|The Frog and the Princess
Author: syaoran no hime PM
Once upon a time in Hidden Leaf kingdom ruled by Uchiha Sasuke, there lived a frog-girl morphing boy, a schizophrenic lady, a timid maid, and some other colorful personalities that make life for Konoha less boring. And of course, romance. NaruHinaInoShikaRated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Humor - Chapters: 33 - Words: 143,414 - Reviews: 828 - Favs: 289 - Follows: 98 - Updated: 09-21-04 - Published: 05-31-04 - id: 1886950
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Nothing separates the two, really. Like mornings and evenings, these two are immaterial to me, serving no purpose but to taunt me for the kind of existence I bear. Life and death, mornings and evenings…they are part of the world's life and daily affairs. I, on the other hand, am on the outside, exiled for a crime I did not commit.
I was born in the world to mourn for the evil of the others born before me. I exist to deliver the Privileged from the scythe of the Grim Reaper, simply because I had the bad blood in me.
In this world, I have no life, only an identity.
I am a Mist Mourner.
………………………….Special Chapter: Mourning in the Mist Part 1
This is dedicated to the Himitsu Desu Staffers. Guys, we did it. The site is up, and I can never thank you all for your efforts. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
Jaid-chan: Oh wow, I'm glad I sort-of inspired you. Well, good luck on that fic, tomodachi! n-n And yeah, I would love to be mentioned in the fic! Wakekeke! That would be great! Thanks in advance!
Yourbonesakin: Um, blame writer's block for the delay of the update ehehe. Sowee! But here, I updated twice in two days. I hope that pacifies you a bit. (Drop that MGE03 whatever -sorry, I don't play much Counterstrike, so the only gun I know is Desert Eagle-, friend hehe. Kakashi my love so sweet will break his adorable little heart if he loses his favorite playmate so prematurely XD). On my nom de plume, syaoran no hime may mean "syaoran's princess" or "syaoran princess". I was thinking of the former meaning, but the latter works too hehe. Li Syaoran is my first very serious anime crush. Yup, I crushed on Hiei of YYH and Heero Yuy of GW, but I do not celebrate their birthdays or make school paper articles about them. Really. XD On the page-long reviews, I was shocked too. Ehehehe, I'm just plain thankful that the readers are so sweet to devote that much time and thought to comment on the fic. n-n
Moronicus: Cyeeet, tats nman me :D Salamat po sa review! Kung maka-ShikaINo po kau, sana mabasa nyo ung 10 Reasons Why Girls are Troublesome. Oneshot yun na clng dlawa ang bida. Again, thank you ng marami at you gave this AU a chance.
BrokenAngel,ForgivenDevil: Thank you for being one of the few who actually finishes a paragraph of fighting scenes ehehe. I'm not good with them, and I'm only writing scenes like that because the fic requires so (Egad! A fluff author doing shonen-style battles! XD), but I'm really happy that you're satisfied with them. Thank you! n-n
Usagi-mun: Hmm…do leave me ur email addy, so if you get bored, you can email me about Naruto stuff. n-n I love receiving emails, esp. when I get to rant on Kakashi-sensei!!! Hehe
Takari-san: Paking syet ung modem ko…aabutan ata ako ng taggunaw bago ma-dl ung ep.100 XP Netopia n lng ata ako. Gwaveh!!! Cge, kukuha ako ng Naruto episode 101 yaaay!!! Oooo, tamang-tama! Neji/Ten site ka, tapos ako panpik koleksyon nman ako. Vongaaah!!
HeyILikeAnime: Hmm…new vocab…updation…XD Sowee for the delayed update…er…not much valid excuses to give…(stammers) Ahaha, thanks for waiting for the update.
Jiri: This doesn't have Sasusaku for this chap, and the next chap (since I have to break the Haku story into two XD), but I hope you enjoy it anyway. Read on!
Bakutiku: Ehehehe…even if this is an AU, I still want it to feel like the canon series. I'm weird, I know hehe. Thank you for reading!
White Witch: Aaah, Yosha pla ung cnicgaw ni Naruto…XD Kala ko nangangapampangan n c Naruto hehe. Thanks at inantay mo ang 2-weeks delayed na itich. Salamaaat!!! Pati din sa quotes…sana lubusin mo na tulong mo. Extend mo na hanggang chap 20! (Sama ko no? Baka kako lng kc makalusot hehe)
Naruto grinned as seven more copies of his twenty-one forms already appeared. He needed only seven more kage bunshins while holding the chakra in his hands steady at the same time, and then it would be time for his final ninja exercise—fighting against Sir Kakashi, one-on-one.
