Chapter 1 – Reflecting
A/N: Since writing over twenty chapters, and on reflection, the first way I wrote this chapter was really bad. So, as hindsight is 20/20, I've rewritten it to make it easier to read, and more enjoyable. And while this chapter is shorter than all the others, the chapters get more depth as they go.
Yes, this will be a Naruto/Hinata story, but it won't be the central point. I like the couple, but good romances in action stories should be secondary to the plot. I haven't decided on other couples yet, though I am open to ideas. I do enjoy writing obscure things, so all suggestions are welcome. There won't be any character bashing, and I'm trying to keep the characters as close to the originals as possible, though a little bit more realistic in their reactions to things.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, Lee would fight more often, and without his weights. Come on, the guy breaks the sound barrier.
"Sensei when will we find out who made Chuunin?" Naruto tried to keep the boredom from his voice and failed, the short blonde pacing at the front of the group.
On the other side of the group, a tired Kiba simply rolled his eyes. "Naruto, stop asking. We barely left Suna a day ago."
"Shut up, Kiba! They said that anyone in the fourth round could make Chuunin, even if they lost their match."
The group gave a collective sigh as the loud blonde continued to bicker with the Inuzuka heir, neither of them giving any ground. The four Konoha Jounin ignored the excitable Genin, each reflecting on the effect the exams had taken on their students.
"You wanna fight? I'll kick your ass!"
"Oh yeah? Come on Akamaru! Gatsu…"
The argument came to a halt as both Genin ending up on the ground, holding their heads in pain. The group walked past them without comment as the pink-haired demon cracked her knuckles above them.
"Sakura-chan, did you have to hit so hard? I'm still recovering" complained Naruto, his bandaged hands rubbing a small lump on his head.
"You guys, cut it out. Naruto we will be given the results when we get back to Konoha. That's two days at least."
Kakashi didn't take his eyes from his book as he continued ahead of the group, having assumed the de facto leader role in the Konoha group.
Kurenai passed Kiba and offered a hand up, "Kiba, don't antagonise him too much. Don't blame him for your match."
The bitter animal-user accepted her hand reluctantly; ignoring the barking dog beside him that he could swear was giggling at him. He brushed off the dust from his jacket and winced at the pain in his head. "I know, Kurenai-sensei. It just rubs me the wrong way that he got to proceed to the Fourth Exam and I didn't. I mean we both won that fight against the Sound Genin, but only he was in a condition to fight."
The genjutsu Jounin nodded without comment, she had to admit that Kiba had gotten the raw end of the deal in regard to their partnerships during the Third Exam; however she also knew that even if he had proceeded, Kiba wouldn't have been promoted to Chuunin.
With a youthful yell, Lee clapped the Inuzuka on the back. "Come on, Kiba-kun! We must hurry back to Konoha so that we can show everyone how youthful we have become!"
Kiba shrugged off the taijutsu's enthusiasm, he had been lucky enough to avoid it for most of the trip but like Naruto he was bored to tears as well. He just wanted to get back home so that he could begin his training anew.
They stopped at a small village that night, Kiba and Naruto eventually calming down after a threat by Kurenai to place them under her Thousand Hells genjutsu. Most of the group was relaxing, though Lee and Gai were proclaiming their 'youth' out the back by doing a bout of light sparring. Naruto sat at a nearby restaurant, comparing the local ramen to Ichiraku's back home. He felt a presence behind him and turned to just catch a glimpse of dark blue hair. "Hey, why don't you join me?" he asked to the open air.
After a few moments of indecision, the hidden figure joined him, cautiously sitting two seats apart from him.
Naruto smiled warmly and pulled apart his chopsticks. "You don't have to hide; it's not a crime to like ramen, you know."
"I…sorry, Naruto-kun" said the figure awkwardly.
He ordered a miso ramen for her and moved over two seats to sit next to her, they were the only customers in the small store.
"Hinata, who do you think will make Chuunin?" asked Naruto after a few minutes of silence, his mouth full of hot noodles and broth.
"Um…I don't know." She couldn't look him in the eye, but swallowed slowly and pushed her fingers together habitually. "I…think you…" She grew flushed and stopped talking when she realised what she wanted to say.
