AN: A 'Hinata-Centric' one-shot by the author of Next, inspired by (of all things) a Story Summary.

Hyuuga Hinata hefted the medium-sized brown paper bag filled with an assortment of groceries in the crook of her left arm, cradling it unsteadily whilst fumbling with the apartment keys in her right hand. She had had a long day, and now she couldn't manoeuvre the assortment of metal in her hand enough to get the door to her home open. She blushed a light pink as she gave a final flick of her wrist, and caught the correct key in mid-air. Occasionally, but not often, she managed to do something right.

The door swung open with a gentle nudge from her toes, and the girl retrieved her keys from the lock without breaking the head off. Again, she sniped at herself, rolling her eyes at her own clumsiness.

Crossing the threshold, she set the bag of groceries down upon the small counter-top that stood around the edges of the small kitchen the door of her apartment revealed before closing the door. The latch 'clicked' a little as the mechanism caught, and a chunkier click heralded the re-locking.

Hinata sighed as she sorted the shopping from earlier, brushing a stray lock of her rather long black hair from in front of her face, her fingertips tracing the edges of the bandages wrapped about her forehead.

It had been a condition of her leaving the Hyuuga complex at the age of seventeen, and one she paid gladly for her freedom. The Caged Bird Seal was agony during it's application, but she had never felt a twinge from it since. In fact, it had helped her somewhat, as her tolerance for pain after the Seal had been imprinted upon her actually seemed to have risen. A silver lining for every cloud.

Finished with her tasks, the girl stretched widely, then yawned rather demurely. Time for bed, perhaps.

A few minutes later, her night-time rituals of teeth-brushing, hair-combing and re-dressing in night-clothes done, Hyuuga Hinata laid upon her bed, pulled the sheets up to her chest, and settled in for the night. Almost. A blush stained her cheeks as she gave a final glance at the picture that sat upon her dresser, next to the alarm clock.

It was a picture of her and Naruto-kun, taken only weeks before upon his return from an extended mission that had taken the better part of six months. Naruto-kun had been injured, she remembered, his black-and-orange jacket hiding the extensive amount of bandages that wrapped his torso and kept his ribs in place... mostly. He had been wandering the village, Konohamaru-kun and his two friends following him every step of the way in case he needed help with anything, and snapping pictures with an old camera of anything they thought looked nice enough for his new home. Apparently it was quite Spartan, furnishings-wise, and could do with brightening up.

Hinata went bright red as she whispered the phrase, "A woman's touch" to her pillow. It was okay... No-one lived with her to think she was crazy.

Apparently, Naruto-kun had been quite pleased to see a friendly face, and had announced that of all the things that the three Genin (now Chuunin) could take pictures of that would cheer him up most, it was his friends and he. Naruto had forgotten his injuries, grabbed her about the shoulders, and pulled her close to his side. 'Smile, Hinata-chan!' he had said, grinning at first her and then the camera-toting Udon-san, his right arm still draped about Hinata's shoulders and his left flashing a 'V'. Hinata's cheeks had burnt furiously at the close contact, and the feel of his chest rising and falling against her body, but she had gathered all her courage and poured it into her pose. A small smile, rosy cheeks, her left hand pulled close to her collarbone as her only concession to her nervousness and her right hand flashing a 'V' also.

The flash, whilst unnecessary in the daylight, had fired anyway. Apparently Udon-san wasn't too knowledgeable about photography, but had given it his best anyway. Naruto-kun had thanked her, said he hoped he saw her again soon so he could catch up properly, and had gone as quickly as he had arrived in search of his other friends.

A week later, Moegi-san had turned up on Hinata's doorstep with a small envelope and a knowing smirk. Inside the envelope was a copy of the picture, and written on the back was a small message from Moegi-san; 'Tell him'.

One day, Hinata promised. One day.

With that, she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Codename Akemi, senior ANBU member, pulled the leather straps that held her forearm-covering gauntlets tight and bashed her clenched fist across the back to test the placement. Perfect, as always. The woman wasn't an ANBU for no reason.

