I'll Never Let Go by PhoenixClaw
Summary:
When a midnight stroll becomes a confession of love, Hyuuga Hinata believes her life could not get any better. However, when Naruto has a less than desirable reaction to her words, how far will the young kunoichi go to prove her feelings?
Categories: TONFA Award Category, Het Romance > Top Six Pairs > Naruto and Hinata Characters: Hinata Hyuuga, Naruto Uzumaki
Genres: Angst, Drama, Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges: Het and yaoi couples,
Challenges: Het and yaoi couples,
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 11898 Read: 7807 Published: 10/06/07 Updated: 10/06/07

1. I'll Never Let Go (Part 1) by PhoenixClaw

2. I'll Never Let Go (Finale) by PhoenixClaw

I'll Never Let Go (Part 1) by PhoenixClaw
Author's Notes:
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto nor do I own any of its characters. This story was written almost a year ago now, and it still kind of makes me smile when I re-read it. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.
This story is meant to take place several days before the tournament-style finals of the Chuunin exams. Also, it is based off the English anime, something that will become obvious a little later on in the story. 8P

Why can’t I just tell him?

Hyuuga Hinata walked out from Konaha village beneath magnificent streaks of deepest blue and black offset by the shining beauty of a full moon. She had been met with another restless night daydreaming about Naruto. Or was it nightdreaming? Wouldn’t that just make them normal dreams? And in that case, shouldn’t she logically be getting a good night’s sleep, then? Why was she even having this discussion with herself? The young woman consented to a plaintive sigh, letting all the trees and creatures of the night know the troubles of the young Byakugan heiress.

Luckily, a small breeze scented with cheery blossoms and broken earth distracted her from such odd little musings, and the reason she had come out here in the first place promptly came back into focus; that of course being to temporarily stop thinking about her crush. The instant she remembered what was supposed to be forgotten, however, a bleak look encompassed her features, and a gentle coloring dabbed at her cheeks. She let out another sigh.

All I want is for Naruto to like me, but I can’t even think about him without panicking! What am I going to do…?

Despite such inner turmoil, the young woman had continued to move along her prescribed path and soon found the spot for which she had been searching. Just outside the main village, several open fields overlapped with one another, creating a criss-cross pattern of practice targets, small lakes, tall trees, and an assortment of specially designed scenarios to test specific shinobi skills. Beyond that stood a small playground for the village children, no more than a swing set, really, and it was upon this spot Hinata decided to rest her feet, if not her mind.

I just want him to notice me. Even if he doesn’t feel the same way I do, at least we…at least…

She couldn’t even finish her own thought, unsure of what might be appropriate to say, if anything at this point. The Hyuuga maiden sat herself down on one of the swings, legs dangling aimlessly, her soul laid open before the cool night air. Seconds passed, followed by minutes, and eventually it could be perceived that the moon had changed position since she left the village. Still, her thoughts remained transfixed on the singular desires of a heart brimming with love, and all the world could have passed her by before she would have taken any notice.

On a whim, Hinata let her pale gray eyes wander upward, taking in sights that the heavens had to offer; everlasting beauty of a moon anchored in darkness, perpetual shimmering of stars so very high above. Stirring passions wandered outward, than inward again, as she drank in the shadow-enclosed splendor of the night surrounding her person.

Dark, mysterious trees to her right, soft and supple sand between her toes, a smattering of lights in the village that lay directly ahead…and a young man squatting precariously on the swing mere inches from her left shoulder.

A startled shriek erupted from the young woman’s throat as she leapt to her feet. The boy in question toppled over backwards, landing unceremoniously on his bottom. As soon as Hinata determined her heart wouldn’t actually beat out through her chest, she was quick to notice the orange jumpsuit and spiky blonde hair as belonging to the one person she would never have expected to see here.

“N-N-Naruto…?”

The male shinobi looked up with a huge grin on his face, trying to dust sand off his rear while at the same time standing up. He threw an arm behind his head and laughed good-naturedly.

“Hiya Hinata! Sorry I scared you like that. I thought you knew I was there.”

He was met with a blank look of terror mixed with overwhelming emotions, but a naive grasp of the situation failed to take into account her devastating blush coupled with a stuttering acceptance of his apology.

“So…you want me to push you?”

“I…you…what?”

“Ya know, on the swing.”

“The…s-swing?”

Naruto regarded her with his infinitely charming fox-like grin, and pointed to the seat in front of her. Hinata followed his index finger and observed the contraption as if it were her first time seeing it.

“Yeah, c’mon. You get on the swing, and I’ll push you. It’ll be fun! Believe it!”

As if in a daze, the young woman did as she was told. Within moments, a pair of strong hands rested gently above her hips, and she blushed an even deeper shade of crimson.

“Ok, ya ready?”

“Y-Yes, Naruto…”

“Alright, here we go!”

For the young Hyuuga heiress, centuries began to pass in the span of heartbeats.

Every few seconds, his hands would settle upon their delicate position at her sides, and she would feel a great rush of warmth. Then, his hands would leave, and a vast emptiness would fill her heart. Luckily, his presence always returned, banishing the darkness with a depth of feeling she had only encountered in her wildest fantasies of his powerful touch.

“Are you having fun, Hinata?”

She managed to break out of her mental reserve just long enough to glance backwards and present him with an enthusiastic nod. Before turning around again, something about his face caught her attention, and she considered him a bit longer. He was smiling broadly, which was probably an understatement, but there was something about his eyes…

He was unhappy, hiding it all behind that childlike smile.

A sudden wave of guilt caught her around the throat, and she swallowed gingerly.

“N-Naruto…?”

“Yeah, Hina? You wanna go higher?”

She blushed at his words, flattered and embarrassed at the nickname he had begun calling her a few weeks back. Still, her concern for the young man far outweighed any thrill she might receive from being addressed in such a personal manner.

“N-Naruto...are you ok?”

“Of course I am! Never felt better! How high do ya wanna go?”

It seemed as if he had answered too quickly, and a deeper concern began to rise within her breast. As much as it hurt to do so, she dug her heels into the sand on the return pass. Naruto was left to brace himself against the quick decision, and he eased the girl to a stop, holding her around the waist a bit more firmly than before. When she was resting idly on the swing, he removed his hands, causing the young woman to expel a pained inner sigh.

“…What’s wrong, Hinata?”

Everything. Nothing. His question brought forth a swell of emotions within her slender frame, and she silently admonished herself a moment later. Even with a deep sadness clearly evident in his features, he still centered on her well-being. Why couldn’t she be strong like that? The only desire ever to reside in her heart was to make Naruto happy. What made it so difficult to comfort the one you loved?

Hinata sucked in a deep breath, and pivoted her body so that she was staring right into her beloved’s eyes.

“I-I know something’s bothering you, N-Naruto…do you…do you want to talk about it…?”

The young man tried to stall, flashing yet another vulpine grin. When it became obvious her look of concern would not abate, he reluctantly conceded and dropped the act.

