The New Naruto

Chapter 21 – Politics

Hinata's night had not been restful. At first, her mind was plagued with thoughts about Naruto and his open desire to go on a date with her despite also going out with two other girls. Two other girls who she was sure were prettier, or better ninja than her. Having confided in her younger sister earlier in the evening, when she'd been asked about her unusual good mood, her thoughts had since dwelled on why she should or shouldn't accept a date with her long-time crush and his unusual situation. After drifting off into sleep while picking over the topic, she'd been awoken by heavy, hurried footsteps outside her room. Having had training from her father since the incident with the hidden cloud, she'd activated her byakugan and reached for the kunai she kept under her pillow.

Though her all-seeing eyes, she could make out her father being woken from his own slumber by her grandfather. When she saw no immediate threat, Hinata deactivated her clan's jutsu and tried to settle back down to sleep. She'd heard the retreating footsteps of her grandfather and likely her father too before her door slid open a crack, a sliver of light crossing her futon.

"Hinata?" A quiet, girlish voice had called. Hinata, recognising her sisters voice, had sat up and turned towards the latest development to deny her rest.

"Yes Hanabi? Are you ok?" She asked kindly, sitting up to greet her sister. It was only once she caught sight of her face that she realised her sister had pools of tears in her eyes threatening to fall at any moment.

With the simple gesture of open arms and a worried face, Hanabi rushed through Hinata's doorway and into her sister's embrace, fighting back sobs all the while. Despite their diverging futures once the battle for the heiress position had been decided, Hinata and Hanabi had remained as close as ever behind closed doors.

"Hanabi, whatever's the matter?" She tried to coax from her sister as she stroked her hair like she remembered her mother doing to her.

Hanabi however just shook her head, crying into Hinata's bedwear as the later tried to soothe her. It took a few minutes for Hanabi to get her emotions out before she was calm enough to tell her sister what was wrong.

"Grandpa... came to tell father something." She began, hiccupping from her sobs.

"I know Hanabi, I saw. Did you watch father again?" Hinata asked, having had her sister confide in her that she'd spied on their father multiple times, trying to learn as much as she could about the clan to know how to be the best heiress she could be. Though Hinata had been relegated to former heiress, she was happy her sister was taking her training as heiress seriously at the time.

"...yes." Hanabi croaked out after a moment of silence. "Grandpa, H-he-" She sobbed, "He said that cou-cousin N-neji is g-going to d-d-dieee."

Hinata's expression widened in shock though her hand maintained its movements stroking her sister's hair to calm the girl. Had there been another attack? Why was Neji in danger?

Hanabi evidently didn't know anymore as she didn't offer any further information, her sobs slowly quieting. Hinata offered for the girl to sleep with her for the night which Hanabi accepted in a heartbeat, cuddling her sister as she faded into fitful rest. The former heiress stayed awake a little longer, trying to puzzle out just what happened to Neji with her limited knowledge. Eventually, sleep claimed her too and she knew nothing until morning.

She woke up groggily to an empty futon, Hanabi likely rising early to deal with her heiress duties she thought to herself before going about her morning routine. Once she saw herself as presentable she made her way to the main branch's dining room, asking a branch member present for breakfast if it wasn't too much trouble. The young branch woman had given her a small nod before leaving for the kitchens.

Hinata was halfway through her rice by the time Hanabi reappeared, her eyes no longer red from tears but her sombre mood was quite easily visible.

"How are you feeling this morning Hanabi?" She asked politely.

Realizing her sister was present, Hanabi quickly took a seat beside her. As Hinata was no longer heiress, she was not privy to a number of discussions the Hyuga had anymore; that role being filled by her sister.

"Neji got into a fight last night." Hanabi filled her sister in, "Grandfather said he'd disgraced the clan but other people stopped grandfather from bringing Neji back home."

"Who did? And why would they do that?" She asked, hoping Hanabi had more information.

"Don't know but..." Hanabi trailed off. "I... know who he fought."

Hinata tilted her head before asking. "Who?"

Hanabi didn't want to make her sister sad but she felt it better that the girl find out now rather than risk an emotional response outside the compound.

"Naruto Uzumaki." She replied sadly. "I'm so sorry, sister." Hanabi reached out, putting a comforting arm on her sister's.

"No," Hinata said simply, shaking her head, "No, that isn't everything. There must be another reason why Grandfather is upset. Do you know anything else?"

"Oh, um," Hanabi thought for a moment, "I believe father mentioned he was calling a council meeting? Said he needed to clear the Hyuga clan's honour?"

"An honour duel." Hinata discerned, her breath leaving her for the moment. Hanabi evidently hadn't been taught about the old rules either through her tutors or the academy yet.

"Father is taking me to observe the council meeting when he leaves." Hanabi stated, "Do you think Naruto or Neji is going to get in more trouble?"

"I don't know Hanabi." Hinata replied, pushing what was left of her breakfast away and rising to her feet. "I'm sorry, there are matters I must attend to now. Be safe."

With that, Hinata took her leave back to her room. She didn't know what she could do at this point, but she knew the stakes of an honour duel and if her cousin's life was on the line, she only had a little time to try and help.

Messengers were quickly dispatched that morning, calling in the clan heads and various representatives required to be in attendance for an emergency clan meeting at noon.

This would be Tsunade's first emergency meeting and she knew others would be looking for reasons to test her authority, Danzo chief among them. She was already down one ally this morning as she'd ordered Shizune to keep a watchful eye over Neji in an unlisted hospital room. The boy's injuries weren't deep but the magnitude of the attack he'd suffered would leave some light scaring on his chest. Her apprentice was both making sure he had plenty of rest and to ensure no one came visiting unannounced.

Gathering the papers she suspected she needed for the meeting, Tsunade opened her office door only to see Jiraiya's laid back figure leaning on the wall.

"If you're gonna join us as my advisor you better look the part." She said, thrusting the folder of papers at his chest as she passed.

Jiraiya took them under his arm before trailing behind the angry blonde.

"Hey, the Hyuga kid's the one starting this mess, don't get mad at me."

"I have enough on my plate without having to research decades old laws for you and the brat and now, we have this." Tsunade gestured forward, implying their destination.

"Look, the Hyuga kid made a bad call, Naruto's just trying to fix this without either of them ending up dead or village-less." Jiraiya explained, "Besides, we have a plan I think will placate everyone. At least for a couple years."

Tsunade sighed before resolving herself to ask:

"And that plan is?"

"A secret." Jiraiya grinned cheekily at her though his breath quickly left him as Tsunade's chakra-less fist found his stomach.

"You're hopeless." She muttered.

"And you love me for it." Jiraiya smirked, catching up the few steps he'd missed catching his breath.

The clan meetings were held in the Hokage Administration building, down the hall from the Hokage's office. In the years since the village was established, all major laws, trials and alliances had been decided in that very room. As this was where the village was first created, many thought it fitting to decide Konoha's future endeavours in the same hall. Both Tsunade and Jiraiya felt their years as all present clan heads and representatives of the village turned towards them with most now being younger than they were.

The hall was presented much like an academy classroom with raised seating for members further away from the center of the circular room though two sections had been removed on either side to allow entry via the two sets of doors.

Tsunade quickly assumed her position at her desk while Jiraiya took a more relaxed approach and leant back on the wall behind her. After the chatter died down and Tsunade had sorted her papers, she figured it was best to just get on with things.

"You've all been called here to discuss a matter concerning a certain law, its validity and the challenge presented to it.

That raised more than a few eyebrows among those who weren't aware of the events the previous night.

"The law, or laws, in question are those surrounding honour duels and the grievances that have been raised." Tsunade continued. "Before we begin, is there anyone who wishes to bring any other matters to the table?"

Though there was quite mumbling around certain clans with either advisors or aides, there was no raised issues brought forth. Danzo even remained unusually quiet, the sannin both noticed as he'd been known to oppose Hiruzen at almost every meeting for anything he didn't agree with.

"Very well, as this matter was brought to my attention by the Hyuga clan, I yield the floor to them." Tsunade nodded.

Hiashi, sitting in his position at the Hyuga clan's traditional seat, flanked by his father, the former head of the Hyuga clan and his daughter Hanabi, rose to his feet.

"It has been brought to my attention that one of the members of the Hyuga clan's branch family legally engaged with another member of the hidden leaf's forces in an honour duel last night in training ground three." A few whispers broke out but Hiashi continued, "While the duel conducted legally according to our laws, this matter concerns the outcome of the match, namely that there isn't one despite both combatants having disengaged from combat."

"What'ddya mean? Is it still going on or are they both dead?" Tsume Inzuka yelled from her position, her feet propped up on the desk and her companion, Kuromaru, sitting at her side.

"Neither combatant has died and neither one has surrendered," Hiashi explained, a hint of annoyance in his tone, "It seems that, while the victor of the match was almost assuredly decided, they refused to either finish off their opponent or make them surrender. Since then, both have resumed their lives with the duel incomplete."

"Can they do that?" Inoichi whispered to his former Nara team mate, to which he got a shrug as an answer.

"While the match has not officially ended," Hiashi continued, "I would request that the council resolve this battle so that our laws can be upheld."

"Stop being political Hiashi and tell us who was involved." Kakashi drawled from his position as the sole Hatake clan member.

"Neji Hyuga and Naruto Uzumaki were the two involv-"

Tsume let out loud, bark-like laughs, joined by Kuromaru.

"Your branch genius got wasted by Naruto?" She asked, rhetorically. If it had been the other way around, this meeting wouldn't have been taking place. "You want a do-over or something?"

"Tsume, quiet!" Tsunade sharply ordered from her seat. The dog clan head quickly quietened, as had any further mumblings in the room.

