AN: So yeah, the timeskip between Shadows of the Mind chapters fifteen and sixteen was more or less a complete failure. Too much happening behind the scenes as it were. So, this is going to be a series of oneshots that shed a little light on the situation. Don't expect much from this, as I really didn't have a whole lot planned out for the academy before deciding to do the time skip. I also don't have a whole lot of interest in this particular story, which equals low motivation to work on this one over my others. Honestly, I've been working on this thing on and off since I posted chapter sixteen, and I just finished putting this one together today.

Anyway, if you don't really care about the Academy years, great! Just means less for me to work on. If you do want to know about what happened during the timeskip, please bear with me, as I don't know how long it will take me to put together another one for this.


The Academy Years: chapter one

It was during his third year at the academy that Naruto met his second tiny Hyuuga girl.

Well, that wasn't entirely accurate, as they had technically met before. They'd never spoken, and she likely didn't remember him, but he'd seen her countless times when Hinata went to visit her before or after class.

Now, as he crouched against the wall outside the room he and Kurenai always picked up Hinata from -a precautionary measure in case he needed to move quickly- he watched as little Hanabi Hyuuga carefully exited and slid the door shut with a look of fierce concentration on her face.

The tiny girl nodded to herself in satisfaction, then jumped when she finally noticed his presence.

Pausing in his scanning of the courtyard, Naruto glanced over at the little girl as she tried to put up a blank facade. She failed quite obviously as her curiosity shined through as she more or less openly studied him.

Dismissing the child -as obviously, such a small girl was no threat to someone like him- Naruto continued his study of the seemingly empty grounds. Despite not seeing anyone, Naruto's sixth sense continued to flare on and off as it did every time he entered the Hyuuga compound.

As he tried to pinpoint the source of his unease, he was vaguely aware of the girl coming to stand next to him.

"Hi-umm, I mean, hello." She started off happily before stumbling on her words and becoming overly polite.

Naruto just sent her a half-hearted glance and made noise of acknowledgment, showing that he heard her, yet conveying an unspoken "go away".

Perhaps he wasn't as clear as he thought, because instead of taking the hint, the small girl sat down next to him, again in that stumbling way as she moved to just sit, then stopped herself midway to change over to the more traditional seiza position. "My name is Hanabi Hyuuga. Can I-may I ask your name?" She asked in a semi-neutral voice.

Frowning slightly at her strange behavior, Naruto slowly answered. "Naruto."

Hanabi smile lit up her face like her namesake, catching him off guard as she shifted closer to him. "It's nice to meet you, Naruto-san." She said happily, before rushing to give him a polite bow midway. "On behalf of the Hyuuga clan, I welcome you to our hou-hos-umm, our hosho-umm-"

Turning to face her fully, Naruto watched in bemusement as she seemed to struggle with her words, her face growing redder and more downcast with each failure. Taking pity on her, Naruto suggested. "Home?"

Slumping slightly, Hanabi seemed torn before conceding, "Yes."

They sat in silence for a moment as she seemed to be expecting a reprimand, while Naruto openly studied her for the first time. Hanabi's resemblance to Hinata was astounding, so much so that it was only her shoulder length hair that prevented him from thinking that she was the ghost of Hinata past. Her eyes were even the same lavender pools as Hinata's, as opposed to the more common white of her clan. Then he started to take in the differences.

Hanabi wore a simple training outfit -which to Naruto was ridiculous given her age and size- and wore her hair in the same fashion as most of the Hyuuga he had seen. She obviously had some of the same shyness issues as Hinata, yet hers were far less severe than the timid Heiress. This was evident in Hanabi's lack of excessive blushing and her large smiles, as opposed to Hinata's tiny ones.

Coming back from his observations, Naruto just caught the end of Hanabi's question. "What was that?" He asked simply.

Hanabi's reaction was far different than he'd expected. The tiny girl jerked and began chewing at her lip worriedly. When she opened her mouth, nothing came out as she struggled to find the proper words.

Raising an eyebrow, Naruto finally placed her strange way of talking and acting. It was the same way he had acted when they had taught him the "proper" way to behave. Still, he had never been so self-conscious about it when he was her age.

Frowning slightly and already bored of dealing with her, Naruto dismissively suggested. "Why don't you go play with your friends?"