"I can't wait, I CAN'T WAIT!!!" he cheered. Now he could finally put into test the two-day hell training he had to undergo, under the strict order of Lady Haruno Sakura. And who was he to disobey his crush?
Although he had to admit, he was a bit curious—why did the order come from the court lady, and not from Sasuke? And why only two days?
Also. Sir Kakashi was less genki than usual, as if he was preoccupied by something seriously important. He tried pestering the Starlet about it, but their conversation would only shift to other matters, as if he was trying to avoid the topic.
He then remembered their conversation last night after dinner.
"Oi Naruto, I'm suddenly feeling like a psychic medium. Want to test my powers?"
"EH?! What the hell are you saying?"
"I can see your future…" The Starlet made some slow hand movements around an invisible crystal ball. "I can see….I can see…aha! I can see that you're going to get married to one of the people from the palace!"
"Sakura-chan?" he asked excitedly.
"No…I see Sasuke-kun." Kakashi opened one eye and grinned at the boy, who was glaring at him. "Just kidding, just kidding!" He concentrated again. "Aaaah….oooh….I feel the power…I feel the love…ah, I can see it clearly now. It's…" He opened his eye again and gestured to the tent, where Hinata was already fast asleep.
"NANI?!!!" In a flash, he was up on his feet, waving his arm at his sensei's way. "Kuso yo! How dare you involve Hinata in your stupid predictions!!! Gah, don't you have an ounce of decency? She cooked that delicious meal we had awhile ago, dammit!"
Kakashi smiled back teasingly. "So you're not sure if you're worthy enough for her?"
"Have a little self-confidence, man. You may not be as blessed with looks as Sasuke and I, and you may not be as smart as me and Shikamaru…hell, you may not even be as useful to others as Earl Hyuuga Neji and I—"
Naruto's eyes narrowed. Was it him, or did he just hear his sensei's name more than twice in his speech?
"—but you're…" Kakashi gazed at him, rubbing his jaw. "…ah…nice?"
The Starlet chuckled. "You're you. That's the most important thing of all. A person does not love someone for a reason, nor does he love by choice. You love because you do. With such willing statement comes acceptance—may it be the shortcomings or faults of a person, or his failures and fears."
And he couldn't help but remember their first meeting—when Hinata went down on her knees and picked him up, not caring whether he was a frog, and that he hadn't taken his bath yet, or that he may cause her warts. She even told him something that no one had ever told him before – that his eyes had character.
"Acceptance…" he murmured. The word felt good, only heaven knows how much.
He looked up and found Hinata carrying a tray of three ramen bowls, as well as a jug of water. There was a confused look on her face as she gazed at the twenty-eight Narutos in front of her. This made him grin.
"Hi Hinata!" the Narutos chorused.
"H-Hi…uh…" She blushed slightly, wondering what to call him and his clones. In the end, she decided to just say anyway what she came here for. "U-Uh…f-food…d-demo…it may not…fit all of you…"
"Hey, no prob!" He got up, and at once, his clones disappeared in puffs of smoke. He rotated his shoulder, his one hand cupping his shoulder blade, as he made his way to the maid. "Yay, ramen! Delicious rameeen!"
She placed the tray down momentarily to arrange the picnic blanket, but Naruto had already seized the first ramen bowl and had dug the chopsticks in it already. Hinata could only smile in fondness when she heard the loud slurp of noodle broth from the boy.
"Ne, Hinata, it was so cool of you to join me and Sir Kakashi for training!" he said after fully swallowing the quarter amount of soup. "We don't have to stand each other's attempts in cooking anymore!" He remembered with much pain the horror that was Kakashi no Specialty: Boiled Leaves of Guava. Too tired from their training in the frozen hot spring, plus there were no animals that went astray near their area, Kakashi suggested his recipe, which he proudly described as therapeutic, relaxing, and healthy. He didn't mention that it was horrible-tasting, nausea-inducing, and generally a hazard to the taste buds. He could never look at guava trees the same way again.
