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Rare Promise

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The air hummed with the voices of passersby and the heat of cars heading home.  The sun was just beginning to sink below the skyline, sending long shadows across the worn concrete.  

Hearing laughter and the click of heels against the sidewalk, a young man in a wide alleyway stopped to look wistfully toward the street before opening the backdoor to the restaurant.  The salty scent from the kitchen filled his senses, and despite his earlier wishes, he smiled. Even if he had to work on a fine evening like this, he worked at his favorite place in town.  

“Thanks for taking out the trash, Naruto!”  

“No problem, Teuchi-jii-san!”  Naruto washed his hands vigorously before heading out to the front to help Ayame take orders.  Pushing past the curtain, he was surprised to see the restaurant had emptied out with only a couple of customers who still needed to be served.  

Just finished taking an order, Ayame yelled to the kitchen, “One medium char siu shoyu ramen!”  Turning to Naruto, she handed him a clean rag.

Grabbing the towel, he returned to the counter and began scrubbing the surfaces down.

“Is something bothering you?” she asked as she watched him move across the floor.

“Hm?”

“You sighed.”

“I did?  Huh. Well, I just feel...I don’t know.”  Naruto paused to look out the window at the passing people and cars.  He found himself looking for something, anything; he just didn’t know what.  “I feel like...something’s coming.”

“Something’s coming?”

“Yeah, like...I feel antsy.”  The bell rang signalling a new customer before he could further explain.  Naruto turned to greet the newcomer.

“Naruto.”

“Woah, Sasuke!”  Naruto closed the space between them and shook hands with his best friend.  He hadn’t seen him in at least a couple of weeks, which was long for them, considering he used to live with the Uchihas.  “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you.  Are you coming tonight?”

“Man, I really wish I could, but my shift goes until 12.”

“See if you can get off early.  Sakura threatened she’d come get you herself if you don’t come.”

Naruto grimaced at the thought of the fiery pinkette causing a scene in the restaurant in front of the customers.  His childhood friend had made him promise that he’d go when they last saw each other by accident a few days ago. “I guess I’ve been pretty busy, but you know that I love this job.  I can’t just cut hours like that!”

“Order up!”  Teuchi called from the kitchen.  

Naruto headed back behind the counter and brought out a customer’s order.  

Sasuke stood to the side, watching him work.

“Sasuke, I want to go to the dance, you know I do, but I can’t,” he continued after safely setting the bowl down before the customer.

“It starts at 10.  You can’t make it at all?”

Naruto sighed, this time, aware of it.  

Ayame frowned as she listened to the exchange.  “Naruto, why don’t you go?”

He whipped around to look at her.

“I can get my dad to understand.  You’ve been working hard here. A couple of hours off early is fine.”

Naruto didn’t want to allow himself to hope.  “That’s really nice of you, Ayama-nee, but the second rush will probably start around that time.”

“I can handle it.”

“But…”

“Naruto, you should go.  Whatever you’re waiting for won’t be happening here,” she added suggestively.

Sasuke looked at his friend curiously.  “You’re waiting for something?”

Naruto smiled and shook his head incredulously.  “You’re going to think I’ve lost it.”

Sasuke gave a noncommittal nod.  “Too late for that, but what’s bothering you?”

The blonde chose to ignore the dig, instead gazing out the window.  “Every night this month, I wake up, and I’m reaching...for something!  I can just feel it! Something’s going to happen, Sasuke! Something big.”

The young Uchiha raised an eyebrow, then smirked.  “Maybe it’ll be at the dance tonight. The only way to find out is if you come.”

The thought of meeting a pretty girl set a wide smile on the blonde’s face.  He’d been so busy with work and saving up to pay rent on his own place, he hadn’t had a chance to socialize in what felt like ages.  “Yeah, who knows!” He paused, thoughtful. Who knows?  “I’ll be there.”  He pounded fists with his best friend.  

