It's Easy

to Doubt Yourself

Author's Note: I don't own Naruto. This story is on the basis that Naruto and Hinata somehow didn't go back over the years and acknowledge each others' feelings and has to do with the confession during the battle with Nagato. I think it's plausible. A second chapter is possible, but that will probably be the end of it. Enjoy.

Warning: Some sad imagery, fits of depression and self-doubt in the beginning. Things move along quickly. Change in POV.

I cried that night, watching the powerful river compel the land to submit, dominating it while it released a wicked roar, the likes of which I imagined a dragon or a lion would bellow out! I cried some more, realizing that I could never be the river; I would forever be the river bed, set in the ground as the river punished me and went against my will.

Last night, I asked Kami-sama to take away all of the insecurities, the nerves, the soul wracking fear. I cried, sad because my father had no love for me. I flushed red, upset with myself because I couldn't stand up to him and his harsh words even though every fiber that encompassed me, like strings around a spool, twanged and snagged in knots from the rough handling of careless hands, and so they dared me, saying: 'Go! Tell him how you really feel: how you can't stand the way he belittles you because you don't meet his ridiculous expectations, and also that you are following your own path, not some predestined load that he and the clan has been trying to spoon-feed you ever since you were a child! Tell them all that you don't want to be the heir to the clan…' I heard the dare in my heart, it thundered like the steady drum of footsteps on the fields at war.

It was loud. No, loud wasn't accurate: I have never heard a sound quite like it. I felt like I was drowning in it. It was absorbing. I became a part of it and it a part of me.

I thought of a raging river, roaring right in front of me. I could barely recall what mission it was which had me camping nearby some rapids. Together with sensei and my team. It was far up north, just below the Rice Country.

I couldn't sleep. My bladder was full. It was Kurenai's watch and I excused myself from the campfire, going out of the campsite to pee. We could all hear the river in the background. It must have been the river. I pondered over going to see it at night. It was a while away, but I eventually walked to it.

Once I arrived, I stood before it in awe wondering if maybe I could be like this river. If only I could speak so loud that no one else could say a word. Or if I could only be more assertive, maybe a little stronger too, I could be like this river and carve my own path in the land.

I didn't need the clan. I could live without it. I could never have been born. Things would have been so much easier.

I wanted to be the river. A dragon… in control of my fate. The dragon is said to hold Yin and Yang in its claw. To me, that meant the dragon held its own fate. Maybe one day I'll look into it a little more, find out what it really means. But that day, the idea suited me.

I knew I held Yin in my hand, but I was missing Yang. Where I should've been assertive, I was timid. When I was supposed to show leadership and strength, I instead showed how I dawdled in adherence and fought uselessly with my weaknesses.

I looked up at the moon that night and puzzled away with no hope left in my heart of ever finding it, the last bit of hope fluttering away on the cool breeze which carried the mist which splashed against the bare skin of my face and neck...

… where is my Yin?

But still, the sound was not that of a dragon. It was much more. It was louder, stronger, and dared me on in a way I knew was not evil or wrong; rather, it was more encouraging than anything else. It encouraged me to be.

'Yatta!' It exclaimed. It sounded just like then. 'Hinata! Do your best!' That pounding of my heart was his voice telling me to get back up. To be strong, to stand up for myself! I thought once that I found my Yang in Naruto, but he couldn't spare any; he found his Yin apparently, and it wasn't me. I wanted to be his darkness, his weakness, to make him whole, because I saw nothing but light and strength in him. I begged him with my eyes, my persistence, my quiet whispers to myself, but he never heard any of them.

His ears couldn't hear any of my whispers because I was only a small, crying girl sitting in front of a magnificent river that engulfed the sound.

Hinata sat up in her bed. It was cozy, comforting to someone who dreaded stepping out of the bed every morning. She closed her eyes and hung her head down, taking in a deep breath as she relished in peace and quiet that she only seemed to get in her room, and not always all of the time.

The day had to start though; Hinata threw the covers aside and stood up. She looked around her room and found her headband stuffed into a mess of clothes underneath her bed. She groaned, knelt down on her knees and scooped out her dirty clothes from yesterday's training session in the rain. When she stood back up, she walked over to the full-body mirror hanging from her closet door. She avoided looking into the mirror and opened the door quickly, grabbed some clothes, while dumping the dirty ones in her laundry basket, and then ran to the restroom to take a shower.

