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Medicated

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There are moments in life that can never be undone.

Moments that shape or shatter your world.

Hinata knows this better than most--she’s had her fair share of them, after all. When the call comes in from Naruto’s doctor that he needs to go in due to some of his recent test results, she can’t quite shake the feeling that this may be one of them


 

She takes the afternoon off from work. Her job is important to her, but it's Naruto, and he has always come first.

He shifts beside her, tapping his thighs, clearly wanting to be anywhere but here. She can’t blame him--Naruto is alive in loud technicolor while the office is done up in cool hues and flat whites with inoffensive artwork along the walls. It’s stifling for her, so she can only imagine how it is for him.

Across from them, his doctor adds some information into her tablet and glances up. “Your liver enzymes came back high.”

The sentence is simple enough, but even so the words take a moment to register, and when they do Hinata wants some clarification. Actually, no; she doesn’t--she really doesn’t--because she knows where this is going...

She presses her palms over her suit pants, along the seam in an effort to settle her nerves. When that doesn’t work she fidgets with the bracelet at her wrist--a nervous habit--but one that helps ground her. This isn’t about her, she reminds herself--it’s about Naruto--and no matter what comes next she will face it, because for him she would face anything. Taking a steadying breath, she asks: “What does that mean?”

"It means that we're going to have to try a different medication." Crisp and detached, the words come and Hinata wonders if the doctor even knows the impact of them. Despite knowing they were coming, Hinata can’t help but feel them like a kick in the gut. Her breath hitches and she swallows the abrupt knot of dread in her throat.

She feels, rather than sees, Naruto stiffen beside her--his tapping coming to a halt. He hates when she’s upset. It doesn’t matter how well she thinks she masks it--he always knows.

"I don't want a different one." Naruto finally says, his voice tight.

Hinata puts her hand on his knee, her thumb rubbing slow circles. She doesn’t want him upset either--especially when she knows it’s not about the medication and more about her involuntary reaction.

"This medication has really been working well for him,” she presses the doctor. "We've had a lot of trouble with them before. We thought this was the one." She can’t help the wistfulness that creeps into her voice. They were making progress. This was the longest ‘good streak’ in awhile.

She had hoped that maybe there would be no more midnight bailouts, no more drunken fights, no more wild ideas and uncontrollable energy, no more fear that he would climb so high that the crash just may end him. That fear still chills her blood and keeps her awake more nights than she cares to count.

She knows it’s not his fault. She has never held his condition against him. She loves him. Has loved him for so long… If anything, his determination and grit has made her love him more. The fact that he gets up every day and tries makes her so proud. It doesn’t matter to her that he only works part time, or that he doesn’t clean the apartment, or pay the bills. All that mattered was that he loved her and he was trying.

To get better.

To be better.

And they had been doing so good.

She is afraid for him. For what a switch could do. If it’s what they have to do, she’ll do it, but she wants it to be as smooth a transition as she can make it. So she makes sure the doctor understands where they’ve been before. She’s turning down medicines he’s been on, one’s they can’t afford, and some that just scare the shit out of her.

In her peripheral she sees Naruto’s gaze wander to the wall, resuming his tapping. He’s tuning the conversation out. She feels her throat tighten a bit because she wants him to care but she understands that some things are just up to her to handle.

This is one of them, apparently.

She listens to the doctor list additional options.

 

Chapter Text

The hard part about switching medications is coming off whatever you’re currently taking and that is never easy. No matter how much you think you’re prepared.


 

Hinata reminds him of this--doing her best to explain how the transition will work. She can see him mentally tuning her out most of the time, but she knows that it’s not his intention. It’s just boring...and Naruto doesn’t handle boring well. But, still, she tries, because it’s important.

He is important.

Eventually she realizes that if she wants him to take the proper dosage, she will have to hand it to him herself. It’s not the first time, and she would rather make sure than risk it, so every morning before work she makes sure to give him his pills.

Some days are easier than others.

Most days she gets the impression he doesn’t care one way or the other--but he will do what she wants because it makes her less tense. She has always mattered to him--she knows that--and it helps. Especially on mornings like this one.

She has two meetings first thing, so she needs to leave, but Naruto is lethargic on the couch--one leg dangling over the arm as he’s sprawled out, his tee shirt riding up his torso. She’s relatively certain it’s the same shirt he had on yesterday.

“I’ve got to go,” she tells him as she swipes her keys from the coffee table. She bends towards him, brushing her lips against his. “I’ll see you later, okay.” She traces the line of his jaw with her fingertips as she eases back.

Naruto blinks up at her and gives her a vague nod.

Hinata sighs, making her way to the door, being sure to grab her coffee. She’d barely slept last night...or the night before...or the one before that. Not that she would mention it. He didn’t need that guilt from her.

“You should get dressed today. Take a shower." She says, at the door, trying to make it sound more like a suggestion than a demand.

"Sure." He shrugs her off. She knows he says it only to make her feel better. About leaving. About him. She wants to stay--wants to offer to cook him some real food and maybe go on a walk--but she’s already missed her allotted personal days for the month and today’s meeting is one that she really can’t afford to miss.

Reluctantly, she leaves.

* * *

Her day is busy--but she likes busy--and her meetings go well. She’s praised for her hard work and under normal circumstances she’d be flattered but today she is distracted and despite being busy she still catches herself with her cell phone in hand, debating on calling to check on Naruto.

She puts it down.

No.

He can handle himself.

He can do this.

She has to believe in him.

She has to.

Because she’s not sure she can handle another episode like last time.

She loves him.

Loves him.

Loves him.

She does.

He’s made so much progress over the years. He works part-time and enjoys it. He doesn’t drink or do drugs anymore. He hasn’t self-harmed in a while. She knows in her heart that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. And sometimes that’s what scares her the most.

Naruto is an unstoppable force when he’s determined.

She just wants him to be determined to get well as opposed to self-destruct.

She shakes her head. She’s just worried.

She picks up the phone.

Puts it down again.

He can do this. He can. She tells this to herself like a mantra all day. Even still, she can’t help but be worried. Please . She silently begs whatever deity watches over lost souls. Please.

Chapter Text

Anytime Hinata has ever flown (only three times, but still) she has taken a window seat. There’s something breathtaking about being so high above it all, where everything seems so small and troubles are miniscule and you’re flying .

She wonders if that’s how Naruto feels, sometimes.


 

He’s not eating.

Well, he’s not eating anything nutritious, at any rate.

Pressing her lips together, Hinata pours coffee into her thermos and tries to ignore the dirty cereal bowls in the sink. Part of her wants to say something.

She doesn’t.

She ignores the faint alarms ringing in her head. She opts instead for unobtrusive observation.

She can tell he’s getting irritated with her, but she stays quiet, because he is at least attempting to do what he’s supposed to, if the work out clothes in the bathroom are any indication.

For days, she keeps her silence, simply watching him...urging him with gentle nudges and quiet questions.

She tells herself that it’s because she wants him to succeed without her interference.

That’s a lie.

She knows why she doesn’t say anything--really.

Because she’s a coward.

Because if she presses too hard he may become resentful, or worse. She knows better than anyone what happens when Naruto is pressed too hard and too fast and she can’t watch that again.

She doesn’t speak because she’s selfish.

Because she’s scared of the fallout.

Because...honestly, what’s there to say?

So she says nothing and checks his dishes and his laundry and his pills and tries to keep a smile on her face whenever she looks at him. If she sometimes wants to just scream her head off in the shower before work and can’t sleep at night--that’s her business.

He has enough to deal with.

 * * *

It’s not too terrible a transition so far, she mentally pep talks herself. They’ve been through worse.

He loves her.

She loves him.

That’s what matters.

She leaves the apartment for work with Naruto by the door--in clean clothes--and a lingering kiss.

They can do this.

When she comes home a little after six the place is spotless.

The alarm bells in her head start clanging so loud she can’t hear anything else for a full minute. She’s sure Naruto is saying something, but all she can manage is, “You did a lot today.”

He grins at her and her heart thunders in her chest.

She loves that smile.

Her smile.

He looks so damn pleased with himself. “Yeah,” he nods. “I guess I did, huh?”

The alarm bells are constant. She tilts her head away from him. “Are you..uhm, are you feeling okay?”

He looks so confused by her question.

He doesn’t answer. Instead he steps to her, tugging her into the shelter of his arms.

Her favorite place in all the world.

When he kisses her she kisses him back with everything she is and the alarms fall silent because when she is here with him, like this, there is only ever them . Nothing else.

She knows it’s temporary.

Eventually the real world always intrudes.

But for now--this minute--this moment--she wants to fly.

She follows when he tugs her towards the bedroom, her blood simmering beneath her skin. Every touch feels intentional. Every bit of her skin is explored.

He makes love to her with the same thoroughness in which he cleaned their apartment.

It’s intense.

It’s consuming.

It’s the best sex of her life.

It makes her want to cry.

The alarms are ringing again.







Chapter Text

There’s an old expression about horses and water that clamors around in Hinata’s head lately, almost on repeat. It’s a silly little saying...one that she has tried to ignore, because clearly the horse would drink when it was thirsty enough...

The pills on the coffee table tell her otherwise.


She doesn’t want to nag him.

She doesn’t want to  make him feel anything other than capable.

She wants him to know she has faith in him. That she believes in him.

Always.

Some days that’s harder than it sounds.

Days like today when she finds yesterday’s medication on the coffee table, and today’s as well.

“Naruto, you haven’t touched your dinner.” She reaches across the small table to nudge his fork. It’s not a big meal--she had a late evening at the office, and only had time to cook something fairly light, but it’s better than the Doritos and Cap’n Crunch diet he insists on when she’s gone.

He leans back in his chair--so far that the front legs come up and he rocks a bit. “Not hungry.” He scratches at his arm with one hand while he rocks, his unfocused gaze turned up to the ceiling. “Bored,” he mutters.

Abruptly, Naruto grabs her dinner and his from the table and empties them both in the trash--plates and all. He turns back to her, his gaze expectant.

She stares at him dumbly for a moment, before saying, “I wasn’t finished.”

“We can grab something at the theatre.” He’s already at the door.

“The theatre?” Hinata pushes away from the table, feeling every motion like she weighs a thousand pounds. She resists the urge to rub at her temples. “Naruto--what--?”

“C’mon, Hina. We never do anything fun. Let’s go.”

“Naruto...you’re not even dressed,” she reminds him.

He shrugs before he shifts, blinking down at his bare feet and sweatpants. “I can grab a shirt,” he counters, fingertips scratching at his chest.

She can feel the thrum of his energy under his skin when she reaches for him, her fingers curling gently around his wrist to lead him away from the door. “Why don’t we save that for this weekend, okay? You still need to eat, and I have to work early--”

He lets out a frustrated sound, jerking  his hands away from hers. “Fuck it. Fine.” He turns to look at her, and his expression is unreadable. “You never want to do anything.”

That’s not true, she thinks, but doesn’t argue.

His expression clouds over and she can practically see the wheels turning in his head--she can feel his frustration. It prompts her into ‘comfort’ mode.

“We’ll do something this weekend,” she promises, making her way towards him. She reaches up, tips his chin down towards her, so he can look into her eyes. She loves him. She knows he can see that.  “Okay?”

He deflates a bit, but nods. “Yeah, okay.”

She pushes onto her tiptoes and kisses him--soft and slow. “I’m going to shower. Please eat something.”

His arm snakes around her waist. “I’d rather shower with you.”

It’s inviting--it really is--but she really just needs a good cry and the shower is the only place she can where he can’t see or hear, so she shakes her head and gently detangles herself from his embrace. “What you need is food.” She glances at the coffee table. “Looks like you forgot your pills again. Take them, okay.”

He mumbles something under his breath and she can only hope it’s an affirmative.


* * *

The next few days are a trial on her patience and her sanity.

Naruto practically vibrates with repressed... everything .

Hinata herself feels like she’s coiled too tight. She can feel the tension between them twisting and tightening, and she knows-- knows --the snap is coming, but she tries to convince herself that she can handle this. She’s handled it for years now, right?

She loves him.

That’s enough.

Except...it doesn’t feel like enough lately.

He’s awake--in the living room--doing whatever it is that he does when he can’t stay still and she lays awake, staring at the bedroom walls, trying to figure out the bills, and the schedules, and his meals, and how to get him to take his medication without crushing it and force feeding him...and she is ashamed of her own weakness and thoughts, but there’s no help for it.

Naruto is the light of her life.

She knows that in and of itself is problematic, but it doesn’t change the truth.

She also knows that in the end, it’s not up to her to save him.

That’s something he has to do on his own.

She just doesn’t want to watch him burn out and she wants to give him every opportunity to succeed. So she reminds him: Eat your food. Take a shower. Go to the gym. Don’t forget to leave for work on time. Take your medicine...

"Stop telling me what I need to do all the fucking time! "

Hinata freezes, his pill bottle clutched between her palms. He stares back at her--his eyes wide and slightly frantic. He reminds her of a caged animal. And the way he’s looking at her...like he hates her.

He growls something under his breath just before he punches a hole in the wall.

She can’t help but wonder if he wishes he’d hit her instead.

She blinks, turning away from him. She’s about to cry and she makes it a habit to not cry in front of him. "I have to go to work." She finally gets out, still not looking at him. If she looks, she will break. And she can’t be broken and help him, too. So she won’t. "Please take your medication."

She leaves him standing in the bedroom.

In the kitchen she pulls out the ice tray and sets it on the counter. In case he needs it for his knuckles.

He can hate her all he wants.

She’ll still try to help him.

Even if it hurts.

It hurts so much.

Chapter Text


Guilt isn't always rational.

Shame even less so.

Knowing this doesn’t stop either one from consuming her thoughts throughout the day.


 

She can’t focus at work.

In her mind’s eye all she can see is Naruto’s angry expression and hear the frustration in his voice. He’s frayed and spiraling and she is trying to hold the pieces together.

She feels bad leaving him alone, but she knows that she is not what he needs right now.

Actually, she has no idea what he needs right now and that scares her.

She just wants him to be safe.

To be happy.

To be Naruto.

She also needs a paycheck. Rent doesn’t pay itself, nor does Naruto’s medication.

So she tries to shut out the drama and focus.

It works for all of ten minutes before she sees his blue (so blue) eyes flash across her mind. He looked so betrayed--like she was actively trying to hurt him. Some part of her knew that she was hurting him--unintentional or not--and it made her chest ache. The alternative was to let him hurt himself, though, and she just couldn’t let that happen.

She’d be his scapegoat.

He could get pissed at her.

He could yell.

Curse.

Hit.

She could take it.

* * *

She's supposed to be typing up a report, but her mind circles back to the same thoughts over and over...

Maybe if she was more...she didn’t know...just more then maybe he would...he wouldn’t…

She didn’t know.

Something.

Anything.

Why couldn’t she just fix this for him?

Why can’t she make it right?

Her thoughts are splintered and incomplete.

She can’t focus.

Her bracelet slides between her fingers.

She wonders if this is a glimpse of what it’s like to be Naruto, but then shakes it off. She knows that for him it’s much worse.

“Hinata.” There’s a knock on her door. “We’re starting.”

She's not even close to prepared. She'll just have to fake it. “Oh, uhm, yes. I’ll be right there. Just...one sec.” She clears her throat. Her voice sounds strained, even to her own ears.

“Hey, are you okay?”

Hinata forces false cheer into her voice. “Of course.”

It’s a lie.

It’s been a lie for awhile now.

She doesn’t dwell on it.

She grabs her laptop and gets to work.

 

* * *

 

She opts to do the grocery shopping herself.

She’s not quite ready to face Naruto yet. She needs to settle herself and prepare herself.

She performs a sort of mental roundup as she picks up produce--shoving her own insecurities and hurts and issues into a corner.

Near the meats, she tidies up her anger and frustration.

Picking up some bread, she tucks away her sadness.

In the end if that leaves her a bit distant and closed off, she can’t help it. It’s how she will cope, and how she will be able to do what needs to be done.

What’s important is Naruto.

She can handle this.

If she’s lying to herself again, she ignores it.

 

* * *

 

He’s waiting for her at the door when she gets home--practically bouncing. His eyes flick to the bags she carries and part of her feels the heavy weight of guilt again. Grocery shopping wasn’t the most exciting thing, but it was kind of their thing. Something they did together.

When he speaks his voice is too fast and sharp and she knows she unintentionally hurt him-- again . "Welcome home. I missed you a whole lot. How was work? What did you do today? A lot of meetings?"

She hasn't quite made it inside yet. She's standing awkwardly at in the doorway, bags in her arms because she can’t get past him. He fills the entry with his body and his energy. His blond hair is tousled, his eyes glittering--alive and flickering from her eyes to her lips back to her eyes.

"It was good." She purposefully keeps her tone even as she carefully navigates around him. She had thought herself ready to face him, but seeing him like this...it just reminds her of how she’s failing him. Of how he’s so damn stubborn.

And it hurts.

She doesn’t want it to hurt. She knows he’s not trying to hurt her anymore than she’s trying to hurt him...but the hurt is the same. Intentional or not.

And the hurt pricks her anger.

She swallows it back.

He takes one of the bags from her arms, peeking in to briefly examine what she purchased.

"So I was thinking. Y'know, 'cause I love you like, a whole lot. That, maybe, I wanna get a tattoo. Like, for you. Like, maybe, your name or-"

The groceries she’s carrying slam on the counter. Maybe she didn’t swallow it far enough. "Don't get another tattoo."

He stops. "What? Why?"

"You know why." She looks at him pointedly.

He looks unexpectedly dejected and vulnerable. "But, it's different this time. I want to do it for you."

She’s never held anything he’s done against him before, and she feels like an ass doing it now. She takes a steadying breath. "You don't need to. I know you love me."

He nods, almost unconsciously.

He does love her.

She’s never doubted that.

He’s never given her a reason to.

She turns from the groceries and wraps her arms around his waist, tucking herself tight to his chest and giving a squeeze. His arms come up automatically and she feels the deep breath of relief he exhales.

Closing her eyes, she nuzzles her nose closer. She knows he needs to hear that she doesn’t blame him."I know you didn't mean to do it this morning.” She reassures him, but  pauses and licks her lips. He needs to hear this, too. “It's because you're not taking your medication. It will get better if you just take it."

Please.

He hums a sound and she tightens her hold.

Please.

Chapter Text

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”



Hinata stares at the motivational saying coupled with a picture of an eagle soaring as she sits in the waiting area outside of her department head’s office. Every place she’s ever worked at has had something similar, so she doesn’t understand why this one bothers her, but it does.

She reads it twice and feels her lips pinch together before she looks away from it towards the secretary that is on the phone. The older woman smiles at her and waves her forward.

“Mr. Otsutsuki will see you now.”

Hinata pushes to her feet and tries to ignore the way her fingers shake as she tucks loose hair behind her ears. She's not really nervous about the meeting. She likes her boss. She knows that whatever this is it won't be any formal reprimand. There are forms and procedures for that. She's just shaky a lot of the time now. 

If anything this will be a ‘check in’.

They are fairly routine in her department.

She also knows that her work has been... less ...than she is capable of. Among other things.

Her suits are rumpled.

Her complexion is pale.

She’s distracted.

She can only imagine the dark circles under her eyes.

She can’t remember the last time she’s slept for more than a couple of hours.

Taking a deep breath she digs out her leather portfolio and laptop and makes her way into the office.

Toneri Otsutsuki stands from behind his desk when she enters and offers a soft smile as he gestures towards the seat across from him. “Hinata, come in. Please, have a seat.” He’s not much older than she is, but his family started the business so the corporate ladder was pretty short for him.

Even so, she’s found him to be nothing but a fair boss. Hands on with his employees and their projects, willing to share in both success and failure. It's one of the reasons she likes him and his husband.

“Thank you.” She settles herself in the chair, at the edge, her back ramrod straight and tense.

He sits as well, tilting his head at her, his expression quizzical. She exhales and tries to affect a casual expression, but the fact is, even seated before her boss, with her job in review, her mind is not here. Her thoughts are on Naruto.

She left him a couple of spinach wraps in the fridge for lunch and even some Top Ramen so he could eat before he went to the gym and then again before work. Teuchi had called and offered Naruto an extra 3 hours today so he wouldn’t be home when she got home.

She hopes he ate them.

She hopes he did his excercises.

She hopes he took his medicine.

She... hopes .

“Are you well, Hinata?”

The question startles her out of her thoughts and she takes longer to answer than is probably normal. “I am, yes,” she confirms.

“Hm.” Toneri nods, opening  the folder in front of him. She catches a peek at her most recent proposal. It was all over the place. Definitely not her best work.

Her fingers worry the bracelet around her wrist. “Mr. Otsutsuki--” she begins.

“Hinata.” He interupts her as he flips through some additional pages. “I’m not about to evaluate you on one project. I know what you’re capable of.” He gestures to the documents. “How long have you worked for me?”

“Just over two years, sir.”

He nods at her response. “And in that time you’ve shown yourself to be dependable, committed, and capable. Your performance is not under review.”

Hinata blinks. “Then...why am I here?”

He clarifies, only marginally. “You’ve missed a lot of work recently.”

“Yes.”

“But you are well, you say.”

“Oh.” She realizes the neat trap she landed in. She sighs herself. She’s never been one to lie (to anyone other than herself) and she sees no reason to start now. “I’m not sick, if that’s the question.”

“It wasn’t.” He smiles a bit, and it holds humor and a bit of sympathy. It’s no secret that she’s tried a few times to get Naruto on her health insurance. He doesn’t press, however, and she breathes a bit easier.

“That’s not the reason I called you here, either.”

Hinata can’t help her confusion. “If not for review, or for attendance, then…?”

He pulls out a new folder. “You and I both know that we have a rather substantial contract that could potentially belong to this department. I want that contract. To get it, I’m going to need my whole team at their best.”

She swallows. She hasn’t been at her best in awhile. “Yes, sir.”

“I want you as Lead on the development team. Come up with the proposal.”

Hinata’s fingers tighten around her bracelet. Lead is a promotion. It's more money, and they do need the money. But it's also a lot of responsibility. It requires long hours. Full work days--with full work loads. It’s a goal she’s had for awhile, actually...but the timing…

She presses her lips together, ignoring the way her chest tightens up. “I’m flattered--”

“It’s not flattery.”

“Even so.” She takes a breath. She wants to accept. She really wants it. She’s dreamed of the opportunity...but... “I don’t think I’m the right person for this. At least, not right now.”

Toneri settles back in his chair. He doesn’t ask her to reconsider. Doesn’t try to sweeten the deal. She’s worked for him long enough to know that an offer is made only once.

If he’s disappointed, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he asks, “If not you, then who.”

“Shino.” Her answer is immediate. He has worked unnoticed for a long time. If she couldn’t have the position...well, he should.

“Aburame, huh.” Toneri nods, considering. He makes a note on a piece of paper. “I’d still like you to be on the team.” He glances at her.

“Of course.”

Just not Lead.

Because she gave it away.

She pushes away the brief flare of resentment in her gut. It’s not about what she wants.

It’s about what Naruto needs.

Chapter Text

She’s tired.

All of the time.

Every moment of every day.

It’s the kind of tired that sleep won’t take care of.

She pretends otherwise.



The water has long gone cold but Hinata can’t seem to find it in herself to turn it off. She stands under the cool spray, with her forehead pressed against the tiles, watching the water swirl between her toes and circle down the drain.

She kind of feels like that right now.

Like she’s circling the drain.

She hasn’t felt like this in a long time.

She hears the front door and Naruto’s voice calling her name. He’s home from another (slightly longer) shift delivering pizzas. She just got home a short while before. Even if she’s not Lead, the project is important and she wants it to go well.

So she works.

And then she comes home and takes care of Naruto.

She cleans up the discarded bags and cartons of snacks, the leftover ramen cups on the counter, and packs up the dirty laundry in the bathroom to wash on her lunch hour. She makes the bed (he hates making it-- “ What’s the point, we’re just going to mess it up again?” ) and sweeps the floors. She checks his medicines after she starts dinner--counting pills. Some are missing, but she’s not sure if he’s taken them, lost them, or flushed them.

She could ask.

Except she’s afraid of the answer.

At night, she tries to sleep.

Even when she manages to it’s like her worry can’t shut off and every sound and shift and change bring her to semi-consciousness and alertness, so it’s never rest . It’s just...what it is.

“Hina?” Naruto calls again. He bangs on the door. “You drowning in there?”

Yes.

* * *


Naruto is pumped about his extra hours--small though they are--and he chatters animatedly about his customers--good tippers and tightwads--and anything he’s seen that catches his eye.

His eyes are always going, so the list is sometimes long, but he looks happy and she loves the sound of his voice and he kisses her like she’s his air and she loves him so damn much and she thinks...okay.

Okay.

We’re going to be fine.

We’re going to get through this.

Which, of course, is exactly when shit hits the proverbial fan.

* * *

 

"I wanna start kickboxing. Don't you think that'd be super dope. I saw a flyer for a gym a couple blocks away while I was delivering. Wouldn't that be sick?"

For a moment Hinata isn’t sure if it’s actually Naruto talking or the remnants of a restless dream, but she can feel the bed sort-of bouncing beneath her and it rouses her. She glances at the bedside table and the angry red numbers of her alarm clock. God, she’s tired. "It's three in the morning,” she tells him.

He ignores that fact, and continues. Too fast. Too loud. "Do you think we can afford it? I could get another job so I can do it. If you don't wanna pay for it that's okay. I'll figure it out. Then we can go to those midnight movies and you don't have to be so worried walking home because I could just like kick the fuck out of them. Wouldn't that be awesome?"

Even if she wanted to answer she couldn’t. He’s vibrating with energy and excitement and it’s overwhelming. Even in her half-groggy state she can see his eyes and they are alive like he’s high, and he’s only getting higher. He’s skyrocketing towards a place where she can’t hope to reach him.

He’s been climbing for awhile now, and he’s not going to stop.

Not on his own.

She covers her eyes, using the pressure of her fingertips to staunch the tears forming there. The tightness in her own chest makes it hard to breathe, but she forces a deep inhale between her teeth before sitting up and pushing the blankets off.

He wraps an arm around her waist when she does and pulls her back against his chest, to kiss down her neck. She closes her eyes. She wants to lean back, into his touch. She wants to enjoy his warm breath against her pulse. She wants to let that hand around her middle wander higher.

She doesn’t.

Instead she grabs his wrist in her own hand, halting his progress. She’s smaller than him (by a lot) but she swings his arm away easily. She shoves to her feet. It’s harder than it should be. That blanket of guilt she’s been wearing for so long suddenly feels so much heavier.

"Where are you going?"

"I need to call your doctor."

She can almost hear his eye roll behind her.

In the living room she cradles her cell phone to her ear and fights to keep her voice steady. His doctor answers on the fourth ring, groggy and slightly irritated. Hinata doesn’t feel much sympathy. She had told her that she was afraid this would happen with the switch. "Dr. Senju? Hi, yes this is Hinata Hyuuga. I'm Naruto Uzumaki's girlfriend.”

When she speaks again, his doctor sounds more awake but not particularly less irritated. “Oh. I see. Is everything all right? Is something wrong?”

“Yes, no he's not okay. He hasn't been taking his medication and I think he's having an episode." Hinata starts explaining his behavior, trying to remain as clinical and unemotional as she can. It’s hard, because she wants to demand, to cry, to yell. She wants Naruto to be better and that won’t happen if she’s a wreck. So she does her best to focus only on the facts. She lists them off: Erratic behavior. Anger. Irritability. Hyperactivity. Impulsivity. Recklessness.

“Yes, that definitely sounds like the Mania kicking in. How long?”

“Like this?” Hinata’s brows pinch guiltily. “A while. I don’t...I don’t think he ever started his new medication.”

“Let’s just get him somewhere safe for tonight and I’ll take a look at him in the morning, okay.”

“Yeah.” Hinata nods, even if the doctor can’t see her. “Yes, okay.” She hangs up. She grabs a duffle from the closet and starts packing. There’s some items already in it (just in case) so it doesn’t take long to get an overnight bag ready.

She grabs some yoga pants and one of Naruto’s sweatshirts from the laundry basket still beside the couch and slips on her tennis shoes. She’s a mismatched mess, but fashion is not foremost on her mind.

Naruto’s on the floor, on his back, staring at the ceiling when she comes back in.

“I don’t want to go.”

His voice tears at her heart.

“It’s okay.” She keeps her tone soothing. Sincere.

"But I don't want to go,” he insists.

"Naruto, this is the most dangerous time for you. You need to go. Please get up.” She shifts her weight, holding out one hand. "Baby, I need you to go." She tells him. If he won’t go for himself maybe he’ll go for her. "Maybe the coffee shop will be open, in the lobby. We can get you one of those coffee cakes." She’ll bribe him. Beg him.

"I'm sorry, I just don't wanna go. Hina, please. I'm sorry I woke you up. I'm sorry about the wall. I promise to listen-"

"I'm not punishing you." It’s hard for her to talk. Her throat is tight and her chest aches. "I'm doing this for you. You need to go." She adds, quietly, “for me.”

He does.

Not without some effort, but he’s not fighting her--at least not physically. He could easily. The fact that he doesn’t tells her that maybe he sees that he needs this too.

She hopes he sees it.

She keeps her hand on his arm the entire way to the car. She opens his door for him and waits, watching him buckle. She shuts the door softly. Her nerves are fried but she absolutely does not want him to think she is mad.

She’s not mad.

She’s terrified.

She hates the idea of him in the hospital more than he does.

Images of pale skin, and monitors, and a life nearly gone flash in her memory and she has to force it back and focus on now . Because now mattered.

Now wasn’t too late.

She would never be “too late” for him again.

He watches from the passenger side as she loads his bags in the back. She gets in the driver's seat and insists on holding his hand. It’s partly for her own comfort and partly because he can be really unpredictable when he’s like this.

They’re nearly at the hospital when he squeezes her fingers. "Hinata please don't make me go. Please don't leave me there. Please. Please I promise. I'll take my meds. I'll go to the gym. I - I - I don't need to do kickboxing. I'm sorry about yelling at you - and, and, and I'm so sorry for punching the wall. That was fucked up. I'm so sorry, don't make me go."

Oh, God. She returns his squeeze, fighting the tears that turn the streetlights into starbursts. "I'm not mad at you." Her voice cracks. This is so hard. "You need to go."

He’s quiet when they pull into the parking lot but his grip on her tightens to the point of near pain.

She checks him in at emergency and they promise to transfer him from there.

She watches him from the corner of her eye as she fills out his information. He’s playing with the hospital band around his wrist like she does with her bracelet. He looks at her and he looks betrayed and hurt and lost, but mostly he looks scared.

He doesn't want to be there. Clearly.

She doesn’t want to leave him. Ever.

But she’s starting to learn the difference between want and need .

"Hinata, please." He's still begging. Still trying to find a way out. Still looking at her to rescue him.

She’s trying to.

"You'll be fine."

He shakes his head. "No, I won't."

"I'll be back after work, to come see you.”

He looks like he wants to argue still, but a nurse comes to grab his paperwork. "We're ready to take you back.” She tells him with a gentle smile. She glances at Hinata “We’ll take good care of him.”

Hinata nods.

She hopes they take better care of them than she has been.

She feels like she’s failed him.

Naruto struggles a bit, turning away from the other nurse (male, larger) to say over his shoulder--near frantic: "Hey, hey, hey, make sure my girlfriend is on my chart. Make sure, cause we're not married, sometimes they don't let her back to visit. Please, make sure she's on the chart."

It only happened once, but it was enough to make it a not so secret fear of his that they’d be separated and she’d not be allowed to get to him.

The nurse nods, trying to lead him away.

"Hinata. Hinata! Make sure you're on the chart, okay? Hina, make sure you come back."

She nods because her voice won’t work--can’t work past the clog in her throat--the choking grief she’s feeling. She gives him a little wave as the security doors close.

She makes it all the way back to the car before she starts sobbing. She presses her face into her hands and cries and cries.

Chapter Text

“The sky takes on shades of orange during sunrise and sunset, the color that gives hope that the sun will rise again.”



It’s for the best.

This is the mantra set on repeat, pounding in her skull.

It’s for the best.

It’s for the best.

He needs this.

That much is true.

Whether or not any of this is best is a laughable, ridiculous idea.

And she’s a mess.

In every sense of the word.

Forty minutes into her work day, one of the nice mailroom ladies informed her that her shirt was inside out….and buttoned wrong.

She spent the next ten minutes in the bathroom splashing water on her face and trying (trying) to sort herself. Easier said than done when her mind was a whirlwind of distracted thoughts and worries.

Part of her still felt guilty for leaving Naruto at the hospital, but she knew the routine. They’d take him away from her for evaluation. Questioning whether or not he was a danger to himself, her or others, and on the flipside if he felt she was a danger to him.

So here she is.

At work. Staring at her bleary-eyed reflection and trying to keep her composure even as she feels like the world is tilting dangerously beneath her feet.

But not here.

Not really.

Her thoughts are with Naruto.

They always are.

She can’t recall a time in recent memory when he wasn’t first and foremost in her mind.

In every decision she makes.

In every choice.

He comes first.

* * *

 

She gets the call just before a team meeting. It’s a courtesy call, really. They don’t have to call her, but they do.

Naruto has checked himself out of the hospital.

Against advice. But they didn’t feel he was an immediate danger to himself or anyone else, so there wasn’t much they could do to hold him.

The rest of the team is filing into the conference room.

She knows she’s letting them down, but she slips back into her office and quietly closes the door--immediately dialing Naruto.

He answers on the second ring. “Hey.”

He sounds far too calm and chill--considering.

“Naruto, what are you doing?” She tries to keep her voice low. Every syllable feels like it’s pushed between clenched teeth.

“It’s okay, I’m fine,” he promises in that same unconcerned voice.

He sounds so...normal. She has no idea why that makes her feel so ill at ease, but it does. “You need to go back. Right now.” Hinata pleads with him.

She can hear the faint rumble of traffic in the background. “It wasn’t working out. But it’s not a big deal, I’m just going to go to Sasuke’s until you get home.”

Hinata resists the urge to slam her face into her desk. Sasuke’s is the last place she wants him to be.

Ever.

“That is the worst thing that you could possibly do.” She tries to keep the near frantic agitation from her voice, but fails miserably. In fact, she can see a few glances her way through her blinds.

“I’ll come home as soon as you get off work.”

She sees her team in the conference room. Shino is looking around--probably for her.

“Hina?”

She feels a bit like she’s unraveling.

Her team was relying on her.

Naruto was relying on her.

She just--“I can’t...I can’t do this right now. I have a meeting. I’ll call you after. Please. Naruto, listen to me. Please be careful. You are not okay right now.”

“I will. I will. I promise.” He hangs up before she can. Before she can convince him to go back.

She stares at the phone in her hand until someone knocks on her door.

 

Chapter Text

One time, in college, Hinata’s  favorite and most admired instructor, Professor Yuhi, quoted Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to her.

“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

Naruto matters.

Everything else is...everything else.

Hinata’s pretty sure that’s not exactly the message Professor Yuhi was trying to convey...but it’s the one that stuck.



Hinata doesn’t even make it through half of the meeting before she excuses herself and goes back to her office to try Naruto’s cell phone.

He doesn’t answer.

She frowns, pacing her office floor.

She tries again.

And again.

Between call number four and five (or six...she’s not counting) her phone rings.

It’s Naruto’s doctor.

She has questions.

Hinata doesn’t have any answers.

None at all.

She hangs up.

Tries Naruto again.

 

* * *

 

Eventually, she gives up all pretense of being productive and leaves work.

She contemplates driving to Sasuke’s, but she doesn’t.

There's a tiny voice in the back of her head that calls her a coward.

That’s probably true.

She hasn’t seen Sasuke in years, and she can go the rest of her life without seeing him and be just fine with it.

She doesn’t blame him entirely for what happened, but she knows his role in it all.

She hates the idea of Naruto with him, but there are things she can control and things she can’t. Naruto’s misplaced loyalty where Sasuke is concerned is firmly in the latter category.

With no real idea of what to do or where to go, she heads home to wait for Naruto.

 

Chapter Text

Sometimes we create our own heartbreaks through expectations.



Naruto is laying on the couch when Hinata pushes into their apartment.

“Oh my god, you scared me.” She gasps when he sits up--the relief making her knees weak.

“I’m sorry.” He doesn’t look at her, and her already frayed nerves fray further. She tries to ignore them. She’s just tense. It’s been a hell of a day...week...year?

“I’ve been calling you.” She says.

Naruto shifts on his feet. “I left my phone at Sasuke’s.”

“Why?” She’s struggling with her shoes. Her fingers feel numb. Her entire body feels leaden with a sense of impending dread.

“I left in a hurry.” He’s dancing around the subject.

She looks at him, seeing his red cheeks--the flush on his skin that’s not quite natural. “Have… have you been drinking?” The question is barely above a whisper because she doesn’t want to ask it.

“Just a little.”

She stares at him, because seriously?! She inhales and exhales with purposeful effort. Of all the dangerous and stupid...at Sasuke’s no less. She swallows back her anger, because he’s home and at least here she can talk to him and they can figure this out.

She flicks her gaze to his and feels a small stab of anxiety when he looks away.

Something happened.

She doesn’t know what.

But something happened that he doesn’t want to tell her.

Did he take some of Sasuke’s pills?

Get in a fight?

She considers what the likely scenarios are and walks away from him into the kitchen. She thinks better when she’s doing something.

She needs to be doing something.

Because she feels like there’s an axe over her neck.

