Title: One Small Step

Author: Shawny Wong

Pairing: Naruto/Hinata

Theme: #1 look over here

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 8a: Birthday Kiss

Naruto frowned as he counted all the coins and loose bills spread out on his bed. Was this all the money he had? He counted again, but the total amount remained the same. It wasn't enough! He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. He had been saving for almost half a year and cutting corners everywhere! He turned off the air conditioner during the summer despite the sweltering heat to save on the electric bill. He continued using his old nicked and scratched practice weapons when should have replaced them months ago. He even limited himself to one visit to Ichiraku's every two weeks instead of eating there once every few days. Ichiraku had fair prices so eating there wasn't expensive, but nothing was cheaper than instant cup ramen! He grimaced. Cup ramen was a poor substitute for Ichiraku's ramen. And Teuchi and Ayame had been giving him worried looks the last couple of times he'd stopped by. It couldn't be helped. He couldn't get a job, so he needed to save as much of his stipend as possible. He never had much money to begin with – being overcharged for everyday items didn't help.

Back when he was seven, he hadn't realized that normal people didn't have to pay extra for the privilege of shopping at the market for groceries and basic supplies. He was twelve now, a little older and a little more observant. He noticed the small details that he'd missed when he was seven, like how Iruka-sensei insisted on helping him buy all his school supplies every year, or how despite all the times Ichiraku-ojisan's supplier made "mistakes" and sent boxes of candies or small treats instead of flour or spices, Ichiraku-ojisan never seemed to mind. Naruto had never mentioned it to Iruka-sensei or Ichiraku-ojisan – because they never made a big deal out of it – but he was grateful to them. It warmed his heart to know that they cared about him enough to go out of their way to help him in little ways without ever expecting anything in return.

But the fact that they needed to help him at all was another painful reminder that he was different. It was just one more thing that set him apart from everyone else in the village. Why? Even after all these years, he still didn't understand why everyone in the village hated him so much! (The Sandaime Hokage would never tell him the reason, no matter how often he asked. So he learned to stop asking a long time ago.) When he was young, he sometimes tried to tell himself that the glares and the hateful whispers directed at him were a product of his overactive imagination. Perhaps he simply suffered from paranoia – except… Hinata could see them, too.

That led to the first hurdle in their burgeoning friendship.


Three years ago…

It was late afternoon. After a typical day at the Academy, Naruto and Hinata were headed towards the training grounds to practice their taijutsu – which meant that Naruto was walking with Hinata in public. He deliberately steered them away from the busiest streets in order to minimize his exposure to the villagers and their passive hostility. From the corner of his eye, he could see a young mother drag her child across the street when she noticed him approaching.

Yeah. Typical.

His shoulders sagged. He was used to being treated like a leper.

Naruto glanced at the girl walking beside him and felt some of his cheer return. Hinata acknowledged him and believed in him. He was important to her. The thought comforted him and made him feel as if he'd just won a lifetime supply of free ramen. As long as he had Hinata, he wasn't alone; his existence meant something. She didn't know it, but she was the reason he could ignore the ice-cold glares of the villagers so easily.

As they walked past a modest café, he could smell the pleasant aroma of fresh baked bread and pastries. A cheerful sign above the door read "Emi's Bakery and Café." Several beautiful cakes and a collection of frosted pastries and artfully arranged fruit tarts were on display in the window. He wondered briefly if they tasted as good as they looked before he pushed that thought away. He knew from painful past experience that someone like him would be unwelcome in someplace like that. He took a few more steps before he realized that Hinata was no longer beside him. Looking back, he spotted his best friend in front of the café.

"Hinata-chan? Is something wrong?"

"Ano… Would you mind if we stopped for a bit, Naruto-kun? Emi's makes the best cinnamon rolls in Konoha… and Hanabi-chan loves their strawberry shortcake, too… so I wanted to buy some for her."

