Chapter 5 - A New Feeling

Sakura frowned. She just couldn't believe it. Earlier that day, much to her surprise, Ino had come barging into her house without any warning, rattling on and on about how she had talked with Naruto and how brilliant she was. Before Sakura had even had a chance to get a word in edgewise, she then went on to tell her Sasuke, the Sasuke Uchiha, was the brilliant mastermind behind Naruto and and Hinata's romance. The pink haired medic nin had finally managed to cut her best friend's rambling short at that point – after all, there was no way that Sasuke would ever do something like that, right?

Ino had said she didn't believe it at first either, but the more he thought about it, the more she thought that it could be possible. The last Uchiha would have glared kunai at anyone that dared voice the opinion that he even remotely cared about Naruto, but Sakura knew that he prized his friendship and rivalry with the whiskered troublemaker on their team.

And so, after talking it over with Ino, her blonde haired friend had charged her with this stupid 'top secret mission' to find out whether it was true or not. Sakura had protested at first – why did she have to be the one to quiz Sasuke when Ino was the one wanting answers? – but the Yamanaka girl had argued that, unlike Sakura, she wasn't Sasuke's teammate and that the pink haired medic nin would have a much better shot at wheedling some information out of him. Privately Sakura thought that her chances of getting Sasuke to open up about something like this were roughly the same as waking up to see Tonton flying past her bedroom window, but even so, Ino's logic did make sense. And she couldn't deny that she was very interested in just what had happened between Sasuke and Naruto to prompt the latter to ask Hinata out so unexpectedly.

Shaking her head with exasperation at the situation she found herself in, Sakura let out a sigh. Okay, she may have been curious too, but still – the things she did for her nosy friend.

So here she was, waiting outside of Sasuke's apartment, her clenched fist hovering an inch away from the door. For a few seconds Sakura just stood there, motionless, and to her annoyance she couldn't initially bring herself to rap on the wooden surface. Even as she tried to bring her fist down a new uncertainty or worry would pop up inside her head making her second guess herself or conjure up thoughts of Sasuke brushing her aside with his usual aloof attitude.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, Sakura mentally shook herself. Why was she making something that was so simple so difficult for herself? It was just a stupid door and she wasn't going to get any answers out of the Sharingan wielder by standing out here like a statue! Her irritation at her indecisiveness getting the better of her nerves, she gave it a hard knock three times.

After a tense wait, with Sakura's anticipation rising every passing second, the last Uchiha finally opened his door. His dark hair fell to the sides of his angular face, looking as well-groomed as ever. He was wearing a plain t-shirt with the Uchiha symbol on it and, as always, it was in pristine condition, as though it had been ironed mere minutes ago. His black eyes fell on Sakura, showing little emotion.

"Hi," Sakura greeted, smiling lightly. Already she could feel her stomach tangle into tight knots. Why'd he have to be so handsome all of the time? It was like torture, always seeing something that she knew she couldn't have. Sure, he had come back to Konoha and turned a new leaf, but so far he hadn't seemed the least bit interested in her as anything more than an ally, a teammate and at a push maybe a friend.

It was Naruto after all who brought him back. Not her.

Gloomily, Sakura couldn't help but reflect that Sasuke had probably forgotten about her confession to him, all those years ago. Or he just thought it wasn't important enough to bring up. But he didn't seem interested in other girls either. The pinkette had begun to wonder if maybe he was gay. 'Or asexual,' she thought to herself with a snort of repressed laughter. The sad part was that she was only half joking.

Sakura stared into his eyes and he seemed to do the same for a moment, a spark of emotion flitting across his face. But then his eyes returned to their usual impassive, almost bored expression, and Sakura was left to wonder whether she'd just imagined it all in the first place.

"So are you ready to go? I mean, if not, I don't mind waiting."

"No, I'm ready." His eyes flicked away from hers and he shut the door behind him.

They walked down the narrow hallway in silence, Sakura struggling to figure out how she was going to get the information out of Sasuke. There was no chance she could just ask him, 'Hey, did you play matchmaker with Naruto and Hinata?' Ino had tried to persuade her that it'd be easy, that he'd tell her anything, but although flattered, Sakura was very skeptical. They spent a lot of time together, but they barely ever had meaningful conversations. Most of them were just her prattling on and him responding with his usual grunt.

She guess she was lucky he even agreed to meet her. She knew Sasuke trained with Naruto almost everyday at this time, but to her surprise he'd said that he had nothing planned. By Sasuke's standards, that was practically a request to hang out with her.