When she came back to the mirror, her gaze shot straight down to the ground. She sighed and looked up from the floor. She bit her lower lip and surveyed the odd curves of her body, watching as she ran her finger tips along her thighs, hips and stomach and awkwardly bringing them up along her breasts until she hugged herself with her palms resting on her shoulders. She wore lavender colored underwear with slightly darker purple trim. It was something that Kurenai, surprisingly enough, had bought for her as a present for her eighteenth birthday. It didn't matter that Hinata actually screamed at her for giving her the gift in public, in a sake house no less since it was also the first time she tried alcohol. Hinata chuckled as she dug her thumbs into the waist band of her panties, tugging on it gently and letting it snap back into place, forming a perfect contour that hung off of her hips and showed the softly toned muscles of her hips and abdomen.

However, what Hinata saw was far from a perfect.

In her mind, she didn't see the shapely hips that turned heads. To her, they were too big and embarrassing. She saw clumsy and bulky, not sexy, even with the fancy underwear. Unfortunately, the more she thought of herself as unsexy and a klutz, the more it seemed to surface. A placebo effect. It was a shame. She had just started believing in herself, for the first time, a few years ago. What happened that changed all of that?

Hinata's hands slowly trailed back down to her stomach. She pinched at her skin, and in her mind her soft, but still firm stomach carried too much fat. She wished she was skinnier like some of the girls, and maybe asking for Ino's shapely body was too much, but she would have preferred an athletic build like Sakura's or Tenten's.

Her hands shook as she reached her breasts. She cupped them and tears began to bead up in the corners of her eyes. More fat. Useless baggage that got in the way when she was on missions and drew ugly stares from men and women alike; men who ogled her like a piece of meat allowed their eyes to linger on her bosom for too long, while women glanced and huffed, furrowed brows and pouted lips while they gazed away from her and sometimes shooting repeated glances when they thought she was not looking. For all the looks she received for them, the one pair of eyes that she always hoped to catch staring never seemed to be interested.

Worse yet, Hinata's once clear complexion was marred with annoying marks that came in only a year ago when she was seventeen: freckles. She hated them. They appeared on her face first, and from there they spread downwards. They marred a playful trail over her shoulders and chest, dipping between her breasts and dotting a trail just below her bosom sporadically until they disappeared, only to reappear along her thighs and knees. If Hinata wasn't self-conscious enough already, then the horrid little marks would ensure that she would never wear a bathing suit again. Hinata's first reaction was to go to the hospital and have them checked, but neither Sakura nor Shizune could find anything wrong, saying it was often natural for people to gain freckles even upwards into their late twenties. They claimed it was nothing to worry about but to Hinata it was just another change in her, added to the list of items that was wrong with her body.

Another was her eyes. They were the cold, pupil-less eyes of the Hyuga clan and no matter how she sliced it, they were anything but pretty. In the mirror, she saw the eyes of an empty doll. It was as if the day Kami-sama made her he accidently forgot to dot the eyes and by the time she was born it was too late to go back. She found that idea silly, that the god that created the world couldn't go back and change something so simple, she thought, as the Hyuga's eyes. Or maybe there was no Kami. If there was, he wouldn't have let her go through so much to end up with so little.

A frustrated look crossed Hinata's face while she scrutinized the awkward girl she saw standing in the mirror. She reached for her hair and stroked it from behind her neck to bring it out in front, covering part of her neck and her left breast with its length.

Hinata smiled. It was the one thing she was proud of. Her hair was beautiful. Even when she felt no hope, she knew she could confide in the beauty of her hair and hide behind its pretty veil. She grew out her hair because she once heard that boys, and especially Naruto, liked longer hair on girls.

Hinata breathed in the scent of her shampoo on her hair and sighed, opening the closet door once more and taking her clothes off of the hangers.

Once Hinata was dressed, she stepped out of her room and closed the door silently behind her.

She watched a servant walk by and tried her best to smile pleasantly, happy to receive a warm smile and a greeting of 'good morning!' in return.

Hinata stepped down the hall silently, hoping to avoid most of the elders and the rest of the family. She did not mind saying hello and even spending time with them; however, lately all she has been given, over and over, are lectures about her training, both as a shinobi and in the family politics. They didn't bother to ask her how she was doing, aside from the training. All they wanted to know was that their investments in Hiashi had not been for naught and to secure a strong foothold in the next generation. After all, Hinata, as clan head, would secure for herself a place in Konoha's council, and they always wanted to know just which monetary and business interests Hinata would pursue while a working member there.