Naruto kept eating; he hadn't heard her last sentence. "Well there were six of us in the final round. You, me, Lee, Shino, Shikamaru and Sasuke. Though I doubt the teme would get promoted."
He finished his third bowl and reached for his fourth with a happy grin, "It would be great if both of us get to be Chuunin."
Hinata couldn't say anything back, while she had improved dramatically over the exams, she was still quite timid, particularly around her crush. She was happy to let Naruto brag about his final match with Sabaku no Gaara, the blonde was extremely proud of having won the battle of attrition over the sand-user. After a few minutes he stopped talking and stared at her without saying anything, causing her to blush even more.
He slowly reached over the counter and picked up a napkin. He dabbed it with his tongue, reached over and wiped a small bit of broth from her cheek. She froze at the touch, his rough fingers lightly brushing along her soft skin. She could feel herself go weak in the knees, the blood rushing to her face immediately. She knew she was going to faint, but his words to her during the Exam came rushing to her.
You are only as strong as your courage takes you.
Drawing on confidence she never knew she had, she reached up and took Naruto's wrist with her hand. She then reached over and pecked him on the cheek. In her mind the scenario was perfect, serene.
The perfect plan.
She looked over at him and went to touch his wrist, but made the mistake of looking him in the eyes. He smiled his fox-like way and all her strength vanished. She collapsed into the counter, Naruto reaching over and catching her by the shoulder before she hit the floor. He gently picked her up and put some money on the counter, noting in his mind that it was the first time he had ever paid for someone else's ramen.
Later that night while the others were asleep, a figure sat on the roof of their hotel. He swore under his breath as he remembered his last match. His arm still sat in a sling as a reminder of how little he actually knew about fighting, even with his inherent talent.
"Still brooding over your match, Sasuke?"
He recognised the voice but didn't bother to turn and greet it. "Kakashi. On the road you said you wished to speak to me."
The one-eyed Jounin jumped up from the ground below and landed next to him and sat down with his Icha Icha book in hand. "You didn't listen to me before."
Sasuke scoffed and stared at the empty night sky.
"Sasuke, if you don't listen to me then how can I teach you properly? I didn't teach you the Chidori to use on a comrade."
The young Uchiha continued to stare at the night sky with a scowl on his face. "I'll use my power however I please."
Kakashi stood up and faced his brooding student, "You don't understand anything, do you? You expect to kill Itachi by yourself?"
Sasuke seized up at his traitor brother's name, his hands subconsciously tensing into fists. "I will avenge my clan, no matter the cost. The rest of you are just in the way."
"Is that what you think of us, teme?" Both of them stared as Naruto jumped onto the roof next to them. "You'd drop us at the first chance?"
Sasuke stared at his friend before reached out and grabbing the front of his collar. "You think you know me? You think you can understand me?"
Naruto grinned then laughed, "I think it doesn't matter. You can't do everything yourself. Look what happened at the Chuunin Exams. You think Lee cared about your past?"
Sasuke shoved Naruto away with a furious look on his face. "Don't remind me of that green bastard. It's hardly my fault that that fight was stacked against me from the start."
"You just don't seem to get it, do you teme?"
Sasuke glared at Naruto with contempt at his reminder of his embarrassing defeat. "What…is your point?" he asked, through barely contained hatred.
Naruto stopped grinning and stared at Sasuke's newly activated Sharingan with his bright blue eyes. "You failed because you fought for yourself. Even with all your strength, you can't win. But if you fight for someone, you can. You just can't see it. And that's why you are the weakest of us."
Naruto knocked Sasuke's hand away and jumped off the roof, disappearing back into the hotel.
Kakashi couldn't hide his astonishment at Naruto's maturity. He knew he had grown during the Exams, but this was a degree that he hadn't thought Naruto capable of, at least at his young age. What happened during the Exams that made you grow up this much?
Dropping to his knees, Sasuke held his head with his good arm. He whispered something that Kakashi could barely hear. "What was that, Sasuke?"
"…am I really that weak?"
Naruto got through to him. What a scary power.
"If you fight for others, your power is increased to levels unimaginable. You can be stronger than Itachi purely because you will have people to watch your back. He does not. If you continue along your current path he will cut you down, and your clan will have died for nothing."
