Chapter 2

Naruto was feeling rather pleased today. He was on his way to Training Ground 30 to meet with his new team, but after the very long conversation he'd had with Hinata last night, he felt like this new team would be far better than the old one, no matter what happened with Kiba. He hoped he and Kiba could be friends, but since the fiasco at the Chuunin Exams, he rather doubted it.

Naruto thought of everything that had happened in just 24 hours. His old team was gone, his brother had been declared a traitor (he still wasn't too happy with Tsunade about that one), he had become much better friends with Hinata than he had been before, and he had now concluded that he and Sakura would never be anything more than friends. In retrospect, he realized he should have known that for some time now, but somehow that talk with Hinata yesterday had driven it home for him that he and Sakura just weren't meant to be. Not now, not ever. The really weird thing was, in spite of his expectations, that thought didn't bother him. He just accepted it. He was thinking about all of this and realizing that he actually accepted all of it, even Sasuke's new status. He wasn't happy about it, no, but he accepted it. As he was thinking about this, he arrived at the training ground.

Naruto looked up and found Hinata standing in the middle of the clearing that was Training Ground 30. He had to smile at that. He hadn't thought about it before, but seeing Hinata standing there with the dawn behind her, he could see she really was a very pretty girl. He laughed at himself silently, thinking how he had made Sakura his standard of beauty and blinded himself to what was now in front of him. Granted, Hinata kept her figure hidden beneath her jacket most of the time, but still, there was something about her. He couldn't quite place it, but something about her made him want to just go to her and hug her. He chuckled at his thoughts, which made Hinata turn and see him.

Hinata was surprised to find Naruto so near her. He was only about ten feet away, yet she hadn't been aware of his presence at all. She had been so absorbed in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed that she was no longer alone. She blushed upon seeing her crush staring at her, a pensive look on his face. She had just been thinking of him, of course.

"Good m-morning, N-Naruto," she said, blushing. Naruto gave her a small smile.

"Good morning, Hinata," he answered. "I thought you said the others would be here by now." It was about 9:15 at the moment; he had overslept somewhat. In spite of this, however, neither Kurenai-sensei nor Kiba were in evidence.

Hinata blushed even deeper. She suddenly realized that she had been caught. She had intentionally told Naruto an earlier time than their planned meeting time so she could try to talk to him alone before the team met. "Oh, w-well, see, I... I..." Hinata said, blushing furiously as she was unable to meet his eyes.

Naruto was confused. What was going on? All he did was ask what was going on and here she was blushing like a ripe tomato. He went over to her, lifted her chin so she was looking at him and gave her a reassuring smile. "Remember that talk we had last night, Hinata?" he asked her. She looked confused, but nodded. "Remember how I said not to be afraid with me and to just relax and be yourself?" She nodded again. "Well, do that now. Where are the others?"

Hinata sighed. He was right. He had told her to be herself and relax. It wasn't easy, but for him, she'd do it. "N-Naruto, I told you the wrong time yesterday. We don't meet until 10:00 in the mornings," she said, blushing. Naruto gave her a small smile, then a confused look. She rushed to explain. "It's just that I was h-hoping to b-be able to t-talk to y-you alone a while b-before we met with the t-team."

Naruto gave her a surprised look, then started chuckling. Moments later, he was holding his belly as he laughed loud and hard. Hinata was confused. After Naruto calmed down, he smiled at Hinata. "Do you realize what this means, Hinata?" he asked. She tilted her head to one side, curious. "You pranked me!" he said, grinning at her. "You actually pranked me, Hinata!"

Hinata was stunned. He was right! She had pranked him! Not trying to be mean or anything, but she had actually tricked him! She giggled, a hand in front of her face, smiling shyly and blushing. Naruto laughed with her, not as loud or hard as before, but his joy was evident nonetheless. Naruto was proud of this girl. She had only been his friend for about eighteen hours and yet she had ALREADY pranked him! And he was supposed to be the best prankster in the village. He gave Hinata a true smile, which made her blush even deeper as she felt her heart melt yet again.

Hinata thought about it, then she finally moved her hand and gave Naruto a heart-felt smile. "I wasn't trying t-to b-be m-mean or anything, N-Naruto," she said, looking slightly worried.

"No, I know that, Hinata," Naruto said, still smiling. "I'm not mad or hurt or anything. I think it's funny that you, the shyest girl in the whole village, pranked me, the best prankster in the village, that's all." He smiled brightly, making his new friend blush deeply.

The two sat down by one of the training posts and talked softly, picking up their conversation from the night before almost seamlessly. Naruto told Hinata about how he'd found the clearing he took her to the day before, how he'd gotten closer to his old team, and how he was feeling about Tsunade's declaration about Sasuke the day before.