"I don't mind, Hinata-chan. Your sister is so lucky to have you as her oneesan!"

Hinata blushed lightly at the compliment, but frowned when Naruto remained unmoving. "Aren't you coming inside with me, Naruto-kun?"

"Ah… Let's split up for a bit, okay?" Naruto shifted uneasily. Looking away, he caught sight of a bookstore down the street. "I want to look for a few scrolls on chakra theory while you're buying those cakes. See you in a few minutes, Hinata-chan!"

Before Hinata could object, he was already gone.

A few minutes later, Hinata stepped out of Emi's Bakery and Café with a small box of strawberry shortcake. She took a deep breath and deactivated her Byakugan. What she had seen had only confirmed her suspicions. Over the last two years, she noticed several odd facts concerning her best friend.

Fact 1: Almost every adult (except for the Hokage, Iruka-sensei, and Ichiraku-san) and nearly every child in the village hated Naruto. Hinata didn't need to hear the whispered words or dark mutters directed at her friend. She was Hyuuga – trained to read facial expressions and body language. She wasn't as skilled at interpreting non-verbal cues as her cousin Neji, but even she couldn't miss the disgust and loathing that Naruto faced on a daily basis.

Fact 2: Naruto never entered any stores or shops with her. He always made up some excuse to wait outside for her. The first few times that happened, she bought his excuses. Now she knew better. He was doing it on purpose. Naruto never patronized any stores or shops with her because most shopkeepers refused to serve him and threatened to hurt him if he didn't leave.

Hinata bristled indignantly. With her Byakugan, she had seen Naruto enter the bookstore across the street from the bakery, only to get verbally abused by the bookkeeper the moment he set foot in the shop. The bookkeeper had even thrown a heavy tome at Naruto's head. Only Naruto's quick reflexes saved him from a debilitating concussion. She wondered absently how the staff of Emi's Bakery and Café might have reacted if Naruto had joined her. Whatever else she was, she was a Hyuuga. It was akin to financial suicide to offend a Hyuuga customer. Would her presence have forced them to serve Naruto?

Fact 3: Naruto was a kindest, most caring individual she knew. He was her strength – her inspiration. He was also a bit dense and had a gift for annoying people by being brutally honest. (Naruto had no tact whatsoever.) And sometimes he made mistakes; he was only human.

Facts 1 and 2 were inconsistent with Fact 3. She knew her best friend better than she knew herself – and she knew that Naruto had done nothing to deserve that kind of treatment. She didn't know why he was treated like a missing-nin who committed some unforgivable sin against the village. She only knew that whatever the reason was, it was not Naruto's fault. It just wasn't possible! Naruto was too kind.

Naruto obviously knew he was persona non grata. The only question was: Did he know why?

Would he… would he be offended if she asked him? She had been curious about it for over a whole year! By now, her curiosity was unbearable. It was like an itch in the back of her mind that couldn't be scratched. She could ask him. Right? They had been best friends for over two years. In that time, she had trusted Naruto with personal secrets and truths about the clan that were not normally shared with outsiders. Naruto had kept her secrets. She wanted… No. She needed Naruto to trust her back. She wanted to prove to him that she could keep his secrets, too!

If she asked… Naruto wouldn't mind. Right? They were best friends, so she could ask him personal questions. Right? And… and he had to know that he could trust her. Right?

"Hinata-chan? Hinata-chan?"

She blinked in surprise at the hand waving in front of her face – and blushed.

"What were you thinking so hard about? I've been trying to get your attention for while!" Naruto grinned at her. "Did you get the cakes you wanted? I'm sure Hanabi will love them. Come on. We should get going… It's getting late. And I want to practice the kata that Gai-sensei showed us this morning! I can't let Lee beat me!"

Naruto tilted his head in confusion and let his words trail off. Hinata was acting strangely. He frowned.

"Hey… Are you okay, Hinata-chan?"

