Because Kishimoto should have done this a long time ago.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

She takes it slow
She's still healing
Sleeping so she cannot feel
"Let this go,"
Whispers, she whispers at night

Don't Care Much by Mmmkay

It had been raining again. The air was sweet and the trees outside of the epicenter of all of the damage were swaying in a small breeze their leaves wet and glistening with pre-dawn dew and moisture from the rain storm.

The pale blue tinge at the very edge of the horizon heralded the arrival of dawn, a welcome reprieve to the night in a village that still subsisted mainly on tents and flimsy wooden structures, even with the diligent construction workers and Yamato's prodigious talent at constructing buildings out of thin air and the earth.

Hinata had been discharged from the hastily put-together field hospital, though her injuries were not entirely healed and much of her torso and left arm were swathed in snowy white bandages. Other than feeling lightheaded and a little dizzy, though, Hinata felt that she had recovered as much as she would, until the lacerations had closed and she could be sent on missions in the field again.

An unpleasant yet sadly familiar feeling was washing over Hinata like a shower in ice water. She felt so useless, so superfluous. Konohagakure was bleeding like an open wound, and all she could do was wait for her own wounds to heal. There were so many things she could have done, so many low-ranking missions she could have taken, but her father was showing an unusual amount of consideration towards her physical well-being, and wouldn't so much as hear of Hinata performing even the most menial of D-Rank missions before she was back to the pique of physical health.

So Hinata could do nothing, except try to keep out from underfoot in the reconstructed Hyuuga compound and make herself as invisible as possible, something she had mastered a very long time ago.

Her revelation that morning was starting to edge towards the village made Hinata wonder if she should try to make her way back to the Hyuuga compound, so she wouldn't be missed. Just as she was deciding that she should, a branch snapped behind her, loud and stark in the dissonantly serene setting.

Hinata whirled around, her pale eyes very wide as a person struggled to extricate himself from a snarl of twisted tree branches.

"Damn it," she heard the person, a young man, mutter in frustration. "You'd think that after four years of this, I'd be able to walk through a forest without having these issues."

Hinata's pale cheeks tinted rosy pink as Naruto pulled himself out of the gnarled patch of branches, clothing torn, straightened his shirt, fixed his brilliantly blue eyes on her and smiled breathlessly. "Hi, Hinata-chan."

Stunned, Hinata said nothing, feeling the pinkness in her cheeks turn pure, unadulterated scarlet. With a hot prickle of apprehension, she remembered what she had declared to him, while staring Death in the face. Hinata had been so calm then, so serene because she had thought she was going to die and had wanted Naruto to know, just once, that she loved him before she died. But now, Hinata couldn't understand how she could have been so bold, been so brave.

After a long, pregnant pause, Hinata tried to force her clamped mouth open, but Naruto beat her to it.

The fair-haired teenager addressed her with a ridiculously fast voice, tripping over the words in a jumbled rush as his face flushed a dull, ruddy crimson. "Hinata-chan, I wanted to talk to you, but when I went over to where the Hyuuga were staying, Neji and a little girl named Hanabi told me you liked to come out here in the mornings, so I came out here to find you." Naruto's face got even redder, as he twitched uncomfortably. "Can we…talk, I mean?"

Hinata nodded, her eyes still huge in her face.

The smile faded from Naruto's face; he stared down at his feet, and oddly, the look on his face was almost one of shame. "Okay."


They were sitting on one of the lower branches in the shelter of a huge, ancient oak tree, Naruto balancing precariously, Hinata with her ankles wound modestly together.

Naruto was unnaturally silent, shooting sideways glances at her every other second. Hinata, shocked into silence, waited patiently for him to speak. She had always known how to wait.

Hinata didn't know whether to be elated or terrified that Naruto had finally sought her out, over two weeks after the fact, presumably to talk about what had happened on that dark day in Konohagakure.

Finally, Naruto's slightly ragged voice flared into life again. "Hinata—" his dropping of the suffix –chan was a definite indication that the conversation had taken a serious turn "—when Pein attacked Konoha, and you showed up and tried to help me… Just before you charged him, you…said something to me." His tones were struggling and strangely strangled; his blue eyes stared at her with a compelling, desperate quality to them, willing her to understand what he was talking about.

"Because I love you."

Naruto was shaking a little bit; Hinata was stunned to see him trembling, his eyes huge in his whiskered face. The memory of that day rose between them, complete with the toxic aroma of smoke and blood and human agony, and the terrifying, inhuman screams of the Kyuubi writhed eerily from the ground which had been so recently soaked with the blood of Konoha shinobi.

"Did you really say that?" he whispered hoarsely. "Please, Hinata, tell me. Did you really say that you loved me?"

Not understanding why it seemed to upset him so much, but feeling her heart sink all the time, Hinata nodded mutely, glad the faint light covered the dark blush in her cheeks. She didn't trust herself to speak.

A strangled noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob tore from Naruto's lips, and Hinata continued to be mystified. This was such a different Naruto from the one she normally knew. "Oh, God. You know, that was the first time I can remember anyone ever telling me they loved me."

