As mentioned: This is my entry for the "Sunflower Love" contest.

Thank you very much to my beta readers: Erendhyl and Gabriela Romero. Both of you are AWESOME!

My dear friend did a fanart based on this story. Check it out: pia-sama deviantart


Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, Naruto Shippuden or any of their characters. I wish I owned Sai - but Kishimoto refuses to give him up!

The Flower of Love

It all started with a flower.

I don't know what came over me that day. I woke up in the morning determined to find a sunflower to press. I have a diverse collection of pressed flowers, but the sunflower was definitely different than the cute little flowers that I normally wanted. What was it about the sunflower that suddenly grabbed my attention?

I knew. How could I not know? The colors even resembled the clothes that he chose to wear. Orange petals with a black center – even the shape resembled the Uzumaki family symbol. If I couldn't have Naruto-kun, then I could at least have the flower that reminded me of him.

The tall, strong sunflower – it resembles the sun – like Naruto-kun's blond hair. Yet it is bigger and stronger than the other flowers. Even through tough climate, it remains, and comes back year after year despite the cold winters. No other species of flower could ever compare to him – not even close.

They say that the sunflower turns to face the sun. So do I. Naruto-kun is my sun, and I have never been able to turn away from him. The sunflower's pure beauty exudes warmth and happiness. I could use a little bit of that right now.

But why was I thinking about a flower? Why was I thinking about him? It had been two months since we saw each other during the war. Both of us could have died. But we didn't. Luckily, everyone we were close to survived. There were many casualties though. The survivors had a tough time returning to their normal lives knowing that many were not given that luxury. Many families had to go on without a mother or father. The Chunin that managed to survive were busy taking the required exams to become Jonin, so that our village could refill the ranks. Children were being rushed through the academy to become Genin. Naruto-kun was being groomed to become the next Hokage.

I haven't spoken to him. There was never any time. Besides, what would I say anyway? I told him I loved him. He hasn't responded. He was very kind when he saved me on the battlefield, but that is just how he is. He is kind to everyone. But that could be the reason that he hasn't talked to me since that day. He would never have the heart to break mine. He could never tell me that he would never return my feelings. So I guess it is just easier to say nothing at all.

Maybe my feelings for him are just selfish? I knew from the start that he loved Sakura. I would never take that away from him. His happiness is part of what attracts me to him. I wouldn't want him to be with me at the cost of losing that. I hope she treats him right though. He certainly deserves that and more.

I needed to hurry to Ino's flower shop. I didn't have all day to press flowers. Hanabi and father were coming back from a meeting out of town and they would expect me when they arrive. Even though it was Saturday, Hyuuga family business never ceased. Neji and Tenten would be coming over as well. Unbeknownst to father, they were going to announce their engagement. Neji told me that they would not accept 'no' for an answer - not this time. All the Hyuuga rules would not keep them from spending their lives together. Besides, if the Hyuuga clan wants to grow stronger, having a new member such as Tenten should be a huge blessing.

As I neared the main road downtown, I almost bumped into Konohamaru. My, has he grown! And somehow he resembles Naruto-kun… Maybe it is that infectious smile? Or is it the overwhelming confidence that they both have? Either way, it is definitely endearing. I am so glad that Naruto-kun found someone who admired him like Konohamaru does. Well, I admire him that way too. I was just too afraid to show it to him. I wonder now… if Naruto-kun had known all along how I felt for him – would it have changed how he turned out? Well, I hope it wouldn't have – because he turned out just fine. I am so proud of him becoming the hero and future leader of this village, despite all the hardships that he suffered throughout his life. Still, I wish he had heard me all those times I cheered him on as a kid. I think he would have really liked that.

I opened the door of Ino's flower shop, and the clang of the bell over the door caught Ino's attention. She had been reading a book to pass the time since there were no customers. An enthusiastic smile crossed her face as she shouted out, "Hinata! What brings you here?"

"I wanted to see if you had any sunflowers."

"Certainly! You know we do! Let me show you."

Ino did have a large array of sunflowers. But at first, none of the ones I saw were quite right. None of them could compare to him. I started to lose hope as I sifted through the last container full of sunflowers. Then I found it! The petals had an orange tinge to them, but were in fact yellow in color, like his hair. The center was dark brown, almost black, like the color on his jacket. The stem was strong and firm. It was perfect.

As I went up to the counter to pay Ino, I heard the bell above the door clang again. I didn't even need to turn around to see who it was. I don't know how I knew, but I felt it. Even so, I slowly turned anyway.

"Hey Hinata! Whacha doin' here?"

I just stopped breathing.

Naruto-kun approached the counter and got too close to me. Not that I would mind, but it didn't help me to regain my normal breathing pattern. The room started to get blurry and my knees began to buckle. The last thing I remember before the room went black was his strong hands around my waist.

When I opened my eyes, I didn't recognize my surroundings. But I did see my beautiful sunflower. It was standing proudly in a large cup full of water. The glass wasn't quite the vase that I might put it in, but whoever saved the flower obviously did so with very careful attention. My perfect sunflower was the only thing that was sitting on a square table in the middle of the room.

Where was I? The room did not look familiar at all. I wasn't lying in my own bed. And the room – it was the size of my bedroom, but it had a small kitchen to my right. Plus, it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in ages.

That's right! I fainted at Ino's flower shop. Could this be the back room? No – it couldn't be. Ino's family had a nice house right outside the center of town. This was a small-sized apartment. Besides, the back room of a florist would be full of cut flowers. This couldn't be it.

At that moment, the front door slammed open. I flinched at the sudden noise. If the sights of this room didn't signal that I wasn't at home, that intrusive noise would have. But I wasn't expecting the person who walked through that door. He was completely out of place.

"Kiba-kun. What happened? Where am I?"