A few moments later, Naruto took a seat beside her, allowing both legs to dangle above the ground in the same dismal manner his friend had done earlier. She must have used her Byakugan when he wasn’t looking or something; how else would she know he was upset? He figured it was dumb luck…or woman’s intuition.

It never occurred that he might just simply be an open book before the eyes of someone who truly loved him. Regardless, a dark pallor seemed to hover over his head for a few moments.

“Hinata…what do you do for your birthday?”

The Hyuuga maiden glanced sideways, a look of confusion set upon her face at the odd question. Naruto in turn shifted his gaze to look at her indirectly; part of his sight fixed on the village set some distance away.

“I…Father has me train all the time, and…it’s not such a big deal, really…”

“But don’t you do anything to celebrate?”

She had to think about that for a moment.

“Well…Neji, Hanabi and Father usually just smile and hug me. Sometimes we’ll order fresh sushi from the marketplace and have a nice dinner together, as a family…”

Hinata instantly regretted her last words, cringing at the fact that Naruto lived alone. Despite her fear, she was met with a great big toothy grin that held no indication of the sorrow he had been feeling just moments ago.

“That sounds really nice, Hinata! You’re a lucky girl to have such a great family.”

The young woman poked her fingers together, mulling over his words.

“I…I guess I am…”

It wasn't quite the truth, since any birthday celebrations like that had ended right after her mother passed away. Still, Hinata didn't wish to bother Naruto with her own personal problems. They weren't really important, and he...he wouldn't want to hear about them anyway...

Both shinobi remained silent for a time, content only to be in one another’s company with nothing but the breeze to occupy their minds. A delicate breath eventually broke the silence.

“It’s so late, N-Naruto…I-I never expected to see anyone else out here…it’s ok if you don’t want to tell me, but if something’s bothering you,” She swallowed hard. “I’d like to help...”

The young boy cast her a heartfelt expression of friendship, and she blushed at his warm demeanor. He looked away suddenly, occupying himself with the sand beneath his feet.

“I…I just couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”

She waited a few more seconds, but when no more information came her way, it became apparent she would have to draw it out of him.

“N-Naruto…why did you want to know about my birthday?”

A long, painful silence ensued.

Maybe prying had been a bad idea. What was she thinking, just going off and picking at his innermost thoughts? How selfish could she be, believing she had any right to force her will on him just like that?

He must think of me as nothing more than a prattling child. This always happens; I always make things worse. Father constantly chastises me for my weakness, and he’s right. I’m never any help, and the one person I care about the most, I hurt the worst! I’m such a terrible ninja, why do I even continue? Naruto must hate me now. I’m no help to anyone. I’m -

“Hinata…could I ask you something…?”

The young woman snapped out of her loathsome thoughts in an instant, brushing away a few stray tears. She turned to the blonde boy at her side and quelled the lump that was quickly rising in her throat.

“Of course, N-Naruto …what do you want to know?”

A pair of crystal blue eyes stared straight ahead, gazing at the village some distance before them. Hinata briefly wondered if he was looking towards the future or back into the past. Her scrutiny regarding his unreadable expression fell to the wayside as he began to speak.

“I went to see Lord Hokage today. He kept telling me to leave since he had important things to do, or something. I didn’t really care. I just kept asking him about my parents, almost like something was telling me to. All I wanted was to know more about them, I guess…”

The young man half smiled, half grimaced.

“After a real long time, he finally said that my dad had been a good man…but he wouldn’t say anything about my mom, just that she had…loved me.”

He paused for a moment, closing both eyes tightly. His features had become ashen. Hinata could feel a constriction around her heart, and she briefly entertained the notion of reaching out and stroking his cheek. Such foolishness was dispelled immediately. He wouldn’t like that, not from her, maybe Sakura or, well, anyone but her…

“I begged him to tell me more. I begged and begged until two Chunin came out of nowhere and dragged me away. When we were almost out of his office, Lord Hokage stood up and dismissed them. I was standing there all alone…”

Silence.

Naruto…what’s bothering you so greatly? I want to help, but I don’t understand. Please let me know what’s hurting you. I’ll do everything I can to heal your wounds…

The young man scuffed his foot across the sand.

“He just stood there and looked at me in such a weird way…“Your mother would want you to know.” …That’s all he said before sitting down again and looking over his papers. I didn’t understand, so…so I asked him what it was she would have wanted me to know…”

Naruto visibly bent under the strain of whatever was weighing so heavily on his mind. The Hyuuga heiress was quick to notice the tightness in his features, but other than that, it seemed impossible to…no, wait…she knew that look. It had been present on her face more times than she could ever hope to imagine.

He was fighting back tears.

The blonde boy remained in a sunken state for many moments, wrestling with the idea of telling his friend what was slowly eating him alive. He trusted Hinata; she had always been so kind to him. It would be ok. She wouldn’t laugh. He might even feel better telling her. Yeah, no doubt about it, he’d feel better. She was always so kind…

Naruto sucked in a deep breath of clean, fresh air, then exhaled.

“Lord Hokage said that…tomorrow’s my birthday.”

The young woman stiffened, her pale eyes growing wide; surprise and happiness began to overshadow one another at regular intervals. She never knew…why hadn’t this come up before? He didn’t even know his own birthday, didn’t even have parents, and here they were, talking about how great her family was…

Hinata felt ashamed.

Before she could stop herself, a small pale hand reached over and gently came to rest upon the boy’s knee. Her lips were overcome by a pained yet loving smile.

“H-Happy Birthday…N-N-Naruto…”

He didn’t even look up, refusing to acknowledge her courageous undertaking. Instead, the young man’s arm rose ever so slowly, and he laid his fingers atop those of the girl beside him. Both shinobi were encased in a crisp silence. When he did not withdraw from their touch, Hinata began to blush deeply. Naruto was actually holding her hand…

Their quiet moment together was eventually interrupted by a husky, tentative whisper.

“Can…can I still ask my question, Hinata? Do you mind…?”

Two pearlesque orbs began to shimmer in the pastel moonlight.

“Naruto…you can ask me anything…”

He finally broke contact, and she did the same a moment later, albeit with a great deal of remorse. The male shinobi turned in his seat, momentarily losing himself in the haunting beauty of her pale lavender eyes. His face was empty, a bottomless chasm waiting to be filled.

“Hina…what’s it like to be loved by someone just for being born…?”

Her heartstrings snapped…he didn’t know.

On his birthday, with no parents to speak of, he didn’t know what it meant to be loved just for who he was. Why had he asked her? How could she possibly answer? What right did she have to even try and fill that gap in his heart? She cared so much for him; so very, very much, but this…

Naruto…you mean everything to me…the strength I’ve received from watching you; all the times you stood back up and did your best. I just want to be half the ninja you are…I’d do anything for you, Naruto, anything…but this, I can’t…I…I just can’t…

The Hyuuga maiden began to weep silently; both eyes shut tight, her features strained against the release of so much pent up anguish. As her fists began to ball up in grief, Naruto jumped out of his seat and squatted down right in front of her.

“Hey, Hinata! Don’t cry. I’m sorry I upset you. That was a stupid question, I know. I’m really, really sorry…”

The young man reached out and patted her affectionately on the head.

