Keep Going, Naruto!
This was originally going to be part of the secret 5th chapter to She Holds the Cards, told with a focus on Naruto. I ended up not adding it, as I figured I could put it somewhere in They Hold the World. But it never seemed like the right time, so it's been staying with me for a while. Hope you enjoy!
Those words always rang in Naruto’s head, like a mantra that he followed over and over again. Sometimes, between his doodles of anime heroes and ferocious beasts, he’d scribble those words haphazardly on the corners of his homework assignments. Not as a reminder. He didn’t need to be reminded of his constant, determined attitude -- but rather, such a notion filled him so close to the brim that it would simply slip from him.
Sophomore year, seven minutes before class started, those words tumbled from his mouth without him even realizing it. A few passing students shot him curious looks as they made their way down the hallway, but he didn’t pay them much mind. His eyes were set on the girl before him, who curled her finger in her hot pink locks as she offered him nothing more but a tired, slightly irritated look.
“What?” Sakura sighed.
He shook his head, smiling. “Nothing. What’s your answer?”
Green eyes peered off to the side, in the direction of her next class. “What do you think?”
“That you’re madly in love with me --”
Despite himself, his words died on his tongue, and he snapped his mouth shut. It was just a word. Nothing fancy about it. So why did it cut so deep?
Rubbing the back of his neck, Naruto kept his grin and laughed. “I am being honest!”
Sakura narrowed her eyes, brows raising, giving off the impression that she didn’t believe an inch of his bull. Tapping a finger on her vinyl purse hung over her right shoulder, she shook her head before locking eyes with him. “Then I’ll tell you for the hundredth time. I don’t like you, Naruto. Move on and leave me alone.”
A statement he’s heard a million times and never once let it cloud his resolve. It stung at first when he had first confessed in sixth grade, but over the years, the harsh rejections never scared him off -- if anything, they made him all the more determined. Because that was how he was. He didn’t give up, no matter how dark the future may seem. He kept going.
But . . .
Keep . . . going?
It was different today. His conviction wasn’t how it usually was. The serious dip in her tone and her apathetic gaze threw daggers into his chest, and he flinched. What the hell? He shook his head, and grinned at her, lips trembling. “Good luck in class, Sakura.”
She blinked, shoulders falling, probably having expected him to push more. He usually did. “Thanks . . . Naruto.” She hovered in the hallway for a moment, gaze trailing his face. He kept his grin, but when she finally turned and left for class, it quickly slipped from his face, replaced with a frown.
What’s wrong with me?
This wasn’t normal for him. Maybe he was just having a bad day. That was probably it. It had to be. He didn’t want to think about any other reasons -- because they scared him -- and they weren’t true. Totally not! Definitely not . . . .
“U-Um, N-N-Naruto --”
Yelping, jumping a good three inches into the air, he spun around to see small, sweet Hinata just a few feet away from him, a white-knuckled grasp on the straps of her beige backpack as her pale eyes peeked at him under fluttering eyelashes. Her pink cheeks turned scarlet at his reaction, and he was scared she’d faint right there in the hallways.
“Woah, Hinata! You scared me!”
She shuffled in her spot. “I-I’m sorry. I wasn’t t-trying to.”
“It’s fine,” he said, regaining his smile as he stuffed his hands in his sweat’s pockets. “What can I do ya for?”
Her gaze trailed the outline of her sneakers as she bit her lips together. Cute.
“W-Well,” she whispered, “I-I just wanted to ask . . . if you were o-okay.”
He leaned in to make sure he heard her right, and when those soft words touched the curve of his ears, he froze. “Huh?” Heart racing, he ran a hand through his hair. “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Peach fingers peeked out of the sleeves of her sweater to fumble together. “S-Sorry. I-I-I thought you were u-upset about something, b-but I guess I-I was wrong.”
Was that what it was?
Straightening his spine, Naruto hummed to himself. Class time was approaching, and the hallways were becoming less crowded, giving them more privacy. It was nice that she had come. He knew Hinata relatively well. They’d been going to the same school since middle school, and ever since the start of sophomore year, she’s been talking to him more. It was weird. She was weird.
But he kinda liked it.
Thus, before he knew it, he sputtered, “Do you think Sakura will ever like me?”
Finally -- maybe for the first time ever -- she looked up and locked eyes with him. She looked so startled, that red blush melting away within mere seconds, and her fumbling fingers paused. Weird. He didn’t say anything that crazy, did he? It was just a question -- a startling one, sure, but he was putting himself out there. More than he usually did, somehow. More than he ever did with Sakura. Even more than when he wrote a whole song to sing her at Homecoming. Because, sure, Naruto was a blabber-mouth, a friendly guy, a brave dude; but even he had things he kept to himself, locked away and key hidden close by.
This subconscious meekness that came with thoughts of Sakura probably never loving him was one of those things -- and he had just let it slip.
Trying to laugh off the awkward silence, he said, “Just kidding! Sorry, I --”
“Y-You’re very likable, N-Naruto.” That blush returned, tinting her ears pink, as Hinata finally spoke. “I-I-I’m sure a-anyone could fall in love with you.”