His familiar smile stretched across his face as he answered, "You fainted again. What did you think happened?" Akamaru barked in agreement and came over to lick my face. I love that dog. That white, humongous animal has saved my life more times than I care to remember. He was a ninja, just like his human counterparts, but his love and loyalty far surpassed that of any human I have ever known. Except Kiba, perhaps.

"I kind of remember that. But I am not in Ino's flower shop. Where am I?"

"The reason for your fainting spells brought you back to his apartment. He couldn't just leave you on the floor of Ino's flower shop – could he?"

My mind was racing, and I fought to catch my breath. "I'm in Naruto-kun's apartment? Why would he bring me here?"

"It was the closest place. Your house is much farther, and besides, who knows what your father would do to him if he brought you back home unconscious. The outcome would be hilarious for me, but maybe not so much for Naruto."

"Oh… well … where is he now?"

"You really like him don't you?"

"Wha-what makes you say that Kiba-kun?"

"The fact that you started stuttering again when I mentioned his name. Or that you faint every time you see him. You don't faint every time I walk into the room."

"I didn't faint because Naruto-kun entered the room!"

"Yes you did. I saw Naruto carrying you down the street and asked him what the hell he did to you this time."

"Oh Kiba-kun, he didn't do anything to me."

"I know. He told me what happened, and - knowing you – I believed him."

I looked down and bit my lip. What could I say to Kiba? I think that he had always hoped that we would end up together. He was a nice guy, and he was certainly good looking. But I guess you can't help how your heart feels. I would never be able to get over my feelings for the one man who brought the sun into my life.

"Hinata. I know the truth. I have always known. Why couldn't you tell me? We are friends – right?"

"Of course Kiba-kun. Always! You know that."

"I still can't believe you would pick that idiot over me, but I won't hold it against you."

"Kiba-kun – you shouldn't call Naruto-kun names like that. He doesn't say mean things like that about you."

"Of course not! Why should he? I didn't steal Sakura away from him."

Okay, that hurt.

"Kiba-kun, will you be alright?"

Akamaru looked up at his best friend, and in return, Kiba smiled back at him. "Of course I'll be alright! I look like this…" He spread his arms out for effect. "Don't you worry about me! I'll find some hot chick someday. But in the meantime, I'll help you get Naruto."

"Please don't Kiba-kun! I don't want to force him."

"No one will be forcing anyone. He's just too dumb or blind to see what is right in front of his face. He would rather get punched by Sakura than be loved by the most beautiful girl in the world. Well, someone should straighten him out. Don't you think?"

"Kiba-kun – please – if it was meant to be, then it will happen. Let him figure things out on his own."

"Well, if you insist. I have to get going though. See ya around Hinata!"

"Wait! Kiba-kun, you never answered my question. Where is Naruto-kun?"

"Oh – well – he had to go training with Sasuke and his cousin Sai. It figures that those two ended up being related. They look alike and both are mighty weird."

Kiba-kun kept talking about Sasuke and Sai and their newfound familial connection, but I stopped listening.

I blew it again. I had the opportunity to talk to Naruto-kun, but lost it because I fainted. I can't blame Naruto-kun for never talking to me. It has been my fault all along.

I looked up as Kiba was walking out the door. He gave me one last smile and waved as he exited Naruto's apartment. Akamaru raised his head and barked as he left. Then the door closed behind them.

What should I do now? I was in Naruto-kun's apartment! I could certainly stay until he came home. But wouldn't that be weird? He would probably be training all day long. He just brought me here to be nice. I should probably leave …

So leave I did. I left his glass, but I wrapped a wet paper towel around my treasured sunflower. How did he carry me, but also keep my flower in such pristine condition? Well – I guess that is why he is a ninja. I just never thought of him as the careful type before. Oh well, that man never ceases to amaze me. He truly is my ray of light.

Along the way, I passed by Kurenai-sensei's apartment. I thought of stopping by, but she would just be busy with the baby. I didn't want to interrupt her. But then I saw Shikamaru walk out of the entrance to her building.

"Hinata, are you coming to see the baby too?"

"Um – Shikamaru – I wasn't going to see Kurenai-sensei today. I was on my way home. How are they doing?"

"Very well. He's getting so big! He'll be a fine ninja someday."

"Um, he will have the best Sensei, right?"

Shikamaru gave me an uncharacteristic smile, "I have to live up to my promise to Asuma. So I'll do my best."

I nodded and tried to go on my way. But evidently that wasn't Shikamaru's plan.

"Hinata, that's a beautiful sunflower you have."

I looked at my prized possession. I then looked up at Shikamaru and nodded again.

"It kind of reminds you of Naruto, doesn't it?"

I froze in my tracks. How did he know that?

"Ino told me what happened in her shop today."

I knew that panic was written all over my face and showing through my eyes. What should I say to him? How could I possibly respond to that?

"I don't want to meddle in your relationship. I know how troublesome relationships can be. Try spending time with the Princess of the Sand. She's more troublesome than my mom and Ino combined. Why do I intentionally do that to myself? Why would I pick a woman so much like the other women in my life that give me such grief? But the heart doesn't always follow the brain, does it Hinata?"

I had no voice! I couldn't say anything. I couldn't even move.

"Hinata, don't be so scared. I won't tell. But… Ino might. And I can't really stop her."

I wanted to cry. I was about to cry right in front of Shikamaru. I couldn't do that. I could not allow myself to show emotion like that. I am a ninja, and ninjas are supposed to be able to hide emotions.

Shikamaru raised his eyebrows as he took in my demeanor. He obviously didn't want to see me cry either. "Look Hinata. It'll be okay. That lunkhead will notice you and everything will work out."

I started to whimper. I was losing the battle and breaking down. "He-he doesn't even think of me that way."