And for the first time in her life, she feels like it’s Naruto swinging it.

Naruto--no matter his condition, or their struggles--has never hurt her directly. His actions hurt her. The things he does to himself hurt her. But do something that would hurt her? No. Naruto wouldn’t…

And yet the hairs on her neck are on end and she can’t really focus on the food she’s making.

His voice, when he speaks, is rough. “There was a girl there. At Sasuke’s.”

She goes still. There’s usually a girl at Sasuke’s. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual is Naruto needing her to know that. What’s unusual is the way he won’t look at her, the flush on his face, and the way her blood goes cold at his words.

“W-w-why are you telling me that?”

She’s stuttering. She can’t even remember the last time she stuttered. In college. Before...well, before.

“I’m sorry. Hinata I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

Oh.

“Didn’t mean to what? What did you do?” She turns away from the food. It’s still cooking but she is not paying attention. All she can see is the guilt in his eyes. Her voice is shaking and her hands are wringing together. She feels sick.

Naruto steps to her and tries to grab her hand, but she recoils from him, stepping away. She wants nothing more than to allow him to pull her into his arms and to hold him and just be and forget this mess...but...she needs to know.

“I need you to tell me what you did.” She’s firm. Firmer than she thought she could be.

“We kissed.” He confesses.

She feels gutted.

Like he opened her right up.

“She kissed me. But that’s it. Hinata that’s it.”

That’s it.

He says it like he didn’t just yank the heart from her chest. Like he doesn’t know how she feels about intimacy and how kissing is as much a betrayal as sex.

We.

He said “We”.

It doesn’t matter if this girl kissed him first. His confession tells HInata that he returned it. For a moment? For longer? Did it matter?

We. Kissed.

Her Naruto with someone else.

While she was a basketcase at work.

While she was worried and frantic and disappointing her team.

He was kissing some... person ...at Sasuke’s.

For a moment, thoughts of Sakura flashes across her mind and the old sting makes her shove her way past Naruto. Towards their room.

“Hinata that’s all that happened! I promise!” He follows. Not fast enough.

The bedroom door slams in his face.

She locks it.

“Hinata.” He knocks on the door. Pleading. “Hinata!” The door bends as he hits it.

She presses her fingers to her lips and leans blindly against the wall, choking on ugly sobs that crawl into her throat from the broken cavity of her chest.

There’s a small insecure voice in the back of her mind that she hasn’t heard since childhood that reminds her that she always knew that she wasn’t good enough.

“Hinata--”

“Shut up!” The words tear out of her and she’s not sure if they are directed at him or at herself. “Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Logically, she knows that this is part of his bipolar--the mania. That inhibitions are lowered and reckless behavior isn’t unusual. She’s read the books, been to the counselors, spoken with the doctors. It doesn’t change a damn thing.

He hurt her.

She shuffles around the room aimlessly--not knowing what to do--until she just gives up and curls into a ball in the center of their bed and muffles a scream into the blankets.

She lays there for a long time.

Until her eyes ache with scratchy dryness and her throat is raw.

She feels drained. But the anger isn’t gone. She wants to hurt him back. She wants to.

And because of that she knows she needs to get away.

She needs to breathe.

She is suffocating under the guilt and her shame and his shame and his needs and she can’t think and she can’t sleep and she can’t--she can’t--

She just can’t.

Not right now.

* * *

It’s quiet when she opens the door.

She heads into their small bathroom, collecting her essentials. There’s not many. Deodorant, some perfume, her toothbrush.

Naruto, who apparently fell asleep, rouses himself enough to call out to her. “Hinata… are you taking me back to the hospital?”

“No.”

He’s confused. “What?”

“No. Clearly, you won’t stay there. Besides, you’re coherent enough to galavant to your friends place hook up with random women.” She hates the way the words taste in her mouth. Bitter and laced with venom. She presses her lips closed. She doesn’t want to say anything she can’t take back.

“Hina, I didn’t…” He shifts again, hand scratching across his chest, his eyes a bit wild. “Are you,” he licks his lips. “Are you kicking me out?”

“No.”

She hears his sharp inhale when it dawns on him what she’s doing.

“You’re leaving.” His voice is hollow. “You’re leaving me.”

She can’t look at him. She keeps her expression carefully neutral. “It’s just for a couple of days.”

“Please don’t. Please. Please don’t leave.”

Hinata’s jaw clenches and she fights not to cry.  “I’m going to stay with my sister. I need some time.”

“You can have time right here. I’ll sleep on the couch. I’ll leave you alone. I won’t bother you. Whatever you want-”

“What I want,” she overrides him, “is to go to my sisters.” She doesn’t say anything else, just finishes gathering her things.

Naruto stands statue still watching her every move.

And no matter her own pain there is still a part of her that wants to comfort him. She feels the ache in her chest blossom again and her eyes blur. She’s crying again, but she doesn’t stop.

When she has everything for a few days she opens the door. She pauses before crossing the threshold, debating with herself. She doesn’t really want to see the expression she knows will be on his face--that face she loves so much--but she also doesn’t want to leave without seeing him one more time.

He looks just as lost as she thought he would. It hurts just as much as she knew it would.

She shuts the door and locks it.

* * *

Her sister Hanabi lives a few hours away. It’s not a long drive, but even so she can’t shake the feeling of finality she gets when she takes the corner and heads out of the city.

She wonders briefly how Hanabi will react to her showing up in the middle of the night--eyes red and heartbroken--but she knows her sister. She will open her door and offer her a drink, and a shoulder, and call Naruto all kinds of names.

Hanabi is made of sterner stuff than Hinata.

Hinata has always been called soft.

Her whole life.

Soft.

She doesn’t feel soft now.

She feels like glass.

Cold.

Hard.

Easily shattered.

She ignores the voice in the back of her head that whispers, “I told you so”, and just drives.

 

Chapter Text

Happiness is like a garden. It must be tended and nurtured in order to grow.


 

When she gets to Hanabi’s she cries herself sick.

Hanabi sits on the edge of the tub while Hinata pukes her heart (or what’s left of it) into the toilet.

After, Hanabi hugs her and brushes her bangs back and promises, “It’s going to be okay.”

Hinata wants to believe her.

Even if she can’t really remember what ‘okay’ feels like anymore.

In the morning she calls into work. She won’t be in.

Then she calls Teuchi. Just in case. Tells him that Naruto’s sick.

Hanabi makes some calls too, and just past ten there’s a knock on her door and Ino Yamanaka stands on the other side with ice cream, a box of tissues, and a look of righteous retribution on her face.

Hanabi shrugs at Hinata’s questioning look. “I figured you wouldn’t listen to me--being baby sister and all. So…” she gestures to Ino.

Ino interrogates her.

Well, Ino would call it ‘chatting’, but Hinata knows better.

Ino’s amazingly perceptive as well, so it doesn’t take her long to fill in all the pieces Hinata leaves out, but she doesn’t judge. She’s never judged Hinata.

It’s one of the reasons their friendship survived through the years.

They eat ice cream.

Hinata cries some more.

Naruto calls her.

She doesn’t answer but she listens to the message he leaves. Just to hear his voice.

Ino stays.

Hanabi has more than enough room.

They watch Hinata like she watches Naruto. It’s not the most pleasant feeling, she realizes. But she understands.

She does.

* * *

Her pants are loose.

She’s lost weight.

She’s not sleeping.

She barely recognizes herself.

She sees the signs…She’s spent the better part of four years watching for them, so when Ino asks her over breakfast, “Should I call Dad?” Hinata nods her head: yes.

Her first appointment is scheduled for the very next day.

 

* * *

 

Inoichi Yamanaka has a calming presence.

He’s easy to talk to.

Even for someone as shy as Hinata.

And he had always been kind to her.

She doesn’t remember much about her mother anymore, which hurts, but she remembers Inoichi talking to her. She remembers his calm words and gentle support even as her own family seemed to grow colder and more distant from her.

She remembers sleepovers at Ino’s house and dreading going back home.

She remembers Inoichi’s hand on her shoulder, standing in front of her father, asking about the bruises.

She remembers him telling her that she was stronger than she thought she was.

She wonders if he is disappointed in her.

He isn’t.

He is proud of her.

For seeking help.

For removing herself from a toxic situation.

He advises her to make a clean break from Naruto.

That thought alone is enough to have Hinata in tears again.

“No one is saying forever,” Inoichi tells her soothingly, “but, Hinata, you need to come first for awhile. There is nothing wrong with seeing to your own needs. There is nothing wrong with seeking your own happiness.”

“But Naruto is my happiness.”

The look Inoichi gives her speaks volumes.

She is in his office with her face streaked with tears, unable to recall the last full night’s sleep she had, missing work, and worrying her lower lip between her teeth.

Happy, she is clearly not.

No decisions need to be made right that minute.

They talk for awhile more.

He prescribes her something for her nerves and to help her sleep.

She has another appointment in 3 days.

She goes back to Hanabi’s.

Ino comes too.

Neither one of them ask her anything about her visit, but she tells them anyway. About Inoichi’s suggestion for a clean break.

Ino thinks the idea has merit.

Hanabi just wants Hinata happy.

Hinata wants that too.

She’s never considered the possibility that may not include Naruto.

 

Chapter Text

“And, ya’know. I’m still really sorry. For, for everything. And… and… I really miss you. I love you.”



Things are both easier and more difficult for her without Naruto.

She commutes to work by train, so she has to leave early in the morning, but that’s okay. She uses the time on the train to go over proposals and answer emails and to drink her coffee. She gets to work prepared and ready.

Work is busier than it’s been in awhile.

The contract deadline is approaching and final pitches are being put together.

Hinata meets with Shino and Mr. Otsutsuki on a regular basis, finalizing things.

Despite not being the Team Lead, she gets a small raise.

“You’ve earned it.” Toneri tells her.

Ino and Hanabi take her out to dinner to celebrate.

Hinata wishes she could share her news with Naruto.

She misses him.

Misses his smiles.

Misses the enthusiastic way he cheers her on.

Misses how he tells his stories.

Misses the scent of him on her skin, in her bed.

Just...misses him.

But she doesn’t miss the worry. She doesn’t miss the hurried errands, cooking the meals, cleaning the apartment, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making the schedules, keeping the appointments or that frantic edginess that clung to her like a second skin.

She still worries--of course she does. She loves him. But it’s not as pervasive. It’s not every moment of every day.

She can breathe.

If only a little easier, it’s still easier.

She feels guilty that it is.

“He’s fine.” Ino says one night, glass of red in hand, and Hanabi nodding beside her.

Hinata’s fingers flutter around her bracelet. “I hope so.”

“He is.” Ino restates it with conviction. “He’s not dead or in jail.”

They know because he still calls.

“I know, but--”

“No, buts.” Hanabi cuts in, not unkindly, but slightly frustrated. “Give him some credit.”

Hinata blinks at that.

Hanabi sighs, but holds firm. “It’s just like when we were kids. You took on everything. Took all of the punishment. Took on all of the responsibilities. I know you did it because you love me. I get that. But what you really did was took away any reason for me to do it for myself. I couldn’t grow, because I didn’t need to. I was a spoiled bitch because I could be. I didn’t need to take responsibility for anything because...well, you took it all. And for a while that was cool, but eventually, it sucked. I wondered if you didn’t let me do things because you didn’t think I could handle it. If you thought I was gonna be a baby forever.”

“Hanabi, no, of course--”

“Like I said, I know you did it out of love. Doesn’t change the facts.” She shrugs. “So...be honest. With us, right now. Can Naruto make it without you?”

Hinata pauses and thinks. Really thinks. About Naruto and all that she believes him capable of.

About what she knows about him.

About what she hopes for him.

It hurts.

Her answer hurts.

But it’s the truth.

“Yes,” she says. “He can do anything.” She means it.

Ino and Hanabi smile at her gently. “Okay, then.” Ino pats her knee. “Then let’s focus on you, okay?”

And the decision is made. “Okay.”

* * *

She decides to move back into the city.

She enjoys staying with Hanabi, but it makes more sense for her to be closer to the office as well as everything she’s become familiar with.

Ino is online between one breath and the next pulling up apartment rentals that she’d bookmarked--”just in case”.

Hinata laughs a bit at that.

Most, she feels, are out of her price range, considering she has to put down security, first and last and she has still been paying for Naruto’s medicine. It’ll be there, paid and ready if he ever goes to pick it up.

Hanabi waves her off. “I’ll take care of that. You just pay your monthly.”

“I can’t take that much--”

“It was your inheritance too.”

Hinata closes her mouth. They both know she didn’t want a cent of it, but she won’t turn down Hanabi. “Only if you let me pay you back.”

Hanabi rolls her eyes. “Fine.”

 

* * *

She feels guilty and sneaky getting her things from their place.

No, wait, that’s not right.

Not their place.

Not hers anymore.

Naruto’s.

She needs to start drawing that line.

It takes less time than she imagined to clear her things out. She’s never needed much.

She takes her shoes from the entry closet and the rest of her toiletries from the bathroom. All of her clothes from the bedroom fit into a single suitcase. She pauses there and has a little cry.

She makes the bed--neat and clean--and places a kiss on his pillow.

She stops in the bathroom again on her way out. She puts a note on his pill bottle.

‘Don’t Forget’

She wants him to get better.

She wants his success more than she has ever wanted her own.

And if Hanabi is right and she is hindering rather than helping him...well, that’s all the more reason to take some space. It’s better for him.

For both of them.

She leaves her copy of the apartment key on the kitchen counter next to an empty box of Cap’n Crunch and quietly lets herself out the front door.

She sees Iruka just outside his door.

He smiles at her--warm and kind. She’s always liked him.

He sees the luggage.

“Going on a trip?” he asks her.

Hinata clears her throat. “Uh, yes, something like that.” She shifts her weight and bites her lip. “I, I was wondering…while I’m gone, if you could, you know, keep an eye out.”

“On your place?”

“On Naruto.”

Iruka tips his head. “He’s not going with you?”

“N-Not on this trip. No.” It’s not really a lie.

“Oh. Well, sure. What are neighbors for, right? If he needs anything he can just come on over, okay?”

She nods and exhales a soft, “Thanks.”

Ino is waiting for her on the street beside her car. “Ready?” she asks.

Hinata takes a deep breath. She has to be.

Chapter Text

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough. Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up.



Ino comes by more often than she used to.

She and Hinata used to meet up, maybe once or twice a month, for coffee and gossip either after work or at lunch. She visits a couple of times a week now.

At first it feels like Ino is checking on her, but that fades after a few visits.

It’s nice. To sit at her small kitchen table and talk. And laugh.

It’s nice.

Her apartment is quiet otherwise.

It’s...empty.

She still feels empty.

Without Naruto.

* * *


“It’s okay to miss him,” Ino tells her one Sunday afternoon over fresh cinnamon rolls and hot coffee.

Hinata sighs, spinning her spoon in lazy circles around her mug. “I do miss him. I love him.”

“Well, yeah. You’ve loved him forever. We all knew that.” Ino states it as fact.

Hinata’s lips twist a bit at the old memories. “He didn’t,” she whispers.

Whatever acidic retort Ino was planning on making dies on her lips when she sees Hinata’s expression. She too can remember what Naruto was like before he and Hinata got together.

Ino swallows and takes Hinata’s hand in hers. “He knows now,” she assures her.

Hinata’s not so convinced. “I...I hope so.”

She hopes he will understand, eventually.

She hopes that he knows her leaving is as much about her as it is about him. More so.

She wants to talk to him, but she’s not sure she’s ready for that.

And without being able to see him, she’s not sure if he is either.

“I texted him,” she confesses to Ino.

Ino seems unsurprised. “Yeah?”

Hinata nods. “The day before I...before I moved out. I told him to call me when he gets his phone back.”

Ino doesn’t say anything.

Hinata sighs. “He’s called, but never from his cell.”

“Does it matter?” Ino asks.

Not really, no. But Hinata doesn’t want him standing outside freezing at a payphone so that she can chat with him. So, then yes.

Ugh.

She sighs again and places her forehead against the tabletop. “I hate this,” she groans.

Ino just pats her head.

 

* * *


Hinata’s schedule returns to some semblance of normal once the proposals are submitted with the exception of her weekly drive out of town to meet with Inoichi. His practice is private and expensive, but when she brings her insurance card to the secretary's window she’s told that payment is not necessary.

She doesn’t want to feel like charity, so she brings it up.

Inoichi shrugs. “I wouldn’t charge Ino.”

“That’s different. She’s your daughter.”

His eyes go soft as he replies, “I see no difference here, then.”

She spends the better part of that session in tears. But not about Naruto.

It's kind of eye-opening to realize how many of her own issues she’s pushed aside over the years.

She doesn’t regret helping Naruto. She doesn’t.

She just never realized that by helping him she was also using him.

Unintentionally.

But still.

As a deterrent.

As a way to avoid too much introspection.

As a way to ignore her own problems.

She feels bad for that, but Inoichi tells her that while her motives were cloudy, she did everything out of love, and no one could fault her for putting someone else first.

But, he tells her, she needs to remember that she is also a person. And she has needs.

It’s not Naruto’s job to meet those.

Nor hers to meet his.

At least, not entirely.

She has to learn to address herself and her flaws. She needs to realize that she’s not being measured against anyone’s expectations but her own, and as hard as it may be, she needs to understand that it is okay to not be responsible for everyone and everything in her life.

In short--Hinata has to learn to cope with being human.

Chapter Text

Once, not long ago, during a routine visit, Dr. Senju told Naruto that recovery was about progression, not perfection.

Hinata thought it was a good frame of mind for him. She thinks it might be a good frame of mind for her now.

One day at a time, and all that.


She’s still not sleeping.

At least not very well.

It’s like her brain can’t shut off all the way, no matter how hard she tries.

Everything reminds her of Naruto.

She cooks too much food.

She hasn’t had to cook for ‘one’ in a very long time. She always has extra.

One night she makes ramen because...well, because.

She cries into the noodles and tosses it out.

She cries a lot now.

It’s part of the process, Inoichi assures her. Part of healing.

It still catches her off guard sometimes--going about her day, minding her own business, and then suddenly she wants to burst into tears.

She wonders how Naruto is doing.

She thinks about driving by his place. Just to check.

She doesn’t.

But she wants to.

* * *

She’s given some meditation exercises for her to practice as well as a new prescription.

They help.

But she still feels that aching loneliness.

Especially at night.

Alone in a bed that doesn’t curve just a bit towards his side and smells only of her perfume and fabric softener.

The mattress is too new.

Too firm.

Not broken in.

Uncomfortable.

It’s kind of how her life feels, if she’s honest.

She tells that to Inoichi during her session.

“So, break it in.” He tells her.

“Excuse me.”

“Your life. Not your bed.” He pauses. “Unless that helps.”

She blinks at him, eyes wide. Sex is not something that will help her right now. Besides she’s only ever...Naruto was her only… This was so awkward.

“It wouldn’t,” she says, whisper soft. “Sex, I mean.” So weird. Talking to her almost-parent about this.

He senses her withdrawal but doesn’t let her retreat completely. “I didn’t think it would, in your case, but you never know. In fact, when was the last time you dated?”

Hinata shifts, tugging up her sleeve so she can fiddle with her bracelet. “Uhm...You mean aside from Naruto?”

Inoichi places his notes on his lap. He stares at her for a long minute. “Did you date Naruto?”

“What? Of course.” She is confused.

“Really?” Inoichi flips through his notes. “You had a crush on him for years, but didn’t reveal anything. Not until he nearly killed himself. You took him in.”

“I didn’t have a roomate, and he needed help, and I was in love with him.” The words come out fast and a bit defensive.

He nods at her. “Mmhm. So, fill me in. When did you date?”

She frowns, thoughtfully. They didn’t.

Not really.

Sure, they went places together and did things, but that was after he was on the mend and they’d been living together for awhile. They never really had a ‘dating’ stage.

Headfirst.

That’s how she entered her relationship with Naruto.

Correction-- heartfirst.

She was usually much more tentative with people and putting herself out there. But not with him.

She can see where Inoichi is going with this, and she is immediately resistant. “I don’t want to date. I have a boyfriend.”

“Is that how you see him, still? As your boyfriend? Do you think he would agree with that assessment?”

Hinata looks away. “Maybe. I...I don’t know. We haven’t spoken.”

“Do you think that considering yourself still tied to Naruto in that way is really a clean break?”

She knows it’s not.

But…

Inoichi leans back in his chair. “Hinata, I can only listen and give you advice. What you do with that is up to you.”

“I know. I just don’t want to give up on him.”

“And you shouldn’t. From everything you’ve told me, there’s a great deal of affection between you two and he sounds like he’s been as good for you as he could have been, considering.”

Hinata is nodding. That’s all true. Naruto tried so hard.

“What you need to do for yourself, however, is get to know yourself. Really get to know yourself. What do you like? What do you dislike? What types of people do you enjoy? What is it you really want? You’ll never have those answers if you don’t put yourself out there.”

“You mean dating.”

“Maybe. Doesn’t have to be that. But I wouldn’t rule it out. I also mean, doing things for yourself. Join a club, take a trip, have a spa day. Things that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do before.” He waits until she meets his eyes. “It’s not going to be easy, Hinata. Recovery never is.”

Recovery.

It’s a word she has heard a thousand plus times over the years and one that she always associated with Naruto--with other people--someone else--not herself.

Maybe it was time she did.

Chapter Text

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.


She joins a knitting circle. A painting class. A women’s self defense course.

She drops the painting class after a week.

It’s so not her thing.

But the knitting she likes.

The self defense she needs.

She lives in a slightly safer neighborhood than before, but she’s tiny, and she has to walk across the street to her building’s dark parking garage.

After a couple of classes where they talk about the dangers of long hair she debates on cutting hers and then decides not to.

Naruto always liked her hair.

She does too.

She starts twisting it up into a bun on work days.

She tries different recipes.

She orders take-out from new places.

They’re all small things, really, but she’s actually learning about herself. She had no idea that she was so flexible, for one. She blushes a bit at the very inappropriate thought that follows that one, but she’s also amused with herself.

Turns out she’s kind of funny.

She reads new authors.

She approaches people at work that she's never spoken to.

She dreams of Naruto sometimes.

A lot of the time, actually.

She kind of wishes that she’d taken one of his shirts when she moved out.

Sometimes she’s glad that she didn’t.

Inoichi was right. (He usually is)

Recovery takes time.

She wakes up some nights and just cries, and if anyone asked her why she couldn’t really give them a specific answer. Everything. Nothing.

It’s going to take some time to figure herself out. But she’s willing to put the work in.

She has to be.

Either that, or she’s the biggest hypocrite on the planet.

* * *

Ino’s multiple weekly visits slow down due to her own schedule, but they agree to meet on Sundays for brunch near Hanabi’s where her sister can join them. Hanabi is still in college, so it’s harder for her to get away.

Hinata appreciates that she makes the effort.

She tries not to rely too much on them for her sense of accomplishment, but it still feels nice when they smile at her and tell her how proud they are.

She hopes someone is doing that for Naruto.

Chapter Text

Hinata took Public Speaking in college in an attempt to get over her near crippling shyness and help with her stutter. One of the things she learned during the course was the importance of preparation.

Words came easier if you practiced them.


 

Hinata had mentally prepared herself for when she would speak to Naruto again.

She’d rehearsed it in her head probably a hundred times.

She thought she would be ready--whenever the time came.

Her reaction to her phone ringing and a picture of Naruto flashing on her cell phone screen makes a liar of her and her practice.

Her hands shake so much she almost drops it before she can get it to her ear and squeeze out a faint, “Hello?”

“Hey, hi, Hinata. It’s me, it’s Naruto.”

His voice.

In real time and not some left over voicemail.

She closes her eyes and takes a steadying breath. “I know,” she says quietly.

There’s a pretty long pause before he comes back with, “So, um, what is… what the fuck is going on?”

“Um,” She pauses herself, glancing at her semi-open office door and knowing that this conversation deserved more time than a rushed ‘lunch’ call.  “I don’t have very long to talk. My lunch break is almost over. I can call you after work--”

He cuts her off, impatient. “No. No, I want you to tell me right now.” He pauses again. “Please.”

“I don’t know where to start,” she admits. This is really not the time, but she doesn’t want him to feel like she’s brushing him off, so she hesitates.

“How ‘bout, why did you take your stuff from our place and never answer my phone calls.” He sounds so hurt. Bitterness and heat in his voice.

She flinches.

“That’s probably a good place. To start.” He adds.

She tries not to get angry in return, but there’s a bite to her own words. “You were calling me from a payphone in the middle of the night. It’s not like I could call you back in the morning.”

“You could have answered.” He snaps.

She doesn’t want to fight. She really, really, doesn’t. “Naruto.”

“Did you at least get my messages?”

She could lie. She doesn’t.

“...I did.”

“And?” He is demanding some sort of reaction from her. She knows he’s hurting, and she knows that it’s partly her fault. She wants him to know that was not her intention. That’s why she left. But she can see people returning to their desks, office chatter is getting louder.

Lunch is almost over.

“I’m sorry. For hurting you, and making you worry.” Her throat tightens up and it’s harder to talk. She doesn’t have much time, but she needs him to know, “I thought this would be best.”

He makes a sound like a snort on the other end. “Um, for whom?”

“Both of us.”

“I’m sorry, but I think you’re doing this wrong because it’s fucking shit for me. So...”

She doesn’t want it to be shit for him. She wants him to be okay. She wants to be okay. She wants more than five rushed minutes to explain. She wants him to stop attacking her. “Naruto…”

He cuts her off. Again. “Where’s your stuff?”

Oh. We’re going there. Okay. She bites her lip. “It’s, uhm, in my new apartment.”

He exhales loudly into the mouthpiece. “Why? What’s wrong with the old apartment?”  She can hear his voice shaking. It hurts her so much to know that she’s the reason.

“It’s a clean break. It’s better for both of us.” This is what she practiced.

“How about, no? No. I don’t like that.” He sounds livid.

She can practically hear his teeth grind.

He’s furious at her.

He’s blaming her.

And before...well, she would have let him.

Before she would have blamed herself, too.

She forcibly stops that train of thinking in its tracks.

It wasn’t just her.

As hard as that is to accept. For her or for him.

Doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Doesn’t make her heart any less broken.

“I’m sorry. Naruto. I’m so sorry. Okay? I just… I can’t do this anymore.” She’s fighting tears.

“Can’t do what? What? Whatever it is, it’s fine , don’t do it anymore. Just come back.”

If only.

If only it were that easy.

But already she’s struggling to breathe.

To focus on anything other than him.

She doesn’t want to feel like this.

She sniffs and then firms her resolve. “I can’t. I can’t take care of you anymore. I can’t worry about you all day. I can’t beg you to get better anymore. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry but I can’t do it.”

“Don’t then. That’s fine. Don’t. Just come back.” His voice cracks. “All I want is for you to come back.”

She hurt him.

She can’t undo that.

She can’t take it back.

No matter what he says, she knows that this will be between them. He will hold his hurt over her.

Because she’ll let him.

She’s not ready.

“I’ve spent four years only worried about what you want and need,” she tells him as gently as she can while she feels so raw. “I can’t anymore. Okay?  I’m a person too. I can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what? What? Whatever ever it is, I can fix it. I’ll fix it. I’ll do it, just tell me.”

He doesn’t get it.

It’s not something she can explain in the next minute, so she sighs. “I have to go.”

“Hey, hey please don’t. Please-”

“I’ll call you later.”

She hangs up and breathes.

Chapter Text

Feeling like she’s responsible for everything and everyone around her is one of Hinata’s most deep rooted psychological issues.

Knowing it doesn’t change it.

At least not overnight.



She wants to check on him.

The worry has her pacing a hole in her new little area carpet.

She palms her cell phone.

She said she’d call him later, but she’s not sure that she’s ready for the conversation that needs to happen...but taking care of Naruto has been her second nature for years now, and it’s a hard instinct to shut off.

She bites her lip.

She knows she won’t sleep a wink, not if she doesn’t at least know that he’s ok.

She doesn’t have to talk to him.

Just confirmation that he hasn’t hurt himself…

She dials.

The voice that answers is rough and slightly groggy. “Yo?”

“Kiba!” Hinata exhales his name. “Hey, it’s Hinata. Uhm, I need a favor.”

“One sec.” She hears him rustle about and a female voice in the background. There’s more fabric rustling against the receiver and then she hears a door open and close. After a moment, he’s back on the line. “What’s up? You good? You safe?” He asks and immediately she can hear the edge--the protectiveness.

Kiba is one of her oldest friends, and one of the few that knew both her and Naruto from way back. Kiba had a wild side and a protective streak a mile wide. He and Naruto butted heads more times than she can count in college. She suspects that he’s partially the influence behind Naruto’s face tattoos--not that she would ever blame Kiba for that. It was Naruto’s choice and lack of impulse control.

“Yes,” she assures him. “I just...listen, this is going to sound silly, but could you order a pizza? For delivery. From Teuchi’s place?”

She hears him swear softly under his breath. “What’d he do?”

“No...it’s not like that. We...we aren’t…together.” Her breath catches in her throat.

“Aw, shit, Hinata, I didn’t know.”

“No, it’s okay. Not many people do. I just--”

“Want me to kick his ass when he gets here? Knock some sense into him?” His offer is genuine and she sniffs with amused affection. Kiba was always supportive of her feelings for Naruto, even when some people felt she was hopeless.

“I just want to make sure he’s okay,” she whispers.

Kiba grunts something in the affirmative. For as much as they fought, Hinata knows that Kiba cares about Naruto. Maybe not as much as he cares about her, but enough.

“Yeah. I can do that. You want me to call you back after?”

She sniffs again--grateful Her eyes sting. “If you don’t mind.”

“Naw, it’s no problem. I was getting hungry anyway.”

“Thank you, Kiba.”

“I’ll call you back.” He hangs up.

Forty-three minutes later her phone rings.

“Hello?”

“He looks like shit. But he’s not bleeding, black and blue, or intoxicated.”

Hinata finally sits. She cradles the phone to her ear and exhales shakily. “Okay.”

“My offer to kick his ass still stands, however.”

Hinata snorts, wiping her eyes. “I think I’ve hurt him enough.”

There’s a long pause before Kiba says, almost gently, “Pretty sure that runs both ways. You gonna be okay?”

She swallows. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow, or next week...but…”Yeah. Eventually.”

 

Chapter Text

"Hinata, don't forget to take time to replenish your soul."


 

Hinata buries herself in her work.

It’s a coping mechanism.

She knows it.

It’s not the worst one she could have.

It’s also not the best.

She talks to Inoichi about it, but he doesn’t tell her anything that she doesn’t already know.

She misses Naruto.

She thinks about him--about what he’s doing. Who he’s with. If he is taking care of himself.

She hates going home to her empty apartment.

Which forces her to do other things...which poses a different sort of challenge.

She’s been an introvert most of her life--so it’s an adjustment to go new places. To try new things.

An adjustment, but also, kind of an adventure.

One new such adventure comes from her self-defense class. One of her two instructors, a woman named Tenten, is impressed with Hinata’s progress. She tells Hinata that she can see some raw talent in her.

Talent for what exactly, Hinata doesn’t really understand. But Tenten gives her a business card for Eight Gates Gym . The tagline reads: “For Those Seeking the Power of Youth.”

On a whim, Hinata decides to go and check the place out. Immediately she is set upon by a grinning, overly energetic, man in a green leotard and a smile that is impossible not to return. He calls himself “Might Guy” and she has no idea if that’s his actual name or not.

He tells her that Tenten had told him about her--which is a complete surprise to Hinata, because what could Tenten have said? That Hinata can avoid a grab and do a takedown? So could half the class. But Guy insists that she show him some moves.

Then he asks her to do a series of stances.

Then run on the treadmill.

Then more stances.

Until finally he asks her a wide variety of questions--some more personal than she cares to share--before he has her move onto a mat where she’s to ‘center’ herself.

Hinata’s genuinely surprised by how calming the experience is--by how much the breathing and the concentration clear her head. It’s like the meditation exercises Inoichi had given her--except it’s actually effective.

“Yes! In you, I can see the power of youth ready to explode!” Guy tells her before bowing formally and requesting that she be one of his students. He tells her that he can see in her a natural penchant for Baguazhang.

She has no idea what that is.

Guy goes over the basic principles. Hinata is already shaking her head, because she’s not a fighter. The defense classes were for exactly that. She would protect herself, but only if she had to. Violence was not something she enjoyed.

Guy nods, but his grin simply widens. “As a student of Baguazhang you will first learn flexibility and proper body alignment through the basic exercises, then move on to more complex forms and internal power mechanics. Baguazhang has many forms, but each of them focuses on spiritual and mental energy. It is not about the external.”

Could you kick someone’s ass with it? Sure. But that wasn’t really the point.

It was about learning yourself.

Centering.

Finding your core.

Hinata considers it for several days.

She wants to find herself.

Which means looking in some places she’s never looked before.

She turns up at the gym the following Friday and greets Guy with one simple word. “Sensei.”

 

Chapter Text

“It’s not important to be the best. What’s important is to be better than yesterday. Be better than an hour ago. Be better than the last minute.”



For the first time in a very long time Hinata sleeps through the night.

She’s too exhausted to do otherwise.

But it’s a good kind of tired. The kind she hasn’t felt in a long time.

Might Guy is as grueling as he is inspirational.

It doesn’t hurt that she actually really likes Baguazhang. She practices her 4 step, 8 step, and 16 step circles at every opportunity. She’s unexpectedly thankful that she never bought a couch, because with just her loveseat and recliner she has room to do it at home, too.

She feels better.

She has more energy.

More focus.

And she’s good at it.

Like... really good at it.

“You flow beautifully.”

Hinata doesn’t break her circle or pause. She was used to Lee’s praise. She smiles at him and he shoves a thumbs up her way before moving on to one of the other students.

At first she thought Sensei’s assistant was flirting with her with his constant earnest praise, but once she got to know him she realized that Lee was simply like that. He encouraged everyone to do their best. His enthusiasm was infectious.

Overall, the entire mood of Eight Gates was one of positive energy...or as Sensei called it: "The power of youth!"

Whatever it was, it made her feel capable. Like she could achieve things she'd never considered before.

She hasn’t dared a spar yet, but...she’s not ruling it out either.

Which was new.

She’s always sort of let things happen to her.

Now she’s doing . Now she’s chasing goals.

She likes this part of herself.

She wishes she could share it with Naruto.

Maybe someday she will.

Just like the spar...she’s not ruling him out either.

She continues to smile and repeats her circle.

Chapter Text

set·back

/ˈsetˌbak/

noun

  1. a reversal or check in progress.


Naruto calls her sometimes.

He sounds better.

Maybe not better better. But better.

And that makes her so proud.

And...sad.

She hates that about herself.

She hates that it kind of hurts her that he’s doing okay without her.

She knew he could do it.

So why does that hurt?

She wants him to be okay.

She just...wanted him to need her too.

And that’s unfair.

And makes her feel like a shitty person.

Because, maybe she is a shitty person.

Maybe she was the reason that he never progressed.

Hanabi’s words flit about her mind like aggressive hummingbirds of self-doubt.

What if it was her fault that he regressed?

Why work for something if you have no reason to?

She never let him fail because she  was so scared of the outcome.

She didn’t allow him to grow. She smothered him.

She thinks about the sign outside of Mr.Otsutsuki’s office. “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”

She still doesn’t like it--but she gets it.

And she feels like a failure.

 

* * *

 

One night, after a pretty good week, Hinata wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with her heart trying to hammer it’s way out of her chest and unable to breathe.

It’s a panic attack.

She’s never had one before, but she’s been with Naruto when he has, so she tries to remember all of the things she used to tell him to do to calm himself.

Focus on an object.

If that doesn’t work, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

Breathe deep.

Do all of this while simultaneously feeling like everything is out of control and terrified out of her mind.

Harder than it sounds, it turns out.

It’s over fairly quickly, but the after-effects linger. Her hands are still tingling and shaking when her alarm goes off hours later. She has to get up for work.

It’s hard.

Harder than it has ever been before.

She thinks about Naruto, and how every day must have felt something like this for him, and she sits down in front of her door--keys in one hand, tote bag in the other--and just cries.

 

* * *

She tries to analyze the attack. Tries to pick out the trigger. So she can avoid it in the future.

“There usually isn’t one,” Inoichi tells her. “Panic attacks are not anxiety attacks. They often arrive without provocation and without a stressor.”

“I’ve been pretty anxious,” Hinata reminds him. If for no other reason than to feel like she has some control over it.

He nods indulgently and jots down some notes.

He’s probably scrawling: in denial she thinks, and then makes a face at her own cynicism.

Inoichi watches her.

She sighs

She knows that look too.

“I’m not...I don’t want to hurt myself.”

“I didn’t ask.”

She nods. “Yeah, but I know that comes next.”

He seems almost amused, but it’s a gentle humor. “Does it now?”

Hinata shrugs, feeling a bit brittle. “It always did with Naruto.”

“You’re not Naruto,” he reminds her.

No. She’s not.

Naruto is the radiant sun.

A force of nature.

A mountain of untapped potential.

She’s just Hinata.

And that’s never been enough.

 

Chapter Text

"The important thing is to take your time. The good things aren't going to run away from you, Hinata. They'll be there. When you're ready."


 

In a small little community center that entertains for more sixty-plus Bingo players than people her age, Hinata sits and loops strand after strand of multicolored yarn over knitting needles. There’s something calming about the mindless repetition of it.

Loop.

Cinch.

Loop.

Cinch.

