It was business as usual.

Lunch time. Downtown Konoha. The restaurant district.

A boy in an orange and black jumpsuit was weaving his way through the crowd, one goal in mind. A couple of steps behind him, an attractive young woman in a gray and lavender coat did her best to keep up.

"You have to get this part down first," Naruto called back. "Making your way through the crowd quickly, without pissing anyone off."

"Hai!" Hinata stepped around one woman and barely missed running into the young man at her side. How did Naruto move that swiftly, in sidewalks this packed?

Naruto broke free of the pack and headed off on his own tangent. His goal was unmistakable. The Ichiraku Ramen Bar. A number of old-timers were shuffling in the same direction. Seeing that, he doubled his speed.

"We have to get there while there are still some stools open!" Naruto vaulted over a slower moving pedestrian, and then zigzagged in front of a moving cart. "It's our Way of the Ninja!"

"Ummm… pardon me, Sir…." Hinata jumped from the roadside, to a lamp post, and then off of the side of a building. "Excuse me, Ma'am…." Naruto was already standing between two stools, his arms resting possessively on both of them.

"Not too bad," Naruto said, nodding his head, when Hinata arrived, slightly short of breath. "We'll work on that again, tomorrow." Looking over at the old-timers, he saw a look of resignation on their wrinkled faces. They would have to wait in line for a seat, or take their food elsewhere. "Next lesson…."

Naruto turned around to face the counter. Smiling, he slammed one hand down hard, making a loud 'Whack'. "HeyOld Manyou have a customer here!" He looked over at Hinata. "Your turn."

"Ummm… Sir… I would like to place an order…." Hinata waved her hand trying to get Teuchi's attention. "Please…."

"No… NoNo…." Naruto frowned, and then scratched his head. He pursed his lips and blew out a breath. "Like I did. We have to get this part down. There's other stuff to go over."

"Okay." Hinata shuffled her feet a bit. Now that Naruto had started paying attention to her, she didn't want to do anything that might make him change his mind. "I'll try." She took a deep breath. She could do this. It really wasn't rude or anything. "Hey… Old Man…." She brought her hand down hard enough to cause the condiment bottles to shake. She raised her voice even more. "Hungry people out here…." She ad-libbed, trying to sound like a seasoned ramen-ya visitor. She hoped that Naruto wouldn't roll his eyes or think she was some kind of poser.

"Much better!" Naruto's smile reached from ear to ear. "There's hope for you yet." He gave Hinata a 'V' sign. "But… you should probably be more polite… I'm his favorite customer, so I can get away with it…." He looked serious.

"Ohhh… I'm sorry…." Hinata felt as if someone had just poured a bucket of ice water over her head. "I thought…."

"Hey! It's alright!" Naruto grinned again. "I was just pulling your leg." He put one hand behind his neck. "They love that kind of stuff!" He started laughing, seeing the look on Hinata's face.

"I thought I heard you out here." That was Ayame. She walked out, a cloth tied around her hair. She smiled, seeing Naruto. Her eyes sparkled, when she saw that there was a young lady sitting with him. "So… are you going to introduce me to your friend…." She examined Hinata's face for a moment. "Is she your sweetheart?"

"What?!" Naruto's eyes went wide. His postured changed from lax and casual to stiff and formal. "That… it… she's Hinata." He made it a point to reach for a pair of menus, leaving the second part of Ayame's question unanswered. That had the older of the two girls smiling again. "Hyuuga Hinata."

"I see," Ayame said, winking at Hinata. "Are the two of you stopping here after practice…." She tried to keep a straight face. "…Or is this some kind of date…."

"Huh?!" Naruto flinched, and then scrambled to keep the jar of chopsticks he bumped over from crashing to the floor. Despite his efforts, a number of wooden skewers fell out of the container and skittered across the floor. "This is some kind of lunch," he asserted. "I'm teaching Hinata about ramen." He looked a little red in the face.

"Mmmm hmmm…." Ayame's eyes narrowed in mirth. "Well… she couldn't have found a better teacher…." She looked over at Hinata. "Do you call him sensei, then?"

"I…." Hinata blinked rapidly. She couldn't help but grin in return. "Ummm… I suppose I could…." She inclined her head to Naruto. That had him making a face. He was supposed to be the comedian there. "Sensei…."

"You two look cute together," Ayame remarked, knowing how that would affect Naruto. She looked through the opening behind the counter, catching sight of someone hefting a heaving pot. "Father should be out here soon. Enjoy!"