. . . Wait.
“Huh?” His chest felt weird -- hot and tight, yet light at the same time. “You think?” Hinata bowed her head and nodded. He grinned, leaned over, and rustled his hand through her hair. “Hey, thanks, Hinata! You’re pretty alright! Heh, now if you could only list all my likable features, then I could use them to my advantage and get Sakura to --”
“You’re very bright.”
A quiet whisper, barely audible.
Naruto blinked and lifted his hand from her head, and through her messy bangs, she looked at him once again. There was a determined twinkle in her eye. Somehow, it reminded him of someone.
“U-Um, and inspiring, I-I guess. People look up t-to you, want to b-be friends with you, want to b-be you. You t-trust your friends and stick with them t-to the end. You n-never give up. You look at things p-positively, and you’re honest --”
Sakura’s voice resurfaced in his buzzing head -- “Honestly,” she had told him. And in turn, he had been the complete opposite.
“I’m not that honest, Hinata,” he said, smiling.
Her eyes smoldered and wavered, but she didn’t look away. Not once. “W-W-Well, I’m being honest right now, N-Naruto.”
He nearly choked as his thundering heart jumped clear into his throat, pumping against his vocal cords, leaving him completely speechless. The warning bell rang, and Hinata whispered a farewell before slipping by him, off into her classroom. But him --
He heard nothing but those words screaming in every morsel of his body, and when he arrived to his class late and got a knock on the back of his head from Mr. Hatake, that wild, shining grin on his face never once slipped away.
Naruto was a determined guy. Not much was able to break his resolve on something important to him -- and, well, he’s been pursuing Sakura for nearly four years now.
But then Hinata Hyuuga came around, and that resolve set its sights on someone completely different.
He didn’t know if he should be ecstatic or absolutely terrified.
I need to run this by Sasuke, he thought, hopping out of his car and practically skipping across the parking lot and into school. It would be a while until school started, but he and Sasuke had been meeting up in the mornings, usually to tutor or check over homework. They used to just do that at Naruto’s house, but for some reason, Sasuke changed that a few months ago and made the new destination the school library. At first, Naruto had complained, as his precious sleeping hours were cut short for these early-morning meetings. Now he was used to it, and when he slid into the chair next to Sasuke’s at one of the library’s tables, he gave him his normal, loud greeting followed by --
“Hey, I need your advice on something!”
Sasuke, of course, didn’t even look up from his book. “No, I don’t know what Sakura’s favorite KPop band is. Stop asking.”
Laughing, Naruto slammed his hand on Sasuke’s shoulder. “That’s not it!”
“Uh-huh,” Sasuke droned.
“Actually, it has nothing to do with Sakura.”
“That’s a surprise.”
He laughed, face turning a bit warm. “Um, actually, it has to do with someone else.”
Sasuke’s brows furrowed a tad. “Spit it out, Naruto.”
So, Naruto did.
“It’s about Hinata!”
That’s when something happened. Something so fast, Naruto barely kept up with it. Sasuke’s head snapped up and to the right, eyes wide and not twinged with that usual shadow of annoyance. And when he followed his gaze, he saw Hinata off in the corner, curled over a book, so stuck in it that she hadn’t noticed the two people staring at her.
Hinata’s here? Naruto grinned. That makes it a lot easier!
“Dude, I --”
“What about her?”
. . . Huh?
That was a weird voice. Soft, for such a hard bastard. Kind, for such a mean asshat. And when Naruto looked over at his friend, wondering what the hell could have caused such a voice, he saw it. A different guy -- the kind who wore his heart on his sleeve and let the world see it. It thu-thumped wildly as those eyes stayed glued onto the oblivious girl in the corner, reading her poetry book.
That’s what every aspect of Sasuke screamed.
And it was so damn obvious that Naruto had to sit back in his chair from the mere force of it.
“I just wanted to say . . . that I figured you out.”
Shoulders tensing, Sasuke snapped his head towards him, not giving him nearly enough time to perfect his normal, bright grin. “What?”
“Don’t ‘what’ me! You ain’t as sly as you like’ta think you are!” Wrapping an arm around Sasuke's shoulder, he yanked him closer, smirking. “We’ve been friends for years! You can’t hide stuff like this from me.”
Jabbing a carefully aimed elbow into his stomach, Sasuke got out of his hold and went back to reading. Pretending to read. His gaze was still on the pages, and Naruto had to hold back a barking laugh.
“You know what.”
Settling back, Naruto pulled his backpack closer and checked the time on his phone. He had time, so he brought out his notebook and began doodling and scribbling; anything, really, to distract his mind from the situation, from the dagger lodged between his ribcage.
Was it really worth it?
Because, sure, he liked Hinata. But based off of the not-so-subtle Sasuke was flashing her way --
“You really like her that much, huh?”
Ears turning pink, Sasuke scowled at his book. “Shut up.”
Chuckling, Naruto flipped a few pages back and began erasing the scribbled words between sloppy doodles of anime heroes and ferocious beasts.
Go ahead, Sasuke. She’s all yours.