto-kun,” she began.

He silently waited for her to continue.

Hinata faltered.  She wanted to tell him.  Needed to tell him. But would he look at her differently after hearing it?  Would they still be able to talk and laugh together like before? Hinata slowly took a breath.  She began again. “I…” She bit her lip. “I didn’t have real friends because the girls were jealous of me, I was an outsider, and I had a higher status.  The boys avoided talking to me because…”

Naruto continued to listen to her intently.

“I’m engaged.  I’ve been betrothed to the prince of the Moon Kingdom since I was around ten.”  Her voice shook, her heart pounded, but she continued. “I moved there for five years for intensive training for the throne.”

Naruto’s eyes widened.             

Hinata searched his face for a reaction.

After an extended pause, he said quietly, “You’re engaged?”

Hinata looked down and nodded.  She heard him take a deep breath.

“This...prince.”  Naruto successfully kept himself from spitting out the word.  “Is he nice? Is he good to you?” Do you like him?

“He’s...good to me now.  In high school...he was nice to me in formal situations.  Now that he’s in college...he’s really serious. He doesn’t play around with girls anymore, and he’s nicer to me.”

Play around?!  Naruto gave Hinata a hard look.

Hinata avoided his gaze.  “He matured. He’s nice to me now.  He takes his work really seriously,” she repeated quietly.  

Naruto hated this guy.  It didn’t matter that Hinata was defending him.  In fact, it was making him hate this prince even more.  This fucking prince is nice to her now.  He’s serious now.  A real nice, serious kind of guy now.  A real fucking mature college student acting all fucking nice now that he’s finally gotten his bigass head out of his dick and noticed Hinata.  “Do you like him?”  His voice was low as he attempted to control his emotions from seeping out.

“...Not romantically, no.”

She doesn’t like him!  She doesn’t love him! Relief calmed his burning heart, but in anger’s place rose a bleak sense of helplessness.  “Do you have to do this?”

Hinata stared at the ground.  It was a question she asked herself regularly, so she knew the answer.  “Thousands, probably millions of dollars have been spent on me, Naruto-kun, to prepare me for my role.  It’s my responsibility as the firstborn Hyuuga. It’s my duty to the people of the Moon Kingdom. I owe the King and Queen so much for taking care of me while I resided in their country.  I...I have to.” Hinata couldn’t look up. Voicing aloud the reasons she had kept in her head was more painful than she thought it would be.

Naruto felt his heart break, and not just for himself.  Hinata looked close to tears, but she was valiantly keeping herself from falling apart.  “You didn’t get a choice…”

Hinata shook her head in confirmation of his words.  “No, but my father tries to give me choice in other ways.  He’s letting me choose my college, and he’s allowing me to be on the prom court.”  She felt like she was having a conversation with herself. Everything Naruto brought up were thoughts she battled with every day.

Naruto looked at her, but she remained unmoving, staring at the tiles.   “I have too much to be thankful for, so I won’t complain.”  Those were her words in their first video call.  At the time, he had identified with it. Now with this revelation, her words took on an entirely different meaning.  He saw her downcast form. How things like duty, responsibility, and gratitude weighed on her and shackled her. How she was coping by defending her situation.  He remembered their group’s debate.   She’s even finding pride in it.  The thought made him feel sick.   Who am I to tell her not to be proud?  Who am I to discourage her from following this path?   Despite his thoughts, he couldn’t help himself.  He looked at her earnestly. He was desperate. He wanted a chance.  Any kind of chance with her. It was selfish of him. It was foolish of him.  He loved her. “Do you want to do this?”

His words, spoken however softly, fell heavily.  Hinata froze. She knew the answer. She knew it by heart.   The Moon Kingdom is important to me.  It’s work that can do a lot of good. I can make a real difference.  She couldn’t say it.  The lump in her throat was too hard.  Instead, her vision clouded, and before she could stop it, fat tears fell from her eyes.  Her body shuddered, and she couldn’t keep herself from letting out a small sob.

Her cry pierced his chest.  He felt his throat constrict as he watched her dry her tears with her hands.  She looked utterly trapped, and he was just sitting their dumbly, letting her cry.  He was overwhelmed by his own inadequacy. Run away with me.  He knew it was cliche, but he desired it so acutely.  To run away with her. To save her from fate. To be her knight in shining armor.  He wanted all this. Why the hell not?  He stood.  If not for forever, at least for a moment.  “Hinata. Come with me.”

Hinata was still rubbing her face.  She tried to look at him, but she couldn’t see him through the sting in her eyes.

Naruto helped her to standing.  “Follow me. We’re going.”

She struggled to ask, “G-going where?” but she followed him off the lanai.

He looked back at her.  She seemed smaller than usual.  He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and helped her down the stairs.  He felt a surge of protectiveness as she leaned into him. “We’re going driving.”

“To where?”  She seemed to be calming down.        

“Nowhere.  Anywhere. Just driving.”

She began to fumble for her bag.

Naruto immediately knew she was going for her phone.  He clamped her arm down with his hand and pulled her into him more.  “You don’t need to ask your dad. He already gave you permission to stay after school, right?”

He felt her head nod against his chest.  “Don’t worry. Forget about him for a moment.  If not for yourself, for me. I’ll drive you home, too.”  He felt her nod again and her body begin to relax in his grasp.   

Hinata felt safe pressed against his solid body.  She felt reassured in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time.  He held her all the way to his car, and she was surprised to find herself completely indifferent to the idea that people might see them being so intimate.  When he let her go so that she could enter his car, she felt exposed and uncertain again.

Naruto hurried to the driver’s side.  Sliding behind the wheel, he resisted the urge to reach out for her.  To grab her hand or hold her skirt-clad thigh. She looked weak, like she needed comfort, and he knew he already crossed a line, but a part of him felt that he needed to pretend the line was still there.     

 

Once sparkling corporate buildings gave way to shadowy oaks and pines, Naruto turned off the AC and rolled down the windows.  

Hinata looked at him questioningly.  In her family, they never drove with the windows down.

“I hope you don’t mind.  Sometimes when Sasuke was...well when he needed it, we would go driving like this.  Something about the wind on our faces made us feel better.” He shot a grin at her.

“It’s fine.”  Hinata turned back toward the window.  They settled into silence again. Hinata’s hair blew wildly around her.  The inky blue strands whipped and licked at her face, neck, and arms, and she found she didn’t mind.  It was messy. It was inelegant and uncontrolled. It was freeing. She watched the forest thin out until rice fields spread into the distance.  “Naruto-kun?”

“Hm?”

“Remember the field trip to the strawberry farm in third grade?”

“Yeah, I remember you ate the strawberries while we were picking them.”  Naruto cast a sly glance her way.

Hinata giggled.  “Only a couple, and that’s because you made me.  You ate so many!”

Naruto huffed in pretend annoyance.  “Excuses, excuses. I knew you wanted to.  You just acted like you didn’t want to eat them.”  He smiled teasingly at her.

She met his smile with her own.  

Naruto turned his focus back to the road.  “We’ll be coming up on the farm soon. You wanna check it out?”

“I haven’t been back since then.”

“Me, neither.”

 

Naruto peered at the sign.  “They’re still open for another hour.  Let’s do it.”

Hinata wanted to do it.  She really did. But she felt nervous.  This was spontaneous. It was entirely unexpected, and it was completely not how she had imagined this day to go.  She thought Naruto would be mad at her for keeping this important part of her a secret from him for so long.

Naruto watched her sink back into herself.  He grabbed her wrist, which broke her out of her thoughts.  “Come with me.”

She nodded.

 

Naruto carried the small basket as they searched the leaves for the reddest strawberries.  He was glad to have something to do with his hands. His fingers were itching to wrap around some part of her.  Her hand, her waist, her shoulder, even her wrist again. Her carefree smile, the investigative gleam in her eyes, and her willingness to go where he wanted were sweet torture.  

She brought her face close to his as he examined a berry.  “I think this is the last one that will fit in our basket.”  Hinata frowned.

Naruto wasn’t looking at the berry anymore.  She was close enough to give her a peck on the cheek.  He wondered, Just for today?  Just for this moment?  Can’t I touch her as I please?  “Let’s pull it together if it’s the last one.”  

Hinata looked like she was about to say something, but didn’t as his hand wrapped around hers.  Naruto brought her hand up to the strawberry. He marvelled at how easily he cupped her hand in his own.  How right and perfect it felt. Even after they put the strawberry in the basket, he didn’t want to let go.  

Hinata didn’t make a move either to detach herself from his hold, but she was looking at him wonderingly.

“Hinata…”  Naruto felt the weight in his chest.  The heavy need to go further with her.  The desire to cross the line. He let go and gave her the basket.  “Let me take a picture of you.”

Hinata held the basket up proudly and smiled.  

 

The two sat themselves down at a picnic bench to enjoy their hard work.

“Thank you for paying, Naruto-kun,” Hinata said shyly as she picked up a strawberry.

“It’s no problem.  I was the one who suggested we come here after all.”

Hinata smiled.  “Well, I’ll pay you half when I get change.  And I’m glad you made me do it. It was a lot of fun.”

Naruto regarded her fading smile.  He could also feel the tug of reality.  He chose to ignore it. “The fun’s not over, yet.  And I don’t want your money.”

Hinata tilted her head in confusion.

“You owe me in pictures.”  Naruto grinned as he pulled out his phone again.

They took selfies, which started off with nice smiles.  Naruto encouraged Hinata to make continuously goofier faces and expressions with him as they used their strawberries for props.

“I’m going to post a few of these to SocialMe.  Is that okay with you?”

“Oh.  Um, okay.”  Hinata leaned a little to see what he was doing on his phone.  Other people are going to see our pictures?...It’s going to look like we… “Naruto-kun.  If people see these…” Hinata’s voice trailed off.  She couldn’t help but wonder if she was being too presumptuous.    

Naruto stopped and looked at her.  “It’ll look like we’re dating?”

Hinata blushed.  How can he say that so casually?  She nodded and blushed deeper when she saw his smirk.

“I don’t really care what other people think.  Let them strain a brain muscle.” Naruto went back to putting together his post.

Hinata furrowed her eyebrows.  She worried about how this would affect her.  

Naruto glanced at her.  He placed a few of his fingers between her brows and rubbed.  “Hey, I told you don’t worry. I just want to make sure I can remember today.”

Hinata touched her forehead where his fingers had been.  

“If you’re worried about what people will think, I’ll write it like this.”  He showed her his phone.

Hinata admired the collage he had put together of their pictures.  He had chosen the picture of her holding the full basket of strawberries.  He had also chosen one of them smiling with strawberries in their fingers and another with them looking like monsters ready to devour their basket.  She giggled and read the text below.

Friend-date with the lovely Hinata!

Hinata’s eyes widened.  “Friend-date?! L-lovely?!”

“You gotta call it first before people start making up stories.”  Naruto shrugged. “And look at you! How else can you be described?”

Hinata blushed.  He thinks I’m lovely?  “I don’t know about our monster picture.  I wouldn’t call myself that...way.”

Naruto looked back at the post.  “But you agree for the other two?”  He grinned at her mischievously.

Hinata lightly backhanded his arm.  “You know that’s not what I meant.”   

Naruto gave a smug smile.  He was about to post it when a thought occurred to him.  “How come you don’t have an account? You’re not allowed?”

Hinata pursed her lips.  “It’s not that I’m not allowed to have one.  I just thought it would be inappropriate for me because of my role…?”

Naruto looked at her with a hard stare.  “Hinata. We’re making you one. Take out your phone.”    

Hinata could tell from his tone that he wasn’t going to let this go.  

After downloading the app onto her phone and registering her account, he asked, “What do you want your username to be?  Your handle?”

Hinata was quiet as she gazed at the sky.

“Maybe MissHighExpectations?” Naruto suggested with a grin.

Hinata scrunched her nose in distaste.

“How about NumberOneLovely?”

Hinata shook her head vehemently.  She turned her attention back on the blond.  His eyes matched the brilliant blue of the sky.  His hair shone with the warmth of the sun’s rays.  “PlaceInTheSun.”

Naruto smiled.  “Hi-Nata, huh. Your name really matches you.”  He finalized her account. “I’m going to tag you in my post now.”      

Hinata felt warm and giddy.  He had been showering her with attention and compliments all afternoon.  She could sense that they were teetering on the edge. She usually thought herself to be really humble, but Naruto seemed to be making no effort to curb his advances, and she couldn’t help the small part of her that wanted him to do more.

 

The drive back seemed much faster than the drive to the farm.  Hinata didn’t want to return to real life. Spending the afternoon the way they had felt like a dream that was too good to be true.  Even now as she stood next to him in front of the Hyuuga estate, the setting sun seemed to light him up in a nearly ethereal glow. “Naruto-kun, thank you so much for today.  You really cheered me up.”

“Of course, Hinata.  You don’t have to thank me.  I had a lot of fun, too.”

Hinata looked down at the ground as she stepped up to him.  She slipped her arms around his waist, settled her hands onto the broad plains of his back, and squeezed.  She hid her embarrassment in his hard chest.

His body moved on its own.  This was no goodbye hug. It was something more.  With her soft breasts pushed up against the top of his ribcage, his own arms wrapped tightly around her back, and his fingers pressing into her sloping sides, Naruto closed his eyes and leaned his cheek against her head.  

What are we doing?  What is this...between us?  It feels so nice. So warm.                  

“Hinata…” Naruto whispered.  He didn’t know what he wanted to say.  

Hinata turned her head to listen to his beating heart.  It was fast, like her own. She turned her face back in and breathed.  She felt safe, protected.

Naruto squeezed her, relishing the feeling of her body molding around his fingers and in his arms.  

She cuddled against him, nuzzling her face against his chest.  

Shit .  He was getting excited, but he didn’t want to stop.  He squeezed her again, trying to commit her form and curves to memory.  He would be in trouble if this continued any longer. Resigned he stepped back and allowed his hands to smooth across her, landing on her upper arms.

They locked gazes.  The longing they found in each others’ eyes was not unexpected, but maddening all the same.  

Naruto slid his hand up to her face, cradling her jawline in his palm.  Hinata leaned against it, loving his touch, closing her eyes for a second before opening them to find Naruto looking at her even more intently.  Hinata had no awareness of where she was as her world focused only onto the sensation of his study, his fingers pressing gently against her arm and neck.  She was running on emotion, body tingling in anticipation, mind numb, only doing what felt right, what she needed to do. Her lips parted as she gazed into his troubled eyes.  

Naruto felt like his heart was going to pound out of his chest.  His thumb caressed her cheekbone, wandered down to her lower lip and brushed against the plush skin lightly.  He quietly panted, finding it hard to breathe when her mouth opened a little more. He flickered his attention from her lips back to her eyes.  Her glazed eyes, like cirrus clouds at dawn. How they were inviting him in. Imploring him to come closer, to complete this daydream. Where is the line?  What is the point of no return?  He furrowed his brows.  Just for today!  Just for this moment!  Can’t she be mine?!   Naruto shut his eyes tightly.  His chest hurt. He opened them again.  So close, she’s so close .  

Hinata’s eyes fluttered closed.  

So close.  I can’t.  I have to.  His lips met hers.  

Heat bloomed in Hinata’s chest.  She brought her hands up and pressed them against his chest to steady herself.

Naruto lifted just a whisper away, his eyes opening a fraction to meet her own blushing gaze.  His hand worked farther behind her ear, his fingers shifting into the strands at the nape of her neck.  He pressed his lips against hers again, mind blanking as he revelled in her impossibly soft kiss.

Hinata gripped his shirt as his lips worked across hers.  When he pulled back slightly, she pulled him in again. Oh.  Hinata felt like she might cry.   Oh!  It was so sweet, so gentle.  She raised herself onto the tips of her toes, adding more pressure to the kiss.  She could feel his grip at the base of her head and on her arm tighten. His feather light kisses turning urgent as she slid her hands behind his neck.  

Naruto pulled up, panting rapidly.  He pressed his forehead against hers.  “Hinata...we need to stop before I…” He couldn’t finish his sentence because he wasn’t sure what he was on the verge of doing.  Sticking his tongue into her mouth? Eating her lips like a starving man? Stuffing her into his car and zooming off? Naruto straightened a bit and grabbed her hands off of him.  He looked down at her hands in his. Absentmindedly, he stroked them with his thumbs. He looked up and their eyes met.

Desire and longing.  It was still there, but the magic had ended.  Sadness tinged their gazes, knowing they had to keep their feelings hidden.

“Have a good weekend, Hinata.  I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

Hinata nodded, still trying to find her voice.  

Naruto dropped her hands, the loss of contact jarring.  He turned to go to his car, but Hinata grabbed his hand, turning him back around.

She tiptoed and kissed him on the lips, a small amount of force behind her upward momentum.  She dropped back down. “Drive home safely, Naruto-kun.”

Naruto stared at her, trying to control his breathing.  He wanted to grab her. Keep her. Hug her and squeeze her.  Yell at every passing man and woman that she was his, his alone.  This time he was the one who couldn’t talk.  He nodded. He forced himself to go back to his lonely car, each foot of separation from her a difficult reminder that he couldn’t have her.

Chapter Text

Sasuke stopped before the courtyard.  He glared at the table setup across the way that was being manned by a couple of prom committee members.   This is old-fashioned.  Everything should be done online by now.   He gave a sigh of contempt towards Naruto for not updating this system.  He had half a mind to turn around and get Sakura to do it, but he knew that discussion would be more trouble than it was worth.   Let’s get this over with.  Locking his jaw he cooly sauntered to the table.

The committee members looked up when he approached.  Their eyes widened in disbelief, and their mouths dropped open.

Sasuke stood there, judging them for their stupid expressions.  

They seemed to collect themselves, sitting up and blinking.  The girl with vintage glasses began cheerfully, “Hi, Sasuke-kun!  You’re here for prom tickets?”

Sasuke raised his eyebrows at that.  Wasn’t it obvious?

The girl glanced at her table partner, not knowing what to make of his silence.  The jock spoke up to save her. “If you’re buying one, it’s $40. If you’re buying two, it’s $70.  Your date needs to be between 15 and 21 years old.”

Sasuke opened his wallet and handed him $70.  

“Great.  Thank you.”  The boy started writing Sasuke’s name down on a spreadsheet.  “Can I get your date’s name?”

“Haruno Sakura.”

The girl squealed.  

Both boys looked at her.  Sasuke with a slight furrow of his brow.  The other with a look that seemed to say “stop, you’re going to annoy him.”

She quickly apologized.  “Sorry.” She gathered two tickets together and handed them to him.  “Um, so today is the last day to get a refund, but we’ll still be selling tickets for the next two weeks.”

“I won’t need a refund.”  His voice was sharp.

“Oh.  Kay.” The girl sat back, afraid to say anything more to him.  Her fellow committee member looked at her with sympathy.

Only giving the glossy tickets a cursory glance, Sasuke stuck them in his wallet and turned around.   

 

“Sakura.”

The pinkette turned from her conversation with Ino and Shion.  Seeing that it really was Sasuke who called her name, she quickly gathered her lunch and belongings.  “Sorry guys.”

“Oh no, do your thing.” Ino said with a raise of her chopsticks.  

Shion nodded her agreement.

Sakura smiled her appreciation at them and hurried over to her crush.  She took a seat next to him and waited for him to speak. He wasn’t sitting near Choji or Shikamaru, so whatever he wanted to say, he wanted only her to hear it.  

However, he didn’t say anything.  He opened his wallet and gave her a piece of card stock.

Sakura took it.  “What’s...” She read it.  

The words “At First Sight” were scripted across the top in delicate gold font.  Fireworks shimmered against a night sky.

Saturday, April 19, 6:00 PM - 11:00 PM             

Shimura Root Resorts Izanagi Ballroom

Konoha High School Senior Prom     

She stopped breathing.  She glanced at his wallet, which had a matching ticket.  Her brain’s neurons stopped firing. Green eyes wide in a juxtaposition of hope and disbelief, Sakura turned to look at him.  Her heart squeezed upon finding she had his full attention. “Sasuke-kun…?”

Sasuke noticed the indentations around her thumb’s nail as she gripped her ticket a little too hard.  He met her astonished gaze. “Wear red.”

It was that voice.  The one she heard only at the rarest times when he thanked her or that one time when he promised her he wouldn’t disappear again after he went missing for four days.  It was his voice without the edge. His voice without the commanding timbre but still possessing its arresting, deep resonance. This was real. Sakura felt a lump gather in her throat.  She nodded and looked back down at the ticket.

Sasuke watched emotions play across her face.  Her clear green eyes gained an effervescent quality as they gathered tears.  Her lips and cheeks strained to keep from bursting into a wide smile. He couldn’t remember a time she had ever looked like this.  She looked goofy. Over a piece of paper?, he thought, amused.  But he knew that it meant more than just that to her, and inwardly, he felt good--a feeling that stole across his chest, and he was curious to find he didn’t hate it.  

Sakura finally tore her attention away from the ticket and looked back at Sasuke.  He was smiling. Not the smug one. Not the holier-than-thou one. It was gentle, patient.  She found herself falling in love with him all over again. He lit her entire being. She couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face, couldn’t stop the tear from escaping down her cheek.  “Thank you. I can’t wait.”

Sasuke felt an uncomfortable clenching in his chest.  He broke out of his observations of her and folded up his wallet.  Still the discomfort continued as he felt her adoring gaze on him. He felt a strange sense of relief and annoyance when she turned away.  He glanced at her carefully putting her ticket into her purse, and she immediately turned her eyes up to meet his. His chest clenched again as long pink lashes fluttered over her tender gaze.  He had felt this way before around her, and it disturbed him every time. The tingly self-consciousness that itched under his skin was disorienting. He stood. “I’m going to eat with the guys. You can go back to Ino and Shion.”

Sakura nodded with an emotional smile.  She practically floated back to the two blondes.

Ino looked at her.  “Woah. What did Sasuke-kun do to you?”

Sakura put her face in her hands to try to gain some sense of normalcy, but it was impossible.  Her heart was sailing up high somewhere in the clouds, and she couldn’t possibly be brought back down.  She muffled an answer into her hands.

Shion leaned over to hear her.  “What did you say?”

Sakura uncovered her mouth but still talked into her hands.  “He’s taking me to prom.”

Shion sat up.  Ino had heard it, too.  They looked at each other and shrieked.  

“Woah.”  “Settle down,” the boys looked over and called at them, except Sasuke.

Ino bent toward the girl who still had her face buried in her hands.  “You need to tell me everything that happened.”

Sakura shook her head, still in her hands.  “Ino. I can’t, I can’t.” She looked up suddenly, teary smile on her face just as before.  “I’m still processing.” She tucked her face back into her hands, rocking herself side-to-side.  

Ino and Shion watched her.  They looked at each other and clasped hands, making small squeals of excitement for their pink-haired friend.                      

     

Ino - OMG.  Did you see??  What Naruto posted?????  

Shion’s phone buzzed with a notification from her message thread with Ino and Sakura.  Shion was brushing her teeth. She unlocked her phone to reply. “No? What did he post?”

Ino - You HAVE to get on to SocialMe.  

Seeing that Ino wasn’t going to tell her, she opened the app.  As she scrolled through the recent posts, a notification popped up on her phone from Sakura.

Sakura - Wtf does he mean by friend-date?

Ino - Did he tell you anything about this?  I need to know DETAILS.

Sakura - He didn’t tell me anything.  Hope he didn’t fuck things up.

Shion was really intrigued now.  She quickly finished rinsing her mouth, headed to her bedroom, and turned her attention to her phone.  After scrolling a bit more, she found the post. It was cute. Really cute.

Ino - Also.  High alert: Hinata is finally acting her age.  She has a SocialMe now. Connect her!

Shion laid down in her bed.  She stared blankly at their smiling faces as she tried to gauge her own reaction.  Did she feel jealous? No, which was a relief. Did she feel sad? Maybe a little? It was a little lonely knowing that her friends all had love lives and she didn’t.  She tapped the heart icon. Her name joined well over a hundred others on the post. After sending a “connect” Hinata’s way, she messaged the group, “They’re so cute together!”

Ino - Riiiiiigghhht?  

Ino - But I’m really confused.  Is she or isn’t she dating the prince of the Moon Kingdom?

Sakura - That’s something you need to ask Hinata.  

Ino - Truth.  And, I heard Naruto rejected several girls today because he likes someone and wants to go stag to prom.

Sakura - Several???  Are these girls stupid?  Who told you that?

Sakura - No offense, Shion.

Shion reentered the conversation.  “None taken.” “I actually saw a girl running away from him early this morning.”  She frowned. That could have been her if she hadn’t come to terms with his feelings for Hinata over Winter Break.

Ino - Must be his groupies. But I’m impressed.

Ino - Going stag to senior prom takes guts.

Shion agreed.  “That is impressive.”  After a pause, she added, “He made it pretty obvious to everyone with this post who he likes.”

Sakura - Knowing him he probably doesn’t care.  He probably also doesn’t think it’s a big deal to go stag.  

Sakura - Don’t know if I should feel impressed or annoyed at how socially inept he can be.

Shion held back a laugh.  “Choose impressed.”

Sakura - No, I choose annoyed.

Shion shook her head at Sakura’s response.  She wondered why Sakura always seemed to expect more from Naruto, or why she was always mad at him.  It was something she would have to ask her about in the future.

Ino - Messaged Hinata earlier, and she just replied.  She says she’ll tell us about it later.

Shion smiled.  “Can’t wait to hear what happened!” she messaged in.

She got a notification in a separate group thread that included Hinata.

Ino - So prom dress shopping and girl-talk is in order.  I literally CANNOT wait to hear about everything that’s happened.  Please tell me you pretty bitches are free tomorrow.

Sakura - I’m free whenever.

Shion added, “Me, too.”

Hinata - I am available at night.

Ino - It’s set then.  Tomorrow night Hidden Leaf Mall in front of the food court, 5:00.  Be ready to tell me everything.

Shion “liked” Ino’s message.  She dropped her phone on her bed.  What was she going to do? She could go stag like Naruto.  His self-confidence was pretty inspiring. She had been hoping someone would ask her, but no one did, and she had been toying with the idea of asking someone herself, but who?  The only guys she talked to on a generally regular basis were Naruto, Shikamaru, Sai, and Choji. Naruto was a no. Shikamaru was taking Temari. Ino was crushing hard on Sai, and she was pretty sure they were going together.  Which left Choji. Is he already going with someone?  Would it be weird if I asked him? How much do I want a date?  Which is worse? Embarrassing myself by potentially getting rejected by Choji or going stag to prom?   She sighed.  This sucked.

 

Sitting at a round table with takeout trays of sandwiches and sodas, the girls were giving Ino rapt attention.  

“He wanted to thank me for giving him the paints and staying to help him after school with the backdrops, so I asked him if he would go to prom with me.”  Ino fidgeted in her chair bashfully.

“So what did he say?” Shion asked, eyes sparkling.

“He looked surprised and said okay.”

The girls smiled at Ino’s quiet excitement.  She only acted like this when she talked about Sai.  

“Is he all done with the backdrop?” Sakura inquired.

“He’s been working on two.  He finished the selfies one early last week and he said he would be able to finish the professional photography one sometime next week.”

“What do they look like?” Hinata wondered aloud.

Ino pursed her lips.  “It’s kind of hard to describe.  I got to help him a little with the selfies one.  We set up frosted glass, and then he painted over it with gold designs, like roses and fireworks.  We drilled holes into it and stuck white fairy lights through into certain parts so that it has kind of like a glistening or glowing effect.  It will look really nice in photos and videos.”

“Oh my gosh that sounds amazing!” Shion sighed.  Hinata and Sakura nodded in agreement.

Ino continued, “The professional one isn’t done, yet, but the concept is also a little different.  Sai’s painting on drapes, and since the focus is supposed to be on the couple or group, it’s a lot less flashy.  He told me the concept is a cloudy day, and then when the sun shines through one little pocket in the clouds somewhere in the distance, you can clearly see the rays hitting the ground in that one spot.  He said it a lot better than how I just described it, but do you know what I mean?”

They nodded their heads seriously.  

“It sounds beautiful, Ino-chan.”  Hinata smiled.

Ino returned her smile.  “Sai is amazing.”

They sat there for a quiet moment until Shion cleared her throat.  “I have news to share.”

It was like a switch turned on in Ino.  “You do?”

“I asked Choji last night to go to prom with me as friends.”

“You did?!  Choji better have said yes otherwise I’m gonna-”

“He said he’d go with me,” Shion quickly added to calm her blond friend down.  

“Oh, good!  I’m so glad!  Choji has low self-confidence sometimes, so I’m really happy for him and that you asked him...You didn’t tell me you were going to ask him…?”  Ino turned a curious look to Shion.

She sighed.  “It was kind of a spur of the moment decision for me.  I thought about just going stag like Naruto-kun, but I don’t have the confidence to do that, and Choji seemed like he would be too nice to turn me down.” Shion made a face, acknowledging her own weakness to societal pressures.  “I was happy though when he told me he would go with me.”

Sakura smiled.  “Choji really is a nice guy.”     

Shion nodded her head.  “Which reminds me...Hinata.” Shion looked pointedly at the bluenette, who had been in her own little world when Naruto’s name was mentioned.  “You and Naruto-kun.”

Sakura spoke up.  “Yeah, Hinata, what is this date you had with Naruto yesterday?”

Hinata bit her lips and looked down at her food.

Everyone leaned forward in anticipation.

Hinata finally looked up, a little nervous to see everyone’s eyes trained on her.  “We went to the strawberry farm.”

Ino looked at her expectantly.  “We all know that already! And?!  Then what? How did that happen? What did you guys do there?  Give me details!!”

Hinata didn’t know where to start.  “We picked strawberries together.” He held my hand.

Shion encouraged her to keep going.  “And?”

“And we ate them.”

Ino repeated, “And then?!”

“Then he drove me home.”

The girls were leaning forward, their eyes seemed to ask the question of “And then?!?”

Hinata blushed at the memory.  “I hugged him as a way to say thank you and then…”

Sakura whispered, “And then?”

“And then...he…”  Hinata smiled at her food.  “And then he kissed me.”

The three girls screamed in disbelief and excitement.

“He kissed you?!” Shion asked.

Hinata blushed more and nodded.  

Ino wiggled her eyebrows.  “Was there tongue?”

Hinata made a face at Ino’s suggestion and shook her head.  “No, it was really sweet and nice.”

It seemed to cross Ino, Shion, and Sakura’s minds at the same time.   Wait...so what about…?

Sakura asked first.  “What about...you know...did you tell him?”

Hinata’s face dropped.  “I did, but he still…”

Ino and Shion exchanged looks.  Ino interrupted again. “Tell him what?”

Hinata took a deep breath and faced Ino and Shion.  “I didn’t get to tell you two, yet. I told Naruto-kun yesterday after school, and Sakura-chan figured it out on her own, but, I’m actually engaged to the prince of the Moon Kingdom...It was arranged when I was ten.”

Ino and Shion’s faces went blank in shock.

“I moved to the Moon Kingdom for five years to prepare for the throne.”

“You told Naruto that yesterday?  How did he respond when he found out?” Ino asked in an urgent tone.  

Hinata searched for an answer.  She hadn’t really figured out his reaction.  “He asked me if I have to and if I want to…”

“And do you?” Sakura pressed.

Hinata shook her head.  “I told Naruto-kun that I have to.”

“Why?  Why do you have to?” Shion asked.

“A lot of people are counting on me.  I have to do it. I would bring the greatest shame on my family if I broke the engagement.  I would be failing my responsibility to Fire Country and disappointing the Royal Family. I could really ruin things between our two nations.”  

“But...the two of you like each other.  It’s not fair.”

Shion’s words brought stinging tears to Hinata’s eyes.  Hinata blinked rapidly to try to sweep the drops back.

“So you told him about your betrothal...when?” Ino wondered.

Hinata took a steadying breath.  “Right after school. And then I was really sad, so he took me driving to cheer me up, and that’s why we ended up at the strawberry farm.”

And then they kissed.  The three girls started to make sense of it all, and the weight of the issue truly dawned on them.  

Damn Naruto.  One minute you’re having a pity party, the next minute you’re kissing girls and ruining international relations . Sakura furrowed her brow.  When she had encouraged him to talk to Hinata, she hadn’t imagined it would end up like this.  

“So...what are you going to do?” Ino asked softly.  The three girls looked at their fair-skinned friend with worry lining their faces.

Looking down, Hinata shook her head weakly.

“Have you talked to Naruto since then?”  Sakura watched Hinata rub her eyes hastily.

Hinata shook her head again.

“Not even a text message?” Ino frowned.

“I think he’ll call me tomorrow night.  That’s our usual schedule.” Hinata finally spoke after calming herself down.  “After...the kiss...he said he would talk to me soon.”

Ino looked at Hinata in confusion, but didn’t say anything to voice her opinion on how weird that seemed to her.  If you kiss a girl, shouldn’t you call her right away?

Sakura also thought it was weird, but quickly realized what Ino didn’t.  “He must not know how to treat you now. The two of you can’t be just friends anymore, but you can’t exactly be together either.”

Shion took Hinata’s hand and looked at her meaningfully.  “If you need anything from us, let us know. If we can help in any way at all.”

Hinata smiled at her in appreciation.

Ino and Sakura placed their hands on top of Shion and Hinata’s hands, too.  

“Anything, Hinata, really,” Sakura repeated seriously.  Ino and Shion nodded their agreement.

“Thank you.”  Hinata gave them a sad smile as she withdrew her hands from them.  She sighed and turned to look at her pink-haired friend. “Sakura-chan?”

“Hm?”

“I heard that you have something to tell us, too?”

“Hm?  Oh. Oh!”  

Everyone was glad to refocus onto something happier.  They leaned in to listen to Sakura’s story.

“Sasuke-kun is taking me to prom.”          

“Mhm, mhm, and?!” Ino extended her hand to emphasize her question.  “Did he ask you like this?” She imitated a low voice and said cooly, “Come with me to prom.”

Shion and Hinata laughed at Ino’s acting.

Sakura smiled and shook her head.  “No, he gave me the ticket.”

“Wow,” Shion stated.  “He’s very confident, isn’t he?”

Sakura smiled.  “Yes, but so is Naruto...and so am I.  I guess that’s why we all get along.”

The girls took a second to smile at that.

“So...that’s it?  He just gave you the ticket?” Ino asked.  

Sakura blushed a smile at the memory.  “No, he also said to wear red.” Her face started to morph into the blissful expression she had the day before.

Her three friends stared at her in confusion.  

“That’s all?” Ino asked.  

Sakura noticed they didn’t seem to think that was exactly squeal-worthy.  “Well, I guess, I mean, he smiled at me, too!”

At that addition her audience smiled.  

“It’s not a romantic date to a strawberry farm, but I guess that’s pretty romantic for Sasuke-kun.” Ino decided aloud.  

Hinata and Shion giggled at Ino’s statement.

 

Naruto was sitting at his desk, scrolling through his contacts.  One phone call down, two to go. He had just finished talking to Shino to apologize for pushing him and to explain his misunderstanding.  Shino had accepted his apology easily, but had been merciless in pointing out that he had listened to rumors first before seeking the truth of the matter.  Naruto felt pretty stupid at that moment, but then Shino said he would support him. Shino is really a cool guy.  Naruto shifted his focus back to his next phone call.  Kiba. He frowned. This call was going to be harder. Kiba could be a lot like him, hot-headed and stubborn.  He showed himself to be really protective of Hinata. If he fucked things up with her, Kiba would probably kill him.   Hinata… He frowned again.  He still needed to call her, too, but what could he say to her after what they did...?  Naruto forced himself to refocus on this next phone call. Hardening his resolve, he tapped the phone.  The phone only rang once before the call was picked up.

“NARUTO!!!  YOU IGNORE HER ALLLLLLL WEEK THEN YOU TAKE HER ON A DATE?!  WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS A FRIEND-DATE ARE YOU PLAYING AROUND WITH H--”

“KIBA WOULD You listen to me first before you start yelling at me?”  Naruto did his best to calm down his aggravated friend.

Silence on Kiba’s side.

Naruto began, “I misunderstood.  I believed the stupid rumors that Hinata was dating the prince.  I didn’t know she was arranged to marry him until she told me yesterday.”

There was a pause on Kiba’s end before he spoke.   “You’re an idiot.”  

Naruto sighed.  “I...I know. I’m sorry I got mad at you and Shino, and I’m sorry for avoiding Hinata.  I mean looking back on it, it would seem obvious, but I was just really surprised when I found out about him.  Really, really surprised. She didn’t mention anything about him until yesterday.”

“Why would she?  Surely you get that Hinata hates being bullied or being treated differently?  That’s why she’s so ridiculously modest.”

“Yeah...yeah I get that.  I know she couldn’t say anything.”  Naruto ran his hand through his hair.  

“...So she told you yesterday?”               

“Yeah.  We talked about it.  Did Hinata tell you anything about yesterday…?”

“...uh...she’s not talking to me right now.  She’s kind of mad at me for confronting you the other day…”

“Oh.”  Naruto imagined an angry Hinata giving Kiba the silent treatment.  Somehow it seemed funny. A part of him felt Kiba deserved it. “Well, yeah she told me everything, and she got pretty upset.  So I took her driving to calm down. We spontaneously decided to visit the strawberry farm from the third grade field trip. It’s not like I planned to take her on a date or anything.  After, I took her home and theennn…” Naruto wasn’t sure if he needed to tell Kiba the next part.

“What.  Did you confess to her or something?”

“Sorta.  I mean. We kissed.”

Silence.

Naruto sat there waiting uncomfortably for some kind of response.  Was Kiba embarrassed to hear this? Naruto felt pretty embarrassed for saying it.  It’s not like he needed to report his activities to Kiba, but he just didn’t want him to think he was playing around with Hinata.  

“...Fucking hell, Naruto.  What are you going to do now?”

“Well, I still have to call Hinata.  I guess we have to talk about it...Do you know anything about this prince?  Is he actually a good guy? Hinata doesn’t want to say anything bad about him.”

“Personally I don’t like him.  I’ve never met the guy, but Hinata used to tell me and Shino about how she saw him with this girl or that girl.  That was when they attended the same school before he graduated. I know he’s a really, really serious guy now. Apparently the only things he talks about is his work, and Hinata says all he does is work, work, work.  I imagine he’s stuck up and boring.”

“Do you think he wants to marry Hinata?”

“...If he’s as serious as Hinata makes him sound, maybe he does now.  I think in high school he was trying to rebel and do whatever he wanted.”

Naruto furrowed his brow.  He suddenly wished this prince was still the player he used to be.  

“Fuck.”

Apparently Kiba had the same thought.  

Naruto sighed.  “I have to meet this guy next week.  I have to give him a school tour.”

“That sucks.”

Naruto gave a mock laugh.  “It really fucking does.”

“Represent us well, Prez.”

“Ugh.  You know Hinata has to do it, too.”

“Damn.  That’ll be awkward as all hell.”

“No kidding.”

“Challenge him to a fight to the death.  Winner takes all.”

Despite himself, Naruto snorted a laugh.  “I guess that’s one way to solve this problem.”

“...Let me know, Naruto…I’ll be your backup.”

Naruto smiled.  “Alright, Kiba, thanks.  I’ll let you know.”

“Yeah, man.  Make sure you talk to Hinata.”

“I’m going to do that now.”

“Good.  Talk to you later, then.”

“Yup.  Bye.” Naruto ended the call.  He slumped back into his chair.  Calling everyone one after the other was all rather emotionally draining.  Hinata. He replayed again in his mind the memory of her body pressed against his, the comforting smell of her hair, how she fit so softly against him.  The memory of her face in his hand, the feeling of her lips against his, her fists on his chest tugging at his shirt, her fingers caressing his neck. Her hand pulling him back and her kiss goodbye.  He replayed it again and again, just as he had been since he left her the night before. He was concerned about the prince, he really was, but what he was really concerned with was, when would he be able to hold her again?  When would he be able to kiss her again? Would she let him do it again or was it simply the rush of the moment?  What did he need to do so that she would let him do it again? He wanted to feel her more, see her reach out to him again.  Whenever he recalled it, he felt the residual high, and he was scared that the small euphoria he felt each time in his heart would wear out, dull with the passing of time.   Just seeing her would…  He held up his phone and quickly found her name.  He had no idea what he would say to her, but certainly if he saw her, everything would be alright, right?

The video call connected.  Her face popped up on his screen but she wasn’t in her bedroom.  Her head bobbed up and down as if she were walking.

“Naruto-kun!”

Her greeting was much more cheerful than he thought it would be.  “Hi, Hinata. Where are you?”

“I’m at the shopping mall!  Look.” The screen tilted away from her, and Sakura, Shion, and Ino appeared.  

“Hi, Naruto!” Sakura waved.

“Hi, Naruto-kun!” Shion waved, too.

Naruto waved and returned their greetings.

“Hey, if it isn’t lover-boy.” Ino raised her eyebrows at him suggestively.

Naruto paused.  “Hinata...you told them…?”

She appeared again.  “Yes...they wanted to know.  I hope that was okay with you?”

“Yeah...I just told Kiba what happened, actually.”

She frowned.  “Shino-kun told me what he did to you.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for him to go and pick a fight with you.”

“I know.  Don’t worry, I deserved it.  We’re fine.”

Hinata tilted her head with a disagreeing look, but said nothing.

Naruto let his gaze rest on her.  His heart trembled softly, knowing they felt the same way for each other.  Excited voices of the three girls next to her filtered through. Hinata turned away from him, and then Sakura interrupted his view of her.  He realized Hinata must have passed the phone. It irked him.

“Naruto!  I don’t know if Sasuke-kun told you, yet, but...yesterday, he told me he would take me to prom.”

This was news to him.  He gave the pinkette a huge smile.  “Really?! That’s great! The bastard finally manned up!”  He noticed how happy Sakura looked. “I’m really happy for you, Sakura-chan.”

“Thank you.”  She shyly smiled.  “Really, Naruto. I know it must be because of you.  You told him to, right?”

Naruto averted his gaze.  He didn’t want it to seem as if Sasuke hadn’t wanted to ask her.  He knew deep down, somewhere deep down, Sasuke wanted to make her happy.  “We talked about it.”

Sakura smiled at him appreciatively.  “Thank you.” It was so quiet, he almost didn’t hear her.

“No problem, Sakura-chan.”  This was the part where he normally said something to annoy her, like “You know I’m devoted to you!” or “If you really mean it, then go on a date with me!”.  The realization that it wasn’t like that anymore, it couldn’t be like that anymore, was...odd. It left him with something almost close to, but really not quite, regret.  A realization that something, though it had no name, though it had been important to him, was over. A realization that he was growing up.

The phone was passed back to Hinata.  He felt like the world brightened when her face appeared on his screen again.  “Hinata.”

“Naruto-kun.”

“I’ll call you back later, okay?  I don’t want to be interrupting you guys any more than I already have.”

“Oh.  Okay.”

She looked sad.  It suddenly struck him that she had probably been waiting for his call while he had been mucking around in his own head.  “Really. I will. If you feel like it, too, you can call me.” He heard someone “aww”-ing in the background. It was probably Ino.  

Hinata nodded her head with a small smile.

Naruto took a moment to appreciate the curves of her face, the softness in her eyes.  How now, he could clearly see her feelings for him there in the way she regarded him. It left him feeling breathless.

“I’ll see you soon, then, Naruto-kun.”

“Yup.  Bye, Hinata.

“Bye.”                   

He paused to take her in again.  He ended the call after a couple of seconds.  He stood up and collapsed on his bed. He did the math.  If the mall closed at 9:00, they would most likely be out for at the most about thirty more minutes.  He had some options. He could do playbacks of their kiss. That would be nice. Or he could call Sasuke.  He figured might as well since they both had news to give each other. Guess I’ll call Sasuke first.

 

It was already well after 10.  Naruto sat on his bed impatiently waiting for his phone to charge to at least 20%.  His call with Sasuke had been long, and it completely drained his phone’s battery. They ended up talking about all kinds of things.  From his situation with Hinata to Sasuke’s plans for after high school. An inordinate amount of the time had been spent on how he should have updated the prom ticketing system.  The moment his phone left Save Mode, he called her. The line rang longer than usual. She didn’t go to bed already, did she?

Her sleepy face appeared on his screen.  “Naruto-kun. Hello.” Her voice lilted down, feathery and soft.  It was dark around her.

“I’m sorry for waking you.”  

She hummed in disagreement with his words.  “It’s fine.”

Her screen tilted a bit as she turned on a night light.  

He saw her push her hair back over her shoulders.  Her bare shoulders. Save for a thin strap that did little to keep his eyes from admiring the expanse of fair skin.  He swallowed. Is this what she wears to sleep?  She seemed to not realize where her phone’s camera was aiming as she pulled up a blanket around her.  Naruto had no idea what it was called, a tank top?, but it was the girl’s version of an undershirt.  His eyes widened when he saw her cleavage. The view wasn’t very long, but he saw the way the white material hugged only so much of her chest.  The way her breasts hung, heavy and full, then sloped down to soft points before curving under to a flat stomach. He stopped breathing.

She pulled her phone up properly, eyelids still heavy with sleep.  She shifted the blanket to hang over her shoulders, obstructing his view of her skin.

His heart was racing.  He ached to touch her, to peel away the thin material and see for himself what little had been left to his imagination.  Her dazed look only added to his desire.

“Naruto-kun.”  Her voice still carried an airy quality.  She smiled lovingly at him.

She was damn sexy.  Naruto stared at her on his phone.  His hand wandered to his stiffening arousal and the slight pressure to himself gave a shock, a physical dose of the mental high he had felt yesterday when they had crossed the line.  He knew it was wrong, perverted. He pulled his hand away and willed himself to start calming down.

“Hinata,” he managed to answer.  His eyes wandered her face as she gazed at him.  That soft skin had been beneath his fingers yesterday.  Those soft lips had been against his. She looked so soft.  Her eyes were looking at him so softly. The curve of her cheek looked soft.  Her nose looked soft. Her lips looked soft. “I really want to kiss you.”

Even her blush was soft.  Her voice came out shyly, softly.  “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

“Me, neither.”  He could see her waking up, longing filling her gaze where the remnants of sleep had been.  “I really want to hold you.”

He saw her shoulders raise, as if she were imagining it, his hug around her.  The blanket shifted, exposing some of her shoulders to his eyes. She didn’t bother to fix it.

They continued to gaze at each other for several minutes, the distance between them an acute frustration.  Naruto could feel himself calming down, the reality of their current vexing position settling in, until she laid down on her bed.  

She lay on her side, pulling her phone up across from her, as if he were lying on the pillow next to her.

His eyes travelled down from her pretty face, to her graceful neck and curving shoulder, to the shadowed line that peeked between soft swells of skin.   Does she know what I can see?   The thought that she was doing this on purpose, letting him see , stirred him.  Lust simmered. “Hinata…”  He lay down, too.

She looked alluring.  “Naruto-kun,” she whispered.  Her lips stayed parted.

