Earth-shattering screams of anguish were an everyday occurrence to people who lead the lives of ninjas, but to some who were new to this field, the disturbance warranted their attention.
In unison, their gazes fell on Team 7.
Uzumaki Naruto stared in horror at the Queen of Spades in his hand. "No! This can't be!" He clawed his scalp in pure, utter disbelief. "I didn't see the Ace of Spades dealt earlier! How did this happen?"
His teammate, pink-haired Sakura, punched his head. "Shut up, Naruto! Don't make a scene here!"
Uchiha Sasuke threw his cards down the floor. "I told you, this is a stupid idea to pass time." He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Whoever thought of playing Hearts while waiting for the rain to let up anyway?"
Kakashi-sensei looked up from his book. "Gee, I was just trying to help. I couldn't bear the thought of you guys bored to death while here I am, enjoying myself in the company of good literature."
Sakura and Sasuke gaped at the Come Come Paradise novel cover, face dark.
Naruto, on the other hand, was beyond pacification. "That's the eighteenth time I lost!" he whined. "Life is so unfair…not to mention a cheater too!"
"Really mature of you," commented Sakura sarcastically.
"It's not life. It's you," added Sasuke. "YOU."
Kakashi sighed, then got up. "Well, let's try to spicen up the game, just so Naruto here would be more inspired to do better…and Sasuke won't be bored."
The orange-haired lad pumped his fists up. "This time, I KNOW I'LL WIN!!!"
Sasuke groaned. "Do I still have to be part of this?"
Sakura sweatdropped. The dark-haired boy was only slightly better than Naruto in card games. But what should she expect from these boys anyway? They were warriors, not gamblers.
"Well, if it will make you feel better, I'll join!" said their teacher brightly.
Sasuke's face turned dark. "Oh hell…"
"Whoever loses this round will have to do a punishment. Is that clear?" Kakashi asked.
"Clear!" said Naruto, his eyes flaming in determination.
Inuzuka Kiba looked at Naruto in ill-concealed disdain. "The guy's hopeless. He lost yet another of his few remaining marbles." He petted Akamaru, sighing. "I'm betting my dinner that you have a higher IQ than he does," he told the white dog.
Aburame Shino cleared his throat, making the dog-lover turn his gaze towards their third teammate, Hyuuga Hinata. She was discreetly watching the yellow-haired loudmouth ninja while playing with her ubiquitous medicine jar.
Kurenai watched her female student, amused. Hinata never really spoke much, but she was very transparent. Her emotions were discernible—if she was happy, like she was right now, she would glow beautifully. If she was afraid…
The teacher shook her head. She shouldn't think anymore of the child's past. Hinata had been through so much bitterness already while she was growing up. Unpleasant memories such as what was on her mind awhile ago was best buried into forgetting.
Kiba snorted. "Puh-leeze. You know, Hinata, it's not that I want to offend your taste but…" He followed the object of his teammate's vision and shrugged. "You're too good for him."
She shook her head slowly. "Iie," she said quietly. "Naruto-kun is very good…and…and…I can never be as good as him…"
From the team 7's spot, they heard another shout. "Kakashi-sensei, I demand that you drop your ace of hearts already, or I'll…ah…I'LL HIDE YOUR COMIC BOOK!!!" Naruto.
Kiba, once more, snorted unceremoniously. "Heh! The more I look at Naruto, the more I liked my pets. For one, they're smarter than him and his clones combined."
"GAAAAH!!! I LOST AGAIN?!!!"
Akamaru nodded to its master.
"Now remember, we had a deal," said Kakashi gleefully. "Go to 7-Eleven and buy me the largest Coke there…and oh yeah, a footlong too."
Sakura grinned. "Diet Coke for me, Naruto. D-I-E-T. And a bag of Toblerone."
"Now where did your diet go?" asked Hatake Kakashi, sweatdropping.
The girl pouted, while her inner ego started to flare up. "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, KAKASHI-SENSEI!!!"
Naruto jotted down the orders in his palm, then looked at Sasuke, who was eyeing him blankly. "Don't tell me you want something from that store too?"
The Uchiha ninja smirked. "Double the orders of Sakura and Kakashi-sensei."