"Thank you, Lady Hokage." Hiashi bowed lightly. "I do not wish for a 'do-over' as the Inuzuka clan head suggested. I believe that our law has and is currently being deliberately broken by Uzumaki Naruto to prevent justice from being done."

It pained Hiashi to say those words, remembering the night his brother had been sacrificed for the clan after the failed abduction of Hinata many years ago. Now, he was here having to fight for the right to end his nephew's life to restore the clans honour as per his father's wishes.

"I have read the laws thoroughly in the time I have been alerted to this development." Tsunade announced. "This situation has never occurred before as all prior duels were resolved with a clear outcome, and therefore, needed no such addendum. While it is against the law to interfere with a duel in-progress, the Hyuga clan wishes for a decision to be made so that an outcome is swiftly reached."

"So, it's a loophole. Trust the kid to find one." Shikaku chuckled to himself.

Tsunade rolled her eyes as she noticed the one-eyed nuisance machine rise to his feet.

"Lady Tsunade, I trust you have both of the offenders in custody." Danzo asked, though his smirk told her he already knew the answer.

"I do not, as there is no law preventing such a situation yet, the two in discussion have no reason to be arrested."

"But the spirit of the law has been broken." Danzo argued, "To wilfully disrupt and manipulate a founding law of our village to obstruct justice should be enough to have the genin brought in."

"It's too dangerous." Jiraiya interceded, his annoyance clear in his voice. "I was present at the battle, though not as one of the three judges, and have reasonable cause to suspect either or both of the genin would be in further harm should they be brought here today."

"Oh?" Danzo feigned surprise. "And why's that Lord Jiraiya?"

The white-haired sannin let out a sigh before standing properly, addressing the room.

"After the two had come to the loophole understanding we are discussing now, the former Hyuga clan head and two branch members attempted to interrupt the duel by using the caged bird seal on Neji Hyuga to 'regain their clan's honour'." He finished with a mocking tone. "I think we all know what happens to those Hyuga who make them look bad."

Though some, such as Choza had little idea what Jiraiya was talking about, Shikaku and Inoichi knew full well what the end result of a disgraced Hyuga clansman was.

"This is why neither is here today, lest that detestable seal be used again."

"This is outrageous, the Hyuga clan has laws that must be upheld and was prevented from clan business by outsiders." The former head of the Hyuga stood to angrily refute the accusation.

"I conquer with Lord Jiraiya," Shibi said quietly from his place at the back of the room, though the entire hall heard his words. "As a judge for this duel, if not for Zabuza Momochi's timely intervention, I fear we may be dealing with a far worse fallout."

"Namely, the execution of the former head of the Hyuga clan for interference." Jiraiya threatened, letting out a little, focused killer intent at the man. Though the former Hyuga head had seen many battles in his days as an active ninja, he felt the familiar chill run down his spine he'd hoped never to feel again.

"As it is," Tsunade continued, trying to get the meeting back on track. "Neji has been seen to medically and both are in hidden locations until a decision can be reached."

"But Lady Hokage, surely healing one party of the duel is interference? Please name the person who treated the boy so that they may be judged too." Danzo called out again.

Tsunade let out a sigh, even knowing the old warmonger was going to make a play still didn't make the anticipation any easier.

"As agreed by the three, impartial judges due to the uniqueness of the situation, I treated Neji Hyuga myself."

"As agreed by the judges? Do they have the authority to make that call?" Danzo called, playing to the room rather than to Tsunade. "To pervert the rules of a duel to allow only those they see fit to interact with the duellists?"

The room was rapt in their attention as there was no longer any muttering, all eyes focused on the main event before them.

"I cannot speak for clan head Sarutobi or jonin Kurenai, but I made the decision to preserve life based off this unusual circumstance." Shibi said, his coat faintly buzzing.

"Agreed," Asuma chipped in, "I figured it would be better to hash out the details here rather than make any rash judgements. None of us know the law to the letter, especially when it comes to stuff like this."

"Clearly, there is a major failing in the education system for this to have been brought about." Danzo ranted, "If we are not to uphold the laws that held Konoha together during the toughest of times, then-"

"Danzo, you are descending into speculation." Tsunade warned him. It was well within her power to eject him from the proceedings but using that power liberally would paint her as a dictator which Danzo would inevitably call for.

"So basically, we have to decide whether or not the honour duel continues or is finished?" Shikaku called from his seat, wishing politics was simpler so they could all go home.

"To put it simply, yes." Tsuande replied. "Both combatants have agreed that they wish for the match to continue indefinitely so as to delay any outcome. The Hyuga clan wishes an outcome to be declared so they may continue with their traditions as dictated when they first joined Konoha.

"Death sentence more like." Tsume grumbled but silenced herself when Tsunade shot her a warning glare.

The meeting had been called around noon but by the three-hour mark, a decision had not been reached. There were cases both for and against either side but a general consensus had yet to be reached.

Jiraiya was grinning internally as everything was going accordingly, though he was pretty bored with having to stand around and wait.

He had bided his time, waiting and listening for enough logical and emotional arguments to be thrown around before he decided to make his play.

"Enough." He called to the room, stepping into the center to gain everyone's attention. The squabbling quickly died down to watch the new development.
"Clearly we're getting nowhere fast with this." He announced, "So while you've all been bickering like children, I've come up with a solution that will benefit both parties until an agreement can be reached."

"Oh? Please explain Lord Jiraiya," Shikaku resigned, a wisp of hope he'd be free of the stuffy room soon.

"I am leaving the hidden leaf to travel and gather information that'll benefit us in the long term. Don't ask for details." He cut off any questions. "I propose I take young Neji Hyuga with me as my assistant. He'd be out of the hidden leaf's hair, and the Hyuga clan can maintain their appearance while we're gone. It's gonna take a while so I'm sure you'll have worked out all the details by the time we get back in a year or two."

Hiashi was silent as he pondered Jiraiya's proposal. Danzo, however, was hearing none of it.

"To leave on an excursion with the boy and evade justice? And exposing the precious byakugan to enemies of the hidden leaf no less."

"It's not evading justice. I'm sure we're all tired of debating this by now and not having anything substantial to show for it. This way, you can all sort out the law exactly as it should be before we return for the judgement. The Hokage can get a hold of me at any time, so contact won't be an issue."

"I agree with Jiraiya, this matter won't be solved in a day or even a week. As long as the Hyuga clan agrees to the proposal, I have no issue." Tsunade announced, guessing that Jiraiya was making his play now.

Hiashi's father was whispering hurriedly into his son's ear. He didn't know what Jiraiya was doing, be he too, guessed that Jiraiya was planning something.

Before Hiashi could listen to anymore of his father's barbed words, he rose to his feet once more.

"Whilst I believe we will have to discuss the specifics of this arrangement further, I see no reason to deny this. The laws of old have certainly not accounted for everything and it is for that reason we must revise them. Until such time that we can be sure that justice will be dispensed fairly and without bias, accepted by all, we will not be able to come to a decision."

'Gotcha!' Jiraiya grinned in his head. It would be sometime before Neji would be returning to the hidden leaf village, but by then, things will have changed.

"Why the fuck did I come back." Tsunade slammed her head into her desk, loose papers fluttering to the ground as the impact blew them away.

"What? You didn't have fun?" Jiraiya grinned as he flumped down on the couch.

"Some plan you had." Tsunade grumbled from her position on the desk. "Did it really have to take you so long to make a move?"

"No, but you make the cutest faces when you're bored." Jiraiya cooed.

Tsunade lifted her head to give him an angry glare only to be blocked by the paper stuck to her forehead.

"Enough theatrics," She scolded him, snatching the paper and crumpling it. "What's the endgame here?"

Jiraiya sat up before performing a few hand seals, blocking the room to listeners.

"First of all, not my plan. Second, I have no idea if it's going to work. Third, if it doesn't, a fine young Lady is going to lose her head."

Tsunade's eyes widened. There were only a few laws that detailed specific punishments, such as losing one's head, and she guessed Jiraiya wasn't speaking hypothetically.

"Funny story, we had a busy morning planning treason..."

Seven hours earlier, before the clan meeting, Tenten had found an unusual guest in her shop. She'd barely returned from her early morning training with a substitute healer that was leading Tsunade's advanced classes and opened up shop when team eight's sole female member walked through her door.

"Hin-ata? What are you doing here?" She asked as the demure girl quickly closed the door behind her and rushed over to Tenten's counter.

"H-hi Tenten, um... ca-can we go somewhere private... please?" She asked quickly.

Confused, Tenten told the girl to head upstairs before she flipped the sign on the shop to 'closed' and following after the young Hyuga.

She lead her guest to the training room where she usually talked to Naruto though she had no idea what Hinata was after.

"Is everything ok, Hinata? You sound like someone's after you."

"N-no, I... um... I need to find Naruto." She admitted. Before Tenten could ask why, she continued, "I need to ask him to help me find Lord Jiraiya."

"Why do you need Lord Jiraiya?" Tenten asked curiously.

"Please don't ask questions." Hinata pleaded, "I don't want to get you mixed up in this."

Tenten sighed and put her fingers to her temple.

"I can't help if I don't know what's going on." She said, annoyed the girl was trying and failing to be secretive. "Did you go by Naruto's house to check if he was there first?"

Hinata nodded while putting her fingers together in embarrassment.

"I couldn't find him in his usual spots, so I thought he'd be with you or Haku but I don't know where she lives." She admitted.

'Haku?' Tenten thought, 'Why would Hinata think Naruto would be with Hak-'.

It clicked before she'd finished her thought. Hinata was the other girl Naruto liked. He'd only mentioned Haku when they'd spoken about it before.

