Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Summary: This story follows from Chapter 20 Part 1.

Author's Note: I hoped you have enjoyed this story thus far and I must apologise for the huge, huge delay. So much has happened in the last few years. The story has been almost completed for a while now but I got rather stuck on a particular passage. The sad thing is ... there is now a part 3 as I just wanted to get something out for you to read.

You have been warned: Language, Manga Spoilers, Strong Sexual themes and Violence.

"Jutsu" means Jutsu name

"Inner Sakura/Kyuubi means Inner Sakura or Kyuubi speaking

"Inner Thoughts/Flashback" means Inner Thoughts of a person or a Flashback when stated

CHAPTER 20: There's a Beginning (Part 2)

Drifting aimlessly on a floor that was not there, in a world no longer constructed of endless catacombs but rather resembling a relentless blue sky that stretched as far as the eye could see; Naruto feared his existence nothing but a fleeting dream. Even the Kyuubi's concrete prison which drifted in bewildering synchronisation under the influence of the billowing breeze that inundated this unearthly void, seemed to pale in comparison but then again; perhaps his concern as unfounded as the ground beneath his feet.

"YOU SURPRISED ME ..." The Kyuubi grumbles as it slowly opens its bloodshot eyes; its red coat bristling with the promise of a battle that had only just begun.

Sitting cross-legged and with his arms folded across his chest in thoughtful deliberation, Naruto could feel the intensity of its murderous gaze boring into the back of his skull, though its surprise sounded oddly genuine. After their last encounter, he wasn't sure which disturbed him more, "Yeah ... I do that."


"No." Naruto answers absentmindedly.

"MORE CHAKRA THEN ..." The glimmer in the Kyuubi's eyes hinting at something unbeknown.

"I don't need your blasted chakra ..."

"HA HA HA …" Baring his fangs into a ravenous smile, the Kyuubi's laughter rumbled like the sound of distant thunder, "… YOU WILL"

"This is my head you stupid fox ..." Naruto snarls defensively; his patience nearing its end, "I don't need a reason to be here." Having shared this body nearly his entire life, there was none, alive or dead, who knew him better. It was a sad admission but it was the truth. The fox knew how to get under his skin; how to tempt him; how to bend him. It was a strange bond but one he had grown accustomed too; one he wondered whether he would miss.


Naruto's ears twitched.


With one hand resting lightly on the rise and fall of his chest and the other running through his scruffy blond hair as his head lay nestled within the warm confines of her lap, Hinata revelled in being so close to the boy she had so longed to be with. It felt like a lifetime ago since their lips had last met; so much had transpired since. Sadly, much of it had revolved around Sakura.

"Sakura ..." As though a chill had washed over her barely clad frame; Hinata shudders and closes her eyes. For a long time she had called her friend, putting aside the aching jealousy which threatened to tear her heart in two. She had become so accustomed to the feeling she had forgotten it was there but she could feel it now; tugging at her heart strings and stifling her lungs of air. She could recall with horrifying clarity the moment it was given birth; the day Iruka-sensei had announced the members of Team Seven.

"Naruto-kun …" Hinata croaks as she gives him another gentle shake. She wanted him to wake so she could end this train of thought.

She had no right; her chance had passed and it was her turn now. For years Sakura had abused his friendship; had relied on his strength and the strength of his conviction but all she had ever given him in return was pain.

"Pain …"

As loathe as she was to admit it, she too was not free from blame.

"No ... Please no ..." Inner Hinata pleads as the haunting images came seeping back seemingly of their own volition.

"Too late ..."

His eyes, usually of such a heavenly blue, had dimmed to a life-less grey; his face; barely recognisable; crushed beyond repair; his body contorted in ways that shouldn't be and blood; so much blood; an unimaginable nightmare too cruel for her mind to bear. Naruto had died at the hands of those he cherished most; slain by those who claimed had loved him.

Inner Hinata turns a ghastly shade of white; struck speechless by the memory she had tried so desperately to repress.