She cinched her armour and gear tight about her, enough play and give to allow her freedom of movement, and with the finality that came of killing one's emotions and putting in place the cold, burning logical mind and heartless fa├žade, settled her mask over her face.

She struck an imposing figure, her hair cut short to resemble most of the male ANBUs' style, precisely two fingers in length to ensure a decent heat retention for colder environments and less likelihood of an aggressor snatching at her head to fend her attacks off. Not many had her dedication to her lifestyle.

Akemi, in her full ANBU gear and armed to the teeth, slid open the window of her home and leapt out like a cat, her palms planting themselves on the tree-trunk directly outside. She pushed back, her arms acting as springs, and attached her feet with chakra to the wall of her home. Facing down to the ground, she turned on her heel and knelt, sliding the window closed again before Shunshin'ing away to her assignment detail.

The Kyuubi-boy was her assignment. Anyone who would interfere with his safety, her target.

Hinata woke with a gasp, her eyes wide. This was the third time in fifteen minutes she had dozed off and awoke, suddenly restless and unable to force herself back to sleep. She slid herself up her bed, leaning her back against the headboard and drawing her knees up to her chest before folding her arms over her knees and resting her chin upon the make-shift surface created by her forearms.

She couldn't rest, for whatever reason. It was... Now what was that word Shikamaru-san always said? Whatever it was, she was sure it fit her situation perfectly. The nineteen-year-old huffed and frowned at herself, before resolving to burn the excess energy that had come from wherever it had been hiding within.

She would go and check upon Naruto-kun. She blushed at the thought of watching him while he slept, but she knew from past experiences the boy didn't sleep much. Usually, at this time of night, he could be seen sat in his home reading a book. True, it didn't fit with the usual 'Uzumaki Naruto' style, but he was older... more refined... It couldn't hurt to go and... check he was okay... and surely with the late hour and the way he would be busy he wouldn't want to be disturbed... and that cluster of trees on the outskirts of his small, secluded home was the perfect place to peep- er, observe from.

That's what she would do. She would burn her excess energy checking on Naruto-kun.

A shadow flickered across the light that was splashed across the white porcelain and four deep-red grass-like markings on Akemi's ANBU mask. The elite Hunter-nin didn't move an inch, didn't twitch at all, as she observed her unknowing client from her nest. He was, as seemed to be his habit at this time of the night, to be reading a book. Her Client, for that is how he was to be referred to when she was guarding him, wore a white t-shirt and loose grey pants, his feet bare. Escape from a fight/flight situation required speed rather than strength, and whilst the Client was strong as a Ninja, he was not known for being terribly fast. Certainly not as fast as the Hunter-nin.

Akemi puzzled at the reading glasses perched precariously on the end of the Client's nose. The up-to-date medical records of the Client stated his eyesight was perfect to the point of flawless. Most Ninja used Chakra to enhance their rather human 20:20 vision to a more perfect 30:30, much better than humankind, but as far as testing was concerned the Client had vision closer to 40:40. It was an aberration, a flaw in the intelligence work. She was inclined to gather information so the files could be updated, but that would reveal her presence.

The Client must never know he was being guarded. That was rule one of the Uzumaki Protection Detail.

Akemi snapped her head around as the sharp crack of a twig came from behind her, and almost without thinking she dropped from her post to investigate and, should the need arise, pursue whatever or whomever had made the noise.

Hinata moved swiftly, but silently through the undergrowth towards Naruto-kun's home. Why he had decided to buy and move into a bungalow-like abode on the very edges of the village, near the forest, was beyond her, but she had to admit it was a beautiful spot. Almost romantic, when the moon was full, like a dream-like grotto hidden from the world...

Hinata froze as, in her distracted state, she stepped on and broke a twig.