Not quite as centering as her Baguazhang, but it’s nice and calming. Plus, Sensei isn’t shouting out enthusiastic encouragement for her to embrace her inner fire every few minutes. So...it’s quiet too.

She could use some quiet.

She smiles a little as Maddie--the group’s self-appointed “instructor”--peers over her shoulder and tells Hinata to: “Scoop the loop like you mean it, girl.”

“I’m scooping,” she assures her grey haired companion.

Hinata is far more comfortable with this group of older and elderly women than she has ever been with most of her own peers. She thinks that says something about her, but she’s not sure what.

It’s not that she doesn’t like people her own age. She just finds it hard to relate sometimes.

Inoichi would call her behavior “retreating”.

Hinata doesn’t necessarily disagree.

But she also really likes it, so she continues. It’s her “down time”. So...not really a retreat. More of a breather. She’s doing more now than she’s ever done before.

She is at Eight Gates five times a week. Self-defense every Tuesday. Her knitting group every other Sunday and on the off Sunday she visits Hanabi. Inoichi is now “as needed”.

She fits in her grocery shopping when she can because she doesn’t need as much as she used to and she takes time to try new restaurants with Ino. She even went to an archery event with her instructor Tenten. Sometimes, Hinata will walk around the city. In her new neighborhood.

Each day poses new challenges and new triumphs.

She’s getting better at accepting both.

She’s not getting any better at missing Naruto.

She’s not sure that will ever change.

She’s trying not to overthink things with them. He calls. They talk. But...not about anything deep. It’s all shallow conversations and idle chatter.

Part of her is grateful for that.

She’s not really ready for the heavy stuff. At least, not about herself.

But she still wants to know about him.

How he’s doing. Really .

Is he taking his medication?

Did he remember to pay his bills?

Is he eating right?

Is he happy ?

That’s the one she’s scared of the most.

Because...what if he is?

What if he’s happier without her?

Maybe he should be.

Happier, that is.

Maybe...maybe…What a terrible word. Maybe.

There was no maybe.

She wanted him happy.

Even if that meant happier without her.

He deserved that.

She should give him that chance.

To move on.

To be happy.

Even if that meant she wouldn’t be.

* * *

 

Ino has a friend. A friend that will be joining them for their evening out. At an art exhibit.

Specifically, Ino’s new boyfriend’s art exhibit.

“I invited him because he’s going through some shit and he’s a good friend,” Ino explains. “So it’s not like I’m trying to blindside blind-date you. He’s a nice guy,” Ino continues, stirring her tea. “And not a nice-guy nice guy, but genuinely. Choji’s one of the best men I know.” She licks her stir stick and sets it onto her napkin. “Definitely deserves better than that bitch he was with.”

Hinata’s fingernails tap out a nervous staccato rhythm on the cafe tabletop. “Ino--”

“It’s just a night out, Hinata. With me and Sai and a someone new. You’ve had worse Saturday nights.”

That’s true.

Mean.

But true.

Hinata sighs, leaning back against the hardback of her chair. “It still feels very much like it would be kind of a date,” she tells Ino.

“Would that be so terrible? To put yourself out there? To try something new?”

Hinata gives her a disbelieving look. “That’s all I’ve been doing,” she counters. “Trying new things. Trying to be...to be me. I’m putting myself out there. Just because I don’t want to hook up with--”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, miss hoity-toity-sex-freak. No one said anything about ‘hooking up’.” Ino looks genuinely affronted.

Hinata can feel her ears burn with her blush. “You know what I mean.”

Ino lets out a soft exhale and reaches across the table to place her hand over Hinata’s. “I do. And there’s no pressure. If you want me to call and uninvite him--”

Hinata shakes her head. That would be insufferably rude. Besides, Ino mentioned that he was going through a hard time. It hardly seemed fair that Hinata’s hard time mattered more when Ino clearly cared about him. “No. Just...No, it’ll be fine.” She forces a smile. “We’ll have fun. It’ll be fun.”

Ino hesitates. “You sure?”

Hinata nods even though she is not, in fact, sure. “Yes.”

 

* * *

 

They meet Choji and Sai at the gallery.

Hinata wasn’t sure what she was expecting--Ino didn’t reveal very much--but Choji did not match any of her mental pictures. He’s a big guy. Solid build, on the husky side, with long brown hair and the kindest dark eyes that Hinata has probably ever seen.

He looks as nervous as she feels, which she finds oddly comforting. It’s the first formal event she’s been to in a long time. She feels a bit self conscious.

She holds out her hand, ignoring the way it shakes. “Hi. I’m Hinata Hyuuga.”

“Hi. Choji Akimichi.” His grip is firm but not harsh and his palms have work callouses.

Hinata pauses. His name rings a bell. She thinks about the new restaurants she and Ino have been to. “Akimichi? As in Akimichi’s? The Japanese BBQ place?”

Choji flushes but nods. “Japanese-Korean,” he corrects with a quiet pride. “Yeah. That’s my family’s restaurant. We’re opening another one next year.”

“The food is really good,” Hinata says appreciatively. It was. Last time she and Ino went she left so full she could barely walk.

“Ino tells me you’re not quite as miserable as usual.” Sai cuts in, directing his comment at Hinata. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Beside him Ino places her hand to her forehead and gives a lamenting exhale. “Sai! What did I tell you about that?”

“It’s all right,” Hinata shakes her head with a twist of her lips. Sai may be even more socially awkward than she is, which is a feat, so she takes his idiosyncrasies in stride. “Thank you, Sai. It’s good to see you too.“

“Shall we?” Choji offers Hinata his arm.

She nods, accepting, and follows him into the gallery.

Sai’s art is impressive. The crowd even more so.

It doesn’t take long for Hinata to feel overwhelmed and out of place.

“Crowds not really your thing?” Choji asks her as he leads her away from some of the noise. He snags two glasses of champagne from a passing server.

Hinata gives him a look, taking the offered drink. She can have one or two and not mess with her medicine, so she sips it slowly. “Was it that obvious?” she asks.

He chuckles. “A bit.” He turns to stare at one of Sai’s starker canvases with only minimal strokes of vivid color. It’s stark--but also captivating. “He’s really good,” Choji comments.

Hinata nods. “Ino really likes him.” She turns to look over her shoulder, spotting the couple surrounded by patrons. Ino is close to Sai’s side--both protective and affectionate. Hinata’s never really seen her friend so smitten before.

Choji follows her gaze, and wears a smile of his own. “He better be good to her.”

They share a long silence between them before Choji clears his throat. “Uh, Hinata…” He takes a drink from his flute and coughs a bit. “I don’t know how much Ino told you. I just want to be upfront with you. I’m not looking for anything. I just got out of a relationship and I’m really not planning on jumping into another one. I wanted to, I dunno, be as honest as I can be.” He downs the rest of his champagne and pays attention to his shoes. "Kind of makes me look like an ass, assuming and all that, but still."

Hinata can’t help the relieved half laugh that escapes her.

At his curious look, she feels like she should clarify, so as not to hurt his feelings. “Oh, uhm, me too. On all of that.” She makes a vague gesture with her free hand and smiles, a bit ironically.

“Oh. Cool.” He winces. “No. Not cool. Sorry. I mean--shit. See, this is why even if I wanted to date it’d be a disaster.”

Hinata tucks her chin and gives him the most genuine smile she’s given in days. “I don’t think that’s true.”

He returns her smile and she catches a glimpse of some sadness in his kind eyes. “So, what happened?” he asks her. “To you and whomever. If you don’t mind my asking.”

Hinata tenses unintentionally and then forces herself to relax. It’s just a question. “We needed different things.” It’s the only answer she has at the moment.

Choji nods and makes a sympathetic sound.

Hinata swallows. “And, uh, you?”

“I asked her to marry me.”

Hinata blinks and nearly drops her glass. “Oh.” Wow, she was still super good at putting her foot into her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t--”

He waves a hand and swallows. “Naw. It’s okay.” It clearly wasn’t. But he was still smiling and that was genuine, so she nodded too.

“Marriage isn’t for everyone,” he continues and Hinata recognizes a rehearsed line when she hears one. “Better to figure that out beforehand rather than fifteen years in, right? Karui was super intense. She’s a go-getter and she has a list of adventures and dreams longer than I am wide. I thought that maybe I was one of them.” He shrugs a bit awkwardly. “And it’s something I still want. Eventually.” He pauses and glances at her guiltily. Almost like he’s ashamed to have revealed so much. Clearing his throat he shifts from foot to foot. “Uh, what about--what about you? You ever see yourself getting married?”

The question causes her to inhale a bit sharper. The answer is yes. Of course. And she always pictured it with Naruto. Always.

But it’s not something they’ve ever talked about.

She’s never actually asked him what his opinions were on it--nor he, hers. Which is (thinking about it now) kind of a red-flag. Four years and no talk of what the next step was. Because there was always something else to take care of… Always something else to handle.

Did she still want marriage?

A family?

Yes.

Slowly, she nods. “Yeah...I think that someday...yes.”

They turn their gazes back to Sai’s painting.

 

* * *

 

Ino goes home with Sai. That leaves it up to Choji to drive Hinata home.

She’s hesitant at first--old habits and all that--but Ino’s known Choji since before Hinata, apparently, and vouched for him.

So here she sits, in his car, outside of her apartment complex.

“I had a really nice time.” She means it. After the awkwardness and crowded posh socialites it actually wasn’t bad.

Choji blushes a bit, and rubs his chin.“Yeah. You know what? Me too.” He inhales deep before looking at her again. “I know neither of us is looking for anything right now, but this was nice. You’re a good listener, and I actually did have a good time. I wouldn’t mind doing it again.”

She blinks at him, slightly confused. “You mean another date?”

“I mean bowling.”

“Bowling?”

“Yeah. Rolling balls down a crooked lane to knock over some shoddy pins.”

Hinata chuckles. “I know what bowling is.”

He grins. “If you’re game.”

“I haven’t been bowling before,” she muses.

“Sounds like you need to go, then.”

She turns to him, brows raised. “I don’t think bowling is a need .”

“Says the woman that’s never done it.” He slants her a look. “So, what do you say?”

It’s not a date. Not really. Neither one of them is looking for a new relationship.

But it’s still putting herself out there.

She nods. “Sounds good.”

“Cool. Tomorrow? Around seven?”

She nods. “I’m apartment 8.”

“All right then.”

She slips out of his car and watches him drive off.

Chapter Text

I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.


 

They go bowling.

She hates it, but Choji is funny and sweet and she enjoys herself anyway.

Later in the week, they take in an afternoon movie and have dinner at his family restaurant.

They have lunch together on an off Sunday, before her knitting group and take a drive out of the city the following day.

It’s fun. It’s nice.

It’s...normal.

She likes it.

She feels guilty for liking it.

She declines his next invitation. She needs a little space. To sort herself out.

Inoichi calls that being “proactive” in setting her boundaries; in establishing and maintaining her own needs.

She calls it being a mess.

Still.

Choji doesn’t seem to mind. She thinks if anyone kind of “gets it” it’s him.

When she calls him a few days later to see if he wants to see the new play the Community Center is putting on, he accepts.

Ino asks her about it during their next coffee meet-up. Well, as much as Ino asks about anything. “You and Choji have been seeing one another pretty regularly.”

They have. So Hinata simply shrugs.

“And?” Ino prods her. She has that look in her eye. The “I want answers” look.

“And?” Hinata avoids.

Ino rolls her eyes, but it’s affectionate. If there’s one thing Hinata has always been able to count on it was Ino. Ino had been protective of Hinata since Hinata’s mother passed when she was five. To some it may seem like an unlikely friendship--Ino with her supermodel looks, sharp tongue, and brilliant mind paired with Hinata’s mousy shyness and self-esteem issues--but it was probably Hinata’s deepest relationship outside of Naruto.

Ino was the kind of woman that Hinata never thought that she could be. Self-assured and poised under pressure. It’s one of the reasons that Ino excelled in her position as a Strategic Corporate Liaison. Whatever that meant. All Hinata knew was that companies paid out the nose to hire Ino for consultations.

“What’s he like to date?” Ino asks, pulling Hinata out of her thoughts. “I’ve always kind of wondered.”

Hinata sputters a bit, her eyes blinking so fast that she can’t see Ino for a full five seconds. “We-we’re not dating .” She breathes the word in a low whisper, her eyes darting about furtively towards the other patrons that couldn’t care less about the conversation.

Ino cocks her head, a smug little smile playing with her lips. “Movies--check. Dinner--check. Evenings out--check.” Ino ticks each one off on her fingers. “Dating.” She confirms.

Hinata is still shaking her head. It wasn’t like that. “We don’t...There’s nothing romantic happening.” She’s still in love with Naruto.

Ino snorts an amused laugh. “Of course not. You two are like the snails of the dating world. But, it’s still dating. Some weird sort of ‘friend’ dating, but dating. I’m proud of you both.”

Friend-dating.

Hinata decides that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it.

She tells Choji about it and he’s amused. He also tells her that he’s been asked out on a date. A date date. He accepted. He takes a breath and stares out at the skyline. They’re in a small park, near her office. “I’m nervous as hell,” he confesses.

“You’re going to be great,” she insists. She says it sincerely.

The timing was off, but she knows herself a bit more now, and she knows that in another time, at a different point in her life, she and Choji would have worked out.

He casts his kind eyes on her and his smile is gentle, if not a little sad. He knows it too.

He reaches for her hand. “Thanks, Hinata. For everything.”

She gets unexpectedly misty eyed, her throat clenching up, so she smiles and nods. It’s not a goodbye, but it kind of feels like one.

Up until now it felt like they were sort of in “heartbreak” together, but Choji was moving on. Moving forward.

She’s a little envious.

He pulls her into his side, wrapping one thick arm around her shoulders and places a kiss to the top of her head. “Don’t think this means you’re getting out of mini-golf next weekend,” he teases her quietly.

 

* * *

 

Her routine becomes even more routine after that, but that suits her just fine.

Naruto’s calls have been coming a bit more frequently as well and she finds herself looking forward to them. Just hearing his voice makes her happy in a way that nothing else does.

That’s probably counterproductive to her “moving on” wish, but she’s never been that great at taking her own advice so she thinks nothing of answering every time his number flashes on her screen.

“It sucks, being the oldest person, and not knowing jackshit about what they’re talking about.” Naruto laments on his end of the phone line.

“You’ll figure it out,” she promises. She’s sure he will. Naruto has always been adaptive.

“And everyone else is like, still in school. So they’re like, interning? I don’t remember internships making fifteen an hour, do you?”

Hinata chuckles. He’s so enthused. She can almost see him. The way his blue eyes are probably alight, the smile that’s surely on his face. She wants to see him. She pushes that down and says, “I worked in the library for eight.” Which she actually liked, so it wasn’t a terrible hardship.

“Oh! While I was redoing their maps--”

There’s a knock on her apartment door that catches her attention. She glances at the clock and realizes that she completely lost track of the time. “Hold on.” She tucks the phone to her shoulder before opening the door.

Choji’s on the other side.

“Hey, are you ready?”

Mini-golf.

He remembered.

Hinata’s mouth spreads into a wide grin. “Naruto, can I call you back-?”

“Who is that?” He cuts her off. She can hear the anger in his voice. The tightness of his jaw. Just as she could clearly see his animated happiness, she knows this look too.

She exhales slowly. “I promise I’ll call you-”

“Who is it?” It’s a demand.

“Naruto.” She doesn’t want to fight, but she doesn’t know exactly how to explain who Choji is and what he means to her without igniting a heated argument, so she decides to avoid it. For now. “Look, it’s not a big deal--”

“If it’s not a big deal then just tell me.” He always was persistent.

“I’ll talk to you later.

“Hinata-”

She turns off the cell.

“Was that…?” Choji gestures vaguely.

“Naruto?” Hinata bites her lip. “Yeah.”

Choji is looking at her with concern. “You okay? Do you need to call him back? I don’t want to cause any issue--”

She cuts him off with a sharp shake of her head. Choji wasn’t the issue. He may be what Naruto wanted to argue about now, but he wasn’t their issue. And Hinata wasn’t about to make him one.  “It’s okay. Besides, I want to hear about your date.”

Choji steps back to make room for her to exit her apartment, giving a deep laugh. “Oh, it tanked. Spectacularly.”

Hinata snaps wide eyes up at him. “No! Really?” She’s so surprised. Choji is amazing.

He nods, but his smile is firmly in place. “Yeah, but I got the waitress’s number. After my date dumped ice water on my head. So that’s something.”

Hinata can’t wait to hear this story. “Why on earth would your date dump water on you?”

“Because I was checking out the waitress.”

Hinata laughs all the way to the car.

Chapter Text

She doesn't remember the funeral. She doesn't remember much about the time immediately after.

What she remembers is that her mother was dressed in white when they found her.

And her father's anger.


It doesn’t take long for the guilt to set in.

They’re six holes down when the tears come.

She has a hard time breathing.

It’s not quite a panic attack, but it’s close.

At least this time she can pinpoint a trigger.

Choji immediately takes her back home. He keeps looking at her during the drive.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers over and over, sniffling pathetically in his passenger seat while her mascara smears down her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

For his part, Choji is as kind and understanding as he’s always been. “Hey, it’s okay,” he tells her.

It’s not okay.

She knows that.

He must too, because before they reach her place, he says, “I don’t think it’s a great idea for you to be alone right now. Should I call Ino?”

Hinata shakes her head no. Ino was away for the weekend with Sai. She was not about to interrupt them.

Choji lets out a deep breath. “I’d offer to stay, but I think that’s probably the worst solution right now.”

“It’s okay,” Hinata whispers. She feels pathetic.

She is pathetic.

“I’m just going to go to bed. I’ll be alright.” She tries for a reassuring smile, but it comes up short.

He’s reluctant. “Is there anyone else I could call for you? Another friend?”

Kiba flashes through her mind, followed by Shino, but she’s not sure they’re any better options. Kiba would want to beat the hell out of Naruto for upsetting her--even if she’s the one that upset herself and Shino has important work on Monday, so the last thing he needs is her baggage weighing him down.

Still, Choji is looking at her with his warm brown eyes and concern etched on his every feature, so she lies to him.

“Yeah, I have a friend I can call.”

He walks her to her door. “Do you want me to call when I get home?”

She shakes her head, tucking her hair behind her ears, avoiding his searching gaze. “Just text me, so I know you arrived safe.”

“And you’ll be calling someone. To stay?”

She nods.

It’s easier to lie if she can avoid the words.

He waits until she’s safely inside and the door latched behind her before she hears him leave. She presses her forehead to the painted wood and shudders.

Her brain is a whirring mess of guilty accusations.

Of reflexive self-doubt.

Of blame.

She just wants to shut it off.

Just for tonight.

That’s all she’s thinking about when she goes into her bathroom.

That’s all that’s on her mind when she takes one, two, three...a half dozen more sleeping pills than she needs.

She’s not trying to kill herself. Really.

She just wants everything to stop .

Just for a little while.





Chapter Text

"It's not always possible to do what we want to do, but it's important to believe in something before you actually do it."


 

Hinata wakes up to her face being slapped.

Honestly, it’s one of the worst ways she’s ever been woken up before. Top ten, for sure.

Groggily, she lifts her hands to ward off the next series of smacks to her cheeks and she can hear a rough voice swearing.

Her eyes feel weighed down--too heavy to open--but when she does, Kiba is leaning over her. She murmurs his name, confused--and a bit irritated--and he falls back away from her, sitting down beside her legs abruptly--a puppet with strings cut. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he rasps.

Hinata pushes herself up on one elbow, one eye closed as she tries to make sense of what the heck is happening. She feels like she’s under a heavy blanket of confusion. Foggy. Disconnected.

Kiba’s staring at her--wild-eyed--and his breathing is harsh. “You wouldn’t wake up,” he breathes it, over and over, as his hand runs shakily down his face. “You wouldn’t wake up.”

Her tongue feels too thick and too heavy--sticky in her mouth--causing her to give an inarticulate ‘blergh?’ of an inquiry.

Kiba looks at her in disbelief and she can see the anger in his expression. Anger and worry and near panic. “Ino called me.” He says, his tone sharp. Like the bite of fang.

Hinata glances at her bedside table. She can see her cell laying there where she’d hastily discarded it and sure enough the message light is flashing. She fumbles for it, clumsily turning it in her hands. She missed three calls from Choji, six from Ino, and a slew of text messages.

None from Naruto.

She closes her eyes and flops back onto her pillow.

She remembers now.

Their phone call.

Her “episode”

...Taking too many pills.

She opens her eyes.

Kiba is still staring at her.

He looks ready to yell. Or cry.

She’d prefer the yelling.

“I’m sorry.” She croaks out. “I didn’t mean to make anyone worry.”

“For fuck’s sake, Hinata. Of course we’re going to fucking worry!”

She’s nodding her head--which feels like it just might roll off--and trying to come up with some words of rational explanation.

She comes up empty.

“Why do you have to be like this? Why can’t you ask for help? Why? Huh? Why the hell do you think you’re expendable?” He swipes at his eyes, glaring at her.

She’s getting both the yelling and the crying.

She wants to say something. Anything that will make him feel better.

“It’s because of him. ” The words slip through clenched teeth.

“No,” she defends at once. Partly out of habit, but mostly because it’s true. “It’s not Naruto’s fault.” Her voice sounds wrong. Like it’s being strangled. She clears her throat and blinks her blurry eyes. “It’s not. This is...this is me. I’m pathetic.”

Kiba swears again. He looks at her like he can’t understand the words she’s speaking. Like she’s foreign to him. “What’s going on?” he asks quietly. “Were you...were you trying to…?” He can’t seem to get the words out.

Hinata shakes her head. “No. Really. No. I just...I don’t know. I…” She can’t focus and she feels herself being pulled back towards sleep when Kiba grabs her arms--yanking her upright.

“No. Stay awake,” he tells her and gives her a little shake. His voice is panicked. “Stay awake.”

“Okay. Okay.” She reaches up to palm his cheek. “It’s okay, Kiba.”

He sniffs and nods.

Hinata feels unbelievably guilty. She can’t imagine what’s going on in his head.

They sit there, silent, for a few long minutes, until she can gather her wits and push through the fog in her brain.

She lifts her head and looks around. It’s early, she realizes. Which explains why she’s still so tired. Although...given the amount of pills she downed, she wouldn’t have been too surprised to have slept well into late afternoon.

Guilt licks at her again.

“You really fucking scared me,” Kiba tells her.

She can understand that fear. Finding someone you love unconscious and unresponsive? She understands far too well.

She sighs. “I’m sorry.” Then…because she’s thinking marginally clearer. “Uhm, how did you get in?”

At this Kiba makes a sound and clears his throat. “Uh, yeah, about that. You’re probably going to need a new door.”

She can’t be mad at that. She nods instead and whispers her thanks.

* * *

Kiba calls Ino. Fills her in.

Hinata wishes he didn’t, but she doesn’t have much say, leaned heavily on her table as she is, sucking down cup after cup of coffee that Kiba is shoving in her face.

He calls Shino next.

Shino’s never been overly expressive, but Hinata can feel his disapproval and concern when Kiba hands her the phone. Shino tells her to take the week off from work. He’ll cover for her.

She doesn’t want to put him in that position, but he’s not really taking no for an answer, so she agrees.

After, she and Kiba sit in her kitchen and she talks.

As she does, she sees a plethora of emotions flicker across his face, but he remains quiet (a feat in and of itself) and lets her say what she needs to say. She doesn’t talk too much about Naruto, because it’s not about him. Not really.

Is he a part of the equation?

Absolutely.

Is he responsible for everything she’s going through right now?

No.

She can tell that Kiba still wants to blame him, but that’s the easy way out. The cop out. Pointing the finger and saying “Because of you--” but that won’t help her.

Honestly, she’s not sure what will help.

But she’s still drugged and tired, so she figures she’ll answer that later.

For now she’s going to drink coffee.

* * *

Choji calls her.

He’s relieved when she answers.

She’s kind of surprised, though she shouldn't be. He’s a sweetheart. But she’s a basket of wet cat issues that he didn’t ask for. Still, it’s nice to know that he cares.

Ino stops by that evening to check on her. When she comes, Kiba leaves. Hinata can see them exchange looks. Some unspoken agreement. Probably to watch over her.

She feels touched and annoyed.

Which is probably how she made Naruto feel a lot of the time.

While she is there, Ino is tight lipped and edgy. “If I pushed you, too hard, too fast--”

“Ino,” Hinata cuts her off before the apology can fully form. “You didn’t.”

“So…” Ino joins her on the loveseat and brushes Hinata’s bangs from her eyes. “What now?”

“Honestly? I don’t know.”

“I think that’s okay,” Ino replies quietly. “To not know.”

* * *

With a week off of work, Hinata finds herself scrambling for things to do so that she can get out of her own head.

Her cell phone goes off almost hourly, so that keeps her sort of occupied, but it’s not what she’s looking for.

She ends up at Eight Gates.

Lee and Guy are both happy to have her there for an extended period of time. They like to show off for her. Her giggles, she’s told, encourage the flames of youth.

She doesn’t say anything about her weekend adventure, because it’s embarrassing, and as much as she likes them, she’s not that open. Even so, she feels both of their gazes on her throughout her warm up stretches.

She thinks she’s probably just self-conscious, so she moves to her practice area. There’s no one else there that is learning Baguazhang--too many students interested in hard and flashy, Guy says--so she has the far corner of the gym pretty much to herself.

She practices the eight mother palms before completing a 24 move, 64 palm routine that she’s been working on for some time. It still needs work. Some of her moves are not as fluid as others, and she often forgets to breathe correctly, focusing her energy in her abdomen, but it’s a good work out and she feels energized.

She practices again.

She loves the way she feels as she moves.

Like water over earth.

She is grounded and yet free.

This, she thinks, is exactly what she needs to clear her mind.

Later, Hinata can hear Lee lamenting that he has not yet found his “eternal rival”.

In life, Sensei had told them, it was important to recognize your rival. That person that you would pit yourself against to become better than. To overcome, but also to carry with you in your heart, because without them you would never achieve your utmost potential.

“Don’t feel bad, Lee,” Hinata says, exhaling through her cool down. “I don’t have one either.”

Lee starts to nod, but Sensei is shaking his head--smiling at her. “Oh, but you do,” he tells her.

Lee is shocked and excited. “She does! That’s wonderful!”

Hinata cants her head, uncertainly. “I do?”

Sensei nods, making his way to her. He places his hands on her shoulders, leading her through the first steps of her circle, moving with her until they are farther towards the center of the gym, and the mirrors.

He stops when they are facing them.

“Your eternal rival, Hinata.” His hand remains on her shoulder. “One of the fiercest you will ever face.”

Hinata stares at her reflection. At her pink cheeks and sweat matted bangs.

Her rival.

Guy gives her a wide grin and a thumbs up.“You have the gift of perseverance, Hinata. I know that one day you will surpass your rival.”

Something in her mind clicks.

Falls into place.

She has a focus.

An attainable goal.

One that will require work.

One she can--no, will--achieve.

She shares a wide smile with her Sensei and Lee. And then, taking a note from someone she loves very much, she adds, “Believe it.”

Chapter Text

"Caring about someone doesn't mean taking care of them."


 

She tries to call Naruto.

He doesn’t answer.

She’s really not surprised, but it still causes the familiar flare of worry to ignite in her gut. If there’s one thing Hinata has done consistently for years, it was watch his cues and take care of his needs--emotional and beyond--so even though she knows it’s not entirely healthy for her , she still has a hard time shaking off the concern.

She knows, better than anyone, what he’s capable of when he’s upset and hurting. She wrestles with the idea of calling one of their mutual friends to check on him (though, she doubts Kiba’s gonna order a pizza again anytime soon) before she ultimately decides to give him some space.

She’ll try him again later. For now she’s on her way to Hanabi’s for a visit, and then later she’ll grab groceries and hit Eight Gates.

She’s mentally prepped out a similar routine to what she had before--when she felt that she was improving, but this time she’s not focused on immediate results; not focused on “fixing” everything all at once.

Now she’s focused on being more able, more capable, more than she was the day before. That’s it.

Her rival will try and tear her down if she lets herself get overwhelmed.

She’s not about to let that happen.

 

* * *

Inoichi is proud of her for her renewed efforts.

Less proud and more concerned about the ‘incident’ over the weekend.

“It’s not like I was trying to kill myself,” Hinata defends, plucking at her sweater.

"Self-harm is not that simple. Death may have not been your goal, but intention and reality aren't always the same. Many people who intentionally hurt themselves are simply taking extreme measures to distract themselves from their problems and release themselves from unbearable mental anguish.”

Hinata nods--she’s heard this all before, too. Just not directed at her. “I wasn’t trying to hurt myself,” she mumbles. She knows what that looks like. Images of faded scars flash through her mind, as well as remembering all of the times she’d had to collect all of the sharp objects in the apartment and hide them...

“No. You were trying to escape.” Inoichi glances at his notes and reads her own words back to her. “You just wanted everything to stop.” He lets out a breath and sets aside his paper and pencil. “You can’t turn a blind eye to this, Hinata.” His voice is soft, lulling. She looks up at him and sees the concern. He’s not masked behind his profession. “There were signs...before your mother--”

“I’m not my mother.” She says. “I’m not my father, either. I’m not Naruto. I’m not Hanabi. I’m definitely not Ino. I’m just Hinata.” She swallows and meets his gaze head on. “And...I’m learning that that’s enough. I don’t want to escape. I want to overcome.”

His lips quirk. “That’s new,” he replies.

“Yeah, well, it turns out I’m a genius of hard work.” She tells him about Guy and Lee.

They speak for awhile longer. Despite her assurances, he wants her to monitor her moods carefully and if she starts to get overwhelmed to reach out. She promises.

“And I never go back on my word,” she tells him as they hug in the lobby where Hanabi is waiting for her.

Inoichi smiles at her. “Proud of you, kiddo. Oh, and tell Ino that she had better introduce me to this new boyfriend of hers. Soon.”

Hinata giggles. “I will.” She’s actually interested in how Inoichi will respond to Sai’s very awkward social behaviors and bluntness. She almost wants to be there for that.

* * *

The days feel longer in some ways than ever before.

She’s lonely.

She’s more social--visits with Ino, beers with her boys, knitting class, and of course Sensei and Lee--but there’s still a Naruto size hole in her heart.

She tries to call him a few more times.

It rings through.

She leaves voicemails, but he never calls her back.

It’s frustrating, but she tries not to dwell on it.

She’s making an effort to think about her choices, to reflect on her behavior, while still trying to embrace each moment and not let self-doubt engulf her.

She confesses to Ino that she misses having someone to take care of. Was that bad? To like being depended on?

“Of course that’s not bad,” Ino assures her affectionately. “That’s who you are. You wouldn’t be Hinata if you didn’t care about everyone else and want them to be happy. We want you happy too. And if taking care of something makes you happy--get a dog.”

She’s allowed a pet in her lease.

She calls Kiba to get his opinion. Kiba is immediately on board with this idea. Of course, considering his occupation of training both Service and Military dogs, it’s not all that surprising.

“It’s a great idea,” he tells her. “Especially with you living on your own. Tell you what, come by tomorrow and I’ll introduce you to some of our adoptables.”

She’s actually kind of excited about the idea, but still… “My apartment is kind of small. Do you think a dog would do okay?”

He chuckles into the receiver. “The fact that you’re already considering what’s in your companion’s best interest tells me you’re going to do great. There’s some dog parks nearby, plus general walking, and you can always foster to try it out before committing. See if this is something that will work for you.”

She’s still a bit leery, but, “All right,” she agrees.

Once she gets to Fang over Fang, it takes her less than twenty minutes to decide.

Kiba takes her through their main area and shows off some of his equipment and dogs in training. His family is pretty renowned, so there are a lot. The facility is divided into sections. Service dogs are trained by his mother and sister, while police and military K9s are what he works with.

Adoptable dogs, either retired or not workable, are in the back. The area is large, with lots of running room, beds, and places to play. Hinata walks through, stopping every now and then to pet and be introduced to them. She thinks they are all adorable, but Kiba told her not to just “pick” one.

She has to feel a connection.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

“This is Argus.” Kiba introduces her to a two year old German Shepherd ‘mostly-mutt’ mix that immediately nudges her hand and licks her palm, giving her eager affection.“Some cheesy mythological name in reference to his being a watchdog, but whatever. He’s a good boy. Ain’t ya, Gus?” Kiba scratches the dog behind its ears earning himself some happy chuffs.

The dog in question is not nearly as large as Kiba’s own dog Akamaru, but he’s bigger than Hinata was expecting. What’s most notable, though, is that he is missing his right front leg. Though you’d never know from the way he bounds around with the other dogs in the play area.

“What happened to him?” Hinata asks, watching Argus roll on his back while Akamaru playfully pulls on his tail.

“He was good at his job. Rooted out an in-ground explosive. Cost him his leg, but saved his handler. He’s been rehabilitated, and of course, we gave the option to adopt to his former handler first, but he’s still enlisted and deployed with a new partner. So…” Kiba shrugs. “He’s available. He’s obedient, well trained, and one of the smartest dogs I’ve worked with...”

“But?” Hinata catches the way Kiba pauses. She watches the two dogs roll around and something warm flutters in her gut. The connection, she thinks, that Kiba told her to look for.

“He has some anxiety. Loud noises frighten him. He requires a bit more attention than most retired K-9 dogs. Partially because he’s still quite young--he’s got a bit of pupper in him, yet--and partially because of his trauma.” Kiba makes a sharp whistle and both dogs are at immediate attention, watching him expectantly.

“Argus. Vest.”

Immediately Argus trots out of the room, returning a few minutes later with a black vest and holds it until Kiba takes it from his jaws.

“See? Smart.” Kiba pats the dog before turning back to Hinata. “This is his compression vest. It’s for comfort. Like a hug.” He folds it between his hands. “Of course, there are other dogs here--”

Hinata glances at Argus who is staring up at her, with such devotion already. He nudges her hand with his snout. “No. It’s him. I’ll take him.”

Kiba smirks, the red tattoos on his face twitching. “I kind of thought you two would hit it off.”

There’s usually a vetting process before adoption is allowed, but Kiba has known her for years, and vouches for her, so Hinata gets to skip that part (plus his mom adores her).

“How’s my favorite should-have-been-daughter-in-law?” Is her favored form of greeting.

Neither one of them take her teasing seriously.

They get Argus’s chip registered to Hinata, and she’s given his vest, a list of commands that he knows, some dog food and feeding dishes, as well as a special harness/leash for walking before she and her new companion are sent on their way.

“I’ll stop by in a couple of days, to see how it’s going. If anything comes up, though, gimme a call.” Kiba tells her as he loads her into her car.

From the driver’s seat Hinata looks into the rearview. “You ready?” she asks.

In the backseat Argus gives an excited bark.

Hinata smiles. “Then let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Someone once told her that the greatest opportunities in life come with fear and risk.

She never really understood the expression.

Until now.


 

Argus immediately works his way into her heart.

She’s amazed by how much his presence warms up her home. By how the soft click of his nails on the floor make her feel so much less lonely and how his head on her lap as she knits and randomly scratches behind his ear is more soothing than nearly anything she’s tried in weeks .

Kiba comes over to help her with setting up her apartment and establishing some ground rules. “In a human to dog relationship you're the alpha, and that’s important because they rely on you for protection and guidance,” he tells her. “Argus will defend you. He’ll be your companion. Your best friend. But only if he feels like he’s part of your pack; only if he feels that goes both ways.”

Hinata listens to the instructions and they take Argus to the park to practice commands and do some bonding.

“Patience is the key,” Kiba says as Hinata gives Argus non-verbal hand commands. “He’s going to want a purpose and to please you, but mainly he’s just going to want your love and affection. As with any change, there’s going to be a period of adjustment. Get to know one another, and keep it positive.”

It’s easy to be positive with Argus. He’s such a goofy, loving companion.

He reminds her (just a bit) of her old goofy, loving companion.

“Maybe I’ll introduce you two someday,” she tells Argus, listening to the ringing on the phone line. “If I can ever get ahold of him,” she sighs, hanging up. She’ll try him again later. For now… “Wanna go to the park?”

 

* * *

 

Naruto picks up on Sunday.

She’s legitimately surprised when he answers. “Hello?” He sounds irritated.

Her tongue forgets how to tongue for a moment. “Naruto! Hi. I’ve, uhm, I’ve been calling you.” Well, duh, Hinata. She sighs. She hadn’t actually expected him to answer. Which begs the question about why she was still calling at all, but with each day of unanswered calls she had become increasingly concerned.

Old habits and all that.

“Yeah.” He sounds downright indifferent. Like he’s bothered by her calling. Like she doesn’t matter. Which may be true, but he still matters to her, so she swallows the sting and asks, “Um, well, how are you?”

“Fine.”

He doesn’t sound fine. “Naruto?”

“Did you need something?” He cuts in--harsh and clipped.

“I--I just wanted to make sure you were all right. I haven’t heard from you since…” Okay, well, this was slightly awkward. Since the night I almost accidentally offed myself, wasn’t something she could very well say.

“Since when? Since you’ve started seeing other guys?”

Oh. Well. Sure. Let’s go with that.

“It’s not like that.” At her feet Argus lifts his head. He can sense her tension, so she reaches down to stroke his favorite spot.

“You’re not seeing someone else?” Naruto pushes. He was always good at pushing.

