Walking Beside You
Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are the property of Masahi Kishimoto.
The sun had begun its descent into the horizon, pinkish oranges and buttery yellows lighting the sky. The evening crowd still roamed about the streets; the days were just beginning to shorten and many still rushed around to finish errands in the waning hours of daylight.
Kicking up dust as he went, Naruto found himself with the odd moment to reflect. For once there was no great danger to be faced and to his amazement the absence of anything to do was actually welcome. Days like today were rare, since Pain's attack and later the war everyone had been on high alert, it felt like forever since the simplicity of village of life was allowed to reign.
He maneuvered deftly through the mass of people content to simply follow the path his feet deemed fit. Konoha was nearing the final stages of reconstruction, yet with the chaos not even three months behind them, Naruto found he couldn't walk several meters before he heard yells of "nii-chan" or was stopped by civilian and ninja alike heralded as Konoha's savior. The blond still found his newly acquired celebrity status to be somewhat overwhelming, although he'd be lying if he said he wasn't secretly pleased.
Hokage—that dream of his, didn't seem so far off anymore and neither did the prospect of a whole Team 7. Not that he'd ever give up on either, but things were just finally falling into place now. Sasuke was still under heavy guard and awaiting trial, but surprisingly it was Sakura-chan who was losing herself to anxiousness. Call him naïve but knowing that Sasuke had returned to Konoha because he wanted to, was more than enough for him to believe that no matter what happened, everything would workout.
All the matters of his life were settled it seemed: Sasuke was back, Madara and Kabuto had both been defeated. Even now he could practically see his profile handsomely carved out into the Hokage mountain right next to Tsunade Obaa-chan's. Grinning to himself Naruto threw his arms behind his head, as he nodded in certainty. "Yep, I totally did it," he cheered, "its all taken care of."
Irony always had a strange penchant for interjecting itself into Naruto's life at interesting times.
Especially the one's where the loud-mouth ninja wasn't paying attention.
Times like these it would seem.
The words died on his lips because there just outside the academy, on the tree swing he once bitterly referred to as his only friend, set none other than Hyuuga Hinata.
Okay, so not everything was taken care of.
Were Naruto's vocabulary a little more diverse he'd be inclined to believe serendipity had dealt a hand in this. To run into her here of all places, he hadn't even seen her since Pain's invasion and the resulting aftermath hadn't allowed him a free second to dwell on her confession further. At the time though, he had known exactly what he wanted to say to her, passion and adrenaline were both running high then. But now time had allowed the air to cool, what was he supposed say, how to broach the subject?
Hey remember three months ago when you told me you loved me? I've actually never even thought of you that way. Isn't that hilarious?
The blond shook his head dismissively, of course he couldn't say that, but every time he delved into his mind for the answer it eluded him. Hinata deserved something for her words, for her courage; his mind continued to struggle for an appropriate response.
Thank you? It was suitable he supposed, but it didn't belly the depth of gratitude he wanted to convey.
I love you, too? Well that would be a lie he argued in distaste. Any feelings he possessed for the Hyuuga, while surely in the positive were not ones of love. Hinata was worth more than some empty words to pacify his need to respond.
The whiskered gennin bemoaned the fact he had no male figure to turn to in this situation. Sai was clueless about the opposite sex and Sasuke, for all the hordes of female that fawned over his effeminate looks, had no idea what to do with one. His sensei and late master were both perverts. Kakashi possessed more of a closeted nature; his only outlets were those boring books Ero-sennin loved to write. However Jiraiya had been much more spirited in his pursuit of the female species, to put it mildly.
An image of him approaching Hinata in Ero-Sennin fashion popped unexpectedly in his head.
"Hinata-chan you're looking cuter than ever." He began.
"Na-Naruto-kun doesn't mean that." Hinata blushed
"Why of course I do. I could never lie to one so fair". Ero-Naruto said, promising.
"If that's so, p-please tell me what you think of me."
"I've been thinking about how fortunate your love for me is." He revealed.
"Fortunate?" She questioned.
"Yes, you see. Though you might have a large chest, it is quite fortunate that I also have large hands for them to fit in." Ero-Naruto moved to demonstrate. "Observe dattebayo!"
