Ready or Not, Here I Come!:

I started playing "Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm" for PlayStation 3 a few days ago and one of the side missions in that game is playing hide and seek with Konohamaru. I realised that it could be a good ninja game and that Hyūgas are probably not allowed to participate due to their Byakugan. Since I like Hinata more than Neji, I chose her for this little story. It is about her first and last game of hide and seek.

The game of hide and seek was always very popular with the children attending the Ninja Academies in every hidden village. It was one of the games civilian and shinobi children alike could play and both groups played it for the same reasons. It was fun, it killed some time, they could plot their little schemes when in the imaginary safety of their hideouts, they used it to hide from their parents who always said that it was time to go home, friendships were strengthened because children close to each other metaphorically also liked to hide close to each other literally, children who did not like the It of the current game could make their best efforts to stay away from him or her, some of the more adventurous ones used the opportunity to search for new places and so on and so forth.

However, shinobi children who wanted to become ninjas or whose parents told them that they would "follow in their footsteps and that's final!" had never known the other reasons they should be playing hide and seek until they reached an age when they would soon enrol in the Academy. As time went by and they were given lessons by their parents on what it means to be a shinobi of their village, the sharper ones soon discovered that one of their favourite games is helping them improve their skills. They did not hesitate to tell that to their fellow shinobi to-be right at the moment they tried to decline an invitation to play, saying things like "I'm not a child anymore", "I have better things to do", "I never really liked the game" or just "I'm not in the mood".

The reasons why shinobi children should keep playing hide and seek are actually very simple and obvious when You think about it. The ones hiding would be honing their concealment skills and camouflage skills because they must not be seen, suppressing their chakra because they must not be felt, evading patrolling enemies (the It) because they have to get to the base, stealthy movement when approaching the base so as not to attract the It's attention, quick thinking when the they are out in the open and the It is about to spot them or basic teamwork when someone would distract the It to let others get to the base. The It, on the other hand, would be practising skills of observation and discerning details to pick out those who failed at not being seen, chakra sensing to pick out those who could not stay calm and focused, planning the best patrol route to scan the area and at the same time not leave space for those who would approach the base, quick thinking when someone is spotted approaching the base to pick them out and at the same time watch for others who might take the opportunity. Finally, in the case of squabbles over who cheated and who did not, they would start developing some "torture and interrogation" skills but, luckily, they always learned that only after they stopped playing hide and seek for good. Children can be cruel as they are, they do not need encouraging in the form of the prospect of shinobi training.

It so happens that shinobi children of Konohagakure no Sato always have a special experience when they start playing hide and seek in their first year at the Academy. It has been going on for many years right since the founding of the Academy because when the teachers learned about it, they decided it was beneficial to the children, something they should experience so they somehow "forgot" to inform the freshmen and were giddy with anticipation, waiting for the first recess during which someone would suggest a game of hide and seek and the subsequent lecture they would give them after the inevitable conflict. You see, the branch family of the Hyūga clan would send at least one of their children to the Academy every year and the secrets of the Byakugan were mostly kept secret from the non-shinobi population and from non-Hyūga shinobi children until they learned a thing or two about them at the Academy. Apart from that, most parents simply thought it better to let their children learn the hard way and so did the teachers. Hyūga Neji and Hyūga Hinata had a different perspective of the whole happening and they learned a different lesson but also the hard way.

Let me tell You Hinata's story.

Hyūga Hinata never played a game of hide and seek in her life before becoming a cadet of the Ninja Academy simply because, as far as she knew, no one has ever suggested such a silly thing in the Hyūga household. The adults thought it pointless to disguise training the Byakugan abilities as a game because being a shinobi of Konoha, much less a Hyūga shinobi of Konoha, was no laughing matter. It was an honour, it was a duty and it was a serious job that should never be taken lightly. They did not care about the game's other benefits either because they also thought that straightforward training of those abilities the game would boost was better. Every time an unsuspecting Hyūga child would see a group of other children playing hide and seek, thinking it would be fun and everything, and then suggesting to play it at home, he or she would get scolded by parents and other adult relatives and given a lecture about the duty of being a part of the noble Hyūga clan. Hinata was very close to making that "mistake" herself but her timid nature slowed her down and one of her branch family relatives, Ko, beat her to it. Of course, he was reprimanded for it and Hinata was "lucky" to witness it so she dismissed her previous intention.