"I am so sorry …" Hinata sobs in aching desperation; unsure of what to do with her trembling hands; hands that had put an end to the beating of his heart; hands she could have sworn could not have been her own.

Collapsing to all fours, Inner Hinata begins to heave; she felt sickened to her core.

Hinata couldn't bear the thought of the finality of his death; of a world without him; the emptiness; the pain; it would consume her. Better he lived; even if it meant he ended up with someone else.

"SOMEONE ELSE …?" Inner Hinata slams her fists down against an unseen floor as the tears cascaded down her reddening face, "NARU-"

"Yes." Hinata heard herself answer as if to strengthen her resolve. No longer would she let her mind fester on things she could not change; Naruto had taught her that. She would fight for his affection but should he find love elsewhere; she would love him still and find peace for at least he would be amongst the living.


"I am going to kick your arse!" Naruto stammers unconsciously as he lashes out with his feet at something that was not there.

Inner Hinata had to blink to mask her surprise.

"Don't you laugh at me …" Naruto starts punching at thin air with a strength that wouldn't have subdued a fly, "… Take that and that!"

"Naruto …" Wiping away her tears as the sound of his voice calmed her bleeding heart, Hinata couldn't help but impart a simpering laugh. Ironically, this was the second time in as many nights she had found herself by his side, waiting for him to wake. Thankfully this had been but a breeze compared with last night's hurricane.

Inner Hinata gasps in horrifying recollection, "WE FORGOT THE ROPE!"

"Stupid fox … I wasn't hiding ..." Slowly awakening as his vision blurred into focus; Naruto found himself gazing into Hinata's fretful eyes; her soft lips silently mouthing the remnants of his name.

"Naruto-kun ... Are you alright?" Tilting her head to one side, Hinata felt as though she was back at the academy; so afraid was she to speak to him; for a moment she even forgot why she had brought him here.

"Quick! No time!" Inner Hinata panics as she thrust a finger in his direction, "Sit on him."

Lifting himself up, albeit a tad delicately, Naruto had to pause once seated to let his mind catch up, "Err … Yeah … I am fine …"

Staring at his back, Hinata had to bite her lip and grimace just to stop from forcing him back down. The way he moved; the distant timbre of his voice; she knew his words were hollow.

"Well as good as can be expected considering this blasted headache!" Naruto adds emphatically as he kneads his forehead with the fingers of his hand. Glancing towards his crotch before turning himself around, he felt a great deal better knowing his resultant slip into unconsciousness had provided the much needed distraction he was after but still, it was time he faced the music and proved the fox was wrong.

"Headache …" Hinata stammers awkwardly as the surprise admission sent her mind reeling, "From the fall you mean?"

For a moment Naruto had forgotten how to blink; he wasn't even sure he could. With her legs tucked up under her and draping off alluringly to her right; Hinata looked as though she was mimicking a pose out of one of Jiraiya-sensei's secret magazines; and her dress wasn't helping; neither was her demeanour.

Hinata blushes as she catches Naruto's eye. It was all too brief and easy enough to explain away if caught but having spent so much time with him she was becoming familiar with his little nuances.

Inner Hinata beams proudly, "Well … I guess we can sit on him later."

"Umm … No …" Naruto splutters as he clears his wayward thoughts; he wasn't going to fall for that trap a second time; especially considering this could be his chance, "Not really. I've had it for a while ..."

"Could it be? …" Hinata thought.

"Is this headache why you … arr …" Hinata grimaces as she attempts to find a more apt description, "… can't speak to the wind?" Sadly, nothing more came to mind.

"Well. Yeah. Kind of ..." Naruto replies reluctantly. Admittedly there was a little more to it than but something about the question seemed a little out of place.

Hinata dips her head and frowns in thought; it was a bitter-sweet feeling knowing she had been right but something so simple? It wasn't as though she wasn't relieved but she couldn't help but wonder. So many questions and not enough time; the rest would have to wait until later.

"Hey wait a minute …" Naruto exclaims with a burst of sudden surprise, "How did you know?"

