Title: One Small Step
Author: Shawny Wong
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 8b: Birthday Kiss
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.
Hinata eyed the pile of clothing in Naruto's arms doubtfully.
"Naruto-kun… are you sure you want to buy those? They're…" The first word that popped into her mind was tacky… followed quickly by ghastly. Hinata struggled to find a more diplomatic description. "They're… so colorful."
"I sure do, Hinata-chan! I don't mind the colors. Besides, these clothes are bargain! They're on clearance – and it's buy one get one free!"
Hinata privately thought that the only reason these particular clothes were almost free was because no sane person would want them! Was a lack of fashion-sense contagious? The very first thing Lee did nine months ago – when he graduated the Academy and was officially apprenticed to Gai-sensei – was copy Gai-sensei's style of dress. Hinata suppressed a shudder. Gai was a wonderful teacher and she owed him more than she could say for taking her under his wing all those years ago. And Lee was like the fun older brother she'd never had. But grown men and teenage boys were not meant to wear matching skin-tight bodysuits in green spandex with orange legwarmers! It was unsettling.
Maybe it is contagious! I'd better keep an eye on Naruto!
"Naruto-kun… I don't think you should get those – even if they are on sale. At the very least, go try them on first… You may decide you don't like them, after all." I hope. Hinata pushed Naruto in the direction of the changing rooms.
"Okay. I'll be right back."
Hinata settled down to wait.
Is this how it feels to be a girlfriend? Going shopping and helping your boyfriend pick out new clothes?
She blushed and quickly dismissed that fanciful thought. She was being silly to think such things. If it weren't for Naruto's unfair treatment at the hands of the village storekeepers, she wouldn't even be here.
After Hinata realized how badly the storekeepers mistreated Naruto, by refusing to serve him – or worse, outrageously overcharging him for sub-par products – Hinata tested her theory by dragging Naruto along with her the next time she needed to buy something. She had been right. Her presence did make a difference. It was one of the few times she was happy to be the Hyuuga heiress. The words "He's with me." followed by the cool glare that all Hyuuga possessed were usually enough to guarantee Naruto fair service. Even the most belligerent storekeepers were not immune – though if looks could kill... Hinata shook her head. They didn't dare object. As the heiress of one of the richest clans in Konoha, one word from her – and she could financially ruin a business. She had never liked wielding that kind of power, but now she was grateful. With it, she could help Naruto.
Hence, several times a year, Hinata went shopping with Naruto. However, this was the first time they'd ever gone shopping for clothes together. Initially, Naruto had balked at the idea of going to buy new clothes. (Did all boys inherently hate clothing stores – like cats hated water? Judging from Naruto's instant refusal, maybe they did; maybe it was genetic.) But Hinata had insisted. Naruto was quickly outgrowing everything he owned – besides which nearly everything he owned was threadbare from years of use. When hard logic didn't change his mind…
"Please? Naruto-kun?" Hinata clasped her hands in front of her chest. "For me? I really want to do this."
Well, what do you know? Ayame-neesan was right! Boys really couldn't resist a girl's ultimate weapon: the infamous "puppy eyes."
Hinata's musings were cut short when Naruto stepped out of the changing room. She gaped.
"So… What do you think?" Naruto grinned. "It's kind of more colorful than I expected, but it's unique. I like it."
Hinata was not as fashion-conscious as the other kunoichi in her class. (Sakura and Ino made it a point to wear pretty clothes in the latest trends.) As a general rule, she preferred practicality to outward appearance. Her own clothes – navy capris, a black T-shirt, and a plain beige jacket – were sturdy, not fashionable – and made to withstand many intense training sessions. So she never expected to care one way or another what someone else was wearing. But this… It was hideous.
"Naruto-kun. Go back and change," she ordered firmly. "I am exercising my right as your best friend to veto your decisions. You are not wearing that. Ever."
"What?! Why not? What's wrong with it?"
A better question would have been: What wasn't wrong with it? Naruto was standing before her in a red-and-white, checkered tunic over which was fuzzy maroon vest. Too large lime green pants held at the waist with a bright yellow, corded belt completed the outfit. The mishmash of colors and patterns was making her eyes water and her head hurt.
