Title: One Small Step

Author: Shawny Wong

Pairing: Naruto/Hinata

Theme: #6 the space between dream and reality

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 5: Bedside Kiss

Naruto knew something was wrong with him the moment he woke up. His head was pounding. His throat was scratchy. His body ached even worse than that first morning after joining Gai-sensei's insane workout. His skin felt like it was on fire. Worse of all was the vertigo and nausea. The moment he sat up, he felt the world spinning – and his stomach violently objected to being upright. He barely made it to the toilet in time – almost falling twice on the way. By the time he was done retching, he wasn't on fire anymore; he was absolutely freezing!

Ugh… I haven't been this sick since… Oh… I can't remember. Hurts to think. Naruto shivered and stumbled over to his medicine cabinet, looking for something – anything! – that he could take to relieve his discomforts. It was empty. If he'd had the energy, Naruto would have cursed. Idiot. Forgot to restock my supplies after the last time I was sick. I'll need to pick up more medicine… later.

It took all the energy he had left to (literally) crawl back to his bed. By the time he got there, he simply collapsed on top; he didn't bother pulling the covers over himself. That would've taken too much effort. He tilted his head to glance at the clock beside his bed: 4:50AM. Naruto moaned. The last thing he wanted to do right now was train. He just wanted to sleep. (Dying sounded pretty good, too – and less painful than what he was currently feeling.) No. I need to get up… need to meet Hinata-chan and Lee for training soon. Gai-sensei was away on a mission, but three of them would faithfully practice what they knew without him until he came back. I just need a little rest, first.

Despite his intentions, Naruto passed out exactly two seconds later.


Hinata was worried. Naruto had not shown up for training this morning. Training to become stronger was his passion! He would never skip out on a training session without a very good reason. He never missed it! After waiting for 15 minutes, she and Lee had started training on their own, but her heart and mind had been elsewhere. She lost count of her repetitions while working out. She nearly tripped half a dozen times while running laps because she kept looking behind her, hoping for Naruto to appear. And she was so distracted, that she couldn't keep her focus on sparring with Lee. He landed three "fatal" strikes within the first five minutes. Hinata cringed at her appalling performance. She hadn't lost that badly to Lee in months! Lee seemed to understand, however – and suggested that they stop early. Hinata nodded gratefully and dashed off to the Academy. Surely, Naruto wouldn't miss class too!

But he did. By lunchtime, Hinata was a mess. She had been unable to concentrate, continually glancing up at the clock and willing its hands to move faster. Class had never seemed to crawl by so slowly! She hung back as the rest of her classmates headed merrily off to lunch.

"Iruka-sensei. Do you… do you know where Naruto-kun is? He wasn't in class. And he didn't show up for training this morning, either."

"Don't worry, Hinata." Iruka gave her a reassuring smile. He was glad that someone other than himself worried about the blonde, too. "He's probably just a little sick and decided to stay home and recover. Naruto's always been quick to recuperate. I'm sure he'll be back in class by Monday."

Iruka's attempt to reassure Hinata was completely wasted.

"But Iruka-sensei… Naruto-kun lives alone," Hinata said anxiously. "If Naruto-kun is sick, who will take care of him?"

"Why don't we visit him after class?" Iruka suggested. "I'm sure it's nothing serious. But we can check up on him and bring him his class assignments so he doesn't fall behind."

Hinata smiled gratefully at her teacher.


Even after three years of friendship, Hinata had never invited Naruto into her home. She did not want to flaunt her family's wealth in his face. And she was afraid. What would her father do if he found out about her friendship with Naruto? Instinctively, she knew he would not be pleased. He would most likely forbid her from ever seeing Naruto again. Naruto was nothing like the Hyuuga. He had no clan, no money, no political influence, and most of the village seemed to hate him on sight. He was not someone the Hyuuga heiress should be seen with. That she had successfully kept her father in the dark about her friendship with Naruto for years... It should have been an impossible feat. Except for the fact that her father took absolutely no interest in her life – unless it was to criticize her for failing to live up to his standards. He never asked and Hinata was not about to volunteer.

Likewise, Naruto had never invited Hinata into his home, either. His shabby apartment was tiny – barely big enough for one person, let alone visitors. And he was afraid. He knew that she knew he was an orphan with little money. But knowing and seeing were two different things. His small apartment was old and rundown – though he tried (unsuccessfully) to keep it clean and neat. If she saw how he lived, would she pity him? Would her feelings for him change? He knew Hinata. And deep down, he knew that she would never pity him – would never stop being his friend over something so material. But years of neglect and verbal abuse left him overprotective of his friendships and he was unwilling to take the risk – no matter how negligible.

Hence, by unspoken mutual agreement, they always spent their time together in public places: at the Academy, at the training grounds, at Ichiraku's, at their park bench – or even sometimes, at Iruka's apartment.