Hanabi's shoulders slumped even more, almost to the point where she was a perfect match for Hinata. "I don't have any friends."

Blinking, he stared at her incredulously. She was Hinata's sister, which meant she was part of the clan head's immediate family. That alone should have guaranteed her an army of acquaintances at least. "Surely you have someone? A relative around your age or something?"

Hanabi just shook her head. "Tou-chan-I mean, Otou-sama says that friends are a waste of my time. I need to con-concr-focus on my training." She paused there and looked up at him with an unbearably hopeful look in her eyes as she asked. "Do you- I mean, would you like to be my friend, Naruto-san?"

Naruto's first instinct was to say no. After all, he had far better things to do with his time then hang out with a toddler. And it wasn't like he had any responsibility to her. Yet as he looked into her hopeful eyes, he found the same desperation and loneliness as he had seen in Hinata's, though nowhere near as overwhelming. 'This was it,' Naruto realized with a start. 'This is what Hinata must have been like years ago, before this fucked up family turned her into that timid little mouse.' And just like that, Naruto knew he couldn't say no.

"Sure." He said as nonchalantly as he could.

The young Hyuuga's face lit up with a beautiful smile as she impulsively threw her tiny arms around him in a spontaneous hug. A second later, the suddenly mortified Hyuuga tried to back away, only for Naruto to wrap his own arms around, holding her to him in the most comforting way he knew how.

One arm wrapped around her, the other came to playfully ruffle her hair, drawing a content sigh from her as she snuggled into him a little more.

It was probably for the best, as the glare on Naruto's face as he stared at the room holding the little Hyuuga's father would have probably terrified her.

Now he understood something of why Hinata was the way she was. He could tell there was still something more to the story, as someone within the clan should have done something to look out for the sisters' well-being. But he understood enough to know that the Hyuuga head was at least partly responsible.

'Oh well,' he thought to himself as he ran his fingers through Hanabi's hair, a motion that always served to calm him when Kurenai did it to him. 'Looking after two Hyuuga heiresses can't be much harder than one.'

Moments later, Kurenai and Hinata exited the room, both looking at him and Hanabi in varying degrees of surprise.

"Hanabi-chan, Nii-sama, what are you doing?" Hinata asked in that quiet way of hers as she blinked her big eyes at them.

"Nee-chan, look, look!" Hanabi chirped excitedly as she spun in his arms to face her sister. "I made a friend! His name's Naruto, and...wait, how come-I mean, why did you call him Nii-sama? Does that mean you already know him?"

Hinata nodded unsurely as she glanced from him to her sister and back with just a hint of incredulity showing in her expression. Kurenai on the other hand, was barely restraining a delighted giggle at the tiny Hyuuga, as well as Naruto's interactions with her.

"Then if you're Nee-chan's Nii-sama, then that makes you my Naruto-niichan!" She declared boldly as she spun back around to grab his arm in both of hers. "C'mon, Niichan! Let's play!" She punctuated this statement with several ineffectual tugs on his arm, as if trying to physically move him to "play".

Seeing that Hinata was too surprised to assist him, and Kurenai clearly enjoying it too much, Naruto sighed regretfully, "Sorry, Hanabi. I have to go to the academy, so I can't play now." The sad thing was, he'd almost rather play with the four year old than sit through another pointless lecture, or deal with childish little brats pestering him.

Hanabi's good mood seemed to evaporate at that, as she stared at him like he'd just kicked her puppy. "Will you come play with me later?" She asked with wide, pleading eyes. Eyes that he could practically feel chiseling away at his defenses.

He briefly tried to come up with an excuse to get out of it -as he had no desire to spend any more time in Hyuuga compound than he had to- but in the end, when Hinata added her own pleading eyes to Hanabi's assault, he gave in. "Fine. I'll come get you after class is over. We'll go to the park or something."

Instantly, both of the Hyuuga heiresses' faces lit up, though Hanabi was easily the more excited of the two.

"Hurry back soon!" Hanabi called from the front gate, all pretenses of proper manners gone as she waved at them excitedly.

Hinata and Kurenai both returned the wave, while Naruto just gave a halfhearted motion with his hand as they left. Of course, neither of the females could just leave it at that.

