I don't own these characters or profit from them.

Love in the Forest of Death By, Clayton Overstreet

Hinata woke up in the hospital wing. Shikamaru and Tamari were standing next to her bed. "So you're finally awake," Tamari said. "You have got to stop fainting," Shikamaru said. "Carrying you here was such a drag." Hinata blushed. "I'm sorry." "Here's your book," Tamari said with a grin. She handed the latest copy of Makeout Paradise to Hinata who snatched it away, blushing. "You know Hinata, you never struck me as the type to read a book like that"
"Like what?" Shikamaru asked. He was smirking at Tamari who blushed. "I just took a quick look inside. It's not like I have the whole series or anything!" "How did you know there was a series?" She glared at him. Shikamaru looked back at Hinata. "But she's right. I wouldn't have expected you to read that." "I... I..." She looked down. "Unless the rumor that Naruto ghost wrote it for Jiraiya are true." Hinata's face turned redder. "Now don't do that. You aren't going to faint again, are you?" "I... I was just surprised," Hinata said. "No kidding," Tamari said. "That bit about..." She stopped and her face went blank. "Anyway if you're going to swoon every time you read that, save it for when you're at home." Shikamaru said. "I can't believe you're still crushing on Naruto even after he left for two years." "Naruto is..." She stopped, breathing deeply. "Whatever," he said. "Come on Tamari. This place is a serious drag." They turned and walked out. In the hallway Tamari turned to him and said, "You have to feel sorry for her. From what I've heard she's had a thing for that Naruto kid for years and he barely even notices her." "Yeah, well you can't really blame him. Naruto isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer to begin with and Hinata doesn't put herself out there much. And with the stuff Naruto has to deal with it's not much of a surprise if he hardly notices her." "You know, I bet we could find some way to get them together if we put our minds to it." Shikamaru shook his head. "Way too much work..." "Look pal, I'm the ambassador from the Sand Village and you are my official flunky while I'm here. If I want to do a little match making you are going to help me." He rubbed his head. "I knew this was going to be a drag. Why can't women just leave well enough alone?" "Because if we left it up to boys humans would die out entirely. Now help me think of a plan."

"Hey Shikamaru, what's up?" Naruto asked. Shikamaru sighed. "Hey Naruto. A bunch of us are getting together to do some training for a few days. We're going to take a balloon to the other side of the Forest of Death and split up into teams to see who gets back here first." "You are? Isn't that a little too much work for you?" Naruto asked. "That's what I said. It was Tamari's idea and I'm in charge of following her around the village so I don't have any choice. The fifth Hokage's orders." "Yeah, grandma Tsunade is pretty tough. Still, sounds like fun. Who gets to be on my team? Is Sakura coming?" "No, she's on a mission with Kiba, Choji, and Ino." "Sakura and Ino together?" Naruto asked and shuddered. "I wouldn't want to go on that mission for anything." "I know. Girls can be such a drag." He winced as something hit him in the back of the head. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Tamari glaring at him from a rooftop and holding three more rocks. "Anyway we're taking a balloon out there in about an hour. Can you get ready and meet us at the edge of the forest by then?" "Sure thing! I'm not Kakashi-sensei after all." It actually took him forty-five minutes. Over the last few years he had gotten used to packing quickly for missions. Mostly he packed instant ramen and a few weapons. It was only a few days after all. Lastly he stuck a note on his door incase Jiraiya needed him and then headed out the door. When he got there he found Shikamaru, Tamari, Nedji, Tenten, Hinata, and Rock Lee. Kurenai, Hinata's old Jonine teacher, sat in the balloon. Hinata saw Naruto and immediately began blushing. "Naruto! You... you're coming too?" She was so quiet he didn't hear her. "Hey guys!" He looked up at the balloon. It was red and had the leaf village symbol on the side. "Whoa! Where did you get that"
"Rented it for the day," Shikamaru said. Tamari elbowed him in the ribs. "Oh... uh. Anyway are you ready to go?" "Sure!" He ran between them and hopped up into the basket. "Come on! What are you waiting for"
"Why am I doing this again?" Nedji said. Tenten took his arm. "Because I said so." "Oh, right." Hinata blinked at them. "If there isn't enough room I'll..." "Get into he basket Hinata!" Tamari said. Hinata nodded and quickly got in and tried not to faint from being so close to Naruto. Soon the rest of them were in there too and she had several bodies between them. Kurenai pulled the cord and the fire roared, lifting the balloon into the air. Rock Lee leaned over the side. "Wow! This is an amazing view! I have never flown before." "Me neither," Naruto said. "The forest looks so different up here! Way better than it did when we went through it during the Chunine exams. Look, there's the tower! Of course this time nobody is trying to kill us." "Not yet, but if you don't calm down I'm going to push you out of the basket," Nedji said. Naruto frowned but sat down. "You're no fun." "You have no idea," Tenten said. "So why is the old lady with us?" Naruto asked. Hinata giggled and Kurenai glared daggers at him. Naruto laughed nervously as everyone scooted away from him and she said, "Because you're too dumb to be allowed into the forest on your own." "Oh..." He closed his mouth and sat quietly. About an hour later they landed on the far side of the forest. Everyone piled out while Kurenai set a spike into the ground and tied up the balloon. Tamari said, "Okay, so here are the rules. We split up into teams of two and head into the forest. Anything goes. If you lose your partner then you lose automatically. The last team back has to buy dinner for everyone else. All we can eat." "All we can eat! Great!" Naruto said. "You guys are going to go broke paying for my meal!" "Ha! You won't beat me Naruto!" Rock Lee said and held up a fist. "Oh yeah!" "Yeah!" "Okay!" Tamari yelled. "Save it. I'll be on Shikamaru's team since he's in charge of watching me." "I'm with Nedji!" Tenten said quickly. "I'll take Rock Lee," Kurenai said in a bored tone. "Then I guess it's just you and me Hinata!" Naruto said happily. "I can't wait to see what you've learned in the last couple of years. The last time I saw you using Ninjitsu we were fighting those giant killer bees!" Hinata's eyes stared ahead, unblinking. "Me and... Naruto..." Nedji elbowed her in the side. "Wake up. Pretend it's a mission. Don't let your team down." Hinata's gaze hardened. "Right." "Okay, on your marks, get set... go!" Tamari said. As one they jumped into the trees. Naruto and Hinata swung through them at breakneck speeds, doing their best to keep one another in sight. Hinata because she wanted to and Naruto because she was his teammate.
