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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Love and Despair: Hinata's Unrequited Feelings

Language: English

Love and Despair: Hinata's Unrequited Feelings

by Light Warrior

Author's Notes: This is a NaruHina fanfic and my second Naruto fanfic altogether. Like my last fanfic, it takes place during what I like to call the THOUSAND YEARS OF FILLER! Even though it's an unpopular era of the anime, it's the easiest time period in which to write stand alone stories like this one. Also, I tend to use English terms, though I'll occasionally slip in a Japanese term or two as I watch the show both in English and in Japanese and I also read the mangas.

For the longest time while watching this series, I was never a big fan of any particular pairing, though I've always enjoyed the small instances of suggested romance. Over time, however, I developed a love for the pairing of Naruto and Hinata. Although I don't think of myself as being quite as much of a knucklehead, Naruto reminds me of myself in many ways: he's a goofball who would do anything for his friends. Meanwhile, Hinata reminds me of my girlfriend Ashley, who often lacks confidence and determination. My goal, then, is to encourage her and to give her strength. I've always believed in my goals no matter how hopeless things seemed and I want to give her some of my strength. Thus, watching the interaction between Naruto and Hinata has allowed me to grow quite attached to this pairing.

This fanfic is dedicated to Ashley, my muse and the inspiration for this story.


It was dawn in the Village Hidden in the Leaves, otherwise known as Konohagakure or simply Konoha. On the outskirts of this small community located within the heart of the Land of Fire, shinobi of the Jonin level, the highest rank of ninja below the Hokage, the village's leader, patrolled the border. One Jonin named Izumo nodded to another Jonin named Kotetsu as they passed each other on their march around the village's borders, confirming that neither had spotted any suspicious activity. Everything seemed peaceful within the village.

"Border patrol appears puny today," a shady figure lurking within in the forst surrounding the Hidden Leaf Village said to his two comrades. "This might be easier than we had planned."

"All right, Rio, commence with the next move when ready," the other of the two male shinobi said to their kunoichi teammate.

Rio, the kunoichi, nodded and performed hand signs. "Ninja Art, Temple of Nirvana!" Rio focused her chakra as feathers began to blow in the wind. These feathers blew toward Izumo and Kotetsu, who both looked around suspiciously, their nerves shaken by this omenous wind. Both reached for their holsters to pull out their shuriken, but before they could, both shinobi fell to the ground in a deep slumber. "Objective complete. Now it's your turn, Mar, Onda."

The two male ninjas nodded and leaped toward the fallen bodies of the Leaf shinobi. They took a good look at the two slumbing Jonin and then simultaneously performed a sequence of hand signs. "Transformation jutsu!" they both shouted as they took on the likeness of the two fallen shinobi.

"This is almost too easy," said Mar, who had transformed into Izumo.

"You're right," agreed Onda, who had taken on the shape of Kotetsu.

"If it's traps you're worried about," said Rio from a nearby tree branch, "I've got you covered." Rio then dropped several kunai knives with wires attached as well as burned out paper bombs. "This place is crawling with traps, but they're pretty basic. The Village Hidden in the Leaves is weak since Orochimaru attacked it."

"I never knew it would be this weak though," said Onda. "It makes me question the worth of this mission."

"Just because the village is weak does not change the fact that it has a rich history of powerful clans and ninjutsu," replied Rio. "Now the shinobi of this village are just sitting ducks, unworthy of their village's history! It's our treasure for the taking now!"

"Let's get moving," said Mar. Onda nodded and both male shinobi entered the village gate.

Surrounding Mar and Onda were the fallen bodies of other Jonin who had become victims to Rio's genjutsu. The two had their sights set on the temple underlooking the mountain sculpture of the Hokage faces. As they had been transformed into familiar faces, the townsfolk did not take notice of them as they strolled through town. Before long and without any resistance, they had both reached the Hokage's office building.

"All that's left to do now," said Onda, "is to find the scrolls and get out of here without being caught."

"This mission has been going smoothly thusfar, but keep your guard up," Mar warned his comrade.


Unaware of the invaders in his village, Naruto casually strolled through the Hidden Leaf Village toward the Ichiraku Ramen Shop. Standing around the corner of one of the buildings was Hinata, blushing and poking her index fingers together.

This time, she told herself,I'll work up the courage to... Hinata took a gulp. ...invite him to have a bowl of ramen with me!

As Naruto passed, Hinata stepped out from around the corner, her face beet red. "Naruto, would you--"

"Hey, Sakura!" Naruto interrupted and ran off, not even noticing Hinata, beeds of sweat running down her face. Hinata's head slumped and she sighed a mushroom-shaped cloud. Naruto ran up to Sakura, who had just come from around the corner ahead of Naruto. "Say, Sakura... would maybe like to... go out for a bowl of ramen... with me?" Naruto's was simultaneously blushing and grinning.

"Allow me the honor!" another voice called out from nearby. From atop a building leaped Rock Lee, who landed between Naruto and Sakura. He took Sakura's hand as he stood on one knee, his head to the ground. "Sakura-chan, I would be delighted to take you out on a date! I will take you wherever it is you desire to go and pay the entire bill!"

"Thanks, but I'm not interested," Sakura said annoyed as she removed her hand from Lee's hold and began to walk away.

