Fighting hard to suppress a laugh Tsunade strolled out the door leaving behind a sleeping Hinata, and a Very confused Naruto.

Heh, all in a good nights work for a closet pervert. Sweet dreams Naruto, I'm sure you'll have them now.


Naruto tried to sleep, he really did, but for some reason Tsunade's last comment about 'sweet dreams' got stuck in his head. Every time the phrase repeated itself Naruto's thought would drift to a certain Blue haired Kunoichi, and her gestures of kindness. Her encouragement at the Chuuin exams, The Bottle of medicine she had given him. Her 'Proud Failure' speech, Her saving him from the fan girls… It was at this point that Naruto had trouble falling asleep, mainly because after that he would always remember waking up in the Sauna hot tubs and, well. Hinata looked REALLY good in a swimsuit. Naruto finally managed to drift off to sleep somewhere around four AM.
As Naruto was drifting off to sleep, across town another boy had just giving up on getting any. Sighing Sasuke sat up to assume a meditative position on top of his bed. He had just spent all night trying to plan a way to approach his teammate that wouldn't result in his own decapitation… He'd come up with a blank.

You know, I read somewhere that if you approach your foe lying close to the ground they will take it as a submissive gesture… Sasuke grimaced. The only way to get low enough for what I've done would be to approach underground, and I get the feeling that he'd take THAT as an attempted sneak attack. Oh man… I REALLY Screwed this one up.

Uncrossing his legs, the Uchiha sighed again before hopping off the bed and heading downstairs to start breakfast. He was only the slightest bit surprised to find someone already sitting at his breakfast table as he walked in.

"Kakashi-Sensei?"

Without looking up from his book Kakashi raised a single hand up.

"Yo"

Sasuke spent several minutes frying eggs and making toast before sitting down across the table from his old sensei.

"To what do I owe the… Pleasure… of this visit? I was informed that you would be out of town for another week or two."

Kakashi turned another page in his book before answering.

"I will be. Possibly longer."

Sasuke sat eating in silence for a while as he waited for his sensei to Continue. After ten minutes however He lost his temper a little bit.

"Then why are you…"

Kakashi cut him off through the simple act of looking up from his book.

"Why haven't you gone to see Naruto yet?"

Sasuke looked away, mumbling under his breath.

"What was that?"

Asked Kakashi, a slightly amused expression painting it's self across his face.

"I said I don't know what I'd say to the Dobe."

"Ahh I understand now."

Kakashi stood up and tucked his book back into his pocket

"Well, if that's all Ja…"

"WAIT" yelled Sasuke in a panic "You can't just leave!"

Kakashi stopped momentarily and turned to look back his student a hard glint twinkling in his eye.

"And what reason do I have to stay?"

"You… You have to help me!"

"With what?"

"With… with what I'm going to say to that Dobe… I've tried. I swear to you that I have. But every time I manage to get up the courage to face him I lose it again. I… I don't think I can face his reaction to me."

"Oh? Well, don't worry Cowards usually can't."

Kakashi turned and started walking toward the door again, and Sasuke's voice was cold as Ice when he spoke again

"Who are you calling a coward?"

Kakashi turned his head again, this time just enough to watch Sasuke out of the corner of his good eye.

"You of course. First you run from your team because they remind you of family and you had begun to feel comfortable again. Then you fight Naruto because you refused to believe that protecting his precious people could make Him as stronger than your revenge made you… (Sasuke Began stuttering Incoherently here and Kakashi ignored him by raising his voice a little more) Thirdly, you hid from your own memories because you were too cowardly to face the results of your betrayal here in the village, and finally you are trying to hide from your duty of not only Acknowledging Naruto, but also apologizing to him. That makes you an all around Coward, and I no longer have any use for you. When I get back I think I'll ask that you be removed from my training. I have better things to do than train a coward."

At this Point Sasuke saw red and reached for his Kunai

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Kakashi's voice was now cold and hard

"Think carefully of the consequences of your actions. If you want to make a start, you can stop calling Naruto 'Dobe' He deserves your respect more than anyone else's. He saved your ass Sasuke, not once but twice. First he brought you back when you turned traitor (Sasuke's grip tightened on the Kunai) and secondly He convinced the Hokage not to brand you as a traitor. Most of your fellow Nin's know it. But that would be your own fault."

Sasuke's arm whipped back and then foreward as his rage took control of his actions… the only sound was the Thud of a kunai burying its self in the doorframe. Sasuke blinked and looked around. There was nobody there, and the chair that Kakashi had been sitting in was still undisturbed from where Sasuke had placed it the night before shaking his head Sasuke returned to his breakfast wondering if he had dreamed the whole conversation. He was so pre-occupied in fact that he failed to register the presence of a certain red-haired Kunoichi slipping away from his house. Saratobi Sebeki Grinned to herself as she slipped away.

Maybe that will be enough to wake you up kid. Cause your only making it harder the longer you wait. Heh, Genjutsu is such a USEFUL skill at times.