A dribble of blood oozed from his left nostril, Naruto shook his head furiously to rid himself of such dangerous thoughts. If he ever did that in real life, the boy gulped, Hyuuga Hiashi and Neji would shut down his chakra network—permanently.
Sweat began to pour from Naruto's brow as his teeth chattered in bone chilling terror, right hand moving to clutch protectively over his heart, precisely where the Hyuuga clansmen would deliver the final blow. There was no way that was going to happen. No thank you, sir! He mentally screamed and came to the first real decision since his arrival.
He would deal with this later.
Hinata hadn't acknowledged his presence yet, so she couldn't have realized he was here. Now was his chance to slip away unnoticed and regroup. Form his words coherently then comeback cool and in control. Unfortunately, just as his limbs had received the signal to high-tail it out of there, he was stopped in his tracks by a faint voice.
"Leaving already?" her head sank in disappointment. "Naruto-kun just got here; I was hoping he would stay and t-talk to me for a bit." She turned her head back at an awkward angle to catch sight of him, pearly lavender eyes clapped on his retreating form in heart wrenching accusation.
Naruto's right foot had frozen inches off the ground when she looked at him, awkward pose betraying his intent to depart. Under the Hyuuga's forever admiring gaze Naruto's head cleared, a piercing arrow from his subconscious shot towards the alert part of his brain, melting away all the indecision, uncertainty and hesitation. What was left in that moment of clarity, all at once bruised his pride and gnawed at his conscience, a feeling he'd sworn on the pain in his right hand that he'd never experience again.
His own cowardice.
Look at him, running away from her like some scaredy-cat. When she had risked her life with no regret and had determined to die with none either, bravely offering him the knowledge in her heart.
What must she think of him now?
He could feel the sting of his pride as a new resolve strengthened within. Uzumaki Naruto was not going to runaway from this or the answer he wasn't entirely sure he knew yet.
At last putting his foot down, he said. "No, I'm not going anywhere."
From the moment he had rounded the wall of the courtyard Hinata had known she wasn't alone. How she knew it was Naruto wasn't so easily explained. It happened in their adolescence, during the time she drew most heavily upon his strength. A one-way connection established between them—one of her own making and from then on Hinata could always sense when he was near her. She could also sense the fiery emotions he sent pulsing into the air and it was his increasingly hesitant and uncertain feelings that eclipsed her initial happiness of their chance meeting.
Her back still facing him she waited patiently as he stood there for long minutes; hopefully gathering his thoughts to speak to her after all this time. The waiting was borderline torturous for poor Hinata, but her naturally calm demeanor and strict upbringing kept her from speaking out.
She would wait.
Minutes weren't that bad when Hinata distractedly compared it to all the years she remained silent. Time and the very real fear of losing someone she loved had been the breaking point for her. Not that she was silly enough to believe he'd come wrap her up tight in his arms and recite his own proclamation of love. Although, there'd admittedly been the odd dream or two about that little fantasy. Each time she'd awake flushed with embarrassment, chastising her foolish heart even while she clung to the feeling of phantom-Naruto's embrace.
It was amidst these thoughts that she was caught off guard, as a fresh wave of vibrations cut across her senses.
Translucent eyes widened in utter disbelief, he was going to walk away from her, without even so much as a word.
Her delicate hands wrung the rope of the swing in anxiety. Naruto was running away? It didn't seem possible, her hands slackened in dismay. Hinata's eyes nearly drew close in resignation, but right as they were about to shut her own words echoed back to her.
Always dreaming we would walk side by side.
Her eye shot wide open.
Hinata grit her teeth in frustration, she was sick to death of dreaming when it came to Uzumaki Naruto.
Where was the fearless kunoichi who appeared that day? The one who spoke her feelings out loud? Hinata couldn't pretend anymore, she wanted to be at his side and that would only happen when she did something about how she felt. If he got away now, she would be failing the woman she became that day. It didn't matter that she'd see him after this because Naruto's nindo was Hinata's as well: never giving up, never going back on her word and running straight down the path with no regrets.
