Title: One Small Step
Author: Shawny Wong
Theme: #23 candy
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 3: Indirect Kiss
Life was good for Uzumaki Naruto. For once in his miserable life, things were going his way. He and Hinata had spent hours playing Cat's Cradle every day after class. After his nerves settled, Naruto was able to concentrate on the game. He mastered it quickly. (To Hinata's secret disappointment, their hands did not get entangled again.) They had even played a few rounds of the advanced level of Cat's Cradle with Iruka-sensei! In addition to the game, Naruto continued to practice hand seals on his own for several hours every night. Within a month his speed had dramatically improved. Within two, he had lived up to his boast of being the fastest at forming hand seals in the class.
Naruto grinned. Just yesterday Iruka-sensei had congratulated him on his progress in front of the whole class! (Naruto had managed to tie with one Uchiha Sasuke - who was not pleased about sharing his pedestal.) For the first time in his life, Naruto was the center of admiration (albeit grudging admiration) among his classmates. Iruka-sensei was proud of him, too! The positive attention felt… absolutely amazing! He'd never been able to gain any sort of positive attention before. The best he'd been able to get was negative attention, as the butt of jokes or in the form scolding from Iruka-sensei for pulling pranks in class. It hadn't mattered though. The negative attention kept his loneliness at bay – and kept the cold, hateful eyes of the villagers from erasing his existence. For a little while, at least, the pain would diminish. Becoming a clown and a prankster wasn't so bad if it meant someone would really see him – really look at him and know that he was alive.
Naruto felt wonderful! Praise from Iruka, (grudging) respect from his classmates, and gentle support from Hinata; it warmed his soul. Nothing could be better! Naruto, who craved any attention whether it was positive or negative, was simply addicted. Even after a full day, the warmth lingered. It formed an invisible barrier between him and the pain of loneliness – and even muted the nasty stares of the villagers.
In an alternate time and place, Naruto became a clown and a prankster because no matter how hard he tried or how hard he worked, he was still the dead last at the Academy. (He was not stupid. He just wasn't given the tools to succeed.) Any attention was better than no attention.
In this time and place, Naruto (with a little help) had achieved some academic success and loved the praise and recognition that came with it. Now that he knew it was possible – and it was even better than he imagined – Naruto was determined to do it again. He would work hard (and pay attention in class)! He was going to be the best-damned ninja he could be! Who wanted to be laughed at when he could be admired and respected? He wasn't going to be a clown – that kind of recognition was unpalatable now that he'd had a taste of real recognition. And so…
The world changed.
Well… Naruto thought for a moment and grinned mischievously. He could still pull a few pranks every now and then for old time's sake!
Life was good. But there was one thing that could make it better (aside from becoming the Hokage): Hinata. Although he spent the day with her just yesterday, he already missed his friend. His friend! Just thinking the word in his head made him giddy. Sure, Hinata was a strange girl. But that only made her more special in his eyes. They had talked a lot while playing Cat's Cradle… (Okay… so he had talked a lot while playing Cat's Cradle...) Naruto was surprised at some of the things he discovered. She was a lot of fun to be with. She had a great sense of humor – when he could get her to stop being so proper – and she was a great listener. When she listened, Naruto felt like he had her whole attention. He felt… No. He knew he was important to her. When he was with her, the pain of loneliness, of being hated for reasons he didn't understand, wasn't just diminished; it completely melted away.
She was his precious friend.
He couldn't wait until the weekend was over and he could see Hinata again!
Hinata dreaded weekends. They couldn't go by fast enough for her. She knew she was an embarrassment to her clan. The fact that she was sent to the Ninja Academy for public instruction instead of being privately trained by her father or a senior Hyuuga clansman was proof enough. When her father sent her to the Academy, he had washed his hands of her ninja training. Hinata had inadvertently overheard him speaking to one of the elders.
"… Are you certain you want to send Hinata to the Ninja Academy?" asked Hyuuga Hideki. As an elder of the Hyuuga main branch, he was a traditionalist and always questioned the changes in tradition.
"Hinata has shown very little aptitude in her training. I will not waste my time on training her. She can attend the Ninja Academy and learn the ninja ways there."
"Hinata is the Hyuuga Family's successor. When she graduates the Academy, she will become a genin. Missions that genin undertake have the possibility of death."
"If she dies on a mission, then she is a defect. A weak defect who dies on a genin-ranked mission is not needed by the Hyuuga. And there is still Hanabi."
"As you say, Hiashi-sama."
Knowing that her father thought so little of her hurt deeply.