"Troublesome. I've really stepped into it this time." Shikamaru put his arm around my shoulder and led me towards my house. "I don't know what Naruto thinks, but it took a lot of effort for him to bring you to his place. Besides, even he isn't that blind. You're a beautiful woman Hinata, and a strong kunoichi. He would be beyond lucky to end up with you."

Between sobs, I struggled out, "But what about Sakura?"

"What about her? She couldn't make it clearer that she's interested in Sasuke. Now he's back. Believe me, there isn't even the slightest possibility of Naruto and Sakura getting together anymore."


"Yes, really. Geez, I should've kept my mouth shut and let Ino talk to you. She's much better at this girl stuff than I am. It's interesting though. I guess I never realized how much us guys affect you girls. Interesting. I'm going to have to remember this."

I tried to smile through the tears. "I-I am glad I could help."

"Don't worry Hinata. You'll have your man. We'll see to that."

Okay – stop crying! "No – please no! I don't want anyone to interfere. He has to come to me on his own."

"And how long are you going to wait for that?"

"Forever – if need be."

"I'll never understand you troublesome women. But fine. I have to meet up with Temari later on anyway. Good luck and don't cry! Everything will work out."

"Um – okay Shikamaru. Thank you for your kindness."

"No problem. We're like family, right? We both care about Kurenai and the baby."

"Y-yes. You're right. Thank you Shikamaru."

Shikamaru nodded with a confident smile on his face. And then he was off.

I looked down at my little sunflower. All of a sudden, it looked very lonely. It reminded me of Naruto-kun's childhood. He was all alone, an orphan, and then he was shunned for having the nine-tailed fox sealed inside of him. How painful that must have been! Why didn't I tell him how I felt long before? He probably could have used my encouragement during all of those painful times.

But I didn't. I was too scared. But of what? That he would reject me? I now know that he could never be unkind. He may not have wanted me in that way, but he still would have been my friend. And that would have been better than not speaking to him at all, which is the path that I chose. The two of us didn't have to be alone. Why didn't I just tell him?

But now he knows. I told him I loved him. I almost died protecting him. His feelings have always been much deeper than he has led on. Why hasn't he shared those with me?

I didn't want to force him, but I had to admit that I wanted to know how he felt. Even if it was rejection, I needed to know. If it would never be, then I needed to move on. I didn't think that I would ever love another guy the way I love Naruto-kun, but I did know that I would need to focus on something else instead of continuing to torture myself in this way.

I got home, immediately went into my room, and started pressing my sunflower. This would be the center of my collection. None of my other flowers would ever compare to its brilliance. This was my one memento of my love. I will cherish it forever.

Dinner with Father, Hanabi, Neji and Tenten went well. Father accepted their union, no questions asked. He said he already knew. He felt proud of Neji, just like he was his own son. He also welcomed Tenten with open arms. Open arms? I couldn't believe it! My father was showing such kindness to her. It brought tears to my eyes. I guess the changes that we wanted were slowly happening after all. I am so happy for Neji and Tenten. They are going to have a wonderful life together.

That night, I had sweet dreams of my Naruto-kun. I could see his smile as he walked off to fight Neji during the Chunin exams. I was able to cheer him up. That made me so happy. He has been my inspiration from the beginning, and it gave me a little bit of satisfaction that I could give him back a fraction of that in return. He said that he liked people like me. I could live for the rest of my life with the memory of that exact moment.

The next morning, Hanabi woke me up, "Hinata! Someone is here to see you."

I blinked my eyes for a moment, before I turned away from her and said, "Who is it? I'm not expecting anyone."

"Some pink-haired bossy girl is demanding to see you. She looks like she could get violent if she doesn't get her way."

I sat straight up! Oh no. Ino told her what happened with Naruto and now she was going to get me. I knew that she had fallen for him. How could she not? Now she was mad.

"Tell her I am sick. I can't leave my room. I am contagious!"

Hanabi just shook her head. "No way. She could destroy the house. Just be a woman and face her already."

I was going to die. Oh well. I could have died on the battlefield. I said I would die for Naruto-kun, and there was no turning back on that decision. I just thought it would have happened differently.

"O-okay, tell her I will be out in a few minutes. I just want to get dressed first."

Hanabi smiled and bounced out of my room. She was probably anxious to see the fight. I hoped that she would at least cheer for me …

When I opened my door and peered down to the main entranceway, Sakura stood up and smiled at me. She smiled? She isn't going to kill me? Then what is this all about?

She walked up to me and placed her hand on my shoulder, "Hinata, how are you doing?"

"F-fine. I guess."

"That's great! I was hoping that we could go out today. Do you have any plans?"

It was Sunday. My plans were to stay home and rest up for the week. "No, but why? We have never spent time together before."

"That is exactly why we should go out. I want to get to know you!"

Whatever for? Oh well, she was trying to be nice, or at least I hoped so. I hoped that she wasn't taking me out of the house to kill me.

"Well, what did you have in mind?"

"Why don't we go to the barbeque place? We could talk about the war. I was in the medic tent the whole time. So you could catch me up on what took place outside on the battlefield."

"Sakura, I don't want to sound rude, but I really don't want to remember that. A lot of people died and it is very painful for me."

"That's fine. Let's talk about boys."

Ack! I knew it! I was not going to talk about that with her.

"Wha-what do you mean?"

"Don't you like to talk about boys? That is what Ino and I talk about when we get together."

"I-I don't have a boyfriend. There wouldn't be much to talk about."

"You don't? Well then, why don't we go shopping instead? Most girls like shopping – right? We could buy you a sexy dress that shows off your figure. I know you're hiding under that oversized jacket of yours."

Ack! She had to be kidding. "I-I don't want to wear anything like that Sakura. But thank you for the offer."

"I'm sorry. This time I am not taking 'no' for an answer. We're going shopping and that is final!"