He could see it in her eyes.  That she wanted him to come closer.   She wants me to touch her.   He wished he could.  He gazed at her hungrily.  He was turned on just by the expression on her face.   She wants me to kiss her.  The exposure of her neck, shoulder, and the little he could see of her cleavage left him wanting to know more.  What it would feel like to kiss her there at her pulse or at the junction of her shoulder and breast. How she would respond to his touch.  His thoughts made hurtling leaps to other possibilities. If I were actually in bed with her…  He was hard.  They had only kissed yesterday, had only discovered their mutual feelings yesterday.  He couldn’t touch himself while calling her. He gazed at her, his eyes never settling on one part of her, skimming from her pale eyes to the soft swells of her chest, to her lips, to her cheek, to her neck, to the shadowed dip, to her lips again.

Several more minutes passed, not a word said between them.  He could eventually feel himself relaxing, the call of sleep taking over his excitement.  Hinata’s eyes began to close, and he wasn’t faring much better.

“I better let you go to sleep,” Naruto said quietly.

Hinata’s eyes widened as if to prove she was still awake.

Naruto chuckled.  “I’m getting tired, too.  I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

Her eyelids lowered again.  “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Naruto-kun.  Thank you for calling me.”

“Mhm.  See you tomorrow.”

She smiled at him sleepily.  

Naruto gently smiled at her.  He ended the call. The suddenness of Hinata’s disappearance pulled him back to reality.  He felt awake and antsy. They were supposed to have figured something out. Instead he had looked at her like she was a porn model for nearly thirty minutes.  He dragged his hands through his hair. Does she know how sexy she is?  A vision of her breasts, larger than he had imagined, rose to his mind’s eye.  The quiet call of her gaze, her fluttering lashes, her parted lips, as if she were trying to seduce him just with her expression.  Unsated desire surged within him. The feeling of her body pressed against his. Those breasts, soft and full, pressing against his ribcage.   If I were actually there with her…  That flimsy looking top, how easily he could pull the strap down.  Roll the material away, expose her nipples. He fished out his hardening member from his gym shorts.  He closed his eyes, imagining again their shared kiss. How she tugged at his shirt, pulling him back in.  How she pressed harder against his lips, her soft lips molding against his, wanting more from him. He pumped himself, the sensation forcing out a harsh breath.  He imagined her bare arms and bare shoulders. Her hands reaching around his neck, just like before. Crashing his lips against hers, letting passion take them. Tasting her while her tongue tasted him.  Kissing her where he wanted, and she, letting him. Her bare neck, her collarbone, the beginning of the slope of her chest. Wrapping his hand around her small waist, his other hand to explore her breasts.  Touching her just barely. Then grabbing her and letting her skin fill his fingers. Stroking her, playing with her nipples. And she would want more from him. He pumped himself harder. He opened his eyes.  It was wrong of him, but he couldn’t stop. He wanted her lips, those parted lips. He wanted her to kiss him. To call for him. To whisper his name, breathy and wanting. For her body to melt against him, melt under his touch, relying only on him, serving him.  Those sinful eyes longing for him, adoring him. Those soft lips on him. Her sweet mouth swallowing him. Her soft voice moaning while she sucked him. She would want him just as badly as he wanted her. Naruto pumped himself faster, harder. I want to kiss her so badly.   Kiss her so hard, she can’t escape me.   Drive her against a wall.  Touch her hips, waist, bare arms.  Feel her breasts, the curve of her spine.  Kiss her. Claim her.   Make her want me!  Climax loomed.  Images of her lips around him and against him filled his mind.  The memory of her soft body against his spurred him on. I want her I want her I want her to want me.  He pumped himself erratically.   Hinata!  Sharp bliss whipped through him as his seed shot forth, running over his hand and shorts.  Naruto lay there, catching his breath as he came down from the high. He lifted his hand and saw his cum glazing his fingers.   What the fuck am I doing?  He lay there exhausted for a moment longer before gathering enough energy to awkwardly stand to clean himself up.      

Changed, he lay back in his bed again.  He hadn’t gone that far in a long time. It wasn’t like he was a horny 14-year old anymore.  But he didn’t feel the shame he used to feel. Instead all he felt was that same longing. He wanted her to be his, not some unknown prince’s in some foreign country.  And he wanted her to want to be his.  To want him so badly she would leave responsibility behind and just be his.  What did he have to do to convince her?  He closed his eyes, leaving tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“So you guys went shopping yesterday?”  Having finished their homework, Naruto started putting his books away.  He knew they had to talk seriously about what happened, but the solution he came up with...well, it wasn’t a solution, and he wanted to procrastinate the topic as much as possible.

“Yes, we were looking for prom dresses.  I already have mine, so we spent most of the time helping Sakura-chan,” Hinata answered with a strange expression on her face.

Naruto wondered aloud, “She was too picky?  She couldn’t find anything?”

“Well, it wasn’t her fault…”

“What do you mean?”

“Sasuke-kun...he told her to wear red.”

Naruto slowly nodded his head as he made sense of it.  “Is red not a popular color? The stores didn’t have any red dresses?”

“Sort of, well, the season’s color actually happens to be wine red, a kind of dark red, so the stores had a lot of red.  The problem was that she needed to find a brighter red, like cherry.”

“Why?”

“Sasuke-kun…”

Naruto narrowed his eyes in thought.  “Bright red is definitely not Sasuke’s favorite color.  Why would he need her to wear bright red?”

“Sakura-chan asked him why she needed to wear red while we were shopping, and he sent her a picture of his tie…”

Naruto sat there.  He closed his eyes.  This was his best friend.  His smart, popular best friend.  Who was making his date to prom match the color of his tie because he simply couldn’t be bothered to get a new one.   Sasuke’s such an asshole.  He shook his head in disbelief.

“I felt really sorry for her,” Hinata said quietly.  “She didn’t get upset the entire time we were looking.  She was just so happy the whole time. She must really love him.”

“When it comes to Sasuke, Sakura-chan is like a different person.”

Hinata nodded her head in agreement.  

“So did she find one in the end?”  Naruto wasn’t usually interested in talking about shopping, but he was seriously considering scolding Sasuke for this shit he was pulling.

“She did.  She said she might return it, though, in case she finds one she likes more.  She said she’s going to keep looking.”

“Okay.  Well I’m glad there was something for her.”

“Yes, we were all relieved.  We went into every single store that sold prom dresses at the mall.”

Naruto looked at the blue-haired girl on his phone’s screen.   I wouldn’t make you search all over just for some petty reason.  If they were in a relationship, he could say this outloud.  Naruto averted his eyes. What was he afraid of? He decided to say it anyway.  He looked at Hinata seriously. “I would never make you do that for me.”

Hinata’s eyes widened.  She blushed. He watched her eyes lower, her expression darken.  She began, “Naruto-kun. I’m so sorry...I’m really sorry...I...I can’t be-”

“No.”  Naruto interrupted her.  “Don’t say it.” He knew what she wanted to say.  He knew what her decision was right now.  She was thinking straight.  It was still early evening. Time had passed since they had physically been together.  He didn’t want to hear it. He couldn’t accept it.

Hinata looked at him, eyes wide, brows knit.  “Naruto-kun…” she whispered.

“Hinata.  We don’t need to put a name to this.  We don’t have to tell anyone.”

Hinata looked worried, shocked, upset.  “I...I can’t do that to you. That’s not fair to you.  Naruto-kun, you deserve better than that. More than that!”

“I don’t care.  I know what I want.”

“But!  But we can’t be-”

“DON’T say it!”  His heart was beating fast.  He was breathing hard. He could tell Hinata felt guilty.  It was written across her face in the way she seemed to be folding in on herself.  “We can. We have to. I need it.  Hinata, I need you.”

Hinata shook her head, pain twisting her face.  “You don’t need me. You can find someone el-”

“Hinata.”  Naruto closed his eyes, trying to control himself.  “I know what I need.”  He opened his eyes.  “Please. I can’t just leave you alone.  Not after everything that’s happened. Not after knowing, finding out that we feel the same way for each other.”  His expression softened.

He could see Hinata calming.  She looked down, avoiding his gaze.  “I can’t give you the love you deserve.  I’m only going to hurt you.”

“I don’t care about that.  I told you, didn’t I? I’m not giving up.”

Hinata looked up at his words.

“I can’t give up.  I know myself well enough to know that I won’t be able to move on.”  Naruto studied her expression, how she seemed shy from his words.

“But then…”  Hinata seemed to be looking for further arguments against him. “What are we supposed to do?  It’s not right!”

“Don’t worry about that.  You don’t have to do anything.  Just be how you always are. I just want you to be you.  And I’ll be how I always am. We don’t have to do anything differently.”  Naruto gazed at her tenderly.

Hinata tilted her head in confusion.  

“Tomorrow, we’ll say hi to each other as we always do.  We’ll talk to each other as we always do. We’ll go to class together, as we always do.  We’ll do the prom court dance together. We’ll joke together. We’ll laugh together. We’ll do homework together.  It’ll be the same as usual.”

“The same as usual,” Hinata repeated.

“Yeah, the same as usual,” Naruto reassured her.  

Hinata took a deep breath.  She nodded, but worry still lined her face.

Naruto gave her a small smile.  He was relieved. He knew it was crazy and stupid, but it was the only thing he could come up with.  The only option that allowed them to be together, that gave him time to try to win her and make her realize that she needed him, too.  Their mutual feelings would be a secret. To everyone else, they would just be friends. It was okay, like this. It would be okay. It had to be okay.   It’ll be okay.  It’ll be the same as usual.

 

It was definitely not the same as usual.  That morning, the way he looked at her, so caring and tender, so much the way she had been looking at him for so long, set butterflies clamoring around in her heart.  He looked at her with so much love, it was almost unbearable. Her heart felt like it would burst out at any moment, overwhelmed, fully and totally joyous from soaking in his affection, and yet she wanted more, aware though she was of the danger of dying from a heart attack of absolute and perfect bliss.  She felt ridiculously shy, incredibly self-conscious in his presence, simply content to be on the receiving end of his loving glances.

Certainly she would be going to hell for this.  It wasn’t okay, it was completely wrong, sinful of her to be so happy when she would only cause him suffering.  But she had warned him. She had argued with him. So why? Why wouldn’t he listen to reason? Why was he doing this to himself when he knew it could only end in heartbreak?  Hinata couldn’t understand what Naruto was thinking, but she realized that this gave her time. Whatever piece of heaven she could get now, she would enjoy it. Delight and revel in flying among the celestials while she could before it all crashed and burned into a pit of searing iron and unforgiving pain.  

Either way, at this point, life without him would be hell.

She thought she could handle it, but she was starting to second-guess herself. She had been resolved, but his attentions and, really, just the look in his eyes, told her that after this was all over, she’d never recover. She’d never be the same. She’d never be able to love anyone like how she loved him.  So she was going to enjoy this...this unnamed thing between them.  She was going to enjoy it, relish it, luxuriate in his love while she had it.  She would keep it selfishly, lock it away just for herself, revisit and polish the memories of his love as she turned old and gray, and they would breathe life back into her.  Each moment with him, she decided, would be her precious treasure. She wasn’t going to take this for granted.

...So she was thinking.  It was kind of hard to appreciate it at the moment when he was doing that same thing he was doing on Friday.   Staring at her, like she was sexy or something.   What is he doing?!  Why is he looking at me like that?!  Does he want me to faint again or something?  Gods forbid I faint again.  Really!!  Why won’t he stop???  What is he thinking?! Why?!  Hinata managed to finish the first runthrough without crumpling to the floor.   

Their advisor decided she would have the groups alternate their practice.  The boys got up to switch. Naruto walked up to Hinata with a devilish smirk on his face.

“Naruto-kun!  Stop looking at me like that!” Hinata scolded him in a whisper.

“What do you mean?” he asked in pretend innocence.  “I was waiting for you to make me faint. You said so on Friday, remember?”

Hinata looked at him in confusion and searched her memory.  

He grinned as he saw her expression shift to realization.  “I’m shooting for 100% coolness today. Watch me closely.”

Stunned, Hinata watched him go past her.   He’s acting completely normal.  How is he able to be so normal? Well, minus the way he looks at me…  Hinata moved to the side with the rest of the girls.  

She watched Naruto dance.  This time she didn’t try to hide her reactions as much, allowing herself to giggle and smile widely with the other girls at the boys’ dramatics.  Naruto was really good, as if he had practiced over the weekend, and she realized that she had to keep up. If he looked so good, and she didn’t, she would embarrass herself in front of everyone.  She really couldn’t be too shy. Hinata mentally readied herself. She could do this. Five years of practiced grace in the Moon Kingdom wouldn’t go to waste now. She folded her arms and centered herself as their song cut ended.  Her face relaxed into a discerning smile. Their advisor did tell them they were supposed to look aloof when the boys danced. Might as well start practicing.

She walked up cooly to Naruto.  

He gave her a curious smile at her change in posture.  “What’d you think?”

“Mmm not quite 100%.  Maybe an 89%.”

He shook his head, smiling.  “Well, Miss High Expectations, don’t you worry.  I’ll get there.”

She tilted her head up at him and smiled sweetly.  “If you can still dance after watching me.”

His smile dropped.  Her words were a turn-on.  He met her sweet smile with his own smirk.  “I’ll be watching, then.”

She moved past him and lined up with everyone.

He could already tell this time was going to be different.  She held her head higher, allowed more attitude in her pose.  It was a Hinata he only saw a few times before when she teased him.   This is going to be good, he thought, settling into his own provoking focus.  

The music started.  Her foot pointed out, back in, forward and around.  Her knee bent. She pulled her skirt up slowly. She looked directly at him, demurely, not a blush to be seen.

Naruto was the one fighting a blush.  He kept his eyes trained on her, even as he felt a slight tightening in his pants, a coiling in his stomach.  The rest of the dance was much less provocative, and he willed himself to relax, though her bolder use of her hips and flipping of her hair with a tilt of her head made it difficult.   She’s hot, he thought, not for the first time.

When the girls faced the back, swung their hip, and looked over the shoulder, she smiled at him.  Not the shy and unsure one like before. This one seemed to say she knew she had his attention, and she wanted it that way.

Naruto didn’t notice the expression that stole onto his face then.  Didn’t realize the way he continued to regard her as the girls’ dance ended and he walked up to her.

Hinata saw it, though.  And it made heat pool between her legs.  He looked cocky, self-assured as though she was doing this for him, giving him a show.  

“Hinata.”  His voice was low, almost dangerous.  “I didn’t faint. You’re going to have to do better than that.”

Hinata couldn’t take it.  It was too much testosterone, too much manliness.  She broke into a blushing smile. She whacked him playfully.  “I don’t want you to actually faint.”

His expression morphed into the boyish grin she was familiar with.  He laughed. “That was seriously awesome, Hinata. Do it like that every time!”

 

After the boys had a runthrough, their advisor let them out early.

“Hinata, are you going to go eat with everyone?”

“I forgot a book in my locker, so I think I’ll go there first.”

“I’ll go with you.”

The two smiled at each other, both trying to mask the thrum of their hearts.  It was supposed to be the same as usual, but it wasn’t. They held each other’s full attention, not noticing the curious looks from their fellow court participants, not hearing the confused whisperings about them as they headed to the lockers.  The two approached Hinata’s locker and saw a piece of paper sticking out of it.

“Hey, what’s that?” Naruto wondered aloud.

Hinata narrowed her eyes.  She knew what it was. Quickening her pace, she got to her locker first.  She pulled it out and gave it a glance before he could see it. Not unexpected.  She stuck it in her bag.

“What was that?” Naruto asked once he caught up to her.

“Nothing,” Hinata answered quickly.  Too quickly, she realized with a frown.

Naruto gave her a hard look.  “That didn’t look like nothing.  What was that?”

Hinata wore an indiscernible expression.  She glanced at him blankly and turned away to work on opening her locker.  “It was nothing.”

Naruto checked himself.  Should he push her and keep asking?  Was it something that completely didn’t concern him?  It wasn’t nothing. He knew for sure it wasn’t nothing.  It bothered him. Wasn’t that enough reason to keep asking?  “Hinata.” He stepped closer to her and brought his face to her height.  “Show it to me, then, if it was nothing.”

Hinata glanced at him from the corner of her eye.  She could feel his breath on her neck. She flinched away but couldn’t go much farther, finding that he had a grip on the locker door on the other side of her.  “Naruto-kun, you’re too close.” She attempted to push him away a little, and was surprised to find he didn’t budge. The thought was almost frightening, the sudden awareness of how much bigger he was.

He laughed lowly.  “I’ll move if you show it to me.”

Hinata had almost forgotten that the note was the initial problem.  She turned away from him. “I can’t show it to you.”

“Why not?”  Naruto brought his face closer.  His eyes skimmed over her clear skin.  He knew he was enjoying this more than he should.

Hinata flinched again, feeling his warm breath.  “You’ll make it a big deal. It’s nothing.”

Naruto shot his eyes up from admiring her neck.   So it’s actually a big deal.  He shifted to try to get a look at her face.  

Hinata withdrew her chin, trying to hide her face from his.  “Naruto-kun, someone might see us like this.”

“Then show it to me.”  

Hinata shot glances up at him.   He’s too close.  She could see his mouth curved up in a quiet smile.  His blue eyes dark with wicked amusement as he drew ever closer.   What’s so funny to him?

Naruto hadn’t meant to toy with her like this.  His original idea was to just get at her eye level, but he couldn’t help himself when she was obviously just letting him get nearer.  He was so close. He might as well. He kissed her forehead.

Hinata stood there frozen.  

He couldn’t even detect if she was breathing.   Did I break her?  

Finally she looked up at him.  “Naruto-kun!” she quietly scolded, scandalized at his public display of affection.

He smiled devilishly at her.  He planted another kiss on her cheek.

She blushed, wide-eyed.

“If you don’t show it to me, I’ll keep-” He leaned over again, aiming for her other cheek.

In a panic, Hinata shot her hand up and grabbed his face.

“Hinataaa,” Naruto whined as he tried to get his mouth between her fingers.

“Stop it!  Naruto-kun, stop!”  Hinata laughed at the funny faces he was making against her hand.  

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand off of his face.

Hinata gasped in surprise as he pulled her toward him.  “Fine, fine! Just quit it!”

Naruto stopped his antics, but not before bringing her hand up to his mouth and kissing her fingers.  

Hinata’s heart was beating fast.  They were supposed to be acting like usual, but he was definitely not holding up his side of the deal.  What about this teasing was normal? If he kept on showering her with affection in this way, she’d never be able to do her job.  She’d die first before graduation. She glared at him best as she could, though it was hard to be mad when he was smiling at her with such charm.  She huffed an exasperated sigh and pulled out the note. She fingered it for a moment, unsure if she should show it to him. What will he say?  What will he think?

Naruto saw her hesitation.  “Hinata…let me see it.”

She held it up, not exactly giving it to him.

Naruto took it from her tight fingers.  He opened it. SLUT was written across the paper in large, angry letters.  It was the ugliest handwriting he had ever seen in his life.  He crumpled it in his fist and furrowed his brow. He glanced at Hinata, who was closing her locker.  He felt confused. Hinata looked the farthest thing from slutty. Her sweaters, long skirts, neat hair, and poised and calm demeanor.   Was this note really for her?  Who would do this? He was at a loss for words.

Hinata faced him, looking down at his clenching fist.  “Naruto-kun, don’t worry about it. Whoever writes those notes doesn’t do anything else to me.  Whoever it is just needs to write out their frustration. I imagine this person needs more help than me.”

Naruto had felt rising anger until the last part.  It was like being splashed with cold water. She already forgave this person.  But he wasn’t ready to let this go.  He felt responsible. As Student Council President, he had failed to create a safe environment for all students.  It was almost the end of the year. He looked around, everywhere but at her, as he tried to calm himself. He worked his jaw as he stared at a corner of the hallway.  “You’ve been getting notes like this all year?” At Hinata’s silence, he urged her to answer him. “I need to know, Hinata. You need to tell me about this so that I can do something to help you and this person.  As president.”

Hinata nodded her head as she thought about it.  “Well, this is the first time I’ve been called...a slut...the few times before were about my body.”

Naruto glanced at her chest and quickly looked away again.  Even at a time like this he was a damn pervert. “Anything else I should know?”

Hinata nodded at the ground.  “It’s not just me. Sakura-chan and Ino-chan have gotten notes, too.”

Naruto looked at her squarely then.   Even Sakura-chan?!  She never told me anything!  “Do you know what theirs said?”

Hinata hesitated in telling him.  Her mouth straightened into lines.  She bit her lips. “Theirs are worse than mine.”

Naruto listened intently, waiting for her to continue.

“Sakura-chan’s are often telling her to die.  Ino-chan’s are usually of...a sexual nature.”

Naruto closed his eyes, upset.  He shook his head as he turned this information over in his mind.  “You don’t happen to know who’s writing these?”

Hinata continued to keep her eyes on the floor.  She couldn’t tell him they suspected it was fangirls of the guys.  “We think it’s other girls who are just jealous.”

Naruto was frustrated.   I wish you had told me sooner.  I wish someone had said something to me sooner.  He valiantly kept himself from saying these words out loud.  He knew it wasn’t their fault. He could only blame himself for not keeping a better eye out for his classmates.  He nodded his head. I still have time.  I can still make this right.  “Hinata, thank you for telling me all this.  I know it wasn’t easy for you to share that. Thank you.  I’ll bring this up with the Student Council in our meeting today, and I’ll keep it anonymous.  It’s late in the game, but I have a few ideas we can maybe start implementing to improve things around here.  Things can at least be improved for next year, even if we aren’t around anymore, so you sharing this with me will really make a difference.”

Hinata looked at him then.  She felt a little in awe. She had known it before, and she had always known it, but it was right in front of her now.  A leader. Someone everyone could depend on. Someone she could depend on, too. He had grown up from the little boy who had shielded her from bullies, and she felt regret that she hadn’t gotten to see him become the person he was today.  If she could be by his side, watch him grow from now on, and support him in all his endeavors, she would. She would in a heartbeat. Unaware of her own actions, she tiptoed up to him.

Naruto awoke from his thoughts and plans at the feeling of her lips softly brushing below his cheek.  She settled back in front of him, smiling. He could see it in her expression, the light just for him, glimmering through the atmosphere of her eyes.  What wouldn’t he do to see her looking at him that way forever?

The bell rang.      

 


 

 

Naruto and Hinata stood at the entrance of the school.  They had both left their classes early to meet their guest.  Naruto looked over at Hinata, who appeared to be in a completely different realm.  She stood tall, hands folded neatly in front, eyes focused straight ahead. She wasn’t the shy, smiling, teasing girl he had gotten used to seeing beside him, and it bothered him.  He looked at her dress. It was flowy with a skinny belt that emphasized her petite waist and the angle of her hips. The threads shimmered silver. It looked expensive. She looked expensive.  Naruto frowned. She rarely wore dresses like this to school.  She never wore heels to school. It bothered him. It really, really bothered him.  That she was dressed up for this prince. That she was being so formal and professional when the prince wasn’t even here, yet.  That she just seemed so different.

She peeked at him out of the corner of her eyes.  Quietly, calmly, she commented, “You’re staring at me, Naruto-kun.”

Yes, yes, he had been staring at her, but how was he supposed to know that if she wasn’t blushing?  Was he really staring at her if she didn’t show any reaction? Naruto collected himself. If she was going to act like a stone wall, he could have some fun with this.  “Was I? It’s hard for me to keep my eyes off of you, you know.” He watched her reaction.

Her eyes narrowed slightly.  “Naruto-kun, you shouldn’t say things like that.”

Not enough, huh.  “I think I should.”  He stepped closer to her, letting his eyes wander over her in an obvious fashion.  “I should let you know how beautiful you look.”

He could see her wall cracking.  She appeared somewhat perturbed by his gaze on her body.  Her arms stiffened as she tried to keep from hugging herself shyly.  

“I should let you know how much…”  Naruto’s gaze passed over her face and settled on her lips.  He could see now that she was wearing light makeup. “I want to kiss you.”

Hinata fought her rising blush with utmost effort.  She shifted uncomfortably. “Naruto-kun, please, we talked about this last night.”

Last night.  She had told him, true, that she would be in work mode, and that they would have to keep their thing to a minimum.  Naruto didn’t see how that applied for right now.  “But he’s not here, yet.”

“He will be soon.”

“He’s not here now.”

“He’ll be here any minute.”

“So let me take my minute.”  Naruto brushed her cheek gently with the back of his fingers.  

There it was.  The blush he loved.   His Hinata was still there under this facade.  

He broke into a grin.  “Recharged! Don’t worry, Hinata.  I’ll do this properly.” He stepped away from her.

Hinata took a deep breath, shaken by his behavior.  There was just no way for this to work out. She would only hurt him.  She saw a car begin to enter the school’s driveway, and their school headmaster come rushing toward them.  She turned to look at Naruto as the car pulled up. “Naruto-kun, I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Those words were the last thing Naruto wanted to hear from her.  He was forcing her to do this with him, making her feel guilty. “Don’t be.”

Hinata looked away, took another deep breath, and moved closer to the car.

“Looks like I just made it.  Hello, Naruto.” The headmaster smiled at the dependable student.

“Hello, sir.”

“Let’s go greet our guest.”

Naruto nodded.

The driver opened the door.  A tall, white-haired young man stepped out.  He immediately went to Hinata with a smile.

“Toneri-kun, welcome to Konoha!”

“Hello Hinata, thank you.  It’s good to see you again.”  The prince’s voice was smooth.

Naruto hated that he sounded like a nice guy.

Hinata smiled.  “I’m happy to see you here in my country.  How was your flight? Did you have time to go to your hotel first before coming here?”

“Yes.  The plane ride was long but comfortable.  So this is your school? It’s very nice.”

Naruto didn’t know what he was expecting from her.  She was herself, nice and friendly. What exactly about this was “work mode”?  He saw them turn their attention towards himself and the headmaster. Hinata introduced the headmaster first and then gestured toward him.

“Toneri-kun, this is Uzumaki Naruto.  He is a Senior, like me, and one of my friends.  He is the Student Council President, and the two of us will be giving you a tour of our school.”

Naruto bowed.  “It is an honor to meet you, Toneri-oujisama.”

Toneri smiled at the blond.  “Please, relax. I don’t need the honorific, either.”

Naruto raised his head and nodded.

“I’ll leave you two to it, then.  If you need anything, I will be available in the office.”

They thanked the school headmaster as he waved and left.

 

Toneri took another look at Hinata.  Even here in Fire Country, she was perfect, as usual.  He held out his arm to her.

He watched her hesitate, glance toward the student council president, Naruto, before fitting her hand in the crook of his arm.  She began to explain in a low voice to her friend, “Sometimes when we walk, Toneri-kun likes to be...a gentleman.”

Toneri smiled at that.  It was kind of a funny thing to explain.  He looked at the blond boy.

He didn’t nod or show any acknowledgement of what she said.  Instead he stared at her, stared at where they were joined, and then averted his eyes.  

Maybe this is a weird thing in Fire Country?  Before Toneri had time to think any more about his reaction, the boy was starting the tour.

He smiled a large, charismatic grin.  “Seeing that you two are all set, then, let’s go!  We’re closest to our gym complex, so we can start there.”  He explained the sports the school offers, the requirements for physical education, and showed the various different practice fields.  

“Naruto, do you participate in sports here?” Toneri asked when Naruto finished showing him the pool.

“Yes, I do wrestling and judo.  Toneri-san, do you practice any sports?”

“In high school, I did fencing and equestrianism.”

“Woah, that’s cool.  Horses, huh? Those are two sports people don’t usually do in Fire Country.  My best friend does kendo, though.”

“Toneri-kun, Naruto-kun won the championships in judo.”  Hinata looked up at Toneri, then at Naruto admiringly.

“Really?  You must be very good, then.”  Toneri turned his attention back to the blond boy, who was rubbing the back of his neck in an embarrassed manner.

“We don’t have to talk about that.  Let’s go take a look at our library and STEM building before we head to the arts center, shall we?”  

Toneri could see how this boy was the student council president.  He came off as being personable, skilled at carrying a conversation, and having an upbeat personality.  He likely made friends easily. Even as they walked around, numerous staff members and students of various ages who passed by greeted him by name, and amazingly, he knew all of their names, too.

The three visited the jazz band class, who played a song for them, and they spent a few minutes in the student art gallery.  

“Toneri-kun, this piece was made by our friend, Sai-kun.”  Hinata brought him over to a large canvas that had a life-sized, stylized tiger.

“It looks professional,” Toneri commented.  He analyzed the even brushstrokes and the realistic intimidating posture of the large cat.  A big blue ribbon hung below the painting, indicating that it won an award in a competition.

“Sai is actually doing our prom photography backdrops, so we’ll all get to enjoy his work next week,” Naruto added, arms crossed as he regarded the painting.

“That sounds wonderful.”  Toneri looked around at the other pieces.  Quite a few had ribbons pinned by them. He had been concerned that Konoha High School would not be good enough for Hinata, but having seen the facilities and hearing the accomplishments of the students, he realized the school was better than he had expected.  “Hinata, your friends are quite accomplished, aren’t they? You’ve mentioned quite a few throughout the tour.”

He watched a bright smile spread across her face.  She nodded warmly.

Toneri felt his heart pound at her happy expression.  He had never seen her look like that before. In a sudden moment of reflection, he realized he never saw her look like that, not in all her time in the Moon Kingdom.  “Can I meet them?”

“Oh!”  Hinata looked at Naruto.  “Do you think we can find them?”

“Yeah, sure.  The bell only rang a few minutes ago, so we’ll be able to find some of them waiting by the front most likely,” he answered.

Hinata turned a smile at Toneri.  He noticed the excitement in her eyes.   Who were her friends at Imperial Moon High School?  It disturbed him that he knew so little about his fiancée.  He returned her smile and then looked up at Naruto to show he was ready to move on.

Naruto was staring again at Hinata with an unidentifiable, almost vacant, expression.  Toneri furrowed his brows. It was strange. The blond had done that a few times throughout, as if he was in thought, and then would suddenly break out of it with a grin and a comment for the tour, like now.   

“That’s about everything for our school.  Did you have any questions?”

 

A group of teens waiting in the shade of the pergola at the front looked up as the trio approached.  They stood in interested curiosity. Toneri noticed how they all seemed to look at the way he and Hinata were walking together, a few of them raised their eyebrows.   Fire Country citizens must not do things like this.  Hinata told me her friends know about us, so why would they be surprised?  

A pink-haired girl with green eyes moved closer.  “Hello, Hinata! Naruto! This must be…?”

She was outstandingly pretty.  Toneri noticed the blond girl with lavender eyes beside her was also very cute.  He probably would have tried to date them if he was in high school, but he was glad to feel that he wasn’t like that anymore.  

“This is Toneri-kun.  He is the Crown Prince of the Moon Kingdom.”

At Hinata’s introduction, he bowed slightly to her friends.

Her friends made various noises of realization and words of respect as they bowed deeply in return.  

“Toneri-kun, this is Haruno Sakura and over there is Nara Shikamaru.  They are the ones I told you went to the aerospace engineering competition and their team won first place.”

They both looked embarrassed at their introduction.

Hinata smiled and continued, “This is Fujimura Shion.  She has a strong knowledge of religion and its history, and her family is in charge of one of the main temples in the Nation of Spirits.  And over there is Aburame Shino. His family specializes in entomology, and Shino-kun has already helped discover and classify many insects.”

The boy with dark sunglasses nodded.

“This is Inuzuka Kiba.  He helps to run his family’s animal hospital.”

Toneri didn’t like the way the wild-haired boy was looking at him.  

“That’s Akimichi Choji.  He’s a sumo champion in our age group, and he helps his family’s company develop food supplement and vitamin pills.”

Toneri decided the big boy seemed much nicer with his friendly greeting.  

“And you’ve already met Naruto-kun!  Besides being Student Council President and a judo champion, he also heads and assists with several committees, like alumni outreach, prom, student affairs, and community outreach...Hmm, it looks like Ino-chan, Sai-kun, and Sasuke-kun are not here, but you can meet them at prom!”

Most of her friends are boys.  The thought made him feel strangely uneasy.  “It is a pleasure to meet you all. Thank you for taking care of Hinata throughout this year.”

Sakura smiled at Toneri.  “Most of us have actually been friends since elementary school.  Naruto and I have been friends with Hinata since we were really little kids, so we should be the ones thanking you for taking care of Hinata for the past five years.”       

Toneri felt a stab of guilt at her words.  He was coming to the realization that he hardly knew the girl holding his arm, not to mention he realized he didn’t deserve that appreciation.  He answered her with a smile. He turned to the bluenette beside him. “Hinata, you will be joining me this afternoon at the capitol? If you would like to, you can leave with me now.  We could also get dinner after?”

“Oh.  That would save my father some time.  I appreciate your offer very much. Thank you.”  Hinata turned to her friends and began to say goodbye.

Toneri turned to Naruto, who was looking at Hinata with that indescribable expression again.  “Naruto.” Toneri saw him snap out of his thoughts. “Thank you for your time today. Your school is beautiful, and I can tell you care deeply about it.”   

Naruto bowed and faced him with a grin.  “It was my pleasure. I’m sure you’re busy.  Thank you for taking the time to see our school.  I hope you enjoy your time here in Fire Country.”

“Naruto-kun, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The blond boy looked at Hinata.  Toneri noted that his expression was completely different from how he had looked at her a moment earlier.  It made him narrow his eyes as he watched their exchange.

Naruto began quietly, “Tonight…?”

Hinata shook her head.  She gave a quick glance at Toneri.  “I don’t think I’ll have time.”

Naruto nodded his head slightly.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Hinata smiled at him a little and turned to Toneri.

 

Naruto watched the driver open the door for them and the two enter the car.  He looked at the ground as their car pulled away. He didn’t notice all of his friends looking at him in concern.

“Naruto.  Are you okay?”  Sakura went up to him and put a hand on his shoulder.  

It was like her question ripped a hole in him.  His chest began to hurt as he remembered how she held that prince’s arm the entire time.  How she smiled at him throughout the tour. How she made easy conversation with him. How she so easily agreed to anything he said.  And he himself had to stand there. And smile.

“Naruto?” Sakura asked again quietly.  She grew concerned as she noticed his chest start to heave.  “Hey, Naruto?” She began to inwardly panic when he still didn’t answer.  Sakura knew she was terrible at comforting him. She never knew what to say to him or how to make him feel better.  Her usual response was anger, but this time, she knew none of this was his fault. She looked at Shikamaru with alarm written across her face.

He looked back at her with wide eyes, as if to say, “What?  Don’t look at me!” Shikamaru turned to Kiba with a jerk of his head that said, “You do something!”

Kiba held his hands up in a gesture of “Ey, I won’t be any help.”

Shikamaru looked to the ground and up again in defeat.  He went over to Naruto, and Sakura took a step back from him.  “Naruto. Let’s go somewhere else.”

 

He stood leaning against Hinata’s locker.  He glared at the tiles, arms crossed in an attempt to control himself from bursting out in frustration and looking like a lunatic.  Yesterday, Shikamaru had done little to make him feel better, but he knew likely no one could help him at this point. Control yourself, control yourself, keep it together.  He knew if he didn’t, it could ruin things with Hinata.  But he couldn’t. Yet again, for the umpteenth time that day, he remembered how she smiled so happily while holding Toneri’s arm.  How she got into that expensive car with him, and went off on a day- and night-long excursion. She was too busy to video call with him at night.  It would be the same for the rest of this and next week, she had told him after court practice. She would be spending time with that prince, entertaining him and showing him around.   Doesn’t he have someone else to play tour guide for him?!  Hinata’s still a high school student! Doesn’t he realize she doesn’t have time for him?!  Naruto was aware that he was insanely jealous.  He thought he had mentally prepared himself for the prince’s arrival, but actually seeing him with Hinata, who was all dressed up and pretty, was worse than he imagined.  They looked so proper together. And it left him feeling like an ugly fly, like a piece of shit on the side of the road, like...a commoner among royalty. He looked up and saw Hinata approaching.

“Naruto-kun?”  She looked at him concerned.  She had been concerned about him all day.  Although he had acted rather like his normal silly self during that day’s practice, there were many times where it looked like he wanted to tell her something.

“Hinata, come with me.”

“I need to meet Toneri-kun at the front, though.”

“I know.  I just need five minutes.”

Hinata studied his expression.  He looked upset, almost annoyed, which was rare for the vivacious blond.  She nodded her head and quickly switched out her books from her locker. She followed him out of the building and into a different one.  It was a wing of the school’s language arts building she had never gone to before. It was obviously an older section, most likely for the younger grades.  The surrounding trees carried more foliage, the paint along the wall was slightly chipped. The floor held old scuff marks from years of students’ dragging shoes.  They entered a deserted hallway, continued up a back staircase, and stopped at the exit to the rooftop, where Naruto finally turned to face her.

“Hinata.”  He let his eyes settle on her worried visage.  He stepped closer to her and grabbed both her hands.  He held them up between them, running his thumbs over her delicate fingers.

Hinata was almost afraid to speak, concerned that if she said anything, it would interrupt his concentration and prolong this time.   What does he want?  What does he want to say to me?  She was worried about Naruto, but she was also worried about Toneri waiting for her.  Even though she didn’t want to do it, she had a job to do, and responsibility was ingrained into her very being.

Naruto looked at her, and he could tell that she wasn’t focused on him the way he was on her.  He could tell her mind was already on her work, already on that prince. It filled his chest with a bitter, roiling heat.  He dropped her hands and instead grabbed her waist and shoulder.

She looked up at him, eyes wide.  “Naruto-kun? Someone...someone might see.”    

“No one comes up here.”  He barely registered that he answered her as he took her bookbag off her arm, worked his own arm around her waist, and picked up a lock of her hair with his other hand.  He ran the silky deep blue strands across his fingers, examining the way the color shone in the light. “Does he touch you like this?”

Hinata glanced at what he was doing and blushed.  “No, he doesn’t,” she answered quietly.

She saw a small smile cross his face, but as quickly as she saw it, it disappeared.

He let her hair fall from his fingers, then he worked his hand into the nape of her neck.  

Hinata looked into his lowered eyes, saw how they focused on her lips.  She quivered in his arms, sharply aware of how he was pressed against her, how solidly he held her, no room for her to push him away if she wanted to.  But she found that she didn’t want him to stop, didn’t want him to withdraw from her and take away the imminent kiss she had been secretly dreaming of.

“Does he kiss you?  Was he your first? Or was I?” he asked lowly.  

Hinata saw him lick his lips a little.  It filled her with desire and left her wanting, yearning.  “No, you are my first and only, Naruto-kun,” she breathed.

Naruto flickered his gaze from her parted lips to her eyes.  He saw that she wanted him now, saw how her dark lashes lowered, and he wanted to give in, but a part of him wasn’t ready.  He needed more reassurance. He needed to know that she was his. He brought his lips closer to her and paused. He felt her hands travel up to his shoulders, finding holds on his muscles.  He stayed there, millimeters away from her. He could feel her light, fast breaths on his lips.

“Naruto-kun…” she whispered, confused and impatient.  

He let her voice soak into him.  It was just as comforting as it was arousing.  “Do you say his name the way you just said mine?”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly.  “No, no, I don’t, Naruto-kun...no.”

He let her answer dispel his fears, clear up the smog that had covered his conscience.  He took the time to enjoy her body drawn up against his, the fast rise and fall of her breasts against him, the feeling of her eyes gazing only on him.

“Naruto-kun…” Hinata whispered again, frustration edging into her at the fact that he wouldn’t kiss her.  She smoothed her hand to the back of his neck. Upon feeling him squeeze her tighter, she snuggled closer.

Without warning, Naruto gave in.  

His kiss was everything she remembered.  Gentle, sweet, and not enough. She gripped his shoulder tighter and let her fingertips curl against his short hairs.  She whimpered as the pressure mounted. It wasn’t enough.

Naruto pushed up against her, the sound she made like an electric shock to his system.  It shut him down and lighted him up. He tasted her lip gloss for only a second before he felt her accept him, her tongue shyly caressing his.  He held her tighter as they experienced this new level of intimacy with increasing urgency, his mind tripping and falling into nothing at the feeling of her mutual need matching his.

His hot breath against her, his seeking mouth and tongue, his strong arms, it was unreal.  She couldn’t believe it. She needed more, she wanted more to confirm that this wasn’t a fleeting dream.  This warmth, this spark of eternity, of being reduced to nothing but feeling, and being built up to feel like everything, surely only he could give it to her, yet she knew he was holding back.  She perceived that this eternal flame burned in the depths of his being. If she could just unlock it, if she could just thread through him and undo him, then he would share it with her unendingly and relentlessly.  

Pushing against him, trying to pull him closer, working her fingers into his muscles and scalp, it was essential, necessary as it was instinctual.

He could feel her plea, her need for him.  

He could feel it and he didn’t know what to do, but it sent electric currents of joy and masculine pride coursing through him.  He wanted to reach deep into her, strike a match and light the parts of her spirit up that she only showed to him, let her fragment into glowing shards for him to examine, and finally piece her back together to be just his.  His because only he could illuminate her properly, his because only he would know her design. He let his hand study the curves of her, her slender neck to the angles of her collarbone, supple breast to curving waist, to finally settle around her arching back only to draw her closer.

Hinata shivered and gasped at his touch, breaking the fevered kiss.  “Naruto…”

He tried to catch his breath.  He looked at her dazed and pink expression, and desire clawed at him to be expressed in ways beyond just this kiss.   Does she realize how she called me?  It touched him, like pouring liquid fire into his veins ready to overflow, and he burned to hear her call for him again without propriety.  He attacked her lips and sent his tongue clashing against hers.

Hinata couldn’t stop her voice from escaping as she felt his hand venture to her bottom, groping and grasping her.  She felt a vivid pull, fluttering and trembling, and it twisted her up. Both of her hands latched around his neck, and she tried to pull him closer because it wasn’t enough, he wasn’t giving her enough to relieve the taut coil that wound and crackled through her.  Even as she felt him lean against her, his weight forcing her to step back until she hit the wall, she found that it simply wasn’t enough.

The buzz by her leg was jarring.  It slammed her back down into reality and it hurt.  “Na..Naruto-kun.” She was gasping for air.

He ignored the distraction.  He didn’t want this to end. “Hinata…”

She dropped her head to avoid his kiss.  “Isn’t that your phone?”

He continued to hold her close.  They were both trying to catch their breath.  He caught her eyes in his gaze and held her there.

“I...I need to go,” she whispered regretfully.  “...You should answer that.”

The buzzing stopped.  He smiled at her warmly and pressed a tender kiss to her lips.  He let her go.

Hinata felt disoriented.  She knew she needed to rush to the front.   How much time has passed?  She grabbed her phone from her bag in a hurried frenzy and saw that almost twenty minutes had gone by while they were lost in each other.  She looked to her lover, who was answering his phone as it rang again.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m on my way now.  I had something I had to do.” He smiled at Hinata, almost shyly.

She blushed.  She knew Toneri was waiting for her, but the other part of her wanted to go back into Naruto’s arms.  She wondered if she chose to stay with him, if he would forego his own duties, and they could just be together.  She hesitated on the steps, even though apprehension on Toneri’s response to her delay ran up her legs.

Naruto pocketed his phone and saw the conflicting emotions in Hinata’s expression.  He took her hand and gave her a reassuring squeeze.

They smiled at each other, blushing, as they went down the stairs.  

“I guess we’re both late,” Naruto commented, but he didn’t sound sorry at all for it.

Hinata smiled and narrowed her eyes at him, accusingly.  “You said five minutes.”

He smirked at her, taking in the sight of her swollen lips, and felt no small amount of satisfaction that she would have to see the prince with his mark on her.  “You know you can’t just blame me.”

Blushing at the truth of his words, Hinata squeezed his hand, loving the feel of his hand around hers.

Naruto glanced at her again as they made their way through the deserted hall.  He kind of didn’t want to tell her this, but he knew she would hate him if he didn’t.  “You might want to check your lipstick.”

Her eyes widened in embarrassment, and she let go of his hand to grab a mirror and tissue from her bag.

Naruto watched her fix her makeup, and rubbed at his own mouth to take off the shiny substance from his face.  He walked her to the front and could see her expression turning serious. They both saw the expensive car waiting for her.

“Bye, Hinata.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”  Naruto watched her begin to head to the car.  

Hinata gave him a last look.  They could both see the love in each other’s eyes.  She nodded. “Bye, Naruto-kun.”

 

Toneri eyed the blond boy who was leaving in the opposite direction.   Why did he walk her here?  Hinata slid into the seat next to him.   What took you so long?  

“Toneri-kun, I’d like to apologize for making you wait.  I’m sorry.”

“You had something to do with the Student Council President?”

“Oh, yes...Naruto-kun wanted my help with something.”

Toneri watched how she averted her eyes.  He didn’t like her friend. He didn’t like the way he looked at her.  He didn’t like the way she talked about him during the tour, either.

Hinata went on to explain as the car pulled out of the school.  “He said it would only take five minutes, but it took a lot longer than we thought.  I won’t delay us again.” She was proud of herself for not blushing at her own white lie.  

“Naruto, he…”

Hinata looked at him steadily, but inwardly she worried Toneri could somehow see Naruto’s hands and lips on her.  

“...Is a good friend of yours?”

“Yes, we’ve known each other for a long time.”

Why are so many of her friends boys?   It bothered him that they weren’t just nerdy-looking boys, either.

“I don’t know if my father told you about the prom court dance I’m participating in?”

Toneri looked at her skeptically.

Hinata saw she would have to tell him herself.  “I was voted by my classmates to be prom queen. Naruto-kun, he was voted to be prom king.  We have to do a dance together along with the other nominees, there are six others, at prom.  It’s a five-minute performance.”

Toneri listened and tried to make sense of it.  He imagined ballroom dancing. He imagined Hinata dancing with Naruto.  He looked at Hinata curiously. “Why?”

Why...what?  Why was I nominated?  Why is there a prom court?  “Why…?”

Toneri realized she didn’t know what he was asking.  He realized he didn’t really know what he was asking, either, but the words came out, almost thoughtlessly.  “Why are you dancing with him?”

Hinata looked at him, confused.  She had already explained this. “We received the most votes from our classmates.”

But why are you dancing with him?  Toneri furrowed his brow.  “I see that you are well-liked, even here.”

Hinata shook her head modestly.  She honestly had no idea why she deserved such popularity.  She assumed it must be a side-effect of being Naruto’s friend.

“Hinata, I don’t think it’s wise for you to spend too much time with him.”  

She kept herself from scowling.  Patiently, smoothly, she asked, “What makes you say that?  Naruto-kun is a good guy.”

Toneri gave her a hard look.  “He obviously likes you more than he should.”

