It took me one month to present my gift, but better late than never. Minimerc, this is for you. I used the foundation of my supposed-to-be doujin, and then turned it into a full-pledged fic. This is a dizzying mix of light humor, light fluff, and drama. /me sweats/

Inori

A NaruHina (among other pairs) giftgrant – HD Forum

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Twelve-year-old Uzumaki Naruto sat on his desk, tapping his pencil impatiently against its wooden counter, the look of overt boredom on his prominently-scratched face.

Yes, if there was anything he hated more than not being able to eat ramen, it was getting tied to his seat and listening to Iruka-sensei's BORING lecture. Boring, boring, boring. Had he been blessed with a wider vocabulary, he could have come up with more vivid descriptions for today's lessons in the Ninja Academy.

His eyes went to his teacher. Iruka was holding a book while discussing the circles drawn on the board detailing the right distance to throw shurikens.

Iruka-sensei wasn't bad at all for an average Konoha adult; Hidden Leaf's contempt for him was more than apparent. He knew the village hated him, despite what that old man Sandaime says. And yet, his sensei was different. His smiles were always warm, and although he would scold him often for getting into trouble, he knew those eyes spell concern for him.

It was his saving grace, Iruka-sensei's kindness.

However, there were days when he wished his Iruka-sensei extended his kindness towards him even in class hours.

Like right now, when he would rather be out in the streets, eating ramen in his favorite stall, instead of learning how to throw shurikens.

Naruto chewed on the rubber eraser of his pencil. "Pft. Why measure? Just go and kick the bastard's ass face to face!"

Haruno Sakura temporarily snapped from her stare-at-my-personal-god's-face mode and looked at him, her emerald eyes narrowed. "Geez. A real idiot." She tucked a stray wisp of her cherry-hued hair in annoyance. She still had not forgiven her classmate for being included in her team division. Aside from the fact that his vocal affection for her was freaking the living daylights out of her, it was only too easy to dislike him. The whole town did, and the whole class laughed at him. And his demeanor was not apologizing for anything.

But after that incident in the bench…

Her eyes went to the boy who told her she was annoying. His back was cold, unmovable, and indifferent.

She let out a sigh and turned her gaze back at Naruto, guilt forming within her again. Getting a taste of her own medicine yesterday made her hesitate in loathing the blond like before.

Demo…

Her Inner Sakura blazed. DAMMIT! Why didn't we get to have pairs instead? Then Sasuke-kun and I would be alone!

If Uchiha Sasuke felt any air of tension radiate from his seatmates, he didn't give any damn, since he was wrapped in his own dark swirls of thoughts, the subject forbidden even to the author herself.

Iruka, now facing the class, book in hand shut, spoke. "And that wraps up your basic knowledge on being a shinobi! Use your knowledge well."

"So can we go home now?" Naruto, looking very eager.

A sweatdrop formed on the teacher's head, but he quickly coughed to compose himself again. "Naruto, since this is your last day as students in the Ninja Academy, I think it's time that we bond for the last time."

"Bond?" A mystified look was on the chibi Naruto's face. "James Bond?"

Sakura's mouth dropped. "Stupid. " But her mind was busy conjuring up an image of Sasuke wearing the British spy's outfit.

Again, if Sasuke detected that his persona was being used in ways that he wouldn't like a bit, he did not give any sign that he cared. He was still swimming in his dark eddy of musings.

Iruka smiled. "Well...I'm hoping we all get to know each other more before we part ways. The missions will take your time, so we might not see each other for a long, long time." He turned to pick up some pieces of flaglets on his table.

Always the curious and excited one, Naruto pointed to them. "Hey, hey, why are you holding those, Iruka-sensei? Are you selling them to us? Does the schoolmaster know you're doing a sideline in the classroom, huh? Have you run out of money--"

A vein popped on the teacher's face. "SETTLE DOWN AND LISTEN!" Clearing his throat again, he continued, "Anyway, I will pass these to you guys, and I want you to write all those things you want to happen when you become a shinobi."

"Like becoming a Hokage?" sang Naruto out.

This made everyone burst into laughter while Hinata watched Naruto in her usual quiet way.

The teacher raised his hands. "Quiet down, minna. Any wish can be written down. ANYTHING." He glanced at the blond student's way briefly, as if confirming his answer to the boy's question.

