THE DREAM WEDDING.
Disclaimer: Yesterday I discovered, to my immeasurable shock, that I AM actually Masashi Kishimoto. I confronted my mother about it and she confessed that my identity was being kept a secret for my own protection, to keep me from being killed by rabid NaruSasu shippers out to change the ending of the manga at any cost. This means that I actually DO own Naruto and no-one can use any of the characters or settings, including the ones in this story, without my permission. Don't ask me how I managed to write the manga for over a decade without even knowing I was doing it.
In case you are terminally sarcasm-blind, everything I said above is completely false. I just think disclaimers are a colossal waste of time and space for stating the bleeding obvious. The least I can do is try and make them vaguely amusing.
Hyuuga Hinata sat completely motionless, white eyes staring straight ahead without blinking, as her two attendants made the final checks to her hair and makeup, ensured her ornate, heavy kimono was completely straight and perfect and adjusted the traditional tsunokakushi headcloth perched on top of her head. The girls chattered excitedly to her about how beautiful she looked and how lucky she was that her special day was here and Hinata managed a weak smile without really listening to them. They seemed so happy for her that she felt it would have been unfair of her to let them know how little she shared in their enthusiasm.
Hinata knew that a girl's wedding day was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. Unlike some of the other girls, she'd never spent much of her childhood fantasising about her own wedding, but she'd been at least aware that it was something for her to look forward to some time in her future. But she'd never suspected that when the day finally came, she'd be approaching it with such hesitation and regret.
Ever since she was old enough to understand such things, Hinata had been aware that she would quite likely not have the freedom of choosing her own marriage partner. As the heir to the Hyuuga clan, the oldest, most powerful and most traditional clan in Konoha, she knew her marriage would have great ramifications for the future of the clan. But that knowledge had been much easier to accept when she was still young and her bonds went no further than her family, when she'd had no reason to think about marriage except as a vague concept in her future. Now the time had finally come for her to do her duty to her clan, it was painfully clear how much this duty would end up costing her.
The two attendants finished putting the final touches on Hinata's appearance, then stood back, bowed and departed the room, leaving Hinata alone with her thoughts until her father came to collect her for the ceremony.
Her husband-to-be was the head of the most prominent ninja family from Kirigakure, a powerful and traditional family in several ways similar to the Hyuuga. In the aftermath of the 4th Shinobi World War, the great villages had embarked on a wide variety of programs to strengthen the bonds that had been formed between them by that epic conflict. Student exchange programs, large joint projects, friendly competitive events and an expansion of trade routes, among other things, had led to a world that knew peace the likes of which had not been seen in recorded history. In this era of peace there had been a sudden upsurge of marriages between couples from different villages, further cementing the bonds between them. While Nara Shikamaru denied he and Temari of Suna were planning on formalising anything any time in the foreseeable future, Hinata had heard from his teammate Ino that Shikamaru's mother had taken an unexpectedly strong liking to her son's girlfriend and it looked like the two would soon be ganging up on him to make the decision for him.
In light of these developments, the elders of the Hyuuga clan had conferred with Hinata's father Hiashi and they had agreed that an arranged marriage between Hinata and the head of the Kaishi clan of Kiri would be for the greater benefit of both the Hyuuga clan and Konoha as a whole. The man in question, Kaishi Hideaki, was twenty-seven, ten years older than Hinata, a Jounin, and had served as a team leader in the second division during the World War. That was effectively all Hinata knew about the man she was about to marry. She had never met him until today and had no idea what kind of person he was. In fact, she wasn't entire sure she had even remembered his name correctly- was it Hideaki or Hiroaki? Her opinion on the marriage had not been considered when the offer was made, nor was it considered significant. It was for the good of the clan, therefore as the eldest daughter of the family head, as well as heir to that position herself, she could have no possible objections.
Hinata would not object. But she knew that it was good that her happiness was not a consideration in this marriage, as she knew she would never be able to truly give her heart to her husband. Despite her best hopes, she had always feared that her feelings for the one boy she had always loved, Uzumaki Naruto, would not be able to be returned, and now this marriage would force her to put even those unrequited feelings away forever. He could still remain her friend, albeit from the appropriately proper distance for a married woman of her position, but the love that had given her the courage to throw herself between Naruto and certain death, that had given her the resolve to stand by his side in the face of armageddon- those feelings would be forbidden to her.