"Just do it, Naruto-kun. You are not buying that outfit. I'll go pick out a few other things for you to try on."
An hour later, Hinata wanted to strangle her best friend. Instead, she picked out a few tasteful outfits that were reasonably priced – and that she knew were in his budget – and shoved him towards the changing rooms. Again. For some reason, Naruto kept choosing the worst outfits offered in the entire clothing store! He was driving her crazy!
If he picked out one more atrocious outfit, she was going to hit him – with Jyuuken. Seriously. Then, it came: the final straw. Naruto walked out of the changing room in that… that monstrosity! To add insult to injury, Naruto was smiling. He actually liked it! For the first time in memory, Hinata glared at Naruto.
Naruto's smile didn't falter, but he cringed inwardly. Hinata-chan is pretty scary sometimes.
"Naruto-kun," she said slowly – making sure to carefully enunciate each word – as if she were explaining a new concept to a three year old. "A bright orange jumpsuit is not appropriate attire in our line of work."
"But I like orange!"
"Are you suicidal?!" Hinata wasn't quite shouting – but it was a close thing. "Not only is solid orange an eyesore, it practically screams 'Look over here!' That outfit will get you killed by enemy ninja on your very first mission outside the village!"
"It's not all orange. Look! There's some blue here around the shoulders – and the collar's white," Naruto protested. "Besides, it's made to last. See? The fabric is pretty thick and durable – and all the seams are reinforced. It'll last for years – even with the way we train!"
Hinata closed her eyes and silently counted backwards from 10.
"I don't care how good the fabric is or how much those seams are reinforced. Wearing that is like waving a red flag at a raging bull! Were you not listening when Iruka-sensei went over the importance of stealth?"
Naruto rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Er… Yeah... I was listening."
"Then why are you being so… so difficult? Why are you choosing the ugliest, cheapest clothes you can get away with?" Hinata froze as soon as she said those words. Everything – from his strange new fashion sense to his reluctance to shop – clicked.
Naruto wouldn't meet her eyes.
"That's it. Isn't it?" she said slowly. "You're choosing the most inexpensive things in the store… but… that doesn't make sense. Since we go shopping together, I know you can afford a few decent things. So… why are you doing this?"
Hinata barely caught his mumbled answer. Her eyes widened in surprise and she felt a bit faint.
"What did you say?" she squeaked.
"I said…" Naruto cleared his throat, which only delayed the inevitable. "Um… I wanted… um… I want to get you something nice for your birthday."
"Really?" Hinata fought to keep a blush off her face. She was so very delighted that the mountain of frustration she was feeling just moments ago instantly crumbled into dust.
Hinata grinned. Naruto was so cute when he was embarrassed!
"That's very sweet of you, Naruto-kun, but you don't have to get me anything."
"Yes, I do! I know I messed up with all your other birthday presents… but this year is going to be different! I'm going to get you the best present ever!"
Hinata blinked in surprise. Messed up with her other birthday presents? Did he really think that? Why? She had liked all of them. In fact, she even kept mementos of each gift in a lacquered keepsake box on her desk. The handmade card, a candy wrapper, a photo of herself and Naruto at Ichiraku Ramen (courtesy of Ayame-neesan who insisted on taking a picture of the "birthday girl"), and the red ribbon originally tied around the neck of the ceramic cat that Naruto had wanted to give her were carefully stored – and cherished.
"You think you messed up?! But I loved all your presents!"
"You're just saying that!" Naruto pouted.
"I'm not." Hinata shook her head. "I really liked them all."
"I'm still going to get you something really nice for your birthday."
Hinata sighed in resignation. Naruto was being stubborn. He wasn't going to change his mind about getting her a gift, so she might as well give in gracefully.
"Thank you, Naruto-kun. But please… Don't get anything expensive. Okay? You should spend your money on things you really need – like good quality clothes for yourself. And that orange combination you're currently wearing does not count!"
"If I do that, then I won't be able to afford something really nice!"
"Naruto-kun, birthday presents don't have to cost money," Hinata protested. "Some of the best presents I've ever received were free."