The students started receiving the flaglets as Iruka continued the explanation. "Afterwards, you will pass them back to me, and I will make you all pick some random names. The person who you will pick would entitle you to his prayer flag."

Ino raised her hand. "What will we do with the prayer flag, Iruka-sensei?"

Iruka smiled. "Good question. Well, you guys would include the wishes of that person in your prayers tonight. In short, you'll pray for that person."

Naruto and Hinata looked at their respective flags in silent contemplation as their sensei continued the explanation. "Through that person's prayer, you will be able to know that person more. Prayer flags were said to originate from Tibetan customs."

"Where is Tibet?" interrupted Naruto.

Sasuke, having decided to take a break from his own world, sighed in exasperation. "It's in Hawaii, dobe."

Iruka grinned. "Actually, Tibet is in Asia. Where the Himalayas are, to be exact."

Sakura glared at the One Who Dared to Embarrass My Sasuke, and then quickly said, "Oh well, Hawaii is just a neighbor of the Himalayas, ahaha!"

Not to be outdone, Ino added, "Y-Yeah! Walking distance!"

Which solicited another unsolicited remark from Shikamaru. "Girls," he muttered as he opened one eye to look at his blonde teammate.

Naruto began jotting down merrily on his flag. "Tee-hee. I have many wishes in mind..."

Sasuke's face went dark as he looked down at his flag, debating whether he should go along with this school activity.

His most ardent fangirls, Ino and Sakura, were already resolute with their wish. In fact, they had long finished writing his name on the flag and were now all eyes on his writing hand, willing it to move and form their respective names. Which was, of course, a fantasy. A hopeless fantasy. But it wouldn't be called a fantasy when there was actual hope for it, right?

Before you reach the same state of confusion this author is having now, let us turn our attention towards the other people.

Shino, Kiba, Choji, and random students started to write too. Soon, everyone was busy filling out their prayer flags.

Now we come to Hinata, whose eyes were still on the flag, her fingers trembling. The activity was all too simple, and like Sakura and Ino, she knew what she wanted already.

What I long for with all my heart...

Hinata looked at Naruto's back, and then sighed. She picked her pencil up and started to write too. His name was still elusive to the lead of her pencil, as if she was even too shy to confess her feelings to a piece of paper.

Half an hour later, Iruka stood in front of the class, holding a shoebox brimming with flaglets. "Now that I have your prayer flags, it's time to pick out the names of your soul friend." With that, he started to call out names, prompting students to come up and pick out a flag from the box.

Aburame Shino's name was called. Upon reading what he has picked, he glanced at his seatmate.

Inuzuka Kiba read what he was able to pick, and then snorted. "I would rather pray for Akamaru than pray for that freak. I mean, pray for the queen termite's health?" Feeling an intent kind of gaze at him, he turned to his left and saw Shino staring back at him. He sweatdropped. Why is this guy looking at me?

"WHAAAA...!!!" Sakura slammed her paper down on the table. "I don't want to pray for anyone except Sasuke!" What was with fate today? Wasn't it kind to her yesterday, when she was teamed up with Sasuke yesterday?

Iruka laughed. "Well, you've picked Choji's name..." he said slowly as he handed Sakura Choji's prayer flag.

Akimichi Choji shrugged. "Mine's pretty basic. You can even say it as grace before mealtime."

Sakura read the prayer aloud in exasperation. "Dear Lord, let potato chips rain down on Konoha one day..."

Naruto's turn came next. "Yipes!" he exclaimed when he saw the name. I don't want to pray for Sasuke!

He turned around and watched Nara Shikamaru pick out a name. Well, the guy didn't look too dismayed with the result. Nudging the boy over, he whispered, "Oi, who did you get?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "A certain Hinata."

That stumped him. Hinata? Who's Hinata? Oh well, anyone but Sasuke baka.

"Fine, let's swap!"

"Hey wait, who did you get--?"

He grabbed the rolled paper before the pineapple-haired boy could protest further.

Another cry of dissent aired in the room. "Iie!!! I got Shikamaru!" complained Ino in despair.

Shikamaru read his, and in dismay of no lesser degree than Ino's but only quieter, said, "And I got Sasuke. Damn that Naruto..."