Hinata couldn’t deny that when she knew it was true.  She just didn’t know that it was so obvious. She thought Naruto was extremely friendly to Toneri the day before.  Unable to answer, she allowed herself to look troubled, to look at Toneri with honest confusion. How did you know?  You only saw him for less than an hour yesterday.

Toneri regarded her concerned expression.   She didn’t know that he likes her.   “He knows that we’re engaged.  Try not to give him false hopes.  You are too nice for your own good, like your father says.  Don’t be too nice to him.”

Hinata dropped her gaze.  She felt like she was getting reprimanded for their secret activities in the staircase.

Toneri watched her downcast expression.  “I’m only saying this because he seems like someone who might become somebody important in the future.  You need to also treat your friendships as connections, Hinata.”

She looked up at him, directly, suddenly.  “Toneri-kun, although I appreciate your concern for my well-being and relationships, you do not need to worry about me.  I have good friends who care about me, and I treasure them. I want them to know that. If I am too nice for my own good, then it is because I choose to be.”  Although she spoke calmly, she was annoyed. Toneri never once cared about her friendships in school. And she had never once expressed her discomfort about his relationships.  What gave him the right now to tell her what to do?

Toneri considered her words.  Somehow her response was concerning, irritating, and not what he expected of her.  “I trust you to make good decisions, Hinata. I’m sorry if I offended you.”

Hinata was surprised that he would say sorry to her.  She remembered what her father told her, that Toneri was here to get to know her better.  She smiled gently. “Don’t apologize to me, Toneri-kun. I know that you care about me, too.  You are also one of my important friends.”

Toneri felt his worries about her melt away.  If that blond friend of hers liked her more than he should, he realized he couldn’t blame him.  If she had a lot of male friends, he realized he couldn’t blame them, either. Hinata had a way of making him feel like he mattered, even when she disagreed with him.  His resolve hardened. He needed her. He needed her by his side at Imperial Moon University. He would convince her on this trip that she needed to be there, too.

Chapter Text

Hinata stared at herself in the mirror as her family hairdresser finished braiding a few locks of hair across soft, loosely waving curls.  The last time she had gotten this kind of beauty treatment was when she attended a charity ball in the Moon Kingdom a couple of years ago. It had been one of the most uncomfortable experiences of her life.  A few classmates had also attended and had proceeded to act like her best friends to impress their parents. They had fawned over her dress, hair, and makeup, but she knew that behind her back, they probably discussed her foreigner style flaws, nevermind that her entire look was completed in the Moon Kingdom.  True that not all of her classmates had been that catty, but she hadn’t made any real friendships there, either. Hinata unconsciously sighed.

“I’m sorry, did I pull your hair?”

Hinata glanced at her hairdresser in surprise.  “Oh, no, I’m fine.”

Her hairdresser smiled.  “Hinata-sama, you look so beautiful.  Toneri-oujisama won’t be able to take his eyes off of you!”

Hinata gave her an embarrassed smile.  “Thank you.” She regarded herself in the mirror.  She didn’t care to admit it, but she couldn’t help seeing that she really did look nice.  However, she was far from happy about it. She was fooling Toneri. She was dressing up and looking nice as his date when secretly she wanted to impress someone else.  She was attending what should be the most magical night of any high schooler’s life, and instead she was treating it as a chance to carry on some kind of secret affair.  She felt perverse. Even if Toneri had been a jerk in high school, she still felt he deserved better from her. That was almost three years ago, I need to get over it.  He’s nice to me now.  And indeed he had been.  Over the two weeks they had gone around Konoha and the rest of Fire Country together, she could tell that he was making an effort to connect with her.  He had asked her about her classes, her Gentle Fist training, had even insisted on paying for random gifts for her. It just made her feel incredibly guilty.   But when I’m with him, I just… her heart thumped.  Naruto. The warmth of his hands around hers, the high of his kiss.  The mutual look of shyness when they made accidental eye contact. It felt so, so right.  It felt like it couldn’t be any other way. But, she felt like she was leading him on, stringing him along for her own selfish reasons.  Each night she would resolve herself to break things off with him, and each morning when she saw him, she couldn’t stop herself from trying to get his attention, smiling, acting cute, looking at him with all of her being.  Even she was aware of her atrociously flirtatious manner. Being called a “slut” didn’t feel wrong, honestly, she was starting to believe she deserved it.

“And done!  What do you think?”  The hairdresser held up a mirror so that Hinata could see her work.

Hinata saw the pearls artistically pinned in her braid, the curls cascading down her back and her styled bangs framing her face.  “It’s wonderful. Thank you,” she smiled.

“It’s my pleasure.  Now why don’t you stand up and we can see the full effect?”

As her hairdresser showered her in praise, Hinata studied herself in the dark blue gown.  The illusion neckline with its intricate jeweled lace design afforded her some modesty, but the ruched waist and smoothly falling skirt showed off her curves more than she would have liked.  Hanabi had insisted she choose it when Hinata couldn’t make a decision--all the dresses had kind of looked the same to her.

“Are you going to be wearing that necklace?  It’s cute, but I don’t think it matches with the neckline.”

Hinata pursed her lips.

The hairdresser saw her indecision.  “If you don’t want to take it off, why don’t we wrap it around your wrist?  Here, I can help you.”

“Thank you.”  Hinata glanced at herself in the mirror again.  It felt like her reflection was mocking her. She looked prettier than ever, but she had never felt so ugly.

 

Naruto and a few other committee members were finishing up placing centerpieces.  He quickly checked the time. About forty more minutes. Forty more minutes until the check-in started.  Forty more minutes until he had to watch Hinata talking and dancing with that prince all night. He was only starting to second-guess himself now.  Two weeks ago, dancing with Hinata seemed like a great idea. He was beginning to wonder if he lacked foresight. Tonight was obviously going to be awful.   What the fuck was I thinking?  Knowing she spent time going on dates, basically, with that prince every day and night for the past two weeks was bad enough.  But then just seeing her, flirting with her, dancing with her the following day made it all seem worth it. He paused after placing a table names sign down.  Five minutes. He’d have Hinata all to himself for five minutes. In public, in front of everyone. Not the few seconds alone by her locker or a stolen minute in the stairs.  Maybe it was worth it.

“I think that’s it for the tables.  What else do we need to do? Naruto?” Sora asked.

He quickly pulled himself out of his depressing thoughts.  “Oh, yeah, looks good! We still have to set up the selfie booth.  Yakumo and Risa, can the two of you get the props? Sora, Banri, Reon, come help me carry the backdrop.  And Kana, can you help the teachers set up the check-in table?” He resolved himself to stop thinking about useless things.  It was too late now anyway. If he thought five minutes was worth it, it was even obvious to him how deep in this he was already.

 

“Holy sh- I mean, wooow, look at this.” Sora interrupted the check-in process to show Naruto the video a friend sent to him.  He was keeping him company even though the teachers and Naruto were handling the check-in.

Naruto let himself get distracted as Sora shoved the phone in his face.  The video seemed to be filmed from the steps of the hotel. A black car pulled up in front of a line of limos.  Its doors opened upwards. “Butterfly doors on a sedan?”

Sora started to talk to his classmates who were checking in about it.  They had seen the car arrive.

But Naruto wasn’t listening.  In the video, that prince stepped out.  He walked over and helped Hinata out. She took his hand and elegantly rose to meet him, a smile gracing her features, an extravagant white rose bouquet in hand.  The video ended. Naruto felt like his heart had fallen somewhere into his ribs. The car was so over the top, so clearly expensive, they both carried themselves so properly, so put together all the time, they both just looked like they came from money, were made of money, breathed money.  He looked up and saw them come up the escalators. He immediately averted his eyes to the attendees in front of him to continue the check-in process, but mentally he was gearing himself up. It’s the same as this week and last.  Hinata doesn’t like him. She likes me.  She likes me. I just have to get through tonight and he’ll be gone next week.

Toneri and Hinata came to the front of the line.        

The teachers stood in respect and Naruto followed suit.

“Kurenai-sensei, Yugao-sensei, this is Ootsutsuki Toneri…”

Naruto watched Hinata introduce her date to the teachers, and he was glad he didn’t have to say anything.  His heart had shot up from the pit of his ribs and lodged itself in his throat. He had no way to describe her.   Beautiful.  Her fair skin and pale eyes contrasted against her dark dress and hair, the way the dress smoothed over her figure left his mouth dry.  His eyes never strayed from her as she bent over to sign in. A glint on her wrist caught his attention. She’s wearing it.  His heart settled back somewhere in his chest, fluttering.  He knew she was thinking of him even if she was holding onto another guy.  She glanced at him, and Naruto gave her a small smile. He realized they were waiting for him.  He swallowed to keep his voice from cracking and grinned. “You two are sitting with me and everyone else at Table 1.”  He showed them the layout of the room. “It’s right in front of the podium.” Naruto watched Hinata enter the ballroom and he let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.

“I didn’t want to say anything, especially since it looks like you’re trying, but...I can’t help it.  You are really obvious.”

Naruto glanced at Sora blankly and continued to help with the check-in.

“It’s kind of painful to watch,” Sora went on.

Naruto tried to ignore him.

“The prince could tell, too.  You know it looked exactly like how we read it in books.  ‘Shooting daggers.’ He was looking at you like that. Did you notice?”

Naruto continued to pretend to tune him out.

“I didn’t think you did.  You were looking at her the whole time.”

Naruto was beginning to feel the marks of irritation.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t know about how you feel.  I think everyone knows.”

Naruto took a moment to debate with himself.  He finally turned to Sora, letting his annoyance and confusion pinch at his expression.  “What exactly are you trying to tell me? Also, if you know so much, then maybe you can also figure out that I don’t want to talk about it?”

Sora’s eyes widened at Naruto’s sharp response.  “Sorry, man, I was just teasing a little. I think you’re better than that prince, though.  I don’t know him, but...I’d say you’re better looking. Probably funnier, too.”

Naruto couldn’t help pulling an amused face.  It was hard for him to stay mad. He turned to Sora.  “Thanks, I think.”

Sora shot him a I’m-here-for-you-pal grin and a thumbs-up.            

  

Naruto exchanged smiles with Hinata.  Their five minutes together were finally here.  Somehow Naruto had survived dinner with Toneri right across from him.  Thankfully sitting at a table with Kiba and Sakura guaranteed that it wouldn’t be quiet.  The three so naturally argued with each other over nothing, the others could easily slip into the role of being quiet bystanders, or be like Sasuke and Shino, and slip in a smartass comment here and there.  Now, Naruto, Hinata, and the other prom court participants stood outside the ballroom. They could hear the emcee introducing Toneri, and nervousness tickled at their legs and arms as anticipation rose for their performance.  

“Naruto, I thought you had to introduce him?” Sora turned around and asked him in a half-whisper.

“Oh yeah, no, since I’m on the court, they decided they didn’t want me running back and forth.”  That’s what his advisor had told him, but Naruto had an inkling that his advisor knew how he felt about Hinata and took pity on him.

The sound of clapping filled the room.  The eight students tensed and their attention straightened ahead of them.  Oldies pop music started playing.

“Introducing...Tetsuno Yagura and Nadeshiko Shizuka!”  The emcee’s voice boomed out across the room.

The two entered the ballroom and did a vine step jig across the carpet, blushing and laughing as they made their way to the dance floor.  Yagura took Shizuka’s hand and twirled her around as the emcee finished announcing where they would be attending college in the fall.

“Next, we have Futton Futsu and Hotori Kiri!”

Naruto and Hinata looked at each other.  Just one more pair and then it would be their turn.  Naruto took a quick glance around before taking Hinata’s hand into his own.  They squeezed each other’s hand, smiled at each other reassuringly, and let go as Sora and Yakumo were called out.  

“Let’s have fun with this!” Naruto whispered to her.  

Hinata returned his smile with elation clear in her eyes and nodded.

The emcee announced, “And finally, your prom king and queen...Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata!”

The two entered the room with a repeating slide-step-clap-and-turn routine to enthusiastic hoots and cheers from their classmates.  

“Uzumaki Naruto will be attending Konoha University in the fall to pursue his bachelor’s degree in business management.  Hyuuga Hinata will also be attending Konoha University in the fall to pursue her bachelor’s degree in public administration.”

They danced to the center of the floor.  Since they were “just friends,” they completed their entrance with a secret handshake.  What started off like a numbers game evolved into giving each other fake blows, blocking and dodging each other’s strikes, and finally a complicated hand jive combination that ended in them high-fiving each other with both hands.  Collective “woah”s filled the room, followed by appreciative and amazed applause. Hinata beamed at Naruto, taking in his blue eyes that sparkled with excitement, before leaving the floor to stand by Shizuka, Kiri, and Yakumo. Yagura, Futsu, and Sora took their places beside Naruto.  

“Good job!”  “You guys did it without messing up!” the girls whispered to Hinata quickly.  

She nodded, pleased and relieved, letting her smile light up her face until the music changed to the popular hit singer of the year.  As the tenor voice picked up the beat, the boys began their knee pops and finger snaps. Hinata shifted into what she hoped was a nonchalant expression and pretended to make judging comments with the other girls for each outstretched arm and gesture from Naruto, but her shining eyes betrayed her seeming indifference.  Just like in practice, it was hard for her to control the bashfulness she felt in front of him. It seemed like he was upping his expressions and dramatics for the audience’s amusement, but it was especially difficult with him looking every part of drop-dead gorgeous man in his suit.

Eventually the girls heard their cue and entered the dance floor, shooing the boys off to the side.  As the music flowed into their song, Hinata took up her pose with hands on her hips. She and Naruto shot each other honest smiles before the singing began.  She lowered her eyes, and when she looked up as the first steps of the routine started, it was the confident persona she had practiced for the last two weeks under Naruto’s watchful gaze.     

“Ooooooh, Hinata, yaaasss girl!” a loud voice cried out, followed by a “Yeeeaaah girl, get it!”.

It was almost enough for Hinata to break from her concentration.   Ino-chan!  Sakura-chan! , she thought accusingly, but she locked eyes with Naruto.  He was still giving her that look, his smoldering gaze provoking her to continue.  If he was watching, she felt like she could be anyone, do anything, and just...be herself.

And it was with that warm feeling, that rare certainty of self and incredible faith in him to accept her, all of her, that she watched him approach and kneel before her.  If he didn’t know it before, she hoped he could see it now. That he could see how much she appreciated him just being there for her and encouraging her. By the look in his azure eyes, bright and wondering, she thought maybe he could.  Maybe he could see how he made her feel alive, maybe he could see how he made her feel beautiful and everything worthy.

She cross-stepped into a turn and held her hand out.  He only broke from his gaze on her then to gently take her hand.  But instead of kissing her fingertips like rehearsed, he flipped her hand over and kissed her wrist where her necklace lay.  It was a heartstopping second, the intimate act sending a blush over her cheeks, short-circuiting her thought process, and reigniting her heart into severe palpitations as he brought himself to standing.  The rest of the dance was a blur. The only things truly registering in her mind were the feeling of his hand around hers as he spun her around and his soft smile that never strayed away from her.

It was over too soon.  She curtseyed and he bowed, and even as they returned to their table, they continued to look at each other.  Turning finally to see Toneri politely clapping left her in confusion. He was an image of dissonance, the strange moment when a dream’s storyline shifts into something wholly different.  The serious expression on the fair young man a telling message that made her realize she had been genuinely smiling since before the dance ended. Her own happy expression left her face and sunk into her chest, a shrivelled lump that echoed a warning, he knows.  She put another smile on and sat next to Toneri.  Naruto found his seat across the table, and their friends turned to them with praise and exclamations, asking to see their secret handshake again, recounting the “sexy” Hinata, and the overdramatic “idiot” Naruto.

As Naruto explained how they created their handshake over the week, Toneri turned to Hinata, finally adding in his own comments for the dance.  “It looked like you had fun. How often did you have practices?”

Hinata turned to him in relief that he was speaking to her normally.  “We had court practice during lunch for a little more than two weeks, and then yesterday and the day before we also had morning practices.”

“Hm.”  Toneri nodded his head.  “Your routine with the fake fighting was complicated.”

“Yes, we had to practice that one whenever we ran into each other during the passing period or before our Government class.  We couldn’t practice the sparring, but we could practice the other parts outside.” Hinata raised her hands and went through the motions of the clapping as she remembered the moves.

Toneri watched her and noticed Naruto start mirroring her from across the table.  He saw how her smile lit up as they continued the routine and then pretended to high-five each other.  The glint on her moving wrist caught his eye. When she was done giggling, another sight he wasn’t used to seeing, he asked.  “Your bracelet. That’s the necklace you wear everyday.”

Hinata turned to look at him a little too quickly.  “Yes, it is.”

The white-haired prince looked at her, then turned his eyes toward Naruto, who had been looking at Hinata until he noticed Toneri glaring at him.  Naruto stared back at Toneri blankly for a second before engaging in conversation with Tamaki, Kiba’s date. His fake innocence annoyed the prince.  He wasn’t a fool. What did Naruto take him for? He looked back at Hinata, who was looking at him with worry clearly lining her forehead. He felt so annoyed, he felt almost angry, and he asked, “Did Naruto give that to you?”

Hinata had a feeling he would ask.  She knew that he knew, and that was enough for her to be slightly more emotionally prepared that she otherwise would have been.  She lied. She shook her head slightly, “No.”

Toneri assessed her expression, and she willed herself to not avert her eyes.  

“Hey you guys!  Let’s go dance!” Shion popped up at their table.

“Yeah, Hinata, maybe you can show us some of your sexy moves again,” Ino added.

Hinata welcomed the interruption.  She gave Ino an embarrassed smile and turned back to Toneri.  “Do you want to dance with everyone?”

Toneri looked at the dance floor, where all of the teens were congregating and moving their bodies freely.  He needed to collect himself first. He couldn’t tell if Hinata was lying to him or not, but his gut was telling him that she was.  He saw the way Hinata had looked at Naruto during the performance. How she had danced for him. He saw Naruto kiss her wrist when the other couples clearly had different choreography.  “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll join you after.”

“Oh, okay.”

He stood up quickly and almost made it out the door when two girls accosted him.

“Toneri-oujisama!”

He stopped and turned to address them, assuming that they most likely just wanted to meet a real prince.  “Good evening, ladies.”

They giggled together at his show of manners.  “Wow! Can we take a quick picture with you?”

He gave them a pleasant smile.  “Yes, of course.”

After they looked at the picture, he was about to try to part with them graciously, but the girl with her hair in a bun looked up at him from her phone suddenly.  “So you really are dating Hinata and Hinata is a princess, too?” she asked in awe.

Toneri didn’t answer right away, unsure of whether he needed to clear her misunderstanding.

The short-haired girl piped up conversationally.  “Everyone thought she was in a relationship with Kiba-kun or Shino-kun, or even more recently Naruto-kun, but seeing you here, you came all the way from the Moon Kingdom just for this!”

There were a lot of little things in what she said that were causes for big concern.  He decided to clear the misunderstanding that would settle a lot of dust in the air, and perhaps give him a better picture of what she was talking about.  “Hinata and I have been engaged for almost six years now.”

“Oh.”  The two girls looked at each other in surprise and turned back to him.

Toneri looked at her with curiosity.

She elaborated at his expression.  “They were just rumors! Just rumors!  I don’t know, I didn’t mean anything by what I said.  Hinata is really pretty and sophisticated, like, I didn’t actually believe those rumors.  She’s too nice to do something like that.  She’s just close to a lot of guys, and…” She trailed off.  “Thank you for the picture!”

The other girl thanked him quickly, too, and they hurried away from him as best they could in their heels.

Toneri stood there having forgotten where he had been heading to for a moment.  He concluded that those girls seemed air-headed, and that he shouldn’t take what they said seriously.  Hinata wouldn’t cheat on him. Like the girl said, Hinata was far too sophisticated and serious to do something like that, much less with three different guys.   She said Kiba, Shino, and Naruto .  He continued walking toward the bathroom, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It irritated him. Kiba never said a word to him, and once in a while, he had the feeling Kiba gave him judging looks.  It was obvious that that boy held something against him. He wondered if Kiba liked Hinata, too, but he seemed pretty attentive to his date, who seemed physically quite different from Hinata.  Shino, the tall boy with dark eyes and hair, was nothing but polite all night, and was perhaps the only person who made an effort to have conversations with him. It didn’t seem likely that Hinata had ever been in a relationship with him.  

But Naruto.  The boy came by himself, of all things, to a dance, was continually checking Hinata out, and pointedly ignored all of his warning glares.  And that kiss during the dance. The blond boy seemed to be making no effort to curb his feelings for Hinata, even though he, her fiance, was right there.  It annoyed him to no end. It annoyed him that Hinata wasn’t trying to avoid him. It was annoying that... Hinata likes him, too .  It was a moment of complete clarity that stopped his breath.  He had suspected it from earlier, much earlier, from two weeks before.  He had pushed the nudging sensation on the side, choosing instead to focus his aggravation on her friend, refusing to see what was so clearly in front of him.   Hinata likes him, too!  It all flashed before his mind’s eye, her cheerful smiles, her laughing, her compliments for her friend, her general disposition around that boy that made her seem like a young girl, not at all like the Hinata he had come to know.  It was a blow. What had he come here for? To see her carry on and flirt with another guy? Toneri looked at himself in the mirror. He wouldn’t be treated like this.   He, the Crown Prince of the Moon Kingdom, couldn’t allow this.  They were mocking him. Mocking his intelligence. Mocking his perception and abilities.  Not just Naruto, but Hinata, too. She was making a terrible mistake, and he couldn’t allow that.  She needed to be corrected, needed to be brought back to the Moon Kingdom, where she belongs, where she’ll end up being, anyway.  There was no point in having her study at Konoha University, where that boy would be, too.  One day left. He had tonight and tomorrow morning to get Hinata to change her mind.  He collected himself and headed back toward the ballroom.

So it was unsurprising to Toneri to see Naruto grinning at Hinata, his fiancee, as they danced with all of their friends.  

 

Naruto looked up to see Toneri joining them.  Toneri had killing intent on his face, telling Naruto that the charade was over.  But what was he supposed to do? Challenge him to a fight to the death, winner takes all?  He chose instead to leave the dance floor and keep Sasuke, that wet wipe, company than watch Hinata feel awkward.  

“Hey, you’re really not going to dance tonight?” Naruto asked his raven-haired friend for the third time.

Sasuke gave him a tired look, instead of answering verbally.  

“What about the slow dances?  At least one?”

“--”

“Hinata told me about how you made Sakura-chan search all over for a bright red dress just to match your fucking tie.  You owe her at least one dance. And before you say that you bought the tickets and flowers, remember that those dresses cost well over a hundred dollars.  You owe her a dance.” Naruto looked meaningfully at the bored-looking pretty boy.

“Fine, I’ll do a dance with her.  Just shut up.” Sasuke said this with a careless attitude, but Naruto knew better by the way he was watching Sakura dance.

Naruto smiled, pleased, and sat back to relax.  His eyes travelled to Hinata, who was smiling and dancing next to Toneri.  He averted his gaze to find Sasuke staring at him. It caught him off guard.  It disturbed him. “What?”

“Nothing.”  In truth, Sasuke was curious about what was going on between Naruto and Hinata.  But he never asked Naruto about his feelings. The blond would divulge his thoughts when he was ready, and at that point, Sasuke knew he wouldn’t be able to shut him up, so he knew he should enjoy Naruto’s silence while it lasts.

Naruto scrunched his brows at Sasuke’s response.  He knew “nothing” was never actually nothing. “What is it?”

Sasuke gave him a withering glance.  He should have known Naruto couldn’t stay quiet for another minute.  “You’re just going to sit here all night with me?” He had other ways he could have verbalized his thoughts, like Are you being a coward?, but he wasn’t really in the mood to get into a shouting match with his best friend at a formal event.

Naruto frowned.  He didn’t like the idea of running away whenever Toneri was near.  In fact he hated leaving Hinata with Toneri. The only thing keeping him from sticking the middle finger at the prince was the thought that he would be leaving tomorrow, and then he’d have Hinata all to himself again.  “If I hang around that guy, I’ll probably start a fight and ruin whatever chance I have with Hinata.”

“...So you do think before you act.”

Naruto glared at Sasuke.  “Of course I do. I’m not an idiot.”

“No...you’re still an idiot,” Sasuke stated with finality.

Naruto brought his hands up in frustration.  “I’m not! And at least I’m not an asshole, like you!”

Sasuke just smirked.  “Still. You’re an idiot.”

“This is why I need better friends, like Hinata!  You can sit here all by your lonesome self!” Naruto stood and took two angry steps toward the dance floor, only to see Toneri still there.  “Fuck!!” He turned and huffed back into his chair. Seeing Sasuke’s smug face, Naruto muttered, “Shut up.”

Sasuke took another moment to gloat before feeling a twinge of pity.  “You don’t have to keep me company. Go dance with another group or something.  You have other friends.”

“Yeah.  I dunno.”  Naruto sighed and put his head on the table.  “I only wanna dance with Hinata.”

Sasuke stared at his moping friend.  It never ceased to amaze him how Naruto could say whatever thought flit into his head, no filter, no sense of shame or embarrassment.  He sometimes felt the need to ask him how he’s able to bare his feelings for all to see, but then he already knew the answer. “You’re an idiot.”  

Naruto glared up at him again.  “Shut up. Even if it’s true…” Naruto knew most guys would give up on an unreachable girl like Hinata.  Maybe he really was an idiot. “...what am I supposed to do? Just forget her and move on?””

Shikamaru suddenly came up to their table.  “Mind if I join? You guys have the right idea.”

Naruto sat up and smiled teasingly.  “Couldn’t handle it, huh?”

“Saturdays are my sleep days, but Temari threatened she’d break up with me if I didn’t take her.”

“She was joking, right?” Naruto asked incredulously.  

Shikamaru shrugged.  “Yeah. I trust her, but with long-distance, it gets tough to do things together.  It’s troublesome, but I guess it’s worth it.”

Naruto looked at Shikamaru in admiration.  “That’s really awesome that you two are still together.”

Sasuke nodded in agreement.  “It’s been about a year since her study abroad, hasn’t it?”

Shikamaru smiled at their acknowledgement.  He looked over at Temari, who was still dancing.  “It’s been really troublesome, not gonna lie. I had to convince her dad that I wasn’t just dating his daughter for political connections, or money, or something.  Plus, she always has to have a bodyguard. See, over there?” Shikamaru nodded toward the side of the room.

Naruto and Sasuke looked over and saw a lady in a suit.  They exchanged looks with each other and turned back toward Shikamaru.

“So the two of you are never alone?” Naruto asked.

“Nope.  Over the break I visited her, and she figured out a way to ditch them, but then I got blocked from calling her for a month.”

Both boys stared at Shikamaru in concerned shock.  

Sasuke raised his eyebrows at Naruto.  “You’re lucky that Hinata doesn’t have a bodyguard.”

“Yeah…” Naruto looked down, remembering all the times he had gotten Hinata alone with him.

It got silent for a moment.  Neither Sasuke nor Shikamaru wanted to broach the topic of the nature of Naruto’s relationship with Hinata.   

Naruto finally looked up.  “You said you talked to her dad?  What was that like?”

Shikamaru scratched his head as he remembered.  He sighed. “It was…” He shook his head in disbelief at his own memory.  “...like applying for college. I had to show him a resume and my report cards.  Basically I had to get recommendation letters. That was damn embarrassing asking teachers.  I had to lie to them, I think I said I was applying for a scholarship or something. He had to talk to my parents.  At that point I refused to write an essay and finally complained to Temari. She didn’t know he was making me do all of that.  She threw a fit at her dad, and he finally agreed to talk to me.”

“Woah.  You did all that?” Naruto asked.  Both boys stared at Shikamaru as if seeing him for the first time.  “Shikamaru, I take back all the times I ever called you lazy.”

Shikamaru smirked.  “As long as I don’t have to do that for when we get married.”

“You guys are going to get married?!  Isn’t it too soon to be thinking about things like that?!”  Naruto was getting the shock of his life. He felt like he never knew Shikamaru before now.

But Shikamaru was looking at Naruto with equal bewilderment.  “Why would I go through so much trouble to date someone if I can’t see it going anywhere?  Why date at all?! Life is easier and cheaper when you’re single. You only have to care about yourself.”  

Naruto sat back and thought about that.  He had never looked at dating as a means to an end, a specific end, being marriage.  “Don’t people date just for fun?”

“The Kazekage would never let me date his daughter just for fun.”  Shikamaru said this seriously, and he looked at Naruto, almost glaring, daring him to say another word.  

Naruto went quiet.  He looked at Shikamaru, really looked at him.  His intelligent friend was way more serious than he had ever expected.  Way more...mature. More mature than him.

Temari came walking up with a confident smile.  “You’ve rested for two songs already! Get off that lazy ass and dance with me!”

Shikamaru muttered about this being troublesome, but the smile that lit his eyes said otherwise as he took her hand.

Naruto watched them go back in wonder.  It crossed his mind that that was love. His friend was in love and was doing something about it.   What am I doing?  His eyes strayed toward Hinata, who was still dancing next to Toneri.   Do I want to marry her?  He felt something thick amass in his stomach, doubt and nervousness combined in a viscous solution of unease.   How am I supposed to know something like that?!  We’re only 17!  He looked at Shikamaru again, how he was smiling at Temari.   But Shikamaru knows.  And... He looked at Toneri and Hinata.  He averted his eyes.

Sasuke outright stared at his friend.  He felt like he could see the exact thoughts going through his blond friend’s mind.  He could see the worry and confusion, and he knew that his friend was probably thinking more than he should.  There was a reason Naruto had come so far in life, and it wasn’t because he had philosophical ideas. It could be said Naruto’s strength was in his simplistic thinking, his ability to sum things up, to take the most important points of value and stick to them until the end.  “Idiot Naruto.”

Naruto looked at him but didn’t respond.

Sasuke stared at him some more, but Naruto wouldn’t meet his eyes.  Would he regret asking? Probably. But Naruto was his best friend, possibly his only true friend besides Sakura, who sort of...didn’t really count.   I’ll probably regret this… “What is your stupid brain thinking so hard about?”

Naruto stared at the gold and silver sequins spread around the table.  “How does Shikamaru know?” he asked quietly.

Sasuke raised an eyebrow.  “You’re really asking me?”

Naruto looked up suddenly at Sasuke.  “Yeah. How do people know that they want to get married?”  Naruto watched an emotion pass over Sasuke’s face, and it was more expression he had seen on his friend’s face than he had seen in awhile.

“I don’t know.”  Sasuke’s expression turned hard.  “I don’t know why people want to get married.  Why tie yourself to someone you’re just going to fight with?  Why work so hard for someone for nothing? You can just be with that person without getting married.  You can save yourself the trouble of all the paperwork and assets and family issues.”

Naruto considered what Sasuke was saying.  “Well, people don’t get married thinking they’re going to get divorced.”

“I know that.  What I’m saying is if people get married to be together, you don’t need marriage to do that.”

Naruto tilted his head in thought.  Here was another view he had never thought about before.  “I guess you don’t need marriage if you just want to be with someone.”   But doesn’t it mean more than that?  What it meant, though, he didn’t know.  He looked at Hinata again. Why does she need to marry that prince?...To show the close relationship between Fire Country and the Moon Kingdom...to tie two different countries together.  What would it mean if she married me? Naruto realized he didn’t have anything.  He hardly had a family. It was just him and his godfather.  His mom had come from a small rural country, and he had no idea who was on her side of the family.  His dad had been bounced around the foster care system before coming of age. His dad’s parents had been druggies.  It was assumed that the rest of his dad’s side of the family were not much better, considering that none of them reached out.  If Hinata’s father ever tried to dig into his biological history, which wasn’t unheard of in Fire Country, he’d reject Naruto without a second thought.  “Damn it.”

Sasuke pulled himself out of his memories at Naruto’s cussing.  “What.”

“Damn, damn, damn it.”  

Sasuke stared at Naruto.

Naruto looked at Hinata and Toneri again.  Frustration twisted his face. He whipped his head toward Sasuke.  “I’m a fucking nobody is what. If I were a fucking prince, or even if I had a clan to back me up, like Shikamaru and you, I’d have some kind of chance with her!  If Hinata’s dad knew what we’ve done, if he knew about me, he’d probably have me locked up or something.”

Sasuke furrowed his brows.   What they’ve done?   He frowned at Naruto, unable to address his worries.

Naruto noticed the perturbed look on Sasuke’s face.  Realization on what he had said dawned. “We haven’t gone that far!”  Blushing, he raised his hands to deny Sasuke’s unspoken assumptions. “Just kissing and stuff.”

And stuff?  Sasuke turned away and coughed.  His friend was way too honest. He straightened his face out and turned back to Naruto.  “Do you really believe you’re a nobody?”

Naruto turned serious again.  “I don’t have any family. I have no background.  I have nothing to recommend me. I mean, like, fuck, my godfather writes porn for money!  If Hinata’s dad just paid an investigator enough, he’d probably figure that out, too!”

“But that’s not you.   You aren’t a nobody.  And you don’t want to be a nobody.”

“Yeah, but becoming the Hokage, that’s like, in what, 25 years from now?” Naruto argued.  “Hinata will be long married to that prick by then.”

Sasuke fell silent for a moment.  “You should talk to her dad.”

Naruto sat back.  That thought had occurred to him, too, when Shikamaru told them what he had to do to start dating Temari.  “Yeah. Yeah, I should.” Naruto looked again at Hinata. She looked so beautiful. He really wanted to dance with her.  “I’d marry her. If her dad gave me the chance, I’d make it work. Make us work.”

Sasuke looked at his blond friend curiously.  How had Naruto gone from not knowing how people get married to deciding he’d marry Hinata?  The jump in thought processes was beyond his comprehension, especially after he had just voiced his opinion on marriage.  For how little he understood Naruto, it was a miracle they were best friends. He was debating with himself whether to ask Naruto how he had come to that conclusion when the music changed to a slow love song.  

Sakura came back to the table and sat down next to Sasuke, a tired smile on her face.  “Whoo, I needed a break. Ino has too much energy.” She flicked her gaze toward Sasuke for a second, who was staring off into nothing, and settled back into her chair.  She turned her attention to Naruto, who had been staring at, most likely, Toneri and Hinata, before averting his eyes and suddenly meeting hers.

Naruto felt caught off guard again.   But what does it matter if people see me looking at her?  According to Sora, everyone knows already.

The three fell into silence, none of them willing to pick a topic for conversation that would probably only make things feel more awkward with the love song playing in the background.  The song finally began to end, and Sakura made to stand up, but it changed into another slow song. She sat back down with a slight frown.

Naruto looked at her, looked at Sasuke, looked at Hinata, who had her hands on that guy’s shoulders with that guy’s hands around her waist.  He couldn’t handle another second of this. He wanted to be the one holding Hinata.   She would rather have me, too!  He looked back at Sasuke and Sakura, who were feigning composure.   This is stupid!  Naruto stood up with a sigh.  “I’m getting out of here. I can’t…”  He gestured loosely at the dance floor.  “Both of you stop sitting here.  And don’t you dare say you can keep me company.”  He looked pointedly at Sakura, who closed her mouth.

She glanced at Sasuke, who didn’t seem like he was going to move.

“If you feel even a little sorry for me, I’m asking that the two of you go dance.  Because you can. Nothing’s holding you back or keeping you from...” being together.  Naruto looked to the side, letting the hurt he was feeling show on his face.  He knew it was kind of a dirty move, but it was the truth. The fact that Sasuke wouldn’t dance with Sakura even though he could was incomprehensible to him.  He looked at Hinata and Toneri again despite his better judgment. He turned back to Sasuke, who seemed uncertain. Naruto rolled his eyes and made to get out of the ballroom as quickly as he could.  

Sasuke watched his friend leave.  He could feel Sakura looking at him, but as he turned to face the table, he noted that she looked away.  He owed her a dance. And by now, the song was probably almost half over. Did he really need to dance with her for half a song?  He could just dance with her for the next one, though the next song would probably be a fast one. He set his jaw. He stood up. It was embarrassing, but he was Uchiha Sasuke.  No one could say anything against him. “Let’s go.”

He saw Sakura’s green eyes widen and sparkle, her smile brighten her whole face.  She quickly got up and followed him to the dance floor, heart fluttering madly.

 

Naruto didn’t really know where to go once he made it out.  He couldn’t actually leave. He had to help clean up at the end.  He considered waiting out the song in the bathroom, but ultimately decided to step outside.  After letting the prom advisor know, who understood completely, he hung out at the entrance of the hotel.  The valets struck up a conversation with him, curious about the event, the school, him, his future aspirations, his current classes, everything, these guys were real conversationalists, and with Naruto himself welcoming the distraction, the time passed quickly.

 

A couple of fast-paced dance songs after the second slow dance, Hinata felt like it was a good time to take a break.  She had noticed Naruto had left and hadn’t returned. It was disappointing to not see him anymore, especially when he looked so handsome, but she knew it was for the best.  She had felt really awkward, willing the slow dances to finish faster than they actually could. She knew she was hurting him, and she didn’t know if she could take another slow dance with Toneri.  “Toneri-kun, I think I need to take a break.”

“Of course, Hinata.  Let’s go sit down.” Toneri had also noticed that Naruto had left.  With him not sitting at the table, he was much more willing to return to their seats.  Maybe he could get a good conversation in with her, too. That boy who was sitting down most of the time, Sasuke, seemed quiet and smart.  He’d probably stay out of their business.

Except everyone else seemed to think resting was a good idea, too.  After one song of sitting at the table with all of Hinata’s friends, Toneri decided he really needed to talk with Hinata alone.  “Hinata, come walk with me?”

She politely smiled and nodded, taking his arm.  The two headed out of the ballroom onto the second floor landing.  They stopped against the glass railing, overlooking the lobby, to admire the large crystal chandelier that shimmered over the escalator.

Toneri gazed at her serene beauty.  He needed to convince her to come back to the Moon Kingdom, but he didn’t know where to start.  Should he bring up her feelings for that boy or not? He convinced himself that her feelings were likely just a passing infatuation.  If he treated it like nothing, then she would, too, probably. “It’s not too late.”

Hinata turned her attention to him in surprise.

“If you want to attend Imperial Moon, you still can.  They would still accept you.”

Hinata glanced down.  She didn’t want to have to explain this to him.  She had already told him her reasoning over the break.  She was hoping she wouldn’t have to outright...reject him.  “Toneri-kun, I…” She took a deep breath. “I want to attend Konoha University.”  She looked up at him earnestly, hoping he wouldn’t ask her why.

He looked away, his gaze falling on the focus of his irritation, a jovial-looking blond entering the lobby while making conversation with some random hotel staff.  Re-emboldened, he met her gaze, noting that she hadn’t seen him. “I missed you.” He paused to gauge her reaction, but she only continued to look at him intently. “I want us to have a good relationship.  We can build on what we have. If we attend the same school, we would be able to connect more easily.”

Hinata averted her gaze toward the ballroom.  She knew that what he said was true. She knew it was the right decision.  If they were going to get married, she should make an effort to get to know him better.  She should.  But she didn’t want to.  She wanted to procrastinate this topic for as long as possible.  She didn’t want to think about it. She didn’t want to face the truth of her life.

Toneri stayed quiet as he let her process his words. He glanced back down at the lobby.  That boy was making his way toward the escalator. He looked back at Hinata. He knew why she was hesitating.  She could say all kinds of excuses, but he knew the real reason for her college decision. And it frustrated him to no end.   Why?!   Hinata had always seemed like such a rational person, willing to listen to him and selflessly giving up her time for the good of the Kingdom.  He glanced back down to see that boy on the escalator. They locked eyes. Toneri realized he really, truly hated that boy. He broke his glare and looked back at Hinata.  “Hinata.” He took both her hands into his and made a step closer to her.

She flinched away in surprise.

Her reaction hurt worse than a slap.  Knowing that that boy had probably seen it, too, damaged his ego more than he could say.  He narrowed his eyes at her.

She looked up at him reluctantly as he tightened his grip on her hands.  She didn’t know why she had flinched. She had been so deep in thought, so desperate to get away from him, she had done it unthinkingly.

Toneri spoke quietly.  He didn’t want to draw attention to them.  But his voice came out seething, scornful. “I know it’s because of that boy you don’t want to come back!”

Hinata felt like she couldn’t breathe.  She had known that he knew, but she didn’t want to talk about it.  She wanted to get away from him. She couldn’t. He had a firm grip on her hands.  

Toneri searched her face intently, wanting her to look him in the eyes, but she refused to meet his gaze.  He furrowed his brows in annoyance, disappointment. “Why are you playing around like this? Do you know what your classmates are saying about you?”

Hinata’s eyes met his then.  In a hard glare.

Toneri’s expression twitched, having never seen her look like this before, not understanding the meaning behind it.  It simply egged him on, his determination to have her apologetic, remorseful, agreeable. “A girl came up to me and told me that there were rumors about you with three different boys!”

Hinata turned her face up to him, her glare turning dismissive, insolent, tired.  She was so sick of this. She looked him dead in the eyes. She shook her head almost imperceptibly.  “How dare you. How dare you.”  Her tone was chilling, demeaning.  At the first sign of his grip weakening, she freed her hands.  She allowed herself to give a small laugh, This is unbelievable.  She looked at him again, wondering if he had matured at all, and shook her head.  She turned around decisively. To find Naruto standing near the top of the escalator, watching them in concern.  It was another strange moment of dissonance, a collision in the center of her spirit. Her pulse reset itself, the adrenaline running through her suddenly apparent, and she blinked in confusion.  She didn’t need this. She didn’t need any of this. She turned away from Naruto just as he began to move towards them, and she fled back into the ballroom.

Naruto stopped, watching her go.  He didn’t hear what they said, but he understood body language well enough to know that something...bad...had happened.  His eyes caught movement and he turned to see Toneri walking directly toward him. Naruto instinctively felt himself switch into fight mode, his body drawing up, his shoulders squaring.

But Toneri stopped in front of him with his arms folded.  

There wasn’t going to be a fight, and Naruto found himself mildly disappointed.

“You need to stay away from her.”

Naruto glared at him.  “Why should I?” he challenged.  From what he could see, Toneri was the one she didn’t want touching her.

“You don’t understand how important she is.  It’s not about a competition between you and me.  The Moon Kingdom needs her. The people need her! You’re holding her back, discouraging her from the path she needs to take.   Must take.”

Naruto glanced at the side and met his glare again.  This wasn’t something new to him. He knew, but that didn’t mean he agreed with it.  “She can do just as much good here. It doesn’t have to be her. Quit talking about your country when you’re talking about yourself.”   Fucking coward.

Toneri narrowed his eyes.  “You’re not serious about her.”  He hesitated to divulge his next words, but continued.  “You don’t...need her like I do.”

Naruto was starting to lose his composure.  He wanted to punch a wall. More preferably punch him.  “I am serious about her. What the fuck would you know?”

“She’s a princess.  I’m a prince.  She understands me better than anyone I know…”

No!  No! She understands me better than anyone.   Naruto bit his lip to keep from swearing again.  This fucking prince was too fucking regal to swear back, and it was making him feel like an immature little kid speaking to an adult.  “Find yourself another princess.” It felt like a weak argument, not at all encapsulating everything he wanted to say.

“I don’t have that choice.  You can find someone else.”

Naruto fixed his gaze at the floor.  Why did it feel like he was losing? Did this prince really not have a say in who he marries?  He looked up at the prince, and decided to ask forthright. “You really don’t have a choice?”

Toneri didn’t answer, considering the question, but he didn’t look away from Naruto’s glare.

Naruto was too impatient to wait for an answer.  “Do you love her?”

Toneri frowned at the question.  He didn’t need to love her. He felt attracted to her, but with her most recent expression and attitude, not so much.  “We’re engaged.”

Naruto huffed at that answer.  He looked at Toneri nonchalantly.  “Fine. Marry her. And she’ll be thinking of me at the wedding.  Thinking of me in your..bed.  Thinking of me everytime she sees you.  And she’ll pretend to be happy because she’s too nice to act otherwise.  But she’ll never be happy.”  Naruto paused for a second.  “Because she loves me,” he added in a level tone.  In truth he didn’t know if Hinata actually held such intense feelings for him.  They hadn’t actually even said the words “I like you” to each other, yet. But Hinata would forgive him for fibbing a little, right?    

Toneri was shocked.   They knew about each other’s feelings?!  How far have they gone?!  He shot his attention toward the ballroom.  The memory of Naruto kissing her wrist reentered his mind’s eye.  A flashback of Naruto walking her to the front the day she was late.  Her subsequent defence of her time spent with him. Hinata had been fooling him this entire time.  She had been acting ignorant of Naruto’s feelings when she had known all along. Had been encouraging him all along.  Had been carrying on in such an indecent way, and her father didn’t know. If Hiashi-sama knew, he would have never allowed them to dance together.  Despite himself, Toneri smirked. She had acted all offended at his accusation when it was in fact the truth. Maybe not three different guys, but one of them.  He had started to feel regret for bringing it up, but not anymore. Too, he felt angry. Hinata wasn’t being honest with him when he had been making efforts to open himself up to her more, to get to know her better.  She was knowingly wasting his time. He looked at Naruto, then, this child who was steering Hinata in the wrong direction. “I don’t care. Maybe it’ll be like that in the beginning. But she’ll come to love me with time.  She’ll forget about you when you’re a distant memory. When you’ve moved on to someone else.” He moved past Naruto and started down the escalator.

Naruto wanted to shout “She’ll never love you!” or “I won’t move on to someone else!” but was made suddenly aware of how many people were watching them as he turned to follow Toneri.   Did they hear everything we said?  His classmates started to disperse, whispering to each other and glancing at him and then Toneri.  For anyone else, the thought would have been mortifying, but Naruto was just caught off-guard, again.  He stared back at his classmates, who quickly averted their eyes and picked up their pace to leave the scene.  Naruto scratched the back of his head and turned around to see Toneri leaving the lobby. He glared in his direction and let out an exasperated sigh.  His heart started to settle to a more normal pace. He dragged his hand through his hair. He reflected on the fight. He thought he controlled himself pretty well.  He didn’t regret a single word he said. His only regret was not slugging a good one on that pale face. But Hinata would have hated him for that. Hinata... Naruto looked up and made his way back into the ballroom.

He saw her sitting at their table, her head down in her arms.  He exchanged silent nods with Sasuke, who was sitting there, seemingly unconcerned by Hinata’s position.  Naruto approached her cautiously, remembering the look on her face when she had turned away from him. Carefully, he placed a hand on her back.

She slowly raised her head and met his gaze.

“Hey,” he greeted softly, uncertain.

She didn’t offer him any smile or words in return, but she sat up straight, regaining her usual poise.

Naruto took a seat next to her.  “I...I might’ve gotten into an argument...with the prince.”

Hinata shook her head and looked at him wearily.  “I don’t want to know. Not now.”

Naruto nodded his head and looked away from her.  Next to Hinata with her calm and collected demeanor, he was starting to realize he might’ve let himself get too hot-headed.  He might’ve said some things he would regret. It was too late now. What was said was said. But he was starting to feel like a little kid again.  And Hinata hadn’t hardly said a word to make him feel this way. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair and glanced at her.