As a rightful vengeance against that evil herbal dish, he made the Starlet taste his own version of Iced Fish Salad, the name he baptized a frozen raw fish drowned in coconut juice and dressed in coconut leaves. The white-haired Starlet ate his dish with eyes shut tight.
Hinata looked down, twiddling her thumbs. "A-Ah…see…I…I need to be with you…"
"Hmm?" He looked at her, not quite getting what she meant.
"I-I mean, Lady Haruno ordered me…to stay near you…a-and see to it that you train well and hard…y-yes, that's it." The colors on her face deepened into a red shade. She didn't need to tell him that she volunteered at once the minute she heard that Sir Hatake Kakashi was asking for a cook to come with them. Despite Lady Haruno's objections, in the end, she relented, provided that Sir Kakashi would personally guarantee her maid's safety.
"Oh…I see." He grinned and continued eating the noodles. "It's perfect, since I need to be with you too."
"E-Eh?" Her eyes widened, unsure whether she heard him right.
He looked at her, raising his chopstick for emphasis. "I learned my lesson well the last time I tried to leave you. I won't let that bastard yeti touch you again. No way!"
"You said he has reasons to bear grudge against you and your family, but so what? You don't make a stain in a shirt disappear by adding more stains on it. If he really wants to live as a man with no regrets then he should learn to let go." He crossed his arms in front of his chest, nodding.
She hugged herself tightly. "I-It may not be easy for Neji' nii-chan…h-he…he thinks…we are at fault for his parents' deaths." Her gray Hyuuga eyes shook. "I, in particular…I was the cause of his father's death."
"Nani?" This made him freeze.
"Perhaps, I am really to blame for his father's death" She sighed heavily before she continued. "Uncle didn't die because of suicide, as Neji'nii-san was made to know. For all his misunderstandings with Father, Uncle's last act of nobility was for the Main Family, and the real reason for his death wasn't revealed to the other people."
"When I was young, there had been prophecies that in this generation, the Hyuuga clan princess would bring more glory to the already prestigious name of the kin, and thus, I became an object of both affection and contempt." She tucked her knees under her chin. "On the night of my third birthday, some hired assassins from the Cloud Kingdom tried to kill me. Everyone else was unaware of this treachery, but Uncle Hizashi, who came to my room too, planning to kill me, saw the assassin and saved me from the killers. Dakedo…my body has been injected with poison by one of the assassins and in minutes, I would die."
"But Uncle didn't hesitate to try to take the venom out with his mouth. He saved me from sure death, but he himself died. The poison attacked him too." Her voice wavered, but she went on with the narration. "Before he passed away, he confessed that he wanted to kill me, but when he saw me in trouble, he said he saw Neji' nii-san in me." Though trembling, she wanted to continue. And she was glad that Naruto was all ears, listening with so much interest. "He told me that I took everything away from Neji' nii-san…the privileges his son should enjoy too…demo…demo…in the end, he said that I look like Father, and that I was a beautiful child." She inhaled shakily. "He told me to live and fight, because the prophecy promises hope for us. If worse comes to worst. Neji' nii-san will come."
"And I will too."
She looked up at him, startled.
He gazed at her face, feeling the familiar surge of fondness within him. Back in his smallest, most worthless form, she saw the best there was in him. She laughed with him, cried for him, cared for him, and in one fateful happening, she risked her life to save him. For the only girl who did all these incredible things for her, there was nothing he couldn't do for her sake. "On the honor of a future Hokage, I'm going to become stronger, so I can watch over you, ne, Hinata?" He held a thumbs up at her way. It was now his turn to protect her.
She blinked, feeling the colors on her face come alive. "N-Naruto-kun…" She smiled, embarrassed. "A-Ah, we're not even sure if those prophecies are really for me…maybe it's for my sister, Hanabi…"
He groaned. "Gah, it's not because of those prophecies, silly! Those predictions are for the clan princess…those sort of things only dumb yetis like Hyuuga Neji care about. But I'm not doing this for the clan princess…I'm doing it for Hinata, my number one favorite person in the whole wide cosmos! Because she is…" He stood up and turned his back on her, dusting his pants. "…someone I find important…"
For a while, silence ruled the place, as his words replayed over and over in her mind. She was…someone important to him…
He finished his noodle bowl and pumped his fist in the air. "Yoroshii! But first, I'll finish lunch, then I'll go back to my training, and so I can kick Sir Kakashi's ass already!"