In the year since the war's end, Hinata had not had many opportunities to see Naruto. As the hero of the war, he had been working harder than anyone in the world to help solidify the peace between the villages into something permanent. Furthermore, he'd been occupied practically full-time with his training to prepare him to formally assume the position of Hokage. Tsunade-sama had only barely managed to survive the final conflict of the war and had decided that it was almost time to stand down. But Naruto, for all his indomitable strength and courage, was still only a young man, so Tsunade had declared he should complete an extensive course of studies in order to learn what it took to be Hokage- things just as important as strength, such as civil leadership, social management and diplomacy. While Hinata was proud to see Naruto so close to finally achieving the goal that had been his dream ever since he was a boy, she had been saddened to find that this had left almost no time for them to spend together.
For more than a year, there had been the feeling that something had been left unresolved. Hinata knew that Naruto was aware of her feelings for him, ever since she had confessed them to him herself as he lay staked helplessly to the ground by Pain's black onyx rods. They had fought side by side in the final battle against Uchiha Madara, Uchiha Obito and ten Ten-Tailed Beast, when her cousin Neji had laid down his life to protect them both. But nothing between them had ever been resolved. For the whole time since, she had been waiting, with both anticipation and dread, for the day Naruto and her would finally have the chance to discuss the elephant in the room between them, to at least clear the air if nothing else. And now time had run out.
Hinata sighed to herself. Now she supposed she would never know what might have been.
Her trained ears picked up the sound of measured footsteps on the floor outside the room. A silhouette glided past the shoji screen and turned at the door, sliding it aside to reveal her father, looking even more somber and dignified than usual in his best formal kimono and hakama. Smoothly stepping into the room and closing the door behind him, he crossed the tatami matting and seated himself opposite his daughter. Hinata raised her head and their moon-pale eyes met.
There was a moments pause before Hyuuga Hiashi spoke. "You look exceptionally beautiful today, Hinata. You remind me of your mother. You will do our clan proud."
Hinata blushed under her makeup. As much as she wished this wedding was not happening, her father's words warmed her heart. "Thank you, Father," she answered. "Is…" Hinata hesitated for just a moment. "Is it time to go now?"
Hiashi nodded. "The ceremony will begin in less than five minutes. Are you prepared?
No, Father. I do not wish to go through with this. I do not want to marry this man I've never met before, to leave Konoha and go to Kiri to live among strangers. I… do not want to give up… my feelings for Naruto-kun… "Yes, Father. I am."
Her father nodded again and rose smoothly to his feet. Stepping forward, he offered his hand to his daughter and helped her to stand. "Then let us go."
The droning voice of the priest was the only sound in the silence of the hall. Hinata sat unmoving on the zabuton cushion positioned on the raised platform at the front of the hall, her husband-to-be beside her, her eyes modestly lowered while the man paced ritualistically around the couple, chanting verses of blessing and purification and gesturing with the paper sensu fan in his hand. The ceremony had been underway for almost an hour now and was approaching its conclusion. Once the san san kudo –the traditional sharing of a cup of sake between bride and groom- was complete, they would be officially married before all present.
Casting her eyes quickly around the room, Hinata studied the attendees. Half of the guests present were prominent senior members of the Hyuuga clan, serious-looking men all alike in their kimono and hakama, with their straight black hair and white byakugan eyes. The other half were the party from Kirigakure, members of the Kaishi clan- more varied in appearance than the stoic, dignified Hyuuga members, but each one a stranger unknown to her. As this was a private event no outsiders had been invited, not even the Hokage, and none of Hinata's friends were present either. In fact, other than her sensei and her teammates Kiba and Shino, Hinata doubted any of her friends were even aware she was getting married. She had told the three of them, of course, but had asked them not to spread the news around. Her father had impressed upon her that this was strictly a private affair for the Hyuuga clan and she did not wish to have to explain to people the reason why she was not allowed to invite them to her wedding. While Shino had accepted her explanation stoically, Kiba had protested loudly, but Kurenai-sensei had shushed him and convinced him to accept her wishes. Hinata could tell that her sensei also disappoved of what was happening, but she was mature enough to realise there was nothing that could be done.
She was somewhat saddened that Hanabi had not attended the ceremony, though. Her little sister had argued against the marriage, something that had touched Hinata greatly, but she had been ignored. Their father had informed Hanabi that her presence was not necessary and therefore optional, but even with her sister's opposition to the marriage Hinata would have been reassured to have seen her there.
