Sakura knew that she finally got it through Naruto's thick skull that she didn't want anything to do with him when she went the whole day without Naruto once talking to her! True, he did look at her with such a weird look in his eyes, but it wasn't the doe-like eyes that she had grown to loathe so much.
Of course, Naruto was still a failure. Their first mission, a very lame one in her opinion, was moderately successful, no matter how much Naruto bungled it up! Sasuke, of course, saved the mission from being a failure. Now to actually get him to notice her…
Still, it seemed like everyone noticed Naruto's lack of speaking to her. Even Sasuke commented on it! Naruto's answer was kind of surprising in that he acknowledge Sakura's dislike of him and that he wanted to prove that he was different now… But he had stopped asking her out! Sakura felt as if she had finally gotten rid of an annoyance, one of her many obstacles to her love with Sasuke! She felt happy! Accomplished, even!
So why did it hurt so much?
Kurenai, although she would never allow it to show to her genin, was frustrated. Ever since the meeting with the Hokage, things had gone to relatively normally – or rather, to how she imagined it would go in the first place, if certain inconsistencies hadn't kept making themselves known. Shino and Kiba (and Akamaru) were behaving exactly as expected. Hinata would, too, if it weren't for little known clues that completely bypassed the other genins' notice. What got to Kurenai was how she would have missed those same clues had she not been looking for them.
Like how, at certain times, Hinata would 'space out.' Well, she would say she actually did, if weren't for the fact that Hinata was still very much aware of her surroundings even while having that faraway look in her eyes. But unlike her sparring time with Shino on the first day, nothing quite so drastic and obvious had appeared. Still, every clue gave her a bit more of the puzzle that Hinata had very quickly become. Naruto, of course, had nothing to do with it.
Sasuke was irritated. Ever since graduation, Naruto had been… off. At first, he took no notice of it and had written it off. But when Naruto failed to attract Sakura's attention away from him the other day (something that he would never admit to appreciating), Sasuke suddenly found himself taking interest. Admittedly, it was the day after they passed as genin… but he quickly noted the conflicted eyes of Naruto when he looked at Sakura, as if Naruto was no longer interested in her but still had lingering feelings. Was Hinata the reason for that? If so, how?
Shaking his head from such inane thoughts, Sasuke tried concentrating once more on his physical training back where… HE had trained him. Naruto wasn't his concern. He had much bigger concerns.
Still, he would never admit that this change of behavior from Naruto worried him.
It had barely been a week since Iruka noticed some changes to Naruto and Hinata… and having since talked to the Hokage, his head was left spinning. And now here he was, sitting at Naruto's favorite ramen stand, waiting for Naruto to come by so he could give him the talk. Teuchi and his daughter were already prepping for when he came by.
"So, do you think Naruto and Hinata look cute together?" Ayame asked, startling Iruka.
"Er… yeah! Yeah, they do…" Iruka mused. "I knew Hinata had a crush on Naruto for the longest time, but…"
"Yeah, he kept going on about Sakura before, didn't he? But he hasn't said a thing about her since he graduated… And while Hinata and Naruto do look cute together, they were also a bit creepy, you know?"
"Really?" Iruka perked up at this. "How so?"
"Weeeell…" Ayame looked around, prompting Iruka to also try and find eavesdroppers. "They seem to know what the other is thinking, and they eat in sync!"
"In sync?" questioned Iruka.
"Yeah, exact same movements and chewing patterns! It was eerie."
Iruka decided not to question Ayame's observation on chewing patterns. "Are you sure it wasn't Hinata mimicking Naruto? She does have the Byakugan…"
Ayame was already shaking her head. "No, because Naruto changed the way he eats… It's like he's using another set of habits that aren't his own. Naruto has always eaten enthusiastically, but now it seems more tempered, as if he's years of manners drilled into him."
"Naruto? With manners?" Iruka grinned ruefully.
"Yes! Exactly my point." Here, Ayame waved a ladle threateningly. "They also seem to act like an old married couple from what I can tell. Weird, isn't it?"
Iruka nodded. He had more pieces of the puzzle, but the picture was no closer to making any sense. And to think, Hinata initiated things! Iruka's brain started to hurt just trying to think of all the implications that meant.
"Oh! Hello, Naruto! Where's Hinata?"
Iruka blinked at the question Ayame asked. Did the both of them come here often enough in just a week to warrant that particular inquiry? He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, so he just turned to Naruto with a smile on his face to greet him.
"Hey, Iruka, can I ask you a question?"
Iruka was taken aback by the seriousness on the boy's face. It seemed that Naruto was conflicted about something and was really looking for advice. Was trouble already brewing for the new couple? Or was it something… more?