Hyuuga Hinata Smiled and stretched. She had just had the most WONDERFUL dream. Naruto-kun had been in it, and Tsunade-sama had come to give him a checkup, and neither one had realized she was in the room, and then… Blinking Hinata scanned the room She wasn't at home, she was sure of that. Hyuuga weren't big on decorations, be she would NEVER have painted her room such a sterile white… and the bed she was currently laying on was far less comfortable than her own.

Standing Hinata made her way around the plastic curtain dividing the room in half. The moment she looked to the other side however she stopped. There lay her Precious Naruto-kun, arms behind his head… and bare to the waist. Hinata blushed. She could see control herself enough to realize that he was now wearing a pair of Baggy black sweatpants as he lay atop his covers.

Then… Then it wasn't a dream? I really did see Naruto in his…

Hinata's mind refused to finish the thought, although she thought she vaguely heard two voices whistling in her mind. With small, unsure steps Hinata made her way over to the chair beside Naruto's bed. Tentatively she reached out to brush the whisker marks on his face, and almost fainted when Naruto opened his eyes and smiled at her.

"Hinata-Chan! Good to see that you're finally awake. Baa-Chan told me that you'd be fine, but it's nearly two-o'clock in the afternoon. I was beginning to wonder if you were."

Blushing Profusely Hinata tried to apologize

"G… Gomen Naruto-kun"

Propping himself up on his elbow Naruto turned to face her. Lifting a single eyebrow he could help but ask her.

"For what?"

"F…for waking you."

Naruto threw back his head and his baritone laugh filled the room.

"Waking me? Hinata-Chan I have been awake since ten-o-clock. I admit that it's a little bit boring here however, so I had intended to try to meditate. I had just finished up when you touched my face."

Hinata's face once again lit up in her trademark bright red.

Heh, Hinata-Chan is really cute when she blushes

Luckily for the Embarrassed Hinata Tsunade chose that moment to walk in carrying an armload of clothes.

"Hello Naruto. Oh! Good Afternoon Hinata. I was wondering when you would be joining the land of the living. Here."

Tsunade handed Hinata a stack of clothes that looked remarkably like… Glancing down Hinata eeped again when she realized that she was wearing nothing but a thin hospital gown. Glowing bright red again Hinata scrambled back to the other side of the curtain. Naruto had watched this entire process with an amused air. He was amused until a second stack of clothes hit him in the face anyway.

"Down boy."

Said Tsunade with a grin.

"Here. I got a second set of clothes from your sensei's bag. I didn't see any pants that would fit you however, so you'll have to make due with the sweatpants I bought you until you can go shopping for a more… conventional outfit."

Naruto gave Tsunade a mock glare (which had her laughing) before grabbing the Burnt Orange shirt and slipping it on over his head. As he finished tugging on his last boot Naruto was surprised to see an envelope full of money hit the bed beside him. After a brief look Naruto pretended to ignore both it, and Tsunade's smile. As he finished lacing his boot (Think army regulation Boots) he deigned to look up at the grinning Tsunade.

"And what is that for?"

Tsunade smiled even wider.

"THAT my boy is your reward for killing a Dangerous S class Criminal. Did you realize that there was a sizable reward on this 'Rekku' in EVERY shinobe nation? No? Let me assure you that there is enough money in that bag to live fairly comfortably on for several years."

Naruto frowned a little bit.

"Give it away."

Both Tsunade and Hinata (who had been listening in) were shocked.

"But… But why Naruto?"

Stammered Tsunade

"You did kill him right?"

Naruto's frown turned to a scowl.

"Ya, I beat him. But I didn't do it for some reward. I did it because it was the right thing to do. Besides, that bastard hurt both Hinata-Chan and Ero-Sennin."

Tsunade shook her head

"So I heard. Is that why you won't take the money? You don't feel you deserve it?"

"I don't want the money because that isn't something that I should be paid for. I don't protect my loved ones for a fee. I do it because I can."

A ghost of a smile flittered its way across Tsunade's face.

"And what about those people who can't protect their loved ones? What about them?"

Naruto's scowl lessened a little bit.

"I'll protect them to. Nobody should need to be afraid."

Tsunade nodded her head a little bit before posing her next question.

"And if they should choose to reward you for protecting them?"

This time it was Naruto who shook his head a little bit.

"That's different. In that instance they are just trying to show their appreciation. That is earned. This…"

Tsunade cut him off before he could complete the statement.

"This is no different. All of that money was given to you by people who either wanted to thank you for protecting them, or by people who wanted to thank you for avenging them. Would you insult them by trying to return it?"

"But…"

"No Buts Ototo. You earned every cent of that, and more. (Here Tsunade gave a wicked grin) Just try not to blow it all on Raman OK."

With a wry grin Naruto picked up the envelope and stuffed it into the inside pocket of his coat. (Light Tan leather, Uzumaki Spiral on the shoulders. He found it in Suna, and bought it VERY cheap.)

"Alright Nee-Chan. You win this time I guess."

Naruto had a slight scowl on however as he looked around for his Scrolls and weapons.

"Hey, Nee-Chan. You forgot half of it. Where is the rest of my stuff?"

"Sorry Kiddo. You're on Leave of Absence. By order of the doctor, your not allowed to get into any trouble for at least a couple of days. We'll be keeping your tools till then."