"Nii-sama?" Hinata questioned quietly as she held his hand and walked beside and a little behind him. "Do you really think we can go to the park later?"

Naruto just shrugged. "I don't see why not. It's not like the park is a big deal or anything."

Hinata clearly disagreed, if the look on her face was anything to go by. Still, she nodded with barely a hint of uncertainty showing as the answer was apparently enough for her.

Kurenai on the other hand, was much more talkative. "That was so sweet of you, Naru-chan!" she giggled happily. "Promising that girl you'd be her friend. Why can't you be like that with other people?"

Naruto shrugged uncomfortably at that. "Don't get the wrong idea. I just felt like going to the park today, that's all."

Kurenai didn't look even remotely convinced. "Naruto, you hate the park." She pointed out amusedly.

"I don't hate it!" Naruto said quickly and just a tad more defensively than he would have liked. Seeing Hinata's confused and slightly upset expression, he added. "I just have better things to do most of the time, that's all."

Kurenai just laughed lightly. "Oh, Naruto. To think your one weakness would be cute little girls. I'm sure Anko will be…thrilled."

Naruto couldn't stop the full body flinch no matter how hard he tried. "I do not have a weakness for cute girls! And you can't tell Anko that either! I mean it!" he ordered as sternly as he could. That crazy bitch would never let him live it down if she got even a hint of such a thing, regardless of how untrue it was.

"Hmm…I suppose I could be convinced to keep my silence…" Kurenai mused, the pleased smile never leaving her lips.

"You can't blackmail me!" Naruto growled in angry disbelief. "Especially with things that aren't even true!"

"Truth is a matter of perspective." Kurenai replied sagely. "Besides, I think you have some more important things to worry about. Like that test you have today that I know you didn't study for." She finished with a light glare.

Naruto just scoffed. "Oh come on, Kurenai! What's the point in studying for a test that's on shit I already knew? It's like Iruka's intentionally torturing me! He hardly even goes over anything interesting, and he always gets mad if I hit someone "too hard". We're ninja! What's the point of sparring if we can't hit our opponents?"

"Your opponents are all younger and less experienced then you, Naru-chan." Kurenai scolded slightly. "Learning restraint is also an important aspect of being a ninja."

"Restraint?" Naruto questioned incredulously. "If restraint is so important, how come Anko never learned it?"

As usual, rather than answer his question Kurenai just sighed ruefully and affectionately stroked his head. "What am I going to do with you?"

Hinata giggled at his expression, which most definitely wasn't a pout, no matter what the two said.


Naruto sighed in exasperation as one little Hyuuga girl dragged him forward excitedly, while another clung to his other forearm like she'd be left behind otherwise. Both Hyuuga were chattering on in varying levels of volume and excitement while Naruto silently wondered how long he'd have to stay here.

"Nii-sama?" Hinata's curious voice suddenly interrupting his thoughts. "How did you get permission for us to come here?"

Naruto halted in his tracks at that. Turning to Hinata with slight trepidation¸ he incredulously asked, "Permission?" Permission for what exactly?

Hinata looked unsure, and more than slightly nervous at his question. "You know permission for Hanabi and me to come here."

Naruto blinked in surprise. 'They need permission to go to the park?' Naruto thought with a frown. 'I can't get Kurenai to stop pestering me to go to the park.'

"And just who was I supposed to get permission from?" Naruto asked, noticing how Hinata's eyes widened in panic.

"Oh, no!" she gasped in horror. "We have to go back! Before anyone notices we're gone! Quickly!"

Naruto stood there as she attempted to pull him back toward the Hyuuga estate. And she failed just as spectacularly as Hanabi, who was still trying to tug him further into the park. He frowned at the frantic girl, before giving a relatively light tug to pull her back towards him. "Hinata, calm down." Naruto said, careful not to seem angry or abrasive with the timid, fragile girl. "Why are you getting upset?"

Hinata fixed her wide, almost watery eyes on him as she gasped. "If anyone finds out we left without permission, we'll get scolded, and Nii-sama will get in trouble! Hurry, we have to go back!"

"But I want to play with Nii-chan!" Hanabi added her own cries to the mix as she resumed tugging him towards the park.

"We can't get Nii-sama in trouble, Hanabi-chan!" Hinata cried back as she tried again to pull him back towards the estate.