He didn't respond, but Kakashi could tell that Sasuke was torn. "We should go back inside. Despite what you may currently think, there are others who care about your wellbeing, and getting a cold won't help."
They spent another day on the road before their group's injuries forced them to spend a day recovering in another village half a day away from Konoha. Neji's wounds were slowing their pace considerably, as Tenten replaced the bandages around his legs. The door creaked open as she turned quickly, kunai in hand.
She lowered her blade when she saw it was just Lee, who took a seat down next to his teammates. "Lee, you don't need to watch over him all the time."
He looked at his exhausted female friend, wondering if she would apply her logic to herself anytime soon. "I have to, Tenten. It's my fault Neji is like this, so I need to make sure he recovers as swiftly as possible. If he isn't better before we get back, I'll do two thousand one-hand push ups."
Tenten shook her head at his ridiculous rule, and then regretted it as a wave of fatigue hit her and she fell down next to the unconscious Hyuuga prodigy. Lee smiled in a rare moment of quiet, pulling a blanket over her body. He looked over at Neji, his eyes darkening as he remembered why his teammate had been incapacitated during the Second Exam.
I knew you were capable of many things, Neji-kun, but to attack your cousin with such intent to kill…and your own comrades…I had no choice…
His own injuries hadn't recovered fully either, though he had persisted purely on the adrenaline that had resulted from finally defeating his lifelong rival in battle. It had taken his most dangerous technique, which in turn had damaged him far more than anyone else had during the Exam, including his Fourth Exam fight with Sasuke.
He turned slowly as he heard the door to the room open slowly, a sad smile emerging on his face. He watched as Neji's young cousin entered the room quietly, a roll of fresh bandages and ointment in her hands.
She hesitated at the entrance, unsure on whether she should enter or not.
"You can come in, Hinata. He won't wake up for a while."
The Hyuuga heir shook her head and entered with a bow. "Th…thank you. Is he doing well? I heard his injuries were less severe than they initially thought."
Lee sighed and looked back at his teammate's injuries, ones that he had inflicted upon him. "We were still forced to spend extra time at Suna, but he should recover fully, in time."
He watched in fascination as Hinata sat down opposite him and began dressing several of Neji's wounds, with a care that Lee would imagine a mother would give to her child.
Hinata took extreme care not to irritate any of Neji's burns or damaged bones, and Lee could tell that despite her lack of training in medical techniques, she had a certain flair for it.
Once her work was finished, Hinata moved her chair back and placed her hands together, closing her eyes with a solemn look on her face.
Lee cocked his head slightly, "What are you doing?"
Hinata opened her eyes slowly and rested her white globes on her cousin's fallen form. "In our clan those who attack fellow clansmen with the intent to kill, particularly Branch House members, are stripped of both their names and abilities."
"So you were praying that he won't be put to death? I know the Hyuuga do that sometimes."
Hinata shook her head slowly, looking over at Lee's position. "I will not tell my Father anything about what happened between Neji-niisan and I. I don't wish for Neji-niisan to disappear from our world, a world that I know he loves."
Lee frowned and leant back on his chair, keeping himself balanced on Neji's bed with his feet. "So why the prayer?"
"So that he forgives me."
"Eh? Forgives you for what?"
Hinata stood up from her chair and bowed slightly to Lee on her way out. "So that he'll forgive me for taking pity on him. He has to live with the fact that I saved his life, and that will be unbearable. I'm praying that he understands, or that someday he will."
Lee watched in awe as Hinata left the room, the Hyuuga girl shutting the door behind herself quietly.
Such humility…and against the one who was so ready to kill her. If Naruto hadn't been there…would it have gone so well? If he hadn't distracted Neji…
On the road the next day the group walked in a staggered formation, with Lee and Gai carried a stretcher with a recovering Neji. His wounds had closed over night and he was slowly regaining consciousness. Sasuke walked apart from the group, his mind thinking back to what Naruto had said to him. He was thankful that Sakura had let up on her fan-girl actions, though he couldn't work out why.