The person that Hinata wanted to avoid most, however, was her own sister. Hinata treaded quietly so as not to bring attention to herself. To her joy, she knew that the front door to the house and then the open courtyard was only a few steps and a turn away. Just as she was about to make that turn, however, the front doors opened and Hinata cringed visibly at her bad luck.

Be strong, Hinata, for her sake.

Hanabi shut the door behind her and looked up, smiling fondly at her older sister as the two siblings met each other halfway and embraced one another in a friendly hug.

"Hi, big sister. I am so glad I caught you here. I haven't seen you in a whole week!"

Hinata smiled at her younger sister. Her smile, however, faltered as always the longer her eyes lingered on the headband that Hanabi wore on her forehead. "Yes. It has been quite a while. I am happy to see you, dear sister!" She kissed her younger sister on the cheek and smiled when Hanabi groaned and rubbed her face where she had been pecked, rolling her eyes.

"Jeez. Do you always have to do that? I'm not a baby, you know." Hanabi grumbled, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"I only do it because I love you very much. How was your mission with Konohamaru-kun?"

Hanabi grinned. "Fun. Better than I thought it would be." There was a slight tinge to her cheeks when she said the word fun, which made Hinata raise her eyebrows slightly.

"I see. Did this fun happen to be centered on young Konohamaru-kun?"

Hanabi smirked, blushing brightly now, and zipped her lips with her index and thumb and a sound to accompany it, looking like Akamaru after Hinata gave him a treat even though Kiba told her not to.

Hinata smiled and pinched the young girl's nose. "Well, since you're zipped shut, I suppose I'll just be on my way. I have a long day ahead of me." Hinata walked past her younger sister after offering a slight bow and reached for the door handle.

"Ah, wait, Hinata!"

"What was that? I'm sorry, I couldn't quite hear you there, Hanabi-chan!" Hinata said, turning around with a playful smile on her face.

Hanabi grumbled, looking annoyed, and made a zipping sound with her mouth as she 'unzipped' her lips again and said, "Better?"

"Ah, now I can hear you clearly." Hinata turned around and glanced at the girl's hitai'ate once more before looking into her sister's serious-looking eyes.

"Sister, can I go with you today to see your friends?"

Hinata thought about that for a second. That's right… today we were all supposed to meet. Naruto was finally going to take a break after four consecutive months of meetings with other villages.

She was proud of him. He was finally doing his Hokage training. She was sure he was happy. So she was happy for him.

Hinata turned her attention back to her curious sister, who had taken the pause to study the look that crossed over Hinata's face as she thought of the blond boy.

"So… is that ok?"

Hinata nodded, "Sure, Hanabi-chan. But why the interest suddenly in my friends?"

Hanabi, maintaining the hot red color on her cheeks muttered, "Well, Naruto's coming back, so Konohamaru of course is going to be there… he didn't invite me to join him, but even though we're friends I know I can't expect to be everywhere he happens to be… but it would be nice if I could see him again and join you as your guest."

Hinata smiled. Anything if it meant her sister was just a little happier.

"I will meet you at Ichiraku at four in the afternoon then, ok? Naruto should arrive shortly after."

Hanabi nodded, laughing. "Ichiraku, of course! Thanks, Hinata-san!" She hugged her older sister warmly, then turned and Hinata swore she just saw the young girl skip down the hall.

"It's so odd… that she has the same taste in boys as I do." Hinata said to herself, smiling though she felt a slight twinge in her chakra coils. It felt like they were being squeezed.

Hinata didn't think much of Konohamaru, other than he was sort of like a miniature version of Naruto. He was a nice enough kid, but he was more spoilt rotten than Naruto could ever pretend to be. She did notice, however, that he had grown significantly taller. She did also like that ever since Konohamaru and Hanabi had become friends, the cold outer shell of her younger sister completely shattered. Even her current situation couldn't alter her cheery mood whenever she was around him. It was obviously, love. Hinata knew.

She chuckled mirthlessly.

She stood in front of the door, closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and stepped outside.

Once she walked across the courtyard and out the front gate, Hinata walked along a narrow pathway through a small patch of forest that opened up into a conveniently private clearing only a short distance away from her home. She used this clearing whenever she thought she needed to relax or relieve some of the pressure she felt from being a shinobi or a Hyuga, or even just the complicated pressures of being a girl who wanted only to do her best and meet up with the expectations of the world around her.

