Naruto sighed. He was sitting at his desk in the small home he shared with Iruka, working on the day's homework. It had been a week since the fiasco with Hinata and Mizuki, and the week since had been uniformly boring. Naruto knew he really shouldn't complain, but just going to class every day was so freaking tedious!
Iruka rested a hand on Naruto's shoulder. "What you working on, kiddo?" he asked in his gentle way.
Naruto groaned. "This stupid homework is annoying!" he complained. Then he considered who he was saying that to and cringed. "Sorry, Dad."
Iruka laughed. "I know how you feel, Naruto," he said with a smile. "I hated homework when I was in the Academy, too."
Naruto smiled and scratched at the whisker marks on his cheeks. Then it sunk into his mind exactly what Iruka had said. "Wait, you did?!" he said in utter shock. Iruka nodded. "Then why the heck would you assign so much of it to us?" Naruto's voice was full of betrayal.
Iruka chuckled. "I assign homework because you and the others need to learn this stuff. I hated it when I was in the Academy, but I understand it now," he said.
Naruto sighed. "I guess I get it, but it's still annoying," he said with a chagrined look.
Iruka chuckled at Naruto's antics. "Well, you know I'm always here to help you, Naruto," he said with his gentle smile. Naruto nodded, and the two settled in and focused on Naruto's work. Iruka was careful to only help Naruto understand and figure out the homework, never to do it for him (as much as Naruto tried to get him to do so) so that Naruto would actually learn the material.
Meanwhile, in a different part of the village, Hinata was tossing and turning in her bed. She had finished her homework an hour before, and she was trying to sleep now. She wasn't really getting anywhere with it, though. Over the course of the last week, Hinata had spent a lot of time thinking about Naruto.
It had started, Hinata supposed, when Naruto had come up with that insane plan for saving Tsubaki. He had put Hinata herself directly in the line of fire, something her own family would never have trusted her to be, and he had done it without a second thought. Part of her was offended by this, since she knew he had put her in extreme danger, but another part of her was deeply flattered by it because she knew it meant he had inherent faith in her ability to handle the situation.
Hinata was...for lack of a better term, a failure, at least in the eyes of her family. She was the heiress, and yet, every time she was put in a spar with her sister, she simply couldn't bring herself to really fight, so she always lost. Hanabi, her younger sister, was...well, she was family, and Hinata, being deeply kind, could never bring herself to hurt her sister. This had been proven yet again earlier this very day, when yet another spar had ended the same way.
Hinata rolled over for the thousandth time, or so it felt like to her anyway; she was facing the wall now. Her eyes simply would not stay shut as she thought over and over about what she was going to do. If she couldn't bring herself to truly fight her sister, she knew she would eventually lose her title as heiress. While many people, both in the clan and out, had said that Hinata wasn't really suited to be an heiress, and even Hinata had to agree with them generally, Hinata had several life goals, and most of them required her to be the Head of the Hyuga Clan.
For one thing, Hinata intended to do away with the sealing jutsu her family used to separate their "main house" from the "branch house". She also intended to heal that rift and reunite her family as a single house. To accomplish either of these things, she had to remain heiress. And yet, she couldn't bring herself to hurt her sister, which would inevitably lead to her not being heiress if she didn't do something about it.
Hinata rolled over again, her eyes taking in the silhouettes of her room. Her eyes had long since adjusted to the darkness, but there wasn't much to see in her room. Just a dresser and her desk, where she had recently sat to do her homework. Hinata sighed. She wasn't getting anywhere with this sleep thing.
Pushing herself up to a sitting position, she then rose from her bed and made her way into the garden in the center of the Hyuga Complex. Hinata often came to this spot when she needed to be alone or to think. There were two things that were competing for her attention just now, so she really needed some time to herself to clear her head. Hinata groaned as she sat down on the bench her mother had put there several years ago. If only her ability to fight against her family wasn't the thing that would determine her ability to heal her family, this wouldn't be so hard!
