Title: One Small Step

Author: Shawny Wong

Pairing: Naruto/Hinata

Theme: #17 kHz (kilohertz)

Disclaimer: The characters of Naruto belong to Kishimoto Masashi. This story is written without permission, for fan purposes only. Do not reproduce without permission.

Summary: What if Hinata had actually found the courage to approach Naruto at the Academy? How would befriending him change their lives? Drastic changes are the result of one small step.

Chapter 9a: Blowing a Kiss

Naruto slowly dropped to the ground panting and took deep breaths to restore oxygen to his exhausted body. He was dirty, dead tired, and so very hungry that he'd passed the stomach aching stage and moved on to the light headed stage long ago! He hadn't slept in three days and hadn't eaten in two. Despite his physical discomforts, he was elated. If he'd had the energy, he'd be jumping for joy.

I did it! I finally mastered the bushin no jutsu!

He looked around the tiny clearing at the seven…


… clones of himself. They all looked just like him – with the same dirty grass stains on their identical orange T-shirts, complete with matching twigs in their hair. None of them were deformed! Not a single one looked unhealthy or pale! He finally mastered his worst technique – the one that would have prevented him from graduating with Hinata – and it was all thanks to her.

Naruto had always had poor chakra control. He'd had no idea why his chakra control was so bad until Hinata used her Byakugan to examine his chakra coils more closely when they were ten. She found them to be unusually large and almost constantly full no matter how often he performed the standard Academy techniques. He didn't understand the correlation between large chakra coils and poor chakra control until Hinata used a water analogy to explain it to him. If chakra was like water, then most Academy students had about a bathtub worth of chakra at their disposal; Naruto had small lake at his.

"Isn't that a good thing?" he wondered aloud. "More is better. Right?"

Hinata only shook her head. Then she gently explained to him that while more chakra was better – for performing more high-ranked jutsu – it was a bad thing for chakra control. The more chakra he had, the harder it was to control. Most Academy students could use a cup to pull a percentage of their "water" into productive techniques. Naruto had a cup, too – except he had too much "water." Although he pulled the same percent of "water" out, he was actually getting a lot more "water" than all the other students. So his "water" kept spilling out of his cup every time he tried to use it.

It wasn't a perfect analogy, but Naruto got it.

Too much chakra was bad for learning how to control it.

On the bright side, he would probably have an easier time learning high-ranking, chakra-intensive ninjutsu… someday… far in the future. Currently, it made learning basic ninjutsu at the Academy very difficult. For some reason, the bushin no jutsu (clone technique) gave him the most trouble. Two weeks before graduation, Naruto was beginning to panic. He still couldn't make proper clones! What was he going to do?

I have to graduate with Hinata. I just have to!

Just the thought of being separated from Hinata made him sick – and panicky. What would he do without his best friend? And if Hinata graduated and became a ninja before he did, then she would be sent out on missions without him. What if she got hurt on a mission because he wasn't there to help her? A tiny part of him wondered why he wanted… needed… to stay with Hinata so badly, but the rest of him ruthlessly squashed that tiny part and buried it deep in his subconscious. (Naruto stubbornly refused to examine his feelings for Hinata too afraid of what he might find.)

I just have to graduate with Hinata. That's all.

But that was easier said than done. Until, his brilliant best friend came up with the most brilliant idea ever!

A few days ago…

"What is chakra?" Hinata asked suddenly at lunchtime. Her chopsticks stopped in midair with a rice ball halfway to her mouth.

Naruto looked bemused.

"Huh? You know the answer to that already, Hinata-chan. That's stuff we learned when we were seven!"

"Humor me, Naruto-kun," Hinata said slowly. "I think I have an idea."

"Chakra is the combination of mental, physical, and spiritual energies in the body."

"… combination of mental, physical, and spiritual energies…" she muttered. "What if… what if we're doing it all wrong?"

"What do you mean? Doing what all wrong?" Naruto asked completely lost.

"We've been trying to improve your chakra control to the point where you can perform the bushin no jutsu properly. Right? Improving chakra control takes a long time – a lifetime even, if you want to become a medic-nin – especially since your natural chakra reserves are so high. We don't have that much time because graduation is in less than two weeks."

"Yeah," Naruto agreed glumly. He put aside his cup ramen at the reminder of his impending doom. He wasn't hungry anymore.