Nevertheless, that experience did not discourage her from wanting to try the game at least once in her life. It was because of the simple reasons that civilian children would see only and she did not know that but she wanted to have that fun, that pure, unadulterated fun. What healthy child would not want to play hide and seek once in a while? Therefore, she used every opportunity she could get to at least watch other children play, learning the rules in the bottom-up manner, imagining what she would do as both one of the hiding children and the It and silently envying the merry children their freedom to play. When her father announced that she would be attending the Ninja Academy because he did not want to waste any more time on that failure of a daughter that she was, it took some time but Hinata eventually found a few bright sides to that arrangement. One of them being the possibility of mingling together with other children without any Hyūga supervision and not having to decline an invitation to play hide and seek. For that and other reasons Hinata found in her attempt at unrestrained optimism in the face of harsh odds she managed to wake up on the day she would first go to the Academy with a small smile and she kept it the whole day.

Hinata patiently waited for every recess, hoping that someone would eventually say: "Hey, let's play hide and seek, guys! What do You say?" and for someone else to say: "Yeah! That's a good idea! I'm with You on that!" She did not ask it herself. To this day, she does not know whether it was due to some rooted sense of obedience or a subconscious fear that some Hyūga adult would pick that time to check up on her or a feeling that Neji would do the same and scold her. She did not like being scolded, no one liked being scolded. Or maybe it was simply her timid nature that did not allow her to be forward with children she did not know very well. She always wondered about it but she always came to the conclusion that it did not matter then and that it certainly does not matter today. Then she laughed a little, seeing how silly it looked like from the perspective of a mature kunoichi.

It happened during Hinata's second week at the Academy, on a Thursday afternoon. Her fellow classmates "wasted" the previous opportunities for playing hide and seek with getting to know each other a little bit, trying out other games, practising hand seals, improving their aim by throwing rocks at the trees in the yard because they were not allowed to use real throwing weapons yet or just goofing around like normal children usually do. Hinata was growing a little restless because judging by how often she had seen the kids that ended up in her class play hide and seek, she had expected the first game to take place during the first week and not the second. Some part of her even hoped that it would be the very first group activity. Since Tuesday, she had been building up courage to "hint" to someone that "there were other games they could play, like hide and seek for example". She was very close to making that first step that is always the most difficult but someone beat her to it again. She knew his name.

Hinata was a cautious person so she thought it best to learn the names and mannerisms of all her classmates as soon as possible and she was in fact faster than anyone else, though there still were a few whose faces she could not associate with a name. On the other hand, her name was known and remembered by everyone in her class as soon as Iruka had first read it out loud from the class register. She was a Hyūga, the Hyūga clan was seen as a noble one and they had those "strange, creepy, grey-violet eyes - what's up with that? - don't know, but she's smiling so she looks OK enough". Hinata knew the boy's name and had decided then and there that she had to thank him for that later.

"Hey guys! How 'bout we play some other game now? I'm bored of tag and it's too hot for that to begin with," Inuzuka Kiba said loud enough for everyone in the yard to hear.

"Alright, but which one, Kiba?" Tora Shinji asked. He knew of a few games that he would have liked to play but he always thought the others would call them stupid and he did not want to hear that.

"Hide and seek, hide and seek, hide and seek, hide and seek," Hinata inaudibly prayed in her mind again, that small smile she carried on her first day returning to her lips.

