A Very Belated Birthday
Jiraiya walked up to the gates of Konoha, his conversation with Gama-Ikinone nagging at him. "Why do I always receive this kind of information at the worst possible times?" he pondered with a sigh. The tower guard opened the gate and he walked on through, heading for Tsunade's estate.
"Are you sure this is alright?" Hinata asked nervously as she looked at her reflection in the full length mirror on her bedroom wall. She was wearing a pair of denim shorts that stopped about mid-thigh and a sapphire blue tank top that she had insisted was only for sleeping in when Sakura had pulled it out of her dresser. It was cotton and had lace that ran the length of the neckline. It had also been tied up so that a good three inches of her midriff were showing.
"Trust me. Naruto won't be able to take his eyes off you," Sakura answered with a sly grin. It had taken some convincing, but she had also gotten Hinata to wear some lipstick. Nothing too brash; just a warm peach, but it brought out her eyes magnificently.
Hinata turned tomato red at her friend's comment. She gulped hard and turned to Sakura. "Can we go now?" she asked, praying Sakura didn't have anything else in store for her.
Sakura grinned and nodded. "I think you'll make him sweat thoroughly enough," she said with a wink. Hinata made a small, strangled squeak and Sakura chuckled.
As Jiraiya neared the road that lead to Tsunade's estate he noticed something that made him smile in amusement. An insistant pink-haired girl was half dragging a very reluctant white-eyed girl by the wrist towards the estate. He made a loud cough as he neared the girls so as not to startle them. "Ah, Sakura, Hinata," he called in greeting, having recognised them from Naruto's descriptions.
Sakura turned in the direction of the voice that had called to her. "Who are...?" She recognized the scroll on the large man's back from her schoolbooks. Her eyes widened. "That scroll! That's the frog summon contract scroll!" "J...Jiraiya-sama! What are you doing here?"
"The Jiraiya!!" Hinata thought in disbelief.
A smug look came over Jiraiya's face at the reaction his presence had garnered. "Naruto's birthday party," he answered aristocratically.
Sakura's eyes showed her shock. "How do you know Naruto?"
Jiraiya buffed his nails on his outfit. "Who do you think taught him to summon the great frogs?" he said with pride.
"Wait a minute...Naruto can summon?" Sakura replied with confusion and surprise.
At this Jiraiya fell over in disbelief, then quickly got up and began ranting. "How could he not show his friends the technique that the magnificent Jiraiya taught him!" he said with indignation.
Sakura's eyebrow twitched. "Is this really Jiraiya-sama?"
"Um," Hinata said meekly. "We're going to be late."
Jiraiya's expression changed completely. "Well then, let's go!" he exuberantly commanded before walking off down the road.
Hinata and Sakura just stood there, frozen in shock of the abrupt change that had come over the man who now walked ahead of them as if he owned the world. Sakura twitched again. "This guy..."
"Neh. Shizune Nee-chan?" Naruto asked as he and Shizune walked back home.
"Yes, Naruto-kun?" Shizune answered over her shoulder.
"You still haven't said anything about...you know...about today..." Naruto said carefully.
Shizune chuckled warmly. "Don't worry, Naruto-kun. I haven't forgotten your birthday. I have a present for you at the house."
Naruto's eyes widened and misted over. "A present...Really?"
Shizune made a comforting smile. "Of course. And Tsunade-sama has one for you too." She stopped short when she realized Naruto was no longer following her. She turned around, concern clouding her features. "Naruto-kun?" A lump formed in her throat when she saw that tears were falling from the eyes of the young man in front of her. "Naruto-kun," she said sympathetically as she wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
Sakura, Hinata, Iruka and Sasuke were crouched down behind the couch. Kiba, Jiraiya, Kakashi and Tsunade crouched along the wall to the right of the front door. Shikamaru, Chouji, Ino, Lee, Neji, Nabiki and Konohamaru were behind various objects throughout the room.
Neji was in the middle of muttering about how hiding like they were was childish when Sakura noticed a light flicker outside the large picture window. "Quiet!" she hissed. "They're here!"
Naruto squinted as he and Shizune neared the house. Something wasn't right. "Shizune Nee-chan. The house is dark!" he whispered in alarm.
"Hmmm. Better play along." Shizune thought. "Go quietly," she instructed with a stern face.
Naruto nodded his conformation. The two shinobi moved carefully and quickly towards the house, all the while Shizune was using every ounce of her willpower to keep from falling to the ground in fits of laughter.
They took position on either side of the front door. Before Shizune could stop him, Naruto flung a large group of shuriken into the house. "Shit!" she thought in panic.