The girl heard his inaudible muttering. "Eh?"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. He didn't know whether to account her extra-sharp senses when it comes to him to the childhood that he, she, and Choji somewhat shared courtesy of their fathers, or because he said the name of the Uchiha looker. The latter, he more or less believed.

Ino turned to her seatmate, eyes lit up. "Shikamaru, hey, hey, you know...um, why don't we swap?"

The shadow user grunted. "You want me to pray for myself?"

"This is..." Sasuke read the name, his eyes widening than usual.

Upon receiving and reading the name of the flaglet, Hinata: hugged the paper to her chest.

This came to Iruka's attention, making him smile gently. And then he continued.

"Tonight, I will drop by the small hill near the monuments of the Hokages. If I didn't see your flags anywhere there, it means you didn't pray." He pointed at the prayer flags. "According to practice, the prayer will have effect when it is erected in a place where winds pass through often. The wind will take the prayers to the heavens, so the deities may hear them faster and thus, grant it faster as well." He turned to his class. "Questions?" When he received no reply, he proceeded to dismiss the class.

Naruto though, was still problematic. "I still don't know who that Hinata is." He gazed down at the prayer flag with Hinata's dainty handwriting on it lying on his palm.

Hinata, on the other hand, was still hugging Naruto's prayer flag as she looked at Naruto's back.

Thank heavens a part of my prayer was answered…

Her face broke into a delicate grateful smile.

I get to pray for the dearest wish of a person I admire so much...

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Shikamaru, Choji, and Ino headed for the hills together, each clutching their respective flags.

"Shikamaru…I got Shikamaru!" Ino was steaming, marching away grumpily. "Of all the classmates in the world, I would have to pray for Shikamaru!"

The boy stretched lazily. "Thank the teacher, not me."

"And what's with your wish?" She massaged her temples. "'I wish for all my intents and purposes to materialize.' You could have been a little more specific, ne?"

"Too troublesome to think specifically," said Shikamaru, shrugging.

"If I were to pray for Sasuke-kun—"

Shikamaru put into place his mental earplugs to drone out her nagging voice.

Ino must have noticed moments later that her teammate's mind was somewhere far, far away. She turned her attention at the blissfully unaffected Choji, who was eating the remnants of her lunch. "How about you? Who did you get?"

"Err…didn't check." Choji selflessly put aside his beloved chips long enough to dig his hand into his pocket to read the flag. "Oh wow, it's you." He didn't have to read what was in the flag to know what he should pray for later. It bordered on blatancy.

"Me?" Ino crossed her arms. "I'm warning you, Choji! You better make good on praying for that. I have the fullest intention to become Mrs. Uchiha, I'm telling you! No way will the forehead girl put one over me--"

Choji reached for his chips again and resumed his meal. Again, he wondered how his other teammate manages to send himself somewhere far away without actually leaving when Yamanaka Ino was in her nagging-wife mode, as Shikamaru puts it.

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Sakura had just finished erecting Choji's flag into the ground along with her other classmates when she noticed Team 10 arrive. Putting on her vintage confident smile, she got up and placed her hands on her hips as Ino went to her, holding an identical smile.

The two boys intelligently moved away and busied themselves with their own flag prayer activity.

"Well, well, forehead girl. What happened to your 'fate's going my way' phrase?" began Ino, cocking an eyebrow. "I hope you had fun praying for Choji."

Sakura gritted her teeth, but her artificially-sweetened smile remained on its place. "Thanks. But it will never compare to the sheer joy you will have praying for him." She gestured at Shika's way, smiling suggestively.

Ino fought for her temper. No doubt, Haruno Sakura was her ex-best friend. She knew just what were the things that could easily get into her nerves. Being teased with that bum was one of her hated jokes. "Well, I could always ask Shikamaru to trade prayer flags with me."

Sakura laughed vexingly as her other classmates began to gather around, watching the catfight waiting to happen. "Poor Ino pig! She has to stoop that low just to get destiny to smile her way."

Ino's smile was dangerously breaking. "I am a go-getter, and I don't need destiny to bring me closer to Sasuke-kun, who's meant to be mine."

Sakura's eyes glinted. "Meant to be?"