"I know!" a voice even louder than Kiba's boomed. "Let's play hide and seek! I bet You that none of You here has what it takes to find me because I'm the master of disguise! When I want to, I can disappear from the face of the earth just like that! I'm invincible at this game!" The boy put on a toothy smile and had a determined look in his eyes and he placed his clenched fists to his hips, challenging everyone silently now.

Hinata looked at him to make sure that he was the one who she thought he was, judging by that voice alone. Sure enough, the porcupine head of almost glowing blond hair, the unrestrained smile that exuded optimism, those bright and deep blue eyes that said the same thing his words did, those totally inappropriate goggles on his forehead and that instantly recognisable orange suit were all there. Uzumaki Naruto was his name, she knew it too and she knew it well. When Iruka read his name out loud from the class register for the first time, Naruto did not lose a beat and immediately declared to everyone in the class: "Yeah! And Y'all better remember it because one day I'm going to be Hokage! Uzumaki Naruto is going to be the greatest Hokage there ever was, 'tebayo!" Some laughed, some groaned, some shook their heads, some looked at him astonished and some chose to ignore him but everyone immediately knew that they would remember that name forever. They may forget Hinata someday but they will not forget Naruto even if they want to.

"Are You kidding me? With that orange monstrosity You're wearing? Anyone can see You from miles away! You're a joke!" Yamanaka Ino, one of the unfortunates who had to endure the awkwardness of their names being called after Naruto, decided to point out the flaw in his statement.

"Yeah! What shinobi in their right mind would even want to wear orange? You really are a joke, Naruto!" Anyone else would have been better to say that instead of Haruno Sakura. It stung Naruto a little coming from the girl he thought was the cutest in class but he did not let himself be defeated.

"Oh yeah?! You think I'm a joke, huh?!" Naruto said after a brief recovery.

"Yes," some boy with a prematurely deep voice Naruto chose to not pay any attention to supplied.

"Well then! Let's play that game and see who has the last laugh! I'll say it again - none of You, absolutely none of You has what it takes to find the great Uzumaki Naruto or hide better! Anyone who says otherwise better put their money where their mouth is," Naruto shouted out, while pointing at Ino and other randomly chosen people and finishing with his left fist in the air. A chorus of "You're on!" sounded as a response. They did not know it and Naruto did not know it either but, in those circumstances, that was psychological warfare and motivational speaking par excellence. The best part was that he did not even try, it was just the way he was. Almost everyone was up for the game and Hinata could leap with joy if she were a more extroverted person. She made a mental note to thank Naruto later as well.

Those who were not up for the game had various reasons. Some, like Uchiha Sasuke, chose early on that they did not want to participate in anything involving Naruto; some, like Aburame Shino, did not want to interrupt their practice; some, like Akimichi Chōji, were having a snack and Nara Shikamaru bluntly stated that "playing hide and seek would be a pain; I'm comfortable in this shade so leave me out of this and keep it down". A few people started arguing about who would be the first It of the game, the first one to have the opportunity to take Naruto down a few notches. The two loudest and most determined ones who remained were Kiba and Ino. Kiba wanted to be the It because he suggested the game with the intention of sniffing everyone out with Akamaru; that was another thing a shinobi child could practice with this game. Ino, on the other hand, was plain stubborn. She took every challenge seriously and made hardly any exceptions, even when Naruto was the challenger. Being the It in a game of hide and seek was nothing yucky or embarrassing or that would ruin her hair so there was nothing stopping her except for Kiba.

"Out of my way, dog breath! I'm going to be the one to show that impossible idiot off! You just watch!"

"Are You serious, Yamanaka?! How could a girl, especially a girl like You, be better than me?! Me 'n' Akamaru are going to find him within seconds and bite him in the ass! That will shut him up! Could You do that, huh?!"

"Ugh, don't be disgusting, tooth face! I don't need to do that to prove my point to You! Besides, You and Your worthless mutt could not smell Naruto even if he hit You in the nose."