Hinata felt so tired.  She wanted the night to be over.  She wanted to go home, take her high heels off, get this makeup off her face, take her hair down, get out of this tight dress, and forget.  She felt numb with exhaustion. And she knew Naruto was looking at her, but for once, she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

The three sat silently.  Some time later, the music changed from EDM to R&B, and the emcee announced it was the last song of the night.  

Sakura came up to them silently, a question in her eyes as she looked at Hinata and Naruto, but she turned to Sasuke and leaned in toward him.  She blushed a smile and said something to him too quiet to be heard.

Sasuke glanced at Naruto for a half-second before standing up and walking swiftly to the dance floor.

Sakura’s small smile widened and she followed after him quickly.

Naruto watched them and smiled.  

He couldn’t see Sasuke’s face, but Sakura looked incredibly happy.  Her eyes darted to her crush’s face then glanced away, only to search him out again.  A blush lit her features.

Naruto was satisfied that even if this night sucked for him, at least his best friends were having a good night.  He glanced at Hinata. He still wanted to dance with her. He didn’t care what people said about him. But Hinata looked emotionless, just on the verge of becoming upset, and he didn’t want to know what Hinata looked like when she was mad.  So he didn’t talk to her.

And even as people started leaving, and he got up to start helping to clear the tablecloths, she still sat there, unmoving.  

It occurred to him on the tenth table that she could be waiting for Toneri.  But as far as he knew, and it seemed to be becoming apparent to Hinata, too, as she looked toward the door, that he had left her.  And wasn’t coming back. Naruto stopped cleaning.

“Are...you okay?”  Sora stepped up to the unusually quiet blond.  

He was the fifth person to ask him that.  But the real question was whether Hinata was okay.  

Naruto gave his friend an apologetic look.  “Can I ask a favor?”

 

“Hinata.”  He waited for her tired eyes to meet his.  “Let me take you home.”

Chapter Text

“Naruto-kun…”  Hinata shook her head, resigned.  “I’ll call my father. He can pick me up.”

Naruto frowned.  “I’ll wait with you outside, then.”

Hinata looked up at him.  He was too handsome. His black jacket emphasized his broad shoulders and chest, simultaneously slimming him and accentuating his height.  His tan skin and golden hair softly glowed in the room’s dimmed lights. His cerulean eyes, despite their cool color, somehow always reminded her of fire, of the sun, of brighter tomorrows.  When had the boy become a man? Why could she never catch up to him? Why...why does he like me?  He was too good for her.  He was always so certain, always so willing to give, always working for his dream.  Everything he did, he did on his own strength. And then there was her, who always did everything half-heartedly, who didn’t have a goal, who just did what others told her to do.  And everything she was, was due to her family, her upbringing, her lineage, not her.  She would only hold him back.  She didn’t deserve him. She didn’t deserve anyone, well, maybe she really did belong with a guy like Toneri.  She averted her gaze, unsettled, resolving herself to finally break things off with him. She stood up and nodded, and her heart broke at his smile.  She pulled out her phone as they walked out.

“Otou-sama, hello.”

“Hinata?  The dance is over?”

“Yes.  I’m sorry to trouble you, but,” Hinata steeled herself, “could you please pick me up from the hotel?”

A silence.  

Hinata could practically imagine the frown, the lines across her father’s forehead, as he contemplated the reasons for this request.  

“Toneri is unable to bring you home?”

“Yes.”  Hinata took another breath to keep herself calm.  “He left already.”

“...I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“Thank you, Otou-sama.”

The call ended.  

They made it outside, standing at the top of the stairs.  Naruto looked over at Hinata, and could see that she seemed deep in thought.  She wouldn’t look at him, she wouldn’t smile, not that he expected her to after her date ditched her.   Would he have stayed if I had just ignored him?   It was a useless thought.  He knew he wasn’t capable of backing down from a fight.

A valet came up to them.  “Naruto! Is this your date?”

Naruto rubbed the back of his neck and smiled.  “Hi Touma-san. She’s a friend.”

“Do you need me to bring your car?”

“No, I’m just waiting with her.”

The valet looked between the two and realized his mistake.  “Okay.” He backed off from them.

An awkward silence settled between Naruto and Hinata.  He leaned against the wall and looked at Hinata pointedly.  Everytime she glanced at him, he tried to give her a smile, but then she’d look away.  He didn’t know what she was thinking about. He didn’t know if she was mad at him. Why did she agree to having him wait with her if she didn’t want him around?  He decided to break the silence. “Hinata, I’m sorry Toneri left. It was probably my fault. I told him about us.”

Hinata shook her head.  “Naruto-kun, that’s not your fault.  He already knew that I like you. I should be the one saying sorry to you.  I...made this night awful for you.”

Naruto furrowed his brow.  It was true it was a terrible night, as he had expected, but it wasn’t her fault.  And not all of it had been bad. Even just now, although it didn’t seem like she realized it, she had verbally spoken her feelings for him.  “Hinata-”
“Naruto-kun.”

She looked at him then, and the words died in his throat at her serious expression.

“We need to stop.  I’m not worth it. I don’t even know why you bother with me.”  She looked at him pleadingly.

He didn’t think tonight could get any worse.  Maybe it could. “Because I like you!”

Hinata looked pained at his words.  She shook her head and looked away, holding back tears.   Why does he like me?  I’m not strong. I don’t know what I’m doing.  

Naruto continued to stare at her.  He didn’t like seeing her like this.  It reminded him of that Friday two weeks back, a dream of strawberries and sunsets that now felt like a lifetime ago.  And again he felt powerless, useless. Does she not believe me?   He reached out for her, grabbing her hand and pulling her against him.  In his own uncertainty, words always seemed to fail him. He had always proved himself through action.

She froze, overwhelmed by the abrupt physicality.  It was so like him to close the distance, to pull back when someone pulled away.  As she felt his arm gently come around her, she relaxed in his hold, against her better judgment.  And unfortunately, tears escaped. She had thought she could face her future bravely, she had thought she could leave all of this behind.  Of course she couldn’t. I’m not strong.  She gripped his jacket, trying to steady herself, aware that even now she was using him.

“You...don’t...want to marry him, right?” Naruto asked quietly, concerned that maybe she had changed her mind.

She took another moment to calm down, loosening her fists.  She shook her head.

“I’ll talk to your dad.  We can figure this out. It’ll work out,” he whispered.

What...do I want?  Why am I so… She stepped away, pulling herself out of his hold.  She quickly dried her face. She looked up at him, meeting his eyes that were always looking ahead.  “Naruto-kun, I’ll talk to my father. I’ll talk to Toneri-kun, too. You’ve done enough for me.” Hinata considered the decision she had come to.  She nodded her head, reaffirming her words and looked Naruto in the eyes again. She couldn’t go back on this. “I’ll try to break the engagement.”

His face slowly lit up as her words soaked in.  He tried to contain his happiness to a small smile.  He was worth it, she thought him worth a future that promised her security and wealth.  He squeezed her hand, trying to communicate his excess of joy in this one gesture. No words, he had no words.   I love her!   He looked at Hinata, determined and unwavering.  His favorite expression right after her smile. He wanted to tell her, but wasn’t it too soon?  They hadn’t even gotten into a proper relationship.

She looked away from him then, her eyes catching a familiar car in the hotel’s driveway.  She let go of his hand and smiled weakly.

He realized she didn’t look as happy as he felt.  Instead he saw traces of worry and fear, and it reminded him of exactly what they were getting in to.  “Hinata, I’ll do what I can, too. I can still talk to your dad.”

She nodded her head.  “I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

Naruto nodded his assurance.  “I’ll call you.”

 

Hiashi narrowed his eyes at the worrying sight before him.  Hinata coming down the steps, and her friend Naruto watching her go.  An unnerving suspicion rose in his mind, one that he hoped wasn’t true.  

Hinata slid into the seat beside him, buckling up.  “Hello Otou-sama. Thank you for coming to pick me up.”

He could hear the apology in her voice, but she didn’t elaborate.  They drove quietly for a few minutes before Hiashi decided to address the elephant in the room.  “Why did Toneri leave? I expected him to bring you home. Did he have urgent business?”

Hinata bit her lip and shook her head.  She took in a breath. “As far as I know, he didn’t.  I can explain to you what happened, but can we wait until we’re home?”

Hiashi had a sinking feeling, but he agreed.

 

Hinata took a seat on the living room sofa, her father sat in his armchair.  She set her eyes upwards, a silent prayer to whatever deities above could show mercy on her.

Her father watched her, and he could see that his daughter was having difficulty expressing her thoughts.  “Hinata, it’s late. If it would be better for you, you can explain everything to me tomorrow.”

Even now, her father was giving her a choice when he had every right to demand answers from her.  Hinata steadied herself and faced her father. With a deep breath, she began, “Otou-sama, I’ve been in love with Naruto-kun for years.  Since I was ten. And two weeks ago, right before Toneri-kun came to visit, I found out that Naruto-kun, he likes me, too.”

To Hiashi, this was the worst possible news, a scenario he had hoped he would never have to face.  He closed his eyes, willing himself to keep his composure, and opened them again.

Seeing that he wasn’t going to say anything, Hinata continued, “Toneri-kun, he figured out at the dance that we like each other.  He approached me about it, and…” Hinata glared to the side when she remembered what he accused her of. “I think Naruto-kun got into some kind of argument with him, but I wasn’t there to see it.  And Toneri-kun left after that.”

Hiashi frowned.   Toneri left her?  He lost an argument against a high schooler?  It was still unclear to him why Toneri had left.  He had trusted the prince to be responsible for his daughter.  The boy was twenty, an adult. If anything, he should have at least brought Hinata back home, even if they both had to leave the dance early.

“Otou-sama.”

Hiashi pulled himself out of his thoughts.

Hinata faced him earnestly.  “I know that I am asking for the impossible.  I know that I have a duty, I know that it would bring shame on us.  I will make up for it in any way. Please. I don’t want to marry Toneri-kun.  I would do anything.”

Hiashi sighed.  Suddenly, he felt old.  “If not Toneri, you would be arranged to marry somebody else.  With Toneri, you are lucky. He is around your age. He is smart and reasonably good-looking.  If the Hyuuga council hear about you and Naruto, they will assign you a bodyguard and a chauffeur.  Your phone’s capabilities would be controlled. It is only due to my trust in your behavior that you do not have those restrictions now.”

Hinata knew that all of this was true.  She was lucky that she had a father who advocated for her to the elders.  But she had promised Naruto that she would try. “Toneri-kun...he…”

“He’s not still like he was in high school, right?  You told me he changed.”

Hinata looked at the carpet.  She wasn’t so sure now that he had changed.  He had matured in some ways, and in other ways, not so much.  She just knew she couldn’t imagine being tied to him for the rest of her life.  “Before he left...he accused me of playing around. It really hurt that he could so easily find fault with me when I’ve been trying to see the good in him.  I just, I can’t see myself married to him.”

“All couples argue.  This is something that the two of you will need to work out, and the both of you will come out stronger for it.  You need to forget about Naruto. I know he is a good boy. But you need to treat him as just a friend or entirely avoid him.  Otherwise you might not get the freedom you have now. The council and I may have to force you to attend Imperial Moon University.  Make up with Toneri tomorrow when you see him off at the airport.”

Hinata looked at her father wide-eyed.  

“Hinata.  That’s my final word on this.  I will call Toneri, too. For now, get ready for bed.”

Hinata sat there a moment longer.  She had been dismissed, and it took a second for her to realize that that was the end of it.  Like acid pouring down her throat, it burned. Her eyes, her chest. Her stomach knotted and twisted.  She stood up abruptly, quickly turning away and heading to her room. She wasn’t allowed to show weakness.  She couldn’t show her father that his words had torn her apart.

She flew through the hallways.  Her house had too many hallways.  She could easily do without all of this, and she had never hated her family’s extravagance so much.  She had been proud to be Hyuuga. Known for beauty in austerity, known for having a discerning eye for quality even among royalty.  When they had lost their monarchy to the daimyo, and when feudalism gave way to a clans-based democracy, the Hyuuga were known for handling the political transitions admirably, continuing to model excellence in leadership and generosity.  It was all an act. She knew it better than anyone now. It was all disguised greed to be the best, to keep bloodlines pure, to have political power, to continue to be somebody .  If she wasn’t a Hyuuga, if she wasn’t a princess, she could be with Naruto.  She could make a difference for others without having to watch her back, without having to worry about what her family thinks of her choices.  By the time she closed her bedroom’s door, she realized she was already crying.

Wasn’t it absolutely appropriate?  All dressed in this couture gown, in this fancy hairstyle, in this stupid make-up.  Crying, hating herself, ungrateful for everything her family has given her? Hinata well understood her privilege.  She could have anything in the world. She was a shoo-in at any college. Anyone would love to be her. There were numerous others who could make a world of difference in her shoes.  And here she was, unable to accept the life that was handed to her on a silver platter.

Because of Naruto.  A boy she loved with all of her heart, who could do no wrong in her eyes.  Who embodied the sun and resilience and vitality. Was she silly to think that she would trade anything to be with him?  Were her feelings for him nothing? Could she just forget about him, as her father told her to do? She hadn’t forgotten about him.  Not in all her five years away, she couldn’t forget everything he had done for her. How he continues to be her source of strength.

On the other hand, could she run away?  Could she leave her Hyuuga name behind? Get a job at a restaurant, or maybe she could manage to get a job with a tour company.  Live with Naruto. Bring shame onto her family. Ruin the Hyuuga name. Get disowned. Rarely see Hanabi. Never see her father. Break her father’s heart.  

Were these her only two options?

 

“Hiashi-sama, good morning.”

“Toneri.”

“I understand why you must be calling.  I apologize for not bringing Hinata home last night.”

“You will explain to me why you failed to take care of my daughter.  I left her in your care. Are you not up to the responsibility?”

“She has been in an illicit relationship with that boy, Naruto.  Hinata made it clear to me last night that she has been wasting my time here and drawing attention to herself in an inappropriate manner.  You did not see the dance she performed with him. If you had known, you would not have allowed it.”

Hiashi frowned.  He had talked with the school and the prom committee advisor to make sure the dance would be age-appropriate before giving his consent.  

“I was put in such a position where I could not be in her company any longer at that event.  I was embarrassed to hear what her classmates were saying about her. Furthermore, Naruto had drawn a lot of attention to the matter between us.  He lacks reserve. I suspect Hinata is attracted to his lack of self-control.”

Another point Hiashi was hesitant to take.  He had also spoken with the school to get their opinion on Naruto before he allowed her to dance with him.  The Headmaster numbered off all of his accomplishments, as if reading off a supermarket shopping list. The Vice Headmaster said he was responsible and respectful.  The office staff said his only flaws were tardiness and perhaps being a bit too eccentric. “You still should have brought her home to me. It was late when she finally called me to pick her up.  It was well after 11:00. Something could have happened to her. I was expecting her home by that time.”

“...This would not have been a problem if you assigned her a bodyguard.  She has too much freedom. She is taking advantage of your kindness.”

“Are you saying that this is my fault?”  Hiashi was appalled at Toneri’s accusation even if it held some truth.

“No, forgive me, Hiashi-sama, of course not.  I was only saying that Hinata needs to be watched.  That boy Naruto does not want to give up on her, and he told me as much.  Hinata should attend Imperial Moon University with me. It would keep her away from that boy.”

Without saying it outright, Toneri was judging his actions as her father, saying that Hiashi wasn’t doing a good job keeping an eye on her.  Hiashi did not take kindly to being told what to do, especially from someone below his station. “Toneri. Do you mean to tell me that you had no control over this situation?  Do you mean to tell me that this is a problem that has only arisen now that she is back home? My daughter was with you for five years. You had five years to get to know her. You had five years to gain her respect and trust.  Explain to me why she came home last night, asking to break the engagement while fully aware of the repercussions of such an action?”

“--”

“I am not as unaware as you think I am.  Frankly, I’m disappointed. You neglect my daughter and then come to me asking that I fix your mistakes.  Hinata will be going today to see you off at the airport. I expect you to do your best in the time you have left here to make up with her.”

“Yes, Hiashi-sama.”  

“Toneri, I have one more concern to discuss with you.”

“...Yes, Hiashi-sama?”

“When was the last time you studied abroad?”

“I studied in Earth Country when I was twelve and thirteen.”

“I will discuss this with your parents, but I believe it would be beneficial if you studied abroad again now that you are older.”

“...Yes, of course.”

“I think we can still arrange for you to attend Konoha University for next year.”

“Thank you.  I will speak with my advisor.”

“Great.  I hope that besides this mishap, you enjoyed your time here in Fire Country, and I hope the accommodations we set up for you were to your liking.”

“Yes...everything was great.  Thank you.”

“Have a safe flight home.”

“Thank you.”

Hiashi hung up.  He had taken control of the conversation, but a few things that Toneri had said bothered him.  Hinata had told him that she found out that Naruto liked her two weeks ago, so why would Toneri say they were in a relationship?  Unless his daughter and Naruto truly lacked self-control, and they started something right when Toneri was visiting. Plus, she had been out with Toneri for most of the time, so there was no time for them to be alone together.  How could they be in a relationship? One of them must be lying to him. It also bothered him that Toneri said that Naruto didn’t want to give up on her. He would need to talk to Hinata’s friend, too, and scare him off.

Hiashi approached Hinata’s room.  It was after 10:00, and she still hadn’t come out for breakfast.  He paused at her door as he heard muffled voices.

A baritone register, a certain slightly gritty timbre.  A boy’s voice. “...be okay. I can talk to him.”

His daughter’s voice, soft, a coached roundness in her enunciation.  “He told me that if not Toneri-kun, then I’d be engaged to somebody else.”

The boy’s voice.  “...Hinata. There has to be a way.  We can figure something out.”

Hiashi wasn’t one to eavesdrop.  He knocked as soon as he realized who she was talking to.  

After a moment the door slid open.  She looked awful. Her fair skin was unusually pale.  The undersides of her eyes were dark, almost as if her mascara had stained her skin, and she couldn’t wash it out.  “...Otou-sama. Good morning.”

Hiashi didn’t let his concern for her appearance show.  “Good morning. You’re talking to Naruto.” He said this as a statement, more than a question.

Her eyes widened.  “Yes, Otou-sama.”

“He wishes to speak to me?”

She nodded, not meeting his eyes.  “Yes, Otou-sama.”

“Give me the phone.”

Hinata hesitated for only a second before heading back to her desk.  “Naruto-kun, my father wants to speak to you.”

“Right now?  I kind of wanted to talk to him in person...”

Hinata looked back at her father, who stood in the doorway.  She turned back to her phone. “He wants to talk to you right now.”

 

Naruto sat at his desk.  He had a terrible feeling about this.  He looked down at himself. A plain white t-shirt.  Not the way he wanted to look when presenting his case to Hinata’s dad.  At least he was prepared with what he wanted to say after thinking about it until he fell asleep with exhaustion over his laptop the night before.  His main arguments were: 1. Hinata could do a lot for Fire Country. And 2. He would make her happy. He would do his damned hardest to make a relationship with him worth it.  He tried to quiet the nerves building in his gut.

A solemn face with eyes as pale as Hinata’s appeared on his screen.  It made Naruto realize again exactly who he was talking to, a man who was equivalent to a king in any other country, a man with divine heritage.  And then there was him, just some random boy. “Hiashi-san, err no, Hiashi-sama?” He flinched at his own blundering. He didn’t know how to address Hinata’s dad.  Why was he always like this when it counted the most?

“Uzumaki Naruto.”

“Yes, sir?”

“The regular honorifics are fine.”

Damn it I was right the first time. “Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”  He was so nervous, and he couldn’t hide it.

“Please hold while I move us to my office.”

“Oh, okay...bye, Hinata.”

A quiet “Bye, Naruto-kun,” filtered through.

His heart was racing, picking up speed with each passing second.  He felt worse than at his college interviews, much worse than during his speech to run for Student Council President.  And it was all that he could do just to keep a straight face when her father finally sat down and faced him. Suddenly, the carefully crafted words on his laptop’s document didn’t feel right, didn’t feel powerful enough, didn’t feel like they could convey everything he truly wanted to say.  He thought maybe he should wait for her father to speak first, and his nerves kept him quiet.

Finally the man spoke, “Naruto.  I know about you.”

Naruto couldn’t help revealing how disturbed he felt by this comment.  It could mean anything. He looked down, troubled, before finally looking up again.  

“You are the son of Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina, who passed when Hinata, and you, started first grade.  You were then put under the guardianship of Otsuka Jiraiya, but your behavior made you the menace of your grade level.  You befriended my daughter, got her into trouble, and got her out of trouble, and the teachers continually put the two of you in the same class all the way until fifth grade because she was the only one who could keep you in line.”

Naruto tried to hide his embarrassment.  He wanted to smile, remembering those days of mischief, so he bit his lips, and frowned to keep from blushing.  

“Then you finally got your act together but were still a nuisance to my daughter.  Her health card always had your name written as the reason for her frequent fainting spells.”

The boy furrowed his brow at this piece of news.   What the hell?  Why?  But he couldn’t deny that their friendship had started to weaken in those two years because he hardly ever got a chance to talk to her with her fainting all the time.

“And now, finding out that you grew up successfully, I admit that I was relieved.  However, it seems you still have a knack for causing my daughter problems.”

Naruto couldn’t help himself.  “And solving her problems?” he asked hopefully.

If his comment amused the man at all, he couldn’t tell.  Hinata’s dad had an incredible poker face.

Naruto waited another moment to see if her dad would continue, but he didn’t.   Despite his current position, Naruto made a mental note to use the silence tactic on any of his future enemies.  It was pretty damn effective. Speech seemed to be failing him. “Hiashi-san,” he began as calmly as he could, but really he felt like he was desperately floundering for language.  “Hinata is...really precious to me.” His heart hurt, as if his chest was pressing in against it, and he realized he wasn’t above begging. “I love her, and I want to make her happy.”

“I know you are a good friend to my daughter.  You need to keep it that way.”

His knee-jerk reaction was to ask why.  But he knew why. Hinata already explained all of that to him, everything that could be taken from her.  A million thoughts flew through his head, but he settled on one. “Hinata is capable on her own. She doesn’t need a prince.”

“You’re right that she doesn’t need a prince.  But her position necessitates a proper engagement.”         

Why?

“Fire Country is one of the most, if not the most powerful nation in the world.  Hinata represents Fire Country. Marrying her promises a strong alliance. Fire Country needs alliances to keep its position, and to not be viewed as a threat.”

But… “What about Hinata?  What does Hinata need?”

Her father went silent again, simply staring at him.  

Naruto went on, “I’m serious about her.  I wouldn’t take her for granted. I would do my best, I would do anything, to make a relationship with me worth it.”

The man’s expression hardened.  “I have no doubt about your feelings for her.  However it is not up to me. This was a decision made by the Hyuuga council along with the Moon Kingdom’s monarchs.  Hinata will find happiness and fulfillment in her position with time.”

The heaviness that festered low in his chest was stifling.  Surely there was something he could do. There had to be a way.  “Is there nothing I can do?”

“You can try to make this easier on both of you by staying away from her.  If you can’t do that, she will require a bodyguard among other restrictions.  Last, your number, will be blocked. Do not attempt to contact her. If you want Hinata to have some freedom, move on.”

Naruto stared at his phone.  Her dad had ended the call before he even got a chance to really plead his case.  He looked around his room blankly. In a fit of helpless rage, he threw his phone at the wall and dropped his head in his hands.

 

“Thank you.”  Hinata left her new chauffeur with only ten minutes before the bell rang.  She used to arrive at school more than thirty minutes early. That bit of freedom was taken away from her.  She now had to head straight to class and meet the chauffeur after school right away every day, no excuses. Her father had come away from the discussion with Naruto unusually upset, so much so that even she could tell he was in a bad mood: his mouth, set more severe than usual, and his voice, even more curt if that was possible.  She wondered what happened between them, what Naruto could have said that would make her father so upset. He usually had an almost admirable way of quickly dismissing what people say to him and forging on in life completely sure of himself. Whatever Naruto said was obviously bothering him.

And the thought that Naruto may have gotten under her father’s skin even just a little kept Hinata’s spirits from falling as she went about the rest of the day.  Though she was aware of what people thought of her by their whisperings, she hadn’t gotten a single note in her locker. She credited the new displays popping up around campus and the cute Thought-of-the-Day in the announcements about body positivity and girls supporting girls that were all created and run by the seventh and eighth grade student councils for the past week and a half.  It was an ingenious move to slate the work to the younger students. When the younger kids knew better than the older kids, well, it just made the older kids feel ashamed.

 

“No, it’s not like that.”  “Hinata’s not like that.” “You don’t get it, it wasn’t her fault.”  “No, that’s not how it is.” All day. Naruto felt like he answered more questions about what happened with Hinata and her date than academic questions.  His Gov class, usually his favorite class of the day, was the strangest experience. He wanted to talk to Hinata. She obviously wanted to talk to him. And everyone wanted to know what was going on between them.  His classmates were constantly staring at them. And he felt sick. His heart felt sick. It wasn’t until lunch, those treasured forty minutes, when he finally got time to talk to her.

They sat together a space away from their friends, going over what happened the day before.

“I talked to Toneri-kun about ending our engagement before he left,” Hinata began.

“Mhm.  What did he say?”

“He wants me to give him another chance.  He said that I wasn’t being honest with him, and he said that it’s unfair of me to want to leave him so suddenly.  He’s not wrong…”

“So...you’re going to give him...another chance?”  Naruto felt like like everything was slipping away too quickly for him to get a grasp on it.

“I told him that I will still go back to the Moon Kingdom this summer, as planned.  But I asked him to think about whether he actually wants to marry me.”

Naruto nodded his head.  He wanted to be understanding.  He wanted to handle this well. He wanted to pretend there was still hope to hold on to.  “What about...us?”

They looked at each other, their eyes meeting.

Hinata whispered, “I’m supposed to stay away from you.”

“Me, too...Hinata, I’m sorry.  I wasn’t able to change your dad’s mind.”  He frowned. “I didn’t really get a chance to say anything.  I don’t want to give up, though. I just...I just need to figure out what I can do.  Maybe, maybe I gotta try to talk to your dad again.  Or I need to meet with that Hyuuga council? Who are they?”

“The Hyuuga council is made up of my dad, his brother, my grandparents, and my great uncles and aunts...Naruto-kun.”

Naruto was pulled out of his thoughts.

Hinata looked at him worriedly.  She could see the stress she was causing him, had been causing him for a few weeks now.  “Let me try to work this out with Toneri-kun. I know you don’t trust him, but I think if I talk to him more, I can get his side to release me.  For now, we have to focus on our exams, and you, I’m sure, are busy with other things, too.”

“Yeah, but I want to do as much as I can.  If there’s any small chance of your family accepting me, I’m going to try to take it.  If we really...can’t...be together, I want to know that I did everything I could.”

The two gazed at each other, a silent understanding settling between them.   We’re not giving up.  

 

Checking that her laptop’s volume was on mute, she opened the video calling application.  Almost as soon as she began to refamiliarize herself with the interface, a call from Naruto came.  She clicked “accept.” She felt like a bad girl. A really naughty child for disobeying her father.

Naruto’s smiling face, blond hair bright, blue eyes clear, filled her screen.  

Naruto - HINATAAAAAAA !!!!!  

The text box to the side of her screen was filled with caps and exclamation points.  

And just like that, she felt like it was all worth it.  She smiled widely and replied with his name in equal amounts of excitement.  “NARUTO-KUNNNN!!!!!”

Naruto - Hehe ^^  Wow, this is great.  I can see you so well.

She typed back, “Yes!  I’m so glad that this worked!  We can still do homework together.”

He smiled warmly at her.  They looked at each other a little too long before finally pulling their attention away from each other and onto their calculus textbooks.  But it was slow going. It had been a few days since they had last video called each other, and it had been a sad one that ended terribly with Hinata’s phone returned with limited capabilities.  And before that, it had been more than two weeks since they had last done homework together with Toneri’s arrival. The renewed novelty of the situation left them sneaking blushing glances at each other and silly little smiles on their faces as they tried to pretend to focus on their work.

After five minutes of this, Hinata typed in, “Naruto-kun!  Stop looking at me! I can’t focus!”

He grinned and replied.

Naruto - You, too, Hinata.  You keep looking at me.

She bit her lip and messaged, “That’s because you’re looking at me.”

He didn’t reply automatically.  He looked at her and smiled before typing his reply.

Naruto - That’s because you’re too beautiful.

Hinata flushed in embarrassment.

Naruto watched her reaction and looked pleased with himself.

Hinata got ahold of herself and quickly typed in, “I’m not beautiful!  Don’t say things like that!”

Hinata should have expected him to argue.  

Naruto - Yes, you are!  I have to let you know! I need to tell you!

Hinata frowned deeply.  She didn’t mean to fish for compliments.  She had to put an end to this right now, and what better way than turning the tables?  “Well, Naruto-kun, I think you are really handsome.” She smiled demurely as she pressed enter.

She watched his cheeky expression drop and reform into something hovering between surprise and bashfulness.  

Naruto - I’m not handsome.

But everything about his countenance betrayed how happy he secretly was.

And she was all too ready to lay on the compliments.  “You are really handsome! At prom, you looked so good in your suit.  You looked really mature. You have nice blue eyes and a really nice smile.  You are tall, too. You have a nice bod-” Hinata blushed and deleted that last sentence.  Something about not actually speaking these words out loud really gave her a false sense of security and confidence.  “You are really handsome,” she repeated in conclusion and sent the message.

As Naruto read her response, she saw his expression sort of fall apart before he slapped his face in his hands.  He sunk lower in his chair and then looked up, but kept his body hunched over as if to hide himself. As he typed his reply, he sat up straighter, and a warm smile spread across his face.

Hinata frowned at this change, but she couldn’t stop his message.

Naruto - Hinata, you were really beautiful at prom, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of you.  I actually really wanted to dance with you. And I think you have really nice eyes and I love your smile.

She had been ready to feel upset with the unwanted compliments, but she could feel the sincerity in his words.  Her heart broke a little at his admission of wanting to dance with her. She couldn’t help the part of her that cried if only! if only she wasn’t a princess, if only she wasn’t a Hyuuga, if only.  She looked at him sadly before also admitting it. “I really wanted to dance with you, too.”

They gazed at each other, their previous embarrassment and silliness dampered by the reality of their situation, the memory of a rather bad night.

Hinata felt the urge to set it in stone, carve it in a tree, let someone know that her feelings weren’t nothing.  So she typed it in. “I like you.”

He smiled.  

Naruto - I like you, too.

Hinata exchanged shy smiles with him.  She bit her lips and added, “I really like you.”

His small smile grew.  

Naruto - I really like you, too.

They stayed that way for a long moment, gazing at each other, smiling bashfully.  Hinata felt the pit-a-pat of her heart begin to quiet, the flush she didn’t realize she had start to cool.  Calming down, she was able to give him a bigger smile, which he returned. After another long moment of smiling fondly at each other, Hinata looked down.  And saw her math homework. How was she supposed to do this now? But she had to. She picked it up, showing it to Naruto, and tilted her head in a silent question.

He gave a dramatic looking sigh and nodded sullenly.

Hinata made a silent giggle at his antics.  

The two got back to work, but every so often looked at each other, glanced at the text box, and smiled before looking down again.  

 

    

 

Her chauffeur parked in front of the Yamanaka mansion.

“Thank you, Tokuma-san.”

“Ah, Hinata-sama.”

Hinata paused.  After driving with him for over two weeks now, they had established an amicable relationship, but were not necessarily friendly.

“Not that I expect you to or anything, but I thought I should let you know,” he began somewhat hesitantly.

Hinata waited for him to continue.

“Hiashi-sama has asked that I wait here for your study session to finish.  He is also asking that I report the types of vehicles, any vehicle movement, as well as any signs of boys joining the study session.”

She expected as much.  She tried to give him an appreciative smile, but it may have looked more like a strained grimace.  “Tokuma-san, thank you. I expect to stay here for the remainder of the day. If I need anything, I will come to you.  I already told my father, but I am studying language and literature with Ino-chan, Sakura-chan, and Shion-chan.”

“Yes, of course.  I didn’t mean to be out of line.”

“Oh, no, you weren’t at all.  Thank you for telling me.”

“I, uh, also must walk you to the door.”

“Thank you.”   Must be to check if Naruto-kun is there.  Hinata thought this was getting ridiculous.  The only time she could actually be with him was at school during lunch and government class.  Their video calls were now silent in case her father decided to take the trip down the hallways to get to her room to monitor her.  Hinata had gotten into the habit of quietly playing jazz and classical music to make it seem even more unlikely that she was talking to anyone.  

They walked into the elaborate entryway and rung the doorbell.  One of the wide doors opened, and an exuberant Ino appeared. “Hinata!  You’re here!” She then looked at Tokuma as if she had just noticed him.  She looked at Hinata questioningly.

Hinata introduced him.  “This is Hyuuga Tokuma. He has kindly been driving me to and from school everyday.”

They all knew he didn’t have a choice in the matter, and that Hinata didn’t actually appreciate it, but Hinata’s happy tone could’ve fooled anybody.

Ino played along.  “Oh wow! Nice to meet you Tokuma-san.  My name is Yamanaka Ino. Thank you for bringing dear Hinata to our study party!  I desperately need her help for the AP Language test.” Ino began to allow Hinata inside, and she realized he wasn’t moving.

“If it is not a bother, I just need to meet with your mother, who I was told is here to watch you all?”

Ino almost tch’d but instead put on a smile.  “Oh it is not a bother at all. Come on in. She should be in the kitchen.”  Ino led Tokuma and Hinata into the parlor, where Shion and Sakura were already spread out with old, red-marked papers and very used novels lying about.  “Hinata, you can put your stuff down here. Tokuma-san, follow me, please.”

After only a bit, Ino returned, and the four girls began helping each other correct grammatical errors.  A few minutes later, Tokuma passed through.

“Hinata-sama, I will be waiting outside.  Please let me know if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Tokuma-san.”

The girls continued studying for another minute before Ino dropped her pencil with a flourish.  “He’s finally gone! My gods, Hinata, this is ludacris!”

Hinata gave Ino a nod and a tight-lipped expression that said she completely agreed.  

“Well.  Hinata.”  Sakura put her hand on Hinata’s shoulder meaningfully with a scheming smile.

Shion repeated Sakura with a raise of an eyebrow.  “Yes, well.”

Hinata looked at them confused.  “Well?”

Ino smiled widely.  “Come, follow me!”

The three stood up giggling and pushing Hinata out of the parlor.  They rushed up the staircase and down a wide hall. Ino came to a door and pushed it open.

“Ino!  Why-” Naruto stopped mid-sentence.  “Hinata!!”

“Naruto-kun!”

The two looked at each other stunned as the other three girls in the doorway smiled gleefully.  

Ino began explaining.  “The two of you can have an afternoon together free of interruptions!  And you don’t have to worry about anything because my parents are in on it, too.  They think it’s absolutely awful of your family to be forcing you into a marriage for political reasons.”

“My parents think so, too,” Sakura added.

“Mine, too,” Shion agreed with a nod.  

“Yup.  So my mom is actually the one who picked Naruto up and brought him here!”  Ino declared proudly. “Although it was all Sakura’s plan to bring him here early and not have him drive.  And it was Shion’s idea to make it a surprise.”

Hinata nodded, remembering that she hadn’t seen his car anywhere near Ino’s house.  She shined a smile at them. “Thank you.”

The girls grinned.

Ino continued, “The bathroom is right down that way on the left, and, I mean, there isn’t really anything to do up here.  You guys can sit and talk, check out our library, or study like you thought we would be doing. The three of us are actually going to study, so if you want, you can join us.  Or you can stay up here! Just stay off my bed.” She then looked pointedly at Naruto. “And keep it in your pants.”

Naruto’s jaw dropped.  “Ino! I wouldn’t, I-! We-!”  He was speechless at the insinuation.  

Hinata connected the dots and flushed.  

Naruto looked at Hinata and face-palmed.  “Oh my gods. Hinata, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Ino gave them an evil smile.  “Well, toodles!”

The girls cackled in amusement and closed the door.

The two were suddenly alone together.  So they did what they had gotten used to doing over many silent video calls.  They looked at each other, smiles growing as the seconds went by, as the realization that they truly had extended time together alone settled in.  Naruto reached his hands out, and without missing a beat, Hinata took them. They faced each other, smiling, blushing, basking in each other’s tender gazes.   

Hinata looked around Ino’s rather large bedroom.  It was almost as big as hers, but much more brightly colored and full of dressers and wardrobes.  She guided Naruto over to a small couch, and they sat down, still holding hands.

After a period of admiring their hands wrapped in each others, Naruto broke the silence.  “Can I...uh...sit closer to you?”

Hinata looked at him curiously.  He had never asked before when he touched her, he had always just done it.  She nodded.

Naruto made a self-satisfied smile and let go of one hand to scooch right next to her and throw his arm around her shoulders.

Hinata giggled.  

“Wh-what?”

“It’s just funny.  You seem nervous.”

“Ah, well.”  Naruto scratched his cheek in thought.  “After what Ino said, I dunno, I was just worried that you’d be...wary of me or something.”

Hinata shook her head with a smile.  “I could never be scared of you, Naruto-kun.”  Even now, she only felt comfort and safety in their close position.

He smiled at her happily.  “Really?”

Hinata nodded.

“Good.”  Naruto scrutinized her for a second.  “I mean, I want you to trust me.”

“I trust you.”  Hinata looked up at him directly, glowing in the warmth of his proximity.

Her automatic response, her steady gaze, her cute smile, they all communicated to him the truth of her words.  His heart felt full, like it was expanding in his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. He held her gaze a moment longer, marvelling over her waxen pupils, the nearly imperceptible rays of languid lavender streaking across irises of clouds, and it became clear to him why the Byakugan were considered the eyes of the gods.  The sun rises and sets in her eyes.  By some miracle, they were looking at him.  He found his reflection there, and he felt...incredible.  In desperate need of air, Naruto tore his eyes away from her and looked across the room.  Air silently entered his lungs in short, quick breaths, but it did little to calm the emotion welling up inside of him.  He shot another glance at the girl beside him, and her waiting smile sent a stab of joy through him. It was overwhelming.  He knew he loved her. What else could this feeling be? And he wanted to show it. He wanted to act on it. Take her out to the aquarium, to watch a movie, to get dinner, to go shopping, to hold her hand, to be her boyfriend.  He was dying to be her boyfriend. He squeezed her hand and looked at her meaningfully. He bit his lip. It was a forbidden question, completely unnecessary in its uselessness. They couldn’t date. They couldn’t be a normal couple.  

Hinata looked at Naruto wondering at the weight in his gaze.  He seemed worried, a look that she was starting to grow too familiar with, and she knew it was her fault.  She wanted to comfort him, she wanted him to live this rare moment with her rather than thinking about what could be if only...She allowed herself to relax more into his hold.  She lay her head against his shoulder and let out a quiet, content sigh. “Naruto-kun? What’s your favorite ramen?”

“Huh?  Uh…” Naruto was jolted out of his depressing thoughts to his favorite topic.  With his favorite girl leaning against him. His hand that had been dangling across her shoulder rose up and landed on her head, keeping her snug against him.  He let his fingers play in the silk of her hair as he thought about his answer carefully. “I guess my favorite is pork miso. That’s the one I always get at Ichiraku’s.  But really I’d eat any flavor. Shoyu, tonkotsu...I think the only one I’m unsure about is the spicy ramen that’s getting really popular. Eh, who am I kidding, I’d probably eat that one, too, if it was the only one left.”

She laughed softly, his fingertips simultaneously lulling and thrilling.  “Mm. I like miso ramen.”

“Yeah?”

Hinata nodded.

“Let’s get ramen together again sometime.”  Naruto inwardly flinched at the impossible suggestion but hoped that one day they would.

Hinata nodded.  “Definitely.”

He smiled at her assurance.  “Do you have a favorite food, Hinata?”

“I like sweet food.  I like cinnamon-flavored breads and zenzai.”

“Me, too!  I like zenzai, too!”  

“Really?”  Hinata thought she had all the basics that was Uzumaki Naruto down, but it was apparent that there was still much more to learn about him.
“Yeah!  You said you like cinnamon, too?”
“Mhm.  Like cinnamon rolls.”

“You’re like Christmas.”

“Christmas?  What do you mean?”

“Cinnamon.  Zenzai. Your favorite foods are all winter things.”

“But you can eat zenzai and cinnamon rolls at anytime.”

“Hmm, yeeeahh but cold zenzai’s not as good, though.”

Hinata giggled at his preferences.  Naruto was surprisingly picky about some things.  

“Come to think, isn’t your birthday around Christmas?”

“Ah, yes.”

“When is it again?”

“It’s December 27.”  She blushed. Somehow her birthday seemed like a really intimate piece of information about herself to share.

“December 27, December 27, December 27.  I gotta remember that,” he mumbled. “On your birthday, let’s eat zenzai and cinnamon rolls together.”

Hinata beamed a smile.  “I would love that.”

Naruto smiled, too.  Making these promises for the future was filling him with a certain hopeful giddiness.  

“Naruto-kun, your birthday is October 10?”

“Yeah.  How’d you know that?”

“I’ve always known it.  Since we were little.”

“Whaaaaaaat.  Aw geez, Hinata.  Way to make me feel bad.”

They chuckled together.  

“On your birthday, let’s eat ramen together.”

“Yeah.”  Naruto smiled, the giddiness building.  “I’d love that.”

“It’s a date, then.”  Hinata felt something fuzzy and warm cloaking her heart.  

“Yeah, it’s a date.”  His arm dropped, his hand settling over her hip.  After a moment of savoring the feeling of her weight against him, he continued, “What’s your favorite color?”

She hummed in thought and turned her face up to look at him.  She was dizzyingly close to his lips, but she willed herself to stay where she was.  The fluttering of her heart mixed with the tingling warmth of their cozy arrangement.  She was so happy. “Blue,” she answered quietly, as she held his ocean gaze with her own.  It was like submerging herself underwater, then looking up to see glimmers of light breaking and dancing across the azure surface.  It’s forever summer in his eyes.  She wanted to stay there, immersed and suspended in his noontide, soaking in the heat of a sun shattered into a million fractals of glowing stars.  

After a slow heartbeat, they reluctantly separated, their breath only a squeeze of their joined hands before meeting again in their tranquil kiss.  

Unhurried, gentle, careful.  Meeting again and again softly, slowly, tenderly.  Their hands betrayed the pounding within their chests, seeking and finding the solidity of the other.  Their tongues finally gliding, a tightening of their grips that mirrored the clutch of their hearts.

High.  High.  Higher.  She felt like everything to him, an inspiration of horizons, of altitudes unknown, a stroke of infinity, of dreams in the space between atmospheres.  It was painful. The pressure of such heights locking his breath, and he was desperate, so desperate for relief that could only come from the heavens she promised.  He realized she had no idea. No idea how her hands and lips and skin and breath hurt him, made him feel confused and so high.  So high. He broke for air, but it was not at all what he needed to stabilize the rush.  “Hinata.” Her name a pained prayer that she understand, that she give him serenity, access to the vaults of the celestial bodies he could see in her clouded eyes.  Just. How to get there? How to open the gates so that even he could share in her divinity? How to get her to…how to get her...

She whimpered.  His lips and tongue trailed softly against her neck, the simultaneous warmth and chill dissolving her.  She was nothing more than the salt in his sea, and she wanted him to take her away, to carry her to far places with his ebb and flow.  She felt the skin of her neck lift, pinch ever so slightly in his pull, gentle ripples that reshaped her, reminding her of the dangerous storms of the open ocean.  “Na...Naruto-kun.” She meant to scold him, to try to hold him back, but her voice seemed to get swept into his strengthening current. She struggled against herself, a part of her wanted to travel to the undiscovered beyond with him, a part of her wished for familiar shores.  “Nnn...Not too...hard.”

“Sorry,” he whispered, immediately drawing back, checking to make sure he didn’t mar her milky skin.  

It was like he suddenly deposited her on dry land, and she yearned for his all-encompassing warmth.    

He saw only a very slight redness, so he dragged his tongue slowly, lightly up the column of her neck, earning him a shiver from the girl in his arms.   She’s so- His mind blanked out again as her soft moan hurtled him back into zenith.

Their lips met, urgent.  Time had no concept when it was just them.

Hinata felt herself melting again, disintegrating into insignificance, salt, sand, nothing compared to him.  His overwhelming mass, his gravity, his embodiment of momentous, earth-shattering force. What must it be like to know that kind of power?  She wanted to feel for herself what surged within him, to know intimately his breakers and swells, to know for herself...to know…

Naruto felt her tugging at the bottom of his shirt, her fingers slip against the skin of his lower back, rubbing, reaching for him, wrenching him from the skies, and he reached back for her, pulling her closer until he landed securely beneath.  He gripped her, trying to control himself from humping against her as he looked up at where he came from. Drawing harsh breaths to steady himself, difficult with her hands under his shirt, impossible with her legs spread over his lap. She...she’s so...good...

She welcomed his lips against her pulse, the thrill washing through her.

Her gasps forced him to pause, to breathe her in heavily before continuing.  

His back was taut beneath her hands, warm like she had always imagined, but she wanted more.  She wanted to...take off his shirt...but he had yet to touch her, and she was embarrassed to realize she was more excited than him.   Does he not want to touch me, too?   She arched into him, letting herself quietly voice the pleasure he was giving her.  She wanted to disperse throughout him, settle deep down within him, unforgettable and invaluable, make him realize he needed her, had been missing her since his creation.

He was slipping.  She was pressing them against him, and whenever he looked only slightly down, they were right there.   Does she want me to?  He looked into her eyes, pleading for permission to release control, his hand already drawing up, his curiosity growing, nerve endings memorizing the curve of her body, fingers hesitantly touching the contours that he had felt once when he lacked self-restraint in mindless jealousy.  And when she didn’t stop him, only pressed further against him, reasoning flew away fast and far.

She watched him squeeze her, watched concentration furrow his brow, and when he began kissing her over her blouse, she couldn’t hold her breath back any longer.

Naruto looked up quickly at the sound of her voice, eyes wide in wonder, and he eagerly took her breaths into his own, their lips and tongues meeting and parting repeatedly as his hands tried to solve the mystery of her soft body.  She began grinding against him, and he groaned, pleasure and pain shooting through him with the pressure she was exerting on him. He was so damn excited. He didn’t want to stop. But it was too much. “Ah...ack...Hinata…” His hands moved to her hips to still her.  

She unwillingly drew herself out of the fog to look at him.

“Sorry...it hurts.”

“...It hurts?”  She tilted her head in confusion.

“Yeah.”  He averted his gaze in embarrassment.  She really didn’t know what she was doing to him.  “It’s...uh...too tight...down there. It hurts when you push against it.”