"I don't think so."
Both of them looked behind their shoulders and found Kakashi eyeing the boy under narrowed eyelids. "Oi, Naruto, did I not specify seventy-six copies of you before you can take a break?"
"Gah, I was hungry!"
"If that is your excuse every time, then you're better off being an apprentice of Choji instead." The Starlet sighed and reached for the other bowl on Hinata's tray, but Naruto's chopstick tapped on his wrist. Their gazes met, and then the boy broke into a grin.
"Brand it." Kakashi, with a challenging glint in his eye.
Hinata watched the two walk towards the nearby bushes, both readying for battle. She could only shake her head in baffled amusement. Maybe it was her lack of experience with this, but until now, she couldn't understand the general law that governs men when it comes to one-on-one duels. There must be something in it that could pump the adrenaline back into the veins of all the males she knew.
"Ah, I wish the noodles will still be warm once they finish," she murmured smilingly.
He watched the water float from the ground, as airy as a bubble. His hands then stopped, and at that instant, the water dropped back down the ground.
It was one of those simple tricks he learned about the incredible blood that lies within him; simple tricks he used to entertain himself.
And today, there was a limitless source of joy for him—it was snowing gently that day, and some of the melted snow has become puddles of clear blue water already.
This caught his attention. A tall young man was standing in front of him, eyeing him with a spark of interest in those world-weary eyes.
"Do you always do that?" he asked, in a tone that sounded foreign to his ears. When he was exiled into the Death of Mist after his mother was brought there by his father there three days ago, the only voices he heard were those of fear masked by insults and senseless bravado.
But this man's voice…it sounded so casual, as if he was just asking him whether he likes vegetables or not.
"Y-Yes," he decided to say. He didn't know what it was about this man that made him quickly feel comfortable with him. When he scanned his eyes however, it dawned on him what arrested him about this man like so.
"Do you have nowhere to go?"
He gazed at the tall man in puzzlement.
"The come with me. We'll put that special gift of yours into something much more useful." The ninja was about to turn away when the boy suddenly chuckled.
The man turned to him again, asking.
"Mister, you've got the same eyes as mine."
"Hmm…not bad, Naruto." Kakashi's eyes glinted in amusement when one of the shadow clones of his student almost managed to kick his heel. The Starlet recovered his stance swiftly though, and then jumped down, making sure he was moving left and right in constant speed. He of all people should know how greatly the senses of the boy had improved in their two-day training.
Hinata, who was watching in admiration, clasped her hands together. You can do it, Naruto-kun!
Encouraged by his sensei's back-handed compliment and silent audience, Naruto grinned and molded more chakra within him as reserve. Just then, he felt something appear from above him. He looked up, alert. Indeed, Kakashi was on his way down towards him, fist aimed for a punch. He was about to move away when he noticed something on the ground. Quickly, he took one step forward and crouched down, just as the Kakashi above him disappeared in a puff of smoke. A second later, Kakashi's fist appeared from beneath the ground, missing Naruto's jacket by some centimeters.
The boy turned around, laughing. "Nice try, Kakashi-sensei! You were hiding beneath the shadow of that clone, but in turn, you as the clone's shadow moved faster, so I noticed it."
Kakashi paused. He was sure that with the way he moved agilely, it would require incredible amount of concentration and sharp senses to detect the almost fraction of a half difference between him and his clone's movement. "Critical thinking…amidst a battle…such presence of mind…" The Starlet grinned, delighted. "Or maybe I just went too easy with you. Either way, you've grown, Naruto. The path to your ten is not as long and winding as we all previously thought."
The lad paused, and then grinned, raising a thumbs up. "HAHA! I'm the CHAMP! I'm the greatest, ne, ne, Kakashi-sensei?" He pumped his fists some more. "Yay!!!"
"A shinobi must NEVER drop his defenses!" The Starlet's hand did a quick hand position, startling both Naruto and Hinata. The maid looked on, terrified. Is he going to use Ninjutsu against Naruto-kun?
"Konoha's great ancient taijutsu…" His hand aimed for its targeted posterior body part. "1000 years of pain!!!"
Naruto's yelp of pain reverberated all over the place.