Here, Hinata falters, because it’s kind of hard to explain her situation with Choji. How does one explain going out with someone that you knew--given the right circumstances--you potentially could have a relationship with, but it wasn’t like that because you were still hung up on your ex, so it was essentially some odd form of friend-dating that you really enjoyed and were in no hurry to give up…? “It’s...it’s not serious. It’s just casual.”

Sure. That sounded so much better.

There’s a pause and when he speaks again his words are heavy with simmering anger. “So you are.”

She kind of wants to bury her head in the sand somewhere at this point.

“It’s really not the big of a deal. I promise. I’m just trying to get out there. Try something new. I’m not looking for a boyfriend or anything. It’s just…dating.” Seriously, how the heck did she describe how much Choji meant to her without making it sound like something it wasn’t?

“Dating?” It sounds nasty when he says it. It hurts and she’s so damn tired of hurting.

She sighs, because this is not something that he’s going to really understand. At least not in the mood he’s currently in. So she opts for the super effective, “Yeah,” as her response.

The line goes quiet for a long minute. She’s just about to say her farewells and hang up when Naruto’s voice comes back--more animated than before.

“Hey. Go on a date with me.”

She could not have heard that right. “What?”

“C’mon.” He’s enthused now. Eager. Ready to convince her. And honestly, Naruto could convince her to do most anything, so she knows before he’s finished what her answer is going to be.

“You said that it’s not a big deal. It’s not serious. It just dating. You said that, right?” His talking was moving faster.

“Yes, but-”

“Just a casual date. No big deal. I get what you’re saying; I go on dates all the time y’know. Tons. So many, I barely have free time.”

Okay. Ouch.

It’s not like Naruto had never dated before. He’d had a few girlfriends in college, plus a slew of bad experiences and one night stands while hanging out with Sasuke. And then of course, his ill-fated crush on Sakura...so she really shouldn’t be surprised.

Or be a hypocrite.

But still.

“Tons?” She wants some clarification.

“Believe it.” He laughs. That's not much for clarification, but she doesn't press, because she really doesn't want to hear about it.

“I don’t know, Naruto.” She does want to see him. To ease her mind about the state of his. But more than that she misses him...and Naruto was her friend long before he was anything else, so she could qualify it as a ‘friend-date’ and it wouldn’t have to mean anything more than that.

Except she knows...that’s a big fat lie.

Naruto will always mean more.

He’s Naruto.

“Just one. Please, Hina?”

She’s quiet, trying to control the tempo of her breathing.

He whispers into the mouthpiece. “Go on a date with me.”

And she knows she’s done for. “...okay.”

There’s another small pause and she hears him clear his throat. “Ehm, yeah cool.” He sniffs. “Sounds good.”

“Okay.”

When they hang up she looks at Argus with wide eyes. She’s giddy and terrified and spinning in her own mind all at once. A date. With Naruto. “Holy crap,” she breathes.

Chapter Text

Optimism is the foundation of Courage.

Hinata has always believed, no matter what the struggle, that it would all be alright in the end.

That faith has been shaken as of late, but not uprooted.

She believes anew.


 

Argus becomes her constant companion and they develop a close relationship almost instantly.

She takes him with her everywhere that she can. They go for walks every day and to the park as often as possible--both to play and to work on commands. He sleeps at the foot of her bed at night. Kiba suggested a dog bed, but Argus sleeps better with her.

Argus, for his part, offers her ready affection and eager attention. Hinata learns quickly that Argus is incredibly smart and she finds herself talking to him frequently. She feels less lonely. She’s more relaxed. Happier. Watching his soulful and intelligent eyes, she gets the impression that he is too.

Kiba wasn’t kidding about some of Argus’s issues, though. Garbage day turned out to be an unexpected adventure. The loud clanging of the dumpsters being emptied by the large truck caused Argus to hide under the kitchen table for the better part of the morning. Hinata sat on the floor with him for hours, speaking softly to lure him back out. She was always pretty good at settling Naruto when he was disturbed, and it looked like that skill transferred over to Argus.

She’s lucky enough to work for a pet-friendly company, plus she has her own office, so he spends his days at her side or under her desk, curled up and content--particularly when Shino stops by with dog treats and belly rubs.

Argus doesn’t particularly like car rides, and public transport is a big no, but if he’s wearing his vest and laying in the back seat, he does okay. His vest stays on at Eight Gates, too. She doesn't bring him there regularly, as loud cheers and sparring can be a lot to take in, especially with his natural inclination to be protective of Hinata, but once she told Sensei and Lee about him, they were eager to meet her three-legged companion.

Hearing his backstory brought both of them to “manly tears”, and Hinata had left them hugging one another as they proclaimed Argus to be the most youthful of dogs. Valiant and brave.

She agrees with both assessments.

All in all, things are looking up.

She hopes that her date with Naruto heads in that same direction.

Ino is surprisingly supportive of her date, although that shouldn’t be surprising. Ino has only ever wanted the best for Hinata. Still, Ino advises her to approach the situation with cautious optimism. Ino had witnessed every stage of Hinata’s relationship with Naruto from the very (awkward and tragic) beginning to the very (awkward and tragic) breaking point.

It’s sound advice.

Particularly where Naruto is concerned as Hinata tends to leave her heart wide open for him.

“None of us ever expected you to give up on him,” Ino tells her over coffee at their usual meeting spot. Her lips arch but it’s only semi-amused. “We know you better than that.” She takes a sip of her latte slowly.  “Are you sure you’re ready?” she asks, her voice carefully neutral.

Hinata’s not sure, honestly, but she knows that she wants to see him. Years of history isn’t gone. He will always-- always --be important to her. “It’s Naruto,” Hinata says quietly, her fingers twisting her bracelet.

Ino watches the motion in a way that reminds Hinata very much of Inoichi. “Yeah, I know. Despite everything, you know I’ve got your back, right? If the blonde idiot makes you happy...then I’m happy for you.”

Hinata tips her head. “He’s not the only blonde idiot that makes me happy.”

Ino stares at her for a moment, lips fighting to stay in a straight line.“Sometimes you’re a real smart-ass.” Ino deadpans.

Hinata’s grin is unrepentant.

Yes, things are looking up.

 

Chapter Text

"Avoidance doesn't solve anything, it's just a temporary salve."


 

She stands in front of her mirror adjusting her top, switching different pants, then to a skirt, new top...until her bed is covered with discarded ‘maybes’ and ‘nopes’ and she’s clad only in her underwear, staring at the slightly panicked eyes of her rival.

Hinata turns away from her reflection in order to pace. “Why is this so hard? I mean, he’s seen me naked, for crying out loud. Like...a lot of times...and...okay that’s not helping.” She shakes her head. “No sex thoughts right now.”

Which is harder than it sounds, because lately she’s been dreaming of him.

And hoo boy, what dreams they’ve been...

“Shut up, brain,” she snaps.

In the doorway, Argus tilts his head, ears perked.

“Ugh!” Hinata flops onto the clothes covered mattress and throws one arm over her eyes.

It’s just a simple date.

A friendly dinner.

With a friend.

A friend that, as she pointed out to her very confused dog, has seen her naked more times than she can count.

A friend that she dedicated a lot of her life to.

One that she’d (ideally) like to dedicate even more to...but that was getting way ahead of herself...first she’d have to make it through dinner, and that was assuming she’d survive just trying to pick out the outfit...and...wait, where was she again?

Oh yeah.

Dinner.

With a friend.

A friend that she loves.

And has recurring sex dreams about.

So, you know...there was that .

Oh, God, she was hopeless.

“Think I could borrow that vest of yours, Argus?” she whispers.

A moment later, Hinata hears steady clicking and then something weighted flops onto her lap.

His vest.

Warmth blossoms in her chest and she laughs.

Okay.

She sits up and holds the vest between her hands; Argus watches her expectantly.

“Thanks, buddy.” She places it on the bed. “But I don’t think I’ll need it.”

She can do this.

 

* * *

 

He cut his hair.

That’s the first thing she notices.

It looks good. Shorter than he’s had it before, for certain, but it’s still that sunshine gold that she loves and her fingers twitch with the urge to run them through his shorn locks to see if they felt as soft as they looked--as soft as she remembers his hair to be.

She curls them into her palms--just to be safe--as she makes her way towards his table.

He looks slimmer, is the second thing she picks up on, but it’s not a “wasted” sort of slim. Trimmed down would be a more accurate description.

He’s fidgeting, but he does that when he’s anxious, so that kind of helps settle her own nerves. She’s not the only one with tension and nervous energy. He hasn’t spotted her yet.

“Naruto?”

He shoots straight to his feet, nearly knocking over his glass of water as he does so.

She feels bad, she hadn’t meant to startle him. “Oh, are you okay?” she asks, instinctively reaching out to steady him.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” He rubs the back of his newly shorn head, and grins. It’s one of his fake ‘overly confident’ grins, but she’s going to let that pass, because she’s also wearing a mask. She wants this to go well...but she’s not ready to be vulnerable. Not yet.

“Should we, um, sit down?” She asks quietly, glancing between the two of them.

She feels awkward, doubly so, because this is Naruto and she knows him inside and out and this uneasiness is completely unnatural between them.Even before they dated, while she was quietly in love, and he was completely oblivious, they had meshed well. Things were natural.

Easy.

She wonders if they’re too far away from that now to ever get back.

It’s not something she wants to dwell on that moment, however, so she shakes it off.

“Yeah!” Naruto laughs, awkwardly gesturing to the chair across from him.

Hinata settles into the seat, feigning a calm that she doesn’t really feel. Her hands tremble, so she pushes them onto her lap in the pretense of spreading her napkin over her skirt.

“How have you been?” He asks, his hands drumming a faint rhythm against his thighs.

It’s a simple question, but one that she doesn’t have a ready answer for. She doesn’t want to ruin this tentative truce by telling him that for the past week she’s been worried about him because he was avoiding her phone calls, or how that every moment since she left their apartment has felt simultaneously like she was shattering and and being reborn at the same time, or how her heart aches so much right this moment that it’s hard to breathe.

“I’ve been good.” She settles for.

“That’s good. So...up to anything new?” Naruto takes a sip of his water, his blue eyes flickering away from hers for a moment before meeting them again.

“Um, well…” She tucks some hair behind her ear and contemplates--again--how much to reveal. How far to open up. There’s a part of her that wants to share everything with him. Argus. Her self-defense course. Baguazhang. Lee and Guy. The ups and downs she’s dealing with. Inoichi. Her semi-promotion at work. Her renewed optimism. But...there’s another part of her that whispers at her to tread carefully. She’s still raw and not completely healed and although he is not the source of all of her pain, he can inflict more damage than anyone else--carelessly or with intent.

She swallows and gives a small shrug. “I started a knitting class.” That was safe.

Naruto raises an eyebrow. “Knitting? Cool, what are you making?”

Hinata flushes, because who on earth, besides Naruto, would think knitting was cool? He’s always tried to make her feel more important than she is. He’s the sun and she’s always been Icarus...

She’s back to twisting her bracelet as self doubt works its way through her.

Hinata ducks her head. “I’m not good enough to make anything yet.” The words come out before she can stop them. Her rival is in rare form today, she thinks, pressing her lips together. She can almost see Guy Sensei shaking his head at her, but gifting her with an encouraging smile; she can almost feel Ino’s hand on her shoulder, telling her to lift her chin.

She may not be able to do it all on her own yet...but she’s not really on her own. She sits a little straighter.

“So, what do you do at your class then?” Naruto asks, curious. He seems genuinely interested, which makes her face tingle. She knows she’s blushing.

“I’m making these little squares.” She makes a general shape with her own hands.“To practice the different stitches.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Hold up. There’s different stitches? I thought knitting was the… ‘thing’ , y’know.”

It’s such a Naruto thing to say that she can’t help but giggle. He was always good at making her laugh.

“There’s quite a few different stitches.” She informs him, trying to sound mock-serious, like she’s instructing a student. Naruto nods at her, egging her on.

She can feel the walls around her heart tremble.

She loves him so much.

Before she can carry on the waiter is at their table, asking for their selections. She hasn’t even glanced at the menu, but every place has some form of chef salad, so she orders one of those. Naruto surprises her by ordering grilled chicken and vegetables.

Now that wasn’t like him at all , and she’s unsure of how to measure that. Her gaze lingers on his face, taking in his expression, the clarity of his eyes.

He seems to get what she’s looking for, so he offers up: “Mr. Umino, from next door. He’s taught me how to cook. I forgot if I told you, on the phone.” He takes another drink of water. “Anyways, you always said that vegetables were important. And I always said that they suck and tasted like dirt.”

She laughs a little because that much is true, and she doesn’t really disagree . Afterall, her favorite food is cinnamon rolls with extra icing. But she had always tried to get Naruto to eat veggies, if for no other reason than his health.

Naruto carries on in his typically animated fashion and she is enthralled. “Mr. Umino gave me some tips for cooking them so they don’t taste like… sadness.”

She laughs again, harder this time. She missed this. His silliness. His candor.

Him.

Encouraged by her reactions, he adds, “Yeah, and I can’t eat cereal for breakfast anymore, because my Muay Thai coach is a sadist. It’s exactly like Rocky. This freak has got me putting six raw eggs and spinach into vanilla protein powder. If his work out don’t kill me, I’m going to die from salmonella poisoning.”

“That’s a lot of eggs,” She murmurs, slightly alarmed. Naruto can be stubborn as hell, but also easily led if he’s not careful. She forces herself not to analyze this man she’s never met or his motivations, and instead decides to focus on Naruto--here, now. “Do you like… what is it called again?”

His smile actually reaches his eyes. “Muay Thai. And yeah! I don’t know what it was about running, but I hated it. Maybe, with Muay Thai, it’s more like... I feel like I’m actually working towards something.”

Something inside of Hinata hums to life. She resonates with this. More so now than ever before in her life. Clearing her throat she asks, “What do you mean?”

“Like with running. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Not just because I was on a treadmill neither.” He laughs at his own joke and her heart beats harder against its confines.

“But, there’s always something to work on for kickboxing,” he continues. “I have to get better stamina. I have to get better footwork. My kicks are still pretty weak. There’s tons of different combos. And a lot of that stuff I can never master. But I can get better. Like, stronger, faster, y’know?”

She nods because she does know. Lee and Guy cross her mind. “But, I thought your instructor was really impressed with you.”

“Impressed?” Naruto snorts. “Half the time I feel like the guy is going lure me to his basement to wear my skin ala Silence of the Lambs. I don’t know what he sees in me but he already wants to set me up with a fight with an old student of his.”

She knows exactly what his instructor sees in him. She’s always seen it. “That’s impressive.”

He seems surprised by her interest.

She's interested because it's Naruto but also maybe because Guy Sensei also told her that she was a natural so she understands how encouraging that can be.

She almost wants to tell him that she can throw better than she can loop.

He waves a hand. “Eh, enough about me. Tell me more about those little squares. And what’s a ‘purl’ again?”

Hinata lets him deflect and starts to tell him about looping and cinching and the different stitches she’s learning. It sounds so lame and tame compared to his story, but he seems genuinely interested, so she continues.

Throughout dinner they do an awkward conversational two-step, dancing around their real issues, and instead sharing superficial tidbits and general conversation--the weather, the news (she’s surprised that he follows it) and the day to day. She asks him about his new canvassing job and Teuchi’s. Naruto shifts a bit in his seat when that comes up, but she doesn’t read too much into it.

He seems to be doing well.

Remarkably well, and Hinata can’t help but think about Hanabi’s words. Had she spent so much time being his caretaker and not his girlfriend that she had removed any reason for him to try on his own? Was he actually better off without her?

And if he was...what then?

She pushes those thoughts down because they will serve no purpose at the moment. Hinata knows that eventually...if they are going to continue...things will need to be said. She also knows that she’s not ready to say them...and she’s not sure if he’s ready to hear them.

It’s a conversation that needs to happen, but tonight is not the night for it.

So, she redirects her thoughts much like Sensei tells her to redirect her energy and steers their conversation to less serious topics.

She’s a little sad as the night wears on and the date draws to a close. It’s actually been a pretty fun evening.

“Hey, tell me something.” Naruto’s voice is quiet and serious as he walks her towards the curb to hail a cab.

Hinata can feel a bit of dread pool in her gut. Maybe Naruto wanted that conversation now.

“Do--” He swallows and the dread solidifies.“Does my haircut make me look like a dork?”

Her eyes widen and she bursts into laughter out of sheer relief. “No! I really like it, actually.”

“Oh good.” He smirks and it’s knowing. “Did you think I was gonna ask you something bad?”

Yes.

She takes a breath. Before she leaves, there is a question that she wants to ask him, but it is edging into that territory she wants to avoid. Even so, she needs to know. “Actually, I was wondering if I could ask you something? Are you alright? Have you been taking your-”

“Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He cuts her off, shaking his head lightly. “I’m sorry ma’am but I don’t just give my personal information to any random woman on a first date.”

Her mouth drops open, gaping at him. Random woman?  “Wha…?”

“I think that’s about… hmm, let’s say, a third date question?” He taps his chin thoughtfully. “Yeah. Third date sounds fair.”

She scrutinizes him for a long minute biting her lip while her fingers worry her bracelet. “Three dates?” She asks, again for clarification.

“Three dates for personal questions.”

Three dates before they have the conversation ? It would give her time to emotionally prepare--in theory. “That’s fair.” She finally concedes.

He winks at her. “Believe it.”

When her cab finally comes, she pulls him into a little hug. “Thanks for this,” she whispers. She closes her eyes to keep from crying when his arms curl around her in return. He’s always been so much larger than her--larger than life--and for one beautiful minute she can pretend that she never left his embrace. But then the car honks and she’s stepping back. She gives a delicate sniff and a little wave before climbing into the back.

Naruto lifts his hand in a farewell wave and Hinata turns to watch him out of the back window until he blends in with the busy city background.

Chapter Text

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”



“Why are you in love with Naruto?”

The question causes the hand holding the serving tray to shake, and Hinata places it down onto the table slowly. She turns, eyes wide, to face Shino.

She had invited him and Kiba over for a small dinner as a way to thank them for helping her out when she was crashing and burning--leaving more work for Shino at the office and scaring the shit out of Kiba.

“Uhm...what?” She knows she heard him correctly, she’s just hoping she’s wrong.

He shifts on his feet, but he faces her steadily. “I think you heard me. Why? Because you’re suddenly tense.”

She doesn’t know how to answer that. Doesn’t even really know what the answer is. There’s so many reasons to love Naruto. She couldn’t list them all if she had eternity.

But that’s not really what he wants to know.

He wants to know why she wants to go back to a relationship that was clearly draining her.

Why she wants to pretend to be okay when she’s drowning in worry and concern and self-doubt.

Why she can’t let go of her false ideals and misguided intentions.

Okay, maybe he doesn’t want to know that.

Maybe she does.

And his question is uncomfortably close to making her think about those answers.

“Because whatever your answer is--I think you should love yourself just as much,” Shino hastily adds, derailing her thoughts. “More, actually.” He says, nodding. “Before you move back in with him.”

Hinata blinks and feels that maybe she should be sitting for this conversation.

“Shino...I have no plans to move back in with Naruto.” At least not anytime soon.

“But you two had a date, right? You do have plans to reconcile, yes?” He asks.

“I don’t know. Maybe?” She blinks confused eyes between him and Kiba. “I don’t...I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t decided anything.”

Because I’ve been avoiding it.

“Well, we’ve been thinking,” Kiba interjects, patting Argus on the head. “That before you decide anything, maybe you should think about why you want to be with him. Really think about it.”

Shino nods, sunlight reflecting off of his glasses. “Ask yourself some difficult questions. Like, is he what’s best for you?”

Or was she what was best for him? That tiny voice in her mind whispers.

“We’re not saying don’t go for it. It’s just that...you’ve been sad for so long.” Kiba steps to her, nudging her chin affectionately, his voice rough with repressed emotion. “Even before…”

It hurts her to hear that her pain and sadness had been visible to them.

Hinata has always believed that if the cost for Naruto’s happiness and well-being was her own, then as far as Hinata was concerned it was a small price to pay.

Apparently her friends did not share in that philosophy.

“You matter,” Kiba tells her. “As much as he does.” He exchanges a look with Shino. “More, to some of us.”

“We only want you to be happy,” Shino says, voice quiet--sincere. “Your pain is our pain.”

“Even if you hate us for it--we wanted to tell you how we felt. We will support you, in whatever you decide.”

It’s humbling to see how much they care about her.

How willing they are to bare themselves to help her.

“Thank you.” Leaning forward she pulls Kiba down into a hug and opens her other arm for Shino. “Thank you both for loving me enough to want me to be happy.”

“Ah, Hinata,” Kiba sighs, kissing her temple. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted.” His fingers curl into her back. “Even if it’s with that asshole.”

Hinata gives a watery laugh, wiping at her eyes. “Kiba!"

He chuckles too, hand rubbing his nose.

“Be true to yourself, Hinata. The rest will fall into place,” Shino echoes. “We want to see you make yourself as happy as you can be, okay?”

She hugs them tighter, “Okay,” she whispers.

Chapter Text

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?

Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know.



“Be true to yourself, Hinata. The rest will fall into place.”

Shino’s words follow her around for days, lingering in the back of her mind.

Be true to herself.

What a novel and terrifying idea.

She’s not so unaware that she doesn’t realize that she hasn’t been honest. With herself. About herself. Not for a long time...maybe not ever.

She felt honest with Naruto.

She felt like the best version of herself with Naruto.

But she thinks that may have been more a reflection of him. Like the moon reflects the sun.

She had always loved him. From the very first moment she met him.

Well...okay, time for some of that honesty.

It wasn’t love at first sight.

It was interest.

It was a little lust.

And a whole lot of admiration.

Naruto always had this sort of energy...a presence...and she was drawn to him. He was confident and cocky and smart and funny and no matter how much shit anyone gave him he brushed it off, stood back up, grinned defiantly and moved forward.

By the time he started spiraling she was already in love with him.

That had to have been one of the hardest times in her life.

Watching, from the sidelines, too afraid to step in...too afraid to say or do something wrong that all she could do was watch as he drifted further and further away from her, further away from himself, and the Naruto she loved so much.

He would fight, get drunk, get arrested, get drunk some more, get high, do anything to escape...except she knew then (as she knows now) there wasn’t any escape for him.

And all the while Hinata watched.

Watched him getting destroyed by his own infatuation with Sasuke’s girlfriend. Watched Sasuke become callous and mean and gloating in the face of Naruto’s very evident want .

She watched.

Unable to do more than that; paralyzed by her own insecurities and fears and uncertainties...until...until it was almost too late.

Until Naruto had taken all he could take and decided that he just couldn’t grin defiantly anymore.

Her bright sun nearly snuffed out.

She still can’t think about that time. Not without crying so hard she vomits.

Still, she wonders if things would have been different if she’d confessed her feelings sooner? If she’d spoken up. If she’d been less a coward and more a friend.

She wonders…

And she doesn’t like the answers.

Naruto never held her inaction against her. Of course, she’s never actually told him what she was feeling because it wasn’t about her. It was about him.

It was so easy to make everything about him.

He was her world.

And that wasn’t his fault.

That was all her.

If she could take care of him, heal him, love him, then maybe...maybe...she wasn’t so useless after all. Maybe she wasn’t a complete failure. Maybe she was enough.

It was unfair, she realizes now, to hang her self-worth on his head.

“It’s good that you recognize that,” Inoichi tells her, his voice quiet and certain.

“I don’t want to be that Hinata anymore,” she says, equally quiet. “The one that is scared of everything, always thinking that I’m not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, not capable of...anything.” She works the bracelet around her wrist so much that her skin feels raw. “I am so tired of being her.”

“But?” Inoichi presses, gently, when she pauses.

She can feel the hot pressure of tears behind her eyes and her vision blurs. “But...that’s the Hinata he fell in love with, and if I change…” She makes a little gasping sound, fingers pressing to her lips to stop their trembling. “If I change...Maybe he won’t love me anymore.”

Inoichi hands her a box of tissues and places a comforting hand on her knee. “I think that’s his decision to make.”

Not hers.

She couldn’t decide whether or not Naruto loved her.

She could only decide to love herself.

Which was a lot harder than it sounded.

Chapter Text

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.”

Inoichi shares that quote with her.

She keeps it in her wallet.



She agrees to a second date with Naruto.

She’s not entirely sure it’s a good idea, but every time he’s called her he’s sounded...off. Not in a way that sends off alarms, but in a way that had her curious. She recognizes what it’s like to speak to someone like you’re afraid any word you say is going to set off a reaction that you don’t want.

That level of uncertainty is uncomfortable, she knows from too much experience, and the last thing she wants is for Naruto to feel that way about her.

Like he’s going to set her off.

Plus, she just wants to see him.

When she catches sight of him waving at her near the arcade entrance adjacent to the theater they agreed to meet at she’s pretty sure she stops breathing. He’s so gorgeous.

He’s always been good looking. Blond, blue eyed, with tan skin and a smile that could light up a room...but he looks particularly devastating to her right now. She swallows--even though her mouth is dry--and gives a little smile and wave before she moves to join him.

“Hi.” She greets him.

“Hi.” He smiles.

She tucks her hair behind her ears and looks up at him.“So, why did you want to come so early? The movie doesn’t start for forty-five minutes.”

Naruto gives her one of his sly smiles and then he pulls a plastic cup from behind his back, and she can hear clinking. She realizes the cup is half full of game tokens.

“Games?”

He nods, biting his lower lip. He looks both parts excited and nervous.

It’s such an adorable Naruto expression. She can’t resist. “Okay.” She starts towards the arcade.

“But first.” Naruto stops her, stepping into her path, holding out his free hand, palm up.

For a moment she’s confused, and then she remembers their last phone call where he asked to see one of her “cool ass squares.” She assured him that they were anything but cool, but he insisted he judge for himself. She pulls her most recent multicolored square of knitted yarn from her purse.

Naruto trades her for the cup of tokens taking the square in both hands.

He studies it with serious scrutiny. “So this is the square?”

“One of them.” She nods, scrunching her nose. It’s not even her best one. She should have brought her best one.

He turns it over in his hands a couple times, appraisingly. “It looks really good.”

Well...compared to what the older ladies were whipping up it was comically insufficient. Still, she blushes a bit. “It has a couple flaws.”

“I can’t see them.”

He’s looking at her and not the square and she knows his words hold deeper meaning than she wants to consider at the moment, so she deflects. “You can keep it if you want. It can be a potholder or a washcloth or whatever.”

“Thanks, Hina.” He kind of fidgets with it and she realizes he doesn’t really have a place for it.

She hands to cup of coins back to him to trade him for the square again. “I can hold it for you until after.”

He nods, but his eyes follow where she tucks it. Like he’s afraid he might not get it back. She catches his eye and he rubs the back of his head. “Ready?” she asks.

“Yup! Lets go.”

The place is louder than she likes, but it’s not overly crowded. There are teenagers and tired parents milling about, as well as a few others around her and Naruto’s age. She scans the games and settles on skeeball.

“Interesting first game to let me crush you at.” He grins smugly as he feeds in the appropriate amount of tokens into each of their machines.

This is the Naruto she daydreams about. Cocky and confident and just a tad silly. But she gets the feeling that he’s pretending to be that Naruto as much as she is pretending that her heart isn’t lodged in her throat and that she doesn’t want to throw herself into his arms and hold on and never, ever , let go.

“Oh no,” She whispers softly, shaking herself out of the sadness before it can latch on. She lifts her eyes to directly stare into his, her lips arched in challenge. “Did you think I was going to let you win?” She finishes, with a sweet little smile and a bat of her lashes--just for good measure.

Naruto blows out a breath, standing back to his full height which is head and shoulders above her. “Alright, alright, Hyuuga. I see you’ve come to play.”

She blinks, still feigning innocence.

She’s actually pretty good at the game--but she’s distracted by watching him--so in the end they both only win a few tickets each. She blushes a bit when she realizes his game was off because he was watching her too.

“Wanna shoot some hoops?” Naruto asks, scanning the area.

That’s one thing she’s never been good at, but he seems eager, so she offers, “You can.”

He purses his lips for a moment, seeming to weigh the idea. She smiles encouragingly. She wants him to have fun. “Just one round.” He promises. She shrugs easily. He can play as many as he wants. She’s just happy to be near him.

He approaches the game with a bit of swagger. Then proceeds to completely miss his first two shots. “It’s cause I didn’t say Kobe .”

Hinata nods. He’s so silly and she adores it. Her heart swells in her chest and she bites her lip. Naruto tries a few more shots and none of them are particularly good. He sighs, but he’s still smirking. He turns to face her and throws one of the balls backwards over his head.

It slams loudly into the wall.

“Did it go in?” he asks, grinning.

“Nothing but net,” she promises, holding up her fingers in some mock ‘scout’s honor’ salute.

Encouraged, he picks up two of them at a time to throw. Neither go in. He then throws one up and tries to hit it with a second.

“Could’ve sworn I had that one.” He snaps his fingers.

Her heart swells even more and she’s sure she can hear her ribs cracking under the pressure. Partly because she’s missed him so, so much...and partly because she sees right through him.

This is an act.

Yes, he’s smiling.

Yes, he’s having fun.

But it’s all surface.

She can see the unease in the lines of his body, in the way he carries himself. She knows every hue of blue his eyes can be and they are not the right shade for joy. She’s spent years watching him (creepy as that sounds) and she knows his nuances better than she knows her own.

Which is, of course, part of her current set of problems...but that’s not where her mind is.

She’s focused on him.

He collects his hard-earned basketball ticket and holds it out to her with dramatic flourish. “For you.”

She smiles, taking it in her hand. It’s a cheap slip of cardstock and yet her fingers curl over it protectively. “Thank you.”

He nods at her absently, his busy gaze already scanning the arcade for their next game--like he thinks if he gives her too much downtime she’s going to run away from him. It makes her sad, because she knows she did that.

“Wanna race some cars?” He interupts her thoughts. Thankfully .

She follows his gaze to the grouping of race car game machines. Sure. this she can do. Side by side, they make their way over to two that are connected, candy pink, so they can race against each other.

Naruto sets the plastic cup between them. The game is some form of knock-off ‘Wreck it Ralph’ candy themed race but it looks fun. Hinata picks a candy cane striped racer and catches naruto eying her selection.

She narrows her eyes at him. “No cheating.”

“S’not cheating.” He defends with a smirk.

She snorts, disbelieving. “You’re going to run me off the road.”

He looks properly affronted with wide eyes and his hand to his chest. “Am not.”

She blows a raspberry between her lips, watching the countdown.

Naruto’s first move is to drive into the side of her car.

“It’s not bumper cars.” She scolds, still smiling. Smiling because she knew what he was going to do. She feels some weird form of gladness at that. She still knows him.

“That was totally an accident.” He promises as he runs into her again.

She leans back in order to give him a proper glare.

He is completely unintimidated, but he does finally shift into gear and start on the actual race track. They’re in last, but it doesn’t take long to catch up to the rest. It is a kid’s game after all.

Naruto laughs, and Hinata finds herself looking at him and not her screen. Like always, she’s momentarily stunned by the effect he has on her senses. God, she loves everything about him.

Naruto makes a revving sound as he shifts gears. “Man, Hinata. I don’t even know how to drive and I’m killing you.” He glances at her and she’s caught staring at him.

If there is a God, she doesn’t have any drool on her face and he’ll just let it go.

“Oh my god, Hinata. Were you just checking me out?”

Looks like she’s an atheist now.

She feels her ears burn. “No,” she denies.

“You were ogling me,” he accuses. His voice lowers to a loud whisper. “Objectifying me.”

She shakes her head, torn between laughter and embarrassment, happy when her hair slips over her shoulder to veil her expression.

“I feel so used.”

She’s mortified.

He leans over to let his shoulder pump against hers in a little apology even as he rounds the final corner, securing his win over her.

“Can you believe that?” He taps the steering wheel. “And I don’t even have a license.”

“You cheated.”

He shrugs his shoulders, totally fine with the accusation. “I gotta do what I gotta do, Hyuuga. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

She can’t help but smile at his antics. Superficial or not, it was nice to see him smiling.

“We probably have time for one more.” He’s glancing around the arcade again. She wants to tell him that she’s not going anywhere. He doesn’t have to keep her busy, but he’s distracted by his search. She sees the way his eyes linger on one of the games in the corner before they skirt past it. No doubt looking for something more her speed.

“You want to play the ninja dance game?” she asks him.

“No, it’s okay.” He shakes his head, giving her a nod, before resuming his scan.

She grabs the cup between them. It’s not a game the old Hinata would play. But maybe ‘work in progress’ Hinata might like it. She did have “flow” according to Guy Sensei.

“Let’s go.” She walks away from him towards the two joined red platforms.

“Are you sure you don’t want to do it with me?” He sounds skeptical.

She nods. She'll surprise him when he starts.

“Okaaay.”

“I’ll play you.” A young voice speaks up, having heard their conversation. He’s probably in junior high, standing there with some friends in ripped jeans and a tattered skateboard hoodie.

“Sure.” Naruto agrees.

Hinata feels a tiny bit of disappointment at that. She was kind of interested to see his reaction to her stepping out of her comfort zone. But Naruto has always had a soft spot for kids, so she understands.

“Hinata?” He asks her for the cup of coins.

“You got this Inari!” One of the other kids yell. It’s kind of cute how his voice squeaks.

“He’s gonna beat you in front of your girlfriend.” Another adds.

Okay, maybe not so cute.

“Jokes on you.” Naruto mumbles as he steps onto the platform. “She not my girlfriend.”

Hinata’s not sure if he meant her to hear it or not, but she does. And it hurts.

It’s fair.

It’s the truth (more or less, because in her heart she’s always been his, and she still is).

But it hurts.

She twists her bracelet around her wrist and waits for the game to start.

The game looks pretty fun, she decides, watching Naruto do a series of pretend kicks and running moves. The teen beats him, but Hinata’s not entirely sure that Naruto didn’t throw the game. He was like that. A sweetheart without being obvious about it.

He leaves the remainder of their coins and tickets with the group.

“I can’t believe you didn’t try and win me one of those big stuffies.” Hinata teases, just so she can redirect her thoughts.

“I barely had enough tickets to win you one of these little candies.” Naruto laughs. “I’ll buy you a big one instead.”

“Movie time?”

He nods, leading her to the other side. The line isn’t too long so they arrive at the concession stand pretty quickly, which is good. She orders popcorn with extra butter, a fountain soda, and some gummy candies.

Naruto just gets a water.

She stares at him for what feels like a full minute.

He shrugs, rubbing his hair. “I’m not supposed to eat too many carbs. My fight’s coming up.”

“But, you love popcorn.”

He nods sadly--a little pout on his face.

“Well, you’ll just have to share some of mine. Not technically cheating, right? It’s not like it’s your popcorn.”

“That’s some shady logic,” he teases, but he’s already reaching for some kernels. They wait for the movie line to progress.

“You know,” Naruto comments, grabbing a few more pieces.”It was pretty rude of you, earlier, to just check me out like that.”

Not this again. She slides him a glare.

She used to be good at glaring, right?

Or maybe he just let her think she was, because right now, he’s grinning.

“I know I’m like super hot now, but I’m not just a slab of meat, Hinata. I’m a person. With feelings.”

“Is that so?” She asks, clipped and with a sniff.

He nods solemnly. “Yeah. I think you should make it up to me.”

“Do you?” She narrows her eyes more. Her glare is, once again, completely ineffectual.

“Yup sure do.” He beams.

“How would you like me to do that?” She asks, dryly.

“Hmmm...” He puts his hand to his chin, like he’s really putting some thought into it. “Ya’know, I thinking holding my hand would smooth it over.”

She wasn’t sure what answer she expected, but that wasn’t it. She fidgets a bit--hesitant. It’s just hand holding, but it’s never just anything with Naruto.

“It’s only fair.” He says.

“Is it?” She finally regains some composure.

He nods, looking pretty pleased with himself.

She rolls her eyes. He’s not going to let up, and honestly, she wants to reach for him. So she does. She reaches out her free hand to his, lacing their fingers.

It feels right.

“Ahh, that’ll do it.” He smiles at her but his cheeks are pink.

She faces forward, pretending to be unaffected. “Mmmhmm.”

He squeezes her hand softly. “Believe it.”

She does.

She always has.

Chapter Text

Communication was the key to any good relationship.

She's heard that before--from TV talk shows, to legit psychiatrists--and yet Hinata has never really managed to communicate herself effectively.

She was always too shy, too quiet, too unassuming.

When she does manage it, she always feels like maybe she's overstepped.

Her thoughts really didn't matter that much, anyway.


 She feels a little drunk after their movie date. Tipsy on happiness. She tries to reign it in, because while she had a really good time, she knows that the issues that were there before are still there--beneath the surface of their interactions and she doesn’t want to get ahead of herself.

She can’t reign it in all the way though, and the next time she’s at Eight Gates, Lee comments on how she ‘positively glows with youthful energy’.

She kind of felt like she was glowing, so she simply smiles and blushes.

Guy Sensei teases her about it; asking her about her beau and carrying on about the beauty of young love. She blushes even more and shoos them out of her space, but the smile doesn’t leave her face for days.

She knows that she still has a lot of work to do--on herself--but she feels that cautious optimism that Ino encouraged, and she’s trying really hard to stay focused on the good things and her accomplishments. Small things, but good things, she thinks....so, of course, her happy little bubble gets popped.

By none other than the person that put her in it.

* * *

She’s on her way out the door when Naruto calls.

“Hey,” she answers, fishing in her purse for her keys and making sure that Argus’s snacks are in the side pocket. Satisfied, she zips it up awkwardly with one hand and motions for Argus to wait by the door. “I can’t really talk right now, I’m on my way out. Can I call you back?”