"Well he's not here I'm afraid Hinata." Tenten let the girl down.

"Oh... I see." Hinata replied, her voice, though unintentional, was brimming with sadness. "Do you, perhaps, know where I could find Haku's residence?" She asked nervously.

Tenten was tempted to say no and leave Hinata to her own devices but she quickly squashed that thought process dead when she recalled the previous evening's frosty conversation with the girl in question. She would be the bigger person here.

"Actually, I have an idea where she is. I'll take you to her place." Tenten offered, resigned to helping the girl.

Hinata smiled infectiously at her cousin's former teammate, her big eyes bright with renewed hope.

"Thank you very much Tenten."

It didn't take too long to find the street she'd left Haku on the night before. Despite being in the same class for advanced medical techniques, neither one had attempted to speak to the other, both still a little bitter over their previous discussion. Tenten didn't know the exact hotel Zabuza and Haku were staying in but she figured with Hinata this desperate, she'd be able to locate him pretty quickly.

Tenten stopped the girl before they passed the first hotel on the street and told her the situation. As expected, Hinata activated her byakugan to attempt to locate their goal. While it was certainly frowned upon to use her byakugan within the village unnecessarily, Hinata figured that the laws she was planning to break would take greater precedence.

After a few hotels they located the one with, apparently, both Zabuza and Naruto inside; Haku, much to Tenten's relief, was nowhere to be seen.

"Well there you go Hinata," Tenten stopped the pair outside the hotel's entrance. "Try to be a little less suspicious when asking people for help next time."

Tenten turned to walk back along the road to her shop only to be stopped by a tug on her sleeve. Turning back, she saw Hinata was looking at the ground, her face red and her body language screaming embarrassment.

"Um... I'm sorry Tenten but... could you please um... introduce me to Mr. Zabuza?"

Tenten turned back to the girl and gave her an exasperated look, her hands on her hips.

"You still not gonna tell me why you need Jiraiya's help?"

Hinata looked back at Tenten, the worried expression clear for any to see. The stereotypical Hyuga stoicness was certainly lost on the girl.

"Please Tenten, it's too dangerous. Please stop asking."

If Hinata had planned to scare the girl away with her words, she only succeeded in doing the opposite. If there was danger involved with whatever Hinata was planning, there was no way she'd let a fellow leaf shinobi go through it alone, love rival or not.

"Very well, let's go say 'Hi' shall we." Tenten replied, not giving away that she was now here to stay.

The pair entered the hotel and passed by the desk clerk with a casual wave. It didn't take too long to reach Zabuza's room and Tenten reached out to knock on the door. Though she admired the man and had been officially taken as his student yesterday, she hoped he wouldn't be annoyed at her turning up unannounced with a guest.

"Who is it?" Zabuza's familiar voice grunted through the door.

"It's Tenten, Zabuza sensei."

The door opened a crack which was filled entirely with Zabuza's body.

"No training today, go rest." He said sharply, eyeing the girl suspiciously. His eyes then settled on the other, very nervous looking girl behind his new student.

"What's with the Hyuga." He asked, suspicions raised.

"Her name's Hinata, we're here to see Naruto. We figured he'd be the one who'd know where Lord Jiraiya is."

Zabuza's eyes narrowed further.

"Naruto's not here, go away."

He shut the door quickly after that. Tenten and Hinata were left in the hallway, quizzical faces turning towards each other before hearing some words exchanged on the other side of the door.

After a few moments more, the door swung open, much further this time, to reveal their shared crush dressed in his typical battle gear.

"Hey! Tenten, Hinata, what are you doing here?" He asked as though Zabuza hadn't just lied about his presence.

Tenten's confusion left her first before she grabbed Hinata's hand and pulled the girl with her past Naruto and into the room.

The hotel was a modest business, catering to a general visitation population of civilians and had the average furnishings and style to match. Zabuza was the only thing looking out of place, leaning against a wall near a window which had its curtains drawn tight; a sour look on his face.

"Could you shut the door Naruto? I think it's important." Tenten declared, releasing Hinata's hand now they'd gained access to their goal. Before Hinata could complain further, Naruto quickly shut the door and returned his attention to the pair. "Go on Hinata." Tenten prompted the girl.

Hinata looked at her companion before returning her gaze to Naruto and quickly glancing at Zabuza before shrinking under the attention.

"Naruto could erm... could you please get in touch with Lord Jiraiya?" She asked, steeling her nerves. "It's very i-important I talk to him... right away."

"Huh?" Naruto tilted his head. "Sure, but what's up? Is something wrong?"

While he certainly knew he'd be worried about any family member in the situation Neji was in as had been explained to him by Jiraiya, he had no idea why exactly Hinata was looking for the old perv.

"I... I can't tell you... Naruto." She replied meekly, "I'm very sorry."

Tenten rolled her eyes at the girl.

"Just get Lord Jiraiya, I don't think she's gonna talk to anyone but him." Tenten explained. Naruto shrugged before biting his finger and performing several hand signs and slamming his palm on the ground.

A burst of smoke erupted where he'd made contact which quickly dispersed to reveal a small, vest wearing, orange toad.

"Yo." It said, greeting his summoner.

"Hey Gamakichi, could you do me a favour and go get the old man? I need him for something important."

"Is that it?" The toad asked, raising an eyebrow. "I'm not here to help bust heads or anything like ol' Gamasonshō?"

"Not today, Gamakichi," Naruto chuckled, "Maybe when you're a little bigger and learn a thing or two from him."

Despite their different races, the girls could tell the toad was pouting.

"Fine, I'll go get him but you owe me." He said before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

"Yeah, yeah." Naruto replied to the Toad-less room. "He'll probably be a few moments."

Hinata nodded, hoping no one pressed her further for answers.

"So, Naruto, why are you hanging out with Zabuza sensei anyway?" Tenten asked, hoping he wasn't here to see her other rival for his heart.

"Oh erm..." He scratched the back of his head. Technically this was his safe house from any Hyuga retaliation until his loophole was examined by the inevitable clan meeting Jiraiya had suspected would be called. Though there was no hiding from a Hyuga's vision without specially prepared safehouses, this was the best they could do on short notice. "Training?" He offered weakly.

Tenten's disbelief was written all over her face.

"Nya-huh, and just what were you training that required Zabuza to lie about you being here?" She probed.

Naruto looked to Zabuza for help.

"Hey, you let them in." He growled.

"Fine," Naruto relented, figuring this was the price he was paying for his curiosity. "Something happened last night and now I have to stay here for today."

It didn't escape Tenten's notice that Hinata looked away at Naruto's words. Something was going on and she felt like she was the only one out of the loop.

"What's it been, about twelve hours since I last saw you? Now you're in some sort of trouble, again." She sighed.

"I didn't do anything," Naruto defended himself. "It was all Neji's fault that-"

The blunt end of a kunai struck him in the center of the head as Zabuza glared at the boy hard.

"Just tell them everything why don'tcha. Some days I wonder how you got to be a ninja, kid."

"Hey, they're my friends, I trust them." Naruto replied, rubbing the spot on his head where the ring of the kunai had struck him.

"Oh, don't tell me," Tenten let out an exaggerated sigh. "You actually went and fought him and now the Hyuga clan are kicking up a fuss."

"Uh... kinda?" Naruto replied sheepishly. Tenten turned towards the girl that'd brought them here. "This have something to do with your business with Lord Jiraiya?"

"...Maybe." Hinata replied in the same tone as Naruto.

"Urgh, why can't I ever hang out with people who aren't constantly getting into some sort of trouble." Tenten rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Either way, I can't let you leave now you know the kid's here." Zabuza said from his place against the wall. "Jiraiya's orders."

It certainly sounded intimidating to Hinata but Tenten waved off her newly appointed sensei.

"Don't worry about it, I have a feeling those two numbskulls are gonna end up needing my help anyway." She reassured him, "Now come on Naruto, what happened and spare no detail."

Before Naruto could even think about where to begin his tale, a puff of smoke in the room announced a new arrival.

"I am here!" A voice called out before the smoke cleared revealing Jiraiya in his trademark pose.

Naruto and Tenten simply quirked an eyebrow at the man while Hinata's face revealed her lifted spirits now she'd found her target.

"Wait, I don't remember inviting you two cuties to our little clubhouse." Jiraiya eyed the girls before turning to Zabuza.

"Blame the kid, he let 'em in." The ex-mist ninja growled.

"Lord Jiraiya, I need to s-speak with you privately." Hinata burst out, unable to hold herself back any longer.

Jiraiya was no fool, contrary to his typical behaviour. He figured the girl had obviously found out about her cousin's situation and wanted to help anyway she could. Her gentle nature's reputation preceded her after all.

"I'm sorry miss Hyuga, but there's nothing you could say I don't already know." He explained gently, "I don't think there's anything you could do to help eith-"

"I want to be the clan head!" Hinata shouted, interrupting the sannin much to the surprise of all present. "Urm... I mean..." She withdrew into herself after her outburst. "… I know how I can fix Neji and N-Naruto's problems..."

Jiraiya was first to recover from the demure Hyuga's surprising shout, his mind running through various plans that having a main branch ally could make use of.

"Oh ho? And do you have a plan to back this up?"

"I um..." Hinata paused, glancing at the surrounding audience. "I don't want to get anyone else in trouble."

"Give it up Hinata, I'm not letting you do this alone and I know Naruto won't either." Tenten sighed, putting her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Whatever it is, count me in." Naruto confirmed, raising his fist.

Hinata looked over to the ex-foreign ninja who responded as though he was waiting for her gaze.

"The kid's involved so I'm involved. I owe him that much." Zabuza shrugged.

Hinata looked hesitantly at them all again, though no one seemed like they'd change their minds.