"This place…is despicable…" Momochi Zabusa surveyed the extent of the city's panorama from the mountains near the Mist kingdom. "Too weak…too poor. The ruler of this place must use an iron hand if he truly wants this kingdom to equalize and surpass the power of Leaf empire." He smirked. "But he is a weakling…a weakling…" He turned to the boy standing next to him, pensive in silence. "Tomorrow, destiny will dip its finger into the lackluster monarchy…MY destiny…"
The little boy nodded. He knew about the plans of the man to join the coup that the wealthiest merchant in the kingdom was financing. In exchange for a sure spot in the new royal court that will take place, Zabusa was to use his expertise in battles to slay all who try to stand in the way of the merchant Gatou's plans.
"What this kingdom needs is new life…to be fertilized by the blood of the old. And the kingdom needs…" His smile widened. "…me."
"I believe you, Zabusa-san," said the lad quietly, looking up at him with pure, unadulterated faith.
To this, the man smirked. "I have no use for your encouragement."
"Then use me in any way you want." The young man smiled warmly, undeterred by his demeanor. "I can be your tool, your weapon…anything. Use me to make your dreams materialize into reality."
For a moment, Zabusa looked at the boy before him. And then he nodded. He placed his hand on the boy's hair and messed it, his action hinted with much pleasure from the boy's submission. "Good kid."
"It hurts, it hurts, IT HURTS!!!" cried Naruto as he walked down the grassy trail, limping. Damn, he wasn't sure if he could ever sit down again without breaking his lungs from his scream of pain. "And worse, I can't avenge myself because he suddenly left! Geez!"
He remembered the conversation that took place some minutes ago.
"Kakashi-sensei! Fight me! I'll give you a dose of your own technique!!!"
"Ah, gomen. Not today, Naruto."
"Eh?! Why not?!!"
"I'm just going to check something in the forest."
"EH?! You're just going to escape from me and my challenge!"
"Haha! Be assured that I won't step back." Kakashi reached for something in his backpocket and handed it to him.
"NANI?!!" Naruto threw the Come Come Paradise novel back at the Starlet as if it was a hot potato. "I told you, I'm not into these kinds of books!"
"Really? Funny, but Sasuke has a collection of books similar to these…"
"Haha! It was a gift from me." Kakashi handed the book back to him and planted it firmly in his hands. "Hold on to this for awhile. I'll get this when I come back."
Naruto frowned. "Kakashi-sensei, why are you doing this? Will you be away for a long, long time?"
The man smiled. "Not sure. But you and Hinata-chan better return to the kingdom, or Lady Haruno will go ballistic. I'll catch up with you guys."
For some reason, Naruto felt something heavy fill his heart. "S-Sensei…"
The Starlet's eyes softened. "Don't lose the page." He gestured to his novel. "I'm about to reach the climax there."
"Won't you accompany us back to the Leaf kingdom?" asked the boy, uncomfortable with leaving the Starlet alone. He still couldn't rid his mind of the anxiety forming within him.
"What? And be the third wheel between you and Hinata-chan?" Kakashi messed his hair fondly. "Not this time."
Just as quickly, his apprehension was replaced by embarrassment and annoyance. "Kakashi-sensei!!! I told you—"
"Hehe. Ja, Naruto." The Starlet stepped back, grinning. "Don't do things I would."
"Gyaaaah! Kakashi-sensei!!! I can't believe that you still refuse to believe me when I say that--"
"Sensei..." For a while, a nostalgic look in his eyes flashed, returning him to some point of his past. The hero who appeared in front of him and helped him up his feet after he crashed down the ground. The hero he watched in shock and wonder as he battled the demon nine-tails. A mass of wild flaxen hair and wise eyes.
"—and besides, Hinata might not like it when she hears what you're saying! Geez!" Naruto propped his arms at the back of his head.
The Starlet smiled warmly at him. "Oh, Naruto…"
"Hmm?" The boy looked at him distrustingly.
"I can see it clearly in you. You are a Hokage's legacy." With that, the man turned around and walked into the other side of the forest, waving.
"Hokage's…legacy…" Naruto's eyes were wide in surprise and awe.
Hinata rushed to his side, puzzled. "N…Naruto-kun? W-Where is Sir Kakashi going?"
The boy turned to her . "He's just doing a…uh…side mission. He told us to go back to the kingdom already."
"I see…" Hinata clapped her hands in panic. "A-Ah, I haven't finished packing our things!"