Seeing that her mind was going nowhere with that line of thinking, Hinata leaned back and closed her eyes, allowing herself to think, instead, of Naruto. What would he do in a situation like this? Hinata didn't know, but she suspected he would have a good answer. After all, he was so confident in himself that he simply threw out his plan for helping Tsubaki. There was another question in Hinata's mind about Naruto, but she wasn't even remotely ready to put that into words, much less deal with it. For the first time in hours, Hinata actually smiled. "Yes, I'll talk to Naruto about my situation. Maybe he and Iruka can help me. Iruka is a good teacher, after all," she thought. With that decided, Hinata made her way back to bed. This time, she fell asleep almost immediately. Between all the stress of her family situation and trying to come up with a solution...and, if she were honest, trying to figure out how she felt about Naruto and his reactions to her, she was exhausted.
Iruka was jolted awake the next morning by a loud noise. He panicked briefly, then realized that the noise he had heard was just Naruto running across the floor. Chuckling to himself, Iruka pulled himself out of bed and checked the calendar. It was a somewhat pointless exercise; he knew full well what day it was and why Naruto was running around the house like a lunatic. Naruto was excited. And he had every reason to be. Today was his graduation day from the Academy, after all.
Iruka made his way to the kitchen after getting dressed, and he wasn't surprised to find Naruto sitting at the table waiting for him. "Good morning, Naruto," he said with a smile. "You're up and ready to go early this morning." Iruka was doing his best to act like this was just another day, and it was all he could do to not laugh as Naruto practically bounced in his seat. The boy was obviously very excited about this particular day.
Naruto smiled at Iruka. "Well, yeah, of course I am. It's Graduation Day!" he said.
Iruka pretended to be clueless. "Graduation day?" he said. "No, that's not today. It can't be. That's not for another three years."
Naruto humphed. "You know it's today, Dad," he said. "We've been counting down to it for a long time. I know you think it's too soon, but I'm ready for this whole mess to be over and done with!"
Iruka chuckled. "Yeah, I know, I just couldn't resist teasing you," he said back with a fond look in his eyes. Naruto smiled back, and Iruka made his way to the stove. "What would you like for breakfast today?" Iruka asked.
Naruto thought about that. "I would like ramen, but I know you won't do that," he said.
Iruka laughed aloud. "It's a special occasion. I think I can whip up some breakfast ramen. Don't get used to it, though," he said.
Naruto gasped. "You'll do that? Really?" he said, his voice betraying his excitement. Iruka nodded. "YES!" Naruto said loudly, pumping his fist.
Iruka laughed and set about cooking. His mind was busy as he cooked, thinking about Naruto's past, his past, and their future. He was excited, yes, but he was also nervous. "I guess this is what it means to be a parent," he thought to himself. Chuckling at himself, Iruka focused on the task at hand; it wouldn't do anyone any good if he hurt himself making breakfast on Naruto's graduation day.
Hinata was sitting in her typical seat when Naruto and Iruka arrived at the Academy classroom that day. Class wasn't going to start for another twenty minutes, so she was the only one there. "Good morning, Naruto, Iruka," she said when they entered.
"Good morning, Hinata," Naruto responded, then sat down beside her. Over the last week, the two had talked a few times, and they got along well. Iruka nodded in response to Hinata's greeting, then made his way to his desk to make a few final preparations for the day.
Hinata turned to Naruto. "I...I need some advice," she said softly. Naruto gave her an encouraging look. He was curious what Hinata of all people could be asking him for advice about; Hinata always seemed so...together. Naruto didn't really know how else to describe it. She just seemed to have everything in order in her life, somehow. Hinata took a deep breath. "My family expects me to fight my sister. If I don't, they take it as a sign of weakness, and I could end up losing my position as heiress. I don't care about being heiress, really, but it's always been a dream of mine to heal the rift in my family, so I need to be the heiress. If I lose that, I won't be able to do it." Taking a breath, Hinata realized she had said all of that in a huge rush; it was almost like she was afraid that if she didn't say it all at once, she would never get it out.
Naruto thought this over for a few moments. "So, you want to bring your family closer together, but the only way to be sure you'll be able to do that is to hurt your sister," he said. Hinata nodded. "Wow...that's a messed-up situation."
Hinata giggled at Naruto's simple summary. "Yeah, I know, but it's mine," she said. "I care about my sister. I don't want to see her get the seal or end up in the branch house, but if I'm not heiress, I can't get rid of the seal."