"Ok..." She said meekly, trying to give them one last chance to leave, "I want to challenge my father for the clan head rights."

Naruto had no idea what the big deal was but Jiraiya and Tenten both did, their eyebrows raising at the girl's declaration.

"No offence girl, but your dad has years of skill and experience on you." Jiraiya said, disheartened.

"I know..." Hinata replied, "but if cousin Neji is expelled from the clan while my father is the head, he'll... he'll..." She took in a deep breath to stop herself from descending into an emotional monologue. She had to be strong and smart, for her own sake as well as Naruto's and Neji's.

"We get it but what's your plan? Your dad's already called a meeting at midday today." Jiraiya pressed. Hinata nodded as she gathered herself for the next step.

"Lord Jiraiya, I understand Naruto has found an undocumented loophole and it's the only reason cousin Neji is alive at the moment. I need you to make sure that it isn't resolved and take cousin Neji away from the village."

Both Tenten and Naruto's gazes snapped to Jiraiya as the sannin thought it through.

"Ok, so I'm guessing that's step one, if I were to agree, what's next?"

"Keep cousin Neji away from the village as long as you can while they try to find a resolution to the law. I-I will learn everything I can so I can defeat my father in an h-honour duel and c-claim headship of the Hyuga clan. When I do, I will make it so that cousin Neji, and all Hyuga that lose are not killed for leaving the clan by changing our clan laws."

Jiraiya frowned in concern.

"You know that's not possible, right?" He said after a few moments of thought, "The byakugan is a powerful tool that even the other clans of Konoha wish not to fall into our enemies' hands. Changing that law would risk Konoha's advantage and would be disputed by the council."

"Yes," Hinata agreed, "That is why I need your help to develop a counter seal for our clan's caged bird seal and one that will still seal the byakugan but will be unable to be used to hurt people."

Jiraiya again thought carefully about the girl's proposal while Tenten decided to jump in.

"So that's why you needed Lord Jiraiya's help." Hinata nodded shyly. "But what about your sister? Isn't she going to be head of the Hyuga at some point? Why not just ask her?"

Hinata looked down before speaking, "My sister is not as... critical as I am. She's been learning from my father and grandfather a lot and I fear she will continue our traditions and laws as they are to make them proud."

She didn't even need to mention it would take over a decade for her sister to begin taking over the duties of clan head as things were.

"With a few tweaks and improvements, it's not a bad plan." Jiraiya spoke up, "All things considered it's better than our plan of making the new loophole law in our favour. But..." He slowed ominously, "You know what'll happen if you lose right?"

Hinata gulped audibly but bravely nodded her head.

"And you know what'll happen if any of us get caught helping you, right?"

Hinata nodded again before replying in a small voice.

"I didn't want to put anyone else in danger."

Zabuza rolled his eyes as both Naruto and Tenten gave the three perplexed looks.

"To answer your questions," Jiraiya spoke to them, picking up their confusion. "What we are planning on doing is helping Hinata enact a coup on the Hyuga clan. As of right now, by definition, we are all co-conspirators of a terrorist."

Hinata looked down in shame as she heard both Naruto and Tenten's gasps.

"However," Jiraiya continued, "History is written by the victor, and so long as we keep it exceptionally quiet, we just may be able to save Neji's life, if Hinata loses her theoretical duel against her father, she will die and if it is discovered that we helped her in anyway, we will be tried for treason."

While this didn't shock Hinata as she knew the consequences going in, she wished that she didn't have to see Naruto or Tenten's shocked expressions.

"Meh, it wouldn't be the first time." Zabuza said nonchalantly from his place against the wall.

"Yeah, sorry about that," Jiraiya rubbed the back of his head nervously, remembering Zabuza had first gone on the run due to a failed coup on the Mizukage, "I didn't think she was gonna say something like that."

"I-I did warn you. I'm sorry." Hinata apologizes, bowing low to them all.

Tenten turned to her shared boyfriend in-trouble.

"What the hell did you do last night?!"

Jiraiya had quickly discussed some of the finer details of the plan with Hinata while Tenten chewed out Naruto. Just before midday, Jiraiya had left to join the council meeting and begin Hinata's plan. Now he'd succeeded in getting Neji outside of the village, he'd have free access to the boy's seal for study; though it wasn't as good as the knowledge of applying the seal, they'd be hard pressed to get that without drawing major suspicions.

"So that's the plan." He finished with a flourish and slight bow towards the Hokage. "I only hope you'll go easy on my handsome head before it rolls from away from my body."

A small paperweight made considerable contact with his skullas he quickly jerked back in surprise, rubbing his new wound.

"Seriously?! It hasn't even been a month and you're expecting me to just go along with this?!" Tsunade shouted at her former teammate, now on her feet and glaring daggers at the hermit with both her hands planted firmly on the desk.

Jiraiya sighed, his comic demeanour fading as he relaxed back onto the couch, his arms resting on the back.

"Like it or not, wheels have already begun turning you can't avert. I just thought I'd do you the courtesy of telling you now rather than you getting the wrong end of the stick from someone else."

Tsunade took a deep breath, clenching her hands into fists and uncurling them again before sitting down.

"If you're feeling even half of what sensei did when he was in that seat you know why I turned it down."

"Thank you for your generosity." She said snidely, before turning her thoughts back to the next steps she should take.

After a few, uneasy minutes of contemplation, Tsunade broke their silence.

"This isn't going to turn out like the Uchiha, is it?" She asked cautiously.

"The former Hyuga heiress isn't like any others I've met." He replied honestly. "She's unusually kind and honest from what I've gathered. I'm surprised she chose to be a ninja in the first place though that may be her clan's doing; reputation and whatnot."

Tsunade's silence lead him to continue his thoughts.

"If the plan works, it's extremely unlikely she'd seek retribution from the clan in terms of blood. Far as I can tell she honestly just wants to save her cousin and change her clan for, what she considers, the better. Sensei had to deal with a potential civil war, this is nothing like that."

"What if the older generation doesn't accept it?"

"We have the element of surprise on our side so anyone who doesn't accept the decision will be present to be dealt with."

"And if it doesn't work?"

"Hope that only Hinata loses her head." He said ominously.

Tsunade sighed, trying to keep her anger under check. If the girl failed, there's no doubt she'd have to have her mind searched to discover if she had any co-conspirators. From what Jiraiya had told her, she'd have to give the order to have any hope of avoiding the chopping block herself. Jiraiya hadn't told anyone else he'd be speaking with her and his mind was stronger than most so she had little doubt he'd be able to hide her knowledge of their plan.

"Right," She said calmly, "So you're going to take this Hyuga brat out to help hunt down anything you can on the Akatsuki?"

Jiraiya nodded.

"As soon as he's up and able. Figure its best to let everything die down as soon as we can."

"And you want me to stall this law becoming effective for as long as I can?"

"Correct. You've already got a reputation for being a hard ass about laws."

"While you and the girl are going to try and learn everything you can about their bloody caged bird seal so you can replace it?"

"Bingo." Jiraiya smiled. "See, simple!"

Tsunade massaged her temples, wishing she'd left Tanzaku the instant she knew Jiraiya was near.

"Fine." She said, sharply. "But you fuck this up, I'll kill you myself."

This was one of those rare times she let her killer intent leak out. Jiraiya, knowing just how seriously she was taking both this plan and her responsibility to the leaf, decided not to push any of her buttons.

"Look, I'm sorry about all this." He apologized. "It's just one branch clan member in the grand scheme of things. I get it." He sighed. "But you know as well as I do that traditions like theirs shouldn't have any place in the world anymore if they think killing family is more important than honour."

"Still playing the pacifist?" Tsunade mocked, rolling her eyes.

"Peace isn't just a pipe dream." Jiraiya retorted solemnly. "Sensei believed me, I'd like to think our students believe it's possible too, otherwise, what are we even fighting for?"

Jiraiya walked over to the office door, opened it and left the room with a stern slam of wood.

"Argh!" Tsunade growling in frustration, slamming her hands on the desk, glaring at her now empty office. "Fuckin' asshole."

She spotted the gaze of the previous Hokage portraits on the wall, singling out her former teacher's.

"You too." She muttered to it.

With the old hermit gone and the girls now under lockdown with Naruto until at least after the council meeting, they'd settled in under Zabuza's watchful eyes.

After Naruto had explained to Tenten and, to a lesser extent, Hinata who already had some clues about the situation, the bun-haired weapon's expert wondered if there was something more they could be doing.

"You know Hinata, I've seen Neji's seal before during training. He wouldn't talk about it so it's actually one of the mysteries I'd hoped to solve when I started learning how to use sealing jutsu."

"Oh," Hinata looked at the girl, surprised she'd have much of an interest in her teammates seal affliction. "I-I'm sure cousin Neji would've been grateful for your concern but... I don't believe the clan would've like someone possessing such knowledge."

Tenten sighed and rolled her eyes for what felt like the hundredth time that day.

"I get that, the Hyuga clan are all about rules and whatnot, Neji explained it to me ages ago." She stated, "But now you're gonna change everything, why not let me and Naruto help with the seal? I know more than any other genin about seals and I'm pretty sure Naruto's a natural at them."

"I am?" He perked up at hearing his name. Tenten shrugged.

"Probably, I haven't had time to test you."

"Um..." Hinata pulled the girls attention back. "I don't think that would be a good idea, Tenten. I don't want you or Naruto to get into any more trouble."

"Come on Hinata." Naruto joined in, "Tenten's great at seals and I'm already in trouble so I can handle a little more."

"See, Naruto's got the right idea." Tenten agreed. "Actually, scratch that, we're gonna research the seal whether you like it or not. Neji's my friend and so are you. Even if you don't want us to, we're gonna help you, right Naruto?"

