The final of my first Naruto fanfic. I never expected so many people would like this story. I'm truly happy for it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Chapter 6: Broken silence

Naruto kept looking at Hinata from the point he was, unable to move. The reason behind that was still unknown to him.

Hinata was starting to feel anxious because of the usually animated boy's unnatural stillness. Finally, she decided to speak. "If you're not feeling like talking, Naruto-kun, we can wait for another time."

"Absolutely not!" Naruto stated, sounding more like his usual self. "Don't worry about me now! I don't have the right to keep you waiting for an answer any longer!"

"You don't owe me anything, Naruto-kun, really." Hinata said in a firm tone, "I did what I did because of my own selfishness. I just couldn't leave you alone... even knowing that you wanted to be."

Without realizing, Hinata lowered her head. "It must have been difficult for you. In a situation like that, some random girl jumping in front of you and saying those things... I can't even imagine what was going through your mind. I remember you yelling. You were telling me to leave and that I wasn't any kind of match for Pain. You wanted to protect everybody, but I didn't respect your wish, which made you suffer. I'm sorry."

"Are you sorry for having tried to save me?" Naruto questioned almost in a whisper.

Still without looking directly at him, Hinata clenched her fists. Naruto could tell she hadn't done that for fear or anything similar. It was clearly anger that Hinata was feeling now.

"I knew I couldn't defeat Pain, but I thought I could at least gain time. I put everything I had in that attack. I just wanted to knock Pain down for a few seconds, so I could free you. Then, I wanted him to keep fighting me, to give you time to escape. But I wasn't able to do that. My best efforts were meaningless and I failed in protecting you. I'm so sorry for my weakness, Naruto-kun." Hinata was trembling.

Naruto saw tears falling on the grass, from Hinata's face. The boy felt as if his heart was being crushed. The sight of the shaking girl's tears finally managed to get him to move. He ran to her and held Hinata's face gently, but firmly, with his hands, making the Hyuuga girl see his eyes.

Naruto was giving her an intense look.

"Enough with this nonsense, Hinata." Naruto's hands shook a little. His intense look was slowly turning into a more hesitating one as he continued softly. "I can't stand to hear you put yourself down anymore. I can't see you crying either, it's... I can't take it. I beg you, stop it."

Hinata was astonished. Naruto took a shaking breath and let go of her. But they were still very close to each other.

"How could you be so irresponsible, Hinata? You have no idea how much despair I felt when I saw you showing up like that! I was trapped. I couldn't do anything but yell. I yelled at you to run away from there... and then I yelled to Pain to not harm you."

"I'm sorry. I didn't want to worry you. I know you would be worried if someone from the village did that. I didn't want to do that to you, but I had to choose."

"Choose?" Naruto asked without breathing. Hinata nodded with her head.

"I had to decide what was more important: your life or your happiness."

Naruto's eyes got wide in shock. Hinata kept talking.

"The weird thing is that I knew what was more important already. I wanted you to be happy, Naruto-kun. I always wanted that. So I never bothered you with my problems. I never let you see me crying. I never gave you reasons to get too close to me. I felt that if that happened, I'd just become a burden to you. Just like I was for my team-maters, my sensei and my family. Like I was, I would just be in the way of your happiness because I know that, despite your apparent rudeness, you care too much about people. So I promised myself I'd become someone you wouldn't need to protect or worry about. I'd be someone worthy of walking by your side. I always cared a lot about your happiness, but I couldn't do it that time." Hinata trembled even more, "Even knowing you would get hurt... I wasn't able to abandon you... because if you died, Naruto-kun... I-I just wouldn't be able to stand the pain. I would rather die trying to protect you than suffering because of your death. That's why I was being selfish."

Naruto stayed uncharacteristically silent, processing what he had heard. After few minutes, he talked.

"You said you knew I'd be hurt by seeing someone dying in front of me, for me. You said I cared too much about people and you even called yourself 'random,' Hinata," for the first time, Naruto actually seemed a bit angry as his eyes locked with Hinata's, "do you really think you were ever 'random' to me?"

Hinata looked at Naruto with a bit of surprise. The boy continued without pause, "You probably haven't realized this, but you were the first person that I ever liked."

