Umino Iruka sighed as he watched Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Choji make the Sign of Harmony and begin to talk about how 'troublesome' the spars where. The momentary pause gave Iruka a chance to talk to one of the students in the next spar. The Academy teacher approached his favorite, and by far most difficult, student. Uzumaki Naruto was looking eagerly at each of his classmates. The boy had a firm grip on the collar of his black t-shirt with an orange Whirlpool symbol in the center. Iruka sighed at the combination of eagerness and distrust in the young man's eyes. Naruto was a notorious prankster, much like Iruka had once been. Also like Iruka, Naruto was a prankster to fill a void in his life. Naruto was socially isolated for things beyond his control.
By a tragedy of timing, Uzumaki Naruto was the container of the Kyūbi.
Iruka was forbidden, on pain of death, from revealing the truth to Naruto. Instead, Iruka tried to do what he could to help Naruto out. The teacher, sadly, admitted that he had been as harsh as the other villagers when he first met Naruto. The Demon Fox had killed Iruka's parents, after all. In the short time Iruka had known Naruto, all his concerns about the Fox had vanished. Now, Iruka's main concerns were making sure Naruto paid attention in class, had enough groceries, and did his laundry.
Again, Iruka found himself sighing at something Naruto-related. Iruka had purchased nearly every piece of clothing Naruto owned. The only item in Naruto's wardrobe that Iruka hadn't purchased was the pair of goggles that were practically welded to Naruto's head.
"Naruto..." Iruka spoke as he ended his internal observations. The blond-haired troublemaker looked up and grinned.
"You're fighting next," Iruka whispered. Naruto instantly brightened and pumped his fist. "BUT!"
Naruto recognized Iruka's tone and calmed down...slightly. "Yeah, boss?"
The teacher allowed himself to chuckle. Naruto only called him 'boss' when Iruka used his most authoritative voice or told Naruto about some of his childhood pranks. "I want you to follow the protocols for the spars."
"But that's a load of crap! We're fighting and that stuff takes forever..." Naruto whined.
"And here I thought you'd be willing to be more patient if ramen was involved..." Iruka said idly. The Academy student's eyes lit up.
"Why didn't you say that in the first place!" Naruto shouted and grinned. "I'm going to be awesome at those lame protocols!"
Iruka sighed and pointed to the ring. "Next is Uzumaki Naruto and..." Naruto chuckled as he took his place. "Uchiha Sasuke!"
Naruto watched as nearly every girl erupted into cheers for the Last Uchiha.
'He's so popular. Imagine how popular I'm going to be when I whoop him!' Naruto thought excitedly. Iruka walked up to his position and sighed. "Uzumaki Naruto, take your position," the Teacher announced. Naruto made the sign of combat and smirked. A loud sneeze filled the air, but that wasn't what ensnared Naruto's attention.
"G-good luck, Naruto-kun," a girl's voice drifted over the silence between Iruka's announcements. The voice was soft, but Naruto clearly heard the girl. Naruto lowered his hand from the sign of combat and was bordering on shock. He had heard girls call other guys 'kun' before, but none had ever called him Naruto-kun before. Naruto felt a fuzzy feeling in his stomach. It was similar to the rush he got after a really successful prank.
The fuzzy feeling was quickly replaced by a sharp pain on Naruto's right cheek. Evidently, Iruka had started the spar. Sasuke had been quick to take advantage of Naruto's distraction and clocked him. Most of the class erupted into laughter. Naruto sat up and rubbed his cheek. Sasuke, to Naruto's surprise, wasn't gloating. He was simply looking at Naruto like he wasn't there.
'That's a bit creepy...' Naruto thought. The prankster turned an angry glance to the uproarious class. They were all laughing at him. He hated that. They were taking pleasure in his failure. Naruto saw that Shikamaru and Chouji, the two boys who fought before Sasuke and Naruto, weren't laughing. Kiba, his dog Akamaru, and Aburame Shino weren't laughing. That helped Naruto's anger melt away as his gaze worked its way left and settled on the only girl not laughing. Strangely, the white-eyed girl looked mortified instead of amused.