"Right!" He agreed with a grin.

Hinata's eyes filled with tears, the solidarity her crush and her cousin's ex-teammate were showing to help her with her illegal plan overwhelmed her.

Zabuza snorted at the emotion being displayed. He was surprised the girl was even a ninja if she was wearing her feelings on her sleeves though he was pleased by the deviousness of her goal.

Hinata finally accepted Naruto and Tenten's offer and told them all she knew about her family's greatest dividing seal. Tenten was horrified to know that the entire time she'd known Neji, he'd had a metaphorical gun pointed at his head by the main branch of the clan. No wonder he took his duties so seriously, even with her knowledge that he disliked the main branch a great deal though he'd never divulged his feelings in great detail.

Tenten had an idea on where to start to research the seal but from what Hinata had described, she was still years away from fully developing such a detailed seal, not to mention removing the one in place without issue. She wasn't surprised that she'd come looking for Jiraiya, a known seal master for this enormous task.

"You know, I'm kind of glad my team got disbanded now." Tenten sighed, shaking her head as the other two gave her odd looks. "There's no way I'd be able to keep up with training, missions, medical practise and seal studies without going crazy."

Naruto chuckled and gave her a one-armed hug.

"Training's what I do best!" He declared, "I'm gonna be Hokage, you're gonna be a legendary ninja like the old grandma and Hinata's gonna be the head of her clan."

Tenten gave him a playful slap on the leg as a blush covered her face. Naruto had such belief in her and it seemed to be rubbing off. After all, she'd just joined Hinata on her goal to usurp her clan head position from her father with very little prompting from the blond boy.

"You're lucky you're cute." She teased before giving him a kiss on his whiskered cheek.

Naruto couldn't resist breaking into a wide grin and returning the gesture.

When they turned back to Hinata, her eyes were downcast and she was fiddling with her fingers again.

"Oh, right, I'm sorry Hinata." He said apologetically before releasing Tenten's shoulder. Tenten gave the pair a questioning look before Naruto decided he'd just explain the situation.

"Hinata doesn't know if she could go out with me knowing I'm also seeing you and Haku." He admitted, embarrassment flush on his face. "We know it's not a normal situation but I don't think it even occurred to Hinata."

Tenten looked over at the girl who gave a slight nod in confirmation.

Zabuza rolled his eyes, muttering something about teenagers and their hormones. Remembering the scary ex-mist ninja was in the room, Naruto cringed as his mind flashed back to the conversation he'd had with the man after his duel with Neji.

After the jonin were satisfied but wary with his answers about the nine-tailed fox he held at bay, and had left, Zabuza then rounded on Naruto with twenty questions.

"I've never had a girlfriend before, I have no idea if I'd be a good boyfriend or be the right guy for someone like her." Naruto explained, sweating more under Zabuza's gaze than he had during the battle with Neji.

"Yeah, right." Zabuza snorted sarcastically, "How do I know you're not just thinking with your pants?"

At that, Naruto gave the man an incredulous look.

"You know Haku better than I do, and you know how Tenten is for that matter. You really think they'd not know if I was anything less than sincere?" He retorted. "Besides, Haku is free to date anyone else she wants too. We both want to find the person that's right for us and we still don't really know if I'd be right for her and stuff."

"Hmph," Zabuza glared at Naruto one last time before surrendering his stance on the matter.

"Fine." He muttered, "But me and Kubikiribocho are watching you."

Naruto's sleep was not restful, much like Hinata's. He'd tossed and turned all night after returning from his fight with the Hyuga branch member. Not because his mind was dwelling on the upcoming ramifications, but visions of the demon of the bloody mist living up to his namesake.

Needless to say, he wasn't exactly thrilled when Jiraiya had woken him up early and dragged him to Zabuza's place to hide as a precaution.

Naruto shook his head lightly to rid himself of the memories and continued explaining to Tenten.

"Hinata knows everything but she asked if she could think about it. I think seeing us do... that made her a little uncomfortable, right Hinata?"

The girl gave another small nod.

"Um... it's not like I don't w-want to um... go out with you N-Naruto." She said softly, plucking up all the courage she could muster. Admitting her feelings to her long-time crush was harder than committing a crime against her family. "It's just... I don't think that... I've never g-gone out w-with anyone. I don't... um... know what to do."

As much as Tenten didn't like knowing that Naruto was dating Haku as well as her, she had to admit doing it openly gave both of them a chance to get to know the blond knucklehead as a romantic partner. Hinata, growing up in the uptight and noble-like Hyuga clan, evidently had no idea how to actually date someone normally; let alone casual dating like their situation.

"Hinata," Tenten began, hoping she wouldn't be making a decision she'd regret in the future. "After Jiraiya comes back, why don't we hang out for a bit. We can have a nice long chat over some lunch or some tea, just us. Sound good?" She asked, trying to put across to the girl her willingness to help again. Though she didn't think Hinata would be a good match for Naruto, once the pair gave it an honest shot together and figured it out, she could return to proving she was much better suited for him than Haku.

"Um... Ok, Tenten. That'll be nice." She agreed, a nervous smile on her face.

Tenten swiftly changed the topic of discussion to less embarrassing subjects, much to Hinata's relief as the three settled in to more comfortable conversation.

It didn't take much longer for Jiraiya to return, appearing in a puff of smoke again though without the fanfare of his previous entrance.

Hinata was on him in an instant, asking for news about Neji and her plan.

"Calm down little lady. It's all been set up." He smiled, before nodding at Zabuza.

Taking that as his cue he didn't have to do anymore babysitting. The demon of the mist stalked out of his room to stretch his legs and maybe find out where his apprentice got to.

"So," Jiraiya began, once Zabuza had escaped. "Your cousin is going to come with me outside the hidden leaf as planned. Save the clan's reputation and what-not while the law gets sorted out."

Hinata breathed a sigh of relief, as did Tenten at this news.

"It's not going to be an easy law to fix so I doubt it'll be sorted quickly," She said, omitting Tsunade's upcoming role, "So you should probably say your goodbyes now."

"How long you gonna be gone for pervy sage?" Naruto called out.

"Hard to say kid, long as I can for this pretty little thing to get up to her father's level I hope." He winked at a blushing Hinata. "Sad to say but I don't think I'm gonna be back all that often to help you with your training, my trip was already planned to last a couple of years at least."

Naruto was rendered somewhat speechless at this news, his breath catching in his throat as the realization set in. He regained control of his façade once Tenten gave him a concerned look.

"Urgh, you're so annoying." Naruto groaned. "Fine, I can train myself. I'll finish the rasengan then I'll learn a bunch of new jutsu and become Hokage before you come back!" He declared, raising his fist.

Jiraiya chuckled. It was obvious to him that Naruto's mask had returned. He was definitely sad about him leaving and didn't want anyone to know it, just like when he was a kid. He'd speak to the boy again before he left, so they could talk without an audience, Naruto would no doubt need to vent his frustrations so he'd wear some extra armour for that chat.

"I'm sure you will kid, though I expect to see all these flashy jutsu of yours once I come back. Can't have a holder of the toad contract go soft just 'cause his teacher's not around."

"Believe it!" Naruto grinned, though all three of them could tell it was fake.

"Now," He turned his attention back to Hinata. "The next part's all on you. I'll do as much as I can with the seal but I can't promise anything. At the very least you'll have to defeat your father before we return. It's part of Hiashi's conditions to return with your cousin once the law's been sorted out."

Hinata nodded in determination.

"I'll do my best!"

"I have no doubt." Jiraiya began, "But for something this serious, I think we need to be as thorough as we can. Naruto?" He got the boy's attention, "While I'm gone, I want you to teach the girl."

"Wait, what?" Naruto raised an eyebrow, looking over at a now blushing Hinata, not noticing the narrowed eyes Tenten was now giving the old man. "I mean, I can teach her some things but she's much better at taijutsu than I am, she has a style and everything and Gamasonsho hasn't finished teaching me yet."

"I know you're still working on your own things kid, but if we're all gonna get through this in one piece we all need to be at the top of our game. I understand the Hyuga are excellent in chakra control so the rasengan shouldn't prove too difficult for her to start with."

Naruto nodded dumbly. Even if Hinata and he weren't going to date, they were about to spend a lot more time around each other.

"I know I can count on you Naruto." Jiraiya smiled genuinely. "Right, I believe I need to go see a man about a trip." He declared, rolling his arms. "You can all go back to whatever it is you were doing now."

And in another puff of smoke, he was gone, leaving Hinata, Naruto and Tenten alone in the room. The three looked at each other nervously as each wondered what to say now they could leave. Before any of them could speak up however, a set of keys rumbled in the door as it swung open to reveal Haku and a big bag of groceries. She stopped still and glanced at each of the people in the room before being the first to speak.

"Did I miss something?"

Naruto had apologized to the girl for surprising her like they did as everyone shuffled out, making sure to mention that Zabuza or Jiraiya was with them the entire time for some 'training talk'. Haku resolved herself to grill her sensei when he returned while Naruto left her with a peck on the cheek as the girls filed outside.

Having been interrupted from his rest early this morning, he said goodbye to Hinata and Tenten, also leaving the later with a kiss on the cheek, before heading back home to get some sleep. Both girls could tell he was holding something back as even his mask lacked the same devil-may-care attitude he usually carried.

Alone together in the middle of the street, Hinata and Tenten glanced at each other awkwardly, Hinata turning away with a blush quickly thereafter.

"Come on Hinata," Tenten smiled, trying to encourage the shy genin. "Let's go do lunch, my treat, yes?" She offered.