This time, Hinata was very surprised and couldn't help but protest at the sentece. "But, Naruto-kun, What about Iruka-sensei? And Sakura-san?"

"You don't remember the day we entered the academy?" Naruto gave a sad ghost of his usual beaming smile, "You were the first person I got to know in that place. And I was truly amazed by knowing you."

"Why?" Hinata couldn't understand. "I was nothing! Just a pathetic-"

"You told me that you wanted to be recognized! That you wanted to be stronger, so your family would accept you and you would be worthy of becoming the leader of the clan!" Naruto almost roared. Hinata was speechless. Naruto-kun truly remembers this all?

Naruto put his right hand over his heart, as if he was trying to calm himself. "You made me believe I could change the way people used to see me. Don't you remember? You even told me I would be a great Hokage!" Naruto was laughing nervously. Some tears were being formed in his eyes and he was shaking a little bit. "Everybody always despised me. I hated people. I could have become a horrible person. I could have taken the wrong path, but you showed me the right one. You believed in me and made me believe in myself. Your words saved me, Hinata, before anyone else's did. I met Iruka-sensei and the others later, by the time I fell in love with Sakura-chan... Although I wouldn't call the feeling I had 'love' anymore. She never made me feel like this."

Hinata couldn't believe in what Naruto had just said. Naruto frowned in concentration as he continued to speak.

"I found Sakura-chan cute, but she wasn't sweet with me. Well, she's not like that anymore, but that's not the point. I never showed her my true self. By that time, she never encouraged me in anything. I was just a loser for everybody. But you... it was different with you. We didn't have long conversations, but every word you gave me made my heart feel warmer. I thought you were weird because you were different from everybody. I hadn't realized I actually liked your weirdness. I never thought of you as something more than a distant friend. In fact, I kept seeing you that way until recently. However, I'm not sure anymore if this was my true feeling at all."

"Naruto-kun..." Hinata didn't know what to say. Naruto's words were becoming more intense.

"Back when we were kids at the Chunin exam, I wouldn't have cared about seeing the answers of the written text if it had been another person who had offered. I didn't want to cause you problems. I wouldn't have been so mad at Neji for beating you like that... I wouldn't have encouraged you so much and I wouldn't have sworn I'd defeat Neji if you were you just a distant friend. And I wouldn't have confessed to a 'distant friend' that I acted like a strong person because, deep down, I was frustrated."

"I remember that day." Hinata said suddenly. "I told you that you were admirable because you never gave up after your failures... and that you should be proud of that."

"Yeah. And I told you I liked people like you. I was so stupid. I couldn't even classify my feelings properly. How could I have ever thought you were just a distant friend? I'm not such a noble person, Hinata. I wouldn't be so much desperate if it was just a distant friend who had been stabbed before my eyes. I definitely wouldn't have let Kyuubi take control of me... or wished everything went to Hell... over a distant friend's death. Every time I remember that, I feel like crying. Just by imagining you in danger, it makes me want to forget the whole world and give my best to protect you, even if it costs my life. That's... that's how you feel about me, isn't it?"

Hinata smiled softly when she gave her answer to Naruto. "Yes, Naruto-kun."

Naruto beamed with some of his old self shining through, "So it's a sure thing now." Then, getting serious, he looked into Hinata's eyes, touching her face with delicacy, and added, "I really love you, Hinata."

The time seemed to pass slowly. Their heads were approaching each other. They were getting too close to each other. When their faces were almost touching, Naruto questioned, "Things are not going to be easy. I have a lot to do. Would you really stay by my side despite all this?"

The blond boy was still worried about Sasuke and Akatsuki, but he felt now that things would be easier if he had Hinata with him. The fear he once felt had vanished.

"I'll be always by your side." Hinata promised. "I'll help you whenever you need my help."

Naruto didn't know if he should smile or cry. Deciding to do what he did best, Naruto acted on instinct and kissed Hinata with passion. The moment when their lips found each other felt as if time had frozen. Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata wished that the moment would last forever.

Once again, thank you for everybody who read and reviewed Silence, and also, a special thanks to my Beta readers. And thanks to Kishimoto too, who created such a perfect couple (yeah, Kishimoto, I'm still waiting for the Naruhina conversation).