"What?! Don't You dare insult Akamaru, or me, or our sense of smell, miss I-smell-from-the-fertilizer-in-our-shop-but-am-covering-it-with-citrus-perfume!"

"You take that back this instant or I'll kick You where it really hurts, furball!"

"Aha! So it's true! Who's worthless now, girly?!"

"Arf, arf!"


That was when Naruto could not take it anymore. The fact that they ignored his indignant cries of "hey!" throughout their exchange was infuriating enough and they were not getting any closer to starting the damn game. He picked up a medium-sized pebble, took a good aim, said a silent prayer and threw it. Fortunately, the deities were smiling at him that day for he managed to hit his intended target, Kiba. Had he missed and, heaven forbid, hit Ino, he would have been in real trouble.

"What was that for, You eyesore!" Kiba said, rubbing his right temple. His hood cushioned some of the blow but it still stung.

"You two talk too much!" Naruto replied, ignoring Kiba and Ino's simultaneous amused "ha!", and continued: "You either decide right now which one of You is going to be the It or I'm choosing someone else myself! Besides, she is right, You know."

Kiba was seething, Ino suddenly lost all feelings of animosity towards Naruto and stuck out her tongue at Kiba. Naruto noted another mental victory and decided not to give those two a chance to start arguing again and took the initiative.

"How about..." he mock-pondered, while turning around on the spot. He wanted to assure his victory of being found the last or not at all, forcing the It to give up. He had to choose someone who would not put much effort into trying to find him. Pity that Shikamaru was still refusing to participate, he could not think of anyone better than him. In fact, he did not know much about his classmates, unlike Hinata, he could only judge by superficial qualities. He had to think fast and hope that the deities would keep supporting him so he stopped turning and observed the space in front of him. There were only three people in his field of vision, which narrowed down his possibilities somewhat but he would always take what is given to him and make the most of it. There was the guy who first reacted to Kiba's offer of playing; he did not remember his name. Then there was Chōji who was still snacking and did not look like he would give it up any time soon. Then there was that girl with the strange eyes; her name was something beginning with an H, what was it again? Two seconds later, he realised that he has not taken note of the girl the whole day and she looked as inconspicuous as ever. She probably does not try very hard. Jackpot!

"You!" All three people he was looking at and a few near him jumped. "You! I bet those eyes of Yours are not just for show! You will be the It and that's final!" Naruto chuckled inwardly. He did not mean what he said. He thought that she must have some problems with her eyesight because all the people with greyish eyes that he met were blind or almost blind. And he even avoided revealing that he did not remember her name. Something with Hi-?

Kiba and Ino decided that arguing with Naruto would be pointless and thought that they would have another chance to prove him wrong soon anyway. The onlookers just wished for that charade to end already so no one voiced any opposition.

Hinata herself was dumbstruck. At first, she was ecstatic that she would play her first game of hide and seek. After Naruto convinced everyone to play, she was planning how to approach him and Kiba and say her thanks to them and was oblivious to the whole conflict and that was why Naruto's call was so shocking to her. She never even contemplated the idea of being the It during her first game and she did not have any preference. Judging by what she had seen, she thought that both sides must be having fun. She then started thinking why would he, of all people, choose her, of all people.

"Hinata, You better say something," Shinji prodded her and broke her out of her reverie.

"Oh, r-right, sorry Shinji. I will be the I-It then, Naruto-kun," she managed to squeak out.

"Great!" Naruto exclaimed. So her name's Hinata? I knew it! Just... forgot it for a moment... Hmmm, she doesn't look very sunny to me. Ah well...

"So, anyone still not playing, guys?" Naruto asked, while his gaze was still boring into Hinata. Only a handful of people answered him. Chōji still had plenty to eat, Sasuke did not change his mind, a girl called Yumiko said that she needed to go home to get something, another girl, Nonami, said that she wanted no part in this and a boy named Katsushiro decided that Shikamaru's idea of spending the rest of the recess was the best one. Shino, on the other hand, was done with his practice and decided to join the game.