Sympathy crashed through her as those shamed words emitted into the air. Naruto didn't sound like a confident young man when he said those things. He sounded like a trembling little boy, the truth of what Naruto was: a vulnerable little boy who had never had security, never had the luxury of a pair of loving arms to comfort him when he was hurt or lonely.

"Naruto-kun," she whispered sadly, venturing out to touch his arm with one small hand.

Naruto shook his head, not hearing the tenuous whisper of the Hyuuga heiress's voice. "You really scared me, Hinata." His voice choked, thick with emotion. "I thought he'd killed you. I mean, I've seen people die, but I've never seen someone arbitrarily cut down right in front of me before!" Naruto stared intently at her, eyes full of mixed emotions. "I'm glad you're alright now."

A small flock of birds took flight in the distance; it was the only sound that interrupted the miserable silence. Hinata finally found the courage to do more than uselessly whisper his name. "Naruto-kun, I'm sorry." For the first time, she was able to talk to him without stuttering almost constantly. "I shouldn't have said anything—" Hinata's voice caught, like a rusty hinge that just wouldn't budge, but she went on, knowing she couldn't stop there "—I shouldn't have said anything to you, especially considering your feelings for Sakura-san."

And suddenly, Sakura was there, not in body, but her spirit was sitting between them, bright and vibrant, everything that Hinata was not, and Hinata found herself quailing away from the very thought of her peer, who could dominate a space even from a distance.

"Don't be sorry." Naruto's voice was abruptly sharp; it sounded more like a command than a request. He softened out, peering at Hinata's face as if it was the only interesting thing present in his world. "I'm…I'm not sure what my feelings for Sakura-chan are anymore. So much has happened, that I'm really not sure anymore. I thought I was, but I guess I was wrong."

Then, Naruto frowned and a slightly curious look came over his face. "I just noticed… Hinata, you're not stuttering anymore."

Hinata leaned forward slightly and tucked a long strand of fine, ebony hair behind her ear. "Well." A strange, coy smile hovered around her small, pink mouth. "I always stuttered around you because I was so flustered. I liked you at first, and then…" she left off, because Naruto already knew what the next three words would have been "…and I was afraid of how you'd react if you knew." Her voice was barely audible now, but remained clear. "You…flustered me.

"Telling you how I felt, even with the circumstances, was very cathartic." Hinata's pale lavender eyes crinkled upwards. "You still make me very nervous. But that strain is gone."

Naruto nodded, understanding perfectly. "I'm glad. Your voice sounds nice when you're not stuttering. You sound…I don't know…sweet."

Hinata felt herself blush as she ducked her head and smiled again.

The topic of conversation became slightly lighter, a welcome change from painful cringing heavily associated with what had been said previously.

Naruto laughed ruefully. "You know, in retrospect, it all makes so much sense. You were the only girl in our year who wasn't falling over herself fawning over Sasuke, and you always acted so strange when I was around. I knew that wasn't how you behaved when you were by yourself, but I was such an idiot that I couldn't put two and two together."

The boy went on, talking more to himself than Hinata; he might not have even been aware that he was talking out loud. "Good grief. All these years…It was like you were made of smoke. I was looking at you but I was never seeing you. You were transparent, but then suddenly everything came into focus. You're…different than what I thought, Hinata."

Hinata wasn't sure she particularly liked being compared to smoke, but she wasn't complaining.

Dismay replaced comfortable warmth when Naruto slid down from the tree branch.

"Sorry, Hinata-chan." He smiled apologetically. "I'm being shipped off to some island in the middle of nowhere with this guy from Kumo named Kirabi; I've got to set out when the sun comes up.

"I wanted to find you before I left, because I don't know when I'll be back, and I didn't want to leave you here without at least talking a little bit. I guess you and I are going to have to talk about this a lot more when I get back."

Hinata stared at him, not sure what to feel. "Naruto-kun…"

"Sakura's…not the only one I'm a bit confused about. I'm probably making no sense to you right now. You've been a really good friend for a long time, Hinata-chan, and when I come back, I promise, I'll be more clear…about where you and I stand."

Hinata slid fluidly down from the tree branch, her feet skimming the dewy grass lightly like a professional ballet dancer. She stretched out a hand as she walked rapidly after Naruto, who was leaving. "Naruto-kun, wait."

Then, Naruto surprised her. He turned around, catching her hand in his own, and kissed the back of her hand lightly.

Pale Hyuuga eyes widened as Hinata gaped at him, feeling sensations of lightning crash up and down her arm. Oddly, her face remained as ivory pale as in its natural state.

Naruto smiled and laughed nervously; he was clearly aware of how awkward what he had just done was. "That's the best I can do right now. Anything else would be way too familiar, and I'd have half your clan jumping down my throat and trying to murder me. I hope I'll see you soon, Hinata-chan."

Hinata smiled. "I hope so too, Naruto-kun."

There would be no goodbyes.