Twenty minutes later Naruto paused at a large tree and looked around. "Hey Hinata!" "Uh.. um... yes... Naruto?" She said quietly from the next tree over. "Can you see where the others are? Maybe see if you can find a shortcut they don't know about?" "But... Nedji can do that too..." She said. He shrugged and grinned at her. "So? Still means we'll only have to beat one team." "Okay..." She made a few quick hand signs. "Byakugan!" Veins popped up on her face and Naruto waited patiently as she scanned the forest. "Well?" "I... I can't see them." She said, sounding surprised. "What? But I thought you could see everything!" "I can see. They just aren't around anywhere..." Suddenly she paused and turned around. "Hey!" Without thinking she took off back the way they came. "Hinata! Hey! Where are you going?" He chased after her.

Rock Lee struggled in Kurenai's grip as she dragged him towards the balloon. "Why are we back here? Naruto is going to beat us!" Tamari looked at Shikamaru. "I thought you told him about the plan.": "Why? It was your idea." Tenten sighed. "Lee, we're not actually racing!" Rock Lee turned and stared at her. "We are not?" Nedji sighed. "No you idiot." "Then what are we doing out here?" Kurenai grinned. "We're giving Naruto and Hinata some time alone." "Hinata and Naruto?" He asked. "Alone time," Shikamaru said. "You know. Just the two of them... alone..." Lee looked blank. "Romantically." "Oh!" He blinked. "Oh! I see!" "Took you long enough..." Tamari said. Lee stood up straight, fire in his eyes. "Then as the handsome devil of the village hidden in the leaves, I will abandon my desire to win this race to allow true love to blossom!" Everyone stared at him in shock. Shikamaru said, "Is he for real"
"I'm afraid so," Tenten said. Nedji turned and stared into the forest. "Uh oh. Looks like Hinata spotted us. Everyone into the balloon!"

Hinata and Naruto burst out of the forest in time to see the red balloon disappear above the trees. Naruto stared in shock for a second and then shouted, "You jerks! When I get my hands on you I'll make you eat that balloon!" "Have fun guys!" Shikamaru shouted with a smirk. Then he turned and stared at the clouds. "Bye Hinata!" Kuranai said. Everyone waved down at them. "I can't believe they did this!" Naruto shouted. "If you guys think I'm going to buy you dinner after you cheated like this you're nuts!" Hinata stared after them in shock. Why would they do this? Abandoning her alone in the forest. No, wait, she wasn't alone was she. "Did you know about this?" Naruto asked. Hinata shook her head. "No... Naruto." "Nah, I didn't really think so. You're too nice to go along with something like this. I can't believe I fell for it. No wonder they didn't let Sakura come along. She'd have probably told me." "Um... what do we do now?" Hinata asked. Naruto sighed. "First we probably should make our way through the forest. Shouldn't take more than a week with nobody else out there to get in our way. Then we find those jerks and a tube of superglue and get creative!" Hinata giggled. "Okay." "Can you lead the way Hinata? From what I remember there's a lot in this forest we'll probably want to avoid. I'd probably run into an old trap or something." "Me? You want me to lead?" She blushed. He nodded. "You're way smarter than me and you've got way better control of your chakara. I just use a lot of it to smash everything that gets in my way." "Oh... well if you're sure." She blushed and turned her back so he couldn't see her face. Remembering Nedji's advice to pretend it was a mission she said, "Okay! Let's go!"