He’s trying to console me! After what he just said…why am I so weak! I should be trying to help him, and all I can do is cry! This isn’t fair…why can’t I be stronger…?

She felt a bit of warmth near her face, and realized a moment later that Naruto was cupping her cheek. He began to wipe away tepid droplets of fear and uncertainty with his thumb.

“C’mon, Hinata. It’s ok. I won’t say dumb stuff like that ever again, I promise.”

Her eyes snapped open, shocked at his words, taking in every aspect of her love’s features.

He in turn cast forth his very best smile, making sure to hold nothing back in the hopes of getting her feeling better again.

The pain in his eyes had increased ten-fold.

A hollow numbness coursed through her mind. The only thing that even truly registered was how completely undeserving she was to have someone like him call her a friend.

“Ah, man, please don’t be upset …it’s no big deal, really.”

A wounded sparkle danced across the boy’s eyes as he thumped his chest.

“There’s no way I’m gonna let something like this get the best of the next Hokage! Believe it!”

He flashed her a goofy fox-like grin, offset by two devastatingly beautiful cerulean windows into his very soul.

“Besides, Hina, your feelings are way more important than anything that old man says! I’d definitely pick one of your pretty smiles over some dumb old question about love any day!”

At that kindhearted, innocent, compassionate utterance, those precious words spoken without a hint of fear or weakness, something deep inside the young kunoichi finally cracked. Everything that she had ever held dear about Uzumaki Naruto surged forth with all the voracious power of a maelstrom.

An agonized cry tore itself loose from Hinata’s throat, and the young woman threw herself forward with the untold strength of a bleeding heart. Both arms latched desperately around his neck, and the two of them went toppling over into the soft ankle-deep grass.

For the longest time, she simply remained there on top of him, face pressed squarely into his shoulder while violent sobs racked her frame. Naruto hadn’t a clue what made her just lunge like that, but he figured it had somehow been his fault, and now tried to make amends.

As he gingerly positioned himself a bit more comfortably between her small body and the earth beneath him, two arms rose up and cradled the young woman against his chest. One hand remained gently fixed upon the nape of her neck, while the other awkwardly traveled up and down the length of a cream colored jacket in slow, exaggerated motions. He began to coo softly in her ear.

“It’s ok, Hinata…I’m here for you…it’ll all be ok…I promise…”

He was beginning to get a chill from the cold ground, but soon berated himself for not thinking of the girl he had hurt somehow. This couldn’t be about him; Hinata came first. Still, his bottom was getting wet atop the dew-kissed grass, and the young man’s attention inexorably returned to the figure in his arms. She was soft…and warm…and…

And just a friend, nothing more.

On top of that, she was crying because he had messed up…again. Naruto could feel a constriction around his heart, and he briefly entertained the notion of reaching in and stroking her cheek. Such foolishness was dispelled immediately. She wouldn’t like that, not from him, maybe Kiba or, well, anyone but him…

She mumbled something into his chest.

“What was that, Hinata?”

A slight shift brought her face mere inches from his lips, and a few strands of navy blue hair tickled the boy’s nose. For the first time in the Hyuuga maiden’s life, she just couldn’t find the strength to blush. Her breath was like a hot summer breeze.

“…It’s not ok…”

The young woman slowly, very slowly, pushed herself up to a sitting position, in effect straddling the young man’s hips. A vacant expression had engulfed her features, and if it had at all registered that she was seated quite firmly upon his lap, she gave no outward sign.

“…No one ever told you…”

Hinata bowed her head once more, and began to sob quietly.

Naruto, on the other hand, was well aware of her positioning on his person. Despite the constant reminders of how dear her friendship was to him, he delicately squeezed out from between her legs, fearful of any male indication that he didn’t quite dislike her profoundly odd behavior.

The young man sat up, legs crossed, observing the girl before him as if through a pane of glass. Her words had obviously confirmed that she was miserable, all thanks to him…

Why does Hinata have to be so sad? I’m such a nuisance; she’s the one girl besides Sakura who’ll actually talk to me, and I made her cry! All I wanted was to be with someone on my birthday…but now that’s out too. I should’ve just kept pushing her on the swing…at least then she wouldn’t be upset…

The young woman was still sobbing in front of him, and now Naruto could feel his eyes filling up too.

I’m such an idiot! What’s wrong with me, anyway? How come I can’t ever just shut my big mouth and leave everyone alone? No one’s ever happy when I’m around…Hinata deserves better than this…

He scrubbed a hand across his eyes, and stubbornly thrust everything beneath a gleaming smile. It probably wouldn’t work, but the young man would try to cheer her up one last time. Her friendship was worth it, after all, even if nothing could be done to change the fact that everything about him was a complete waste.

Still sporting a gigantic smile, Naruto inched right up to Hinata’s prone form and took her face in his hands. With a swift motion, the young woman was suddenly grinning ear to ear, thanks to a pair of thumbs lifting up both cheeks as high as they would go.

To say the least, she blinked in surprise.

“N-Naruto! What are you-“

“Uh uh! First thing’s first; you need to smile again! I’m not going anywhere until I know you’re not upset anymore.”

He grinned broadly.

“Besides, I still have to apologize for messing up so badly, and there’s no way I’m doing that before totally making sure you won’t clobber me!”

Despite herself, the young woman couldn’t help but smile faintly at his usual antics. That was apparently enough for the male shinobi, and he patted her cheeks softly.

Naruto…you mean the world to me …I can’t be weak any longer…I can’t keep hiding behind these feelings… all I ever do is push you away…even though you’ll never know how important you are to me, maybe now…maybe now I can finally begin to tell you…

“See! Isn’t that better Hinata! If you keep frowning like that all the time, you’ll end up looking like Sasuke!”

The young woman cast an even broader smile at him, and then surprised them both when two delicate hands gingerly rose to balance the light of his smile upon her fingertips. She stroked his cheeks lovingly while a pair of soft lavender eyes began to pulse with an unknown radiance.

Naruto was taken completely off guard by her forthright attitude, and could only stare dumbly at the girl before him. A stunned expression encompassed the young man; now it was his turn to stutter.

“H-H-Hinata…?”

“…No one ever said they loved you…”

Her eyes had become pale gray sunsets, burning intensely with life and fire. He had never witnessed such a bold look of conviction, least of all from Hinata, and the male shinobi was at a total loss regarding what it could mean.

“…I will, though. I’ll tell you, finally…”

The young man wasn’t quite registering much of what she was saying to him at that point, so lost was he in the depth of her newly found strength. All he could center on was the touch of her fingertips along his jaw, the heated sensation of a smile brushing past his hands. Wait, brushing past? Why would she-

Hinata closed the distance between them in short order, catching Naruto in a delectably warm kiss. With all the sweetness of a lullaby, the Hyuuga heiress pressed both lips firmly against the object of her desires, basking in the natural warmth and mystery of his touch. The young man became a veritable statue to offset her fluid embrace.