"You're going to eat all those stuff?" asked Naruto, incredulous.
"No, but you would carry them."
"Kuso yo!" Naruto got up grumpily then looked outside. It was still pouring cats and dogs outside. He looked back at his teammates, but their faces show that him getting drenched by a little rain didn't concern them at all.
"Go on, Naruto," said their mentor. "And remember, none of the food must get wet by the rain."
"Yeah, yeah." With that, Naruto left the room.
Hinata's eyes followed his movements leading out of the room. This, of course, didn't go unnoticed by the people with her.
Kurenai finally spoke up. "Hey Hinata?"
She turned to her teacher, flustered. "H-Hai?"
"I was wondering if you could buy me an Ibrupofen in the drugstore," said the woman. "I think my dysmennorhea is starting to act up again."
Kakashi overheard this. "You mean you haven't gotten passed the menopause stage yet? Wow, I didn't know that." He looked truly astounded.
Kurenai's cheeks turned red. "Kakashi no baka."
"S-Sure." Hinata quickly got up. "I-I'll be back as soon as possible." She was about to go when Shino stopped her.
"Umbrella," he said quietly. "It's raining hard." He handed her a big blue one.
She paused, then smiled gratefully. "Arigatou!" With that, she dashed away.
"Damn rain! Damn Sasuke! Damn Ace of hearts!" muttered Naruto as he carefully made his way out of the convenience store. "The food shouldn't get wet. The food shouldn't get wet. THE FOOD SHOULDN'T GET WET," he said over and over to himself, like it was a sacred law in the clan. "This is the only silver lining in these literal dark clouds."
But he was wet—very, very wet. Never mind that people were gaping at him like an idiot already; he was used to it already. But for the love of Akamaru, he had to get these foods safely AND dryly back to his team!
He sniffed the aroma of the footlong with much gusto. "Yummy! I'm sure Sasuke won't eat this—he just ordered this to make me suffer with the weight of these anyway." He grinned wickedly. "He wouldn't even know that I took a very, very small nibble." Carefully, he took out one sandwich and opened the plastic, careful not to let the rain touch the food.
Just then, something shadowed his food.
"What's taking Naruto so long?" complained Sakura. "I'm hungry already!"
"Perhaps, he got lost in the road of life," Kakashi put in, nodding solemnly.
Sasuke groaned inwardly and looked away impatiently. Why were the officials delaying the second part of the Chuunin exams anyway? It couldn't be just because of the rain. He subtly touched his nape, which was tingling malevolently.
Not too far away from them, Kiba was fretting.
"We shouldn't have sent Hinata out in the rain! She might catch a cold! And what if she meets Naruto on her way there?" asked the inu lover.
"That's the idea, actually," said Shino, shrugging.
"WHAT?!" Kiba's face was red in outrage. "I don't trust an inch of flesh of that Naruto boy! What if he decides to do something to Hinata!"
"You're overreacting," said the bug boy calmly.
"Yes, you are. You are acting like a possessive husband." With that, Shino turned his back on his teammate, signaling the end of the conversation.
"Are you saying that I'm JEALOUS?!" yelled Kiba, ignoring the curious looks some people were giving him.
Shino sighed, as if he was wondering why he even bothered to try verbal communication with an irrational person. Boredom sure was powerful.
Naruto turned around and found Hyuuga Hinata holding an umbrella out to him, blushing faintly. "Hey!" he grinned at the petite black-haired girl. "What'ya doing out here? Did you lose in a card game too and was sent out as a punishment?"
She shook her head quickly, blushing even more.
He scratched his cheek. "So…" Really now, Uzumaki Naruto would never run out of things to say, but when it comes to his strange, gray-eyed classmate who wouldn't make use of her larynx, he had no idea what to say next.
His eyes went to the blue umbrella. "Are you…ah…offering that umbrella to me?" he guessed.
She nodded quickly.
His grin widened. "Wow, thanks!" He immediately dove under the shield of the blue umbrella. "You know, I was already wondering how I would bring home these snacks without them getting wet by the rain. It's part of my punishment, you see."
