Moegi worried that something might be wrong with her. Here she was, a healthy, growing girl with a desire for love and, well– no one to love. Not like that, anyway, not so far. There were plenty of boys she thought were cute and she giggled over them with her classmates when called upon to do so, but none of them lit her passion. When her friends asked her who she liked, her stomach turned and it was all she could do to slyly respond, "Oh, no one really~" or "I'm not telling~" That would set off another round of giggles and though they begged to know her secret, it was easy to change the subject to her classmates' crushes.
She had considered that maybe she wasn't the sort of person who fell in love. She had a cousin who was like that, who had never seemed any less happy for it. But Moegi yearned for romance and the thought of never finding it was painful.
Her cousin had laughed when she confessed as much and told her, "You're still plenty young, you know? There's time! Why do you think it took me so long to realize it wasn't going to happen to me?"
Though Moegi had appreciated the reassurance then, she couldn't help becoming discouraged again as time went on and she still found herself without love. It was all well and good to say that it would come as she got older, but she was twelve years old and had never felt so much as a spark. Every one of her friends, boys and girls alike, had had at least one serious crush already. Some were already dating. When was it going to be her turn?
Walking through town, she found herself sighing over the thought as she often did when nothing more pressing was in mind. It seemed like couples were passing her on every side– it always seemed like couples were passing her on every side when her thoughts went down this route– and her gaze followed them longingly. She wanted someone to hold hands with, whisper sweetly with, go on dates with. She wanted someone to say they loved her and she wanted to answer the same honestly in turn. She wanted– and this was her greatest romantic fantasy– to perform missions and fight side by side with the person she would spend the rest of her life with. Saving and being saved by her lover. Being among friends, being assigned alongside friends, was wonderful, but it wasn't all she wanted.
Moegi was snapped out of her musing when she saw a crowd of people ahead of her, effectively blocking the road. Laughter and words of awe rippled through them, igniting Moegi's curiosity. She pushed her way carefully between and past the people gathered there, mostly civilians, craning her neck to see around them. Overhead, small children balanced on the shoulders of their elders giggled and clapped. Beneath the sounds of the crowd, she could hear what sounded like animal noises.
What could that be? Not a circus, surely, or a parade– there would be music and a much larger crowd, and she was sure that she'd have heard of it. But why else would there be animals going through the village streets?
Finally reaching the front of the crowd, Moegi was able to see for herself. There was a parade of sorts, but certainly not an official one. Or maybe it depended on how you defined official. There were men and women in business dress, long jackets painted with the name and symbol of a village she didn't recognize, walking along both sides of the road. Among them, presumably escorting them, were a few Konoha chuunin; though mostly neutral, a few faces gave away exasperation. Being ushered along between the ranks were boar– a lot of boar, all very large and draped with fine fabrics, snorting as they stared with suspicion into the crowds on either side of them.
"A gift for the Hokage," she heard someone say.
What exactly the Hokage was meant to do with a street full of boar was a mystery to Moegi, but then the gift wasn't for her. Shaking her head, she started to turn away and paused at the sight of a familiar face.
Later, she wouldn't remember why that familiar face in particular made her pause. She knew of Hyuuga Hanabi more than really knew her; they were in different classes and at very different skill levels. They had little chance or reason to interact with one another. Yet Moegi saw Hanabi, standing there with her pretty yellow kimono and hair decorated with flowers, smiling slightly, and her attention caught. She wondered if Hanabi was dressed up to meet with whoever these foreign delegates were, if some of the boar were actually intended as a gift for the Hyuuga instead of the Hokage. She wondered where Hanabi had gotten her kimono and who had done her hair. She wondered, oddly, as she looked at that little smile, what her laugh sounded like.
She wondered all this in the space of a moment, because the next moment was chaos.
There was a squeal from somewhere in the center of the mass of boar. It wasn't immediately apparent what happened– only later would the group of pranksters be caught and dealt with– just that something had happened and the boar it happened to didn't like it. Indignance and confusion spread like wildfire through the group, agitating them into a frenzy. The handlers and their escorts were at work immediately trying to calm the animals, but they were already annoyed by the gathered crowd– and perhaps by the heat and their costumes– and the attempts only served to annoy them further. People began to back away in a hurry, muttering warnings and cautions.
Without thinking about it, Moegi turned to look through the crowd for Hanabi. She spotted her still holding her ground, looking poised to rush in to help and never mind her fancy clothes. Something stirred in Moegi, admiration and something else she didn't recognize, and she found herself weaving through the fleeing civilians to Hanabi's side.
When the impending stampede finally happened, it seemed to happen all at once. The boar spilled from their carefully contained lines like water from a burst dam, rushing stalls and storefronts and people who still hadn't managed to get away. The people overseeing them worked quickly to contain them, but someone was getting in the way– no, some three, a group of extravagantly dressed people shouting desperate demands for the boar to remain unharmed.