Hinata couldn't stop the first drop, and so she found that each one after that was harder and harder to coerce back in. She didn't make any mewling or bawling sounds from the pain that she felt, but it was hard to hold back the tears from coming when she knew that she was the reason why her sister was branded with the Hyuga branch family seal.

Once it was completely certain that Hinata would step up to be the leader of the Hyuga clan after her father would eventually step down, it was decided that keeping Hanabi as a head member was no longer necessary, and so she served the head as a branch member, just like their cousin Neji.

But what was the alternative? For Hinata to become the one they sealed? In the end, it was all about self-preservation, wasn't it? Life: that was the meaning to it, if you could call it meaning. Preserve your own way of life at the expense of others'. Pretend you were only protecting yourself and that the consequences of your survival did not affect anyone else.

Hinata thought they would forget about the stupid Hyuga custom, so it didn't occur to her in the slightest that she would be condemning her own sister to a life a servitude and constant fear of being killed using the mark on her forehead which now attached itself to much of Hanabi's vital organs, including her brain and spinal cord.

She knew about this because she had studied it under the pretense of trying to learn as much as she could as the future head of the clan, when in reality she has been looking for some way to remove the blasted thing so that once she was the leader of the clan she could abolish the discriminatory mark from everyone and show her family how important it was to regard every family member with the same respect and love.

As noble as it sounded, Hinata knew she was nowhere near finding a cure for the mark, but she would not give up. One day, like she hoped he would, it would call out to her and she would find its shimmering light in the distance, and she would go to it.

After composing herself, she walked out of the forest and back into the main streets as she directed herself to her jonin sensei and her two friends. Even though they were technically no longer a cell, they met up together for group training sessions and to keep up with one another's lives. Hinata always enjoyed seeing her friends, and she was especially excited to see, when she arrived, that Kurenai had brought her child for a visit.

Hinata gasped with a bright, genuine smile when she saw the young girl and immediately dropped down to her knees as she waited for the two-year-old-nearing-three to rush over to her for a hug. "Bibi-chan!"

Bibi, or Biwako as she was named for her grandmother, Sarutobi Hiruzen's wife, as it was the only suggestion that Asuma had offered when he and Kurenai had discussed prospective names for the child prior to his death.


Hinata chuckled at the way the young girl pronounced her name. "Oh, it's so nice to see you, Bibi-chan! I missed you."

"Me too!" she said, smiling brightly.

"Why don't you come and stay with me next time so that I don't have to miss you anymore?"

"Nooo!" Bibi said, her eyebrows furrowing as she grabbed at Hinata's jacket with her small, grubby hands. "Nooo!" she repeated, obviously upset that Hinata had even mentioned her staying anywhere away from her mommy.

Kurenai chuckled inwardly, but on the outside she said, "Bibi! Now, don't be rude! Why don't you want to stay with Hinata-chan? I bet she'd take very good care of you!"

Bibi threw back her head and whined now, tears appearing in her eyes as her long hair swung back and forth down her back. "Noooooooooo!"

Hinata tried not to laugh, while Kiba and Shino just arrived in their usual training grounds. "Oi! What's going on, huh?"

Hinata looked up with slightly widened eyes, her lips curving at the corners of her mouth as she said, happily, "Kiba-kun! Shino-kun!"

Kurenai waved at the boys, then turned back to her daughter and said, "Bibi… now why don't you want to stay with Hina-chan? She would love it if you spent just one night with her. You don't want to hurt her feelings, do you?" Kurenai asked, placing her hands on her hips as she walked around the young girl and knelt down beside Hinata.

Shino's eyebrows peeked above his sunglasses while Kiba chuckled.

Suddenly, Biwako tossed herself at her mother and wrapped her arms in a fierce hug around the woman's neck, crying loudly. Kurenai, shocked at the girl's distress, patted her gently on her back as she hiccupped between sobs.

"I'm sorry, baby, I didn't mean to make you upset. There, there." Kurenai whispered, cooing in the young girl's ear as she choked back a few more quiet whimpers.

"I don't ever want to leave you, mommy…" Bibi whispered.

Hinata smiled. She reached over and set her palm on the young girl's shoulder. Bibi looked up only slightly from her mother's chest, eyeing the blue-haired girl with one eye peeking out.