"I-I'm s-sorry!" She squawked before turning and running. The class turned their laughter on the retreating form of the girl. Naruto was once again caught off guard by the mystery girl.
'She apologized?' Naruto questioned himself. He brushed himself off, and, in his highly distracted state, he didn't hear Iruka-sensei tell him to make the Sign of Harmony with Sasuke. Instead, he turned to the laughing class.
"Most of you suck," the troublemaker spat and started to chase after the girl who had wished him luck. Naruto was quick. It was a product of running from annoyed civilians who wanted to 'discuss' his latest prank. Naruto had also gotten pretty good at dodging lettuce or tomatoes, but he didn't expect the girl to start chucking produce at him.
'Well, maybe,' Naruto admitted to himself. Girls had always confused him. Naruto had seen 'friendships' among some of his girl classmates begin, end, and start back up in the space of an hour. It wouldn't surprise him if the mystery girl started chucking produce at him after apologizing earlier.
Naruto caught a flash of tan in the distance. He wasn't sure if he should be annoyed or impressed by the girl's speed. He wasn't mad or anything. Naruto could count the people, other than the girl, he wasn't mad at on one hand. Naruto changed paths and clamored over a small fence separating the Academy training grounds from the academic grounds. His shortcut paid off and he landed only a few feet away from the girl.
"Wait!" Naruto shouted. The girl made an 'eep' sound and tripped a bit. "You okay?"
"I, I'm sorry!" The girl repeated her earlier statement.
"You weren't the guy who clocked me," Naruto pointed out.
"Don't worry about it! Me being caught off guard is the only way a chump like Sasuke could beat me!" Naruto thumped his chest as tried to calm the girl down. "By the way, what's your name? I'm, uh, kinda drawing a blank."
"H-Hyūga Hinata," Hinata revealed. Naruto cocked his head to the side as several thoughts fought for the forefront of his mind. First, was the fact that Hinata was from one of Konoha's biggest clans. That was pretty cool. Second, she looked familiar but Naruto couldn't place it. Finally, he wasn't sure how to deal with her.
'How do guys treat girls who call them -kun?' Naruto thought quickly. An image of Sasuke scoffing and calling the girls 'an annoyance' flashed in his mind. 'That won't work...'
Naruto quickly remembered a time he was running from one of his pranking targets. He had found an out of the way place to hide until the guy calmed down. Naruto saw another guy and a girl talking. The girl had said something about confessing. Naruto wasn't sure what she did, but boy did she look nervous. Naruto assumed she was apologizing for something. The apology must have been awesome, because the guy hugged the girl real tight and called her something-chan. The two then walked off hand-in-hand for ice cream.
'Okay! This'll work. Hinata's apologizing to me for some reason, called me Naruto-kun, and is really nervous. It worked for that guy and he's nowhere near as awesome as me,' Naruto assured himself.
"Well, nice to meet you Hinata-chan," Naruto said with a beaming smile.
Hinata Hyūga was running again. There was no destination or goal as long as it took her far away from the jeering and laughter of her classmates.
Far away from her latest failure.
Hinata had only wanted to encourage Naruto-kun. Instead, her words had led to a humiliating defeat. Defeat...the word reminded her of the last time she had run like this. It was the day Hanabi had defeated her in the spar. Hinata had been so ashamed of her failure and of the weight of her father's disappointment. She had simply run. That had led to the humiliating and terrifying encounter with the bullies. Hinata had been exhausted, chakra-wise, emotionally and physically, from her spar and the run. Then Naruto-kun had arrived. He tried so hard to selflessly protect her, but all he had received was a severe beating from the three older boys. The only thanks Hinata could show was a few weak protests as Kō dragged her away.
'How can he even look at me now? I've only put him in danger!' Hinata thought while struggling not to cry.
Hinata needed a place to hide until the end of the Academy day. She knew of a isolated nook and was heading there. The Hyūga heiress fervently hoped she could outrun Naruto for a little longer. If she could find a quiet place, perhaps she could find the right words to keep Naruto from hating her.
"Wait!" Naruto's voice rang out and Hinata felt her body freeze up. She tried to stifle a shout of surprise, but it came out as an 'eep'.