They traveled through the night. The next day they finally stopped and made a small camp. Naruto and Hinata both knew better than to try sleeping too soundly at night and they wanted to make good time. After he used a small stream to make them each a cup of ramen Naruto said, "Tonight we'll take shifts on look out and get some sleep"
"That sounds like a really good plan," Hinata said Naruto smiled. "Hey, I haven't spent the last few years just sitting around you know! I've been training with one of the legendary Sanine." "Jiraiya?" She asked. "He's a Sanine?" "Oh yeah! Didn't anybody tell you? He trained under the third Hokage along with grandma Tsunade and... Orochimaru." He looked down and frowned. Hinata did too. Everyone knew what the traitor to the village had done. She also knew that Sasuke had left the village to train under him. "It's funny, how all three of you ended up training under the best ninjas. My team is great, but sometimes I can't help wondering what it would have been like if I had been chosen to train under Kakashi-sensei with you instead." "Not that great," Naruto said, sipping some of his food. "Kakashi was always late and the first time we met him he tricked us into not eating before he made us try to take a couple of bells from him. He told us that there were only two bells and whoever didn't get one would be sent back to academy." He told her about what he had gone through trying to get them. "Grandma Tsunade is a horrible gambler and vain too. She uses her jutsu to make herself look way younger than she is. And Jiraiya is a huge perv. Spends all his time staring at girls." He laughed. "Not that I'm much better. Sakura keep shitting me for teaching my Sexy Jutsu to Konahamaru. I even wrote one of Juraiya's books." "Oh?" Hinata asked innocently and tried not to think of the book in her bag. "Yeah. I made up a bunch of stuff from some magazines I read... though there is one part I did from real life." Hinata's eyes widened. "R...really?" "Yeah. On one of those missions you and I and some of the others went on I... well it was probably a dream, but I woke up late at night and went to use the bathroom. But then I heard some splashing down by the river. I went down and there was a really pretty girl dancing in the water." He closed his eyes. "It was too dark to see much, but from what I could see she was absolutely gorgeous. Like, a perfect body! And the way she moved was just amazing. Believe it!" He opened his eyes and saw Hinata looking the other way. "Oh, sorry. I guess sometimes I talk too much." Hinata didn't turn back. "It's.. it's okay." "I'm sorry Hinata. I don't mean to be annoying. I guess it's just... you don't talk much and it's so quiet out here away from everybody." She finally looked back at him and smiled. "It's okay. I don't mind at all"
Naruto blushed a little and rubbed his head. "Really?" "No! I like your stories." He grinned and said, "Yeah, well, tell me if I get too annoying okay?" She nodded and he looked up at the sky. "At least there's nothing to do out here. No missions, no chores... it's really kind of nice." Suddenly a large leech dropped out of a tree and onto his face.

Two days later they arrived at the tower in the middle of the forest. It was old and dusty, but it was shelter and outside it was starting to rain heavily. Inside Hinata let out a tiny sneeze and Naruto began peeling the bandages off his face. There was a ring of puncture wounds around the entire front of his head when the leech attacked him and Hinata had quickly helped to get it off and clean him up. "Hinata are you okay?" "Just a head cold," she said "It'll probably be gone by tomorrow. We should change those bandages." She paused when she saw his face. Naruto was looking at his reflection in a dirty window. "Nah, it's fine. Boy Hinata, those ointments of yours really work great!" "But... but they don't work that fast..." She said. He looked at her and a shadow seemed to pass over his face. "Oh." He bit his lip. Someone who hadn't watched him like Hinata had might have missed it as he forced a smile. "Well, it's okay now. So let's get something to eat!" He brought out a white Styrofoam cup. "I've been saving this last one for the last day!" "But... there's only one." Hinata said. Why hadn't she saved some fish from the night before? She knew how much Naruto liked ramen. "It's okay. We'll share and get something else when the rain lets up." He paused when he saw her look. "Unless you want the whole thing. I can wait if you're really hungry." "No!" She said quickly. "Actually you..." "Oh no you don't. You're too nice for your own good. If I know you, you'll just have me ea it and drop dead before you ask for food. But like I told you, Kakashi taught us all about making sure your teammates are taken care of as much as you are. And you and I are a team now, right?" Hinata was speechless for a moment, but managed to nod her head. "Good. Now wait here and start a fire over in the fireplace so we can dry our clothes and warm up before we get pneumonia. I don't want to have to visit you in the hospital again! There's some wood stacked up next to it. I'll go get the food ready." He left the room and went out to another room and opened a window. The wind was blowing pretty heavily, but he held the cup at an angle to catch the water and soon the thing was full. He mixed it up on his way back into the common room where Hinata already had the fire going. Setting the cup down near the flames to let it warm up a bit he took off his pack and set it on the stone fireplace. Then his jacket and shoes and pants followed it. In his boxers and a black t-shirt he sat down. Then he heard a loud gulp behind him and turned to see Hinata staring at him. "Is something wrong?" He looked down. "Hey, I'm still wearing shorts and a shirt. Just take your clothes off to dry before you get sick and sit down. I don't want the food getting cold." "Alright," she said. Swallowing again she first took off her jacket and then her shirt, shoes, socks and pants. When she sat down she was bright red again, wearing only her fishnet undershirt and pants over her bra and panties. 