Even though she was an embarrassment – sent away to the Academy for her ninja training – Hinata was still the Hyuuga heiress. This meant that weekends were spent with her father's advisors – never her father – training to become the next clan head. Her Hyuuga teachers were stern taskmasters. A nod of approval was rare. Success was expected as a matter of course. Errors were met with harsh reprimands. (They were nothing like Iruka-sensei.) She was drilled for hours in politics, diplomacy, etiquette, economics, and law – all things necessary for an accomplished clan head. That wasn't so bad. In fact, Hinata was naturally adept in those subjects. She rather enjoyed them. While her teachers never praised her progress, at least they never criticized her either.
It was her other lessons – the ones for Jyuuken, the Hyuuga Gentle Fist style – that she dreaded. She could never seem to meet the expectations set for her in Jyuuken. Her Byakugan had trouble seeing all the tenketsu – the chakra points in the chakra circulatory system. Her chakra control wasn't good enough. Her stance was weak. Her speed was lacking. Her defense was poor. Against other Hyuuga children she was easily defeated. For the heir, that was simply unacceptable. She cringed at her terrible performance in Jyuuken. She rubbed at the painful bruises that dotted her arms and legs. Her Jyuuken instructors (and her sparring opponents) did not hold back. Ever.
Training sessions in Jyuuken were always painful. Often excessively painful Hinata thought.
The one bright spot to her weekends was Hanabi. Hinata adored her baby sister. The toddler was just starting to speak in full sentences. Hanabi was the only person in her family who was always happy to see her. ("Oneesan! Play with Hanabi-chan?") Her mistakes and failures didn't mean anything to the child. To her, Hinata was not the family disappointment. To her, Hinata was simply her big sister: the one who played with her, the one who always made time for her, the one who sang her songs and tucked her in at night.
Training in the Byakugan and in Jyuuken typically started at the age of three. In just one year, Hanabi's training would start. And Hinata was afraid, so very afraid, that when it did… she would lose Hanabi. She was afraid that Hanabi would become like the rest of her family. Cold. Unfeeling. And intolerant of weakness. Intolerant of Hinata.
The thought of losing Hanabi made her want to cry. She pushed those thoughts aside as she headed for the family dojo. It was time for Jyuuken training. Her heart sank when she saw the person standing beside her instructor.
"You will spar with Neji today. Let us hope you have improved."
Naruto slurped happily away at his ramen. After the Hokage, Iruka-sensei and Hinata, old man Teuchi – who was the owner and chef of the Ichiraku Ramen stand – and his daughter Ayame were his favorite people in Konoha. They had always been kind to him, treating him just like any other customer. (Most of the other food sellers refused to serve him. If they did, they went out of their way to make the experience as unpleasant as possible.) The familiar atmosphere was relaxing. While he ate, Naruto imagined that Teuchi was like a gruff uncle and Ayame was like an older cousin to him.
They always made time to chat with him and ask him how he was doing – even when they were busy. Speaking of which…
"So Naruto, when are you going to introduce us to your new friend?" asked Teuchi, as he worked. The knife in his hand flashed as he chopped green onions for garnish.
"Eh? You wanted to meet Hinata-chan?"
"Of course, we do! Silly!" Ayame rolled her eyes and lightly bopped him on the head with a long wooden spoon. "You've only been talking non-stop about her for the last two months. I feel like I know her already. We'd love to meet her!"
Her father nodded in agreement. "Any friend of our best customer is always welcome here."
"Thanks!" Naruto beamed. "We usually hang out and train after class until she has to go home for dinner with her family. I think we can skip training on Monday and come straight here after class instead. We've been working really hard, so skipping every now and then won't hurt."
"That sounds wonderful. We'll be expecting you, so don't forget!" admonished Ayame.
"I won't!" Naruto lifted his bowl and quickly drank the broth. "Gochisousama!"
Naruto hopped off his stool, but Teuchi stopped him before he could leave.
"Wait, Naruto. Would you be interested in any candy today? Our supplier made a mistake with our order. Instead of delivering a case of spices, he delivered a case of Konoha Bakudan. But he won't take it back or exchange it for the spices we originally ordered. So we're offering it to our customers."
Naruto's eyes lit up at the words "Konoha Bakudan" and he almost drooled. Konoha Bakudan – or Kono-Baku for short – were small round balls made with a crispy pastry shell and dark chocolate filling. They were a very popular sweet in Konoha. He had only eaten the treats a handful of times before. He didn't often have much money to splurge on sweets. And even when he did, none of the candy stores in the village would serve him. The Sandaime Hokage would sometimes give him a small bag on the rare occasions he visited. And once, he'd begged a few off of Chouji.