"Bibi-chan, don't you worry about that. I would never try and keep you away from your mommy. In fact, I promise to always be around for you and your mommy, as long as you need me."

Bibi eyed the girl curiously, and then buried her face back in Kurenai's chest as she dug her fingers into her blouse, trying her best to hide her face away from peering eyes.

"Promise?" Bibi said, suddenly, making Hinata pause for a second before answering.

She noticed the looks that Kiba and Shino were giving her, but she said, confidently, "Of course. It's a promise, Biwako. I swear to always be there for you and your mommy. It's my ninja way to stand behind my word, so you can believe it."

Kurenai chuckled, shaking her head as she kissed the top of her daughter's head. "Alrighty, now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, it's time for you four to begin your training!"

Bibi suddenly shot up from her mother's gentle embrace and ran over to one of the trees nearby to pick up a leaf. Hinata and the others watched her go.

When she found just the right leaf, she grabbed it and ran over quickly to her mother, squatting down on the floor and placing it on her forehead as she began pretending to be a ninja.

Kiba laughed, "She's dedicated! I hated doing the leaf exercise!"

"That's because you were a lazy excuse of an academy student." Shino bluntly pointed out.

Kiba glared with a pale face at the insult, his eye twitching slightly as he said, "You know, that's the reason why no one can remember you're there. You only talk when you are insulting someone's intelligence."

"Not true. If you paid more attention during our conversations, you would remember that is hardly the case."

"There you go again, insulting my ability to remember stuff now."

"Now, now." Kurenai said, frowning at her two students, "Take out that frustration on each other on the training ground."

Kiba grinned, "Sounds like a good idea."

"I concur," said Shino, adjusting his sunglasses with his middle finger.

Kiba's eyes widened lice saucers and he pointed, "You just! You bastard!"

"Language, damn it!"

"Damn it, you bastard!" Bibi added, making Hinata gasp and Kurenai glare daggers at the two boys.

Hinata watched from the sidelines as the two boys attacked one another competitively, while Kurenai had a talk with her young daughter. She then practiced her gentle step method for nearly a half hour when suddenly she had the urge to leave. She didn't want to be around anyone. She didn't want to practice her advanced fighting style because she was only reminded of Naruto when she did. She was reminded of her useless confession and near-death that led only to his psychotic state where he unleashed an enormous amount of energy. Of the way he simply seemed to ignore her open words and actions during the Pain invasion as nothing more than a passing thought. He apparently hadn't heard her confession. That or he chose not to acknowledge it. Perhaps he cared for her as only a friend? He didn't want her love. Not in that way.

Hinata excused herself, much to Kurenai's dismay, but was able to slink away while she was busy trying to get her daughter to stop saying the word bastard.

Walking through the forest, something Hinata had grown accustomed to as she often ran away from her fears when she was younger to the false sense of safety that the trees and brush provided, Hinata breathed in the fresh air while she pushed away thoughts of what would happen later on today. It was sort of like looking away from the pain. It was the same pain, but somehow, she felt it a little less because she didn't force herself to face it.

Suddenly, Hinata felt a presence that seemed eerily familiar. Her eyes peered around the forest and she contemplated activating her byakugan ability since she couldn't see a physical body of where the chakra signature was coming from. In fact, it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, even a little from her was being pulled in. She tried to resist at first, but eventually she gave in and she blushed when she realized who it was.

As she neared the epicenter where she knew the chakra was all gathering, she came upon a small creek and saw the telltale sign of blond hair and splash of orange that, even after all of these years, he had still been unable to part with.

"Naruto-kun." She whispered, once again, to herself.

To her surprise, he opened his eyes and his hands, which were facing palms up with his fingers pinched together as he drew in chakra from the surroundings, came to rest flat on his crossed legs as he looked up directly at the bleunette.

"Hinata." He stood up from the ground beside the nearby creek and walked through the water to stand before her.

Hinata, shocked at the way he was looking at her, smiled off-kilter "Uhm… Hi, Naruto-kun."

"Hi to you too," he said, eyeing her closely. Hinata almost broke under his gaze and the silence that accompanied it, but was relieved tremendously when he asked, "How did you know I was out here?"

"I didn't… I was… in the area." Her face was turning red, she just knew it. She hated being so timid.

"You always did like to walk around aimlessly in the forest, don't you, Hinata-chan?" Naruto chuckled, apparently in a light mood while he blatantly insulted her.