After Sasuke left, he continued wiping down the tables.  He tried to suppress a smile that worked the corners of his mouth.  He had a good feeling, one that set anticipation streaming through his veins.  It could be tonight. It could be right around the corner, waiting for him. He just knew he would recognize it as soon as it showed itself.  It was just a matter of time. He glanced out the shop window at the bustle in the street. Jittery excitement for tonight surged through him, and he willed the hours to pass faster as he put renewed energy into his work.


She scrutinized herself in the mirror before bending her knees to make the skirt cover her ankles.  “Can’t you make it a little longer, Tenten-chan?”

The brunette took the needle from her teeth and clucked.  “Don’t be like that! It’s your first dance!” She pushed the needle and thread through the white material, ever so slightly bringing the skirt up just a little bit higher.  “We need to show you off properly!”

“I don’t want to show off.  I don’t even know if I want to go.”

“Hinata!”  Tenten chided with mock disappointment.  “Do you know how I had to beg your overprotective brother to allow you to come tonight?”

Hinata gave a defeated look.

“If only he let me put you in that dark purple crepe.  That would really make the guys come running. Neji-kun no baka!”  She muttered to herself as she angrily stabbed the needle into the dress.  

“Tenten-chan, it’s so short!” Hinata gasped.  

“Yep, if he’s going to make you wear a boring color like white, I can at least do this.”  Tenten nodded proudly at her handiwork.

“This is too scandalous.  Neji-niisan will have a fit.”  Hinata’s eyes were wide at the sight she presented in the mirror.

“It’s nothing compared to what I’m wearing,” Tenten said, a bit mischievously.  “Once he sees me, he won’t be able to complain about you.”

The bluenette shook her head.  “Tenten-chan, yours is way too short.”

The brunette just rolled her eyes at the comment.  Her skirt was still covering her knees, though just barely.  Hinata’s brother was way too overprotective in her opinion, but this was what she got for falling in love with the serious Hyuuga boy.  She finished securing the ruffled skirt into place. “There. Now let’s see you.” Tenten pulled Hinata to face her. She looked thoughtfully at the waistline before grabbing a length of 5-centimeter navy blue ribbon and tying it around her in a neat bow.  “I wish you let me make it a little shorter.”

Hinata dropped her nervous gaze to her legs.  “It’s so short already.  And you refused to make the neckline higher.  I look like I’m trying to catch a man or something.”  Hinata frowned as she turned her head to look at herself again in the mirror.

“You are trying to catch a man.  You do not want to be stuck with Toneri, right?”

Hinata sighed.  She didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it seemed like her brother was intending on having her marry his polite friend.  It seemed pretty obvious with the way Neji would ask Toneri to help him take care of her whenever they went out. “He’s nice and friendly.”

“‘Nice and friendly’ doesn’t mean you’re attracted to him.”  Tenten took Hinata’s hands and pulled her away from the mirror.  “We are going to have so much fun tonight! Do a twirl for me.”

Hinata frowned but decided to indulge the one friend she had in this new country.  She spun in a circle, her skirt flaring open to Tenten’s delight. Tenten joined with her own carefree spins, and Hinata couldn’t help letting out a giggle at her excitement.

 

Hinata enthusiastically clapped along with the music as she watched her brother expertly twirl Tenten in a circle, dip her in a daring arch, and swing her back around in a series of spins that unfurled the ruffles of Tenten’s skirt.  Brass band music blared through the speakers, and the cheers of their extended family and friends rivaled the joyous sound of the trumpets and trombones. Hinata’s smile was wide in awe as she watched them continue to dance--their snappy moves seemingly at odds with their cool expressions.  It wouldn’t look it to anyone unfamiliar with their personalities, but Hinata could tell by the gleam in Neji’s eyes as he danced with Tenten that he was truly enjoying himself. Hinata shared a smile with her brother’s friend Toneri, who nudged her playfully as he clapped along with the music.  She was inwardly relieved that he hadn’t asked her to dance, yet, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the energetic music. She’d look like a fool next to Neji and Tenten. Shy as she was, though, seeing everyone dancing, smiling, and clapping had her reconsidering her earlier unwillingness to dance.  She almost hoped someone, even Toneri, would ask her to dance once the music slowed. The idea turned her cheeks pink. She felt for once like she was one of the grown-ups, instead of being treated like a child, and it sent an unfamiliar rush through her.

