Title: For Every Season
Author: Shawny Wong
Word count: 6563 words
Summary: It started in the spring with laughter. It grew in the summer under her touch. By the time it was winter, Naruto finally figured it out. NaruHina. Oneshot.
Disclaimer: The characters of Naruto belong to Kishimoto Masashi. This story is written without permission, for fan purposes only. It belongs to me.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was out. The air was crisp and cool. And the sky was perfectly blue – with not a single cloud in sight.
Shikamaru will be disappointed. Naruto grinned in amusement as that silly thought crossed his mind.
For the first time in months, Naruto had some free time to himself. Ever since his promotion to jonin, he had been sent out on twice as many missions. Sometimes, it seemed that he'd no sooner set one foot in the village before he was being sent out again! Not that Naruto was complaining! More missions meant more action, more experience, more money – and he was adding to his already impressive reputation as an excellent ninja with each successful mission completed. However, it also meant that he'd been too busy to simply relax.
Konoha was currently experiencing a lull in mission requests, so after months of nearly back to back missions, Naruto suddenly found himself with a few weeks off – and he didn't quite know what to do with himself. Other than training and missions, he didn't have many hobbies. (Though he enjoyed gardening, it didn't make much sense to start a garden when he wasn't in the village often enough to properly care for one.) With nothing better to do, he decided to perfect a new Futon (Wind) jutsu that he'd been working on. Naruto grimaced. The... experimental nature of the jutsu practically guaranteed extensive collateral damage.
I'd better use that one training ground that's farthest away from the village. I don't want Tsunade-baachan getting on my case about being irresponsible again. Hmm... What's the quickest route to training ground 52?
Naruto nodded to himself and leapt into the treetops with a bit of applied chakra.
I'll take a shortcut through the forest.
Yuuhi Kurenai was perhaps the most well-adjusted jonin in all of Konoha. She was definitely the most normal – some would argue that she was the sanest – out of the four jonin-sensei of the Konoha 12. She did not have Hatake Kakashi's tragic past nor had she been a child prodigy. (In fact, she did not make jonin until well after she was twenty.) She did not train every single waking moment nor was she prone to shout at the top of her lungs about the "power of youth", like Maito Gai. And she did not have an unhealthy addiction to smoking, like Sarutobi Asuma. She wasn't the most powerful, but she was intelligent, hard-working, and extremely talented in her field.
Kurenai firmly believed that resting was just as important as training. So she encouraged her team to take the occasional day off with each other. Not only did it refresh the mind and body, but it also strengthened the bonds of friendship and fostered better teamwork between the members of her team. Even now that they were jonin themselves, Kiba, Hinata, and Shino still followed her advice.
Thus, on the first warm day of the year, Team 8 decided to forgo training to rest. They found a comfortable spot in the forest beside a small creek where the water sparkled invitingly. Kiba lounged with Akamaru under the shade of a large tree – while Shino leaned back against another.
"C-Cold! Cold!" Hinata laughed as she kicked off her sandals splashed in ankle-deep water.
Spring was back! It was her favorite time of year. She loved seeing the forest come alive after a dreary winter. The animals came out of hibernation, the birds returned from their winter migration, the trees sprouted new leaves, and the flowers bloomed. It was a season that symbolized new life... or a new start. Perhaps this year she could tell Naruto that she admired him. Perhaps this year she could take the plunge and tell him that she loved...
"Hey! Are you thinking about Naruto again?" asked Kiba with a grin. "You're face is getting red."
"Wh-What?" Hinata gasped. She blushed furiously. "N-No! Of c-course not!"
"Oh? I don't think I believe you," Kiba said clearly amused. "What about you, Shino?"
"Based upon her physiological reactions, I concur. Hinata is being most untruthful."
His words were spoken as precisely as usual, but his tone was light. Shino was teasing her, too!
Kiba rolled his eyes as his teammate and the little sister of his heart blushed tomato red and nervously pressed her fingers together. Naruto brought out the best and worst in Hinata – even when he wasn't there. Thinking of Naruto usually made her determined to train harder and fight harder to prove herself. But other times, like now, it turned her into a flustered mess.
"Relax, Hinata. It's not like Naruto's here."