She was staring at him from the other side of the group, her conversation with Shikamaru the previous night still running in her mind. Sakura, on behalf on men everywhere, let me give you some advice. You want Sasuke? Ignore him. People want what they can't have, and Sasuke is no different.
Up near the front walked Kakashi and Naruto, with Hinata and Shino just behind them. "Naruto, you seem different this morning. Less…chaotic."
The yellow-haired Genin just grinned in response, "Kakashi-sensei, it's nothing. I'm just tired."
A bark of laughter came from the middle of the group as Kiba bounded up next to them, Akamaru sitting on top of his head. "The great Uzumaki has run out of energy? Is the sky falling?"
Hinata giggled lightly while Shino simply tapped his glasses, both happy in the knowledge that their teammate had forgiven Naruto. They still bickered and argued as they always had, but there was no spite anymore.
She looked at her quiet teammate with surprise, "Yes, Shino-kun?"
"You're different." Having spent enough time with Shino, Hinata could read the sub-text of what he said. He had noticed the subtle differences in her movements since the last round of the Exams, where she had beaten a Cloud ninja.
She nodded slightly, "Hai, just a bit. I think I got stronger after my match."
"No. You are different around Naruto."
Hinata could feel herself get red, but stopped herself as she knew Naruto was nearby and didn't want to embarrass herself. "Ano…I don't know what you mean, Shino-kun."
Shino stared at her while still walking, then nodded and walked faster until he caught up to the pouting Naruto and Kiba. "Naruto."
His target turned around and glared at Shino, "What Shino? Don't tell me you agree with Kiba?"
"What? Don't be stupid Naruto. Shino's my teammate, of course he agrees with me."
Shino kept his hands in his pockets, his family training keeping his patient at remarkable levels. "Naruto. Hinata asked to speak with you."
"Oh? That's good; I wanted to talk to her about something."
Naruto turned and stepped back in line with Hinata, who couldn't believe what her teammate had done.
Kiba grinned wildly and patted Shino on the back, "Shino, you…" he was silenced at his teammates stare; loud buzzing around his neck showing that he was commanding Kiba to be quiet.
"I wanted to ask you something actually." Naruto directed her to sit down on a smooth rock, sitting next to her nervously. The group had taken a break as Neji was regaining consciousness.
"Is something wrong, Naruto-kun?" She tried to stop herself from blushing, but was struggling against him staring at her.
What could he want? Does he want some advice for Sakura-san? Oh please don't let it be that.
Naruto was also facing an internal struggle, though he was better at disguising his nervousness. What if she says reacts badly? How will I be able to face her again…
"No no, nothing is wrong. I…it's just…damnit why is this so hard?"
"I'm sure you can do it, Naruto-kun. Just take your time."
He rubbed the back of his head and grinned, "Sorry, I'm not good at this stuff." Damnit, I never had this issue with the others. They just accepted it. Why am I so nervous to tell Hinata? Sure we worked well together during the Second Exam, but why am I more nervous then I was towards Sakura?
"Hinata-chan, I…" He stopped himself when he saw that she was staring at him wide-eyed. "What? Is there something on my face? Did I spill something on my jacket?"
He padded himself down, trying to look for a smudge on his jacket as Hinata continued to just stare at him uncharacteristically.
He called me Hinata-chan! Hinata-chan! What does that mean? Is he trying to ask me for a date?
She wanted to reach over and hug him, call out yes and hold his hand. However she restrained herself, her shinobi training reminding her not to jump to conclusions. She couldn't keep a happy smile off her face as she watched through her lavender eyes as Naruto gave up looking himself over and looked back over to her.
"Anyway, I wanted to tell you something, before you find out from the others."
"That's basically it. I didn't mean to hide it, but I promise that you aren't in danger."
He tried to sound confident, but inside he was petrified. He had told everyone else over the course of their trip home, besides Neji who had still been unconscious.
Most had accepted it without issue: Shikamaru had simply stated that he already knew and didn't care, as did Shino. Sakura didn't appear to care, though she did punch him for hiding something from her, and Naruto could tell that there was a part of her that felt a bit sorry for him.
Every time he talked to her he walked away with an injury, it made him consider whether he should talk to her at all anymore. Sasuke on the other hand didn't respond to him at all, still consumed in his own world.