Hinata nervously pressed her fingers together. She could do this. Right.

"Ano… Naruto-kun? Why do the people hate you so much?"

Naruto flinched and took an involuntary step back. Suddenly, he felt like he was suffocating. His heart was pounding too fast. His breaths were coming too quickly. He tried to swallow and couldn't. Hinata was still watching him and waiting for an answer.

Don't look at me.

"Naruto-kun?"

Don't look at me.

"I… I have to go."

Naruto ran.


Maito Gai frowned at his youthful students – two of whom were decidedly un-youthful this fine morning. His third student, Lee kept glancing at his friends in concern. (Gai was absolutely delighted to see his favorite student display such youthful care and affection for his friends! Yosh!)

Naruto had been unnaturally subdued – only perking up when he sparred with Lee – and his performance had been lackluster. Usually, he and Lee did their best to outperform each other. But lately, he did not seem to have the energy. In fact, he was barely keeping up with Lee! His normal vivacity was nowhere to be found. Hinata was even worse. She had dark circles under her eyes – evidence of sleepless nights – and her movements – usually graceful and fluid – were clumsy and stilted. Her performance was appalling. In just two days, she seemed to regress two years.

Naruto refused to look at Hinata – which made his sparring sessions with her very interesting indeed – and Hinata only had eyes for Naruto – which made teaching her anything a nigh impossible feat. It was clear that something had happened between them.

Gai thought himself a patient man – he did not arrive at his current skill level by taking shortcuts, after all – and understood that even among the best of friends, sometimes differences of opinion were unavoidable. He had given them a few days to work through their differences on their own. Now, he was going to insist on it.

"Practice is over for today," he said sternly.

Three heads shot up to stare at him in surprise. They had only completed three laps around Konoha and only performed several hundred sit-ups, push-ups, and squats. That didn't even count as a warm-up! Lee and Hinata were shocked in to silence. Naruto opened his mouth to object but was forestalled when Gai held up his hand for silence.

"Practice is over for today," he repeated. "It is clear to me that two of you are only wasting your time. Naruto. Hinata. Where has your youth gone? Your flames have been doused. I do not know what caused this quarrel between you – nor do I want to know. However, it is hurting your training. You must put an end to it.

"Or I will put an end to your training."

Hinata gasped. Naruto simply looked away in shame.

"Gai-sensei…" Lee bit his lip in distress and spoke up for his friends. "Surely… Surely, you don't mean that!"

"Lee! It brings me great joy to see that you care for your friends. But they must recover their focus. Otherwise, no matter how much I train them, they will not learn. Do you understand?"

Lee nodded reluctantly.

"Gai-sensei…" Naruto started, but then he stopped. What could he say? He didn't know.

"Lee and I are going to finish our warm up with another lap around the village. Then we will train at the Academy dojo for today. Naruto. Hinata. You two should stay here and clear the misunderstanding between you. If you cannot reach an accord, please do not come back tomorrow." Gai ruffled Naruto's hair with his right hand and gently pat Hinata's shoulder with his left. He smiled – not one of his blinding white smiles with teeth, but a soft smile that only lifted corners of his mouth. It was strangely out of place on him, yet felt so right. "I hope that you will return to me tomorrow. I have faith in you."

Gai stepped back and motioned to Lee. "Come, Lee. We shall leave them alone. Naruto and Hinata have something to do that is more important than training!"

Naruto watched with a sense of dread as Gai-sensei and Lee ran off.

He had hoped that Hinata would not notice the hatred and the angry looks directed at him. He had hoped that she wouldn't see how unpleasant the villagers were to him. It was futile, of course. As much as he wanted to, they couldn't always hang out in unpopulated areas, like empty training grounds or empty park benches. It was impossible. Hinata was smart and with her eyes… observant. She was too observant. He could feel Hinata watching him and tried to push back his rising panic. He was afraid. His fear was like ice in his veins; it froze his heart – but instead of numbness, it brought cold, cold pain. Could she see it? Could she see the reason he was so hated? And if she did… would she hate him, too? He couldn't… just couldn't go back to the way things were! Alone. Friendless.

