After sliding the door shut behind her, Hyuuga Hinata made a brief smile, replied, "I'm back," and bowed. Likewise, her cousin, Hyuuga Neji, the one who greeted her, bowed the same way.
"Where is my father now?" she asked, as she removed her sandals at the doorway.
"He left just a few moments ago to have a meeting with the elders," he replied, "but anyway, if you are already here, then I assume he has already left?" Neji asked, as they walked along the corridors of the Hyuuga's ancestral home.
She nodded in reply, adding, "Just a few minutes ago, with Jiraiya-sama."
"Is that so…" Neji stopped talking for now. He could detect a hint of sadness from her.
The two reached the house's courtyard in a matter of minutes. Green with healthy grass, with a few patches of dirt here and there, with a single, yet tall and proud tree at near the center, it was a serene place that could serve as a peaceful refuge from life's troubles. Aside from that, and having great aesthetic value, it was also sometimes used for training if the lessons involved were deemed too rigorous for an indoors dojo.
"How is your training with my father?" Hinata asked, reminded by the place, as the cousins sat on the raised flooring surrounding the courtyard.
Neji cracked a smile from his usually calm face. It seemed like a topic he enjoyed. "Your father is an excellent teacher, and a strict one, at that. He has deep insight regarding the intricacies of the Jyuuken, and even teaches me different applications of the technique and Chakra usage."
He chuckled a little, adding, "But, in return, to be honest, I've haven't had a moment's rest since I started training. Still, I'm not remorseful about it, as there is only so much I can learn from self-studying and self-training. I'm quite grateful."
Hinata smiled, happy about the progress of her cousin. She replied, "I'm sure you'll do well."
"Well…I must admit that I would never have gotten this far, if it weren't for Naruto," Neji said, conviction in his voice.
Hinata raised a brow. "Naruto-kun, you say?"
"Yes. If it weren't for him, I would've never learned anything new about the Jyuuken. Aside from allowing me the chance to have better training, Naruto also opened my eyes to the truth, as I think he did with your father's.
"It's amusing, and ironic, in a way, that an outsider, a person that had nothing to do with the inner conflicts of the Hyuuga clan, would instigate the start of a radical change, to bridge the gap between the main families and the branch families," he said, with a solemn smile on his face. "It starts with my training with your father, and tomorrow, who knows?"
Hinata could only smile. Hearing this, she could not help but feel a little proud of Naruto. Her mind wandered a little, wondering what he could be doing now, or what kind of training could he be doing.
"Hinata-sama, you were unconscious during our match, right?" Neji asked, bringing Hinata back to reality. She replied with a nod, and then he said, "I must apologize. You must've wanted to see him fight."
"I-it's all right," Hinata reassured, "With Naruto-kun…well, you could say I've already gotten more that I could've asked for."
Neji raised an eyebrow, asking, "What do you mean?"
Hinata shook her head, smiled, and said, "It's a secret."
A moment passed, and there was a complete silence, save for the brushing of the leaves against a gentle breeze. Neji was looking straight ahead, while Hinata's face was lowered, her fingers twiddling as usual.
Hinata had mixed feelings. First, she was happy that she was now finally able to speak with Neji so normally, without feeling so restrained or afraid. Long ago, Neji had so much hatred for her, and for her family, but now, it still amazed her that she could even share words with him.
"Well…" Neji said, breaking the silence, "How are you holding up?"
"H-holding up?" Hinata replied, not quite sure what he meant.
"Naruto leaving," Neji explained, a little matter-of-factly, "are you all right?"
"W-w-what do you mean!" Hinata blurted out, immediately embarrassed.
"I do not need the Byakugan to see that you, Hinata-sama, have feelings for him, Neji said, his stern voice wry.
At first, her initial reflex was to quickly deny it, then immediately change the subject. At the very least, she wanted it to be kept a secret, but then she realized that for Neji to mention it, it must have been obvious. She remembered that even Kiba, Shino, maybe even her sensei, Kurenai, knew about it, and so, it should be no surprise that someone like Neji would eventually figure it out.
So, she just shyly nodded and turned away, her cheeks blushing hot
Neji said, as he stood up and took a few steps forward. Without turning to face her, he said out loud, "Well, I will say this for him: Uzumaki Naruto is a good man. If you have chosen him, then I have no qualms or complaints."
Hinata was very much shocked, to say the least. "N-Neji-niisan…," was all she could mutter at the time.