"I-I'm sorry!" Hinata cried out. Her desperation to salvage any chance of friendship with Naruto overrode her desire to continue running.
"You weren't the guy who clocked me," Naruto said warmly.
"But," Naruto's words had caught Hinata as off guard as his sudden appearance. Hinata had to know why he was so casually brushing off her role in his loss to Sasuke. Her next words caught in her throat the second she looked up. Naruto's eyes had a...depth to them that Hinata quickly lost herself in.
"Don't worry about it! Me being caught off guard is the only way a chump like Sasuke could beat me!" Naruto spoke with undeniable confidence. Hinata wished she could find a fraction of that confidence within herself. A moment later, Hinata came to a realization that caused her heart to beat a million miles per hour, and not from her earlier physical exertion.
'He's trying to cheer me up! He doesn't hate me,' the Hyūga girl thought as a wave of relief washed over her.
"By the way, what's your name? I'm, uh, kinda drawing a blank." Naruto's admission that he didn't even know her name caused her earlier budding hope to falter.
"H-Hyūga Hinata," Hinata managed to force out. The situation was an emotional roller-coaster and it was all Hinata could do to not collapse then and there. Naruto was not making things any easier. He had cocked his head to the side with a faint smile tugging at his lips. Hinata was perfectly aware that her blush wasn't solely due to her running anymore. Naruto was so...cute. He wasn't classically handsome like Hinata's father or Sasuke. Naruto was far too warm and emotional for that label to ever be applied to his appearance. Hinata was actually grateful for the lack of labels one could apply to Naruto. He was such a unique and free spirit. Labels would just seem out of place attached to Naruto.
"Well, nice to meet you Hinata-chan," Naruto said sincerely and with a smile that erased all her previous doubts.
*End Hinata's POV*
Naruto felt relieved that Hinata was smiling. He had to admit, it was a lot better to see a girl smiling than on the verge of tears.
'She's got really cool eyes,' Naruto thought. "Looks like we've missed the start of math," the boy pointed out. Hinata gulped as she realized the new depths to her situation.
"Well, if we're going to skip, let's at least do something we'll enjoy," Naruto said with a grin that put Hinata somewhat at ease. "Hey, do you like zenzai?"
"Z-zenzai?" Hinata nervously parroted Naruto's last word. Naruto nodded enthusiastically. "I...it is my second favorite food."
"Mine too!" Naruto shouted excitedly. "If you're favorite food is ramen, you'll easily replace Iruka-sensei as my best friend!"
"I...I've only had ramen once..." Hinata confessed. Naruto whirled around and grabbed her by the shoulders. The Hyūga girl squeaked a bit in surprise.
"Only once?" Naruto exclaimed. Hinata could only nod a bit numbly. Even in her most optimistic dreams, she had never expected her simple 'good luck' to lead to Naruto being this friendly. "I'm so sorry, Hinata-chan! If I had known you were suffering from the horrible, inhuman, monstrous crime of Ramen Deprivation, I wouldn't have waited so long to help you! Can you ever forgive me?"
"I...There's nothing to forgive..." Hinata whispered. Naruto was close enough to hear her. The boy hummed questioningly. Hinata took a deep breath. "Y...you don't remember a fight you had a few years ago? Where you...fought some older students?"
Naruto cocked his head as he tried to remember. "Were there three of them?"
Hinata nodded. She felt the tears Naruto's kind acceptance had defeated threatening to return. "Y..yes."
"That was you!" Naruto shouted. Hinata would have turned to run, but Naruto hadn't let go of her shoulders. "Those jackasses didn't hurt you or anything did they? You got out of there okay, right?"
Once again, Naruto had done the exact opposite of what Hinata had expected. She had been prepared for Naruto to become angry and disappointed.
She had expected him to walk away like her father always did.
Hinata was not prepared for the honest concern in his voice. She had not been prepared for him to care.
"I...I wasn't hurt..." Hinata forced out. Naruto let out a relieved breath. "But you were! And I couldn't do anything! Kō-san dragged me away before I could help you!"
"But you wanted to help me right?" Naruto asked. Hinata could only nod. "Then everything's cool. It wasn't your fault that Kō guy snatched you and took you home."