Don't look at me. Please… Don't look at me.

They say that curiosity killed the cat. Hinata wished that it killed her instead.

Hinata blinked back tears. She shouldn't have asked him. It was none of her business. She had invaded his privacy. She had offended him so much that he'd run away from her. And now… Now he wouldn't even look at her. She had tried to talk to him after classes – so that she could apologize – but apparently, he didn't want to talk to her because he'd run away from her then, too. He hadn't even stopped when she called for him to wait. This was her chance to apologize – to beg for his forgiveness. She desperately wanted her friend back.

The silence that lingered between them was stifling. Hinata broke first.

"You don't have to tell me!" she blurted.

"What?!" Naruto jerked his head up to finally look at her – and was shocked at how miserable she looked.

"The other d-d-day… I shouldn't have asked. I'm s-s-sorry! I know I made you angry. It's none of my b-b-business. So… so I'm sorry! You don't have to tell me. So p-please… can we still b-b-be friends?" Despite her best effort, the tears fell. She raised her hand to wipe them away when she felt Naruto's hands stop her. She froze when she felt his hands on her face gently wiping her tears for her.

Naruto stared stupidly at her tears.

Is she… crying… because of… me?

The dampness underneath his fingertips confirmed what his eyes were telling him. Idiot! He had been so worried that she might hate him – that she might not want to his friend anymore – that it never even occurred to him that she might worry about the same thing! And now… He'd made her cry. Stupid! He mentally kicked himself.

Hinata deserved his honesty.

"You don't have to be sorry," Naruto said softly. "You asked why everyone hates me. I want to tell you. I would love to tell you why everyone hates me… why I've been told on more than one occasion to drop dead. If I died today, I'd bet my life that they'd all be celebrating and dancing in the streets tomorrow." He resolutely ignored her horrified expression. "I want to tell you why… because that would mean that I know the reason why. But I don't. I can't answer your question."

Hinata looked searchingly at his face. Naruto's expression was pained… but he was telling the truth. She could tell.

"Stop it."

"Stop what?" she asked, confused.

Naruto let his hands fall and turned his back to her. He tensed. He could still feel her eyes on him.

"Stop looking at me!"

Hinata almost jumped at his rough command.

"I hate looking in the mirror. Every time I look in the mirror I try to find it."

"It?"

"It. The thing that makes me so repulsive to look at. The thing that makes everyone turn away from me. The thing that makes everyone treat me like I'm a monster. I've spent hours in front of the mirror trying to find it. Maybe I'm just stupid and ignorant like they say because I've never been able to find it.

"But you're smart, Hinata-chan… much smarter than I am. I know that if you look at me long enough… you'll find it. You'll see what they see. And you'll hate me, too. So please… don't look at me. I don't want you to hate me."

The pain and self-loathing in his voice hurt her heart – and cancelled out the joy that she felt upon discovering that Naruto didn't hate her, after all. In fact, Naruto thought that she might hate him.

"That's impossible," she said firmly. She eyed him carefully. He looked ready to run again… But I won't let you! Just to be safe, Hinata took one of his hands in both of hers and held it tightly. "There is nothing you could ever do that would make me hate you."

"You don't know that."

Naruto still wouldn't look at her – instead, his eyes were fixed on their joined hands, as if he couldn't believe she was still there.

"Have you ever deliberately hurt anyone?"

"No!"

"Do you plan to turn traitor and leave the village?"

"No!"

"Have you ever betrayed me or exposed my secrets?"

"No!"

"Are you only pretending to be my friend so that you can steal the secrets of the Byakugan?"

"No!" Naruto was horrified that she might even think such a thing. "I would never…"

"Then why would I ever hate you?"

