#20 Questions and Answers
"Okay, class, we're going to have a project!" Sir Iruka said loudly. His fifth grade class actually stopped making noise to listen. He cleared his throat importantly. "I am assigning you all to make a family tree!"
They stared at him, incredulously.
A student raised his hand. "What are we going to do again?"
"A family tree, "the sensei said irritably "where you will show generations of your family in a manner easily understood. It's like you're going to put your grandfathers at the roots of the tree and your parents at the branches and you at the twigs. Along the way it will show how you came to be."
Haruno Sakura raised her arm. "Do we have to put up our pictures and stuff?"
The chuunin slash teacher nodded approvingly. "That will be helpful."
"How far will we have to go back?" another student asked.
"As far as you can go," Iruka-sensei said smilingly.
Uzumaki Naruto let go of his seatmate's shirt and looked at Sir Iruka with wide eyes. Great, just great… This day can't get any worse.
He looked at the chuunin, trying hard to comprehend why that teacher had the crazy idea to make a family tree.
"It's for your term project on Bloodline Limits. If you want, you can include your grandparent's specialty jutsus and other things you think will be interesting."
"Oh cool! My granddad invented a jutsu!"
"My great-grandmother was an ANBU!"
"That's nothing! My grandfather was a captain of the ANBU squad!"
Naruto looked away. It's not going to bother me, he thought. No way. But it did, very badly. This was going to be very humiliating. He could sense it.
He was an orphan and had grown up without anyone supervising his growth and informing him of his parentage. Everyone in the Village knew about it. At school, everyone shunned and jeered at him in turns. They thought it was rather funny that he was an orphan.
It hurt, yes, when he was younger. He used to wonder where his mother and father were and why they didn't pick him after school. Why they didn't take care of him when he was sick. Why they were gone.
The orphanage that brought him up didn't say anything. He was going to have to live without any idea of his true parentage. Naruto had long stopped caring about their whereabouts but now, the project had reopened old wounds.
His blue eyes turned stormy. He was going to have a hard time again.
No one laughed or poked fun at his parent-less state any more but took the more hurtful strategy. They talked behind his back and whispered among themselves. They will raise their voices; boast about their parents and grandparents while he had nothing. He will have to endure the hurts that will resurface and the frustrations it brought.
He was only eleven and he'd grown up in a hard world.
"I'll give you time to work on your project tomorrow! Please bring your materials!" Iruka-sensei said.
Naruto looked away. He will not do it.
"Iruka-sensei, hey, wait up!" Naruto yelled as he ran up to the brown-haired teacher.
"Oh, Naruto, what are you still doing here?" the chuunin said as he looked at the prankster through the test papers pile don his arms. It was after school hours already.
"I just want to ask… can I not pass my project?" the blond boy asked. "I'm an orphan like you after all!"
Sir Iruka hadn't forgotten. But he had to do it. He didn't mean to leave Naruto out. His brown eyes softened at the blue ones focused on him. This boy who was so much like him…
"Okay, let me cut you a deal. I would exempt you but you have to do bathroom duties for a week." The teacher said seriously as he knelt down to be able to look directly on to Naruto's eyes. "And no pranks this time."
The boy merely grinned cheekily. The last time he was on bathroom duty, the sinks were left open and water had flooded the school. He'd reasoned out he could make a swimming pool. The directors were not amused.
"Okay! Bye Sir Iruka!" Naruto said and ran away, smiling triumphantly.
Sir Iruka smiled too. He turned and went on his way.
Eleven-year-old Hyuuga Hinata had stayed behind to water the plants in the student garden since no one seemed interested on looking after the plots. She was already on her way to the school gates when she saw an orange-clad figure in the not-so-far distance.
Her breath caught. It was her classmate, Uzumaki Naruto.
He must have stayed behind too. Pity she didn't know. She could help him too…
She sighed softly and continued walking. How could she know? She didn't even have enough courage to walk up to him and start a conversation. And they weren't even friends.
