Chapter 1: Revelation
"... and we were both just getting sick of the old pervert trying to set us up, so we decided to teach him a lesson," Naruto Uzumaki placed his hands behind his head with a grin. Shikamaru Nara smirked back, nodding slightly.
"What did you do?" Sakura Haruno asked, seemingly aghast. But in her mind, another Sakura shouted, 'YEAH! Serves the old goat right!'
The so-called Rookie Nine had been brought back to the Academy to give a presentation of Ninjutsu and Taijutsu to the students. The trio in question had gone first, and afterwards had gotten to talking in the back of the room. Even after the class had filed out, the three teen ninja had hung around, catching up.
"We agreed to go on a date," Naruto answered Sakura's question, "But we planned it ahead so almost everything would go wrong. Like during dinner I kept talking about all the great girls of the Konoha; glamorous Ino, fiery Sakura, cute Hinata. Then I spilled something on her dress. But I told you she wanted to be an actress, right? Well every time I messed up she managed to look a little more into me..."
Hinata Hyuga was wandering the halls, remembering her time own time in school. When she heard familiar voices she started to join them, but then her natural shyness stopped her, and she stood outside the door, listening.
"… so we where standing in front of these stone pillars. She is looking at me with these huge eyes. And her stare, and her body language, they are screaming 'I love you. Accept me.' It was so ludicrous; it was all I could do to keep from laughing. I mean after all that…" Naruto shook his head with a huge grin. Shikamaru nodded, and Sakura stifled a chuckle.
"And she was obviously not my type. She was so sheltered, and she probably couldn't even throw a kunai halfway straight. I was basically trapped there, trying to think of what to say next…"
SMACK!! Before any of the trio had noticed, Hinata had crossed the room, and slapped Naruto full in the face.
"Hinata?" Naruto croaked in surprise.
"I won't take that. Not even from you. Even if you figured out that I love you. Even if you saw me almost naked at that waterfall," Tears were running down the Kunoichi's cheeks, and her body shook slightly.
"I thought you were better than that. I… I…" Hinata turned and started to run away; but Naruto was faster. He wrapped his arms around her, and held her gently even as she struggled to get away.
"You thought I was talking about before the finals of the Chunin exams, in front of the training stones," he said softly, remembering, "Back when you gave me the boost I needed to fight Neji. But I wasn't. I was telling them about a joke this girl and I played on Jiraiya just before I came back."
He released her, and she didn't move, so he continued, "I know all to well what it is like, so I would never make fun of someone else. Especially not you, who was always kind to me."
He gently turned her, so he could look into her eyes, "Especially not for being in love with someone who doesn't notice or acknowledge you. I know how that feels, too. I used to have a huge crush on Sakura. I though I was in love with her. But she only had eyes for Sasuke. She thought I was annoying. That's why I understand how you feel. I know..,"
Naruto trailed off, and looked down. Then he looked back at Hinata, with a touch of worry. He reached up and scratched his right cheek.
"Hinata, my life is pretty much a mess right now. But when things settle down, if you're still interested, maybe we could go out some time?"
The daughter of the Hyuga clan turned bright red, and her white eyes grew wide as saucers.
"We could go get lunch…"
Hinata held her breath.
"… and you know, talk. Get to know each other better."
It appeared as if most of her blood had rushed to Hinata's head. She rocked back and forth slightly, as if to faint. Then she took control with a shudder and glanced up at Naruto again.
"I… um… I would like that," she answered. Then she executed a quick bow, and ran from the room. She did not go far, however. She stopped just outside the door; feeling like her heart was going to leap out of her chest.
"Heh," Shikamaru grunted, "I don't know if I should wish you luck or offer my condolences."
"That was very nice of you, Naruto," Sakura said. The golden haired ninja turned to face her, and a look of sadness settled onto his face.
"It might seem that way Sakura, but it really wasn't. Between Sasuke, and Orochimaru, and the Akatsuki, I probably won't live long enough for my life to get less hectic. No, the nice thing to do would have been to let Hinata down easy. To tell her I was flattered, but there was no chance. And I knew that even as I asked her out."
"Then why?" his teammate asked. Listening outside, Hinata brought her hands to her mouth in a familiar gesture of fear and worry.
"I wish I could say I was thinking strategically like Shikamaru," Naruto answered, "That I was expecting to need Hinata's help at some future point, and I was banking on her feelings to make sure she would be willing. But we all know that's not me. I'm not that smart or that cold."
"Sorry Shikamaru, you know what I mean," he waved his hand at the lazy genius in supplication before continuing, "No, the reason was that, looking at Hinata at that moment, so angry, so heartbroken, but still standing up to me, something changed. I've always known Hinata was kind and smart, if a little too shy. But I realized she's stronger and braver than most people give her credit for, even me, and especially herself. And she's a great Ninja."
Then he grinned, just a little, remembering, "And she may have been ultra-cute three years ago, but she's become a real beauty."
Hinata felt wetness on her cheeks again, but this time she was crying for a different reason.
"And at that point, I started crushing on Hinata a little. I thought, 'I could fall in love with this woman. We could be happy together.'"
Then he chuckled ironically, "So I wasn't being kind to Hinata, or thinking strategically. I was being purely selfish. I saw a chance for my future happiness, and I wasn't willing to let it go."
He sighed, "But I can't do that to Hinata. I have to go after her. I'll tell her I was leading her on. Maybe I'll tell her that 'using her feelings strategically' stuff. If she hates me, it will be easier for her to find someone better for her."
For the third time in less than an hour, Hinata Hyuga shocked even herself with her brazenness. She stepped back into the classroom, and shouted, "I don't think she will believe you."
The other three all turned to stare at her in amazement. As the normally withdrawn girl turned away, they were amazed to hear something they had never heard before. Clear as a bell, and full of joy, Hinata laughed as she ran away.
"HINATA, wait!" Naruto ran after her, "I knew you were still there!"
"That girl is developing a bad habit of eavesdropping," Shikamaru noted, "Catch you later, Sakura."
"Yeah, later Shikamaru," Sakura waved to him. As he exited, a more thoughtful look crossed her face. And for once, Inner Sakura was not energetic. Instead the mental projection almost looked sad.
'He was in love with me?' Inner Sakura asked, the word 'was' in a giant thought bubble over her head.
Hinata had lead Naruto on a merry chase back to the training stones. Whether she had had a plan or not, when they first arrived, all they could do was pant, catching their breath.
"Um, Naruto," Hinata finally said, back to her normal demeanor, "If you are in trouble… well, uh, maybe we could train together? I might not be as good as Shino or Kiba, but I'll try not to hold you back."
"Hinata, that would be great," Naruto enthused, "There's no way you'll hold me back. We can both get stronger."
Then he settled down, a shyly rubbed his finger under his nose, "And get to know each other."
"Uh-huh," she nodded, smiling again.