"Go ahead. I'll clear the tent." He headed for the makeshift roof for the three of them.
"Naruto-kun, I've finished packing already!" Hinata's hushed voice awakened him from his daze. He grinned. "Yoroshii!" He took Hinata's backpack and balanced it with his own bag. He carried Kakashi's bag next, which to his dismay was heavier than both his and Hinata's bags combined, his face dark. "Maybe Kakashi-sensei left suddenly because he didn't want to carry his stuff."
The maid giggled softly. "Ah, Sir Kakashi can't be that bad…"
"Heh. You're too kind." He finished the bag-balancing act and lifted the tent poles next.
"Naruto-kun, m-maybe I should carry your bag and mine—"
"Iie! I can do this!" He flashed her a confident smile, and then took his first step forward…
…and then crashed down the ground, with the backpacks burying themselves on top of him. His rear hit the hard ground, making him cry out in great pain, shattering the silence of the forest.
The eyes followed the two youngsters quietly. The girl was helping the boy up, as the latter was whining on how painful his backside was.
A smile formed on his face, especially when he saw how much the girl was trying to pacify the lad.
"A-Aaah, d-don't worry, Naruto-kun! I-I'm sure you didn't break any bones!" She crouched behind him and made him sit up straight. Her finger pressed expertly through the thick fabric of his winter coat and his orange jacket, her Byakugan eyes examining the nerves and chakra pathways of his body. "See? No damage at all, Naruto-kun!" She winced when she saw his face still contorted in pain. "W-Wait for me. I-I'll just get some herbs…" She frantically ran into the woods to look for any plant which medical value she could use on him.
The long-haired male nodded. This was now his chance.
And it seemed that even fate was conniving with him—the boy lied down the grass and closed his eyes. In a matter of minutes, his chest was rising and falling in an even rhythmic pattern already.
If what the right hand of the Devil Serpent said was true, then this boy may just be the key to Zabusa's dreams.
He readied his needles. His aim was not anymore at one hundred percent accuracy since the same boy nearly shattered the bones of his body, but his accuracy was still thirty percent more reliable than a skilled archer's aim, and he had more allowances when it comes to distance.
This would be quick and easy.
But once more, his attention was arrested by the innocent, almost boyishly angelic features of the now fast asleep Uzumaki Naruto. And if there was one thing that he admired like so, it was anything that reminded him of snow, of pure white snow.
And this lad before him…was the very definition of purity. Unblemished.
He jumped down and drew towards him, fists clenching the needles. He knelt down beside the boy, hand aiming for the sleeping one's neck.
Yet something in him stopped.
Instead, he opted to gently wake the boy up.
Naruto groggily opened his eyes, mumbling. He didn't know he ended up sleeping his aching rear away! His eyes surveyed the surrounding to recall where he was.
"F-Forest…oh yeah, Hinata said something about finding medicinal herbs—" The boy halted, and then slapped his forehead. "DAMN!" He turned to his left, and then to his right. "Hinata? Hinata, where—"
His azure eyes fell on the seated figure beside him. "W-Were you…the one who woke me up?"
The beautiful raven-haired lady smiled, but said nothing.
"Er lady….have you happened to notice my friend, Hinata?" He straightened, the opposite of what his forehead did—it creased, as if trying its hardest to recall events with that act.
"Yes. She went into the forest to obtain medicinal herbs for you." The lady laughed softly. "Don't tell me you don't remember the accident you had with your backpacks?"
"Backpacks? What…oh." Naruto grimaced. "Oh well, I think I'm ok already. I better find Hinata so we can go back home already." He got up on his feet and gathered the contents of the backpacks that spilled on to the ground.
"Let me help you." The lady began to clear the things that spilled from Kakashi's bag. "Weapons…you guys are ninjas, am I right?"
He looked up, pleased. "Wow, we sure are!" He grinned, obviously happy with what she said. "Uzumaki Naruto is my name! And watch out, because tomorrow, I may be already a Hokage! Hahaha!"
A flash of mixed surprise and sadness crossed the lady's face. "The Hokage, huh? Isn't he just a legend?"
Naruto vigorously shook his head. "No, he is real! He is a hero in the hearts of my home kingdom. We already had four heroes—each time, when Kingdom Konoha is in the verge of destruction, a person appears to save the empire. The Fourth, they say, was the one who successfully sealed the most powerful youma in the whole world!" Unconsciously, he touched his stomach, and then grinned again. "The people of Leaf kingdom look up to him like so! And someday, people would treat me that way too. I'll be a hero!"