"Have you told him?" Neji asked, facing her.
Hinata just shook her head, after a moment. Neji sighed aloud, and said, "Well…it'll be a long time before you can get your next chance. Three years, to be exact."
"Mm…no, three years, that'll be okay," Hinata replied, her fingers stopping.
"Oh? How so?"
Pausing to collect herself, feeling glad that she found it somewhat easy to talk about these kinds of things with her cousin (thanks to Naruto, she mentally noted), she said, "U-Up to now, each and every moment I've had with Naruto-kun was entirely due to coincidence. The first time was during the first trial of the Chuunin Examination. The next, was when he cheered me on during my fight with you, and then, when he suddenly visited the Genin's training area, where I was at the time. That was before your fight with him. Then, the last time was when I was asked by Shizune-san to deliver medicine to him.
"Each and every time I got to speak with him," Hinata said, with a bit of regret in her voice, "was not because I willed myself to do it, but because, I had to. I was just swept along in events that were out of my control."
Neji wanted to say something, but he found it difficult to find the right words. Hinata, however, continued to speak. She said, "Naruto-kun is going away for three whole years to train himself, to become stronger, to become better.
She stood up, clenching her fists to show her determination. "I promised myself that I'll work hard too, to become stronger too, to become better too. That way, when he comes back, after three years, I can stand on my own feet, walk up to him and go meet him myself."
With a small smile, Neji realized that he didn't need to say anything at all. Hinata had found her own strength, her own determination. He realized that she, too, had changed her fate out of her own free will, just like Naruto changed his.
"By that time, I hope I can be someone worthy for Naruto-kun," Hinata concluded, resolved.
"I am sure that you will."
Surprised, Hinata almost jumped from where she stood. A voice suddenly boomed out from behind her, and she quickly turned around to see who it was. Adding to her shock, it was her father, Hyuuga Hiashi.
"Next year, the Chuunin Exams will begin once again," Hiashi said, approaching his daughter, "After this year's…well, dismal results, with only that one boy from the Nara clan receiving the promotion, it was decided that the Chuunin Exams will yet again decide the future of all the shinobi of Konoha.
"Hinata," Hiashi proclaimed aloud, almost making her jump again, "I hope that next year, you will produce a more positive result."
"Y-y-yes, Father…" Hinata murmured, heavily intimidated. She backed away a little; not even looking into her father's piercing white eyes.
Hiashi saw this and sighed. Approaching Hinata, he knelt down in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders. She immediately shuddered, and even felt a little frightened by the sudden gesture, but she calmed down when he saw her father's face, much to her surprise. His face was calm, pleasant, and gentle.
"F-Father…" Hinata gasped, obviously shocked.
"Hinata," her father began, his voice slow and mild, "You'll do well. Exceed your own limits, but at your own pace. I want you to prove that you can decide your own fate; replacing the one others have placed on you."
She had no words. Never in her life did she expect these words to come from even her own father. He continued, "While I will say that your skills are still not on par with Neji's, meaning that you cannot participate in his training, I am sure that your teacher, Kurenai-sensei, will be willing to help you and teach you whatever you need to know."
His normally strict, cold face began to wear a smile, and said, "I know that it is long overdue, but you have my full support."
She could not believe her ears, but soon enough, his kind words began to sink in, and Hinata almost began to cry in utter joy. But, she tried her best to hold it in, though some tears managed to creep out from her pure white eyes. Immediately wiping them off, she nodded, and said, spirited and even more resolute, "Yes! I'll do my best!"
"I know you will," Hiashi said, with a nod. He stood up, then called, "Neji, come. We'll continue your training outside."
"U-understood!" Neji immediately replied, then, turning over to Hinata, he made a small bow and said, "Well then, excuse us, Hinata-sama."
It only took a matter of time before they left to continue Neji's training, leaving Hinata in the garden by herself. However, she wasn't feeling lonely or sad, rather, she was fired up, and she was burning with determination, with courage. She had not felt like this before, had not felt so much energy, so much inspiration, not since Naruto had encouraged her in her battle with Neji at the previous Chuunin exam.
She looked up, and the sky seemed so much clearer now than before. It seemed so endless, an infinite sea of blue that stretched for miles and miles. Yet from her perspective, it seemed like she could swallow everything with a closing fist.
It seemed like she could do everything now.
And, now, she allowed her tears to fall, but she had a beautiful smile on her face, a smile that she had not worn for a long, long time.