Hinata didn't realize her next action until Naruto started giggling. She had actually poked Naruto in the stomach. Her mind was in such a haze that she had to confirm that Naruto was actually real and not the product of a happy dream.
"S-sorry! I...I had thought I had...fainted and that...you were a...dream. No, no one other than Kō-san or okaa-san has ever been this nice to me," Hinata confessed and felt a few of the tears she had been desperately holding back trickle down her cheeks.
"I should be saying I'm sorry! I don't know what I did, but I know making you cry wasn't part of the plan! Man, we really need that zenzai!" Naruto started to panic. He grabbed Hinata's hand without further thought and led her out of the Academy grounds.
Naruto was guiding Hinata through the streets of Konoha. The pair was sticking to the quieter sections of the city. Hinata was grateful that the Academy was far from the Hyūga complex. Naruto cast a glance at Hinata and grinned broadly.
"Is this your first time skipping class?"
"Yes...and to be honest, I'm a bit terrified," Hinata admitted quickly. Naruto's smile faded away and he chewed on his lip for a moment.
"There's a place you can hide out while I get the zenzai. When we get back, I'll give you a copy of that worksheet," Naruto assured Hinata.
"You knew what the assignment was going to be?" Hinata asked.
Naruto sighed. "Yeah, Iruka-sensei had a feeling I was going to skip today. He exchanged paying for my groceries this week by forcing me to finish the worksheet early. And...he kinda gave me an extra. I get the feeling he doesn't exactly trust me to turn stuff in."
"Thank you," Hinata said quietly as the pair reached Naruto's hiding place.
"Don't worry about it. We're friends right?" Naruto prompted.
"Y-yes! We, we are friends!" Hinata said excitedly.
"Hell yes! I got a friend who isn't old enough to be, like, my brother or something!" Naruto shouted while jumping up and down. His enthusiasm was contagious and Hinata couldn't help but laugh.
"You...you are my first friend too..." Hinata confessed. Naruto took her hand and Hinata suddenly went beet-red.
"Well, I think that makes us best friends," Naruto announced proudly to the world. "I'll be back with the zenzai!"
Hinata pulled the hand Naruto had held for so long to her chest. It seemed like an age ago that she wished Naruto good luck. In reality, it had only been a half-hour at most. Hinata tried a breathing exercise Kō had shown her once. She had just begun to calm down when Naruto returned with the zenzai.
"T-thank you," Hinata said as she accepted the zenzai. The two children ate in a companionable silence for a moment. "I...I can't believe I'm skipping class."
"Today is a day for firsts," Naruto responded sagely.
"I, I still can't believe we like the same food," the Hyūga girl said quietly. Naruto grinned as he popped some more zenzai in his mouth.
"Got an idea," he said after swallowing. "We'll each ask a question and answer it."
Hinata smiled. She liked the idea. It was a chance to get to know her best friend better. "I like that idea."
"I'll start..." Naruto began, but paused to wolf down his zenzai. He swallowed theatrically. "Ok, what are your hobbies?"
Hinata ate her zenzai happily, but with impeccable manners. "M-my hobbies are flower pressing and..." Hinata paused. The demands of her, somewhat precarious, position as Hyūga heiress did not leave much time for hobbies. If she was not at the Academy, then she was training in Jūken, etiquette, or finances. "I...guess gardening."
"Gardening?" Naruto asked in surprise.
"Yes," Hinata reconfirmed.
"That's awesome!" Naruto exclaimed. "My Turn! I love pulling pranks and...I actually garden a bit!"
"W-we have m-more in common than I thought..." Hinata whispered in shock.
"Yeah..." Naruto's voice trailed off as he began to think. "Uh, your turn, Hinata-chan!"
"Ano...What is your dream for the future?" Hinata asked, even though she knew Naruto's answer. She was hoping to experience more of his unshakable self-confidence or gain a new insight into Naruto's life.
"I'm going to be Hokage. When I'm Hokage, more people will have to treat me with respect," the aspiring shinobi stated with absolute certainty.
"Y-you will always have my respect, Naruto-kun," Hinata assured him.
"Thanks..." Naruto said in little more than a whisper as he looked away.
'Was that a...blush?' Hinata thought in shock.