"She is hard to get, but someday, her love will be mine!" Lee said to Naruto.

"Fat chance, Bushy Brow," replied Naruto. "She won't give either of us the time of day. Even after all this time and everything that's happened, she's still obsessed with Sasuke!"

Naruto... Hinata sighed and looked to the ground in despair.

Just then, a shinobi appeared in a puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, that shinobi was revealed to be Iruka.

"Iruka-sensei!" Naruto shouted in excitement. "Have you come to treat me to ramen?!"

"Calm down, Naruto," replied Iruka, smiling at Naruto's undying spirit. "I've been sent by Lady Hokage to summon you for a mission. Please come with me." Iruka then turned around and looked at Hinata, who gasped and blushed. "You too, Hinata. And Sakura." Sakura had not walked far when Iruka arrived. She and Hinata approached Iruka. "The three of you have been selected for a mission. Lady Hokage will brief you when you arrive at her office."

"What about me? I must be around to protect Sakura!"

"Sorry, Lee, this mission is not for you. I'm sure Lady Hokage will find something more suited to your skills though."

With that, Iruka concentrated his chakra and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Naruto, Sakura, and Hinata did the same.


"You wanted to see us, Lady Hokage?" asked Sakura as she, Naruto, and Hinata entered Tsunade's office.

"We have a bit of an emergency," Tsunade replied.

"What's the mission?" Naruto said excitedly. "I can handle anything!"

"This morning, unidentified shinobi infiltrated our borders and stole several valuable scrolls from this very building!"

Each of the three Genin gasped at the news.

"The perpetrators were caught in the act, but they managed to escape. The ANBU Black Ops pursued them as far as they could, but they were soon caught in a sleeping genjutsu upon reaching the village's borders. Upon further investigation, we found that the same had happened to the Jonin guarding the borders. All we know of our enemies is that there are three of them, one of them uses genjutsu, and they have probably already learned some of Konoha's secret ninjutsu."

"They sound dangerous," Hinata said worriedly. "Why would you select a team of Genin to go after them?"

"It's risky, but I have no choice," replied Tsunade. "Many of our Jonin are currently trapped in this sleeping genjutsu and our doctors are working to reverse the spell. The remaining Jonin are either already on missions or are filling for the Jonin who have been rendered incapacitated. As such, I carefully selected a team of Genin whom I believe fit to this challenge." Tsunade looked at Sakura. "Sakura, Kakashi has told me that you are able to dispel genjutsu. As such, you are ideal for this mission." She next glanced at Hinata. "Since the team will be on a pursuit, it is essential to have a search specialist on the team. That would be you, Hinata. With your Byakugan, you should have little trouble finding your opponents." Finally, Tsunade glanced at Naruto. "And of course, every team needs a powerhouse. That would be you, Naruto. Just try not to get cocky or else your entire team is doomed. Remember that stealth is important in pursuit missions such as this. However, when the time comes that you have to fight, you know what to do."

"All right, piece of cake!" said Naruto. "I'll leave those thieves hurting so bad, they'll wish they had never messed with us!"

Hinata looked at Naruto and smiled.I'm so happy to be on a mission with Naruto! Hinata's smile soon changed to a frown. But... Sakura is on this mission too. Naruto will probably focus all his attention on her.

"Now then, hurry and get moving!" Tsunade ordered. "Do whatever you have to get those scrolls back and return them here pronto!"

"Yes, ma'am!" the three Genin all shouted simultaneously. With that, they all teleported in a puff of smoke.


Naruto, Sakura, and Hinata arrived at the village gate and headed into the forest. They then leaped into the air and began hopping from tree branch to tree branch.

"Hinata, you're our eyes, so you should take the front!" said Sakura.

"Right!" said Hinata shyly as she leaped in front of Naruto and Sakura. She then focused her chakra into a hand sign and called out, "Byakugan!" With that, the veins in and around her eyes began to bulge. She could now see everything within a 360-degree range over a long range. She was also able to see through the trees and detect movements of chakra. Hinata focused her telescopic vision until she saw three moving embodiments of blue chakra. "There!" she said as she led the team in the direction of the chakra.

"So, does this mean Sakura is our squad leader?" asked Naruto. "I mean, she is the one barking orders here!"

"What's that supposed to mean, Naruto?!" Sakura shouted angrily.

"Nothing! I was just saying, you're really good at giving orders, so maybe you could be our leader seeing as none of us is above the Genin level!"

"You better watch how you word things unless you want to be pulverized!"

How can Naruto like someone who is so mean to him? Hinata wondered. Nevertheless, she continued to lead her team in the direction of the moving chakra.

"We should be cautious up ahead," Sakura continued, returning to a serious tone. "Since our enemy probably knows they're being pursued, they've likely set up traps, so we have to be careful not to stumble into them."

"I'll keep an eye out for traps with my Byakugan," Hinata replied. Hinata scanned the area carefully. After a few seconds, she announced, "There are paper bombs attached to some of the trees up ahead. Be careful!"

"Leave it to me!" said Naruto as he made a hand sign. "Shadow clone jutsu!" Naruto created four shadow clones, who all made their way ahead of the group and into the clearing where the paper bombs were located. Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura stopped on a branch, watching and waiting for the clones to remove the paper bombs.