Or what, she was going to pound me? "Um, okay. But I get to pick what we buy."

"We'll see." And then, we were off.

Sakura was nice enough. She asked how I was doing health-wise. After all, she was the one that saved my life after Pain's attack. I thanked her back then, but I don't think my gratitude was enough for what she did for me. At the time, I was more concerned about Naruto-kun and his safety. But now, I was going to make that right.

As we walked past the main entrance of the Hyuuga compound, I turned to her and said, "Sa-Sakura, I just wanted to thank you again for saving my life. How can I ever repay you for your kindness?"

"Hinata, don't be silly. I'm a medic ninja. That's my job. I'm very happy I was there to help you when you needed it."

Wow, she was kind too. That made me feel even worse. She deserved Naruto-kun. I shouldn't want to take him away from her.

"Well, I really do appreciate it. I will never forget it, as long as I live."

"Ah, Hinata. You would have done the same for me."

"Oh – I certainly would have. Anytime. Anywhere."

"See - so let's talk about something else. You know that Naruto is working with Tsunade now. It looks like he will be the next Hokage. Isn't that exciting? Can you imagine: our best friend will be the Hokage! But he had better take it easy on me when he gets there, or I will still knock his block off. He had better remember that!"

Yes, Naruto will become the Hokage. Sakura certainly wouldn't let a man like that slip through her fingers. I looked down to watch my feet awkwardly shuffle along the dirt road. I tried not to focus on the fact that I felt insecure about their relationship. But I couldn't help it. Instead, I decided to hide my face the best I could. I didn't want her to know how I truly felt.

"Y-yes, I know about Naruto-kun spending time with Tsunade and learning how to be the Hokage. It's his dream. I am so happy for him." I mumbled out with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. I was happy for him, but I couldn't shake the vision of Naruto-kun in his Hokage robe, with his beautiful wife, Sakura, smiling by his side.

Sakura turned towards me with a warm smile, "I know you are. You have been watching him for a while, haven't you?"

Woops. How did I tread into danger land again? I had better watch out for her left hook.

I looked directly at her with a wide-eyed expression, "I-I haven't been w-watching him. Why do you say that?"

"Don't lie to me Hinata. Everyone besides Naruto has always known that you like him."

Breathing was coming to a halt. I didn't want to faint in front of Sakura. No wonder Naruto-kun liked her better. He could actually talk to her without her fainting mid-sentence.

"I-I don't know what you are talking about."

"Yes, you do! Now just admit it! Don't you want Naruto to like you back?"

"Um, I would just like to go back home." I looked back behind me, and unfortunately, back home was already a little bit of a walk. But I'm a ninja. I could make it back in no time. That is… if I didn't completely break down first.

"No you don't! Not this time. I want you to admit that you like Naruto!"

I was going to cry. Or faint – either one would probably do in this situation.

"W-why is it so important to you? If you like Naruto-kun, then I wouldn't interfere in your relationship. You two could be very ha-happy together."

Sakura laughed louder than I ever heard her laugh. Why was she laughing like that?

"You think that I feel that way about Naruto?"

"Y-you don't?"

"Heck no! Hinata, what is wrong with you?"

"Um, I-I don't know."

"But I have to admit that I do love Naruto."

I just swallowed hard and hurt myself. She might as well have punched me in the stomach. Fainting mechanism activated …

"But I don't love him in that way."


"I love him as a brother. I only want to see him happy. That's why I think you would be perfect for him. I know that you would never hurt him."

I spun my head so fast that I got a pain in my neck. Was she giving me her blessing? I just looked her straight in the eyes. She was serious! I couldn't believe this was happening.

"Hinata, do you know about Naruto's childhood?"

"Y-yes. Yes I do."

"He suffered so much. He deserves to be happy as an adult. You could give him that. You two could have the family that he never had."

I was starting to cry. Why was I starting to cry?

"Sakura, Naruto-kun doesn't think of me like that. He wants to be with you. And that is okay! I just want him to be happy too." As much as it pained me to say it, I had to clarify the situation.

"Nonsense! Hinata, pick yourself up already! You don't know what Naruto thinks. As a matter of fact, I did tell him I loved him."

Gasp! There it was – the end of my dreams.

"And do you know what his reaction was?"

My knees were buckling. This conversation wasn't going to last much longer.

"He didn't believe me! He didn't fall into my arms, and he didn't all of a sudden want to be my boyfriend. He told me to stop lying to myself and said the joke wasn't very funny."

That was unexpected…

"I thought that he would be happy, but he wasn't. Because the truth of the matter is that both of us know that my heart belongs to Sasuke. Even if the love is never returned, I can't change how I feel. Naruto knows this, and he never wants to do anything halfway. That is why I think that he would seriously consider a relationship with you. There is no doubt that you would love him with all of your heart."

Tears. I was feeling tears. Of course I would love him with all of my heart. I don't really have a choice.

Between sobs I choked out, "I love him. I really do. But what can I do about it Sakura? Tell me. You said that he is like a brother to you. If that is true, then what can I do to show him how I really feel?"

"Didn't you already? Wasn't it you that risked her life to save him from Pain?"

"Y-yes. But any one of his friends would have done the same."

"Hinata. Please give yourself more credit. Naruto does, I assure you. Just talk to him. He is very kind if you would just give him a chance."

"I know he is."

"Well, what's the problem then?"

"Me. It is me. It has always been me."

"Well, I have a partial solution to that problem. It helps me and Ino. Let's get you that nice outfit. It could do wonders for your self-esteem. Then you'll talk to Naruto!" Unfortunately, through this whole conversation, we had made it to the center of town without even thinking about it. All the different shops were right in front of us.

"No – no I can't! I can't do it Sakura!"