"I... I know." Hinata took a deep breath and tried to get her blushing under control. Then she smiled brightly at her teammates. "The water's cold, but it's really nice! You should join me!"
She pouted a little when both her teammates declined.
"What about you Akamaru? Want to come in and play with me?"
Hinata shrieked with laughter as Akamaru cannonballed into the river beside her – immediately drenching her from head to foot – even Kiba and Shino got wet. The splash radius of a pony-sized cannonball was enormous.
"Gah!!! That's cold! Don't do that Akamaru! You got me wet, too!"
Hinata laughed at the disgruntled expression on Kiba's face.
"Don't be mad, Kiba-kun," she said wringing out her hair and clothes. She took off her jacket and set it down on the bank to dry. "Akamaru was just having a little fun. Weren't you, Akamaru?"
Akamaru barked in agreement. Then he walked right up to Kiba and shook himself hard – spraying Kiba with ice cold water. Akamaru's tougue was sticking out and there was a decidedly doggy grin on his face.
"That's it, Akamaru! This means war!" With a loud cry, Kiba tackled Akamaru and started wrestling with him on the ground.
Hinata laughed again as she watched them play fight on the river bank.
What a wonderful day to be alive.
She closed her eyes and lifted her face towards the sun. Moments like this – peaceful, happy, and free from responsibility – were rare. She was determined to enjoy it while it lasted. She twirled and skipped barefoot on top of the water... unaware of an intruder watching from the shadows.
Shino stiffened when he felt the new presence, but relaxed when one of his sentry insects crawled under his collar. The intruder was not a threat. A few minutes later, a small ladybug flew up and landed on his index finger. He brought her close to his face and listened to her news. He turned his head to the leafy oak on the opposite side of the bank and smirked.
Do you like what you see... Uzumaki Naruto?
Naruto had been traveling across the treetops when he'd hear sounds and went to investigate. He'd been pleasantly surprised to find Team 8 at the river. Just as he was about to call out a greeting, he caught sight of Hinata – and his brain froze.
So perfectly... beautiful.
Naruto watched Hinata laugh and play in utter fascination. He'd never seen her so happy and carefree. She was dancing across the water like she was the nymph of the river – long dark hair flowing behind her and lavender eyes that sparkled with joy. Her form was graceful and slender – especially apparent now that she wasn't wearing her bulky jacket – and he couldn't seem to take his eyes off of her. Hinata was beautiful. How come he'd never noticed it before? She always looked so nervous around him – always fidgeting and looking down. The only way to describe her was weird.
Hinata was smiling... and laughing. Had he ever heard her laugh before? He didn't think so – or he would have remembered it for sure. It was a beautiful sound, like tinkling bells or wind chimes swaying in a gentle breeze. Her laughter was simply captivating.
He wanted to hear it again.
That spring, Naruto fell in love with her laughter.
It was hot. No, scratch that. It was scorching hot. Stepping outside was like stepping into a baking oven. All the plants along the side of the road were wilted and the air rippled like water, making the whole village seem like a desert mirage. The heat was so bad that it drove most of the villagers indoors where it was cooler, so the streets were nearly empty. If it hadn't been for his sister, Kiba would have been indoors, too!
Why did Oneesan have to run out of Kiiromaru's favorite dog treat today of all days?
Ever since they found out that Kiiromaru, his sister's canine companion, was expecting her first litter of pups, Hana had been acting as if she were the one expecting pups! Her moods swung from one extreme to the other without warning. She would be over the moon one minute and taking his head off in the next. So when his sister had asked him to pick up Kiiromaru's favorite treat – which by the way was only sold on the other side of Konoha – the side farthest away from the Inuzuka compound – Kiba had agreed out of self-preservation. It was better for his health.
He broke into a quick trot. The sooner he got home with the bag of treats, the sooner he could grab an ice cold lemonade. He was parched! Kiba rounded the next corner and caught sight of a familiar blond walking slowly down the street. He grinned and picked up his pace.
"Hey, Naruto! How's it going?" Kiba greeted his friend with a hearty slap on the back – only to have him recoil in pain.
"Ow!" Naruto gasped. "Don't do that, Kiba!"