"What if you had smaller chakra stores… temporarily? If you had the same amount of chakra as a normal Academy student, wouldn't your control be just as good? It might even be better considering how often you practice the chakra control exercises from that training scroll," she said, referring obliquely to the Hyuuga training scroll she had copied for him.

"Yeah. But we tried that already. Remember? I can't burn through enough chakra fast enough. All we know are D-ranked Academy jutsu! I can perform those all day and all night and not drain my chakra significantly. And as soon as I get a little bit of rest, I'm back up at 100 percent!" It was odd how quickly he recovered his chakra.

"Mental, physical, and spiritual energies." Hinata ticked off each point with her fingers and turned to him in excitement. "You can't drain enough chakra by using the D-ranked techniques we know. But what if you drained chakra's component energies? I don't know how to drain spiritual energy, but what about mental and physical energies? Couldn't you drain those?"

Naruto's eyes lit up. "Yes!"

Naruto forced himself to stay awake three nights in a row. To further drain his mental energy, he spent those nights studying and reviewing all the genin-level training scrolls Hinata checked out of the Konoha Library for him. He even borrowed several basic science textbooks from Iruka-sensei and read them from cover to cover! By the start of each morning, his head was swimming with facts and he was so mentally exhausted that he wasn't sure he could spell his own name anymore! The days were no easier than the nights. He skipped out on the last two days of classes in order to put himself through an intense physical workout that would have made Gai-sensei proud. He alternated between laps, conditioning exercises, and katas for hours on end. He didn't give himself any time to rest because he was afraid that he would fall asleep if he did. To further drain his physical energy, he skipped his meals, too. By the end of three days, Naruto was so physically exhausted that if he had to spar against a rabbit right now, Naruto was sure that the rabbit would win.

Then came the moment of truth.

"Bushin no jutsu!"

Seven perfect clones popped into existence.

Yes! I did it! Naruto dropped to the ground ecstatic and completely worn out.

"Congratulations, Naruto-kun! I knew you could do it!"

"Thanks, Hinata-chan. I couldn't have done it without you." Naruto looked up at Hinata and gave her a tired grin. "It was your idea. You are absolutely brilliant!"

Naruto closed his eyes and attempted to stifle a yawn, so he didn't see the instant blush that colored Hinata's cheeks at his words.

"Oh man! I'm so tired and hungry! At least, I mastered the bushin no jutsu in time for graduation!" He was suddenly struck by an unpleasant thought. Naruto groaned in dismay. "Oh no! I have to do this again right before graduation, don't I?"

Hinata giggled at the pitiful look on his face.

"I'm afraid so, Naruto-kun. Cheer up! You made perfect clones. Now that you can do the bushin no jutsu, the graduation exam will be a breeze for you. Here," she said pulling an enormous bento box out of her backpack. "I made you lunch."

"Thanks, Hinata-chan! You're a lifesaver!"

The day of their graduation exam was bright and sunny with not a single cloud in the sky.

Instead of their normal morning classes, students in their last year of the Academy gathered in the main dojo for the first of three exams: the taijutsu exam. It was held tournament style. Students didn't have to win their matches to pass the taijutsu portion of the final exam as long as they demonstrated proficiency in hand-to-hand combat. Points were awarded based on performance. However, the taijutsu tournament was also used to rank the students within the class – and extra points were awarded based on rank. (The winner of the tournament automatically received an additional thirty points. The second ranked student received 25 additional points. And the student who placed last in the tournament received no additional points.)

Though Naruto – who had not slept nor eaten in the last two days before the exam – was not at his best, he still managed to rank within the top five. Under the circumstances, Naruto was amazed that he'd done so well. Years of hard work and training under Maito Gai had given him skills in taijutsu that were far superior to most of his peers. He won his first three matches quickly even though he was fighting on autopilot and moving slower than normal. (Naruto silently thanked his lucky stars for giving him opponents that sucked at taijutsu!) Unfortunately, the opponent for his forth match was Uchiha Sasuke – and Sasuke was no pushover. Fighting against Sasuke required more speed, energy, and concentration than Naruto had to give. After a few minutes, Naruto was a split second too slow to dodge a roundhouse kick and was unceremoniously knocked out of the ring.

Naruto grimaced. He had passed the taijutsu portion of the exam with flying colors and ranked better than he had expected. But… He had lost to Sasuke of all people! Why couldn't he have lost to Hinata? Or Shino? Even losing to Kiba would have been better than losing to Sasuke!