'It's for the mission,' she thought. 'The mission. Think of the mission. Nothing else but the...' "Hinata, come on!" Naruto said. She looked up and he held out a pair of chopsticks to her. "The food!" "Oh... yes." She took it and her fingers brushed his. She felt like steam was shooting up from her skin. "Are you okay? We can move away from the fire if you want..." "I'm fine!" She said quickly. He shrugged and took his chopsticks and took a bite with them. Then he moved the cup over so she could eat. They went back and forth like that and by keeping her eyes on the food Hinata was able to keep her hands from shaking. 'I'm eating with Naruto. I'm alone and sharing food with Naruto!' Then suddenly yellow hair blocked her sight. Looking down she saw Naruto with his mouth locked around her chopsticks. He looked back up at her and pulled back, swallowing the food. "Just kidding Hinata!" He said with a grin. "Here!" He used his chopsticks and took another bite out of the bowl. "Say ah!" Hinata was too surprised to move. Without thinking her mouth hung open and Naruto moved the food into it. As a reflect her mouth slowly closed while her eyes met Naruto's. Naruto seemed to freeze too. Staring at Hinata eating he suddenly felt his cheeks heat up. It occurred to him that he was sitting half naked with, once she got out of her oversized jacket, what was a very pretty girl. Hinata's strange white eyes clashed with her black hair, which had grown in the last couple of years. Pulling back he said, "Um, anyway want to just take turns feeding each other?" Who was he kidding? Hinata was gorgeous. She could have any guy in the village. Plus she was nice, caring, and a fantastic ninja. She wouldn't be interested in a goofball like him. "Uh... okay..." She said. Naruto was surprised, but then again, she was his teammate. Why wouldn't she want to help him out? Sakura and Sasuke had done the same thing for him once. She probably thought it was just funny. Still, no reason not to go with it. Hinata took three tries to get some food onto the sticks. When she did she carefully brought them out and moved it to Naruto's mouth, which he held open wide. She almost backed away when his head shot forward again and he took a big bite. Then it was his turn again. She was just feeling less nervous about the whole thing when her sticks finally hit bottom. She peered into the cup and saw that it was completely empty. "Rats... and I'm still hungry. How about you Hinata?" "I'll be fine," she said. Then her stomach grumbled and she blushed again. "Don't worry about it," Naruto said. "Tomorrow I'll catch us something big and we can have a really big meal!" "Oh, um... that sounds... nice," she said. "Thank you for sharing with me." Naruto reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry about it. We're in this together, right?" Hinata's thoughts went something like this: Naruto is touching me. Naruto is touching me! Narutoistouchingme! Naruto..." Her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell sideways onto the floor. "Wow, she must be hungrier than I thought," Naruto said. "Or she's getting sick. Maybe we should stay her an extra day so she can rest up." He frowned. "I'll tell her I'm feeling bad though. Otherwise she'll probably insist we go ahead anyway." Besides, it wasn't like she was bad company.
In the end though, the rain let up around midnight and Naruto woke up. Looking outside he saw a wild boar out near the edge of the woods. It took him the rest of the night, but by the time he was done he had enough for breakfast, meet drying over the fire. He even found some dishes in another part of the tower that looked like an old kitchen nobody used. When Hinata woke up she was surprised to find Naruto sitting there with a plate full of crisp bacon. He was already eating and she blinked the sleep from her eyes. "Naruto?" "Hey partner, how was your night?" "Good," she said. She wasn't going to tell him what she dreamed about. "Where did this come from?" "I caught a pig last night. Took a while to clean and dress it but it was worth it. Have a bite." She took a piece of bacon. "Oh and I made something else." He held up two leather pouches. "Jiraiya always said never to let any part of the animal go to waste. He taught me the trick to drying leather fast with chakra." Hinata looked at the pouch and was impressed. It was even oiled leather, probably done with the pig fat. But it was a deep brown and as she took it, it was very smooth and covered with intricate designs that included her name. Naruto's was identical except his name was on it. "This... is for me?" "Believe it!" He said.