"I don't know," Naruto admitted. He still sounded hesitant and uncertain – but at least, he was looking at her now. "Everyone else does. Why wouldn't you?"

"Well, maybe because I'm not everyone else. I'm your best friend!" Hinata gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. "Remember when Iruka-sensei covered kekkei genkai earlier this year?"

Naruto nodded.

"A kekkei genkai is a bloodline limit – a genetic trait or ability passed down through generations, usually within clans. Since the ability can only be inherited through blood, the ability cannot be imitated or copied by other people," he quoted with perfect textbook accuracy.

"Do you remember what he said about my eyes? The Byakugan is the kekkei genkai of the Hyuuga clan; it grants me exceptional vision. Byakugan!" The veins around Hinata's eyes bulged as she activated her Byakugan. Instantly, the colors of the world faded into shades of gray while her peripheral vision expanded to encompass nearly 360 degrees – and she could see everything around her with sharp focus and perfect clarity.

Naruto pulled away instinctively and tried to hide from her enhanced sight, but it was futile. Hinata refused to let go of his hand. She stared at him for several long moments. He fought hard not to squirm under her intense scrutiny. Finally, she released the Byakugan.

"I've spent hours looking at you, Naruto-kun. I l-like… I like watching you," she blushed, but forced herself to continue. "Have you thought that maybe the reason you can't find it… is because it doesn't exist? All I see is my best friend, Uzumaki Naruto. Sometimes, he's loud. And sometimes, he's a bit dense and a bit obnoxious…"

"Hey!"

"But mostly, he's hardworking, energetic, and kind. I don't know what the villagers see when they look at you. But I think… they must be blind and st-st-stupid because I see the most w-w-wonderful p-person I know."

Hinata could feel the blood rushing to her face at her almost confession and fought to stay conscious.

"Hinata-chan… you…" What could he say to that? Naruto looked at her in pure wonder and amazement. She meant every word. He was simultaneously elated and humbled.

"And… S-Someday, he'll be Hokage! D-Dattebayo!"

Naruto laughed. His catchphrase was so unexpected and sounded so hilarious coming from his shy friend that he couldn't help it. He caught the glint of mischief in her eyes. She was teasing him! He used his free hand to poke her in the ribs right where he knew she was the most ticklish.

"You're making fun of me!" He tried (and failed) to sound indignant. The smile on his face was a dead giveaway. He poked her again for good measure.

Hinata giggled.

"Thank you, Hinata-chan."

"You're welcome, Naruto-kun."


Present day…

Naruto smiled at the bittersweet memory.

That had been the worst… (He hesitated to call it a fight because it hadn't been a fight – not exactly anyways.)… stumbling block in their long friendship. Afterwards, their friendship was stronger than ever. Hinata had really looked and didn't think there was anything wrong with him! Over the years, they did fight a handful of times – usually over something stupid and inconsequential. None of those subsequent fights ever made him feel as miserable as those few days before Gai-sensei forced them to work it out – because no matter what happened Naruto was confident in the strength of their bond.

He sighed. It was a good thing their bond was so strong, too, because Naruto was a terrible best friend.

Naruto slowly stuffed his money back into Gama-chan, his green frog shaped wallet. It had been a gift from Hinata for his 8th birthday because she had noticed that he didn't own a wallet. Gama-chan was special because it was the first birthday present he could remember receiving.

As he picked up the loose change on his bed, his eyes fell on the walrus-sleeping cap on the pillow – another gift from Hinata – this time for his 9th birthday – because the weather in Konoha had been unusually cold that year and she had been worried that he might be cold at night. That was the first time he could remember anyone actually worrying about him.