When their brief moment of intimacy came to an end, Hinata leaned forward and rested her brow against Naruto’s forehead.

I love you, Uzumaki Naruto…now, and forever…”

So many breathtaking feelings accompanied those words, and it was a simple wonder she didn’t burst with the knowledge that things would be very different from this point on.

As she pulled back, a great uprising of warmth began to gather in her breast, and she looked onto the recipient of her love with barely contained anticipation. Naruto, in turn, slumped forward slightly, catching himself with both palms pressed firmly against the grass. His head was held low.

The world fell silent for many moments, both male and female genin trying to gather their thoughts as best they could. The young man kept both eyes on the ground, slowly shaking his head side to side.

“Hinata…why…?”

A very slight tug pulled at the corner of her mind. She shrugged it off. He was speaking of her feelings for him.

“Naruto…I’ve watched only you for many years…you mean so much to me…I just…”

She couldn’t seem to form any words that would suffice, and instead reached out to stroke his cheek once more. A single digit glided delicately from ear to jaw, finally coming to rest on the small indentation of his chin.

With eyes still cast down, he slowly, carefully, pushed her hand away.

This time, it was more of a yank on the outskirts of her consciousness, and the young woman let her warm smile melt into one of concern.

“N-Naruto…?”

At her questioning tone, his head rose up, and she gasped.

How many times had she imagined what this moment would be like; the sheer expression of warmth, understanding, and reciprocated love from Naruto? He would blush (yes, she would make him blush!), and then hold her in his arms, tears streaming down both their cheeks as they proclaimed their love for one another.

Part of that imagery had been correct.

His tear-stained features were illuminated in the moonlight, creating an exquisite vision of tortured sorrow for the young woman to behold. Across his face was plastered a terrible collage of sadness, hurt, and most striking of all…absolute betrayal.

His voice was riddled with whispered uncertainties.

“Hinata…why would you do that to me…?”

A multitude of opposing thoughts abruptly coursed through the young woman at once, blurring and reforming into meaningless nonsense before her mind’s eye. She clumsily shoved them all aside.

“N-Naruto…what do you mean? I…I just wanted to let you know you’re not alone…that I care about you. That I –“

Her words were cut short as a waxy veil draped itself over his eyes. He wasn’t even looking at her anymore. No, he was looking through her.

“You…you don’t care…no one does, did …not before…not now.”

It was the nature of his voice that frightened her the most. He was speaking in a dreary monotone; any indication of his usual energetic self had been completely stripped away.

“I know everyone hates me…I know that. I just thought you were different…”

His face, which had previously been overcome by immense grief, now arbitrated a battle between pain and confusion. In one fluid motion, the young man jumped to his feet and backed away several steps, keeping a cautious eye on the female shinobi all the while. An expression clear as glass abruptly settled upon him, and Hinata knew at once that Naruto was lost somewhere beyond her reach.

An arctic chill began to seep through her veins. This was all wrong…

“Naruto, I don’t hate you! I care about you more than anyone! Please, listen to me!”

The boy in question cast her an agonized yet vacant look, then turned his head a bit to the side and laughed hoarsely.

“Did Sasuke put you up to this? Or Kiba? You probably helped them plan it…”

Hinata could once again feel her eyes begin to overflow. This couldn’t be happening! She never meant to hurt him…how had it come to this? All she did was go out for a simple walk, and now…

The young woman could feel herself slipping down a dark well, light from the exterior of her mind growing fainter with each passing second. Her thoughts shot out in all directions, trying desperately to find some handhold on the situation.

“Everything I’ve said is true! I wanted to tell you for years, Naruto. I love you so much! I –“

“No! It’s a lie! No you don’t!

The sheer power of his words, coupled with the absolute certainty that he was correct, that he was alone, was almost too much to endure. She scrambled to her feet, pleading with a heart laid bare that he might see the truth.

A second advent of tears began to assail her porcelain features, but the grief she would feel had only just begun.

“Naruto! Please stop this! Let me explain. I-”

“SHUT UP! Just…just shut up!”

Both arms instantly shot up to cover his ears; a desperate attempt to drown out the chorus of painful thoughts and memories that were now pulsing inside his head.

Naruto!

Hinata reached out towards the fractured boy.

In the instant before he caught her arm, had twisted it painfully and thrown her to the ground, she glimpsed something deep within his being that would forever stay burned amidst her memories. A terrible suffering began to overtake the young woman, and she could not disregard what had been so plainly obvious in his beautiful azure eyes.

He was terrified of her.

That brief, all-encompassing moment of fear sent her reeling backwards. From the dejected spot she now occupied on the cool midnight grass, a plaintive expression brimming with forlorn hope echoed in the silence between them.

From his position above her, a cloud passed by overhead, and she could not see through the shadow that enshrouded his eyes. As the moments passed them by, his mouth opened and closed slightly, but no sound reached her ears. After a brief eternity beset by haunted memories, Naruto tentatively extended his hand to the fallen girl, but before she could reach out and take it, he withdrew the invitation just as quickly as it had been offered.

Another step backwards fashioned a distance far too great to be traversed by any mere words. As he turned around to face the night beyond them, the young man looked back over his shoulder, the tone of his voice saturated with a terrible remorse.

“Hinata…I thought you were my friend…”

With those last words to keep her company, a single leap took him into the canopy of trees, and he was gone.

Hinata was left alone, cold, and frightened.

A great trembling began to attack her entire body, and the young woman leaned forward, wrapping both arms around her person.

I never wanted this…I never wanted this…

As she closed her eyes tightly, a great shout was barely stifled beneath layer upon layer of crushing misery. She whispered to the night.

“What have I done?”

Her words reached no one, for there was no one left to speak to; no one left to care.

After all this time, all these years, she had managed to ruin everything with only a few simple words. Naruto was the strongest person she had ever met. Nothing ever beat him; nothing ever held him down.

But she had done just that. Hinata’s voice came out a bit stronger.

“…What have I done…?”

Her love had been the one thing to finally strike down his infallible determination to rise above and conquer all. Her love had been all that was necessary to reduce the one person she had ever felt anything for to a wretched state of disarray. Her love…

It was the greatest insult in the world.

Unable to resist the pain of a shattered heart, Hinata rolled over onto the grass and began to cry bitterly. As the moon laughed at her misfortune, all she could think about was the boy of her dreams and how much he must be hurting right now.

Naruto…I’m sorry…I’m sorry for everything…I’m sorry it was me…

An immense pain rose up from within the young woman, and she let out an agonized scream for all the stars of the night to hear.

WHAT HAVE I DONE!”


I'll Never Let Go (Finale) by PhoenixClaw
Author's Notes:
So, did you enjoy Chapter 1? I haven't seen a Naruto-Hinata fic with this particular kind of twist before, so I hope you found it to your liking. Anyway, its about time I let you read the rest of the story, so...enjoy! (Oh, and I am aware that Naruto's birthday is October 10th. Unfortunately, I discovered this AFTER I had already begun to write the story...[sigh] You'll just have to excuse that little discrepancy. :P)

Amidst the darkened splendor of a star dusted canopy, one lone ninja darted from branch to branch, stripping serenity from the boughs with a nearly tangible sense of misery and regret. The young shinobi cut a swift path through the night, disturbing not a leaf in his singular desire to get away.