"Oh yeah?" Naruto looked skeptical. "Like what?"
"Like birthday kisses!" an unexpected voice chimed in.
"Ayame-neesan! What are you doing here?" asked Naruto. He turned to look at the girl that he thought of as an honorary older cousin, so he missed the deep red color that infused Hinata's cheeks at the word "kisses."
Ayame was not so unobservant – and winked at the younger girl.
"What? I'm not allowed to go shopping in my spare time?" She put her hands on her hips and mock glared at Naruto. "I looked over here and saw you guys, so I stopped to say 'Hi!' But now I'm wondering why I bothered."
"Sorry! I just didn't expect to see you."
"Never mind that." Ayame waved his apology away. "What's this I hear about birthday presents?"
"Hinata-chan's birthday is coming up soon and I wanted to get her something nice."
"B-but… I don't want Naruto-kun to buy me anything ex-expensive!"
"Hinata's right, Naruto. Sometimes, it's the thought that counts more than the physical present. The physical present is only important because of what it represents; it's a reminder that someone cared to wish you a happy birthday. Sometimes, the best present is one that you can't buy from a store."
Naruto understood what Ayame was saying. He really did! But how else could he prove to Hinata (and to himself) that he was a good friend, if he didn't buy her something really nice?
"Okay. Give me an example."
"Birthday kisses for one – we girls love them," Ayame grinned when Hinata blushed again. "Seriously though, you should really be asking Hinata what she would like."
"I don't want you to buy me anything. Honest!" Hinata pressed her fingers together – and fidgeted nervously. "What I would really l-like… is to just spend the day with my best friend."
"But that's not special!"
You're wrong, Naruto-kun. It is special… to me.
"We do that all the time! We train with Gai-sensei in the morning, sit next to each other at the Academy, and train after classes. We spend a lot of time together already!"
"Baka!" Ayame reached over and bopped Naruto's head with her fist.
"She means she wants to spend a day with you doing fun things! Not training!" Ayame scolded. "I swear! You… you… ninja-wannabe! You're always training. Hinata's more than just a sparring partner. She's a girl, too. So take the day off – and go do what she wants to do! Take her out for a day on the town or for a nice relaxing picnic at the park or something! Make sure she has fun! And don't even think about training!"
Naruto rubbed the top of his head where Ayame had hit him. He looked thoughtful.
"Is that what you really want, Hinata-chan?" he asked. "To spend a fun day together? No training?"
Truthfully, Hinata loved spending time with Naruto period. It didn't matter to her if they spent the whole day training. But… A day with Naruto's full attention on her, instead of training? A day like the one Ayame-neesan just described? That was… was like a real date! She hadn't meant that when she asked to spend the day with Naruto – not at all! Any time spent with Naruto was special to her.
However, Ayame's interpretation (or rather… her deliberate misinterpretation) of her simple request was like a dream come true.
"Okay! For your birthday, I'll make sure you have a great time, Hinata-chan! It's a promise!"
Ayame could barely restrain the urge to giggle. Hinata looked like she wanted to pass out – though Naruto was oblivious to it. She could practically see the wheels in his head turning as he tried to come up with ideas for "fun" things to do with Hinata. They were just so cute together. She caught Hinata's eye and silently mouthed: 'You can thank me later.'
Hinata made a sound halfway between a laugh and a squeak.
"Great! I'm glad that's settled." Ayame clapped her hands. Then she eyed Naruto dubiously. "Now, what are you wearing?!"
"These are my new clothes." Naruto said proudly. "Do you like them?"
"I know! Isn't it cool? Orange can be… like my trademark! I'll be the only ninja in the Elemental Nations with this color!"
"But Naruto… They're orange."
"Yes. We've established that." Naruto huffed in annoyance and crossed his arms.
"Is he serious, Hinata-chan?" Ayame asked. "He really wants to buy that?"
Naruto's danger sense started to tingle when Ayame and Hinata seemed to communicate in some kind of secret girl code. Uh oh… He turned to run, but it was too late. Ayame's arm shot out and snagged the back of his collar.
"Hey! Let me go!"
"Let's go get you some proper clothes, Naruto-chan."