"But Tsunade!"

"Nope. No luck this time Naruto. I will however be appointing you an escort. At least, I will if she stops eavesdropping and comes back over here."

Blushing, Hinata (now dressed as usual. Much to Naruto's disappointment) walked around the partition that separated her bed from Naruto's.

"Anno Tsunade-sama. I… I didn't."

Tsunade's eyes seemed to nearly glow with mirth as she took in the sight of the blushing and flustered Hinata."

"Don't worry Hinata-Chan. I'm certain that Naruto will behave himself. Won't you Ototo?"

Turning Tsunade gave Naruto a wink, and a moment later Naruto hung his head

"I just don't know if I can do that Baa-Chan"

Hinata's head dropped.

He… He would refuse to let me escort him? Am… Am I that weak in his eyes?

Naruto suddenly looked up, his eyes twinkling with laughter of their own

"I'm not sure that I can tolerate an escort. But if Hinata-Chan would be willing to walk around with a friend while he recovers, I may just be able to stay out of harms way for a while."

Blushing again at the teasing she was getting Hinata managed to stammer out an acceptable reply before following Naruto out the door. Tsunade smiled as she listened to Naruto trying to draw Hinata out of her shell.

So He's learned to listen as well. I'm glad he asked to have that talk with me this morning.

FLASHBACK

Tsunade had just walked into the room. It was Ten thirty, and she needed to be certain that Naruto's injuries were healed enough to allow him his walk around town today. When Tsunade first walked in her gaze fell on the bed she had left Naruto sleeping in the night before, only to find that it was empty.

That BAKA! He promised not to leave the room!

Tsunade had been ready to storm out and look for him when her gaze fell upon the curtain separating the two half of the room. Leaning against the wall that Hinata's bed faced, and frowning slightly was a familiar Blonde. Tsunade stood there for a moment watching him before Naruto became aware of her presence. Smiling he stood up straight, and walked over to her.

"Morning Nee-Chan."

"Naruto… What were you doing?"

"Hmm? OH that… just thinking."

"About what?"

"Promise you won't laugh at me?"

End Flashback

Tsunade smiled at the memory now. Naruto had told her that he had been thinking about how often Hinata was there for him. Especially when he needed her the most. He had Told Tsunade the Entire story from Suna, and had mentioned that lately every time He had seen Hinata he had an odd twisting feeling in his heart, as though someone had grabbed it and squeezed… He had also asked her for advice on what to do.

Baka… You had better treat that girl right. For both of your sakes.


Sakura sighed as she looked at the mountains of paperwork that surrounded her. She had been Tsunade's apprentice for almost a month now, and the piles still seemed no smaller.

Sometimes I swear that the only reason Tsunade accepted me as her apprentice is because Shizune refuses to do bookwork.

Sighing again Sakura reached for the next piece of paper. She had just started going over the request sheet (License for experimental Medical Jutsu) when she heard a knock on the door. Curious She set down the paper she had been working on and opened the door to her office.

"Ohhh Sakura-Chan!"

"Lee-kun! Why are you here?"

"It's almost two o-clock, and the receptionist said that you hadn't had lunch, so I decided to treat you!"

"Thank you Lee-kun, I'd love to, but I have so much bookwork and…"

"Surly will still be here when you return?"

Well, He does have a point… And I Really COULD use a break but…

"I'm sorry lee-kun But I'm really not Hungry and…"

It was at that moment that Sakura's stomach decided to let out a rather embarrassing growl. Raising an eyebrow at her Lee's Expression clearly stated that he didn't think she wanted to complete that statement. Blushing Sakura stepped outside and then pulled the door shut behind her.

"Oh alright. A quick break can't hurt right?"

"Of course Dearest Sakura-Chan… Here!"

With a flourish Lee pulled a flower seemingly out of nowhere, and tucked it gently behind her ear.

"This is for you!"

Sakura was stunned. Lee had always been a rather sweet boy. (Even when he was still wearing those horrible green spandex) But this was the first time he had ever picked her up in the middle of the day.

"What's the occasion Lee-kun?"

Lee looked surprised for a moment before laughing.

"I didn't style my hair in a bowl cut yesterday, and Gia-sensei found out that we were dating. He suggested that I take you to a late dinner today. Ten-ten-Chan suggested the flower."

"Its lovely Lee-kun."

The two walked in a companionable silence until they got outside of the Hospital.

"Well, where would you like to eat on such a lovely day Sakura-Chan?"

Sakura was about to suggest a quaint little restaurant she had found the day before when another voice caught her ear.

"… Like to eat Hinata-Chan?"

That sounds like Naruto?

"… Where is f…fine by me Naruto-kun"

And Hinata? So, she finally told him hmm? Or Did she?

"Sakura-Chan?"

Said Lee in a slightly worried voice.

"Is there something wrong?"

Shaking her head Sakura turned to lee

"No, nothing is wrong Lee-kun. I was just thinking."

Sakura had been about to make her suggestion when Naruto's voice caught her ear again.