Hinata finally looked down to see what he was talking about.  She looked at the bulge in his jeans in consternation, her brain still trying to reform after melting.  A part of her had known it was there. She also knew it was supposed to feel good. But he said that it hurt.  And it definitely looked constrained. She met his gaze quickly. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to be hurting you!”

Naruto smiled, still embarrassed.  “Well, it felt good at first…” He blushed.  

Hinata got off of him, still looking at his crotch in open curiosity.

Naruto saw where her gaze was focused, and he really wanted to just take it out and show it to her.  In developing clarity, he realized they were in Ino’s room. He had to keep it in his pants. But it hurt, and he really did need to take it out.  “I have to go to the bathroom...I’ll be back soon! I just need to uh...calm down…” As soon as he saw her nod in understanding, he smiled at her and rushed out.

Hinata blinked.  In her solitude, she came back to herself, realizing what they had just done, how she had just acted, what she had just been staring at.  It shocked her. In Ino-chan’s room!   It was mortifying.  But she had gotten so carried away.  His attention had felt so good. If they were to restart the day, she realized it probably would have still happened.  The thought was embarrassing. She had no self-control around him. She had encouraged him and done so knowingly. She’d probably continue to act that way with him in the future if they ever had a chance to be alone again.  But she couldn’t find it in herself to find fault with her behavior. It was embarrassing, but she couldn’t help it. Looking at him every night, just the two of them, with his picture a bit more lifesize on her laptop, it sent a burning desire in her to touch him.  And his devotion to her was unbelievable. The fact that he still wanted to be with her and would face her family to do it made her want to prove to him that she was worth his time and effort. She didn’t want him to wake up one day and realize she wasn’t worth all of the worry and gossip.  She didn’t want to know what her life would be like without his smile and confidence in her. She needed him to know that she appreciated him, and if she could do that with her body...then she would, even if it was embarrassing.

She looked around.  It was so lonely without him.  She got up and walked down the hallway to wait for him.  

After only a couple of minutes, the bathroom door opened, and she smiled at him, but he turned immediately back toward the bedroom without seeing her.

She smiled and crept up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder.

His head turned to the shoulder she tapped.  Not seeing anyone, he looked the other way. “Ah!  Oh my gods, Hinata.” He looked relieved as he turned around to face her fully.

She grinned widely.  She didn’t think he’d yell.  She didn’t know he scared so easily.  In the daytime, too. The evil side of her decided to pocket this experience for future reference.  “Naruto-kun,” she chirped happily.

“Sorry, did I take too long?”

“No, I just missed you.”

He hummed happily and took her hand.  He smiled at her fondly. He felt blessed.  

Chapter Text

The two returned to cuddling on the sofa, holding hands and smiling at each other.  

Hinata checked the wall clock.  They had been in Ino’s room for over an hour now.  She hadn’t realized that they had been...making out...for so long.  With Naruto looking at her like she was the only person in the world, she was loathe to leave their quiet sanctuary.  But she also cared about what others thought of her, and though she knew that maybe she cared a bit too much, it was a personality trait she didn’t know how to get rid of.  She had been taught from a young age that appearances matter. “Naruto-kun…”

He looked up from gazing at their joined hands.

“Maybe we should go down and study with everyone…”

He looked dejected.  “...If you want to…”

She shook her head vehemently.  “No! I don’t really want to, I want to stay up here with you!”

He smiled brightly.

Her voice went quiet again.  “But they might think we’re...you know…”

“Doing naughty things?”

She frowned in embarrassment.  Naruto seemed to have no sense of shame, but it was one of the things she admired about him.  She peered up at him shyly.

He grinned at her teasingly.  “Well they wouldn’t be wrong...I personally wouldn’t mind continuing from earlier.”

A ferocious blush rose to her cheeks.  She opened her mouth to scold him, but no words came out.  She rose her hands to push his laughing form away from her, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that, either.  So instead she balled them into fists against his shoulder and hid her face there.

Naruto hugged her affectionately, rocking her against him, enjoying the proximity she initiated.  “See, you’re too cute, Hinata, I can’t help myself.”

Finally Hinata gathered enough wit about her to respond.  She raised her head and mustered as much of an accusing look as she could.  “Naruto-kun!” she chided.

He only smiled at her and kissed her chastely on the lips.  

She couldn’t hold her expression.  Her mouth curved up into an unwilling smile.

Naruto watched her expression change, and somewhere at the back of his mind, he registered that she enjoyed their make-out session as much as he did.  He pressed his lips against hers more forcefully this time, his tongue immediately seeking hers.

Hinata made a sound of surprise that came out suspiciously a lot like a moan, and against his sudden pressure, she fell back a bit.  

He chased her down to the cushions, revelling in the melding of their lips.

Hinata didn’t know if she should stop him.  Her brain was telling her that they should stop, after all, they had just finished doing this only ten minutes ago.  But somehow her legs had gotten on the sofa, his knee was between her legs, and her hands had somehow gotten to his neck and hair.  Somehow. And she really didn’t have enough willpower to figure out how that had happened. Instead she hummed at the building sensation in her core.  

Naruto attacked her lips, his body responding to her call, his voice humming back.  He could feel her legs squeezing and rubbing against his, the extra contact mind-numbing.  

The part of her that was warning her to stop all of this was growing smaller and smaller.  With his lips at her neck again, she could feel the vestiges of her sanity floating away, and she was interested to find that she didn’t mind.  Her breath escaped, and she was happy to feel his advances increase in urgency, happy to know that she had this kind of control over him… She arched until she felt his chest in an effort to expose her neck to him more, and was happy to hear him groan, was happy to feel him press down on her.  She was so happy, and she wanted him to know. “Naruto-kun,” she breathed, and she wiggled beneath him, enjoying his weight.

Her voice and body was too much.  He engaged her in another kiss as he shifted over to grope her breast.  She responded just as he had hoped. She moaned, her hips wiggled. The power he had over her was intoxicating, and he wanted to know what else he could make her do.  He squeezed her soft mounds repeatedly, wondering how they’d feel without her bra, how she’d respond to his touch on her skin.

She felt it.  Against her leg.  That...thing...and it made her still.  

He stopped, too, and looked down at her.

They were both breathing hard, both looking at each other intently.

That prim and proper part of her suddenly got extra loud.  But her leg moved on its own, rubbing against him a little.

He blushed.  He really wanted to do more.  He really wanted to do more.   She...wants more, too.  The arousing shock of that thought made him scramble up off of her.  His arms were tingling. His lips were numb. His lower region was pulsing.  He wanted nothing more than to hold her and get as close as possible to her. He stared at her.  Her dishevelled look excited him. He really wanted to...He really wanted to...He really, really wanted to.

Hinata sat up.  She shivered under his intense gaze.  It was a look she had never seen before, and it made her feel wanted, sexy.   He looked sexy.  She didn’t know what to do, but she knew what she wanted.  She still wanted to take his shirt off. She wanted to excite him more.  She wanted to know what else he could do to her. He made her feel things she had never felt before.  He made her feel good. She wanted to make him feel good, too. Her eyes fell to his crotch again.

He saw her looking at him.   She wants more.  She wants more. She wants it, too.  She wants it. She wants it! Fuck fuck...I wanna...fuck… He let out a steadying breath.  Too fast. They were moving too fast.  She didn’t even know yet that he loves her.  He didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. He didn’t want her to think he was just doing this for her body.  He closed his eyes and willed himself to calm down. They were going too fast. And they were in Ino’s room. He forgot about that minor detail.   We’re moving too fast.  It’s too soon. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.  I need to calm down. Calm down. And we’re in Ino’s room.  We can’t do it in Ino’s room. That fact was a bit more effective.  He opened his eyes and gave her a small, apologetic smile.  “Sorry, I kind of lost control of myself.”

She shook her head.  “No…” She blushed a smile.  “I liked it…”

He gave her a hard look.  She was making this so difficult for him.  He was starting to second-guess himself. Was it too soon?  They had known each other for most of their lives. They had been in a secret relationship for a little over a month now.  They saw each other every day and every night. On TV people did it all the time after the first date. And did Ino really care?  She made so many sexual innuendos on a daily basis. And...despite her innocent demeanor, Hinata seemed ready... No.  No. She’s not ready.  She doesn’t know what she’s doing.  “Ahhhhrrrgghhh Hinataaaaaaaaa,” he groaned in frustration, face in his hands.  He looked at her desperately. “You’re making this so hard for me.”

Hinata looked at him, concerned.  “...I’m sorry?” She wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for, but he looked pained, and he said it was her fault, so she was actually sorry.

He sighed and smiled at her.  He leaned back. “Ahhh it’s not your fault.  You can’t help being irresistable.”

She blushed and averted her eyes.  “I think you’re the one who’s irresistible.”  Her blush deepened from speaking her thoughts aloud.

He stared at her again.  He didn’t know if she was trying to kill him.  Unable to help himself anymore he threw his arms around her and squeezed her with almost all of his strength.  “Hiiiinaaaataaaaaaaaaaa. Hinaaaataaaaaa. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh I love you!!!” He felt her take in a sharp breath, and he realized what he said a moment too late.  He loosened his hold around her, and hesitantly took her hands. Embarrassment kept him from speaking right away. He knew he fell for her fast. He was aware that he wasn’t normal, that he was addicted to her in a way that wasn’t healthy.  That if she ever broke up with him, he’d become one of those awful, clingy guys that she would come to hate. He knew he was already clingy. His heart pounded. And he forced himself to look up at her eyes. He was scared.

Hinata waited to see his beautiful eyes.  She felt like she was glowing. “I love you, too, Naruto-kun.”  She smiled at him brightly and watched his face light up. He made her feel warm and safe, like everything was right in the world.  Anything was possible with him in her life. “I’ve loved you for a long time.”

“...Really?”

She had never seen him look so vulnerable, so uncertain of himself.  Sakura would comment about him having a big head, but Hinata didn’t agree with that assessment.  She nodded to reassure him. “Actually…” She gave him a small smile and steeled herself to confess.  “I liked you since we were ten...And I thought about you a lot...when I was in the Moon Kingdom...”

Naruto was dumbstruck.  It was little wonder he fell for her so hard.  She already liked him. He knew none of his classmates took him seriously.  He was seen as a clown no matter what, and he knew he won elections because people thought he was funny.  Only the teachers acknowledged him. “...Why? Why would you like me since back then?” He knew he was pushing it, but he couldn’t believe it.  He wanted to believe it. He wanted Hinata to fill all of his insecurities.

A faraway look came into her eyes.  She smiled amid the memories. “I admired you.  I still do. You always say what you mean, and you do what you say.  You have goals, and you accomplish them. And…” She suddenly looked at him and blushed.

He smiled in embarrassment.  “What?” he whispered.

She averted her gaze.  “You’re cute.”

I’m cute?!   He blushed, too.  He shook his head and frowned.

She smiled at him knowingly.  “You are. And you’re nice to everyone and you work hard for your friends.”

“I’m not nice to everyone,” he denied softly.

“I think you are.  You were nice to me when no one else was.”

He smiled at her tenderly.  “I was nice to you.  You’re not everyone.  You’re…” He paused looking over her face.

Hinata waited.  She didn’t dare to breathe.   What does Naruto-kun think of me?  

“...important to me,” he finished.  

She looked at him curiously and then dropped her eyes.  “Why...do you like me?”

He bit his lip.  People thought he said whatever he wanted to, but when it came to Hinata, he wanted to be perfect.  He wanted to live up to the image she held of him. He didn’t want to disappoint her, but the truth was that he didn’t feel like he deserved her.  “I...You’re...so good to me. You’re too good to me.”

She looked up at him, a question in her eyes.  “But...why do you like me?”

He realized he didn’t answer her question.  He was sure he knew the answer. He knew why he loved her, but he didn’t know how to say it.  “I love you. I just...I love you.” He was fucking up. After everything she said about him, and he couldn’t do the same for her.  “I…Hinata.”

She slowly looked up at him, hopeful.

“You’re strong.”

“I’m not strong, though.”

“Yes, you are.”  He was frustrated.  She so obviously didn’t believe him.  

“I’m not like you.  I don’t have dreams or goals.”

Naruto shook his head.  This wasn’t it. He wasn’t saying what he wanted to say.  She was strong in a way that made him feel strong. But then that just made him sound really self-centered.  “Hinata, that’s not it. I...You...you were always there for me. You keep me grounded and you understand me.  You encourage me and make me feel like I can be better than I actually am.” He bit his lips again, realizing that he was still phrasing it around himself.   I really am an idiot.  

Hinata pursed her lips.  She was unconvinced that she did all of that for him.  “Naruto-kun...you are fine without me. You don’t actually need me to encourage you or anything.”

“No!  No...Hinata, listen.  You trust me, right?”

She nodded.

“If you trust me, then believe me.  Please don’t say anything and just...listen to what I have to say?”

She made a skeptical face and then nodded again.

He took a deep breath and looked away from her, mind shuffling through past memories.  “You know, after my parents died, I had never felt so alone, and I didn’t know how to interact with people anymore.  I didn’t understand what was going on, and as a kid, I was just kind of mad at everything. I was such a bad kid.”
“No you-” Hinata quieted at the silencing look from Naruto.

His expression turned tender.  “And then there was you. You were getting picked on, and really...you think I did it for you, but I was just a selfish brat.  I just wanted to get noticed and have a good reason to unleash everything that I had pent up inside of me. So I took it out on those bullies and got beat up sometimes, but the fact that I could land a couple of hits, too, made me feel better.  And afterwards, you always asked if I was okay and would make a little fuss for me, and that made me feel good about myself. You made me feel like a good guy when I knew I was just a bad kid.”

Hinata gave him a disbelieving look.

“I was!  A good kid would have gotten a teacher to handle it.  Not start a fight.” He laughed at himself. “You always stood up for me.  You are literally the reason why I wasn’t suspended for weeks at a time and only got suspended for a few days.  You were such a good kid. You always knew what was going on in class and you always helped me when I missed the directions.  And even when I did something bad, you would tell the teacher that I just made a mistake or didn’t realize what was happening.  You always stood up for me. I actually...I thought you were amazing. You had the teachers’ confidence, and you played them.  For me!”  At Hinata’s confused face, he realized she didn’t know that she was fooling the teachers.  She actually believed he was innocent all of those times. He laughed. “You always see the good in people.  You believe in people, even when people treat you badly, it’s like...you don’t know how to hold it against them.”

Hinata shook her head, thinking of the grudge she had carried against Toneri for years.

“Listen to me.  Even if you don’t think that way of yourself, I know you try to be that way, and that is more than can be said for a lot of other people.  You want to forgive.  You want to help others.  You want to be strong.  And that’s what makes you all of those things to me.”

Hinata looked at him wide-eyed.  

Naruto continued.  He wasn’t finished.  “You have this attitude...like…‘I can keep going!’ or something, like...perseverance!  That’s the word. You were getting all of those horrible notes all year, but you still treated all of your classmates so nicely!  And you are in the worst situation possible, but you don’t complain about it or treat your family or that prince like it’s their fault.  You still treat them so nicely. You still do your job like it’s not a big deal.” He looked at her seriously, honestly wondering how she puts up with them.

Hinata thought about what Naruto was saying about her.  He was making it sound like he was so impressed, but she really didn’t think that what he was saying about her was anything special.  She was raised to be acquiescent. “But...it’s not...a big deal...?”

Naruto frowned at her.  Why couldn’t the girl take a compliment?  “And you’re so modest!! Listen to me and believe me, Hinata!!  You’re strong! You can handle so much! I admire that about you.  I want to be able to go through life gaining people’s trust the way you do.  I want to see people the way you see people. You trust others to do the right thing, so they trust you.  I…” Naruto looked down suddenly, his expression darkening. “I fake a lot. And I think...people can tell when I’m not being sincere, so I try to overcompensate.  I’d rather people think of me as an ‘idiot’ or a ‘clown’ than realize that…”

Hinata leaned closer to him.  “Naruto-kun?” She waited for his gaze to meet hers to show she was listening, to show him she wanted to know.

He looked at her sadly.  He laughed hollowly. He couldn’t say what he wanted to say out loud.  It would make him sound as depressing as Sasuke. And he didn’t want to admit he was a lot like that asshole Sasuke.  Even Hinata didn’t like Sasuke that much.

Hinata took one of his hands into both of hers.  She caressed and smoothed his skin from his wrist to his fingertips, over and over.  “Naruto-kun...thank you.” She smiled at his hand. “You think so highly of me. Not even my father thinks so well of me.  I’m not perfect, but for some reason, you still think me worth your time and energy. And...I know you’re not perfect.”

He looked at her sadly.  He wanted to be perfect for her.

She smiled at him gently.  “You try to be, though. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.  I don’t want you to be perfect. You shouldn’t want that from yourself, either.  You have always been more than enough to me, as you are. I love you as you are.”

“Even if I sometimes hate people?”  He couldn’t hold it back.

She gave him a confused look.  “Do you hate people?”

“Yeah, I do.  I hate that prince, I hate the Hyuuga council, I hate the people who bully you, I hate the people who bully Sakura-chan and Ino, I hate the people who assume things about us, I hate Mizuki-sensei from fourth grade who put us in separate fifth grade classes, I hate a lot of people.”

Hinata hummed as her hand extended its strokes from the crook of his arm down to his fingers.  “I still love you. You don’t wallow in hatred. You take that feeling, and you turn it into action.  You do something about it. You prove all of them wrong. You inspire me to not just sit around in my feelings.  You make me want to change myself. You make me want to change my future.” She looked up at him then and smiled.

He smiled shyly at her.  “See? Even now you only see the good in people.”

“But it’s the truth, Naruto-kun!  You’re an inspiration to me...take the credit…”

“Hm?  Take the credit?...You take the credit!”

Hinata giggled.  “You take the credit!”

They jostled each other back and forth until it dissolved into a tickling match.

Hinata discovered Naruto was really ticklish, and she attacked him until he was curled up on the couch.  He looked so huggable as he giggled and peeked at her in fear, and feeling high off of the laughter, she went for it.  

Feeling her soft weight against him, he uncurled himself to lie on his back with Hinata on his stomach.  She was smiling at him, her cheeks pink with laughter, and he was sure he looked the same way. “I love you so much, Hinata.”

She felt warm and tingly.  “I love you, Naruto-kun.” She smiled and kissed him.  She got comfortable on him and lay her head down on his chest, squeezing him with her arms as best she could to convey the truth of her words.

Looking up at the ceiling, he settled his hands on her back.  He tried to ignore her breasts on his stomach, her legs across his.  He blinked several times, wondering if he was dreaming, wondering if this was too good to be true, wondering if he could keep his body from responding to hers.  

“I can hear your heartbeat.”

“Oh, yeah?”  He was thankful for the distraction conversation offered.

“Mhmm.  It sounds like this.  Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum.”  She mimicked the tempo of his heart.

“Hmmm.  I guess I’m pretty alive then.”

She giggled.

He grinned at his lame joke.  “It’s good to know. I thought for a moment that maybe all of this wasn’t real.”

Hinata picked her head up to look at him.  “I know what you mean. I was wondering the same thing.”  She placed her head back on his chest and listened to the sound of his heartbeat.  “But you’re real.”

He worked his hands along her back, his fingers stroking the dip of her spine, his senses confirming that she was real, too.  “Better believe it.”

 

“Wow.  They’ve been up there for a long time,” Ino commented nonchalantly as they all took a break from studying.  

Sakura shot her a glare.  “I don’t want to think about it.”

Ino gave her a smug look.  “I was just saying that they’ve been up there for awhile.  I don’t know what you’re thinking about.”

Sakura huffed.  “Hinata’s too innocent for anything and Naruto’s not that stupid.  They’re probably just talking.  They don’t get a lot of time to talk to each other.”

Shion hummed in wonder.  “Yeah, but we all saw Hinata and Naruto-kun at prom.  It seemed out of character for her, but she’s apparently capable of making Naruto-kun get stars in his eyes.”

Sakura and Ino gasped in unison.  “Shion!”

“I’m just saying!!  I’m not saying that they’re doing anything up there!  I’m just saying!” she defended with a blush.

They all got silent.  

“That’s my bedroom!  They better not be doing anything!...Should we go interrupt them?”

Sakura shook her head hard.  “No, we told them we wouldn’t bother them!  And what if they are in the middle of something?!  I don’t want to see him like that! He’s like the brother I wish I never had!”

Ino covered her eyes.  “Oh my gods, I hope they aren’t doing anything dirty in my room.”

Sakura looked at her with a withering glance.  “You offered your room to them. Gods, Ino, why did you even bring it up in the first place?  Now I’m feeling all awkward!”

“Because we were all thinking about it!”

Shion nodded, but then added, “But you didn’t really have to say anything.  I mean, we all knew ahead of time the...possibilities…”

“Ughhhhh,” Sakura groaned.  “Stop Shion. Just...stop…”

After a moment of silence, Shion looked at Sakura in curiosity.  She had been wondering for awhile, and now seemed like as good a time as any to ask.  “Sakura. You never saw Naruto-kun as boyfriend material?”

“Huh?  No. I have always loved Sasuke-kun.”

“Oh.”

Sakura looked at Shion, and saw that she still seemed to have questions.  “Honestly, I never gave Naruto hope. I always turned him down. He’s a real blockhead in that respect.”

Shion nodded.  “He usually seems pretty...aware...of women’s rights.  Like he did a good job with all of the stuff around campus recently.  I’m just wondering why he was always like that to you.”

The first answer that came to Sakura’s mind was... Because he’s an idiot.  But she knew that the answer was a bit more complicated than that.  She sighed. “You know how we told you that he and Hinata were really close in elementary school?”

She nodded.

“Sasuke-kun and I were in his class for fifth and sixth grade.  In fifth grade, he didn’t have any friends because Hinata wasn’t in our class.  And...you know...I always say he’s an idiot, but he’s actually pretty perceptive.  Still an idiot! But I think he could tell that I was a bit of a loner. My only real friend was Ino, who wasn’t in our class.  So I think he kind of...focused his attention on me because I was a girl, like Hinata, and he thought maybe I’d be nice like her.  At first I was awful and just rebuffed or ignored his attempts to be friendly with me. He soon figured out that I liked Sasuke-kun, so he started initiating a rivalry with him.  And sometime around sixth grade, he started regularly asking me out, like as a joke, and I think to just have that kind of familiar connection. And...then...I think he convinced himself he had a crush on me.  I don’t know. Maybe he just wanted a meaningful relationship or maybe he actually was attracted to me, but in seventh and eighth grade, he got kind of serious sometimes about it, and that scared me. I started rejecting him really loudly and violently, and I know it wasn’t nice, but by then, I already thought of him as a close friend.  I worried that I was hurting him, but then the next day, he’d just ask me again, and I think he was scared, too, of losing friends. So he just kept it up. Don’t tell him I said this, but I think it was kind of like a defense mechanism for him. As we got older, I knew that whenever he asked me out, it was more like...he wanted to make sure that we were still friends, or that he was still important to me.”   

“Wow.”  Ino reacted first to Sakura’s perspective.  “I can kind of relate to the whole defense mechanism stuff.”

“How so?” Shion asked.

“Well...you guys know that I’ve never had sex.  I’ve never been in a relationship. But people talk about me like I’m a whore just because of my fashion aesthetic and my liberal ideas.  So I talk tough. It makes me feel strong. Fake it ‘til you make it.”

“Fake it ‘til you make it,” Shion repeated.  The idea sounded like it had deep meaning.

Sakura just smirked.  “At least you’re aware.  He’s such an idiot I don’t think he realized why he kept on asking me.”

Shion counted it in her head.  Sakura had called him an idiot maybe three times in the past five minutes.  “Sakura, why do you always call him an idiot?”

The pinkette looked at her blankly.  “Because he is one.”

“But you have to admit that he’s not actually that stupid.  Why do you treat him that way?”

Ino cut in when Sakura stayed silent in thought.  “Isn’t it because that’s your dynamic? He asked you out all the time.  You treated him like he was being stupid. You know, like a comedy duo. You’re the straight man and Naruto’s the comic.”

“I...I guess,” Sakura reluctantly agreed.

Shion pursed her lips.  “But she talks about him that way even when he’s not around.”

Sakura frowned and then laughed.  “Jeez, Shion. I already know I’m a bitch.”

“No, that’s not what I meant!”

Sakura laughed some more.  “I know, I know. I think it’s because we expect a lot out of each other.  He relies a lot on me. Although recently, less so, now that he has Hinata.  And I depend on him, too, sometimes. With Sasuke-kun.” Sakura concluded with a flip of her hair, “I just have high expectations for him.  He’s always saying he’s better than Sasuke-kun. If that’s the case, then he actually needs to measure up.”

Shion smiled.  “How is it going with Sasuke-kun?”

Sakura pulled out her wallet and looked at the prom picture she had coerced him to take with her.  She had told him her parents would be mad if she didn’t take any pictures, which was the truth, but she suspected Sasuke thought she was lying.

Ino and Shion looked at her picture.  

Shion smiled.  “The two of you make a really good-looking couple.”

Sakura snorted.  “Oh, please. It doesn’t matter.  Sasuke-kun doesn’t care about looks.”

Ino looked unsure.  “Really? He always has impeccable style.”

Sakura nodded.  “His entire wardrobe is his older brother’s choices.  Itachi-san really spoils him. I actually think if it were all up to Sasuke-kun, his fashion would be as bad as Naruto’s.”  She let out a quiet laugh, thinking of Sasuke wearing variations of the same color the way Naruto does.

Shion and Ino exchanged amused looks.  

Sakura gazed at the picture.  It was two weeks since then, but prom felt like a long time ago.  “Sasuke-kun...he’s been really quiet lately.”

Shion frowned.  “Sasuke’s always quiet, isn’t he?  More so than usual?”

She sighed.  “Yeah. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

“What’s this?  Sasuke’s being even more of a jerk than usual?”

The girls turned to see Naruto and Hinata entering the parlor.

Ino exclaimed, “You guys actually came down?!”

“Uh...yes…” Naruto said, uncertain if they were unwelcome.  Were they supposed to stay upstairs?

“Naruto-kun and I agreed that we needed to study for the exams.”  Hinata did her best to say this with a normal straight face.

Sakura gave Naruto a disbelieving look.  “Really?”

Naruto nodded a little too vigorously.  “Yes! I’m a good student and I want to do well on my tests and cut down on college courses and save money.”  The truth was that he couldn’t control himself. After lying with Hinata on top of him for several minutes, he had gotten hard as a rock again.  He had started squeezing her, and he knew himself well enough to know that if they continued making out, he would need to take his cock out for some much needed attention.  Especially with the new knowledge that they loved each other, he wasn’t so sure he could hold himself back for much longer. So before things got any worse...or better...he finally gave in to the idea of studying.

Ino narrowed her eyes at him.  “You kept it in your pants?’

Naruto gave her a look of surprise.  “You don’t trust me?! I was good, right, Hinata?”

Hinata couldn’t help it.  She blushed and nodded. “Yes, you were good.”   You were really, really good.

Naruto saw her face and couldn’t stop his own blush from rising.  Red-cheeked, he tore his eyes away from her and faced Ino. “See?”  But his voice wasn’t as defiant as it should have been.

Ino raised her eyebrows.  “Yes…I see…”

Naruto gave an exasperated sigh, trying to force inappropriate thoughts from his mind.  “Honest, Ino, cross my heart and hope to die, we didn’t defile your room.”

“Alright, okay, I believe you.”

The couple let out silent sighs of relief.  

Naruto decided to change the subject quickly.  “So Sasuke’s being a jerk, more so than usual?”

“Naruto,” Sakura groaned.  “He’s not being a jerk. He just has something on his mind and he doesn’t want to tell me what it is.”

Naruto frowned, thinking seriously about his friend’s recent behavior.  The truth was that he had been so caught up in his situation with Hinata, he hadn’t been giving Sasuke as much attention as the sulky boy needed.  He realized he had been neglecting his best friend for a girl...a beautiful, super sexy, and nice girl...Naruto refocused. Sheepishly he admitted, “I actually didn’t notice.  I can try talking to him to find out what’s bothering him.”

Sakura smiled appreciatively.  “Thank you. But...I think it might have to do with me.”  Her smile turned into a frown. “He’s been acting strangely ever since prom.  I’ve asked him if he has something to say to me, but he just says no.”

“I’ll talk to him.  Don’t worry, Sakura-chan.  I’m sure that whatever it is, it’s not a bad thing.  He’s probably just being stupid over something small.  You know how he is.”

At first Naruto’s words gave her hope.  But the last part made Sakura take pause.  “Sasuke-kun isn’t stupid.”

Naruto rolled his eyes.  “Sasuke always agonizes over the stupidest things!  You just don’t know that because he never complains in front of you!  He’s always trying to put on a tough guy act for you!”

Sakura blushed.  “Really?”

Naruto squinted at her.  “Don’t get all excited about it.  You’ll regret falling for him when he starts ordering you around to change stupid ticketing systems what a fucker…” Naruto’s voice started trailing off into a little rant.

Sakura had that dreamy smile on her face.   He puts on a tough guy act for me?  Naruto’s words gave her more hope than she had ever allowed herself to have.  

“Hey, hey, earth to Sakura.”  Ino nudged her.

Sakura turned her head to the blonde, but her expression showed her brain was somewhere else.

Shion suggested, “Maybe Sasuke-kun likes you.  You should try flirting with him more.”

Sakura blinked out of her bliss.  “Flirting?”

“HAH flirting with Sasuke?  He’d hate it if Sakura turned into one of those girls!”  Naruto started laughing at the idea.

Hinata frowned.  “Really? If Sasuke-kun likes her, then maybe he’d like it.”

“No, you don’t understand him.  He’s developmentally and emotionally stunted.  He probably wouldn’t understand and would just be grossed out like an elementary schooler!”  Naruto was laughing too much.

Ino sat in thought.  “I don’t know, maybe you should try it with him a little.”

Sakura took in everyone’s opinions.  Naruto’s weighed heavily since he was best friends with Sasuke, but she also trusted his opinion the least.

Naruto was still laughing quietly to himself.

It was annoying to the pinkette.  “Naruto, you’re not much better yourself!”

He looked up immediately.  “What? I’m nothing like him!”

Sakura shook her head.  “That’s true you’re not like him.”   The two of you are more similar than you realize, though.  “But girls flirted with you all the time and you never realized it!  You only ever responded to Hinata!”

Hinata blushed a deep red.

Naruto flushed, too.

“It’s true.  Girls flirted with you alllll the time,” Shion emphasized.  She knew better than anyone that Naruto couldn’t take a hint.

“Wha-  No, what?!  Are you serious?  Really?” Naruto’s face crumpled in disbelief.  He glanced at Hinata suddenly. “I mean! It doesn’t matter.  I only want Hinata to flirt with me.”

Hinata turned entirely red.

Practically seeing the puffs of heat coming off of her, Naruto gave her an amused smile.  He looked back at the other girls, who had large smiles on their faces.

“You two are tooooo cute,” Ino teased.

“Even if he were to like it, I don’t know how to flirt.  I’d probably make a fool of myself, and he wouldn’t like it because I’d be so awkward about it.”  Sakura frowned in embarrassment.

“Ask the expert.”  Ino nodded in Hinata’s direction.

“I’m not an expert!”  Hinata shook her head rapidly in denial.  

“Yeah, Hinata, you’re the only one with a boyfriend.  How’d you do it?” Shion pushed.

“Ah um, I don’t know?!”   And is Naruto-kun my boyfriend?

Naruto sat there silently.  He was realizing that he was getting a rare look into “girl talk.”  If they all realized that he was a boy, he’d be forced out of the conversation.  

“Naruto.  How’d Hinata do it?  You’re a boy.” Ino turned everyone’s attention to him.

“Wha?”  The sudden inclusion was unexpected.  “I mean...yeah? What?”

“How should Sakura flirt?” Shion clarified for him.  

He furrowed his brow.  “I already said Sakura-chan doesn’t need to do that.  It’d probably hurt more than help.”

Hinata pursed her lips.  “Actually I’ve seen them flirt before.”

Everyone, including Sakura, looked at the bluenette.

“When?!” Sakura asked urgently.

“At Naruto-kun’s judo tournament.”

Sakura tilted her head in confusion.  “I don’t remember flirting with him.”

Hinata hummed, trying to jog her memory.  “You were complimenting his kendo...I think he thought you were being cute.”

“Whaaaaaaaaaat.  But I always rave about his kendo.”

“Yeah.  Sakura-chan never shuts up about how wonderful she thinks the jerk is.”  Naruto was very invested in this conversation.

“Then she’s already been flirting with him for awhile now?” Hinata asked.

Naruto looked at Sakura, disturbed.  

Sakura glared at him.  “What? Don’t look at me like that!  Even I didn’t know!”

“So you saw Sasuke-kun respond to Sakura’s flirting?” Ino asked Hinata.

Hinata remembered the interaction and nodded.  

“He must like you,” Shion concluded.

Naruto retreated back into silence.  He knew that Sasuke thought of Sakura as more than a friend.  The problem was getting him to admit it to himself.

“I think he likes you,” Hinata agreed.

Sakura lowered her eyes.  She didn’t want to hope. She’d been hoping for years, and it was tiring.  

Naruto watched Sakura fold into herself.  “Eh. You guys talking about this isn’t going to do anything.  Sasuke needs to get over himself.” He realized that all of this talking just made him want to do something.  “I can punch his pretty face for you and maybe he’ll come to his senses.” He grinned, but everyone gave him weird looks.  

“Don’t punch him.”  Sakura sighed. “We got so off-topic.  I think about Sasuke-kun too much, and Naruto is right that talking about it isn’t going to do anything, except maybe lower our scores on the exams.”

Everyone frowned.  They would all rather talk about love than study.

Hinata decided to get a last comment in.  “I wanted to thank all of you again for supporting Naruto-kun and me.  We…” She looked up at Naruto next to her with a smile, and they grabbed each others’ hands.  “...really appreciated the time alone.”

“Yeah.  Thanks you guys.”  Naruto turned his smile to the girls.  “I owe you one.”

Ino smiled.  “Talk to Sasuke-kun for us.  Get him to ask Sakura out.”

Sakura blushed.  “Don’t force him, I mean, don’t punch him or anything.”

“I’ll talk to him.  I’ll get him to come to his senses without punching him.”

 

Naruto sacrificed his lunch with Hinata to sit with Sasuke.  He didn’t really know how to broach the topic, so the two ate quietly.

Sasuke spoke first.  He knew that when Naruto was quiet, it meant he was thinking.  And with Naruto, thinking wasn’t always a good thing. “You don’t need to sit with me.  Go sit with Hinata.”

Naruto frowned.  He wanted to sit with Hinata, but the realization that he was neglecting Sasuke made him realize how ridiculously focused on Hinata he really was.  “I can’t sit with her all the time. I was making you lonely.”

Sasuke was immediately disgusted.  “I wasn’t lonely!”

“You didn’t miss me?” Naruto asked in fake seriousness.

Sasuke glared at him, troubled.  Did he need to explain that he knew how to sit with Shikamaru and Choji?  How lame did Naruto think he was? “No. I did not miss your idiocy.”

“Here I am trying to be nice to you!  You’re so mean.”

“I don’t want you to be nice to me!  It’s disgusting!”

Turning his attention to his sandwich, Naruto mocked Sasuke’s words in an annoyingly tiny voice.  

Sasuke glared to the side.  Someone needed to remind him why he was friends with the blond idiot.  “You were so quiet, I got worried about you, but you’re probably just thinking about something stupid.”

Naruto looked up.  This was his in. “I could say the same to you.  Sakura-chan said she was worried about you. I told her that you were just worrying about something stupid because that’s what you do.”

Instead of arguing back, Sasuke got quiet.  

Naruto looked at his food, realizing that he really had neglected his best friend to not realize that something was going on with him.  “Is it actually a big deal?”

“No, you’re right, it’s stupid.”

Naruto jutted his chin out in an obvious show of confusion.  He was never “right” with Sasuke. “Well, if you want to tell me what’s so stupid, then I’m here for you.  You know I listen to whatever stupid things you have to say.”

Sasuke nodded, still not arguing back.  

Naruto frowned.  He was worried now.  Was it stupid? Was it serious?  Did it have to do with Sakura? Or did it have to do with his family?  He rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, really, Sasuke. Even if I can’t help, I can still listen.”

Sasuke turned to Naruto.  “You can talk to me, too.”

Naruto looked up with a smile.

“About whatever idiotic problem you’re having right now and need my help solving.”  Sasuke smirked.

Naruto glared at his best friend.  “Shut the fuck up. You’re so fucking mean.”  Naruto glared at the ground. But Sasuke was right.  He could use an outside opinion. “Ahhh damn it! I actually want to know what you think about my plan to talk to Hinata’s family.”  

Sasuke had a smug face.

Naruto shook his head.  “I promised Sakura-chan I wouldn’t punch your face, but don’t push your luck.”

“Like you can actually hit me.”

“Yeah I can.  Of course I can.”

“I’ll just hit you back.”

“I don’t care.  I don’t have a pretty boy face like yours.”

“At least I’m not ugly.”

“I’m not ugly.”

“I didn’t say you were, idiot.”

“At least I’m not an asshole.”

***

 

The two boys sat at a bench after school.  Naruto decided to talk first. “So here’s the plan Hinata and I have come up with.  I wanna know what you think or what we should change. With you coming from a clan, too, maybe you have some insight.”

“Okay.”  Sasuke liked to rile Naruto up, but he realized that what Naruto was trying to do was really serious.  He had some misgivings about the whole situation, but he would take it seriously, too.

“Hinata is going to the Moon Kingdom over the summer break to try to convince the prince to break the engagement on his side.  We both know that she can’t be released from the engagement unless the Otsutsukis agree. The problem is that the Hyuuga council would just try to arrange her to marry with someone else.  And I don’t want that to happen at all costs. I need to convince the Hyuuga that I’m good enough for her and that it’s a good match not just for her but for Fire Country.”

Sasuke nodded, but he was really wondering if Hinata was worth all the trouble.  “So what’s your plan.”

Naruto took a deep breath.  “Hinata has the mailing addresses for all of the Hyuuga council members.  I’m going to try to do what Shikamaru did. I’m going to try to get them to meet with me.  I’ll mail them recommendation letters from the Headmaster, my judo coach, and Kakashi-sensei.”

“You told me Kakashi-sensei doesn’t write recommendation letters just for anyone.”

“He does if you have unedited copies of the Icha Icha series.”

“You bribed him.”

“Not for the college applications, but I might have to for this because he’ll probably feel too lazy to even look up wherever he saved the letter he wrote for me already.”

“Ah…”

“I’ll send in my resume and my report card.  I’ll also write an essay.”

“What’s your essay going to be about.”

“My goals for the future with the reasons and the how I’m going to get there.  I think if I make a step-by-step plan that shows exactly what I will do to become the Hokage, they’ll believe me more.”

“Okay, so what exactly is your plan.”

“I’m going to major in electrical engineering.”

“I thought you wanted to get into business.”

“I’ll get my Master’s in business administration.  First and foremost, though, I need money. Becoming an engineer will also make me sound smarter.  I know I don’t make good first impressions, so any little thing will help me.”

“Hn.”  Sasuke was starting to realize that Naruto had his future envisioned much more than he expected.  “If you’re going to major in engineering, get your recommendation letter from our physics teacher.”

“Good idea.  I’ll ask Tessen-sensei, too.”

“Alright.  What else.”

“I’ll aim to become Student Council President at Konoha University, too.  After graduating I’ll also try to get elected for the neighborhood board, and from there start getting more name recognition.”  After a pause, Naruto added, “I’m also thinking of joining the military.”

Sasuke looked at Naruto sternly.  “Hinata agreed to that?”

“She doesn’t like that idea.  I want to know what you think, too, but let me explain.  Everyone respects veterans, and when a candidate has military experience on their resume, that candidate almost always wins.”

Sasuke silently considered what he was saying.  “But what if you die.”

“I’m not going to die.”

“That’s what they all say.”

“I won’t die.  Just stop that and think about it.  I think I’m smart enough to get into the Air Force or the Navy, which are both safer than being in the Army or the Marines.  I’d gain so much international experience, and literally, I’d only need one combat deployment to claim myself a veteran.”

“You only need one deployment to die.”

“Stop being so cynical.  I’d be able to pay off college debt, too, and save money.”  Naruto went quiet for a moment before speaking again. “Minus the possibility that I could die, what do you think?”

“It’s a good idea.”

Naruto nodded.  “Hinata doesn’t like it, but in the long run, it would pay off.  Her clan might respect me more for it, too.”

“Do the Air Force.”

Naruto grinned.  “Planes are cool, right?”

Sasuke smiled a bit, too.  “My cousin Shisui is in the Air Force.”

“That’s awesome, maybe I’ll meet him!”  Naruto’s little burst of excitement quickly extinguished.  “I’d have to leave Hinata behind if I got re-stationed. Unless they let me marry her right away.”

Sasuke was silent before committing to being blunt.  “In the case that the Otsutsukis don’t want to break the engagement or the Hyuuga council doesn’t approve of you, what are you going to do.”

“That’s not going to happen.”  Naruto glared at the ground.

“Don’t be stupid.  You need to plan what your reaction would be.”

“I…”  Naruto stared at the ground.  He would convince Hinata to elope with him.  If she refused to leave her family behind, he’d probably try to get himself killed in the military.  If by some miracle he kept on living, he’d become the Hokage anyway and give the Hyuuga clan the middle finger.  “I…Sasuke...I’m so...I’m so fucking desperate. I don’t think I can get over her.”

Sasuke watched his friend in concern and curiosity.  “Why are you doing this? How do you know Hinata feels the same way you do?”

“She told me she loves me.”

“To the extent that you care for her?  And how do you know that what you feel for her isn’t just a passing obsession?  How do you know you’re not mistaking the excitement of the competition and challenge of her for love?  You could be ruining her life.”

Naruto sat up and looked at Sasuke.  “I don’t know if she loves me as much as I love her.  But I do know that I love Hinata. I’ve never felt this way for anyone else.  Not even Sakura-chan. And I admit that I liked Sakura-chan because she’s strong and pretty, and I can rely on her.  But the feelings I had for her were mixed up with the competition I had with you. Hinata is easy for me to love.” Naruto averted his gaze.  “She’s easy to love. I have no doubts when I’m with her. I have complete confidence that she’ll have my back no matter what.”

She’s easy to...love.  Sasuke contemplated Naruto’s words.  From everything Naruto said he would do to be with her, Hinata sounded like the farthest thing from being “easy to love.”

“So what do you think of my plan overall?” Naruto asked.

Sasuke looked at Naruto and nodded.  “Add that you’ll intern next summer with my older brother.”

“Itachi-san is gonna run for Representative?!  Aww hell yes!! Thanks, Sasuke!”

Sasuke smiled.  He looked at the ground and rubbed his hands together in thought.  “You’ve changed.”

“...I know.  I’m not as fun anymore.  I’m kind of depressing to be around,” Naruto said sheepishly.  

Sasuke sat up a bit.  “You’re not as stupid as I thought you were.”

“See?!  See! I’m not an idiot!”

“No, you still are.”

“Ughh why?!”

“It’s exam time, and you’re focusing on trying to date a girl.”

“It’s not like that!  I feel like my life has never had more focus!  Like, I know I said Hinata makes me feel desperate, but it’s kind of a good thing, too.  It’s motivating.”

Sasuke looked curiously at him and looked away.  

Naruto watched the change in Sasuke’s expressions.  He had noticed that Sasuke seemed skeptical of everything he said.  “Spit it out. You want to ask me something, right?”

Sasuke looked out at the bright sky.  “We’re so similar and so different at the same time.”

“What do you mean?”

Sasuke looked out with a slight frown.  “It’s annoying…” He could still see her.  Burning in his memory as bright and vibrant as the dress she had worn, the deep slit in her skirt, her perfect legs teasing his thoughts.

Naruto furrowed his brow and waited for him to continue.

“When I’m around her, I feel...annoyed…”  Her smile, her slim waist in his hands, the weight of her hands on his shoulders.

So it does have to do with Sakura-chan… Naruto cocked his head in thought.  “I can relate with that.” He looked at his palms.

Sasuke peered over at him.  “Hinata makes you feel annoyed?  How do you deal with it?”

Naruto raised an eyebrow at Sasuke.  “I obviously don’t deal with it. I can’t handle it at all.  I just act on it. As long as I think Hinata will still be happy with me.”

“I don’t want to feel this way.  It’s distracting.” He thought of the prom photo he had taken a picture of on his phone.  At the time, he had reasoned that he wouldn’t have to carry one around in his wallet. He didn’t want to admit that he wanted a way to look at it without anyone noticing.

“Why don’t you go out with her?”

“It would only get more annoying.”  He’d have more thoughts of her, more happy memories of her.

“Oh.  I guess I can see that…” Naruto found himself understanding where he was coming from, but he didn’t agree with it.  “You’re making her wait, you know. Sakura-chan keeps on hoping that you’ll return her feelings. If you don’t want to feel annoyed anymore, you’re going to have to make a decision.  Either reject her or start dating her.”

Sasuke frowned.  “I can’t date her.  I’ll be in Wind Country next year.  I don’t plan on coming back for a long time.”

“Be like Shikamaru and do long-distance.”

“I should tell her I can’t.”

“Yeah.  Then Sakura-chan can finally move on and find someone who will treat her right.”

Sasuke felt something cool and thick, like poison, slide down his chest to his gut.

“Maybe she’ll finally return Rock’s feelings.  Or that guy she volunteers with at the children’s hospital.”

What guy?  Sakura hadn’t told him anything about volunteering with a guy.  She always made it sound like she did it alone.

Naruto took note of Sasuke’s scowl.  He decided to elaborate. “Maybe Sakura-chan didn’t tell you about him, but he’s asked her out a couple times.  She didn’t accept, but she did give him her phone number. Imagine how incredibly rich two doctors would be. They’d probably only eat at fancy restaurants and like, live in a penthouse or something.”

“I know what you’re trying to do.”  Sasuke glared at Naruto.

“And is it working?  How does it feel to be jealous?  Is it more or less annoying?” Naruto said all of this matter-of-factly.  He was surprised at how calm he felt, considering how he truthfully hated the way Sasuke strings Sakura along.  Naruto continued, “When that prince was here. I was...so jealous. Imagining…” He grimaced but forced himself to speak.  “...him touching Hinata the way I want to.” He shook his head. “No, what was the worst was...seeing it. Was seeing Hinata holding onto him.  Dancing with him. That...was the fucking worst. Her touching him the way I wanted her to touch me.  I knew she didn’t want to, I knew she had to, but it was still so hard for me to wrap my mind around, like...like...it felt like she was cheating on me.  Even though I knew she wasn’t! I was just so jealous, and I couldn’t take it. That fight was bound to happen. I’ve thought about it over and over, whether I could have changed what happened that night or said anything differently, but I don’t think I could have just ignored him.  He came up to me first and told me to stay away from her! I couldn’t just let that go! I felt like he had no right to say that. I probably said some things I shouldn’t have said, but I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to hurt him, beat him up or something...because I was...”