“Hot date?” He asks it like he’s joking, but she can hear the edge in his voice.

Hinata pauses, because she is meeting Choji at the park, but he’s bringing his new semi-serious girlfriend. So, it’s not a date, but now might be a good time to clarify what her “dating” had entailed. Her pause is a bit too long, however, because Naruto gives a gruff half-laugh, taking her silence as confirmation.

“Well, shit, don’t let me keep you from your good time.” It’s bitter.

“Naruto, don’t be like that--”

“Like what?”

She doesn't want to fight. “Don’t be mad.”

He blows out a loud breath. “I’m not mad. Go. Enjoy yourself. Have a great time. Just don’t expect me to want to hear about it, okay? I’m not so messed up in the head that I want to punish myself like that.” He mumbles something, low, but she catches it. “That’s your job.”

Everything in her suddenly feels too warm. Her skin tingles. Her chest feels tight. He’s had so many people hurt him in his life, and she knows that she’s now among their numbers, but she’s never, ever, done it with malice. The fact that he can think that of her hurts more than she can express. “Do you think...that’s what this is? That I’m trying to punish you?”

There’s no answer from him. She doesn’t know for certain what’s going through his mind, but she has a pretty good idea. “I’m not trying to punish you,” she whispers into the phone. “I’m not...I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not doing any of this to hurt you.”

On the other end Naruto gives a humorless laugh. “What then? You’re doing it for me? Because you sure as hell didn’t ask my opinion. I would have liked a say in my own fucking life.”

Hinata wants to pull her hair--and maybe his. “It’s my life, too,” she counters. “It’s not just about you. I’m doing this for me .” Sensing her mood, Argus moves away from the door and makes his way to her side, pressing his head into her thigh. Offering silent comfort.

“You ruined my fucking life and broke my heart for yourself? Well, damn, Hina, I hope it helped. I hope you’re fucking happy now.” His voice drips with sarcasm. She hurt him and he wants to hurt her.

She takes a few unsteady breaths, and her anger is replaced with an aching sense of loss. She shakes her head, a horrible realization settling over her. “No you don’t,” she whispers.

“Don’t what?” he snaps.

“You don’t want me happy. At least...not without you.”

He’s quiet. That tells her so much more than anything else.

“I want you to be happy,” she tells him, blinking her burning eyes. “Even if that means it’s not with me. Even if that means watching you move on. I want that for you. So much. I want that so much. And you don’t…You can't...” She swallows thickly. “But that’s okay,” she assures him, nodding, even if he can’t see her. “It’s okay if you don’t want that for me. I understand.” And she does. She thinks, if she was him, she may even hate her a little bit.

“I want you happy,” he defends, some of the heat drained from his voice, but the bitterness lingers. “Of course I do. But I don’t know how to make you happy. It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

She wants to tell him that she doesn’t really know herself either, and that’s one of the things that she’s working on, but he’s Naruto, and he will just try to fill her up. He’ll use his light and his optimism and his willpower to lift her. And as tempting as that is, she doesn’t want that. She wants to be able to stand on her own; to feel worthy on her own.

She’s not there yet.

Plus, he has so much on his own plate, she doesn't want to add her trouble to the mix. He's making such good progress without her and she doesn't want to drag him down.

“It’s not up to you,” she tells him, gently. “It’s not your responsibility to make me happy. Okay? It’s not...it’s not like that right now. I need you to understand that. It’s hard to put into words, but trust me, please, when I say: this really is not about you.”

“Don’t lie to me,” his voice cracks. “You left because of me.”

Hinata’s throat tightens. She had hoped to avoid this for a little longer. Until she felt a little more stable, but she can’t allow him to think this was all his fault. She doesn’t want to keep hurting him. That was never her intention. But, as Inoichi pointed out to her, not too long ago, intention and reality are not always the same. “No,” she denies, settling down onto the floor so that Argus can curl up beside her. He places his head in her lap--his soulful eyes watchful.

“I need you to listen to me, okay? Really listen.”

Naruto makes an affirmative noise.

“The night I left I was hurt, yes, but it was more than that. I needed to get away, because…”

I wanted to hurt you back.  She doesn’t say that. She knows he will think he deserved it.

“Because I wasn’t in a good place, emotionally. And neither were you. If I had stayed we would have just hurt one another even more.”

“Not sure I could have hurt much more,” he replies and the sadness in his voice eats at her. "You didn't even try to come back."

"I wasn't ready." She takes a deep breath. "I'm still not ready...I'm--I'm not sure I--" In truth, she has not yet examined all the broken pieces of her heart. She doesn't know if it can be put back together, and if it can...she is uncertain as to whether she would trust it so soon.

"I get it," he cuts her off quickly. "Space. You need space. Got it."

He doesn't get it. But she doesn't know how to explain it so that he will understand.

“I'm sorry,” she tells him. Sorry that she wasn't stronger. Sorry that she couldn't be the person he needed her to be. Sorry that she was who she was. She wipes at her eyes. She’s crying in earnest now. All she's ever wanted to do was make him happy and love him, and she couldn't even do that right.

On the phone Naruto exhales. “Oh, hey, please don’t cry, Hina. I’m the asshole, ya’know. I’m sorry I lost my temper. Go on your date. Have a good time. I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”

He’s deflecting, pretending in that false confidence way of his, but she already feels emotionally drained, and can’t muster a counter argument. Plus she really is running late. Still…

“It’s not a date. I'm not dating anyone else." She feels awkward and embarrassed revealing that after he’s told her that he’s been on tons of dates, but she wants to be honest and avoid any more unnecessary hurt.

She hangs up before he can respond and buries her face against Argus’s scruff feeling almost as vulnerable and raw as the night she left him.

Chapter Text

Pack your bags. We’re going on a guilt trip.


 

“You ruined my fucking life and broke my heart.”

It’s hardly surprising to Hinata that she ruined Naruto’s life.

Hadn’t she always been a pathetic, whimpering mouse--too shy, too insecure, too weak--to amount to anything?

Her father’s voice follows Naruto’s in her head. Reminding her...she is a failure.

Always a failure.

She can feel the phantom sting of a slap across her face--one slap for every stutter. Like that helped.

She can feel the bite of fingers in her shoulders and the harsh reminder for her to stand up straight. Slouching was for the cowardly--uncertain and afraid.

She feels old hunger pangs from being sent to bed without supper because she was too fat. A little piggy that needed to toughen up. Soft as those stupid pastries she was always stuffing her face with.

She can feel the heavy weighted stare of disapproval--watching and judging--and finding her lacking.

Someone like her could never be with someone like Naruto.

Naruto, whose life was a struggle from the very start--who fought his way through it with determination and grit and hope while she had run (run, run, don’t look back) and hid from hers.

Yeah. No surprise there that she ruined his life.

Passionate and pathetic were never a good match.

 

* * *

 

“Is that really how you still see yourself? As pathetic?” Inoichi asks her at their next session.

Hinata twists her bracelet around her wrist and shrugs, not meeting his questioning gaze. She doesn’t want to see his disappointment that she’s still sliding backwards instead of moving forward.

“Hinata?”

Finally she lifts her head and sighs. “I’d think that was pretty obvious,” she says. “It’s like for every step forward I make, I slip three back.”

“That happens during recovery--”

She sighs again, this time in frustration. “What exactly am I recovering from? From taking care of Naruto? I love him. I should have done more for him. If I wasn’t so weak, then maybe I wouldn't have left him when he needed me most. Maybe he’d not think this ,” she gestures to herself, “was his fault.”

If Inoichi is taken back by her vehemence it doesn’t show. His tone is still calm and even. “By your account, it sounds like Naruto is coping with being on his own pretty well.”

“Of course he is. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.”

“And if that’s the case, then why not accept that, and let go of the guilt?”

That answer is easy. “Because I hurt him.” She presses her lips together.

“People hurt one another,” he reminds her gently. “It’s one of the many unavoidable shortcomings of being human.”

She shakes her head. “I promised myself that I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t be like everyone else in his life that only used and hurt him. I swore to protect him. Instead…” You ruined my fucking life and broke my heart. “Instead, I’m the worst of the bunch.”

“It doesn’t seem like Naruto agrees with that. Why else would he still reach out to you?”

Probably the same reason he still reached out to Sasuke. Naruto didn’t know how to give up on people.

“Do you want him to give up on you?”

“Sometimes,” she confesses on a whisper.

“Why?”

“Because I’m not worth it.”

“Worth what?”

Any of it. “His love.”

“And at the same time you’re scared to lose it.”

“Yes.”

Inoichi sets his notes aside and leans forward. “Hinata... you are worthy of love.”

Her eyes skirt away from his.

“Hinata.”

She reluctantly looks back at him.

“Let’s talk about your father.”

She cuts the session short.

(Run, run, don’t look back…)

 

* * *

 

She calls Naruto when she gets home.

It’s probably a bad idea, but she’s unnerved, and Naruto has always been a comfort to her. Plus, she spent the entire drive back thinking.

He answers right away, despite sounding sleepy. “Hey.”

“Hi.”

There’s an extended pause. She’s not sure what to say.

“Hina--? You okay?”

“I just wanted to hear your voice.” she blurts out.

There’s another pause and then, slightly more awake, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She takes a breath. “Sorry it’s so late.”

“Nah, it’s fine.” He clears his throat, waiting for her to speak. She called him, after all.

She takes a steadying breath. “You were right, by the way.”

“About what?”

“When you said before...that,” I ruined your life... “that it was like you didn’t know me anymore--”

“Oh, hey, I was just being an assho--”

“No, you weren’t. And, please, let me finish.”

He pauses again. “Alright.”

“We’ve known each other a long time. Loved each other a long time. But...somewhere along the way, we stopped being friends.”

He doesn’t argue. Probably because he knows it’s true.

“I’d like to be, though.”

“Friends?” She can hear the disappointment in his voice. She knows this isn’t exactly what he wants, but it’s what she’s capable of right now.

“Yeah.” She takes another steadying inhale. “That’s all I can offer you right now, Naruto.”

He’s quiet for a long moment before he says, “You always were a good friend, Hina.”

It’s a start.

Chapter Text

Do you want him as a friend or a lover?

It doesn’t matter, I just want him in my life.

He is the sun on my sky. ~Thea Phala



It’s pretty easy to slip into the role of Naruto’s friend.

She’s always liked him.

She knows he still wants more... she does too... but she doesn’t want it to be like it was before.

Maybe if they hadn’t started right in the deep end and had actually waded into being a couple things wouldn’t have been so turbulent.

Traumatic experience probably wasn’t the best foundation to build their romance on, now that she thinks about it. Shared trauma can help forge strong bonds, she knows, but jumping into a committed relationship immediately after almost dying? She probably should have given him some space back then, but she’d been so happy to have him (finally) that she’d just gone with it.

And it hadn’t been all bad. Far from it.

Naruto was warm and charismatic and generous with his affection and for Hinata...who had spent most of her life starved for it...well, that was irresistible. And she returned it. She never let a day go by without touching him, smiling at him, letting him know how much she loved him.

There were some very, very, good memories.

But there were some bad ones too.

Fights.

Too much drinking.

Manic episodes.

Depressive episodes.

The time he went missing for three days.

And instead of being his partner, she started to manage him.

Because it was easier for her to disconnect and make it orderly than it was to get messy and vulnerable.

Vulnerable meant hurt.

So she shut down.

Didn’t communicate what she was feeling--what she needed.

Just focused on his needs.

If she could keep him happy, he wouldn’t leave. If she loved him hard enough, it would all be ok.

Didn’t matter if she was smothering beneath the weight she placed on herself.

She was as much to blame for their failure as he was.

There was too much history between them to ever truly have a clean slate--plus she didn’t want to forget everything they’d shared and endured. What she wanted was to find balance between them. For them to support one another.

Which was how she ended up at this crowded arena with a bunch of screaming fight fans, waiting for Naruto’s match. It’s more crowded than she expected it to be, considering the venue, but apparently this “Pain” fighter was pretty renowned. It made her all the more nervous for Naruto.

She shifts nervously, scanning over the faces in the crowd, her fingers wringing together.

“Well, looky here. If it isn’t the warden herself.”

Hinata tenses up, her entire body going rigid as she recognizes the voice to her left. Slow, she turns and finds Sasuke Uchiha’s dark, bloodshot eyes, regarding her with cynical amusement. He’s flanked by his usual group of ne'er-do-wells, all looking like they hit the bar and a few lines before they arrived.

Sasuke rocks back on his heels, his lips twisting into a mocking smile.“Heard you two split up. You do know that stalking is illegal, right?” He sneers the words at her--a not too subtle jab at the way she used to follow Naruto around. Always in the background, her affection obvious for everyone but the blond.

Sasuke has never liked Hinata.

She’s never understood why, but that’s fine. The feeling is more than mutual.

“Fuck yourself, Uchiha.” Suddenly there is another blond between them. An amazonian queen with her head high and her eyes sharply critical. If there was anyone that disliked Sasuke as much as Hinata did, it was Ino. Of course, part of that stemmed from the fact that they dated (briefly , Ino makes sure to remind anyone that brings it up) but no matter the case, there were few people that shut him up quite as effectively.

“Didn’t you used to do that for me at one point, Yamanaka?” Sasuke leers at her, his gaze lingering over Ino’s tight black top.

“Everyone experiments in college,” Ino sniffs with haughty disdain. “I’ve since moved on to men.”

The posse around Sasuke makes a series of “oooohs” and Sasuke’s eyes narrow. Before he can say anything else, Hinata grabs Ino’s arm, tugging her away. “Come on,” she urges. “I want to get closer.”

Ino grudgingly complies but not before flipping up her perfectly manicured middle finger directly into Sasuke’s smug face.

Together they start to weave through the crowd, closer to the ring. As they approach Hinata sees a few people that she recognizes from Eight Gates, and they in turn recognize her. A couple even call out her name and wave.

Ino slants her a questioning look, but Hinata shrugs. Ino knows she goes to the gym, she’s just not aware it’s a fighting gym. She probably thinks Hinata is doing pilates and cycling, not coil strikes and circle walking.

They make there way nearly ringside when the announcer starts in. Hinata can’t see anything for a moment, and then she spots Naruto beside some man with long grey hair (must be Jiraiya) making his way to the ring in bright orange shorts.

He looks trim--sleek and more corded than she’s probably ever seen him--and oiled up. Ino nudges her in the side. “Your boy looks good. Like a hunky slip-n-slide.”

Hinata pokes her just above her hip, blushing a furious red. “Ino!”

Their laughter doesn’t last too long though, because Naruto is walking to the center of the ring to meet his opponent. Yahiko, aka Pain, is just as tall as Naruto is. Built similarly, too, but there’s something a bit harsher about him. Maybe it’s his auburn hair and cold, unblinking eyes. Whatever the case, he gives HInata the creeps. Her fingers curl around Ino’s forearm.

Ino seems to be measuring Pain up as well. She leans down towards Hinata’s ear. “You sure that five hundred was a good bet?”

Hinata’s reply is stolen by the bell and then her attention is gone. Riveted to the two men in the ring. Most fighters circle one another--get a feel for their opponent--but Naruto just plows straight in.

She winces with each hit he takes, and she is sure her nails aren’t doing Ino’s skin any favors.

By the time the first round is over Hinata kind of wants to pass out from holding her breath.

“You doing okay?” Ino asks.

Hinata nods. “Yeah, but would it kill him to evade? Like, just once ?”

The second round has her so tense she’s honestly surprised her bones don’t start popping. Naruto’s getting hammered. She watches the fight, watches him stagger a bit. “Left!” she shouts. Sure enough Yahiko hits Naruto with a left to his side.

Ino glances at her again, but Hinata’s gaze is still on the ring. Yahiko, for all of his skill, projects his attack with his stances. Hinata’s watched enough spars at Eight Gates to recognize that much. Sensei and Lee are masters of speed and agility, so they are impossible to predict, but fighters that get into routine--into grooves--they start to become predictable.

At the end of the round Naruto is in his corner, pacing, with blood on his skin and a maniacal smile on his face. When he gives his opponent a little wave, Hinata actually laughs.

Round three has both men staggering a bit, but Naruto is by far the sloppier of the two. Hinata’s tense as she watches him take a hit to the face, then several more. She wants to close her eyes, but she doesn’t.

Yahiko steps back to kick, but Naruto steps forward.

What happens next steals her breath. She’s only ever seen speed like that from Lee.

Naruto lands a right hook, then a left liver punch and another hook. He kicks the right lower leg. He lands a left high on Yahiko’s temple. Right knee into the hip and an elbow to his chin. He jabs as he steps back.

Round house.

Hinata cheers so loud her voice breaks--goes hoarse.

It’s over.

She knows it before Pain’s knees give out and he topples.

“Holy shit!” Ino exclaims.

Hinata throws her arms around Ino and hugs. “He did it!”

They jump up and down in a circle, ignoring the way the people next to them give them annoyed looks.

He did it.

Chapter Text

Hinata has always found beauty in fragile things.

It's one of the reasons she likes flowers.

It has never occurred to her that those fragile things were much stronger than they appeared.

After all, they were still beautiful, even when pressed.


 

Hinata has no interest in staying for the rest of the fights. She had only gone to support Naruto. The crowd was wild when they arrived, and after Naruto’s stunning upset, they’re even more so. Ino ushers her through a throng of people towards a back exit.

When they push through she’s pleasantly surprised to find Naruto out there. She didn't know what the protocol was for fighters, so she hadn’t actually expected to see him.

He’s showered, but his face still looks swollen and and he’s holding himself oddly.

“Naruto?” She approaches him, not wanting to crowd him. He was with a bunch of other people, so she feels a little awkward about intruding, but she wants to congratulate him at least.

His head snaps towards her in a way that had to be painful, considering.“Hina!” He smiles at her despite his split lip.

“Who's the blonde?” The grey haired man leers, practically licking his lips.

Naruto gives Ino a quick glance. “You can have her,” he says.

Ino glares, but it lacks any real heat. There’s no real animosity between them, but he did get the “you hurt her I will make a eunuch out of you” speech from Ino when he and Hinata started dating, so she’s not exactly super thrilled with him. Plus he was Sasuke’s roommate during that short (short ) relationship.

“Hi, Ino.” Naruto smirks, waving.

“Naruto,” Ino tosses her long hair over her shoulder. It’s as dismissive a gesture as they come. “I’ll see you later, Hinata.” She pulls Hinata in for a hug. “I”m expecting a phone call when you get home,” she says with a quick cheek kiss.

Jiraiya shoves a phone into Naruto’s hand before following the path Ino took. Hinata watches after them and frowns, wondering if she should follow. “Is she going to be okay?” Jiraiya is a fight coach, sure, but Hinata has hip thrown much larger self-defense instructors.

“He’s harmless.” Naruto promises.

Hinata turns her gaze to him, then flicks it to the side, where there are several teenagers lingering. They seem to know Naruto, but she doesn’t want to assume.

Naruto gives a slight eye roll. “Hina, this is my canvassing partner--”

“Konohamaru Sarutobi.” The young brunette sticks out his hand.

“Yeah.” Naruto sighs.

“Naruto’s basically our boss.” Konohamaru continues as Hinata shakes his surprisingly soft hand.

“Yeah Naruto’s the best.” Another one adds.

Hinata flicks him a look. She has no doubt that he is, but it’s clear he’s irritated with their comments. He shoves the kid, Konohamaru, in the back. “You. Go now.”

Konohamaru frowns at him. “Fine. We’re gonna go watch the rest of the fights anyways.”

After they’re left alone, Hinata gives him a once over. He looks exhausted. “Not to ask a silly question--”

“You’re questions aren’t silly.” Naruto shakes his head even as he holds himself up against the wall.

“Um, are you, okay?” Yeah, he won, but he took a beating.

“Psht. Me? I’m great.” He smiles, but it looks funny. Twisted, like a grimace.

Hinata raises an eyebrow at him. Clearly .

“Never felt better. Maybe a little hungry.” He adds, one hand on his stomach. Probably over a bruise.

She tilts her head, speculative. He always could eat more than anyone she knew...but still...“Hungry?”

He nods, and makes another face. He’s so bad at faking his way through this. It’s kind of endearing, actually.

“Starving,” he confirms. “You hungry?”

She could eat.

“Come on, let's go get some food.” He pushes away from the wall with a grunt. “I don’t know any good places over here though.”

The lobby is crowded, people milling about to buy snacks or place bets and he’s staggering a bit. Hinata loops her arm through his to steady him as they try and wade through the crowd. Some people recognize Naruto and start snapping pictures. It’s so surreal.

“Are they… taking pictures of you?” She asks, shaking her head.

Naruto shrugs his shoulders. “I am pretty cute.”

Hinata wrinkles her nose, but she thinks about Ino’s slip-n-slide comment and her cheeks pinken. She can feel Naruto’s curious stare, but she ignores it in favor of pushing them towards the exit.

The moment the cold air hits them she hears someone shouting. For Naruto.

“Hey! Uzumaki!”

There’s a tall, long limbed, red-head shouting in their general direction. Hinata has no idea who he is. She glances up at Naruto and tightens her grip. “Do you know him?”

“No,” he shakes his head. “Does he… kinda look like Karin though?”

Hinata gives the man a second look, and yeah, she supposes that he does a little. But she’s less concerned with the resemblance and more with the fact that the guy is still yelling.

“I bet you think you’re hot shit, knocking Yahiko out.”

Behind the yelling man, a dark haired woman is trying to tug his arm, much like how Hinata was holding Naruto. “Come on, Nagato…”

Both men ignore the tugs and face one another.

Naruto shrugs. “I mean like - yeah, kinda.”

Hinata digs in harder. Naruto is in no condition to get into another fight. Even with a man that looks like a strong wind could kick his ass.

This Nagato fellow keeps going, though. “He won’t underestimate you again. Next time he’s going to sweep you. Wholesale.”

“Let's go.” Hinata urges, trying to steer Naruto her way.

He goes, but not before taunting the other man. “Alrighty then, sleep ya later.”

Hinata breathes a sigh of relief, casting a furtive glance over her shoulder, just to make sure they aren’t being followed.

A little ways along the sidewalk, Naruto missteps again.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks, concerned.

“I’m perfect, ya’know. Super good. But, um, do you think, we could like, take a cab. Maybe. To wherever we’re going.”

The restaurant she is leading them to is not far enough to warrant the fare. “It’s just a couple blocks.”

“A couple blocks?” He looks ready to cry.

“I thought you were fine?” She can’t help but tease him. It reminds her of when they were in college and he’d stay up too late but swear he was fine for an early class--only to pass out and get yelled at mid-lecture.

“I’m tip top. Believe it.” He stumbles again and out of instinct Hinata wraps her arm around his waist.

“Mmmhmm.” Hinata frowns up at him. “Tip top, huh?”

He gives her a wink. “I mean, if you wanna cuddle me, s’not like I’m gonna say ‘no’.” He wraps his arm around her shoulders and stands a bit straighter.

“You’re so full of it.” Hinata can’t help but giggle.

“I think the words you’re looking for is smooth.

She can feel him rest his head atop hers, and she’s not sure if it’s to catch his breath or out of affection. She clears her throat and starts them walking again. “Oh, is it?”

Naruto sniffs in the cold air. “Yup. Where are we going anyways?”

“I thought, that maybe, you’d like some ramen.”

Naruto stops dead and the crack in his voice makes her lips quirk. “Ramen?”

Hinata smiles. “It’s really good, too.”

She watches him cast his gaze up the street and then back to her. “You know the way around here?” He asks. She hears the question he’s not asking, but doesn’t comment. Instead she just nods. Yeah. She knows the area.

He inhales sharply and winces.

“You’re in pain aren’t you?” Maybe she should just hail that cab and send him home.

“I told you. I feel better than ever.” He winks at her again but it's more like a slow blink.

She shakes her head. So stubborn.

The walk takes longer than it should have, but they finally reach the restaurant and the warmth from inside is very inviting.

In the entrance, Naruto hedges. “This place is kind of pricey.”

Hinata looks up to him. “My treat.”

“Oh, hey, no, I can’t let you–”

“Technically you're paying,” she tells him. “It's from my winnings.”

It takes him a moment and then his eyes widen and a shocked grin spreads over his face.

“You bet on me?” He asks with a laugh.

Hinata ducks her head and simply nods.

She's always bet on him.

She's always been in his corner.

She always will be.

He moves closer and presses his cheek to her temple. She closes her eyes and savors the contact. She hugs her friends, she justifies, so this is still within her boundaries.

“Thanks, Hina.”

“Come on, lets get some ramen.” She pulls him inside.

The place is nice with large tables and friendly service. The ramen is good, as is the company. They eat and laugh and although Naruto is very clearly tired from his fight, he makes an effort to stay focused and conversational.

She congratulates him on his win several times and he grins each time.

“Thanks for coming tonight,” he says when they’re back outside, waiting for his cab.

“Of course.” She nods easily. “What are friends for?”

He shifts away from her and clears his throat but when she looks at him, his expression is unchanged.

When the cab finally comes she makes sure he gets inside without additional injury.

“I’m black and blue, not invalid,” he teases.

Hinata flushes, tucking her hair behind her ears. She's mothering him again. She draws back. “Go home and get some rest, okay?”

He reaches out and squeezes her fingers before she can withdraw all the way. “Okay.”

She watches the cab pull away and wraps her coat tighter. Just to hold onto that warm feeling in her gut for a little longer.

Chapter Text

Charlie Brown once said: “I think I’m afraid to be happy because whenever I get too happy something bad always happens.”

Hinata always thought that was such a sad way to live.

Little did she know how alike she and good ole Chuck were going to be.



She cuts the article out of the paper.

It’s a local, not widely circulated rag, but as soon as Kiba called and told her that he spotted Naruto’s name in the paper, and “Not for being arrested” she went and hunted down a copy.

She rubs her palm over the newsprint to flatten it against the pages of her memory book. There’s even a picture of the moment Pain hit the mat and she can make out the blurry shock on Naruto’s face.

Unconsciously her thumb glides over his image again before she closes the book and pushes to her feet. “Ready, boy?”

Argus also gets up, tail wagging back and forth with a near dangerous vehemence. Hinata smiles at him and scratches his ear as she heads for the door and the hook beside it to grab his leash and harness.

She took the day off of work and for the first time in a very long time it wasn’t because of some trauma or tragedy or something beyond her control--nope, today was just for her and Argus. She was going to drive him out of the city and they were going to enjoy some cool air and take some “family photos”. She even hired a professional photographer that they were going to meet up with.

After, she would stay at Hanabi’s for the night and head home early in the morning.

It sounds like a great plan to her.

It turns out even better than she anticipated.

Argus poses like a diva and chases shadows through grass until he’s silly. Hinata lays down in the long blades with him and they watch some clouds and birds fly overhead.

It’s quiet, outside of the city, and the fresh air does wonders for her spirit.

Hanabi comments on it when they arrive at her place.

“You look less ‘stick up the butt’ than usual,” she says by way of greeting, immediately crouching to spoil Argus with treats and pets.

“Nice to see you too,” Hinata mutters with an affectionate eye roll.

Hanabi pokes her tongue out at her. “No, but really. You look more relaxed. It’s...nice.”

Hinata feels a pinch of guilt at that, but doesn’t comment, and instead ruffles Hanabi’s hair as she passes.

They spend the evening sipping hot tea and watching a true crime murder mystery.

It’s one of the best days of Hinata’s life.

That probably should have been her first warning.

Chapter Text

"Stand up straight."

"Speak up."

"Look at me when I'm talking to you."

Of all the things her father ever said to her..."I love you" was never one of them.


 

She gets the call while she’s in a meeting.

She doesn’t recognize the number and is tempted to ignore it, but one too many instances with Naruto has taught her better than that. She politely excuses herself before answering.

There’s faint static on the line and then a voice she hasn’t heard in awhile. “Hinata.”

Neji.

Immediately, there are a dozen questions trying to punch their way through her brain. Not the least of which is why it’s Neji calling her because she hears from him maybe once or twice a year, and since it’s not her birthday she’s immediately concerned that something may have happened to his pregnant wife. She was due any day now, according to Hanabi.

“Your father’s in the hospital.” He tells her without preamble, derailing her concerns and bringing  sudden static to her brain.

“Wh-what?” She sinks into her office chair, hating the way her knees tremble at the mere mention of the man.

“I don’t know all of the details, but it’s not good,” he tells her.

“What...what happened?” she asks. She’s still trying to process.

“Stroke.” Neji continues in that same clipped and efficient tone he’s had his whole life. “I can’t get away. I need you to go and handle the situation.”

She doesn’t want to do that.

Not at all.

But Neji lives on the other side of the country and has a pregnant wife to care for.

Asking Hanabi is out of the question.

While Hanabi never suffered like Hinata did beneath their father’s exacting standards, this wasn’t something that Hinata was going to pawn off on her younger sibling.

“--Hinata?”

She realizes belatedly that Neji is still talking to her.

“I’m sorry, what?” she gives her head a little shake, trying to focus.

“You’ll handle it?”

She really doesn’t want to.

She bites her lip. There's no one else.

She swallows against a dry throat. “Yeah...I’ll handle it.”

He rattles off the hospital and room number and before long Hinata is on her way across town, towards a man that she swore to cut out of her life forever.

 

* * *

He looks fragile.

Frail, even.

Laying there beneath the starch white hospital sheet, with IV lines in his arms and an oxygen hose in his nostrils and monitors recording his vitals.

Nothing like the monster in her memories, and yet she still hovers just inside the doorway with her purse clutched tight in hands that trembled, afraid to venture too close, lest she disturb the beast.

She doesn’t want to be here.

She doesn’t know why she is.

The doctor has already met with her--told her that he suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke. His brain was damaged--the full extent, not yet known--but whatever the case, he was never going to make a full recovery.

Complications, she was told, could range from limited mobility to memory loss, to his being completely dependent on a home care nurse. That was assuming he survived these next few critical hours.

She waits for some sense of satisfaction to hit her--some righteous glee that the tormentor of her childhood lays before her broken...but all she can feel is the faint echoing sadness of a daughter that wanted her father’s love.

In the bed Hiashi shifts, his sunken eyes blinking awake and Hinata feels her breath catch and tremble in her chest. He turns his head, ever so slightly, towards her. It takes him a moment to register her presence, but when he does he sighs out, “Hikari.”

Her mother’s name.

She shakes her head. “N-no,” she tells him, taking a single step closer, a little more into the light. “It’s Hinata.”

He seems not to hear her.

“Hikari…” Only part of his face moves when he speaks. There’s a slight slur on the word. His eyes close again and his monitor makes a high pitched whine.

She is quickly ushered from the room by people in blue and white scrubs. She hears orders being called out--phrases and medical jargon that she can’t even begin to comprehend. Her father is wheeled from the room and taken into surgery.

Forty-seven minutes later, a moustached man in a blood stained surgical gown meets her in the waiting room and gives her his condolences.

Chapter Text

Death is not the opposite of life, but part of it.


 

She arranges for his death certificates.

Contacts his attorney.

Contacts her attorney.

She comforts Hanabi. Holds her while her little sister cries, because as much as he was not a father for Hinata, he had always been available for Hanabi. Maybe not father-of-the year...but a father, at least.

It hurts to see Hanabi hurting.

And it makes Hinata wonder...shouldn’t she feel something? Something...besides empty?

Sad would be expected, she supposes. She just lost her father, after all. But that’s not true. The truth was that she lost him years ago...if she ever even had him to begin with. She doesn’t remember a time that the sound of his voice or his presence didn’t cause her to tense up; in anticipation of a hit or reprimand.

So, then, wouldn’t it make sense to feel relief? Relief that the man that tried to grind her to dust beneath his heel and expectations--who tried to mold her into someone that she clearly wasn’t--was gone.

But no.

She just feels...hollow.

And maybe...a little disappointed?

She frowns at that errant thought. Disappointed in herself for not grieving? Sounds about right for her usual self-loathing...but it wasn’t that either.

She can’t put her finger on it.

It’s faint...like a distant echo.

So, maybe she feels something.

Maybe.

Disappointment that he never acknowledged her?

That he never told her he was sorry?

That he never recognized her as anything other than a failure?

That he made her feel like she was his life’s biggest mistake?

A mistake best left forgotten.

That he never, ever, admitted that he was wrong about anything?

Or that she might be good at anything?

Or that everything he hated about her he put there himself?!

Or that he hated her at all!

Anything.

Instead of indifference.

Instead of never, not once, not ever, reaching out.

Even when she left.

The very day she turned eighteen.

“Just going to take your mother’s money and run?” His bitterness bled into every syllable. “How pathetic do you have to be to not even be able to make it on your own?”

So she didn’t take a cent.

Not one .

Because...because…

“Fuck him!”

The words leave her in a broken shout, tearing from somewhere deep down and locked tight.

“Fuck him.” She presses the heels of her palms to her eyes and tries to take a steadying breath, denying the hot sting of tears. Denies the way her shoulders shake.

Argus whines, soft and plaintive.

So...not hollow then.

Not empty.

Angry.

 

She’s just so angry.

Chapter Text

For those dying, the process of death is simple.

One day here--the next day gone.

Everything after is a little more complicated for the living.


Executors and lawyers handle the estate details.

The funeral is small and private.

The ashes are given to Hanabi.

They spread them together, behind his house, in her mother’s garden.

It hurts.

Being back at this house that she grew up in.

Walking through the front door of a place that she swore never to return to.

She finds that, although she makes every effort to never go back on her word, there are some things in life that are unavoidable and come people that mean more to her.

Being there for Hanabi means more to her than her own spite.

So she stands outside beneath the grey sky, in the cold wind, while Hanabi says her goodbyes.

She still feels angry.

“Anger is a perfectly understandable emotion to feel.” She can practically hear Inoichi’s voice. “It’s a natural part of the grieving process.”

Hinata is familiar with the Kubler-Ross model.

She doesn’t think it’s the same type of anger, though, but she’s not an award winning psychiatrist, so what does she know.

She’s not angry at fate or destiny, or even death itself.

No.

She’s angry at herself.

For caring at all.

Hanabi’s soft sobs draw Hinata from her own introspection to her sister’s side. She wraps an arm around Hanabi’s shaking shoulders and watches the grey ash settle over the cool ground.

By the time they finish spreading his remains, it’s too late to drive back to the city, and despite Hinata’s misgivings, they stay the night. She finds that her old room is still mostly untouched while Hanabi's had been updated with new furnishings for when she went to visit.

Hinata half expected her room to be a bathroom or something, to be honest, so it’s more than a little disconcerting stepping over the threshold.

It’s feels like entering the past.

A chill courses over her skin--unwelcome and foreboding.

There are no fond memories here.

She just wants to forget it all.

So, of course, she dreams of her mother.

* * *

Hinata remembers humming.

Sunlight against skin.

Gentle laughter.

She can feel fingertips at her temple, trailing grooves into her short tresses as quiet humming lulls her to sleep.

She remembers being held.

She remembers feeling loved.

She remembers…

“Hinata.”

Her mother.

Face pale.

Tear-streaked.

She remembers voices fighting.

A baby crying.

Her mother is locked in her room.

“Leave her be, Hinata.” Her father lifts her up, tucks her to his chest. “She needs her rest.”

She remembers…

“Hinata.”

The baby is crying again.

Her mother is in her room again.

Sunlight spills over pale skin.

Her dress is white.

Her eyes are open.

The baby is still crying.

“Wake up! Mommy! Wake up!”

“Hinata!”

Her father’s voice.

Her mother bathed in sunlight.

Dressed in white.

I’m sorry.

* * *

Hinata wakes up with a strangled gasp, one hand reaching out blindly.

The room is dark.

Outside rain patters against the glass.

She feels sick.

Because this felt less like a dream and more like...a memory.

She rolls off the bed, rising unsteadily to her feet, making her way--almost drunkenly--out of her old bedroom and down the hall.

To her parents’ room.

Or what used to be their room.

Now it’s an storage room of sorts.

Still…

She pushes open the wooden door and the images flash behind her eyes in rapid succession.

It’s a sunny afternoon.

The birds are chirping outside the open window.

Her mother lays on the bed.

Beautiful--dressed in white.

Wedding dress.

She could have been sleeping, except her eyes are open.

Staring at Hinata.

Almost accusingly.

She holds a bottle of pills in one hand and a note in the other.

“Hinata.”

“Hinata…?”

Hinata whirls, finds Hanabi standing behind her looking confused and worried.

“I...she…” Hinata shakes her head helplessly as emotions--too many to identify--flood through her and she collapses against the wall, sliding down until she’s seated.

Hanabi moves to sit beside her.

“Mom?” Hanabi asks.

Hinata nods.

Hanabi was too young to remember her.

Too young.

Just a baby.

A baby.

The baby was crying...

Hinata exhales a shaky breath.

“I remember now. I found her. In there.” She gestures to the room but doesn’t face it again. She wants to leave.

Now.

Leave and never ever look back because her heart is fracturing with every breath. A chasm forming.

Because she remembers...being held.

She remembers...being happy.

She remembers...how it all fell apart.

* * *

Morning finds Hinata in her father’s study, despite her intentions to be on the road back home at the crack of dawn.

She can’t leave. At least, not yet.

Hanabi stays, too. Mostly to sort through some of Hiashi’s personal effects, but also to keep an eye on Hinata.

While that’s a comfort, Hinata wishes Naruto were there. She thought about asking him to attend the funeral with her, but he’d never even met her father and he always got so upset anytime Hinata talked about him, so it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. It’s a selfish wish--for his comfort--but still...She always felt like she could face anything by Naruto’s side and she could use a bit of that now.