She became aware that the chanting was beginning to come to a conclusion. Hinata wished the priest would draw it out longer. She wished some emergency would arise that would force them to abandon the ceremony until another day. She wished anything could delay the inevitable, her permanent and irreversible joining in matrimony to the stranger sitting beside her, his face stern and unmoving. Hideaki –Hiroaki?- was not old and ugly like the men who were arranged to be married to sad young maidens in the old stories were said to be. At worst he was plain. But what bothered Hinata most about him was that he had barely looked at her since she had been brought into the hall by her father. He had spoken to her no more than the rites of the marriage ceremony had dictated. While he may have simply been reserved, Hinata's perceptiveness allowed her to sense that in truth he was simply not particularly interested in her. Marrying her was a good political move for his clan and that was what mattered to him.
Hinata's heart sank further in her chest at the thought of of what her life would be like in the future- a loveless marriage in a strange village far from home. As she prayed for some form of release, some manner of rescue, she closed her eyes.
The diginified silence of the ceremony was suddenly broken by a noise from outside, the sound of shouting voices coming from the garden of the Hyuuga mansion. Hinata's eyes opened in alarm and she looked around, her ingrained ninja instincts putting her instantly on guard. She wasn't the only one. Almost all the guests were turning their heads uneasily, searching for the source of the yelling, the old priest had stammered to a halt, lowering the fan he had been waving and at the back of the hall Hiashi was slowly climbing to his feet. The shouting seemed to be coming closer and it was joined by the sound of running feet, when suddenly a shock ran through the entire building. Hinata gave a small gasp as the hall shook on its foundations and dust fell from the ceiling and several of the guests voiced similar sounds of confusion and concern. Beside her, the groom was starting to rise to his feet, a frown on his face, when another impact rattled the structure and the ceiling in the centre of the hall exploded inwards in a cloud of dust and splintered wood as something crashed through the roof of the mansion to land on the tatami matting.
Surrounded by dust, shattered tiles and splintered fragments of fallen rafters, an intimidating figure rose to its feet and stepped forward. Radiating golden light from his form, his ornate coat flapping from the aura of chakra so powerful it was visible to the naked eye, the intruder's identity was unmistakable. A gasp echoed around the room as Uzumaki Naruto, hero of the 4th Shinobi World War, Hokage-nominate of Konoha, jinchuuriki of the Nine-Tailed Fox and practically undisputed as the strongest man in the world, strode out of the wreckage his entry had left, his face grim, his body pulsing with the raw power of Kurama. The guests nearest to him scrambled backwards in a panic as the doors to the back of the hall were thrown open and armed shinobi piled in. They didn't attack, but spread out cautiously around the room. Naruto ignored them, his eyes locked on Hinata, who found herself momentarily unable to breathe.
Her father strode forward angrily, unintimidated by the power standing before him. "Uzumaki Naruto, what is the meaning of this?" he demanded furiously. "What do you think you're doing here?"
Slowly, Naruto turned to face the head of the Hyuuga clan and fixed him with a glowing-eyed stare. This time not even a man as self-disciplined as Hyuuga Hiashi could keep from flinching under the intensity of the jinchuuriki's gaze. "What do I think I'm doing?" he growled. "That should be my question for you! Did you think that if you kept this affair a secret from me you'd get away with doing this to Hinata? Selling her off to a stranger against her will for petty political reasons?" He turned back to face the couple again, glaring at Hiroaki –Hideaki?- causing him to stumble backwards before his eyes met Hinata's again, riveting her pale white eyes to his. Then his expression softened and he smiled at her.
"This is no concern of yours, Uzumaki Naruto," shouted one of the elders from the Kaishi clan, recovering from the shock of the young man's dynamic entry. "This is a private matter between the Kaishi and Hyuuga clans and you have no business here."
Without even looking at the man, Naruto snarled audibly, his eyes narowing again. Everyone in the room held their breath as his anger caused the Kyuubi's shroud to intensify until the air practically burned with its power. "No business?! Have you forgotten who I am? Have you forgotten who she is? What she did for me and for everyone?" He stepped closer to the platform Hinata was sitting on. "Did you think I would allow a girl this kind, this gentle, this generous, this beautiful, this brave, this strong to be given away into a loveless marriage not of her choosing like some kind of token?" He took another step forward, his eyes locked on Hinata's. Hinata could not move, not even avert her eyes, Naruto filled her entire world. "No, I will not let this take place. She's mine. I won't allow anyone else to have her."