Stupid Hinata.

A strong leg kicked off from an adjacent tree trunk, propelling the boy another dozen feet or so. When he made contact with the next outstretched branch, Naruto momentarily aligned a bit of chakra with the soles of his feet and pressed on several degrees to the left.

Stupid Sasuke…stupid Kiba.

The youth slammed his foot into the next limb with enough force to crack it down the middle.

Stupid everybody.

At that precise moment, a heart-wrenching scream echoed faintly amongst the treetops, and despite his dismal outlook, a thin smile settled upon the young man’s lips.

Good. Let her feel bad. She deserves it.

He continued on without so much as a backwards glance, shrugging off the effects of yet another unseen blow to his already depleted reserves. The events of their moonlight encounter repeated themselves over and over against a backdrop of murky thoughts; each retelling of the tale burrowing a bit deeper into his soul.

Hinata had obviously led him into a trap.

As the memories once again started over from the beginning, at no point did it occur to the young shinobi that it was in fact he who had approached her in the first place.

Why would she go and do something like that? I always thought Hinata was such a nice girl. Kinda weird, but still nice. What made me go and tell her about my birthday? It’s not like being thirteen means anything. She could have just said she didn’t care. That probably would’ve hurt less than being kissed as a joke…

An exceptional moment of insight began to shine within the boy’s mind, and he silently wondered upon that last thought.

Why did it hurt so much? Would it have been different if Sakura had played such a prank on him? And if not, then what made Hinata so special? Maybe they had planned it together…

Nah, it’s not Sakura’s style. She would’ve said she hates me to my face.

That of course led to a whole different set of questions about what made Sakura so great either. To say the least, Naruto was even less capable now more so than usual of delving into the inner workings of a kunoichi, and thus gave up on the subject all together. Anger was a much more reliable source of distraction.

I don’t need either of them, or anyone else! All that matters is that I become the next Hokage and finally get some respect in the village! Once everyone finally notices me, it won’t matter what Hinata or anyone else thinks; I’ll be looked up to by everybody!

A great smile momentarily slipped across his face, polished and cleansed by the brisk midnight air. Within moments, that too fell to the wayside and left it’s blackened mark amidst the foliage.

Tch, yeah, except anyone that actually matters will still think I’m a loser…

With that thought in mind, Naruto continued on throughout the night, eager to just get home and go to bed. Maybe things would look a bit brighter in the morning. If he could sleep it off, having a birthday all to himself might not be so-

Suddenly, the young man was plummeting to the ground, a great howl of wind ripping past his face. In that short-lived moment of panic, the image of a young woman crying on the grass inexplicably burned itself into his mind’s eye. Soft earth met him in an instant, cushioning the brunt of his fall with spongy ferns and tilled soil. Several moments later, a dead branch landed on the path next to him.

Though he had not been hurt in the jarring fall, Naruto remained sprawled out upon the cool bedding, unable to shake that last fleeting picture. He absently groaned and rolled onto his back.

I…I shouldn’t have pushed her like that. It was just a dumb joke. She could’ve gotten hurt, and it would have been all my fault…

The young shinobi shut his eyes tight against the ache.

Why can’t I just stay mad! It hurts less when I don’t think about Hinata…how come she had to go and do that? I wouldn’t have shoved her if she just left me alone!

Naruto shook his head against the sight of the young woman falling to the ground, her pale eyes boring into him, hurt and shocked that he would do such a callous thing. His bottom lip began to quiver.

This is so stupid! I can’t even get angry right! What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s just a dumb birthday; not like it really means anything…not like it ever did…

Despite the cold words, a gentle sob began to take hold of the youth as a few select words bubbled to the surface of his memories.

Well…Neji, Hanabi and Father usually just smile and hug me. Sometimes we’ll order fresh sushi from the marketplace and have a nice dinner together, as a family…”

As a family…

Indecisive tears began to trickle down the cheeks of the blonde boy, wearing thin the wall that had been so hastily constructed around his heart.

All I ever wanted was a family… someone to worry if I was ok, or to scold me when I got in trouble. Someone to be there, to love me…to care. Iruka-sensai was the only one who ever believed I was worth anything, but even he kept his distance in the end…

More tears began to fall unwanted towards the ground, creating miniature rivulets throughout the soft earth beneath his head.

Hinata’s so lucky, having people who think about her all the time like that. She doesn’t even know how it feels to be weak and useless! How can anyone say they love a screw up like me? I’m no good…everyone knows that. They always tell me, so it’s got to be true! Why can’t Hinata understand? What makes her different from the rest of them? Can’t she figure out I just want to be left alone!

Naruto’s eyes shot open wide; the utter duplicity of that last claim stung him terribly. Without warning, a great swell of hidden despair and torment abruptly flooded into the confines of his heart. Ancient memories immediately began to battle for prominence, vying for the honor of deciding which would harm him the most.

I never meant to hurt you …it was just a stupid joke…I’m such a bad friend…

Tendrils of moonlight began to descend through the trees, laying siege to the crumpled form of a boy huddled beneath his own dark thoughts. As he unwillingly opened up to the pain, a sharp cry echoed throughout the surrounding area, heralding the capture of an exiled fox caught in one of life’s many unfortunate snares.

Hinata…I’m sorry…I’m so, so sorry…please forgive me…I don’t want to be alone anymore…

For the longest time, Konaha’s loudest and most energetic ninja somberly buried his face in a patch of dirt and cried bitterly, forgotten and unwanted, as twelve severed leaves drifted down to their final resting place.

As the darkness wore itself on, Naruto forcibly made his body rise up once more, brushing the dust from his tear-stained features. Thoroughly beaten and cowed by the events of the day, the young man trudged his way home by foot. For the rest of the trip, he wished with all his heart that Hinata would find him again, while likewise praying she would remain far away.

Whether by a blessing or a curse, the male shinobi arrived at his small second story apartment undisturbed. He quietly let himself into the bleak and hollow dwelling; a constant reminder of how empty life really was. The misery of this evening reached even beyond the allure of left over dumplings, and it was with a heavy heart and an empty stomach that Naruto simply plopped onto his bed, content to let the rest of the night take him.

The last conscious action he performed was to toss a pillow across the room, unable to stand the chilling touch of grief-stricken tears staining the cotton fabric.

A veil of dreamless tidings governed his time spent asleep, allowing the tortured boy several hours reprieve of peaceful slumber. All too quickly, a light rapping at the door brought the young man once again into the realm of action and consequence. Still groggy from his nap, Naruto took a moment to notice light gray had replaced the earlier black of night, signaling the inevitable approach of dawn. Another quick rap set his legs into motion.

Just a minute!

The youth shook his head vigorously, then promptly walked over to the door, flicked on a small lamp, and undid the latch. As a gust of fresh air hastily swept into the room, his sleepy expression was immediately replaced by a fierce scowl.