For his part, Naruto was torn between amusement at the tug of war the two sisters were playing, and confusion at the situation. Why the hell would they get in trouble for going to a park? Especially one that was mere blocks from their home? What, did they think someone was going to swoop in and abduct the two girls? Naruto thought back to the tension that seemed to radiate throughout the Hyuuga compound. Well, okay maybe that was a viable concern. Still, he was there to watch out for them, and he wasn't foolish enough to think that Kurenai wasn't nearby watching them with that insufferably pleased smile on her lips. So really, there was no need for all this panic.

Nodding to himself, Naruto carefully pulled his arm free from Hanabi –who promptly attached herself to his leg, as if to prevent him from leaving- and laid his hand on Hinata's head in a calming matter. "Hinata, it's all right." He said simply as she stared up at him in confusion. "Nothing bad is going to happen. And even if your…family…gets mad, they'll get mad at me, since I brought you here."

Hinata's eyes widened and she opened her mouth to protest, but he pushed on over her. "And I don't care about that. They can yell and scream at me all they want, I'll still be back to pick you up tomorrow, just like always. If anyone gets mad at you, just tell them that I said it was okay for you to come here. I promise, everything will be fine." He punctuated this statement by stroking her head in what he hoped was a comforting way.

Hinata still looked torn, but she let herself be guided further into the park.

When they first came across some playground equipment, the trio came to a halt for varying reasons.

Hanabi was plain ecstatic, and she was practically vibrating in excitement as she looked over the slides and swings, and various other pieces of equipment. Naruto assumed that this was her first time she'd come here in the presence of other children.

Hinata halted because she was still firmly attached to Naruto's arm, and so quite naturally stopped when he did. She smiled at Hanabi's excitement, before glancing worriedly at Naruto, who was standing stock still.

For his part, Naruto was taken by surprise by the memories that assaulted him as his eyes landed on the equipment. Painful memories of a period of his life he'd rather forget. There was a slide identical to the one he and she had gone down together. Over there was a teeter totter that was the same as one he and that man had played on together, Naruto often being stranded in the air until he repeated a childish rhyme involving farmers and someone named Charlie Brown. And after that, there was a set of swings, swings that were replaced in his mind by a single swing that the Old Man had once pushed him on.

Naruto didn't even realize he was growling lowly until Hinata hesitantly tugged on his jacket. "Nii-sama? What's wrong?" she asked nervously as her eyes darted around for whatever could make him angry.

Starting, and feeling slightly guilty for frightening her, Naruto made a conscious effort to push the memories away and focus on the moment, and the two little girls he'd promised to play with. "I'm fine, Hinata." He said reassuringly as he started forward once again, Hanabi practically running in circles around them. "So, what do you want to do first?" he asked the two as they reached the playground.

Hanabi came to a screeching halt at that, and then blushed, looking unbelievably embarrassed as she bowed her head. "…I don't know how to use any of this."

In what he felt was going to become a routine when dealing with the Hyuuga clan, Naruto stifled a sigh. Was he ever like this, in those days before he realized the forces that were arrayed against him? He couldn't remember.

Putting up a reassuring smile, Naruto took Hanabi's hand and led the way over to the swings. It was alright, he could play the part of teacher just as well as that of brother. And really, it's not like he was being forced to do anything horrendous.

"Why don't we start here." He said as he gently removed Hinata from his arm and scooped Hanabi up and set her on one of the swings. "It's real easy, just hold on to these ropes, and pump your legs while I push you."

Hanabi practically glowed with excitement as she grabbed on as instructed and began kicking her legs back and forth.

Pausing to correct her kicking, Naruto stepped behind her and gave her a light push, steadily increasing how hard he pushed, much to her laughing glee. Glancing over at Hinata, who was watching them with a happy smile on her face, Naruto instructed Hanabi to keep pumping her legs, and that he'd be back in a moment.

Walking over to Hinata, he asked, "Aren't you going to swing, Hinata?"

Said girl started, and frantically shook her head. "Oh, no! I'm fine, really! I don't want to be a bother, and Nii-sama is already playing with Hanabi-chan."