All too suddenly, the dancing stopped.  Seeing Neji bring his arm around Tenten’s back protectively as they both turned to look at the entrance of the dancehall, Hinata strained her neck in an attempt to see over the crowd.  Everyone fell silent as men with hair and eyes as black as the night spilled out of the entryway and across the dancefloor. Their ladies walked beside them confidently, hands on their hips in form-fitting dresses that hugged their waists and legs.  

Sharingan members.”

“What are they doing here.”

Hinata felt a stroke of fear enter her heart at the murmurs around her.  She had heard stories about the Uchiha, and none of them were good. They were selfish and, most of all, mean.  They cheated her family members on property rent, prices for groceries, costs at the laundromat. Picked fights with the younger Hyuuga and Otsutsuki.  More than once had her brother and father come home with pent-up rage and some kind of ridiculous story to tell. Hinata frowned despite Toneri’s hand on her arm, a kind gesture of reassurance that did little to assuage the worry she had.  The night had been going so well. She didn’t want a fight to start at her first dance, but with the way the two groups glared at each other, she wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

“Alright, alright!”  A brown-haired man with a large scar that cut horizontally across his face stepped into the center between the two gangs.  “Isn’t this wonderful!”

“Iruka.”  A young man with a piercing yet low voice spoke out.  “What are the Byakugan doing here.”  He all but spat out the name in contempt.

“Now, now, Sasuke,” Iruka cajoled.  “This dancehall is open for anyone.”

“Well, we aren’t sharing the floor with Blind-Eyes!” another Uchiha yelled out.  

The people around Hinata bristled at the slur, and Neji took long strides across the floor.  His hand could have almost grasped the offender’s jacket if not for Iruka getting between them in time.

“Settle down!  Settle down!” Iruka’s voice turned commanding.  He glared between the two men with a severe look that warned them against starting a fight in his dancehall.  

Neji relented and moved back to Tenten’s side unwillingly.  A look of plain disgust settled across his features.

“Here’s what we’ll do!”  The change in Iruka’s tone from serious to cheery was almost jarring.  “We’ll have a little social. We’ll form two circles. Ladies on the inside.  Gentlemen out the outside. When the music starts, each circle will walk counter to each other.  When the music stops, you dance with whoever is across from you.”

No one moved.  

Iruka took a step out of the dance floor and looked expectantly to both sides.  

The confident smirk Hinata was more familiar with appeared on Neji’s face.  He moved to the floor. Once there, he extended his arm out to Tenten. Voices rose in anticipation as she caught on to his thought process.  If anyone was going to dance, they would.  They wouldn’t be the ones off on the sidelines to watch.  She extended her hand as she walked out after him, and once beside him, he took it and led her ceremoniously to stand across from him.  

The Sharingan members shifted uncomfortably where they stood.  Not long after, though, Sasuke calmly strode out to the dance floor near Neji, hands in his black pants pockets.  He cocked his head, and a slim girl with pink hair followed him out. She looked judgingly at Tenten before turning her face in the opposite direction.  Soon after, other participants followed them out.

“Very good!”  Iruka clapped his hands once in appreciation.  “Ladies, walk to your right. Men, walk to your left.”

The music started playing, and the two circles hesitantly began moving in opposite directions.  The women looked back at their partners in apparent trepidation.

“Keep moving, keep moving,” Iruka encouraged.

It became clear to the dancers then that no one wanted this, and you could see the men trying to inconspicuously track their partners as they walked in circles.  