The bastard's too stuck up by far. Ugh! His I'm-better-than-you attitude makes me want to puke. Now he's going to be unbearable. He'll rub this win in my face for years. I just know it! I'm sure I could have won… if only…

Naruto's stomach growled. He sighed.

if only I'd had breakfast first.

The second exam took place in their regular classroom. It was a written exam that touched on all the subjects they had learned throughout their years at the Academy, including history and basic strategy. After staying up two nights in a row studying scrolls and reading science textbooks – not to mention years of Hinata's studious influence – Naruto could have passed the written exam in his sleep. As it was, the hardest part of the written exam was trying to stay awake long enough to finish taking it!

"Naruto-kun? Are you okay?"

"What?" Naruto jumped in surprise and looked around the empty classroom. When had they collected the written exams? "Oh. Hinata-chan. Sorry about that. I must have spaced out. Did you say something?"

Hinata bit her lip. She didn't like seeing him so exhausted. And…

This is all my fault!

"Would you like to go outside? We have an hour before the ninjutsu exam. We don't have to be back here until after lunch."

Naruto's stomach growled again – and he wanted to cry. The ninjutsu exam just had to be the third and last exam of the day!

"No thanks, Hinata-chan." Naruto made a face. "I'm skipping lunch today. Why don't you go ahead? I think I'll stay here."

"I'm… I'm not hungry," Hinata said semi-truthfully. She couldn't eat knowing that it was her entire fault Naruto was starving himself. "I'd rather stay here, too…" With you.

"Are you sure?" Naruto asked skeptically.

Hinata nodded.

"You don't have to skip lunch because of me."

"I'm not!"

"Yes, you are." Naruto smiled when she blushed. "You're a terrible liar."

Still… It made him happy that she wanted to keep him company.

"All right, Naruto. You need to perform the bushin no jutsu to pass the ninjutsu part of the final exam. Are you ready?"

"Yes, Iruka-sensei."

Naruto eyed the shiny new ninja headbands on the desk in front of Iruka-sensei and Mizuki-sensei, the silver-haired assistant-teacher. Each one had the leaf emblem of Konoha engraved on a metal plate that was sewn onto the fabric. He had dreamed of owning one of those for years. He was so close!

The bushin no jutsu is the one thing I'm not very good at. But… I have to do this!

"Bushin no jutsu!"

The bursts of smoke from the creation of many clones blinded Iruka for a moment. When the smoke cleared, Iruka was looking at a dozen Narutos. The original and eleven perfect clones! Iruka gaped.

"What do you think, Sensei? Do I pass?" Twelve matching blondes laughed at the flabbergast expressions on his teachers' faces.

Iruka shook his head and berated himself for underestimating his favorite student.

I was actually worried about Naruto not passing. He could never perform a working clone before, but now he just made eleven! What a guy… Iruka grinned ruefully. He's certainly a surprising student. I should have known he'd find a way.

"Congratulations, Naruto! That's an impressive number of clones. Most students only produced three clones. I think I can even give you a few points for extra credit. What do you think, Mizuki-sensei?"

"Oh, certainly. That many clones! Naruto should get a few extra points for that," Mizuki smiled pleasantly. "Congratulations, Naruto. You surprised me."

"You pass," Iruka said as he handed Naruto his new hitai-ate – Naruto accepted it with a trembling hand.

"I did it! Yes!"

Neither Iruka nor Naruto noticed the dark look that crossed Mizuki's face in that moment.

The grounds immediately outside the Academy building were overflowing with people. Many parents had come to the Academy on this special day to congratulate their children on a job well done. (Hyuuga Hiashi was not one of them.) Even the Sandaime was there; he had stopped by to make a speech and to congratulate all the new graduates. To avoid the crowd – and the dark looks being shot in Naruto's direction – Naruto and Hinata searched for a more secluded spot. They found it a short distance away: a lonely wooden swing hanging from a tall tree bordering the premises. Hinata sat on the swing rocking back and forth slightly. Her feet never left the ground. Naruto leaned against the trunk of the tree and relaxed.

"We did it, Hinata-chan! We passed! We're finally ninja!" Naruto was practically dancing on air. In his excitement, he had forgotten all about his hunger and exhaustion. Who cared about food and sleep? He was a real ninja!

"Yes, we did." Hinata giggled at his enthusiasm – and at the way Naruto constantly reached up to adjust and readjust his hitai-ate. He wore it proudly on his forehead. Hers was tied comfortably around her neck.