Hinata looked down at the slip of paper in her hand. Was this the correct address? She wished Iruka-sensei were with her, but he had been called away for an emergency staff meeting that would last for several hours. (Iruka had apologized and quickly penned Naruto's address for her before he had to leave.) The building was old and dilapidated; the paint was peeling and faded, though sections of newer paint covered the walls at uneven intervals. (Hinata suspected that someone had attempted to conceal graffiti with fresh paint.) She climbed a set of rickety steps to the second landing and found the correct door with no trouble. As she raised her hand to knock, she hesitated. Suddenly, she was very nervous. She was standing right outside Naruto's home! What if he told her to leave? She was there uninvited – intruding on his privacy. Would he be angry?

But… What if Naruto was truly sick? She would never forgive herself if she didn't help him. And she needed to know that he was okay. She was so worried about him! She wouldn't run away!


Naruto had woken several times during the day, but opted to stay in bed. He needed to get food and medicine; he needed to eat to replenish his energy. But he lacked the will to follow through. Just thinking about food (even ramen) was enough to make him nauseous. Earlier, he tried drinking a little water. Although the cool liquid soothed his throat, it made his stomach do summersaults. And he was so tired! He briefly wondered how long it would take for Iruka-sensei to come check on him. Iruka-sensei was the only person he could think of who knew where he lived and who would notice his absence and want to check up on him. (Neither Hinata nor Lee knew where he lived. Gai-sensei was still away on a mission. And while he knew the Sandaime cared, he was the Hokage and much too busy to see Naruto on a daily basis.) Thinking about the very short list of people who cared about him only depressed him further. He slept fitfully – the illness prevented him from resting comfortably – until he was roused by a knock on the door.

Please, let that be Iruka-sensei! I could really use his help right about now. Naruto stumbled to the door. It wasn't Iruka-sensei, but it was another welcome face.

"Hinata-chan? What are you doing here?" Naruto blinked in confusion.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata was alarmed by Naruto's appearance. He looked terrible. His face was pale, his eyes were too bright and his voice sounded rough as sandpaper – even his normally spiky hair hung dull and limp. He was using the door for support. Hinata kicked off her shoes and hurried to help him back into bed. "I was worried about you, Naruto-kun. You didn't show up for training or class."

"Sorry about that, Hinata-chan."

"Don't worry about it." Hinata put her hand on his forehead and gasped. He was burning up! "You have a high fever. Did you take anything for it?"

"No. I ran out of medicine and forgot to get more."

"I'll go get some for you then, Naruto-kun."

"I'm sorry for being such a bother."

"You're not a bother at all. Just rest, okay? I'll take care of you."

"Thank you," Naruto murmured. Her words touched him deeply. No one had ever said that to him before. Not even Iruka or the Sandaime. Most people took great delight in telling him the opposite or worse – and he had learned to take care of himself at an early age because no one else wanted to do it. As always, her presence alone was enough to dispel his earlier depression. He hadn't taken any medicine… But he was already feeling much, much better.

Content and more comfortable than he'd been all day, Naruto fell fast asleep.

As soon as he was sleeping, Hinata glanced over his apartment. It was tiny; the kitchen, dining, and sleeping areas were essentially one room. A small kitchenette took up one corner of the apartment. Naruto's bed took another. There was a small dining table and one chair in the center between the kitchen and the bed. Besides the front door to the apartment, Hinata saw three other doors – two opened to the toilet and the bath. The last door led to a rectangular, windowless room only just big enough not to be called a closet. It was filled with scrolls, books, kunai and shuriken – all strewn haphazardly about – some of those kunai and shuriken were even sticking out of the walls having missed their targets. Naruto must use this room for training, Hinata mused.

She checked his apartment for food. Other than some cereal, a half empty carton of expired milk in the refrigerator, and a large box full of instant ramen cups by the front door, Hinata could find nothing else. Although she was exasperated by Naruto's lack of anything resembling real food, she had to grin at the giant box of instant ramen cups. She would pick up some groceries along with his medicine.

Hinata found Naruto's keys on the table and pocketed them, so that she wouldn't disturb him when she returned. Then she hurried out to do some quick shopping. She had seen a small grocery store nearby on the way to his apartment.


Naruto was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming – but didn't seem to have enough energy to wake up or to control the direction of his dream.

Dream

Naruto was four again and back in the orphanage. When he had been four, he had gotten very, very sick. But the matron at the orphanage – a stern lady with prematurely graying hair – had refused to believe him. (Naruto had never liked any of his caretakers at the orphanage. They never beat him because they feared the Sandaime's wrath – but there were a hundred other little things they could (and would) do to make his life miserable.) Matron had insisted he was faking illness to attract extra attention. As punishment, she had locked him in his room.