And if she didn't stop him now, she would regret absolutely.
Walking by his side meant she could no longer hide from him or let him hide from her, with that epiphany resounding clear in her being she spoke at last. Arching her neck back to look at him, she carefully chose the words that would anchor him to the spot.
"No, I'm not going anywhere." The answer filled her with relief and a budding hope. Watching him as he made his way towards her, Hinata felt the rhythm of her heart increase to an alarming pace. "I haven't seen you in a while, how'd you end up at the academy?" He asked.
"I went for a walk and ended up here." She answered.
"Me too," he nodded in understanding. "Our feet can lead us to strange places if we're not mindful." He stopped just behind her, idly placing a hand on the left rope of the swing. "But sometimes they take us to the places we're meant to go."
Hinata bit her lip pensively, still looking at him. "Do you r-really think that?"
He nodded affirmatively. "Would I lie to you?" He asked playfully.
"No," she shook her head at length, "you wouldn't." Facing forward again she kicked off with her feet and started to swing, breaking Naruto's loose grip on the rope. "You know I've always wanted to do this."
"You've never used a swing before?" Naruto asked bewilderedly. He stepped aside as gravity brought her back towards him.
"Of course I have, but you were always hogging this one." She laughed teasingly. "Every kid knows the academy tree swing is best."
"That's true," he said. Rocking back on his heels he continued to watch as the swing took Hinata higher and higher with her own efforts, raven hair swishing freely as she went. "But I have to say," He laughed a tad dejectedly, "it's not much fun when you're swinging by yourself." Hinata's teasing smile dropped from her face like it burned her and the somber edge to his voice hadn't escaped her notice either. That's right, back then he'd sit all alone on the swing, where no one would ever play with him-not even her. She must've sounded so cruel now, how can you hog something when all along you're waiting for someone to share with you?
The pendulum of the swing brought her back and forth several times, losing energy with each pass. All of a sudden she didn't feel like swinging anymore, a guilt ridden conscience stealing any interest she had in the sport. Disgusted by her own insensitivity she barely registered Naruto moving behind her to help reclaim the lost momentum.
Unaware that anything was wrong he began to push her. Naruto hadn't meant to make her feel so bad, he just couldn't help the melancholy tone that crept in his voice whenever he mentioned those days. They held painful memories for him and though he was long past feeling sorry for himself, the pain of loneliness was not one so easily forgotten. Even now with all his bonds, old and new that ensured he would never feel such loneliness again, he still remembered. Still, that did nothing to assuage Hinata's present guilt. "Naruto-kun, please don't push me anymore."
"Huh?" He cushioned the impact as she returned, grabbing either side of the swing to keep her immobile. "Am I doing a bad job?" He asked.
"No it's n-not that, she shook her head, "it's just that…now that I think about it, you've never been pushed before have you Naruto-kun?"
"Well no, I guess not." He scratched his head, confused by her question. "But what does that have to do with-ahhhhh." In a fluid motion that only could have come from her practicing Gentle Fist techniques, Hinata had switched their positions in the blink of an eye, Naruto's bum firmly planted in the seat she once occupied.
"I am going to push Naruto-kun."
The blond was airborne before he could voice any protest, Hinata's delicate pushes propelling him forward. The light presses to his lower back were hardly felt, yet he swore a warm tingle spread throughout his body from where she made contact. Muscles relaxing a little, he finally let himself enjoy it, a cool breeze sailing through the courtyard and stirring his yellow spikes as he rose in the air again. Hinata never ceased to impress him with her determination, he couldn't see her but he felt it rolling off her in waves. She tried so hard, she always had and though she credited him for that, Naruto knew he had nothing to do with it; it'd been there all along.
"This is nice," he looked back at her, "but you know a guy just can't sit back while a girl pushes him." Digging in his heels he brought the swing to a screeching halt causing Hinata to gasp in surprise. Placing a hand around a tiny wrist he got up from the swing and directed her to sit.
Attempting to decline she tried vainly to break his grip. "Its fine I meant for you to swing." she declined, trying to free her wrist.