"A savior…" The lady breathed audibly, and then looked at the faraway distance, face pensive.
"Hey, hey, lady! What's wrong?" asked the Kyuubi boy, puzzled by the look on her face. "You don't believe me?" he asked, pouting.
To this, the beautiful woman burst into delighted laughter. "I do, I do! You look very strong. I…I know you do…" Her voice trailed off.
"Hah! But I'll train harder! I have to be stronger than looking stronger! A Hokage should be very, very strong, in order to be really a savior!" said Naruto, fire in his eyes.
This made the lady chuckle again. "Ah, Uzumaki Naruto, do you know what makes someone really REALLY strong?"
"Um, yes… and ah—"
"It's not only training," the long-haired lady said softly.
Naruto looked stumped.
"Do you have a precious person in your life?"
The boy shut his eyes and pondered on that question. Well, for starters, he love his Iruka-sensei, and yeah, maybe Ebisu-sensei too, even if he could be a little strict sometimes. These two became his surrogate parents after he roamed around the continent for months, alone. Not one of the small villages he went to wanted him. The moment they see the scratched cheeks of his, they immediately send him out of the town, threatening to kill him if he sets his footstep on that place ever again. But no, Iruka-sensei and Ebisu-sensei accepted him into their cozy little hut, even after they personally witnessed the demon nine-tails' power in one of their trainings. Iruka-sensei took up ramen cooking lessons from the Ichiraku upon learning that he loved the noodles of that shop very much. Ebisu-sensei, on the other hand, would give him a bath and lecture him on hygiene and keeping himself presentable, yet it was the man himself who do the laundry, including his dirty training clothes.
He also loves his Kakashi-sensei, even if generally, all he does was make fun of him and tease him. In him, he found a big brother, and even a father. He would never forget those pieces of advice he gave him, may it be good or not.
Yeah, maybe…maybe even Sasuke too. He was an arrogant bastard, but he couldn't forget the look in his eye when he gave him the Konoha forehead protector. The prince never said much, but he felt that he was trusted by the young man—his abilities to also protect Leaf, and serve it with only the best intentions.
And then there's Hinata…
"A person finds his true strength when he is protecting someone dear to him. He finds courage even from the littlest of things when what is at stake is the happiness and security of that person." The woman pointed to the mother bird who flew out of the nest. "Look at that bird. The mother knows that hunters abound in this part of the forest, but because she knows that there is sure food in that place, she flies here to get her children's breakfast."
"Aah…" Awe was clearly written in the boy's face.
"A Hokage…or anyone who wants to be a hero doesn't need any other kind of strength from jutsu forms, except for the strength that comes from here." The lady placed one fingertip on the blonde's chest. "I told you awhile ago that you look like a very strong person. That's because I see you are someone who has a lot of love to share for everyone, and there are people who love you truly."
"W-Wow…that's…really nice," murmured Naruto, blushing in embarrassment. He realized that while it may be true that not everyone acknowledged him, but there were people who care for him. He certainly felt much more confident and strong now. "Thanks, lady!"
The woman nodded, and then turned her attention back at the things cluttering the field.
Naruto, on the other hand, recalled what Neji told him after he punched the earl's face in the woods upon hearing the Hyuuga male's confession regarding what transpired between him and Hinata.
"By refusing to fight me…by accepting my attacks without reiteration…she succeeded in showing me how warped my ideas on strength is. All my life, I believed that everyone around me is weak, when I had just been looking at my mirror's reflection."
He slowly smiled. Hinata…must be stronger than me then. She has so much space in her heart …even for a ranch caretaker, or the caretaker's dog…for a snobbish gardener, for Sakura-chan, for that bastard yeti…for Naru-chan…
…maybe even for him.
He blinked. "Eh?"
The woman smiled gently. "You said her name out loud."
This made the boy scratch his forehead sheepishly. "Ahaha…I was just thinking about what you said…those who have a lot of loved ones are also the strongest…Hinata…I was thinking that she must be something then."
"It would be nice to meet Hinata-san too one of these days." She finished closing the two backpacks.
"Eh? Hey, hey, you're leaving already, lady?" asked the boy, eyes wide.