"… Maybe she could recommend a place. OHOYO SAKURA-CHAN! OHOYO LEE-SAN!"

Sakura smiled as she turned around to face a smiling Naruto and a blushing, but obviously happy Hinata.


­­­­­

Damn it. Well, there goes that Idea. Yeesh. How hard can it be to get him alone for two minutes? I've been trying all morning. First the receptionist kicked me out of the hospital telling me only that he'll be released for the afternoon, and then after FOUR HOURS he finally comes out With Hinata. That wouldn't be so bad; I could probably try to apologize if it's only Hinata with him. But somehow he managed to catch the eye of Sakura and lee. There is NO WAY that I intend to say anything with those to glaring at me. It's a good thing that Sebeki decided to cancel practice today… Oh well. I'll just wait a couple of minutes and… Oh shit. The four of them are having lunch? Peachy. Well, I guess that I'll just have to wait for them to come out.

With that last thought Sasuke followed his four former teammates. Intent on waiting until he could catch Naruto alone


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Kiba smiled to himself, and whistled to himself. It was a lovely day, and he hadn't a care in the world. In fact today was doubly nice because after two weeks of asking He had finally talked the lovely Ayme-chan into dating him. He had been heartsick since the first day that Naruto had introduced him to the waitress at Ichiraku's. He had taken weeks to admit that he liked the waitress more than Hinata, and even longer to gather the courage to ask her out. When she had first turned him down he had nearly been heartbroken, but Kiba was nothing if not persistent, and finally that persistence had paid off. Kiba had been about to head home to clean up when he bumped into someone as they walked out of a diner.

"HEY! Watch where you're… Oh! Hey Naruto."

Kiba watched in amusement as Naruto dusted himself off. With a mock growl and a grin Naruto replied

"Watch it yourself dog boy"

With a smile Kiba reached down and pulled Naruto back up. After doing so He couldn't help but whistle.

"Wow, You got tall"

Naruto smiled again. At one time the two of them had been near rivals, but after the Chuuin exams they had managed to work out their differences.

"Ya well. I hit a growth spurt."

"I'll say. You top me by at least a head, and I'm not exactly short you know."

Naruto shook his head a little.

"So, where you off to Kiba?"

"Just headed home to clean up. Big date tonight!"

"Really? With who?"

Kiba through out his chest and gave his most winning smile

" I got a date with the Fair Ayme-chan. I win again foxy."

Naruto grinned and shook his head

"Lucky dog. Ahh well. I'm not exactly hard up for company myself."

"Oh? You managed to delude some poor unfortunate wench yourself?" Said Kiba laughing, "Who might I ask do you manage to catch."

Naruto scratched the back of his head and grinned again.

"Well, It's not really a date, but…"

Kiba stood up a little bit higher to see as Naruto Jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Kiba whistled again when he saw Sakura talking and Hinata and Lee listening.

"You snagged fuzzy brows huh? Didn't know you swung that way. Good luck I guess."

Naruto twitched as if he had been burned, and was about to growl out an insult when he noticed that Kiba was obviously joking.

"Ya ya. Laugh it up dog boy."

"I'm assuming that you're talking about Hinata as Lee and Sakura don't look ready to kill you."

"Right in one doggy."

"Hmmm. Alright, but I warn you now Uzumaki. If you hurt her you will be answering to both Shino AND me. You might be able to take one of us out, but can you get us both at once?"

Naruto sighed he was about to respond when the other three finished paying their bills and walked out. As they stepped outside Sakura sighed

"Well, it's been fun guys, but I have to get back to work."

"I'll walk you back Sakura-Chan " Said lee "By guys!"

Kiba was about to speak again when Hinata walked over to join him and Naruto.

"Th… Thank you for paying for m… my meal Naruto-kun. Y…You didn't have to."

"Nonsense Hinata-Chan. My pleasure."

After a moment of discussion Kiba managed to talk Hinata and Naruto into walking home with him to say Hello to Akamaru who had hurt his foot the day before. Growling from the shadows. Sasuke could do nothing but follow. Yet another chance thwarted. It just wasn't his day.


Shikamaru couldn't help but smile at the girl chattering incessantly beside him. He had woken up at the stroke of noon today. Overall it was rather nice. Most of all because his sensei had decided to cancel training for the day muttering something about not wanting to overwork them. Shikamaru personally thought that it was just so Asuma-sensei had found out that Kurenai had given her team the day off, but it would have been too troublesome to say anything. Surprisingly enough his mother had also decided to take a day, and she and his father had gone to one of the outlying villages to shop for the day. It was pleasant really. He had laid around reading until, at three there had been a knock on the door. It had been troublesome, but Shikamaru had managed to pry himself up to answer it after the third knock. He hadn't really been surprised to find Ino and Chouji standing outside the door, but he was rather startled when Ino asked if he wanted to go cloud watching with her. Shocked he may have been, but not stupid. Grabbing his Shougi and Go board he had let her lead the way. After henging or course. No need to gather fan girls on his way out.

I'm lucky to have the two of you as friends.