Hinata comforted him about Sasuke, told him about how things had been with Neji throughout her life, before his father died, after that, and then after Naruto beat him in the Chunin Exams, and spoke of her father and his rejection of her more. Naruto smiled softly, thinking that he had actually made a difference for his friend as she spoke of Neji, then glared slightly as she spoke of her father.

Naruto turned to Hinata. "I'll help you, Hinata. I can tell you crave your father's acceptance, and I promise you here and now, I'll help you get it," he said, giving her a determined look. Hinata knew that look. It was the same look he'd had on his face when he was fighting Kiba during the preliminaries. She couldn't help smiling.

"Thank y-you, N-Naruto," she said, blushing a little. The two friends hugged, then jumped back from one another, blushing furiously, as they heard a small chuckle coming from nearby.

"Good morning, you two," Kurenai greeted them. "It seems like you two are hitting it off really well. I'm glad." The two blushing youngsters nodded, their eyes looking at everything but their sensei and each other.

As the three were standing there, Naruto and Hinata feeling awkward and Kurenai chuckling, Kiba joined them. He saw Naruto and Hinata blushing and Kurenai laughing and wondered what was up, but he didn't question it. He just shrugged and joined his teammates, waiting to see what their mission or training for the day would be.

"So, what's up, team?" Kiba asked, his typical grin on his face.

Kurenai smiled softly at Kiba. "Good, now we're all here," she said. "We can get down to our mission for today."

Naruto and Hinata came to attention, both of them finally losing their blushes, and Kiba grinned. "So, what's on the menu for today?" Naruto asked, becoming slightly excited to work with his new team.

Kurenai grinned and pulled out a scroll. "This scroll is our mission. Guys, this is a C-rank mission, we're to deliver this scroll to the Hidden Sand Village, specifically to a Suna Jonin named Baki," she said, smiling.

Naruto whooped. "I'll get to see Gaara! YES!" he yelled, jumping up and down a bit in excitement. He was glad to get to see his friend again; it had been a while, and he wanted to see if he was doing better.

Hinata giggled. She was still not quite used to the idea of being on a team with Naruto. Kiba rolled his eyes, but even he couldn't quite suppress a grin at Naruto's excitement. Kurenai just chuckled at her team.

"All right team, go get yourselves ready. Pack for two weeks, just in case. We leave in one hour, meet at the main gate of the village. Dismissed!" Kurenai told them. She then disappeared in a puff of smoke; the new Team 8 found themselves alone.

Kiba nodded. "See you guys in an hour then," he said and took off.

Naruto turned to Hinata, grinning. "Hey, I'll meet you right here in ten minutes, okay? I need to head home and grab my pack; it's always ready for this kind of thing. Ten minutes long enough for you?" he asked.

Hinata thought about it; she had a week's worth of supplies already packed; she'd just have to add a couple things to it. She nodded. "All r-right, N-Naruto," she said. "I'll see you in ten minutes." As she raced for her home, she wondered what Naruto was up to, but she wasn't about to miss out on it, whatever it was.

Naruto chuckled at how eagerly she'd taken off, realizing for the first time that what Tsunade had told him was most likely true; Hinata probably DID like him. He made his way home, moving rather more slowly than Hinata had; he grabbed his pack and headed back, arriving back where they'd been five minutes after he left. He was surprised to find Hinata already there waiting for him.

Hinata smiled as he approached, blushing as she saw the look of admiration in his eyes. She could tell she'd impressed him by being there so fast. She smiled shyly, wondering what he was thinking about. If she'd known, she would likely have fainted.

Naruto was looking Hinata up and down as he approached her. Her pack being on her back was causing her normally baggy jacket to hug her figure rather snugly, and Naruto could see every curve of her body. "Wow, Hinata's really got a hell of a body. Wonder why she always hides it beneath that baggy jacket of hers," Naruto thought. Then he scolded himself for being perverted and simply smiled at Hinata, who blushed deeper still.

"So, N-Naruto, what d-did y-you w-want to s-see m-me f-for?" Hinata asked, stammering more than normal since his smile and rapt attention being aimed at her was making her feel light-headed.

Naruto chuckled; now he was sure of it, Tsunade had been telling him the truth. "Do I need a reason to want to see you?" Naruto asked back, teasingly.

Hinata blushed at his teasing, then stammered, "I s-suppose n-not."

Naruto looked at her, a little surprised that she'd seemingly taken him seriously. "Okay, Hinata, I was kidding. But seriously, I told you before I want to get to know you better. I figured this would be as good a time as any, since we probably won't have a lot of time alone during the mission," he said, smiling at her.

Hinata gasped. "He wants to spend time alone with me! Don't faint, don't faint, DON'T FAINT!" she thought to herself. "Oh, o-okay, N-N-Naruto," she stammered out.

Naruto chuckled, thinking this was just one more piece of evidence to support that she liked him. His smiled widened a little, though Hinata didn't seem to notice this. "Come on, Hinata," he said. "I want to introduce you to Teuchi."