She brought it up to her chest. "Thank you." "Hey, it's not that big of a deal," Naruto said and looked away. "Are you feeling okay? The way you passed out last night..." "Just tired," she said. "I feel great now." "Well, if you're sure..." he said. What would Kurenai say? Be more assertive. It had been part of her advice the whole time they had known one another. "Actually I could use some rest. Since we're not actually racing." Naruto smiled at her. "Sure thing. Sometimes I forget everyone else isn't as hyperactive as me. But then I've got..." His mouth snapped shut. "Anyway, you eat as much as you can and I'll go get us some water!" He turned to leave and Hinata said, "Naruto!" "Yeah?" "You... forgot your clothes." Hinata said, looking down. "Oh... right. Sorry. Guess I got carried away." He quickly got dressed. "Well, there we go. I'll see you in a little bit. You take it easy, okay? While I'm out I'll take a look and see if I can find some berries or vegetables somewhere." Hinata nodded and waited until he was gone before she breathed again. Then she banged the heel of her hand into her head. "Stupid! You just had to remind him." Then again, it was either that or risk dieing from having 90 of her blood living in her face for too long. . Looking around nervously she got dressed and then sat there for a moment before she nervously pulled the book out of her backpack. She had been to chapter three when she had fainted. Now though, she was pretty confident she could keep reading without blacking out. After all, she had been pretty good even with Naruto close by. Wait.. hadn't he said that he had put in that thing that happened at the waterfall. She looked down and bit her lip. She had been so embarrassed when she realized he was there. She began to absently flip through the book. It was pretty well written... she had to admit that, knowing Naruto, somebody had probably spell checked it for him. It was the story of a young ninja on the road with his pervy old master. Eventually she caught sight of the word waterfall. "... As the old man slept our hero went to use the bathroom when he heard the sound of water splashing. Curious the boy moved towards the sound until out of the darkness he saw a figure dancing on the water. He couldn't see her too well, but the moonlight shining on the water reflected to illuminate her body. The boy watched as the water seemed to splash on its own in a halo around her perfect body, sparkling like diamonds..." She blushed even as she read on. The story did a drastic change in this part from what actually happened. Instead of vanishing like Hinata had, the girl in the waterfall had frozen in place when the boy fell into the water. "He stood up and walked towards her. His body trembled in raw animal lust, but he moved slowly, afraid she would leave. In the dark he still couldn't see her face, but her body tensed as if she would run, but then her arms opened in an invitation and he stepped into them, kissing her softly on the lips as her body pressed against his..." "Hinata! I'm back!" Hinata let out a tiny yell and shoved the book back in her back just as Naruto came pelting up the stairs. "Is something wrong"
"No, you just... startled me," she said. He shrugged and held out the three bamboo water containers and the blueberries he had managed to find. "Look what I found!" He moved over to her, offering her the food. As he did he accidentally bumped her back, knocking it over. The contents spilled out. "Whoops, let me help you with that!" He set his stuff down and sat to help her. "No! You don't need to..." Naruto's hand closed on the book. Hinata saw this and looked down at her shuriken, wondering if she could slit her throat before Naruto realized what it was. No. "Hey, what's this?" He picked it up and a malicious grin spread across his face. Hinata felt like she was going to melt through the floor. "So, you read these things too?" "No... I mean... only this one..." "Why?" "I heard... that you... um..." "Oh, you heard that I wrote it so you bought it?" He looked away. "Sorry Hinata. It's kind of a pervy thing to read. I wish I could claim I was just trying to stick to the pervy sage's style... but I did it all myself." "It... it's a little embarrassing," Hinata said. "But you wrote it really well. Um... I kind of felt like I was there." "Really? I know Kakashi liked it, but he's almost as much of a perv as the old man. If someone like you liked it, it might actually be pretty good. Sorry about the... you know, the adult parts." "It's okay. I mean... we're both shin obi, right"
"Right," he said, sounding relieved. "Only little kids get embarrassed about things like that, right?" She nodded and he handed the book back to her. "Hey, when we get back to the village I'll autograph it for you. Would you like that?" "Yes," she said, clutching the book to her chest. "Great. You finish reading it when tell me what you think and I'll sign it for you. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be a famous author and it'll be worth a lot of money! Believe it!" They shared the berries. There was one left in the end and Hinata insisted that Naruto take it. He did and tossed it up in the air, catching it between his teeth. "Hey, Hinata, want to go check out the rest of the tower? We haven't been here in a long time." He stood up and offered her his hand. She managed to take it, letting him help her up. he turned away, still holding her hand and ran through the hallway. She was caught off guard and had to follow behind him, enjoying the feel of her fingers in his. When Naruto finally stopped they were at a railing overlooking the arena below them. Hinata said, "This is where..." "Right! It's where I beat Kiba and you-" Lost, Hinata thought. "-finally stood up to Nedji!" Hinata looked up at him, startled. "But... I lost!" "So? You made it through the forest and got both of the scrolls. And you stood up even after the beating you took. Besides, everyone said that Nedji was a genius, even if he was a little dumb about that whole destiny thing. I bet if you'd gone up against anybody else except maybe Lee you would have totally won with those moves of yours! You probably would have even beaten me, since I wasn't mad at you and probably wouldn't have been able to stand back up like I did." "You think so?" "Believe it! And you passed later, right? If you were like you are now back then Nedji would have wet himself and gone home crying!" Hinata's heartbeat increased and she felt like she was floating. "Plus remember, I went back later and beat his face in for you"