"Yes you can!" And with that she yanked my right arm with all her might into the most expensive dress shop that Konoha ever had. I hope I can use that arm again in a couple of days.

I felt naked. Sakura snatched my jacket away from me. She also made me buy a dress. I can't remember the last time I wore one. It was low cut with spaghetti straps. She said I looked sexy, but I just felt vulnerable and exposed. At least I got to pick the color. It was lavender, just like my jacket. I guess I should have picked another color. Maybe then I could have denied it was me walking down the street this way. On second thought, that ploy wouldn't work with me, thanks to the Byakugan. Not many young women in Konoha have my type of eyes. Okay then, back to being vulnerable and exposed.

She also had a lady mess with my hair, while another one applied makeup all over my face. I looked in the mirror afterwards and just shook my head. What I saw in the reflection just wasn't me. I felt like a clown. Why was Sakura doing this to me? She knew darned well that I wasn't going to march up to Naruto's apartment looking like this. I just hoped that he wouldn't see me on my way home.

We left the dress shop, which of course, was conveniently located on Konoha's main street. As we passed the café next door, I noticed several people divert their attention from their meal to stare at me. Then I saw different men glance at me as they passed us by. I guess they wondered what type of occasion it was that required this type of dress. I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there. My whole life I just wanted to blend in, and here I was, in the center of town, drawing attention like a decorated Christmas tree. As a result, I looked down at my feet again and tried to shut my ears off as well. The quicker I got home, the better off it would be.

That is – until I heard a familiar voice. "Hinata! Wait up!" Kiba ran to catch up with us and Akamaru galloped behind him.

"Va va voom. Look at that get up!" He breathlessly said as he looked me up and down.

Oh God. All I needed was for Kiba to get all worked up over my outfit. I felt like dying right there, which would have saved me from this living nightmare. But then Sakura would have just revived me …

"He's right you know. You look very nice Hinata." Is that Shikamaru? What was he doing here? Kiba ran to catch up to us, but Shikamaru strolled up from a nearby storefront. How come – when I didn't want to be noticed – I happened to run into everyone I ever knew? Where was that hole when I needed it?

"Of course she does! I helped her with the makeover!" Sakura exclaimed.

"Get over yourself Sakura. She's a pretty girl. You just stole her jacket." Akamaru barked in agreement with his owner.

"Kiba, stop fawning all over her. We are trying to get her together with Naruto – not you!" Sakura snapped back at him.

"Wha-what?" Did Sakura say they were trying to get me together with Naruto-kun? Was this a plan that the three of them devised?

"I want to go back home! I am not going to Naruto-kun's apartment! You three stop meddling with me and Naruto-kun!"

"Ooh, Hinata. No stuttering? Naruto must not be around." Kiba just laughed at my unusual behavior. It sometimes isn't good that he knows me so well.

"Please go to Naruto's apartment Hinata. If you don't, our plans will be ruined." Was Shikamaru pleading with me? I had never seen him do that before. Why was this so important to him?

"N-no, I am sorry Shikamaru. I know that you must have gone to a lot of trouble, but I just don't feel comfortable doing this. I am going home."

"Well, can we at least escort you there? I don't want anyone bothering you while you're dressed like that." Shikamaru offered.

"Like we're doing?" Kiba asked.

"Well Kiba, if you would just keep your mouth shut, we would all be fine." Sakura observed.

"Sakura, how is Sai's butt doing lately? I noticed you staring at it. Is one cousin not enough for you?" Kiba asked.

"I-I haven't been staring at Sai's butt. What are you talking about, Kiba?"

"Stuttering? Is it contagious if you hang around Hinata long enough?" Kiba asked.

"I'm going to tell Ino that you were checking out Sai's butt." Shikamaru couldn't help but get into that conversation.

"Oh yeah? Well I'll tell Temari that you spend a lot of time with Ino – outside of official team business."

"Go ahead. I love what she does when she's mad." Shikamaru suddenly had a very evil grin on his face.

I don't want to know. I really don't …

"Well, I could tell Sasuke that you were giving me a hard time."

"Eternal Mangekyo Sharingan – definitely troublesome. But… I could tell the future Hokage. Naruto is going to need me when he takes the big seat of the village."

"You have a point. Sasuke won't fight Naruto again. Not after the fight they had during the war." Sakura said

"They both almost died. But Naruto didn't go back on his word. He brought Sasuke back – for you – Sakura." Shikamaru pointed out.

"And for himself. Sasuke has always been his best friend."

Shikamaru nodded. "It also didn't hurt to find out that Sasuke still had some family left. I am glad he got to know Sai after all."

"I am too. Now maybe Sai will be a little more normal."

"Sasuke too!" Kiba laughed.

"Kiba – you are definitely asking for a beating!"

"Come give it to me girly! Remember – I have Akamaru. And – no one can beat our Gatsuuga. Give me your best shot!"

"That won't be necessary." Shikamaru stepped in between Sakura and Kiba before real trouble could start. Akamaru looked a little disappointed that the Gatsuuga wouldn't be happening.

"Why don't we talk about Naruto?" Shikamaru smiled at me. I will have to think of a way to get him back later. Luckily, we were now out of town and headed on the dirt road back home. I decided to step up the pace to get there a little quicker.

"Oh please don't go there. She will faint Shikamaru." Kiba couldn't resist another jab at me, could he?

"We can't have that! If she faints, she will fall right out of that dress!" Sakura exclaimed.

"Alright! Let's do it!" I whipped my head around to glare at Kiba. He just laughed. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

"Again, Kiba, that package is for Naruto. Keep your paws off of her." Did Shikamaru just use the word 'package' for me? Then 'paws' for Kiba-kun? Well the paws comment was pretty funny …

"I wasn't going to touch her. But if she happens to fall out of that dress, I will NOT be looking in the opposite direction."

