It took 10 years for Hinata to tell Naruto that she loved him.
Hinata waited nervously in front of Ichiraku Ramen.
She was going to confess to Naruto today. She was! She had crushed on him since she was eight. She had loved him since she was twelve. She was eighteen now – and much stronger in every way that counted. She could do this! It had been almost a decade since she’d fallen in love with him. And he still didn’t know! It was getting ridiculous!
Hinata was running out of time. Ever since she turned thirteen, nobles and other prestigious members of society had been making offers for her hand in marriage. The Hyuuga clan was one of the most powerful and influential clans in the Land of Fire. A family with a Hyuuga wife gained that much more prestige and influence. If it hadn’t been for her father, the clan would have married her off to the highest bidder years ago. (Thank goodness he wasn’t in a hurry to see her married off!) But even with her father’s protection, if she didn’t have a serious suitor by the time she turned nineteen, she knew the elders would demand that she accept one of the marriage contracts – for the good of the clan. Hinata had turned eighteen five days ago – and already the pressure was increasing.
She needed to know if she had any chance at all with Naruto. He didn’t have any romantic interest in anyone at the moment. When he had returned from his three-year training trip with Jiraya-sama of the Legendary Sanin, his old crush on Sakura had fizzled out. Naruto and Sakura were still close, but they acted more like siblings than boyfriend and girlfriend. The watched out for each other and teased each other and even fought like siblings over small inconsequential things. (It reminded her of her own relationship with her teammates. Kiba and Shino were like the older brothers she never had – though they never fought quite like Naruto and Sakura!) Naruto had stopped asking Sakura out years ago. At least, that was one less worry. If Naruto had still been interested in Sakura, then she would have had no chance at all…
If she stood absolutely no chance at all with Naruto… then she would accept one of the marriage contracts – for the good of the clan. Really, she was being selfish. She should have accepted an arranged marriage with a stranger, years ago. If she had not loved Naruto, she would have. It wouldn’t have mattered then. She knew she would eventually have to get married; so it might as well be for the benefit of the clan. But…
She loved Naruto so much! If he could return her feelings, she would be selfish and go against her clan to be with him. If he could not… (Hinata closed her eyes. Her heart hurt just thinking of that possibility.) If he could not… then she needed to stop being so selfish and accept her fate.
Hinata jumped back startled at the loud greeting. Her eyes snapped open. It was Naruto!
“N-N-Naruto-kun!” Hinata cursed herself for the stutter. Over the years, she had managed to train herself out of the detestable stutter. In most situations, it was gone for good. But her nervousness around Naruto always seemed to bring it back.
“What are you doing here?” Naruto tilted his head inquisitively. Hinata blushed. He was so cute when he did that!
“I w-w-was…” Hinata took a deep breath and tried to slow her rapidly beating heart. “I was waiting for you, Naruto-kun. Can I talk to you in private?”
“Oh? Sure, Hinata. Do you want to take a walk?”
They walked leisurely without speaking – sneaking glances at each other every now and then. Naruto looked at her curiously. (What did she want to talk to him about?) Hinata was surprised when Naruto led her to the Konoha Public Park. They finally stopped at a lonely bench that was out of sight from the main populated areas of the park.
“Sometimes, I come here when I need to think. Hardly anyone ever comes by this way. What did you want to talk about?”
Hinata thought she had been prepared for this - except suddenly, she couldn’t speak! She caught herself pressing her fingers together and quickly sat on her hands to stop. Her mouth was dry and the words stuck in her throat. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks.
Why can’t I do this?
“Hinata?” Naruto asked again after a long moment of silence. “Is something wrong?”
I have to tell him! Hinata thought desperately. I have to tell him how much…
“I love you!”
Naruto stiffened in shock. He turned to stare at her so quickly he almost gave himself whiplash.
Hinata looked away miserably. That hadn’t come out the way she intended. The pretty speech she had been practicing about how she admired his perseverance and how he inspired her to change herself... All of it had flown out of her head in her desperation to say something – anything! Now Naruto was gaping at her like she’d grown two heads.
