It was one of those days when the rain was so heavy and relentless that the students had to take their lunch indoors.
Groups of children huddled together in sullen clumps along the main corridor of the ninja academy while the cold, harsh rain beat down outside.
Naruto had never liked the rain very much, but now that he had started at the ninja academy this year, he liked it even less. For some reason, he had hoped that joining the ninja academy would change things for him, that his fellow students would treat him with some sort of kindness or respect and maybe he'd even make some friends… but of course his treatment here hadn't turned out to be much different to when he was anywhere else in the village.
Not that he cared, of course. Naruto knew deep down that he was a great person who was going to grow up to be an even greater ninja - the greatest - and everyone who had treated him poorly was going to eat their words… one day. Probably. Also, if he smelled bad or something, someone should just have the decency to come out and tell him. Whatever it was that made almost the entire village dislike him so much, Naruto had decided long ago that it was their problem, not his.
The hardest part of his day now that he had started school had turned out to be lunchtime. There were no assigned seats at lunch to force some kid to sit next to him and talk to him rather than about him or pretend he wasn't there, plus everyone except Naruto seemed to have boxes of food to eat during this time… but he wasn't about to let them see any of that get him down. He would pretend he was having too much fun playing to sit down and eat his food when he had none, pretend that he was too wrapped up in having the tree swing all to himself to care that no-one wanted to play with or talk to him, too engrossed in his own activities to notice the hurtful things they would say.
Naruto of all people knew that children could be cruel, but now with the rain pouring down outside making his lunchtime sanctuary off limits, he had nowhere to hide from their cruelty. After so many minutes of mercifully shuffling through papers to buy Naruto some time, Iruka Sensei had finally given him that look, the look that meant, 'get out of my classroom so I can lock the door and go have my own lunch. Teachers need to eat too, you know'.
Naruto couldn't blame his sensei for being hungry, it was a feeling he was all too familiar with himself. And it wasn't as if he was scared of the other children, after all they were his classmates and fellow villagers. One day he was going to be their Hokage, and who ever heard of a Hokage who was scared of his own people?
Steeling himself, Naruto began making his way down the hall in the hope of finding an inconspicuous corner to wait out the time until the bell, somewhere where it wouldn't be so obvious that he was all alone… again.
"...ugh I can't believe it..."
"…bleugh, so gross…"
"…oh man, I can't even look..."
"…should someone maybe, say something to her? I mean not me, no way, but…"
The buzz of conspiratorial muttering and scandalised whispers surrounding him didn't faze Naruto in the slightest. What did take him by surprise however, was when he realised that they didn't appear to be talking about him. That was a bit... different.
Seeing that he'd come to the end of the hall, Naruto randomly plopped himself down. He tried to casually lean back against the wall, not to make himself appear any smaller or less visible of course, but just for the sake of comfort.
"Uhm, oh..!" The suspiciously warm and soft thing he leaned against squeaked out.
"Sorry!" Naruto barked immediately. He turned around to try and shoot the victim of his carelessness his best 'please don't kill me let's be friends' smile, only to find what had to be the subject of everyone's whispering.
"It's you!" Naruto exclaimed thoughtlessly.
"It is?" The young girl replied. Her voice was very quiet, very soft, and very unsure of itself. Kind of nice, though.
"I uh, yes. It is nice to see you Naruto..?" Everything she said seemed to come out as a question. And she knew his name but also said it was nice to see him, which suggested she probably didn't know him personally.
Could she be in his class? Dark, short-cropped hair, pretty ordinary short-sleeved grey hoody… the only thing remarkable about her really was her eyes. And the way she trembled under his gaze.
"Oh, sorry for staring!" Naruto exclaimed, finally remembering he'd been taught that staring was rude. "It's just, your eyes."
"Oh..! Well y-yes, erm, I am from the Hyuuga clan, so uhm-" the poor girl stammered as Naruto frowned.
"Naaah!" Naruto interrupted the shy Hyuuga girl, "I don't mean that, I mean /that!/" He jabbed a finger dangerously close to her face to emphasise his point.
"That..?" She responded, anxiously brushing her cheek at where she thought he was indicating.
"Nope!" Naruto crowed, getting a little over-excited. "I mean, /that!/" He illustrated his exclamation with more vigorous finger-pointing. Around them, the whispering intensified, punctuated by gasps of dismay.
"There's a huge eyelash right in your eye!" Naruto gushed, insensible to the social turmoil swirling around them, "it's the craziest thing, because your eye is all white and the eyelash is all black and so big that it might even be touching your eye-rice right now! Don't you even feel it? It's so huge!"
"Oh d-d-d-dear!" The girl exclaimed softly, clapping her hands over her eyes. "That means it is me that everyone is t-t-talking buh-bout. Oh no…" She made a few attempts to dislodge the offending eyelash from her eye with a tentative fingertip while a hushed silence consumed their audience all along the corridor.