"The thing's girls say!" Naruto opened the menu and tried to look nonchalant. "Any way…." He cleared his throat. "You should get familiar with the menu."

"Okay." Hinata smiled, reaching for the second menu. She swallowed hard when her hand brushed against Naruto's. The 'Thump' she heard was Naruto's kneecaps banging into the counter from down below. "There's not a lot listed." She blushed, privately happy that Naruto seemed to be a bit on edge too.

"There's not much on the menu," Naruto said, sounding like he was teaching Genin how to perform a standard jutsu. "There doesn't have to be. People come here for one thing in particular."

"Ramen," Hinata said. If she hadn't figured that out from the restaurant's name, she certainly would have no trouble after hearing Naruto talk about the place ad nasueum. She had almost felt like a seasoned visitor, simply by hearing his description.

"Right!" Naruto tapped at the open menu with one finger. "The noodles here are first rate, not like the stuff they serve in the family restaurants, karaoke bars, and roadside stalls!" His eyes went wide when Hinata leaned over to see what he was pointing at. Her chest pressed up against his arm. Not knowing what she had done, she remained conscious. He, on the other hand, felt a sweat drop run down his face, soaking into his collar. "Uhhh… well… you see…." He successfully fought the urge to look at her more closely. "They serve ramen, with lots of toppings. The have fried rice. Chinese dumplings." He closed the menu, able to breathe again when Hinata moved. "The prices are great. And, you get a lot for your money!"

"Ummm… okay…." Hinata looked at Naruto's face? Why did he look nervous? He wasn't concerned that she might not like ramen, was he? That had been her concern, one that had kept her up the entire night before.

"But… it's not all as simple as it looks…." Naruto regained his composure. Trying to sound like an authority, he posed in a way that Gai and Lee would appreciate. "The quality of the soup usually doesn't affect the price. That's because the soup is cheap to make. But, the soup here is really good. The Old man is a master!" Teuchi smiled, hearing that. The store owner added a few more ingredients before stepping out to take the boisterous young man's order.

"I see…." Hinata nodded her head, wanting to make certain that she looked interested and attentive. "Are the noodles cheap too? Is it the toppings that determine the cost?"

"Yes!" Naruto clapped his hands together. He did it so loudly, that the old man next to him jerked, spilling his soup down his shirt front. "That's right! You're pretty sharp, Hinata-chan." He saw her blush. Was it because he complimented her? Of was it the '-chan' he added on? "Good toppings cost good money. And the toppings here are really good." He rubbed his abdomen.

"But…. Ummm…." Hinata twitched. She had to stop that 'Ummm' business. As it was, it took a lot of effort to keep from rubbing her fingers together. "Does the type of soup still matter?"

"Good question," Naruto answered, nodding his head. He eyed Hinata closer. She was a lot sharper than people made out! He cleared his throat, noticing again how cute she was. How had he missed that all those years? Well, with everything happening in his life, he had been kind of busy. "Repeat after me. Shoyu."

"Shoyu," Hinata said.

"Great! Good going." Naruto took a deep breathe, drinking in the odors of the shop. Moments like that were worth living for. "That's a dark soup, colored by soy sauce. It's made from fish stock, and can be pretty salty." He made a face, remembering from somewhere that Hinata didn't like seafood. "It's the most common type in Konoha."

"Okay," Hinata said, not thinking to mention her likes or dislikes. She caught Naruto's gaze. "It would be alright." She guessed what he might be thinking.

"Really?" Naruto grinned. His admiration for the white-eyed girl went up another notch. "Good. Now, say Shio."

"Shio." Hinata managed a shy grin. It was funny, the way he wanted to teach her all this. But, that also had her spirits soaring. He wouldn't do that for just anyone, would he? Then again, maybe he would.

"Hah! You're a natural." Naruto gave Hinata a thumbs up. "I tried to tell Sakura about this once. She threatened to knock me into the next week." He made a rather sour face. Sai hadn't proven to be a good listened, either. Looking over at Hinata again, he wondered why she had looked so cheerful for a moment. "Shio is a thin, light soup that often has a slightly salty flavor. It's often made with pork, but not enough to make it thick or cloudy." He thought a moment. "It really doesn't add a lot of flavor on its own. I like it with vegetable toppings."

"Shio soup," Hinata said to herself. "Good with vegetable toppings." She sat taller on her stool, making an effort to seem perky and enthusiastic. "Next…."