When they arrived at the exit of the apartment building, Sasuke stopped and turned towards Sakura. The pink haired kunoichi was startled to note that rather than greeting her gaze with his own piercing stare, his black eyes were strangely lowered and didn't meet hers.

"... I forgot to say," he said in his smooth, deep voice that that Sakura loved so much, "... you look... nice."

Sakura's green eyes blinked a few times as her mind processed what he had just said. She had worn a skirt, shorter because of the heat of the day, and a shirt Ino had lent her that hugged her tightly without being too revealing, but she would never have guessed that Sasuke might actually appreciate her efforts, let alone compliment her.

"W-W-Wha–" she stammered incredulously, her voice high pitched with astonishment.

Sasuke's eyebrow twitched in annoyance before he grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the building. "Nothing," he muttered. "Forget I said it."

Looking at his back, Sakura couldn't see the slight hint of color on his cheeks.

Naruto leaned against a tree, relieved that the branches overhead were blocking the worst of the sun's rays and gulping down the water from the canteen Hinata had offered to him. He brought it away from his lips and sighed contentedly. The chakra burns he'd taken earlier had almost completely faded by now and even the blow to the chest from Hinata's Gentle Step Twin Lion Fists had died down to little more than a dull ache. Hinata had checked his recovery with her Byakugan too and she had assured him that almost all his chakra points were functioning again.

"I'm glad you heal so quickly," Hinata commented.

"Ah, me too! It'd be a pain to have to go and have Granny or Sakura heal me every time I got a scratch!" Naruto agreed.

"I'm sorry this wasn't really training for you though," she replied, glancing up at Naruto a little hesitantly. "You were mostly just helping me the whole time. You didn't get to do much other than dodge..."

"Nah, it's fine. It's nice to have something different. With Sasuke it's always genjustu and lightning and that stuff. And besides, next time we train together I'll get the chance to show you some of my new jutsu." Realizing that he was getting ahead of himself, Naruto backtracked hurriedly, waving his hands. "Erm, y'know, as long as you want to keep sparring with me that is."

Hinata beamed at him brightly, delighted by his offer. "Thank you, Naruto… I'd really like that,"' she said softly.

The blond blushed and turned his head, but he couldn't keep his eyes off of her. Her face was lit up with an honest smile that spread right to her pearly eyes and for a few seconds he found himself gazing at her, his heart skipping a beat. "Sure, Hinata. No problem."

Hinata looked downwards for a second, looking slightly shy but no less radiant to Naruto's eyes. Inching his hand closer, he reached out slowly to clasp her smaller palm in his, squeezing gently and grinning softly as he saw her eyes widen minutely before tightening her own grip, her lips molding into a tender smile.

The Hyuuga girl pressed closer to him, letting her head rest against his chest and Naruto instinctively wrapped his free arm around her waist, letting out a hum of contentment. The combination of the shade and the peaceful feeling of the pale eyed girl leaning against him made him feel completely relaxed, and as she let out a sigh of comfort at the contact he had to fight back a chuckle; she he had no idea how cute she could be when she did little things like that.

A strand of inky hair had come loose from her ponytail as she had ducked down, hanging across her face messily, and Naruto had almost found himself brushing it back behind her ear before catching himself just in time, mentally shaking himself out of his reverie. He just felt so comfortable around her that he couldn't help himself – it was so natural, so easy.

As he glanced down at her again, feeling her light breath against his neck, his own breath caught in his throat. He couldn't explain it, but the atmosphere had somehow shifted and he was struck by how close Hinata was to him. As if triggered by the physical contact, suddenly blood was pounding in his ears and his eyes were drawn, fascinated, to every last feature of the Hyuuga heiress' face – especially her lips, still graced with that soft smile.

He remembered, with a surging feeling of warmth that spread throughout his body, how soft her face had felt when he wiped away her tears on their first date, the image of her pale neck in the moonlight as he put the necklace on her and how perfectly she had fit inside of his arms earlier that day.

The whiskered boy found himself drawn in closer, so that he was mere inches away from her face, and Hinata raised her head from his chest, letting out a muffled squeak as she noticed his proximity. "N-Naruto…" she stuttered, her face hot and mind whirling as he leaned in towards her. Unconsciously she wetted her lips, her breath coming in barely more than gasps as Naruto's head filled her vision. The expression on his face sent electric jolts across the surface of her skin – he was looking at her so intensely, as though every last scrap of his attention was directed solely on her. She was dimly aware that her cheeks must have been cherry red, but she was far too focused on the blond boy in front of her to care. Each second felt drawn out to the limit and her body was tense with anticipation, but what exactly she was meant to be anticipating she honestly couldn't say. "... I-I... I forgot what I was going to say."