Hinata nodded. "I remember." "And I managed to do it because you helped me with that speech you gave me just before the fight. Really helped my confidence when you made me realize that no matter how many times I get knocked down I always get back up." "You do," she said. "Nobody is perfect, but you just keep trying until you finally do it." "Yeah. Like when I learned how to use the Rasengan. It took me months and it hurt sometimes, but I did it!" He looked at her. "Or when you learned how to use that technique of yours that lets you slice through things. I can't even imagine the kind of time and effort it took you to get that down. I wouldn't even try it. I'd be too afraid of cutting off my own head or something." "It... it was easy for me," she said. She sat down, her legs hanging over the side. They were wobbly and she wasn't sure how much longer they would hold her. Focusing on the arena she said, "But it's only because of you that I was able to do that Naruto. Remembering everything you've been through and beaten gave me the courage to keep going until I got it right." "Really?" He sat down next to her. "But... why? You're way better than me. Sure I have more chakra than most people, but you've got the kind of control I couldn't even dream of. You're way better than Sakura and I'll bet with those eyes of yours you could even give Kakashi a run for his money." She smiled, her eyes focused on the ring and her mind planted in the past. "I don't think so. There are so many people better than me. Sometimes I wonder if I'm strong enough to be a ninja." Naruto snorted. "Don't give me that." She looked at him. "But..." "Hinata, don't you remember what we were taught? It doesn't matter how many jutsu you know or whether you're any good at all. The important thing is to have someone to protect. That's the secret of my success. There's been times I was getting my butt handed to me. Believe it! But when they threatened my friends... the people I care about more than I care about myself... I brought up powers I didn't even know I had. All the pain of seeing them hurt and the anger I felt to the people who did it helped me reach all new levels every time." "I know what you mean," she said, thinking of the time Naruto and her friends were all sealed in wax while giant bees came from every direction. "But if I start thinking the other way... what if I get overconfident and mess up?" "So? Like you said, I mess up all the time. But not having the confidence to try is even worse. I've done a lot of things I regret, but if I hadn't tried them I'd always wonder how it could have been and that would be too much to live with for anybody." "Naruto..." Hinata said. He turned to look at her and their eyes met. They were close. The last time they had been this close Hinata had freaked out and ended up head butting him. Now she was older, she had more control... 'I am going to throw up...' she thought. Naruto grinned and brushed some hair away from her face. "You know Hinata, when you don't duck down into your jacket it's easier to see your face. You're pretty cute. I'll bet you go out on dates all the time." "Me?" She squeaked. "Well... yeah. I mean I always figured if nothing else Kiba would have asked you out by now." :"Kiba?" She shook her head. "He's... just a friend. And I'd be way too shy to go out with some boy. And I have to work on my training." "Oh, training. Yeah, it's kind of hard to find time when you're training all the time. You should see how guys react to Sakura when she gets mad. I'm better at ninjutsu than her, but when she lets go it's like a hurricane. Especially since she became Grandma Tsunade's student. I guess that's how the great ninja families get started. Mostly we can't really date anybody else." Deciding it was time to change the subject Hinata went with, "Is Shikamaru seeing Tamari?" "He says he isn't. And I always figured that Ino and him would hook up, if she ever forgets about Sasuke. Of course if they are she might just have to marry Choji." Hinata giggled. "I think they'd be cute together." "Yeah, if he doesn't eat her first." "I don't scare you, do I Naruto?" "Nah. I mean, I respect that you're really good and might even be able to beat me, but even if you ever did get mad I don't think I'd be frightened." He nudged her. "You're too nice for that sort of thing." Hinata beamed at him from behind one of the bars of the railing. "I'm glad." They sat there for a while, just looking down into the arena. There had been four or five exams since then. Had all of them had to go through the forest? Maybe.
A small laugh drew Naruto's attention. "What?" "I was just remembering how you beat Kiba. The look on his face when you... um... broke wind." Naruto frowned. "I was just trying too hard." Then he grinned. "But I can really break wind now. Check this out." Standing up he held out his hand. Hinata watched, her eyes picking up the massive chakra he was using to form a tiny ball in his hands. It swirled around, going in several directions at ones. "Rasengan!" Jumping down from the viewing platform and hit the ground. Hinata gasped and grabbed the railing as the whole building shook. For a moment it looked like Naruto was floating with one hand down below him like he was doing handstands. Then the whirling ball of chakra opened up the ground below him and a second later he was standing at the bottom of a deep pit where the floor used to be and grinning up at her. "So Hinata, what do you think"
"That was... amazing!" She said. "There was so much power." Naruto laughed. "Well it took a lot of work. I mastered that move in three months. It took the fourth Hokage three years!" "Wow Naruto! I'm amazed you can do that. I think I'd explode if I ever channeled that much chakra." "Maybe, but you're really good at it, like I said." He hopped up and landed next to her. "Come on, let's go for a walk around the building. Unless you're too tired." "No, I feel okay," she said. Standing up she got into step next to him. "And I could use the air." Outside the sun was shining. "I guess most of the animals probably learned to avoid this place." Hinata nodded and they ambled around the building. The ground was still a little soft from the rain and the grass was wet. It tickled her toes through her sandals. "So, think we should go back inside?" Naruto asked after a while. Hinata looked at him and remembered what he had said earlier. She was going to regret this, but not trying would be so much worse. Reaching out she took Naruto's hand in hers. "No, lets keep walking." "Oh... um...alright," Naruto said. He didn't pull back, like she expected, or say that her hands were sweaty or anything. He just squeezed back, keeping his eyes on the area around them. Maybe he is a little perverted, Hinata thought, but not too much and I don't think I mind.