Hinata frowned, "You don't have to be mean. I like to walk and think, and the forest is the quietest place I know. If you're going to act like that, then I'll see you later." Hinata said, utterly shocking herself as she suddenly felt as if she had taken a backseat to her actions. Did she really just tell him that?

When he didn't react, except looking at her with slightly widened eyes, she turned to walk away. He snagged her arm though, before she could take another step, and held on firmly. It didn't hurt, but she knew he wouldn't let go even if she resisted.

"Wait, sorry. I didn't mean anything bad by that. Sometimes it's nice to be by yourself for no real reason. I mean, that's what I was doing right now before you found me."

Hinata didn't speak. She felt Naruto's hand trail down her arm until he was holding hers. She was beet red now, there was no mistaking it. But what was with him anyways? He didn't show this sentimental side before today. What was so different?

"You found me… huh. Hinata, want to hang out for a bit? I feel like we should have hung out a little more, especially after what happened back then."

"Oh really, what was that again? I must have forgotten it all." Hinata snapped, bitterly.

Naruto, again at a loss for words, reached for her arm and pulled her close while he stood in the water of the creek, feeling the water roll over the top of his toes, making him shiver. "What do you mean? How could you forget? I didn't…"

"Really? Then why don't you tell me." Hinata turned, glaring at him with tears in her eyes. "It's been so long since then. Three years almost, right?"

Naruto gulped. "

Right?" She asked again.

"Right… I…"

"I don't want to talk to you… ever again. I'll see you at your reunion party."

Naruto flinched when she swiped her hand away from his. Then he watched her leave, fuming from whatever was going on in her mind.

He couldn't believe it. Had he just been rejected by Hyuga Hinata? The girl who had a crush on him ever since the academy?

Hinata wiped away the tears while she walked. Hinata, what the hell is wrong with you? Isn't this what you wanted? He basically handed himself to you with a bow wrapped around his neck and you rejected him!

She shook her head, trying still to rub out the tears, wondering if they would stop coming before she rubbed her eyes out completely.

"Baka. I can't believe you. You ignore me for so long and then just expect to be able to pick me up at your own whim? Damn it, you bastard." Hinata couldn't help but laugh between her sobs. She knew she still loved him, but she couldn't just go to him after rejecting him the way she had. Why had he even come onto her so quickly? What changed, Naruto? Who changed you?


Hinata, shocked, looked behind her as Naruto ran up to her. She snapped back around to look away, intent on keeping her word of never speaking to him again. He tried to catch her eyes, standing in front of her, but when she turned her face away he grabbed her by her chin gently and slowly shifted himself over until he was gazing directly into her pupil-less eyes.

"Hinata-chan. Look at me. You don't have to say anything, just hear me out." He said, his tone soft and his eyes serious; the way they looked when he was in a fight for his life.

She stopped trying to look away and found herself ensnared in his gaze as he held her hand and used his other hand to hold her by the small of her back to ensure that she did not get away.

"Thank you. Hinata, I don't know what I said to make you so mad at me. I'm sorry; that's the last thing I wanted. But please, even if you don't say anything, just bat your eyes twice if you remember what you told me that day."

Hinata stared into his eyes, her skin crawling everywhere he touched her, and she bit her lips to stop her wanton voice from breaking through her closed mouth.

She blinked once, then twice.

Naruto flashed a genuinely happy smile, his teeth showing behind his parted lips. "Hinata… you scared me. I thought you had forgotten."

How could I, you fool. Hinata said in her head, still caught up in his eyes as he reached down with his other hand to wrap his arms around her.

She pressed her palms against his chest to make sure that he didn't try to hug her. She couldn't deal with it if he had. It was already too taxing to feel his muscled chest under the ashy gray shirt he wore beneath the brightly lit, orange coat.

"You scared me." He repeated, his eyes looking down to the ground now, while his arms loosened only slightly around her waist.

Hinata remained still, her eyes now seeking his as he looked away.

"When you told me you loved me, I was glad. I didn't know anyone who loved me the way you had. I had plenty of people who cared about me then, and I knew it, but not anyone like you. I was happy to return that love back then, but then what you said afterwards to Pain scared me. You said, word for word, 'I stand by what I say, because that's my Nindo.'" Naruto looked back into her eyes and watched as her eyebrows narrowed. "I couldn't simply accept your feelings after you said that."