"Be careful not to set them off, Naruto!" said Sakura.

"Even if one of the clones does set a tag off," replied Naruto, "it doesn't matter because they're just clones. The three of us are safe back here!"

Hinata gasped as she watched one of the clones walk along a branch toward one of the paper bombs. "Naruto, watch out!" It was too late though; the clone tripped a wire, causing a flurry of kunai to be launched from the trees in all directions, including toward the real Naruto and his two kunoichi teammates.

"Another trap!" shouted Sakura as she flinched, knowing she may not be able to dodge. Naruto also cringed, completely out of ideas. Hinata then jumped in front of her teammates and once again activated her Byakugan.

"Hyuga Style! Gentle Fist!" she shouted as she held out her flat palms, which became surrounded by chakra. As the kunai knives approached her team, she moved her arms at a rapid pace in order to deflect each and every kunai knife, protecting her entire team. Once the coast was clear, Hinata looked at her hands, which were worn from deflecting the kunai knives and also bleeding from the sting of those that had not been fully deflected by the chakra in her hands.

"Hinata... that was amazing!" said Naruto. "You can be really brave when you have to be!"

"Naruto... this is because of you," she replied with a smile. Naruto returned the smile, though the moment was cut short by Sakura.

"The paper bombs are about to go off!" she shouted.

Hinata gasped in fright upon realizing that she was too close to the bombs to be able to avoid the explosion. Naruto's clones had not succeeded in removing the tags, and so they each leaped onto a tag ready to take the full power of the explosions.

"Hinata!" Naruto shouted as he leaped forward to grab her and pull her out of harm's way. The tags all exploded, eliminating the clones, though they were not able to fully contain the explosions and Naruto and Hinata were both sent plummeting from the tree branch several feet to the ground.

"Naruto! Hinata!" Sakura shouted to her teammates as she began to run down the side of the tree using the chakra in her feet.

Naruto... Hinata smiled faintly at Naruto as she plummeted toward the ground, Naruto on top of her protecting her from the debris. Before they hit ground, Naruto switched Hinata on top and allowed her to land on top of him so as to cushion the blow for her. Naruto lay on the ground unconscious from the fall, Hinata lying on top of him with her body pressed against his. She looked at him affectionately, her eyes shaking, and said, "Thank you."

Just then, Sakura arrived at the base of the tree and ran toward her fallen teammates. "Are you two okay?"

"I'm fine," said Hinata as she stood up. "But... you might want to take a look at Naruto."

Sakura did so, trying not to show her worry. She felt Naruto's pulse and said, "He'll be fine. He's just out cold. Naruto heals quickly. I'm sure he'll be better by tonight."

"Does this mean... we have to stop the mission for now?"

"It might be a good idea to set up camp and take a break for right now. Our enemies' intention was to slow us down and it looks like they succeeded. Do you think you can take a good look at where our enemies are headed? That'll at least give us an idea of which direction to go later."

Hinata nodded and focused her chakra. "Byakugan!" Activating her dojutsu once again, Hinata scanned the area until she saw three embodiments of chakra. "I see them! They're headed due east!"

"East..." Sakura began to ponder. "That would be the direction of the Mist Village and also the Land of Waves." Sakura then removed Naruto's backpack from his back, turning his body over on its stomach, and removed a tent. "Okay, we'll set up camp here for now and then head east when Naruto recovers. You should probably rest too, Hinata. I'll keep lookout for now."

"Oh... okay..." said Hinata.

"Do you think you can carry Naruto into the tent?" asked Sakura. "If not, let me do it."

"I-I'll be fine." Hinata's face turned beet red as she looked at Naruto. She then gulped as she lifted Naruto's arm over her neck and carried him to the tent. Hinata laid down Naruto's body and sat next to it, holding her legs in her arms. "I'll stay in here and keep an eye on Naruto," she said to Sakura. Hinata began applying her healing ointment to the wounds on her hands. She then looked at Naruto's face and smiled.Naruto... you do care for me.


Rio, Mar, and Onda leaped from the tree branches onto the ground below. Next to them was an abandoned building. The three looked at the trail behind them and saw a cloud of black smoke coming from the forest.

Rio smirked and said, "Looks like somebody set off our trap."

"We should be safe for now then," replied Onda. "Let us take a rest and also use this opportunity to practice some of the ninjusu contained within these scrolls."

Rio nodded and removed her backpack, then pulled out the scrolls and handed them to Mar and Onda. "You two go inside and work on learning as much of this jutsu as you can in the event that we are ambushed. I'll keep a lookout."

"Very well," said Mar as he and Onda entered the dust-and-cobweb-covered shack. Rio then leaped back into the tree branches and began scouting the forest.


The sun began to set on the forest outside of the Hidden Leaf Village. Sakura began to grow weary. Finally, she headed toward the tent to see Hinata still watching Naruto attentively.

"Hinata," she said softly, "I'll watch Naruto for a little while. Why don't you get something to eat?"

"Th-that's okay," Hinata replied.

"Go ahead. I brought some fish sticks. There's a fire outside. You need to eat so you can regain your strength."