Naruto just barely kept the frown off his face as he gently grabbed her arm and pulled her over to the swing next to her sister and made her sit in it. Then, he stepped behind her and began alternating between pushing Hinata and Hanabi, soon eliciting matching giggles and laughter from the two girls as Hinata relaxed and enjoyed herself.

Soon, he had the two girls at a relatively high height, now only giving the occasional push to keep the two going. "Nee-chan, this is great!" Hanabi yelled as she hit the apex of her forward swing and dropped backwards. "It's like we're flying!" she added before she did something that stopped his heart. She let go of the swing a good eight feet in the air.

"Hanabi-chan!" Hinata screamed in a panic as the tiny girl went flying through the air.

Naruto was frozen for just a split second, before he darted forward and leapt into the air, catching Hanabi almost before the laughing girl could begin her descent. Landing on his feet, it took all of his willpower not to start screaming at the girl, who didn't appear to notice just how stupid her actions were. Hinata quickly ran up to them, tears in her eyes as she asked if Hanabi was okay. And before he could answer, Hanabi shouted, "This is fun! We should do this all the time, Nee-chan, Nii-chan!"

Naruto felt his eye twitching irritably. 'What have I gotten myself into?'


One Year Later

Naruto dodged Hinata's palm strike with practiced ease, before kicking at her lead shin to unbalance her. She gracefully retracted her foot and used the momentum to swing her body around 180 degrees to lash out with a marginally faster jab at his thigh. Naruto prevented this by grabbing her wrist, only to push it away when he felt a stinging sensation throughout his hand. "Good, good. You're Stinging Defense was much better that time, Hinata." He congratulated honestly as he shook his hand out, causing the girl to blush, before rushing at him again.

The Stinging Defense, as they called it was Hinata's attempt to neutralize one of the main methods to defend against the Jyuuken. One method was simply dodging, another was parrying. But the most damning to those who weren't fully trained yet was having their wrists grabbed by faster opponents. Hinata was attempting –with Naruto's help- to figure out a way to direct chakra from her body parts in a way similar to Jyuuken. If she was successful, anyone who grabbed her wrists in battle would be surprised to find their hand suddenly numb and all but useless.

The two circled each other for a moment, before Naruto went on the offensive himself. They both knew that Naruto was holding back quite a bit. But Naruto had long since learned that if he went all out and crushed her time and again, she just turned into a tearful, nervous wreck. He didn't quite understand why she reacted like that, but after some experimenting, he'd learned that the best way to spar with her was to keep himself just above her level, and to give congratulations for what she did right, and careful explanations as to how she could improve.

Whereas he imagined her father would just bark out things like "too slow" and "that's completely wrong", Naruto would offer alternatives and suggestions. When Naruto first kicked her shin, all those months ago, rather than say, "No, no, no! Never let yourself be knocked off balance!" he had instead said, "When you do that, try to use it to your advantage. If I kick at you like that and you pull your foot back, rather than try to reform your stance, use your momentum to move in closer to me, or to distance yourself according to the situation."

It took some coaxing, but eventually they settled into a routine where he could help her, while working on his "restraint" that Kurenai thought was so important.

Which was a good thing, as it had only taken a month or so of spending time with the Hyuuga sisters at the park before he realized that he had to use that time to train at least a little, or he'd go insane. And after a few times of running through katas or practicing chakra control or Genjutsu, it seemed obvious that Hinata would ask to join in.

Stepping back and intentionally setting himself up for a kick from Hinata, he decided the match had gone on long enough, and caught her foot, jerking her forward and dropping her to the ground.

To his surprise, rather than accept her defeat like she normally would, Hinata just let out an "oof!" and then tried to catch him with a rising kick from her other leg. She actually almost hit him, and only years of trying to avoid Anko allowed him to catch her foot in time.

Naruto looked down at her with slightly wide eyes and a pleased smile, eliciting yet another blush from the girl, though it wasn't as pronounced as it used to be. Then his smile turned downright mischievous as he secured her foot in his hands.

Hinata stiffened as she recognized that smile, and desperately tried to free herself. "Nii-sama! Please, no! I beg you, don't do it!" she whimpered as she tried to escape him.

Naruto just let out an evil chuckle and yanked her sandal off, before vindictively tickling the downed girl's foot.