"Hinata, sit." He said
"Sit! This time he permitted no room for argument and the girl reluctantly reclaimed her spot on the swing. "We'll compromise," he said softly. Naruto hoisted himself up planting his feet on the back corners of the seat, the swing creaked at Naruto's added weight and Hinata looked up in concern. Naruto simply smiled in reassurance bending slight at the knees he shifted his weight down and forward to get them moving. "See, isn't this much better?"
Hinata couldn't argue. Swinging together was much better, in fact, as far as she was concerned, there was nothing like it. A closeness Hinata daren't explain which had nothing to do with their physical nearness, overcame them with peace.
An intangible change in the atmosphere altered the mood, the necessary pretense of small talk was over and their guards lowered. Naruto could feel the shift within him and the elusive words came to him at last. "I didn't know what to say to you for the longest time." He told her. "There was so much going on and I know part of me used that as an excuse to avoid you-it was wrong of me." Calloused hands squeezed the rope of the swing tighter, the boy not bothering to hide his disappointment in himself.
"When I ran into you here I knew it wasn't a coincidence, my own feet were telling me to stop running," he chuckled softly.
"I've been thinking about the words I should say over and over again, but nothing seemed right." Tearing a hand through his blond mane he continued. "I almost ran away, until you said something and then I remembered how fearless you were that day and it made me brave too."
No way. She gave him courage? Hinata's head spun.
"So, now I know what it is I should say to you. Hinata after you told me you loved I have to tell you tha-"
Suddenly Hinata was struck by fears of her own. What if he told her they could only be friends? The thought was too horrible to bear. She didn't care if her feelings weren't shared, but please don't block the path she had only just begun to walk down, don't crush her hope, Hinata knew she'd die otherwise.
She had to cut him off.
"N-Naruto-kun doesn't need to say anything." She hastily stammered out. "I already know that he doesn't return my feelings," she conceded. "It's okay, it's just I still…I still want to spend time with you," she confessed, "as much as you'll let me!" Glancing up to gauge his reaction Hinata's eyes widened in shock when she discovered a pair of furious blue eyes.
"Hinata," his expression soured. "Why are you in such a rush to speak for me?"
Hinata cringed at the harshness in his tone but fumbled to reply anyway. "L-like I said before I already k-know how you-"
"Don't tell me how I feel about you," he snapped. "I'll answer you in my own words."
The Hyuuga heir was left with little recourse but to nod her head.
"What I wanted to say. No, what I needed to say all this time was that-"
Hinata's shoulders tensed in preparation. Here it comes
"You made me happy."
Every muscle in her body went limp.
"That was the very first time someone told me they loved me; that I meant so much them."
"Hinata-chan's always so quiet and reserved. I could never here her when she spoke." Naruto bent his head down to look at her. "But that day, I heard you loud and clear. It was also the first time you ever spoke without stuttering." He was smiling fondly at her now. "Those words were buried deep in your heart." Pressing his weight down on the seat again to keep the swing going, he looked ahead. "I'm glad you let them out."
Naruto's reply had left Hinata speechless, she didn't know whether she wanted to cry or laugh, yet there was no debating the smile that broke across her face. His words were more than she could've wished for and what he hadn't said was even more important.
He hadn't restricted their relationship to just a friendship. Where his feelings lay now didn't really matter because he had left room for the possibility, a chance Hinata had no intention of wasting.
"Me too, I'm glad too."
The two swung there in silence, watching as the sun finally crested beneath the skyline. All the while Hinata's smile remained and as she shut her eyes in contentment, Naruto took the opportunity to study her. It struck him as odd how pretty she was or more to the point, how he'd never really paid attention to how pretty she was. Long black hair, delicate features and soft eyes, had they never met he could easily believe that she was the daughter of some powerful daimyo or princess to a far-off land. Her beauty was the kind that captured the notice of the heroes he loved to read about-the hero people said he was.
The girl's smile widened as if she had heard Naruto's thoughts, although that was impossible. Still, he leaned over even farther deciding he needed to know exactly what she was so smiley about, not taking their close proximity into account. "What's made you so happy?"