Hinata, angry at the bullshit excuse, spoke up finally, "Why not? You couldn't figure it out after almost three years? Instead, you just left me guessing? What made it so impossible for you to return my feelings?"

Naruto smiled, shaking his head. "I realized that what I could offer you… paled in comparison with what you had given to me. I didn't want to fall into so much debt with you. I knew that I would be paying you back for the rest of my life… and beyond that… and I suddenly realized that I wasn't sure about my love for you. After all, what about Sakura? What about all of the other girls who meant so much to me throughout my travels? Some you knew, some you didn't. I didn't know how to react suddenly. I didn't know what to think."

Hinata stared at him in silence. All this time.

"I didn't know if I could… love you back as much as you loved me. No one had ever cared to remember any of the silly things that I've said in the past and lived, word for word, the way I said I wanted to live. Because it's your nindo…" he laughed, still reeling from the effects those words had on him, and he found that his fingers couldn't help but slowly trail down from her waist onto her hips. When she didn't push him away, he leaned in slowly. "I realized how important those words had become for you, and the last thing I wanted to do was ruin them by disillusioning you once you realized how unworthy I was."

Hinata began to wobble, but Naruto's firm hands gripped her hips and pulled them closer in contact with his. She suddenly stepped forwards, pressing her entire body against his as she accepted his embrace. "Naruto-kun," she said, shaking her head as she pressed her forehead against his chest.

"Please Hinata, give me one more chance. I promise not to disappoint. After all, you can count on my word. You know that better than anyone."

Hinata looked into his eyes as he spoke and shook her head slowly. "Naruto. For more than two years, I have been telling myself that the reason why you pushed me away was because of me; my weakness, my ugly body, my lack of… something… everything. Instead, all of this time, it wasn't any of that? You were just scared that you weren't good enough? Are you sure? Naruto, please tell me it's because you think I'm not pretty enough for you. Please tell me it's because I'm weak, and pathetic. Tell me that I can never be good enough for you, and I'd believe you."

Naruto, shocked, stepped back away from her embrace to look at her. She was crying.

She knew it. It was true. She was the problem; always. He just pitied her. He couldn't love her.

Confused and feeling sympathy for the beautiful girl before him, and anger at himself for mishandling her feelings, Naruto began saying, "Hinata. A lot of things happened after you confessed to me. So many things, many happening beforehand too."

Hinata nodded, "I know… Naruto, I'm so sorry you lost your sensei. I wish I could have known him."

Naruto, surprised, smiled at her words. "Me too. I'm sure he would have liked that."

He reached for her shoulders and she gasped when she felt his fingers grip her firmly, trailing up and down her shoulders until he slowly made his way to her neck. His hands cupped her neck and the back of her head, and he pulled her close. "But as pretty as you are, Hinata, or your undeniable strength, the courage you've always had in you to face an opponent much stronger than you, or your compassion for people, no matter how they've wronged you…"

"Naruto-kun," Hinata gasped, her eyes gazing into his as she felt compelled to lean in closer.

"… all of those things, they are what made me feel unworthy… Hinata… I do love you. I'm sorry it took me so long… so… if you give me one more chance…" He closed his eyes, tilting his head as he leaned in.

Hinata gasped for breath, but found none. Her lower lip quivered and she said, "Naruto, I don't… I don't know if I could…"

"Let me prove myself to you."

Hinata closed her eyes, but right when their lips touched, she pulled away.

"Prove it to me then," Hinata said after taking a moment to compose herself properly and quell the shaking that gripped her from her toes to her skull. "Today, is Konohamaru going to be at your reunion with your team?"

Hinata watched Naruto and saw the gears moving about in his head. She saw the dumbfounded look on his face and tried not to laugh, even though she wanted so much just to grab him and kiss him and tell him to forget about his friends and just lie there in the forest with her. It was an accumulation of a hundred naughty nights and a thousand longing days that left her so greedy for him, and yet, she realized, she was strong enough to resist it in order to make good on her word to invite her sister as her guest.

"Yeah, I saw him earlier actually. He said he wanted to come. I didn't think much of it… why, is there something you want from him?"

Hinata smiled. "Actually, there's something I want from you. I am going to invite someone as my guest to your party… could you tell him that that someone can't wait to see him?"

Naruto, confused and a little upset, muttered, "Wait a minute. Are you talking about you, or are you really bringing someone else with you?

Hinata laughed, though inside she was still shocked at how easy it was for her to carry on in the conversation even though he had finally made the move on her.