"HAHAHA-STOP -AHAHAHAH-PLEASE-HEEHEEAHAHA-DON'T!" Hinata laughed hysterically as she squirmed on the ground, occasionally trying swipe at his arms to get him to release her. Unfortunately, Naruto was quite experienced in evading her attempts, and mercilessly continued.

After a moment, Naruto noticed something, or rather, someone missing. Normally when he did this, Hanabi was quick to jump in, usually on his side, but occasionally coming to her older sister's defense. So where was she? Stopping, he looked over to the side where Hanabi usually sat and watched them spar. Yep, there she was in her usual spot, arms wrapped around her legs, pouting as she glared at them over her knees.

Noticing his gaze, a heaving Hinata looked over as well, concern quickly covering her red face. "Hanabi-chan?" she called as she yanked her foot free and reclaimed her sandal. "What's wrong?"

For a moment, Naruto didn't think the younger Hyuuga was going to answer, but then she cried out, "I want to spar with Nii-chan too! It's not fair that you never let me, when you get to spar with him all the time!"

'Ah, this again.' Naruto thought to himself as he and Hinata approached her. "I've told you before, Hanabi. You're too little to spar with me yet. Maybe when you're older-"

"But why?" Hanabi interrupted, her voice clearly showing her frustration. "I spar Nee-chan all the time, and I almost always win! Why can't I spar with you too?"

Naruto sighed and looked to Hinata for help. Unfortunately, she was also looking at him with pleading eyes. 'Damn it…' Naruto mentally growled. He cursed the day those two realized they had a better chance of getting what they wanted from him if they worked together.

He purposefully looked away from them both as he tried to come up with a way to resolve this. He well and truly believed that Hanabi was too young to try to fight someone like him, despite her "winning streak" against Hinata. Naruto couldn't help but wonder how long it would take Hanabi to figure out that Hinata let her win more often than not. That in itself was slightly unsettling to Naruto, as Hinata really shouldn't just let her opponents win. Then again, it was in her nature to be gentle, and Naruto doubted she could ever bring herself to really hurt Hanabi.

Sighing, he wondered what would happen if he actually fought the girl. Would she be upset when she lost? Would Hinata be upset? Would it convince her to stop asking for at least a few years?

"Alright, fine." He sighed in resignation. "But just this once." He raised his voice sternly to be heard over Hanabi's cheering.

She practically skipped as she followed him over to the space they used for sparring, and Naruto set himself in a loose stance across from her.

Hinata looked back and forth between the two of them, before quietly calling, "Begin!"

Naruto blinked lazily, and almost jumped when Hanabi was right on top of him when he opened his eyes.

He took a startled half step backwards and then she struck. Hanabi's hands moved at an incredible speed given her age, faster than many of his so called classmates, and Naruto grit his teeth as a series of stabbing pains erupted from each area the little girl's fingers connected.

Snarling, and in more pain than he'd like to admit given the fact that the cause was a little girl, Naruto didn't think, didn't consider, he just acted…and punched Hanabi in the face, knocking her to the ground so hard she actually bounced a little.

It was only after –helped along by Hinata's horrified gasp- that Naruto's mind caught up with his body. "Oh shit!" Naruto muttered as his eyes darted around the park, terrified by the thought that Kurenai might have once again stopped in to spy on them.

As Hinata rushed to her sister's aid, Naruto carefully kept his eyes averted, not wanting to see the Hyuuga heiress's accusing stare.

So imagine his surprise when the younger of the two Hyuuga girls pushed herself back to her feet, rubbing at her cheek in a manner that even Naruto would have to call cute, before blinking her watery eyes and declaring. "That was a lucky shot, Nii-chan! I'll do better this time!"

Naruto and Hinata both blinked in surprise as Hanabi set herself back in her stance. Exchanging looks, Hinata stepped back and Naruto set himself in a cautious stance. Naruto cautiously eyed Hanabi for a moment, taking in the defiant look in her eyes, and the determination in her stance. He was surprised that she was handling getting hit like that so well, and couldn't suppress his curiosity.

Hinata glanced back and forth between them before hesitantly calling out, "Begin!"

Even though he was expecting it, Hanabi's speed still caught Naruto by surprise, landing several strikes before he struck her chest with a palm thrust, remembering to hold back at least somewhat this time.