In the growing confusion, a boar broke off from a recapture effort and charged in Hanabi's direction. Moegi could see her already making hand signs, though she didn't recognize what technique Hanai was preparing. Feeling that that situation at least was in good hands, Moegi looked around for something else she could do and her eye was caught on a boar upending a display of produce. It wasn't the boar itself, already being subdued by one of the chuunin even as it tossed the display, that held her gaze, though– it was the airborne produce. Tomatoes, she saw, and they were heading straight for Hanabi's unguarded back.
It was ridiculous to worry about something like that just then, Moegi knew, but she couldn't help it: Her first thought was that Hanabi's pretty kimono and perfectly crafted hair were going to be ruined by the mess when it hit. Acting on instinct, Moegi gathered chakra in her feet and lept into action. She wasn't the fastest ninja in her year by far, but she still found her back pressed to Hanabi's just in time to protect her from the flying food. It was a good thing she was taller, if only by a little.
Against her back, Hanabi jolted and Moegi could feel her look. Tomato slop running down her face, Moegi threw a sheepish smile over her shoulder. She watched Hanabi's gaze flit from her face to the tomatoes scattered in the street to the ruined display to the captured boar and then back again. She could see the realization there, the bewilderment– and the gratitude. A startled sort of smile spread Hanabi's lips and she– she laughed. Not unkindly, more in disbelief than anything, but Moegi found it to be a cute little sound, not at all refined as she would have expected; there was a snort in it, just enough to be heard. Moegi had just opened her mouth to say something, she didn't know what, when she caught movement from the corner of her eye.
Hanabi must have caught it, too, because they turned as one to face what looked to be the largest of the lot of boar bearing down on them.
"Don't hurt him, don't you dare hurt him!" yelled one of the three people who were so quick to defend the boar who seemed perfectly capable of looking after themselves.
Moegi felt Hanabi move and thought she must be doing the signs for the technique she'd used to subdue the other boar, whatever it had been. Yet in the next moment she found herself swept off her feet and into Hanabi's arms. She had the presence of mind to wrap her arms around Hanabi's neck just before Hanabi kicked off, jumping up and over the boar as it ran by them. She looked entirely focused on her landing; Moegi knew this because she herself was entirely focused on Hanabi's face.
Her breath caught, not at all because of the sudden movement. Her arms tightened without her meaning to tighten them and she felt her heart leap when Hanabi tightened her own hold in return– in reassurance, Moegi realized; Hanabi was reassuring her. The thought wrapped itself around her suddenly pounding heart like a blanket, warming her from the inside.
Moegi's racing thoughts stumbled when Hanabi touched ground, though the landing was a soft and careful one. Of course, she'd expect nothing else from Hyuuga Hanabi.
"Are you okay?" Hanabi asked, not yet letting her down.
"Y-yes," Moegi said, more breath than anything. That Hanabi was talking to her was suddenly the best thing that had ever happened to her. Being settled onto her feet, out of Hanabi's embrace, was suddenly the worst. She at least remembered to say, "Thank you."
Around them, the chaos settled. The stampede hadn't lasted much longer than it had started, despite the damage done and the obviously frazzled handlers, escorts and other ninja who had stepped in to assist. The three people who Moegi supposed owned the boar were all having screaming fits, gesturing wildly at the unconscious or otherwise restrained boar despite the many and repeated reassurances that they hadn't been harmed.
"A lot of help I managed to be," Moegi muttered, looking around the street mostly so she wouldn't have to look at Hanabi.
"You took the time to help me in all that," Hanabi said; she sounded almost like she was tasting the words. When Moegi dared look back at her, she was smiling, a little unsure and a little amused, entirely sincere. "You didn't have to do that. Thank you."
"I-it was nothing," Moegi rushed to assure her. "When I saw you at first, I was thinking how nice you look and–" Her face burned. How could she explain that there'd been a moment that protecting Hanabi's clothes from stains seemed more important than helping recapture the boar?
Hanabi laughed again, more certain this time, and Moegi's face burned brighter.
"Thank you," Hanabi said again, looking Moegi right in the eye and smiling. With just a hint of teasing in her tone, she said, "You saved me the trouble of having to change. I appreciate it."
"Well, ah, you're welcome!" Moegi said, taking a a stance rather more heroic than she knew she really deserved. More tomato goop and juice dribbled down her and she deflated, laughing an awkward laugh of her own and saying, "I, on the other hand, really need a bath, so…"
It looked like Hanabi might say something, but Moegi itched to be out from under her eye just then. She felt like a fool and the more Hanabi smiled at her, the worse the feeling grew. She rushed off, barely remembering to bid Hanabi farewell.
She almost tripped over her own two feet when Hanabi called, "I'll see you at the Academy tomorrow!"
All in all, it wasn't the grand beginning to a grand romance that Moegi had sometimes envisioned. It was a long time before she did more than smile and nod and exchange a greeting with Hanabi in passing even. But when her friends next asked her who she liked and she slyly looked away to give one of her standard non-responses, she was looking Hanabi's way.