Naruto-kun, thank you…thank you so much, because of you…all of this…
Please, come back soon…
And when you do…
I'll properly say those words next time.
A few days later, in a place far away from Konoha…
"Naruto, you idiot! Watch where you're throwing that thing!" Jiraiya yelled, dodging a runaway Kunai.
"Ah, sorry about that," Naruto replied, apologetically.
"Really, if you wanna think about your girlfriend, do it when you're not holding anything sharp," Jiraiya yelled aloud, picking his nose.
"What! The hell you talking about, Ero-sennin? Hinata and I aren't like that!" Naruto immediately retorted, screaming.
Jiraiya raised a brow. "Hinata? I never said it was Hinata…I was actually thinking of that pink-haired girl whatshername."
Naruto was speechless.
"You sly dog!" Jiraiya yelled, quickly trapping Naruto in a headlock, "You horny toad! I never though you could be a two-timer! I was never even THAT impulsive when I was your age!"
"Sh-shut up! And let go!" Naruto grumbled, struggling to no avail. Jiraiya was having too much fun to even think of letting go of his young student.
He grumbled, as Jiraiya continued to make him suffer, "I want to go home…"
Oddly enough, his mind began to wander. His thoughts drifted back home, to Konoha, the village that he had temporarily left behind in order to train himself. Although it had only been a few days since he left, it strangely felt sad to be away from it. He remembered that he would be away from the village even longer, since Jiraiya proposed to train him for three, long years.
If he could remember correctly, he was the only one who left the village to train, while everyone else remained with their teachers assigned by the academy in Konoha. He began to wonder what all his friends could be doing now…
Then, he admitted to himself that it was inevitable that his mind would eventually think about that person.
He wondered what could she be doing now, or if she was doing well. It only seemed yesterday since they last met, and, to his surprise, even he could still remember what had happened in detail.
Does she remember, he thought, the promise they made on that day? He wondered what kind of thing she wanted to say to him. He remembered how hard it seemed for her to say it. What could it be, and was it really that important?
Naruto could remember how her pure white eyes seemed to shine when she was struggling to let those words out. He could even remember how her lips would tremble when she would stutter.
To say that he wasn't curious would be an utter lie.
Suddenly, Naruto had another reason to come home sooner. It placed a smile on his face.
"Yo! Naruto! This is weird, even for you, spacing out like this!" Jiraiya yelled right into his ear.
"ARGH!" Naruto groaned, snapped from his reverie.
"What the hell am I going to do with you…oh well, from the beginning, do it all over again!" Jiraiya growled, a very serious tone in his voice.
"What! Are you kidding!" Naruto bawled.
"Hell no! Do it again, or I'll throw all your rations into the river and draw on you while you're asleep!" Jiraiya threatened, a very evil aura emanating from him as he laughed mischievously.
Naruto groaned once again and picked up his weapons.
I wonder how Hinata's doing? He thought once again, as he began his practice once more.
"WRONG! AGAIN!" Jiraiya growled.
Naruto groaned. He wanted this to be done with already, and three years couldn't get any slower than this.
Grasping his Kunai, he decided that the only way for him to get this over with, to become stronger, was to do his best, to give it everything he had, to sincerely hope for the best.
It had only been a few days, and Uzumaki Naruto was already homesick.
He wanted to go home.
And to see her again, to get to talk to her again.
By now, you can pretty much tell where I stand on the whole "Who's Naruto Gonna End Up With" debate. XD
Well, it's finally over. I hope you liked reading it as much as I had writing it, wrinkles and all. Again, apologies for the delays, and thank you so much taking time to read this piece. Thank you!
As for another Naruto project, I'd say it's very likely. I'm already planning something long and eventful, maybe even reach 13 chapters. I think it'll be a darker alternate universe, but it's still pretty much in the works. Once that comes along, you'll be the first to know.
I do not own Naruto, nor the wonderful characters involved, or its main story. However, this story of this fanfiction, along with the events and scenarios that played out, are mine, Mookamori, so there!
Thanks to The Otaku Fridge and its people for letting me rant and speak my mind in their message boards. XD
Thanks to my family for always being a good source of energy to keep things going, in fanfiction and in real life.
Thanks to Masashi Kishimoto for creating such a masterpiece such as Naruto, and creating great characters such as Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata.
Thanks also to God for hearing me out on just about anything.
And thank you, good reader, for staying with me for this long. Until we meet again!