Jiraiya and Tsunade smiled down on the arena as Naruto and Hinata squared off. They knew that, even though almost no one had expected these two to end up in the finals, this would be the fight everyone would remember for years to come. True, these two were a couple now, but Jiraiya and Tsunade both knew that they would still put on a hell of a show.
Naruto smiled at Hinata as the proctor called for the match to begin. "Let's give them a good show, Hinata," he said quietly. Hinata returned his smile and nodded. Naruto smiled and moved toward Hinata, who quietly activated her Byakugan.
Naruto's attacks were quick and powerful, but none were intended to be lethal. Hinata dodged some, blocked others, and deflected still others. After a few moments of this, Naruto got an attack through, seemingly landing a blow on Hinata's face. Hinata just smiled and began to turn. "Rotation!" she called out. Naruto was surprised as her chakra sent him flying away. Having not expected this, he landed on his back.
Naruto grinned. "Finally got it down, huh?" he asked. Hinata gave him a cocky grin and nodded in return. "All right, then. No more holding back!" That said, he formed his favorite hand sign, and, moments later, the arena contained no less than a hundred Naruto clones. Hinata grinned and formed the same sign, ten clones of her appearing in a small circle facing outward. Naruto and his clones grinned and ran toward the Hinata circle. As each one came within range, Hinata and her clones attacked with one Gentle Fist strike after another, each of her clones dispelling at least five of Naruto's before being dispelled.
By the time Hinata's clones had all been dispelled, Naruto only had about a dozen left himself. Hinata sighed. "These clones are nowhere near as good at Gentle Fist as I am!" she said, her frustration obvious.
Naruto chuckled. "Guess I'm still better at the Shadow Clone Jutsu than you are, Hime," he commented playfully.
Hinata glared at the Naruto who had spoken, then held out a single hand and sent what looked like a needle of chakra out of her palm at that one, which was hit directly in the heart...and dispelled a second later. Hinata turned to a different Naruto, the one she thought was the original. "Maybe so," she told him, continuing, "but my chakra control is still better." She gave him a grin to let him know she wasn't being mean.
Naruto grinned, then he and his remaining clones ran at Hinata. Hinata focused her chakra and began using her chakra needles to dispel the clones. Soon, only the originals were left. Hinata turned to Naruto and began attacking him. Naruto dodged and deflected her attacks with seeming ease, but inside he was frantically thinking, trying to come up with a way to get around her Gentle Fist. Hinata thrust with one hand to hit Naruto's face, which he bent backward to get under then grinned. His position was finally perfect to get around her attack.
Grabbing Hinata's still-extended hand at the wrist, he yanked her further off balance and planted his foot into her gut. Using his odd position for leverage, he sent her flying over top of him. Hinata managed to flip over in the air so she landed on all fours and slid a bit rather than landing on her head, which she would have otherwise.
Grinning up at her long-time love, Hinata commented, "So you got me once. It doesn't matter, my Gentle Fist will work eventually."
Naruto shook his head, knowing she meant more than she said. "Maybe it would if I gave you the time, but if you can't get near me, you can't use it!" he told her. Rapidly forming hand-signs, he inhaled deeply. "Wind Style: Great Breakthrough!" he yelled out, exhaling hard. His breath, which he had charged with a relatively small amount of his chakra, became a powerful gust of wind. The gust slammed into Hinata, who charged her own chakra into her feet, preventing herself from being blown away by it as she stuck to the ground. Naruto grinned. "Oh, yeah?" He formed more hand-signs and exhaled again. This time, his breath was formed into several gusts which formed into blades as he called out, "Wind Scythe Jutsu!" Hinata concentrated her chakra around her body, barely protecting herself from the chakra-charged wind.
Meanwhile, in the stands, Temari snarled, "He stole that from me!"
Gaara patted her arm and told her, "He wouldn't have bothered to learn it if he didn't think it was worth his time. You should feel honored, Sister." Temari chuckled and smiled at Gaara, who hesitantly returned it; he still wasn't quite used to this whole smiling thing.
Naruto chuckled as he watched his attack do nothing to Hinata. Hinata grinned when the wind finally stopped. "My turn," she said, her active Byakugan and the slightly sadistic tone to her voice making her look and sound very menacing. Naruto grinned. Hinata ran through a series of hand-signs and held out a palm. "Water Style: Ripping Torrent!" she called out. Water appeared from the air around her and formed into a whirlpool-like formation on her palm. Turning her hand toward Naruto, she threw it. As it moved, it grew as Hinata continued to feed the jutsu chakra. Naruto charged his feet with chakra, then jumped just as the attack reached him. He barely cleared the torrent of water. As he came down, he used his chakra to run along the top of the water. Hinata, surprised at this tactic, was unable to dodge his punch, which connected hard with her cheek. Hinata flew to the side and rolled a few times before stopping. Once she had stopped, she slowly climbed back to her feet and turned toward Naruto once again. Said blond was standing with a confident smirk on his face, arms crossed.