Sasuke listened quietly.  Naruto hadn’t told anyone what happened that night from his perspective.  He had heard from other classmates through rumors what happened, but Naruto hadn’t said a word about it, as if that night was a forbidden topic.  Sasuke thought Naruto would tell him on his own at some point. He didn’t think he’d finally talk about it over two weeks later, though.

Naruto let out a steadying sigh.  “Imagine Sakura-chan smiling at some other guy, touching some other guy, talking about some other guy like he’s the world and you’re not in it.  That’s how Sakura-chan talks about you, you know. She looks at you like you’re the world to her. Imagine her treating some other guy that way, and you’re nothing but the past to her.  Do you think you could handle that?”

Sasuke frowned.  He couldn’t imagine it.  The idea was too ridiculous to piece together into a coherent picture.  “I’m not like you. I prioritize my future, and there’s just no way for her to fit in it.  I don’t want to stay in one place.”

Naruto let out a small laugh.  “You know that Sakura-chan would drop everything to follow you anywhere if you just said the word.  Your future is no excuse.”

Sasuke sat silently.  He did know that, but he couldn’t understand it.  Why Sakura was so...He just didn’t understand her.  How could they date if he couldn’t understand her?

“Really, Sasuke.  What’s the real problem?  What is it that you’re afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of anything.  I just don’t understand her. I don’t know why she’s so fixated on me.  I don’t get where she’s coming from. Why she hasn’t given up, yet.” Why even after seeing me at my worst, she still likes me.  What does that say about her?  “If I don’t understand her, it can’t possibly work out.”

He’s afraid of losing her, but he doesn’t see that, Naruto realized.  “I told Hinata this before.  I want to know that I did everything I possibly could, so that in the case it doesn’t work out, I’ll at least know I tried.  I really wouldn’t be able to live with myself knowing that I failed and it was my fault…” Naruto looked to see if Sasuke was listening.  “You need to try, Sasuke. Even if you don’t always understand her. If you both want it to work out, it will.” Naruto nodded in affirmation of his own words.  “If you don’t try, then it really won’t work out.”

Sasuke took in a breath.  He was fine with the way things were.  Mostly fine. “...This is annoying.”

“After exams are over, just go for it.  Let yourself be happy for once in your life.”

“I’m fine.  I’m happy enough.”

Naruto made sounds of disagreement.  “I thought I was happy. And then Hinata came back into my life, and as awful as our situation is, I am literally the happiest person on earth when it’s just me and her.”

“That sounds like something I don’t want to know.  It’s awful but it makes you happy? It sounds like drugs.”

Naruto nodded in a daze.  “Yeaaaahhhhh…yeahhh...” He snapped out of it.  “Sasuke. I am dealing the drugs to you. You should take them.  Ask Sakura-chan out and be the happiest person on earth.”

Sasuke grimaced.  “I don’t need that.”

Naruto bit his lip in thought and shook his head.  “You’re just faking. You got a taste at prom. Sakura-chan told me you did two dances with her when you were only required to do one.  And now…” Naruto narrowed his eyes analytically at Sasuke, who looked expressionless.  “You can’t stop thinking about it. That’s why we’re talking about this in the first place!”

Sasuke averted his gaze.  He hated it when Naruto was smart.

“Hah!  I really was right!  You really were agonizing over something stupid, just like I thought!  Admit it, you asshole. You were happy! And you’re annoyed because you want to be happy!  YOU WANT THE DRUGS!!”

“Shut the fuck up we’re in school!”  

Naruto looked smug.  “I don’t know why we’re talking about this.  This whole time I thought you were still in denial, but you’re not.  You know you want her, you know she wants you, what are you waiting for?  No wonder you’re so annoyed.”

Sasuke frowned deeply.  He hadn’t dared to articulate his feelings so clearly to himself, and hearing it out loud was embarrassing.  And he hated feeling embarrassed. “Shut up, loser.”

Naruto gave Sasuke a pleased smile.  It was rare that he got to tease his best friend.  “Ask her out and you’ll never have to feel annoyed again.”

I don’t know how to ask her out.  “I’m not going to ask her out.”

“WHY?!”

Sasuke stubbornly glared at a building across the lawn.

“It’s not hard!  Damn it, I promised them I wouldn’t punch you, but I wanna punch you!  I’m dying to go on a date with Hinata! I’d do anything to get to ask her out!  Gods I just want to punch that face of yours one time. Go on a fucking date with Sakura-chan!  Now that you’ve finally accepted that you have feelings for her, go! Take her out! Go be fucking happy at the aquarium and at the movies and at dinner and at the mall and holding her hand in public and being her boyfriend!!  Just let me punch your face one time. Just once! Come run your face into my fist right here! Just like smash your face against my fist!”

Sasuke stared at the red-faced blond boy, a bit bewildered.  He couldn’t tell if Naruto was trying to be funny or angry or sad, and he realized that his friend was somehow managing to emote all three.  In spite of himself, he smiled. Resigned, he repeated, “The aquarium, a movie, and dinner at the mall?”

“YES FUCKING HELL SASUKE.  I can’t believe everyone calls me an idiot!”

“You are an idiot.  You’re trying to make us fail our AP exams.  We could have been studying this entire time.”  Sasuke stood up and the two began walking toward the parking lot.

“Shut the hell up, you don’t even need to study.”

“Actually I do study.  I’m not an idiot.”

“I study, too!”

“I didn’t say you don’t, loser.”

“...You’re such a bastard.”

“Better than stupid.”

Chapter Text

Hinata saw the smile she loved spread across his tan face as she approached their table.  Picking up her pace, she was about to return his wave when two hands grabbed her shoulders.  She looked to see who was keeping her from her lunch with Naruto. “Shino-kun!” She turned to see who had her other shoulder.  “Kiba-kun!”

“Hinata, sit with us today!  We’ve missed you!” Kiba whined.

“Yes, we are feeling forgotten.  The reason is you have been sitting with Naruto and the girls for the past two weeks,” Shino explained.  

“I’m so sorry!  Of course I’ll sit with you!”  Hinata headed to their usual spot.  She didn’t see the smug expressions Kiba and Shino threw at Naruto and the middle finger he held up at the two boys in response.  Hinata suddenly turned to look at the blond boy, and he immediately put his hand down. She gestured to her two friends and gave him an apologetic look.

Sighing dramatically, he nodded in understanding.  

Seeing Naruto turn to Sasuke, Hinata turned back to Kiba and Shino.  “How have the exams been for you two?” Hinata asked.

Kiba groaned.  “Two more. Just biology and psychology and this hell with be over.”

Shino nodded.  “I only have biology.  Hinata, you also only have the bio exam left, correct?”

“Yes.  We’re almost done.  Hang in there, Kiba-kun!”  Hinata smiled as Kiba pulled a face.  “How is Akamaru doing? I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Kiba’s face lit up at the thought of his fluffy companion.  “He’s doing well! He doesn’t like Tamaki, though. Probably because she has a lot of cats.  It doesn’t help that she teases him a lot, too.”

Hinata smiled, seeing Kiba’s happy grin.  “I’m glad I finally got to meet her at prom.  She seems really nice.”

“To date Kiba, you would need to be nice.  Why? Because-”

“Shut up, it wasn’t even my fault!”

Hinata looked at them confused.

“Kiba tried to take her out last weekend, but he failed to do his research.  The restaurant didn’t have outdoor seating, so understandably they did not allow Akamaru in.  He argued with the manager and they were forced to leave.”

Kiba huffed.  “People don’t understand how well-trained Akamaru is.”  

Hinata nodded in understanding.  “Akamaru is the best dog I’ve ever met.  If they knew, I’m sure they would have allowed him in.”

Kiba continued to grumble as he ate his lunch.  

Shino turned to Hinata.  “How have you been? We hardly get to see you now because of your chauffeur.”

Hinata pouted.  “My father caught me talking to Naruto-kun on my phone.  He restricted my phone’s capabilities and assigned me a chauffeur.  I’m glad that he hasn’t given me a bodyguard and that he’s letting me keep my laptop.  As long as he does not find out that I have been calling Naruto-kun on my computer, I think I will be okay.”  

“Man, that really sucks.  But I’m also kind of surprised that you’re disobeying your father,” Kiba teased.    

“What are the two of you going to do?  Are you going to try to break the engagement?” Shino questioned.

Hinata sighed.  “Yes, when I go to the Moon Kingdom this summer, I will try to talk to Toneri-kun.  Unless he agrees, we can’t break the engagement.”

“That guy is an ass, just like I predicted,” Kiba drawled.

“I thought he seemed reasonable when we spoke.  Hinata may have a chance in persuading him.”

“Shino, everyone knows about the scene he caused.  What can Hinata possibly say to reason with him?”

“We know that he dated in high school-”  
“Pfft more like played the field.”

Shino continued, “Hinata can talk to him about his reasons behind his behavior back then.  I would think the greater issue is convincing his parents and the Hyuuga council.”

“Because it was their decision first,” Hinata completed Shino’s thought.  She sighed. “With Toneri-kun’s parents, I am taking away a significant connection to Fire Country.  With my family, I am failing to do my duty for our country.”

“You would have to make it up somehow to the Moon Kingdom.  Likewise, you have to do something of equal value for Fire Country,” Shino surmised.

Kiba squinted in thought.  “Well, if Naruto becomes Hokage, wouldn’t that be an appropriate enough match for the Hyuuga elders?”  

“That’s an ‘if.’  Hinata needs to be the one to make up for the broken engagement.”

Hinata frowned, troubled.  She wasn’t sure what she needed to do.  Unlike Naruto, she didn’t have goals of her own, having always been told what she needed to do.  She never considered her lack of personal vision as a flaw. With her focus always on the Moon Kingdom, she had never dared to dream outside of her role.    

“What are you going to do, Hinata?” Kiba asked.

She stared at her untouched food, unable to answer.

Kiba and Shino looked at her sympathetically.  

Kiba began, “You still have time to figure it out…”

Hinata shook her head.  “I’ve always been so focused on the Moon Kingdom.  I only know of what I wanted to do for them...”

“Oh, like the training program to donate animals to farmers?”

Hinata looked up, surprised that Kiba remembered.  She nodded. “Fire Country doesn’t have the same problems.  Poverty is more city-centered, and people need job training here.  I don’t have the same political power in Fire Country as I would in the Moon Kingdom, so I wouldn’t be able to implement large-scale programs here.”  She bit her lip in thought, realizing that she would have to work her way up like any normal person, a fact that she loved about living in Fire Country; however now it only worked against her.  

“By ending the engagement, you would effectively be terminating your role as an ambassador?” Shino asked.

Hinata tilted her head in thought.  “I suppose...not. I wouldn’t want to end my job.  I love the Moon Kingdom. I still care for all of the people I worked for.  If possible, I would want to continue helping them and promoting the relationship between our two countries.”

“So you could just do what you’re doing now with them, just not as the fiancee of that prince?  And wasn’t your engagement not publicly announced? Would it even be a big deal?” Kiba wondered aloud.

Hinata shook her head.  “Even if it wasn’t officially declared, the Moon Kingdom citizens know why I am there.  To them, it’s more a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’ Maybe I can discuss the continuation of my role with the Otsutsukis like you said, though.”

“Man, if only that prince fell in love with someone, then he’d understand and want out.”  Kiba frowned at his food. “He doesn’t love you, right?”

“I...I don’t think so.”  In truth, Hinata wasn’t sure.  They had never really talked about their feelings for each other.  It had never been relevant.

Shino listened silently to Kiba talking about trying to make Toneri meet other girls.  He didn’t like thinking about hypotheticals. It was much more effective to discuss actionable plans.  “In the case that they allow you to end the engagement, but they do not want to continue a working relationship with you, would you continue to major in public administration?”

She bit her lips.  “No, I guess I wouldn’t.”

“How about social work?  Or education? Or nursing?  I could see you helping people or working with kids!”  Kiba grinned at Hinata. “Even old people! I can totally see you helping old people.  You’re so dang patient.”

Hinata smiled back at him.  “Those are all good ideas. Maybe social work?  That was always my favorite part about my job.” Hinata thought back to the times she helped at shelters or for disaster relief.  As draining as it was to work with people who needed the most help, she always knew she was making the greatest difference.

“In the case that no one allows you to withdraw from the engagement, what will you do?  Would you leave your family?”

Hinata’s wondering smile dropped at Shino’s question as she was pulled back to reality.  This was the question that troubled her everyday at the back of her mind. Whenever she saw Naruto, this question nagged at her.  And it was always followed by the question of... What would happen to Hanabi?  

Hearing her silence, Kiba piped up.  “You could stay with my family! We’d definitely let you work at our animal hospital.  We’d train you and everything!”

Hinata gave Kiba a small smile of appreciation.  Her eyes dropped again. “I don’t know. I couldn’t just leave my family behind.  I’m worried about Hanabi. I don’t want her to be forced into any marriage. She wants to be a fashion designer and open her own boutique.  She wants the proceeds to go toward nonprofits, too. And she has the talent for it. If she’s forced to take my place, she wouldn’t be able to focus on her creativity and business.  So far my father’s been supportive of her, but I don’t know what the Hyuuga elders would do.”

“...All those old people need to just die already.”
“KIBA-KUN!” Hinata scolded with a look of shock.

Kiba just rolled his eyes.  “You know what I mean.”

Hinata gave him a disapproving look that said she did not know what he meant.  

“Kiba means to say that their viewpoints are outdated and their reasonings are lacking currency,” Shino explained.

“Exactly.  Lacking currency.  Who does arranged marriages anymore?!”

Hinata frowned.  “A lot of people still do, actually.  Maybe not here in Fire Country, but the Moon Kingdom is still somewhat traditional, and matchmaking is common.”

Kiba gave a loud sigh.  “Just please promise me you won’t marry that guy.  Please, Hinata. Honestly, you can always stay with me and get a secure job with my family.  You’ll have nothing to worry about. And if your dad is as good a dad as he should be, he won’t let your sister take your place.”

“I don’t want to marry Toneri-kun.”

“No, you have to promise us, right Shino?”

Shino hesitated before nodding.  “Although I don’t believe the prince is as bad a guy as Kiba thinks, I do feel it is better for you to go on your own path.”  

What that path will look like, though... she was worried.  She realized that just like when she promised Naruto to try to end the engagement, she needed to make a decision about this.  And stick to it. She couldn’t go back. She licked her lips and gulped. “I won’t marry him.” She nodded her head, reaffirming her decision.  She looked at her two friends, who seemed relieved.

“Whatever happens, you’ll always have us,” Kiba said gently.  His tone was surprising even to his own ears. He noticed Shino staring at him.  “What? I’m serious!”

“Kiba is right, Hinata.  We will do whatever we can to support you and your sister if need be.”

“Thank you.”  Hinata felt a little overwhelmed.  She was getting so much support from all of her friends.  She had never felt so connected to others as she had this year.  It convinced her even more that she needed to stay in Fire Country.  She would never get these friendships in the Moon Kingdom.

“Hey, don’t cry!” Kiba panicked.

“Ah, I’m sorry, I’m just…” Hinata wiped tears away.  

“Is it because of all of our questions?” Shino worried aloud.

“No, no, I’m…”

“Don’t cry, Hinata!  I’m sorry for pushing you too much!”  Kiba’s voiced raised an octave.

“What did you guys do to her??  See, this is what happens! Hinata should have just eaten lunch with me!!”  Naruto had suddenly appeared and was now waving about frantically.

“We didn’t do anything!”  Kiba’s first impulse was to defend himself.  “I think?! I mean...Hinata, I’m sorry!”

“Hinata, I’m sorry,” Shino added.

“Do you want me to beat them up for you?”  Naruto asked her.

Hinata got in control of herself.  Somehow the situation had escalated really quickly.  She shook her head hard. “They were happy tears!”

“...HAH!  See! We made her so happy she cried!  Hinata should always eat lunch with us!” Kiba swung an arm around Hinata’s neck and smirked at Naruto.

Naruto looked at Shino, who despite his sunglasses and straight face, seemed to also be wearing a smirk.  “I bet she’s just saying that so I don’t beat you guys up. Hinata’s too nice to say anything bad.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.  You’re just jealous. Now go away,” Kiba teased.

Naruto made to lunge at Kiba with a fist up.

“Naruto-kun.”

He paused, fist in the air.

“I’ll eat with you tomorrow.”  Hinata blushed a little.

Slightly appeased, Naruto dropped his hand and gave a smug smile at Kiba and Shino’s frowns.  “Tomorrow for sure then. Don’t you dare go eating with anyone else because I won’t allow it!”

“Alright, alright, just go away!!  You’re ruining our lunch!” Kiba grumbled.

Naruto walked away but still carried a self-satisfied smile.  

Kiba made a disgusted noise.  “If you didn’t like him for so long, I’d ask you to promise me to not marry him, too.”

Hinata looked at him in stunned surprise.  

“I’m just joking!  Just joking! I support you and Naruto!  He’s just such an idiot sometimes! I don’t know how you deal with him!”  

“He’s not.  He’s really nice and smart.”

“You are the first person I have heard call Naruto smart,” Shino stated.

“But he is.  I know I’m not the only person who has said that before.”  As her friends debated whether she’s the only person who thinks so, Hinata looked away toward Naruto.

Naruto glanced in her direction.  Holding each other’s gazes, they smiled shyly.

 

With school over, Hinata hurried to the front where her chauffeur would be waiting.  To her surprise, Tokuma wasn’t there yet. She stood there waiting as other students gathered to meet their parents.

“Hinata!”

She turned to find a raven-haired girl walking toward her.  “Shizuka-chan!”

“It’s been awhile since I got to talk to you.  How are your exams going?”

“I only have biology tomorrow.  How are they going for you?”

“I have econ tomorrow, and that’s it!  We’re almost done!” Shizuka said happily.

Hinata nodded with a smile in agreement.

Shizuka tilted her head for a moment before speaking again.  “I heard about your forced engagement to the prince of the Moon Kingdom.  I assumed he was your boyfriend! I wanted to apologize for making assumptions…”

Hinata’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Oh!” How did she find out?  Did someone tell her?  “Yes, he and I have been engaged for awhile…”

Shizuka didn’t speak as she considered whether she should say what she wanted to say.  “I feel really ashamed to think that you were cheating. I’m sorry. I know you’re not like that.”

“...It’s okay, Shizuka-chan.  I know what it looked like...and I’m not proud of how things turned out..that..night....”

“Do you want to marry him?” she asked hesitantly.

Hinata shook her head.  “No, I don’t care for him in that way.”

“Because of Naruto, right?”

Hinata blushed a bit.

Shizuka smiled.  “The two of you go well together.  My parents asked me about it, actually.  They are more in the know than me!”

Her parents?!   “Ah...do you mind telling me, if you know...how your parents knew about my engagement?  It’s not supposed to be public information.”

Shizuka hummed in thought.  “I think they’re friends with Ino’s parents.”

If Hinata had any less self-control, her jaw would have dropped.  Instead she stood there in stunned silence. That’s right...my friends told their parents about us… Gathering herself together again, Hinata managed a surprised “oh!”

Shizuka nodded sympathetically.  “My parents don’t think that you should be forced into an engagement.  It’s very old-fashioned, and I agree. And I was just wondering, but are you dating Naruto?”

Hinata didn’t know how to respond.  “We’re not...I’m not allowed to date.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.”  Shizuka then smiled at her. “But the two of you confessed to each other?”

“Uhmm.”  Hinata blushed.  

She smiled knowingly.  “A secret couple, then?  Yakumo was right that the two of you are in a relationship!”

“Ah…”  Hinata didn’t know what to say.  Suddenly their secret seemed to not be a secret anymore.  She looked and saw Tokuma pulling up. “I have to go now. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Good luck on your bio test!  And good luck with Naruto!”

Hinata glanced around.  Shizuka had said that kind of loudly, and surely enough, her words had gathered some attention.  Embarrassed, she nodded, waved, and almost ran to her car.

 

“WE’RE DONE!!!  Thank the sage on high we’re DONE!!” Ino screamed, her voice echoing off the walls of the buildings.

Kiba ran out a second after and stretched out his arms freely, removing all the crammed psychology knowledge from his memory to the trash file.  “Give it here, Ino!”

The two high-fived and hurried to meet their friends at the front.  With everyone’s AP classes over, most of them had the rest of the school day free.  Like many of the seniors, they were going to take advantage of their privileges and go off-campus to enjoy their free periods.

“Ugh I just have to be back for creative writing at the end of the day.  It’s so unfair,” Ino whined.

Sakura gave a smug smile.  “Taking all the hard classes pays off in the end.  I have almost the whole day for the next week free.  I practically just have to show up for homeroom!”

“Shut up, Forehead.  Your brain’s so big, your face had to accommodate it.”

“Better to have a brain than none at all, Ino-pig.”

The two girls began bickering, but were interrupted as Sai came up.  “Miss Beautiful, Naruto said he’s leaving and wanted to know if we are going to ride with them.”

Ino immediately shifted into shy mode.  “Oh!” Originally she had been planning on riding with Sakura and Sasuke, but she didn’t think she could keep herself from showing her confrontational side.  She batted her eyelashes and smiled. “Yes, let’s ride with them!”

Sakura crossed her arms and rolled her eyes.  “You’re such a fake.”

Seeing Sai walking away, Ino scowled.  “Please, you’re exactly the same with Sasuke-kun!”

Sakura opened her mouth to say a comeback but realized all she could do was deny.  “I am not!”

“Yeah, you are!”

“Sakura.  Let’s go.”

The pinkette whipped around to see Sasuke waiting for her.  She couldn’t help thinking how cool he looked even while just standing there.  

Ino let out a laugh before walking away.  “You totally are.”

Sakura threw a face at Ino and hurried over to him.  

 

Ino smiled teasingly at Naruto, who was currently helping Hinata put on a flat brim cap.  “What are you guys doing? Disguising her?”

“Yeah, just in case any Hyuuga see her at the mall.  She’s supposed to stay ten miles away from me, so I don’t want anyone telling her dad they saw her outside of school with a bunch of boys.”

“Do I look like myself?” Hinata asked in uncertainty.

Ino paused and looked her over.  She was wearing a baggy orange and brown plaid shirt with her distinctive blue hair completely tucked into the skater brand hat.  With her hair hidden and her style decidedly less feminine, she really did look different. “You definitely don’t look like Hyuuga Hinata.  You should wear street fashion more often! Is that shirt yours?”

Hinata blushed.  “No, it’s Naruto-kun’s.”

“The hat, too?”

She nodded.

Ino raised her eyebrows at them knowingly.  “You just wanted to see how cute Hinata would look in your clothes!”

Naruto’s eyes flashed back at Hinata before looking at Ino.  “What? No! I mean, Hinata, you do look really cute. But it’s to disguise her!”

“I read that if a guy offers a jacket to a girl and she accepts it, there’s a high probability she likes him back.”

With the obvious truth of his words, both Naruto and Hinata were furiously blushing now.  “Wh-what the heck have you been reading, Sai?” Naruto managed to sputter out.

Ino caught on to his insinuation and looked at the fair-skinned boy in curious wonder.  

“The article was titled ‘How to tell if a girl likes you’,” he recalled without a hint of embarrassment.  He was surrounded by three blushing faces.

“Okay, well, that’s great...let’s get going, shall we?”  Naruto opened the passenger door for Hinata before running around to the other side.

Ino chanced a look at Sai, who just smiled at her.  She couldn’t tell if he was just pretending to be oblivious or not, but the thought that maybe he knew exactly what he was doing just made him seem more attractive.

He opened the door.  “Ladies first.”

The blonde blushed a smile and scooched in.

 

“Naruto-kun, let me pay for it this time,” Hinata insisted.

“No, the guy’s supposed to pay for it,” Naruto argued back quietly.

“But you paid for the strawberries.”

“That wasn’t the movies.  It doesn’t count.”

“But it’s not fair.”

“Just let me pay for it.”

“Naruto-kun, please-”

“Hurry up, you two, there are people waiting!” Sakura scolded.  She watched the two of them jostle each other a bit more in front of the window before Naruto pushed the brim of her hat down, effectively blinding her for just long enough to slide the payment to the worker.  “Ugh.” The pinkette rolled her eyes at their lovey-dovey display. She turned to look at Sasuke behind her to complain, but to her surprise, he hadn’t been paying any attention. Usually Sasuke hated waiting in lines.

Sasuke stood there, arms crossed, eyes trained on the movie showtimes.  

This was puzzling to her.  She also knew Sasuke rarely went out to see movies being the type of person who preferred to save the money.  “Is there a different movie you wanted to see?” she asked him quietly.

Sasuke worked his jaw.  He didn’t know what any of these movies were.  “No.”

Sakura couldn’t help letting her confusion show.  Despite his answer, he continued to study the listing.

“...Is there one that seems interesting?”

He could more or less guess what some of them were about and he looked at the movie posters on the walls, but he didn’t know if they were worth it.  He would have to investigate them later. His eyes shifted to Sakura. “Are any of them supposed to be good?”

“Umm…”  Sakura looked up at the movies.  “Besides the superhero one we’re seeing today, I haven’t heard very much about the others.  With all of the exams, I haven’t gotten to see any trailers.” She looked back at Sasuke, who was now frowning.  It was so strange to her. “Did you want to see a movie?”

Sasuke’s frown deepened at her question.  It wasn’t that he wanted to see a movie, necessarily.  What he wanted was...he glanced at the girl before him.  She was looking at him, obviously trying to figure him out.  And he knew he was acting oddly. All because of her. It was just all so annoying.  “No, I don’t like the movies.”

Sakura tilted her head, smiling a little in amusement.  “I know. Thank you for coming along with us today anyway.”

He felt that odd pressure in the center of his chest, that strange sensation of forgetting to breathe for a second.  Always disturbing. He looked away. It was becoming increasingly frustrating. That she seemed to understand him no matter what, while he felt only growing uncertainty.  That she seemed so at ease around him, while he felt only agitation. Naruto had told him to act on it, to take her out on a date, but what was he supposed to do exactly?  He took a calming breath.  Now that exams were over, he didn’t have any excuses to procrastinate the growing problem within him.  He just had to act on it. When should I ask her?  Today? Not in front of the others.  Over the phone? Is that cowardly?  He couldn’t help agonizing over what exactly he was supposed to do.

Sakura knew from one look that Sasuke was put off by something.  She just didn’t know if it was due to being at the movies or her.  When she was younger, she used to hug him to comfort him, but now that they were older, she felt like she just couldn’t do that.  Especially if she was the problem. Paying for her ticket, she resolved herself to really talk to him. She couldn’t bear having him leave for college without knowing if she did something to make him mad at her.  Naruto had told her Sasuke was worrying over something stupid just as he had thought, but that still wasn’t reassuring, at all. No matter what it was, she needed to know.

 

“Let’s sit at the top!” Naruto whisper-cried in excitement.

“What?  Why?” Sakura argued, equally quietly-loud.

“Why not?” Naruto reasoned back.

“There’s a bunch of seats in the middle open!”  She tried to point, but her disagreement was ignored as Kiba was already leading the group past the spot she noticed.  She looked at them incredulously. What a bunch of hooligans.  

Sasuke and Shikamaru were the only two who also didn’t want to walk all the way up to the back, but Shikamaru was unwillingly following Choji, probably trying to avoid a situation of being stuck next to the almost-couples.  

Sasuke stared at them, imagining the view toward the screen from the top.  “If I’m paying to be here, I want the best seats.”

“The best seats are at the top!” Naruto explained.  “Right?” He turned to Hinata for confirmation, but Hinata looked as if she was trying to consider his opinion.

“Umm...we’re blocking others from coming in.  I think we should just go and sit?” Hinata suggested, and began reluctantly walking up the steps after Shikamaru.

Sasuke watched Naruto excitedly follow her.  He saw Sakura give an expression of defeat and start up the steps.  “Sakura, let’s sit in the middle.”

She turned to look at him in confusion.  She looked at her other friends, sitting at the top.  She didn’t know what she was contemplating. It was hardly a choice.  She nodded, trying to suppress a smile.

Sasuke followed her into the middle row and ignored their friends’ jabs at him being a loner.  As he sat beside her, he faced the problem of whether to pull down the armrest between them or not, and in his indecision, he realized he missed the moment to do it.  His chest hurt again. He found himself coming to the realization again and again that when he was with Sakura, he put himself into embarrassing situations. Yet he still seeked her out.  Just like now. It was only the two of them in a dark movie theater, and the movie wouldn’t start for at least another five minutes. His side tingled toward Sakura, his eyes threatened to glance toward her, his hand itched to do something.  Somehow his hand didn’t feel it was enough to just lie next to his leg like a normal hand.   Isn’t she too close?   Is it really too late to pull down the armrest?  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  The racing of his heart was against his sense of self.  He couldn’t allow himself to get worked up about sitting next to Sakura.  It wasn’t cool. And everyone knew he was the epitome of cool. He took another purposeful breath.  He suddenly came back to himself. What am I getting all nervous about?  I’m Uchiha Sasuke. I can do fucking anything.   He blinked in clarity.  “Sakura-”

“-kun”

The two of them looked at each other.  Her voice calling his name threw his resolve off.  He felt his throat close up for a second and he was thankful the theater was dark so she couldn’t see him swallow his nerves.

“Yes?”  Sakura had been working the courage up to really ask Sasuke what his problem was, but she was scared.  She didn’t mind postponing the conversation.

Sasuke glanced at the seats behind them, making note that no one could hear what he was about to do.  He turned his eyes back to her green ones, and his heart shook. His brows furrowed as he stared at her intensely.

Sakura fidgeted under his gaze that could only be described as a glare.  “...Sasuke-kun?”

This was it.  He couldn’t turn back now.  “...Do you…” His features flinched, the words sounded wrong to him already.  He forged on. “-want to go out-” His heart liquified. “-with me tomorrow? Just us after homeroom?”  Cold heat crawled below his skin as he waited for her answer, but it was overwhelmed by the unexpected relief, pure relief, that washed through his mind, and he marvelled at the feeling.  He understood what Naruto meant now. I’ll never have to feel annoyed again.  His gaze softened as he watched Sakura’s eyes widen.  Her mouth opened and then snapped shut. She looked away for a moment, eyes narrowed, and he could see confusion written across her face.  His own expression mirrored hers.

She turned to him again, seeming to have come to some kind of understanding.  “I’ll go with you anywhere, Sasuke-kun. Do you need my help with something?” Her eyes searched his in honest concern.  

He realized she misinterpreted his question.  He was momentarily too shocked to feel upset, and when that wore off, he could only feel upset with himself.   She doesn’t believe at all that I would ask her out.  “As my girlfriend.  Do you want to be my girlfriend,” he clarified a little too quickly.  

Disbelief morphed into realization, a light switched on beneath her small face, her open mouth curved into a hesitant yet joyful smile.  “Yes,” she breathed, nodding slightly. “Sasuke-kun, yes.  I want to be your girlfriend.”

He couldn’t stop his own smile.  Her adoring eyes reminded him of prom, and at that time, too, he couldn’t help smiling at her.  He would never get enough of it. He wanted her to look at him that way forever.

She rubbed away tears.  “Is this real?”

He took her hand in his at her whispered uncertainty.  Now his hand was finally satisfied, too. He hated it when Naruto was right, but he had to give this one to his stupid friend.  He looked at Sakura, and saw her eyes trained on their joined fingers.

She felt like she was going to hyperventilate.  “Oh my gods…” His hand was everything.  Warm, reliable, reassuring.  She met his obsidian eyes and took in his confident smirk.  “Sasuke-kun…” she whispered.

The commercials ended and the previews began.  The lights lowered even more, and the music got louder.  He gave her one last crooked smile before turning to the screen, but he didn’t miss how she looked absolutely shattered.  His previous worry that he didn’t understand her remained. How she could care for him so much to the point where he felt worshipped...he didn’t think he’d ever understand it.  But he realized now, as she squeezed his hand as if afraid he would let go, that it didn’t matter. As long as it was him, he didn’t have to understand it.

 

Hinata followed Naruto out of the theater, trying to quell her flaming cheeks.  Her friends were talking about the movie, but she hardly knew what had been happening in the movie.  She had been much too distracted by someone licking and breathing on her neck and whispering in her ear to notice.  And she was now staring at that someone, who was animatedly talking with Kiba and Shino about the movie.

Noticing her attention, Naruto glanced at her and winked.  

She blushed furiously.  She had absolutely no idea how he knew what happened in the movie.  If she had had a hard time paying attention to the movie, then he hadn’t watched it at all.  He had encouraged her numerous times throughout the movie to kiss him, even during noisy fight scenes.  In fact, it was during the battles he became especially hard to resist. She had tried to voice her displeasure about the public display of affection, but he would just give her this certain look, and she would end up kissing him anyway.  She was worried Shikamaru knew exactly what they were doing, and it was only that fear that kept her from full-on sitting in Naruto’s lap.  On reflection, she knew exactly why Naruto wanted to sit in the back of the theater, and it wasn’t because it had the best view of the screen.  She was pulled back into the present with Naruto’s shout of surprise.

Her attention turned toward Sakura and Sasuke, who were currently the focus of everyone’s eyes.  

“What’s this what’s this what’s the meaning of THIS?!”  Naruto was pointing at their joined hands. “You BASTARD, you finally manned up!”

Sasuke glared at him, daring him to make any more of a scene.  “Shut up. Have some sensitivity for the people around you.”

Whistles and laughter followed.  Sasuke received pats on the back, and Ino pulled Sakura into a huge hug.  

 

Hinata kept her eyes on the road before them, memorizing the on-ramps, off-ramps, notable trees, and stores.  They were heading to his place. After an attempted date fifteen minutes ago that was more like a scene out of Mission Impossible, they had agreed to not go out in public as just the two of them.  A group of old Hyuuga uncles, her father included, had been sitting outside of the mall playing mahjong.  Her disguise might be able to fool an aunt or cousin, but not her father. In an abrupt duck-and-crawl, they had snuck back to the car successfully.  Naruto, without hardly letting himself take a breather, had started the car up again. He had been setting the course back to the school, but Hinata had nervously insisted that they just try going someplace else.  She smiled a bit, remembering the adrenaline of almost getting caught.

“We’re almost there.”

She nodded and scanned the tree-covered hills.  He lived outside of Konoha central, more than half an hour away that was probably worse in traffic.  She felt safe out here, away from the prestigious clans that made up the city, away from the unnecessary glamour.  Naruto always made her feel safe.

“You know Rock Lee and Tenten, right?  They actually live down that way.” He nodded toward the main thoroughfare before turning into a side street lined with apartment buildings.  “This is the place!” The car rocked over the bumpy driveway of a building surrounded by sturdy pines.

She looked up at the railings and doors that rose toward the sky.  Maybe it was patronizing of her, but she had always wondered at the lives concealed within those apartments.  What it was like to actually be physically close to your family, and to not have to walk several halls to get to her sister’s room.  “Did you always live here?” Hinata asked.

“For most of my life, yeah, but I moved here when I started living with my godfather.  I used to live in the city like you guys.” He pulled under the building and parked.

“Really?”

“Mhm.  I can point out the place to you later.  It’s fairly close to our elementary school.  It’s not a house like Ino’s or something, but it was in a condo.  Nicer than this place.”

Hinata looked around at the trees again as they headed up the stairs.  “It’s nice here. The air feels clearer, and it’s so green.”

“Yeah, but the drive sucks.  Just to be safe, we should probably leave in two hours or so.”

Hinata hummed her agreement.  “I still have choir.” She followed him down the open-air hallway to a black, metallic screen door.  All of the units had some kind of screen door. For security?, she wondered.  

Naruto fished his keys out of his pocket and unlocked both the metal door and the wooden one behind it.  He flipped the switch and Hinata stepped in.

O-jamashimasu,” she called out quietly as she unzipped her ankle boots.

“It’s nothing special here.”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “Do you want anything to drink?  Tea, juice, um..milk?”  

“Tea would be nice.”

“Gotcha.”  Naruto rushed to the kitchen, and she followed him.  He began heating up the water and nervously turned his eyes toward her.  “I’m not used to having people over. How are my manners?”

She giggled.  “You’re being a wonderful host.  Thank you.” Seeing his tense shoulders relax, she continued, “You don’t have to do anything special for me.  It’s just me.”

He squinted at her.  “Just you, huh? Hyuuga Hinata, the princess of Konoha, here, in my humble abode.”

She scrunched her face up and shook her head at the title.  “It’s just me.”

“Just you,” he repeated, coming up to her and taking her hands.  They smiled at each other for an extended second before he led her out to the dining area.  

Hinata took the opportunity to look around as she shook off his large leather jacket and let her hair tumble out of the hat.  It was cozy. The dining room and the living room were marked off only by the change in tile to carpet. The blinds were drawn slightly, but she could make out the outlines of another building.  A lumpy couch and armchair sat before a television. A crate full of old newspapers overflowed in the corner of a room, and crammed bookshelves lined the wall. She realized the doors they had passed on the way in must have been the bedrooms and bathroom.  Hinata’s eyes trailed back to Naruto, who was watching her take in her surroundings.

“You must think this place is tiny,” he murmured.

She looked away for a second in thought.  “It has everything a person needs.”

He smirked.  “You think it’s tiny.”

“No!  Not tiny.  I think it’s nice.  My house it too big.  No one actually needs that much space.  I’d like someplace more like this.”

Naruto studied her for a moment and nodded, finding her words truthful.  “I’d like a bigger place. My godfather can be too nosy. There isn’t a lot of privacy.”

“Well, even in a large house, there isn’t always privacy.”

Naruto considered her words before standing up to check on the hot water.  “Hm, I guess so.” He called from the kitchen. “Do you want Chinese green tea, hojicha, or we have this fruity strawberry tea.  I don’t know if it’s any good. I haven’t tried it.”

She smiled to herself.  She could just imagine him squinting at the teabags with judgmental hesitancy.   “I’ll try it.”

“You’ll try it?...I guess I will too, then.”  He returned with two steaming cups on a small platter.  

They made further small talk about the tea, and they both relaxed considerably.  Hinata smiled at him dazedly. It was only just hitting her that she was actually at his place.  Alone with him. Neither would her father nor Tokuma-san come busting in to interrupt them. “Thank you for bringing me here.  I know it must be troublesome to drive back and forth. But I’m glad I finally get to see where you live, where you grew up.” Her eyes wandered again over the room, and she could imagine him lying on the couch or kneeling before the bookshelves.  A little Naruto running down the hall. Even an angsty, angry Naruto slamming the door. She turned her eyes toward the grown-up one before her.

“It’s not a problem.  It’s worth it if I get to spend time with you.”  He reached his hands over the table and Hinata immediately met them with her own.  They smiled at each other before he broke it, looking toward the couch. “You wanna go sit over there?”  

She nodded happily, and the two moved themselves to the couch.  She snuggled beside him, letting her head rest against his shoulder.  She wasn’t sure when she had gotten so comfortable with him. She just trusted him, more than anyone else.  His warmth was like a blanket that cloaked her, squeezed her heart, and enticed her to cuddle more into the promised security.  She felt almost like a child around him, and it wasn’t the first time she wanted to act cute for him. “Naruto-kun?”

“Hm?”

“You’re comfy.”

His fingers pressed into her arm as she turned her eyes up toward him.  “You’re the comfy one.” He placed a kiss on her lips, then another, and another.  Their tongues slipped together softly, smoothing over the other. His hands found her hips, and she took the hint quickly, straddling his lap as the kiss deepened.  

Their hunger for each other wasn’t a secret between them.  Their late night video calls often had them at their computer cameras pretending to kiss, their minds too far-gone for each other to feel embarrassment for the act that no doubt looked ridiculous.  Their messages to each other held words that they didn’t have the courage to say in person, yet revealed their hidden desires. Hinata’s hands inched under his shirt. The skin beneath her fingers was smooth and warm, and she burned with the memory of the messages they had exchanged the night before in the heat of the moment.   “I wish I could take your shirt off.”   She had typed it and pressed enter before she could regret it.  The fierce expression of raw masculinity he had shown her after reading it made her ache.  His reply even moreso. “You have no idea how much I want to take yours off.”   She in fact hadn’t known.  Even now, and just like in previous makeout sessions, it felt like she was taking the lead.  She wouldn’t mind it if he used a bit more force, like the time in the stairwell, but he would only initiate the kissing since then.  She slipped her fingers away from his back and took a hold of his hands from her waist. She knew she was red, and she could hardly believe what she was about to do, but she moved her sweater out of the way and placed his hands on her breasts.  She whispered, unsure, “Touch me?” She wanted to see that expression from last night again. She wondered what she had to do to see that side of him again.

“Hinata…” he whispered.  He squeezed her through her chiffon dress, his eyes focused on the work of his hands, his mind blanking as his fingers pressed against soft skin that wasn’t covered by the pad of her bra.  He knew her breasts were bigger than average, and he had had more than one unintentional fantasy of sticking his face or hands or...something else...in the valley there. He whispered her name again as he pushed them together and she gave out a muffled moan.  He turned his attention to her face and wet his lips at the sight of her mouth open in shallow pants. “You’re so sexy.” She shook her head in disagreement, but he stopped her with another kiss, licking her lips with the tip of his tongue before entering her mouth.  The little noises she made seemed to go straight to his dick, and he was thrown into a battle for sanity between his brain and his lower head. It was a losing fight when he felt her hands fumble beneath his shirt again, her fingers pulling at the offending material. He chuckled lowly, breaking the kiss.  “Should I lose the shirt?”

Hinata returned to her shy self.  She looked toward the door in uncertainty.  She turned back to him and saw a simmering heat in his fixated blue eyes, and though it wasn’t quite like the night before, it reminded her of it enough.  Unconsciously, her thighs squeezed him in an effort to relieve the build-up in her nether region. Her hands dropped to rest on his stomach, her shoulders raised in self-consciousness.  She knew he knew what she wanted, and it made her feel bare. She felt like some crazy girl, unable to control herself, and he could see right through her. It was embarrassing. She glanced at him demurely, her arms squeezing around her from the loss of his warm hands and skin, her hips and legs fidgeted on their own accord.  “But what if your godfather comes home?”

Naruto let his eyes wander over her.  “He works afternoons and nights now.” His gaze dropped to her legs that were slowly pulsing against him, as if he wouldn’t notice, where her dress had rode up above her knee.  His hand was on her bare thigh below the light material before he could even register what he was doing. His fingers squeezed the toned muscle as his eyes turned back up to hers.  

She shivered in the growing intensity of his gaze.  He looked hotter than a second ago, and she leaned forward to kiss him.  She rolled his shirt up as she felt his fingers moving along her thighs, growing dangerously close to her backside.  She arched into his chest. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to seduce him or keep him from touching her butt. Maybe it was both, but the action did nothing to dissuade him.  His fingers lightly curved along the skin, caressing where her leg met her ass. She shivered and against her better judgment, pressed her butt into his fingers. She dropped her head, breaking the kiss to moan at the feeling of his grip.  She panted, trying to regain control of herself, and opened her eyes. She was greeted with a view of his abs. “Oh, wow.” At the sound of her own shaky voice filled with admiration and lust, she blushed furiously.

It was an incredible stroke to his ego.  This prim and proper girl, who he had only touched a little in a private area, was falling apart on him.  And she liked his abs. He couldn’t help but wonder if she’d like other parts of him.  He looked toward his bedroom and tried to plot a way to get them from the living room to there, but his mind was distracted by her hands tracing lines across his stomach.  “Hinata?”

Her previous hooded eyes and panting lips were replaced by a look of curiosity.  “How did you get these?” she asked, her fingers outlining his muscle.

“Uh.”  The change in manner was too unexpected, and he worked to get his brain functioning again.  He realized he had relinquished control to his other head, but he was having a hard time remembering why he cared.  “Um. I work out.” Wasn’t it obvious? He had a straining erection, why couldn’t she notice the lump in his pants? “Hinata.”  Her name was a plea to return to their previous activities. He watched her look up at his eyes and blush. Pleased to have her attention, he pulled his shirt off.  He saw her eyes travel down to his chest, but before she could ask him any more silly questions, he engaged her in another kiss.

She melted in his embrace.  Her hands rejoiced over his warm skin, and she couldn’t help smiling into the kiss as she worked her fingers into his shoulders and chest.  He felt amazing. Solid and strong. There was no way Toneri felt like him. She immediately brushed the thought of her unwanted fiance out of her mind and refocused her energy into kissing Naruto.  Her hands worked around to the base of his hairline, and she pushed herself against him.

He groaned, feeling her rock against him.  He needed more. He needed to be closer to her.  Kissing her just wasn’t enough, he needed more. “Hold onto me,” he managed to instruct before fisting his shirt behind her back and grabbing a hold of her bottom.

“Huh?!”  Hinata squeezed her legs around his back.  She was about to try to get off of him, but he held her tightly.  She was being carried like a baby, and it was ridiculously embarrassing.  “Naruto-kun, I can walk on my own.”

“I don’t want to let you go.”

“But…”  The words died on her lips as he opened his bedroom door and kicked it shut.  She only had a moment to recognize the shelves, desk, and the frog plushies he insisted were actually toads, before she found herself lying on his bed.  He hovered over her, ocean eyes piercing through her. “Naruto-kun,” she murmured. It crossed her mind again that he was hot. Smoking hot.

He leaned down to kiss her, but his mind wasn’t in it.  The look of her lying in his bed, vulnerable to him, excited and scared him.  What were they going to do? Was it wrong? Did she want him the way he wanted her?  They hadn’t really talked about it. When they were alone like this, he just acted off of instinct, and it was just a matter of controlling himself until his second head finally took over.  He lined kisses along her jawline and down her neck. She writhed and gasped beneath him, and it just reminded him of sex. He pressed his face into her neck, stifling a groan. “I want you, Hinata.  I want you.” He could hear her breathing heavily against his ear. He was so turned on. He was ready for her.

Hinata tried to make sense of his words.  She was right here with him. It didn’t really make sense.  Unless he was referring to the fact that she wasn’t officially his.  She placed her hands against his head, guiding him to look at her. “I’m right here, Naruto-kun.”  She stroked his cheeks and saw the turmoil in his eyes. “I’m yours. Only yours. I love you.”

He smiled a bit, shifted his weight, and grabbed her hand.  He kissed her palm and helped her to sit up. She was more oblivious than he thought.  Did she not know what making out at a boy’s house led to? He bit his lips, preparing himself to have a talk with her.  He wondered if she was one of those kids whose parents didn’t allow her to have sex ed with everyone else in fifth grade.  He met her concerned eyes. She probably was.  “Hinata, you know I love you, right?”

She nodded.