"Alright, Hinata, pick a tree as Your base and let's get this show on the road!"

She slowly lifted herself from her position, legs suddenly wobbly, but she kept her balance and tentatively looked around. She did not want to keep that Naruto guy waiting so she just picked the tallest tree in the yard and walked to it, feelings of simple pleasure slowly curing her of her stupor. Finally! This was it! Or more like… she was It… never mind, it was still great.

"I pick this tree, N-Naruto-kun. You and the others can go hide as soon as I turn around. I will count to ten so be ready by then."

Hinata took a deep breath, turned around, placed her hands on the tree and her head on them and closed her eyes for her own emphasis. As soon as she did that, all the kids scattered as fast as if they were in trouble for something and some scary adult was coming to get them for it, because that extra moment before the It starts counting can prove decisive.

"One-nindog, two-nindogs, three-nindogs," almost everyone has found a place to hide by then, "four-nindogs, five-nindogs, six-nindogs," one boy was desperately looking around because the spots he intended to hide in had all already been taken, "seven-nindogs, eight-nindogs," there was a free dumpster, "nine-nindogs," in You go, "ten-nindogs! The base is off-limits or else You're gonna get it! Ready or not, here I come!"

It was a new feeling that mixed excitement, apprehension and stage fright. Hinata was excited because she was finally doing it, she was finally participating in a game of hide and seek. She felt apprehensive because she feared she would fail like in everything else before that; her family was not exactly trying to boost her self-esteem after all. She was experiencing stage fright and so she took great care in pronouncing every number and the warnings at the end, which gave the others almost five extra seconds to find a good place to hide.

As soon as Hinata turned around after saying "here I come", she did not start to scan the immediate area around her like most children do. Instead, she carefully circled her base to see if there is anyone who likes to break the rules hiding there. There were two reasons why she did that. First, she did not want to fail by not finding anyone before someone got to her base so this was the most logical step to prevent it from happening. Second, if there had been a cheater hiding behind her base and that cheater had made her lose, she would not have had the guts to argue with that person because she feared others may pick on her by supporting that cheater. Yes, Hinata was a cautious person.

Hinata exhaled in relief, as there was no one behind the tree trying to sabotage her game. Her agitated heartbeat slowed a bit and she managed to crack her smile again. She returned to her original place in front of the tree and started looking around, not moving from her spot. She decided that this would be the best course of action because no one would be able to approach the base, while she is standing right next to it.

She spotted her first "victim". There was a foot protruding from a nearby bush slightly to her right. She squinted her eyes to get a better look and identified the child.

"Hisako-san, You can come out of that bush, I can see Your foot sticking out." The girl in question loudly groaned and begrudgingly admitted her defeat by standing up and going to the benches.

The second child Hinata found was standing behind a training post. All of him was hidden from sight but his shadow gave him away. Hinata was able to successfully identify him as Takeshi because of his peculiar rich curly hair that was seen even in his shadow. He cursed his luck and seriously started to doubt his bold fashion statement because that was not the first time his hair brought him trouble or ridicule.

"Arf!" Kiba froze, as Akamaru decided to share his thoughts with his master at the worst possible moment. Akamaru meant to praise Hinata for the two quick finds and Kiba was impressed as well but he wished Akamaru had not sounded so excited. Kiba decided to give him a lecture and some tough training in the evening for that. Hinata already knew for a fact that Kiba and Akamaru are inseparable so once she pinpointed the barking noise, she outstretched her arm in the direction of a treetop and called Kiba out.

"Kiba-kun, I know that You are with Akamaru up there so You can come down now."

Hinata took two tentative steps to the left and started surveying that area. She almost started laughing when she spotted petite fingers with pink nail polish grasping Chōji's shoulder from behind. There was no doubt that it was Sakura because she made sure to show her new nails to every girl during the morning and then pestered Sasuke if he likes them.