"Geee-ee-ez… don't rush me…" Naruto wasn't upset. In fact, he felt great for some reason. "I won't make you say miso. You know what that is, right?" He saw Hinata nod. "It's really good with vegetables, too. Hmmm-mm-m. Let's see. Okay. Say Tonkotsu…."

"Tonkotsu," Hinata said dutifully.

"Well, it sounds like you're the sensei now." That was Umino Iruka who stepped up to say hello to his young friend. "You brought someone with you this time. A young lady." He smiled and added "Hi, Hinata.' Looking back over at Naruto, he unknowingly followed in Ayame's footsteps. "It's nice to see that you finally have a girlfriend."

"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto stood up so fast, that he set the top of his stool spinning like a top. "Ixsnay on the Irlfriendsgay!" Waving his arms frantically, he didn't notice that Ayame as paused in her delivery of a steaming bowl of noodles to listen in. She understood Pig Latin. The serving girl bent over to explain things to Hinata. She then went over to whisper something to her father.

Hinata brought both of her hands up to her chest. She thought that it was adorable, the way that Naruto looked so embarrassed. That didn't hurt her feelings one bit. Instead, it made her feel more comfortable, realizing that Naruto was nervous, too.

"Hey… that Iruka-sensei… he's such a kidder…." Naruto brought his hand up to his mouth and coughed twice. "Any way… let's see… where was I…." He frowned, looking over at Iruka, who was busy giving his order for take-out. "Tonkotsu. That was it, right?" He saw Hinata nod. His next few words were a bit rushed. "Thick. Cloudy. Made with a big dose of pork. Fish, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, or chicken can be added to make different kinds of tonkotsu. For this reason, it has the richest flavor…." He licked his lips and closed his eyes. "…But it is also usually the heaviest."

"It's alright, even if you are watching your figure," Ayame put in with a grin, carrying back an empty tray. She lowered her voice, as if speaking only to Hinata, but making certain that Naruto overheard them. "Or if someone else is…."

"…" Hinata slid off the front of her seat. Feeling very self-conscious, she quickly got back up again.

For once, Naruto was speechless, too. He quickly looked up at the ceiling. When he was younger, he tried to figure out what some of the old stains reminded him of. His renewed interest in them had nothing to do with nostalgia.

"Do you want to tell her something about noodles?" Teuchi asked, walking up, wiping his hands on his stained apron. He had listened in on the boy's discourse. It was nice, having knowledgeable customers. "I can take someone else's order while you do." He smiled. The shop was busy that afternoon. There was a line of people waiting

"Hmmm-mm-m…." Naruto stroked his chin, looking as if he was debating the choices with himself. He truly looked torn. That had Hinata hiding a grin. "Yeh… go ahead… I won't be long…." He dabbed at his forehead for a moment, looking as if he had made a difficult decision. Hinata would have giggled, had she been the type of girl who did that. "What's so funny?" Naruto narrowed his eyes, looking at Hinata.

"N-… N-Nothing… N-N-Naruto-kun…" Hinata tried to look prim and proper. "Ummm… please continue…." Tears of mirth came to her eyes, but she kept from making another sound.

"Alright…." Naruto sated at Hinata for a while longer, tugging at one ear. "Girls…." He shook his head, straightened his clothes top, and continued. "There are two main types of noodles used for ramen." He held up one finger. "Yellow egg noodles." He held up a second. "And white flour noodles." He began tapping one finger on the countertop, as if waiting for something.

"Naruto-kun?" Hinata was perplexed at first. But, she soon caught on. "Ohhh. Sorry. Yellow egg noodles and white flour noodles."

"Took you long enough," Naruto said. He then grinned, his regular good humor returning. That, and his burgeoning appetite. "In the past, yellow egg noodles were the most common. They are still the type found in most instant ramen packages. "But…." He waggled his fingers and looked very serious. "…Recently, the flour noodles have been gaining in popularity. That's not just a curiosity. The two types differ in size and texture. Egg noodles are fairly thin, firm to the palate, and slightly curly. Flour noodles are soft and wide."

"Of course," Hinata said, trying again to keep a straight face. With anyone else on the planet, she wouldn't have cracked a smile, or even had a moment's amusement. Naruto happened to strike her in a special way. "Thin and firm… soft and wide…"

"What type do you like, little lady?" An old toothless man chuckled at his own dirty joke, before anyone else caught on. "Thin and firm, or soft and wide. Heh heh heh." He looked over at Naruto. "Some boys are thin and soft." His humor was sort-lived.

"Kage Bunshin No Jutsu!" Naruto caught on soon enough. Unable to look over at Hinata, he ignored the ruckus behind him, as the shadow clones manhandled the annoying old gent and tossed him out into the street.