Hanabi hit the ground with an audible "Oomph!" and once again, Hinata moved to help her. This time however, Hanabi climbed back to her feet before her elder sister could reach her. "I'll get you this time, Nii-chan!"

Naruto blinked in wonderment. Hanabi didn't start crying when he hit her. Nor did she get depressed either. She just got back up and demanded another chance. Unknown to himself, a wide grin that would make a certain Special Jounin proud stretched across his face.


"Owwie! Nee-chan, that hurts!" Hanabi whined sometime later as Hinata applied a medicinal cream to her cheek.

"Hanabi-chan, quit squirming." Hinata ordered gently. "This cream will help heal your bruises and scrapes."

"But it hurts!" Hanabi protested with one eye squeezed tightly shut.

Naruto watched the two Hyuuga girls with a content smile on his face. He was surprised to find Hanabi was so…stubborn. No matter how often he knocked her down, she just got back up and demanded another chance. Naruto found constantly pounding on her to be unexpectedly cathartic, and he didn't have to feel the slightest bit guilty over it either.

Hell, even Hanabi seemed to enjoy the fights, if the beaming expression she still wore throughout the whole thing was any sign. Or the disappointed look when Naruto finally called it quits for the day. And perhaps best of all, she was already showing improvement, slight though it was. Though it was probably to be expected, considering today was the first time she'd ever fought against anyone who didn't use Jyuuken.

Of course, now that he'd…vented, Naruto could see a problem with what he'd done. Despite Hinata's cream, Hanabi was sure to have some obvious bruises from this. Naruto would likely be made to answer for that, regardless of how much of a shitty parent he thought Hiashi was.

Naruto frowned thoughtfully as he considered his options. There was no real way to deny his involvement with the girls, and attempting to run from a clan where damn near every member possessed a Byakugan would be rather pointless. 'Besides,' he thought with a wry smile as he watched the two girls chatting happily. 'It's not like I can leave those two alone. They're about as helpless as kittens without me around.'

So, what options did that leave him? As the trio walked back towards the Hyuuga compound- Hanabi practically dancing around them in excitement as she chattered on and on with Hinata- Naruto considered every possible plan to avoid the Hyuuga clan's retribution, up to and including sparking off the seemingly inevitable bloodshed among the Hyuuga and then escaping into the night. Unfortunately, most of those plans would devastate Hinata and Hanabi.

"I don't believe this…" Naruto muttered to himself as they passed through the gate into the compound. "Am I really just going to take whatever punishment they come up with?"

"Hanabi, Hinata." Naruto stopped with a grimace as a familiar voice addressed them. "Come here."

Naruto didn't bother to keep his distaste hidden as he turned around and faced Hiashi who, as usual, ignored his presence in favor of his daughters.

"What happened to you, Hanabi?" the Hyuuga patriarch asked stoically. "Who did this to you?"

"Naruto-Niichan did!" Hanabi answered without hesitation, a bright smile on her face.

Naruto twitched at the unhesitating way Hanabi ratted him out, though in her defense, the young girl was probably still too excited by the day's events to think about the possible consequences. Then again, maybe she just understood her father better than him.

To his credit, Naruto was able to keep a more or less nonchalant look on his face when Hiashi set his judging eyes on him. "Hinata, Hanabi, go clean up and prepare for supper. Uzumaki, come with me."

Hinata gnawed at her lip worriedly and almost opened her mouth to say something, only to wince when Hiashi repeated in a firmer tone, "Now, Daughter."

"Hurry it up, Hyuuga." Naruto spoke in a faux impatient tone, unable to prevent the words from spilling out before his mind could catch up to them. "I've got shit to do, and you're holding me up."

Both of the Hyuuga Heiresses looked at him in utter shock at his words, before a glance from Hiashi sent both of them scurrying away.

Turning back to him, Hiashi walked past Naruto, heading towards the gate, forcing him to follow or be left behind in a, if not unfriendly territory, then certainly a dangerous one.

Naruto stiffly walked behind the Hyuuga clan head, ready to run at the first sign of trouble and growing more and more tense with each second of silence that passed between them. It was finally broken by Hiashi just as they reached the gate. "I trust you have a good reason for the condition of my daughter?" he asked as he turned to face him.