Hinata was silent for a moment. "Okay," she finally said as she walked outside the tent. Sakura then sat down next to Naruto. Hinata did not make it far when she heard Naruto yawn. She looked back to see his silhouette through the tent sitting up. She sighed in relief at seeing Naruto recover.

"Hey, Sakura!" said Naruto. "Is it time for bed already? Care for a little snuggling?"

"In your dreams!" Sakura shouted as she pounded Naruto's skull, creating a large lump on his head. Naruto screamed in pain and fell over, blood dripping from each of his nostrils.

Hinata turned away, looked to the ground, and sighed. After all this time, he's still only interested in Sakura. Trying to hold back her tears, Hinata lifted one of the fish sticks and began to nibble at it. However, she did not have an appetite, and so she tossed it into the fire and watched it slowly burn. A few tear drops hit the dirt below her.

"All right! Time for some chow!" Naruto shouted as he walked out of the tent and toward the campfire. He then looked at Hinata and noticed her trembling and looking to the ground. "Hinata? Is something the matter?"

"Everything's fine," she replied as she walked away without looking at Naruto.

Naruto crossed his arms and squinted his eyes, not really believing what Hinata had said. "If you say so." With that, Naruto began heating one of the fish sticks, then started eating it.

"All right, listen up!" said Sakura as she stepped out of the tent. "I assume everyone has had enough time to rest, so it's time to head out again before it gets too dark, otherwise it may be too difficult to find our enemies." Just then, the area became filled with flower petals.

"I'm all rested up!" said Naruto. "Let's go!" Naruto dramatically pointed eastward. He then fell over onto the ground and began snoring.

"Naruto!" Sakura shouted angrily, a vein in her forehead bulging and her eyes completely rounded and white. Sakura then looked over to Hinata, who had also fallen to the ground and into a deep slumber. "Hinata? What's going on here?" Sakura began to feel drowsy when she realized:This is genjutsu! Sakura put her hands together and shouted, "Release!" The effects of the genjutsu wore off and Sakura no longer felt drowsy. She then pulled out a kunai knife and began heading deeper into the forest to investigate. I better not go too far. Naruto and Hinata are completely vulnerable now! Sakura leaped from tree to tree, scouting the area for the caster of the genjutsu. Realizing that she may have gone too far, she headed back in the direction she came, but where she expected to see Naruto and Hinata, she saw nothing. Where'd they go?! Am I lost?! Beeds of sweat rolled down Sakura's face as she looked around, kunai knife ready in the event of an attack. Let's see... the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If I just look in the direction of the sunset... Sakura looked at the sunset and was astonished at what she saw: the sun was moving at a noticeably fast rate. Within seconds, it was dark and the moon had risen in the opposite direction. Sakura watched the moon rise and then quickly set, and the sun then did the same. Another genjutsu? I better release it! Sakura's arms began to tremble. She gasped and her eyes widened, sweat still rolling down her face, at her inability to move her arms.I can't move a muscle! This is pretty powerful genjutsu!

"You are correct," the voice of Rio stated, "my genjutsu is unparalleled in its power!"

Who said that?! wondered Sakura. How can you read my thoughts?!

"I'm inside your mind!" Rio replied. "As you may be aware, this world is an illusion that I created. However, anything that happens to you in this world... such as this--" From out of nowhere, a kunai knife flew at Sakura and struck her in the shoulder, causing her to yell in pain. "--happens to you in real life as well! So, if you were to die here, you would die in the real world as well!"

I've got to break this genjutsu!

"Don't bother trying!" Rio laughed. "No one has ever broken free of my genjutsu, and even if you found a way, I can hear your thoughts! I'll be able to stop whatever it is you plan to do before you can even do it!"

"CHA! Get out of my head!" another voice similar to that of an angry Sakura shouted.

"What? Who's there? There shouldn't be anyone else in this jutsu!"

Deep within Sakura's mind lurked a black Rio with a white outline, looking around panickingly. Suddenly, in front of her, she saw a black Sakura also with a white outline, her eyes round and her expression angrier and fiercer than that of the normal Sakura.

"Impossible! Do you have another spirit inside of you?!"

Inner Sakura, as it was called, grew to a larger size and grabbed Rio in her arms, squeezing the life out of her while growling in rage. Rio screamed in pain as the genjutsu began to wear off. Sakura, now back in the real world, fell to the ground and panted, holding her shoulder in pain. Although there was not a kunai knife in her shoulder, she did have a wound on her arm. A few feet ahead of Sakura, she saw the body of Rio fall from a tree and land unconscious on the ground. Sakura walked over to Rio's fallen body, still holding her shoulder, and used her free arm to feel Rio's pulse. Dead, she thought. Sakura then observed Rio's headband, which had four curved lines in a square shape. That's a Mist Village headband. It's just as I suspected.

Just then, a figure sped behind Sakura. She gasped but did not have time to look around as the figure, that of Mar, hit her on the back of the neck with the side of his flattened hand, knocking her out. He then picked her up and leaped across a few tree branches until he arrived at the shack where Onda was waiting for him.

"This girl has some powerful anti-genjutsu," said Mar. "She managed to take out Rio with minimal injuries."

"I'm finding it difficult to interpret some of the more advanced scrolls," said Onda. "It seems they are written in cryptic code. Perhaps the girl can help us understand better when she comes to."

"And if she doesn't cooperate," added Mar, "we kill her."