Neji's body was twisted sideways in a very uncomfortable position from having to dodge a shuriken that had come towards his head. "Still think this was a great idea?" he growled as he glared at Sakura.
Naruto squinted, trying to see whoever might be lurking in the dark living room. "Why haven't they fought back?" he thought in confusion. He inched closer to the doorway. Suddenly light flooded his vision, temporarily blinding him as loud popping sounds assaulted his hearing. "SURPRISE!" yelled what sounded like a large group of people. "What the hell is going on?" Naruto asked loudly.
When Naruto's vision cleared the sight that met his eyes was one that would be engraved into his memory forever. The living room was decorated beautifully in orange and blue streamers. There was a large cake with fourteen candles, a giant pile of presents sat on the floor on the right side of the room, a banner strung across the back bore the words 'Happy birthday Naruto'. And the best part...everyone he cared about was standing in the center of it all, holding the party poppers they had just used. His eyes misted over as he laughed in tentative joy and disbelief. "Please don't let this be a dream," he begged in his mind.
Sakura walked over to the stunned boy and gave him a hug. "Happy birthday, Naruto." She frowned and released him when he didn't return the hug. "Naruto...?"
Naruto sucked in a tearful breath and looked up. "Sakura...just tell me one thing..." he said with desperately hopeful eyes.
"What?" Sakura asked, concerned.
"This is real...right?" Naruto asked as he swallowed the lump in his throat.
Sakura smiled wide and warm. "It's real. And it's all for you."
Naruto laughed lightly in joy. Tears freely rolled down his face. "Everyone...thank you. Thank you so much. This is..." He was at a loss for words.
Tsunade came forward and hugged her adopted son. "Our pleasure, Brat."
Naruto sniffed, took a deep breath and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. With a grin to end all grins he thrust a fist into the air and shouted, "Alright everyone! Let's get this party started!"
Everyone in the room chuckled. Lee pressed play on the cassette deck.
"Lee. That's too loud!" Shizune said with her hands over her ears.
Lee couldn't hear Shizune, but realized what her hands being over her ears meant and immediately turned down the volume.
Friends and family took turns wishing Naruto a happy birthday. The blonde ninja couldn't understand how it could get any happier. He had never felt more loved in all his life. "This is the best day ever," he thought with a smile. "Naruto-kun?" said a voice from behind him. He turned around to see someone he barely recognized as being Hinata.
He suddenly found he had lost the ability to speak. Hinata's clothes were so different from her usual fare. Not to mention that the shirt she was wearing was tight and showing off a few physical assets that her baggier clothes generally hid. He kept opening his mouth to say something, but the sound just wouldn't come out.
Finally Hinata, feeling a bit uncomfortable under Naruto's stunned gaze, spoke up. "Naruto-kun, are you alright?"
"Uhh..." was Naruto's reply. "What's wrong with me!" he thought in frustration. "H...Hinata-chan?" he managed to force out at last.
"Yes?" Hinata replied as she shifted her weight nervously.
Naruto's nose chose this moment to utterly betray him. The second the tiny trickle of warm blood escaped his nostril his hand flew to his face. "Uh...ummmm. I gotta pee! I'll be back in a sec!" he said quickly as he bolted for the bathroom.
"Did I do something wrong?" Hinata wondered.
Sakura watched Naruto run off with his hand covering his nose. She cocked an eyebrow. "Maybe I overdid it," she wondered. Then she shook her head. "Naaaa," she thought with an amused grin.
"What the hell is going on!" Naruto grumbled. "I like Sakura-chan." He put a hand to his forehead as though he had a headache. "Don't I...?" He tried very hard to bring an image of Sakura into his mind, but the only person that would appear was Hinata.
Well...I came to tell you that I don't feel the same way," Naruto said, his voice filled with apology.
"Oh..." Hinata said, as her eyes misted over.
"But..." Naruto continued.
Hinata looked up at Naruto with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "There's a 'but'?"
"We can hang out more. And maybe after a while I'll change my mind," Naruto said with a smile.
Hinata smiled widely. "Really?"
"Hm. Maybe that's what's happening." Naruto sighed as he stared at the mirror. "Ahhhhhhgggh! This is so confusing!"
After a few minutes of cooling off in the bathroom Naruto felt brave enough to venture back out into the party. He saw Hinata talking to Sakura and felt himself blush. He simply sighed and wandered over to the cake.
Naruto looked left, then right, then left again. Satisfied that no one was watching he quickly scooped up some of the frosting with his right index finger. "What do you think you're doing?" said a stern voice.