Staring into those blank, damn near white eyes, Naruto cringed internally. The man was standing perfectly at ease, his tone of voice the epitome of formal professionalism. Yet despite this, Naruto had no doubt that if he gave the wrong answer, he'd be hard pressed to make it out of the compound alive, despite the fact he was just meters away from the street. His previous comment certainly didn't help his case, though at least it got Hiashi's attention off his daughters.

Still, Naruto wasn't about to show any sign of intimidation to this man. "Of course." He replied as calmly as he could. "She wanted to spar, so we sparred."

Hiashi gazed at him dispassionately for a moment before asking. "Are you aware of your position, Uzumaki? Of how much leniency and responsibility is applied to you?"

Naruto frowned for a moment, unsure as to where the Hyuuga leader was going with this. "I suppose you're going to tell me." Naruto stated with a tinge of annoyance in his voice at the thought of an oncoming lecture.

"You have been allowed to come and go from this compound as you please. You've also been entrusted with the safety of my daughters whenever you take them out of this compound." Hiashi explained serenely, his eyes seeming to bore into Naruto's skull. "You have been granted these privileges for one reason, and one reason only. Do you know what that reason is?"

Hiashi didn't even bother to wait for an answer as he continued. "Because, as minor as it has been, Hinata has improved due to your…influence. That is the only reason. If inaHinata and Hanabi continue to see growth because of you, then the privileges will continue, and I will continue to ignore your actions. However, the moment you become a liability, you will find these doors closed to you forever."

Naruto jerked back and stared at the man as he walked away, his mind racing. Hiashi would "ignore his actions" so long as he didn't "become a liability"…did that mean that the Hyuuga knew something? Something about his plans? Or perhaps, about the Truth? Then why was he turning a blind eye? Wouldn't he gain favor by turning him in to the Old Man?

Naruto bit his lip so hard it bled. 'Shit, what does he know?' Naruto snarled to himself. 'What's his angle? If he thinks being associated with me can be a liability, then why would he let his daughters hang around me?'

Naruto walked away on shaky legs as his mind raced through the possibilities, coming up with a number of questions, and few answers.


One Year Later

"Stop fidgeting." Naruto lightly chided as he sat against the wall of the Hyuuga's main building. To his left, was Hinata sitting in the formal seiza position, patiently waiting for the meeting inside to end. To his right, Hanabi sat in a similar way, though she was constantly fidgeting.

"I'm not fidgeting!" Hanabi snapped, though the redness of her cheeks gave her away. "I'm just…excited to go to the Academy. That's all!"

Naruto snorted in amusement, while Hinata reassured her that she'd be fine, and thus had no reason to be anxious, which only added to Hanabi's protests. The poor girl was in for a disappointment at the academy that was for sure.

His head whipped to the side and the smile fell from his face, when the door next to them slid open to reveal a young woman in a Chuunin uniform. She appeared to be about twenty and had what -to Naruto anyway- seemed to be impracticably long, purple hair that reached down to her waist. Standing at about five-foot-six with dark eyes, the woman bowed to them politely.

"My name is Yugao Uzuki. It's very nice to meet you." Yugao greeted with a pleasant smile.

Naruto studied her as subtly as he could, which given the curious glance the Chuunin sent him, wasn't quite subtle enough. If the woman was hostile towards him, her ability to hide it was greater than his ability to detect it. Of course, it was possible that the woman was a danger not to him, but to one of the girls next to him. 'But would she be able to get past Hiashi? Would he care enough to stop her if she did? Could this be another one of his "tests"?' Naruto thought unsurely. 'Well, whatever the case, I'll just have to keep a close eye on her.'

Picking up on the awkward silence, and Hanabi nervously clinging to his leg, Naruto put on a mischievous smile. Putting a hand on her head, he ruffled Hanabi's hair and chuckled. "Say hello to your new babysitter, Hanabi."

"She's not my babysitter!" Hanabi protested as she latched both her hands onto Naruto's hand in an attempt to dislodge his hand, eliciting chuckles and giggles from the three onlookers.

'She'll be fine.' Naruto assured himself as the group slowly made their way from the compound. 'And I'll be there to make sure of it.'


AN:

Definitely not my best work, but hopefully it helped to clear things up a little. Suggestions for improvements would be beyond apprecieated, as I don't have much to work with for this right now.

Peace, Vaan.