"Whoa... What happened to you?" Kiba asked in concern. In addition to being sweaty and dirty, Naruto sported several scraps and bruises on his arms and there were leaves in his hair. The blond had definitely seen better days. "It looks like someone beat you up, dragged your sorry butt through the forest, and then beat you up some more."
"Close." Naruto grinned. "I was sparring with Lee. Taijutsu only and no kage bushin."
"Ah... That explains it."
When it came to taijutsu, no one in their generation could even hope to match Lee's hard-earned skill. Lee literally ran circles around his peers – even without opening the celestial gates. The only way to have an even spar against Lee was by utilizing their other skills in ninjutsu or genjutsu – or in Kiba's case, his teamwork with Akamaru. Kiba wasn't dumb enough to go against Lee in a taijutsu only spar without his partner!
"Yeah. I got my butt kicked," Naruto said cheerfully. "Training with Lee is awesome!"
"You're a masochist. You know that, right?"
"If it hurts, I know I'm getting stronger."
"You're fucking crazy," Kiba said dryly.
"I must be. Lee's creating a new move – and I just volunteered to let him try it out on me next week," Naruto admitted sheepishly. He rubbed at his right shoulder with his left hand and winced. "I'm off to the hot springs for a long soak. I haven't hurt this much since I passed the jonin exam. Lee is brutal."
Kiba nodded with sympathy. He knew exactly how much it hurt to spar against Lee from personal experience. He'd certainly been on the receiving end of Lee's fist enough times! With the weights that Lee always wore, each punch and kick (even the ones he managed to block) felt like being hit with a sledge hammer.
Of course, afterwards I always use some of Hinata's medical ointment to reduce the pain... and... hold on... This is just too perfect to pass up!
Kiba's outward expression didn't change, but his inner self was cackling madly and rubbing his hands together with glee.
Hehe... She'll thank me for this one!
"I know how you feel. You know what I do after a really tough spar? I use some of Hinata's medical ointment. The stuff she makes works loads better than the stuff they prescribe at the hospital – and it smells a lot better, too!" (Kiba detested the nasty smelling concoctions from the hospital. What good was it if the smell drove him absolutely crazy?) "I think she puts some lavender in it or something."
"Hinata's medical cream? You're right. That stuff works great! She gave me some years ago, during our first chunin exam. It was really nice of her." Naruto smiled recalling the first time he noticed her. Then he sighed. "Too bad I don't have any left."
"No problem!" Kiba said enthusiastically. "I know where we can get more. Follow me!"
Kurenai's home was comfortable and practical. The living room had a cozy couch that you could fall asleep in with firm-yet-soft cushions, an old coffee table with nicks and scratches on the surface that also served as a low table for coloring projects and board games, and several bookcases full of books that covered an extensive range of subjects from gardening and cooking to history, medicine, and chakra theory. (Kurenai was incredibly well-read.) One section of the room, next to the two large windows facing the street, had been transformed into a child's play area with a thick colorful rug, a child-sized table with matching child-sized chairs, and a large wicker basket nearly overflowing with toys.
The owner of said toys, Yuuhi Kaoru, was fast asleep on the couch. The 3 year old had stubbornly protested taking his afternoon nap, so Hinata had suggested that they read Kaoru's favorite story ("The Three Ninja of Fire Mountain") instead. Ten minutes into the story, the little boy fell fast asleep – just as Hinata knew he would. She smiled fondly and kissed the top of his head, before carefully picking him up; he stirred a little but didn't wake. She carried him to his bedroom and tucked him into bed.
Hinata simply adored Kaoru – and babysat for Kurenai as often as she could.
She wasn't the only one, either. The little boy had every member of Team 8 and Team 10 wrapped around his tiny pinky. Kiba liked taking him out for rides on Akamaru. Shikamaru was already teaching him to play Shogi. Ino and Chouji often took him out for ice cream. And Shino "bugged" him the day he started walking, so that he would always know where to find Kaoru if he ever wandered off and got lost. Kurenai never had trouble finding babysitters for her son.