Naruto turned around to see Sakura standing there, arms folded. "I didn't spend an hour making that cake so you could put finger tracks in it," she scolded.
Naruto grinned sheepishly, then noticed that Hinata was right behind Sakura. The knot returned to his stomach, but he fought it down. "Yo, Hinata!" he said with a smile.
"I'll leave you two alone," Sakura teased.
"Sakura!" Naruto protested. "W...wait!"
"Naruto-kun, did I do something wrong earlier?" Hinata asked as she absent mindedly chewed her lower lip.
"No no. I just really had to go to the bathroom," Naruto replied with a smile, hoping she'd buy the excuse.
"Oh good," Hinata said, relief evident in her voice.
An upbeat song started playing. Naruto saw this as a chance to escape. "I'm gonna go dance," he announced as he began to walk off. He felt a tug on his sleeve.
"May I join you?" Hinata asked hopefully.
Naruto paused, trying not to think of how adorable she looked when she was unsure of herself. His resolved deflated. "Sure!" he said with a grin.
They took up positions across from each other and began to move to the music. Naruto glanced over to his right and noticed Sakura dancing with Lee. He was very surprised when he realized that it didn't bother him. He mentally shrugged and turned back to his dance partner. As he watched her dance, he smiled. "Yeah...let's see what happens."
About twenty minutes later a shrill whistle blasted throughout the room. Everyone looked up at Tsunade. Lee ran over to the stereo and turned it off. "Time for cake everyone," she announced with a grin.
"Yes!" Naruto exclaimed as her punched the air.
Hinata giggled affectionately at Naruto's antics.
Tsunade put a chair in front of the cake and instructed Naruto to sit down. She lit the candles and everyone gathered around as Shizune killed the lights. The flames on the candles danced merrily as, for the fiftieth time that night Naruto resisted asking someone to pinch him.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear Naruto.
Tears fell from Naruto's eyes at hearing that line.
Happy birthday to you.
Naruto took a deep breath and blew out the candles. Everyone cheered and Tsunade ruffled her son's hair. She handed him a cake knife. "Go ahead."
Naruto made a quick, nervous glance at Sakura. Deciding she wasn't going to kill him if he cut up her handiwork, he proceeded to give himself a piece so large that it hung over the edge of the plate he put it on by a good inch.
Remembering it was her friend's birthday, Sakura resisted the urge to tell Naruto off for being a complete pig. She felt someone tap her shoulder. She turned around to see Lee looking nearly as green as his outfit. "Lee-kun are you okay?" she asked as she put a hand on his forehead to check his temperature.
Lee tried to ignore the fact that his heart was now racing from Sakura's touch. "Hai, Sakura-san. I just...can you come with me for a moment?" he said in a slightly strangled voice.
Sakura was concerned so she immediately agreed. "Sure."
Lee managed a nod and began walking out to the gardens in front of the house. Once they were out of sight and earshot of the rest of the party goers Lee found a stone bench and sat down. "Please, sit," he instructed respectfully.
Sakura sat down and waited. After roughly three minutes she couldn't stand it anymore. "What's wrong?" she prodded.
Lee breathed deeply. "I have to tell you something. But before I continue I just want to say that I'm not trying to guilt trip you into anything."
Sakura frowned in thought. "Okay," she said smacking a mosquito that had landed on her arm.
"Sakura-san...I. When I first met you I instantly began to like you. And I've liked you all this time. And up until a few months ago I still liked you..." Lee swallowed. It was hard for him to say these things when he knew she didn't return his feelings.
Sakura's frown increased in depth. "You mean...you don't like me that way anymore?" For some reason she couldn't put her finger on, the prospect of Lee not liking her in a romantic fashion put a knot in her stomach.
Lee shook his head. "No. You see...I've realized...that now I...I'm in love with you," he confessed and lowered his head so she couldn't see his eyes.
The sound of the blood pounding in Sakura's ears blocked out all sounds of the party. She couldn't think of what to say. No boy had ever said those words to her. Not even Naruto, whom she knew had had a crush on her since before they became a team. "Lee-kun...I..."
Lee shook his head. "You don't have to say anything. I know you don't feel the same way. I just...I just had to tell you at least once," he said before getting up and running back to the house.
Sakura was actually a little glad that Lee had left as she reflected on what he'd said. It gave her time to think. She sat on the bench, her head resting in her right hand. "Lee-kun..."
Tsunade handed Naruto his first present. He took it from her hands as though it might shatter if he squeezed it too hard. He took off the wrapping and opened the box. His eyes lit up instantly.
