Disc: I don't own them.

AN: So. In a misguided attempt to prove that not all AU fanfics have to suck, I have created perhaps the dumbest premise for a Naruto fic that anyone has ever thought of. And I don't care. Honestly, I'm rather fond of it, misguided attempt at originality that it is. Advance warning for those seeking romance: no, this isn't NaruHina or SasuSaku. In fact, you probably won't like the couples involved, but the point of the fic isn't romance anyway. The other advance warning would be that you probably won't see Chapter 2 for a while. Sorry. Hopefully you'll decide to read on anyway!



When people asked Hinata Hyuuga where she worked, she told them that she was a journalist. When they followed this up by asking her which paper she worked for, she deflected the question with a blush or a well-placed stammer. She wasn't ashamed of her job. On the contrary, she liked it very much.

People tended to wonder about you, though, when they knew that you worked for the National Observer. Hinata didn't want to be wondered about.

Her life story wasn't even weird enough to land her in the tabloid that she worked for. Her father and her uncle had been the lead singers of a relatively famous Eighties hair band which only disbanded after Uncle Hizashi had overdosed on cocaine and died. Since Hinata was average looking, couldn't sing, and had no stage presence, it wasn't long before her father's eyes looked away from her and towards her little sister Hanabi and her cousin Neji.

Of course she was a little jealous. Who wouldn't be? Still, being overlooked had its advantages. She had moved to a city in Alberta with a distant relative's family, attended a local high school, graduated with honours but no scholarship in sight, and had been searching for a job when she discovered that the Observer had a branch headquarters in Leafhyde. She had applied mainly out of a desire to be seen as more than "the weird quiet girl." Now, at least, she was a weird quiet girl with her own cubicle.

On the other hand, it was a pretty small cubicle, and the only working computer in the building was currently in the next one over.

"Um," she managed, clearing her throat a little bit, "S-Shino? Are you... are you finished with that photo yet?"

The only answer she received was a loud but undefined grunt. Brushing aside a ream of paper, Hinata hopped carefully into the hall and down several acres of carpet to where her co-workers were standing around an outdated Mac.

"It's not bad," said Kiba thoughtfully, pulling his hood up over his face. One of the best parts of working for the Observer was the lack of anything resembling a dress code. Although most of the employees dressed for business anyway - Hinata wore a starched grey coat and skirt - the advice columnist always looked like he'd just come in from a track meet. "A little more hair on the neck, maybe."

Shino nodded and made the appropriate adjustments to the picture on the screen. He pulled his sunglasses down slightly, nodded, and pushed them back up again before turning to Hinata. "What do you think?"

"It... looks good to me..." replied Hinata with a shy smile. The monitor displayed the head of a local politician, melted into the head of a young girl and expertly photoshopped onto the body of a monkey. It was perfect for the ape girl story she had finished yesterday. "I don't suppose the boss... is still here?"

Kiba snorted. "He left hours ago. Said he needed to go get a bikini wax. Are you leaving for lunch?" She nodded, and he gave her a fanged grin. "Go ahead and take the rest of the day off, too, huh? If he can do it, you can too."

"...Alright," responded Hinata, glad she didn't have anything more to do at the office. "I'll... I'll see you both tomorrow?"

On the way out, she touched Kiba's mind briefly. He was wondering what his dog was doing at the moment. He was also wondering whether he should ask her out tomorrow, or if he'd better put it off a few more weeks just to be on the safe side. He wanted to wait until the best possible time, but maybe she was waiting for him to...

The sound of his thoughts faded as she walked out of the building and down the city sidewalk.

Hinata also came from a family of mind readers.

She doubted that even that would get her into the National Observer.


"...I mean, I've told him a *million* times," Sakura said, in the snobby, gossipy tone she usually affected around Ino. "I even bought him tweezers for Christmas. How subtle is that? *Honestly,* I'm not sure why I keep him around in the first place."

Sakura and Ino were acquaintances from high school who worked just down the street at The Gap. They both had goals in the fashion industry- but whereas Ino wanted to be a model, Sakura was planning on designing her own clothing label. For the most part, the two girls acted as if they hated each other, but they still ate lunch together every day at Moxie's. Hinata had somehow ended up eating with them.

She took a sip of tea and patted her lips with the paper napkin. It left a little ring of pink on one corner, which made her smile. "Aren't you being a little bit mean to Lee?" she asked hesitantly, and quickly put her head back down when the other two looked at her. "Sorry."

"Oh, stop *apologizing,*" Ino responded breezily, waving her fork around in the air before spearing another lettuce leaf. "You're always doing that." She turned back to Sakura. "Why don't you just dump him? You could do better."

Sakura shrugged her shoulders and tossed back her bubblegum-pink dyed hair. "Oh, I don't know," she replied vaguely.

In fact, Hinata knew exactly why- despite everything, Sakura had found herself falling out of love with her crush since Grade 6 and into love with her very fish-eyed boyfriend. She was mildly repulsed by the fact. Hinata sympathized with her a little. After having spent her entire life focused on social status and appearance, it must be somewhat mortifying for her to be dating a Bruce Lee fanatic who worked in a martial arts kwoon next to a Subway resturaunt.