Her sensei had gone out to lunch with Shizune; afterwards they would do a little shopping. She wasn't due back for several more hours. With her charge asleep, Hinata wandered over to the bookcases in the living room – intending to pass the time with some light reading. As she was browsing the titles, the stillness was disrupted by three loud knocks. Hinata hurried to the front door to prevent whoever it was from knocking again and waking Kaoru.
She was surprised – and a bit annoyed – to discover that the culprit was her own teammate.
"Kiba-kun! Shh... Not so loud! I just got Kaoru down for his nap."
"Sorry about that Hinata. Can we come in?" Kiba stepped aside to reveal another person standing right behind him.
"Hi, Hinata!" Naruto said with a smile – and Hinata immediately blushed. "Hmm... You look kind of flushed. It must be the heat. It's pretty hot today, isn't it?"
Kiba shook his head in exasperation and tried not to laugh. He took charge and pushed both of his friends into the house where it was cooler; no point standing out in the heat, after all.
"Do you have any of your personal medical cream with you, Hinata? Naruto could use some. He just got his ass handed to him by Lee."
"Of course! I'll go get it right away."
"Great! Sorry I can't stay, Hinata. I gotta run. If I don't get home soon, Oneesan will probably chew me out and have me scrubbing kennels for the rest of the summer." Kiba smirked, looked directly at her, and winked. "Have fun!"
But it was too late. Kiba had already dashed back outside.
Hinata suddenly found herself alone... with Naruto. She swallowed nervously and tried not to look directly at him – because if she did was afraid that she would forget how to function like a normal person. Whenever she looked at his handsome face, she ended up forgetting what she wanted to say and stammered like an idiot. He'd already admitted once that he thought she was "weird." She didn't want to make it worse!
"That's strange. I didn't realize Kiba was in such a hurry," Naruto said sounding confused.
Hinata quietly reached for her pack which had been placed on the coffee table. She rummaged in it for the jar of medical ointment that she always carried with her. In their line of work, it paid to be prepared – and it had come in handy more than once in the past. She handed the jar to Naruto once she found it. She was relieved to see that it was mostly full.
"Here you go, Naruto-kun. You can keep that. I can make more later."
"Thanks!" Naruto smiled brightly at her. "I remember this stuff from before. It really helps."
"It... It should work better than... than the one I gave you... before. I've improved the formula since then." Hinata bit her lip and looked down. She shouldn't have said that. Now he was going to think she was weird and boastful.
"Really? That's amazing!"
"It was n-nothing," she mumbled, her face heating up again.
Naruto frowned. She was doing it again; not looking at him, even though he was the only other person in the room. After that day by the river, when he realized she was beautiful, he started to pay attention to her more often. The more he watched her, the more she fascinated him. And then he noticed something else. The only times he ever saw her relaxed and happy and not-just-pretty-but-breathtakingly-beautiful was when she didn't know he was there. The moment she became aware of his presence, she tensed up and withdrew into herself.
For some reason, he made her uncomfortable – and that made him... sad. She was one of his precious people, but he caused her discomfort just by breathing.
"Naruto-kun? You're frowning. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Naruto said easily with a practiced smile. "I was just trying to figure out how I'm going to apply your ointment to my back and shoulders. Lee slammed me around the training field pretty hard today. Hmm... Maybe I could use a kage bushin to-"
"I'll do it!" she blurted.
Naruto's eyes widened in surprise.
"Are you sure?" he asked uncertainly. Don't I make her uncomfortable? Why is she volunteering? "You don't have to. I'm sure I cou-"
"Please, Naruto-kun?" she implored. "I want to help you."
She was finally looking at him. Her hands were clasped in front of her chest – and her lavender eyes shone with an emotion that he couldn't name. All of a sudden, Naruto was tongue-tied and inexplicably nervous.
"Ah. Sure... if you really want to."
A short while later, Naruto found himself sitting at the kitchen table undressed from the waist up. Hinata stood behind him with the open jar of medical ointment in one hand.
He shivered a little as she applied the cool ointment to the bruises and welts on his back and shoulders. He could feel it taking effect immediately and numbing some of the pain. A minute later, Hinata set the jar on the table. Assuming she was done, Naruto reached for his shirt and opened his mouth to thank her when he felt warm hands applying gentle pressure to his shoulders. He stiffened in surprise.