"Th-thank you for your support. I am so lucky to have a teammate like you."

Kiba smiled. "I know you are."

"I don't think she meant that as a compliment." Sakura observed.

"Of course she did. We are pals. Aren't we Hinata?"

"S-sure we are Kiba. I know you are just playing around. That is just how you are."

"Hinata – seriously – if Naruto or anyone else ever hurts you, you know I have your back." Akamaru looked up at me and panted. I could tell that the large white dog felt the same way.

"I know you do Kiba. And I have yours. I only wish you happiness."

"Me too." Kiba gave me a hug. I really do cherish our friendship. He is so playful; he has really helped me break out of my shell. I am glad he was chosen to be my teammate. If it was just me and Shino, then the two of us would have ended up not talking to anyone at all.

When we finally arrived at the Hyuuga estate, I silently thanked God that I was home. Now maybe this crazy parade that I just experienced could come to an end. I love each and every one of my friends, but to show me off looking like this as I walked through the streets of Konoha was a little much. We accomplished nothing, and now I would have to strip off this mess as soon as I got inside. But I was happy that I got a chance to talk to Sakura. I felt much better about my feelings for Naruto-kun. If something did happen between the two of us, it made me happy to know that I wouldn't be hurting her in the process.

"Goodbye Sakura, Kiba-kun, Shikamaru. Thank you for an, um, interesting day."

"Oh, Hinata! We wanted to stay for a little while, if that is okay with you?" Kiba asked. For the record, it wasn't okay with me. They were all a little bit insane, and I had already overdosed from their insanity for one day. But who was I kidding? Was I really going to say no? Of course not …

"Um, Kiba-kun, I am really tired. I was hoping to just go to my room and get some rest."

"Don't you want some fresh air first?" Sakura asked.

"Fresh air? We just walked back from the center of town. I-I have had enough fresh air for today. Thank you anyway, Sakura."

"Hinata – I have never seen the grounds of the Hyuuga estate. Don't you think it's rude not to at least give me a tour?" Shikamaru asked. Gosh, he knows how to get you right where it hurts. He knows that I couldn't be rude, even if I outright tried! Which I could, in a moment …

"O-okay, well, follow me."

Akamaru yelped in delight and Kiba yelled, "Yeah!" and thrust his fist in the air. Why was Kiba so excited about this? He'd been here before. This was starting to scare me.

I gave my friends a tour of the private gardens and man-made waterfall. All of them nodded, but they didn't seem too overwhelmed by it. Why the sudden urge to tour the estate? There wasn't anything that interesting to show them. I tried to take them towards the training grounds, but Kiba pulled me in a different direction. It was weird. But if Kiba really wanted to see the other side of our property, then I wasn't going to fight him on it.

We were headed towards the main house, and specifically, behind my bedroom. I sure hoped that my curtains were closed. I wasn't exactly expecting to have to show my bedroom to Sakura and a couple of boys at that moment. It wasn't like it was dirty, but I consider it private, and I didn't really care to share that with them. I was already feeling exposed enough with the new outfit.

Wait! Something was different. What was that right outside of my window? Are those flowers? They weren't there before. What was going on?

Just then, a flash of orange caught my eye. Oh God! Why were these people doing this to me?

My heart was beating so hard. I was having trouble breathing. I couldn't believe this was happening. I couldn't faint in front of him again. I wouldn't! If I did, then he would never try to talk to me again. But how would I be able to control my beating heart? Please God, please don't let me faint. Even if this was rejection, I needed to know. This time, I wanted to hear what he was going to say.

His cerulean blue eyes met mine. He carefully slid his strong hands under my elbows for support. He was a quick learner. He was probably being proactive so that he could catch me before I fell.

"Hey Hinata. Sorry I had to leave you yesterday. But I was on my way to train when I saw you at Ino's."

"Th-that's okay Na-Naruto-kun. Kiba-kun t-told me."

Naruto-kun looked down at me with a slight smile on his face. I could have just died right then. He was so close to me. I could feel his strength flowing through me. His scent was overwhelming my senses. The only thing I could possibly focus on was him. The other people standing around just faded to a blur. I didn't think I could hold on much longer. He was holding my arms so gently. I hoped that his grip would be strong enough when I started to fall…

"I had really wanted to arrange a time for us to talk, alone…" He flashed an angry face at everyone around, which now included Ino and Hanabi for some reason. I once again focused on all the bystanders and stared curiously at Ino and Hanabi. They both followed Naruto-kun out of the house. Were they all waiting for me to come back? What kind of conspiracy was this?

Sakura, Kiba and Shikamaru just laughed. It was quite clear that whatever Naruto had to say was going to be said in front of an audience.

"But if this is how it has to be – then here it goes …"

Oh God! I could actually feel my heart beating right out of my chest. If he didn't say something soon, then I was going to miss it. The dizziness was already fighting to take over.

He slid his hands up to my shoulders and looked directly into my eyes, "Hinata, what you did for me – when you were fighting Pain – was beyond words. And I'm not good with words. Then, what you said, I don't know… You were the first person to ever say that to me. It was so special. Anything that I could possibly say in return would just sound lame in comparison. And I thought you deserved better than that."

I started to turn away, because I knew that I might start crying again. But he gently placed his hand on my chin so he could direct my face back to look at him.

"Then I started thinking about what to say. I went through all kinds of possible answers in my mind. None of them were good enough. None of them expressed how I really felt.

"Then everything happened. Kumo was going to kill Sasuke, the war broke out and the Akatsuki were hell bent on capturing me and Bee. So it was never the right time."

I swallowed hard. I really didn't think he was thinking about me when all hell broke loose. But maybe he did after all?

"Still… what you said… helped motivate me, even when all the odds were against me. It also helped me with my fight against Sasuke. Thinking of you, and how much you cared about me, made me more determined than ever.