Further back in the forest, Naruto and Hinata lay sound asleep on the grass. A sudden jolt struck Naruto and he was soon wide awake. Sakura... he thought. He looked over and saw Hinata still sleeping. He then looked around for Sakura but did not see her. "Hinata! Wake up!" Naruto shook Hinata, who slowly opened her eyes and let out a groggy moan.

"Naruto...?" she said as she looked him in the eyes, his hands still on her jacket. Naruto and Hinata stared at each other for a few seconds in silence as Hinata's face began to turn red. Hinata then jumped to her feet. "I'm awake!" she said cringing and with her eyes closed.

"I can't find Sakura!" Naruto panicked. "See if you can trace her with your Byakugan!"

"Uh... right!" Hinata stopped blushing and focused her chakra, then shouted, "Byakugan!" Using her 360-degree telescopic x-ray vision, Hinata scoped the forest, looking through miles of trees until she saw three chakras, one of which was very faint. "I see three embodiments of chakra in the distance. None of them are moving. One of them appears weak, as if it had just battled recently."

"Only three?" Naruto clenched his fist. "So does that mean Sakura engaged in battle with one of them... and lost?"

"There's a chance that the weak chakra might be Sakura's and that she defeated one of the enemy shinobi," said Hinata.

Naruto was surprised at Hinata's optimism. Normally, it was Naruto who would brighten Hinata's downed spirit. Naruto smiled at Hinata.

"You're right. Sakura wouldn't be taken down that easily!"

"Still, there's no doubt that two of those chakras belong to enemy shinobi, and so Sakura is in danger!"

Naruto nodded. "Let's go! Sakura needs our help! I'll do whatever it takes to save her! You have my word!"


"And like I always say: I never go back on my word! That's my nindo, my ninja way!"

I know how important Sakura is to you, but... would you do the same for me if I was the one in danger?

"Lead the way, Hinata!"

"Huh? Right!" Hinata leaped into the trees, Naruto close behind, and led Naruto from branch to branch toward the direction of the three chakras. After leaping across several trees, Hinata stopped and Naruto landed on the branch beside her.

"What's up, Hinata? Why are we stopping?"

"Look down there," said Hinata trembling as she pointed to the ground.

Although it was a long way down, Naruto could see a body lying on the ground below.

"It can't be!" he shouted as he ran down the side of the tree.

"Naruto, wait! It's not--" Naruto could not hear Hinata, so she simply deactivated her Byakugan and followed him down the tree.

Upon a closer encounter, Naruto saw that the dead body was not that of Sakura and he sighed in relief. "Who is this?" he asked.

"She has a Mist Village headband," replied Hinata. "She must be one of the three enemy shinobi from before. After all, they were headed in the direction of the Mist Village."

"So then that means... Sakura must be okay!" Naruto was overjoyed.

"Yes, but she's still in our enemies' hands. We have to keep going!"

Naruto nodded, and with that, Hinata reactivated her dojutsu and led Naruto through the trees once again. After a few minutes, Hinata stopped again, Naruto once again landing on the branch beside her.

"There's a shack not far ahead of us. I sense all three chakras coming from inside the shack."

"Well what are we waiting for?! Let's ambush them and save Sakura!"

"Naruto... wouldn't it be best to sneak in quietly and then ambush them?"

"Uhh... that's what I was going to do!"

Hinata smiled faintly. Even in her depression, she could not help but love Naruto's determination and headstrong attitude. With that, the two Genin continued to leap forward until they could both see the shack to which Hinata had previously referred. Naruto and Hinata drew several shuriken, then jumped from the tree to the ground behind a bush. From there, they peered through the leaves at the shack to make sure the coast was clear.

"Naruto, look out!" Hinata suddenly shouted as she pounced on him, protecting him from a flurry of kunai knives that had been tossed at them from behind. The kunai knives all hit the side of the building, where they stayed. Hinata then tossed her shuriken in the direction of the kunai knives, drawing out the ninja Mar.

"So, you spotted me, did you?" Mar then noticed Hinata's eyes. "Ah, so you're a member of Konoha's famous Hyuga clan, are you? I hear your clan possesses an extraordinarily powerful kekkei genkai known as the Byakugan! From what I understand, though, your clan specializes in close-range taijutsu, and so I should be safe as long as I keep my distance."

"Not only do you have her to worry about, but you're also up against me, Naruto Uzumaki, the next Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village!"

"Naruto, eh? You must be the one after whom the Great Naruto Bridge is named."

"Great Naruto Bridge?" wondered Hinata.

"After Gato's reign of terror in the Land of Waves ended, the bridge connecting the Land of Waves to the mainland was connected. This bridge was named the Great Naruto Bridge in honor of one of the four Leaf Village shinobi who had helped the Land of Waves regain its strength and pride and also defeated Gato's henchmen Zabuza and Haku. Am I to understand this loud-mouthed brat is the very same Naruto?"

"In the flesh!" Naruto said, squinting his eyes in anger.

"That just makes this even better," replied Mar. "You see, my teammates and I were all henchmen of Gato's. We did his bidding, and in exchange, he gave us his fortune. Now, because of you, we're out of work and all we can do is go from village to village pillaging just to get by! We're no good at any other type of work besides ninja work! That is why we stole the scrolls!"