Hinata giggled slightly. "Oh, come now, Naruto. You can't mean to tell me you really think you know every jutsu I've learned," she said. Naruto's arms fell to his side and his smirk became less confident. Thinking hard for a moment, he made to jump, but he was too late. The Hinata in front of him dispelled just as an arm reached from the ground beside Naruto's foot and grabbed his ankle. "Earth Style: Headhunter Jutsu!" Hinata's voice called out as she yanked Naruto into the ground up to his neck. Naruto found, after a moment of struggling, that he couldn't move at all. He was not amused.
Glaring up at Hinata, who was now standing above him, he growled, "That was a cheap move, Hinata."
Hinata just giggled as she knelt down beside his head. "Yeah, I know, but we are ninja after all," she told him. Leaning down, she kissed his forehead and whispered, "Besides, I had to end the match somehow, and I didn't want to hurt you, so this was the best thing for me to do."
Naruto smiled slightly. "Love you," he whispered.
Hinata blushed. "Love you, too," she answered. Rising, she turned to the proctor. "You can call this one, he can't continue like that," she told the man.
Said proctor moved to check on Naruto. Seeing that the blond couldn't move, the man nodded. "Since Naruto cannot continue, this match is over. Winner, Hinata Hyuga!" he called out.
At the announcement of Hinata's victory, everyone in the stands burst into cheers. Hinata blushed bright red as she turned and released Naruto from her jutsu. Naruto chuckled and made a sweeping gesture at the spectators. "Take a bow, Hime! You're the star today!" he exclaimed. Hinata blushed even deeper, then smiled at the fans and bowed deeply. Everyone cheered all the louder for her.
Just then, Shikamaru appeared seemingly from nowhere beside Naruto. "Hey, Naruto, Hinata," he greeted them. "Just wanted to let you two know, I'm throwing a party for everyone who was in the finals tonight. It'll be at my place at seven, so I hope to see you guys then."
Naruto turned a questioning look to Hinata, who nodded quietly. Naruto smiled at Shikamaru. "Sure, we'll be there," he said.
Shikamaru rested a hand on Naruto's shoulder and his other on Hinata's, grinning. "Good, good. See you tonight then," he said, then jumped up into the stands, presumably to let the rest of his guests know.
"You think it's a good idea for me to go to that?" Naruto asked.
Hinata knew what he meant. "I do, Naruto," she said. "After all, if Shikamaru was going to reject you, he wouldn't have invited you to his home."
Naruto nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess that's true," he said quietly. He hugged Hinata briefly, then the two made their way out of the arena.
The Nara clan home was in an uproar by half-past-six that night. Shikamaru and his parents had invited the five rookies who were still alive and not on Naruto's old team – Shikamaru didn't want Sakura to ruin things, as he knew she would – and they were now running around frantically trying to get everything ready for Naruto and Hinata's arrival at seven. Contained within Shikamaru's foyer were Tsunade, Jiraiya, Kakashi, Kurenai, Asuma, Hiruzen, Guy, Shikaku and Yoshino Nara, Shikamaru himself, Choji, Ino, Shino, Kiba, Gaara, Temari, Kankuro, Lee, Neji, and Tenten, all of whom had been hard at work for a solid half an hour already and would likely be so for another half hour at least. They all hoped that they would be ready by the time Naruto and Hinata got there.
The room itself was almost unrecognizable. Spread across the top of the room, a banner declared, "Congratulations!" Streamers were all over the place, most of them orange and lavender in color. Above the front door was a rather large bucket of confetti that would tip onto whoever came through the door next. The ceiling was almost invisible behind the festively colored balloons that floated there. Shikamaru sighed. "This is such a drag. You're lucky you're worth all this trouble, Naruto," he thought to himself. The shadow-user had never thought about Naruto all that much until shortly after their planning session a few days ago. After everyone else left, Tsunade had asked Shikamaru to stay behind...
"Yes, Lady Tsunade?" Shikamaru said.
Tsunade knitted her fingers together under her chin and looked at the boy. "You are aware that we are preparing now for the upcoming invasion solely because we have been warned of it, correct?" she asked. Shikamaru nodded gravely. He was fully aware that, had they not known, the coming fight would likely have been far worse for them. "Good. Now, I want to inform you of something else. The only reason we are aware of this is Naruto."
Shikamaru looked surprised. "Naruto? Really?" he asked. "I mean, I know he's not showing his full potential, but how did he bring this about?"
Tsunade chuckled. "He almost killed Gaara, which brought him around to our side. Don't ask, it's complicated, but trust me when I say that Naruto and Naruto alone is the reason we are going to be so well-prepared for this," she told him. Shikamaru nodded slowly. Tsunade was glad to see he realized what that meant. "Now, there's something else you should know. Naruto and Hinata plan to get married. I know it's soon for them, but they're mature enough to make that decision. So, what I want you to do is to quietly inform the others of this, though not Sasuke or Sakura, and see if you can't do something for them. They deserve it."