It was another two days later. Hinata and Naruto were now in a familiar area. "We're almost there." "I can see the village from here," she said. Naruto laughed. "You could see the village from the other side of the forest Hinata." He suddenly paused and looked around. "This place looks familiar." "Oh?" Naruto nodded and walked around for a moment before his foot slipped into a large hole in the tree branch. He looked down and saw the cone-shaped hole his foot was now caught in. There was another one a few feet away. Pulling his leg out he said, "Now I remember! This is where Orochimaru and his giant snakes attacked us!" "Giant snakes?" She asked. "Yeah, two of them. About as big as those two tree trunks over there!" Hinata suddenly hit him in the side and as they flew through the air a giant scaly head sank its fangs into the wood. "Just like that one!" They hit a tree and Hinata turned around. The "trees" Naruto had pointed out were moving towards them. "They're huge!" Suddenly Naruto jerked her back and a smaller snake flew through the spot she had been in, venom dripping from its fangs as it went past. Within seconds the whole forest around them seemed to come alive, snaked appearing in every corner of the forest. "Didn't anybody ever tell that freak that he's not supposed to leave his pets to run around loose?" The two giant snaked moved forward slowly, watching them with huge yellow eyes. "Hinata, if I handle the big ones can you take care of the little ones?" "I... I think so. But those things..." "Don't mind them. Take care of the little ones." He concentrated, the chakra in his hand building up. Hinata nodded and began focusing her own chakra. It took a lot of concentration, but she managed to squeeze it into a thin line coming out of each hand like a long needle. "Byakugan!" Her eyes focused and a second later a snake that had been about to bite her leg did so without a head. Her hands blurring with speed she sent the beam out into the woods around them, slicing through baby snakes like they weren't even there. Blood and scales fell from all over. Then she heard a giant hiss and turned to see Naruto smashing his hand against one of the snakes. Its head was knocked back, but it pulled away before the full effect of the Rasengan could hit it and while dazed the thing wasn't dead and was currently swinging around for another attack. "Naruto!" Hinata said as the snake's snout slammed into him, sending him into a tree with a loud crack. Whether it was Naruto or the wood she couldn't tell. "No!" She started to move towards him when the other snake rose up into her path. The eye in front of her reflected her face back at her, like a window. A cold intelligence gleamed there and she knew that it wasn't going to fall for any tricks. Snakes could see in infrared so even if she could pull off a clone, not her best jutsu, it would see through the illusion easily. And she didn't have time. The snake reared back and she saw white fangs the size of a human leg heading towards her. She couldn't even dodge. And then Naruto was there. He wrapped his arms around her just as the snake swallowed both of them. "Hinata, hold on! It's going to get really tight in here in a moment!' He was slightly muffled by pink flesh. "It... it's eaten us..." She said. Naruto. Naruto was going to die too. And it was her fault. He was trying to save her. Naruto was just about to make himself a lot of clones, just like the last time he was eaten, when he felt something strange. Looking down he felt chakra boiling off Hinata's body like a volcano. He'd felt stronger, but not from her. And then the chakra seemed to collapse and she opened her eyes. With a flick of her wrist she slammed her hand into the wall of the snake's side. It cut, but not deep enough. "I can't..." "Hinata, take mine," he said. He grabbed her other hand and squeezed, trying to focus. Just like when I did it with the chief toad, he thought, trying to remember how they had done the combined transformation into the nine-tailed fox. Send it through the chakra points and into Hinata's body. Suddenly Hinata's eyes flew open and so did the side of the snake. Every ounce of Naruto's chakra flew through her body and out her hand. It was only inside her for a second, but even still it was like trying to channel a thousand volts of electricity through a 260-volt connection. The snake split open as a beam of pure chakra cut it in half like a razorblade, leaving Naruto and Hinata lying wet and sticky on a branch. "Wow Hinata! That was great!" No need to tell her he had a plan. "Yeah..." she breathed deeply. "But... I can't move my body..." Hinata lay there limply. "That could be a problem," Naruto said. "Why?" "Because that other snake is coming back." She moved her eyes and out of the corner saw something move. "Naruto... please don't let it get me." "Don't worry Hinata." Sliding away from her, Naruto stood up. "I'll protect you, even if it kills me." "Naruto, no... don't get hurt..." He smiled down at her. "Hey, this is me remember. I don't intend to get beat by some big-" A tail slapped him away and Hinata saw a scaled tree trunk move over her head in pursuit. Then Naruto came back, running along the snake's body in the other direction, the giant reptile's head in close pursuit. But he ran out of running room and dropped like a stone from the tail. Hinata tried to sit up to see where he had gone, but the snake continued down after him and would have blocked her way even if she could move. Below her the snake lost track of Naruto in the leaves. It scanned the area, looking for any sign of him, but not finding it. It flicked its tongue out and caught the scent of prey on the wind, but it was coming from above. Slithering up another tree it followed the scent, until it saw Hinata lying there again. It opened its mouth and tensed to attack. Naruto popped up under it and punched the snake in the jaw. "Don't you even think about touching her!" He snarled. Hinata saw the snake's head fly back and crack against a tree as Naruto landed next to her in an attack position. She smiled, seeing him standing there, protecting her. But then she got a good look at him. This wasn't the Naruto she recognized. His hair looked longer and shaggier, his nails had grown into pointed claws, and as her eyes moved up again she saw fangs in his mouth under two red eyes with cat-like slits. "Naruto?" He didn't seem to hear her. Her growled deep inside, watching the giant snake recover. "I won't ever let you hurt Hinata!" With a small flex of his legs he launched himself forward, moving faster then should be possible. Orange light swirled around him and she saw him meet the snake head on, his fist striking the monster. It cracked the beast right in the middle of its forehead. Two yellow eyes crossed and then as Naruto back flipped off its skull the snake tumbled down through the trees and hit the ground. Naruto landed at Hinata's feet, his claws digging into the tree He turned and looked at her, his eyes still full of fire. "Are you okay?" "Naruto..." She said. "What... what are you?" He paused and looked down at his hand. He froze for a moment and made a fist, but instead of calming down more chakra came out of him. His claws dug into his hand, blood dripping onto the tree. "I... I have a demon inside of me Hinata. When I was born... the nine-tailed fox was tearing apart our village. The fourth Hokage died using his jutsu to seal the demon away... in my body. That's why all the adults in town used to treat me like they did." He turned away from her. "Sometimes, when I'm in danger, it gets out." Hinata didn't ask if it was true. She had seen what happened when Gaara attacked the village and had heard about the fox. And above all, she could sense the pure evil leaking out of Naruto's body right now. Whatever the power he was using was, it was made up of pain, and death, and a desire to bring those things to others. Naruto felt the fox inside him. It had been trying to get him to release the seal lately. Let it out. He would be so much stronger if he would just.