"So, your turn! What's your dream?" The enthusiasm that initially drew Hinata to Naruto had returned full force.
"I...I want to make my father proud," the Hyūga heiress revealed. "It...it is all I've ever tried to do."
"He should already be proud of you! You're incredible!" Naruto was indignant at the thought a parent could be anything but proud of their child. The orphan had an idealized view of the relationship between a child and his or her parents.
"T-thank you, Naruto-kun," Hinata responded safely. She didn't want to dive into her own pain. Hinata felt that she could trust Naruto, but she wasn't ready to air her dirty laundry.
"You're welcome," Naruto said as he stood up. "I think we've had enough fun for now. Let's go take a nap while Iruka-sensei drones on about something boring like why Iwa sucks or something."
Naruto helped Hinata to her feet and the pair of truants headed back to the Academy. Naruto, an experienced skipper, quietly showed Hinata a fool-proof way back into the Academy. The pair had a tense moment when Mizuki emerged from a storage shed. The moment passed quickly and the couple made it back to the class right before the next lesson started. Naruto had memorized the room schedule and perfected playing hooky.
"Math is held in another room for group work," Naruto explained as the pair slipped back in line.
Iruka shot Naruto an annoyed glare as the troublemaker and the heiress took their seats in the back.
"I-is Iruka-sensei mad at us?" Hinata whispered during a lull. Iruka was waiting for the usual argument over which one of Sasuke's 'True Loves' would get to sit next to the Last Uchiha to end before starting the lesson.
"Nah, he'll be annoyed at me for a bit, but it'll be cool later," Naruto promised. Hinata nodded her head.
'I still can't believe I skipped class!' Hinata's mind was still racing.
"Now that the wonders of young love have sorted themselves out for this period, we will begin," Iruka chided the classroom. Every young woman in the class blushed. The majority stole a glance at Uchiha Sasuke. Hinata, however, looked to her left. Naruto was too busy snickering at the looks of annoyance on several of his male classmates' faces to notice Hinata's glance. The scarred Chuunin groaned and began his lesson about the relationship between a Hidden Village and a nation's Daimyo.
Naruto followed his earlier suggestion and took a nap. Hinata swallowed back a giggle at her newly declared best friend's antics. After a while, Iruka concluded his lecture by throwing an eraser at Naruto's head. The boy didn't react with loud indignation like most expected. Instead, Naruto simply sat up and smiled.
"Done already?" Naruto asked.
"Yes, but you will remain after class," Iruka grumbled. Naruto simply flashed a thumbs-up. "Class dismissed."
"Run Sasuke! They're trying to flank you!" Naruto shouted out in alarm. Sasuke looked around and saw a trio of girls trying sneak up on him. The Last Uchiha bolted and escaped the growing mob. Naruto was cracking up as the classroom emptied. Soon, the only remaining people in the classroom were Naruto, Iruka and Hinata.
"Hinata, I am not pleased that you left campus with Naruto. However, I understand the situation and will not be punishing you or marking this on your record," Iruka explained. 'Mainly because I know how harshly your Clan would treat you,' the teacher added mentally. Iruka pulled a sheet from the drawer.
"Thank you very much, Iruka-sensei!" Hinata bowed deeply. She was relieved beyond words. After she accepted the sheet, Hinata bolted from the room.
"Bye, Hinata-chan!" Naruto shouted and waved. Iruka chuckled at Naruto's antics. The student turned to the teacher and chuckled back. "Hey, uh, Iruka-sensei...I think I kinda like her."
"Like or like?"
"The second one I think," Naruto admitted.
Iruka shook his head. "It looks like we're going to Ichiraku. Teuchi and I obviously have a lot to teach you," the teacher said with a bit of dread.
"Ah...but the Academy just ended!" Naruto whined.
"Naruto, this is one of the most important things you will ever learn," Iruka pointed out to Naruto.
"More important than the Bunshin?"
"Much more important than the Bunshin," the Academy teacher assured the excitable young man. Iruka rose from his chair. "Let's go, Naruto."
Author's Notes: You can blame DreadedRasengan for this one. We started talking about this idea and this kinda sprouted from there. Please Read and Review!