Hiashi’s study is neat and organized. Her father had a penchant for meticulousness and exacting standards. Apparently he had them for himself as well. Everything has a place. An order.

Hinata’s not sure what she hopes to find, but she starts with his desk. She’s not surprised to see a picture of Hanabi beside his monitor. In the drawers she finds ledgers and legal documents; some financial investment information. There’s nothing personal aside from his one picture of Hanabi.

She’s not even sure why that disappoints her. She knows--better than anyone--how non-sentimental the man was.

Two hours later Hanabi joins her. “Did you find what you were looking for?” she asks.

Hinata lifts one shoulder in a half shrug. “I’m not even sure what I was looking for,” she confesses.

Hanabi approaches her slowly and then holds out a leather bound book. “Maybe this?”

Hinata looks up and sees that her sister has been crying. “Wh-what is it?”

Hanabi just jostles it a little. “Just...read it.”

Taking the well-worn book from Hanabi, Hinata gives her sister a searching look.

Hanabi sniffs. “It was in his bedroom closet. I’ll...uhm...give you some time. She closes the door behind her.

It’s a diary.

Her mother’s diary.

Hinata reads the pages...following Hikari’s story.

Following how she fell in love with Hiashi.

How she was overcome and overwhelmed by that love.

She reads pages upon pages of her parents’ love story.

She reads how excited Hikari was for their wedding.

How happy they were to be expecting Hinata.

How in love they were.

Years of entries.

Years of happy moments.

Little bits of love letters from Hiashi taped in between the pages.

A new baby on the way.

Their loving family growing larger.

Then the tone shifts.

After Hanabi is born.

Her mother becomes sadder and sadder.

Hinata recognizes the signs of depression--most likely postpartum in this case--and reads with anxious breaths the remainder of the entries. She knows what happens, but she doesn’t know and she wants to understand.

Hikari writes about how she doesn’t feel a connection to anything anymore. Except Hiashi. And she thinks he is falling out of love with her. She doesn’t blame him. How could he love her? She was such a mess. She ruined everything. She was worthless. It would just be better for him if she wasn’t around.

Hikari’s part of the diary ends the day before her death with one simple sentence scrawled by a trembling hand: A life without his love is not worth living.

The tears come so hard and unexpected that Hinata feels like she’s drowning. She cries for a long time. She cries for her mother. She cries for herself. She even cries for her father, because she read the diary...she knows he loved her mother. Once upon a time he loved Hinata, too.

Then Hikari died.

And she took that with her.

Hinata takes some time to collect herself. She wipes her eyes and places the diary on Hiashi’s desk.

She finds Hanabi in the living room, seated on the couch. She has a framed photo in her hands. Hinata settles beside her.

“This was in his room. By his bed.” Hanabi tells her.

It’s one of the only family pictures they had that included everyone. Hiashi and Hikari stand side by side. Hinata is also standing, in front of her father, her hand in his, while Hikari holds Hanabi. They’re smiling. It’s a nice picture.

Hanabi casts a glance at Hinata, then back to the photo, her fingers ghosting the glass. “You look just like her, you know.”

Hinata had never really thought about it, but looking at the photo now she can see the striking resemblance. Hiashi must have seen a bit of Hikari every time he looked at her.

She remembers his eyes in the hospital room...almost hopeful. “Hikari…”

She wipes at her cheeks, smearing the fresh tears.

“He loved you.” Hanabi says, wiping her nose. “I just don’t think he ever forgave her. And you…”

“Reminded him.” Hinata nods slowly as her finger slides along their mother’s outline. “Yeah...maybe.”

“He should have hated me,” Hanabi mutters.

Hinata snaps her head to the side so fast she’s surprised it doesn’t detach. “What?”

Hanabi’s own head ducks forward, her brown hair sliding to conceal her expression. “Because of me...Mom…”

Oh.

“Oh, Hanabi. It wasn’t your fault.” Hinata reaches for her, pulling her into a fierce hug. “None of it was.”

Hanabi sniffs into her shoulder, dampening the soft fabric of Hinata’s top.“It wasn’t yours either.”

Hinata used to wonder what she could have done different--to make her father love her. She’d spend hours trying to be perfect for him. She would do her homework, clean her room, clean the house, make dinner, stay quiet and out of the way...but it never mattered.

She realizes now that it never would have mattered. No matter what she did, whenever he looked at her he didn’t see Hinata. All he saw was the echo of his late wife and the pain of that must have been nearly intolerable.

It doesn’t excuse what he did to her, but it helps her understand.

She’ll never have her mother back. She’ll never have the relationship she wanted with her father.

But she has Hanabi.

And Ino.

And Kiba.

And Shino.

And Argus.

And even Naruto.

She has her family.

That’s more than enough.

Chapter Text

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”


 

Years of crippling self-doubt and anxiety don’t vanish overnight simply because you want them to.

As nice as that would be.

In the days following her father’s funeral Hinata has become more resolute in her efforts to change herself (or to become herself, as Inoichi calls it), and yet she finds that she still struggles with herself and with her insecurities.

Inoichi reminds her that healing takes time, and the challenges can be difficult. If it were easy, then people like him would be out of work.

Even so, Hinata wants to push herself a little harder.

A little further out of her comfort zone.

The next time Toneri offers her the Lead position on a contract bid, she takes it. It’s government, so it’s a rather important one. She’s up to the task, she assures him.

She’s not weak.

She won’t break.

She twists her hair back into a bun and stares determinedly at her rival.

“I’m stronger than you.” She tells her reflection.

If that seems crazy, well, then only Argus knows.

She graduates her self defense course. Tenten is still impressed with Hinata’s skills, and offers to have her trained as an instructor. It’s flattering, but Hinata declines. She does, however, go to Eight Gates and ask Sensei if she can spar.

He is, predictably, ecstatic.

He has her watch several matches, having her critique them.

She has a good eye, he tells her. Which, even watching from the outside is good, but it’s harder when you’re the one on the mat. He has her practice against him--punching and kicking pads like usual. Baguazhang was a martial art, after all, so she had been striking pads for awhile.

But then he starts pushing back. Making her counter.

Then he has her pair up with Lee.

Lee is, hands down, the best fighter Hinata has ever seen. Not that her experience is incredibly vast, but she’s seen enough now to know that Lee’s talent was unrivaled by anyone currently at Eight Gates with the exception of Guy Sensei.

Lee is incredibly fast.

Hinata had a hard time blocking at first.

He never strikes her hard--just enough to connect and let her feel the ‘tag’.

But before long she is blocking successfully.

Thinking that maybe he was not taking her as serious as some other fighters, she had told him, “Please don’t hold back. I won’t get any better if you do.”

Lee had blinked at her. “I’m not,” he had told her. “I wouldn’t dishonor you in that way. I do not strike you because I can not strike you. You are very fast.”

Sensei sees her self-doubt and has her square up with a few of the regulars.

Turns out she’s actually good at evading. At predicting her opponents.

They can’t touch her.

She still hesitates to attack them, though. Even in practice, she dislikes the idea of hurting anyone. She’s still happier in her circle. Still more at peace when it’s just her and the movements. But she wanted to try something new.

So she did.

No one mocks her for her efforts.

Sensei doesn’t call her a failure when she doesn’t win.

Some of the other fighters even come to her for advice from time to time, asking her to watch their matches and tell them what she sees, looking to her for suggestions.

It’s flattering, but also, something that wasn’t given to her. She earned their respect through her hard work. It makes her proud.

She carries that pride with her whenever she can.

Like when her contract team runs into some unexpected opposition and her work hours become longer and more chaotic.

Or when she has a panic attack in her laundry room for seemingly no reason.

Or when she dreams of her mother and father and has to fight with herself to get out of bed the whole weekend.

She pushes her furniture aside and practices her eight mother palms when she feels overwhelmed.

Sometimes she wants to call Naruto, but she talks herself out of it most days. He’s got his own battles to fight and she’ll do what she can to support that and not hinder it.

She has supporting him on her mind when she calls the hospital to pay for his medication and see how many refills he had left, so she could call Dr. Senju if needed.

“Your name?”

“Hinata Hyuuga.”

There’s a pause as the secretary clicks on her keyboard. Then, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that information.”

Hinata stops swirling doodles on her notepad. “Uhm...why not?”

“Only parents, guardians, caregiver, advocates, or people the patient has assigned can get medical information--”

“I know that,” Hinata cuts in, a little sharper than she means to. “I’m--I’m on his list.” She’s the only one on his list.

There’s more typing. “You’re not there now. If you were before, you’ve been removed. “

“What? Why?”

The secretary gives a tired sigh. She probably doesn’t get paid enough to listen to near hysterics. “Ma’am, I would suggest contacting the patient and taking it up with him. Is there anything else?”

“Oh, uhm, no. No. Thank you. Sorry.” Hinata hangs up and immediately dials Naruto. How in the world was he going to get his medicine if she didn’t pay for it? Did he think the pharmacy fairy was supplying it? Worse, what if he wasn’t picking it up? What if he wasn’t taking it? What if he stopped seeing his doctor? Without her there to remind him or drive him...what if--what if something had happened to him? What if--

“Hello?”

Oh, thank god. “Naruto. Are you... all right?”

There’s a small delay, like he’s processing what she said. “Um, yeah? Should I not be?”

“I called your doctor’s office. You... took me off the account?” Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe a clerical error.

“Um, yeah.”

Oh. So not a mistake then.

She pauses, trying for a calm she doesn’t completely feel. “Did I do something?”

There’s another pause. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” He finally asks her, with a sigh.

“What?” She’s not following. She never asked to be taken off his account.

“You can’t take care of me anymore. I get it.”

That strikes right through her.

Because, yes, she said that.

But that didn’t mean she stopped caring .

That she wasn’t going to help him.

“Please don’t throw my words in my face.” Especially when they’re so misconstrued. She leaves that out, because she doesn’t want to fight. They’d been civil lately. She wants to keep it that way.

She’s still kind of emotionally tanked from her father’s death and recalling just exactly how her mother died. Fighting with Naruto isn’t something she can handle at the moment.

“I’m not. Look, I took you off my account so they didn’t bother you with my appointment reminders, or my bills, or anything. I’m not trying to hurt you or, like, get back at you. Nothing like that.”

She breathes a little sigh, because she can tell that he’s not being completely truthful. She decides not to push. She worked too many hours this week and her emotions are frayed. Best to just let it be for now. “Okay.”

“Hey, do you maybe want to go get dinner?”

Naruto’s question surprises her. “Dinner?”

“Yeah, there’s something I wanted to ask you about.”

She’s tired.

She’s drained.

But it’s Naruto.

So she says yes.

Chapter Text

Hinata has always spent more time waiting for the storm than enjoying the moment.

She's working on changing that.


 

She doesn’t know exactly what she’s dreading when she arrives at the diner, but she can’t quite shake the feeling of anxious anticipation. Maybe it’s leftover stress from the past week or so. Maybe it’s just lingering concerns about Naruto. Whatever the reason, she feels flustered even as she exits her cab.

She takes a moment outside the quaint little restaurant to catch her breath and smooth her hands over her hair to smooth the flyaways from her bun. She pauses in the motion, a brief flicker of unease curdling like sour milk in her gut. Was this a date?

She’s wearing loose lounge pants and an oversized shirt with no makeup. What if she had underdressed? What if he saw her and was repulsed by her lack of effort? What if--

Wait.

She inhales and exhales in a slow breath. Doing what she’d always told Naruto to do when his thoughts started veering dangerously off the road.

This was Naruto.

He once saw her green-faced face-down in a toilet after some bad sushi covered in sweat and worse and still told her she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.

Her lazy apparel wouldn’t bother him.

But that wasn’t even the real root of her nervousness.

She feels her lips thin, pulling tight, as she forces herself to confront why she was really apprehensive. What if he had called her here to cut off all ties? He’d already removed her from being his emergency contact. It wasn’t like she wouldn’t deserve it, if that was the case. And if that’s what he wanted, she’d give it to him, but there was no denying the way her heart clenched up in her chest, curling itself into a protective ball against the very idea of it.

Taking another steadying breath, Hinata squares her shoulders. She wouldn’t know what he wanted if she didn’t get her ass inside to find out. Resolutely she opens the door and strides inside.

He’s seated in one of the booths near the windows, looking like a bright spot against the dimness of the ‘mood lighting’. He always was her bright spot. He stands when he notices her and waves her over.

He’s smiling, so maybe he wasn’t about to tell her to fuck right off and never look back.

When she’s closer he pulls her in for a quick hug and her fingers reflexively tighten against his back, soaking in some of his warmth and familiar energy. When he steps back she can’t help but feel a little pang, but she adjusts herself into the booth to avoid him seeing it and immediately blurts, “So, what did you need to ask me?”

He watches her for a moment, eyes lingering on the way she’s twisting her bracelet. Guiltily she tucks her hands into her lap to fiddle out of sight and waits for his response.

“Do you always worry about everything I do?” He laughs but it doesn’t sound light.

Yes. Yes I do, thank you for noticing.

His gaze is searching and she doesn’t know what he’s looking for so she just blinks at him a little stupidly. “What?”

He smiles at her, reassuringly. “You sound so stressed. All I said was I wanted to ask you something.” His tone kind of reminds her of her own when she’s talking to Argus if he’s stressed.

Her shoulders relax a little though, because he wouldn’t be smiling at her like that if he was about to unload some negative stuff. She doesn’t let go of her bracelet though because he is clearly nervous.

Nervous Naruto had never been a good sign for her.

Heh. Nervous Naruto.

Sounds like the title of a children’s book. Maybe one about ramen. Where the noodles are the popular kids and the little naruto is scared but he overcomes his fears and becomes the favorite topping...wait. Focus up, Hinata.

Naruto, oblivious to her internal adventure as an award winning children’s author, slides an envelope towards her. She opens it, reading the fancy scrawl and noting the heavy (expensive) cardstock. An election night banquet. A fancy election night banquet.

“This is yours?” She double checks.

He nods at her, clearly trying not to laugh at her befuddlement.

She glances at the invite again and feels something warm bloom where her curled up heart resides. Pride, she realizes. And affection. “Wow, that’s such an exciting event,” she breathes. “I’m really proud of you.”

He must have worked so hard. She feels her cheeks tingle, her smile growing. She always knew he had it in him. It’s so good that he’s learning that too.

Across from her he clears his throat. “Well, I was wondering, if you’d come with me.”

She blinks a few times. Had she heard that right? “Me?”

“Yes, you.” He rolls his eyes a little, laughing.

The waitress interrupts them momentarily to ask for their orders before she can say anything in response.

Hinata orders a burger and fries, feeling a teensie bit guilty when Naruto orders a sandwich and a salad. But not guilty enough to give up her selection.

“So, will you come with me?” He asks again when the waitress has made her way to a different table.

She purses her lips, considering the invitation in her hand.  “You really want me to come?” She asks him again. This is such a big, important achievement for him. She doesn’t want to make it uncomfortable or awkward and she has never, ever, been very good in social situations.

Naruto makes a sound before hanging his head in his hands. “Ugh, your impossible.” He lets them slide over his face, tiredly. “Why would I ask you here, tell you about it, and then ask you twice if I didn’t ‘really’ want you to come?”

Okay. Fair point.

“Don’t be mean to me. I spent the last two hours thinking you were mad at me.” That’s the truth. Even if it is avoiding his invite.

“Why? Because of the doctor thing?” He asks her, brows lifted. He continues before she can verify what he already knows. “I’m definitely not mad. I’m just trying to do my thing, ya’know. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

She looks down at the table so he won’t see the flicker of pain she feels, because-- yes --that is what she wanted, but also no. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nyet. She wants him to live his own life...she just selfishly thought she’d always be a part of it. Even if they weren’t a couple.

But being a part of it meant that she had to do it on his terms, and also to accept the boundaries that she, herself, created.

“Right?” He asks her again, softly.

She opens her mouth, but she really doesn’t know what to say. She’s not sure how to put all of the turbulent feelings regarding him, her, them into words. She’s saved from responding by the shadow of the waitress returning with their orders.

She’s picking at her napkin when she sees him move--his large, tan hand coming to rest on the table between them, palm up, fingers semi curled. It’s relaxed, though his expression tells her that he’s anything but .

It’s an invitation.

She can accept or decline, but as always, the choice is hers.

Hinata’s gaze flickers between his and his hand a few times.

Maybe he doesn’t mean this decision to weigh as much as it does, but in Hinata’s mind this moment is more than a simple choice between holding his hand or not. It’s the choice between remaining aloof and casual and knowing that if she takes his hand then she is about to open herself up wide for him. Risk getting hurt again.

She’s not sure she can handle that kind of pain again.

But...

Slowly, she places her hand in his. His fully encapsulated hers, rubbing the top of it, as gentle as possible.

She feels her eyes mist over. It’s the feeling of home.

“Ask me.” Naruto squeezes her hand softly, his voice equally soft.

“Ask what?” She asks, voice thin. She swallows the tremble.

“The stuff you want to. Need to, I mean.” He flashes her another gentle smile, rubbing her hand again. “It’s okay.” He promises.

She looks up into his blue eyes for a long moment, his hand rubbing the back of her knuckles now, continuously, in little circles.

“Okay.” She takes a small breath. First--most important: “Are you taking your medication?”

No hesitation. “Yes.”

She nods, feeling relief course through her. Next: “Are you seeing your doctor?”

“Both.”

That’s impressive. He hated both of them. She wants some clarification, though. “Your psychiatrist and your therapist?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve been getting to work on time?”

“Yep, for both.” He beams at her--proud as Argus when he fetches her slippers in the morning.

She smiles a little. “And what about eating?”

“I told you about Mr. Umino, helping me out. Between him and Jiraiya, I’ve been eating clean. Cleaner than Clorox.” He makes a face and she gives a breathless giggle. He’s so resentful about it. “This is my first piece of bread since Jiraiya got me on program.” He pokes the toothpick holding his sandwich together with his free hand. “So don’t tell on me, m’kay?”

She nods. “Okay.”

“Can I ask you a question?” His thumb is still making distracting circles over her knuckles.

It’s only fair, she thinks, bracing herself.

“You’ve been good... right?” He leans forward a little bit. “You’ve been doing okay, right?”

Hinata looks back down at her food, her free hand shifting to her the bracelet. Was she okay? Yeah...she was definitely on her way there. She had stumbled a lot and some of the hardships that have happened recently have been the most difficult of her life, but she’s pushing through. A genius of perseverance and all that. It’s a struggle that she wants to share with him, but not right now. This struggle is still hers.

He squeezes her hand lightly again.

“Yes.” She nods to him, focusing in this moment. Her hand in his. Yeah, she was okay.

“Good.” He smiles at her, but she can tell it doesn’t reach his eyes. She’s about to ask him about it when he cuts her off. “Okay, just one more question.”

Okay.

She inhales.

She’ll be as candid as she can be.

She waits.

He tips his head. “Can I have a couple of your fries?”

That was not the question she expected. She splutters a bit. “My french fries?”

“I have many regrets about my side salad.” Naruto admits, ducking his head sheepishly.

She laughs, shaking her head. “Yes.”

Their hands separate. Hers going to her fries, scooping up a dozen of them and depositing them on a clear part of his plate. “I can’t believe you’re eating a salad.” She tells him.

Naruto slumps dramatically, looking at Hinata in mock despair. “I’ve got to say, not all changes were for the better.”

She smiles at him, soft and warm. “But a lot of them were,” she reminds him. Like her leaving.

It stung--just a bit--to have confirmation that she had been part of the problem. Things between them could have been handled a lot better--on both their parts-- but she was learning to accept the things that she couldn’t change, and trying to make steady progress forward.

Dimly, from a distant memory of a happier time, she hears her mother’s voice in her head, feels her hands on her cheeks. “Face towards the sun, Hinata, that way the shadows fall behind you.”

She watched Naruto inhale her fries and smiles.

She’s facing her sun.

She still needs to learn to shine on her own.

But she’ll get there.

Chapter Text

I was not trying to tear you down

The words that I could've used

I was too scared to say out loud


 


Hinata runs into Naruto while he’s canvassing by complete chance and literally. She’s just arriving to lunch with Ino and Sai at Akimichi’s where they would be joined by Choji and his girlfriend, Mei, when she catches her toe on a crack and stumbles.

Directly into someone.

Strong hands catch her shoulders even as papers spill onto the sidewalk. “Oh, shit. Careful, lady--Hina?”

She recognizes the voice even before she rights herself, blowing her bangs out of her eyes.“Hi,” she says, quietly, a pink blush spreading over her cheeks.

“Hey.” His voice is low and slightly rough. He hasn’t let go of her shoulders.

He smells good, she thinks. Familiar, but also a little different. Cologne? The warmth of him lures her closer.

Beside them a throat clears.

Hinata blinks, taking a little step back, her blush morphing from pink to near cherry red when she realizes just how close she’d been standing.

The kid from the fight--Ken Sarutobi?--is making a weird face at Naruto, eyebrows wiggling up and down.

Konohamaru ,” Naruto growls the name.

Oh. Not Ken. She makes a mental note.

Naruto brushes a hand through his hair glancing around, a little unsure. He looks different, but still good, she thinks, in his button down shirt and khaki pants. He’s even wearing a pair of brown loafers.

“Canvassing?” She asks him, despite the obviousness of it, just to break the awkwardness.

He nods. “Uh, yeah. You?”

She gestures to the glass doors just ahead of them.  “Lunch with friends.”

Just as she says it the doors swing out and Choji steps outside, his warm gaze landing on her. “Oh, good. You’re here.” There’s genuine relief on his face. “I think Mei may be ready to murder Sai. I can use back up.”

Hinata shakes her head, repressing a giggle.

“It’s not funny.” Choji laments.

Hinata nods, schooling her features to mock seriousness. “Of course not. Sorry.”

Choji steps forward, only to notice Naruto and Konohamaru lingering nearby. He gives Hinata a look, silently asking if she was being accosted by religious peddlers or if she knew them.

She turns back to Naruto. She feels a little awkward introducing them, but she wasn’t going to shy away from it. “Choji, this is Naruto and his partner Konohamaru.”

At the name, Choji smiles and holds out his hand. “I can finally put a face to the name,” he says. “Hinata’s told me a lot about you.”

Hinata can see the hesitation and tension in every line of Naruto’s body. He’s stiff, even as he accepts the handshake and his gaze is borderline hostile. “Weird,” he says, tightly. “I can’t say the same. Never heard of you before.”

That’s not entirely true, she just never used Choji’s name.

Instead of being offended, Choji just chuckles good-naturedly. “I don’t think you and I carry the same significance.” There’s not an ounce of resentment in the statement because Choji knows how much Naruto means to her. Still, he has never been anything but a good, supportive friend to her even after his own relationship started to take off and Hinata doesn’t want to diminish that. “I’ll see you inside,” he says to Hinata before re-entering the restaurant.

She gives Naruto a slightly reproachful look for his rudeness. Even on her worst days, she had managed to make nice with his friends--even the ones that made her want to crawl under the nearest rock and hide until they went away.

Naruto makes a face--like he swallowed a lemon before he gives an awkward wave. “These flyers won’t hand themselves out, so...see ya.” He starts to walk away when Hinata grabs his arm.

He’s tense beneath her fingers, and a bit startled. He glances at her.

She takes a breath. “Uhm, would you...Do you…?” Okay, spit it out. She looks up into his eyes. “Want to join us?”

Now he is very clearly startled.“Uhhh--”

“Hell yeah. This place has the best pork ribs--” Konohamaru starts for the door before being hauled up short by Naruto gripping the back of his collar with his free hand.

“Can’t,” he tells Hinata. “I’m still on babysitting duty.”

She tries not to feel disappointed. She wants Naruto to know that he wasn’t excluded from the new things in her life. Her disappointment must show on her face, though, because Naruto shifts on his feet and ruffles the hair at the back of his head. “I’m done around six,” he tells her. “If you wanna do something after?”

Hinata perks up. “Yeah?”

“I mean, yeah, if you want.” He’s still hesitating.

For once it’s not her hedging.

She nods.

They make plans to meet up at a cafe near Teuchi’s around seven.

That will give her enough time to go home and see Argus for a bit before meeting up, so that works. She watches him walk off with Konohamaru in tow, the younger man clearly giving Naruto a hard time about not taking the invite.

Inside the restaurant Mei does look a bit like she wants to strangle Sai, but since Ino is leaning back and unconcerned Hinata doesn’t think it’s too big of an issue.

“Choji says Naruto was outside.” Ino wastes no time saying as Hinata pulls out her chair.

“He was.” She confirms.

“And?”

“And what?” Hinata shrugs. “I invited him in, but he’s working.”

“Hm.” Ino nods. “Priorities. That’s good, right?”

Hinata nods because yes, it was good. In the past Naruto was all too eager and willing to put responsibility on the backburner in favor of something he wanted. “Yeah.”

“If I declined an invitation from Ino I’d probably not get sex for quite awhile.” Sai feels the need to inform the table.

Hinata blinks at him and shakes her head. “Good to know.”

“Is it? What other things about our sex life would be good for you to know?”

Ino narrows her eyes. “Sai.”

“Sorry.” He places the menu in front of his face.

“If you can shut him up that easily, why didn’t you do it earlier?” Mei asks.

“Oh, because I was enjoying myself,” Ino says with a laugh.

“Oh, well, of course. Then by all means, amuse yourself at my expense.” Mei gives a playful eye roll. She’s a bit older than the rest of them, but her affection for Choji was blatant and genuine. Mei had been through a difficult divorce and Choji through his messy break up. They both were taking things slow, but it was clear to those that knew them that they were headed for long-term.

Hinata couldn’t be happier for her friend. Choji deserved every bit of happiness that life could throw his way. She caught his eyes and lifted her glass in his direction. The others followed suit.

“To happiness. May we all find it, keep it, and cherish it.”

* * *

“So...that was the guy, right?”

Hinata had made it through most of a muffin before he posed the question.

She had known it was coming based on the rapid tapping of his fingers against his thighs. Still, knowing it was coming didn’t make her answer any easier. She swallows the too dry crumbs and takes a drink from her hot cocoa.

“I recognized his voice.” Naruto continues, but he looks away from her. He glances at her and then away again. “He, uh...he seemed nice.”

It’s the most disingenuous thing he’s probably ever said to her. She tilts her head, trying to catch his eyes. “Naruto.”

“Hm.” He’s still not fully looking at her, his gaze locked somewhere over her left shoulder.

“Hey.” She touches his arm. “I think I need to clear some things up. About Choji and me.”

He’s already shaking his head. “No, I’m all good. Not my business, and I don’t really want to hear about it.” He feigns a stretch. “How about them Knicks, eh?”

She blows out a breath and pokes him. “They forever stink,” she says, earning an affronted look from him. “And I never dated Choji. At least, not like...not like most people date.”

He looks at her dubiously.

“I’m serious,” she tells him. “I met him at an event for Ino’s boyfriend. We hit it off, because Choji’s a really nice guy and we started hanging out. That was it.”

“By nice you mean normal, right? Not a fuck up.” He sounds less bitter and more defeated.

She shakes her head. “No. I mean nice. As in he listened to me when I needed a friend. That’s all he and I ever were. All we are. He’s still my friend.”

“Yeah, he seemed friendly .”

She gives him a look.

Naruto plays with his straw wrapper. “You don’t need to explain,” he murmurs.

“I know. But I want to. Because...I think you have this notion that I left and things have just been sunshine and rainbows for me and that’s just not true.”

He flicks a glance her way. “No?”

“No.” She confirms. “I’ve been too scared to say the things I need to say because I’ve been worried that if I push too hard, or not enough--”

“That I’ll crack. I get it.”

“No,” she says sharply. “That I will.”

He blinks at her, frowning. “You’re the most stable person I know.”

Her lips twist. “Then you don’t know me as well as you think you do, Mr. Uzumaki.” He’s about to refute it when she adds, “But that’s okay. I’d like you to get to know me. This me. Not the Hinata you’ve always known. The one I am now. The one I will be.” She reaches for his hand. “And I want to get to know you. This you.”

“Yeah?”

She smiles, squeezing his fingers. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Do you know what it's like when

You wish you were someone else

Do you know what it's like to

Be your own worst enemy

Who sees the things in me I can't hide

Do you know what it's like to wanna surrender

~ Skillet


 

She dreams of her mother sometimes.

More frequently than she ever had before, certainly, and often in vivid detail. She supposes that some of her memories are superimposing themselves into her dreams. Sometimes, in her dreams, her mother and Naruto overlap. She finds her mother in a bathtub. She finds Naruto in the bedroom. It’s not an out of the blue association. She understands the connection. Doesn’t make it easier to deal with, though.

Most nights she can rationalize it and talk herself down from a crying fit or worse. It works, for the most part, but there are still nights that she has trouble. Those nights Argus is a godsend. He curls up against her, the solid weight of his head against her chest, reminding her that she’s not alone.

But those difficult nights are becoming fewer and fewer.

She’s working hard. On herself. On being the person she wants to be.

She’s still uncertain about some things, still hesitant to reveal too much vulnerability. She is still carefully guarding herself. But she sees the behavior now and is trying to get better at being more confident, more assured. It’s hard to accept her self-worth after a lifetime of feeling worthless, but she’s trying. She thinks that counts for something.

She’s still finding her voice--herself--but she doesn’t feel like her own worst enemy anymore. She still views her “old” self as a rival, but she’s not abandoning her. She doesn’t want to forget where she came from, but at the same time, she refuses to surrender who she wants to become.

She thinks, more than anyone, Naruto would understand her struggles.

They talk more frequently.

It’s nice.

They talk about little things, like her knitting class and how she ate a fried Twinkie for the first time, and some not so little. She tells him about her father’s death. She doesn’t go into detail--they both knew she and Hiashi had parted ways many years ago--but he offers his sympathies and she appreciates it.

Sometimes she just likes to listen. Naruto has this way of telling stories that captivates her. He tells her about the his jobs and his Muay Thai training. He really enjoys it--she can hear his infectious enthusiasm in his voice every time he brings it up.

Sometimes, when he’s explaining some of his new combos to her, he keeps pausing. Like he’s waiting for her to be bored, or irritated. But she’s interested.

Sometimes when he talks about it, he reminds her of Lee.

She kind of wants to introduce them, but she’s not sure how Naruto would feel about it.

This is his thing. Like Bagua was hers. She doesn’t want to overstep. Still, she can’t help but wonder how he would react if she told him.

It turns out, she doesn’t have to wonder long.

* * *

When Hinata arrives at Eight Gates for her usual session, she’s surprised to find Sensei and Lee setting up one of the larger sparring mats with various pads, towels, and water in her usual section. She rolls her shoulders as she approaches.

“I didn’t think we were sparring today,” she says when she reaches them.

Lee smiles up at her from his bend--he’s lining up the mat ‘just so’. “Ah, Hinata. You are once again glowing with youthful radiance! You are mostly correct. We will not be sparring.”

She smiles a little at that, tipping her head. “Mostly correct?”  

“We will be helping an old friend of mine and one of his young fighters,” Guy Sensei fills her in, dropping some ankle weights beside the towels. “I did not want to disrupt the rest of the gym or have an unnecessary audience while we focus on the training. I hope you do not mind.” He indicates the mats.

Hinata shakes her head, with a light giggle. It was his gym. “Not at all. May I use the adjacent room?” She’s still the only student learning Baguazhang, so it’s not like there needs to be a lot of space.

Guy Sensei nods and flashes her his white (so very white) smile and gives her a thumbs up. “Of course! Your dedication is admirable! I’m so proud of you! Look at you--blooming like a lotus blossom!”

The old Hinata would have balked at the praise and tried to discount it, and while she still blushes, she takes the praise. “Thank you, Sensei.” She gives him a slight bow before taking her bags to the sectioned off area behind the extra mats.

Once in her own area, Hinata takes a few minutes to simply stretch and breathe--rolling her neck and shoulders, loosening her stiff posture.

Everything in her settles.

Calms.

She takes her first step.

Then another.

Twist.

Her arms move.

Her body coils.

Step.

She is the rolling thunder in the sky.

Turn.

The flowing river over the earth.

Step.

She is whole.


* * *

Hinata doesn’t really keep track of time while training, so she has no idea how long she is practicing before she is startled by the sharp sound of applause and a voice that she knows better than her own and completely unexpected.

“Well, well, well.” Naruto steps onto her mat, his blue eyes sharp on her face. “That was pretty impressive.” He smiles as he walks closer, meeting her in the center of her mat.

Her brain short circuits a bit at what a sweaty Adonis he presents. She tries--really, she does--to make her mouth work, but she ends up tripping over her tongue.“W-what are you doing here?”

Naruto puts his hands up defensively. “I’m not stalking you or nothing. Jiraiya is paying the eyebrows over there in the spandex to give me permanent brain damage.”

Hinata processes his words. So this was the young fighter that Guy and Lee were helping? Then her own brows twitch when she hears the nickname.

“Plus, it’s not like I ever could’ve imagined seeing you here,” Naruto continues with a tight shrug. “Since the only cool thing I thought you were up to was knitting pot holders, ya’ know.” There’s a hint of accusation in his tone.

She sniffs, straightening. “It didn’t come up.” Which was true. At no point had he ever asked her what martial arts she was taking...

Naruto snorts like he can read her mind. “Oh, Hinata what have you been up to? ‘Hmm, nothing really, just knitting.’” His mocking falsetto is suspiciously on point. As is his eyelash batting.

Her lips purse a little. Okay, he had her there. Dang it. She should probably apologize.

“What is it called?” He’s already moved the conversation forward.

She quirks an eyebrow.

“The thing you were doing?” He asks, making a windmill arm rotation.

Unconsciously, her fingers push together--something to fiddle with since she can’t wear jewelry while training. She’s trying to not feel self-conscious, but it’s hard with those blue eyes focused on her so intensely. She glances at the mat. “Um, it’s called Baguazhang.”

“Huh? Baguazhang.” He sounds it out slowly.

She nods.

His face splits into a wide grin--one that would rival Sensei’s on his best day. “Well, show me some of your moves.” He motions for her to do something.

Hinata’s heart kicks around a bit and that feeling of self-consciousness that she was trying so hard to repress rises up. “What?”

Naruto’s smile remains but there’s something almost...flirtatious...about it now. “Come on. You looked hella fierce.”

Her? Fierce? A bit of her pride swells, just enough to push the self-consciousness back some. “Well, I was pretty much finishing up.”

“Hina, come on, just a little.” He bats those lashes again. “Please.”

What harm could there be? This was Naruto; he wasn’t going to mock her. Besides, she’s been wanting to share it with him for awhile. She nods. “Um, well, if you really want-”

“Eh, Naruto, hurry the fuck up!” A new, unfamiliar (and unwelcome) voice intrudes.

Naruto looks over his shoulder towards the same grey haired man from the fight (Jiraiya?) and gestures, quite obviously towards Hinata and himself.

“You can try and get in her pants after!”

Naruto flips him off.

Hinata represses the urge to do it herself.

“Sorry,” Naruto says. “I think he’s just pissed off because I can’t knock out Mr. Rocky Balboa over there.”

Rocky? Oh. “Lee?”

“Yeah, the guy can throw me all over the mat but he can’t box for shit.”

That’s a blatantly untrue statement if Hinata’s ever heard one. There wasn’t a martial art that Lee hadn’t mastered or wasn’t damn good at. If Naruto was holding his own, that was amazing, but she didn’t like the way he discounted Lee’s talent.

“Didn’t Rocky win in boxing?” She feels she should remind him.

Naruto huffs. “Yeah, sure, but he was the inferior boxer.”

“I think there’s a entire movie franchise that proves the opposite of that?” She teases. She should know--they watched it about ten times in college. Anytime Naruto needed motivation to pass a test. “In this case, you should like Rocky. He was the underdog.”

Naruto sighs, and for a moment he looks like she’s the one that punched him. “That storyline gets old.”

Hinata frowns at that, but decides not to press. Instead, she asks, “Is it helpful? To spar with Lee?”

Naruto nods a bit reluctantly. “Yeah. ‘Might’ Guy over there thinks I’m pretty youthful. He’s says he likes ‘raw fighters’. Whatever that means.” Naruto brushed the sweaty hair that’s sticking to his forehead away and Hinata barely refrains the urge to lick her lips, which is probably a good thing, because in the next moment Naruto leans closer and says, “I know you like me raw.”

Did he just…say?!? What she thinks he said?  She can feel her face like it has its own heartbeat. She knows she’s furious red. The room spins dangerously.

Naruto smirks, reaching out to pinch at her sides playfully.

“You...oh my gosh...you...I... can’t believe-” She sputters, smacking his hand away, but she can almost hear him in her head. Believe it.

Despite being incredibly embarrassed she can’t help but enjoy this playfulness. It’s something that had been missing from their relationship long before the spiral.

“If you don’t get your ass over here--!” Jiraiya yells again, leaving the threat unspoken, but it causes Hinata to flinch. She’s not a fan of yelling men.

“He sounds mad.” Hinata looks over at the grouping of men. She feels like the grey haired coach is glaring at her. “Come on,” she tells him, making her way to her duffle bags.

“Oh shit, are we gonna ditch?” He sounds so excited by the idea.

“No.” Hinata scolds. Training is important.

He gives her a pout that would have worked...before.

“I want to watch you.”

That pulls him up short. “Yeah?”

She gives him a tiny little smile. “Yeah.”

