Hinata remembers exactly the moment she first felt visible.
As she sifts through the wonderful memories she's had training with her teammates and befriending the other genin in her class, she recalls the cheering and the pushing and the encouragement they gave her with smiles revealed only in secret.
The girls told her she was pretty and rolled their eyes at the other boys who were too scared or preoccupied to ask her out. Her Sensei reminded her that ability is molded from blood, sweat and grit—not from what someone saw at birth.
A blond, loud boy stands out. He cheered for her at her weakest point as a ninja. He's always kind to her.
But the first time someone cared about Hinata is different. He didn't see Hinata the Genin, or Hinata of the Hyuga clan.
"I hope I can get you to talk more than he does." A brunette clad in a gray hoodie and—was that a dog on his head?—gestured to their taciturn teammate.
When Hinata blushed and struggled to make her mouth produce a response, he laughed.
"I guess it's okay if you're just shy. At least you want to talk."
They were awaiting Kurenai Sensei's return to Konaha from a mission at the front gate She had requested their presence, even at this early hour, so that training could resume right away.
Shino did not acknowledge them, at least as far as they could tell. His shades hid whatever he was looking at.
Hinata tried again. "Y-your name is…Kiba, isn't it?"
Kiba grinned as he nodded. "Yours is Hinata?" She nodded without response.
They had been on Team 8 for three weeks now, but between training sessions had never said much to each other.
They'd both let the silence hang awkwardly until the sun was half-risen when Kiba asked, "How do you spell it?"
Hinata glanced up again from the ground and scant blades of grass she'd almost finished counting. "Spell? W-what do you want to spell?"
Kiba sighed in frustration. He knelt in the dirt and traced his finger in it until letters had emerged in neat, stylish cursive.
Hinata's eyes widened when she saw her name. But he didn't stop when he'd written it. Kiba kept tracing ambiguous patterns until they also revealed themselves.
He'd drawn her. He'd drawn her smiling.
Kiba rose and dusted off his knees. "Did I get it right?"
His grin returned, this time ear to ear. "You think you could look a little more like the picture I drew?"
Hinata blushed again. What could she say to that?
He took a few steps closer to her, removing the living hat from his head. "This is Akamaru. It's okay if you spell his name wrong, but he gets along better with people who are nice to him first." He handed the puppy to her.
Hinata's lips stretched and formed an unfamiliar expression and she took in just how adorable Akamaru was. She stroked his head and managed to say "He's really cute."
Kiba snorted. "He's not just cute. He'll be built for battle once we train enough together."
He paused and dropped to the ground again. When his talented finger ceased its work again, the puppy she was currently holding was in her arms.
He stood again. "I guess this team will work. At least there aren't any rowdy fights going on like the others. Besides, Akamaru likes you."
Kiba extended his hand. "Nice to finally meet you, Hinata."
Her heart didn't stop and her breathing remained even. Maybe it was because he doesn't twist her stomach into knots that she adores him so now.
Kiba is to her what Akamaru is to Kiba. An easy presence that relaxes her and doesn't push anything. While she loves her Sensei and the other ninja who helped her succeed, it was nice that one person didn't have a set of expectations for her. Kiba puts her in her comfort zone.
Hinata remembers trying to hide her tiny smile as she'd lagged behind her teammates, and thinking that she just might smile more often.