A small breeze disturbed the still air and Naruto noticed the loose strand of Hinata's hair he had picked up on earlier swaying from side to side. His body moving as if he was weightless, the blond reached out and took the strand of hair between his fingers. "Oh," he said tucking it behind her ear, his fingers lingering on her skin. "Was it important?"

"... I... I don't remember," she said in a whisper. She couldn't think of anything. She was too overwhelmed by Naruto's touch, as his callused fingertips gently traced her jawline and eventually reached her chin.

His breath coming slightly faster than usual, Naruto brought her face up, so he could see it fully. Hinata's cheeks were dusted with pink, her eyes half-closed as she gazed at him with her lips parted slightly.

There was a smudge of dirt on her jaw, most likely acquired some time during their spar. In fact the training session had left her hot, sweaty and covered in dust and bits of grass, but as far as Naruto was concerned that just showed that she had given it her all. And the more he took in her indigo hair, pearly eyes and kind smile, the more he realized… she really was beautiful. Why hadn't he figured that out before now?

Naruto edged closer yet again, now barely more than an inch away from Hinata. He breathed in deeply, savouring the grassy freshness of the air mixed with the faintest fragrance of strawberry – 'Maybe from her shampoo,' he thought to himself idly – and, fascinated, watched the warm streams of sunlight pouring through the tree canopy playing across her pale, smooth skin.

"Hinata…" Naruto breathed out, locking gazes with her and questioning her wordlessly. The moment seemed to extend indefinitely, everything poised on a knife edge. And then, spurred on by an impulse and the expression in her eyes – apprehension, certainly, but he was almost sure he could see the faintest flicker of excitement too – Naruto finally acted, pressing his slightly chapped lips against her warm ones.

Hinata stiffened at first, her eyes widening as a wave of uncertainty and hesitancy hit her. But then she snapped back to the reality of what was happening – Naruto was kissing her and she wasn't going to waste even an instant thinking about what ifs when she could be savouring the moment for as long as possible.

Standing up on tiptoe, Hinata pressed her lips back against Naruto's, timidly at first but slowly growing in confidence as she felt him shift his weight slightly to meet her mouth more easily. Feeling herself melting into the kiss bit by bit, Hinata relaxed, closing her eyes and allowing the sensations to wash over her. She lifted her arms that had hung limp at her sides to wrap around his neck, her hands tangling in his blond hair as she pulled him closer.

She had imagined this scenario so many times in her mind, but she had never captured what she was feeling now. The warm sensation of his lips was simple, but it felt so gentle and undemanding to her that it was perfect and the tingles running down her spine as he cupped her face in his hand were amazing. Never before had she felt so close to Naruto.

Eventually – Hinata had lost all track of time for the duration of the kiss, but she guessed it couldn't have been any longer than thirty seconds or so – they parted, both breathing deeply. Not wanting the feeling of blissful togetherness to end, Hinata hugged him even more tightly, burying her head into Naruto's chest as the taller boy instinctively stroked his hands up and down her back.

Staring down at the top of Hinata's head, her face hidden in his T-shirt as she affectionately snuggled closer to him, Naruto blinked, dazed. "That was..." Naruto started, still in mild disbelief at what he had just done. "… That was new." As soon as he'd pressed his lips against her own he had immediately wondered if he was doing the right thing – he didn't even know if he was ready for such a step, let alone Hinata – but then, to his amazement, she had responded by kissing him back with just as much enthusiasm as him and all thoughts went completely out the window as he found himself immersed in the sensation of the Hyuuga girl's lips.

"Mhm..." Hinata inhaled the scent of his body that she just couldn't get enough of. Smiling peacefully into the fabric of his unzipped jacket, feeling as safe and happy as she could ever remember being, she mumbled quietly, "… I still don't remember what I was going to say."

Despite his cheeks still being flushed the blond grinned impishly, his eyes dancing. "Oh, that's too bad," he commented airily, his voice full of laughter. Even now that the kiss had ended his body felt as though it was quite literally buzzing. "It can't have been that important if you forgot though, right?"

Hinata giggled, shaking her head at Naruto's silliness. "Oh of course, you're right," she replied, smiling to herself. "I think it might have been something to do with my cousin saying that he wanted to start overseeing all of our dates from now on. He might even be here now… but that's not important at all."