At Naruto's words, the spell on the room broke and the entire party rose to their feet yelling as the guards rushed forward. Hideaki –Hiraoki?- made a desperate grab for Naruto's arm. Futile. Naruto moved as fast as thought. Exploding forward in a blur, he swept Hinata up into his arms and kicked off the ground, blasting almost straight up. His chakra shroud, wrapping around Hinata as well as himself, smashed through the roof above him and the two of them exploded out of the Hyuuga mansion, sailing high into the air above Konoha. Touching lightly down on a rooftop three streets away, Naruto moved like the wind, springing from rooftop to rooftop almost faster than the eye could follow, Hinata cradled protectively in his arms. The wind of their passage swept against her face, pulling the tsunokakushi from her head and causing her elaborate hairstyle to unravel until her long ebony hair flew behind them like a banner. Casting a quick glance back towards the Hyuuga compound, Hinata could barely make out figures spilling from the main hall, but they were already so far away that they looked like mere ants. No-one had even begun to start out in pursuit yet.
Mere moments later, Naruto came to a halt on top of the carved stone head of the 4th Hokage- his own father, Namikaze Minato. Gently he set Hinata's feet on the ground, supporting her by the hand when she swayed unsteadily. The girl was so dizzy she felt like she was about to faint. Not only had she just moved faster than she ever had before in her life, she was practically in shock over the events of the last few minutes. Only moments ago she had been about to be married to a man she didn't even know, now she was standing at the top of Konoha after having been rescued by the boy she'd always loved. It was almost too much to absorb at once.
"Are you alright, Hinata?" the young man asked her, his voice full of concern. Hinata looked up at him in wonder. Naruto had dispensed with his chakra shroud and his eyes had returned to their usual sapphire blue. For a moment Hinata felt herself drowning in those eyes, before she collected herself.
"Ah, yes, I'm… I'm fine, Naruto-kun," she stammered. "I…" She hesitated. Part of her wanted to thank him for rescuing her, part of her wanted to chastise him for doing something so reckless and ridiculous. Part of her just wanted to throw herself into his arms and hold him as tight as she could and never, ever let him go. Hinata took a deep breath and struggled to get her thoughts in order. "Naruto-kun, I can't believe you just did that! I mean… I…" She took another breath. "Thank you for what you did. I.. I didn't want to marry him, even though I knew it was for the good of my family. But…" She paused again as a thought struck her. "How did you even find out about the wedding?"
The young jinchuuriki grinned at her and folded his arms up behind his head, the way he always did. "Shino told me. He found me and warned me that you were being married off today to some clown from Kiri that you'd never met and had decided to accept it for the good of your family. He said it wasn't right and someone had to help you do what you really wanted." He scratched the back of his head somewhat bashfully. "I didn't even know where to find you, though, until your little sister gave me directions to the wedding hall. She didn't like this either, so she told me to rescue you- not that I needed the encouragement, but I appreciated the help."
Shino-kun! Hanabi-chan! Hinata felt herself starting to tear up at the thought of what her teammate and her sister had done for her. But she was still torn up inside by doubts, doubts she had to voice. "Naruto-kun, while I'm happy you care enough to do this for me, you're going to get in a lot of trouble for this! This marriage was to be an important bond between my clan and the Kaishi, as well as between Konoha and Kiri. It was all agreed on in advance. Even if you're going to be Hokage soon, there's going to be a lot of complaints if you interfere in private clan business, possibly even serious trouble. I don't want you to be getting in trouble just on my account!"
Naruto listened patiently, smiling faintly, as Hinata voiced her concerns. As soon as she'd finished his smile broadened. "Hinata, there's no need to worry about me. Since when has the possibility of trouble ever stopped me from doing what's right?" Hinata knew the answer to that: never. If it had, he wouldn't be Uzumaki Naruto. "If there's trouble over this, I'll deal with it. I'll get through it somehow, no matter how hard it is." He stepped closer and put his hands gently on her shoulders, staring straight into her eyes. "There's no way I could do anything else. I'd fight the world for you, Hinata. Because I love you."