"What did he mean?" Hinata was too naive to understand. She wondered what could have caused Naruto to act like that. Was there some kind of feud going o between the patrons who liked egg noodles, and those who liked flour.

"It's… heh…. well… uhhh… you know…." Naruto actually blushed. Ayame's eyes went wide, seeing that. "It's not important. Besides, the Old Man is waiting for us." The shop owner was hovering at the periphery.

"I'll tell you, little miss." Another elderly man waved his arm in the air, chuckling. That was the most fun he had in a long time, ever since he put his dentures in the sake instead of the cleaning solution. "You see… men have…." He never had time to finish. The Bunshin hadn't disappeared yet.

"Don't ask!" Naruto sounded adamant, so Hinata nodded her head. She would question Kurenai later.

"Would you like to hear today's toppings?" Teuchi ginned his best grin. Things were always lively with the young man around.

"Yes I would, thank you." Hinata nodded her head. She wondered if the two gentleman were OK.

"We have fresh shredded cabbage," the cook said. "I chop it into large pieces and stir-fry it along with the bean sprouts."

"It's really good!" Naruto's eyes lit up. "Especially in miso or shio style soup."

"That sounds nice," Hinata said.

"Then there's Chashu," the man said. "It's the luxury topping. Slices of roast pork, thick and specially prepared."

"Even better!" Naruto was practically salivating, now.

"That sounds nice, too." Hinata smiled. She didn't really care what Naruto chose. She was here more for the company than the food.

"Our Bataa-kon-Ramen has boiled and buttered corn," Teuchi said. "The Menma has soft, brown, bamboo shoots and the Moyashi has blanched or stir-fried bean sprouts." He smiled. "The Naruto has white fish cake, usually featuring a red spiral pattern on the inside."

"Hah!" Naruto slapped the counter top. One man came close to swallowing his chopstick. "Named after me!" He folded his arms across his chest and rocked back and forth on top of his stool.

"I bet she would like that one," Ayame said playfully. That had Hinata's face going as red as a beet. "Not everyone likes it. But, those who do, like it very much."

"Ummm… yes… I see…." Hinata folded her hands in her lap.

"Hinata… you're blushing…." Naruto leaned closer, trying to get a better look.

"Ahem." The shop owner came to Hinata's rescue. The Negi has leek, usually cut very fine. I can serve that raw or fried. The Nori has squares of dried seaweed, put into the soup just before serving. When dry, they are light and crispy; but, they get soggy very quickly in the soup. The Tamago we serve comes with hard boiled egg."

"I think each of those sounds nice, too." Hinata met the man's eyes, offering silent thanks. She looked over at Ayame, who gave her another knowing wink, before adjusting her head cloth.

"And?" Teuchi raised one eyebrow.

"We'll take each one!" Naruto slapped both hands down this time. "Hinata's in training! We want to do this right." He looked over at Hinata. She stared like a deer caught in headlights at first, but then quickly nodded her head.

Since most of the toppings had been prepared beforehand, it didn't take to long to bring out their lunch. But, the crafty shop owner didn't bring out a large number of overstuffed bowls like he might normally have done. Instead, he found a huge mixing bowl, cleaned it off well, and used that.

When he brought an amazing heap of noodles out, each part of it covered with one of the different toppings, there were two sets of chopsticks in it. It was the equivalent of bringing out one glass for the couple… one glass with two straws.

"Ohhh my…." Hinata was first struck by the mountain of food. It looked rather daunting. She didn't know if she should climb it or eat it. Then, the significance of the single bowl hit her. "It…." Her eyes went wide, and she looked to see if Naruto had caught on too. Miracle of miracles, he had. That much was obvious. She looked at the counter top with a bit of trepidation, when she heard the wood creak under the weightt of the steaming ramen.

"Th-… That's really… That's really a lot…." Naruto wasn't stammering because of the size of the bowl. He had approached similar gargantuan proportions before, leaving dozens of dishes stacked up on a table or counter, most often when someone else was buying. "And… hah hah… two sets of chopsticks…." He coughed. "Well… uhhh… we'll need two… won't we… since there are two of us…."

Ayame and Teuchi looked at one another and grinned. They had been very happy to give the young man an enormous helping the night before his battle in the Chuunin exams. This was even more satisfying.

"Enjoy!" The cook returned to his work, knowing that he had a number of waiting customers.