The music stopped.  Tenten peered at Sasuke across from her with a look that said, “Really?”  As a new tune blasted out of the speakers, she extended her hand out to Neji beside him, and the fair-skinned man took it immediately.  In a matter of seconds, everyone was back on their own sides with their original dance partners.

The awkward tension broke as the dancers began moving to the music in unison, each side trying to best their rivals.  Where Byakugan moved with tight spins and fanning skirts, Sharingan danced with hands and arms extended, their lifts and slides sweeping and long across the floor.

 

Already in earshot of the blaring music, Naruto jogged through the entryway.  He took a second to check the cuffs of his jacket that he had hastily grabbed before rushing out the door.  He swept a hand through his hair. To his relief, it was already dry from the fastest shower he had ever taken in his life.  He scanned his eyes across the dancehall. It was jam-packed with dancers. Stepping through a few women who were waiting on the stairs, he entered the hall, looking for his friends.

“Naruto!”

He turned to the familiar voice and saw pink hair bobbing through a sea of black jackets.  “Sakura! Sasuke!” he called excitedly.

“You made it!”  The pinkette rushed over to him with Sasuke a few steps behind, who had had a harder time slipping through the dancers.

“Yeah, Teuchi-jiisan let me off a little early.  I told him I’d make up the hours on my next shift.  So how’s it been so far?”

“Great!”  Sakura cheered, and she smiled even wider at Sasuke’s nod of agreement.

Naruto grinned at her breathless excitement.  It was obvious they had already been dancing for quite awhile.

“Are you going to dance?” she asked him.

Naruto nodded his head, taking a second to look around.  “I will, but I think I’ll just watch for a little bit.”

Sakura tilted her head with a question in her eyes.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been out,” Naruto explained a bit sheepishly.  “I have to get my bearings first. I can’t ask a girl to dance and then be tripping all over my feet.”

“Ahhh, understood.”  Sakura nodded. “Well, you know where to find us!”

Sasuke and Sakura headed back into the crowd, and Naruto joined a group of other enthusiastic bystanders.  He grinned, watching his two best friends take control again of the dancefloor. The two were obviously scene-stealers.  Sasuke swept Sakura across the floor before lifting her up high. Her legs swung straight out against his side as he brought her back down.  She landed easily, her weight counterbalanced as Sasuke flipped her around. Space around them cleared for the large movements, and Sakura took advantage of it with an extended arm behind her in opposition to Sasuke’s own motions.  The two continued their fearless dancing across the floor to the cheers of their friends and family, and Naruto made to follow them, but a flash of bright white caught his peripherals. Distracted, he turned his gaze across the hall.

 

Hinata watched Toneri leave with a couple of other guys for a smoke.  She didn’t know whether to feel relieved or concerned that he was finally leaving her alone.  Despite the hostile participants on the other side, she decided once again that she didn’t like being babysat.  If her brother was going to let her go to a dance, what was the point if she couldn’t dance? With Toneri sticking by her side, no one was asking her, and she was starting to grow bored watching everyone else spin across the floor.  She couldn’t tell what Toneri was thinking, or if he would ask her to dance eventually. She thought maybe he was waiting for a slower song to come on, which she had been hoping for, too, but it seemed apparent that the disc jockey only wanted to play fast songs.  She let her gaze drift across the dancefloor, and she could see the girl with noticeably pink hair dancing with her partner. Intrigued by their dance style, Hinata cautiously moved away from the spot she and Toneri had been occupying to watch, but the couple kept moving out of her vision.  