For that matter, Hinata also knew that Ino had secretly been in love with Sakura for years and had never forgiven her when she chose her crush over their friendship. There were some good points to being a psychic. You never had to pay attention to gossip when you knew what other people really *were* thinking and feeling.

"...He's a nice guy, anyway. He's got a car. That's more than you can say for *some* people's boyfriends." Sakura gave Ino a fake smile. "Speaking of boyfriends, how's Shikamaru?"

Ino rolled her eyes. "Arg. Don't even talk about it. He ditched me last night to go hang out with his loser friends. I'm ending it today. Things were better between us when we were just us, y'know?" Shikamaru and Ino had known each other forever, but everyone who knew them had known that their hooking up last summer had been a bad idea. The only reason that they had lasted so long was because Shikamaru was too lazy to move out...

Letting the familiar venom-laden banter drift over her head, Hinata continued to chew on her usual BLT. She remembered sitting alone in the cafeteria in high school while the other girls sat and talked like this. It was nice to be part of a group, even if that group was less than ideal.


Hinata blinked and looked up. Sakura and Ino were both staring at her, as if waiting for a reply. "Hinata, are you still with us?"

Blinking so hard that she almost dislodged her contacts, Hinata blushed and hid her mouth behind her sandwich. There was nothing she hated more than getting lost in thought and missing the conversation. "Sorry?" she squeaked in surprise. "You were saying...?"

Ino gave her a playful grin. "Just wondering if you were gonna go see the concert in Calgary next week. I ordered my ticket two months ago, so I'm all set." She sighed happily and took a sip of Diet Coke.

"Yeah?" asked Sakura with mock politeness. "Lee and I got tickets three months ago for *free.* I couldn't believe it. My boyfriend is friends with Neji Hyuuga!" She turned to Hinata once again. "So, are you going?"

Hinata shook her head. "Neji Hyuuga... doesn't really interest me much," she responded softly.

Shaking her head, Sakura polished off the last of her clam chowder. "I *love* him," she said. "'Somebody Else's Girl' is my favorite song ever. I seriously can't believe I'm going to see him..."

"Speaking of going to see people," Ino interrupted, a jealous little smirk on her face, "guess what? Sasuke's working a shift this afternoon! I'm going to get someone else to take my shift so I can go see him... what about you?"

Sakura's eyes opened wide. "Oh, I'm going too!" she said, with excitement that Hinata could sense was partially fake. "I can't wait! He's so hot- I get *chills* just looking at him." She looked over to Hinata. "You should come too!"

Nearly every girl at Sarutobi High had been madly in love with Sasuke Uchiha since they were in preschool. He didn't play any sports or join any clubs. Despite his good grades, he didn't seem interested in school at all. His cold attitude and his good looks were enough to keep girls drooling after him even after graduation.

What most people didn't know was that Sasuke's older brother had killed his parents slowly and methodically in front of him before being shipped off to a mental hospital in Manitoba. Ever since then, Sasuke's one goal in life had been to kill Itachi. It made him who he was. The few times Hinata had looked into his heart, the pulsing hatred she had found there had made her sick for days afterwards.

Now he worked at the Wax Museum. It suited him. He was no more alive than the figures he cared for.

"No," she said, "I think I'll stay downtown for a while."


Downtown Leafhyde was a gracious exaggeration. Hinata could name and give directions to every building over eight stories, and she barely even glanced at them. The urban area sprawled like a cancer in the middle of the city, dying into housing after a few blocks each way.

Having a job downtown made Hinata very happy. It meant, among other things, that every day she had a chance to go to her favorite place in the world.

She walked lightly down the street, nearly floating on her own little cloud, counting shops as she went by. She almost didn't want to get to the store. If he wasn't there, the disappointment would stay with her for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if he was...

Turning the corner, she took a deep breath and opened the door of Iruka Umino's Exotic Pets and Video Rental.

"Hello!" called the familiar loud voice from behind the counter. "Welcome to... oh, hey, Hinata! What's up?"

Hinata turned beet red and began pushing her fingertips together. She did it whenever she was nervous. "Naruto..."

Naruto Uzumaki, like Hinata, had a famous father. Unfortunately, he wasn't a former rock star- he was the infamous "Nine Tails" serial killer, a schizophrenic who believed he was the reincarnation of a Japanese fox demon. After a spree of gristly murders, he had killed himself and his wife when Naruto was still small.

Nobody wanted to take care of a schizophrenic little boy who might turn out to become like his father. Naruto, living alone on the grace of the local authorities, had managed to acquire medication for himself and become completely self-sufficient. More than that, despite the fact that most of Leafhyde despised and feared him, he was a cheerful and fairly well adjusted boy who always had a smile on his face. Even in High School, he had managed to win some friends simply by the virtue of his unfailing good attitude and talent for pranks.