Four-year-old Naruto climbed into bed. He had the coldest, draftiest room at the orphanage and the thin blanket he was provided with did nothing to keep the chill away. He shivered. Naruto knew how this story ended. The Sandaime would pay him a surprise visit two days later. He would find Naruto still terribly ill and much too thin for his age. Naruto had been unable to keep any food down during his illness. The Sandaime would send for his own doctor to heal Naruto. But that was still days away…

To Naruto's surprise, the dream changed. It was not as he remembered.

An angel with dark hair and a kind voice came to him. He couldn't make out her face; it remained fuzzy and indistinct no matter how hard he focused. But he knew instinctively that she was beautiful. All angels were beautiful.

"What are you doing here?" he asked her.

"I'm here to take care of you, Naruto-kun."

Naruto thought her voice was beautiful, too. "Why?"

"You're my friend."

"Really?" Naruto wanted to be happy. An angel wanted to be his friend! But… "But… won't you get in trouble?" he asked uncertainly.

"Why would I get in trouble?"

"I'm the demon child," he told her, in case she didn't know. "I don't think I'm allowed to have my very own angel."

The angel didn't answer his question. Instead…

"Here. Take this, Naruto-kun. It will make you feel better."

Naruto obediently took his medicine. He trusted the angel. And… He wanted to feel better. He was tired of being sick. A few moments later, he was sleepier than ever. He didn't want to sleep! He wanted to talk to the angel!

"Go to sleep Naruto-kun. I'll stay with you."

The beautiful voice soothed him.

/Dream

When Hinata returned to the apartment, she found Naruto shivering in bed. He had kicked the covers off. She prepared a dose of the multi-symptom medicine for him; it would reduce his fever, alleviate his sore throat, and hopefully hasten his recovery.

"Naruto-kun. You need to wake up. I have some medicine for you." Hinata shook his shoulder.

Naruto opened his eyes, but he didn't seem to be fully aware; he seemed confused to see her and asked why she was there. He was obviously still dreaming or delirious. Demon child? His very own angel? Was Naruto talking about her? Hinata blushed. (If he had called her that while he was lucid, Hinata would most certainly have fainted!) At least, he woke long enough to take his medicine without complaint. Hinata tucked the covers around him.

"Go to sleep Naruto-kun. I'll stay with you."

Hinata pulled the chair from the dining table over to his bed. She sat with him until he was asleep again. Then she got to work.

Hinata started boiling water for a simple vegetable broth. Next she rinsed the rice with water from the tap and then added some water and the rice to the rice cooker. She looked back at Naruto occasionally as she cooked – he didn't even stir. It didn't take her long to finish preparing a simple meal that was bland enough not to upset his sensitive stomach and far more nutritious than instant ramen. Hinata hoped Naruto enjoyed it. Then she tidied his apartment. She picked up his clothes that were on the floor and placed them in a basket by the front door – so that he could easily take them to the laundromat later. She collected all the empty ramen cups strewn about his apartment and tossed them out. She also threw out the expired milk – replacing it with a fresh carton – then took out the trash. As she swept the floor, Hinata hummed a happy melody.

She felt like a wife!

She blushed furiously at the stray thought and glanced over at Naruto; he was still sleeping. She sighed in relief. While she was unhappy that Naruto was sick, she was happy to do these little things for him.

Naruto was always so strong! He always made time to help her, to encourage her, and to listen to her problems. He did so much for her… Without him, she would have remained that weak, stuttering, little girl that no one respected. She was stronger now – even her esteemed clan with its impossible expectations was starting to notice! And it was all thanks to Naruto. Hinata felt as if she would never be able to do enough for him. Sometimes, she helped him with class work that he didn't understand. Sometimes, she helped him with his chakra control. Sometimes, she even helped him perfect a new stance or move for Goken that he learned from Gai-sensei. But Hinata dismissed those things as inconsequential. Naruto was strong and smart. He would have done all those things, even without her help.

I need Naruto-kun so much more than he will ever need me. I don't want him to be sick… but this time… Naruto-kun needs me. It's my turn to be there for him. It feels nice to be needed…

Naruto's apartment was so tiny, that Hinata soon finished cleaning. (All the cooking and cleaning had taken less than an hour.) With nothing else to do, Hinata sat beside his bed and watched him sleep. While he was sleeping, she could stare at him as long as she liked. To Hinata, Naruto was very good-looking – and the whisker-like birthmarks on his cheeks were so cute! She would never tire of looking at him. In sleep, Naruto looked… vulnerable. The boundless energy and determination he possessed were not evident. Instead, he looked serene and at peace. She reached out and placed a hand on his forehead. The medicine was taking effect. Already, his skin felt cooler to the touch and he was less pale – color was returning to his face.