After this, it's done and I can move on. But Hinata's is probably the most important response, from a practical standpoint.
She had listened to him patiently, her face not revealing anything to him. But inside, several realisations dawned on her.
That's why everyone called him a demon.
That's why he was always alone.
How does he keep smiling?
While he waited for her response, he could notice the small indecisions in her face, the slight movements of her clear eyes. His face dropped slowly as he assumed the worst, "Please don't hate me, Hinata. I…I didn't mean to hide it, honestly!"
To his surprise he saw a change in Hinata. She seemed focused on something; there was no nervousness at all. He had always thought she was a weird girl, who was quiet and always acted strangely whenever he was near her. But she never gave him any cold looks, and had even occasionally shared her notes with him during their Academy years. After they had become Genin, he hadn't had any contact with her until the Exams, and she had amazed him. Her chakra control has better then Sakura, and her Byakugan had saved them several times during their teamwork in the Second Exam, the survival test.
She was still timid, but had opened up more after their encounter with Neji. He looked at her intently, then was taken aback as she reached out and hugged him fiercely, pressing his head into her neck with her hands around his neck.
He couldn't do anything except let her hug him, he had never been shown any affection like this before. She held his head close to her hair; he couldn't help but smell her dark mane of hair, finding the light flowery scent oddly comforting.
Inside Hinata's head she was petrified but equally excited that she had made such a bold move. "Naruto-kun, you don't need to apologise for anything. You don't have to be alone anymore."
She hugged him tightly one last time then released him, looking him directly in the eyes for the first time, her confidence soaring high.
"I…I don't?" I don't understand her at all. "That's great! I wanted to ask for you help actually."
"You do? What can I do?" She kept looking at him directly, noticing how relieved his eyes said he was, even though his smile said that nothing was wrong she knew that he was worried about how she would have responded.
"Can you help me with my training? I know your awesome chakra control will help me with the controlling the Kyuubi."
"Naruto-kun…" Did he just ask me for a date? No, this is Naruto-kun. He says what he means. She smiled sweetly, knowing that any time spent with him would be good. Nodding slowly, "I'd be happy to, Naruto-kun."
Back in the rest of the group, the Jounin roused their students and began heading out. Naruto noticed this and got up from his seat. He turned around and offered a hand to Hinata, "Want to walk together?"
Despite herself, Hinata still blushed when she took his hand, feeling the calluses of his rough hands.
A mile outside of Konoha, and the group knew that something was wrong. They had not found any patrols, and the woods were oddly silent. Neji had woken up an hour ago, and was on his feet though still needed support from Tenten and Gai. He remained quiet, but in his eyes he was a broken failure. Naruto and Hinata were at the front, Hinata using her Byakugan to scan the area as a precaution.
She turned her attention to the skies and noticed something very odd. "Kakashi-sensei, the skies are empty."
The one-eyed Jounin had put his book away, an action that had put the whole group on edge. "That's not good" he replied, sending chakra to his nose to see if he could sense anything from the area that was unusual.
"Why is that strange? Is it because there aren't any clouds?" Naruto was thoroughly confused, though he was still on edge.
Hinata smiled as she continued to walk next to him, as they had done since their conversation about the Kyuubi. "Konoha sends out and receives hawks that contain mission requests." "Oh, so no hawks are a bad thing. You're pretty smart, Hinata."
Next to them Kakashi had moved up his forehead protector, but took a moment to be amused at the two teenagers. Naruto doesn't even realise her infatuation with him or his own feelings. The group turned a corner in the road and came to a sudden halt as they noticed in the distance that the gates of the village were gone. Kakashi turned to his companions and nodded to them silently. Gai picked up Neji and threw him over his shoulder, while the rest of the group began to run quickly towards the village. When they got there, none of them was prepared for what they saw.
In place of the village of Konoha was a giant crater, scattered remains of buildings and the mountainside faces were in pieces on the ground.
"Wha…what the hell is this?"
And done. I'll try to make the chapters shorter or the same length if you guys want. I'll to do weekly or fortnightly updates, dependent on my schedule. I promise their will be more action scenes and less angst.
Please review and tell me what you think. What can be improved, what you liked, I'm a writer so I'm always open to criticism.