She had started… and she might as well finish – even if it made her look like a fool.
“I-I-I love you, Naruto-kun. Ever since the Academy, I’ve… I’ve admired you. E-e-ever since we graduated… I’ve loved you.”
“I… I don’t know what to say.” Naruto ran a hand through his hair making it spikier than ever. “I… You’re a good friend Hinata – and precious to me. But I… love? Are you sure?” he asked lamely. He caught the expression on her face and grimaced. “Right. Stupid question.”
An uncomfortable silence settled around them. Hinata blinked back tears. He didn’t love her. She’d known that! She’d made things awkward between them. Having his friendship was better than nothing. Now she didn’t even have that. She should never have said anything. His next question shocked her out of her misery.
“What about the Kyubi?” Naruto slowly placed a hand over his stomach. His eyes never left hers.
“What about it?”
Several years ago, when the Akatsuki had been a threat, Naruto had revealed his secret to all his friends. The organization made up of S-class criminals and missing nin had desired the power of the Kyubi no Youko for their own evil ends. And they were targeting all of Naruto’s friends to get at him. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone his darkest secret. He selfishly wanted to keep his friends – by keeping them ignorant. But in the end, his conscience won over his selfish desires. It wouldn’t have been fair to them if they didn’t know why the Akatsuki were coming after them. Despite his fears, none of his friendships had been damaged by the knowledge that Naruto had the greatest of all demons sealed within him. Instead, all of his friendships had gotten stronger – if that were possible. His friends stood up for him whenever any of the villagers mistreated him – and even went as far as boycotting certain local merchants. He had never been more grateful for having such wonderful friends.
“I have a demon fox sealed in my gut. That doesn’t bother you? How can you still love me?”
“Naruto-kun, I told you three years ago that the Kyubi would not change anything between us. You are Uzumaki Naruto – a ninja of Konoha – and my precious friend. You are not the demon fox. The Kyubi didn’t matter then. Why would it matter now?”
“I don’t know. I guess I must be slow?” Naruto smiled a little at her words and the conviction he could feel behind them. He shook his head. “I’m flattered, Hinata. I had no idea you felt that way. But… I don’t… I don’t love you. Not like that.”
“I know,” she whispered – and knowing for sure hurt more than she ever expected. She got up to leave – because if she didn’t leave now, she was going to cry in front of him. It was bad enough he didn’t love her back. She didn’t want him to see her cry – to see her weakness, too.
Naruto caught her hand before she could go. He smiled one of his beautiful true smiles at her.
“But… You know… back when I was twelve and head over heels for Sakura-chan, I would have given anything for her to give me a chance – to let me take her out on a date – and for her to just try to see if she could like me back. I guess, what I’m trying to say is… I don’t love you now. I’ve never even thought of you as a potential girlfriend, but I like you.”
Hinata held her breath. She didn’t want to hope – because it would be too painful if she were wrong. Still…
“Would you like to go on a date with me?” Naruto looked almost… shy.
It was the happiest moment of her life.
I’m sorry! I’m supposed to be working on chapter 6 of One Small Step, but then I was hit over the head with this little plot bunny for theme #10 #10. It was only supposed to be a very short oneshot going over 10 events in Naruto and Hinata’s relationship that was maybe going to be about 1000 words – and only take a few hours to write.
6 days later, I’m up to well over 11,000 words, over 30 pages in Microsoft Word, and I’m only on event number 7! And I haven’t written a single word for chapter 6 of One Small Step! (moans) I hate my muse!
This was turning into a monster of a oneshot. So I’m splitting it into a set of 10 short parts that all fall into theme #10. (The parts range in length from 127 up to 4311 words – so they’re not really chapters. I think.) There’s no kiss in part 1, but rest assured that this thing has so many kisses in parts 2 to 10, that I’ve lost count! Like I said, I only have 3 more events to go before this story is complete. This story will be finished fast. Then I’ll get back to OSS.
Finally, this story was made possible by my husband – who generously watched the kids and kept them out of my hair and away from my laptop for hours last weekend. He’s the reason I was able to write as much as I did. Thanks, Honey! (smiles)