"Hey, don't hold it against me if you wasted your life working under scum like Gato," said Naruto. "Now, if you'll be so kind as to release Sakura and hand over the scrolls you stole, I might let you go peacefully!"

"What makes you think a punk kid like you has any hope of defeating me?"

"Well, for starters, you're outnumbered!"

"Am I?" Mar laughed as he put his hands together. "Shadow clone jutsu!" With that, several clones of Mar appeared.

"Shadow clone jutsu?! Shouldn't you be using the water clone jutsu instead?" asked Naruto.

"He must've learned that technique from one of the scrolls he stole!" said Hinata.

"Someone give the girl a medal!" said Mar. With that, the clones leaped at Naruto and Hinata, their fists outstretched for an attack.

Naruto laughed. "You're not the only one who can do that, you know! Shadow clone jutsu!" Naruto focused his chakra and created several clones to equal Mar's clones. The clones locked in combat, using taijutsu as well as shurikens and kunai knives to kill each other off. Before very long, all of the clones had been defeated.

"I admit, you're better than I thought," said Mar. "Still, that isn't the only move I copied from the scrolls! Here's a move you might recognize as one developed by Konoha's extinct Uchiha clan!" Mar performed a series of hand signs and then placed his hand at his mouth. "Fire style! Fireball jutsu!" Mar exhaled a large ball of fire and launched it at Naruto and Hinata. Naruto jumped on top of Hinata and just barely managed to avoid a direct hit with the fireball, though the back of his jacket was singed a bit. "You don't have a prayer," Mar laughed.

Hinata looked up at Naruto as he lay on her, protecting her from harm. Naruto... you saved me again!

"Hinata," said Naruto, "I will protect you and Sakura no matter what."

"Pathetic fool," Mar taunted, "there's no way you can beat me if you're always too busy trying to protect your teammates! You'll never get stronger if you're constantly surrounded by weaklings! To think, you actually believe you could one day be Hokage!"

"You're wrong," said Naruto, his head facing the ground. "It's because of my teammates that I'm strong, and I'm getting stronger all the time. One of my first lessons as a shinobi was that one who protects those who are precious to him would become genuinely strong. The one who taught me that lesson... was Haku. And you know what? He was right." Naruto then looked up at his opponent, his eyes now vicious and red. He also seemed to have grown claws from his fingers and toes. "That is why, no matter what, I will beat you!" Naruto then focused his chakra and called out, "Shadow clone jutsu!"

All but one of Naruto's clones began to charge at Mar, who once again performed a series of hand signs. "Water style! Water dragon jutsu!" A dragon made of water was launched at Naruto's clones, eliminating the lot of them. However, the one clone that had stayed behind rotated chakra in the hand of the real Naruto in order to create a chakra ball. The clone then grabbed Naruto by the arm and tossed him toward Mar then disappeared.

"Rasengan!" Naruto shouted as his jutsu made contact with Mar, who began to spin and was sent flying several feet away until he crashed into a tree and lay slumped against the tree. Naruto began to pant. "I've used up most of my chakra." Suddenly, he heard a muffled cry for help. Turning around, he saw Hinata in the clutches of Onda, who had one arm wrapped around her body and another covering her mouth. "Hinata! Let her go!"

"One of your teammates took the life of one of my teammates," replied Onda. "To be fair, why don't we exchange her life for that one of your teammates? An eye for an eye, right? In exchange, we will hand over the scrolls and leave quietly."

"You're out of your mind!" Naruto shouted as he dashed at Onda.

Onda gasped. "His speed is incredible!"

Onda quickly leaped into the trees in an attempt to get away from the Kyuubi chakra-induced Naruto, but he was not fast enough. Onda was punched in the jaw by Naruto, causing him to lose his grip on Hinata, who began to fall several feet toward the ground. Several Naruto clones leaped toward Onda from the trees above and began kicking him, each giving a call of "Na!" "Ru!" "To!" Finally, the real Naruto leaped upward and gave Onda one final kick to the ground shouting, "Uzumaki Barrage!" The clones then disappeared as Naruto sped down the side of one of the trees then leaped to the ground just in time to catch Hinata in his arms, Onda crashing behind them.

"Naruto," said Hinata weakly, "thank you." It was then that Hinata noticed the look in Naruto's eyes. It gave her a sense of both fear and security. While she felt safe knowing that Naruto was in her side, still, she much preferred the other Naruto.

"I told you I'd protect you, Hinata," replied Naruto. "I never go back on my word. That's my nindo, my ninja way!" Naruto set Hinata down and looked into her eyes. It was then that he noticed her fear. "Do you not like this side of me?"

"No... it's just that..."

"Don't worry, Hinata. There's something inside of me, but it won't consume me. This power, this red chakra, comes to me whenever I am protecting someone precious to me. Hinata," Naruto placed his hand on Hinata's cheek, "you are precious to me."

Hinata blushed and smiled. "Naruto!" Hinata's eyes began to well up with tears. The moment was cut short, however, when Hinata got a vibe. "Naruto, look out!" Hinata shouted as she leaped on top of him to protect him from a flurry of kunai knives, which became lodged in a nearby tree. Hinata looked at the knives to see that paper bombs were attached. She gasped in fear as she quickly shoved Naruto out of the way. The two just barely managed to avoid the explosion. Looking toward Onda, they saw that their opponent was not quite defeated and that, though he was limping, he still had some fight left in him.