"This is so awesome! We'll get to take missions outside of the village now! We can go places and see things! Maybe we'll get to protect a feudal lord! Or rescue a princess! We can…"

Hinata tried her best to be happy as she listened to her best friend talk about the future. She didn't want to ruin Naruto's moment. She was honestly happy that they had passed. But… at the same time, she wished with all her heart that they hadn't. Graduation meant being placed on a genin team and being sent out on missions. Graduation meant no more lazy days at the Academy. Most of all, graduation meant that she would no longer get to see Naruto every day.

(It hurt that Naruto didn't seem bothered by that at all. Wouldn't he miss her, too?)

"… and I'm taking another step towards becoming the Hokage!"

Naruto glanced over at his friend concerned. Hinata was too quiet. She hadn't said a single word in the last few minutes. In fact, she looked… sad. "Hinata-chan? What's wrong? Why aren't you happy?"

"It's nothing, Naruto-kun," Hinata forced a smile. "I'm just sad that things are changing."

"Cheer up, Hinata-chan! This is good change. Now we can go on missions together and show everyone what we can do!" he said encouragingly. At his words, Hinata was even more distressed than before.

"Missions together?" her face fell. "That's just it, Naruto-kun. I… I thought you knew. We… we're not going to go on missions together."

Naruto froze and he stared at her in shock. Not… together?

"What?! What do you mean by that?"

"Don't you remember? As new genin, we'll be assigned to teams for missions and training."

"Yeah. So?"

"We're not going to be placed on the same team," Hinata said softly.

"Why not?" Naruto demanded. "We make a great team!"

"The teams are organized so that all the teams will be balanced. For example, the Rookie of the Year is often placed with a mid-ranked student and the lowest-ranked student in the class. You and I… we're ranked too high and too close together for them to place us on the same team."

It was true.

After all the scores had been totaled, Sasuke was named the Rookie of the Year – beating out Naruto by a small margin. (Naruto had grumbled about that a little – if only he hadn't been so tired during the taijutsu exam!) Naruto had ranked second. And Hinata had ranked third.

"You mean…" Naruto stared wide-eyed at Hinata.

"Yes. It's likely that we'll be put in separate teams."

"They can't do that!"

But they could; they probably would. And Naruto knew it.

"Don't they ever make exceptions?" he asked almost desperately.

Hinata nodded slowly.

"Yes. Sometimes, but…" she bit her lip, "but usually only when they're putting together a specific team that they know will work together, like the famous Shika-Ino-Cho team. No matter what their scores are or how they ranked, Shikamaru, Ino, and Chouji will probably be on the same team. That's because their fathers and grandfathers worked so well together and their families' fighting styles are so complementary. During the last Great Ninja War, the Shika-Ino-Cho team was vital to the success of many battles.

"Our circumstances are different. There's no real reason to make an exception for us."

That's not fair! Naruto wanted to shout – except he knew better than anyone that life was never fair. So he held his tongue. The only signs of his distress were white knuckles… followed by a string of expletives that made Hinata blush.

Naruto's joy at finally graduating evaporated like drops of water under the desert sun. An unhappy silence fell upon them.

"I'm sorry, Naruto-kun," Hinata said hesitantly a few minutes later. "I have to go. Father is expecting me home early today – and I promised Hanabi-chan that I'd tell her all about the graduation exam. But… I'm excused from my lessons tomorrow. Father's advisors are meeting with a trader from Snow Country to negotiate a new contract. Would you like to go to Ichiraku tomorrow? We can celebrate our graduation with a bowl of Ichiraku-san's special ramen."

"Yeah. That sounds good," Naruto faked a smile that didn't fool Hinata at all. Not even the thought of Ichiraku's special ramen could cheer him up. "See you tomorrow, Hinata-chan."

As he watched her walk away, Naruto clamped down on a sudden urge to run after her and stop her from going. He straddled the swing that Hinata had just vacated and tried to ignore the horrible thought that Hinata was leaving him. He was being stupid. Hinata was just going home. He'd see her again tomorrow. Then he'd see her again on Monday for their genin team assignments. And even if they ended up on different genin teams, Hinata would never abandon him.

I'm just being stupid. That's all. We'll always be best friends. I know it.

But it wasn't enough! The sick feeling inside him refused to go away. When he finally lost sight of Hinata in the distance, that sick feeling only intensified. In her absence, the muttered whispers that he barely noticed before were suddenly as loud as if they were being yelled directly into his ears.