Ino's did too. "You heard it right, forehead girl."

Shikamaru, still in a daze after praying for some man's death in the Uchiha boy's own hands, got up. "I'm going home. Pft, too much wasted time here…"

"Wait for me!" said Choji, trailing after his buddy. "Should we still wait for Ino?"

"She knows where she lives. She can go home on her own."

"So why are you looking back at her?"

"You ask too much. Geez."

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The sun was nearly setting when Naruto finally finished his ramen dinner. He paused, and then looked at the flag again. The truth was, he remembered that they had an assignment with the prayer flags. He just didn't want to go there along with his classmates because…

He sighed and put his jacket back on.

No, he didn't want to know who Hinata was, and how she would react when she learns that the hated Kyuubi boy would be the one to pray her wishes. He had seen way too many faces of dismay, that was why he was now taking extra precaution when dealing with the villagers. At his young age, he knew not everyone could be like Iruka-sensei or the old man Hokage. They still hated him, and anything related to him.

He opened his window and jumped down, heading for the hills, silently hoping that he would make it there before Iruka-sensei does.

When he arrived though, he was stunned to see someone there already, though it was not Iruka-sensei.

He was still not happy though. Uchiha Sasuke would never make him happy.

Oh well, he could deal with this jerk, given the genius talents he had over this snob.

When the Uchiha looked up, he didn't look very pleased either. He abruptly got up and slid his hands into the pocket of his pants, walking away.

Naruto stuck a tongue out at the boy, and then peeked at the flag the raven-haired boy was kneeling before awhile ago. He rolled his eyes, and then called out, "You were praying for yourself?"

Sasuke paused, a vein popping on his head. "That was her wish, idiot. I don't have anything to do with it."

"Her?" He examined the flag again, and this time, he recognized the handwriting. "Sakura-chan?"

"Shut up and die, dobe."

"GAH! You took her flag knowingly, didn't you?" barked Naruto, but the Uchiha lad had long left the place.

The blond looked down at the flag again, his blue eyes fallen. Deep inside, he knew that Sakura indeed, wrote it. Even without the handwriting, he knew who caught the heart of his dream girl.

Before he could seriously think of re-writing his prayer flag into Sasuke's funeral anthem, footsteps arrived. He turned around and saw a startled cream-skinned girl with hair the color of the night skies. She too, was holding a prayer flag against her chest, and her hands were protecting it with the vehemence of a mother clutching her child.

He thought he saw her take a step back, and it angered him momentarily. He could tolerate dislike, but fear? He was not a monster; at least he knew that his personality was different from the creature that was locked within him.

"I was about to leave anyway," he said curtly, getting up. He would just have to return later, when he was really, really sure that no other soul would visit this place.

Her head remained hung, and he felt his fist clench into frustration. Why was he scaring her so much? What did he do to her?

A sudden blow of wind made both of them look up. The girl, losing her concentration, accidentally lost her grip on the flag. The lightweight paper flew away with the wind.

"I-Iie! M-My flag!" She watched in despair as it got stuck in between the very high branches of a nearby tree.

For some reason, the helpless look on the girl's face pulled something within him. Forgetting his initial hostility, he immediately jumped up the branches, and within minutes, had successfully retrieved her flag. He was about to throw it down to her when his eyes caught the word, 'Hokage'. Unable to suppress his innate curiosity, he read the flag's sentence.

I want to be the greatest Hokage of all!

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"A-A…arigatou, N-Na…Na…" The girl twiddled with her fingers nervously when Naruto finally jumped down and landed in front of her. He was now handing the flaglet to her.

"Hmm?" The stammering of the girl made him blink. Her reaction was strange; this wasn't how people usually talked to him. He glanced at her eyes, realizing that the fear he initially thought was actually shyness. A boyish grin formed on his face. "Take it."

"A-Anou…gomen…"

"Eh?'

"F-For the trouble…" Her cheeks turned pinker. "…of fetching the flag…"

He scratched his cheek. "W-Well, my efforts would go to waste if you won't take it back from me."

The way more colors shot up her face made him sigh. Weird. That was the only way to describe her. His female classmates, when talking to him, would never react this way.

"You will pray too?" he decided to open a topic.

She quickly nodded.