"Jealous, are we, Na-ru-to-kun?" Hinata bit her lower lip and leaned in close. "After what you've told me today… promise me… give me your word that you'll tell Konohamaru, and that you're fine with me bringing a guest, and, as simple as that: I'll give you that second chance." Hinata, then, was the one who reached for him and pulled him in close as soon as she saw his head bobble up and down.

When she kissed him she moaned into the kiss, elated to finally be able to enjoy it. She closed her eyes and parted her lips when she felt his tongue search for a way in. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he wrapped his around her waist, lifting her up off of her feet as they kissed.

She didn't know it was going to be this good. She knew that after this, they still had a lot of sorting out to do, and the words they shared may have only halfway represented their true feelings of love for the present and resentment toward the past, but she now had plenty of hope for the future.

"Hinata," He whispered in between kisses. She moaned yes against his mouth and wrapped her legs around his waist as he pressed her back up against a tree nearby. He kissed again and pulled away only briefly to say, "Be my strength; without you, I am weak."

Hinata tensed suddenly. She looked at him and remembered Yin and Yang. She thought she was weak, and he was strong. But what Hinata forgot when she looked at the symbol, that yes, it was made up of two halves but each half had a little of the other within it.

Did that mean that sometimes, she was the stronger of the two? That sometimes he would truly need to rely on her? She gasped when he kissed her throat, but hardly because she didn't see it coming. What really made her shudder, was how adept his lips and finger tips seemed to be. "Naruto, take off your jacket."

He chuckled against her throat, his voice reverberating through her upper body until she swore she felt it start to move its way down into her toes as they curled from the briefly painful sucking that he applied to just above her collarbone. "You take yours off first… I want to see just how far those cute little freckles go."

Hinata moaned out his name, shaking her head. "Don't call them cute… I hate them so much."

Naruto shook his head and kissed her on the lips, nibbling on her lower lip before pulling away, "They look great on you. In fact," Naruto used his index and middle finger to pull the front of her shirt out after he unzipped her jacket as he peered in between her generous bosom. "They're not only good form, but functional as well… it looks like I have a trail to follow with my lips… now your shirt."

Hinata had just removed her jacket and it was caught behind her back while her arms were still sitting within the sleeves as he dug his hips up into her spread open thighs. She gasped when he started kissing lower, but whimpered as his lips ghosted each of her twin peaks, one by one in soft, tantalizing circles. "I can't," she whined, stressing how her arms were stuck in her sleeves as the jacket was caught behind her back as he continued to grind his hips into hers. She couldn't lift her arms up very far because of their confines.

Naruto arched a brow and smirked, "I see… well, here, let me help you out of it." He used his hips to hold her up against the tree while his hands reached up and he grabbed her shirt by the collar. To her dismay, he tore her shirt down enough so that he could see her chest and a peek at her abdomen. His lips moved to kiss the freckles on each of her cheeks, and then, after leaving a winding trail of moist kisses all around her throat, he pulled the shoulders to her shirt so that they hugged her body in a similar fashion to her jacket, falling behind her and becoming trapped mercilessly against the tree.

His lips made sure to peck at every change in color that he could see. He loved the way she reeled at his attentive kissing; how her hips bucked when he reached behind them and gripped her firm buttocks like his hands were carved out of the same shinobi steel that was used to make kunai and shuriken. He loved the way she watched in desperate anticipation as his lips found their way in the valley between her sensitive mounds of flesh; how she couldn't seem to contain her gasps as he made short work of the freckles that trailed down, some even appearing as far as just above her belly button.

"I should check down here too." Before Hinata even knew it, her pants were pulled off and Naruto's head was nestled gently between her warming thighs. She didn't have the strength to wrap them around his head; instead, she simply reclined back against the tree and silently begged him on.

After several minutes of lavishing attention to the inside of her thighs and fringing upon her core, Naruto eventually pulled aside her legs, one by one, placing her square back on the ground as he kissed his way back up, grabbing a breast in his hand and squeezing it as he leaned in and sucked the opposite earlobe into his mouth, suckling on it at the same time he played with her nipple through the fabric of her brassiere. When he was done, he whispered, "I love you, Hinata. Everything about you."

"Naruto-kun… that was… amazing…" she said back, throatily. "Why did you stop?"

He laughed, leaning against her, but still, Hinata couldn't quite believe he was simply going to end it this way.