"Really?" Naruto almost danced with excitement. "You have Kono-Baku for me? You're the best, ojisan!"
Later that night, after closing their restaurant, Ayame turned to her father.
"That was a very nice thing you did for him, Father." There was no need to say who him was. "There was no mistake with our supplier. You ordered a case of Kono-Baku on purpose."
"Maybe I did," Teuchi said gruffly. "He's a good boy. He deserves to have a few treats every now and then."
"No, Father," Ayame gave her father a long searching look. "Naruto doesn't just deserve to have a few treats every now and then. He deserves a lot more than that. The way everyone treats him… It's despicable! Why do they do that?"
"Ayame-chan," Teuchi sighed. "I can't tell you. Just know that it's not his fault; it's nothing he did."
"This has something to do with the Kyubi, doesn't it?"
"Who told you that?" he asked in alarm.
"No one told me, Father. I swear. Sometimes you must think I'm still a baby. I'm not stupid."
"I remember when the Kyubi attacked," she said softly. "I was only five, but I still remember that day, at least a little. There's a big secret about Naruto, isn't there? He was born on that day. And almost everyone hates him for it. I don't understand it… but I know it has to do with the Kyubi."
"You're too smart for your own good, Ayame-chan," Teuchi said ruefully. "I still can't tell you. And you mustn't say anything about this to anyone else. Do you understand?"
Her father was absolutely serious. She could tell. She couldn't remember if he'd ever been more serious. This was important. Ayame nodded. "I won't, Father. I promise."
They worked quietly for a few more minutes. Then…
"Let's order more treats for Naruto in the future."
Teuchi smiled softly, "I am so proud of you, my daughter."
After putting in some target practice, Naruto wondered if he should just go home. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, not too cold. The air was crisp, and the sun was shining. The day was just perfect. Naruto decided against it. Instead, he made his way to the Konoha Public Park. He would enjoy the rest of the day at their bench. Well… It wasn't really theirs. It was a public park, after all. But since the bench was off the beaten path, not many people used it. Naruto and Hinata had used it as their spot for playing Cat's Cradle. The bag of Kono-Baku balls rattled in his hip pouch and Naruto was sorely tempted to eat them right away.
No. I'll wait. I want to share them with Hinata-chan.
He'd never shared anything with a friend before. He had only watched enviously as other kids shared toys and snacks with each other (but never with him).
As he neared his destination, Naruto was disappointed to see that someone was already there. He frowned. Whoever it was probably wouldn't want to share the bench with him. As he got closer, he could make out more details. It was a child, probably about his age, sitting curled with his (her?) arms around his (her?) knees. And that person was crying. In fact, Naruto thought that person was strangely familiar. He or she reminded him of Hinata. Then with a start, Naruto realized that it was Hinata – Hinata who for once was not wearing her large beige jacket. Instead, she was wearing a black T-shirt and black training pants. Without the coat, she looked smaller and more vulnerable. And… Were those bruises on her arms? Naruto rushed forward in alarm. She was crying and she was hurt!
"Hinata-chan! What happened? Are you okay?"
Hinata had been thoroughly defeated by her cousin Neji. Her instructor watched impassively as the cousins sparred – if it could be called sparring. Hinata never stood a chance. Neji had the most potential of any Hyuuga in generations. After losing painfully yet again (and getting dropped by a right hook to her temple that had gotten past her guard), Hinata lay dazed and panting on the tatami mats of the dojo. When it became obvious that Hinata could no longer continue, her instructor finally spoke.
"It seems there has been no improvement. You failed to land even single hit on Neji. Your guard is so weak as to be non-existent. Next week, we shall attempt to improve it. Pain is an excellent motivator. Perhaps this shall encourage you to work harder. You are dismissed."
He did not help her up. Hinata heard only one set of footsteps leaving the dojo. Surprised, she turned her head to find that Neji had remained.
"It will not matter whether or not you work harder. We are all bound to our fates. I was born to serve the Hyuuga main branch. You were born weak – and you will never reach my level. It is futile to try. You should just give up right now."
Then he left, as well. Alone at last, Hinata succumbed to tears. She rolled over and forced herself to stand up. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. She tried so hard! Why was she still so weak? Was Neji right? Should she give up and accept her failures? All of a sudden, the Hyuuga estate felt suffocating. Within its walls, she was constantly criticized – never accepted. She did not want to be there! If only she were a bird, she would fly away and never come back.
Hinata did not know how she got to the park and to their bench. (She did not remember leaving the Hyuuga compound.) In this place, where she held happy memories, she let herself cry. If only she could be more like Naruto! Almost as if the thought conjured him, he was suddenly there and full of concern.