"Sakura-san, don't try to shield Yourself with Chōji-kun, I can see You from here."

"How did You know it was me, Hinata?"

"The nails, You sh-showed them to me this morning and You are the only one I have seen who uses pink colour."

Unlike Takeshi though, Sakura did not begin second-guessing her fashion decisions. She has seen many a kunoichi wearing nail polish of even more outstanding colours than pink.

The next one to be found was Shino. His hideout was in another bush but he paid attention to all of his body parts, unlike Hisako, and was completely hidden from view. However, as Hinata was scanning the area around his bush, someone on the first floor of the Academy chose that moment to open a window and the light reflected from the window bounced to Shino's sunglasses and they gleamed. Hinata spotted the glimmer but was not able to discern who was there.

"I am not sure who is there but I know You know I found You. Some light was reflected on You so c-come out of that bush, please."

Shino knew when to admit defeat so he immediately stood up from his crouched position, walked over to Hinata and congratulated her on finding him. It warmed Hinata's heart.

Hinata counted that there were still seven people left: Naruto, Shinji, Eriko, Daisuke, Ino, Haruhi and Junichi. Hinata did not remember Daisuke, Haruhi and Junichi's names yet so she just jotted them down as "three unknown threats". All of them were hidden well and Hinata could see neither hide nor hair of them. She did not want to risk leaving the base so it was time for her secret weapon. She clasped her hands in what resembled the standard hitsuji seal and whispered "Byakugan". The world lost its colours and solidity and Hinata's field of vision expanded two-fold. She may not have been capable of the almost perfect 360-degree vision but she was gradually getting better and what she could achieve at that moment was enough. She immediately spotted two people hiding in the same place together, behind a stack of bricks for a new equipment shack.

"There are two people behind those bricks. One of You is wearing a button-up long-sleeved shirt and the other has a long skirt. I'm sorry I do not remember Your names but You have been found."

To say that Daisuke and Haruhi were surprised would be an understatement. When they went out in plain sight, their mouths were hanging open and a look of disbelief was etched on their faces. Haruhi was shaking her head and rubbing the bridge of her nose but Daisuke looked at Hinata and was a little startled by the bulging veins and the seemingly stern stare in Hinata's eyes that came with the Byakugan's activation.

"Geez, Hinata-san, what's with the look? So You found us, there's no need to be angry with us."

Everyone who has been found up to that point plus Sasuke and Chōji looked at Hinata with interest and started scrutinizing her features. Indeed, she looked completely different now and they had to wonder why was that. Takeshi remembered that he had seen her form a seal unfamiliar to him. It was fishy.

Hinata was taken aback by the accusation but soon remembered that the activated Byakugan does look unfriendly and she recovered. She kept her position, readjusted her enhanced vision and spotted two other people, this time in different places but very close to each other. They were Eriko and Ino. Hinata pointed at Eriko's hiding place, another treetop and called her down.

"Eriko-san, come down f-from that chestnut tree, You have been found."

Eriko jumped down and angrily looked at Hinata.

"I don't believe this! There was no way You could have seen me!" she was almost screaming as she walked towards Hinata. She stopped some seven feet from her and took a good look at Hinata's eyes. Hinata tried to school her features into a less stern whole but it did not help much.

"I thought Your eyes looked cute, Hinata-san, but right now they are really creeping me out." There, she said her piece and then she walked to the benches to join the others. Something definitely smelled fishy there.

Hinata gulped and turned her attention to Ino.

"Ino-san, You are hiding behind that dwarf wall next to the flowerbed with camellias."

Ino shot up and wasted no time with pleasantries.

"What the hell, Hinata?! How could You see me from all the way there?! I say You're cheating! I don't know how and I didn't think You would but that's got to be it!" Ino said her piece and stomped over to the benches.