That was when her eyes caught on a tall man.  His smile was radiant. Her breath caught in her throat as eyes, so blue she could see them from where she stood, turned directly toward her.  Dull heat crept up her face as she took in his tanned features, the curve of his jawline, his assertive stature. She felt locked by his unwavering azure gaze.  She had never seen anyone so devastatingly handsome in her life, and she felt inexplicably drawn to him in the same way the poppies on her windowsill always turn their faces toward the sun.  Her eyes compelled her to get a closer look, to verify the vision of masculine beauty before her. Her breath grew shallow in awestruck wonder as she saw the outline of his jacket grow crisp, the short strands of his golden hair turn vibrant, the sparkle of his eyes brighten in clarity as the music softened as if distant.   

His throat was dry.  He moved in time with an angel, whose fair existence was only a breath away from him.  But he could hardly breathe. His consciousness was barely aware of the music change and of the dance steps his body knew.  Realization hit him moments too late that his hands already held those of the unearthly spirit before him. That she was looking at him just as wide-eyed as he was looking at her.   Her.  Her midnight blue hair that curled over flawless shoulders and slender arms, framing softly curving cheekbones and opalescent eyes that shimmered up at him in complete trust as they stepped around each other and turned into each other.  But he didn’t know her. And as far as he knew, she didn’t know him. “You’re not mistaking me for someone else?” he found himself asking, his voice barely above a whisper as he learned how to use his vocal chords again.

“I know I am not,” she denied with the smallest hint of amusement tugging at her cheeks.

He smiled despite his confusion.  “You’re not thinking we’ve met before?” he ventured again.  

Her own smile grew as she shook her head slightly.  “I know we have not.”

Uncertain joy welled within him, and he shined a grin at her.  If he wasn’t mistaken, she was as taken with him as he was with her.  “I knew something amazing was going to happen, but this…” His voice trailed off as he took the time to admire her again.

Hinata smiled shyly up at him as she waited to hear his rough, yet gently bright voice fill the space between them.  In his continued silence, she found herself wanting to coax his sound out to hear the tones that fell from perfectly shaped lips she was sure were formed after the gods.  Hesitantly, her hand drew up to caress his cheek. Her thumb trailed the angle of his jaw. His skin was warm against her fingers, sending delightful tingles streaming through her veins.   

Naruto leaned ever so slightly into her barely-there touch.  He felt like his vision would fade out from lack of air, and his heart felt heavy as it worked overtime.

“So beautiful,” she whispered, a thought she had meant to keep to herself.  

Naruto’s eyes shifted away from her touch and looked intently at her, taking in her gleaming gaze and smoothly rounded visage.  Closing his hand around hers, he brought her hand to his lips as he tempered a blush from her quiet compliment. “Beautiful,” he whispered in return, but the one word couldn’t truly capture what he felt.  

Hinata watched, awestruck, as he kissed her fingers lightly.  When he lifted his eyes, blue eyes as infinite as the sky, she looked deeply into his searching gaze.  Hopeful wonder tightened around her heart, a feeling that left her wanting more from him. “You are not joking with me?” she questioned, her insecurity beginning to settle into this extraordinary moment.  

He shook his head, his expression somber in his seriousness.  “And you are not joking with me?”

She averted her gaze.  “I have not yet learned how to joke in that way.”  A blush tinted her cheeks as she admitted her inexperience.   

Naruto’s heart ached for her.  His gaze quickly swept over her again: the smooth, white neck she was unknowingly presenting to him that led to a body that was more mature than anyone could expect for someone of her innocence.  His eyes drew back up as she turned to face him with an uncertain smile. She was so much more than he could have imagined. He felt himself falling for her honest and trusting demeanor, her expressions and actions that promised a generous affection he wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.  And most of all, terribly and mysteriously, a never-before-known sense of protectiveness to keep her safely...his. He felt the scales of his balance tipping toward her, the weight of his being stretching and reaching to connect in a rare promise. And it immersed him, her lips a gentle warmth he imagined only she could exude.  

“Get-”

Naruto was roughly shoved out of his bliss.

“-your filthy hands off of my sister!”