"OK, I'll set up the flag for you," he decided when he saw that it would take all night before she could actually reach for it. He knelt down on the ground and put the flag in place. In the corner of his eye, he saw Hinata kneel down, eyes closed in focused meditation.

He couldn't explain why he felt himself involuntarily smile at the sight. Perhaps, because it was his first time to see serenity written expressively on a girl's face. Yes, Sakura-chan was pretty, but he realized slowly that there were other girls that felt so pleasant to look at.

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Hinata opened her eyes and got up gracefully, unaware of the admiring gaze that followed her movements.

"Anou sa…"

She turned to the source of the voice, a faint blush on her face. She was not expecting further conversations from him, but now that he spoke up, she honestly didn't know how to reply.

His sad blue eyes cast its gaze on her. "Did you really believe what you prayed for?"

"H-Huh?"

"Do you really believe that someday I will become Hokage?" he asked uncertainly. "The class failure…"

She felt a cold hand touch her heart, what with the desolation written on his face. She had always seen him as the confident one, whenever he bickers with Iruka-sensei or snaps at Uchiha Sasuke. His foxy grin would never falter, like his pride and his determination.

Thus seeing him this way now made her hurt too, as if she could feel the weight of his own doubts.

He continued to speak. "Someday, I want the people of Konoha to remember me in good terms. I want to make a jutsu that would be learned by future genins, and would be named after me. I want to wear old man Hokage's hat." He pointed at the rock monument. "And I want my face up there too!"

She followed his gaze, his words committing themselves into her heart's own recollection.

"Most of all, someday, I want people to stop calling me Kyuubi boy," he said softly. "I want them to call me Naruto."

She bit her lower lip to keep herself from crying. She wanted to tell him so many things. She wanted to tell him that she believed whole-heartedly in his dreams and wishes, and that she prayed for them with all her heart even before he unexpectedly shared them to her. She longed to tell him that she knew he was destined for the same fates as those on the monuments, with his kind heart and gentle but determined spirit.

"Na…"

He turned to her, surprised. "Oops. Sorry, must have bored you then." He laughed sheepishly. "I get carried away a lot."

She twiddled her thumbs nervously. "Na…Na…"

"Hmm?" He sweatdropped. Perhaps if he didn't hear her speak awhile ago, he would have thought that she was suffering from a speech defect. "Yeah?"

"Na…ruto-kun…" she choked.

The sound of his name uttered by her stammering voice made him chuckle. She was weird, but in a way, he liked how her presence feels.

The chuckles of the boy made her look down, smiling and blushing at the same time.

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"My turn to pray!" He looked at his flaglet, and then back at her. "Honestly, I don't remember the face of this person I'm praying for, but I feel she must be a caring person."

"E-Eh?"

He showed her the flag. "She was praying for the happiness of the person she cherishes the most." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It would have been easier to wish for good things to happen to her, yet she prayed for some other person's prayers."

"I think…"

He turned to her, startled by her un-monosyllabic reply.

Her eyes were on the distant lake from the hills where they sat together. "It's because…that other person is part of her life." Her pallid eyes softened. "She shares his happiness too, in that way."

"Demo…how can two people share one happiness only?" He couldn't understand the concept. Iruka-sensei taught them that one cannot be subtracted by two, the way three could not be subtracted by four .

"Anou… it's like moonlight." She raised her eyes towards the night sky. "When the moon is aglow, its shining light falls on the lake, and then the water sparkles. It's a reflection of happiness, a happy kind of sadness that is borrowed. It's fleeting, but it's something one can hold on to dearly while it is there, and can be kept as wonderful memories when gone."

He contemplated on what she said, gazing down at the lake quietly.

"A happy kind of sadness…" Naruto shook his head vehemently. "This person…is weird. I don't understand her at all!"

Hinata's cheeks turned crimson.

"Demo, I understand that she HAS to be happy, may it be happily sad, or sadly happy, whatever!" Naruto looked up at the night sky. "So, I'm praying for her happiness too, along with her own prayer."

"Naruto-kun…" murmured Hinata, eyes wide.

Silence reigned once more, with both young souls absorbed in divine entreaty, and the prayer flags dancing to the night breeze.