"The ointment w-w-works on c-contact. But for the b-best results, it should be m-massaged into the muscle. The f-friction causes the ointment to heat u-up – which sp-speeds the healing process. Also I added a t-t-topical muscle-relaxant to the formula. If.. If I rub it in n-now, it will prevent cramping l-later."
(By the time Hinata finished her explanation, she was redder than a tomato and fervently glad that Naruto had his back towards her and couldn't see her face.)
"Oh. Okay." He closed his eyes and relaxed under Hinata's touch.
Mmm... It feels so good.
Naruto secretly longed for physical affection from other people. It was a product of the neglect he'd suffered in his childhood – when no one wanted anything to do with the "demon brat" let alone touch it. As a child, he'd never received hugs or a pat on the head for a job well done; no one ever held his hand or rubbed his back to comfort him. Sometimes, people who were neglected and deprived of physical affection as children developed a phobia or an extreme dislike of touch as adults. (Subaku no Gaara did not like being touched at all – though he was trying to overcome it.) On the other hand, sometimes, they developed the opposite extreme. Naruto cherished physical affection. To him, a hug was a gift. Though he'd pretended to be insulted every time Iruka-sensei ruffled his hair, Naruto had loved the attention. And Naruto could remember the exact moment that Tsunade-baachan joined his list of precious people; it was the moment she voluntarily kissed him on the forehead after he'd won her bet.
Hinata was rubbing his back and massaging his neck and shoulders. Her hands were soft and warm as they kneaded sore muscles; she was careful to avoid putting pressure on his bruises. Her touch was like magic. The pain from before was almost gone; he was still a little sore, but in a good way. If he were a cat, he would be purring. As it was, he was nearly humming with pleasure.
Naruto was caught somewhere between bliss and euphoria. It was heaven. When she stopped nearly half an hour later, he almost protested; it took every last bit of his willpower not to beg her to continue.
"All done?" he asked lightly.
She sounds... disappointed. He gave himself a mental shake as he put his shirt back on. Nah. It's probably just my imagination.
"Thanks, Hinata! I feel much better now."
"You're welcome, Naruto-kun."
She smiled sweetly at him and he was both surprised and pleased to see that she was actually relaxed around him, for once. Maybe he didn't make her uncomfortable after all?
"Let me know when you run out. I'm always making more for Kiba and Shino. I can make more for you, too. And if..." Hinata hesitated, but then took a deep breath and pressed on. "If you ever need help applying it, I would be happy to do it for you."
Is she... offering to do this again? She doesn't mind... touching me? Naruto searched her face for any sign of discomfort or any sign that she was only offering to be polite and didn't really meant it, but she seemed utterly sincere.
"Are you sure?"
"Thanks, Hinata. I'll definitely take you up on that." Naruto smiled. All of a sudden, he couldn't wait to spar with spar with Lee again!
That summer, Naruto fell in love with her touch.
All around Konoha, the leaves were turning red, yellow, orange, and brown. The sky was overcast making everything look dreary and gray. It had rained the day before, so the ground was still muddy – and a cold wind was blowing in from the north.
Hinata couldn't believe how quickly the summer had flown by. It had been the best summer of her life. She and Naruto were close friends now! Unless he was away on a mission, he came to her at least once a week for her assistance in treating his injuries. In the beginning, it took her full concentration just to function even semi-normally with a shirtless Naruto so close to her. But over time, it got easier – and she found that she could relax around him. As long as he was fully clothed, she didn't stutter and only blushed occasionally. She was astounded by her own progress.
She had opened up to Naruto more than she ever thought possible. At first, it was just easier to talk to him while she was applying the ointment to his back. Without his bright blue eyes and cute face distracting her, she could actually carry a coherent conversation with him! He seemed to enjoy their conversations, too! And that gave her confidence a huge boost – which meant that it was only a matter of time until she could talk to him while he was facing her.
By the end of the summer, Naruto occasionally sought her out even when he didn't need any assistance!
Naruto and I... We're very good friends now. I'm positive he doesn't think I'm "weird" anymore – and I know he likes me as a friend. So... maybe... maybe someday, he'll see me as more...