Tsunade grinned. "That one's from me," she exclaimed as Naruto pulled a beautifully decorated ramen bowl from the box.
Naruto grinned. "Thanks, Granny Tsunade!" he said as he gave her a quick hug. He didn't notice Hinata, who used that moment to sneak over to the present pile and remove her gift to him.
Sakura came in from the garden just as Naruto grabbed the next package. She noticed Lee and made sure to stand on the other side of the crowd from him. She didn't want any of the discomfort she was feeling at the moment to ruin Naruto's party. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Lee-kun," she begged mentally.
Naruto open his second gift with a little less grace. Excitement had over taken his previous tentative feelings. "Thanks, TenTen!" he exclaimed as he pulled out a shining new set of kunai and set it aside.
The pile of boxes and wrapping paper grew until Naruto was down to his last three gifts. He picked up an envelope. It read: To Naruto: Love Sakura. He smiled as he tore it open. "AHHHHHHAAAA! Sakura-chan, thank you so much!" he yelled as he threw his arms around his pink haired friend.
"What did you get him?" Sasuke asked as Naruto released Sakura from the hug.
Sakura grinned. "A one year free meal pass to Ichiraku."
Sasuke smirked and folded his arms. "Hm."
Naruto frowned in confusion at the last gift. It was book shaped and a bit heavy. To Naruto: from Sasuke. He shrugged and opened the wrapping. It was a black leather binder with the Uchiha house symbol on the cover. "What's this?" he asked his brother.
Sasuke looked uncomfortable. He shrugged. "It's all I could think of. I'm not good at this sort of thing."
Naruto opened the binder and began thumbing through the pages. It seemed to be a record book. Each entry contained the name of someone from the Uchiha clan. It included their date of birth and blood type. It ran in alphabetical order. When he got to the 'N's his finger stopped moving. He felt a lump form in his throat.
Uchiha, Naruto...DOB: 10/10...Blood type: B
"S...Sasuke...this is..." Naruto said, barely above a whisper.
"I got the updated book from the records office yesterday. I figured you'd like it," Sasuke replied, trying to sound non-chalant.
Naruto's eyes misted over. "Thank you," he said in a choked voice as he put the book on the arm of the chair he was sitting in.
Hinata smiled. "Naruto-kun is so happy," she thought. She suddenly noticed Naruto looking over the pile of gifts with a slight frown. "Naruto-kun, is something wrong?"
He looked up at her. After a short pause he answered, "I didn't get something from you." There was a bit of hurt in his voice.
"I...I haven't gotten it yet. I'm n...not sure what to get you," Hinata answered unconvincingly.
Naruto was busy struggling with trying to understand why Hinata would lie to him about her gift when Kiba called out from the other side of the room. "Oi, Hinata! You forgot your present for Naruto in the hall!"
Hinata's eyes widened as Kiba walked towards Naruto, obviously intending to hand him the carefully wrapped package. Just as Naruto reached out for the parcel Hinata snatched it out of her teammate's hands. "N..no!"
"Hinata-chan...?" Naruto questioned.
"I...I want to get you something better. This present's not good enough," Hinata said with nervous regret.
"Hinata-chan. I'll like it. I promise," Naruto said with a reassuring grin.
Hinata hesitated before handing over the gift. Naruto took it from her with a warm smile and began to open it. She began to feel sick. "I should've thought of something better," she thought, nearly in tears.
The wrapping now completely gone, Naruto proceeded to open the box and pull away the tissue paper. In side the box was a decorative ramen bowl. Only this one was different from the one Tsunade had given him. He could tell it had been hand painted. His name was in kanji on one side and on the other was a chibified Naruto slurping up a big bite of Ramen. "She made this...?" he thought in awe. Suddenly he remembered what his first gift had been and felt a rush of sympathy for his friend. "She tried to hide it because I already got a ramen bowl."
Naruto looked up at the crestfallen girl in front of him. He stood up and held up the bowl. "It's awesome, Hinata-chan! I love it!" he said with a grin.
Hinata blinked in surprise. "Really?" she sniffed.
"You're a great artist! This is the coolest ramen bowl ever! Thank you!" Naruto proclaimed as he gave the startled girl a crushing hug.
Hinata managed to smile as her fears melted away. "You're welcome, Naruto-kun."
Naruto broke the hug and set the bowl down on the chair. "C'mon. Let's go dance!" With that he grabbed Hinata's hand and lead her into the center of the room. As they danced Naruto realized he wasn't nervous about being around Hinata in her new clothes anymore. "Yeah...I think my feelings are changing..."
...TO BE CONTINUED
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