But she wanted them to be. If only she knew how to reach out and make him acknowledge her. Her shyness always stopped her.
Sometimes she envied those girls who could walk up to a guy they'd like to know and start talking. Her innate demureness and shyness prevented her from doing so. In the class, she rarely had anyone to talk to. They were sectioned off to groups and unfair as it may sound she didn't have any group to fit in.
Just like Naruto-kun.
Hinata knew some things about him. Her curiosity led her to eavesdrop on more than one whispered conversation about the blond boy. She didn't like some things she heard but it opened her eyes.
Naruto was an orphan. He lived on an apartment set aside for him. He didn't have any friends. No one wanted to be.
It hurt so much because she knew Naruto's pain. Their pain was the same.
She could see in those brilliant blue eyes the need to belong, to be accepted and praised. Her own pearl-gray eyes mirrored those needs.
Hinata clasped her hands together and sighed again. It wasn't any ordinary curiosity any more, her need to know him… She wanted to be closer because she wanted to alleviate some of the sadness Naruto felt. If only she could…
She admired him, a lot. His fiery spirit, determination, and his acceptance of the world around him took her breath away. Rarely had she seen anyone face the whole world with such courage. Even though he might not seem so smart, she sensed the good in his heart waiting to be drawn out.
Her eyes looked up into the reddening sky. Someday she would summon enough courage to talk to Naruto-kun.
The next day everyone in Sir Iruka's fifth grade class arrived with various materials to help with their projects. Some brought whole photo albums. Others brought ninja status books that dated back two generations ago. And other brought scissors, crayons, and cardboard.
Everyone was excited. Well, except for one.
Naruto didn't bring anything. He had no one to put in anyway. He was going to spend the rest of the class stirring some commotion. And he was going to start it right now.
The students went to work. Sir Iruka went around the room, helping with this and that. The room was filled with chatter and laughter.
Naruto ignored the pang in his stomach as he looked at their projects longingly. He'd never admit it to anyone but himself that he wanted to do it too. Although he puts up a brave act for people to see, he still longed for his parents.
He was done bothering Inuzuka Kiba when he noticed a dark-haired girl sitting quietly on the corner. His eyebrows furrowed. He'd seen her before.
Slowly, almost cautiously, he approached her.
She was working quite merrily, humming to herself a pretty tune. So immersed in her work was she, she didn't notice his presence at first. That gave him time to have a good look at her face.
Her eyes were the color of pearls. She had hair the color of a clear night and pale skin too. He thought she looked pretty. And it wasn't everyday that he did too.
His eyes landed on the large cardboard that lay in front of her. There was a huge cherry tree on it (how she drew that he wondered) with lots of branches. Scattered around her were pictures of people with eyes the same color as hers. On the top right-hand side were beautiful calligraphy strokes.
"Hey, nice project." He said as he squatted down to have a better look. And he meant it.
"R-Really?" she asked, as if she didn't quite believe what she heard. It looked like that someday came too soon.
He nodded. "Yup, I think so."
She reddened. "I-It's not much…"
"But it is!" he said earnestly. His eyes roved on her family tree hungrily. There were many branches on it. "It's so big too…"
"That's because there are many family members…" she said slowly, her fingers tracing the drawing "the Hyuuga family is composed of two main branches that further separates the family. The family always stems from the head, or in this case…" her finger landed on a picture of a man at the bottommost part of the tree "or the root."
He chuckled and sat down in front of her. "You seem to know a lot."
She shook her head. "Not much…"
"Are you close to your family?" he asked, looking at her intently.
Again, she shook her head. "No."
"Why not?" he asked again; his curiosity was piqued.
"There are so many of us… and not so many of my relatives want to be close to me. They treat me well and all but they stay at a certain distance. They take care of me too but none come to help me or comfort me. Sometimes I feel so… alone." Her voice caught in her throat but she went on "I do have a sister, dakedo, she is so different from me. We don't get along much."