Akemi reached the approximate spot where the twig had been broken, twisting her head this way and that owlishly as she searched for an intruder. She sensed no Chakra signatures nearby, save for a few small nocturnal creatures and a brace of rabbits sleeping deep within their warren.

Akemi waited, stock-still, for the regimented two and a half minutes before returning to her post.

Hinata waited, and waited and waited and waited, and then let out a sigh of relief. She hadn't been caught, thankfully. She had suppressed her own Chakra and waited it out to see if anyone came to investigate, but they hadn't. She hoped.

Hinata stood from her hiding place, and with much more care and attention this time, made her way to the hiding place she knew she would see Naruto-kun from.

Akemi leapt up into the tree she had concealed herself in before, crouching low on a bough that, unless it had been reinforced with Chakra, would never have held even her rather low weight.

The Client was still sat in his lounge, in his usual chair, reading that same dark-covered book he had been reading for, according to the log-book, four days. A book that size would have been finished by now, usually, unless the Client had something on his mind or found it a particularly interesting book. Akemi grinned uncharacteristically as she thought back to the character-history of the Client. A reader he should not have turned out to be, given his hyperactivity and concentration levels. Something in life had changed him, and made him want to live a slower life.

Akemi shook her head. Such thoughts and reasoning was beyond her calling as guardian to the Client. Enough. She would sit, and watch, and guard, and so help anyone who interfered with the mission she had.

Hinata watched from her favourite... 'call it what it is, Hinata' she chided herself. She watched from her favourite Peeping Spot and blushed to herself. Naruto-kun looked very intellectual with his glasses on, even though he didn't need them... she had never seen them before, she was sure, but they looked very nice on him. Maybe he was tired, or something?

Hinata knew someone else was there, perhaps an ANBU, but so far she had remained un-noticed. Naruto-kun could sneak away from ANBU and Jounin when he was eleven, so Hinata had had to learn fast how to be even sneakier so she could check on him from time to time. She had never been caught by Naruto-kun, so a faceless ANBU wouldn't ever find her.


Uzumaki Naruto leant back in his chair, slipping a bookmark into the small black leather-bound book he held in his hands, and snapped it shut. He tilted his head back with a groan, his left hand coming up to massage his shoulder and the muscle-deep ache that had come from his bad reading posture.

The glasses perched on his nose were swiftly removed, and he suffered a moment of vertigo as the his eyes adjusted. He might have had great eyesight according to the medical records, but apparently the Kyuubi within him was as big a practical joker as he had been in his youth.

Naruto was long-sighted. Enough to be a problem for reading, but not so much for missions. And whenever he went for a medical to assure his ability to continue as a Ninja, Kyuubi would alter his eyesight to sabotage the tests. Stupid Fox.

Naruto reached out with his right hand, setting the book down on the small chair-side table, and flicked the switch for the lamp that resided upon it permanently. Bed-time.

Hinata saw Naruto-kun turn off the reading lamp and stand, blushing as she admired the way his clothing fell about his body. She sighed to herself, knowing she could never do as she wished so fervently to do, and tell her Naruto-kun about her desires, her feelings...

It was then that an ANBU dropped from the sky.

Akemi slapped a hand across the Hyuuga's mouth before she could scream in fright, and to ensure her silence drew a soot-dulled Tanto blade and pressed it against the girl's throat.

The blank, empty eye-holes of the mask Akemi wore bore down into the frightened gaze of the girl, and she shifted her hand from the Hyuuga's mouth to her shoulder and shook her.

"The Client would prefer to know he has visitors, do you not think, Hyuuga-san?"

Hinata's eyes were wide, and her childhood stutter came back with a vengeance. She had worked hard to rid herself of the affliction, but whenever she was nervous, it returned. "B-But Naruto-kun-"

"Iie. The Client should know when he has visitors. No excuses. If you wish to see him, go and see him. Surely the Client could do with some company he knows about, given his remote location?"

"A-Ano... ano... ANBU-san... N-Naruto-kun..." Hinata's face flushed a bright red, which lessened slightly as the Tanto was replaced in it's sheath.