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Hyuuga Hinata smiled at the memory. How many years had it been since that night? Four? Five? She kneeled by the remaining flaglets on the ground. Some got blown away, the others got buried by the soil.

Yet hers and Naruto's stood erect, the way they had been planted by young Naruto firmly on the ground.

She knelt down, eyes still trained on the flags. A couple of years ago, when she visited this place to pray again, she saw him. The boy who vowed that he would return to Konoha a stronger man.

He turned her way, the achingly familiar cheeky smile on his face as he greeted her.

She closed her eyes, her mind replaying everything like a film.

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"Anou sa…"

She turned his way, eyes asking.

"Ero-sennin told me I'm a lot stronger now. Somehow though, I still feel that my prayer is far from happening." He let out a sigh. "I'm worried. What if I wasn't able to grow strong enough for Konoha?"

"The village's enemies must not be underestimated," she admitted quietly. The Godaime herself said so.

His fists tightened. "I want to protect this village…I want to protect my friends who were very good to me." His eyes shut tight in frustration. "But what if I fail…I cannot…I cannot bear the thought of seeing the consequences of my failure…"

"Naruto-kun…"

He opened his eyes, smiling apologetically. "I'm sorry. This is not the right place to—"

She shook her head. "I told you before, you are not a failure. A strong person like you, Naruto-kun, with a heart big enough to love the village and its people—even those who wronged you… you will not be defeated. The spirit of the Leaves is with you. We all believe in you. You saved us before from the Sand and Sound. And we believe you will save us again, no matter what."

He seemed to regard her words and conviction with much surprise. This made him laugh quietly.

Colors filled her cheeks. "A-Anou…d-did I say anything wrong?"

"I was just thinking…of…how incredible your faith on me is." He grinned. "You have this effect on my guts…like when you talked to me before I fought with Neji. I kept on remembering your courage, and with that, I discovered my hidden strength."

"T-That's an overstatement!" she cried, blushing. "A-Anou…your victory was because of your grit. Because of your desire not to give up."

His blue eyes became softer. "I didn't give up because someone out there believes I'm strong. And I didn't lose because it's not my fight alone. It was a fight also for her."

Her eyes widened.

"I asked Ero-sennin about it, and he slapped my head." He rubbed his hair to show where his sensei hit him. "He told me how unbecoming of a real man I was, not acknowledging a woman who believes in me so much." A faint scarlet touched his face. "So…so…"

"I-it's nothing," she stammered. "R-Really, please don't wo—"

He took her hand and bent closer.

She trembled. What was he—

His other hand slipped into his jacket, and out came a coupon. He planted it on her held hand.

"All-you-can-eat coupons!" said Naruto brightly. "Ichiraku's still the best ramen shop all over the continent!"

She nearly fainted, what with his anti-climax. But in the end, she decided that he was, after all, the Naruto-kun, sweet and unwitting. And for those things and more, she loved him so—even after so many years.

She allowed him to guide her down the hill, not noticing anymore that he was still holding her hands.

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Then came the night before he would leave Konoha to face the Akatsuki organization. It had been agreed that he would lead the powerful enemies away from the village, along with the top soldiers of the village, while the rest of the ninjas would stay and protect the fort of the villagers.

She sneaked out of the Hyuuga compound to go to the hills and pray. Her hands clasped together, she fervently prayed for the gods to look after him for her. She prayed for his safety, and she prayed for his dreams. Even if the last thing she wanted for him was to step out of the gates of Konoha into the open battlefield, with no guarantee of return, she would not say anything against it.

This battle was the battle, not just of a future Hokage, but of a man who will protect the village he was born to until his last breath.

His village was his home.

Protecting his home was his happiness.

And his happiness was her wish, always would be. Even if it would hurt. Even if it would mean that she may never see him again.

His happiness over hers, for always.

"Hinata-chan!"

She nearly reeled forward with surprise. She seized her composure back, pasting a nervous smile on her face. "K-Konbanwa!"

"What are you doing here at this time of the night?" he asked. "The old lady Tsunade called me up, saying that the Hyuuga heiress is missing, and that Neji himself ordered that I be the one to find you!"

"E-Er…" She self-consciously dusted her knees. "G-Gomen…"

A sigh of exasperation escaped him, making her wince. He noticed that, and immediately he sweatdropped. "Sorry, sorry. It's just that you worried all of us."