"Um... Ok." Hinata replied hesitantly, falling into step as Tenten lead her into town.

Not quite knowing what Hinata had a taste for, she took the girl to her favourite oriental restaurant, nearly drooling at the thought of the dumpling's she would order. After sitting in a small booth away from the main bulk of the lunch-rush customers, Tenten settled in to try and get Hinata to open up.

"So, Hinata." She began after the pair had placed their orders. "What's got you all confused about dating?"

The girl hadn't expected such a blunt question and quickly turned her gaze to her lap. She was very aware that she was talking to one of Naruto's two girlfriends in this moment and was very nervous anything she said would reach his ears. As though the girl opposite could read her mind, Tenten added,

"I won't tell Naruto anything you say," She smiled kindly at the girl. "Promise."

Hinata tried to spot any signs of deception on her love rival's face but couldn't find any. The fact that she'd followed the girl all the way here meant she really did want to talk but didn't quite have the words to hand.

"I... um... how do... um," She stammered before calming herself with a deep breath. "I've never um... dated anyone before so I... don't know what happens when... you know."

"Are you trying to say you don't know what to do after becoming a girlfriend?" Tenten asked, perceptively. Though her words could mean something lewd, the young Hyuga was probably years away from thinking about that stuff due to her upbringing. Hinata nodded in response to her question, curious as to what Tenten would tell her.

"It's whatever you want it to be frankly," Tenten shrugged. "Typical romantic relationships start with people getting to know one another, going on dates to the movies or dinner and stuff. Then if they like each other, they become romantic partners, probably followed by increased affection by things like kissing and hugging. I can't speak for everyone but ideally, from my perspective, I want a partner I can always count on who challenges me but is reliable and can pick me up when I fall down, you know?"

She briefly paused before the two accepted their drinks of tea from the waiter.

"It's not easy being a ninja as you know, so when I thought about asking Naruto out, I wondered if he'd be the right guy for me. Whether he'd help me through the guilt of my missions, assist with training and make me soup when I'm sick." She giggled at her last example. "I've gotten to know him through teaching him kenjutsu as well as flirting here and there I definitely think he's a match for me."

"But..." Hinata pipped up, "But you a-and Haku... you're both um... dating Naruto, aren't you?"

Tenten sighed at having to think about that girl again. God knows she wishes she'd snapped up Naruto earlier.

"Yeah, we are," Tenten admitted, "But it's because he doesn't know himself who he thinks is right for him. I mean, I'd hate to go out with someone, marry them and then find out I made a mistake, you know? I can appreciate that so that's why we're not dating exclusively." She bit her tongue before the word 'yet' could escape her mouth.

"Oh... I see." Hinata nodded lightly, understanding the mechanics of dating a bit more now. "So, Naruto will have to choose someone eventually?" She asked hesitantly.

"Well, no." Tenten paused to think through her words. "He could decide neither of us would be right for him or Haku could back off herself." She left out the option of her breaking up with Naruto. "But if he wants to get married, like I do, he can only marry one person."

Hinata nodded slowly, remembering that Hanabi had mentioned to her that the clan restoration act law had been removed. Even then, she knew it was more about repopulating the village with strong bloodlines rather than a matter of the heart.

"Can I ask you something Hinata, and please promise you'll be honest with me?" Tenten asked suddenly, startling the girl in question.


"I get that you like Naruto and he likes you but what exactly do you expect from going out together? You're not just doing this to annoy your father are you?"

Hinata shook her head hurriedly at the accusation.

"N-no! Not at all." She admitted. "I just... When I entered the academy... Naruto um... stood up to some bullies for me." She smiled at the memory, one she treasured and held close to her since that day. "They didn't like my eyes but Naruto told them off and helped me. Even though he was outnumbered and they beat him up, Naruto never gave up and tried to protect me."

Tenten smiled as Hinata told her story, that certainly sounded like the blond knucklehead. Figures he was like that even when he was littler.

"I got to watch how hard he tried to become a ninja, to make his dream come true and I... admired him for it. I still do, even when things go wrong, like today, he's still... so strong. I wish I was more like him... so that's why I'm trying hard to become a good ninja, so I can stand alongside N-Naruto... as his wife."

"Wow," Tenten blanched at the final declaration. "Thought all the way up to being his wife, have you?"

Hinata poked her fingers together after realising just how much she'd divulged to a rival for Naruto's affections. Luckily for her, the awkwardness was broken up by the arrival of their food which both girls quickly dug into.

"I-I'm sorry Tenten," She said after a few minutes of eating. "I didn't mean to m-make you uncomfortable with what I said." Though the girl quickly waved Hinata's apology away before swallowing her mouthful of sesame dumpling.

"It's ok, honestly I like how open you're being." She told the girl, eyeing her next dumpling, "I know Naruto liked a third person so I expected him to ask someone out."

Hinata blinked like a doe in a flash tag at that but Tenten didn't notice.

"I'm guessing the fact he told you about me and Haku is what made you turn him down initially, right?"

"I... Yes." Hinata nodded, remembering her confusion at how he could be dating two others and still be asking her out as well.

"It's definitely not a normal situation, someone opening dating multiple people but it's not like he's intentionally making a harem." Tenten rolled her eyes, recalling what Naruto reported Neji's accusations were back in Zabuza's room. The grumpy jonin had been noticable glaring at the boy as he recounted that part of the story. "We're all just testing the waters to see if we want to go further, nothing nefarious... at least from my end." She winked cheekily.

"S-so... does that mean-" Hinata began before Tenten cut her off.

"Yes, it's just a normal dating situation, only we know he's still figuring out who he wants to move forward with. I'm sure if you said yes, it'd move forward just like if you were dating him alone."

"And you-"

"No, I don't mind," Tenten lied, "Naruto isn't an object, he's a person and if he'd rather not end up my husband, that's his decision, I can't be mad if he chooses someone else. Especially if it turns out we're not right for each other; I don't even know if he wants kids or not."

Hinata blushed at the mention of kids. She wouldn't let Tenten know she'd already daydreamed multiple options in her head with Naruto already and would be happy if any of them came true.

"Y-you... you won't tell Naruto about this, will you?" Hinata asked nervously, wanting reassurance and forgetting Tenten's promise earlier.

"Look, I understand how embarrassing this must be for you and I appreciate you trusting me enough with this." She smiled, "So in return, you wanna know a secret about me not even Naruto knows?" Tenten asked to comfort the girl.

"I... guess? I mean, if you want to share that's fine by me." Hinata nodded.

"I'm bisexual." Tenten stated simply, casually popping another dumpling into her mouth. Hinata clearly had no idea what that was going by the questioning look and head tilt.

Mentally scolding herself, momentarily forgetting Hinata's Hyuga upbringing, she continued.

"I like girls like I like Naruto." She explained. "That Naruto caught my eye before any girl was just luck."

Hinata's face flushed once more as the implications of Tenten's words settled in. She'd never heard either the word or its definition before and the very idea of it had never crossed her mind.

"So..." She began cautiously, "You want to marry a girl too?"

Tenten giggled, nearly choking on her dumpling as she did at Hinata's question.

"Not quite." She cleared her throat. "It means I would still want to date Naruto even if he was a girl, and I only want one husband or wife thank you very much." She teased.

Hinata nodded in understanding though she still wasn't clear on the whole subject.

"Is that... normal?" She asked.

Tenten frowned at her words but saw no genuine intention to hurt her with what she'd said.

"It's uncommon." Tenten said neutrally, "I guess most people would be straight, you know, guy likes girls, girl likes guys. Homosexuals are guys who only like other guys and lesbians are the same but for girls. I just like both." She shrugged. "It's not something I advertise but I'm not ashamed of it. If I fancied you I'd probably have asked you out."

Hinata blushed as her mind reeled from the new information. She then remembered Tenten had invited her, alone, to lunch, that the two of them were currently having in a quiet corner of a restaurant.

"This isn't-"

"No, we're not on a date." Tenten sighed as she predicted the typical response. She didn't let Hinata know but she'd gotten a much worse response when she'd told her former academy friends who then thought every interaction with them was her asking them on a date. Needless to say, she'd lost a lot of, what she used to call, 'friends' back then. She hoped that Hinata didn't come away from their chat much the same way.

"But now you can feel safe with me knowing about your dreams as Naruto's bride, ok?" She offered.

Hinata understood where she was coming from, Tenten had shared something personal with her in return for her own personal backstory about her and Naruto's past.

"It's ok," She said softly, after a moment. "I trust you."

Tenten smiled sweetly at the girl. Sure, she was shy and awkward but it was somewhat endearing. Maybe they'd become better friends through both dating Naruto. Though the blunette had yet to accept his date offer, she suspected her blond boyfriend would be even further pressed for time in the near future with another girl to date.

With their talk mostly done, the girls quickly polished off the last of their meals before Tenten settled the bill. Walking out into the early evening air, Tenten stretched her arms and turning to her dinner companion.

"Well, I'm gonna go practise some seals, never know when it might come in handy." She winked at the girl again, thinking of her plan for the caged bird seal, "We should do this again sometime, it was fun."

Hinata nodded, a bright smile on her face, not expecting to experience the rollercoaster of revelations she had that day but had enjoyed their talk all the same.

"Yes. Thank you very much for all the help Tenten." She bowed lightly.

Tenten smiled, it seemed she had indeed found a friend through a most unusual circumstance.

"See ya later Hinata." She said with a wave before turning back down the road towards her shop.

Hinata stood there, watching Tenten's retreating back and felt an odd sense of determination well up in her chest. Everyone was counting on her to get stronger than her father for this plan to succeed. She'd work harder than she ever had before to achieve her goal and make sure they all came through this. By the end of it, she would have proved to herself she was worthy to stand at Naruto's side.