Warm hands wrapped around him from behind and Hinata buried her face in his neck. Holding him tight she said, "Naruto, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. If you hadn't been trying to help me this wouldn't have happened." "Hinata, it isn't your fault," he growled. "Stop apologizing." "But I can't! I can't apologize enough. I can feel this thing that's inside you. I know you Naruto and I can't imagine what it's like for someone like you... someone as kind and caring as you... to carry a burden like this. I want to help you and I don't know how!" Turning around he looked at Hinata. She looked back and saw his eyes turn from read to blue and his fangs flatten out to normal human teeth. "Hinata... you can't help me with this. It's something I just have to live with. But..." "But what?" She asked. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "But thanks for caring." He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Hinata turned her head and brought her lips to his, bringing her hands up to grab his face and pull him closer. Naruto was surprised, but too tired to care. His knees gave out and he fell backwards. Hinata was only upright because she was leaning on him and kissing Naruto she was unaware of anything else. They fell back onto the tree and lay there. Eventually she broke the kiss and just lay her head against his chest.

Back at the village as Hinata and Naruto walked down the street Tamari saw them first, nudging Shikamaru in the ribs. He turned and whistled. "Would you look at that?" The two of them were holding hands, walking together and looking only at one another. Then they looked up and saw Tamari and Shikamaru. "Hey, just who we were looking for!" Naruto said. The other two came towards them. Tamari grinned broadly and said, "I see you two are getting along. I knew if we just gave you a little time alone together you two would hit it off. I told Shikamaru you'd thank us later!" "Oh, we did," Naruto said. "And we both discussed it and decided on a way to thank all of you!" Hinata took Shikamaru and Tamari's hands in hers and smiled at them. "Thank you so much"
"Hey, no problem," Shikamaru said. "It was all Tamari's idea. But I felt kind of bad for leaving you guys alone out there so..." He used his free hand and pulled out a couple of coupons. "Here, a free meal for each of you at the ramen shop. All you can eat." Naruto snagged them. "Thanks a lot!" He put them into a pouch on his belt and something fell out. Shikamaru and Tamari looked down and saw a tube that read 'Industrial Strength Superglue! Guaranteed not to come loose! Do not allow to contact skin. Does not dissolve in sweat'
Naruto grabbed Hinata by the arm and said, "Well, we'd better get going. Come on Hinata." Suddenly four running figured came into view. Tenten and Nedji ran hand in hand followed by Rock Lee and Kurenai attached to Tenten's other hand. "Naruto! Hinata! Get back here and get us out of this!" The two of them took off leaving Shikamaru and Tamari in a cloud of dust. They coughed and tried to reach up to block their faces. But the hands that Hinata had held were still holding each other. "Let go!" They both said at once. "I'm not holding on!" Then, like a magnet, their eyes were drawn to the superglue again. "Naruto! Hinata! Come back here!" Joining the other four they started chasing after the two of them. "Think of it as time alone together!" Naruto called over his shoulder. "You'll thank us later!" Hinata added. Laughing the two of them sped up, the others close behind. Out of the eight of them only Hinata and Naruto were still holding hands because they wanted to.

Author's Note I just spent three days watching the first 100 episodes of Naruto on Cartoon Network. I had to do this. Besides, everyone who has seen the scene with Hinata at the waterfall knows she's the best match for Naruto. Sakura can't get him. She's a redhead and outside of hentai the redhead almost never gets the main character. Email me and tell me what you think of this fic. But don't tell me if I misspelled any of the names unless you're sure you're right. And before you complain, I know a lot of them repeated themselves. They do in the show too.

Hinata: (Always blushes, especially around Naruto)
Naruto: Believe it!
Shikamaru: This is such a drag...

And so on.