Her hand lingered – and Hinata was overcome by temptation. She ran her fingers through his spiky blonde locks. They were so soft! Naruto stirred a little but did not wake. She reluctantly pulled her fingers back. She scolded herself. Bad Hinata! Don't molest Naruto in his sleep!

It was getting late. As much as she wanted to stay with Naruto until he was fully recovered, she needed to go. If she stayed out any later, her father would notice – and question her absence.

"You're asleep, so you can't hear me. But I still want you to know… I'll always be here for you, Naruto-kun. I'll take care of you… whenever you need me. I promise," Hinata said solemnly. Then she smiled softly, "And I don't go back on my word. You taught me that, Naruto-kun. Thank you."

There was more she wanted to say. But even with Naruto asleep, she couldn't bring herself to confess aloud. She leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on his cheek.

I love you, Naruto-kun.

She let herself linger and savored the sensation of just being near Naruto.

"Get well soon. Okay? I'll be back tomorrow," she told him. Then she left, making sure that the door locked behind her on her way out.


The next time Naruto woke up, he felt a hundred times better! He was still a little tired – but his head didn't hurt, his throat wasn't scratchy, he wasn't too hot or too cold – and he was absolutely ravenous! Naruto almost whined piteously as his stomach painfully demanded sustenance immediately – not later, not in the three minutes it would take to make instant ramen, but right now!

Shut up, stupid stomach! I don't have anything for us to eat right now! Wait… is that…?

Yes!

There was food on the table. Naruto practically tripped over his own feet in his haste to get at the food. It was still warm. Plain broth, steamed fish lightly seasoned with spices, and perfectly fluffy white rice had never tasted so good! Only after he had inhaled the entire delicious meal did he wonder where it came from.

With his stomach satisfied, Naruto finally noticed the current state of his apartment: It was clean! He did a double take and pinched himself. Ouch! So… if he wasn't dreaming, then what happened? He'd been so sick and out of it that he couldn't remember much. The only thing he did remember was dreaming about a beautiful angel – who came to take care of him. Naruto frowned. That didn't explain the food or the clean apartment, though. He looked around for more clues and found a note with very familiar handwriting stuck on the refrigerator.

Naruto-kun,

I'm sorry I came over uninvited. I was worried about you, so Iruka-sensei told me where you lived. I hope you enjoyed the meal I prepared. If you're still hungry, there are a few apples in the refrigerator. I'll stop by tomorrow to see how you're doing. Please get better soon.

Hinata

Naruto smiled as he read the note. Hinata-chan… Thank you. He still couldn't remember much – but now he could vaguely recall opening the door and finding Hinata-chan instead of Iruka-sensei. Suddenly, he could remember her words with crystal clarity: I'll take care of you.

Happiness filled his heart. He had the best best friend in the world!

Hinata said a few other things, too. Naruto thought. A few more details were coming back to him. Something about promising to always be there for me? Or was that just a part of my dream? How strange… I could have sworn I felt Hinata kiss me. No… No… That had to have been a dream.

Naruto shook his head, bemused. His mind sure came up with the weirdest ideas in the space between dream and reality.

Fin.


Author's Notes:

(1) This was written for the Thirty Kisses (30kisses) community on Live Journal. Some people have asked about it. So now there is a link to the Thirty Kisses challenge on my profile page. If you want to know more about it, go there.

(2) 5 down, 25 kisses to go!

(3) 5 days. I know I said I was going take a break, but I can't seem to stop writing this! Not sure when the next chapter will be out… I am going to take a break! I swear. Now if only my muse will shut up and leave me alone…

(4) OMG! I hate this chapter. It does nothing to move the plot forward or develop any characters. It's filler. Pure mindless fluff – and not very good fluff, either. And it's so short! About 1000 words shorter than the previous chapter. There's barely any dialogue! The only thing this chapter has going for it is that it fits one of the 30 kisses themes – or I would never have posted it. (cries) I thought I was supposed to improve the more I wrote! Not get worse!! Next chapter will have some plot development. Promise.

(5) Originally, this chapter was titled: Hand Kiss. Hand kisses are going out of style; you don't see them anymore – which is really too bad. It's a sweet gesture. Then I did some research on hand kisses. Did you know? You don't actually kiss the hand in a hand kiss! You just bring your lips really close to the other person's hand without touching it – or you kiss your own thumb! And. The man can only kiss the lady's hand if she offers it first.

I had no idea.

My original idea for this chapter was to have Naruto tease Hinata by calling her "princess" and then kissing her hand. But if Hinata has to offer her hand first… and if Naruto doesn't actually kiss her hand… well, there went that idea. Bummer.

(6) The layout of Naruto's apartment is shown on page 25 of the Naruto Official Fanbook released by Shonen Jump. (ISBN: 1421518449) I love that book – lots of useless Naruto trivia. )

(7) Please review and let me know what you think. Thanks!