Then she sat down and hugged her legs to her chest, staring at her family tree with a melancholic expression. Naruto stared at her, fascinated. He'd always thought that families were supposed to be together, to stand united. Apparently she came from one big clan but from the sound of it, they were divided too.
He leaned in closer. "Do you feel… alone?"
She nodded slowly.
"I just wanted to ask that… It's a hard question to ask to other people." Naruto said as he looked down on the drawing too. He didn't know why but he felt so comfortable with her. As if he could tell her anything and she wouldn't laugh.
She nodded. "Yes, it is… but you are alone, aren't you Naruto-kun?"
"I am." He didn't wonder how she knew his name. Everyone knew his name.
"How does it feel to you?" she said softly, her eyes intent on his. Her heart was beating so loudly she feared that he might hear…
"It's like I want to reach out but when I do, I only touch air… It's very lonely. I want to be close to anyone but… they go away too quickly. I am always left alone…" he said slowly as his eyes dropped to the drawing. His surroundings were being covered by a thin mist. He didn't want her to see.
Silence fell. She continued working on her project. His eyes watched her graceful fingers add lines, adjust shadows and paste pictures. She was very good and he wondered why he never took notice of her before.
"D-Do you like your family?" he asked.
She paused and thought hard. Her heritage dictated her thoughts sometimes. Of course she did. But sometimes she didn't. There were days when she wished she wasn't the Hyuuga heiress and that she was someone else.
"Yes," she lied.
He heard that note of bitterness in her voice. But he couldn't pry. He was only limited to some questions and answers.
Naruto thought having a family meant security and a feeling of belongingness. That he would always have someone to back him up. But maybe some families aren't always like that.
He continued to watch as she pasted some pictures on the drawing. And around the small pictures were leaves bearing their names and their accomplishments.
"Why is your picture here?" he asked as he pointed to a small but thick-looking trunk. Her picture was there, stemming from the trunk itself.
"I-I am the eldest daughter of the Head…" she replied quietly, almost as if she was embarrassed by that fact. "T-that's why I'm there."
She crimsoned again. She was uncomfortable in her position as the heiress. Everyone criticized her actions, her techniques, and treated her like they knew everything about her. She knew well enough that her abilities weren't par with what her father would've liked but the whole family rubbed it in. They whispered and pointed and brought her down. She would never be a good enough heiress to them.
Her being was a disappointment to them. As if her existence and her shortcomings were sins against the good name of the Hyuuga's pride and joy, the Byakugan. She couldn't help it if she couldn't do everything all at once. She wasn't a rookie yet.
Her father's disappointment weighed most of all.
"Is it hard?" he asked "will you rule?"
She shrugged ungracefully. "I don't know… I think so."
"You should know." Hr grinned again. "I will serve Konoha as the Hokage someday. You rule the Hyuugas as their clan head. And since your family seems a bit powerful, maybe you can help me?"
She giggled. "Sure, I would."
Their conversation was cut short as they heard the bell ringing. It was time to go home.
They both exchanged sad looks. They were having a good time and had felt more comfortable with each other than with other people.
He got up and helped her up too. She reddened at the touch of his hand but she grinned for him too.
Her project was half-finished. Some parts were still missing and she still had to paint the pink to the blossoms. But it was very beautiful to look at.
She bowed to him and turned to go but he grabbed her arm. She looked around and met his eyes.
"What's your name, by the way?" he asked, grinning cheekily.
"H-Hyuuga Hinata…" she replied.
"It's nice to talk with you, Hinata…" he said.
They exchanged smiles again and she left with the other students.
That memory settled under Naruto's subconscious until one fine day when his own son asked his help for a family tree project under Sir Iruka…
"Well, everything's changed, nee Hinata-chan," he said as he glanced at his wife.
"Yes, it has," she said.
He got up and wrapped his arms around her. "Do you still feel lonely?"
With her he forgot his loneliness and his pains. Everything that happened in the past had melted away. Their pain had vanished when they were with each other. Somehow everything seemed so right. Their family meant the world to them.
Hinata shook her head. "I will never be lonely with you, Naruto-kun…"