Naruto blinked in confusion, a remnant of his past self rising up in frustrated loss at what was so rudely stolen from him.  “Neji!” he almost yelled, drawing the attention of those around them. It took what felt like long moments to calm down and register through the haze of his defiance what the angry Byakugan leader had said.  “...Your sister?” He looked at the gorgeous bluenette, who bore little resemblance to the pale man who was widely known for his cold and superior attitude.

“You stay away from her!” Neji warned again with a threatening glare at the blonde who was still obviously processing.  Neji turned to Hinata. “Couldn’t you see that he’s with them?!”

As if to prove his words, Sasuke and Sakura ran up to Naruto’s side.

“I only saw him,” Hinata offered in quiet argument.

“I have told you before there’s only one thing one of them would want from a Byakugan girl.”  Neji threw the most disgusted face at Naruto.

Naruto drew back at the insinuation.  “That’s a lie!”

“Stay cool,” Sasuke muttered, but it did little to soothe his friend’s growing agitation.

“Naruto!  Get away from her.”

He spared a glance at the new annoyance who would keep him from the most amazing person he had ever met.  “Stay out of this, Toneri,” he warned quickly before turning back to the object of his affections. “Don’t listen to them!”  He looked at Hinata, pleadingly, that she believe him.

“She’ll listen to her brother before she listens to someone like you,” Neji cooly replied.  “Toneri, take her home.”

Hinata broke from Naruto’s gaze.  “Oh, Neji-niisan, please, it’s my first dance-”

“Not now.  Take her home, Toneri.”

Naruto watched in abject misery as her arm was taken by the tall, white-haired man.  

Hinata let him pull her along.  Everything had happened so quickly, too quickly.  She had only just found out his name when Toneri called him.  Abruptly, she stopped in her tracks and looked back, locking eyes with the blonde whose gaze sparkled a deeper blue than the oceans she had travelled across to come here, who had a smile that was as brilliant as the sun, who had shared her first kiss.  

“Hinata, come along,” Toneri commanded, throwing a glare at Naruto.  The two disappeared up the stairs and out of the dancehall.

“Hinata…” Naruto whispered quietly, his gaze still following the ghost of her presence.  He didn’t register the voices around him, didn’t hear Sasuke calling for him, didn’t feel Sakura tugging on his sleeve to turn around.  His feet carried him out of the dancehall, but his mind was already far from the music and dancing. He had never heard a name so fitting, a word so right for the girl he had just kissed.  “Hinata.”  

 

Buildings, their windows dark in the night, rose to meet the sky.  Shadowed stairs zigzagged up the sides, and he drifted, dreamlike, through empty parks and backroads until he came upon the brick apartments known to house the Byakugan immigrants.

“Hinata!”  His voice rang out, echoing against metal and walls too close for privacy.  “Hinata!” he tried again. He didn’t know when or how he had come here after wandering aimlessly through the city.  He was just suddenly there, and his mind was making leaps to catch up with the wants his body was better aware of. The sound of a latch unlocking caught his attention, and his eyes scaled the building to see a window sliding open.  Glittering eyes on a face as smooth as cream peered out. “Hinata!”

“Shhh!”

His heart stopped as a smile grew.  “Hinata! Come down!”

“Neji-niisan will be home any moment.”

“He’s at the dance,” Naruto replied, simply.

“I can’t…”

“Just for a second,” he found himself begging in his excitement.

Hinata smiled despite the guilt Toneri had impressed upon her just ten minutes prior.  Something about the man standing in the alley was undeniably charming. “A second is not enough.”

“For an hour!” Naruto called out.

He was the wrong kind.  From the bad sides of the street, according to Toneri.  She had to remember her upbringing, the pride her family once carried in their home country.  She couldn’t carry on with someone who affiliated himself with Sharingan. “I cannot…” However much she tried, she couldn’t stop the apologetic tone in her voice.

“Then forever!” he yelled.

Her eyes widened at his words that declared freedoms unknown.  A terrible blush rose. “Shhh!” she barely managed to reply.

