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Ten Times

Part I: The ten times they missed each other

I. Snakepit

Naruto both loves and hates visiting Otogakure.

He loves seeing his best friend after months of not. He loves watching the man who used to be consumed with hatred and vengeance living happily, leading a village once ruled by a madman into prosperity. He loves seeing Sasuke just living.

"Sit with me, we'll have a drink," Sasuke says with only a hint of welcome. Naruto is not put off; this is Sasuke's version of jovial. "I'll have something brought - "

"No need, anata."

Naruto's heart clenches as Uchiha Hinata walks in, bearing a tray with a jug of sake and two saucers which balances partly on the curve of her heavily-pregnant stomach. She smiles lovingly as Sasuke he rises to take the tray from her. He kisses her on the cheek.

Yes, Naruto both loves and hates visiting Otogakure.

II. Her funeral

It's a beautiful day in early spring. Pink cherry blossoms are everywhere, birds are singing their songs as usual. Hyuuga Hinata is dead, and Naruto is at her funeral.

It doesn't seem right, he thinks, wrapping a supportive arm around his sobbing girlfriend. (Sakura is absolutely distraught. He's asked her a few times why she's taking it as hard as she is - she and Hinata were never close, not really. She just looks at him with pity and cries even harder.) The little pink flowers that are everywhere obscure the memorial to Hinata in front of them briefly and it seems almost poetic but he can't explain why.

Nobody knows exactly why she killed herself - or, if they do, nobody's bothered to tell him...

III. Burning Leaves

Hyuuga Hinata died when she was three. It was a dark night when she was kidnapped, you see; her tiny body got caught between her father and her kidnapper, and she died.

So when Uzumaki Naruto fights Pein, there is no one to step in. There is no one who tells him that he is loved for the very first time. There is no one whose death propels him into the Kyuubi state - which ultimately would have resulted in the village being restored.

Instead, Konoha burns, and stays dead.

IV. The Weird Girl

There used to be a girl in his class. She had weird eyes, which is probably the only reason he remembered her anyway. She used to sit in the very back of the class, and shrink down so that Iruka-sensei would forget that she was there.

One day, she didn't come to class anymore.

The next time he sees her, she's running errands - picking up groceries. She's dressed differently, not like a ninja anymore, but in a plain grey kimono. There's something white wrapped around her forehead.

Even though he's finally looking at her, she doesn't notice him at all. Their paths never cross again.

V. Love

Hokage-sama -

Please consider this my two week's notice. I am leaving for Sungakure in one month's time to live permanently. On my last mission there, Gaara-sama was very kind to me, and offered me employment if I ever desired it.

Your recent behavior and actions have made it clear to me that I am only a hindrance to your life here. Now I can assure you with all honestly that I will no longer be a problem for you.

With all my love, no matter how unwelcome -

Hyuuga Hinata

Naruto carefully refolded the letter and stuck it back into the pocket over his heart, where it had stayed for three years now.

VI. The power of human sacrifice

"I can't tell you how amazing this is, Hinata-chan. What you're doing, I mean."

"Of course, Hokage-sama," Hinata replied. He was pretty sure it was her anyway, underneath the layers of makeup and the heavy, white wedding kimono.

"Konoha thanks you for your - for your, um, sacrifice - "

"Be sure to tell Konoha she's welcome, then," said Hinata bitterly. "I hope Konoha can live happily knowing that somebody else's dreams died so that hers could live."

Naruto didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't say anything. He just watched while she was escorted away by two handmaidens. After that he shortly let himself out; after all, Hinata's wedding to the daimyo's son was the political event of the year, and he needed to put in a good appearance.

VII. His funeral

"He just seemed so - invincible," Sakura sobbed into Ino's shoulder. "I never - I never thought he would be the first to - !"

"Nobody was expecting it," said Shikamaru with an uncharacteristic gentleness. "He killed Madara. We had no reason to think that this mission would be different from any other."

"I remember, when we were about eight..." Kiba begins a tale, probably about pranking, and everyone leans in all misty-eyed and ready to remember Naruto.

Not Hinata, though. She tuned them all out, their pointless chatter, their sobs and stories and their damn sentimentality. She was long past that, and they needed to get past it, too. Naruto was dead - but he had always been a man of action. Reminiscing wasn't the way to honor his memory.


Everyone turned to her in shock.

"We're better than this, dammit. We have a village to take care of, and if we don't get it together what's left of Danzo's faction will have cemented their hold here within the week. If you want to do right by Naruto, go home, change your clothes, take a shower, and meet me back here in one hour."

Ten years later, Hinata was the Hokage.

VIII. Don't wait

Nobody knows, but he loves her. Uzumaki Naruto loves Hyuuga Hinata. From a very young age, too. But he also decided from a very young age that he had to wait to tell her how he felt. If people knew they were together before he could protect her... well, it could get dangerous for her and that's the last thing he wants.

So he knows she watches him; he cherishes her gaze secretly, because that's all he can have for now.

The years pass. He continues to love her in the shadow of his heart but not in the light of day. He sees her eyes dim when he lovingly calls out Sakura's name (it's all part of the act) and it kills him inside. He rushes past her when she tries to wish him a safe return from his mission when all he wants to do is kiss her goodbye, and have the promise of her arms to come home to.

But he doesn't kiss her goodbye, and he doesn't stop calling out Sakura's names with stars in his eyes. When he is named Hokage - when he could finally tell her - she's engaged to another man.

IX. You killed her

"You bastard! You fucking bastard!"

Naruto couldn't stop staring at the ground. He was numb; he didn't know what to think, what to do -

"You egged her on, and now she's dead!" Kiba screamed. "She could've just - just given up early and she would be alive today but you had to open your big fucking mouth - "

"Kiba," said Kurenai-sensei. "Hinata made her choice, and Neji struck her down." Her voice had barely quavered despite the fact that her favorite student had been declared dead not ten minutes ago - a testament to her strength. "Naruto does not deserve your anger."

"I hate you," Kiba snarled at him. "I'll make sure you never become the Hokage, I'll make sure nobody ever loves you like she loved you, you worthless piece of shit!"

X. Don't wait, part 2

Hinata watches silently from the sidelines as she always has when Naruto makes his triumphant return. She's so caught up in watching him that she doesn't hear his words of victory; all she can see is his unguarded grin and his blue, blue eyes.

When he takes Sakura into his arms and kisses her - to applause and cheers befitting and the young and powerful couple - she stops watching, and finally walks away.