He contemplated his next words.  Why did he feel like he was a parent giving his child “the talk”?   When a man and woman fall in love…  The words were all kinds of wrong, and certainly Hinata knew that much.  He shook his head slightly. He looked at her again. Her lips were swollen from their kissing, and he just wanted to chase her back down to the bed and kiss her some more, among other things.  “Do you...want to get...physically closer to me?” Do you want to do it?  Can I make love with you?  Please?

Hinata blushed and nodded.  “I’ve been wanting to see you without your shirt for awhile now,” she admitted.  

Naruto smiled at her shy demeanor.  “...Anything else?” Like making love?

She blushed even deeper.  “I also wanted to touch your muscles.”  Her eyes flickered up. “And your chest.”  She squeezed her eyes shut at the confession and smiled in embarrassment.  

He watched the steam come out of her ears, and he felt a twinge of disappointment.  It was pretty obvious that her thought process had only travelled that far.

She peeked at him.  “What do you want to do with me?” she asked so quietly, she hardly heard herself.

He blushed.  For awhile now, he had wanted to do all kinds of things with her.  She had a body that was hard to hide, and it inspired a desire in him that made him feel ashamed.  As they got closer over the past weeks, especially ever since the kissing at Ino’s house, he had been left unsatisfied, dreaming and imagining the next time they’d get to be alone together.  And here she was, on his bed. “I want to touch you, too. I want to be closer to you.”

She smiled, embarrassed at his words.  “Um…” She met his gaze, which had considerably cooled since earlier, but still carried undeniable affection for her.  It warmed her and gave her the confidence to say her next words. “If you want...I could take off my dress.”

His eyes widened.  “Only if that’s what you want, Hinata.  I don’t want to force you to do anything for me.”

She blushed.  She again felt like a crazy girl who couldn’t control herself.  It would be so much easier if Naruto was more forceful. Then she wouldn’t have to feel like she was pushing herself onto him.  “Do you want to touch me?” she asked, more unsure than before.

He looked away from her for a moment and nodded.  “Yeah, but only if you’re okay with it.” He gulped as he watched her take off her sweater, exposing milky white arms, smooth shoulders, and a bareback dress.  

She blushed under his gaze but continued.  She unclipped the fastener around her neck and only hesitated for half a second before pulling the collar down and shimmying out of the flowing chiffon dress.  She stood before him in her underwear, holding herself as she tried to gauge his reaction. His brows were raised and furrowed, and she could practically feel his eyes as they passed over her exposed body.  She fidgeted, pressing her knees together in anxiety, and saw how his gaze settled on her panties, his features flinching a bit. She watched him grab the edge of the bed, his legs widening as he shifted his position.

“Naruto-kun...”  Hinata’s face twisted in embarrassment.  “You don’t have to stare like that…”

The concentration on his face broke and he smiled, seemingly embarrassed, too, as his hand worked the back of his neck.  “Sorry, Hinata. You’re just-” He cleared his throat. He couldn’t stop his eyes from passing over her again, and he felt like a Grade A creep.  He met her eyes. “You’re really beautiful.” He smiled a bit and swallowed, standing up to take her hands. He felt how stiffly she removed her arms from her body.  “Hinata. It’s just me. I won’t hurt you. I never want to hurt you. I love you. Thank you for doing this for me.”

Hinata relaxed a bit.  She had always been worried about her body.  Knowing that Naruto used to like Sakura, she was worried that he wouldn’t care for her curves.  She knew she wasn’t fat, but she also knew she wasn’t built like Sakura, like a thin runway model.  Everyone had a certain type, and what if she wasn’t it for him? She was still worried about her boobs.  What if he thought they were too big? What if he thought she was like a cow? Maybe that was why she always had to encourage him to touch her?  She knew he loved her, but she wanted him to like her body, too, just as much as she liked his. “Do you...like what you see?” she asked nervously.

He nodded.  “You’re beautiful, Hinata.”  He held her hands tightly to keep his own from groping her unexpectedly.  “And…” He gripped her hands even tighter. “Beautiful is an understatement.”  He kissed her to try to convey his feelings and to distract his mind from her body.  It was a plan that failed terribly as he felt her hands reach around his neck, drawing her body against his bare chest.  His now empty hands had nothing to keep them disciplined, and they hesitantly latched around her waist. Reservations flew away as he pressed his hands into her.  He squeezed her supple skin, then caressed the slope of her waist multiple times before following the flare of her hip to her hip bone. His other arm pulled her in closer as his fingers molded around the protrusion, dipping below the seam of her panty a few times.  She trembled in his arms and made little sounds that made him throb.  He groaned and forced his impatience into the kiss, all desire to pull down her panties into his tongue’s ministrations.  After making sure his curiosity of her hip was adequately satisfied, his hands worked to her back, his fingertips finding the dip and bumps of her spine, which he traced up and down, and further down.  He knew where they were going, but he didn’t have the willpower to stop them.

She arched against him.  “Naruto-kun,” she protested, but even to her own ears, she sounded like she was encouraging him.  Her fingers rose into his blond hair, tugging on the short strands. She felt his hands retreat from her backside, and she was momentarily confused to find herself more disappointed than relieved.  Her confusion didn’t last long, however, when she felt his hands work between them and onto her chest. She gave a short gasp of surprise.

He broke the kiss with a look of guilt, even as he massaged and caressed her.  “I couldn’t stop myself. Is it okay?”

She nodded and saw how his lids lowered over glazed blue eyes.  She gave small whimpers and saw how his expression turned somewhat pained.

“Gods, Hinata, you’re so…”  He didn’t finish his sentence.  “Can I…”

Hinata watched his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.

He squeezed her breasts more before pulling the straps down her shoulders.  “Can we take it off?” he asked quietly.

His throat sounded dry, and she watched him swallow again.  “Um…” She couldn’t answer right away. She saw his eyes lower and his hands drop to her waist.

“It’s okay.”  He kissed her passionately before leaving kisses and licks down her neck.  “Don’t feel like you have to do anything you don’t want to,” he breathed against her neck.  His hands gripped her sides tightly as he found they fit perfectly in the tapering of her waist.  He sucked gently on her pulse and licked the skin there, relishing her quivering form.

“I want to,” she whispered.  

Her low voice in his ear sent shivers up his spine, and he adjusted his stance.  He felt jittery, antsy, hungry, incredibly horny. He kissed her back up her neck.  “Are you sure?” he murmured.

“Yes.”

Her affirmation had him engaging her in another heavy kiss.  His hands shot back up to her breasts, and he could feel her slipping her arms out of the straps.  Only a few seconds later, the bra went lax and fell into his hands and he dropped it at their feet.  He broke the kiss to look into her eyes. “You’re sure it’s okay?” he asked again, but his hands were already scaling her waist and stomach.

Hinata bit her lips.  She was melting beneath his fiery touch, and she wanted to feel more.  And he was looking at her with such unmasked passion. It only made the ache in her more prominent, knowing that her body could elicit this kind of response from him.  She nodded. “Yes, touch me, Naruto-kun.”

He didn’t need any more encouragement.  His hands closed around her, and he was immediately blown away by how soft she was.  He squeezed her gently, molding his hands into her skin. He brushed his thumbs over the darkened areolas experimentally, and looked at Hinata in wonder when she gasped.  His eyes fell back to his work as he repeatedly brushed her nipples, feeling them stiffen beneath his thumbs.

Hinata could hardly take it.  The sensitivity made her squirm in his hands, and she had half a mind to ask him to stop.  Her brain was a mess, but her body seemed to know what it wanted as she pressed against him and moaned.  She rubbed her legs together, trying to quell the heated pull in her nether region. She gasped again, realizing her panties felt wet.  

Naruto noticed her hips shaking, her body trembling in his grasp.  “You’re so sexy, Hinata.” He interrupted her disagreement by pulling her onto his lap on the bed.  He found himself face to face with her breasts, and he willingly closed his mouth around a nipple. He swirled his tongue around it and sucked gently, spurred on by his name falling from her lips.

Hinata shook her head in her confused high.  She grabbed onto his head and pulled him against her.  She didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t understand herself.  She didn’t know anything. She only knew his touch. When he switched sides, she whimpered at the cold air that surrounded her hardened nipple, and moaned in relief when his hand covered the lonely breast.  “Naruto-kun...Naruto….ku...Naruto…..Naruto….”

He finally looked up at her calling, but his hands busied themselves.  He couldn’t get enough of how ridiculously soft she was. “Yes...Hinata?”  He licked her collarbone and neck. He couldn’t get enough of tasting her, either.  

“What...what are you doing to me?” she asked desperately.  He smiled at her, a disarming smile that made her heart lurch.  They kissed again, but it didn’t last long. Her mouth couldn’t function properly because she couldn’t stop gasping as he pinched and rubbed her.

“Hinata…”  The smile was gone, and he looked at her breasts.  “I don’t know. I’m just...trying to make you feel good, I guess.  Do you feel good?”

“I...I don’t know!”  She was frustrated. She was a mess.  She was a mess in front of the love of her life.

“Do you know what you’re doing to me?” he asked as he attacked her neck.

She couldn’t answer with coherent words.  

“You make me want to…”  One of his hands latched around her arching back, and he returned to kissing her breasts.  He couldn’t say it out loud. He just wanted to do it. But the idea of speaking his feelings aloud pulled him slightly back to reality.  He wrapped his arms around her, trying to ignore her humping against him, and caught her lips in a deep kiss. Whenever they took a breath for air, they breathed each other’s names.  He had never felt so close to anyone before.

Hinata felt herself calming down.  Now that he wasn’t petting her, she could feel the pieces of her mind settle back into place.  They eventually stopped kissing and just rested against each other, feeling the racing of their hearts slow behind their bare skin.  “I love you, Naruto-kun.”

“I love you, too, Hinata.”  He had calmed down some, but only as much as any teenager could be expected to when he has an almost-naked girl pressed against him in his lap.  His fingers stroked her back as he looked for distraction in his room. He felt her squeeze him in a loving hug, but it only served to make him feel more conscious of her soft skin.  “Hinata…”

“Mhmm?”

“You can put your clothes on now.”  He hated himself.

“Mmmm….but you feel nice.”

He clenched his eyes shut, and he became even more aware of her.  He snapped his eyes open. “You do, too. But maybe you should put your clothes on.”

“Why?” she sighed.  Her fingers traced patterns in his shoulder.

“Because…”  He shifted uncomfortably.  His second head was begging for attention from her.  He hated that part about himself, too. She was obviously feeling affectionate, while he just wanted to do other physical things besides hugging and kissing.

Hinata got off of him and held his hand.  She was blushing. “I’m sorry if I’m coming off as pushy.  I don’t want you to think I’m a slut or something.” She stood up and grabbed her bra from the floor.

“No, Hinata!  That’s not why.”  With regret, he watched her clothe herself.  

She blushed again.  She had made assumptions and thought that maybe that was what he was thinking.  Now she had gone and put the idea in his head. She frowned as she clasped her dress and pulled her sweater on.  “Do we have to go soon?!” She quickly checked the wall clock and saw they still had thirty minutes. She blushed even more, realizing that they had been making out for almost a solid ninety minutes, maybe less if she counted the tea.

Naruto didn’t move.  He just watched her turn this way and that in the small space of his bedroom.  “Can I be honest with you?”

Hinata finally focused on him.  “Of course. What is it?” She sat down next to him.  

He held her hand and kissed her chastely.  “I want you, Hinata. I want to make love with you.”

Their blushing gazes didn’t falter.  Hinata felt her heart clench as she became aware of how she was pressed against his muscular arm and bare upper body.  “Like...sex?” she whispered.

Naruto’s mouth thinned into a taut line.  “It wouldn’t be just sex.” He felt himself blushing hard.  “I love you, and I want to show you how much I love you. I want to give you all of me.”  His heart fluttered uncomfortably within the confines of his chest. “Not today. And it doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or this week, or next…”  He gulped. He wanted it soon, though, and if it wasn’t within the week, it wouldn’t be for an entire summer. She would be gone with that other guy.  “When you’re ready. I want you to want it, too. I want it to be as meaningful for you as it would be for me.”

Hinata nodded slowly in understanding.  His confession was powerful. She felt undeserving.  He was always one step ahead of her. Ready to give her his all, while she was...She didn’t know what she was doing.  Wasting time? “Naruto-kun, I told you this a few nights ago, and I meant it. I’m not going to marry Toneri-kun. I love you, and I only want to be with you.  I need time to think about...um...making love...but I hope you know that I belong to you, really and truly.”

“I belong to you, too, Hinata.”  He rubbed soothing circles with his thumb into her hand.  “I don’t mean to make you feel rushed about anything. I just didn’t want you misunderstanding me.  You make me feel...these feelings...and I don’t ever want you to feel like I don’t want you. I always want you.  I just want to be with you...in any way...possible.” He blushed at her. “Is that okay? I’m sorry if I seem like a pervert.  Actually, I know I’m a pervert. Don’t, don’t comment on that.” He covered his face with his hand. “Forget that. I love you, that’s all I need you to know.”  He scrunched an uncertain smile at her.

“I know you love me.  You never make me feel like you don’t love me.”  Hinata smiled warmly at him.

“Really?  That’s good.”  Naruto relaxed at her assurance.

“Mhm.  And I love you, all of you, pervert and all.”

“Oh my gods, no, I don’t want you to think of me in that way.”

She smiled at him an evil grin and laughed.  

“I’m not!  I’m not a pervert!”

“Mhmm,” Hinata agreed with an air of complete disbelief.

He frowned at her.  “Well what about you?  Wanting to take my shirt off all the time?”

Hinata’s jaw dropped.  “That! That’s not! Noooooo!!”

“Yeah, Hinata’s a little per~ve, but she just hides it behind her cutesiness.  Who would have thought? The proper Hyuuga Hinata actually goes around imagining boys with their shirts off-”  His rambling was interrupted by a pillow slamming into his face.

“Stoooop!  Stooooop!! I don’t go around imagining boys with their shirts off!  Only you! I only wanted to see your shirt off!”

Naruto pulled the pillow off his face and beamed at her.  “A pervert for me, then? I’m only a pervert for you, too.”

Hinata squinted at him accusingly, unable to decide whether to smile or scowl.  She huffed her displeasure as Naruto sat up and bumped her shoulder playfully with his own.

“I loooove youuu!  I looove you, Hyuuga Hinata!  I looooove youuuu!” he sang.

Her upset facade was broken by his silliness.  She peered up at him with a warm smile. “I love you, too, Uzumaki Naruto-kuuuun.  I looove you!” She pressed a kiss to his lips and smiled, only centimeters away from him.  

“Hmm.  Now that you know my dirty side, I guess I can tell you how much I would want to undress you right now, if only we had more time.”

“Naruto-kun!” Hinata scolded, absolutely scandalized.

He drew her into another kiss.  “I’m serious, though.”

Hinata didn’t know how to respond.  “We...we better go?”

“Yes, yes.”

“We can do this again...tomorrow?”  Hinata blushed at the suggestion.

Naruto smirked at her.  “My little pervert.”

“Don’t call me that!”

They stood and began to head out of the apartment.

“I looove you, Hinata!”

“...I love you, too, Naruto-kun.”

“What was that pause?”

“I didn’t pause.”

“You love me, right?”

“Yes, I love you!”

“Good, because there’s no way I’m letting you back out of your promise for tomorrow.”

“I know.  I really do love you.  You’re my big pervert.”

“...I’ll never call you a little pervert ever again.”

“Good.  I love you, Naruto-kun.”

“I love you, Hinata.”

Chapter Text

She was momentarily distracted by the ice that clinked in her glass as she placed it back on the cute seal-themed coaster.  She smiled at the item, reminding herself to look for it in the gift shop. Her gaze shifted back to her long-time crush, his own soda in hand, at the cafe of the Konoha Aquarium.  She felt overwhelmed by the romantic atmosphere. The low voices of couples, the laughter of young families, the warm lighting, the round aquarium spanning the entire length of the floor to the ceiling that held schools of neon-colored tropical fish.  It was simply too much.  She smiled shyly again and picked up her lemonade to try to dislodge her heart from her throat, where it had been stuck all day.  She was terrified of messing up, of being annoying, of saying the wrong thing. She figured it was better if she didn’t talk until her nerves were under control.  Sasuke didn’t seem to mind her silence too much.

“Are you bored?”

Maybe...he does mind?   Sakura shook her head, careful to not undo the braided crown of her short pink hair that was painstakingly pinned into place for today’s date.  “No, just...taking it all in.” She looked around to emphasize her meaning and gave him another shy smile.

Sasuke nodded slowly before turning his attention to the aquarium.  A yellow tang was eyeing him out.

“Are you..bored?”  She was afraid of his answer.

“No.”  

Sakura relaxed a little.  As long as he wasn’t bored or irritated with her, she considered things a success so far.  A lone white angelfish swam by, way too large to be cute anymore. She smiled at it.

Sasuke broke his staring contest with the yellow tang to watch the pinkette.  He didn’t know what to say to her. Usually he relied on Sakura to initiate conversation, or Naruto to be noisy enough to kill any chance for silence.  He usually liked silence. But he felt a strangely strong desire to talk. Wasn’t that how dates were supposed to go? Two people talking, getting to know each other.  Except they already knew each other really well. It just bothered him that Sakura was so quiet. He had erroneously thought that she would be giddy and bubbly. Besides some gasps and a few exclamations of wonder while they looked at the exhibits, she had been really quiet all morning.  Despite his concern, they finished eating before he could figure out how to start a conversation.

A bit in relief and thankful to have something to do, he pulled out the brochure.  “They’re going to feed the penguins soon. And we still need to see the jellyfish.”

Sakura stepped a bit closer to him to look at the map, nodding.  “So we need to go that way.”

Sasuke looked at where she was pointing and gave her a small smile.

She felt his hand wrap around hers as he led her out of the cafe.  It was absolutely unreal to her as they made their way toward the penguin exhibit together, even though they had held hands all morning.  She just couldn’t believe she was his girlfriend, even as they sat next to each other watching a trainer toss fish for the waddling, suit-clad birds.  

Even as they entered the final exhibit together, she had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that he had taken her out on a real date.  A real date to an aquarium.  To see turtles, penguins, manta-rays, jellyfish!  And the best part, being next to him because he had asked her to.  He wanted her there with him. He was holding her hand. Like it was natural!  This day would go down as the best day in her life, ever. She squeezed his hand as they stood before a tank of pink jellyfish.  The feel of his hand, too, was amazing to her. She had wondered, in the quiet of her bedroom, what it felt like to hold hands with a boy.  At the time, she had quickly dismissed the idea, knowing herself devoted to Sasuke, who she thought didn’t see her romantically. She had decided she would live her life single forever.  She was smart, and was determined to become smarter, richer, more independent. And that, she knew, didn’t appeal to most guys. Even Naruto had once described her as “scary,” though she couldn’t really blame him when she hit him all the time.  Yes, she got asked out by others, but she knew it would never last. She loved Sasuke, and she knew most guys probably wouldn’t be able to handle the fact that she didn’t need someone else to be happy.  So she had secretly resigned herself to the single life.  She squeezed his hand harder. She would definitely remain single for life if he ever broke up with her.

“Are you okay?”  Sasuke interrupted her thoughts.

“Yes.”  She relaxed her grip and smiled.

Sasuke looked at her for a moment longer and led her to a different tank of orange jellyfish with lengthy tentacles.  They watched in concern as two of them floated into each other, their long stingers threading through each other until finally tangling into a terrible mess.  “They’re stuck,” he observed with a critical expression.

Sakura didn’t know if it was funny or not.  “They’ll probably be okay. This must happen to them all the time.”  She held back a smile as they watched the two jellyfish attempt to float away from each other.  One jellyfish proved to be the stronger of the two. It pulled the other jelly along in the water, the two utterly stuck.

Sasuke shook his head.  The stupid situation in the tank was actually stressing him out a little.  How would the two jellyfish be able to separate? “Brainless creatures.”

“Yes, but they’re pretty.”

“It’s not everything to just be pretty.”

Sakura smiled at his serious face.  She knew for a definite fact that she loved him.  “They’re just jellyfish!”

Sasuke continued to watch them, truly concerned about their welfare.  Yet the two jellyfish just floated together, seemingly unaware of their own predicament.  Fed up, he led her to a different tank of tiny jellyfish with stingers too short to ever get tangled with another’s.

As they watched the tiny bells float around, they both relaxed in the dark room of glowing tanks.  Their date was nearing its end. The exit to the gift shop was straight ahead. Sakura swung their hands a little.  “Sasuke-kun…” She felt him shift slightly beside her. “Thank you for taking me here. I had a lot of fun.”

Sasuke studied her out of the corner of his eye.  He knew Sakura could lie to him just to make him feel better.  “You were so quiet today. Did you really have fun?”

She nodded her head.  “I was just...nervous.”  She smiled, embarrassed.

Sasuke turned his attention to the jellyfish again.  After some thought, he decided to admit it. “I was nervous, too.”  A blush began to rise to his cheeks, and he kept his face away to hide it.

Sakura looked at him in wonder.  Sasuke was nervous? She made him nervous?  They had known each other for so long. Had been alone together on multiple other occasions.  She averted her gaze when Sasuke glanced her way, but she couldn’t temper her smile. She sneaked a look his way again and saw that he was smiling, too.  A soft warmth steadily spread, a settling calm that she had never really felt before with him. His eyes met hers, and they held each other’s gazes until Sakura blushed and looked down.  She could still feel his gaze and she looked up again to confirm that it really was still there. His gentle smile was a blooming flower in her heart. She couldn’t look at it for too long.  It mushed her up inside, and she was certain her expression was mushy, too.

“Ready to go?” he asked quietly.

She could even hear the smile in his voice.  She nodded. If this was love, it was much more peaceful than she imagined.

 

He’s home already.  Naruto noted his godfather’s car in the lot before heading up the apartment stairs as quietly as he could.  He supposed it did get a bit late. He had gone over to Sasuke’s house to play video games and had ended up video-chatting with Hinata there, too.  “Tadaima.”

“Okaerinasai.”  Jiraiya came out into the hall and gave Naruto a measured look.

Sensing that his godfather was staring at him as he took his shoes off, he asked, “What?”  

“Who’d you bring over?”

Naruto shot his head up from his crouched position and then lowered his face again.  “Uh…” His brows scrunched as he internally debated on a number of things. How does he know?  Should I lie?  He took too long to think of an answer.

“As long as you used protection.”

“Wha- WHAT?  We didn’t do anything like that!”

“Yeah, sure.”  Jiraiya nodded his head in a way that completely said he did not believe him.

“I’m serious!  We didn’t do anything!”

“So it really was a girl.”

Naruto’s eyes widened at his godfather’s words.  There was no getting out of this conversation.

“You did it in your room, right?  Don’t do it on the couch, got it?”

“No, you perverted, old man, listen to me!  It’s not like that!! We didn’t do anything!”  Naruto entered the dining room, obviously looking around to see if Hinata had left anything behind that had given her presence away.

“Was it the bluenette on your phone you were drooling over?”

“Yeah, but we didn’t do anything!  She just wanted to see where I live.  And I wasn’t drooling over her!! How’d you even know I brought someone over?!”  Naruto was disgusted to think that he was drooling over her.  His godfather was the type to literally salivate looking at a pretty girl.  Not him. He hated to think he was becoming that perverted.

“You left your teacups out.”  Jiraiya gave him a teasing smile.  

The blond face-palmed.  He had completely forgotten about those damn cups.

“Here.  A present for you.”  

Naruto held his hand out.  Jiraiya deposited something that was sharp against his palm.  He looked at it. Small squares. He yelled out in shock as his hand stiffened from stress and embarrassment at what was placed there.  “I don’t need this! We’re not doing anything!”

“Yeah, yeah.  I ain’t paying for child support.  Don’t go getting a Hyuuga princess knocked up before marriage.  Go buy your own next time.”

“I don’t need-!  We didn’t do anything!!”  Unconsciously he gripped the condoms and turned into his bedroom, shutting the door quickly to escape the loud guffaws from the living room.

In the safety of his room, he rubbed his face in his hand, trying to erase the burning sensation from his cheeks.  He eased his grip and looked at the source of his immense embarrassment in his hand. He actually did need condoms.  But he would rather die than tell his perverted godfather about his recent explicit activities or his shameful desires.  He blinked rapidly to calm himself. Finally finding some kind of courage, he stared at the small squares with curiosity.  He couldn’t remember where he had seen one before. The main message of health class was abstinence, and he was certain his conservative teachers would have never brought one to class.  He frowned slightly as his mind imagined what he would need to do to open it. What the actual condom on the inside of the airtight packaging looked like. What he would need to do to put it on.  He stopped breathing as his imagination went a bit father. Him bending over Hinata, whose bare, soft skin he could clearly remember in his hands. Suddenly, everything seemed real. He averted his eyes to the floor.  What he wanted to do with her...was really no small thing. It was a huge step. One that could have serious consequences.

He looked at the squares in his palm again.  He had to put them somewhere. His immediate instinct was to hide them.  If he left them out in the open, it would imply he planned on using them quickly, and he didn’t want his godfather seeing that in the improbable case he came snooping in his bedroom.  He dropped them in his bedside drawers. He made a forced, steadying breath. While it seemed like a practical place, it once again emphasized to him the extent of his relationship with Hinata.  It scared him. What if he wasn’t any good at it? What if he hurt her? Unbidden, the memory of Hinata that day standing in his room rose to his mind’s eye. He blinked the arousing image away. He wanted her, but he didn’t want to hurt her.  He just wanted to get closer to her. To show her more of himself. To get to know her better. For them to share something special. To continue to share more and more special moments together. He looked at the condoms in concern before shutting the drawers.  Was he really ready for this?

 

She flipped over to her other side for what felt like the twentieth time that night.  Sleep eluded her. Everytime she closed her eyes, Naruto’s words filled her mind. “I want you, Hinata.”   She could feel his hands on her waist, his breath on her neck.   “I want to show you how much I love you.”   She remembered his weight against her as he held her close.   “I just want to be with you in any way possible.”    The warmth of his toned back in her hands.  She missed him. She had never felt lonely since coming back to Konoha, until now.  And until now, she had never felt such an intense desire to be held. Usually, she only felt like this when she was alone with him.  Right now she was just alone. Completely alone. Beneath her comforter, her hand shifted over her stomach. She gripped her side, her fingers pressing over where his touch had been.  “Naruto-kun,” she whispered, wondering if somehow he could telepathically hear her. Her other hand, which had been fisted against her pillow, drew down to her breasts. Hesitantly, she slid her fingers over one, spreading her hand around, and in curiosity, gently squeezed herself.  Remembering the way Naruto had touched her, she squeezed herself again, her fingers finding a more comfortable hold, her palm sliding against the thin material that covered her. She bit her lips and squirmed slightly as the uncomfortable sensitivity stiffened her nipple. She dropped her hand.  It wasn’t the same. And now she just felt even lonelier. Naruto-kun… She imagined being alone with him in the morning again.  His heated skin bare against her own. The solidity of his arms and chest beneath her fingers.  His lips and tongue against hers. Hinata squirmed and pressed deeper into her covers. She couldn’t wait to see him.

 

“Hinata, we’re here.”

Hinata’s eyes shot open and she blinked away her exhaustion as quickly as she could, but she couldn’t stop her yawn.

“You’re really tired, huh.  You didn’t get enough sleep last night?”  Naruto looked in concern at her after turning off the engine.

“I’m sorry for sleeping while you were driving.  I just had a hard time falling asleep last night.”  She blushed, remembering what she had done the night before.  In her insomnia, she had gotten up again and, through a streak of uncharacteristic daring, had looked up “what is sex like?” into her search engine.  She had then proceeded to stay up for another two hours reading about tips and other girls’ first times. Some stories had been romantic, some had sounded awful, while some girls made it sound like a hindrance to get out of the way.  

“It’s fine, you don’t need to apologize for something like that.”  He fought a smile, thinking how cute she was for getting embarrassed about sleeping in the car.

She could feel Naruto looking at her, but she couldn’t meet his gaze as she thought about what she had been reading.

“Hm.  Well, maybe upstairs we can take a...nap...together?”  Naruto had started talking before his suggestion had actually sunk into his mind, and a blush of his own settled onto his cheeks.

A pregnant pause filled the car, until Hinata shyly looked up at him.  “That sounds nice.”

Naruto smiled, his blush retreating.

They made it up the stairs and entered the apartment.

“Do you want something to drink?  Maybe some tea will wake you up?”

Hinata thought about it for a moment and leaned against him.  Tea would probably do her good, but she liked the idea of snuggling with Naruto and taking a nap.  She pressed her face into the side of his chest, and he instinctively wrapped an arm around her.

He could feel another blush rising, his body already wanting to react to hers.  He couldn’t believe himself. He looked up into the living room and took a breath.  “You want to take a nap?”

Hinata nodded against him.  He felt so warm and comfortable.  He smelled nice, too.

Naruto led her into his bedroom and shut the door.  Unbidden, his eyes travelled to his bedside drawers.  He quickly looked away, refocusing his attention on the girl clinging to him.  He tried to let go of his ulterior motives. She looked tired, and he knew he should let her rest.  He began reframing his goals. She needs to rest.  I need to let her sleep.  They headed over to the bed, and Naruto took his phone out of his pocket and placed it by his lamp.  They sat down on the bed, and Naruto tried to give Hinata a reassuring smile. He was determined to let her rest.  He lay down on his bed, and Hinata followed suit. She laid down a lot closer to him than he thought she would, but he wasn’t going to complain about it.

Hinata rolled onto her side to face him.  She pressed her forehead against his shoulder.  “You smell nice, Naruto-kun. Is this the same cologne as last time?”

He smiled at the ceiling.  She remembered. “Yeah, it is.”

Hinata snuggled closer, breathing it in.  Somehow he seemed ten times more attractive than the day before.  Maybe it was the scent, maybe it was her loopiness from lack of sleep.  “Did you wear it for me?”

Naruto’s brows raised in shock at the question.  He was guilty as charged. He peered at her from the corner of his eye and saw a sneaky look on her face, one that reminded him of their flirting on past occasions.  “Mhm, I heard it’s a fail-safe way to attract Hinata.” He rolled over, too, and meant to give her a cocky look, but was instead surprised to feel her lips on his. When she parted, he knew he needed more.

Hinata smiled, but she couldn’t dwell on her satisfaction for long.  

Naruto kissed her again and again softly, the pressure in his chest building with each meeting of their lips.  He worked his arm beneath her neck and pulled his body closer to hers.

It wasn’t long before their affectionate kisses turned heated.  Hinata pressed her body against his and let her hand travel beneath his shirt.  She fingered his smooth, warm back. She felt him smile against her lips before he sat up and removed the article of clothing.  Hinata shamelessly looked over his toned definition: his chest, his abs, his shoulders, his arms. Her admiration was interrupted when he began gently tugging at her blouse.  Her eyes shifted back to his face. He looked down at her with a look of uncertainty, but his eyes were dark with another emotion. She understood what he wanted. Ignoring the quickening of her heart, she sat up and pulled it off.  

His adrenaline kicked in when she unclipped her bra.  The unexpectancy of the action struck him with the need to be closer to her, and his body moved of its own accord.  He kissed her hard and pressed her into the bed. His hand caressed and massaged her soft skin repeatedly, his thumb gently rubbed her, and he felt her come alive beneath him as he kissed and licked her down from her neck to her breasts.  Feeling her legs push up against him, his hands traveled lower and gripped at her thighs. The feeling of her body so easily filling his hands, her soft skin comforting and satisfying him, it left him feeling dizzy.

“Naruto...kun…” Hinata whined when she felt the warmth of his mouth leave her breast.  She closed her eyes as his hands softly brushed at her thighs, drawing ever nearer to her ache.  She gasped as his hand touched her forbidden spot, and her eyes shot wide as she felt the pressure of his rubbing fingers at her core.  She was speechless as he pulled her panty to the side, and she watched him almost unblinkingly as he focused on her lower region. She could feel his fingers on her bare lower lips.

“You’re so wet already.”     

She didn’t know what kind of sound she made in response to his comment.  It was something strangled and high-pitched. She was incredibly nervous.  Maybe embarrassed, maybe confused, definitely aroused. She watched in nervous horror as he brought his fingers up from beneath her panties and drew them apart.

“See?”  He looked at his fingers in wonder and then at his lover’s face.  Her shocked visage made him smile.

Her eyes widened again at his easygoing expression.  “Naruto-kun!” she scolded. “That’s dirty!” She wanted to hide, but she also wanted to show him everything.  It was the most confusing juxtaposition.

“It’s not dirty.”  Naruto leaned down and kissed her to soothe her.  His fingers went back beneath her underwear and began to spread her.

She writhed at his touch.  She knew what he was looking for, and she didn’t know if she wanted him to find it or not.  She realized too late that it didn’t matter if she knew what she wanted. His finger was there.  She whimpered. “Naruto-kun.”

“Hinata.”  He looked at her as the tip of his ring finger sat snug in her.  He wanted to feel more of her, but the angle and tightness of her clothing wouldn’t allow him much more movement.  She was so soft and wet. He removed his hand, and realized too late he didn’t know if she’d let him take it off. His mind raced a mile a minute.  What to say, what to do, what it would lead to. His mind raced to his dick. Logically he knew he wouldn’t die if he didn’t get to make love with her, but he wasn’t feeling very logical at the moment.  Suddenly, he really wanted to show it to her. Show her what she did to him. What she made him feel. If she saw it, wouldn’t she want him, too? He sat up. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do.  He opened his mouth and searched for words. He felt messed up.

After a moment of silence, Hinata sat up, too.  She placed her hand on his cheek lovingly and kissed him gently.

Naruto looked into her eyes desperately.

Hinata returned his gaze with concern.  “Are you okay?”

He didn’t know what to say.  No matter what, it would sound like he was pressuring her, but he found himself telling her anyway.  “...I really want you, Hinata. You make me...I really want to make love with you.” He paused before continuing.  “I love you. Even if you don’t want to do it now, I won’t love you any less, so don’t feel like you have to do it for me.  I just want to show you how I feel.”

Hinata nodded in understanding.  She hardened her resolve and said more steadily than she thought she would, “I want to do it.”

Her response was simultaneously shocking and relieving.  “Are you sure?...I thought you were tired.”

She nodded.  She was tired, but she knew she wanted him, too.  She unzipped her skirt. It was a somewhat shorter one that she didn’t wear often.  But she had worn it today for a reason. She pulled it down. She steeled herself again and pulled her panties off, too.  She laid back down on his bed and tried to feign a confidence she wasn’t sure she actually had.

Naruto broke out of his amazement and quickly stood up to unzip his pants.  He looked over at Hinata, whose eyes were trained on his bulge. “It’s uh...not very pretty…” he warned.  He saw Hinata look up at him, but she didn’t say anything to stop him. His eyes passed over her form on his bed once more, and he pulled his boxers down.  

Hinata laid there looking at him.  It was much bigger than a tampon. She knew it would be.  She had known it would be. But she was somewhat terrified by the sight anyway.  She gulped her fears down and watched him walk over to his drawers.

Naruto pulled out a plastic square.  His heart beat fast. Nerves raced through his hands and fingers.  He turned to look at her again, and he could see a sort of fixed determination in her pale eyes.  Focusing back on the task at hand, he tore it open and pulled out the condom. His eyes narrowed slightly as he examined it for a second.  He began rolling it on himself.

Hinata was pleasantly surprised to see that he was prepared.  Her fears were temporarily forgotten as she watched him pull the plastic around his length.  He turned again to look at her, and they locked gazes. Her heart fluttered wildly. As he climbed between her legs, she reached up for him.  Her fingers traced the contours of his shoulders, the plains of his chest, and settled at his sides. Their kiss was different from before. While their tongues were still passing over each other, it was slower and more deliberate.  She felt him press his length on her. She trembled at the strange contact.

“Are you ready?” he whispered.  

“Yes.”  She nodded to reaffirm her statement.  She saw him search her face for any hesitation, and she gave him a small smile.

He smiled back.  “I’ll try to be careful.”  He pressed his hardened member against her, but he realized he didn’t know where to put himself.  He reached down to feel her, and the stickiness covered his fingers. Holding back a shiver of anticipation, he parted her lower lips and felt around until his finger dipped into her small entrance.

Hinata squirmed and whimpered.  She felt his finger eventually move away, but something much bigger took its place.  She took in a sharp breath of air and let it out in heavy pants. He felt hard. Way harder than she was expecting.

“Hinata!  Are you okay?”  Naruto watched her gasps with alarm.

Hinata couldn’t answer right away.  She willed herself to calm down, but it was difficult.  He had only stuck in the tip, and the knowledge that this was just the start was frightening.

“Should I stop?  I can take it out.”  Naruto looked over her face in growing concern.

“No.  Don’t stop.  Just...don’t move…”

Naruto nodded.  He kept himself from moving a muscle.  He was afraid to even lower his head to kiss her.    

After she managed to slow her breathing, Hinata nodded for him to continue.

Naruto tried his best to push in slowly.  His mouth dropped open as her clenching walls parted more for him.  

“Wait!...wait…”  

Naruto stopped.  

Hinata’s shallow breaths quickened as her body turned rigid from the intrusion.  She looked into her lover’s blue eyes and could see the clear concern he had for her.  She wanted to do this for him. She willed herself to calm down. “Okay,” she whispered, strained.  She nodded for him to move again.

Naruto bit his lips and slid deeper into her.  Her tight ring of flesh felt like it was trying to squeeze the life out of him.  The heady pleasure was only a handful of seconds, however, as he saw her eyes pinch shut and a tear fall down.  He immediately stopped. “Hinata! Hinata! I’m sorry. Should I stop?” The words tumbled out frantic and worried.  

She was burning.  From her toes to her face, she could feel a raging fever engulf her.  Her body was desperately trying to push him out. Her muscles contracted against the sharp rod that was piercing through her.  She had no idea how flesh could feel like a metal pole. She gripped the bedsheets.

Naruto frantically looked her over.  Her eyes had yet to open. “I’m coming out.”  He moved to withdraw himself, but she cried out.

“No!  Don’t!...don’t...move…”

“But you’re in so much pain!”

“I just...need to...get used to it…so...don’t stop...”

“Hinata…”

She forced her eyes open and saw how she held his full attention.  “Naruto-kun…kiss me…”

He leaned down, catching her unsteady breaths in his mouth and plying her tongue to move with his.  For several moments, he could feel her relax and tense, then relax again. He heard her breathe out her permission to move.  He sunk into her deeply, but did his best to ignore the sensation as he watched her face for any sort of pain. He kissed her as he pressed himself into her further, entirely intent on erasing her pain with his love.  Her cries were muffled against his lips, and he had to stop himself from gritting his teeth as she wrapped around the last of his length. He looked at her tears helplessly. “Hinata, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Almost there,” he whispered.  He let out a silent but heavy sigh of relief as he found himself unable to move further. He kissed her. “I wish I could make you feel good.”

She couldn’t respond right away as her body struggled with his invasion.  Her muscles continued to attempt to push him out, but he was lodged in her sharp and deep.  “Y-you’re so...deep.”

Naruto continued to watch her discomfort, but he became aware of his own flush at her words that described exactly what he was trying to ignore.  “Yeah.”

Hinata took long breaths to try to calm herself.  “Is that...all of..you?”

“I-I think so.”  He looked down for a moment, and blinked in regretful arousal at their joined hips. His heart shook, and he let out another breath as he turned his face back to Hinata’s.   

Despite the painful contraction of her muscles, she smiled.  She couldn’t help feeling a sense of accomplishment mixed with the joy of being together with the one she loved most.  She knew she couldn’t do much for him, but at least with this, she could show him how much she really appreciated him. She watched him hesitantly smile in response to her own expression.  Her hands relaxed their grip on the bed, and she brought them up, smoothing across his waist and around to meet his shoulder blades. “Naruto...kun...I love you.”

He felt his heart melting, spreading, and when he made to reply, he was certain it would come pouring out.  “I love you, Hinata. I love you.” He leaned down to kiss her. He wanted to squeeze her and hold her tight, but he was afraid of hurting her.  He also just really needed to express his feelings. Allowing his self-control to slip a little, he pressed his body against her. Desire coiled in him at her soft skin, and he directed it into their kiss.  He let out a short moan as his mind jumped around from his groin to her breasts to her lips to her soft sounds. Instinct told him to move, but he willed himself to stay in control. His body trembled at the mental exertion.  He broke from the kiss, shut his eyes tight, and propped himself up again. He became aware of his fast breathing.

“You can move.”  Hinata breathed out her permission, and as soon as she said it, she felt him slowly retract.  It dragged out slowly, and she could feel her protesting muscles momentarily rejoice before he pushed back in.  She involuntarily whined. Hinata squeezed her eyes shut in a mental war with her body. She wanted to enjoy it, but her body wasn’t cooperating.  There wasn’t any time for her to sort out her feelings before she felt him drag out and pierce her again. “Na..ru..to-kun..” Her lips formed his name to tell him to wait, but through sheer willpower she stopped herself.  She heard him groan out her name in response as he slowly thrusted again. Each slow, rough stroke was a match striking emery paper. Burning heat continuously shot through her, radiating from her womanhood up her back to her head.  She willed herself to relax, but he was setting her on fire, and it was only the knowledge that it was Naruto lighting her that kept her from falling into panic.

Each pass through her tight muscle surged to his heart, and he had to let out a deep breath to tame the ecstasy that crawled through his veins.  He was hardly moving, but he was breaking out into a sweat from the heat that clung around his ridiculously erect member. She was tighter than he could have ever expected, and it had him near climax despite only just starting.  She quivered beneath him. Every once in awhile, she threw her head back and arched or moaned, and he couldn’t tell if it was from pain or pleasure. He hoped it was the latter, but he knew he would stop if she told him to. He pumped into her again slowly and he could feel her nails digging into his back.  He caught her in a messy kiss that neither of them could sustain. He hovered above her lips and let his gaze rest on her lidded eyes and flushed cheeks. It registered in his mind that he was moving more consistently, but he couldn’t get himself to pause in between thrusts like before. “You feel so good.” His low admittance had him losing more of his restraint, and he bucked into her.  He simultaneously wanted to come and draw this feeling out as long as possible.

“Naruto-kun!” she cried in confused pain.  She pressed her heated face to the side and pushed it into the pillow.  Strangely, she was aroused by his words, and his heavy strikes were starting to have an unfamiliar after-thought of pleasure within the pain.  He sawed in and out of her repeatedly, and his rigid length rubbed harshly against nerve endings she wasn’t aware of. It felt like her heart was going to explode in her chest from all of the new and overwhelming sensations.  She could hear herself calling his name. She needed help, she needed rescue, but it only seemed to make his movements more urgent, the pain only worse, the pleasure more like a prize. She wanted him to slow down, but the words never formed.  She wondered vaguely if she was a masochist, but the idea was banished at his whispered words.

“Hinata, I’m sorry.”  Ecstasy flooded through him, gripping his heart, building into a weight that needed release.  “I love you so much.” Naruto pushed faster, and her moans and whimpered “I love you” back contributed to a murky high that swirled in his mind and locked his chest.  He groaned. “I’m going to come.”

Hinata could hardly take the time to decode his meaning before she felt him erratically shove himself into her and hear him gasp out in passionate relief against her neck and hair.  He pushed into her a couple more times before stilling. Hinata realized it was over as he breathed heavily on her for several seconds. She could still feel that he was hard, though, so she wasn’t sure.  “Are...you...done?”

Naruto finally lifted his head up.  At her voice, he realized that he might have messed up badly.  He looked her expression over for any hatred. Instead, she just looked exhausted.  “I’m sorry, I couldn’t control myself. You just felt...so good.”

Hinata shook her head at his apology.  “Are you sure you’re done? Was I...okay?”  He was still hard.

He nodded with an earnest expression.  “You felt really good. Was I...okay?” He repeated her question.

Hinata looked thoughtful for a moment.

Naruto frowned in worry.

“It...hurt...a lot.”

He dropped his head.  “I’m sorry.”

“But…”  Hinata was still trying to catch her breath.  “I’m really happy to be with you...and..it was starting to feel good at the end.”

Naruto had wanted to tell her how happy he was feeling, too, but her last part took him by surprise.  “Really?”

She nodded.  

They both went silent as her muscles finally succeeded at pushing out his softening member.  They groaned. Naruto, for the loss of contact. Hinata, for the relief.

Naruto finally got up to clean himself and dispose of the used condom.  

Hinata watched him tug on himself a few times with a tissue to get any last drops out before she tiredly stood up to clean herself, too.  She frowned as she patted her sticky legs and then looked at the discolored tissues before placing them into the rubbish can carefully. She started to clothe herself.

“You want to leave already?”  Naruto watched her in concern.

“Ah, no.  I just...thought I should get dressed.”

He pouted adorably.  

“I guess...I don’t have to?”  Hinata saw how he smiled.

He led her back to the bed, and they climbed in to snuggle.  They returned to their earlier positions, and Naruto pulled the blanket over them.  

Hinata hugged him and gently stroked his chest with her fingers.  She softly smiled as she cuddled him. She looked up to see his face, and it was as if he knew she was going to look at him.

They smiled at each other shyly, and Naruto couldn’t help rolling over to kiss her again.  Their skin pressed against each other, and their tongues slipped together, but it was relaxing and reassuring.  Naruto could see her devotion in the glow of her eyes, and he felt incredibly lucky to have her. “I love you, Hinata.”

She beamed at him.  His blue eyes were soft with affection, and they were focused on her.  “I love you, Naruto-kun.” She squeezed him, aware of the way her breasts pressed against him, but after what they had just done, she felt like it wasn’t a big deal.  She closed her eyes and relaxed.

“Are you going to take a nap?”

“Mmm maybe,” she breathed out quietly.

“I’ll set an alarm.”  He reached over to his phone and gave themselves forty minutes.

 

He held her tightly near the courtyard, despite it being well-known that PDA was against the school rules.  “Don’t leave me.”

“Naruto-kun,” Hinata chided.  He was being a little melodramatic.  She didn’t want to leave him after everything that had happened between them that day, but she knew she had to go home.  If she didn’t meet her driver soon, she knew he’d come looking for her.

Naruto broke the hug and looked her in the eyes.  She was his, but she wasn’t at the same time.  It was frustrating that he couldn’t even walk her to the parking lot after school.  “I love you,” he said meaningfully.

“I love you, too.”  Hinata gazed up at him unblinkingly.  “I’ll see you tonight?”

He nodded.  

Hinata hesitantly turned to walk away.

Naruto watched her take a few steps away and then followed.  

Hinata turned her head to look back at him and saw that he was almost right behind her.  Her surprise was evident on her face.

He rubbed the back of his neck.  “I don’t want to be apart from you.”  He had been clingy like this for the rest of the day.  When his alarm went off, he had fooled around with her longer in bed.  Loving hadn’t happened again, but he had been ready for another round. It was only at Hinata’s insistence that she would be late that he had begrudgingly driven her back to school.  He had then stood in the hallway outside of the choir room left to his own thoughts as he waited for her. He felt attached to her now that she had given herself to him, and a strong sense of responsibility for her kept him from letting her leave.  

