WARNING: Spoilers for the latest chapter of the manga. The italicized print at the beginning and first bit of interaction with Iruka and Naruto is directly quoted from the manga. If you don't want to be spoiled, leave now. That is all.
I think this can be read as stand alone. I mean, I would love it if you went and read The Grand Essentials, which really is the better of the two, in my opinion. But this one's okay. Well, I like it. :D
One of the oddities of their relationship, Naruto thought, was that death seemed to bring them closer. One-shot, NarutoHinata pairing, sequel to The Grand Essentials.
"Jiraiya always praised you. He always spoke of you proudly, as if you were his own grandson. He believed you would take his place. He never doubted you would be a great Hokage. He was always watching you… even now, he still is somewhere. He wouldn't try to praise you just to cheer you up when you're down. So…
"…Just be the same old you he could always praise. You can't stay depressed forever!"
Naruto looked up at his Academy sensei in wonder. He was still speechless.
"You're the awesome apprentice of one of the Sannin," finished Iruka with a warm smile as he broke the melting popsicle in half.
It took him a minute, but Naruto slowly smiled back and accepted his half of the popsicle. "Thank you, Iruka-sensei."
They ate in silence for a few minutes. Naruto felt better – not by much, but better than before – than he had all day. Knowing that Ero-sennin was dead was like a huge, asphyxiating weight on his chest. Despite how they had acted together, to Naruto Jiraiya really had been a father figure. Or maybe 'estranged Uncle' was more appropriate. But they were close. And he hadn't even gotten to say – anything.
You're an awesome teacher.
Thank you for being there for me.
If I had a granddad, I think he might be like you.
Thankfully Iruka interrupted his thoughts before they could go anywhere else. "I ran into someone today you might be interested to hear about, Naruto."
"…what?" Naruto looked at his sensei strangely. Suddenly he'd gotten the feeling of forgetting something…
"She'd been waiting near Ichiraku's five hours when I finally got there."
Realization dawned. He'd totally forgotten that he told Hinata he'd meet her today – of all the stupid things! –
"Sorry, but I've got to go! See ya Iruka-sensei!" Shoving the rest of the popsicle into his mouth, he pulled out the wooden stick, tossed it into a nearby waste receptacle and waved to the only father figure he still had. He smiled waved back, knowing that if anyone could help him further out of his funk, it would be Hinata.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Naruto told himself angrily. You are so stupid! Getting to know Hinata was the best damn thing that ever happened to you after being a ninja! How could you screw this up!
Yes, this was officially the worst day he had ever had, period, and that was saying something given his past. Finding out Jiraiya was dead and losing the first person who had cared for him since the beginning – since before Iruka, even. Tears stung his eyes again. Stupid! He wiped them away on the sleeve of his shirt.
She was probably home by now, he thought, slowing his sprint to a tired walk. It was already nearing nine o'clock. The sun had set hours ago. And of course he couldn't see her there. Not only was it past an appropriate visiting hour, but he was sure her father hated him, just like every other adult in this stupid town.
Couldn't whoever or whatever was pulling the strings up there just cut him a freakin' break for once? Did he have to be in a constant state of suffering and guilt?
In his haze of self-hatred and melancholy, he had wandered toward the cemetery. Well, that fit his mood just fine, he decided sulkily.
He wandered through the headstones, much like he had with Hinata all those weeks ago. When he was younger he would drift through the cemetery, looking at all the names on each and every headstone, looking for a surname – Uzumaki. He never found it. If he'd been having a particularly trying and unsuccessful day, he would end up at the Yondaime's grave, or more recently at the Sandaime's grave. And now he could go to Jiraiya's, he thought in bitter realization.
After Asuma's death, he remembered the crushing guilt he'd felt. If Kakuzu hadn't been after the Kyuubi, then Asuma would have lived. Konoha suffered the loss of a powerful jounin. Shikamaru, Ino, and Chouji were without a sensei and confidante. Konohamaru was deprived an uncle. Kurenai lost a husband, and her child lost a father. He knew all too well what it was like to live without a father. Maybe if things had been different… no. They weren't different, that was the crux of it. That train of thought wasn't a stranger to him. Maybe. What if. Perhaps. What awful words, he decided. Words that offered hope. Or more aptly, delusions.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught a dark blob in the darkness that might've been another person. Shrugging, he continued to walk aimlessly through rows of husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers…
The gravestones looked nicer here. This part of the cemetery was for rich people. He'd seen a few Lords of Fire buried here, the ceremonial name of the Hi no Kuni's daimyo. The blob was becoming more defined as he walked closer and closer; it appeared to be a blob of the female gender. He walked on, intending to ignore her.
That voice –
He walked more quickly until the woman slowly gained familiar characteristics – dark, silky hair, very fair skin, pale eyes with a hint of lavender – and generous curves, Naruto added. In memory of Jiraiya, obviously.
She looked up at him rushing toward her and blushed. Her blushes had faded somewhat in their time spent together from lobster- and apple-red shades to a more appealing rosy pink. Reminiscent of their talk in cemetery weeks before, he skidded to a stop right in front of her, a bit closer than she was totally comfortable with.