"I guess we should eat… right, Naruto-kun…" Hinata asked that after the two sat in silence for nearly a minute, her looking over at him, and him studying the ceiling again.

"Sure!" Naruto looked like he broke out of a trance. "I'm glad you spoke up. I was waiting for you to get started." He thumped his chest. "I'm a gentleman." He looked at the bowl, laced his hands together to crack his fingers, and then set his jaw.

"Is… ummm… is there some special way I should eat it?" Hinata was almost worried that taking noodles from any one part might make the whole thing collapse. But, that wasn't the gist of her question. Along with the chopsticks, the cook had provided spoons. She wondered if Naruto had some mind of routine. She didn't want to do anything that might be at odds with him!

"With a smile," Naruto said. "And as fast as you can… if you want to get any…." He laughed. "Use the chosticks to pick up the noodles, and the spoon to drink the soup." He strained, lifting the bowl. "It's a bit big to drink from!" He looked at Hinata gain, a mischievous look in his eyes. "You can try, if you like. I'd pay to see that!"

"No." Hinata turned pink and shook her head. "The spoon will be fine."

"Dig in, then!" Naruto politely waited for Hinata to start. He grinned ear to ear when she slurped in a long strand of noodles, whipping herself in the nose. Her ears turned red, as if she had committed some kind of terrible faux pas.

"Not bad… not bad…." Naruto hadn't felt this charged up in a long time. This just felt right. "But… you forgot to slurp…." He wondered how Hinata had managed to eat silently. It's almost impossible not to slurp sometimes. That didn't matter to him, since he slurped with gusto. "Here. Watch. I am the Hokage of ramen!" He sucked in a large cluster of noodles. SLUUU-UU-URRR-RR-RP!

"Ummm… alright…." Hinata felt uneasy. The Hyuugas never slurped. Never. Timidly, she sucked in more ramen, feeling like everyone was watching her. They were. Sluuu-uu-urp.

"No!" Naruto said, sticking his chin out. "I know you can do better than that!" Naruto shook a finger at Hinata. "Everyone tells me how hard you train. They're not lying, are they?" He raised one eyebrow.

Hinata shook her head quickly. She took a deep breath and let it out. Steeling herself, she took a large mouthful of noodles and sucked it in. Sluuuuuu-uuuuu-uuuu-uuu-uu-urp! She felt her face grow warmth. She had sent the noodles swinging wildly, spraying soup droplets here and there. That better be good enough! She felt a bit faint as it was.

"Better…." Naruto looked at Hinata dubiously, tapping a finger against his cheek. "But… I'm sure you could do better yet…." He thought a moment. "Think how Lee might do it. He never does things small." He nodded his head. "Say 'Ahhhh-hhh-hh-h' and go for it!"

Hinata shook her head. Naruto must be joking. He couldn't really want her to do something like that! Right?

"Huh?" Naruto made a face. "You won't try?" He frowned. "I thought you were really someone I could like." He didn't know it, but those were the magic words. Hinata trembled for a moment, and then squared her shoulders. She reached out tentatively with her chopsticks, and then grabbed a large number of noodles.

"Ahhh…." Hinata brought the noodles to her mouth and sucked in again. "SLURP." She couldn't meet anyone's gaze. But, that ought to do.

"Pitiful!" Naruto made a brushing motion with his hands. "If Lee sounded like that, he would be running laps all day!" He put both hands behind his neck. "This time, it's now or never. I want you to do you best. This is your sensei speaking!" He took the chopsticks, stuck them into the center of the mound, and swirled them around. Pulling an enormous string of noodles out, he held them up to Hinata's mouth. He blushed when a number of young girls went 'Ooooo-ooo-oo-oh….'

"Ahhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Hinata couldn't believe she did that. She sucked in with a mighty effort. SLUUU-UU-URP. Her stool rocked back and forth for a moment. Noodles hung down from her chin, with a few broken strands decorating her jacket.

"You're worthless and weak!" Naruto's voice snapped like a whip. "Come on! Show me you want it!" He was already impressed beyond belief. But, Hinata had the potential to be one of the best, maybe even as good as he was. He wouldn't let that talent go to waste.

"Hai!" Hinata went with the flow of the moment. She put every ounce of effort she had left into it. SLUUUU-UUU-UU-URP! She had sucked in so hard, that she was close to passing out. Not only that, she had put too much body motion into it. As the noodles exploded into her mouth, she fell backward off of her chair. The room went dead quiet, before bursting into an instant cacophony of voices. Ayame rushed over to check on the fallen girl.

"It must be true love," Teuchi said, loud enough so that only he could hear.