"You'll pay for messing with us!" Onda shouted as he leaped at Naruto, kunai outstretched. Onda aimed to stab Naruto in the head with his kunai, causing Naruto to flinch, when the knife stopped just inches from its target. Naruto looked to see another arm holding Onda's back. Looking behind him, he saw Hinata, her Byakugan eyes active again, gripping Onda's wrist.

"Hinata! You saved me!"

"Stand back, Naruto!" said Hinata. "It's my turn to protect you now!"

"Hinata... when did you... get so strong?"

"It's as you said before: when a shinobi has someone precious to them whom they would like to protect, it is then that they become genuinely strong. Naruto... you are precious to me!"

Naruto was touched. He felt something he had never felt before: a two-way connection. Although he had formed bonds with many people since his graduation from the academy, this one was different somehow, more special than the others. Naruto did as Hinata instructed and stepped back, allowing her to take on Onda. Hinata and Onda then appeared in a dark area on top of a glowing green circle with a yin yang in the center.

"Hyuga style! Eight Trigrams, Sixty-Four Palms!" Hinata extended her palms, which glowed with chakra, and began smacking Onda's chakra points, cutting off the flow of chakra in his body. "Two palms! Four palms! Eight palms! Sixteen palms! Thirty-two palms!" Hinata then delivered one final, fatal blow with both of her hands. "Sixty-four palms!"

Returning to the real world, Onda began to choke and then cough up blood as he fell to his knees and then to his face. Hinata then released her dojutsu, reverting her eyes to their normal state. She then fell over exhausted, but Naruto caught her.

"Hinata," he said, "thank you." Naruto held Hinata's head to his chest. Hinata closed her eyes and smiled contently.


Once they had regained some of their energy, Naruto and Hinata entered the shack to look for Sakura and the scrolls. Upon entry, they happened upon the house's living room, in which Sakura lay upon a couch while the scrolls sat on a nearby table.

"Sakura, wake up!" said Naruto. Sakura was groggy, but she managed to open her eyes.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"It's okay, Sakura," replied Hinata, "the mission is over. All that's left to do is return the scrolls to Lady Tsunade."

"The mission is over?!" asked Sakura. "I slept through the end of the mission?!"

"Hinata and I will fill you in on the mission on the way back to Konoha," replied Naruto. "Don't worry about a thing; Hinata and I took out the two remaining Mist shinobi, and I assume you're the one who took out that girl!"

"Yeah, that was me," said Sakura.

"Well, anyway, we better get back to the village!" said Naruto as he placed the scrolls in his backpack.

"Can we... rest for a bit?" asked Hinata. "I'm still exhausted from the battle."

"Eh, I guess," replied Naruto.

"You need rest more than she does, Naruto," said Sakura. "I can tell just by looking at you how worn out you are!"

"Yeah, I guess it'd be better for all of us if we rested a bit," Naruto agreed. "Let's go outside and start up a fire! The river shouldn't be too far from here!"

"Since you guys did all the fighting while I rested," said Sakura as she and her teammates exited the building, "I'll go gather up some fish for us to eat. You two stay here and rest."

"Thanks, Sakura," said Naruto.

"Yes, thank you," Hinata added.

With that, Sakura headed off towards the river. Naruto began piling up firewood and then banged two rocks together to create a spark, which soon grew into a medium-sized fire. He then sat down next to Hinata in front of the fire. Both Genin looked into the fire, listening to its crackle and feeling its heat. Hinata finally broke the silence.

"Naruto," she said.

"Hm?" was all Naruto could say as he and Hinata locked eyes. Naruto watched the reflection of the fire in Hinata's pale blue pupils as he listened for w:Phat Hinata had to say.

"Did you... really mean what you said back there?"

"Did I really mean what?"

"That I'm..." Hinata gulped as the blood began to rush to her head. Finally, she finished, "...precious to you." Hinata flinched, closing her eyes and clenching her fists.

Naruto put his hand on Hinata's shoulder. "I meant it, Hinata. You are precious to me." Hinata stopped flinching and smiled, though she was still blushing. As tears began to well in Hinata's eyes, Naruto asked her, "And how about you? Did you mean it when you said I'm precious to you?"

Hinata sighed and stood up. "Naruto... for as long as I've known you, I--" Hinata gulped again, but then her face began to clear up, as if she felt more comfortable relaying her feelings to Naruto than she had before. "You've always strived to better yourself when the odds were stacked up against you. No matter how weak everyone thought you were, you never stopped believing in yourself and you've gotten so strong. I... I've always admired you. I've always wanted to be like you. You give me confidence and determination. You make me believe that I, too, can become stronger... and I have gotten stronger! It's because of you, Naruto. I... I... lo--"

Hinata began to stutter. As strong as she had become, she was not yet strong enough to say those three words. Naruto stood up and put his index finger over Hinata's lips to silence her stuttering. He then placed his arms around her and pulled her to him in a tight, warm embrace. Beeds of sweat rolled down Hinata's face and hands, but she cast away her worries as she placed her arms around Naruto. She was relieved to have finally admit her feelings, even if she had not completed her final sentence, and was happy to see that Naruto had some feelings of affection for her as well. Naruto pulled back from his embrace and watched the fire and moonlight glisten in the tears in Hinata's eyes, and she observed the same image in his eyes. He then pressed his lips on hers and they locked in a kiss. They held their kiss for several minutes, forgetting that Sakura would soon return with their fish. Unbeknownst to them both, Sakura was already watching them from around the corner of a tree. She kept her distance, however, so as to not intrude on their moment. Although she had never seen Naruto as dating material, she had a melancholy look in her eyes.