"Sure you can, you can ask me anything," Iruka responded, watching Naruto shrewdly. Ayame made an encouraging noise as Naruto displayed some of the strangest facial expressions Iruka has ever seen.
"How… how can someone tell what love is? 'Cause I thought I liked Sakura..."
Iruka couldn't help but feel a weight hit him with such a loaded question, even as Ayame's eyebrows rose in surprise. Still, for Naruto's sake, he would try and answer him.
"That's just it, isn't it Naruto? You like Sakura, you don't love her. What did you imagine you would do with her?"
Again, Naruto looked as if he was talking to somebody else, even as he tried to formulate a response. Was it the Kyuubi trying to feed him lies?
"I always thought I'd save her from enemy ninjas and show her how awesome I am…" Iruka felt worried when Naruto wasn't proclaiming this out loud as was his norm, instead talking as if afraid people would hear him. It gave him heart, though, as it showed that Naruto was really thinking about this and was really maturing.
"But could you see sharing your secrets with her, living everyday life with her, Naruto?" Iruka was grateful for Ayame cutting in. She knew how to cut right to the heart of the matter. Especially as it let him see Naruto thinking about this, one of his rare expressions that was purely him. It gave him heart that, as much as the Kyuubi was trying to influence him, Naruto was fighting back, making his own opinions and standing strong.
Naruto shook his head. "No, no, I guess not… I… thanks Iruka, Ayame."
And then Iruka got to see something even rarer – Naruto's true smile. He couldn't help but grin back.
It was later, as Iruka was heading home for the day, that he was stopped by Hinata.
"Thank you, Iruka, for helping Naruto. I really appreciate that."
Iruka blinked. "Did you see Naruto after I talked to him, then?"
Hinata blushed and looked away, even as he spotted the rest of her team a short distance away coming from the same direction Hinata did.
"I, uh, knew he was g-going to talk to you." He narrowed his eyes at Hinata's fidgeting. He couldn't help but think liar.
"Alright. Let Naruto know that that's what I'm here for."
He blinked as he watched Hinata gain the same facial expression as Naruto did earlier. He gave a hand sign to Kurenai.
"He knows, Iruka. Thank you."
Kurenai gave a nod behind her genin's back as they came closer. Kiba's exuberant personality reminded Iruka a bit of Naruto's.
"Hey, Hinata! Don't run off like that! We already graduated from the academy; no need to go back to Iruka!"
As Kiba continued to talk to Hinata, Iruka couldn't help but notice that Hinata seemed happier for the first time in his memory. Glancing at Kurenai, he knew that she was looking at Hinata similarly. Somehow, he knew that his conversation with Naruto was related somehow, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out how.
Hiashi couldn't help but wonder at his daughter's exuberance on this day, a week since the disastrous attempt at engaging her. He had hoped that the engagement would keep her from getting the caged seal. The way the seals had backfired baffled him, not that he would ever admit that. At least his daughter learning of the Kyuubi through some unknown means helped. He had to keep up the pretense that one of the elders let it slip to keep them on their toes, but he knew that that wasn't true… but since he had no better answer, what better way to keep things at an impasse than one possible treason conspiracy?
Sipping his tea, Hiashi couldn't help but worry about when the whole thing would fall apart. And if that wasn't enough, the older branch members could tell that what happened to Hinata would likely seal their fate. If only his nephew could see that as well.
Sighing and setting down his tea, Hiashi also contemplated how else Uzumaki had affected Hinata… and what she had done. For he knew the Hokage and the other jonins had kept something from him. What, he didn't know… but he knew that it involved Hinata, and she wasn't telling either. Though seeing his daughter go by earlier at the happiest she'd been since before that time…
He grimaced. It seemed that his daughter had fallen in love with Uzumaki. That didn't sit right with him, no matter what either of the two's status. And if that smile was anything to go by… Hiashi would break the boy if he ever broke her heart. He both hoped for and dreaded the day that would come to pass… because, while he could break the boy, he didn't want his daughter to feel such heartache.
WHY did she have to fall in love with the worst possible person?
Weeks later, Kakashi could admit even he was vexed. Training and getting his unit to become a cohesive team was difficult enough, but the enigma that Naruto represented was getting to him, much less how Hinata was connected to it. Kurenai, sitting across from him, had voiced similar opinions. Iruka, sitting to his right, looked equally pole-axed. To his left, Asuma was watching them amusedly. Kurenai had told Asuma Sarutobi a week ago about their little problem due to the nature of their relationship as Kakashi found out when Asuma joined them earlier today. Of course the Hokage's son would somehow find his way into knowing about one of the most secretive investigations the Hokage had ever given. Admittedly, it was also one that didn't involve anyone's death, which was a really refreshing change of pace.
"How in the name of the log do they manage it? And how long have they been at this, now?" Kurenai's voice cut through Kakashi's thoughts with equal amounts of frustration.