"If you do not have the courage to approach the Client, Hyuuga-san, perhaps I should assist."

And with that, Akemi jumped down from the tree-branch with Hinata held in front of her like a human shield, and pushed her to Naruto-kun's front door.

Naruto was about to turn off all the lights and head to bed when a hesitant knock came at his door. He frowned to himself, and cocked his head in confusion. No-one ever came to visit. Ever. It was why he had bought this place, because it was secluded and he wouldn't be disturbed by people who still harboured ill-will towards him.

Cautiously, the blonde padded to the front door of his abode, unlocked and unlatched it, and opened the door wide.

The visitor was about five-feet four, and slim. Her hands were held by her sides, and she was looking at him. Staring, in fact. Right at his face.

"Eh?" Naruto raised an eyebrow. "ANBU-san, can I help you? Has the Godaime got a mission or message for me?"

The ANBU woman raised her right hand and grasped the mask with four, deep red grass-like marks across the pristine ceramic, whilst her left hand reached behind her head and pulled the lace-like straps that held it in place from the slipknot. The lace fell from the sides of the ANBU's head, allowing her short hair to settle back in place, before she pulled the mask away and revealed her face.

"Ano... Hinata?"

Hyuuga Hinata, five-feet four, with pearly-white Byakugan eyes and two-finger long inky-black hair stood before Uzumaki Naruto, the Client, in her full ANBU gear. The bandages wrapped about her forehead covered the rather sore area where her Caged Bird Seal had once resided, removed only a month ago by Naruto once he had found out about why she really wore the bandages that she had told him 'held her hair back'. The long, inky tresses of hair she had in public belonged to a wig that helped cover her ANBU lifestyle from anyone who knew her. ANBU were faceless, after all.

Most also had some form of split personality, brought about by having to remove themselves from their work. Hinata's own codename, Akemi, assisted her in killing off her clumsiness and the last vestiges of her stutter. She also did stupid things, like boost Hinata's confidence or drag her kicking and screaming to things she REALLY wanted to do, but couldn't on her own.

"Hinata-chan, what are you-" was as far as Naruto got, before Hinata dropped the porcelain mask from her hand and leapt upon her crush. 'Akemi' threw her, she swore. The pair fell to the floor, over-balanced by Hinata's leap, and made a loud thud as they landed. 'Akemi' also pushed her at just the right angle to smash Hinata's mouth upon Naruto's, and held her there while she gave him the best damned kiss of her life.

His too, if how he kicked the door shut while they were still writhing about each other on the floor of his home was any indication.

'Akemi' lay upon the ground, forgotten until the morning. When she was finally retrieved, it was by Hinata, who set the mask upon her face once more and said goodbye to Naruto before racing off to her home.

Uzumaki Naruto was, for once in his life, the one blushing at his encounter with Hyuuga Hinata, instead of vice-versa.

It seemed it always was the quiet ones.

Weird girl... but wonderful.

AN: There we go, one-shot done. Hope you enjoyed the little fluffy moments and I didn't bog you down with unnecessary words or the small amount of exposition I felt a little necessary... I'm sure most people got the idea anyway, but there we go...

Hope you've enjoyed this as much as I did!


Author of 'Next'.

AN v2.0: Sumimasen, I forgot to edit the damned thing and put the lines in place... Enjoy the re-done version.

AN v3.0: I've been told that the little Akemi/Hinata duel in the tree is a tad confusing, so I'll have a bit of a go at explaining it...

Hinata is battling her wishes; her confident (Akemi) side wants to go and pounce on Naruto-kun, but her shy self is reluctant. Hinata is already a little mental, and has instead visualised her opponent (herself as Akemi) as a seperate individual so shy-Hinata feels she can't fight back or back out. Confident-Hinata has finally broken Shy-Hinata, even if Shy-Hinata wants to stick around.

Hope you understood it, because I'm fairly sure I just gave myself a headache :P