“What do you want now, Hinata?”

Despite an earlier lament, the sight of the young woman revived a sense of agitation, though by now it had been reduced to mere annoyance. The girl in question simply stood there, head held low, refusing to meet his gaze. Naruto was in no mood for one of her bizarre little episodes, and quickly surmised that she must be here to poke fun at him again. His annoyance quickly became irritation.

“Yeah, well, if you’re not gonna say anything, then just leave, ok!”

He began to close the door.

Instantly, a set of arms shot forward, stopping him from shutting her out. Held gingerly between two small hands was an even smaller white box. Upon it’s top was fastened a curly orange bow.

Even though her features were still hidden beneath wisps of navy blue hair, the young man could almost sense that she had her eyes squeezed shut, fearing he would reject the gift and kick her out of his home.

For several seconds, Naruto entertained that very thought. Eventually, a solid dose of vulpine curiosity overpowered his distrust, and he gingerly removed the small item from her hands. With just one sidelong glance at the girl before him, the male shinobi delicately peeled back the wrapping and opened her present.

A child-like smile quickly exerted its will upon the boy’s lips.

Inside the small container was an oversized cupcake decorated to look like a bowl of ramen. Various shades of powdered sugar spelled out MISO SOUP on the sides, and thin little wavy strips of butterscotch frosting made for the noodles. All that was garnished with a dash of cinnamon, resembling the beef flavoring he added to almost every meal. Two yellow candles poked up at an odd angle atop the little marvel, looking suspiciously like a pair of chopsticks.

Had she made this for him? When had there been time? He couldn’t have slept for more than three or four hours, and she had only just found out about his…

Naruto gently cradled the small package to his chest as if it were the greatest treasure in the world. The young man’s eyes began to flicker back and forth between the gift and the giver. His voice nearly cracked as he responded in an unusually meek and humbled tone.

“…Thank you…Hina…”

He placed the confectionary jewel on a table beside the door, and only then noticed a tiny note attached to the ribbon. He slipped it off, reading silently. It was so simple.

Happy Birthday, Naruto.

Love,

Hinata

Both shinobi remained mute for a long time, allowing the moment to settle down upon them. Naruto simply stood there, fixated upon the words. When Hinata gathered the courage to glance upward, a bit of hope began to tug at her heart. She watched silently as his eyes welled up with cerulean-engraved tears.

A great lump had formed near the top of his throat, and he swallowed it with much effort. The young man began to struggle against something for which he had no defense.

Just as quickly, he crumpled the small piece of paper and threw it to the ground.

Before the young woman could even register the action, his face rose to meet her own, thoroughly eradicating any chance of escape. Naruto was beset by a paralyzing expression of anguish mixed with fury, disallowing Hinata even the option of averting her eyes.

“You think you’re so funny…” His gaze resounded with the pain of a thousand wounds. She could not find the breath to refute. Any regret he had felt before evaporated in an instant.

“Don’t you know how much this hurts?” He dug into her soul with the voracity of a wild beast, trying to find the core of her hatred for him. A glimmer of wetness began to dab at both their eyes, though neither party was aware.

“Everyone thinks I’m just a nuisance; no one even cares if I live or die! You think I need you to shove this in my face? You think I don’t already know how they all feel about me?”

The young man snapped both eyes shut in an instant, unable to look upon such scathing, judgmental features. Hinata in turn remained silent, though by now her face had crinkled into a weak barrier, scarcely holding back wave upon wave of renewed heartache. The boy’s words coursed with venom; irritation bloomed into anger as he addressed her once again with fire in his voice.

“All I ever wanted was to be the next Hokage, no matter what! I’ll do it all by myself, too, without anyone else to get in my way! No one’s gonna keep me away from my dream! And when I am Hokage, everyone will have to like me! They won’t have a choice! I’ll finally be looked up to! No one will call me baka; no one’ll think I’m worthless! I can do it all by myself! I don’t need help from anybody, and I especially don’t need you! So just go ahead and believe it!”

He spun on the ball of his foot, too angry, frightened, timid and ashamed to look her in the eyes. His tone devolved into a harsh bark.

“Get out of my house! I don’t want you here! I don’t even want to see you again! You’re the reason everyone hates me so much! It’s people like you that make everybody laugh and point when I walk by! It’s bad enough when people talk like I’m not even there; and now you’re going to mock me, too? Just get out of my life, Hinata! Get out and don’t ever come back!

When his anger finally ran itself dry, a recurring, stifled sob was all Naruto could hear as the girl he hated most in the world stood behind him, christening his doorstep with a river of tears that would not abate.

Seconds passed, or years, he could no longer be sure which. All that truly registered were the terrible whispers of emotion pounding for entry into his soul. Her continued sobs were biting into his mind, trying to tear loose what little control he still had left. In the end, it was too much to withstand; too much for one lost adolescent outcast to endure. He circled back upon the young woman, his voice carrying little more authority than a plaintive whine. Hinata once again had her head held low, sniffling quietly.

Why are you crying! Isn’t this what you wanted? I don’t have anything more for you to take! Can’t you understand that?”

When she did not budge, would not even look up, he sighed, unwilling and unable to fight any longer. The youth took on a mask of strained indifference.

“Fine. Do whatever you want. I don’t care any more. Just make sure to close the door when you leave. I don’t want any of Shino’s bugs in my food again.”

With that, he turned his back on her, and walked away.

Naruto took only one step before hearing the door slam shut, followed by the creak of floorboards right behind him. Before he could even think to react, a small pair of hands slipped underneath his arms and locked themselves in a vice-like bear hug.

“Hinata! What are–“

You’re not worthless! Don’t you ever say that again! Not ever!”

The young man was caught entirely off guard.

This is all she had to say, after everything he had just yelled at her for? Her only response was to…comfort him? Hinata in turn buried her cheek into his shoulder blade, unable to contain the dreadful sobs that racked her petite frame. Ten fingers interlaced right above his heart, trying to hold back the pain she so desperately wanted to take away.

His mind went blank. All five senses seemed to dissipate beneath her sweeping embrace. Too many thoughts, too many emotions; they all canceled each other out. He clawed at her fingers to no avail; her grip was like steel. A valiant attempt at floundering clipped her in the head with an elbow, but she said nothing.

Through it all, Hinata would not relinquish her hold on the boy she cherished above any other.

Naruto racked his brain for a means of escape. Panic began to override the emptiness, and it was with a horrible sense of unexplained fear that tears began to mix with sweat. Words formed of their own accord.

“Get off of me!” She ardently shook her head. No.

“Get off now! I don’t want you here! Just leave me alone!” She would not. Panic soon rekindled into anger.

“I like being this way, alright! I don’t need anyone! I don’t need you!” Her grip only tightened.

For the first time in his life, all the hatred and sorrow that had been steadily building up over years of torment finally found a point of focus. Everyone and everything that had ever hurt him was currently pressed right up against his back.

Hinata! I told you to let me go!”

An extraordinary surge of emotion erupted from the young woman, terrifying both of them in one heartfelt scream of unconditional love.