"G-Gomennasai, Naruto-kun. It's for your own good."
Several hours later, Ayame snatched Gama-chan from Naruto's unwilling hands and paid for all his purchases. Naruto was annoyed. He wasn't used to having people tell him what to do or, in this case, what to wear. Both Ayame and Hinata had forced him into trying on a lot more clothes than he had been comfortable with. When he tried to protest, one look at their wide pleading eyes and he found himself caving in.
(Yes! The puppy eyes strike again! Ayame thought victoriously.)
Naruto pouted. He really did like orange – and really did think it would be cool to have it as his trademark color. But Ayame and Hinata had firmly vetoed that idea. In the end, after much negotiation, they had reached a compromise. Naruto was allowed to choose several dark orange shirts that were the color of fall leaves – and not the bright, almost blinding color he originally wanted – if he allowed the girls to choose the rest of his wardrobe. Ayame, as a civilian and as a teenaged girl who loved to shop, had a good eye for quality fabrics and classic styles. She selected clothing in dark, neutral colors (blues, blacks, and browns) for Naruto, insisting that those colors made him look mature and respectable – as if he wasn't already mature and respectable! Hinata picked out a dark brown – almost black – fitted jacket for him with a removable thermal lining so that it could be worn comfortably in both warm and cold weather. The back of the jacket had a red swirl in the center, just like the red swirl on the back of most jounin and chunin vests. It wasn't something he would have chosen for himself. But he had to admit it looked… good, really good.
As he trudged home under the weight of several gigantic shopping bags stuffed full of clothes and accessories, his annoyance faded and was replaced by pleasure. Despite being bossed around by two girls, Naruto was strangely happy because it was further proof that they cared. True, Ayame and Hinata had bossed him around. But they did it because they wanted to help him – even if they did go a little overboard. In the end, it had been… fun. He rarely shopped for himself unless it was a desperate necessity. Today had been a sinful indulgence, buying new things that had nothing to do with basic necessities or school supplies. He sighed. Gama-chan was skinny again.
But that was okay, too. Hinata did say that she didn't want him to buy anything for her.
Well that's too bad – because I'm definitely going to get something for her. Ayame-neesan said it's the thought that counts and it's what the present represents that matters.
Naruto smiled as an idea formed. He quickly dropped all his shopping bags just inside the door of his apartment and locked up again. He had to find Iruka-sensei.
I know exactly what to get her.
On December 27th …
Ino sighed and propped her chin on her hands as she slumped over the counter of her family's flower shop. Normally, she didn't mind spending her weekends working at the shop. She loved everything about flowers from planting them and watching them grow to arranging them in artful floral bouquets to studying the language of flowers. She also loved chatting with the customers and catching up on the latest gossip with them. But…
Today is just so boring!
Business during the winter months was a lot slower than any other season. She had only had one customer all morning!
Oh well… Daddy always says I should look on the bright side of things. This just gives me more time to think about how I'm going to prove that I'm better than Forehead Girl! Then Sasuke-kun will notice me for sure!
But even that was getting old. Sure, Sasuke was really cute and mysterious – but he was also cold and aloof to the point of being cruel. Ino felt a bit guilty thinking such negative thoughts about her crush. But after years of rejection, most of Sasuke's allure had worn off. Recently, she found herself going through the motions only to annoy her rival and ex-best friend, Sakura, and not because she honestly wanted Sasuke's attention. Sometimes, she still couldn't believe that she had lost her best friend over a stupid boy.
Boys are so stupid!
Just look at Naruto! He had to be the densest boy in all of Konoha. All the girls and probably most of the guys in their class knew that Hinata had a massive crush on him – almost from day one. Ino was an expert at reading the signs, besides which Hinata didn't hide them very well at all. Yet the boy was oblivious. Thinking about Hinata's unrequited crush on Naruto was depressing. Hinata might not have Naruto's romantic attention, but at least she had his attention – and she was Naruto's best friend. Compared to her, Ino was so far behind it wasn't even funny. Ino had none of Sasuke's attention – she couldn't even say that they were friends. Sasuke didn't have any friends.
