Aa... Ano...

I feel embarrassed, right now, but not in a humiliating way. I mean... ano...

I should start at the beginning...

Well... brother Neji came to me today, this morning. He didn't come to be particularly horrible, at least, I hope not. He came to - as he put it - 'talk some sense into' me, and he spoke those in those defiling tones and words...

Oh, I thought I'd become stronger, really! I thought I'd become so strong, I could deflect all those wounds he was inflicting. But I guess I hadn't changed enough... I mean, I know I'd changed, but... he really spoke in tactics, if I think hard about it.

I couldn't stand him any longer... my throat was too constricted to allow me to speak, so I simply ran before he could see my tears. I ran, and somehow, I ended up at the posts in the practice area. I leant against one and covered my face with my fingers, letting and feeling the wetness of my tears slip past them.

I was so angry and disappointed in myself, then. Why hadn't I said anything? Why? I was asking myself as I sobbed. I must have looked a sight to anyone who passed by me - a dark weirdo crying her eyes out in the practice area.

Of course, I was so occupied my thoughts I didn't notice him come near. He just walked right up, oblivious as usual, and called out in his usual energetic voice.

"Hinata!!"

When I looked up, his cheerfulness cracked and his jaw dropped. I must have really looked terrible... he looked so flustered and unsure of what to do, the least I could do was smile in assurance.

"Naruto-kun."

Yes... how could I forget Naruto-kun? After all he'd done for me, I could have simply remembered his words and his past experiences and feel encouraged. However, realising that I had been unable to summon up the courage even after watching Naruto-kun for so long made me sad again.

He saw my smile, and grinned back characteristically, but after seeing me droop a bit, his expression did too. He scratched the back of his head confusedly, and after a few seconds of silence, he walked over and sat down next to me - just like that.



To feel his clothes rustle next to my shirt sleeve... that made a blush tint me, I know it did. I snuggle into my arms, huddling a little. When I glance at Naruto-kun, I am captivated once again by his extremely strange ability to see me even with those eyes closed. I wonder how he does that. He is definitely looking at me, but his eyes are shut. I can feel his eyes on me though! It is too strange.

Right now he is observing me with his eyes shut again.

"Did Neji come up to you again?"

So he knows! My face burns red. He wouldn't like knowing how I retreated like that. I have to turn my gaze, shamefully, into my arms. But I return an answer. I have to, of course. I nod slightly.

"...Nn."

That non-committical noise would have made me cringe under ordinary circumstances.

"I was wondering why he was looking so smug when he passed by me just now!! That bastard!!"

Why does Naruto-kun get so worked up over him? He wouldn't get so mad if brother Neji couldn't oppress me so easily, I'm sure. Naruto-kun dislikes oppression of any kind, I suppose he gets angry when he sees brother Neji do that to me - to anyone, I think. But Naruto-kun shouldn't get so mad..., it's not really brother Neji's fault I'm so weak, it's only my own.

"Gomen ne, Naruto-kun..."

"Nani?"

I feel myself shrink a little into my position.

"I know I'm not very strong..., and I'm trying to change, but..."

His expression is so hard to read sometimes! I refrain from saying 'it seems impossible at times' because it looks as though Naruto-kun will blow his top if I say that.

"It's very difficult..."

Why must my eyes fill up again, I wonder. Especially in front of Naruto-kun. I don't like it when that happens... barely controllable tears are a sign of weakness and insecurity, according to brother Neji...

"So you just try harder!"

At this, I look up in surprise. The amount of confidence in his voice can really amaze me. His eyes are open now, looking at me with an encouraging light that I can recognise from times before. Strangely enough, of all the times I've watched him, I've never seen the colour of his eyes.

His eyes are blue...

"You can't really expect to change all at once...,"

He says, his voice now a little quieter, perhaps even... softer? I've never heard his voice in that kind of tone before...

"'Cause I took lots of time to change... so I'm sure all you need, too, it just time. No need to rush, Hinata, you're doing fine already! Just be stronger as the days go by, right?"

He doesn't know what his words can do to me! They put a surge through me, unlike anything I can feel by myself... they make me feel happy with myself. Confident, even! The way his blue eyes are lit like that, looking at me in a way that really wants me to improve... what would I do without - the example of - Naruto-kun?

"Ano..."

How can I put what he does for me into words?

"Ne..."

He's looking at me so quizzically! I can be such a fool sometimes. I guess it's not possible to put into words...

"Um..."

...but I can thank him, can't I?

"Arigatou."

His eyes brighten. I didn't think that was possible... he kicks back in his position, looking extremely pleased.

"I'm glad!"

He exclaims. I lift my head as I look at him in surprise. He gives a Naruto-esque grin.

"Sometimes I feel like a real moron, you know? Not being able to do things right... but I feel really glad when I can help people like you!"

I feel an involuntary smile lift my lips. And I, Naruto-kun, am glad when I make you happy. You laugh while I giggle out of happiness. It feels nice to laugh with you like this, Naruto-kun.

"Really? Me too with you, Hinata!"

I didn't know I said that out loud! I can feel myself blush. Oh I really can be so stupid at times!

"Hinata!!"

Why is he calling my name out like that? Then I realise he isn't looking at me, he's looking at the skies. I smile.

This is when people call out to the heavens... it's when you acknowledge that name to whoever above. It makes me blush to realise he's acknowledging me, of all people. I sit up a little straighter, and cup my hands around my mouth.

"Naruto!!"

I call out, hiding my own grin when I sense his looking at me again. Then he catches on, and calls my name out yet again. I call his name out again, too. And again, and again.

Finally tired, I lean back against the pole. My cheeks are flushed from exertion. Funny; I didn't know laughing straight after crying could feel so good. Naruto shouted a lot louder than I did - he is now panting a little. I realise I am too.

"Hinata, I have never heard your voice so loud."

He comments after a moment. I giggle nervously.

"Me too."

I admit. He actually seems satisfied with that.... wait a minute... is he leaning closer? No, it must be my imagina-- no, he is leaning closer, he-- Oh. Oh my.

He just... pecked my cheek. He kissed my cheek. Oh. My.

"Arigatou, too,"

He sings, and jumping to his feet, he runs off, leaving me to stare at him with a heavy blush shrouding my vision.



My goodness, was writing this a good idea?? My face is so red now, and I'm positive I can hear my heart beating!! But today... Naruto-kun, today is something I want to remember, so I'm making sure I remember this... although I don't think I need the help to!

I will try my hardest to change myself to become stronger. I'll defend myself from people like brother Neji, or anyone else who tries to hurt me. Even if it takes time, I will try to be patient as he told me.

I'll continue to watch you, Naruto-kun. I will try to help you too, when you need it...

Yes, you've taught me so much, Naruto-kun. Just watching you has helped me... but that kiss to my cheek. What was that for? Was that to help me, too? But what would it help? It was so unlike you.... yet so like you. I can't explain it properly, but it's as if you couldn't express yourself through words so you did so through an action. But what does a kiss to the cheek mean for you? I want to know, but I can't ask -- and I certainly can't tell anyone!!

I flare red when I just remember the sensation of your lips on my skin. It was barely half a second, but it was so... what can I call it? It lasted for ages, yet only a second for me at the same time! Oh, I certainly can't tell anyone about it...

But, Naruto-kun... ano... I can't help but be quite curious...

What *was* that kiss for?