"Hinata, you are part of the reason that I didn't give up on him. You could see me for who I really was, on the inside. And you believed in me. You could see me for who I was when no one else could. You didn't give up on me, and it helped give me the strength and courage to save my best friend.

"When I looked at Sasuke, I could see the pain inside of him – just like mine. So I thought of you and reasoned that if I believed in him too, then maybe I could bring him out of the darkness. And that is what happened! I am so happy to have my best friend back, and you are partially responsible for that."

Naruto-kun is such a ray of light. Always – always thinking about others. Sasuke is lucky to have a best friend like that.

"When I got back to the village, all I wanted was to be better. I wanted to deserve someone like you. I tried even harder to become the Hokage. Because then, maybe, I would be somewhat worthy of your love."

"Oh, Naruto-kun. Y-you have always been worthy!"

"I'm glad you think so. I always felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I needed to succeed so that everyone would accept me. It means a lot to me that you want me just the way I am."

"I do. I really do."

"I know that now. I don't know what took me so long to see it. But it was always so hard to believe. It was like I was just making you up. I could never imagine that someone as kind as you was actually real."

"Now you two are just getting too mushy!" Kiba yelled out.

"Shut up Kiba! It was just getting good! And besides, you were the one that said he should tell her how he feels." Ino snapped back at him.

Ack! When did he do that?

Naruto-kun softly laughed and looked back at me with a warm smile. "Yeah, I guess I was getting kinda mushy. But I can't help it! This is the first time I've had a chance to really talk to you. And I've had all this stuff in my head for a very long time."

Sakura looked like she was going to cry. Shikamaru and Hanabi just looked like they were losing their patience.

"But I never forgot about you Hinata. I never did. I knew you deserved an answer. I was just waiting for the right time and place. But I guess there never really is the perfect time or place, is there?"

I smiled at him and shook my head. I never realized that he put that much thought into it. But evidently he did…

"Naruto, maybe now would be a good time to show Hinata your gift? She has probably been too overwhelmed with you to notice." Ino walked up and nudged Naruto's shoulder.

"Oh yeah! That's right! Come over here Hinata." He grabbed my hand and led me to the flower garden right outside of my window.

"Ya like 'em? Ino helped me pick them out." His boyish type charm was coming back. He must have rehearsed that speech he just gave me over and over again. That was really sweet of him.

"Do ya know what type of flowers they are?"

Of course I did. There was a single orange colored rose in the center, growing from a small rose bush. The rose was surrounded by a blue periwinkle vine. Ino is a sly one. She knows what those flowers mean. Blue periwinkle signifies friendship. The orange rose means desire, enthusiasm and passion. The orange rose being the bridge between the yellow rose, again meaning friendship, and the love associated with a red rose. So I got Ino's meaning. She was trying to show me that passion and desire had grown from the midst of our friendship.

"Y-yes Naruto-kun. I know the flowers."

"See. I am the orange rose – right? And you are the blue periwinkle. Those are our colors. And just like the flowers, I want you to be around me always."

That was so sweet. I almost liked his simplistic explanation better. He has always had such a positive spin on everything.

"Now that is the lamest thing I've ever heard." Kiba muttered under his breath. Of course, that was followed by Sakura knocking him to the ground. I felt bad for him, but he did have it coming.

Shikamaru looked down at Kiba lying flat on the ground, "Troublesome. Sakura, why'd you have to do that? Now we'll probably have to carry him out of here."

"Nonsense, we'll just tie him to Akamaru and have the dog deal with him."

Akamaru looked at his best friend and nuzzled his nose against Kiba's cheek. Poor dog! Why did he have to pay for Kiba's offhand remarks?

Naruto knelt down next to the flowers and motioned me to join him. "Do you see the rose, Hinata? It's a bud. We picked this one on purpose. I wanted you to be able to see it open up and enjoy the blossom for as long as possible. Do ya like it?"

I nodded my head. I loved it. The rose was perfect. The bud was about 2 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter. It will be beautiful when it opens up. It also had a sturdy stem. And… I couldn't really see any thorns on it. That was amazing! How did Ino find one without any thorns?

Ino also knew what I would think of the bud. Desire, enthusiasm and passion are not quite there, but there is promise. Those feelings will be "opening up" very shortly. I am glad that she didn't share these meanings with Naruto.

"Hinata. Come smell the rose. It smells quite nice!"

I grasped the rosebud by its base and bent down so that I could smell it. Of course it smelled nice. All roses do. But I certainly wasn't going to spoil his fun. He obviously put a lot of thought and effort into his gift.

I looked back at him, and he had such a satisfied grin on his face. If I made him that happy, I must be doing something right.

"I went back to Ino's flower shop after I trained yesterday. I figured that if you like flowers, then I would buy you some before going back home. I was hoping that you would still be there. I don't know what I was thinking. You have a life too."

He did want me to stay. Oh well. I couldn't have anyway. I would have missed Neji and Tenten's engagement announcement.

"Ino told me that you had already left. Shikamaru had stopped by with Temari before I arrived. But she did help me pick out these flowers. I wanted to buy you potted flowers so that they wouldn't die. Cut flowers die so quickly, and I didn't want that to happen to your gift. Then she told me that maybe I could plant the flowers at your house. I asked her, 'How do I do that? I can't just waltz onto the Hyuuga estate and start digging on their property.' But she said to leave it all up to her."

I bet she did.

"When we looked around the grounds for the perfect spot, we saw your window. I took a look at the soil and the lighting of the area. And then I thought this was perfect. I wanted your flowers right outside of your window. I want you to be able to wake up in the morning, and the first thing that you see is your flower garden. I thought it might make you smile."

It would. He is beyond sweet.

"Naruto-kun, I can't believe you got all this done while I was gone. We weren't away all that long."