"Hinata, I am so sorry! I can't believe I just – I just left you there! I am a total idiot, and I can totally understand if you hate me and if you never want to speak to me again, and I –"
She put her hand on his shoulder gently. "Iruka-sensei told me about Jiraiya-sama. I don't mind at all." She didn't mention to him that she had been near tears until Iruka told her why he wasn't there. He'd probably just take it to heart needlessly.
He stared. "At all? Really? Are you sure you aren't going to secretly hold this against me until years from now and –"
Smiling, she squeezed his shoulder gently. "It's fine. I remember…" Hinata trailed off and looked away from him.
"What do you remember?" He'd figured out a while ago that he didn't have to yell to get her attention – a rather refreshing change - so his voice was low and curious. In their talks together, he had discovered a lot about Hinata, but as soon as he thought he had a good grasp of who she was, she shared a different story, a new facet of herself. It was fascinating. He'd never been this engrossed in a person before…
"I remember when my mother died," she said. "I was seven and half years old. My mother was my world. I thought she was the smartest, the most beautiful, the strongest kunoichi. But even a shinobi can't fight sickness." Hinata's voice thickened with tears, and he got the impression that she hadn't told this to anybody. He listened more intently.
"After my mother died, my father came down on me hard. He'd always been vaguely disappointed in my Jyuuken ability and my talent with the Byakugan, but after that he was completely ruthless. He put me in spars against Neji-niisan, and when I lost …badly… he started to neglect my training. He would spend less and less time with me every day, until I only saw him at breakfast, sometimes dinner… and eventually I would go for days without even hearing from him," she finished in a whisper, biting her lip and wiping her sleeve across her eyes. Naruto wanted to reach out and do something – but he couldn't. His body was frozen in disgust at the way Hiashi had treated such a wonderful person. Who mistreated Hinata?
"Then, after my own father had abandoned me, I decided I didn't want to see him. I didn't want to see anybody. I just wanted to be alone forever."
"But… why? Who wants to be alone forever?"
"When you're alone, you can't get close to people. And when you can't get close to people, you can't get hurt." She didn't look him in the eye as she said this. "Of course, I didn't really want to be alone. What person wants to be alone? Nobody wants that. You can get used to it, but nobody asks for it."
She sighed and traced the name on the tombstone in front of her. Naruto followed the path of her fingers with his eyes. Hyuuga Himawari, beloved wife and mother. You will be dearly missed. One of the oddities of their relationship, Naruto thought, was that death seemed to bring them closer. They had first bonded over Asuma, and now Jiraiya and her mother.
"I was so sad… but more than sad, I was angry. I was so angry at everything. I would be the first Hyuuga heir to go to school at the Academy, a total disgrace. I definitely didn't want to go the Academy or make friends there or get good grades. I just wanted to be left alone."
Her voice changed. What had been suppressed sorrow turned into quiet strength. "I changed my mind on the very first day."
She blushed again, deeper this time than she had in weeks, and turned away from him slightly.
"Wait, what's this?! A blush that red? Now you have to tell me what it was!" Naruto crowed, leaning in close to her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She moved her head to face him and they were nearly nose to nose.
"I saw you. I heard you. I found you," she said, looking into his eyes shyly. Naruto was absolutely speechless. He had never in his whole life expected to mean this much to somebody. Suddenly, he was humbled. Hinata had cared about him since before he'd thought anybody knew he existed. He had been a prominent fixture in her life before he had even known she existed!
"Thank you, Hinata." And he pulled her into a tight hug. She slumped in his arms for a moment, taken off guard before hesitantly hugging back.
"Y-you're welcome, N-n-naruto-kun," she squeaked cutely. He grinned, unseen by her. He'd noticed she was very unused to physical contact that wasn't involved in training; he was trying slowly to make her more comfortable with him. That hadn't been his aim this time – he'd merely wanted to hold her. Huh. When had that emotion become so easy to act on? When had that emotion even been around?
"I don't know how you do it, Hinata…" he said quietly into the crown of her head, which covertly allowed him to inhale the pretty scent of her hair, "But every time I'm feeling low and I talk to you, your words always make me feel better. Everything you say comes straight from your heart and goes straight into mine."
"I-I'm glad I can help you, Naruto," she replied, forgetting to pin the –kun on the end of his name. He smiled widely and embraced her for a few more moments before he pulled away.
"Please allow me to treat you to ramen, Hinata-chan," he said formally and bowed with a flourish. She giggled quietly and accepted his hand. With a warm smile, he cupped her hand in his and pulled her close so that their shoulders might brush as they walked. Hinata looked up at him with hopeful eyes and another blush.
"I like spending time with you, Hinata," he told her. "We should do it more often, especially when all of this –" He gestured wildly around with his free hand. "Is over." Sasuke and the Akatsuki were a constant cloud hanging over his head. If I survive it, he amended silently.
"I couldn't agree more," she said, smiling herself as she intertwined their fingers.
Feeling much better about everything that had occurred today than he would have thought possible, Naruto led the way back to the village.
"Kakashi-sensei, when is it okay to talk to Naruto again?"