She follows him back to the mat. Lee and Guy smile at her. She indicates the mat and raises a brow. They had specified they didn’t want an audience before, but they don’t seem to mind her company, so she places her bags down.

Naruto kind of introduces her to his coach. It’s reluctant. “This is Hinata.”

“Your girl?” The older man sniffs.

Hinata doesn’t like the way the question is phrased. Like she could only matter if she was?

“My friend.” Naruto corrects.

It makes Hinata’s lips curve. There, you cranky old jerk. I matter because I matter. Not because I’m ‘his girl’.

Jiraiya’s eyebrow raises and Hinata feels his gaze on her in a whole new--decidedly creepy--way. She shudders.

“Don’t even think about.” Naruto warns.

Hinata eyes Jiraiya as she moves around him, giving him wide berth to take her place at her Sensei’s side.

“Ready to watch me get embarrassed.” Naruto asks her, swishing his mouth with water.

It’s not an attitude that’s shown much at Eight Gates. Mostly because it’s not really allowed. Guy Sensei isn’t harsh, or mean, but he expects each student to give it their all and learn from their mistakes, and believe themselves capable of achieving their goals. Naruto’s defeatist attitude goes against that. It rubs her wrong. As well as makes her question the validity of Naruto’s coach.

She holds her tongue, however.

“No need to feel down!” Lee chimes in proudly from the mat. “I’ve been trained in various fighting styles for nearly a decade.”

“Oh, same, dog,” Naruto smirks.

Hinata can feel her brows twitching. Being down on himself was the result of poor coaching. Being disrespectful to his sparring partner and her Sensei was just assholish.

Lee’s wide eyes widened further with genuine interest. He was always so enthused and encouraging. “Where at?”

“Clinton.” Naruto laughs and it’s a little cruel.

Hinata watches Lee frown in confusion.

Jiraiya hacks a laugh, slapping his thigh.

“Naruto.” She understands his self-deprecating humor, but she won’t put up with the disrespect to her team. And Guy Sensei and Lee were her team.

“They don’t call it the meatpacking district for nothing.” He ignores her. Or maybe he hadn’t heard her. Either way, she’s not amused.

They take their places on the mat.

Lee takes Naruto down fast.

Up again.

Down.

Up.

Back down.

Up.

Tap out.

Hinata’s watching every move with critical eyes. She can see where he’s making mistakes--they’re correctible but not without some long hours and actual training.

Sensei’s voice catches her ear, though, and her attention is pulled away from the men grappling in front of her. “Jiraiya, I know he’s pretty good but...I do not think he’s ready to cage fight.”

Okay, she’d held her tongue for about as long as she was going to. “He’s going to what?

“He’ll be fine.” Jiraiya waves her off dismissively.

Hinata splutters, gesturing to the mat. “Lee’s throwing him around like a baby!”

On the mat the fight was stalled. “Hina-”

Jiraiya huffs, eyeing her like she’s rat shit to be scraped off his sandal. “Naruto’s not throwing an elbow on the ground right now either.”

“All any fighter worth a damn would have to do is take Naruto down and submit him.” Hinata shoots back. She’ll be damned if this crusty old bastard uses Naruto as his meal ticket.

“I don’t know who you think you are, or what you know about fighting,” Jiraiya snaps at her, the red on his nose nearly purple  in his rage, “but Naruto could knock out from the clench.”

Hinata can see Guy Sensei watching their exchange, but since he hasn’t stopped her, she keeps going. “Nobody can knock out from the clench. There isn’t enough power. You just want to scalp your percentage off him!”

“Oh yeah? Why not let them actually fight, then? Right now. And if you knew any math, you’d know my percent is bigger if he wins.”

Hinata grit her teeth. “So you're admitting that you just care about the money. Not about the fact that Naruto could actually be hurt.”

Jiraiya stood up, glaring down at her. He looks a bit like he wants to take a swing at her. She recognizes that look from her childhood. Instead of cowering, she tilts her chin up.

He scoffs, turning away from her. “Guy, get some gloves. Let’s show girly over here some real fighting.”

Hinata stands up as well, seething. By the time she makes it the five feet to Naruto she’s ready to put the gloves on herself. “Your coach is a real asshole,” she says without preamble. She’s so mad she could kick something.

“Uh, yeah. He is, sorry about that,” Naruto pants at her, his breathing still not regulated from his spar. “But, um, just one quick thing.” He scratches his head. “What the fuck was that?”

What was what? She glances up at him.

He’s shaking his head at her. “How do you know any of that? Seriously? And you just…”

Hinata looks away from him, shrugging her shoulders. Now was not the time to mention that she sometimes helped the other fighters here, or that she’s actually kind of good at reading matches, or fighting styles. Nope. Not the time. She was too focused on the grey haired asshole glowering daggers in her general direction.

“So, uh, I’m supposed to fight Lee?” Naruto asks her, clearly a little out of the loop.

“Yes.” He’s going to lose. She has no doubt about that, because Lee is Lee . But she wants him to have a chance to learn from this, so she faces him. “Now look, you came in fast on Yahiko, but that won’t work here. Keep Lee in the red zone as much as possible. Let him enter green when you want him to and then strike. You’re taller; you have a longer reach. Do not let him grab you, Naruto. He will take you down and tap you out before you know what hit you.”

He stares at her a moment longer, his eyes wide and more than a little confused. “Who are you?”

She ignores the question. “Go get your gloves on.” Hinata pushes him over to a different mat as she makes her way towards Sensei and Lee. She wants to apologize for her behavior...and a little for Naruto’s, although that’s not her place anymore. Still…

“I’m sorry for the disrespect,” she says.

“It’s not disrespectful to stand up for your friends,” Sensei replies as he tightens Lee’s gloves.

“Also, for Naruto’s. His coach is...something else.”

“His coach is one of the greatest fighters to ever live. A legend, even.” Sensei informs her with all the casualness of someone commenting on the sun rising.

Hinata casts her eyes towards where Naruto and his coach are having some sort of standoff. “That guy?” she questions.

Sensei simply nods with a knowing smirk.

“I like this Naruto very much,” Lee says, tapping his gloves to one another and grinning. “With the right training he could be my rival!” The excitement on his face makes Hinata’s lips quirk.

“Maybe,” she agrees. “Good luck out there.” She pats his gloves.

Hinata watches the two tap gloves and begin to circle one another. Naruto takes her advice and keeps Lee at a distance.

“You’re going to see it. As soon as Lee grabs him, he’s going to break his ribs.” Jiraiya tells Guy.

“It’s just a friendly spar.” Guy corrects him. “A match of two youthful men, bettering themselves through genuine competition. Beautiful.”

Even with the added arm reach, the match is over in minutes. Lee grabs Naruto and folds him onto his back and then quickly gets him in an armbar. Smart enough not to wreck his arm in a ‘friendly’ spar, Naruto taps out quick.

Hinata watches him approach his coach and winces when immediately the older man starts yelling. She’s tempted to go over there and give Jiraiya a piece of her mind, but she refrains. Instead she helps Lee out of his gloves and takes care of the towels.

After, she decides to wait for Naruto. “Do you want a ride?” She asks as they step outside into the cold air.

“Really?” He sounds surprised by the offer but she tries not to read too much into his reaction. Once they're both in and buckled he turns in her direction.“This is your chance to fill me in now.”

Well, you see, I was coping with the overwhelming wrongness of my life by trying to find things that made me happy because my therapist--oh, did I not mention I cracked like an egg when I walked? Because I did. Anyway, where was I, Oh, yes, my therapist, who happens to be Ino’s dad--suggested I try some new things so I could function because I’d stopped sleeping, eating, and was just about the most miserable I’d ever been, discounting that time I found my mom dead. Oh, did I not mention that either? Remember how my mom died when I was five? Turns out she killed herself via sleeping pills--Anyway, so there I was trying new things like knitting and painting, which I am so bad at that I’m pretty sure Bob Ross weeps for me-- when lo and behold I started a self defense course and the instructor didn’t think I sucked too terribly much and sent me here...and I felt a connection in a way that I can’t describe and this hobby has helped me find myself so...

“It’s not that big of a deal. It just started as a self defense course. But then, I just kind of stuck with it.” She shrugs a little. Yeah, that was way less dramatic.

“And it’s called Bagua…?”

“Baguazhang.” She supplies. “But Bagua is fine, too.”

“Yeah. And you like it? You looked pretty good.”

She feels herself blush. “Thank you. I like it a lot.”

“So, what made you want to try something like that?”

She clears her throat. “I was just… trying new hobbies.”

“That’s pretty cool. You still have to show me your moves sometime.”

She glances at him. “Yeah, okay.”

“I’ll be back at Eight Gates on Wednesday.” He tells her.

Hinata’s there five days a week, on a rotating schedule, but she’ll make sure she’s there Wednesday. If for no other reason than to make sure that jerk coach of his wasn’t riding him too hard.

“So… what other crazy things are you into? Skydiving? Bungee jumping?” Naruto teases her, pulling her frown from her face.

She can’t help but roll her eyes a little at the familiar antics.“No, nothing like that. I’m just branching out. Trying not to be so boring.”

“You weren’t boring.” His assurance is immediate.

She raises her eyebrows at him. She knows better.

“Really! I never minded that you didn’t want to do stuff.”

Translation: Anything .

She didn’t want to do anything. She had been so sure that she was going to humiliate herself or him. Not smart enough, attractive enough, anything enough...

“I minded.” She replies, voice quiet.

He shifts beside her, and she can’t tell if she made him uncomfortable or if he’s just fidgety. He clears his throat, messing with the black switch on the heat vent. “So do anything else fun? You never liked karaoke? You tried that lately?”

“Karaoke?” She glances at him.

“Yeah, I went with Ayame awhile ago. It’s not quite as fun sober but it’s still good for some laughs.”

It’s like ice water. She tries not to freeze up, but she knows she does. Every old insecurity she’s ever had trickles through her veins. “You went with Ayame?”

Pretty Ayame with her thick brown hair and smooth skin? Smart Ayame with her quick wit and open laugh?

Beside her he nods, nonchalantly. “Yeah, before you and I went to dinner. I felt like a super dork, saying I’d been seeing a bunch of people, so I asked her out real quick. It was kind of stupid but she was really nice about it.” He laughs again, apparently recalling something amusing from their date. “She was the one who forced me to get a haircut.”

Oh.

Well…

Crap.

She takes a deep breath under the pretense of checking traffic. He has every right to date, she tells herself. And just because he went with an attractive, smart, funny woman doesn’t mean that he doesn’t enjoy her company.

“So… you just went on one date with Ayame?” Seriously, let it go.

“It wasn’t really a date.” Naruto tells her with a semi-shrug.

“And th-that’s it?”

“Yeah.” He gives her a questioning look.

Okay. Sure.

She’s not even upset with him. She’s just trying to drown out that little, insecure voice in her head.

“Anyways,” He seems to sense her tension--not that it's all that subtle. “What other cool things have you been hiding?”

She exhales and turns towards him, her lips spreading to reveal a wide smile. Because this...this she’s wanted to share with him for awhile now. “Well, there is one more thing.”

“Oh, yeah? What is it?” He seems genuinely interested.

“A surprise,” she evades. She’s turning in the direction of his apartment complex. It’s still a ways off, but they won’t be long now.

“A surprise?”

“Yep.” She glances at him from the corner of her eye. “Do you have plans tomorrow?”

“Does kicking my bag count?”

She blinks at that.

“My practice bag,” he rolls his eyes. “Man, Hyuuga, you’ve become a pervert.”

“I said nothing .”

“You were thinking it. I can tell.”

“Mm.” She shakes her head. “Anyway, if you’re free, you should come over.”

He swallows. Audibly. “Uh. To your place?”

She nods even as she navigates pulling up to his curb. She reaches into her glove box and grabs a scratch pad and scribbles her address. “I’m apartment 8.”

He takes the paper from her a bit like she’s handing him a ticking time bomb. “Not for nothing, but are you sure?”

“Sure?”

“Uhm. Me. At your place.”

She blows out a breath and gives him the exact same look he gave her at the diner not too many nights ago. “It’s not like I’m inviting you over to raw me,” she teases and has the absolute pleasure of watching his eyes nearly bug out of his head. Before he can splutter a response she shakes her head, ignoring the way her own cheeks feel like they could start a campfire. “Fair play. That was payback for the gym.”

He chuckles, shaking his head. “Fair play.” He opens the door, folding the paper into his pocket as he slips out of the car. “Tomorrow then.”

She smiles at him. “Tomorrow.”

 

Chapter Text

When Hinata was young her father enrolled her in a ‘finishing’ summer school.

Her instructor was a polished woman with perfectly straight teeth, thin lips, and silver hair who told her that: “The foremost principle of etiquette for making introductions lies in understanding, reverence, and respect.”


 

“Today, you’re going to meet someone very special.” Hinata glides the dog brush through Argus’s thick fur, making sure to take some extra time along the front of his neck where he liked his ‘scritches’. “I know you’ll be on your very best behavior, but Naruto can sometimes be a little...energetic, so we’re going to wear the vest, just in case, okay?”

Argus tilts his head inquisitively.

She smiles, rubbing his ears. She’s simultaneously excited and nervous. Argus has become such an important fixture in her life already that it feels somewhat momentous to be introducing him to Naruto.

She hopes they like one another.

Of course, she’s completely biased, and adores them both, so she can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. But still…

She shakes her head, getting rid of any negative thoughts. It was going to be a good day. She pushes to her feet and reaches for the hand broom and dustpan. She tells Argus to grab his vest. She puts it on him and heads to the bathroom. She’ll have time to take a shower and change before Naruto’s due to arrive, which is a good thing, because she’s covered in German Shepard hair.

She showers and changes into some comfortable clothes, opting to leave her hair down and not bothering with makeup. Argus usually worked it off of her at the park anyway. She figures that a trip out would be better than sitting awkwardly in her apartment. Maybe lunch, but she hasn’t planned too much.

She’s playing it by ear.

And a little by heart.

She takes a deep breath when she hears her intercom beep. “Uh, Hina? It’s me.”

“Here goes,” she murmurs to herself and buzzes Naruto through.

It takes a few minutes before she hears his knock and she briefly worries that he's changed his mind when Argus decides to bark to let her know they have company. She rolls her eyes at him as she passes but he simply wags his tail.

She takes a steadying breath before she swings open her front door. “Hi.” She smiles. She can’t help but smile whenever she sees him, but in particular now.

“Hey.” He smiles back and her heart flutters like a caged bird.

Clearing her throat, she steps back from the door, allowing him space to come in. He moves forwards slowly--cautiously--like he’s expecting a punch to the gut or for her to shove him back out and slam the door in his face. She places her hand on his back, urging him inside.

Argus sits in the entry, head cocked, studying the new arrival. His tongue lolls out of his mouth in lazy pants which is a good sign. Argus can sense her tension like he’s part of her, so if she wants this to go well, then she needs to be relaxed.

Naruto glances from Argus to her and back again. “This is the surprise right?”

“His name is Argus.” She grins so wide her cheeks ache because she’s so excited. She’s not even sure why she’s this excited, but it feels like she’s introducing Naruto into her life--her new(ish) life--and she likes it. Likes that he’s here with her and her trusty companion. Likes that he’s going to get to know her. The real her.

She’s going to stop hiding.

“Dope vest.” Naruto tells Argus, almost conversationally. He’s still standing back though and a little stiff. He’s never objected to dogs before, but she wonders, suddenly, how much experience he’s had with them. Until Argus her experience was limited to the few visits she’d had at Fang Over Fang. And Argus was special .

“He has some… anxiety. The vest helps.”

Naruto nods like that’s a perfectly normal thing about a dog. He still doesn’t move from his spot in front of her door.

“You can pet him,” she urges. She wants them to get along. “He won’t bite.” She motions with her hand. “Argus.”

Argus immediately moves to her, awaiting her next command. He’s such an obedient and smart, “Good boy.” She showers him in praises, ruffling his fur. She glances at Naruto, still smiling. “Argus, this is Naruto. Naruto, this is Argus.”

“Hi.” Naruto waves awkwardly, uncertainly.

That just won’t do. Reaching out, Hinata gingerly takes Naruto’s hand in her own, bringing it down to stroke along Argus’s fur. “Like that.”

He makes a face at her, still bending at an awkward angle. “I know.”

“And don’t be scared,” she assures him.

“I’m not scared.” His lip juts out, sullen.

She can’t help but giggle at that. “Course not.”

She lets go, leaving him to pet the dog on his own. Argus glances at her and she nods once. He chuffs a little, startling Naruto, but then he pushes closer to the petting hand, content.

Naruto starts to get a little more involved in the petting, scratching a bit. “Not to split hairs or anything… but I feel like this also could’ve come up in any number of my ‘so what’ve you been up to?’ queries.”

Hinata feels a little guilty for that, because it’s true, but she was kind of protective of Argus. Plus, she hadn’t been quite ready to delve into why she got Argus in the first place. “Let me grab my coat,” she deflects. They’ll have time on the drive to talk.

In her bedroom she takes a few deep breaths. Seeing Naruto with Argus had warmed her up so much that she was now a pool of soft emotions. She grabs her coat and heads back out to join her boys. “Ready to go?”

Naruto was already back at the door, waiting. “Yup.”

On the way to the park, Hinata filled him in about Argus, and his issues. She didn’t tell him too much about her own need to take care of something, because she didn’t want Naruto to feel like Argus was a surrogate, That could only build resentment, and it wasn’t entirely accurate.

“Are we going to Patterson’s or Clark’s?” Naruto asks as they start heading south from her apartment.

She glances at him from the corner of her eye. “You know your way around here?”

“Canvassing,” he supplies.

She nods, accepting his response. She thinks about bumping into him the other day. “Clark's," she responds, and then, almost immediately after: "Wait. No. St. Mary’s, actually. If you don’t mind The other two are too small for Argus to run around at. Unless you mind the walking, then we can--.

“Geesh, Hina. Relax. Besides, walking’s become kind of my thing,” he smirks at her, puffing his chest. “I’m a total pro at it.”

She giggles, shaking her head at his antics.

It doesn’t actually take that long to get to the park. Argus has his nose pressed to the window in excitement.

“Hey, can I walk him?” Naruto asks her when she opens the door and lets Argus out.

She gives him a little smile and nods. It was nice seeing how fast he warmed up to Argus. Of course, Argus was hard not to love.

Just like Naruto.

Once they’re into the park a bit, Hinata navigates them towards a more open area where there are other dogs. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a canister of tennis balls, waving them back and forth enticingly.

“Fetch?” Naruto asks, his gaze flickering to the spot of Argus’s missing leg.

She just nods, opening the can and tossing a ball at Naruto. “He’s really fast. You’re going to have to throw it far.”

He gives her a look, but does as she says, offering a small “Yeet,” as he launches the green ball across the park. Argus takes off with a happy bark.

He returns quickly, dropping the ball dutifully into Naruto’s waiting hand.

He throws it again.

And again Argus returns.

Argus has never ending pools of energy and Naruto does too. If she’s not careful they could be here for hours...not that that would be terrible.

Naruto flashes a grin at Hinata, his face flushed from both wind and spent energy. “He’s really smart.”

She beams with near maternal pride.

Naruto throws the ball again.

Every time Argus delivers it back Naruto gives him a treat.

“You’re going to give him a stomach ache.” Hinata scolds half-heartedly.

“They’re treats.” Naruto argues. “He’s a good boy, Hina!”

She can’t argue with that, so she starts walking, knowing that they’d follow--still tossing and fetching the balls.

“God, who just leaves their kids out here alone? There’s literally a homeless guy passed out in that bush.” Naruto laments as they pass by a cluster of shrubs.

“There are a lot of kids here.” Hinata notes. There usually are, though, so it’s not unusual. She glances at Naruto’s profile, sees the straight line of his jaw. He’s watching some little boys chase one another around.

A couple of girls approach them and ask to pet Argus. Hinata allows it easily enough. She only says no when they offer to give him a treat. Kiba warned her not only of the dangers of allowing your dog to eat treats from strangers (“Would you let your kids eat of of some dude’s white van?”) but also in maintaining the alpha status with Argus, so treats were doled out by her, and by those she appointed.

When the girls scurry off, Hinata turns back to Naruto.“Have you… ever thought about.. kids?” She winces at the question--because why? Why can’t you just have a good day and leave it there? But she really wants to know, so she doesn’t retract it.

“Kids?” Naruto blanches, throwing the ball again. The idea seems to be about as appealing as a plate of snakes to him.

Hinata’s blush darkens. Oh. She can’t help but feel a flair of disappointment.

“Kids. Kids. Kids.” He repeats the word a few times--like he’s tasting it for the very first. He shakes his head with a shrug. “I haven’t thought that much about it.” He drums his hands on his thighs, waiting for Argus to retrieve the ball. He adds, unexpectedly, “Then I’d have to move to Jersey.”

“What?” Hinata blinks in confusion. .

“If you have kids, you have to move to Jersey. It’s the rules.”

“No it isn’t.” Hinata laughs at the absurdity of that logic.

“Is too. Jersey or Long Island. And fuck Long Island.” He looks ready to spit.

Argus bounds back, dropping the ball. Naruto stoops down to grab it and gives another long distance throw.

“And I’d need to get a minivan.”

“A minivan?” She wrinkles her nose, torn between amusement and confusion still.

“Or a Ford Focus. You know what I’m talking about? So you can drive them to soccer practice, which they will inevitably suck at. But, i know you. You’ll tell them they’re good anyways, and probably bring rice crispies and Capri suns to their practices.”

“Oh my god.” She shakes her head, flustered. She had no idea that he had this much rambling thought put into kids. “Haven’t thought much about it, have you?” Hinata glances at the little girls, still nearby. “So more than one?”

“Two; obviously.” Naruto snorted.

Obviously? “Why obviously?”

“Because if you have one, they’ll be lonely. But if you have more than two then next thing you know, you have like seven kids sharing a room and one always has his dick out, the others hitchhiking upstate for heroin and ones inevitably getting his ass kicked out on the greenway.” He speaks as though from experience and her heart clenches tight in her chest.

Hinata clears her throat, watching Argus bound through the grass. “You know, not every child has a sad life.”

“Yeah. Duh. Which is why my kids are in Jersey. In a neighborhood with houses that all look the same and have fenced yards. They’re mucking up soccer practice and getting treats anyways.” He snorts.

“So, you really want kids?” She asks for clarification. Because that would...well, that would be nice.

“No.”

...wait, what? She blows out a breath, side-eying him. “What? What about - what you just said?”

“I can’t do that shit.” He looks at her like she’s daft--like she above anyone should know better. “I don’t even know how to drive. I don’t know how to hold a baby. Look at me, do you think I’d do fine at a PTA meeting?” He pokes himself in the cheek, highlighting the facial tattoos. “I don’t have a fucking ‘dad’ job. I’m not married.” He sends her an accusatory look.

She frowns at that. “Oh? Is that somehow my fault?” Last she checked he hadn’t asked her, now had he?

“Well it’s not my fault.” He defends, placing a hand to his chest and giving her a look . The look says ‘drop it’.

She doesn’t.

“If you wanted to get married, why didn’t you ever tell me?” she counters.

“I don’t know.” He’s irritated now. “Because I couldn’t pay for it. I couldn’t buy you a fat diamond or afford an ugly, poofy dress, or those huge cakes, and flowers and a super ugly hotel ballroom. I was barely working part time.”

Is that what he thinks of her? That she would even want that? Her? The person that he practically had to beg to leave their apartment for a night out? The girl that thought getting groceries was about as perfect a ‘date night’ as you could get because no social interaction? He thought she wanted a big, stupid wedding? “Do you think I care about any of those things?”

“I care.” Naruto huffs.

That reigns in her own anger and she blinks up at him. “You do?”

“Yes.” He hisses.

She curls her fingers into her palms. Of course he did. Of course he’d want to celebrate marrying someone. Still, she wants to make sure she’s understanding him. “You want to have a big, ridiculous wedding?”

He meets her eyes and his are so unexpectedly vulnerable that the heart-bird in the cage flutters again, beating against her breastbone.

“With you,” he says, voice low.

She inhales sharply. “So, a big, ridiculous wedding? And two kids? In New Jersey?” Hinata asks, again because she really, very much, wants there to be no misunderstanding here. “That’s what you want?”

“No.”

Hinata rubs her temples. For the love of--! “Come again?”

“I can’t actually want that. I’m not delusional. I know I can’t have those things. I don’t - deserve them.”

“Excuse me?” Her words crack like a whip. Of course he deserved that. He deserved whatever the hell he wanted. She glowers up at him, because she will have words with anyone that has told him different. Even if that person is he, himself.

“It’s true. I’m… me. I’ll ruin it. Look at everything else.” He gave a very pointed look between them.

Oh.

Oh, no.

She told him different.

Maybe not directly...but…

“Naruto…” she whispers.

But he’s already talking again. “I mean, my only viable baby momma ditched me to do Kung Fu and replaced me with a dog. Don’t worry. It was an upgrade.” He jostles his elbow against hers, but she feels kind of numb to it.

She watches him as he squats to rub on Argus, ruffling his fur, working it good.

“Don’t rile him up.” Hinata says, reflexively. She feels kind of muted now.

“We’re at the park.” Naruto replies, standing to throw the ball once more.

She watches Argus chase it.

She feels a slow ache growing.

Her bird is quiet.

“Why were you even asking?” The question draws her from her fog. “Planning some envitro? Don’t ask me to be your donor, my bullshit is supposed to be genetic, ya’know.”

It’s meant to be funny but it only digs in deeper, opening up some still healing wounds. She shakes her head, brushing her hair behind her ears. “That isn’t funny.”

He stops and looks at her, his own blond locks waving in the steady breeze. He wraps his arm around her shoulders, exhaling the cold air in a faint cloud.  “I was just giving you shit, Hyuuga.”

She blinks away the burn in her eyes. Her throat is tight, but she finds her voice. “No, you weren’t.”

He sighs, letting his arm fall down. “Hina-”

No, not this time. She turns to face him fully so he can see her face, her entire expression. “You actually think those things about yourself. And it’s not fair. You deserve all of those things. You deserve to be happy.” Argus is suddenly at her side--ball forgotten--his nose nudging her hand. He licks her fingers appeasingly.

“I’m happy. I’m with you.”

“You deserve to have your tacky wedding, and your overpriced house, and your two kids.” Hinata insists. She wants him to know it. “Even if you have to move to New Jersey.”

Naruto laughs a bit uneasily. “I’d have to gain forty pounds and get a comb over, and get real passionate about the Eagles.”

Hinata wrinkles her nose at that one.

He’s on a roll now so he adds, “Yeah and you have to get a really short haircut and clip coupons.”

“Oh yeah?” She already clips coupons. In fact she has a special wallet and folder for them... but he doesn’t need to know that.

“Yeah, and we can only shop at Costco. And you’ll have to decorate our house in everything from the Target dollar section.”

She thinks about that. “What about Dollar Tree?”

“Fine, but not Michael’s okay? My office job ain’t gonna pay for shit after my background check.”

She tips her head, much like Argus when he’s curious. “What about my job?”

He snorts. “You can’t work.”

What now? Of all the misogynistic--“Excuse me.”

“Hinata! Don’t make our kids go to daycare! That’s not fair.”

She frowns. “Daycare isn’t bad.”

“Yes it is. Our kids will cry all day and have to sleep in… playpens.”

He says the word like its a disease. She glances at him.“What’s wrong with playpens?”

“No playpens.”

Hinata rolls her eyes. Fine. No playpens. “Why don’t you just watch them, then?”

“Me? I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing? Plus, I have to go to my desk job that I hate because I gave up my promising fighting career for family.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous.” Like she’d make him give up something that made him so happy. “You could still fight. You don’t have to have a job you don’t like.” He’d be miserable. She’s had about enough of miserable . For both of them.

“You can’t do that.” Naruto blinked down at her. “Can you?”

“Yes.” She laughs, bumping his arm this time. “You could also open up your own gym. You could teach classes. You like kids.” She can almost see it in her head. Their life. What it could be. It makes her breath quicken.

Naruto makes a face at her. “I do not.”

“Yes you do.” Hinata insists, amused. He’s always gone out of his way to help kids. “Then the kids don’t have to go to daycare, they can just go with you to the gym.”

“Your commute time is going to be shit.” Naruto points out.

Hinata shrugs. “I’ll just take the train. I didn’t mind it before. I just did work.” In fact it was rather soothing to not have to worry about traffic and getting flipped off five times before her first meeting.

Naruto straightens a little beside her. Slightly tense. “When did you take the train?”

“When I was staying with my sister.”

Narruto so abruptly changes the subject that it takes Hinata a moment to catch up. “There’s a ton of Mexican restaurants on your side of town. What’s your favorite?”

“Uhm...La Morada,” she answers, more because it’s the first one she thinks of than anything else.

He nods. “You hungry.”

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” She motions for Argus to stand for his vest and harness.

“How does he know what you want?”

“Hand commands,” she tells him, attaching the leash. “It’s easier sometimes, especially in loud environments. But also, to keep his brain as active as the rest of him.” She gives Argus a good ear scratch.

“He’s amazing,” Naruto expresses, holding his hand out for the leash.

“He is.” Hinata nods. She hands over the leash, but doesn’t let go right away. When Naruto gives her a searching look, she smiles at him. “So are you,” she says before she lets go of the leash and places her hand in the crook of his elbow, ignoring the way her face burns in embarrassment. “Shall we?” she asks.

“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah.” Naruto nods a bit distractedly, starting forward.

And off they went.

It’s not until later, when she’s home and stuffed with tortillas and rice milk that she notices the envelope on her counter. She presses her lips together when she sees his familiar scrawl in black sharpie: ‘Don’t Forget’. She picks it up.

She had forgotten.

Not about the invitation.

But about how good things could be between them.

About how connected she had always felt to him--even before they dated--as friends.

Unconsciously she presses the paper to her lips as she paces her kitchen. Then, making a decision, she grabs her phone.

“Mmph. ‘Ello?”

“Ino. Hi. It’s me. Hinata.”

“Caller ID has been a thing for awhile now, babe.”

“Oh, right.” She’s flustered.

She can almost see Ino straighten up on the other end. Her voice is clipped and worried. “What is it? Are you ok?”

“Yes. No. Yes. Definitely yes. Mostly.”

“Hinata.” Each syllable is enunciated.

“I have a problem.”

“What? What is it?! Whose ass do I have to kick? You know what, never mind, you can tell me when I get there. Sai, move out of the way and put some pants on. No. I mean it. No. I gotta go--”

“Ino!” Hinata can’t help the shock of laughter that escapes her. “Ino, it’s not that kind of problem.”

There’s a slight breathless pause. “Care to clarify?”

“I, uhm. I need a dress.” Hinata murmurs.

She can practically feel Ino’s smile through the phone. “That’s my kind of problem. Since it’s not an emergency I’m gonna go love on my man, but I’ll be over tomorrow. Sai, take those pants off--”

Hinata hangs up.

She sits on her loveseat with Argus beside her wondering what Pandora’s box she’d just opened but just like the myth, deep inside, there was hope.

Chapter Text

One time, in college, Ino, Hinata, and Sakura had ended up in a sex shop.

The other girls were far more experienced than she was...being that they had any experience. Even so, Hinata found some of the items intriguing and was completely embarassed about it.

Ino, on the other hand, found it endearing.

"There's nothing wrong with a good girl having a naughty side, Hinata. Embrace your inner freak."


Shopping with Ino was an adventure--to put it mildly.

Ino navigated the boutiques and the sales people like an expedition commander, barking orders and managing to have racks of dresses lined up for Hinata’s inspection. It was a little overwhelming, because Hinata didn’t like to upset or disappoint anyone, so on principle alone, she hated shopping. The pressure to buy always tripped some of her issues. Having Ino with her, however, circumvented that. Because Ino took charge.

“You just show me what you like, and I’ll handle the rest.” Ino had told her upon entering the first shop. It touched Hinata that her friend could so clearly see her discomfort but instead of mocking her or making her feel awkward about it, she just rolled with it.

The first place had been a bust. Hinata was short but her figure was curvy. Most dresses fit awkwardly on her frame. It’s one of the reasons she wore oversized tops and flowy skirts. It was easier to simplify and not draw attention to her odd proportions.

The second shop was marginally more successful, in that there were a few dresses that Hinata liked, but none that were really appropriate for such a formal event. She did pick up a new sweater dress though, so not a total loss.

By the fifth, though, Hinata was feeling a little overwhelmed and frustrated. “I shouldn’t be this picky,” she says, sipping her hot tea as she and Ino maneuvered through the people along the sidewalk.

Ino made a ‘pfft’ sound and waved gloved hand. “I disagree. This is a big deal, right? For Naruto?” She casts her an appraising look. “And for you, too. So, you should absolutely be picky. You’re going to look stunning and he’s not going to know what hit him.” Ino flashes her a smile, her teal eyes squinting.

Ino, herself, paints such a striking figure in her grey wool coat and plaid scarf with her long blonde hair running down her back in a neat tail. She’s tall and poised with flawless skin and sharp features. Hinata imagines if she looked like Ino, this would have gone much faster. Ino could wear a literal plastic bag and zip ties and look so stunning she’d start a new fashion trend.

Hinata exhales into her cardboard cup and mentally checks herself.

She is not Ino.

And that’s okay.

She’s Hinata.

And that’s okay, too.

Ino seems to sense the mood shift so she moves a little closer, linking their arms. “Tell you what...I’m going to take you to one of my favorite boutiques. It’s a little more high end than the budget you suggested, but...I think you’ll like it. Plus, they do custom fittings.”

With nothing to lose, Hinata nods.

* * *

Ino is greeted by name the moment they step into the high-end storefront. A woman approaches her and proceeds to air-kiss Ino’s cheeks. “Ms. Yamanaka, how have you been? It’s been too long.”

Ino smiles indulgently but makes no excuses for her long absence. Hinata envies that kind of confidence. “Janice, this is my dearest friend, Hinata. We’re looking for the dress--something classy and formal. Black tie affair.”

“Mm.” Janice eyes Hinata critically. “Can you remove your jacket, dear?”

“Oh, uhm, sure.” Hinata slips her coat from her shoulders and hands it to Ino.

Janice circles her, making her feel a bit self conscious. She fidgets with her bracelet.

“It’s hard to get an idea of your lines with that bulky top. This way, please.” Janice motions for the girls to follow. As they move deeper into the store, Hinata sees several dresses on mannequins that literally stop her breath. She has never been affected much by clothing before, so it’s a unique experience.

“These dresses are beautiful,” she says quietly, in awe.

Ahead of them Janice smiles over her shoulder. “Thank you. We have some very talented designers and seamstresses.”

Hinata blinks. “You make them here?”

Janice nods. “Mm, yes. Each piece is a one of a kind.”

They enter a smaller section away from the retail portion with several shoji screens and cushiony chairs. More dresses are displayed in the area.

There’s one...dark material but with a hint of shimmer.

Its cut is simple.

Strapless and long.

Hinata walks towards it, almost compelled to do so. It’s a deep, deep blue, she realizes as she gets closer. So dark it’s nearly black. She touches the fabric, enjoying the soft slide of it between her fingers. As it glides she catches hints of sparkle hidden in the material.

“Ah.” Janice follows behind her. “From our ‘Night Sky’ collection. An exquisite piece.”

Hinata can only nod.

“Try it on.” Ino urges.

Hinata glances at the daring plunge and bites her lip. She backs away from the dress.

“It’s really lovely, but I don’t think it’s for me.”

Janice makes a sort of ‘tut’ sound but doesn’t say anything else.

“Okay, let’s find one that is for you,” Ino replies easily enough.

“Can I get you ladies a beverage?” A new voice asks, nearly jumping Hinata.

A slim brunette peeks at them from beneath the fall of asymmetrical bangs. She’s wearing a pressed white top and black pants and carrying a tray.

“Sparkling lime water for me. Hinata?” Ino glances at her.

Hinata has never been served in a clothing store before. She had no idea such things even happened. “Uhm, no thank you.” The brunette nods and walks off to get Ino’s drink.

Janice motions them towards a counter and picks up some measuring tape then turns back to Hinata. “If you wouldn’t mind undressing.”

“Un-undressing?” She looks at Ino who nods reassuringly.

“Just to your bra and underwear will be fine,” Janice says. “Unless you are going, how do they say: commando? In which case we have a fitting garment--”

“No, I have, uhm, I have underwear on.” Hinata whispers.

“Oh, you are just darling ,” Janice tells her with a smile.

Janice takes some measurements and then has her assistant, Wendy, brings in a few different dresses for Hinata to try on. She has to admit the dresses were all modest, lovely, and elegant. They compliment her coloring and her shape. Even so…her gaze drifts back the dark dress in the corner.

“You should at least try it on.”

Hinata startls, turning her eyes to meet Ino’s in the mirror. Ino inclines her head , pointing her chin towards the Night Sky dress. “Try it on.”

“I…”

“What’s the worst that happens? You don’t like it? Then you’re no worse off. But what if you love it? What if it fits better than you think? What a terrible regret not to try.”

Hinata blinks at her slowly. “Is that some odd euphemism for my relationship with Naruto?”

Ino snorts a laugh. “Oh, no. I already know you’re ready to try that again. This is me telling you to put on the sexy dress.”

Hinata turns, a bit off guard. “You...you think I’m ready to try again?”

Ino leans back in her chair, her expression curious. “Don’t you? Isn’t that what this is about?” She gestures to the fitting room and Hinata in general.