"Whoa!" Naruto looked shocked. That was one hell of an effort. "Hinata! You don't have to work so hard to impress anyone. Don't hurt yourself." He saw everyone turn to stare at him in disbelief. "What?" He reached down to help Hinata back to her feet. "You were pretty great." Hinata looked wobbly after he said that.

"Th-… Th-… Thank you, Naruto-kun." Hinata looked pleased. Now she could eat in a more gentile fashion. Or, so she hoped. She climbed back up on her seat.

"Hah!" Naruto smiled. "Wait until I tell Neji!" He reached out to catch Hinata, too late. She slid off her stool again.

After that, Naruto attacked the meal with a zest Hinata had no hope of matching, even if she wanted to. For her part, she ate politely, stuffing herself far more than she had initially intended. Naruto wanted to make certain that she had tried each and every one of the toppings.

"Want a doggie bag?" Naruto leaned back, a hand on his greatly expanded waistline. "This stuff is pretty good cold, too."

"N-… N-No… N-N-No thank you…." Hinata kept her teeth clenched. She had come very close to belching, before she spoke. She would just die if she did something like that! "It was very good." It really had been, even if noodles had never been considered a classy enough food to be served at any of the Hyuuga dinners.

"Mmmm-mmm-mm-m…." Naruto stretched, looking to be as satisfied as a man could be. "That kind of stuff really hit's the spot!" He reached out with his fingers and plucked one more noodle. "Want to hit the practice fields?"

"Wh-… What?" Hinata stared at Naruto in absolute disbelief, verging on abject horror. "What did you say?" She was going to have enough trouble, just walking. If an enemy attacked the village now, she'd be helpless to lend a hand!

"You're right!" Naruto sighed. He needed to take it easy. There was no need to rush. "We should probably wait about thirty minutes before doing any kind of big time jutsus." He shrugged. Patience was a virtue. Or so a lot of people kept trying to tell him.

"Y-Y-Yes…." Hinata blinked rapidly. She had to fight another wannabe burp. Thirty minutes? The way she felt, it should be thirty days!"

"So… there's only one more thing we should do before we leave…." Naruto looked over at Ayame. She nodded, catching his gaze.

"I…." Hinata put her hand up to her mouth. "I hope you don't mean dessert…."

"No." Naruto shook his head. He put one hand on his bloated frog purse. Then he pursed his lips, remembering how Kakashi had gotten Yamato to pay for the noodles one day. "We need to pay the bill." The way he said 'we,' and the way he looked at Hinata, clearly said that his 'we' meant 'you.' As far as he was concerned, it was a training session, not a date or something.

"The bill," Hinata echoed. She looked over at Ayame, who gave her a look that said 'you're not really going to fall for that, are you?'

"Right." Naruto nodded. "For the food." He smiled. "My teaching was free. This time."

"Ummm…." Hinata's natural instinct was to do as Naruto said. She was more of a follower than a leader, and she didn't like confrontations. What's more, she was afraid to do anything that might anger Naruto. But, just like with her battle against Neji, something stirred inside of her. "No." She tried to meet Naruto's gaze, but couldn't bring her gaze above his chest.

"Huh?" Naruto looked shocked. He frowned, catching Ayame's smile. When he watched the older girl, she quickly went to work cleaning the counter. "Did you say 'no'?"

"I… ummm… I said 'no'…." Hinata managed to meet his eyes this time. She could do this. She had always admired Naruto for his courage and determination. If he didn't value the same things in her, maybe she had been wrong all along. "You're… well… you're the boy…." He might not have considered this a date; but, she did. "And… ummm… you ate most of it…."

Naruto sat there, staring at Hinata, as if seeing her for the very first time. He scowled for a moment, seeing if that might get her to change her mind. Then, he decided to wait her out. Maybe the pressure would get to her, and she would cave in. People behind them were already grumbling, wanting a chance to sit down.

Hinata simply stared back. She was feeling the pressure, but promised herself to hold on no matter what. Acting braver than she felt, she picked up her purse, took out a nail file, and got busy.

Naruto's face grew darker and darker. For a minute, he looked like he wanted to say something sarcastic. But, as quickly as the sky sometimes clears after a storm, his features grew less harsh, and he found himself grinning. Hinata had more spunk that he had given her credit for. "OK. My treat. Your turn next time." He took out the necessary coins and slid them over to Ayame. She took them over to the register.

"She's a pretty quick learner," her father said with a smile.

"It looks that way," Ayame answered.

END