"I'm happy because of yo-" The words were cut off, because as she tilted her head back to give him her reply there were Naruto's lips unintentionally silencing any answer she intended to give. Accident though it may have been it was the closest thing to a kiss the girl had received. A simple press of lips on either side, but terms like soft, firm, gentle and strong flew silently between them, outwardly only aware of the to and fro of the swing.
The exchange ended as haphazardly as it begun, the forward motion of the swing caused Naruto to lose his footing and he tumbled over harshly to the ground. "Ow," he cradled his head in pain, already feeling the raised edges of what would be a very large knot.
True to form Hinata was already at his side, apologizing profusely. "I'm s-sorry. It's my f-fault. I should've paid better attention." She reached to pluck his hands off his head to inspect him herself but he stopped her.
"Daijoubu," he smirked, "I've had worse than this, believe me." Naruto turned away from her hesitantly and almost awkward. "Besides," he exhaled a rush of breath, "you shouldn't be sorry, when I'm not."
Deep rouge colored the Hyuuga's cheeks at Naruto's admission. Dreaming, she had to be dreaming, that was the only explanation but as a hefty pinch to her forearm ruled that out. Seconds past slowly as she sat staring dumbly at him till it occurred to her that she should respond in kind. Eyes cast downward, blush still warming her cheeks she admitted the same. "Neither am I."
"Good," he turned back to face her. Mischievous glint in his blue eyes he rested his weight on his left arm as he slowly closed the gap between them. "So you won't mind if it happens again?" His lips quirked into a devious grin, Naruto knew precisely what he was doing.
A fuse in the girl's brain short-circuited and it took all her will power not to faint. Hinata was positive her heart would beat right out of her chest any second.
A real kiss? That they both wanted? This was too much for one day the girl thought. Hinata closed her eyes and Naruto followed suit leaning into each other, desiring the caress of lips one more time.
All that greeted them was the angry growl of an empty stomach-that wasn't Naruto's. "Oh wow Hinata-chan and I thought I got hunger pains." He laughed uncomfortably.
Hinata on the other hand could've crawled under a rock and died from the sheer amount of humiliation just then. "I haven't eaten since breakfast," she explained mortified.
Their first real kiss ruined she inwardly cried.
Standing, Naruto offered her his hand. "Well, I guess there's nothing left to do except get you over to Ichiraku's, we can't have you going around hungry Hinata-chan."
"B-but I left my money at home."
"Don't worry, it's my treat," he assured. Grabbing the still sitting Hinata's hand, he pulled her to her feet; hand still in his he gave her a playful wink. "If we hurry, we can get the first bowls of the night." And that was Hinata's one warning as he broke out into a mad dash towards the ramen bar. Rounding the courtyard wall Hinata bumped into Naruto's back as he came to a sudden stop.
Preparing to ask just why he'd stop, Hinata was assailed by his vibrations again, but the emotions that struck her this time were undeniably Naruto-courage and determination.
"Hinata-chan," she could feel his hand tightened around her own. "I don't know if I can feel the same way about you, as you do me…"
"But I'm definitely going to try." Wheeling around to pierce her with an unwavering blue gaze, he made a promise. "Without fail I'm going to find out if there's something here."
Hinata gasped but by then he had already taken off towards Ichiraku's again, his grip notably tighter than before.
Authors Note: I'd actually been planning this little piece for a while and in a perfect world this would've been published in the wake of 437. Although, it wouldn't have turned out the same had I, so in the end I'm kinda glad you're getting it now. I worked SO hard on this and I'm really proud of what I did here and I hope all that effort translated on the page to you guys.
On another note I desperately needed to get something produced, I have a bunch of ideas buzzing inside me, but as their all still in the planning stages I've had no outlet to release all this "writing tension" so to speak. Hopefully this will pacify my inner writing beast for the moment and allow me to get refocused.
So tell me what you guys think, hit the talk bubble below and weigh-in. Strengths? Weaknesses? Thoughts? Improvements? It's my first time writing this pair so I need all you Naruhina aficionados to let me know if I did them justice. :-)
Thank you for reading and I can't wait to hear from you guys.
P.S Daijoubu means 'I'm okay' or 'I'm fine' strictly in reference to ones physical well-being