Hinata tilted her head in thought at his words.  She at least felt reassured that he wasn’t in this relationship for her body.  He hadn’t “scored” and then left her. It was quite the opposite. Not that she had been worried that he would do something like that to her.  She knew he wasn’t like that. But the tips and stories she had read online the night before had warned about guys who just wanted to get laid.  She turned to face him again and saw him cutely smile at her change of direction. But she worried that she would get caught with him and then everything would be ruined.  “I have to go,” she said apologetically.

He nodded sadly.  His eyes turned soft as if he was memorizing her face.  After a few seconds of silence, determination set into his features.  “Hinata, thank you for today.”

Hinata smiled.  “What are you thanking me for?” she asked shyly.  She knew what he was referring to, but she had no idea why he would thank her.  She had wanted it, too. She hadn’t stopped thinking about it. The empty ache in her womanhood wouldn’t let her forget.  She looked up at him demurely.

He blushed slightly and swallowed.  “I’ll get them to recognize me, believe it,” he said softly, seriously.  

She nodded.  “I know.” After a few seconds of gazing at each other, Hinata took a step back. She reluctantly began to turn and waved a little in goodbye.

Naruto waved back and watched her leave, frowning as he kept his feet from following after her.  He knew he was growing impatient. They had made plans to have Hinata break things off with that prince over the summer.  Only after would he send out his “application” to her family members. He didn’t like staying hidden like this. It wasn’t his style to be discreet and careful.  He knew that if he made his feelings known to her family, Hinata would get even more restricted, and he probably wouldn’t be able to spend any time with her at all.  But he wanted, needed to talk to her father again. Everything in him was crying out to be with her. His mind randomly cut to their love-making from earlier. He blinked and looked around.  He was hers. He was woefully hers. If he could be close to her like that for the rest of his life, he’d endure. He’d do anything, say anything, or say nothing, just so he could enjoy her company.  Disappointment at his uselessness collected heavily in his chest, before he remembered he had a student government meeting he was probably already late for.

 

Hinata clung to his side as he jostled the door open.  She was already needing him inside of her, and she whimpered his name as she gazed at his handsomely flushed face.

Naruto glanced at her in open lust and got them inside as quickly as possible.  He kissed her passionately in front of the doorway and rubbed his hands down her body.  They had had a particularly hot video call the night before, in which she had confessed to thinking about him all day and then proceeded to detail what she wanted him to do to her.  Then, she had pretended to jerk him off, while he actually did. The memory of that had him desperate to fill her up, her words, not his.  They had darted right after homeroom to the car and he had driven as quickly as was safely possible back to his place.  While he drove, she had stroked his hand on the stick-shift in such a suggestive way, he was hard before they had arrived.  He rubbed his excitement against her and groaned. “I wish we didn’t have graduation practice tomorrow. Then we could just…”  He rubbed himself against her more.

Hinata knew this would be the last time in a long time she would get to be with him in this way.  “Naruto-kun, I want you.” She pressed her body against his unashamedly, and he responded by kissing her while leading her into his room.

Once there, they began undressing, and it wasn’t long before they were both on the bed, kissing again and feeling each other.  

Hinata was trying to turn him on as much as possible.  She writhed beneath his ministrations and moaned her approval as he slid his wrapped length against her wet womanhood.  Her hands worked over his arm muscles and behind his neck, and she arched to press her breasts against his chest more as they kissed.

When they broke for air, Naruto looked down at her through lidded eyes.  “You’re so sexy, Hinata.”

She smiled, embarrassed, but quickly got over it.  She was on a mission. A mission to make sure Naruto thought she was worth it.  She was growing too familiar with his saddened face whenever she left him. She left him behind a lot.  She would be leaving him behind within only a few days for an entire summer to be with her fiance, soon to be ex-fiance.  She looked up at him innocently, cognizant of the fact that nothing about her right now was innocent, and batted her lashes.  “Naruto-kun, you’re the one who’s sexy,” she said quietly, in a way she hoped would excite him.

Naruto’s features contorted, and he bit his lips.  He dropped down and began sucking on her breasts. He pulled and tugged on her pert nipples more than usual, and she let out little yelps that only further excited him.  He rubbed against her in an attempt to relieve his desire, and she wiggled her hips in response. His fingers shot down to her lower lips and began to spread her, searching for where he desperately wanted to be.  Eventually his fingers found her tight hole. Unable to resist, he slid one in.

Hinata whimpered at the foreign intrusion.  She wiggled in discomfort, then felt herself clench around him as he licked at her nipple.  “Naruto-kun…” she whined. She didn’t want his fingers. Her hands grasped his hair, and he looked up at her pulling.  

He didn’t take his finger out, just continued to wiggle it around in her as his gaze drank in her reaction.

She shook her head in desperation.  “Naruto-kun,” she repeated. “I want you.

He nodded and took his finger out.  He placed himself at her entrance and pushed in hurriedly.

She almost screamed.  

He stopped past halfway in her.  “Hinata! It still hurts?” It seemed like a stupid thing to realize only now, and he felt like he had killed the mood.

She whimpered in pain and nodded.  “It’s not as bad as yesterday, though.”  She wiggled around, and he slid in a little more.

“Hinata…”  Naruto shuddered.  He was trying to control himself, but she seemed to want to make this hard for him.  He slowly pushed into her, and they both let out groans of relief when they felt their completion.  Before moving again he looked at Hinata, taking in her lowered dark lashes over her pearly gaze. He leaned against her and kissed her swollen lips.  Her soft body sent shivers through him and, involuntarily, he withdrew himself. He pushed into her slowly once more, and they moaned again at the feeling.  

Hinata marvelled at how much better it felt than the day before.  She was much more relaxed and her muscles weren’t trying to push him out.  It still felt like he was scraping her walls, burning her from the inside out, but it felt good.  She held onto his neck and let her fingers work through his blond hair.  “Oh…” she gasped as he pulled out farther and slid back in deeply.

He pushed himself up and watched her body move with each of his slow thrusts.  Her mouth hung open as her soft voice let out little moans. He pushed into her as deeply as he could.  His eyes lowered to where they were joined and his brows slightly raised as he saw himself appear and disappear within her.  He looked back at her face as he felt her tight entrance tug, pull, then suck him in. He let out a heavy breath. It didn’t help to calm him.  He couldn’t stop. He wanted to go on like this forever. He leaned back down over her and felt how her breasts pressed against him. He rubbed his chest into hers and groaned.  He was as close to her as possible, and it still wasn’t enough.

Hinata moaned into their kiss as she felt him speed up.  She could tell he was trying to be careful, but as the pain slipped away into pleasure, she wanted his self-control to slip away, too.  Though the still new sensation of lovemaking was overwhelming, she gathered the presence of mind to wiggle against him, too. She dropped her hands from his neck to over her head on the pillow and arched into his chest.  She felt him push into her harder, his member piercing her deeply, before his lips and tongue left her mouth. She saw him gazing intently at her before one of his hands closed around her wrists. She felt imprisoned in his grasp and in his intense eyes.  She had wanted it that way. She wanted him to want her completely. She arched again and wiggled her body, and Naruto thrusted into her faster.

His mind was devoid of coherent thought.  Every feeling he had was redirected to his member, and when that wasn’t enough to take everything, he kissed her.  But with the image she presented below him, with both of her small wrists in his grip, with her full and soft body pressing against him, her bangs swept away revealing her face, he couldn’t bear to take his eyes off of her to kiss her.  Words spilled out. “So sexy. Hinata, you’re so..” He thrusted into her hard. “Sexy.” Her moans filled his ears. “You feel so good.” He continued to push into her faster. He wanted to draw this out longer between them, but as a newbie, he couldn’t handle it.  He rushed for his climax. He let go of her wrists to gain more leverage and felt her hands come around his shoulders again. He closed his eyes in concentration.

Hinata pulled him closer to kiss him.  As their lips and tongues met, she could feel his rhythmic thrusts grow jerky.  She gasped into their kiss, “I love you, Naruto, I love you. Naruto, I love you.”  She repeated her love for him over and over quietly as he took her.

His hips slowed as he heard her call him.  It was always so different to hear her drop the honorific.  He liked it when she used it because only she could make it sound so affectionate.  He liked it when she didn’t use it. Because that only happened when it was just them.  He grit his teeth as overwhelming feelings flooded into his heart. He opened his eyes and looked at her.  Lust and love clamored within him and he couldn’t tell the difference. He kissed her, his tongue folding against hers that held his name.  “I love you, Hinata.” He pushed into her. “I really love you.” He pushed into her vigorously. “I really love you, Hinata.” He leaned down to kiss her once more as he shoved himself into her.  He needed to come. He dropped his head into her neck and surrendered himself to the climb.

Hinata held him close.  Her legs wrapped around his waist and she moaned at his increasingly erratic thrusting.  She whispered her love for him again, and she heard him groan her name in reply. She felt like he was getting bigger, if that was possible.  He reached fast, hard, and deep into her, and she moaned. Without warning, she heard him gasp out and plunge himself into her deeply, his member reaching wonderfully into her twice, three times, before slowing.  Hinata let out exhausted pants as her heartbeat calmed. “Did...did you come?”

Naruto couldn’t get up.  He just nodded against her hair and whispered, “Yeah,” beside her ear.  “...Did you?”

“Ummm…”  Hinata wasn’t sure what that meant for a girl.  Was a girl supposed to be able to? “I don’t know?  It felt good, though.”

Naruto sat up and kissed her slowly.  If she didn’t know, then she probably didn’t, but he felt better knowing that she hadn’t been completely in pain this time around.  Next time, he promised himself.  Whenever there was a next time for them.  Exhausted, he got off of her and passed her a tissue.

After cleaning themselves up, Naruto climbed back into bed with her.  They held each other close, aware that their time together was growing short.  When his alarm went off, neither of them wanted to return to school. They lay there in his bed, feeling the minutes ticking by.  

Naruto smoothed his fingers over her curves.  When he woke up, just like the day before, he wanted her again.  It was hard not to when she was naked. He climbed over her and felt her wet entrance lube his bare member.  “Can we do it again?” he whispered to her.

“Mmmm…” Hinata wasn’t sure it was the best idea.  She knew if they did, she wouldn’t make it back to choir.  She’d be marked for skipping class. Not that it mattered when they were graduating in a few days.  Everyone was skipping class, and it was just an elective. Yesterday, hardly any of the seniors had been there, and the instructor seemed like he couldn’t care less about it.  Everyone just sat around signing yearbooks. She bit her lips in thought, and a second later, felt Naruto’s lips on hers. She grew more aroused as he rubbed himself against her, his tip dangerously close to slipping into her.  She breathed an “okay,” and Naruto eventually removed himself to put another condom on.

 

By the time Hinata woke, the sun had lowered in the sky.  School had finished more than forty minutes ago, and she was more than that away from the city central with after-work traffic.  She bolted up and checked her phone, which had several missed calls from her chauffeur, then her father.

Realizing his love was gone from his arms, Naruto sat up, too.  His eyes widened in realization, and he checked his phone for the time.  “Fuck.”

Chapter Text

Damn it.  Naruto took a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself, only to mentally swear again.  And again.  He had no idea how he had let this happen.  It wasn’t in his experience to mess up this badly (as of recent)--the only other time having been his disastrous phone call with her father so many weeks ago.  

“Naruto-kun…”

“...”  He didn’t mean to come off sounding as angry as he felt, but somehow his chosen silence was just as loud.

Hinata could see how upset he was.  His eyes trained on the road as he drove her back to her place, his brows furrowed, his mouth and jaw set, his muscles tense.  “Naruto-kun, it’s not your fault.”

“It is, Hinata, it is.  If I had just-”

“I wanted it, too.”  She blushed despite the deep, terribly deep, trouble she was in.  “You felt really good,” she admitted, sneaking a shy peek at him.  She saw his angry demeanor break.  

Naruto resisted the tug of a smile, unsure how to handle his current circumstances and Hinata’s words that made him remember the reason, the really nice reason, why they were in deep shit.  “Hinata…”  He glanced at her and could see the smile he was starting to familiarize himself with.  The smile she wore when she remembered something perverted.  It made him want to do more bad things with her.  He scrunched his face up in an effort to return to the seriousness that had plagued him just a few seconds prior.  He gave up, accepting the hopelessness that they had fallen into.  He realized Hinata didn’t seem too worried about it.  “We are in so much trouble.”

“Yes…we are, aren’t we.”  Hinata agreed with a small nod.

He frowned as a list of possible consequences flashed through his mind.  It ranged from the realistic, like Hinata getting a bodyguard, to the horrifying, like his dick getting chopped off.  Judging by the sound of her conversation with her father on the phone, which was incredibly...controlled...he had no idea what might happen to him.  “What do you think they’re going to do to us?”

She sighed.  “They can’t do anything to you, Naruto-kun.  They will probably limit my freedoms and take away some privileges I have.”

“Anything that happens to you, happens to me.”

Hinata smiled and shook her head.  “The one thing they can’t do,” she paused and openly admired his side-profile.  “Is stop me from loving you.”  The boldness of her words only hit her a second after she had already said it, and she smiled, embarrassed, by her clearly articulated, cliche feelings for him.

Naruto glanced at her again and smiled.  “I love you, Hinata.”

“I love you, Naruto-kun.”

 

And so it was with bitter trepidation seizing their insides that the two rolled up to the curb of the Hyuuga estate.  With a heavy sigh, Hinata unbuckled and made to give Naruto a goodbye kiss, only to see that he was already opening his door.

“I’m coming with you.”

“Ah, you don’t have to do that.”

Naruto looked at her expectantly, and Hinata realized there was no arguing with him.  She was seeing once again that when he came to a decision, he stuck with it.  She nodded, worry and determination filling her.  Walking up the long driveway, Naruto took her hand, and they squeezed each other reassuringly.

They waited outside--Hinata didn’t have a key anymore--until a maid came and opened the door.  

“Hinata-sama, Hiashi-sama would like to speak with you,” she glanced at Naruto, “alone.”

Naruto steeled himself.  He had to at least get past the door.  “I need to talk to Hinata’s father.”

“Uzumaki-san, I can have security escort you out.”

Naruto frowned.  Did everyone know his name?  “You-”

“I refuse to speak to my father if he will not speak to Naruto-kun.”

Naruto glanced at Hinata.  That was a lot better than what he was going to say.  

The maid faltered, having not expected this situation.  “Come in and follow me, quickly.”

Hinata visibly relaxed and smiled.  “Thank you, Natsu-san.”

Naruto didn’t have time to analyze Hinata’s calm negotiating as he stepped into her residence for the first time.  He removed his shoes, which were immediately taken by the servant and neatly placed in a closet.  He was then offered guest house slippers.  Before he could fully process the hospitality, he had to follow Hinata’s urgent pace through the halls that were lined with tatami flooring and pristine shoji doors.  He felt like he had jumped into a period drama.  He expected at any moment to see someone walking around in twelve-layered kimono.  Something about it, as they continued walking, shocked him.  He had known, he had thought he had known, Hinata’s social class.  He had seen Ino’s mansion, the Nara clan’s extensive property, and the Uchiha estate, but they were nothing like this.  This place was austere and completely lacking in personal or family charm.  Here and there he caught sight of flashy, gold-foil paintings on fusuma that probably dated back centuries.  They turned onto an outdoor corridor that lined a large, beautifully designed garden with gently swirling gravel and manicured pines.  Like a period drama.  He was in a fucking palace.

Finally, they halted before a door as the servant announced their presence.  Naruto couldn’t meet Hinata’s eyes.  All of a sudden, he had no idea what he was going to say.  He wanted to date a princess.  He found himself at a complete loss.

“What is he doing here?  I said to remove him from the premises.”

“I am deeply sorry for-”

“Otou-sama,” Hinata interrupted as she entered the room without permission.  

Hiashi glared at his daughter, and his expression turned even uglier upon seeing Naruto behind her in the hallway.  “You are excused.”  He waved the servant away gruffly.

Naruto refused to flinch at the expression of the man behind the desk.  He could tell Hinata was being strong for him, and he desperately pushed down his feelings of inadequacy.  Following Hinata into the room, highly aware of the fact that they hadn’t been invited in, he slid the door shut behind him.  “Shitsureishimasu.”  He met Hiashi’s glare for a second.  Then he dropped his upper body.  He stared at the tatami as he spoke his regrets.  “I was irresponsible.  I should have brought her back to school on time, and I caused you to worry for her safety.”  Naruto held the bow longer in silence, realizing he had nothing else he felt sorry for.  He hesitantly straightened and met Hiashi’s narrowed gaze.

Hiashi ignored Naruto’s apology.  “After school, you were supposed to go directly to Tokuma.  Without delay.  He has been lenient on you.  I only found out about your tardiness over thirty minutes after school ended.  You blatantly choose to overstep your privileges, and you have taken advantage of Tokuma.  I have had no choice but to replace Tokuma with Ko.  Ko will from now on be your bodyguard and chauffeur.”

Hinata realized it, and a flood of relief hit her.  She hadn’t been marked absent in choir.  By luck, by negligence, or by pure good-hearted kindness, her instructor hadn’t given her away.  Tokuma nor her father had found out.  Though, Naruto’s apology may have led her father to believe that there was more to this story.  And surely enough, her father had caught on.

“Uzumaki Naruto, I made it clear when we last spoke that you were to stay away from my daughter.  It is obvious that neither of you have listened.  Ko has mastered Gentle Fist.  He will not hesitate to use it on you if you so much as speak to her.”

“I’m not marrying Toneri-kun,” Hinata replied, clearly and calmly.   

Hiashi’s expression worsened.  His voice raised.  “You represent our clan and Fire Country.  It is not up to you.  You will not bring shame on us.”

Hinata used to cower at her father’s stern frown, at his severe commands.  But it didn’t mean anything now.  Not now when Naruto stood determinedly beside her.  “I love Naruto-kun, and I will always love him.  If you try to keep me from him, I won’t give up, whether I have your approval-”  Hinata swallowed her nerves.  “-Or not.  When I see Toneri-kun again, I will convince him to break our engagement.”

Hiashi stood, suddenly.

Hinata tensed.  Adrenaline ran through her legs, and she became aware of how quickly she was breathing.  She had never so outrightly defied her father, and she was afraid.  She had never seen her father look so angrily at her.  She considered begging, as she had in the past, please, Otou-sama, but she kept her mouth firmly shut.  She didn’t want to back down now.

“You are running away from your duty to not just your family, but also to your country!  Your mother carried herself with pride and bore the responsibility of her family name for the sake of her nation.  You may look like your mother, but you are nothing like her.”

Unbidden, tears filled her eyes, and Hinata desperately kept them from falling.  She stared at her father as her vision blurred.  She barely remembered her mother, but she knew that her mother had been full of grace, kindness, and quiet strength.  It was everything she aspired to be.  Self-doubt weighed in her chest, painfully locking her throat.

“No.”  Naruto had heard enough, and it was absurd, the words coming out of her father’s mouth.  “Hinata’s the strongest person I know!  She’s kind and patient.  She’s persistent and forgiving.  And she builds other people up, she’s encouraging.  She can debate like a boss.  She’s smart and incredibly modest.  She never complains and she takes everything in stride.  She’s thoughtful and-”  Naruto broke from his stare with Hiashi to look at Hinata, who was watching him wide-eyed with tear-stained cheeks.  “Beautiful.”  Naruto paused, hoping Hinata understood the sincerity of his words, before turning his attention back to her father.  “I love her.”

Hiashi sat down again.  “Yes, I know.”  His tone was almost dismissive.

Naruto didn’t know what to make of his response, so he continued.  “I might be a nobody now, but I will do what it takes to deserve Hinata!  I have a plan for my future, recommendation letters, you can interview me!  I’m willing to meet with all of the council members.  Please consider me.”  He bowed again.

Hiashi fixed some papers on his desk.  “You run off with my daughter to who-knows-where, no call, no note, nothing, and I’m about to call the police.  I have no idea of where she has been for the past forty minutes.  I didn’t know if she was kidnapped, being held ransom, or murdered.  All to find out that she was with you.”

Naruto couldn’t lift his head.  He had no excuses.

“Otou-sama, it wasn’t his fault.  I wanted to leave.”

“You should have called!  This boy has always been a bad influence on you.”

“You wouldn’t have let me!  And he’s not a bad influence.”

“He’s a distraction.”

“He inspires me!”

“To be selfish!”

“Hinata’s the farthest thing from selfish!”  Naruto finally raised his body.

Hinata could hardly breathe.  Her father’s words shook her to her core, spelling out the doubt that she had always held about herself.

“Let her make her own decisions!  It’s her life!” Naruto argued, frustrated to the point of anger at her father’s coldness.

“She’s 17, not an adult!  Hinata has had more freedom than any Hyuuga before her on the understanding that she behave responsibly and dutifully.  The Hyuuga clan did not make it this far through selfish decisions.  We uphold the clan’s values in gratitude to our ancestors and for the well-being of our descendants.  I don’t expect someone like you to understand our way.”

Although Naruto had heard all of this before, he fell silent as he realized that he wouldn’t get anywhere by arguing.

“Otou-sama, I know...that I’m being selfish.  I know what I’m supposed to do, and I am thankful for everything that I have.  I have never wanted for anything. But...” Hinata shook her head as she imagined her life in the Moon Kingdom.  “I can’t marry Toneri-kun.  Naruto-kun makes me happy. I’ve never been happier.”

Naruto looked at Hinata in wonder.  He took her hand, aware than this would upset her father, but he couldn’t help it.

She looked at him curiously.  

He gazed at her and whispered, “I love you.”

Hiashi cleared his throat.  “You can find happiness with Toneri in time.  If both parties strive for mutual understanding, arranged marriage works.”

Hinata felt Naruto’s hand around hers.  She could feel his squeeze of reassurance.  She knew that they could do this, even if it seemed like her father wouldn’t budge on his views.  She took a deep breath to organize her words.  “Father, I want a council meeting.”

His brow furrowed.  

“We will present our case to the council.”  Hinata waited a moment for her father to answer.

He sat there, silent.

Naruto let go of her hand.  He straightened once more.  “Please, Hiashi-san.”  He bowed deeply.

Long moments passed.

Naruto kept his posture, and out of the corner of his eyes, saw blue hair fall toward the floor beside him.  Hinata was bowing, too.

After another long minute, her father finally spoke.  “Monday, 8:00 AM.”

Naruto raised his body, determination and gratefulness fixing his features.  “Yes, sir.”  He found eye contact with Hiashi.  “Thank you, Hiashi-san.”

“Thank you, Otou-sama.”

 

Was there a dress code?  If Naruto had felt like he had dropped into a period drama the week before, it didn’t compare to how he felt now.  He sat in a large hall in seiza beside Hinata.  They sat in a kind of square formation of low tables with the Hyuuga elders, all dressed in kimono.  Hinata, too, was dressed in a light purple iromuji.  He felt extremely...modern...in comparison with his suit and tie.  Even the meeting minutes looked like it would be written pencil-and-paper.  He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Hinata had given him a reassuring smile before the meeting started.  They would be okay.

“Let us begin,” Hiashi announced.

A woman whose hair was pulled up into a tight bun began to announce the date and time.  As she listed the attendees, he recognized each from a list Hinata had prepared for him.  Six in total. Hiichi, the previous clan head, Hinata’s grandfather. Hirumi, Hitaro, and Hiyoko, her great-aunts and great-uncle in order by age.  Then Hiashi, her father, the current clan head, and Hizashi, her uncle.  They spent all weekend solidifying their argument in the chat box over video calls.

He was prepared.

“Hinata shared her proposed agenda.  We have made some minor modifications.”  The woman, he recognized as Hirumi, Hinata’s oldest great aunt, flashed her cold gaze toward him.  “Our interview portion has been adjusted from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.  We have also removed the deliberation period.”

“Yes, Hi-oba-sama,” Hinata voiced.  

“Hinata, please explain in detail the circumstances of your role in the Moon Kingdom and your relationship with the Crown Prince.”

She sat straight.  It would be up to her to open their hearts even a little to Naruto.  She couldn’t falter or express any hesitation in her presentation.  “I spent five years in the Moon Kingdom from 7th to 11th grade, and of that time, I attended the same school as Toneri-kun for three years.”  She opened a folder and passed down printouts of old articles.  “Throughout my time there, Toneri-kun did not speak to me, but rather entertained many girls during his free time.  His clothing choices and preferred dating locations were popular topics for gossip columns.”  

She paused, allowing the elders to flip through the pages.  Although they were not the typical style of “gossip” columns in that the pictures and information were presented in a “nice” way, they still showed him walking around with a girl in his arm.  Not a single one of them let their faces crack, but she didn’t expect outward reactions.  Hyuuga never let their emotions show in front of others.  This was the reason she wanted a formal council meeting.  They would get to say their piece without her father shutting them down prematurely.

She continued, “It was unfortunately not only my role to uphold Fire Country’s name.  I needed to uphold Toneri-kun’s image, as well.”  She passed down more printouts of old articles.  “When he made social blunders at events, like forgetting an ambassador’s name or misplacing his speech cards, I provided him with support.  These articles show events where he was slated to speak but was unprepared, and so I spoke instead.”  The articles lauded her public speaking abilities for a girl her age.

She allowed time for the articles to circulate more.  She took a deep breath. “While I understand that supporting the future King is necessary and a part of my role, and I know that I am capable of my role, Toneri-kun is not capable of supporting our clan.  He makes rash decisions that may one day reflect poorly on us, and he struggles with deeper social interactions.”

A man with identical features to Hinata’s father leaned forward.  “Please explain.”

Hinata nodded.  “This is all based on my personal observations.”

Hizashi nodded.  “Continue.”

“He does not have many close friends.  He picks arguments easily and unknowingly with those close to him when he discerns that the other party does not agree with him.  That is partially why he never had steady girlfriends in high school.  He is unable to pick up on subtle social cues, which may be due to an undeveloped awareness of social standing and the environment around him.”

“Do you have evidence to back your claim?” Hiyoko asked sharply.

“I have only my personal experiences,” Hinata calmly replied.  “They were, in short, embarrassing.  The media there does not cover negative stories.”

Hizashi nodded once.  “Onii-sama, do you have anything to add to Hinata’s claim?  You have had opportunity to speak with the Crown Prince.”

All eyes turned toward Hiashi.  “Before I give my view on Toneri, Hinata, is there anything else you wanted to say?”

“No, Otou-sama.”

Hiashi sat taller, commanding attention toward him.  “Hinata gave evidence from three years ago.  During his time in college, Toneri has grown more responsible.  He shows stronger skills in management and has organized numerous events to improve his country, which Hinata has taken part in during her recent visits.”

Hinata firmed her jaw.  She couldn’t show weakness, even if her father was pointing out all of them in her argument.  

“I will say, however, that his social skills are lacking.  With his recent growth in maturity, he may continue to improve.  As he takes on more responsibilities and interacts with others in professional environments, he may learn to control his temper.”

Despite her father’s words that gave Toneri the benefit of the doubt, she was inwardly cheering.  Few things were more important to the Hyuuga clan than control - balance of the temperament.  If even her father felt Toneri lacked control, that would likely send more favor in Naruto’s direction.

After a pause, Hirumi nodded.  “Are there any last remarks?”

Hinata nodded, bringing attention back to herself, intent on emphasizing this point.  “Although Otou-sama is correct in saying that he has grown more responsible, I would say the change only began in his second year of college when he saw that his time at school was running short.  I believe that this is evidence of a propensity to procrastinate, and I wonder about how much of his change was self-motivated...or influenced by the King and Queen.”  She watched the elders’ jaws firm, their lips thinning, and she knew she had them wondering now, too.  She hoped she planted that seed of doubt--whether it was a good idea for them to ally with the Moon Kingdom so closely, to tie themselves to them as family.

“Is there anything else anyone would like to add?...Alright, we will move on to the next item.”  Hirumi’s gaze dropped to the agenda.

Hinata looked at Naruto.  

He glanced at her and could see the determination shining in her eyes.  He was ready for this.

“Uzumaki Naruto.”

“Yes, Hirumi-san.”

She paused.  Nothing showed on her face in reaction to the fact that he knew who she was.  She blinked and continued.  “You wish to be considered as a suitor for Hinata.  Please explain your qualifications.”

In personal interactions with visitors to the school, he was humble.  In public speeches to his classmates, he was simultaneously boastful, self-deprecating, and funny.  For this panel of emotionless Hyuuga elders, Hinata told him to be absolutely confident and completely calm.  He practiced.  He could do this.  “I am a graduating senior at Konoha High School.  I will be attending Konoha University this fall to study engineering.”  He opened his own folder and passed down copies of his resume.  “My resume details my leadership, extracurricular, and work experiences for the last three years.”  He paused to gather himself.  “I have been involved in Student Government at Konoha High School since my first year.  I am the Student Body President.  I respond to student concerns, lead school-wide assemblies, head the Student Affairs Committee, and represent the student body to the school administration.  I have led initiatives in community service learning, the alumni-shadowing career program, and most recently, our bullying awareness campaign, along with our annual student activities this past year.”

The elders were not really watching him speak.  They seemed to be following his resume, which gave him a little space to relax.

“Other school commitments include Judo and Wrestling.  I placed first in the individual bracket for this year’s Judo Championships.”

He took another deep breath.  He thrived on audience reactions.  He felt like he was talking to an empty room.  He considered explaining the rest of his resume.  How he had one of the most popular game booths at the Konoha Carnival two summers ago.  But that didn’t exactly seem relevant.  He instead passed down copies of his report card and recommendation letters.  “These are my grades.  The letters are recommendations from the school Headmaster, my Judo coach, my AP Government teacher, and my AP Physics teacher.”

There was a murmur among the elders as they opened the recommendation letter from the school Headmaster.  The other letters were not given the same amount of attention.  He should have expected that.

After a few moments of passing and flipping through papers, Hirumi looked up.  “Do you have anything else to share?”

Yes, he had more to share.  Like how he would be able to make Hinata happy and take care of her.  But, he swallowed those words instead, and said, “No.  Thank you.”

“Alright, we will move onto our next item, which is the interview.  I ask that anyone with a question please raise your hand so that I may identify you.”

A man with his hair pulled back in a low ponytail, Hinata’s grandfather, raised his hand.

“Yes, Hiichi, go ahead.”

“What is your family background?  What connections do you have that will benefit the clan?”

Naruto felt himself go cold with nerves.  He had an answer prepared, but he hated that this was the first question.  “I have lived with my godfather, Otsuka Jiraiya, since I was five.  My late parents were Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina.”

“What does your godfather do?”

Naruto repeated to himself, Absolute confidence.  He nodded.  “My godfather was enlisted in the Army.  He is a decorated war veteran and retired as a Command Sergeant Major.  He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in combat during the Third World War.  He now works in construction management with Fire Industrial.”  Naruto said this proudly.  No matter what names he called his godfather, he wouldn’t let anyone else think badly of him.  

“What did your father and mother do?”

“My father was a civil engineer.  My mother worked in human resources at Kaminarimon Enterprises.”  

“Are you on scholarship at Konoha High School?”

“No.”  

Hiichi settled back a bit.  “That is all my questions for now.”

Hizashi raised his hand.

“Yes, Hizashi,” Hirumi called.

“What are your future goals?  Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

Naruto knew the answer to this one.  Whether they took him seriously would be the issue.  “My life goal is to be the Hokage.”  Naruto paused because this line always seemed to require some processing by people who heard him.  “At Konoha University, I aim to become Student Council President, to be invited to join the Electrical Engineering Honor Society, and to study abroad in Wind Country.  I intend on going to graduate school in business administration while serving on the Konoha Neighborhood Board. After receiving my Masters, I plan on serving in the military to demonstrate my commitment to our nation.  In ten years, I will run for a position in the City Council.  In ten years-” His heart clenched. “-I see myself married to Hinata.”

The elders blinked at him with no discernable reaction whatsoever.

Naruto tried to calm himself, realizing belatedly that he had severe adrenaline just from saying that out loud.  

Hinata looked at him fully, wonder, surprise overtaking her.  She didn’t know he was going to say that.  She supposed it was assumed with her promises to not marry Toneri, but Naruto had never said anything specifically about marriage.  She was moved.  She hadn’t doubted him, but now it was spelled out.  For everyone to see.  He really does...love me...

He spotted Hinata in his peripherals staring at him, so he glanced over to her.  He couldn’t help the bashful smile that tugged at his lips upon seeing her soft gaze.

“Please tell us about a time when you faced adversity, and what you did to overcome it,” Hizashi interrupted, breaking the short silence.

Naruto shifted his attention back to the council and nodded.  This one he also knew.  It was basically his college application essay.  “The story I want to share with you is from elementary school...and I have had other accomplishments I’m proud of since then, but this one defines a lot of who I am today...”  He took a moment to focus himself before starting. “When I was in fifth grade, the drunk driver who killed my parents was released from jail.  I wouldn’t have known this on my own, but my godfather was so angry, he looked into it and...I guess he was too upset to keep the information to himself even though I was too young still to really understand it.  The truth turned out to be really shady.  The man apparently had connections that somehow helped lighten his sentence.”

He was an Uchiha afterall…he thought to himself.

“At the time, when my godfather was telling me about it, I didn’t get it.  I was upset, of course, that the man who killed my parents was free after only five years, but I wasn’t nearly as upset as my godfather.  Seeing what this did to my godfather was worse...he was really depressed.  I didn’t really know what to do to help him.  I was only ten.  But then in school, we started working on opinion writing.  My teacher, Iruka-sensei, gave us a range of topics within health to choose, like writing about more PE or saying ‘no’ to drugs, so of course, I decided to write about drunk driving and driving safety.  I needed to get everything out, all of the thoughts I didn’t really know how to articulate, all of the things I thought were wrong and could be fixed, and now this assignment gave me the chance to organize all of my feelings in a way that would make others listen to me.  

"With Iruka-sensei’s assistance, I presented my piece to the school community board.  It started off as a small thing, with families in the surrounding neighborhood voluntarily hanging posters on their fences my classmates and I made reminding others to follow the speed limit.  Seeing that happen just...inspired me.  I presented more ideas, like having adult volunteers stand at the crosswalks in the neighborhood in the morning and afternoon for students who walk to school.  I researched statistics on traffic deaths in Konoha, and then we wrote to the City Council and convinced them to post reminders about safe driving around the city on the digital boards that they sometimes use for construction alerts.”  

They still do it.  

“After that, I ran for president of our school’s student government for sixth grade, even though I was never nominated before for class representative, and surprisingly, I won.  Those last months in fifth grade changed me.  I saw a difference in my community, and when I told my godfather about everything we were doing in school, he was supportive and he seemed to gradually get better as I shared more about my schoolwork and everything I wanted to do.  He later told me that he failed to get justice for my parents and for me.  He said that he could already see me doing better than him, that I could bring better justice than the court system ever could…

"Since then, I’ve seen my goals clearly, and I have been working toward them each year.  I want to be the Hokage.  I want to run a dependable government that serves and protects the people. One that even a tiny, bratty ten-year old can feel like he has a say in…one where everyone feels safe and represented.  The death of my parents, the corruption of our system, the burden I have been on my godfather and his expectations for me, these are all, in their own way, adversities I am still facing, but I know what I want to do, what I need to do, and I know that I am currently building the skills necessary to overcome these adversities and accomplish my goals.”

Hinata had known about his responses for common interview questions when they were getting ready for today, but hearing him talk about it out loud felt completely different.  She had already expressed her admiration for him then over the chat box, but once again, she felt the absolute need for him to know how amazing he really was to her.  She knew he was a leader.  A rare, natural leader, who didn’t strive for recognition just for the college applications and resumes.  He was one who inspired confidence from others just with his vision and personal drive.  His Will of Fire.  She reached out to him and took his hand, letting her gaze express her love for him.  She didn’t care if her family saw.  Surely they could understand why she fell in love with him now?

“That is all my questions for now,” Hizashi concluded.

For a moment, quiet pervaded the room.

Hirumi looked up from Naruto’s resume.  “Are there any other questions for Uzumaki-san?”

A man who had not yet spoken, Hinata’s great-uncle, Hitaro, raised his hand.  “You have impressive dreams and the apparent determination to reach them.  However, have you considered how our Hinata will fit into your political goals?”

Naruto let his question run through his mind, but he didn’t really understand what he was being asked.  He stayed silent, waiting for further context.

“Certainly you are aware of our roots as Fire Country’s royal clan?”

Naruto nodded.

“Since the transition of power, we have not involved ourselves in Fire Country’s politics.  Do you know why?”

Hinata felt her heart stop, her chest tighten with awful realization.

With Naruto’s continued silence, Hitaro elaborated.  “Besides our philanthropy and focus on the arts and sciences, we also have strong partnerships with big businesses, and we are known to help fund large-scale projects, particularly development projects, throughout the country.  Our clan has extensive investments in real estate.  Ah, I see you are starting to understand me… Yes, frankly, our clan is too powerful.  Our money and ties to certain special interest groups may conflict with your plans.”

Naruto considered Hitaro’s warning.  Without explicitly stating it, Hitaro was saying that Hinata would be detrimental to his run for political office.  Not only was she a Hyuuga, she was the heiress.  People wouldn’t see him.  People would see Hinata and her wealth, big business connections, and antiquated clan values.  Pretty much everything he didn’t want his platform to be about.  “I...see what you are saying, Hitaro-san.  But I see Hinata-”  He glanced at her quickly.  “-as only an asset to my future.  I value her wisdom and insight into international relations.  Even if the media doesn’t recognize me right away, I am sure I can build the connections and support necessary through internships and my time on the neighborhood board for a successful campaign on bigger platforms.  I understand the value of relationships and clear communication in politics, as well as the fact that actions speak louder than words.  And, it wouldn’t be the first time I would have to overcome a prior reputation or first impression.”  He quirked a smile, remembering his childhood.

Her great-uncle’s question was one that they hadn’t practiced, but Naruto had still managed to answer readily.  His ability to inspire confidence with his assured manner was one that couldn’t be taught.  It was innate.  And that was a quality Toneri never had.  She hoped her family could see it, too.

Hitaro nodded in recognition of Naruto’s answer, but nothing else signaled his opinion of it.

Her grandfather raised his hand once more.

“Yes, Hiichi,” Hirumi called.

Hiichi set his severe gaze on Naruto.  “You are very ambitious for your age.  I can see that your accomplishments so far measure up to our expectations.  However.  How can you guarantee that you will fulfill your promises for the future?  College and the real world are different from high school.”

“Hiichi-san, I never do anything half-heartedly.  When I put my mind to something, I follow through with it.  I don’t give up.”

“Yes.  I’m sure.  But that doesn’t answer my question.  It’s just you and your godfather, isn’t it?  Your godfather is a veteran of the Third World War?  He must be...nearly Hitaro’s age. Your godfather cannot support you forever.  And your goals will require at least some money.”

Naruto sorted through Hiichi’s words.  It became clear to him that Hiichi was not asking for a good answer.  There was only one real answer to this question.  He can’t guarantee anything.

“How will you be paying for Konoha University?  While prestigious, it’s certainly more expensive than Konoha High School,” Hiichi continued.

“I’m taking out student loans,” Naruto answered, aware that discussing money was one of the worst turns this interview could take.  “That’s one of the reasons why I decided to major in electrical engineering.  It’s a secure field that guarantees a good starting pay.  I’ll be able to pay off my loans on my own.  I also will have a campus job next year, which cuts the tuition cost.”

“That’s a lot of responsibilities you’re putting on yourself.  How do you know you’ll be able to accomplish everything you hope for?”

Naruto stared at Hiichi, wondering if the man was really trying to force him to admit that he can’t actually promise the future.  Absolute confidence.  “My godfather has always worked hard to support the both of us financially.  I have worked hard, too, throughout school to make sure that my godfather knows that I won’t be a burden.  With my many commitments this past school year, I know that I am capable of fulfilling everything that I aspire to be.”

Hiichi stared back.  “So can you guarantee your ability to fulfill these obligations to ensure that you are a suitable candidate for the Hyuuga name?”

Naruto felt himself taken by surprise.  He was expected to change his last name to Hyuuga?  He hoped his moment of confusion didn’t show.  He quickly brought himself back to the present.  “Yes,” he lied, in his steadiest voice possible.  He fell back on his student government catchphrase, the one he had used since sixth grade.  “I’m Uzumaki Naruto.  I never go back on my word.”  Believe it.  The familiarity of it calmed him after getting caught off-guard.  But he didn’t have the time to ponder the idea of changing his name to Hyuuga when Hiashi raised his hand.

“Yes, Hiashi, go ahead,” Hirumi called.

“Naruto.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered, suddenly feeling significantly more worried than before.

“I understand that you have been close friends with my daughter since Kindergarten.”

“Yes, sir,” he confirmed, wondering where this was going.  They had talked about this before.  In that failed phone conversation.

“Yet during the time Hinata was abroad, it seemed the two of you lost touch?”

Regret he’d never felt before pooled in his gut.  He never once tried to reach out to her during her time in the Moon Kingdom.  It had not once occurred to him to even think about her.  He had been...busy...keeping Sasuke sane and chasing around Sakura.  He practically forgot about her.  It took everything in him to not grimace, to not turn his gaze down, to not let his voice drift out.  “Yes.  Sir.”

“During that time, did you have any girlfriends?”

He couldn’t keep his eyes from widening in surprise at that one.  “Uh.”  Not even the stupid sound could be kept in.  “No.”  He didn’t think he was ever attractive to girls.  “Sir,” he added quickly.  “I was too busy,” he awkwardly tried to explain.  “Hinata..is my first-”  He glanced at her and shut his mouth.  He didn’t know why he felt embarrassed.  Just saying all of this aloud to a room full of old people felt weird.

Hiashi appeared unfazed by the emotional turmoil he was pressuring on Naruto.  “How long have you been aware of Hinata’s circumstances, that she is engaged?”

Images of her crying on the lanai, their strawberry date, their first kiss flashed through his mind.  “I’ve known for almost two months now.”  Again, he didn’t know if that was a good answer or not.

“And how long has my daughter been aware of your affection for her?”

“The same, two months,” he replied quietly.

“So you found out before your school’s prom?”

Naruto had no idea why he was being asked these specific questions.  Her father obviously had some kind of point to prove, but it was lost on him.  “Yes, sir,” he answered cautiously.  “About two weeks before our prom.”

Before Hiashi could ask any other unexpected questions, Hirumi interrupted.  “We have time for only one more question.”  Silence fell upon the room, stretching for several long seconds.

Naruto felt all of his weight bleed into the floor, adrenaline numbing his chest.  This is it.

“Then as we discussed, we will proceed to taking a vote on the matter of Uzumaki Naruto’s candidacy as a potential suitor for Hinata.  Bear in mind that a favorable vote would not terminate Hinata’s current role in the Moon Kingdom, nor would it keep Uzumaki Naruto from re-evaluation in the future if or when necessary.  A favorable vote does not assume engagement, and it is not a binding decision for either side.  An unfavorable vote will prohibit the candidate from pursuing Hinata any further, and re-evaluations will only be held under extenuating circumstances.”  

Hinata held her breath as her great-aunt paused to see that everyone was ready.  Anxiety rushed through her, speeding her heart to painful beats.  She could see her life fracturing into different directions, her future based on this single moment.  A life of acquiescence, following the path that had been laid out for her since she was ten.  A life devoid of her family but with Naruto, perhaps as an aid at the Inuzuka animal hospital.  Or a life with both, her family and Naruto.  Please.  

“All those in favor of the candidate, raise your hand now.”

Naruto watched gratefully as Hizashi raised his hand.

1

And Hirumi, to his surprise.

2

A beat passed.

And Hiashi.

Naruto had only a split-second to marvel at receiving his approval, to register Hinata’s quiet gasp, before realizing, when no one else followed, that’s only three.  He felt like someone yanked the breath from his core, a vacuous, squeezing, stabbing pain.

“A favorable vote,” Hirumi remarked.

Naruto darted his attention up at her.  Favorable?  Confused hope had him breathing again.

“That concludes this evaluation.  Uzumaki Naruto, one of us will be in contact with you to discuss the particulars of your continued courtship.”

Naruto turned to Hinata quickly, who was shining unmasked joy.  

“You did it,” she whispered, smiling.  The relief alone brought tears to her eyes.  

I did it?  His mind raced to catch up after the emotional whiplash of what felt like an abrupt end.  Is it because of her father's vote?  He quickly dropped his head as low as the tables.  “Thank you.  Thank you for your consideration and time!”

Hinata gazed directly at her father, making sure that he saw her appreciation, before following suit, bowing and verbally expressing her gratitude.  Otou-sama, thank you.

 


 

“Naruto-kun, I should probably get going,” she whispered against his shoulder.  As much as she loved the warm feeling of his arms around her, she didn’t want to miss her flight.  This was the next stage.  This would be her time to take action.  To stand up for her love.  To end the engagement.  And she didn’t want to delay this.

He nodded against her head, breathing in the scent of her shampoo.  “Okay,” he begrudgingly replied.

She pulled away and smiled at him reassuringly.  “I’ll message you when I land.”

He nodded again, a frown plastered on his face.  He felt lonely already.

“I love you,” she said softly, hoping to get a smile from him before she had to leave.

He smiled.  A little.  “I love you, too.”

Hinata turned to Ko, her bodyguard, a measure they weren’t able to get rid of despite Naruto’s success at the meeting.  He had in fact been something like her nanny after the attempted kidnapping throughout elementary school, acting as a bodyguard for her out in public, during his own college years.  He was one of the grandsons of Hirumi, a private banker for the Hyuuga, as were most of the rest of Hirumi’s branch of the clan.  Even though it had been years since he watched over her, she still felt much more familiar with him than Tokuma.  “Thank you for waiting, Ko-niisan.”

She gave Naruto one last smile before grabbing her luggage to follow Ko toward the Preferred Members’ Security line.  “I’ll talk to you soon, Naruto-kun.”

“Have a safe flight,” he remembered to say as he watched her step away from him, each step taking her closer to that awful prince.

She wasn’t five paces away when she felt his hands come around her waist, tugging her around to face him, pulling her into a solid kiss.  “Naru-” she tried to protest, but his tongue caught hers, and she stopped resisting as he devilishly continued to kiss her.

“Naruto-san!  Hinata-sama!” Ko hissed in shock, upon turning.

Naruto simply flipped the bird at him before refocusing on memorizing her taste, pressing her form into his own to remember the weight of her against him.  After a few more seconds of tender bliss, he released her.

Hinata stared at him, gasping, face reddening at their public display.  

He widened a proud grin at her.  “See you soon.”

Hinata could only nod and turn back guiltily to her equally embarrassed cousin, who grimaced at seeing Naruto’s large, self-satisfied grin.  

She peeked blushing smiles at him as she went through Security, and he waited until he couldn’t see her anymore.  

She supposed the public shame was worth it if she got to see his bright smile, a better send-off for her personal mission than anything else she could have asked for.