Under the pillow – hidden from sight – was a scroll on chakra theory with chakra control exercises specifically designed for young children; it was written in Hinata's neat calligraphy. She had painstakingly copied it from one of the training scrolls in the Hyuuga library and presented it to him for his 10th birthday – because that was the year they started practicing jutsu (techniques) at the Academy. That was when they discovered just how awful Naruto's chakra control was. (He could barely perform the standard justu taught at the Academy!) The scroll didn't contain any secret Hyuuga techniques – but it was intended for young Hyuuga children. In fact, Hinata admitted that it was the first training scroll that all Hyuuga children received when they first started learning Jyuuken, the Hyuuga Gentle Fist style. Therefore, the scroll was easy to read and understand; it explained chakra theory in such a way that even a three year old could understand it! Naruto found it extremely helpful and practiced the simple chakra control exercises nightly. He only wished that the Academy textbook had explained it even half as well.

Hinata didn't mention it, but by then, Naruto knew enough about the inner workings of the Hyuuga clan to know that Hinata had taken a huge risk for him. If anyone discovered he had that scroll, she would be in deep trouble with her clan. Even though it didn't contain any secrets, it was still part of the clan's training methods and therefore off limits to outsiders. That scroll never left his apartment. And when he wasn't reading it, he kept it hidden.

A few weeks before his 11th birthday, Hinata stopped by his apartment for a short visit. She had casually asked him about the large potted plant he kept beside his bed, so Naruto confessed to a secret love of gardening. That year, she gave him a high quality gardening kit that was perfect for indoor use. It contained a small watering can, trowel, sharp clippers, and plant food – all in its own storage basket. The basket now sat on the floor between the potted plant and the bed.

Naruto reached for his goggles and put them on. These were also a gift – for his 12th birthday. He knew that Hinata always listened to him. The goggles were concrete proof. Several days before his 12th birthday, he let his impatience get the better of him. He wanted to be a real ninja already! He complained about it. Vociferously. He didn't expect Hinata to actually do anything about it. (It wasn't her fault he was just an academy student and not a ninja!) It was just nice to know that she was paying attention to him. And he shamelessly took advantage of that fact. Looking back on it now, he was embarrassed about how childish he must have sounded.

"I know it's not a Leaf hitai-ate, Naruto-kun…" Hinata said when he opened the box. "But you can wear it around your head like one… And maybe… you'll feel more like a real ninja. I hope you like it."

He did.

Naruto wore the goggles with pride. They sat on his forehead, instead of over his eyes – and he puffed up a teeny tiny bit. He wasn't a ninja yet, but the goggles did make him feel better. He felt like he was practicing for when he finally earned the right to wear the official Leaf hitai-ate (forehead protector).

Thinking about all the gifts Hinata had given him over the years, Naruto came to one depressing conclusion:

I'm a terrible best friend!

Every year, Hinata gave him wonderful birthday presents – gifts that while not very expensive, were obviously chosen with great care. And what had he done for her?

For Hinata's 8th birthday… he hadn't even known it was her birthday! No one, save Hinata, had ever given him a birthday present before. So he had never thought to give any birthday presents in return. He hadn't even thought to ask her when her birthday was. In fact, had Iruka not casually asked him his plans for Hinata's birthday, he would have missed it entirely. Even so, it had been too late. Naruto had no time to get her anything – except a measly handmade birthday card and his heartfelt wishes for her to have a happy birthday.

For Hinata's 9th birthday, the date snuck up on him. Naruto had been so preoccupied with training that he almost forgot. So he'd had no money saved to buy her anything. The only thing he had was a new bag of Kono-Baku candy – courtesy of Ichiraku-ojisan. Hinata insisted on sharing the candy with him, even though it was her birthday present. Naruto privately thought that sharing the candy defeated the purpose of him giving it to her in the first place!

For Hinata's 10th birthday, he managed to save some money for a present, but forgot to account for the shopkeepers' right-to-refuse-service policy – a policy that was reserved just for him. Naruto winced at the memory. He always had trouble buying things for himself. He didn't know why he had thought it might be different if he was buying something for Hinata.

Naïveté. Probably.