Shikamaru Ino and Chouji had just been passing the Inzuka residence when they had seen none other than Uzumaki Naruto leaving, with Hinata walking quietly at his side. Ino of course had rushed over and immediately invited the two to join them. Shikamaru had been worried initially that Naruto might be too troublesome, but the young man was oddly laid back. He still had the energy and fire yes, but he seem to control it better. He seemed almost calm. Calm… yes, that was the word. He was ready to move any direction in an instants notice, and he obviously took great pleasure in the simple fact that he was alive. But where before he had been an uncontainable spark of pure enthusiasm. He now seemed to be able to lay back and relax a little bit. It was as though he had seen death, and was now learning to take a moment to relax and smell the proverbial roses. Shikamaru shook himself after a moment of such reflections.

I must be losing my mind. I'm beginning to wax poetic. Bloody fan girls.

And so the five of them sat. Shikamaru and Naruto playing a few games of Shougi and go, while Hinata and Ino cheered the two of them on. Over the course of the day pretty much all of the rookie nine stopped by to say hello. Neji, ten-ten, and lee stopped as they come back from training, Shino swung by while out looking for bugs, and as darkness fell Sakura showed up looking for lee. All in all Hinata and Naruto had a wonderful day… Poor Sasuke however was forced to observe the entire thing from a distance. He in fact spent the entire time up in a tree on the edge of the forest wondering why he had thrown away the friendships that Naruto was now obviously enjoying. Shortly after Sakura's departure the party started to break up however, and Sasuke tensed wondering if he would be able to intercept Naruto before he went back to the hospital. In fact Sasuke had even managed to get ahead of the to of them, and was waiting for Naruto to walk past. Naruto on the other hand had plans. Hinata had been kind enough to take a day out of her obviously busy schedule to spend with him, and he had one last thing he wanted to show her.


"Ready Hinata-Chan?"

"U… um Ready N…Naruto-kun"

Hinata braced herself as she felt Naruto Pulling his hands away, then she blinked. It was the most awe inspiring, the most beautiful…

"N… Naruto-kun this… this is."

Nodding, Naruto Sat down and the laid back. After a moment Hinata did the same. It really was the perfect spot. Naruto had covered her eyes on the way here. In fact he had carried her part of the way, but now that she saw…

"We're on top of the Hokage Monument. This is were I come when I need to be alone. Here and… One other place. I much prefer this spot though."

Hinata could see why. The hill that they lay on sloped sharply downward toward the chiseled faces of the past Hokages, and where they sat they seemed suspended between earth and sky. Able to see the entirety of Konoha, as well as the stars shining above it. It took Hinata's breath away.

"Who have you shown this place to?"

For once Hinata managed to speak without stuttering. There was something about where she sat; it seemed to inspire a kind of lonely courage. It was one of those places that writers dream about and singer try to capture in their song. Naruto was silent for a moment.

"You're the only person I have ever brought here. I'm sure others know about it. But you are the first I've shown."

Hinata felt her breath quicken

This… this is it. This is my chance.

Hinata held her breath and scooted a little closer to her long time crush. Naruto himself had lost himself in his musings, much as he had done so often in the past tonight however he was wondering why he had felt it necessary to share this place.

I wonder… Would I have shared this spot with Sakura? No. No I don't think I would. This isn't a place for noise and action. This is a spot where I can be calm and collected. This was the first place that I found where I could drop my mask entirely. Why Hinata? I… I really don't know. It just… it just feels right. When I'm around her I feel much like I do when I come here. I'm at peace.

Naruto's musings were cut short however when he felt Hinata brush against him

Accident? It… it's possible I suppose b… but with all the space up here.

Hinata took a deep breath. She was as close as she could get to he beloved Naruto, and she felt a little like weeping. Even here with the profound feelings this place offered, she couldn't quite move herself that last little bit. Sighing, and shivering a little bit in the cool breeze she tried to resign herself to the fact that she would never quite be able to tell Naruto how she felt. Luck it seemed was on her side for the moment though. For Naruto had not only felt her shiver, he had decided to do something about it. When Naruto sat up Hinata closed her eyes.

He's leaving… He's showed me this and now my time is…

Once again Hinata was surprised when she suddenly felt something warm and heavy draping it's self over her. Hinata's eyes flew open and she looked down just as Naruto lay back again.

His… His coat?

Curious Hinata turned confused eyes to Naruto. Seeing her staring at him Naruto shrugged.

"You looked cold. Besides I was dieing in that thing. Far to heavy for a night like tonight."

Hinata smiled and snuggled down into the jacket a little further. It was warm, and it smelled like him. Acting on Impulse Hinata moved just a little bit closer to Naruto, and laid her head on his shoulder. Initially Naruto started at the sudden contact, but a moment later Hinata found an arm wrapped around her shoulders. Pulling her close, and sharing her body heat. Blushing profusely Hinata summoned the rest of her courage.

"Naruto-kun?"

"Hmm? Yes Hinata-Chan?

"I've been meaning to tell you that I l…"

"HERE you are!"

Jumping Hinata pulled away and Naruto spun around. When his eyes fell on the speaker he immediately moved in front of Hinata and fell into a defensive stance.

"Sasuke."

