Large streamers of sunlight angled down though rents in the fluffy clouds.
A gentle breeze pushed at the heads of wheat stalks, causing large ripples and waves out in the small tan fields.
The sound of songbirds was everywhere, and large groups of colorful butterflies made their way from one cluster of wildflowers to another.
It was the perfect day. At least, it was the perfect day for what Naruto had planned. But, planning something and actually doing it are two very different things. He knew that all too well from past experience.
"Experience…." Naruto sighed. "I don't have any experience with this…."
Years had passed since the unpleasantness with Akatsuki. Not long after that, Sasuke had been pried lose from Orochimaru's clutches against his will. The village had suffered many threats, and had survived them all. Through everything, his friendships remained strong. It was a miracle that none of his precious ones had been killed.
"Precious ones…." The word 'precious' took on new meaning now. As enemy encounters grew less fierce and less fierce, and the village waited for more powerful foes to appear, he had found himself taking the time to enjoy the pleasures of growing up. Naturally, his attentions had turned towards girls. He had been very surprised to find that there had been someone watching him. "So… well… if she was always watching, this should be easy… right…."
He was destined to wear the Tri-Corner hat some day. With the help of Kakashi, Yamato, and Jiraiya, he had added more powerful jutsus to his arsenal. He had worked hard with Gai, Lee, Neji, and Ten Ten to improve his Taijutsu skills. He had worked with other shinobi to bring his Genjutsu ability to new heights. Better yet, in the process of doing all that, he had become more far-thinking, and less impulsive.
"So what!" Naruto looked down at the bunch of flowers he had picked. There were a large variety of varieties. There were so many colors. He had walked clear across the vllage and across many of the fields outside of the Great Wall. He didn't know what she might like, so he wanted to be safe and pick a little of everything. "I'm a really great ninja now. But… I can't… I don't know how…." There were some things he wasn't very good at. Things of the heart.
Yes, his attention had turned to girls. His heart had been very fickle at first, but only because he wanted to know what every girl was like, just the way he liked trying every topping on the menu at the Ichiraku. But, those had been harmless flirtations. When he realized that he wanted something more, his thoughts gravitated to someone he knew wouldn't reject him. At least, he hoped that she wouldn't.
"Hinata." Naruto pictured her as he walked. It was strange, the way he saw her. If he was objective, he would have to say that she wasn't one of the prettiest girls. But, that didn't appear to matter. He didn't seem able to look at any other kunoichi when she was nearby. Was that infatuation? Could he be in love, if they had never gone on any dates together? He had managed to spend more time with her on one pretense or another, but they had never kissed, or even held hands. "Kisses…." He had found that he liked kisses. The more he thought about Hinata, the more he thought that he wanted to kiss her. "What if she says 'no'?"
He couldn't shy away, simply because he was afraid of being rejected. Right? But, he had found out on a number of occasions, that his Way of the Ninja applied only to shinobi matters, not his personal life. That is, up until now. It was time to change that. He was Uzumaki Naruto. There should be nothing he couldn't do.
"Alright. Let's try this." In lieu of making hand seals, he waved the bundle of wildflowers around. He cleared his throat and stood tall and strong. "If I had a single flower for every time I think about you, I could walk forever in my garden." That one was pretty good. Especially since he had the flowers. "If you don't love me, it does not matter, anyway I can love for both of us." No. That one was out. He didn't want to think about the possibility that she wouldn't care. "Anyone can catch your eye, but it takes someone special to catch your heart." Yes. Good. That one would do. Hinata was someone special, after all.
Naruto stopped. He turned to look around him. Since he was still outside of the village, he could be in some degree of risk. There had been a sound, but there was no one in sight. There was no wildlife or livestock, either. Maybe he was just on edge. Taking a few deep breaths, he resumed his journey back to Hidden Leaf village.
"I need some more good ones," he said to himself. "I have to impress her." He ran his free hand through his hair. "One kiss breaches the distance between friendship and love." He blushed. He actually blushed. Just what kind of loser was he? Geee-ee-ez! Truth be told, most of his kisses had come from his being kissed, not from him kissing anyone. He was good once he got going, but rarely had the gumption to get things moving. That had to change too! "Love is a hidden fire… a pleasant sore… a delicious poison…a delectable pain…an agreeable torment… a sweet and throbbing wound… a gentle death." Wow! That was way too complex. Complex and sappy. But, what if girls actually liked complex and sappy? Damn. Why did this have to be so hard? "A part of you has grown in me. And so you see, it's you and me together forever and never apart, maybe in distance, but never in heart." Maybe. He'd put than one aside, in case he couldn't remember anything else.
