Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

This first chapter is dedicated to NuttyScribbler, who has reviewed quite a few of my stories , White Witch, who listens to me rant about anything -- and she helps me with my Tagalog [gosh, you have to hand it to her. And she's never complained, not even once. .] and Naruke, who... well, rambles about the oddest things and just makes my life a hell of a lot more interesting. I wonder if she's reading.. XD

Chapter 1

The first time Hyuuga Hinata laid eyes on Uzumaki Naruto was on an autumn evening, when she was but five years old. She was a quiet, introverted girl, only speaking when it was absolutely necessary. More so, she was weak. She lacked the physical strength needed to be the head of the famed Hyuuga clan, and her father never failed to remind her of this.

"You are weak," he had said to her after witnessing her doing poorly in all of her training. Her father never yelled. But the disappointment, the fury in his eyes was more than the young girl could handle. His voice was deathly silent, with ice seeping into his tone. "You are a disgrace to the Hyuuga clan."

She was used to such treatment. That was the way she had been treated all her life, after all.

But somewhere, deep inside her, she knew she deserved better.

She had been sipping at her orange juice when a loud yell caught her attention. She turned towards the direction of the voice, and caught a glimpse of blond hair. Curiousity piqued, she strayed from her usual path home to see what was going on.

"That's mine!" A blond boy around her age shouted angrily at some older boys who had knocked down his groceries and were making off with them. "Come back here! Those are MINE!"

But the older boys paid him no heed, and ran off, joking and laughing about their feat.

Hinata found herself drawn to the blond, and she walked quietly to him. If that had been her, she would have been crying by now, but this boy simply glared and muttered curses under his breath as he picked up the rest of his fallen things. When he saw her, he waved. "Hi!"

What? Hinata did not understand. How could he be so cheerful after what had just happened?

"I -- I --" She stuttered. She always stuttered. "Hi." She finally managed.

He smiled, and she couldn't help but wonder how he could do so.

Mustering all of her courage, she asked him so.

He stuck out his lower lip, looking thoughtful. "They're idiots," he said finally. "Anyway, I'm gonna become Hokage one day! Then I'll show them!"

"Hokage?" Hinata wasn't able to keep the surprise out of her voice.

"Yeah!" He nodded energetically. Then he narrowed his eyes. "You don't think I can do it?"

"Oh!" Hinata shook her head. "You'll be a good Hokage."

That bright smile appeared once more on his face. "I like you!" he declared, causing a blush to appear on Hinata's face. She averted her eyes. "What's your name?"

She hated giving her name to others. Whenever they heard the "Hyuuga" part, they instantly judged her to be a strong, gifted warrior. But that wasn't who she was.

"Huh?" He glanced at her eyes. There was some surprise shown in his face, but evidently he thought better of asking her such a personal question. "Can't you tell me?"

"It's Hyuuga Hinata," she told him in a voice so quiet he could barely hear her.

"Hinata, huh?" He scratched his chin, looking thoughtful. "That's a pretty name."

Again, she blushed. "Th -- Thanks."

"Oh! I'm so stupid!" Naruto stuck out his hand to her. "My name's Uzumaki Naruto."

"Uzumaki-san," Hinata repeated, reluctantly shaking his hand. She wasn't used to such affectionate treatment. Upon hearing her words, Naruto frowned and shook his head.

"No!" He told her, shaking his head vehemently. "Not Uzumaki-san. Naruto. Or Naruto-kun. Whatever you like."

"Oh." Hinata wasn't sure what to say. She had been brought up to address people distantly, never using their first names unless she knew them personally. But somehow this boy made her feel warm inside, and so she decided that it was okay to call him Naruto-kun. "Okay. Naruto-kun."

He smiled the biggest, brightest smile Hinata had ever seen.