On Naruto's lips the name seemed like a curse

"What are YOU doing here."

Sasuke struggled to keep his temper in check. Not an easy task considering he spent a half hour waiting in the streets for Naruto to show up before he went looking for him.

"We need to talk Naruto."

Naruto's response seemed more like the snarl of an animal than it did a sentence

"I have NOTHING to say to you."

"Well I have something to say to YOU."

"Feh. You said enough. Remember the Valley Sasuke? You said all you needed to and MORE."

"! I'm trying to APOLOGIZE your stupid BAKA!"

"I don't need your apologies TEME Leave me be!"

Shuddering Sasuke's voice went cold, and his eyes hard

"You have a problem Wimp?"

"Yes I do. I'm LOOKING at it."

"Bring it weakling."

It was then that Hinata acted. With a surprising speed she appeared in front of Naruto, Grabbing him in a hug just a fraction of a second before he moved she whispered a single word in his ear

"Don't"

From Sakura, Or Ino That would have been a challenge. Form Hinata, from poor frail little Hinata, it was a wakeup call. Breathing deeply Naruto forced his body to calm down like a wound spring slowly releasing its tension, Naruto relaxed. Hinata could literally feel the tension leaving his muscles. Naruto stared at Sasuke, His voice Hard as steel and colder than Ice.

"Get out."

Turning, Sasuke walked back into the woods. He realized that he was lucky Hinata was there, or the situation would have gotten out of hand his stung pride however wouldn't let him leave without comment, and so he flung one last remark over his shoulder as he left

"Dobe"

Naruto nearly went after him. Hand it not been for Hinata he would have, but once again the blue hair Kunoichi managed to calm her crush down. After a few minutes the two of them sat back down. Neither said anything for long moments, but at last Hinata broke the tension

"Why do you hate him so?

Naruto sighed. He had known he would get a question like this sooner or later, and now that it was asked he was rather glad that it was sooner as he started speaking Hinata thought at first that he was trying to change the subject.

"It's odd you know, but after I left I started thinking more about all of the Kunoichi. I mean it's obvious that Sakura is never going to see me as anything more than a teammate. After Sasuke left I was sure that I'd at least be able to talk with Sakura about it. I was sure that she would finally see me for who I am, But the first thing she did was ask me to bring that Teme back well, I brought him back alright…"

Naruto ground a fist into his palm

"Anyway it got me thinking, I've had a lot of time to do that in the last three weeks, and I came to the conclusion that I may have been a bit blind."

Hinata blushed, wondering if he had figured out her secret. Naruto's next sentence put her mind a little more at ease though.

"Concentrating on only one person I mean. So I started looking around. I've always been aware of people, a gift perhaps. Or a curse maybe, to an orphan it could really be either. I've watched parents and children, lovers, singles, Hell; I've even watched the clergy. And the one thing that they ALL had, and I mean EVERYONE, Was somebody that they could call family. The person they are married to, the person they are dating, even just the people who work in their profession. Even those few people who live in near solitude have someone. Somebody to look after them, to check and see if they are still alive.

Naruto gave a bitter laugh; Hinata just sat and listened, silent tears running down her cheeks.

"Hell if worst came they at least had memories of happier times, of parents or friends. Me, I had nobody. My first memory is of being thrown bodily out the door of a foster home for having asked for a meal."

Naruto struggled with his emotions, and Hinata could see that he was having a hard time not crying. Scooting a little closer she wrapped an arm around his him and pulled him close. Naruto couldn't help himself, that last gesture of kindness was the feather touch it took to let loose his tightly bound emotions. Hinata's heart went out to him again as, sobbing, Naruto asked a question for which she had no answer.

"Why me? Why of all the people in this village was it ME that this happened to? The only thing I can ever remember wanting was a family, a, a c…community to belong to. Somebody that I could joke around with. Somebody to tell secretes to and to plan pranks with. Someone willing to share a lunch, or a laugh. Somebody willing to see me for ME."

Naruto broke down completely then, crying to himself, head in his hands. Hinata was a little stunned; she had always seen the hurt behind his eyes. She had always see the hateful gazes on him, and heard the insult muttered in poorly concealed whispers as he walked past. But she had never known the sheer MAGNITUDE of the burden that Naruto had to bear. Acting on impulse Hinata leaned the rest of the way over and pulled Naruto into a hug. To her credit she blushed only slightly when Naruto returned it, crying into her shoulder. Never had she seen him so vulnerable. To her Naruto had always been an Immutable force. Something that could neither be stopped nor changed. But seeing him like this, Hinata realized exactly how fragile the mask he wore really was. For most people seeing something you had thought to be completely invulnerable break down is rather scary. It tends to open your eyes, and make you realize that we, as people are not nearly as strong as we like to pretend. To Hinata however this made Naruto all the more endearing. It proved to her once and for all the golden heart that Naruto had was still touchable. Even for somebody as weak as she was. After five minutes or so Naruto managed to compose himself, his eyes still red-rimmed from the tears, he managed to focus enough to continue his tale. Hinata watched his face, it became stony, showing no emotion, and his voice took on a flat tone.