I’LL NEVER LET GO!”

In that single moment, anger exploded into unforgiving fury.

Naruto’s arm shot outward to its full extent. The young man curled his fingers into a ball, forcing every last muscle to clamp down with frightening intensity. A fleeting sensation of agonized shame was all that prevented him from striking harder.

Fueled by nothing short of blind rage, he drove an iron fist straight into her fingers.

Hinata cried out in pain, both knees buckling slightly at the unforeseen blow. Her grip wavered, and the young woman began to whimper.

As time itself slowly ticked away, the youth could no longer hold on to his wrath, and he began to tremble like an abandoned child.

All at once, she could see with perfect clarity that he needed her now more than at any other point in his life. Her feelings for him were suddenly rejuvenated a hundred-fold.

Both male and female, girl and boy, man and woman, drifted along the currents set forward by life with little more buoyancy than a meek sense of longing for something greater than being alone.

As the ache began to subside, she positioned her chin right below his ear, and kissed him tenderly on the neck. Her breath was a mother’s love set free unto the world.

“I’ll never let go, Naruto…not as long as you need me to hold on…”

The boy’s eyes glazed over as a harsh rasp filled his lungs. Even as the warmth of her lips gradually began to recede from his flesh, a deep chasm of impenetrable solitude slowly began to fill with the untold strength of but one girl’s heart. Something deep inside him shattered.

Naruto’s hand began to rise once more, now followed by the other, causing Hinata to brace herself for another blow. The young man spoke in a barely audible whisper.

“Shadow Clone jutsu…”

Out of a stark cloud of smoke materialized another figure directly to his side, facing the pair. Light from a small table lamp could not hope to pierce the swath of shadows set before his eyes. For an instant, the Hyuuga maiden thought she would be pried off and discarded.

Instead, the doppelganger pivoted in place, content only to shamble off into the kitchen. From her position behind the original, she could hear the squeaking of hinges, followed by a loud smash as something tinkled across the floor. The clone returned a moment later, and then promptly vanished.

Hinata scarcely had time to wonder what just happened when a small dishtowel packed with ice chips pressed gently against her hands. Naruto lowered his head.

The chilling sensation brought a sharp sense of relief to her throbbing fingers. Cool moisture began to seep through the thin fabric, coating her skin with a soothing balm of comfort. More liquid dripped down from above, though for some reason it felt…warm. Naruto’s head was bobbing up and down.

He’s crying! But…for me? Or…or for himself?

She meditated upon that for a time.

Does it really matter…?

He did not register the movement, thus remaining unaware that she had detached her hands from their resting place beneath the ice. In their absence, he had simply pressed the frigid cloth tightly against his chest in the hopes of extinguishing the white-hot flames that were engulfing everything. Hinata made her way to his front. The frozen package soon found rest on the floor beside them, and the young woman swiftly took its place.

Only when the delicate press of an ear against the side of his throat presented itself did he notice the change. Naruto tried to stifle a sob.

“I’m sorry I’m not a better person…” She could feel the vibration of his vocal cords. There was something fragile in the tone.

“Don’t say that, Naruto…you’re perfect just the way you are...”

His eyes welled up with tears, and it was with the gradual awakening of a fresh sunrise that he lowered his face into the folds of her hood. Two strong hands surrounded the girl’s middle, warily coming to rest upon the small of her back. Brilliant strands of red and gold tore through the apartment in spectacular fashion, basking them in the forgiving graces of a brand new day.

After what seemed an eternity, Hinata guided him back to arms length. Her eyes were directed towards the floor.

“Do you remember your first real mission…the one with the bridge builder?”

The young man looked up briefly through his tears.

“Tazuna…” His eyes could not seem to focus. He already missed her warmth…

“Mmm hmm. Do you remember what you told me when you first got back?”

No response. Then…

“Zabuza…Haku…Inari.”

“Before them.”

Silence.

“The Oath of Pain, Naruto.”

The youth tried to focus on her words, but they had grown fuzzy beneath so much that had already happened. He felt almost woozy.

“You were scared, and frightened, and just wanted to run away…but you didn’t.” She took another half step back, leaving him to stand upright under his own power. It was almost beyond the boy’s capability.

“When everything seemed at its worst, you wouldn’t give up, even though it might have been easier. When everyone was counting on your strength, you refused to let them down…”

Hinata’s right hand dropped to her thigh, unbuckling a small pouch strapped to the legging. Naruto took it all in with subdued perception.

“On that day, you grew into a real ninja…and you never once looked back…”

Her eyes rose slowly, revealing twin lavender pools overflowing with warmth and compassion. He didn’t understand.

“Hinata, what are you…“

Her left arm rose, and the young woman shushed him with an outstretched finger, delicately stroking his cheek in the process. As her hand gradually left his face, she allowed the small appendage to float idly between them.

“Naruto…it’s about time I grew up too.”

Without further comment, the Byakugan heiress plucked a kunai from her hip pocket and thrust the blade right through the top of her outstretched hand.

Hinata!”

Blood began to pour from the wound, dribbling down the length of her arm, splattering upon the wooden floor beneath their feet. His hazy mindset burned away in an instant. She hadn’t even flinched.

“Are you insane? We need to get to a hospital! Y-You need stitches, and-“

He reached for the blade. She cast him an arresting look.

On this day, I also pledge an Oath of Pain.” The sheer gravity in her voice stopped him mid stride.

“But not of my own…”

He was captivated by the stubbornness in her gaze. The young woman adopted an expression of pure acceptance and true understanding.

“I make my promise upon your pain, Naruto…” His eyes slowly widened in surprise and shock. She took on a stalwart look.

“Let this wound be a solemn vow that I will always be ready to share the burden you carry. Know that you mean more to me than anyone else in the world, and I will forever honor this pledge up to the last breath that passes from my body. I swear upon my life as a ninja of the Village Hidden in the Leaves that you will never be alone again.”

The young man could feel something welling up deep inside him. His jaw slackened as she continued on. Hinata pulled the blade free of its fleshy prison, holding the pulsing wound before her heart like a badge of honor.

“Uzumaki Naruto, my name is Hyuuga Hinata, and I offer you a sacred oath sworn in blood that from this day forward, my love will never again be hidden beneath fear and self-doubt. I will always be strong, no matter the cost, until the day you no longer wish me at your side.”

She took a cleansing breath. Her features softened into remorse.

“I love you so very much, Naruto. Someday, I hope you’ll understand that. Until then…”

Hinata replaced the kunai blade and took out a small vial of ointment from a hip pouch. She began to wrap her hand with spare gauze and bandages. Naruto looked on in a stupor.

“There’s only one thing I can do…to prove how much I love you…”

As the last dressing was set in place and the flow of blood stemmed, the Hyuuga maiden raised her hands to each of his cheeks, holding him lovingly with bruised and bloodied fingertips.

“I know I’m not as pretty as Sakura, or have a lot of confidence like Tenten. I-I might never be as good as Neji, or as strong as you, Naruto, but…I just want to say that no matter who I become…”

She brightened his entire universe with a gorgeous, illuminating smile.