"Oh … arr …" Hinata blushes; she didn't want to dwell on the question for too long; the answer could prove rather distracting, "Well …You seemed surprised to see me; that's all … Back there in the dining room."

"Good one!" Inner Hinata nods approvingly; it wasn't entirely the truth but it really wasn't a lie either.

"Hmm …" Naruto nods, "I guess I was."

"Can I do anything?" Hinata asks; wanting to shift the spotlight.

"Don't worry …" Inner Hinata was holding a bandaid, "I got this one."

Pushing her hair back behind her ear; Hinata looks down thoughtfully, "I may have some balm in my room which might help?"

"You're a genius." Inner Hinata had never looked so serious.

"Nah …" Naruto grins in an attempt to put her mind at ease, "I am sure all I need is some food and a good night's sleep and I will be as good as new. Believe it!"

"Oh …" Hinata smiles. Considering his words and taking solace in the fact that he seemed alright and tonight he would be hers alone; at least to some degree, she didn't see any reason why they should linger any longer, "Did you want to head back then? …" Besides, she was beginning to worry his absence may soon be noted.

"Well ... Actually ... Before we do ..."

"ENOUGH!" Hiashi shouts as he veers his gaze around the room. For too long he had stayed his hand hoping this madness would find its end but with the arrival of Hinata and her subsequent abduction of their guest there were still those who were arguing amongst themselves; some even taking Naruto's words to heart and berating themselves for bowing so easily to their defeat. Others, for reasons he did not know, were fighting to leave the room, some with byakugan eyes, but the tide of battle showed no winners, only casualties on both sides.

With his youngest unconscious and the elder to his right still staring into space, Hiashi realised he only had himself to blame. Duty, destiny, deficient; Naruto had taken it upon himself to defend his daughters and had shown them a world where anything was possible if you had the will; the desire; to chase after it with everything you've got. To his clan and himself he was an enigma but he was the epitome of everything this village stood for; he knew that now; he was beginning to think Hinata had known it from the start.

Turning his shame into anger, Hiashi slams his hands against the table and launches himself to his feet, "I SAID ... ENOUGH!"

"BUT NARUTO ..." He heard someone cry in almost immediate response; her voice laced with doubt as she sought the courage to remain defiant.

"... IS WITH HINATA ..." Hiashi finishes and with one solitary look, dared them to question the integrity of his eldest daughter though admittedly, he would have to have a few words to her about the selection of her dress.

Amid the clamouring silence, amid the many, still with byakugan eyes, Hiashi let his anger have free reign. "FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO THINK THIS IS A SPARRING GROUND ..." With his voice thundering to every corner of the room; never before had he been so close to calling upon the use of his curse mark, "THINK AGAIN! ... I SHALL HAVE ORDER IN MY HOUSE ..."

Suddenly, Hiashi could only frown in wonder as the unsettling air of the unfamiliar managed to accomplish what even he himself could not, "What ... what was that ...?"

The fleeting surge of chakra was incomprehensible to fathom; impossible to ignore; even those too young to walk had stopped to listen; to feel; grasping at the air for something that was not there but was. It came from everywhere and nowhere; it held no malice; it was not evil; it was purity at its most surreal but as quickly as it had arrived, it had gone; whisked away by the wind as though it did not belong.


"Father ...?" Hanabi's whimper was a roar amid the deafening silence as she pushed herself up off the floor.

Naruto never wanted to do that again; he would have shouted the words at the top of his lungs if it meant that it would come true, "I should have asked Shikamaru when I had the chance. He knows a lot about girls …" Although he wasn't entirely certain that would have actually helped considering what happened. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more his preamble seemed to consist of reasons why she should say no.

"I have a demon fox sealed in me and if I lose control I might kill you …"Naruto mutters in a high pitched voice; his mocking mannerisms attempting to make light of something he in fact said, "Good one! As if she forgot …" He wished he could say it had ended there but to his dismay it had been but one of many; they just kept coming out; one stupid remark after another, "I'm not as smart as Shikamaru … People are trying to kill me … I sleep too much … I am messy … I'm still a genin … I am a pervert … I may not be human …" The first was an understatement; the last gave him pause; and these were but a few of those he could remember.