"And then came the 'glory days' if I can call them that. I was accepted into the academy, and I was certain that I would finally have some friends. Here at least was a place were I would be judged by my strength alone. A place where I would at last be accepted. How wrong I was. Even from the first parents warned their children to keep clear of me. Told them that I was 'dangerous', and 'Unstable'. Again my hopes of family were crushed. Finding nobody to talk to I turned to pranks. I admit that it was rather a rather desperate strategy, but at least I was noticed. Luckily for me it didn't take long for Ikura to realize that what I really needed was somebody to guide me a bit. He took me under his wing…"

Naruto Paused briefly, and Hinata surruptiously tried to wipe away her own tears.

"He was my first family. He showed me the path that I needed to take. He taught me how to help heal the emptiness in my soul by helping others. He took me around town with him on the weekends a time or two. Doing odds and ends, mending fences, painting houses, Things like that. Usually people got mad and ordered me to leave, but every so often somebody at least gave me a chance to prove myself. The first time it happened was when a man and his daughter moved into town from an outlaying village. They wanted to open a restaurant and needed help repairing the building. When we were finished the old man said that with how well I worked the Hokage himself must have sent me. It was then that I decided that if being Hokage meant that you got to help people than I would be the best Hokage ever. Good old Ichiraku…"

Hinata smiled a little at the fire that burned in his eyes, His dreams lighting the passion and conviction that had drawn her attention in the first place.

"Up until that point I had been avoiding graduation at the academy. I did the bare minimum necessary to stay in class. The thought of leaving behind the only family I had ever known worried me. But now I had an Ambition. I had already failed the gennin test twice, but this time I was determined to make it. Unfortunately, old habits die hard."

Naruto hung his head in shame

"I failed again. This time was a little different however, one of our instructors approached me afterward and told me that there was another way to pass."

Hinata lifted an eyebrow at that comment. To the best of her knowledge there was no other way. Naruto however didn't notice, and continued his story.

"He told me of a certain scroll kept in the Hokage tower. He said that if I could learn a single ability off of it Ikura would have no choice but to pass me… He lied. I broke into the Hokage tower and stole the scroll of forbidden seals."

Hinata gasped a little at this point wondering how Naruto could possibly have done such a thing. This time Naruto heard her however because he was quick to add.

"I was young and VERY naive at that point. Anyway I stole the scroll and hid. I worked for hours learning the first technique on it, The 'Kage bunshin'. I had just figured it out when Ikura found me. He asked what I was doing and if I had any idea how much trouble I was in. I was about to show him my newest ability when Mizuki found me as well. He and Ikura fought for a bit and then he told me… he told me a secret that should not have been said."

Hinata looked interested, but said nothing.

"I ran away, taking the scroll with me, and Ikura, and Mizuki followed. Again they fought, and Mizuki won. The two of them talked, neither realizing that I was nearby. Muzki slandered me, and for a moment it sounded like Ikura agreed. Then he took that seeming agreement and changed it into the most beautiful speech on seeing underneath the underneath that I have ever heard. Mizuki laughed it off and said that Ikura knew too much to be allowed to live. It was in that moment when I decided that I would do whatever it took to protect my precious people."

Hinata smiled. The story Naruto was telling her seemed almost like a fairy tail, and yet there was something about it that seemed to ring true. Hinata knew that Naruto tended to blow stories out of proportion, but for some reason this particular one seemed more like a statement of facts. There was just to many real emotions involved for it to be anything less.

"I beat him. I pounded Mizuki to a bloody pulp using my new Kage-Bunshin Jutsu. Ikura passed me, saying that I was obviously far more ready than he had thought… Then came team 7. Finally I had people my own age to talk and laugh with. True Sakura could see nothing but Sasuke, true again that Sasuke was an Ice cold Teme, and of course there was our terminally late Jounin sensei, but It was still some of the best days of my life. Yes we were a little dysfunctional during our day to day lives, but if one of us was threatened in even the smallest manner we bound together as a smoothly oiled machine."

Naruto chuckled a little

"Ahh the things we did. Fighting bandits, saving cats, trying to see under Kakashi's mask, we even single handedly brought down the infamous and corrupt Gato Corporation in tea country. But as they say, all good things come to an end. Here I come to Sasuke's betrayal…"

Hinata frowned a little bit as she felt Naruto tense up. She was so wrapped up in his story that she hadn't even noticed that she and Naruto were sitting with their hands wrapped around each other's waists.

"I caught up to him in the valley of the end…a fitting place for what was about to happen I suppose. I told him that I swore I'd bring him back; he told me that I was delusional to think I stood a chance against him. I told him that Sakura was worried; He said she was a fool. Finally I told him that It was not Sakura, but himself that was the fool, because only fools would abandon their friends, He said that friends made you weak."

This time it was Hinata who tensed up. Naruto noticed, but didn't mention it.

"I asked him what his family would think… He said that I couldn't possibly understand, as I had none. That was when I told him."

Naruto fell silent for several moments, and Finally Hinata couldn't help but ask. In a voice Barely above a whisper she voiced the question that she feared the answer to, but couldn't help but ask.