Hinata felt her heart stop. The words she'd dreamed of for years, the words she'd never thought she'd hear. Tears began to fill to her eyes as Naruto went on. "I'm sorry it took me this long to tell you. During the war I didn't have time to sort my feelings out. Afterwards I…" He hesitated. "I needed time to find the courage to decide to tell you and I kept putting it off. But today I decided that I finally had to do it, or lose you forever." He leaned closer until their faces were only inches apart, gazing into the ivory mirrors of her eyes. "I love you, Hinata. Will you accept me?"
The tears overflowed, spilling across her face as her heart sang. Instead of answering, Hyuuga Hinata leaned forward toward the man she loved, closing her eyes as her lips drew inevitably closer to his.
A single tear traced a solitary line down her cheek as Hinata opened her eyes again. The priest fell silent as he finally finished his ritual, snapping his fan closed, stepping back and bowing to the couple on the platform at the front of the hall. A servant approached bearing a tray with the sake bottle and the cup the bride and groom would drink from on it. It was time for the san san kudo that would seal them forever as husband and wife.
It had been a happy dream, but ultimately it had to be nothing but a dream- an impossible fantasy that could never be reality. As the priest stepped forward again and poured a measure of sake into the cup, Hinata finally put her beloved, impossible feelings into a box inside her and locked them away forever, never to be more than a treasured memory.
After all, it wasn't as if dreams could come true…
AFTERWORD: Despite working for years on my epic project, 'Naruto: Secret Songs of the Ninja', it looks like this one-shot idea will end up being my first released work. A simple idea I had one day, I sat on it for quite some time, planning on doing it at some stage in the unspecified future. Then I found myself on a short working holiday, away from my desktop computer but unable to copy my main work across to my laptop (well I probably could have, but I was too lazy to). Unable to work on 'Secret Songs' or any of my other in-progress works, I just sat down and hammered this short story out in record time for me (2 days). Once I got rolling it basically flowed from my keyboard with an ease that astonished me (especially with my propensity for crippling writer's block).
I'm a massive fan of NaruHina stories, so this was a story I really wanted to write. I found it particularly heartwarming to write the ending especially. What's that, you say? That ending was a total cruel tearjerker? Well, that's because this afterword here is just padding I've put in to disguise the TRUE ending. If you've read this far it's time for you to be rewarded:
As the priest approached Hideaki –Hiroaki?- with the full sake cup, he was distracted by a sudden shout from outside the hall. Several of the guests looked around in confusion and Hiashi frowned at the disruption. Everyone jumped as a loud crashing sound resounded throughout the room, the priest fumbling the cup and spilling the sake on the tatami as the shouting drew closer. Hinata's heart skipped a beat in her chest. No, it couldn't be… it was impossible! That had just been a dream…!
With one final crash, the fusuma panel at the side of the room burst inwards as a figure dressed in orange and black, with spikey blond hair smashed through it, landing in a crouch in the middle of the hall. Although not wearing the shroud of Kurama, Uzumaki Naruto's sudden appearance was still so startling that everyone in the hall stood paralysed with shock. Straightening up, the young man looked around himself, his brow furrowed with concern. "Damn, I hope I have the right place this time," he muttered aloud. "It's getting really awkward constantly getting the wrong room, I should have paid more attention to those directions…"
As he turned and caught a glimpse of Hinata sitting, staring at him with her hands clasped over her mouth in disbelief, his face lit up. "Hinata! Great, I got it this time! Sorry I'm late, I just got a bit lost…" The hero of Konoha hesitated as he realised his entrance hadn't perhaps been as dignified as he'd planned, then he straightened up, cleared his throat and turned to face his shocked audience with the most serious expression he could manage on his face. "Now, what do you think you're doing, huh? You think I'd let you go ahead and marry off Hinata against her will without doing anything about it? You really think I'd let a girl like her be given away-"
As Naruto began to really get into his rant, the lonely tear of sorrow on Hinata's cheek was washed away by the flood of joyful drops that flowed from her eyes. Her hands held in front of her mouth hid the happiest smile she'd ever worn as she watched her hero once again doing the impossible for her.
Sometimes, just sometimes, dreams could come true.
TRUE AFTERWORD: There, wasn't that nice?
Special thanks to sharem ( sharem. deviantart. com ) for allowing me to use her art of Hinata in a kimono for the cover image.