Passing by a group of small cottages, he waved to the farmers and field hands. A number of pretty farm girls stopped in their milking and shucking to wave or blow him a kiss. That had him giving them a jaunty salute and strutting until he was out of view. He sighed, thinking how beautiful they looked in their simple clothing. Then, he shook his head. They couldn't hold a candle to Hinata, dressed in her Chuunin vest and sporting the bruises and scratches of battle on her cheeks. He sighed. If only there was some way to let her know how he felt.
"Hmmm-mm-m…." He picked up his pace. He needed to actually find Hinata if he wanted to give her the flowers before they began to wilt. "At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet." That was good. It would also explain why he would be spouting all this nonsense. No. It wasn't nonsense. It was a fancy way to express his feelings. Saying something like 'Hi, Hinata… I like you a lot… let's kiss,' just wouldn't cut it. She deserved better than that. And, he wanted that kiss. "Love is friendship set on fire." Sure. That was a good set-up line, too. He was getting better at this! "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight, for the ends of Being and ideal Grace." Whoa! Why did he suddenly feel light-headed? Was that the kind of thing that came from having an empty stomach? He had actually skipped lunch today, to go on his little expedition.
He stopped again. Was it just coincidence, the fact that he thought he heard something again? There was no one around here either, on this deserted stretch of road. Clenching and unclenching one hand, he scanned the surroundings. When he began walking again, he told himself that he couldn't allow himself to get entirely distracted by his wordplay. But, when he pictured Hinata's face in his mind, he sighed and lost all track of place and time. When he imagined the contours of her body, he coughed and began walking faster again.
"Well…. everybody said that we have to get together…." That much was true. He still couldn't believe that an entire village had known about Hinata's feelings for him, before he even had the slightest clue. "But… you know how much that means…." Maybe he should have flirted with her first, instead of the other girls who had caught his eye. Then again, the harmless little games he had played with them meant nothing. He would have hated to brush Hinata away in the same fashion, only to find out too late that there could have been more than he first imagined. Wait. If he thought she was beautiful, what was stopping some other guy from feeling the same way? And, that other guy might be better looking, and much more eloquent. "I better practice some more!" He had read a lot of books. He had sat up at night, trying to piece together his own verses. For all he knew, he might only have one chance. Sure, it seemed that Hinata had been waiting for him and him alone. But, nothing lasts forever...
Simple. Complex. Bold. Gentle. Sappy. Mushy. Eloquent. Steamy. Maybe he should try them all. Just like with the flowers, he didn't know what she might like. "Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." That sounded true. But, it didn't sound all that romantic. At least, not as an opening move. "It is love alone that gives worth to all things." That just didn't slide off of his tongue right. In his voice, it sounded corny. "Life is the flower for which love is the honey." Yes. Another flower one. In his mind, he put a checkmark next to that one. "Of what does a true kiss consist? Ambrosia on which gods subsist. Tremendous heat which sun can't give. God's heaven in one moment lived." He almost choked, saying that verse. He was blushing again, for a different reason this time. If Kiba or Sasuke caught him speaking like that, he'd never live it down!
It was actually becoming easier to express his feelings this way. Or, at least he thought it was. But, there was a age old saying. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The same might be true for contact with someone he had a crush on. What if he became a babbling idiot, the moment he saw Hinata? Was he thinking too much? Might she simply be happy that he finally approached her honestly and openly? No. he couldn't take that chance. Girls were mysterious. There was no way that he would ever understand them! Looking upwards as he walked, he smiled. Sometimes simpler things felt so much better. A clear blue sky. Circling birds. The many shapes of clouds. But, whenever one looked close enough, those simple things became very complex. Maybe love was the same way. He had to be ready for all possibilities!
"Ahem." He cleared his throat again. Now, he would also practice with the different inflections of his voice, and with the speed with which he said things. "Hello, Hinata. Hinata, how's it hanging. Yo, Hinata. Hinata, my dearest." He almost gagged on that last one. That did not sound like Uzumaki Naruto. "Hi." That one was simple. Elegant. Him. Any way, he needed to keep working on the bigger stuff. "For you see, each day I love you more, today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow." Well? Was that true? But, at that given moment, it brought up the whole 'What is love' question, and he was confused enough as it was. "Stop thinking so much!" It didn't work with jutsus. It probably wouldn't work with romance. "Each morning as I awaken you're the reason I smile, you're the reason I love." Better. Much better. She would like that one. "It's not that I can't live without you, it's that I don't even want to try." Better yet! He was good. Really really good. "Don't get so cocky…." He had made that mistake far too many times in the past, in training and in combat.