---

Seven years later, she has not changed much. She is still weak, still a disgrace to her father's eyes. The only heir he sees fit for the Hyuuga clan is her younger sister, Hanabi. Again, she is nothing. The only reason her father has not kicked her out of the house is because she is still a Hyuuga, and she still contains their bloodline limit.

She has no friends.

Kiba-kun and Shino-kun are her teammates, and they look out for her because of that fact. But they are not her friends. They are merely teammates, working together only because they have to. But she respects them, and they respect her back. She is glad for that, and she looks forward to going on their missions. Anything to get away from this sad, depressing place.

She will gladly go to school rather than to stay at home, where everyone stares at her with disappointed eyes, whispering and muttering about the girl who was too weak to become an heir to the Hyuuga clan.

At school, no one talks to her. The girls have already made their own close-knit groups, and at the age of twelve, the girls stay away from the boys. Plus, she didn't think she would have the courage to ever talk to a boy, anyway, because they were all taller, and scarier.

She is an ugly duckling. But unlike the story, she will never bloom to become a beautiful, graceful swan. She will remain an ugly duckling all her life. That is what everyone tells her, and that is what she has learned to believe.

---

He is a troublemaker. For that reason, he can understand why some of the kids don't like him very much. He can also understand why some of the teachers don't like him very much. But what he cannot understand is how come they shoot him malevolent glares when his back is turned, like he is a demon. He is not a demon. He does not understand.

During his early years, he was raised in an orphanage, fed scraps of food and given thin futons to sleep on. Once he was judged able to live on his own, he was given his small, one-bedroom apartment. It was far from being a comfy home, but anything was better than that orphanage.

Everywhere he goes, someone always gives him that angry look. He does not understand why. He has never done them any wrong. His pranks are never deathly serious; they never involve a life, if not his own.

At school, the kids ostracize him, banning him from their groups, from their lunch tables. He sits alone during recess, he plays alone, he walks alone. After school, he secretly watches as the other kids' parents come to pick them up, watching as they chatter about what they did at school that day.

Inside, his heart hurts. He is alone, painfully alone. Outside, he denies it, covering up with his bubbling laughter and cruel pranks. Anything to get some attention. At least, he reasons, if he is being a prankster, people will give him some attention, right?

He is willing to face anything, any punishment, any criticism, as long as it means someone is paying attention to him. As long as somebody knows he is there.

No one has ever really, truly paid attention to him. Kakashi-sensei pays more attention to Sasuke. Sakura-chan pays more attention to Sasuke. Sasuke only pays attention to himself. Iruka-sensei loves him as a brother, and maybe even a son, that he is sure of, but he never gets to see him much anymore.

He is only someone in the background.

Nobody likes him.

But for some reason, whenever Naruto feels the extent of his loneliness, his thoughts will wander to a young, five-year-old girl, who listened to him as he prattled on about his dreams of being Hokage, who encouraged him, who gave him a small, gentle smile.

Part of him insists, that girl is real! She is real! There really is a person who enjoys being with you, who doesn't give you withering glares and makes fun of your dreams!

But another part of him counters, she isn't real! She can't be real! Everybody hates you. Nobody likes you. That girl is nothing but a figment of your imagination, something you created to soothe the loneliness within you!

If he is feeling particularly bitter, he will listen to the second voice. No one liked him. They detested him. He did not know why, but he has a feeling it has something to do with the strange seal on his stomach, a question he has asked plenty of elders, none of which have ever answered him.

If he is feeling hopeful, or in a good mood, he will indulge in the first voice. She might be real, who knows? Maybe she is his guardian angel, he thinks, remembering the tales Iruka-sensei used to tell him of beautiful beings with long, white wings who look after you and make sure no harm ever comes to you.

But if she was real, where had she gone?

He remembers that the times they met were fleeting, lasting only a few minutes at the most. She would come to him, but then she would leave. He didn't understand. But even though she left, she always came back. Always.

Then one day, she bade him goodbye and never came back.

Was it a dream, he wonders, or was it real?