Hinata sighed wistfully. It wasn't likely... but she could dream, couldn't she?
One month later...
Four black blurs raced towards Konoha. Shino, Kiba, Akamaru, and Naruto were on their way home from an infiltration and information gathering mission to the Land of Earth. Konoha's spy network had heard rumors that Iwa was gathering an army for unknown purposes. So the Hokage had sent a team to verify the rumors. For this mission, Naruto had taken Hinata's usual place on Team 8.
Hinata, due to her upbringing in a noble house and as one of Tsunade's most trusted shinobi, was sometimes sent to represent Konoha in the Daimyo's court in the Land of Fire. When the rumors came, she was miles away and unavailable. (She had been scheduled to return within the week, but Tsunade felt that they needed to investigate the rumors immediately.) So Naruto had been chosen as her replacement. He worked well with both Shino and Kiba – and his skill at combining kage bushin with the henge no jutsu made him perfectly suited for infiltration.
"We're so late! Why is sneaking out always so much harder than sneaking in?" Kiba groused as they sped through the treetops. "Dodging all those patrols on the way out of Iwa took us days!"
"Mission parameters are often only approximate," Shino said evenly. "The probability that a mission will take longer than the initial estimate is greater than 72 percent. You know this."
"Yeah, yeah. But my cousin's tenth birthday was three days ago! That's a really big deal in my family – and I missed it!"
"Ah," Shino made a sound of understanding. "My condolences."
"What's so important about your tenth birthday?" Naruto asked curiously.
"It's an Inuzuka thing. We get our partners on our tenth birthday. I got Akamaru when I turned ten. Right, Akamaru?"
Akamaru barked in agreement; then he barked again. Kiba nodded.
"You're right. Ken will understand why I couldn't be there. He's a good kid. But I still feel bad about missing it. The kid's probably waiting at home – just itching to show me his new partner."
"It must be nice," Naruto said softly to himself – momentarily forgetting that Kiba had better hearing than most people.
"What must be nice?" asked Kiba.
"I was just thinking that... it must be nice... to have someone waiting for you and hoping you come home safely..."
… instead of hoping you die a gruesome death and never come back to the village.
Naruto didn't say that last thought aloud, but Kiba and Shino seemed to hear it anyways. His friends were both insightful enough to infer his unspoken words. Over the years, Naruto had won the respect and trust of many – ninja and civilians alike. But there were still plenty of villagers who only thought of him as the demon he carried.
"Hey. We got your back, Naruto."
Hinata was waiting for them at the gates when they returned.
She sighed with relief. She had been so worried! Intellectually, she knew that it was silly for her to be so concerned. (They were strong ninja and could take care of themselves.) She just couldn't help it. These were the three men closest to her heart – and she needed to know that they were safe.
Hinata threw her arms around Shino who had been in the lead. The older brother of her heart stoically accepted her hug – which lasted only a few seconds. (Hinata knew that public displays of affection made Shino uncomfortable.)
"You're late," she said pulling back with a smile. "I was worried."
"The delay was unavoidable. It was illogical for you to worry. Our primary objective was to observe only – and to avoid combat at all cost. But... your concern is appreciated."
Shino adjusted his sunglasses with one hand and turned to his weary companions. He had been the team leader for this mission, so it was his duty to report immediately to the Hokage. Kiba and Naruto could be debriefed later, after they got some rest.
"I will take our information to the Hokage. You may accompany me, if you wish – but it is not necessary."
Kiba and Naruto acknowledged his gesture and murmured their thanks. Shino stood still for a moment and then dissolved into a mass of tiny insects that instantly scattered in the wind.
"Hey. Don't I get a hug too?" asked Kiba with a pout. Hinata giggled and threw her arms around the more playful brother of her heart. This one lasted much longer.
Naruto watched their reunion in silence. Seeing Kiba and Hinata so close... bothered him. A sick twisted feeling settled in his gut – and the sudden urge to pull his friends apart was almost overwhelming. He clenched his fists – and a restless anger burned in his chest. He wanted to punch Kiba in the face for putting his hands on her because Hinata was his... and...
The blood drained from his face.
Oh god... I think I'm jealous.