"Whatcha mean? You were gone for a couple of hours, and Ino helped me. We started as soon as you and Sakura left."

Ack! He was here when I left with Sakura? How could I not have noticed? Usually I can pick up on his presence from a mile away. Then, of course, I confirm it with my Byakugan. I guess I was so wrapped up with the surprise of Sakura being here that I shut the rest of my senses off. I hope I didn't do anything too embarrassing while he was around.

"Besides, I'm gonna be Hokage someday. If I can't plant a few flowers in a short period of time, then that would just be humiliating."

He then gently took my hands into his own and smiled. "Then Kiba stopped by and threatened me. He said that if I ever hurt you, well, he would kick my ass. So I took that as my cue to make sure the flower garden was perfect, because I certainly didn't want to get beaten for a garden that would make you cry."

It still might make me cry … but in a good way!

I was so close to him. His cerulean blue eyes were looking right at me. A part of me struggled to look away, because I couldn't match his intensity. The other part didn't want to miss a second of this. Luckily for me, this time the second part won out. I felt like I was drowning in his warmth. But it wasn't a panicked type of drowning. This time it was a soothing type of sensation.

A shrill noise suddenly woke me up from my reverie. I immediately realized it was Hanabi's commanding, but high pitched voice, "Are you two going to just stare at each other, or will there be more talking?" I knew she was losing her patience.

"I am just glad that the plan worked." Sakura chimed in.

"Why wouldn't it work? It was Shikamaru's plan," Ino exclaimed.

Shikamaru? I stole a glance at him. His arms were crossed and he had such a smug look on his face. He said that he wouldn't meddle! I will have to talk to Kurenai-sensei about him.

At that point, Kiba-kun started to stir. As soon as his eyes could focus, he glared furiously at Sakura. He will figure out a way to get her back. I hope she knows that.

Naruto-kun looked around at all of our friends and then back at me. He let go of my hands, stood up and wiped off his pants. He then announced, "The show's over guys. You can go home now." He grinned as he gave a one-time wave to accentuate the message that it was their cue to leave.

"Man! I missed all the good stuff. Thanks a lot Sakura! Hinata, you will fill me in later – right?"

"Y-yeah, sure Kiba-kun." No I won't …

I stood up beside Naruto-kun, who was carefully making sure that all of our friends left. Hanabi disappeared into the main house.

He turned to me and said, "You look very nice today."

That's right! I was in this ridiculous outfit and made up like a clown. Does he really prefer me this way? I looked down and bit my lip. I didn't think I could look like this all the time. Besides, kneeling on the ground could have ruined this dress. He probably wouldn't be seeing me in it again.

He saw my concern and quickly added, "Not that you don't look good every day!"

Now I made him feel bad, and all he was trying to do was give me a compliment. "It's okay Naruto-kun. I knew what you meant."

He bent his head down slightly and nervously rubbed the back of his neck, "I'm sorry Hinata. I guess I'm not really good at this romantic stuff."

"Oh no Naruto-kun! I think you are very good at being romantic. I liked everything you said. And, I love my flowers. Th-thank you very much."

There was his smile again. The smile that could light up an entire room.

He looked directly at me and said, "Your eyes are amazing. When I look into them, I feel like … like … like I know what you're feeling. Like I can see right through you."

I quickly turned away from him in panic. I didn't want him to know what I was feeling. I didn't know how I was feeling. And I certainly didn't want him to figure it out before I did.

I started to blush. I didn't know what to say. All of his sentiments were really sweet. Now I am going to have to rehearse my speech back to him. It wouldn't be today. It couldn't. I would probably not be able to put together a coherent word if I tried.

I felt his arm encircle my waist, and he pulled my body towards his in a firm embrace. Before I could react, he whispered in my ear, "I love you too."

In shock, I turned my head so that I could see him. At that moment he dipped his head towards mine and captured my lips in a warm, sweet kiss. Our first kiss! If I am not fainting right now, then I might just be cured.

He smiled at me as he pulled away. "See ya 'round Hinata." He said with a backwards wave. I watched him, as he and all the brilliance of the sun faded into the distance.

I waved back, "Thank you again, Naruto-kun." But he didn't hear me. Again, I was too late and my voice was too quiet. Just like all the times I used to try to talk to him as a kid.

I lifted my right hand and placed my finger tips directly on my lips. They were still warm and tingly. I hoped that feeling would never go away.

Why did he have to leave so soon? It was Sunday. Well, he had been here all morning long. I'm sure it couldn't be helped. A Hokage-in-training doesn't really get days off, I suppose.

I shouldn't worry too much though. This time he isn't going off to war. This time his life isn't in imminent danger. And… he said he loved me. If he didn't have time today, then there would be another day. Today was so beautiful. I can't wait to see what comes next.

I looked back at my little orange rosebud. It was a magnificent flower. I will have to thank Ino personally for her help in picking it. I will definitely be looking at it each morning when I wake up. I am the luckiest girl in the world right now. My sun said he loved me too. I could never ask for more than that.

It all started with a flower, and it all ended with one too. I am so glad that I decided to go to Ino's flower shop yesterday. I will never forget this weekend, ever.

Please review! :)

And before I get the comments... here is what I already heard:

1. Sai and Sasuke. I know ... I know ... But I am a big fan of the Uchiha Sai theory. So if I have to write a story for free - then I want to sneak that in somehow.

2. I DON'T hate Sakura. As a matter of fact, the next story I want to write is a Sai/Sakura story. That way I get to touch on her softer side. Besides - I love Sai - so if I want him to end up with her - then I definitely don't hate her. I just decided to portray her as "monstrously" strong (according to Naruto) and a person you wouldn't want to tick off. Like Tsunade! Besides ... I went to the trouble of bringing Sasuke back! So she should be happy - right?