Naruto's jaw dropped at the thought of the Hyuuga prodigy watching over him and his face went very pale, before noticing Hinata was stifling her laughter and realising that she was joking. "You're so mean," he grumbled, pouting at her in that way that Hinata secretly found adorable. "And anyway, Neji going on our dates would be a real mood killer; he's –" Naruto made a face, trying to find the right word to describe him "– he's such a stick in the mud,"

Letting out a very unladylike snort of amusement as she tried to fend off her giggles at Naruto's description of Neji, Hinata's laughter finally died down. Gazing at Naruto, his eyes shimmering with laughter, she felt a great surge of affection swelling up inside of her and suddenly the moment felt right. Before she'd even thought about it she found herself speaking, in a strong and clear voice, "Naruto, I love you."

Naruto's eyes widened at her words, not expecting them at all. He couldn't stop the image of her standing with her back to him and defending him with her life from flashing through his mind. Her voice sounded the same as it did back then, even though the setting and circumstances were completely different. What was he supposed to say now? He really wanted to tell her that he loved her back – in fact, every instinct in his body was screaming at him to – but he couldn't say he loved her if he didn't know for sure, could he? He knew he felt something for her that he'd never even come close to experiencing with anyone else, but that was just it; this was all so new to him and he had nothing to compare his feelings for Hinata with, so how could he know if it was love or not?

"Hinata…" Naruto's forehead furrowed as he tried to express exactly how he felt. "I really like you. Really, really like you. Right now, all I can think about is how much I like being around you. But…" He shrugged his shoulders hopelessly, struggling with himself. This was harder than anything he'd ever tried to put into words before, since he couldn't define how he felt even in his own head – how was he supposed to explain it to her when he couldn't explain it even to himself? "I just don't know if it's love, y'know?"

As Hinata stayed silent for a second or two, Naruto hastily added, "But that doesn't mean I don't care for you – I do, so much it's crazy. You're…" He swallowed thickly and continued hoarsely, "You're probably the most important person in my life right now. I don't want what we have together to end. I can't say I love you right now, 'cos I don't know, but… I really want to. And when I have an answer, I promise I'll tell you,"

Despite feeling almost overwhelmed by everything he had just said, Hinata placed her hands gently on his shoulders and looked his in the eyes. "Naruto, it's okay," she whispered reassuringly, seeing how agitated has was. "I understand."

And it was true, she did understand; even now, after their first few dates, it wasn't fair for her to have any expectation for him to love her back. All she wanted was for him to be happy and to enjoy the time they spent together as much as possible. "I just wanted to let you know that my feelings haven't changed… and that you're still special to me."

Naruto hugged her tightly against his body, feeling almost humbled by her words. How could someone so amazing and understanding love him? "Thanks, Hinata," he said in a low voice. "I'm really glad that you told me again. It means a lot to me. Especially since you're the first person ever to say anything like that to me."

"Really?" Hinata asked, feeling both sadness and sympathy jabbing at her heart. She knew Naruto had a lonely upbringing… but she was the only person ever to say that they loved him? It may have been different now, with Naruto having precious people of his own to protect and the entire village acknowledging the orange clad Jinchuuriki as a hero, but still, not having a single person ever tell him how much he meant to them must have hurt, no matter how much he tried to hide it. Hinata made a mental note to try and tell him that she loved him more often now – if she could make up for even a tiny bit of the loneliness Naruto had previously suffered then it would be more than worth the effort.

Naruto nodded at her. "Yup, I'll never be able to forget it, no matter what happens. Even if things don't work out between us... I'll always consider you really special too!" He grinned, showing off his teeth. "Now c'mon, we were supposed to be having the rest of our date after we finished training, right?"

Naruto took hold of Hinata's hand, the feeling of her palm in his now familiar, and Hinata smiled and ran her thumb across his knuckles gently in response. As they turned to walk back to the village Hinata thought she saw a wisp of brown hair disappear into the forest out of the corner of her eye, but she didn't even give it a second glance. She was just too in love to care.

End of Chapter 5

A/N: So yes, 'the big moment' arrived! Hopefully you guys are satified with this chapter :) I love reading the reviews you guys write meand I'm still kind of in shock that the count is already past 40. Thanks so much for reading this story, as I'm having a blast writing it!

Oh, and I wouldn't mind hearing theories about who you think was hiding in the woods ;)

- Brita