Naruto averted his gaze and ran a shaky hand through his hair. He had no reason to be jealous. Hinata was a good friend. She was just a friend. Kiba and Shino were her teammates. They had more right to her affection than he did.
"Aren't you going to give Naruto a hug, too?" Kiba asked a little too innocently. (Hinata blushed at the knowing look in his eyes.) "It's good to be home. I'll see you guys later!"
Then Kiba was gone, too – and Naruto was glad because that meant that Hinata's full attention was now on him.
"I'm so glad you came home safely, Naruto-kun."
"Really?" Naruto grinned. Her words made him ridiculously happy.
"Yes." She slipped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest. "I was worried about you."
Naruto told himself that it didn't mean anything. It was just a hug from one friend to another. Kiba and Shino had received hugs, too.
So what if he thought she fit perfectly in his arms? So what if he loved the feel of her body pressed up against his? So what if he never wanted to let go?
It meant nothing.
That fall, Naruto fell in love with her embrace.
Winter in Konoha was unusually cold that year – cold and damp. There was no snow because it never snowed in Konoha, but it rained a lot – and sometimes it hailed. Most people in Konoha disliked the winter season more than any other. For the ninja, winter made tracking nearly impossible because the rain washed away tracks and scents. Getting soaked to the bone in the line of duty was no fun, either. And they had to take extra care to avoid getting sick – especially in hostile territory. For the civilians, winter was an inconvenience that drove them indoors and restricted their activities. Naruto hated winter. When asked why, he would say that it was because he didn't like the cold winter rains.
That was a lie.
The weather didn't bother him at all. He could handle a little cold water. He had almost unlimited chakra at his disposal. So drawing on a steady stream of chakra to keep him warm on missions was no big deal. (He'd be wet, but he wouldn't be cold.) And he couldn't get sick from a little rain even if he tried – the fox in his gut made sure of that. The reason he hated winter had absolutely nothing to do with the weather.
I hate Oshogatsu.
Naruto glanced at his calendar and scowled. He flopped back on his bed and stared at the cracks in the ceiling.
Oshogatsu was the single most important holiday in the Land of Fire. It marked the start of the new year. Above all, it was a family celebration. It was a day for people stay home and spend time with their families. In the morning, people would go to the temple and make wishes for the new year. Then they'd return home, eat, play games, and relax... or so he'd heard.
Oshogatsu was a bitter reminder that he didn't have a family.
Since his graduation from the Academy, Naruto was rarely lonely. He had a team. He had friends. He had people who acknowledged him – who believed in him. 364 days of the year, his lack of a real family didn't bother him. However, this one day always made him feel more alone than ever. His friends would be celebrating with their own families. He was happy for them – and bitterly jealous though he tried not to be.
Stupid holiday. I hate winter.
On January 1st...
Naruto stared in awe at the beautiful girl standing on his doorstep. Hinata was wearing a rich purple kimono embroidered with lavender-and-pink flowers and matching jeweled sticks in her hair. She had a covered basket on one arm and a tiny blush on her cheeks.
"Happy New Years, Naruto-kun."
"H-Happy New Years, Hinata." Naruto wondered if he was dreaming. What in the world is she doing here? "I don't mean to be rude, but... why are you here?"
He watched in fascination as the pale pink in her cheeks slowly darkened to a deep red – and it finally dawned on him that she was... she was... blushing!
"I... I wanted to spend the first day of the new year with you, Naruto-kun."
"Shouldn't you be with your family today? It's Oshogatsu."
"I already took my first meal with the clan – and I've already gone to the temple with Father and Hanabi-chan. Those are the only two things I really need to do with my family. The rest of the day, Father will be meditating or reading poetry and Hanabi-chan will be playing games with our cousins. I won't be missed."
"Please, Naruto-kun?" Hinata held out the basket and resorted to bribery. "I brought lunch and red bean mochi."
"Sure. I had nothing planned anyways."
They spent the day in his apartment eating mochi, playing card games, and talking. It was the best Oshogatsu of his life. Hours passed in the blink of an eye. When it came time for her to leave, Naruto insisted on walking her home.