In the end, he used the money to treat her to a meal at Ichiraku Ramen. Naruto winced again. That hadn't gone so well, either. Hinata had been sick that day. Her face had been beet red for the entire meal. She had barely eaten anything – and she could barely talk to him. She must have had a sore throat that hurt her to eat and speak. Great. Just great.

Last year, for Hinata's 11th birthday, he almost got it right. He remembered the date weeks in advance, saved money, and he didn't make the mistake of trying to go shopping himself. He even put some extra thought into what Hinata might like best. He knew her little sister Hanabi liked to collect cute ceramic cats. Maybe Hinata would like one, too? So he enlisted Ayame-neesan's help. He gave her the money and asked her to buy one for him. He even wrapped it! But before he could give it to her… Several newly minted genin punks decided to rough him up a bit.

When he was much younger, he was often the favorite target of older bullies. Most of that stopped after he started training with Gai-sensei though. Naruto smirked. Bullies like to torment those weaker than themselves. Under Gai-sensei's tutelage, he became a target with more than enough skill to hit back hard. The more skill he gained in taijutsu, the less often he was targeted, until the bullying stopped altogether. Unfortunately, their new promotion from academy students to genin-level ninja must have made these particular genin bold. Naruto managed to remind them why they had stopped picking on him years ago. But in the scuffle, he'd been forced to drop the box with Hinata's gift…

When he saw the broken pieces of the cat, Naruto wanted to scream in frustration. Wait. No he didn't. He wanted those punks to come back so that he could beat them up. Again.

Hinata was his best friend! She always gave him wonderful gifts. She taught him basic etiquette (at his request) and helped him fix most of his social faux pas and gaffes. She helped him study and improve his written scores at the Academy.

And what had he done in return for her?

He couldn't even manage to get her birthday gifts right!

He really was a horrible best friend.

Naruto was determined. This year would be different. He remembered her birthday. He saved a lot more money. Iruka-sensei had already agreed to help him buy the gift. And this time, he wasn't going to choose anything fragile! He was going to get the best, most expensive gift that he could afford. This year, his gift was going to be super awesome; it had to be. Naruto had four years of horrible (and missed) birthday gifts to make up for.

Now for the hard part: Deciding what to get her.

He could think about that later though. He still had a few weeks left. For now, he needed to hurry or he was going to be late meeting Hinata.

To be continued…


Author's Notes:

(1) I'm so sorry! It's been two whole months since the last update! I have excuses, but I'm sure you don't want to hear them.

(2) Post part of chapter 8 now? Or wait and post the whole thing later? I was torn. I finally decided to post in parts – since I've had people asking me "Where are you?" I'm still here! And I promise to have the second part of chapter 8 up within two weeks – not two months! It's already about 50 percent complete.

(3) FYI, one of the main reasons I took up this challenge was because of Sleepwalking101 on deviantART. She writes very good NaruHina fanfics and is currently taking the 100 themes challenge on DA. 100! She's writing 100 NaruHina oneshots. (She's already written 35 of 100 themes.) I'd been toying with the idea of taking the 30 kisses challenge for a very long time. When I saw her writing 100 NaruHina stories, it motivated me to get off my lazy butt and actually do it! Hey, if she can write 100, then I can write 30! Right? Anyways, if you love NaruHina, go check out her stories on DA. There's a link to her DA gallery in my profile.

(4) The original theme for this chapter was going to be theme #11 (gardenia). But after writing the flashback scene, I realized that theme #1 (look over here) worked a lot better. Crap. Now I'll have to come up with something else for theme #11 (gardenia).

(5) One reviewer mentioned that seeing the words "Flashback" and "(End)/Flashback" was disconcerting. So for this chapter, the flashback scene is formatted differently. Is this better (or worse) than italicizing the whole flashback scene? I'm just curious as to what type of formatting people prefer. Either way is fine with me.

(6) Please review. Thanks!