Even from this close her pure white eyes appeared to have no discernible iris or pupil, but Naruto was still able to follow her frantic eye movements from the anxious wiggling of her eyebrows and the erratic, almost hypnotic swirling of that huge eyelash around her eyeball. A smattering of small groans and retching noises disrupted the stillness of the otherwise silent corridor around them.
Naruto couldn't help but feel his heart go out a little to this girl he'd just me. He had been in many such situations himself where no-one was willing to help him out of a sticky situation. He could hear the conspicuous silence echoing up and down the hall and feel the watchful eyes all zoomed in not on him for once, but on this poor innocent girl next to him. Just because she was different. Everyone so eager to whisper and watch but not one hand reaching out to help. Well, not this time!
"Hey, just hold still for a sec, and look over there," Naruto directed, gesturing over his right shoulder where there were the least people.
With a confidence he didn't feel, he placed his left hand under the girl's face and firmly gripped her chin. He paid no mind to the hot red blush that spread outwards across her face from his touch. He had to concentrate, he had only seen this done once before by a lady with her child, and he probably only had one shot at this. A terrified mouse-like squeak emitted from the girl when she saw him lick his index finger.
"Just keep looking over there!" Naruto commanded, fighting valiantly to not let the pressure get to him.
He held his breath, acting as swiftly and decisively as he could…
"Ewwwwwwwww..!" Someone somewhere said.
…and just like that, it was over.
They both slouched back as soon as Naruto released his grip on the girl's chin. The girl looked a little woozy, but when he held up the eyelash to her in triumph, she smiled. The regular lunchtime chatter resumed.
"…that was weird…" the girl breathed quietly.
"It was what? What are you saying?" Naruto asked, furrowing his brow in preparation to be offended by this foreign word.
"No, I-I don't mean in a bad way..!" The Hyuuga girl said anxiously, waving her hands in front of her as if to wipe away what she'd just said.
"Oh." Naruto shrugged. "What does 'weird' mean then?"
"Oh..!" The girl responded, a little taken aback. "Well, I uh… what you did for me, not m-many people would do that, but you did. It was… sweet. And w-weird…"
"Thank you very much for your assistance!" The girl added with a hasty bow.
"No problem!" Naruto replied with a big toothy grin. "But hmm… so, then does 'weird' mean sweet… as in, nice?"
The girl's blush from earlier returned, this time starting high on her cheeks. "I-I, erm… yes..?"
They stared at each other for a moment; Naruto in contemplation, the Hyuuga girl with the fear of being caught out and being called a liar trapping her in place.
What could have very easily stretched out into a long moment indeed, was interrupted by the grumbling of a very empty tummy. This time it was Naruto's turn to blush.
"Oh..!" The girl said, instantly holding up a bento stuffed with the most delicious non-ramen-based food Naruto had ever seen. "You must still be hungry! Please, join me. They always give me too much."
A number of thoughts ran through Naruto's mind in the space of a split second.
Still? She thinks I already ate my lunch?/All this, for me?/They?/Could this be a trick?
But before he could articulate any of these thoughts, some wild animal instinct from deep inside took over and suddenly he found himself with a huge rice ball in his mouth. The nice girl merely smiled and watched patiently as he choked down the food, handing over her drink bottle when he starting coughing up little pieces of rice.
Naruto took hearty gulps of water and sat panting, trying to get a hold of himself and resist the urge to grab more food by the fistful to shove in his mouth.
"…thank you," he managed to get out breathlessly as his hand hovered over some neatly-packed sushi. "I mean, that's really nice of you. You're a real… Weirdy..?"
"Weirdo," she corrected automatically, before cringing. "Uh, be-because umm, weird is a describing word, that is a weird cat you muh-might say, but weirdo is a noun so you would say 'you are a weirdo,' to a person."
"You are a weirdo," Naruto repeated, trying out the new vocabulary.
"I sup-suppose so…" the girl agreed with a sigh, resigned to the web she'd weaved.
They smiled at each other. This small nervous girl was turning out to be one of the weirdest people Naruto had ever met and he couldn't help but get his hopes up that this could be the start of a weird friendship.
"Hinata Hyuuga!" An angry voice suddenly cut across the hall, "you get away from that Uzumaki brat RIGHT NOW!"
All eyes really were on him this time as the girl he now knew to be called Hinata leapt to her feet. Their eyes met once more as loud footsteps accompanying the angry voice swiftly approached.
"Naruto…" Hinata murmured, looking deep into his sparkly blue eyes. "P-please… keep the lunch."
Before he could open his mouth to respond, the girl had been swept away in the firm grip of a stern-looking man with long brown hair. All that she left behind was the rich bounty of delicious food.
Everyone was staring at Naruto. It was still raining hard outside. He had poked a girl in the eye and had been rewarded with a bento brimming with delicious lunch (and probably also part of his dinner if he could manage to pace himself).
All in all, a pretty weird day.
"Hinata Hyuuga…" Naruto mused to himself, smiling broadly in spite of all of the dark looks and spiteful remarks that were once again aimed in his direction.
"…what a weirdo!"