Ino was almost jealous of Hinata. She was rich. She was the best kunoichi in their class. And she was such a sweetheart that all of the girls, including Ino, genuinely liked her. (It helped that Hinata was so head over heels for Naruto that none of them saw her as competition for their precious Sasuke-kun.) Hinata was not as pretty as herself, of course – but she was cute. Most of all, she was close to the boy that she liked – a boy that cleaned up really well.
Who knew that Naruto could be so hot?
When Naruto ditched the rags and exchanged them for black pants, a burnt orange t-shirt, and clean-cut jacket that he wore open, most of the girls agreed: Naruto was cute! How come they never noticed before? The transformation from dirty street urchin to cute classy pre-teen was astonishing. He wasn't as good-looking as Sasuke, of course! But he was one of the few that actually challenged Sasuke at the top of the class. Plus, Naruto was all the things Sasuke was not: kind, friendly, and approachable. Too bad Hinata had staked her claim on him years ago! Hinata was a good friend. Besides, she was just so sweet that Ino felt guilty if she even thought about flirting with Naruto!
The cheerful tinkle of bells pulled her from her thoughts.
"Hi! Welcome to Yamanaka's Flowers for All Occasions. May I help you?" she asked automatically. Then she got a good look at her newest customer and sat up in surprise. "Naruto?! What are you doing here?"
The blonde boy rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment.
"Ah! I'm on my way to meet Hinata-chan and I saw you in the window… so I thought I'd stop by and say hi… and I wanted to buy some flowers for Hinata-chan," Naruto said. That last part came out in a rush.
"Could it be you're trying to ask Hinata out on a date?" Ino grinned slyly.
Drat. He's still as dense as ever.
"Then why do you want to get her flowers?"
"It's her birthday today," Naruto explained. "So I thought it would be nice to get her some flowers."
Ino perked up immediately. This was her area of expertise.
"That's great, Naruto! What kind of flowers would you like to get her?"
Naruto took a good look around and was almost overwhelmed by all the colors and fragrances surrounding them. There were roses, tulips, daffodils, lilies, orchids, carnations, and at least two dozen other varieties that he couldn't even begin to name. He'd never bought flowers before. What would Hinata like?
"Actually, I have no idea," he said sheepishly.
"Well," Ino tapped her chin thoughtfully. "What kind of message would you like to give her with the flowers?"
"Every flower has a meaning. For example, red roses mean passionate love, daisies mean innocence, and white tulips ask for forgiveness. So what would you like to say to Hinata?"
Naruto was quiet for a moment.
"How about something that says how happy I am to have her as my friend – and that I hope she has a happy birthday. Can you find something like that for me?"
"Of course!" Ino stood and walked around the shop mentally reviewing each flower and what they represented.
Hmm… Not roses then. Shame. Baby's Breath means happiness. But let's see what else I can find. Orchids are for beauty. Tiger lilies are for wealth and pride. Geraniums are for comfort and friendship. That might work. Daffodils are for chivalry or unrequited love. No. Absolutely not. That won't do at all!
And then her eyes fell upon a bouquet of lovely white blossoms. Ino's eyes lit up and she almost giggled.
Gardenias! This is perfect!
Ino picked up the bouquet and wrapped it carefully. Then she handed the flowers to Naruto who had waited patiently.
"Mmm… smells nice. What are these?"
"These are gardenias – for joy. I'm sure Hinata will love the message behind them."
"Joy? That's a good message. Thanks, Ino!" Naruto happily paid for his purchase.
The bells over the door tinkled after him as he left. Only then did Ino succumb to giggles. Hinata is definitely going to love them – especially once she remembers the second meaning of gardenias!
Naruto waited outside the main gates of the Hyuuga estate impatiently. He couldn't wait to give Hinata her birthday present! Just then Hinata stepped outside. Naruto almost bounced up next to her.
"Happy birthday, Hinata-chan!"
Hinata's vision was suddenly full of white gardenias. She blushed. Flowers? For her? From Naruto?
"Thank you, Naruto-kun. These are very pretty."
"Ino helped me pick them out. She says that gardenias mean joy. That's why I got them for you - because I'm happy that we're friends and because I wanted you to have a happy birthday! Do you like them?"