"Hey, that kid over there… Isn't he that kid? What were they thinking allowing someone like him to pass?"

"Hmph. It doesn't matter if he has a hitai-ate. He's still a disgrace."

"Maybe he'll die on a mission. Let's hope he does."

"If he becomes a ninja, it's only going to cause trouble because he's really…"

"Shh! It's forbidden to say anything more than that."

Naruto closed his eyes. He wished he could close his ears, too. He touched the new hitai-ate on his forehead. He'd worked hard to earn it. But now… he almost wanted to give it back. He wanted to stay at the Academy for another year – where he was guaranteed to see Hinata every single day.

There has to be a way for us to be on the same team! I need to find Iruka-sensei! As their teacher, Iruka had to have some influence in how the teams were put together. If I ask him, maybe he'll put me on Hinata's team.

A lonely wooden swing swayed in the breeze.

30 minutes ago…

Iruka clapped politely at the end of the Hokage's speech. It was inspirational, as always. The Hokage was a very good public speaker. But after hearing similar speeches year after year, it was hard to get really excited about it – as the new graduates and their parents obviously were. Now that the ceremony was over, it was time for the Academy teachers to mingle with parents and ex-students. Graduation Day always made him feel a bit nostalgic.

Iruka was surprised when the Hokage moved through the crowd to stand beside him. He dipped his head in respect.


"Iruka, I need to talk to you later. Come by my office after you're done here."

Iruka felt a flicker of concern. What did the Hokage want to talk about? But the Hokage's neutral expression gave nothing away.

"Yes, sir."

"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto burst into the teacher's lounge in the Academy building and came to an abrupt stop. "Oh! Mizuki-sensei! I didn't know you were still here, too."

Iruka was sitting at the end of a long conference table making small talk with Mizuki. Both of his teachers looked surprised to see him, but Mizuki recovered first.

"Hello, Naruto," Mizuki said with a smile. "Iruka and I were just reminiscing about your class. Time sure flies! I remember when you were the dead last student in the class."

Naruto colored in embarrassment. "Yeah. I got better though!"

"You certainly did!" Iruka agreed. "I'm very proud of you Naruto. You've come a long way."

"Thanks, Iruka-sensei!"

"What are you doing here? Did you need something?" Iruka asked kindly.

"I have a really, really big favor to ask you, Iruka-sensei."

"What is it, Naruto?"

"It's about our genin team assignments. You're the one who organizes the new genin teams, right? So you're the one who chooses the people we'll be working with, right?"

Iruka blinked in surprise at the blonde's strange line of questions.

"It's not quite so simple, Naruto," he explained. "As your teacher, I make some recommendations. I don't make all the decisions. The Hokage and all of the jounin who are going to teach a genin team will review your files and Academy grades. They're the ones who make the final decisions."

"But you're our teacher, so your recommendations carry a lot of weight. Right?"

Iruka nodded, puzzled by the hopeful glint in Naruto's eyes.

"Then can you please, please recommend that Hinata and I go on the same team?"

Ah... So that's what you want. Now Naruto's questions made sense. Iruka shook his head ruefully. I should have seen it coming.

"I'm sorry, Naruto. I can't make a recommendation just because you want me to. The teams are often chosen based on a number of factors, including ranking and grades. It's a system that's been proven to work again and again. We do that to ensure all the teams are balanced."

"Please, Iruka-sensei!" Naruto begged. "Can't you make an exception just this once?"

"I'm sorry. I can't…"

Naruto almost growled in frustration. How was he going to convince Iruka to put them on the same team?

"Kilohertz!" he blurted. "It's like… Hinata and I… we have kilohertz!"

At Iruka's blank expression… Naruto cursed silently. He wasn't explaining himself properly! His lack of sleep was finally catching up with him. He was struggling to put together a coherent sentence – let alone a coherent argument! He took a deep breath and tried to focus…

One of the last topics they'd covered in class before graduation was communication devices used in the field – including short wave radios. Iruka had glossed over the science behind radios in class because all they really needed to know was how to use a radio – not how to build one. However, in his efforts to exhaust his mental energy, Naruto had borrowed several very basic science textbooks from Iruka's personal collection – one of which had been a simple book on the physics of harmonics… He had re-read it that morning, just before the start of the first exam.

kilohertz… something to do with kilohertz… and… That's it! Naruto snapped his fingers.

