Hinata’s favorite thing about her work was feeling like she was making a difference. It was the reason she’d become a scientist in the first place. She wanted to do something that helped, and her family’s corporation had never felt like the right way to do that. She’d grown up watching the ruthless way her father ran the company, with the wellbeing of their customers the last thing on his mind. That wasn’t what she wanted for herself.
When she’d become a researcher, she’d hoped to find others who were just as interested in the real change they could create. Not all of them were, but Hinata had found people who had as strong a sense of purpose as she did. But no one was as committed to their research as much as Uzumaki Naruto.
Naruto had first caught Hinata’s eye when one of the less savoury university employees made a vulgar comment towards her. Hinata, never one to make a fuss, had been prepared to keep her head down and ignore it, but she hadn’t counted on Naruto witnessing the entire thing.
WIth Hinata developing medical technology and Naruto studying fungi in different departments, she hadn’t even known his name at the time, but that hadn’t stopped him from putting the other man in his place and asking Hinata if she was all right.
She’d become more than a little infatuated with him after that. She observed him from afar and learned quite a bit about him, including that his ultimate prize was a new species of mushroom that he was confident existed despite no one else believing him.
Hinata spent a lot of time debating how to talk to him about it, but actually going for it was one of the most nerve-wracking things she’d ever done.
She watched him scribbling on some paper at his desk from the doorway. His department wasn’t very familiar to her, and she felt out of place as she approached his desk. It was late, so few other researchers remained behind, and she was thankful for that as she came to a stop at Naruto’s desk with her heart racing in her chest.
Naruto didn’t look up as she approached. He was so deeply involved in his work that he didn’t realize another person was in the room.
“Naruto?” Hinata inquired, her voice soft and difficult to hear.
Yet Naruto was able to hear her. Hinata sucked in a sharp breath as he looked up at her, his blues eyes piercing through her and making it difficult to remember why she had come to speak to him.
“Oh! Hey, Hinata!” he replied brightly, with none of the annoyance that others typically showed when being interrupted from their work. “Great to see you! Do you need anything?”
Hinata wrung her hands and gave a short, jerky nod.
“I heard about the mushrooms you talk about. The new species that no one else has recorded? You’ve said that you saw them at a park when you were a kid?”
“That’s right,” Naruto said. He leaned back in his chair, his brow furrowed as he remembered it. “I played in that park every day as a kid. It’s where I learned how amazing fungi were. There were so many mushrooms, and I studied all of them. But I was a kid; I didn’t take notes or anything like that. All I have is my memory, and I know those mushrooms weren’t like anything that’s been documented. But some corporation bought the park and built a factory over it. They won’t let me on the land. If I discover the only known specimens of a species there, the land may become protected. They’re not too happy about that.”
Hinata nodded slowly, taking a deep breath before she revealed the made her the most nervous.
“It’s a Byakugan Industries factory, right?”
Naruto’s eyes lit up.
“That’s the one!” he exclaimed, waving an energetic finger through the air. “They don’t like me much. There’s this one guy, Neji, who I keep getting sent to whenever I contact them. If I ever wind up murdered, I think he’d be the prime suspect.”
Hinata swallowed, unable to look Naruto in the eye. She stared at the edge of his desk instead.
“My dad owns the company,” she said quietly. “It’s been handed down in the family for ages. Everyone works there. Neji is my cousin.”
She gripped at the cuffs of her sleeves at Naruto’s sharp intake of breath.
“Well, who’d have thought?” he said quietly. “Your cousin is a real piece of work, Hinata. Growing up with him must have been something.”
Hinata gave a small noise that might have been affirmation or disagreement. She wasn’t sure herself. She and Neji had never spoken with each other much as children, and even as adults, most of their interactions were strictly polite. She couldn’t claim to know much about him beyond things at a surface level.
And she certainly hadn’t revealed her family’s company to Naruto so that they could stand around talking about Neji.
“I can get you onto the land,” she said. “You can find your mushrooms.”
Naruto’s eyes widened at the offer. His face broke into a large smile that made Hinata’s cheeks warm.
“Really?” he asked. “But they don’t want me there. Neji has been pretty clear that they won’t allow any sample collections being done on the grounds, and I’d need proper evidence to actually document the species and get it published in journals later.”