Hinata was starting to feel hurt from hearing all those words. First they call her angry, then they call her creepy and then they accuse her of cheating. She sighed and turned her head to survey another part of the yard and that was when she saw Naruto. In plain sight. Frozen in mid-crawl. Only a few feet away from the base. His luck apparently ran out.


Naruto buried his face in the ground, shook his head and cursed under his breath. Then he energetically jumped up and gave Hinata a reassuring grin.

"You're good, Hinata! I knew I picked the right person for this job! But You have to admit that I almost got You there! Hmmm! C'mon, admit it!"

"Yeah, You picked a cheater. You must be in on this with her," Ino hissed but neither Hinata nor Naruto could hear it.

"Y-Yes, Naruto-kun, You almost got me. But… You should probably crawl a little faster next time…" Hinata said that, while looking everywhere but at Naruto, fearing that his intense blue eyes would hypnotise her like they did when he called out to her before.

"Hey, dumbass!" Daisuke yelled. "I seem to remember that You said no one was going to find You! And You're not even the last one to be found! I knew You were full of Yourself!"

"Oh yeah?! Well, let's see how the remaining two what-are-their-faces do! If they are found and can't get closer to the base than I did, then I am the king of this game, dattebayo!"

"Idiot. If those two are found, then the girl is the winner and You are no king, You ass," Sasuke put his two cents in.

"Err, shut it, You bastard! I'll still be the king and she'll be the queen. So there!"

Hinata did not know what to say to that so she kept quiet. She was flattered by what both boys said in her defence, although neither meant it like that.

"Shinji…" Hinata pointed at the dumpster. "You should n-not be hiding in the garbage. What if You catch a disease?"

Shinji jumped out of the dumpster and almost turned it over.

"That's it! I'm with Ino, guys! She must be cheating! I did not move an inch and there was no damn way she could have found me besides looking INTO the dumpster! You're a cheater, Hinata!"

"I-I-I a-am n-n-not a cheat-ter, Sh-Shinji…"

"Oh, then I suppose You don't know where Junichi is. I know where he is because I saw him hide but I suppose You don't," he bit out sarcastically.


"Well what, Hinata?" he said and crossed his arms.

"Well, h-he is hid-ding under t-that cloth over th-there," she said and pointed at a large piece of cloth that started moving. Sure enough, Junichi emerged from it.

"I say she's a cheater, too," Junichi said rather disbelievingly and other people started hopping on the bandwagon with more or less enthusiastic "yeah"s. Takeshi was the most vocal one and even the others who have been found due to their poor performances joined in.

Shinji continued: "I admit that You won the game, Hinata. But I will never play a game of hide and seek with You again, since You're a cheater. Who's up for never letting Hinata play again?" Shinji's hand immediately shot up to signal to everyone what his intentions were. In the end, there were enough raised hands to constitute the majority of the class, even if only by one vote.

Children can be cruel indeed. Hinata felt terrible, horrible, destroyed even. She was on the verge of tears and wanted to run away as fast and as far as she could and never see anyone of those people again. She thought that she would be having fun and she was until they started ganging up on her and accusing her of something she did not do. However, before she could make her first step, someone beat her to it once again.

"That's enough!" Everyone, including Hinata, turned their heads to see Iruka and Mizuki in the nearest doorway with very stern looks on their faces.

"That is no way to treat Your fellow classmate! You should be ashamed of Yourselves! Everyone get back in the class now! I am calling this recess over! It looks like You need a lesson in proper behaviour and more than just that!" Iruka angrily shouted.

Everyone was frozen to the spot. It is true that they have known Iruka only for a little longer than a week but they somehow judged him as someone who would never shout like that and look so scary.

"Well?!" That woke them up and they scurried back into the building. Meanwhile, Mizuki walked over to Hinata to comfort her a little.

"It's OK, Hinata. You did nothing wrong. In fact, You did great. They just don't understand. Come, let's go back to class. Me and Iruka will sort everything out."