“I’ll never forget who encouraged me every step of the way…”

He could not even begin to think how to respond. Instead, an unreadable expression was all that answered the young woman, set behind a mute roar of unfathomable emotion and heartfelt desire.

“And…that’s what gives me the strength to do what’s best, Naruto. I can finally prove how much I love you, once and for all…”

Her jaw began to quiver. She swallowed hard.

“I will always be there when you need me. But for now, all I’m doing is hurting you more…”

He couldn’t hear the words. She looked so sad. Why? Had he done something? No…he hadn’t done anything…he had never done anything …it had always been up to her…

“That’s how I know what I have to do so you can be happy again…”

Hinata gingerly caressed his cheeks once more. Naruto looked down to see black and blue welts amidst the crimson tide of life’s ebb and flow. A brief glance behind carried with it the sight of a small cupcake made especially for him; a note crumpled and discarded in the far corner of the room.

All these things she had done…had labored over, suffered for, and lived through day after day. All these things that lay upon his soul, denied entry time and time again because he had been too stupid, foolish, and arrogant to think of someone else for once in his miserable life. All these things that were a shining beacon out of the darkness had been discarded just so he wouldn’t have to deal with it, wouldn’t have to put himself in danger of being hurt, wouldn’t have to care…

All these things …just for him…always for him…always with love…

The girl in question had begun to cry once more, gazing into his eyes with a somber recollection of her first and last beautiful kiss.

“I’m going to set you free, just like you wanted…” She smiled, despite the pain.

“I’m going to let you go.”

All the warmth and tenderness from her hands slipped away, falling back to her sides and out of his life …just like he had wanted…

“Goodbye, Naruto…and good luck.” She turned quickly, and began to walk away. His eyes followed her to the doorstep.

Goodbye…

Goodbye…?

No…not goodbye…not again…not ever again…please…

As Hinata reached for the handle, a great rush of air swirled between her hand and the object in question. Before she could even think to respond, a young boy with spiky blonde hair and an orange jumpsuit engulfed her in a tremendous hug adorned with an outpouring of newly discovered tears, grief and…

“N-Naruto? What-“

“Don’t you ever worry about how you compare to others! Looks don’t mean anything! It’s what’s on the inside that counts, Hinata! You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met! You’re so kind, and gentle, and just great all over! As far as I’m concerned, that makes you the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world! So don’t ever, ever, ever worry about what anyone else thinks! You’re more special to me than everyone else in the whole village combined! Believe it!

Before she could blush a previously unknown shade of red, he buried himself once more in her shoulder and continued.

“I’m sorry for never noticing how you felt! I’m sorry for not listening when you tried to let me know! I’m sorry for throwing you to the ground! I’m sorry for crumpling your note! I’m sorry for yelling! I’m sorry for hitting your hands! I’m sorry for the blood on your jacket! I’m sorry for everything! I’m sorry, Hinata! I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!

Naruto sunk to the floor, pressing his face into the young woman’s belly as he unleashed years of agony upon her delicate frame.

After a few moments, two gentle hands began to cradle him against the ache. Hot beads of absolution dropped down upon his head.

“Thank you, Naruto…and…I forgive you…”

He shook his head against her stomach.

“No! You can’t! I don’t deserve it! I don’t deserve you! I don’t deserve anything! I don’t deserve to have you care!”

Hinata would have none of it.

“Don’t say things like that! I want to be here for you. That’s all that matters. You mean the world to me, Naruto…”

His eyes rose ever so slowly from their hiding place, peering up at the girl with a singular question coursing throughout his entire being.

Why?”

She looked down upon him with an untold beauty. A beam of sunlight made her features blaze amidst a kindness that would never be shared with another living soul. He might as well have asked why the sky was blue…it just is

“Because…I love you.”

The utter truth of that statement still needed time to sink in. Naruto lowered his eyes once more and placed an ear to her belly, content only to hear her breathe, feel her warmth, and bask in the knowledge that someone actually…loved him.

With stark clarity, a vision began to obscure his senses, dragging him not unpleasantly through a myriad of emotions and images. Much of what he saw felt like an old memory, as if he were observing from a distance…yet it felt so familiar…

In his trance, not much had changed. Both he and Hinata were still in the same positions; he was kneeling on the floor before her, and she was smiling, holding his head close to her belly. It was different, though. He looked so much taller, and broader, like he had grown into a man overnight. She was still beautiful, sleek and toned; a woman’s body rested beneath the folds of her clothing. But even that seemed a bit off…

Her stomach had gotten much bigger; though he supposed it might just have been the oversized jacket she now wore. The man in his vision was crying, though it seemed to be tears of joy, not pain. Hinata was aglow with a fierce pride, though he just couldn’t seem to understand what-

Suddenly, he was there. In place of unanswered questions and hopeless curiosity stood a testament to everything he might ever wish for in life. His ear was pressed right against her stomach; it had not been the clothing. Just as things were beginning to spiral out of his realm of perception, something happened that would never quite leave his memory for nearly a decade; not until the vision repeated itself in reality, and so many bad things in life would be forever washed away in a single moment of new beginnings.

He felt a soft kick.

Instantly, Naruto was back in the present. All time had ceased to flow.

As he rose once more, a strong sense of purpose filled his heart. Back again on his feet, the young man regarded the girl with eyes that held so many wonderful things.

Compassion. Virtue. Kindness. Faith. Devotion. Belief. Loyalty. Enthusiasm. Trust. Affection. Happiness. Warmth. Serenity. Joy. Understanding.

Love.

Hinata was so enamored with the sight that it took the warmth of his breath upon her lips to realize she was being kissed. Naruto held her as delicately as a porcelain doll, fearful that she might break if not for his utmost care. He unexpectedly filled his lungs, in effect literally taking her breath away. She could taste the saltiness of his tears.

The young woman melted away in a dream come true.

When they finally pulled back, the youth could do nothing but gaze into the perpetual beauty of a person so full of everything he had ever longed for. His words were stumbled over and tripped upon.

“Hinata…I…I just…I want to say that…you…you’re so special…and, I…I…”

“It’s ok, Naruto…you don’t have to say anything…not until you’re ready…”

He regarded her meekly, and then nodded. Both girl and boy remained silent for a time.

“Hey, Hina?”

She regarded him with a luminescent radiance.

“Yes…Naruto?”

What about the last twelve years? Had they been a waste? It didn’t feel that way, not with all the ninja training. Maybe everything had just been practice; kinda like a big test to see if he was strong enough to move on. Yeah, that was it. He wouldn’t worry about the past any longer. Besides, this wasn’t just any regular morning…

This was the first day of the rest of his life.

“I…I just wanted to let you know…”

A great big smile spread across the boy’s face, and he nuzzled the young woman affectionately. His eyes began to shine with the brilliance of a newborn child. Hinata let out a contented sigh against the confines of his love-filled embrace.

“You’re the best birthday present I ever got.”


This story archived at http://www.narutofic.org/viewstory.php?sid=5199