"F-Father will not approve if I ask for his permission before I head here," she explained.

"What are you doing here anyway?" he wanted to know.

She looked down. "I was praying…"

"Huh?" His eyes went to the prayer flags, and for some reason, this sent him laughing again. "Hinata," he said in between his laughter. "You went out to pray at this time of the night—"

She sweatdropped.

"—for someone who doesn't even know you're praying for him," he said, wiping the corner of his eye. "Man, you're really weird!" He had long discovered that the girl who taught him about the weird kind of happiness and the Hinata who wrote the flag prayer he recited were the same person, although she never told him who was that person she was praying for.

"I don't really mind," she said quietly.

"You don't, but I do." His face reddened slightly. "I-I mean…" He groped for words, but they were out of reach as of this moment. At least the coherent ones. How was he to put into words that whenever he hears about Hinata-chan's special person, it was all he could do not to use Rasengan on him?

His eyes went to her delicate face searchingly. He didn't know when and how he began to regard this weird but lovely lady with much esteem. Perhaps when he told her he liked her before the finals of the Chuunin exams. Probably when he held her hand as he led her to his sanctuary, the Ichiraku. Maybe back when he saw her praying some years ago, making him realize that there were more to girls than his dear Sakura-chan.

He didn't really know. But he did know that she was one of the most important reasons why he was going to fight valiantly tomorrow.

Out of lack of proper words, he shifted the topic. "You're like Sakura-chan sometimes. You're too devoted. Only she's more vocal. And I think before Sasuke left, he at least had something to keep." He shrugged. "I know I should be minding my own business, but you know…if I were that guy, and I learned that someone cares for me that much, I'll be really, really happy." He rubbed his cheek, grinning. "When I come back from the battle, will you tell me who he is?"

Her heartbeat pounded. "If…If you think it would make him happy…"

"It'll make me happy, at least," he confessed. "Remember when you told me that the water reflects the shimmer of the moon? I'll share your happiness, Hinata-chan."

She felt her chest tighten. She didn't expect this…never did. Her eyes met his, and she saw in them the feelings that she had wanted to see ever since she fell in love with him.

"Okay, I'll tell you," she promised quietly. "When you come back."

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But the day came and went, yet her mouth remained zipped. They would meet, but she never mentioned anything anymore about their deal. Until finally, he asked her.

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"Kiba?" His face turned ashen, she could see when she stole a look at him from her hung head. "I see…"

Through the curtains of her heavy bangs, she saw him force a smile, a smile that didn't reach his deep blue eyes. She could see the pain cross his face, and she could hear it in his voice too, as he changed the topic.

He proudly told her that he was going to be named the Sixth Hokage by the old lady very soon. He told her his plans for the Konoha village, and how he intend to make all those who trusted him proud of him.

And time and again, she believed him. She believed him with all her heart.

Why wouldn't she? She loved him. She loved him so, enough to let go.

His happiness over hers, for always. He was going to be the greatest of all the Hokages that lived, and for that to happen, his love must be confined to the village alone.

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She got up, finishing her prayer. This would be the last time she would visit this place, that was for sure. She was leaving the Leaf Village for awhile, intent on finishing her research for the advancement of her clan's jutsu.

It was no coincidence though, that the day she would leave was the day Uzumaki Naruto would be ceremoniously named the Sixth Hokage.

Her eyes went to the waving flags, letting her tears flow freely.

"I will never tell, but you know who has my heart from the start. So look after him for me, will you?" She told her flaglet.

She was happy, for his prayer was answered. She was sad because it wasn't the answer she wanted.

A happy kind of sadness.

But she would rather have that than not see him achieve what he wanted the most.

She looked up at the great monument of faces of the Hokage and smiled, as she envisioned her beloved's face carved there someday.

…………………………………………………………

……………. Notes ……………

My sis argued that the Sandaime was able to become a great Hokage even when he has a grandson. I agreed, but then, for the sake of stressing my point of selfless love, I gave it an angsty ending. But one of these days, if the spirit of ficcating fills me again, I'll make a happier epilogue. Merc-chan, sorry for making you wait for one month. Gomen to the infinity level! Hehe, peace out!