“I’m coming up.”

She watched, amazed, as he easily jumped over the gate and ambled up the fire escape.  His steps were light on the iron rails, and she wondered at the back of her mind how many times he had snuck through these alleys before.  And within seconds, she was face-to-face once again with the man who seemed to outshine even the stars. She shook her head, partially to deny him, partially to test herself if this was really happening.  “It’s dangerous.” She didn’t know if she was warning him or herself.

“I’m not one of them, Hinata.”  His voice was low now as he drew nearer to her window.

“But…”  She bit her lips, averting her gaze.  “You are not one of us. And I am not one of you!”

“To me…”  Naruto’s gaze passed over the soft curves of her visage once more.  “None of that matters.”

Hinata raised her eyes to meet his, and she believed him.  The way he looked into her “blind eyes” unflinchingly, as if she was the only person who existed in the world, convinced her then.  

“Hinata,” a voice called from inside.

“Just a moment, Otou-sama,” she called back.  “I have to go.”

“Let me meet him.  He will like me!”

Hinata had to smile at his fearless optimism.  “No, my father is like Neji-niisan, afraid.” She looked again at his golden hair, his bright blue eyes.  She giggled. “Imagine, being afraid of you!”

Her laughter was like tiny bells.  He joined, with a short, embarrassed chuckle of his own.  “You see?”

She quickly calmed.  “I see you…”

“Hinata, see only me.”

She gazed up at him, taking in once again his wonderfully, handsomely chiseled features, the lopsided smile that dimpled at the corner, his confident presence as he leaned toward her against the window pane.  She became painfully aware that she would never see anyone else, ever. Only him, only...“Naruto-kun,” she breathed out.

His eyes lit up at the sound of her soft voice caressing his name, like something precious and sacred.  “Tonight, as soon as I saw you,” he began. “I knew it.  I knew a miracle was coming to me.”  He paused, watching her hang on to his every word.  “Since the dance, I could only see you, Hinata. Everything else just-”

“Went away,” she quietly finished.

He exhaled, the air leaving him all too soon for him to remember to inhale.  Nothing good had ever happened to him--his life had been a series of misfortunes.  The ethereal beauty before him, her eyes and smile so gently shimmering for him, seemed part of an ephemeral dream.  

In the quiet that settled between the two, her father called for her again through the bedroom door.  “I’m coming, Otou-sama!” Hinata raised her voice, and Naruto imagined she never got much louder than that.  She turned back to him, an apology in her pearl gaze. “I can’t stay. Go quickly!”

Naruto turned to leave.  About to climb down the ladder, he paused, happy to see her still framed by the window.  “When will I see you again?”

She knew it was wrong.  She knew her family would disapprove, and they were all she had in this new country.  But his smile promised so much more. “I work at Madame Hiyo’s Customs and Alterations.  You can meet me there after 5 when we close.”

“I’ll be there.”  His head ducked below the platform as he descended.

“Naruto-kun!”

His face popped back into view.  “Yes?”

Hinata couldn’t figure out how each time she looked at him, it was as if she were seeing him for the first time.  She watched how his lips parted slightly, reminding her of the warmth and gentleness of his kiss. The memory left her speechless.

He saw her cheeks redden, her innocent eyes widen.  He felt like, maybe this feeling that stole his breath was truly… “Love,” he whispered.  The word soothed, spreading a calm warmth through his limbs. He climbed back up to the platform.  “Hinata, I love you.”

“I love you, Naruto-kun.”  Her soft reply, in its automatic declaration, in its lack of hesitation, surprised her, yet she knew deep down she had never held such certainty about anything or anyone before.  

Urgent knocks at her door broke their daze.  

“Good night,” he managed to whisper before taking a few steps back down.

“Good night, Naruto-kun.”  She turned to her door.

The two caught each other’s gazes, sharing blushing smiles before finally parting, their hearts fluttering in anticipation for tomorrow.