"What did you tell him?"

Naruto's head had fallen foreward, and shadows covered his eyes, and his once radiant golden-red hair now seemed as flat and lifeless as his voice. Then he answered.

"I told him that to me, he WAS family. I voiced my thoughts about how I wondered if being with him was like working with a brother, I told him that I wondered if learning from Kakashi wasn't like speaking to a father… you know what he did? He LAUGHED at me. He laughed and then took out his forehead protector, saying that if those were the bonds I held so dear then he would sever them for me. That was when it happened. He put on his forehead protector, and for the first time EVER he fought me as an equal… I… I beat him you know. He had his level two curse seal activated, and I…"

Naruto trailed off. It was then that Hinata realized that he had been careful to make no mention of the Kyuubi, she realized that he had no Idea that she had heard his conversation with the Snow demon Rekku, and suddenly everything fit, His defeat of Neji, his Triumph over Gaara, and Especially all the cold looks and whispers. With awe in her voice Hinata managed to form the sentence.

"You tapped Kyuubi."

Alarmed Naruto tensed and whipped his head up to stare at Hinata, blood draining from his face and leaving it a ghostly white.

"H...How do you know about…"

It was then that he realized there was no horror on her face, a little shock perhaps, but nothing negative. He relaxed again, shaking his head ruefully.

"Yes, I tapped into Kyuubi's power, and we fought. After a while I nearly managed to talk some sense into him, but then something happened, and, after a moment, he convinced himself otherwise. Once again we fought, this time it culminated in me scratching his forehead protector while holding back a Chidiri. I thought I made it though to him then, but he snapped. He charged another Chidiri one handed, and hit me with it. The next thing I remember is waking up at the funeral."

Hinata shook her head before whispering

"Don't worry Naruto, I understand now. Try to remember that tomorrow is a new day, and from now on you will always have at least one person you can tell anything to."

Naruto looked surprised

"Who?"

Giggling and blushing, Hinata snuggled up to him and put her head on his shoulder again, before stating with a calm certainty.

"Me silly."

Naruto smiled and rested his head on hers.

Somebody finally knows the whole story, and luckily for me, She doesn't seem to mind at all.


Uchiha Sasuke stood staring at his two fellow shinobe. After the fight he hadn't gotten very far before he decided to come back and try again, but when he arrived he had stopped when he saw how hard Hinata was trying to calm his friend down. When the two of them had sat back down on the grass he had nearly come out, but something had held him back. Now he slipped silently away, unshed tears glimmering in the corners of his eyes. He had been told before what he had done, but hearing it from Naruto himself brought the story to life. As he walked away Sasuke finally understood why Naruto had called the power he had a curse. He finally saw what he had thrown away, and now all he could do was hope for a miracle to save him from his own mistake.


Death By Kunai:
I did have a good vacation. thank you.

NotasuSama :
errr. is all of the above a good enough answer? I'm going to bring back Naruto's retreat soon I think. I'm sure I left a reference to it in this chapter, it was pretty vauge though.

madnarutofan:
I drive you nuts enough? Thanks for the review.

AmberFox and Lyell:
Oh ya... I didn't mention them this chapter did I? Well, I'll have add them in the next one.

azn pride:
No, not nessarily. Just most likely.

Shadow-Sensei:
I could help, but I'm not going to. You look so CUTE Chibified... Thanks for the complement

raginghobo :
I'm your FAVORITE? I'm.. I"m flattered. thank you. I'll try to keep an eye on the spelling.

ranma hibiki:
If I ever get around to modifing a Pic to show his outfit I'll be sure to send you one of those but the ones that Hinata A and Hinata D have... Sorry, you'll have to make a deal with one of them for those :D

boredathome :
Philly huh? Kewl. Just so you know I'm a Hick... Kinda fun actully. The major cities are fine for a week or so, but after that I tend to get clausterphobic and sleep deprived. Just to damn much noise. Ah well. Did the Naru/Hina scene work? I mean in the context anyway. I thought it turned out decent. Oh, Love your Idea for the Shika/Ino bit. I may have to add it.

Jays Arravan:
Frown actuly you have just touched on the one spot I'm still unsure of. I'm not certain who, if anyone, will get paired in the contxt of those four... Well, I guess we'll just see.

lysapot:
Well, I read and Reviewed. Hope I wasn't to harsh. I'm kind of a hardass when it comes to reviewing, and If you ask me to check yours I usually scrutinize twice as hard... Hope I didn't drive you off permanetly.

naruto-fanfic:
Hmmm I've already got Tsunade as a closet pervert... Do I really dare add hinata to the list? Evil Chuckle Thanks for the Idea!

Dragon Man 180:
Heh. Your undoubtedly right, but in this fic it's a rather slower romance than I had first intended. Hinata's just to damn shy. Sigh Oh well. Thanks for the review.

Te Everyone: I deeply and sincerly appologise to anyone whose review I didn't respond to, but it's currently 3:30AM and I'm getting just a tad bit on the tired side so I'm afraid that you will once again have to forgive me. Thank you all for your reviews. Ja ne!

Sincerly,
Manatheron