To Hinata, who had spent her time in High School skulking around in corners trying not to be noticed, he was the bravest, most wonderful person in the world, and just seeing him smile made her day.

"Are you looking for a movie?" he asked, hopping over the counter to meet her. "Or maybe a pet?" His grin widened. "Or maybe you just came to see my handsome face?"

Hinata's blush deepened. Despite her best efforts, she still had trouble breathing whenever Naruto came near her. It was like being in the presence of a superhero. "Um," she managed, still pushing her fingers together, "I'm... um..."

Naruto laughed and shook his head. "I'm just kidding. Hey, wanna see something really cool? We got an alligator!" He pointed to one of the large tanks lining the walls. Inside, a small alligator dozed in the shallow water. "Cute, huh? I'm calling her Claudia."

"It's... it's a girl, then?" asked Hinata tentatively, kneeling down on the floor so she could see better. She tapped lightly on the glass, and the animal's visible eye swiveled towards her for a moment before unfocusing again.

Naruto nodded, reaching up to scratch his head. His hair was short and spiky, and reminded Hinata of nothing so much as stiff toothbrush bristles. "Yeah. The guys get pretty big, so... Uh, you're probably here for a movie, right?" He gestured to the back of the store. "We've got some new releases this week!"

Giving him a shy nod, Hinata approached the back wall and began leafing through the movies on display. Although she did really only come to the store to see Naruto, she felt it was more polite if she at least rented something as well. She didn't go to the movies often - large crowds of people unnerved her a little bit - but she did like watching movies at home.

After a few minutes of fruitless searching, she closed her eyes and ran her finger along the shelf. When she opened them, her hand pointed to the BBC Edition of Wuthering Heights. Frowning, she looked around again for a few minutes before deciding on Maid in Manhattan.

"I'll... um, take this, please," she said hesitantly, walking forward to the front of the store and shoving the video case onto the counter. She was sure her face was redder than ever. Her movie choices were always embarrassing for her. "Sorry."

Naruto shook his head and typed the video into the cash register. "Not a problem..." he responded absentmindedly. "...Uh, Hinata? Have you read the paper today?"

"Um, I don't get the paper," replied Hinata, hunching her shoulders down further and counting exact change for the rental out of one slightly sweaty palm. "...Why...?"

He shook his head. "Just, uh, there was this one article... You live near Henderson Park, right? The paper said that someone was murdered there last week." His eyes turned serious. "It's not a great area. Be careful, okay?"

Hinata, although shocked that someone could die in such a small city, didn't pay much attention to the warning. Her mind glossed over it and centered in on the fact that he had asked her to be careful. *He* was concerned about *her.* "I will," she whispered, giving him a nervous little smile with all the courage she had.

"Good." Naruto grinned back. "Enjoy the movie, huh? Seeya."


Almost half-asleep already, Hinata sighed contentedly and pressed rewind on the remote control. The movie had been exactly the sort of thing she liked sometimes. It was sweet, light-hearted, predictable, and didn't require any conscious thought. Hinata usually only watched movies when she knew how they ended. Some movies, however, didn't even require that guarantee.

The afternoon had been as predictable as the movie. After a brief walk around town, still invigorated from seeing Naruto, she had taken the bus back to her apartment and spent the time until dinner cleaning it thoroughly. The apartment was small and easy to wash. Hinata never made much of a mess in her own place. Nevertheless, having things in perfect order was always satisfying.

Dinner had been spaghetti, which was almost the limit of her skills in the kitchen. Aunt Kurenai had called while she was doing the dishes and invited her to dinner tomorrow. She had argued- her caretaker must be busy with the kids, she and Uncle Asuma both worked all day, Hinata really could take care of herself- but backed down when it became clear Kurenai was serious. She had been secretly thankful. It would be good to see her family again.

When the tape finished rewinding, she got up off the couch and took it out of the VCR. "Goodnight," she murmured, tucking it into its case. Then, feeling slightly stupid for talking to inanimate objects, she turned off the living room light and headed into the bathroom.

Her pajamas lay neatly folded on top of the laundry basket. They were white, printed with small blue flowers, and extremely warm. She changed in a space of seconds. Then, carefully keeping her eyes on the mirror, she took out her grey colour contacts to reveal white irises.

Giving her reflection a tentative smile, she padded into her bedroom and closed the door behind her.

Hinata didn't often let people see where she slept. This was her own private life.

The room was plastered with pictures of Neji Hyuuga. His face stared down at her from everywhere, in posters and advertisements and magazine cutouts. Behind the brilliant blue of his own contacts, his eyes were as white as hers. In every picture he looked different- smiling, laughing, looking dangerous, depressed, shirtless, fully clothed, with and without proper lighting and makeup.

Turning off the light- she could see without it, anyway- Hinata shuffled towards her CD player and turned it to Track Eight. The darkness was filled with Neji's voice. The song was trite and cliched and far too sappy.

Neji on CD and Neji in real life were very different people.

Hinata hopped into bed, closed her eyes, and absorbed the music.