Naruto used to be so obsessed with me, she thought. He always wanted to take me out on a date. And yet now... he's moved on. He's growing up... unlike me. This whole time, I've still been obsessing over Sasuke, despite all that's happened and all that he's done since his bout with Naruto. Maybe I need to move on too and give someone else a chance.

Sakura sighed and waited for Naruto and Hinata to finish kissing. After a few seconds, Naruto opened his eyes and looked down to see that his hand had worked its way to Hinata's breast. Hinata also looked down and noticed the placement of Naruto's hand, which turned her face beet red. Naruto quickly pulled away from the embrace, sweating nervously.

"Uh... sorry about that!" he said.

"No problem!" Hinata said nervously, half ready to pass out.

Naruto... you idiot... thought Sakura.


The sun rose over the abandoned shack in the forest surrounding Konohagakure. The first from the previous night had died down, fish bones scattered on the ground around the logs. Inside the shack, Sakura slept on the couch while Naruto and Hinata lay on the floor in their sleeping bags. Sakura was the first to awaken. When she looked over at her two teammates, she saw their arms overtop of each other. Smiling faintly, though still with a subtle look of melancholy in her eyes, Sakura slipped her shoes on and then headed outside, where she waited for her teammates. After a few minutes, she could hear Naruto's obnoxious yawn and him saying "Morning, Hinata!" It wasn't long before both shinobi exited the shack and met up with Sakura.

"Ready to embark, guys?" asked Sakura.

"Are we ever!" said Naruto. "Let's go home already! Maybe Iruka-sensei will take me out for ramen as a reward for a successfull mission!"

The three shinobi leaped into the trees and began their trek back home. Although Naruto seemed to be happy on the exterior, he tried to hide the fact that something was bothering him about the previous night. All three Genin stayed silent during the entire trip back to the village. Sakura was surprised as Naruto was normally vocal; normally, she would instead have trouble shutting him up. After a while, the team arrived back at the village and headed through the gate toward the Hokage's office building. Once they arrived, they entered Tsunade's office, at which time Naruto removed his backpack, pulled out the scrolls, and placed them on Tsunade's desk.

"I see your mission was a success. Job well done," said Tsunade.

"And in less than 24 hours too! Nice work for Genin on a B-rank mission!" Shizune added.

"Well, that's what you should expect from the next Hokage!" said Naruto with his arms behind his neck, his eyes squinted, and a big grin on his face.

"Anyway, here's your payment," said Tsunade as he handed money to each Genin. "You are all dismissed."

With that, Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura exited the building. Before they got far, however, Lee jumped from the roof of the building in front of Sakura, causing everyone to gasp.

"Sakura-chan! I would like to have the honor of being the first to welcome you back from a successful mission! Please, allow me to take you out on a date!"

Sakura thought for a second, then smiled and said, "Sure, Lee. Let's go."

Lee was shocked. "You really mean it?! You mean you are actually accepting my invitation?!" Lee began jumping for joy. "Woo hoo! I cannot wait to tell this to Gai-sensei! I have a date! I shall do my happy dance!"

"Is this how you're going to act in public?" Sakura groaned as Lee danced.

Naruto and Hinata both snickered at Lee's embarassment of Sakura. They then began walking through town when Naruto broke the silence.

"Hinata... there's something I need to talk to you about," he said.

"Oh? What is it?"

"It's about... last night. Can you come with me to the bench on the road leaving town?"

"Oh... okay..."

Naruto and Hinata walked silently across the village until they arrived at the aforementioned bench, where they both sat down. Naruto then looked Hinata in the eyes and took her hand into both of his. Hinata began to blush.

"Hinata... I love you. And I really want to be with you. But--"

"Naruto! I love you too! I want to be with you too!" Hinata finally managed to express her feelings now that Naruto had already done so.

"But... for us to pursue a relationship now would only hurt us in the long run. It'd only get in the way of our work. We're ninjas."

"Naruto..." Hinata was speechless. She did not like where this was going.

"I'm about to leave Konoha for two and a half years to train with Jiraiya. I don't think we can bear being away from each other that long if we allow ourselves to grow anymore attached to one another than we already have! It's unbearable enough as it is. I can't live with it and I don't think you would be able to either. I'm sorry, Hinata."

Hinata's eyes began to well up. "I understand... Naruto..."

Naruto had an apologetic look about his face. He then looked at Hinata and smiled. "But don't worry! I'll be back someday! And then I'm gonna bring Sasuke back and everything will be back to normal! When I have some more free time between missions, maybe... we can make something work then."

Hinata shed a few tears, but then smiled at Naruto. "Until then... I will wait for you."

The two met in one final kiss.


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