The sun was disappearing behind the trees by the time Naruto was roused from his sleep. His training and odd sleep times had thrown his schedule out of order and now he felt fully rested as everyone else was settling down to dinner. It didn't take long for the boy to go from his bed to the training field though bereft of his usual black and orange jacket. Once again, he was midway through his rasengan training before he was interrupted by a white-haired nuisance.

"Hey kid, how's the training going?" Jiraiya called out as he landed in Naruto's yard, having arrived on his roof and observing him for a few moments beforehand.

"Stay still and I'll show you!" Naruto yelled out, suddenly turning toward the old man and running at him with the rasengan.

Jiraiya's eyes widened but he casually jumped back as Naruto approached, the ball of chakra coming nowhere close to him. He could tell the boy was still struggling to master the last step as, no sooner had Naruto's outstretched hand gone through Jiraiya's last position, the rasengan's thin chakra shell broke down and the swirling storm of chakra burst in Naruto's hand like one of the many balloons he'd practised with.

"Damn it." Naruto shook his hand as the backlash of chakra left several stinging marks.

"You'll be there in no time, that was nearly a good one." Jiraiya smiled, hoping his unusual honesty would throw the boy off his frustration enough for them to talk.

Naruto eyed the old man curiously before turning his back on him, returning to his training area.

"What'ddya want?" He shouted back, not bothering to face his sensei. Jiraiya sighed as he continued to move forward, sure that Naruto wouldn't make a second attack on him.

"Just a chat, and I brought you a present." He grinned at that last part. Naruto couldn't resist learning more jutsu and this was the perfect bait to get him to bite.

"Don't care." Naruto's disinterested reply called back, his focus solely on the new ball of chakra between his two hands.

Jiraiya stopped mid-step. Now he knew that something was seriously wrong if Naruto was acting like this.

"Fine." He said, narrowing his eyes. "If that's the way you want to play it."

The hairs on the back of Naruto's head stood on end, telling his brain to move before he could comprehend why.

The chakra in his hands dissipated as he dove forward, a blast of flame searing the air above him. He rolled into a crouch, turning back to where he thought the old pervert had launched his attack.

"Too slow!" He heard from behind before the unmistakable 'clop' of a wooden sandal connected with his ear, sending him tumbling across the earth.

Though his senses had been knocked for a loop, Naruto landed on his side, facing Jiraiya as the sannin was already flying through hand signs at speeds Naruto couldn't even read.

He flicked his lower half up to get back on his feet before immediately jumping into the air. Naruto had reacted just in time as the earth below where he'd lain was now bubbling like a murky bog, threatening to pull him into it if he landed there.

"Shadow clone jutsu!" He called out, a number of clones busting into existence around him, hiding his real body from Jiraiya's vision.

The sannin was already prepared however and unleashed the follow up attack he'd already planned.

"Fire Style: Dragon Flame Bombs!"

Naruto's eyes widened in surprise and a little bit of fear. Jiraiya was going all out on him.

A number of Naruto clones blocked the impact of the explosive blasts of chakra, shielding Naruto from most of the impact as the blond thought through his game plan.

A white mass of hair shot through the smoke, wrapping around his body tightly, pulling him down to the ground at speed. Naruto wasn't bothered as he'd already switched with a clone that had escaped in the smokescreen and was hidden in the trees, watching carefully.

The mass of hair slammed Naruto's clone into the ground where it resisted the urge to burst into smoke, kneading his chakra to repair any de-stability in the shell that made up his existence.

Other Naruto weren't standing idly by as those that remained quickly drew kunai from their pouch and advanced on the sannin. Those that were closest to Jiraiya's extended mane raised their kunai to hack away at it. Sharp spikes pierced their limbs as Jiraiya activated his 'Needle Jizo' jutsu to defend himself. Those clones that had advanced on Jiraiya's main body put on a burst of speed to try and catch him off guard and land a blow only for the man to jump into the air with enough force to kick up a lot of dust.

This, however, played right into Naruto's hands as the remaining free clones grabbed each other; an array of two clones clutching a third between them before hurling them skyward like Naruto missiles.

Jiraiya had released his hair jutsu and was ready to guard against any blows that would come close to him. Strangely, just before the clones could reach him, they burst into smoke. Jiraiya let down his guard for just a moment to hunt for the real Naruto only for another clone to burst out from the smoke, having been thrown later than the majority of the clones only this one clutched the most stable rasengan he could currently muster between his hands.

"Got you!" He yelled out, thrusting the jutsu forward once again.

Jiraiya had not survived his encounter with Hanzo for nothing and had predicted Naruto's next move as soon as the smoke had obsured his vision, thrusting out his own, quickly made rasengan to match Naruto's. The blond's eyes widened as his sensei's ball of chakra tore his own to pieces before advancing and being thrust into his chest.

Jiraiya briefly wondered whether he'd overdone it with the rasengan before this Naruto, yet again, burst into smoke.

He was certain this one had been the real one only to wince in pain as a set of red chakra claws slashed across his back, not deep enough to seriously injure, but enough to leave a mark.

"Now I got you!" The real Naruto growled, having been hidden in the trees until now, waiting for the old man to turn his back before having a new set of clones hurl him at the blind spot.

Jiraiya tumbled to the ground, his body hitting it at an awkward angle as Naruto landed in a much more dignified crouch before turning back to look at his enemy. He took a few calming breaths after that short exertion before addressing the wounded sannin.

"What the hell was that for?!" He yelled out. "You think you can just turn up whenever you damn well feel like it and leave just as fast?!"

"Ah. So that's what this is about." A voice behind him said calmly.

Naruto whirled around to see an unscathed looking Jiraiya, standing where he'd first arrived. He quickly turned back to the Jiraiya he'd just used the 'Foxes Claw' on only for it to burst into a puddle of water.

"I get that you're frustrated." Jiraiya said, now by Naruto's side as he put an arm over the boy's shoulder. "I know you haven't had much stability in your life." He continued, "but I'm not leaving because of you."

Naruto grit his teeth as he tried to suppress the emotions in his chest.

"You know I wanted to teach you more, and I was planning on just the two of us taking this trip to really help you-."

"Shut up." Naruto shouted loudly, though he didn't move nor remove Jiraiya's hand from his shoulder. He took a few calming breaths before attempting to speak again. "You want to abandon me to, go ahead! I'll bet you jumped at the chance to leave again."

Jiraiya's faced morphed from one of worry into one of sympathy. Naruto was scared. He was scared and he was lashing out in a way he couldn't have around his little girlfriends.

The sannin quickly sunk to one knee before turning Naruto to face him directly.

"Naruto, listen to me." He said seriously. "I trust you more than I trust anyone else in the world right now. I need you to be my eyes and ears in the village. As much as I'd like to stay and train you, you know we have our duties to do."

Naruto's teeth ground together as he bit back his anger. Jiraiya was right but he still felt a huge pang of pain in his chest at the thought of him leaving.

"There's nothing I can say to make it easier kid," Jiraiya admitted, "But I promise you I'll be back."

He wrapped his arms around Naruto's back and pulled him into a firm hug. Though he hadn't had much of a long relationship with the boy, only being in his life for nearly half a year, he'd grown attached to him like he should've been if the nine-tails hadn't been released all those years ago. Naruto, he figured, was somewhat starved for any sort of family dynamic and had come to rely on Jiraiya like a crazy uncle or something. Clearly, he'd underestimated just how important Naruto considered his presence if he was lashing out like this. It reminded him of when the Third had passed away; the boy had seemed so despondent and looked like he didn't know what to do next.

He felt Naruto's arms reach up and wrap around his neck, reciprocating Jiraiya's hug and tried to put the depth of his feelings into it. The few sniffles Jiraiya heard at his ear gave away Naruto's true feelings along with the small droplets of water seeping into his shoulder. He was so used to putting up a front and hiding his feelings from the world he had no idea how to say things like 'I'm gonna miss you'.

"You'll be ok Naruto," Jiraiya smiled, patting the boy's back softly, "I believe in you."

He felt Naruto nod into his red jacket but didn't say a word. Slowly, he felt Naruto's arms begin to disengage from around his neck. Jiraiya brought his arms down around Naruto's biceps and held him lightly.

"Keep me posted with the toads. Gamakichi complains about messenger duty but I think Bunta likes his son getting out every now and then."

Naruto nodded lightly.

"I'm gonna miss you too kid." Jiraiya smiled as Naruto met his eyes. He didn't need Kurama's negative sensing ability to know Jiraiya was being genuine with him.

"Now come on." Jiraiya stood up, "I'm not going yet; you really did a number with that rasengan on the guy so we've got a few more days to train you up." He smiled, reaching into his pocket to pull out the scroll he'd prepared for his apprentice.

Three days after Naruto's night-time defeat of Neji, the boy had recovered sufficiently to be deemed fit for travel by Tsunade. The plotters to overthrow the Hyuga, minus Zabuza, and Neji's former teammate Lee with Guy came to see off the sannin with his new travelling companion. The boy still had a few bandages wrapped around his middle but appeared the same stoic-faced Hyuga they'd all known before this incident. They were all prepared to set off on their journey and the sun had seen fit to bless the day with only a moderate heat.

"I'm gonna miss you." Tenten declared, giving her former teammate a tight hug around his shoulders to avoid inflicting any more pain on his stomach. She'd given him the third degree earlier over picking a fight with Naruto, not that she could stay angry at him for long, but after she'd finished he'd surprisingly agreed with her. That was likely as close as he was going to get to acknowledging his mistake so Tenten didn't press him further.