The silver-haired jounin sighed. "That's not for me to say, Sakura. Everybody heals at their rate. It could be some time. Jiraiya-sama is the first prominent adult figure in Naruto's life that has died, barring the Sandaime, and even then he was much closer to him than to the Sandaime. I have no idea how long his healing process will be. I can tell you that nothing gets Naruto down for long. I'm sure he'll be itching for a mission soon enough." Probably a mission that involved hunting down Pein, Kakashi privately though. No need to worry Sakura with information like that though.
"Here you are, Kakashi-kun," said Ayame dreamily, putting a bowl of steaming ramen in front of the masked jounin. His eye closed in such a way that indicated a smile and he thanked her politely.
Sakura could only push the noodles around aimlessly in her bowl. She couldn't stop thinking about Naruto and Tsunade-shishou, and the pain they must be suffering right now. Naruto had stormed out of her office after saying something very hurtful – tantamount to declaring that Tsunade's actions had killed her remaining teammate. She had seen the pained look on her teacher's face, but couldn't really hold it against Naruto. Later, when attempting to deliver some paperwork to her shishou, she'd almost caught her in a very vulnerable moment, something with which Sakura was extremely uncomfortable. She held a great deal of respect and awe for the Godaime, and that image of the unbeatable woman was firm in her mind.
The image of Sasuke as perfect was firm in your mind too, and look where that's got you, she told herself harshly. Tsunade-shishou is only human, and she just lost her oldest and dearest friend.
From outside of the ramen shop, she could hear a couple laughing and talking, which annoyed her immensely. She knew it wasn't fair to them but she didn't feel as if they should be so cheerful at a time like this. Didn't they know the loss the village's fighting force had just suffered? Didn't they know the threat hanging over the village?
Oh, civilian life. It must be so easy. Sometimes she half-wished she'd taken her mother's advice and gone to school in the capital. With her brains, she would've gone far…
"…and then he says to them, he says, 'I think this belongs to you!'"
"Yep! Then he grabbed me by the collar and ran like hell!"
There was soft, feminine laughter, joined with a more boisterous counterpart. Sakura narrowed her eyes and stood up. Those voices sounded strangely familiar…
"Oh oh! Oh! And then, the first time that we went to Kusa, we –"
Both of them looked up at Sakura exited Ichiraku. Her shocked green gaze slid from Naruto and Hinata's interlocked fingers, to their touching shoulders, to their smiling, engaged faces, which only briefly broke gazes to look at her.
"N-Naruto? Hinata-san?" Sakura nearly cursed out loud for stumbling over her words, but their presence – their presence together – had caught her off guard in a weird way. It wasn't pleasant, this strange, aching feeling in her chest…
"Oh! Hey, Sakura-chan, I was just about to treat Hinata-chan to some ramen," said Naruto with a foxy grin, tugging on Hinata's hand gently so that they were even closer. He smiled down at her embarrassed but pleased face. Sakura was shocked at the way his eyes softened so easily when he looked at her.
"When did this happen?" she gasped, looking from Naruto to Hinata and back again. Naruto frowned at the almost accusatory note in her voice. "Several weeks ago," he said defensively. "We talked a lot after Asuma's funeral, and we just kept doing it later."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Why do you sound so betrayed? He wanted to snap back. You've never cared before. But he didn't. Doing that would mean starting a fight with Sakura, and starting a fight with her meant that his date with Hinata was ruined.
Instead he just said simply, "Because you didn't ask."
"…oh." She worried her lip with her teeth. "Um, are you on a date then?"
Shit. He hadn't wanted her to use the d-word, more for Hinata's sense of propriety than anything else. Predictably, his pseudo-girlfriend blushed red and tried to stammer out an answer.
"Yes," replied Naruto boldly, halting Hinata's stuttering reply. "If that's alright with you," he said, leaning down to her ear so that his addendum was for Hinata's ears only. She nodded quickly and hid her face against his shoulder, far too embarrassed to look at Sakura.
"Great," he said, still quiet. He looked back at his teammate. "You're welcome to eat with us, if you want."
"That's fine, I was just going home," Sakura said stiffly. And without so much as a goodbye, she turned on her heel and walked away.
"Geez, what's wrong with her?" Naruto asked, trying to put a joking edge in his voice and failing. He didn't want another thing to go wrong in his life right now. His relationship with his teammate had been starting to improve - finally. Hinata bit her lip and didn't say anything.
"Ah, Naruto. We were just talking about you." Kakashi emerged from Ichiraku Ramen, Ayame's lovesick farewells following him out. Naruto tensed. Was Kakashi going get mad at him too?
"I'll miss him, too," said Kakashi, clapping Naruto on the shoulder firmly. The blonde looked at the ground, desperately gritting his teeth against the tears that Kakashi had brought back to the surface. "But sometimes good things can come out of bad things," he finished, glancing at Hinata as he said this. Naruto smiled slightly as the tears receded. Hinata was looking at him with those eyes again – those eyes that held so much care and concern. And it was all for him.
"Yeah, they do."
Pretty lame ending. But hey, I told you it wasn't as good as its predecessor. Review?