Hinata took a deep breath. She’d thought of all that too.
“My sister has started to take on more responsibility at the company. She’s easier to convince if you bypass the usual channels. Neji’s a stickler for procedure, which means he won’t try to contradict Hanabi once she makes a decision.”
The force of Naruto’s emotions made it impossible for him to sit at his desk anymore. He shut up, bouncing on the balls of his feet. His eyes glanced around the room as if he needed an outlet for his sudden energy but didn’t have anything to actually do. Hinata thought he’d head straight for the land that night if he’d been allowed.
“How soon can we go?” he asked, eyes bright.
Hinata smiled back shyly.
“I’ve already talked to Hanabi, and she said that I can sign you in at the gate tomorrow if you want.”
Naruto glanced down at his desk, doing the mental math of what work needed to be completed and by when.
“Tomorrow sounds great,” he decided.
His eagerness of finally achieving what he’d long wanted far outweighed any responsibility to deadlines the university had placed over him.
“Great,” Hinata said, her nerves only increasing now that their conversation was coming to an end. “I can meet you at the gate at, maybe, 10:00?”
“Yes,” Naruto replied. It sounded as if the wind had been knocked out of him as the full force of what was happening hit him. “Yeah, that’d be great. Thank you, Hinata.”
The sincerity in his voice made Hinata pause on her way to the door. She turned back to him with a smile.
“You’re welcome,” she said before fleeing the office for somewhere where her heart didn’t feel like it was going to jump out of her chest.
Hinata’s science took place entirely in labs. She wasn’t prepared for what fieldwork entailed even after hearing countless stories about it over the years. Naruto led her all over the property around the factory in search of the mushrooms he remembered for his childhood, and for most of that first day, Hinata became increasingly convinced that they weren’t going to find anything.
The amount of life there had been greatly reduced thanks to Hinata’s family, but there was still quite a bit of it on one part of the property that hadn’t been developed, and Naruto was determined to search every inch of it.
Yet Naruto didn’t give up hope as he worked. He excitedly taught her about the different fungi they did find, all of them previously documented species, and he even knew a surprising amount of information about plants despite them not being his specialty.
Hinata listened to it all attentively, finding herself newly drawn to the life on this plot of land she had once thought of as unremarkable. Naruto’s enthusiasm for it was infectious. She could almost forget that they were looking for something specific as he expressed excitement over everything they found.
As the sun began to set, Naruto suddenly gave a loud yell and began dancing in place.
“This is it!” he exclaimed.
He knelt down to inspect the specimen. HInata held her breath as she hovered nearby, her heart hammering in her ears. She’d come to believe they wouldn’t find it, and she was light-headed over the sudden surprise.
Naruto kept exclaiming to himself as he looked the clump of mushrooms over, and Hinata bit her lip as she waited for him to say something that gave her a better idea of what he was looking at.
“I was right,” Naruto said, amazement in his voice despite his unwavering optimism. “This isn’t like anything I’ve seen before. I’ll need to send out pictures and things to other mycologists of course, but I really think this is it. This is something that’s never been documented before.”
Hinata certainly hoped he was right for his sake. She knelt down beside him to get a closer look at the mushrooms.
They weren’t beautiful by most standards. They were a dull cream color that Hinata had seen in many other mushrooms, and their shape wasn’t all that different either. If she had seen them while walking around by herself, she would have thought nothing of them, but Naruto had picked up on something different.
Suddenly, Naruto threw his arms around her, catching her off guard. Hinata gasped at the sudden contact before returning the hug hesitantly.
“Thank you, Hinata,” he said softly.
He pulled away, beaming at her, and Hinata’s cheeks warmed.
“I was starting to think I may never see these again, you know?”
Hinata nodded slowly, very overwhelmed by the moment.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to help.”
Naruto’s attention was quickly caught up with the mushrooms again. He babbled onto Hinata non-stop as he worked, describing them in excruciating detail as he collected the information he needed. Hinata watched fondly as he worked, helping when she could.
Though she’d never cared much for mushrooms before, Hinata found herself incredibly proud to have helped find the first documented specimen of this one, and perhaps she could come around to the others as well.