"Hinata-chan! What happened? Are you okay?"
Naruto could have kicked himself. What a stupid thing to ask. She was obviously not okay.
Hinata's head snapped up in surprise. She tried unsuccessfully to dry her tears and hide the evidence of her distress. Naruto could see that, in addition to the set of bruises on her arms, her lower lip was split and there was another bruise forming on her right cheek. Suddenly he was angry. Who had hurt her? Who had hurt his friend?
"Hinata-chan?" Naruto softly repeated the question, "What happened to you?"
Hinata looked away shamefully. She couldn't bear to look him in the eyes.
"It w-w-was n-n-nothing, Naruto-kun. J-j-just sp-sp-sparring and tr-tr-training in Jyuuken."
"You look awful." (Hinata winced.) Naruto spoke fiercely, "Sparring and training is what we do in class. Whatever it was that you just did was not sparring! Who hurt you, Hinata-chan?"
"N-N-Neji-nisan. B-b-but it w-w-wasn't his f-f-fault. I g-g-got h-h-hurt because I am t-t-too w-w-weak! I d-d-don't deserve to b-b-be a Hyuuga! Wh-wh-why am I always s-s-so w-w-weak?"
Hinata burst into tears again. She had just confessed her weakness to Naruto. She hadn't wanted to tell him, but he deserved the truth. Surely, now that he knew how weak she truly was, he would no longer want to be her friend. The last two months had been wonderful. But she had known it couldn't last. Why would he want the weak, little girl that even her family rejected?
She stiffened when she felt a pair of arms go around her. Naruto was hugging her! If she hadn't been in so much shock, she would have blushed.
"You are not weak. You are smart and strong. Whoever told you that is either blind or an idiot – he's probably both!"
"B-b-but," Hinata protested, "e-e-everyone in m-m-my f-f-family says s-s-so. I'm the f-f-failure a-a-and the w-w-weakest. The Hyuuga d-d-don't n-n-need someone l-l-like m-m-me. I sh-sh-should g-g-give u-u-up."
"Do they really say that to you?" Naruto asked softly. With every word that came out of her mouth, Naruto felt the burning anger in his chest grow. He was furious. It was one thing to put him down. He'd been put down his entire life. It was another thing entirely to disparage Hinata.
That was unforgivable!
"H-h-hai," she whispered. Hinata fully expected him to let go in disgust. Instead, his arms tightened around her and he gave her a little shake.
"Bullshit! Listen to me, Hinata-chan. You are smart. You understand Iruka-sensei's lectures right away – and sometimes you even explain them to me better than he does. You are strong. You beat Kiba and Chouji during last week's class spar. Your family and this Neji are just blind and stupid if they can't see that."
Hinata looked at him in wonder. Even after all that – all the proof to the contrary, Naruto still believed in her! He still believed she was a worthy friend! But Naruto wasn't finished yet.
"You don't need to listen to what they say. People have told me that I'm a waste of space." (Hinata gasped in horror.) "But that doesn't matter, because someday, I'm going to prove them wrong. I'm going to be Hokage. I don't give up. If I did, I would have died a long time ago. And someday, you'll be the strongest Hyuuga that ever was! You're going prove your stupid family wrong and make them eat their words!
"You are my best friend! And you will not give up!"
In another time and place, Hinata had no one to comfort her, to dry her tears, to encourage her. She had no one who would believe in her. And so, she faltered. The mind is a powerful, inexplicable thing. Because she believed she was weak, she became weak. It would take many years for her to overcome this block and reach her true potential.
In this time and place, Hinata had Naruto – who honestly believed she was strong – and who did not know how to give up. Naruto believed in her. Naruto never quit. And if he said she was strong… Maybe, just maybe, she was. And so, with his encouragement, Hinata would get up and try again. She had Naruto – who would always be there to pick her up if she fell. She had Naruto – who would always cheer the loudest for every small success that she achieved. She had Naruto – who had just called her his best friend. (Hinata could hardly believe she could be the "best" at anything, yet, here she was: Naruto's best friend!) Naruto's best friend was not a failure. She would not let him down! And so…
The world changed.
"You… Thank you," Hinata sniffed. This time they were happy tears. When she could speak again, there was a new fire in her eyes. "You're right, Naruto-kun. I'm n-n-not done fighting yet. N-n-next time, I'll hit Neji-nisan b-b-back."
"That Neji won't know what hit him!" Naruto grinned, relieved to see that Hinata was feeling better.
They sat side-by-side in comfortable silence just enjoying each other's presence and the beautiful weather, until Naruto remembered his surprise.