Iruka shrugged. "If what Hiashi has said is true, then Hinata has been doing it for a couple weeks now. Kakashi here can confirm it, though."
"Yes, somehow Hinata has been… appearing in Naruto's room for almost two weeks now. How she does it is still a mystery as Naruto's apartment has several safety features that the best seal master has installed that blocks things such as the shunshin. On top of that, no alarm has triggered, which, for someone to do what Hinata does, should be setting it off! It makes no sense!"
Everyone stared at Kakashi as his voice rose in volume with each point he was trying to make. It was a rare thing to see Kakashi so worked up.
"They hadn't had a repeat performance, now, have they?" Asuma grinned as Kurenai shot him a look.
"No, that they haven't. Apparently Hinata just goes and snuggles up to Naruto like he's a teddy bear. If it weren't for the security concerns and Hiashi's panic, I would say it would even be cute."
Iruka blinked. "Does Hiashi know?"
"No," Kakashi was shaking his head as he responded, "he only knows that she appears in a secure location. I think he suspects, though. But the Hokage is trying to keep it on a need-to-know basis. Also, I think Hiashi doesn't want it confirmed."
Kurenai grimaced. "Hiashi is using this to keep the elders in check. Surprisingly well, I might add. But he knows he can't hold them off forever. At least the elders know Hiashi is telling the truth when they demanded answers from the Hokage behind his back. Ha."
Kakashi grinned at the memory. At least that was kept private, so that no one else knew about Hinata's little… disappearing act.
"What about the other genins? Have they noticed anything?" Asuma's voice arrested Kakashi's trip down memory lane abruptly.
"Shino has for sure, as much as he tries to hides it," Kurenai replied. "Kiba's nose is telling him something he doesn't understand, and I hope that it stays that way… but I know he's due to be told about that part of his scent by his clan soon. I'm not sure how that's going to go down. I just hope he doesn't say anything about Hinata to his clan."
"Best tell him not to say anything that he smells of his team to his clan 'til after he talks with you first, then. That should help." Asuma was nodding at his own words.
"Right. I'm not sure what to do about Shino… he seems to at least be keeping it to himself at the moment, at least."
"Hmm, yes. Unless something develops there, best to leave the Aburame alone. The clan is notorious for keeping things close to their chest, but what clan doesn't? Just make sure he talks to you before telling his clan anything, is all. I doubt he really needs to, but it may help reinforce Kiba if he feels that he isn't being singled out for this."
"Good idea, the Inuzuka clan is all about group efforts, after all," Iruka confirmed. "How about your genin, Kakashi?"
"Sakura, I think, is just happy Naruto isn't following her around anymore. Sasuke, though… the team dynamic is off. Don't get me wrong, he and Naruto seem to get along fine… but there's this undercurrent, especially when Sakura is around. It's like Sasuke expects Naruto to get her off of him, and Naruto is no longer playing by the rules. It throws everyone off their game. Sasuke blows Sakura off, Naruto blows her off, and Sakura just cheers from the sidelines. What's worse is that Sakura doesn't realize it! I need to get her to take things seriously and at the same time get both of her teammates to include her."
Kakashi sighed before continuing, "And both know that something is up with Naruto. I've already told them both not to tell anyone else, and Sasuke is amendable to it… but Sakura is getting increasingly withdrawn. If it isn't one problem, it's another!" Kakashi made simple, if exaggerated, hand gestures at his final sentence.
"Give 'em a C Rank."
Asuma's statement caught the other three off guard. Kakashi and Kurenai both began to nod.
"What? No!" Iruka shouted indignantly. "They're just children, not ready for such things!"
All three jonins turned to him and stared at him. Iruka glared back defiantly. It was Kurenai who spoke first.
"They are no longer yours to coddle, Iruka."
"They are ninja now, children second." Asuma was next with his steady voice.
"They need to wake up to the realities of life. Besides, it's not like I'm going to take them on nightmare mission. The most trouble we should face is some bandits." Kakashi's hard-edged voice softened at the end, smiling reassuringly at Iruka.
Iruka studied Kakashi's masked face for a moment before he sighed and dropped his head, conceding defeat.
"So be it."
A/N: Ugh, this chapter gave me lots of problems... And so is the chapter for my other story. Blah. Probably also doesn't help that I have gotten ideas for more new stories... oh well. Excuses, excuses.
I'll have the next chapter up whenever. Thanks again to my Beta Miz636, and thanks to all who eagerly enjoyed this story. I would also like to note that I have gotten these ideas from other stories, just not necessarily from this fandom. Cookies and kudos to those who can guess these sources!
...also, let me know if I'm forgetting anything in these author notes, cause I feel like I am.