"I do. Thank you."
"Are you ready to go?" Naruto was almost bouncing with excitement again.
"Just a moment, Naruto-kun." Hinata stepped back inside the estate and waved a passing servant over. She handed the older woman the bouquet. "Makoto-san, would you please put these in some water and take them to my rooms?"
"Of course, Hinata-sama," Makoto bowed.
"Thank you, Makoto-san." Hinata stepped back outside and smiled at her impatient friend. "I'm ready now, Naruto-kun."
That evening, Hinata sat on top of the Hokage Monument watching the sunset with Naruto. This had been the best birthday she could remember. After Naruto had given her the flowers, he took her to a pretty meadow just outside the village walls where a picnic lunch was waiting. Naruto confessed that Ayame had helped him with most of the food, since he couldn't cook. In return, he took over her dishwashing duties at Ichiraku Ramen for two full weeks. The food was delicious – especially the yakitori and the sweet bean dumplings she had made for dessert. Ayame was the daughter of a ramen chef, so her cooking skills were well above average.
Naruto and Hinata spent hours sprawled out in that meadow lazily enjoying the day and each other's company – Shikamaru would have been proud of them. In the afternoon, Naruto had suggested a game of ninja tag. (Actually, he'd interrupted her cloud gazing by tapping her shoulder, calling out "You're it!" and dashing into the forest with an unfair head start.) Hinata wasn't sure, but she could have sworn they scared away all of the local wildlife with their carefree laughter and their enthusiastic game of ninja tag. At the end of it all, Hinata had been red faced and panting with exertion – but it had been worth it. She couldn't remember ever having had as much fun!
They walked back into the village to cool down and Naruto led her to the Konoha Public Park. Iruka had told him about an amateur acting troupe that was putting on free outdoor performances to gain experience. They weren't very good, but the short plays were still fun and amusing to watch. After the plays, Naruto spotted an ice cream vendor and bought Popsicles for both of them. They wandered aimlessly through the village eating their Popsicles and somehow ended up at the Hokage Monument just in time to watch the sunset.
Hinata didn't want this day to end! But the sun refused to grant her wish and continued its journey westward. Soon the last golden rays disappeared beyond the horizon. Naruto got to his feet and gave her a hand up.
"Come on, Hinata-chan. It's getting late. I'd better walk you home."
The walk back to the Hyuuga estate was silent, but it was a comfortable silence. Before long, they were standing before the main gates of the Hyuuga estate.
"Thank you, Naruto-kun," she said sincerely. "I had a really good time today. This was a wonderful birthday."
"I'm glad. I had fun, too," Naruto admitted. "Maybe we should do this more often. You know… take a day off every now and then."
"I'd like that." Hinata found her heart beating faster and prayed that she didn't sound overeager. "Goodnight."
She started towards the main gates, but before she could go, Naruto stopped her.
"Wait, Hinata-chan. I actually have two more gifts for you."
"Really?" Hinata blinked in confusion. "I thought this entire day was my birthday present – and you already surprised me with flowers this morning. You don't have to give me anything else, Naruto-kun."
"I know. But I just didn't feel right not getting you a real present. Here." He took a small box from his pocket and shoved it into her hands. "Open it."
Hinata carefully removed the plain wrapping paper and lifted the lid. It was a silver necklace in the shape of half a heart that was a little less than one inch tall.
"It's a friendship pendant. See? I have the other half." Naruto pulled a matching silver necklace out from under his shirt. "I got the idea when Ayame-neesan said that presents are only important because of what they represent. Here, put the two pieces together and apply a little bit of chakra."
Naruto's half of the necklace was still warm from being worn against his chest. Hinata blushed when she took it from his hand – glad that the night was dark enough to conceal the pink tint in her cheeks. She did as he asked and applied a little bit of chakra while holding the two pieces together. The two halves glowed blue for an instant. When the glow faded, the two pieces were joined seamlessly in a single heart. Hinata held the silver heart up to catch more of the moonlight. There was something engraved on the necklace.
"It says 'Naruto and Hinata' on one side – and 'Best Friends' on the other."
Hinata was touched beyond belief. She threw her arms around him impulsively. Naruto stumbled a little at the unexpected contact, but hugged her back.