He wishes it was real. At least then, he knows that he at least had one friend in his life.

But for now, he continues to be alone, standing in the rain, soaking wet, watching as the parents of the other children hand them umbrellas so they can be safe from the rain.

---

Hinata stands at the gates of the school, watching for her younger sister, Hanabi. She has just finished her training with Kurenai-sensei, and she expects to go home with Hanabi and her father. In addition to the large, warm hood her overcoat provides, she clutches an umbrella, holding it over her head, wincing as lightning flashes and thunder crackles.

There! At the back of the school, there is Hanabi, walking home with her father, perfectly dry under the large umbrella her father carries. He claps a hand gently on her younger sister's shoulder, shielding her from the rain. Hinata suddenly realizes, her father never did any such thing for her.

Because she is weak.

He doesn't acknowledge her.

She is weak.

She shakes her head, blinking furiously to stop the tears from falling. She rubs at them furiously with her sleeve, and turns around to take the long way home when something manages to catch her eye.

It is a minute, almost invisible detail, but somehow she is able to pick it up. She pauses, gazing intently at the playground in the distance -- she is barely able to see it, but somehow she is certain that there is somebody sitting on the slides.

Usually she would not pay attention, and would go on her own way. But it was raining hard, and something inside of her told her to go, go and see that person.

She takes small steps, her resolve slightly fading when she gets a closer look at the boy on the slide. She has heard many things about him, although she does not know his name. All she knows is that he is a prankster, always known for getting into trouble. He was always being made fun of by the other kids, although she didn't know why. He never seemed to cause any real harm. She bit her lip.

"Um -- um.."

Her small voice catches his ear, and he turns to look at her. For a moment, Hinata is caught off-guard by his deep blue eyes. She lets out a small gasp.

"Who are you?" he asks her. There is no hostility in his voice, and she forces herself to go on.

"My name -- My name is Hyuuga Hinata," she replies, faltering a little bit at the "Hyuuga" part. Everybody always expected her to be strong upon hearing which clan she belonged to.

Something flickers in his eyes, and he gazes intently at her for a moment, staring, staring, staring. Hinata's cheeks heat up and she looks away.

"What's your name?" she manages to ask him, quietly.

"Uzumaki Naruto," he says, managing to look proud. "I'm going to be the next Hokage. Don't you forget it!"

"Ah..." He was loud, but somehow a little subdued, compared to how he usually acted at school. "I -- I won't, Uzumaki-san."

He shakes his head at her, "Don't call me that! Call me Naruto."

"Oh.." Somehow this seems very familiar to her, but how, she was unsure. She stared at him out of the corner of her eye, trying not to make it seem like she was staring. "Naruto...kun?"

He jerks in surprise, shifting so that he is staring right at her eyes. He sucks in a considerable amount of air upon seeing those sad, white eyes.

No one had ever called him Naruto-kun before.

"I'm sorry," she apologizes immediately. It is almost like a reflex. "Just Naruto?"

But he shakes her head. "No. Naruto-kun is okay." He looks at her, "Can I call you Hinata?"

She nods.

"Hinata..chan?"

This time, it is she who draws in air. No one, not even her father, has called her Hinata-chan. But she glances into his eyes, and finds the same pain that she has experienced all her life. She bows her head. "Yes."

When she looks up, he is smiling the biggest and brightest smile she has ever seen.

This is where their tale begins...

:: t-b-c ::

Well, I thought to myself, I'd written a multi-chapter SasuSaku fic ["Swing"], I'm in the middle of writing a multi-chapter ShikaIno fic ["And They Say Chivalry is Dead"] and I figured, hey, why not write a multi-chapter NaruHina fic? And so this story was born. I realize it's quite different... I wanted to write angst, but I realized that I suck at writing angst, and this was what came out. A lot of inspiration came from "a million doors" by Visions. Well, all you NaruHina fans, I hope you like!