Naruto shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked back to his apartment. The streets were dark, but moon and the stars were out and provided plenty of light to see by. He took the long way back because walking helped him think – and he really needed to think.
I love hearing her laugh and seeing her happy.
I love the way she touches me.
I love holding her.
I had fun today... thanks to her. I wasn't lonely at all. I think... when she's with me... it feels like...
He couldn't find the words to describe the way she made him feel. It was too complex for any one word or even two or three. All he knew was that she filled his heart – and being with her made him very, very happy. For weeks, he'd been telling himself that what he felt for her was just a crush – and given enough time, it would fizzle out.
Naruto stopped in the middle of the street. He closed his eyes and sighed in resignation.
I don't think it's a crush anymore.
He started walking again as he rolled that thought around in his head. It was the truth. It wasn't a crush. He just didn't want to follow that thought to it's logical conclusion because if it wasn't a crush – and it sure as hell wasn't fizzling out – in fact, it seemed to get stronger every time he saw her – then there was only one explanation.
I think... I'm in love with Hinata.
He let himself back into his apartment, kicked off his shoes, and made his way to the living room where he promptly threw himself on the couch. He covered his face with his hands. He was so screwed. He'd done plenty of stupid things in his life – creating the oiroke no jutsu and letting Jiraya talk him into a drinking contest instantly came to mind – but this was on a whole new level of stupid.
Hinata can have any guy she wants. I don't stand a chance. I have her friendship. I should be grateful for what I have.
And he was, but he wanted more! He wanted all of her. He wanted her laughter, her touch, her hugs. He wanted her kisses. He wanted her heart. His eyes fell upon the deck of cards and the plate of leftover mochi still on the coffee table. This was the first time he hadn't been alone for New Years.
Hinata came to spend Oshogatsu with me – even though she didn't have to. She said she wanted to spend the first day of the new year with me. That has to mean something. Right?
Naruto prayed that it did.
Maybe... maybe I have a chance after all. Can I get her to love me back?
That winter, Naruto finally figured it out.
The next day, Naruto set out to win Hinata's heart – not knowing that it was already his.
(1) The scene where Hinata plays in the river was inspired by the omake at the end of Naruto Shippuden episode 87.
(2) Oneesan is Japanese for "older sister."
(3) Oshogatsu is Japanese New Year. I could have just called it New Year's Day except I wanted to emphasize the difference between the way New Year's Day is celebrated in Japan and the way it's celebrated in America. (There are no wild parties or a countdown to the new year.) I don't know a lot about Japanese New Year, so I did some research online. As far as I can tell, it's celebrated much the same way as Chinese New Year – with great emphasis on family. Therefore, I drew on my experience with Chinese New Year when I wrote about Oshogatsu. More information can be found here:
http : / / www . zuzu . org / japan . html
http : / / en . wikipedia .org/wiki/Japanese_New_Year
(4) Quoted from Wikipedia: Celebrating the new year in Japan also means paying special attention to the "first" time something is done in the new year... Hatsumōde is the first is the first trip to a shrine or temple.
The reason Hinata was wearing a kimono is because she went straight from Hatsumōde to Naruto's apartment. I meant to slip that in somehow, but forgot!
(5) Karuta is a card game. It's one of the games that people play during the Japanese New Year.
(6) Written for a mini-fanfic writing contest hosted by the Naruto Romance Fanfic Appreciation Fanclub on the NarutoFan forums. The club is for people who like romantic Naruto fanfics. (All pairings are welcome – no bashing of any kind allowed.) It's very small and not very active. It wasn't much of a contest. I think mine was the only entry! Does that even count? (sweatdrop)
(7) Please review. Thanks!
(8) EDIT: Removed the reference to the karuta card game. Naruto and Hinata are just playing regular cards. I feel kind of embarrassed! Puffgal pointed out that you need more than two people to play karuta, unless Naruto used clones. (Thanks for catching that, Puffgal!)
In my research of traditional games played during Oshogatsu, I read an article that briefly described karuta. It didn't say how many people you needed to play it! So I just assumed that two people would be enough. (sweatdrop) I need to be more careful. This'll teach me to be more thorough with my research in the future!
EDIT 2/25/09: Fixed a typo.