"Agreed, it will be much more difficult to test myself without your constant inspirational presence my friend!" Lee declared, his fist raised and clenched while tears streamed down his face.

Neji nodded at the words of his former team, not saying a word back to them.

"Finally, someone tagging along who knows how to be quiet." Jiraiya grinned from a short distance away, elbowing Naruto lightly in the shoulder.

"Shut the hell up old man, you're gonna miss me and you know it." Naruto retorted rolling his eyes at his mentor's attempt to rile him up before he and Neji set off. They were standing a short distance away from the former team Guy, by the hidden leaf's gates, to let them have some time to say personal goodbyes.

Hinata stood by Naruto's side, wringing her hands as Naruto and Jiraiya prodded at each other as she awaited her turn to say goodbye to her cousin. Despite her new goals and support from her friends, she hadn't been able to explain her plan to Neji. As far as her cousin knew, he was just delaying the inevitable.

"Don't worry little lady," Jiraiya's normal voice called over Naruto's blond head to talk to the girl, "I'll make sure he stays in one piece until we can get this all straightened out."

Hinata nodded though it didn't appear to calm her nervousness at all.

"It's gonna be ok Hinata." Naruto said, turning to address the nervous girl too. "We're gonna train our butts off, right? Then we're gonna finish this thing once and for all." He finished with a wink.

Jiraiya raised an eyebrow curiously as the girl seemed to visibly calm down at Naruto's words. He didn't say something all that deep or reassuring that she didn't already know. The old hermit rolled his eyes as he deduced the familiar effects of young love the girl appeared to be experiencing. While sweet, it was incredibly cliché, nothing worth noting down in his idea book.

After Guy gave his former pupil advice about life during long missions, the boy seemed to be ready to leave, breaking off from his former team and heading over to Jiraiya, Naruto and Hinata.

"Are we ready to depart Lord Jiraiya?" He asked politely.

Before Jiraiya could reply, Naruto's voice was the one that answered.

"You'd better appreciate this trip, you're taking my spot in it." He said grumpily.

Neji gave his ongoing opponent a critical eye, analysing the words the younger man had said and comparing them against his knowledge of him.

"Indeed," He replied slowly, "I will see to it that I make the most of this opportunity."

"You damn well better, else me and Hinata are gonna shoot past you!" Naruto said, a challenging grin now spreading across his face.

Neji looked at his cousin curiously for the first time since he'd arrived, taking note of her more restless than usual appearance and apparent concern for something. She clearly wanted to speak but was holding herself back. Last week, he would've mistaken her attitude as weakness; emotion being an unnecessary tool in a ninja's arsenal. Now, after having part of his reality shattered with Naruto's open challenge of the Hyuga way of life, he instead saw the girl he'd been ordered to protect with his life, a girl he knew he was stronger than, worried for his wellbeing over her own. While his reasons for challenging Naruto to an honor duel were certainly misguided, he now realised that Hinata could see something in people even his genius eyes could not.

"I... look forward to seeing your results when we return." He said to the blond before turning to his cousin. "Both of your results."

Hinata couldn't hold herself back any longer and hurriedly embraced her cousin in a hug. He tensed, both as a reaction to the pain on his ribs, and the surprising action his main branch counterpart took.

"Please..." Hinata sniffled into his white robe. "be careful."

He didn't need his eyes to know that at least one of his former teammates or sensei behind him had their mouths open in surprise as he carefully wrapped an arm around his cousin's back and tightened their hold ever so slightly.

"I will my Lady." He answered in the manner traditional to an order given by a main clan member though his words carried a warmth and genuineness to them Hinata had never felt before.

The two slowly separated and though Neji's expression remained the same as ever, Hinata smiled knowing that something had changed between them for the better. She didn't need to tell him of their plan anymore, he'd figure it out soon enough after Jiraiya started work on the counter seal just like the genius she expected him to be.

"I'm gonna make sure you keep that promise to her." Naruto smiled before he did something Neji never expected him to do. He'd besmirched his name before the fight, judged him without knowing him, ended up at his complete mercy when he'd been proven wrong and now, Naruto was holding out his hand to shake like all was forgiven between them.

Neji looked at the offered hand and back at Naruto before reaching out and slowly shaking it with his own. He knew now that Hinata had picked both her idol and her romantic interest well. Though he wasn't suitable as a Hyuga's husband, maybe that was exactly what Lady Hina-… his cousin needed to be happy.

After gathering information on the boy before their fight, Neji knew more about Naruto than he'd let on and decided to get one last jab in before he left the village for however long he'd have left.

"I will," He responded as a very faint smirk tugged at his lips, "Believe it."

Neji broke contact with Naruto's hand as he turned and walked through the exit gates to the village.

Naruto could only watch his rival's retreating back in shock as his mouth stood agape at the cheek the boy had to steal his catch phrase. He wanted to shout after him and challenge him to end their fight right then and there but the words wouldn't come to his mouth.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen you speechless kid, I'm gonna have to ask him for some tips." Jiraiya chuckled, giving Naruto one last shoulder nudge before addressing the pair beside him properly.

"You both know how hard you need to work over the coming years. I expect great things from all of your little group." He said with a genuine smile. "Naruto, I'll give you the heads up when we're coming home, I'm sure Gamakichi will want a reward or something so keep some sweets on you."

Naruto nodded, resolving to buying some hard candies to keep at the bottom of his kunai pouch.

"Hinata, I know how hard it's going to be putting up with him." He nodded his head towards Naruto who sent him an annoyed look in response. "But you'll get through this if you put the effort into changing."

While Jiraiya was being deliberately vague to prevent anyone figuring out he was talking about the eventual duel with her father, she felt he was also talking to her about her affections towards her blond-haired crush. She'd wished for years to be as strong, courageous and brave as Naruto and this was her chance to prove not only to herself that she could achieve her goals, but to prove to Naruto that she was someone who truly understood and admired his strength.

"I will." She replied with a light bow.

"Haha, well I guess that's everything. Time to hit the ol' dusty trail." Jiraiya grinned, enthusiastically marching towards Neji who still had his back turned to Konoha. "Come on kid, let's get going; daylight's a-wasting!"

With a heavy-handed pat on the back, causing Neji to jump forward a little, the pair set off through the gates and out of Konoha for what could be a year or longer.

The group that had come to say goodbye waved until their friends began to sink into the ground on the horizon. Though neither had looked back to see the waving arms, Jiraiya didn't need to and Neji wanted to keep his stoic image, the sannin felt the tell-tale sign of fluctuating chakra as he knew Neji activated his byakugan to see the group without turning around.

After their figures had rounded the curve of the earth, the group began to part ways.

"Well now, it seems we all have some excess emotions we need to work out of our systems." Guy announced to the group as he spotted both Hinata and Tenten's somewhat sad expressions at saying goodbye to a relative and friend. "Would you all like to join me and Lee for a good afternoon workout? We'll channel this energy into becoming even stronger for young Neji's return!" He declared.

Hinata and Naruto gave the infamous jonin a nervous look while Tenten just rolled her eyes at her former sensei's answer to everything. Even Lee didn't appear as enthusiastic as his teacher for a change.

"Thanks Guy sensei but we've got plans." She announced for them.

"Very well, if you change your mind, you know where to find us!" He shouted again, undeterred by the three declining the invitation before he and Lee set off onto the roofs as the quickest route to their normal training grounds.

"Jeez, will those two ever change?" Tenten shook her head, though a smile betrayed her true feelings.

"I don't think so, bushy-brows has his dream and Guy sensei is just as crazy." Naruto concurred, folding his arms behind his head.

"So... what are you going to do now?" Hinata asked the pair, wondering if Tenten had indeed planned anything or was just covering for them.

The bun-haired girl shrugged, evidently having just said it as an excuse.

"I dunno," She replied before pausing to think, "You guys wanna go get lunch?" She asked, "Naruto's treat."

"Yeah!" Naruto shouted quickly before he realised what his girlfriend had tacked on to the end of her sentence. "Hey!"

Tenten giggled and gave him a small peck on the cheek before addressing the other girl.


The girl seemed lost in thought for a moment before her eyes regained focus on the pair in front of her.

"Yes please." She answered shyly.

"All right!" Naruto cheered as the group started walking back towards the town center. "If I'm paying, we're heading to Ichiraku's!"

"Oh, all right." Tenten playfully relented, letting out an exaggerated sigh. "but no pigging out."

"Yeah, yeah." Naruto brushed her off, reaching down and taking her hand in his and entwining their fingers.

From Naruto's other side, Hinata watched the pair interact like they'd been a couple for much longer than they actually had been together. She briefly wondered if she'd already lost the race for Naruto's heart before even giving him an answer. Jiraiya's last words to her floated back into her mind at that moment. She was doing something incredibly dangerous and reckless to save her cousin that could take both their lives and yet talking to her long-time crush, who had expressed the same interest, was too hard for her? If she was going to spend potentially the last year or so of her life attempting a near impossible task of overthrowing her clan head then she was damn well going to enjoy any time she had left should she fail.

Her eyes darted down to Naruto's dangling, free hand as he and Tenten were chatting about something she hadn't been paying attention to. She briefly looked up at their faces before she attempted to casually reach out with her hand and take Naruto's own like he had Tenten's. Her hand cupped around his palm as Naruto stopped mid-sentence to look over at the girl. With her heart in her mouth, she swallowed it as discretely as she could before giving him what she thought was a hopeful smile.

Naruto's eyes widened slightly as he realised what Hinata was saying without saying it. He turned his attention back to Tenten as he gripped Hinata's hand in response, entwining their fingers together snuggly. The pale-eyed Hyuga felt her body lighten and her feet fall away from the ground. She was walking on air, clutching her heart in her hand and hoping things would all work out.