Miraculously, it had been her eyes which had saved him from imploding; never had he seen such disbelief; such scorching determination; they had enveloped him and smothered him from within. It was then the words flowed; not from his head but from his heart; his feelings lain bare; given a voice and set adrift amongst the billowing breeze of the crisp evening air.

She had listened then as his mind digressed and his story unfolded; pursing her lips, not a word had she spoken; only the sound of the wind could he hear as its essence, he knew, began to weave in melody around her, like a song; twisting and turning, spinning faster than slower. His feelings made real by the part that was the wind. Too engrossed in his narration, she could not tell but upon his completion, when the weave unravelled and billowed through her hair, it was then her eyes grew distant; he knew she was not there. Still unsure as to what had caused it, still waiting for her to blink, as he frowned in her direction, he didn't know what to think.

"First that old man and now this …" Naruto leans forward to poke her in the face, "Maybe I should have asked after dinner ..."

"Naruto-kun asked me to be his girlfriend …"

"Did Naruto-kun just ask me to be his girlfriend?" Unknowingly fractured from her outer self, Inner Hinata could only stare in wonder.

"His girlfriend …"

"Naruto-kun asked me to be his girlfriend …"

Hinata was still in a state of shock though strangely, she couldn't stop from smiling. From the outset, although much of what he said was still a blur, she could have sworn he was trying to scare her off or perhaps put an end to her affection. In the midst of her confusion she had even thought it just a ruse to brace her for the decision made; a decision that had not gone her way, to save her from the pain. But why now, why Sakura? Had something happened between the two? Hadn't he liked her dress? She remembered then the nausea as the blood rushed from her head but on the cusp of losing consciousness she realised he wanted her to walk away; to give up without a fight; it was not about her pain at all, she would be making the decision for him. Rage had then fuelled her mind; she had felt her soul ignite.

"Maybe it was a dream …" Inner Hinata thought reflectively.

For everything he said, she had a counter. Every time he put himself down, she pulled him back up. She refused to let his onslaught faze her. So what if he was a pervert; so what if he was messy. She loved him for who he was. Never had she been so determined; it flowed through her veins like fire.

"It felt so real …"

But then, after he said those words; as she beseeched his soul for answers; she could see the desperation in his eyes; the belief in his demeanour; he really thought he was not human. Nothing could have hurt her more; he had thrown fuel upon her fire. How dare he?

"I was so angry …" Inner Hinata frowns.

Like the calm before the storm, the world was silent then as she battled to contain the tempest that was brewing inside her. She wanted to let him have it, to slap him across the face; it seemed the only way to free him of his delusion, for her pain to have its retribution but as a calming breeze infused her soul quelling her desire, he looked away; his eyes downcast and began speaking to her of the morning; of a photograph that sat alongside his bedroom clock.

"He seemed so peaceful …" Inner Hinata remarks curiously, "Resigned almost …"

He told her it was of Sakura and she thought that she would die but before she could even whimper; before she could say she'd change it was then her world upended as she felt the wind around her and it whispered to her, her name.

But Hinata … as I sat there staring at this photograph, all I could think about … all I wanted ... was something to remind myself of you …

"Of me ..." Inner Hinata's face reddens as the memory of his voice still lingered.

Too afraid to break her silence; too shocked to say a word; he continued unabated as he looked back in her direction and spoke to her of the academy; of how he had thought only one person had acknowledged his existence but he knew now there were two.

I know now that it was you …

He spoke to her of the exams, of her fight with Neji, of how she had been selfless, kind and brave. He spoke to her of the days that followed, of her growing strength, of his wonder and surprise. He spoke to her of how he had been stupid, prone to foolishness and pride.

I should have seen it sooner …

Inner Hinata held her face in her hands and cried.