"Wait! It wasn't kilohertz. It was frequency! Hinata and I… we have resonance frequency!"

"… resonance… frequency?" Iruka asked bemused.

"In that book you loaned me – Simple Physics, Volume Two: the Science of Harmonics. Remember? Things in nature have a natural frequency. And if you find that frequency… you have resonance! And if you have resonance, then a small, applied force can become… big! Really big!"

Iruka rocked back on his heels stunned at Naruto's choice of analogy. True, he had loaned the book to Naruto two weeks ago, but he hadn't really expected Naruto to actually read it, understand it, and then use it in an argument against him!

Naruto constantly surprises me. I should be used to it by now.

"Naruto… Did you read that book?"


"The whole book?"


"And you understood it?"

"Yes!" Naruto huffed and crossed his arms in annoyance. Geez! Okay. So academics wasn't one of his strengths – and he wasn't like Hinata or Sakura who seemed to absorb everything that was put in writing – but he wasn't that bad! Was he? Was he?

"Well… I didn't understand all of it, but I understood enough, I think."

Naruto shook his head impatiently.

"That's not the point. The point is… Hinata and I… We're better together than apart. If you put us on the same team, you'll get resonance frequency. We work well together. We already have amazing teamwork! We can predict each other's moves because we train together all the time. But if you put us on different teams, then you won't get that same resonance frequency. Our separate teams won't be as nearly as effective as the two of us together."

"I'm impressed, Naruto. That's a very good argument. But I can't…"

"Please!" Naruto pleaded. "I want to be on Hinata's team. I'll do anything you want!"

Mizuki watched the argument in silence. (In the heat of the moment, neither Iruka nor Naruto remembered that Mizuki was still in the room.) He wanted to laugh. This was perfect. His plan to use the demon brat had been ruined when it passed the ninjutsu exam. But now… Now he had it – and an even better plan. He smirked.

This is too easy. If I play my cards right, I can kill Naruto after all…and I'll get the white eyes of the Byakugan. A very nice bonus!

"Naruto does make several valid points, Iruka-sensei. Maybe you could make an exception for him," Mizuki said. He saw Naruto's face light up at his supportive words and felt a deep satisfaction. Raising your hopes, just to crush them later. What a delicious game!

"Mizuki-sensei? You know I can't make decisions based on personal preference." Iruka glared his colleague in disapproval. "I'm very sorry, Naruto."

Naruto slumped over the waist high railing that enclosed the roof of the Academy building. The Academy building wasn't the tallest building in Konoha, but it was taller than most of the surrounding buildings. From here, he could see most of the village. The sun was low in the sky; its light cast a warm orange glow over everything it touched. It would be sunset soon. It reminded him of Hinata's birthday and the sunset they watched from the Hokage Monument.

His hand closed around the pendant that hung over his heart. The tangible symbol of his bond with Hinata made him feel a little bit better.

"Iruka-sensei wasn't being mean."

Naruto looked up in surprise.


His teacher stood beside him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"I can tell you're still very upset. But Iruka-sensei is a good guy. He's just trying to do his best for everyone. Don't be mad at him."

"I know," Naruto sighed. Iruka was one of the few people who had always looked out for him. He couldn't stay angry with Iruka for long even if he wanted to. "It's just… I want to be on Hinata's team so much!"

"Would you really do anything to be on her team?"


"In that case, I guess I'll tell you a big secret."

"A secret?"

The falling sun cast a blood red tint over the village.

To be continued…

Author's Notes:

(1) Cliffhanger! I'm so evil. LOL. Don't worry – and please don't kill me! I won't leave you hanging too long! I promise! The second half of this chapter is about 50 percent done. I should have it finished within a week or so.

(2) I'm so sorry about the long delay between updates for this story.

(3) FYI: I am easily distracted by shiny objects and cute little plot bunnies. If you haven't read them yet, I invite you to check out the other two NaruHina fics I wrote in August – instead of working on this fic. A Push in the Right Direction is a oneshot that I wrote for fun. Due to popular demand, I might write a second chapter to it eventually – after I finish One Small Step. A Delicate Condition is a new multi-chaptered fic.

(4) Chapter 9 – Part B Sneak Peek: Hmm… After thinking it over, I'd better not. The sneak peek that I just deleted was a really, really bad cliffhanger. I'm not going to do that to you guys.

(5) I finally upped the rating of this fic to T.

(6) Please review. Thanks!