Naruto perked up at the mention of a seal. He had heard about them a little, and he found the idea of them fascinating. "What seal?" he asked, not wanting to sound too excited, but he was definitely more interested now.
Hinata sighed again. This was the one part she wasn't really sure how to tell Naruto about. She couldn't just tell him all of her family's secrets; she could very well get banished from the clan for that, but she had to explain it well enough for Naruto to get the gist of it, at least. "My family is split into two houses, and the branch house gets a seal placed on them," she said. That much was public knowledge, so there was no harm in telling him that. "It's supposed to protect the Byakugan from falling into enemy hands. It does, technically, do that, since if the sealed person is killed, the seal destroys the Byakugan in their eyes. But the main house of my clan also can use that seal to hurt and even kill a branch member if they want." Hinata looked away; she was terrified of what Naruto's reaction would be, and she had technically just shared more information than she should have. The fact that the seal could be activated by the main house wasn't exactly public knowledge.
Iruka was listening to the conversation between his students, but he didn't intend to interfere unless they asked for his advice or Naruto flew into a rage or something like that. He cringed at Hinata's last comment and watched Naruto to see how he would react. His heart swelled with pride when he saw Naruto taking Hinata's comment in stride, more or less. Iruka was even more pleased with what happened next.
Naruto reached out and took Hinata's hand in his gently. "I know how you feel," Naruto said. "If I had a sibling, I wouldn't want to hurt them either. But if you have to win the spars against her to keep your position, and you need that position to help her, then it's for her own good. I know it will hurt, but you just have to beat her."
Hinata nodded; she knew Naruto was right. "But...I just don't think I can do it. I know you're right, but she just means so much to me. I can't bring myself to actually hit her."
Naruto smiled. "You're too nice, Hinata," he said after a moment. "I know you can do it. You're stronger than you know."
Hinata blushed a bit, then said, "No, I'm not. I'm a failure."
Naruto looked at her, flabbergasted. "What in the world are you talking about, Hinata? You paralyzed that Cloud guy with one hit. You can do anything you want. All you have to do is set your mind to it, and it'll happen."
Hinata's face resembled a tomato by the time Naruto was done, and she felt like she was gasping for air. To say she wasn't used to being praised would be an understatement, and Naruto had just given her a pretty heavy dose of it. "Why do you believe in me so much, Naruto?" Hinata asked, once she was able to speak.
Naruto chuckled. "I have no doubt in my mind that you're going to do better than me on the final test today," he said. "Hell, I had to get permission to cheat just so I'll be able to pass the clone test. And if you can do better than me, you can do anything." Naruto winked. He exuded confidence, even when he was telling someone they were better than him.
Hinata giggled slightly. She noticed his comment about cheating, but she decided to worry about that later. Taking a breath, she said, "You know what, Naruto? You're right. It's my dream, and I have to make it happen. No one is going to hand it to me, I have to go out there and get it!"
Naruto smiled and gave Hinata a one-armed hug. "Thatta girl!" he said. He might have said more, but just then Sasuke Uchiha came into the room. He was looking at the floor and ignoring everyone there, as usual. The huge group of people immediately behind him, however, were decidedly not doing that.
"SASUKE!" a roar came up from the group. It was a group of girls.
Naruto sighed. "Oh, look," he said. "It's Sasuke and his group of fangirls. I hope I don't get stuck on a team with one of them. That might just be a fate worse than death."
Hinata looked at Naruto. "A team?" she asked.
Naruto was about to respond, but Iruka chose this moment to address the class. "Class, I can honestly say I am proud of each and every one of you," he began. "Today is your final exam, and I hope that you'll all pass it and become fine, upstanding shinobi. It has been an honor to be your teacher."
That said, Iruka began reading off names for people to take their tests. Naruto grinned and rubbed his hands together. The time had come.
A/N: Hey, all! I'm back. I know, it's been forever. I'm going to hopefully update most, if not all, of my stories over the course of the next week or so, depending on how quickly I'm able to pound out chapters. Hope you guys enjoyed this one. Come back next time to see Naruto and his team get their sensei test!