Shikamaru had done as he was directed. He had told Choji first, then Ino, then the three of them had informed the rest of the people who were currently in the Nara home. This party was partly a celebration of their victory over the Sound Village, partly a celebration of Naruto and Hinata's victory in the Chunin Exam Finals, and partly a celebration of their engagement. Shikamaru smiled. "Yes, Naruto, you are indeed lucky," he thought. "You've got a hell of a woman, and tonight you'll discover that you really do have some good, true friends in this village." With that thought, he turned his attention back to preparing for the party. It might be a drag getting ready, but it'd be even more of a drag if things weren't ready in time.
Naruto was worried. It wasn't often that he got really truly nervous about anything, but tonight he was. He was going to a party for the first time in a very long time, and he was very worried that he was going to get those same looks from the people there. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" he asked Hinata for the fiftieth time.
Hinata sighed. She knew why Naruto was so worried, and she wished she could comfort him. "Yes, I'm sure, Naruto," she told him softly. "Shikamaru's smart. He won't have people there who will be mean to you. And besides, I'll be right there with you."
Naruto smiled as he squeezed her hand gently in his. "Thanks, Hinata. That means a lot," he said, his voice full of emotion. Hinata just squeezed his hand back and smiled at him. Sighing again, he checked the time. "Well, it's time. Let's go." His voice was resigned. That said, the two left their small but comfortable apartment and made their way to the Nara home. Naruto knocked on the door at 6:59.
Shikamaru smiled. They had gotten done just in time. "Come in!" he called out.
Naruto opened the door slowly. To his great surprise, a huge group of people jumped out and yelled, "Surprise!" as he and Hinata walked in. From above, a shower of confetti rained down on them, and everyone was smiling.
Naruto turned to Shikamaru. "What's all this about?" he asked.
Shikamaru smiled in return. "Lady Tsunade told me about you two being engaged. Plus, we protected the village today, and you two were the winners of the Chunin Exam Finals. We're all here to celebrate all of that," he told the blond.
Naruto looked around. Most of the people who were there he wasn't too surprised to see, but one he was. "Kakashi-sensei?" he asked hesitantly.
Kakashi came forward and looked at Naruto, sadness, and a single tear, evident in his eye. Suddenly, the silver-haired man dropped to his hands and knees in front of Naruto. "I'm so sorry, Naruto," he sobbed. "I'm so sorry for how I acted toward you. I should have been there for you from the start, and I wasn't. Your father was my sensei and like a father to me, so I should have been the one who was there for you most of all...and I failed you...I failed your father. I'm so sorry, Naruto. I beg your forgiveness." Clasping his hands together, he begged, "Please, give me another chance to be there for you."
Naruto was in shock. Kakashi, the man who had been assigned as his sensei, the man who had rejected him, the man who had hurt him more than most, was on his knees begging for his forgiveness. He reached down and took Kakashi's clasped hands in his and hefted the man to his feet. Kakashi refused to meet Naruto's eyes, closing his own and looking at the floor instead. "Kakashi-sensei," Naruto spoke softly. "You hurt me deeply for many years with your rejection. You hurt me more than most, really, because you should have been there for me as my sensei if nothing else."
Kakashi nodded. "I know, Naruto, I know," he said back. "I make no excuse for my behavior. I was wrong, and I'm sorry."
Naruto nodded. "I can tell," he answered slowly, thoughtfully. "Yes, Kakashi-sensei, I'll forgive you." Then, smiling, he added, "I always wondered what it'd be like to have a big brother."
Kakashi looked up at the blond's words, shock evident in his face. He slowly opened his arms to the boy, who willingly ran into them. The two embraced, a sign of true forgiveness. Kakashi whispered, "I will never abandon you again, Little Brother."
Naruto chuckled slightly, tears in his eyes, and whispered back, "I know, Big Brother." Everyone erupted into cheers, and the party began in earnest.
Naruto spent a short while getting to know Kakashi more, during which Hinata talked with Kurenai, whom she hadn't seen in a while. She encouraged her old sensei to pursue Asuma, on whom Kurenai had harbored a crush for some time. The young couple rejoined when Tsunade proposed a toast to them. Everyone drank to them, then Naruto, with his usual unpredictability, swept Hinata onto the dance floor. Soon, everyone was dancing, either with a partner or alone. It didn't seem to matter, everyone was just happy to be alive that night.
It was several hours later before Naruto and Hinata finally extracted themselves from the party and made their way home. As they entered their apartment, Naruto quipped, "You still think it was a good idea to go tonight?"
Hinata giggled. "I sure do, Naruto. I sure do."