Passing under an apple tree heavy with fruit, he reached up and plucked off one of Nature's delectable offerings. After polishing it on his clothing, he took a bite. Delicious! He didn't care about the juices running down his chin and down on to his neck. For a moment, he was in Heaven. "Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit." That was good. Almost as good as the apple. Smiling, he took down another ripe piece of fruit. Then, another. He stopped at three, stuffing the bounty into his pockets and carrying pouch. Whistling a cheerful tune, he threw the half-eaten apple high into the sky. As if fell, he tossed a kunai. Holding out one hand, he caught the two resultant halves, one after the other. Opening the flap on the pouch again, he heard the weapon clang back into place.
A sudden strong gust of wind had him squinting as he made his way along, hand up in front of his eyes. The familiar series of bends in the road told him that Konoha would be in view fairly soon. He didn't know why, but the first sight of the great walled village never ceased to thrill him, whenever he returned to it. For a while, he became distracted, anticipating just such a moment.
"There it is!" He picked up his pace once again, nearing his destination. He was lucky, not to have been assigned to a mission or training session today. He had looked for Hinata's name, too. She had the day off, as well. "She should be there. Somewhere. I'll find her." There were any number of places that he could look. Like him, she often practiced during her 'off' time. He also knew which eateries were her favorites If he was lucky, she wouldn't be hanging out with any of her kunoichi friends. There was no way he could approach her with other people around, especially other women. He would need to wait until she was alone. "If she's at home…." He stopped for a bit. Reaching for an apple, he fumbled it, causing it to bounce and roll back along a slight incline.
He didn't know what he would do if he had to look for her at the Hyuuga estate. That would be the last place he checked, when all else failed! It would be alright if he came across Neji. Neji was his friend. There probably wouldn't have any trouble finding something to say, if he happened upon Hinata's sister. But, what would he do if he came face to face with Hyuuga Hiashi?
"Hah!" He sounded a lot bolder than he felt. "I'll worry about that problem when it comes." Retrieving the errant fruit, he cleaned it off and took a bite. Still chewing, he spoke out loud again. "There's nothing that I can't handle!" Confident or not, he felt compelled to change the subject. He went back to the task at hand. "Doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love. " Hey. That was rather nice. But, maybe it was a bit antiquated. The earth moved, not the sun. It just looked like the sun moved. Any way, it seemed kind of stuffy. "In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing." That sounded good at first; but, somehow it just didn't sit right. He needed something with more pizzazz. "I need the starshine of your heavenly eyes, after the day's great sun."
He spun. The noise had returned, much louder this time. It was as if someone no longer felt any need to conceal his or her actions. When he caught sight of someone standing there, he felt his heart fall down below his knees. He blinked rapidly, his pulse rate sky-rocketing. His mind filled with myriad questions, not the least of which was 'Does my breath smell alright?' There was a good reason for his frazzled state.
A girl stood a few meters away from him. She wore a tidy lavender coat with gray accents. Her dark blue pants stretched down to the mid-calf level, and a weapons pouch was sitting below her right hip, strapped around a well-situated wrap. A forehead protector circled her neck. Dark lustrous hair fell below her shapely shoulders. A pair of cheerful white eyes kept close watch on him.
"H-… H-… Hinata…." Naruto wanted to scream. He was babbling like an idiot! "Hello…."
Hinata simply smiled, her face lighting up. She didn't make any effort to move or reply.
"I need the starshine of your… I mean… If I had a single flower every time I walked in your garden… no… it's… at the touch of love…ambrosia." Naruto wanted to tear his hair out. He was screwing things up. He sounded like a total jackass.
Hinata stood there smiling, her face unchanging. It was almost like he was staring at a poster or a photograph, Naruto thought. Was she staying silent out of courtesy? Did she find herself fighting back a laugh or a frown? He had to try again. He had to get this right!
"How do I love thee? Let me… uhhh…well… doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt the sun to be a liar… no… it is love alone that gives the flower its honey." Damn. That was even worse. Dumbass. Dufus. Dork. Maybe Sai had been right about those initial 'Dickless' quips of his.
He had bungled things again. He had butchered the romantic phrases that he had worked so hard to prepare. Why him? Why there? Why now? This was worse than his early days at the Academy, when he failed terribly at Henge in front of his classmates, and then pretended his gaff was all part of some joke. He couldn't do that now. The only thing that would be worse than being seen as 'That Naruto,' would be to be thought of as insincere.
"Let me try one more time… each morning as I awaken… uhhh… you're the… the reason I smile… and… well…. you're the reason I…." He was interrupted.
Hinata had began to walk forward slowly as he spoke. She stepped up close to Naruto, so that the two of them were only inches away from touching one another. Like Naruto, she had changed over the years. Still quiet and reserved, she had worked up the courage to do this one thing. She put a finger on his lips briefly, quieting him. Standing up on her toes, she kissed him softly on the lips.
"You had me at 'Hello'," she said.