She just looked up at him, not saying anything. Only her blush was vocal.
He grimaced. He was used to girls who talk loud—like Sakura and Ino, for instance. As for her…he had no idea how to deal with her. Should he just keep on talking? Should he ask her questions? Would she answer?
"Hey, this sidewalk is a public property! Stop hogging it!" yelled an elder man at them, shoving them aside roughly.
That took Hinata by surprise. She slipped on the slightly muddy ground and was about to hit the ground had Naruto not acted quickly to hold her arm steady.
"Are you alright?" he asked immediately, his forehead creased worriedly.
Her eyes widened. She couldn't move, and she didn't dare breathe either. She was well aware of his proximity, and this was the closest she ever got to him.
It was then that she realized that a part of her dream came true—that he was holding her close!
"Hinata? Hey? You're ok, right?" he asked.
She nodded, and he gently helped her to get back on her feet.
His eyes then fell on the foods that were on the ground.
"Oops," he said, sweatdropping. He quickly got down on his knees and panickedly gathered the foodstuffs. He looked at the flattened bag of Toblerone, and already he could anticipate the wrath that would unfold when Sakura sees this.
"S-So sorry," he heard her whisper. He looked up and saw Hinata looking down at him, much remorse on her face.
He couldn't understand why he felt something tug in his heart. Heck, not even Sakura could make him feel that way—elicit a feeling of protectiveness.
He felt himself smile slowly. "It's alright."
"L-Let me help—" She knelt down beside him, uncaring whether the mud had stained her clothes already. She helped him gather the sandwiches.
"N-No! You're gonna get wet!" He was too late. Hinata was already drenched like him. Sighing, he prayed that her teammates wouldn't kill him for dragging her into this situation.
"I guess we won't be needing that umbrella anymore," he said, laughing uncomfortably. He knew girls were very sensitive about their appearances.
To his surprise, he heard her giggle softly.
It was too soft, like a feather gently fluttering. Yet it was enough to erase all his discomfort. He knew she was having fun right now, and he was glad. It was nice to see her so relaxed and all smiles.
"Now if you would only do that often…" he murmured.
"P-Pardon?" she asked, startled.
"Smile," he said. "I like seeing you smile."
"Yep." He finished putting the food back to the paper bag. "It's cute." He stood up.
She looked down, face red. "Naruto-kun…"
She shook her head quickly. "N-Nothing. Never mind." She got up on her feet as well, taking the hand the boy offered her. "T-Thank you, Naruto-kun," she whispered. For being my inspiration, for being my hero even if you don't know, for just being there. For everything, thank you.
"No prob!" he said cheerfully, thinking it was for helping her stand up.
And the two of them continued walking back, mindless of the rain still falling down. The blue umbrella hung on Hinata's arm uselessly.
But a blissful smile was pasted on the girl's face.
The boy winced. "T-Take it easy guys!"
"TAKE IT EASY?!!!" Sakura shoved the soggy chocolate bar to his face. "How do you expect me to eat this?"
Naruto sweatdropped. "W-Well, it's fairly easy. You remove the foil covering and then pop it into your mouth, but your mouth must be open—"
He cringed. He was not yet safe from Sakura, and already, Kiba was making his way angrily towards him.
This was NOT a good day.
"What happened to Hinata, huh? You guys arrived together, and she's drenched to the bone! What did you do to her?" he demanded. Akamaru barked along with its master.
"Nothing! What do you think should I do with her?" Naruto snapped back.
"You tell me!" yelled Kiba. Akamaru growled menacingly.
Hinata, who had already changed into fresh clothes, watched the scene, wondering how to break the fight up. Kurenai appeared behind her, tapping her shoulder.
"It's a boy thing, Hinata. It's best that you leave the two alone."
Hinata then remembered the medicine. "Um, sensei, your medicine—"
She took the tablet from her student's hands. "Thanks." They both then turned their gaze back to the scene.
"I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING TO HER!!!" yelled Naruto. "AND I DIDN'T MEAN TO BITE ON THE SANDWICH, ASSHOLE SASUKE!"
Hinata's eyes softened. "Naruto-kun…"
She would never forget this one special afternoon. Never.