He spoke to her of their training; of stolen moments; of her courage and his joy. He spoke to her of his secret, of the demon he held inside. He spoke to her of her will of fire; of her beauty; of her tenderness and grace, of how he missed her arms around him and the feeling of her embrace.

"WAAHAHHHH" Inner Hinata cries as she reaches out with her arms to give him a hug.

She wanted to run, to hide; to throw herself into his arms and cry but her limbs wouldn't move; only the sound of his voice could she hear as the memories of which he spoke of wove themselves around her and spun into a wavering reflection of the times they once shared; but too engrossed in his narration; too entranced by his eyes; what was happening around her must have been a dream, a delusion made of air.

So …Hinata-chan …

And then there was silence and with it; the world stopped.

I was wondering … well, I …

For the last thing she remembered as she felt her heart soar was that he had asked her the question she had been hoping for.

I wanted to know if you would like to be my girlfriend …

Hinata blinks.

"Naruto-kun asked me to be his girlfriend …" Inner Hinata repeats as she slumps to her knees in exhausted disbelief.

Hinata smiles; she felt like she would cry, "He did ..."

"HINATA ..." Naruto shouts with visible relief as he pulls his hand back and stops himself from what he had been about to do, "Are you alright?"

Ignoring the question as her eyes welled with tears; Hinata launches herself into his arms as a solitary tear cascaded down her reddening face.

"Oomph" Naruto grunts as he catches her in his arms and he falls backwards to the floor.

"You didn't have to say all that ..." Hinata laughs softly as she closes her eyes and rests her head against his shoulder, "Of course I will be your girlfriend."

"This is the best day of my life ..." Inner Hinata sobs as she wipes her tears away with the back of her forearm.

"Eh! ... Really ...?" Naruto smiles in unexpected surprise but as he felt the wind surge in response to his soul's jubilation, with her straddling his lap and his arms wrapped around her, all he could think about as he found his mind reeling was how beautiful she looked and how good this was all feeling.

"Uh-huh ..." Inner Hinata whimpers.

Hinata nods as she handed to him her heart, "I used to always cry and give up ... I nearly went the wrong way but you ... you showed me the right way." Unfurling herself from his arms, she places her hands on his chest and pushes herself up, "I was always chasing you ... wanting to over-take you ... But I just wanted to walk with you ... to be with you. You changed me. Your smile saved me. So I'm not afraid ... I would sacrifice my life to protect you ... So yes, I am sure ..."

"I guess it can't be helped ..." Oblivious to their current predicament and the hardening of something beneath where she sat, Inner Hinata sighs despondently before staggering to her feet, "We better go and tell Sakura ..."

"Ah-hem …" Hiashi coughs loudly as he approached the pair in a deliberate attempt to make his presence known.

"Eh ..." Naruto's eyes widened in stark realisation.

"No wait ..." Stopping momentarily, Inner Hinata had given it some more thought, "Hanabi first then Sakura ..."

Extract from Manga 348

So much for waiting until morning though moving under the cover of night did have its advantages, "Mind if I ask you something?" Strangely, ever since exiting the catacombs, Suigetsu got the feeling that Sasuke was worried about something and to his surprise; it wasn't him or his recently acquired sword.

"Go for it."

"Why are you rounding people up?" Perhaps this uneasiness stemmed from the fact they were nearing Orochimaru's northern hideout. Strangely, not even the water beneath his feet seemed to dull his concern.

"I've got a certain plan I need to carry out ... One that can be accomplished more efficiently with a full platoon."

"So why me?"

"I've been planning this ever since I came to Orochimaru. I picked you all out a long time ago." Sasuke answers.

"So why Karin? She's devoted to Orochimaru … unlike us. She'd be the last person I'd go after if I were you. She and I were both experimented on a lot, plus she's got a shitty attitude."

Sasuke veers his gaze towards what would be the first of three, "I'll admit there are a plenty of other strong shinobi that I could have recruited but she's got unique abilities. I need her."

"She's unique. I'll give her that."

Authors Note: Hold onto your seats for Part 3 of this chapter …

Reviews welcome.