"Someone is waiting for me...and my medicinal herbs." She gestured to her own leaves in the pocket of her kimono. "It was…wonderful to meet you, Uzumaki Naruto-kun." She got up and bowed her head delicately his way.
Naruto grinned, blushing faintly. Come to think of it, this lady was certainly cuter than his Sakura-chan…
"Oh, and Naruto…" She laughed quietly. "I'm a boy."
"NANI?!!" Naruto clapped his hands at both cheeks, shaking his head in disbelief. "NO WAY!!! But he's too cute to be a he! WAAAH!!!"
Haku stopped walking and turned to his left, where a girl with short dark hair was standing by a tree, clutching some leaves.
The girl nervously smiled, and then bowed. "Thank you…for sparing his life awhile ago."
The Mist soldier's forehead creased. "You were watching…"
"I could have killed him. What would you have done then?"
Her face raised to meet his challenging gaze. "I will not let anything happen to Naruto-kun…dakedo, I was sure you will not kill him." She touched her eyelids. "My Byakugan tells me a lot about you, and my heart agrees. You are like snow…and I am most comfortable with it…because I was born on this season."
His eyes softened. "You are Hinata-san then. I have only known you as the Hyuuga Main Family heiress."
"Eh?" she gasped. "H-How did you…know my name?"
"We will meet again…soon." He bowed and went on his way. Hinata could only gape after him as his figure slowly disappeared into the deep forest. "He's heading for the Mist forest…then could it be…"
Memories flooded her mind. He felt familiar, and he knew her name—both as Hinata and as the clan princess. And he said that they would meet again. When did they last encounter each other then?
"Alright! Almost done…" Naruto picked up the last few remaining articles of clothing on the ground. His hand then touched a small cotton handkerchief. "Hmm? Does Kakashi-sensei own a hanky…with that stupid mask of his? " When he unfolded it though, it hit him.
This was the handkerchief that Hinata used on him back when he was still in his frog form. It was the makeshift winter jacket that she made him wear because she was afraid of his little form facing the chill.
He gazed at it, once more recalling Hinata and her incredible kindness towards his animal form.
"It might be too chilly outside."
"You worry too much. I'm a frog; and frogs don't usually have to wear protective clothing—"
"But you said it yourself. You are not an ordinary frog, Naru-chan. You are special; you are my friend. Please let me do this."
"Hinata…" he murmured. It hit him that he was yet to tell her about his frog curse, and about Naru-chan. Many times he had tried putting it off already, afraid of how she would react. But now, he felt he owe it to her—the truth on him and his other form. He was damn scared right now, but he had to tell it to her, now or never.
"N-Naruto-kun? A-Are you OK now?" Hinata's worried voice floated into the place. "Y-You shouldn't have stand up yet—"
He turned to her, watching her face carefully. "I need to confess something very important to you." He took her hand and guided her to sit down on the snowy grass gently. His other hand was holding on to the handkerchief.
Her eyes fell on it, then back at him.
He cleared his throat, and then sighed. "A-After what I will say…Hinata…I…I can understand if you will get mad at me but…"
"But?" Her kind eyes remained as they were—not even a single shred of doubt formed, despite his ominous words. That was how absolute her trust and faith on him was.
This scared him even more. He wasn't sure if he was willing to risk this wonderful bond between them for the truth he thinks she deserved to know, but…
He recalled the times he saw her cry for his frog form, or when she asked the "fairy" to take care of Naru-chan for her.
In the end, his desire to give her peace of mind won out. He might be committing a big mistake now, but he knew he wouldn't regret it.
Slowly, he started the narration: how he was cursed after setting the devil serpent free, how he slowly adapted into a lifestyle of a frog, but later on found new hope when his frog form met a maid who was actually a princess.
And Hinata sat still, listening to him in silence.
"You went home later than usual."
Haku paused from pounding the herbs he had finished picking in the forest. "Zabusa-san…" He smiled, blushing faintly. "I-I'm sorry. I lost track of it. I met some people."
"You had a good time, it seems." The man sat down. "Anyway, have you seen my targets?"
How could not he? They were the same people he met. Haku slowly nodded.
"Very good. Get the Kyuubi boy and the Hyuuga princess." The earl smirked. "I will make the Sand regret their decision to double-cross me…"
to be continued