Hinata blushed slightly, surprised Naruto would want to introduce her to someone, but she smiled and nodded. Moments later, the two were at Ichiraku's. The two sat on stools next to one another, Hinata blushing furiously at being so close to Naruto, Naruto smiling at actually having company here for once.

Teuchi turned and found his favorite customer sitting there, grinning at him. "Naruto! Been a while since I saw you in here. How are you? And who's this with you?" he asked, smiling at the blond.

Naruto grinned back. "Yeah, hey old man, I know it's been a while. This is Hinata, she's on my new team," he said.

Hinata smiled and bowed slightly, as well as she could while sitting. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Teuchi," she said, remembering the name Naruto had used for the man before.

Teuchi smiled at the indigo-haired girl. "No need for bowing, young lady," he said, smiling. "Any friend of Naruto's is a friend of ours. Isn't that right, Ayame?"

Ayame, the dark-haired girl beside Teuchi, grinned at Hinata. "Absolutely. It's our pleasure to meet you, Hinata," she said, noticing how Hinata was blushing and watching Naruto. She came over and whispered to Hinata, leaning over the counter, "He might be clueless, but he's got a good heart. He'll come around soon enough." She stood back up and winked conspiratorially at Hinata, who blushed deeper.

"So, what will you two have?" Teuchi asked then, still grinning.

"I'll have two miso, please," Naruto said. "What about you, Hinata?"

"I'll try the same, please," she said.

Teuchi grinned at the two. "Four miso then? All right, coming right up," he said, then turned and concentrated on making their meal for them.

Meanwhile, Somewhere in the Land of Rice Paddies

Orochimaru grinned at his underling. He had just delivered a message from the spy he had hidden deep in Konoha. This spy was so deep he was privy to almost everything that was going on in Konoha, even those things only the Hokage's closest advisers knew. The information just now delivered to him was one such tidbit.

"Well, it would seem that Suna and Konoha are trying to cement their little arrangement and keep this accursed peace," the Snake Sannin hissed, his eyes flashing with excitement. "And I must admit, this is a good ploy for it."

He re-read the scroll he had been delivered, noticing that the spy asked nothing and requested no instruction. This meant he had not been discovered and that no one was aware he was passing information like this. In that case, he wouldn't need to respond to this message, just act on the information contained in it.

"Send in Sasuke," he hissed. Moments later, Sasuke Uchiha entered the room, his black eyes glaring at Orochimaru.

"You sent for me?" he asked, his voice harsh, cold, his eyes filled with hate. Orochimaru grinned, loving the look of his newest disciple.

"I did, Sasuke," he told the boy. "I have an assignment for you."

"Oh? And what would you have me do, Lord Orochimaru?" Sasuke asked, hating the sound of the title. Orochimaru insisted all his minions use it, including, now, Sasuke, but the onyx-eyed boy hated it, even the Snake Sannin knew that. But he insisted on it, so Sasuke continued to say it, even if the supposedly respectful title was filled with loathing every time.

"Your former village has sent out a small entourage, headed for Suna. I suspect they will return with a rather larger group than the one that has left Konoha. During their return trip, I want you to ambush them and take out as many of them as you can," Orochimaru said, his eyes flashing with excitement. "And when you return, I will have a new jutsu or two to teach you." He added this last part to quell any rebellion Sasuke might be feeling. It worked.

"Yes, Lord Orochimaru," Sasuke said, his eyes flashing with some excitement at the prospect of learning a new jutsu. He bowed, another formality Orochimaru insisted be followed, then rose and left to prepare. He knew he could take anyone with him from the fortress he so chose, but in this case, he decided to go alone, half-hoping, half-afraid he'd meet up with Naruto.

Back in Konoha

Naruto and Hinata rose, both satisfied with their meal. Hinata was enjoying herself immensely, but she was also curious about one thing. She decided to feel Naruto out about it.

"This was a great date, Naruto," she said, blushing slightly.

Naruto was a little surprised, but he couldn't quite deny it: it had felt like a date. "Yeah, it was, wasn't it?" he said back, smiling at her.

Hinata blushed even deeper, realizing he thought of it as a date, too. "Well, we b-better g-get g-going; don't want t-to b-be l-late," she said.

Naruto grinned, knowing he'd made her nervous. "Hey, relax, I'm having a great time with you, Hinata, calling it a date doesn't change that," he said, smiling his true smile at her.

Hinata blushed but smiled, pleased with the situation. The two walked off together and arrived at the village's gate minutes later, both of them arriving at the same time as Kurenai and Kiba.

"All right, team, let's move out," Kurenai said, grinning at how close Naruto and Hinata were to one another as they walked. Moments later, the team was out of the village, officially on their first mission as a newly-formed team. None of them had any idea the dangers that awaited them on this mission, nor the opportunities that would present themselves.