"I love it! I'll treasure it always," she promised. Hinata examined the necklace again. "How do I separate the pieces?"
"Just cancel the chakra stored in the necklace, as if you were canceling a jutsu or genjutsu."
Once again, the necklace glowed blue. Only this time, when the glow faded, the necklace broke apart returning to the original two halves of a heart. Naruto took his half back and slipped it on around his neck again. Hinata slipped hers on as well and silently vowed that she would never take it off.
"You said you had two more gifts. This is one. What's the other one?" Hinata asked curiously.
"About that… Could you look over here for a moment?" Naruto gestured to something on his left.
Hinata automatically turned her head to look. Her forehead furrowed in puzzlement.
"I don't see any…"
Warm lips caressed her cheek.
Naruto stepped back and grinned at her stunned expression.
"Happy birthday, Hinata-chan!"
That night, just as Hinata was drifting into slumber, the delicate fragrance of gardenias teased at her senses and nudged at a half forgotten memory.
Gardenias mean 'joy' in the language of flowers… but wasn't there something else, too? She thought drowsily. I'm sure there was. Gardenias also mean…
Suddenly, Hinata gasped and bolted upright. Heart pounding, she raised her hand to the cheek that Naruto had kissed and stared at the innocent bouquet of white blossoms in a crystal vase beside her bed.
Gardenias also mean… 'I love you in secret.'
Hinata blushed bright red even though no one was there to see it. Ino was teasing her! Was she really that obvious? Now wide-awake, Hinata made a new vow.
I am going to strangle Ino!
Across town, in his tiny apartment, Naruto sat on the windowsill and stared out at the full moon. He was also wide-awake – and very, very troubled. For a split second, just before he gave Hinata her birthday kiss, he had been tempted to steal a real kiss from her – and kiss her pretty pink lips.
He had wanted to kiss Hinata – and not in a safe platonic way.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! I can't believe I'm even thinking this!
But he couldn't seem to control the direction of his thoughts. Hinata didn't have Ino's classic beauty or Sakura's exotic coloring, but she was very pretty in her own right. Tonight, under the moonlight, Naruto had found her breathtakingly gorgeous. The moonlight had highlighted her perfect complexion and delicate features. She was… simply perfect. He shook his head trying to rid himself of those traitorous thoughts. He shouldn't be thinking of Hinata like that – like he was attracted to her. She was his best friend – and the best thing that ever happened to him. There was no way he was going to ruin it all because he couldn't control his hormones. Besides, didn't Hinata already like some stupid boy?
She doesn't like me like that. I've got to get over this…this… whatever this is.
He pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the window. If he stopped thinking about it, then maybe this strange new urge to kiss his best friend would go away.
He could only hope.
(1) 8 down, 22 kisses to go!
(2) There! See? I didn't make you wait too long. Part A had the serious emotional angsty stuff. So part B is all humor and NaruHina fluff! I had to balance it out somehow! D
(3) Either theme #1 (look over here) or theme #11 (gardenia) would have worked for this chapter. But somehow, I think theme #1 (look over here) worked better – especially with part A.
(4) Gardenias typically bloom in spring or summer, while Hinata's birthday is December 27th. But! I've never seen Konoha in any type of weather except spring and summer. Even in Neji's flashback of Hinata's birthday (Episode 61) there's no snow and no one looks cold. Let's just assume that Konoha is in a very temperate and tropical-ish zone and that in Konoha, gardenias can bloom in December.
(5) Flower meanings were taken from the following websites: www (dot) aboutflowers (dot) com / floralb5.html and www (dot) iflorist (dot) com / en / gifts / meaning.
(6) EDIT: Naruto's new look was partly inspired by a hot hot hot fanart on DeviantART: adikk (dot) deviantart (dot) com / art / naruto-bishie-by-jadeedge-74105270
(7) No sneak peek of the next chapter this time. Sorry! I haven't ironed out enough of the details yet. Too many scenes may or may not be edited out. I only have a bare bones outline of the next chapter so far. But I will say this: The next chapter finally takes us to their genin exams and the Mizuki incident.