"Oh! I almost forgot! This will definitely cheer you up," he grinned, revealing a new unopened bag of Konoha Bakudan. "Kono-Baku! I was going to share these with you after school on Monday. But I think you could use some right now. What do you say?"
"S-s-sure!" Hinata wasn't going turn down free candy. What seven year old in his (or her) right mind would turn down delicious Kono-Baku candy?
The two children happily ate their Kono-Baku. To Naruto, it was the best Kono-Baku he'd ever tasted – all because he was sharing it with his best friend. To Hinata, the candy tasted even better than all the gourmet candies imported from the best confectioners in the world (It was a little known secret that most Hyuuga had a sweet tooth. Hence, the Hyuuga estate was well stocked with the best candies money could buy.) – all because she was sharing it with her best friend.
Soon the bag of treats was nearly empty.
Hinata and Naruto both reached for the last piece at the same time.
Hinata jerked her hand back when she felt Naruto's hand brush against hers. She blushed lightly and then looked down in disappointment. There was only one piece left. Proper etiquette demanded that she leave the last piece for Naruto. It was his bag of candy, after all. So he should get the last piece.
"Would you like the last piece, Hinata-chan?" Naruto asked considerately.
"N-n-no, th-th-thank you. You c-c-can have it Naruto-kun."
"Hmm…" Naruto looked thoughtful. "We should share. I know!"
Before Hinata could ask how he intended for them to share, Naruto picked up the last piece and took a bite; he bit off half the Kono-Baku ball. And before Hinata could stop him, Naruto popped the other half of the candy into her mouth.
Did he just…? Hinata couldn't even finish the thought in her head.
Her eyes went impossibly wide. Her heart pounded so loudly she was surprised he didn't hear it. The light blush she wore, from their accidental touch just a few moments before, erupted into a flaming red bloom
"Mmm… that was delicious wasn't it?" Naruto asked. He turned to look at her and caught sight of her red face. "Ah! Hinata-chan? Are you okay? Your face is flushed. That Neji must have hurt you more than we thought. Let's take you to the doctor right away! We have to make sure it's nothing serious!"
Hinata couldn't answer him because she was doing her level best not to faint!
She succeeded. Barely.
That night, Hinata dreamt of chocolate filled candies and indirect kisses.
(1) At this point, Hinata and Naruto are both 7 years old.
(2) In the next chapter (or maybe in the chapter after that… I'm still undecided) there will be a time skip
(3) This was written for the Thirty Kisses (30kisses) community on Live Journal.
(4) Whew! 3 down, 27 kisses to go!
(5) The flashback conversation between Hiashi and the Hyuuga elder was based on the conversation between Hiashi and Kurenai in episode 46. At first, I was going to keep Kurenai and keep the scene the way it is, but after re-watching that episode, I realized it wasn't possible. In the original scene, Hinata is 12 and Hanabi is seven ("five years her junior"). That means here Hanabi is two.
(6) Author's Pet Peeve: fanfics in which two year old, three year old, or four year old kids (and basically any kid under the age of six) can fight and take down adult ninja. There is just no way that kind of stuff is believable. (Yes, I understand that they can be prodigies, but still… Come on!) I have little kids – and trust me, little kids are just not that mature (or skilled). The average age for walking is one. The average age for climbing up and down stairs without falling is two. The average age for potty training is three. Hello?
Actually... now that I think about it, I'm worried that Naruto and Hinata are too mature for seven year olds.
(7) Hmm… I'm not sure where that scene between Teuchi and Ayame came from, but I like it!
(8) Itadakimasu is typically said before meals and means "Thanks for the food." Gochisousama or gochisousama deshita is typically said at the end of a meal.
(9) The candy, Konoha Bakudan, is my creation. It's modeled after some Asian snack food – that I can't remember the name of right now. Bakudan is Japanese for bomb – so literally: Konoha Bombs. (I wanted to call them Konoha Choco Bakudan or Konoha Chocolate Bombs, but that name was just too long.)
(10) Some of you may be wondering when Naruto and Hinata will get around to actually kissing (as in a romantic kiss between lovers). The answer is: not for a very long time. Why? Loving, long-lasting relationships take time. Plus, I'm making it my own personal challenge (within the 30 kisses challenge) to see just how many times I can get Naruto and Hinata to kiss without actually kissing. (I just love to torture my readers. evil cackles Wait! Wait! Don't kill me! Sorry!) It will happen. In fact, I've already gone ahead and written that soul searing, passionate, romantic kiss scene. (Yes, I skipped ahead. I couldn't help myself!) But before we get to that kiss, there are about half a dozen non-romantic but still fluffy kisses to write.
(11) Please review and let me know what you think. Thanks!