Hinata nodded and wiped at her watery eyes, her Byakugan already turned off.

And so they went. When they entered the classroom, Iruka was already in lecture mode, chewing Shinji, Junichi and Ino's heads off in particular. He paused for two seconds when he saw the pair entering and then resumed. He made sure to look every student directly in the eyes, he told them about proper treatment of their comrades, about not jumping to conclusions, about how a true shinobi never underestimates their opponent, how foolish it was to call Hinata a cheater when Kiba could have had a similar advantage, how they should praise her for her abilities instead and so on and so forth.

After the lecture was over and everyone felt guilt-ridden and their ears were ringing, Iruka told Hinata to go and stand next to him.

"Now, each and every one of You will come down here and sincerely apologise to Hinata for what You've done to her."

And so they went. Some said sorry for joining Shinji and Junichi, some said sorry for not stopping them, some just said sorry in the most sincere way they could. Naruto deeply apologised for choosing Hinata as the It and he decided to take all the blame on himself. He was used to it… being blamed for everything… maybe it was not really sincerity but just an automatism. Everyone who tried to avert their eyes to some place where Hinata was not standing or who tried to just mumble something were further scolded by both Iruka and Mizuki and made to apologise properly, show more reverence and bow deeper. Then they were given extra schoolwork.

Hinata no longer felt like crying and running away but she was still hurt. For some reason, she also still felt that she should not have used her Byakugan and instead tried to find everyone "normally". But that was all in the past, she could not change it, it was impossible to travel through time. She knew what her father would have told her, had he learned of this – that she should not dwell on such mistakes and learn from them instead for a better future.

The next day, Hinata came to the class without her smile but she left it with it. A good number of her classmates came to her with slumped shoulders and heads down and apologised to her again to show her that they did not do it the day before only because Iruka made them. They fumbled with words and squirmed almost as badly as Hinata would in a similar situation but Hinata's soft face eventually calmed them. They said that she could play hide and seek with them again if she wanted to but Hinata had already decided that she would not play again because even though they apologised, some doubts would still be lingering.

Overall, Hinata was pleased by their honesty and even worked up enough courage to approach Kiba and thank him like she intended to. Kiba was confused. Why would she thank me for something that ended up like a disaster? He decided to ask her that question in a week but he eventually forgot to and it would take a few years before he remembered.

It would also take a few years before Hinata got the chance to thank Naruto. He did not understand at first what Hinata was talking about. Hinata told him that it was OK, that she did not mind if he did not remember it, that the "thank You" was still valid. Some time later during that conversation, when they moved to a completely different topic, Naruto suddenly uttered a loud "Ooooohh! Now I remember!" and his whole face lit up and Hinata giggled.

Notes and Explanations:

I do not know when children in Naruto start going to the Ninja Academy but I think they are eight years old in the first year, nine at the most.

Ko is a canon character and he appeared in chapter 430 of the manga. I presume him to be a branch family member.

The names of all the OC children in the class were chosen randomly so they have nothing in common with their minuscule portrayals.

My depiction of hide and seek may be different from what You experienced as a child. Where I come from, the It counts to 100 by tens (10-20-30-…-100) but I decided that finding a "shinobi" word to ensure that the counting is not too fast would suit the story better.
After the counting is over, the It says: "In front of the base, behind the base, no one must stand, or else I will not play. I'm coming." (literal translation) I needed that warning about not hiding next to the base for a part of the story, so I put it there.
The ones hiding try to approach the base unseen and if the It does not find someone first and call his or her name at the base, the It is forced to remain in that role in the next game as well.

This was my very first attempt at real, honest-to-God fan-fiction so any critique is welcome. If You think the dialogues are a bit off, tell me, because I struggled with them. If You think that my portrayal of the canon characters is flawed, tell me as well. However, if You have nothing better to say than "cool story" or something similar, I ask You not to do that.

Stay on the safe side!