Hinata wants to shake her head, but she also knows that would be a lie. Did she decide to go to the banquet to stand alongside Naruto as his friend? Sure. But that wasn’t the only reason she accepted. She wants more. She wants to try again. Was she ready to move back in together, and pick up where they had left off? No. Nor did she want that. That would feel too much like going backwards...like giving up. She wants something different now. A new relationship, but still with Naruto. She loves him. That, through all of this, remained unchanged.

She inhales, taking in her reflection. Her rival looks hopeful. “Yeah. I’m ready.” She grins. “Get me the dress.”

Ino lets out a little squeal and fist pump.

The dress is even more stunning on her than she could have hoped. She switches positions, side to side, staring at herself a little dumbstruck. The dress does need to be altered, just a bit--the hem raised, the bust adjusted, the waist pinched, but Janice assures her that the dress will be ready in time.

Dress decided on, they move onto shoes and accessories. Hinata’s not sure her wallet can handle much more, but Janice issues her a store credit that helps alleviate the initial punch.

At the jewelry counter Ino has Hinata pile her hair on top of her head and clasps a delicate platinum necklace around her throat. A tiny sun and moon charm rests softly against her skin.

“This one,” Ino insists. “Is a gift from me.”

“Oh, Ino, I can’t--”

“You can and you will. It's a gift. For my best friend. I'm so proud of you.” She kisses her cheek and quickly switches gears to avoid getting 'sappy' as she calls it. “Now… shoes. I’m thinking something strappy and come hither-y.”

Hinata wipes at her moist eyes. “Come hither-y?” she asks, to avoid crying a bit.

Ino nods. “You do know that boy is kind of oblivious when it comes to you.” she says, not unkindly. “So, you may want to be a little more obvious than staring adoringly from afar. You’re going to have to be the assertive one, this time.”

Hinata thinks about confessing her love to him in the hospital and then immediately moving him out of Sasuke’s and into a new place together. She thinks she was pretty darn assertive before...but she understands what Ino is saying.

Shoes were far easier than the dress. She settles on a pair of silver strappy sandals (no heels, no matter how much Ino insisted). Hinata would be lucky not to kill herself or at the very least eat floor in heels.

* * *

The banquet is still a little ways off, but in the meantime, she sees Naruto more frequently. He likes to take Argus to different parks, plus it’s nice just to hang out--even if she sometimes feels like he’s using his friendship with her to see her dog… She smiles as that thought flits across her mind.

He’s also at Eight Gates twice a week. Lee is growing attached to the idea of Naruto as his rival, so he’s giving his all to helping Naruto achieve his full potential. She’s still not sure that Naruto fully appreciates it but he doesn’t mock Lee anymore (aside from the ‘eyebrows’ nickname that stuck) so that’s something.

He even invites her to check out his gym which: “Isn’t as nice as yours, but hey, you might see me win for once.” So she goes.

Of course, on the day she does, Jiraiya tells him that he won’t be sparring. He doesn’t want to listen to her ‘fucking mouth’.

Hinata’s less offended and more amused by that than Naruto is, but she tells him it’s fine. She’ll still stay and watch his training regimine.

He’s right about the gym not having quite the same feel to it as Eight Gates--less pumped up exuberance and more sweat and blood--but it’s not bad. The large squared tiled floor looks recently mopped, and the flags on the wall are a nice touch. There are several practice mats and two main rings. The mats are clean and the fighters are respectful. Jiraiya is the only one that eyeballs her just a little too long.

Every once in awhile she catches Naruto’s glance as he delivers a couple of quick kicks to the Muay Thai pads Jiraiya is holding. She can tell that he’s still kind of surprised she agreed to come watch him work out here, considering her dislike of the aforementioned coach, but she’s not there for the grey-haired, foul-mouthed pervert.

In the middle of a combo, Jiraiya backs up--throwing off Naruto’s stance--and tosses the arm pad to the ground, his attention diverted by something across the gym.

“What the fuck--?!” Whatever Naruto wants to snap out is interrupted by his coach storming off, long hair flowing and fist waving.

“Hey, you little shits! Put those down before you break something!”

Naruto lets out a breath, hands on his hips, as he watches his coach wrangle some younger gym members. Nicely cut hips, too, not that she was noticing too much . “Stupid pervert.” She catches Naruto mutter under his breath.

Hinata hops down from the pile of floor mats she was seated on and picks up the discarded kick pad--sliding her arm in and adjusting the straps. It’s not that different than the pad Sensei uses when he wants her to practice her coiling and rapid fire strikes.

When Naruto turns back to her, she’s already standing in a braced position.

He blinks at her. “Uh...Hina?”

“I can hold this for you.”

She can see him shift, his hand rubbing at the back of his head. “Uh, thanks for the offer, but, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable kicking you.”

“Well, neither would I. So aim for the pad.” She smirks at him.

He’s still reluctant, so she shrugs and shoves against him with the pads, pushing into his chest. It’s not hard, but it moves him a step back. “Come on,” She laughs a bit, her cheeks red. “Don’t be a p-pussy.”

Hearing Jiraiya’s favorite taunt from her causes a bark of laughter to erupt from Naruto. It’s so clearly unexpected that he can’t catch his breath for a moment. His eyes are crinkled closed and she adores him in that unguarded moment.

“Well, shit, Hina. I can’t have you thinking that.” He gives her a half hearted kick.

She rotates her stance. “Again.”

He blinks at the sharpness of her tone. Another kick. Still too light to matter, but he does it.

She steps again, moving naturally into her familiar circle. She’s making him move too, with each kick. “Again.” She tells him. “Higher.” Another step. “Harder.”

He’s hesitating still, but he follows her commands.

After a few minutes they realize that Jiraiya is back, but he’s not watching Naruto, his gaze is on Hinata, and it’s not in that leering, uncomfortable way. He’s contemplative.

“I recognize that footwork,” he says with a sniff. “Been a long time since I’ve seen any traditional Bagua. Most of the time these yahoos try to mix it up with their blended MMA shit.”

Naruto stops moving, his gaze heavy on Hinata when he says, “That same blended MMA shit you're trying to get me to do?”

Jiraiya snorts but doesn’t dispute it. He’s still watching Hinata. Like he’s waiting.

She shifts a bit under their scrutiny and tucks some of the hair that escaped her ponytail behind her ear. She’s not sure what they want.

When she finally looks at Naruto, she can’t read his expression--at least not entirely, but then he falls back and gestures with his chin. “It’s about time, I think,” he tells her. “Show me.”

She doesn’t misconstrue his meaning. “What? Here? Now ?”

He nods with a soft, encouraging smile.

She glances at Jiraiya who rocks back on his heels with a smug smile. “Aw, leave the princess alone, boy. If she’s too scared--”

“Fine.” she bites out. She motions for Naruto to give her some space. She came dressed in some yoga pants and an oversized shirt, so she’s comfy. She takes a breath.

Then another.

Inhale.

Arms up.

Curl in.

Lower and press down.

Centering.

Exhale.

And then she moves .

Cheng Style sixty-four palm.

All hesitation and nervousness she has disappears as she finds her rhythm--her flow. Her body glides and flexes, pulls short and hard. She feels like every molecule of herself is aligned in purpose. She’s euphoric.

It’s what she imagines being high is like.

When she completes her routine she finds Naruto staring at her with his eyes wide and his mouth slightly parted. Jiraiya shares a similar look, though his mouth is closed in a firm line.

“Not bad,” he grumbles. It’s as much of a compliment as she’s going to get from him, she thinks, but it still feels good.

She gives him a bow. “Thank you.”

Jiraiya waves a hand and turns away. “Fuck. Cut it out with that respect bullshit. Don’t make me actually like you.” He marches away grumbling.

“That was dope as fuck,” Naruto breathes when she turns back to him. She smiles--wide and bright--before bending to pick up the discarded pads again. “I think you still have twenty-five each leg, right?”

Naruto drops back into his ready stance. “Let’s do this.”

 

Chapter Text

Early in their relationship Hinata learned that Naruto loved with his whole being.

She envies that unabashed exposure...that vulnerability that he was willing to give her.

She vows to herself that if they manage to find their way back together, she won't hide behind her walls.

She'll love him with everything she is and stop worrying if that's enough...


Hinata’s schedule had finally resumed some semblance of normal, and although she was busier than usual, it wasn’t quite as chaotic as it had been mid contract-crisis. She found herself falling into a rhythm: wake, work, home with Argus, parks, Eight Gates, time with Naruto...which was actually... nice.

All in all things were going smoothly.

Good, even.

Which, as of late, had not bode well for her, so, in true Charlie Brown fashion, she was wondering when the bad thing would appear. When Naruto called her just before her morning commute she had practically had a panic attack thinking that something was wrong before his amused voice had asked if she wanted some coffee.

Coffee and Naruto?

Sounded perfect.

She shook her head, trying to dislodge the anxious cloud from her mind. You’re being ridiculous , she told herself. Even still, she couldn’t quite shake the feeling of something ominous in the air. Like the lull before a storm.

Before she can work herself up into a tizzy, she spots Shino heading her way. Then, behind him at a more sedate pace, Naruto. Shino enters her office first, asking her about some contract files, which was complete pretense. They had already met over them that very morning, but she appreciates his thoughtfulness, so she pretends right along with him.

“And, uh, Naruto’s here,” Shino murmurs, eying her carefully.

Hinata smiles, glancing past Shino to take in Naruto’s appearance. He looks good and much more awake than she would have anticipated considering the hour and the fact that he worked last night. “So he is.”

Shino nods, giving her a quick, subtle wink, before making his way out of her office and towards his own.

Alone with Naruto, Hinata clears her throat, smoothing a hand over her pencil skirt. “That’s a big bag,” she says, in lieu of anything more articulate.

Naruto smiles and hands her the to-go coffee cup first, over her desk.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, setting it down on her desk.

“No problem. I also got you this.” He pulls out a silver thermos. The white looped letters spell out: Dog Mom and Hinata’s heart melts. He sets it on the desk near her coffee and she immediately picks it up, finger tracing the swirling letters.

She can’t help but smile even more. “Aww, thank you.”

“One more thing.” He pulls out a little cardboard to-go box.

Hinata arches a brow, curious. It almost looks like a pastry box from her favorite shop. “What is it?”

He smirks at her but shakes his head, unwilling to reveal the surprise. “Just open it.”

Turning the offering towards her, Hinata breaks the seal, identifying that it is a pastry box from her favorite coffee shop. She opens it and finds an oversized cinnamon roll with extra frosting. She can practically feel the saliva pooling in her mouth.

Coffee and gifts? Early in the morning? It’s so unexpected… She feels a little spark of unease skip along her spine.

“What’s this all about?” She finally looks up at him, still smiling, but a little tighter.

Naruto shrugs and looks away which does nothing to quell the unease.

When he looks back at her, his gaze is unexpectedly solemn. “I… I wanted to say sorry.”

This is it. This is the bad thing. Oh, God.

She can feel the blood leave her face. She feels lightheaded. “For what?” she asks, quickly.

Giving a soft sigh, he finally takes the seat across from her. He fidgets for just a moment before meeting her worried eyes again. “For pressuring you to come to the party with me. I’m sorry.”

Wait… Now she feels bad. She hadn’t made it easy on him. She hadn’t accepted immediately the first time for a couple of reasons...she didn’t know her schedule, for one. Not with the contract up in the air as it was. Plus she had still been coming to terms with the death of her father and the revelations about her mother. That wasn’t an excuse to leave him hanging though, and that was unfair of her. Even so, for him to be here apologizing to her and not the other way round tells her that something must have happened. 

“What happened?”

“Nothing!” He promises hastily--abruptly. Which has her eyebrows lowering. “I’m just… I met with Sakura, this morning.”

Oh.

Oh!

It’s so much worse than she was imagining. Sakura? Sakura?!

As in Sakura Haruno who single handedly nearly destroyed him emotionally and drained him of the will to even live?

The woman that Naruto had loved enough to die over?!

The only woman that Hinata has fantasized about delivering bodily harm to...and she could now.

That Sakura?

Oh, no.

This was when he was going to tell her that he was still in love with Sakura…

“She’s having some bullshit with Sasuke,” Naruto continues hurriedly. “She’s just the same. So is he. And I realized, so am I.”

She manages to lift a brow at that, because hell no, he was not the same as them. He had fought and grown and struggled, long before she came along, and then even after. He may have been knocked down, same as them, but it was Naruto that pulled himself back on and stood again. Sasuke was a petulant, sullen, dangerous maniac and Sakura was blinded by obsession. Neither one of them knew how to handle defeat, as was obvious by their continuous spirals.

She wasn’t about to open that can of worms at the moment, however.

Naruto rubs his hair, his gaze skirting away from hers. “I don’t take other people's feelings into consideration. I’m selfish. And I don’t want to be that way, with you. So - I wanted to tell you, I’m sorry.”

“For what?” She asks softly, not trusting her voice, but wanting him to know that even if she didn’t like what he said, she was going to be there.

“For not listening to you. Not respecting you. Not taking what you wanted into consideration. I’m sorry about a lot of stuff. But, right now, I’m sorry, about the party.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry that I kept pressing when you didn’t want it. I know, I do that a lot. So, long story short. I’m sorry. I’m gonna try and do better. I know I’ve probably said that a lot too. I mean it this time. For reals, Hina. I’m just gonna do my best to be your friend, okay?”

Her friend.

Which is what she wanted.

Which is what he is.

But she wants more now...

What if he didn’t anymore? She takes a breath. She would accept it. Like she had expected him to do. She wouldn’t be a hypocrite. If he wanted just to be friends, then that’s what they’d be. Still, she wants to make sure before assuming. They’d assumed far too many wrong things about one another.

“So… you don’t want me to come?” She asks, quietly, her hands drawing a ring around the top of the coffee cup.

“What?” He looks genuinely shocked at that notion. “No. I don’t want you to come.”

Oh. Okay. She’ll accept that. If that’s what he wants. Even if it means she’ll cry in the bathroom the moment he leaves.

“Fuck - no! I do. I definitely want you to come!” he corrects.

Uhm...Okay? She’s lost.

“I just mean that - ugh, I mean I don’t want to guilt you into coming So you don’t have to come.” He pauses like he’s mentally tallying and he hates math before looking at her again. “Look, I know you don’t want to so I’m just trying to let you off the hook, okay? That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to go. I’m just trying to say that it’s okay, if you don’t want to go.”

Oh.

She feels relief and a smile building.

He presses his hands to his face, muttering, “I’m too dumb to talk.”

He wasn’t confessing his love for Sakura.

He wasn’t trying to tell her that he didn’t want her.

He was trying to respect her boundaries.

She didn’t think she could love him any more than she had, but he keeps proving her wrong.

“It’s okay,” she tells him with a light giggle--the relief making her bubbly. “I get it.”

He finally looks up, breathing a sigh of relief. “Thank god.” After a moment he starts working on his own breakfast sandwich/burrito thing. “Okay, I know that coffee shop is your favorite, but they never give me enough sauce packets. What is up with that? I always ask for extra, and they give you, just like, one more. It’s so stupid. They have them all there in that huge basket, why-”

As he’s talking Ino’s words ring through her mind. “ You do know that boy is kind of oblivious when it comes to you. So, you may want to be a little more obvious than staring adoringly from afar. You’re going to have to be the assertive one, this time.”

The assertive one.

Okay.

“I might’ve, already, got a dress.” Hinata interrupts his burrito rant.

He is still trying to squeeze out as much sauce from the packet as humanly possible. “A dress? What are you talking about. I was talking about my burrito--oh shit!” He sits up straight so abruptly that she’s surprised his breakfast isn’t on the floor.

“You want to come to my thing?” He's looking at her expectantly.

She’s blushing, but she nods.

“For reals? Like, for real for real?”

She nods again. Be assertive. She takes a little bit of a breath. “It’s strapless,” she blurts out.

There’s a pause while Naruto’s throat works a few times. When he speaks his voice is an octave higher than normal and thin. “Is it?”

“Mmhmm.” She lowers her lashes, glancing at him in what she hopes is a sexy come-hither expression and not like she has a lazy eye and no focal point.  “Is it okay if I still come ?”

Oh my God. Good thing she turned Atheist on their arcade date or she’d have to go immediately to church after this...

“Mmhmm.” Naruto half nods at her.

Hinata picks up her coffee to enjoy a victory drink (and to hide her blazing red cheeks) when she catches his handwriting on the cardboard. She almost laughs out loud. “Just, a little question,” she murmurs, catching his gaze.

“Hm?”

“You know your big apology about being pushy? Did you formulate that before or after you wrote ‘I love you a latte’ on my cup?”

She’s enamored by the little flush that creeps into his tatooed cheeks. “Hinata, it was a coffee pun. It’s hilarious. I can’t just not write it.”

“I see.” She nods, sagely. “That’s okay. You mocha me happy, too.”

Naruto’s laughter causes a couple of interns to peek in her window but she’s too delighted to care. She sips her coffee and enjoys the company.

Things were still good.

Chapter Text

Hinata can’t recall a time in her life that other people hadn’t scared her.

Well, not them so much as what they would think of her.

She knows that part of her skewed self-perception is the direct result of her father, but part of it is just...her. She was always a bit shy and a lot awkward. She was made fun of for her stutter and her odd colored eyes. She was teased for being small and meek for so many years she never expected to be treated as anything but.

Even Ino--her first friend--tried to protect her. She did it out of love, but all that did for HInata was reinforce her self-perception of weakness...of inability. It wasn’t until Naruto that anyone treated her like she was capable.

At his side she felt like she could achieve anything.

It was on her own that she still struggled...


She’s going to ruin it.

His big night.

Their friendship.

Any chance at reconciliation.

She just knows it.

She is such a mess around people.

She can’t even explain it properly.

It’s like her skin is too tight and her senses are overloaded and she just knows that everyone is judging her and finding her lacking--even though she also knows that’s completely false. But her brain can’t seem to wrap itself around that novel little concept, so she’s left feeling out of place and edgy and worried about doing something humiliating and then that feeling exacerbates her own natural awkwardness until she can’t speak properly (hello, stutter) and can barely manage to lift her eyes from the floor.

She tries to take a calming breath but it gets lodged in her throat.

“Oh, God.” She wants to vomit. She's been sick to her stomach all day. Thinking about this evening.

She’s shaking so much she needs to lean against her sink, hands braced on the sides as she stares at the white porcelain and tries not to hyperventilate.

Argus whines from the other side of the door.

“I’m okay, buddy,” she calls out, knowing that he can sense the utter bullshit of that statement, but unwilling to open the door and have him see it.

She glances up at the medicine cabinet mirror and sees her pale face dotted with sweat, her eyes dilated and terrified. “You can do this,” she tells herself. “You will do this. For him.”

Reaching down she pulls the lever and plugs the sink, running cold water. She splashes it onto her face in an attempt to calm herself down. The last thing she wants is a panic attack before Naruto picks her up.

Well, no, actually, the last thing she wants is to set foot in a fancy party with sophisticated people that she doesn’t know. That’s the last thing she wants to do on most days.

“It’ll be okay.” She breathes out before plunging her face directly into the sink full of cold water. She stays face down for a good thirty seconds before emerging, gasping a little.

Cold.

Bracing.

She stares at her now dripping faced reflection. “He is more important than your irrational fears. Get it together.” She nods.

She’ll do this.

She’ll go.

Despite her every instinct clamoring at her to back out and stay home and avoid, avoid, avoid the humiliation that she knows she’s going to bring…

“Stop it.”

She’s been working with Inoichi on some cognitive behavioral therapies in conjunction with her medication and she was doing better. She handled meetings and clients with greater assurity than ever before. She was even more sociable at work.

A party was a little more challenging, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t up to the challenge.

She wasn’t going to quit.

Not on Naruto.

And not on herself.

She turns away from the mirror and steps into her shower. She had a big night to get ready for.

Chapter Text

A mirror only reflects your appearance.

Nothing about you as a person is shown against the glass.

Still...there's a certain satisfaction when the resulting image is one that you like.


She looks...pretty good.

Hinata can’t help but be a little surprised by the fact. She knows she not ugly--attractive, even--but she’s never been confident of her appearance. Too small, too pale, too round, too soft...but right now. She looks...almost regal.

She turns in front of her bedroom mirror, watching the subtle shimmer and color flux of her dress. The cut is more daring than anything she’s tried before--at least publicly. It has a sweetheart neckline, leaving much of her chest area exposed until the curves of her breasts, and a fitted waist, while the fabric over her hips spilled down to nearly the floor.

She’s twisted her hair into a ‘messy low bun’’ (as Ino called it when she taught her how to do it) with a few loose curls framing her face. A face that she painstakingly applied make up to. Winged liner, subtle contouring--the works. She debated on false lashes, but opted against them. Her own were long and thick naturally and a few strokes of mascara filled in the difference.

She kept her adornments simple. Her familiar bracelet, the necklace Ino bought her and a pair of simple stud earrings. Her sandals were lovely, but already pinching her feet. Small price to pay to avoid heels, though, so she wasn’t about to complain.

She turns towards Argus, who sits patiently near the door with his head tilted and eyes inquisitive.

“What do you think?” she asks him. “Think Naruto will approve?”

Argus’s tail immediately starts thumping at the name. He’s already grown very attached.

Hinata takes a deep breath and rubs her hands together to keep them from trembling.

“Okay,” she whispers. “Here we go.”

Chapter Text

"Love doesn't happen to you. It's a choice."


 

He brought her flowers.

Hinata takes the bouquet--a collection of various white flowers--from his hands with a bemused smile. She can’t remember him ever buying her flowers before. Of course, she recalls, they never really had the “dating” stage in their relationship...so she couldn’t fault him for that.

She smells them delicately and uses the distraction to hide her face, as well to try and calm her clamoring heartbeat. She should thank him, she thinks, but her mouth feels too dry and her tongue too awkward.

Naruto was always devastatingly attractive to her.

Naruto in a suit--cardiac arrest.

Naruto in a suit with flowers? She wasn’t going to survive the night.

Naruto didn’t seem to notice her lack of thanks or her internal dilemma; instead he immediately switches his attention from her to Argus, crouching to give him some good scritches in his favorite spot. “Hey, buddy. Looks like you missed me.” He looks over at Hinata, a teasing smile playing with his mouth.“Looks like you--shit.”

Hinata’s attention was diverted from her flowers. She glances at Argus who is happily thumping his tail still, tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth. “What?” she asks, worriedly. “He what?”

Naruto doesn’t respond to her inquiry, instead shaking his head slowly, his blue (so blue) eyes traveling the length of her, lingering in some areas longer than others. When his gaze stops at hers, he lets out a soft whistle. “Damn, Ma.”

Oh.

She can feel her blood thrum, flooding her face. She only hopes the make-up hides it from his scrutiny. His gaze wanders again and she shifts a bit, moving the bouquet to one hand while her other lays against the skin above the dress’s bustline. Where his eyes lingered even still.

She clears her throat. “Staring is rude.”

Naruto leans back and gives a helpless gesture with his arms. “How can I not?”

She’s flattered...she thinks. It’s hard to say, because while she sees approval in his eyes, there’s something else there too. Perhaps sensing her discomfort, Naruto resumes petting Argus, leaving her free to make her way into the kitchen to fetch a vase.

She uses the time of sorting and trimming the stems to try and calm down. She’s already so nervous about this event, and now she’d flustered because Naruto is Naruto .

Naruto’s voice pulls her from her stem chopping. “Damn, Argus, are you really gonna let Hina outta the house like that?”

His tone is teasing, but the tiny voice in her head (quieter now than ever before, but still there) hisses at her. Was it too much? Had she gone overboard? Or was it too revealing? Maybe she couldn’t pull it off, like she thought she could. She wasn’t model perfect. Maybe she couldn’t do glamorous? Maybe frumpy was, like, her thing. Oh, God, what if it was too low cut? He probably wanted to make a good impression on Mr. Hatake and here she was showing off her cleavage…She turns towards him, feeling her throat tighten anxiously. “Do I look...Should I...Should I change?” If pressed, she could make one of her other dresses work. Maybe with a suit jacket…?

Naruto’s on his feet so fast he sways a bit, hands coming up to placate her. He’s shaking his head adamantly. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, are fucking shitting me?”

Hinata frowns. No, she is not, in fact, shitting him. She’s really very worried, thank you very much.

She watches as Naruto slants his head, his eyes a shade darker than usual as they once more travel over her silhouette. “You’re so hot it should be illegal,” he tells her, voice low. It makes the flush in her face re-heat. “Are you even allowed outside like that? Is it like, a traffic violation?” he teases.

“Are you sure?” She glances down at her dress then back up at him, playing with her fingers. She wants this night to go well. She doesn’t want to be this uncertain, stumbling person...but still, assurance from him goes a long ways.

He laughs and she finds her tension easing somewhat. His laughter and smile had always been like a balm to her nerves in any situation. “You’re lucky I know how to fight. I should charge you, going out like that.”

“Stoooop,” She whines, now truly embarrassed. She resumes trimming the flowers. After a moment she sees him slowly stepping out of the entryway. He’s moving hesitantly--a little uncertain. Like Argus when he’d first come to live with her. As if unsure of his boundaries.

Hinata glances over at him with a soft smile, wanting him to know that he’s welcome.

“Um,” He tucks his hands into his pockets, coming up alongside of her. “Do you like them.” He gestures with his chin.

She does. Placing them into the vase, carefully, she nods. “They’re very beautiful.”

He shifts again, rocking a little onto his heels. “They reminded me of those ones on campus. Do you remember?” He asks.

The question isn’t one she’s expecting so it catches her a bit off guard. She pauses in brushing the trimmed bits off the counter, her thoughts wandering back years ago to when she was hopelessly (helplessly) in love with him and he was so enamored with someone else…

She used to pick him flowers--little white flowers--and place them into his textbooks. Little ‘pick me ups’ for the days he struggled, to let him know she was there...was cheering for him. Even if he never saw her as anything more than a friend, she loved him, and wanted to show him.

“Yes.” She answers quietly.

“Do you remember, when you’d put them in my books?”

She closes her eyes and sighs, very softly. She always wondered if he ever noticed them... He never said anything.

“That was really cute.”

For some reason that makes her want to cry a little, so she scrunches her face and pats her cheeks with her cool hands. “Stop trying to embarrass me.”

“I’m not.” Naruto laughs--which is a total giveaway that yes, yes he was.

He reaches out, fingers curling around her wrist and tugging her hand away from her face. He lowers himself just a bit so they are eye level. “And you look really pretty,” he tells her.

She groans, still embarrassed, because not only was she acting like that infatuated college girl, she feels that she fished him for that compliment. Still, it’s nice, so she smiles. “Thank you. You actually look really nice, too.”

He does. The suit fits him well, emphasizing the new bredth of his shoulders and trim waist. The dark material looks good against his tan skin and his wild hair is mostly tamed. With his strong jaw and natural good looks, he kind of reminds her of James Bond, or some other debonair and far-too-sexy dangerous man.

He snorts, giving himself a once over. “What do you mean, actually? You check me out all the time.” He wiggles his brows.

She did. She absolutely did. But his head did not need any more swelling. She playfully pushes against him. “I do not.”

“Do too,” he counters with a knowing smirk. “I see you.”

She thinks that statement may be truer now than ever before. She was still having a hard time letting go of some of her insecurities, and there were some issues that she still hadn’t shared with him (her emotional breakdown, her anxiety, her almost suicide…) but she was more her than anytime else in her life, and even more so with him.

She nods at him and acknowledges, “Maybe I check you out a little.”

His answering grin makes her heart flutter. Before she can get too carried away she grabs her long black coat and says goodbye to Argus. He gives a pitiful little whine, but she assures him that she will be home before he knows it. Even Naruto pets him and tells him that he’s a good boy.

“Do you want me to drive?” Hinata asks once they’re outside.

“Nah,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s not far.”

“Are you sure?” She glances at her strappy sandals.

“Come on, you want me to piggyback you?” Naruto teases.

“No.”

He turns, a playful leer on his face, curling his whisker mark tattoos devilishly. “Wow, I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said no to riding me.”

He did not . She exhales her breath abruptly, her eyes wide before they scrunch closed. “Naruto!” Just the words bring the images to her head. Of her astride his hips as he fills her, her palms pressed to his chest, her sweat-damp hair clinging to her shoulders as he grips her, guiding her motions while he groans unspeakable things, his blue eyes almost black in the moment…

She shakes herself loose of the memories, but it’s too late, she feels like she’s on fire.

When she opens her eyes she finds his not looking directly at her, but more towards her exposed skin and cleavage. Sniffing, she tugs the zipper up and glowers at him.

He looks unashamed.

Shaking her head, she moves to his side, linking her arm through his. She mentally pep talks herself as they walk, focusing on controlling her breathing, yet with each step closer to their destination she can feel her fingers curling tighter, tension snaking into her arms.

When they arrive at the building, Naruto hands his invitation and hers to the doorman. Once inside, he leans a little closer to her, his voice soft and sincere. “Thank you so much for coming with me.”

She looks up and him and smiles--it’s a little tight, but genuine. “Of course.” She still doesn’t let go of his arm though. Especially once they enter the main room and she sees the crowd. There was a sea of strangers, milling around, drinking and eating. There was several different screens, showing different news organizations, following the election results.

Breathe .

“There’re so many people here.” She whispers. She’s already regretting this decision...second guessing herself, because surely he’d be better off there without her. She wasn’t graceful or articulate and she certainly wasn’t the ‘funny’ one. She was going to humiliate him--

Naruto squeezes her fingers with his free hand. “You voted today, right?” he asks, attempting to distract her. She appreciates him so much in that moment. She exhales and focuses on his face that she loves so much. So much.

She nods, pulling her shoulders back and firming her resolve. “Yes.”

“You should’ve wrote me in.” He flashes her a grin, maneuvering them through the throngs of people effortlessly. He always was a force of nature, she muses, watching the confident line of his back as he steps around others.

“You spent months working for Kakashi Hatake and then your trying to steal his show.” Hinata pinches the inside of his arm.

“Hey! Just cause you're smoking hot doesn’t mean you can just pinch me.”

She smirks and pinches him again. For good measure.

“Ow!”

“You’re being such a baby, it’s not even going to leave a mark.” She rubs the spot anyways, soothing it.

He gives her a sideways look. “You don’t get to pick how bad you hurt me.”

She knows he’s teasing her.

She does.

But it cuts right through her.

Naruto, for all of his playful jovialness and sometimes obliviousness isn’t an idiot. He sees her expression, even when she tries to hide it. “Let’s go nab some food.” He redirects.

There was no changing what had happened.

Only moving forward.

Trying.

She nods, letting go of the sting and smiling up at him.  “I’m going to tell Jiraiya.” She wouldn’t...she could barely tolerate the man, but still, it was an effective threat.

Naruto’s shoulders sag drastically. “Hina!”

The table was laid out with finger foods and ‘delicacies’. There wasn’t much that looked appealing, but she hadn’t eaten all day, so she lets go of Naruto to grab herself a plate.

“This food's so tiny,” Naruto whispers.

“It’s called Hors D’oeuvres. It’s supposed to small.”

“What’s that Spanish thing?” Naruto asks, walking through the table line, grabbing random things with his usual infectious enthusiasm.

She searches the table for whatever he’s talking about, but finding no Spanish thing, she glances at him. “What?”

“The Spanish thing. Small plates. Tippy something.”

“Tapas.” She corrects gently.

“Tapas. Yeah. You’re so smart, Hina.” His grin is unabashedly proud.

He was always so good at building her up.

She shakes her head. “Uhm, why do you ask?”

“Oh yeah. Are those, like, the same thing?”

Hinata shrugs, because, honestly, she has no idea. “I don’t know, honestly.”

He, too, shrugs, letting the topic slide off.

He shoves a few small bits into his mouth. “Oh my god, these are delish.” He chews a couple times, before picking up another one. “Hey, don’t eat that one.” He snags her wrist quickly, holding one that was the same as the piece he had just eaten.

She quirks a brow at him.

“It’s a crab cake.” He glances at his plate before picking one that he thought would be a suitable substitution. “I’ll trade you this mini quiche looking thingy.”

She can’t help but smile and it stretches her lips wide. She adores him. “My hero.”

He flushes a bit before tossing his head back, swallowing a mouthful of crabby goodness. “Shut your butt.”

So romantic. She giggles, turning away.

Suddenly he’s very close to her, his head ducked beside her shoulder. Like he’s using her as a shield. “Fuck. Quick, make a break for it.”

“What?” She blinks, confused.

Her confusion only lasts a moment before she hears a loud voice approaching.

“Hey! I was yelling for you.” Konohamaru pushes towards them from the crowd. Hinata recognizes him from the couple of encounters they’d had. She inclines her head in greeting, but Konohamaru is only interested in Naruto.

Naruto sighs heavily, glaring at Hinata as she giggles at his discomfort, before he snaps his fingers. “Hey-- wait, you’re one of those boujee assholes, right?”

“Naruto.” Hinata swings her head towards him, frowning. There was blunt, and then there was Naruto.

Naruto gestures to Konohamaru’s coordinating pocket square, defensively.

She sighs. Fair point.

Konohamaru for his part looks completely unoffended, instead, nodding quickly. “Yes. You’ve stated this before.”

“Right, right. Would you happen to know the difference between Hors D’oeuvres and Tapas?”

“Of course.” Konohamaru smiles a little smugly.

Naruto tips his head triumphantly at Hinata. “Did you hear that, Hina? Of course .”

She fights the laugh in her throat. “Of course.” She reaches over to pinch him.

“Hors D’oeuvres translates to ‘outside the works’ meaning outside of the main meal. Usually one bite. Tapas are actually a meal, but can be consisting of hors d’oeuvres, in Spanish would be called ‘entremése’ so--”

“Wow,” Naruto interrupts, nodding. “I too am hors d’oeuvres then.”

Konohamaru laughs a little at the joke. Hinata doesn’t find it as amusing, though. Self-deprecation was an old and familiar Naruto defense. Meaning his lack of job was bothering him. She wants to say something to him, but not in front of Konohamaru.

“I was actually looking for you to ask you something.” Konohamaru continues, unbothered by Naruto’s side-tracking. He was probably used to it after working with him for weeks. “Will you buy me a drink at the bar?”

“Wow, that’s so flattering. Really, so sweet? But I brought a date.” Naruto says, as he wraps his free arm around Hinata.

That suits her just fine. She settles against him, appreciating the warmth. He smells nice.

Konohamaru makes a face. “Come on.”

Naruto shakes his head, mouth pressing into a firm line. “Fuck, no.”

“But can you just--”

Naruto makes a face back before deftly maneuvering them away.

When they were more or less alone again, she decides to speak up. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Huh?” He blinks down at her.

“About your job.”

“Oh, you got my nifty little French joke.” He smirks.

“I’m serious.” She presses, looking into his eyes, earnestly. “You have a job that you like. You don’t have to degrade yourself or make jokes or make excuses--

He cuts her off, attempting for casual. “So, hors d’oeuvres is just one bite foods. The possibilities are endless. Tic-tacs? One bite. Pizza rolls? One bite.”

Fine.

He doesn’t want to talk about it.

She’s not going to press.

“Mini corn dogs.” He continues, leaving his arm around her as they stroll a bit. “Honestly does the criteria just depend on what you can fit in your mouth? What if you have a way bigger mouth?”

She snorts. “You have a big mouth.”

“Hinata. So rude.” He bends closer, his breath teasing the hair at her temple. “Especially when I know exactly what fits in your mouth…”

He’s done it again.

She can practically taste the salt of him on her tongue.

Feel the firm, but gentle grip of his fingers twisted in her hair.

Hear his whispered: So good, Hina...

She flushes from her toes to her hairline and twists the skin of his arm as best she can.

“Ow!” He jumps, pulling his arm away.

“You deserved that one.” She sniffs popping her last piece of food in her mouth to eliminate the remembered flavor.

“I’m gonna pinch you back.”

She slants him an inquisitive smirk. “Oh, are you?”

“Believe it. You’re not gonna know what hit you.” Naruto takes her empty plate and slides it under his own. “Constant vigilance, Hyuuga.” He wraps his arm around her again, letting it slide over her back. If he feels her tremble, he doesn’t say anything. “You’ll be in steady state of terror.” His hand wanders lower and her breath catches. “Always wondering when I will - strike.” He grabs her round backside and she almost squeals.

It’s so childish and inappropriate...and funny.

It breaks the tension she was feeling, even if her gaze scans the area furtively. Just in case. “Naruto!” She knows her face is flame red beneath her foundation.

“Please don’t Bagua me.” He presses his hand together in a prayer, under his chin.

“No promises.” She narrows her eyes in warning.

“Hashtag: worth it.”

She rolls her eyes.

They’re quiet for a moment and she takes the time to steady herself. She’s coping well enough, not becoming overwhelmed. Of course, Naruto is taking up most of her attention--which she suspects is probably on purpose so she doesn’t haul ass out of there, but it’s nice, to be with him.

“Want to play a game?” His question pulls her attention round again. He still looks far too smug for her liking.

“Is this you trying to grab my ass again?” She folds her arms, then relaxes them when she sees the way his eyes follow the way the motion raises her bust.

“No, no. I’ll do that later.” He vows, giving her a little wink.

Promise? She blows out a breath. “Incorrigible.”

“What’s that game that Ino always plays? Know what I’m talking about?”

She blinks, confused. Then it dawns on her--from waaaaay back. “That, really old game? When she worked at that flower shop?”

“Yeah. I think so?”

“Where we guess people’s professions?”

He snaps his fingers. “That’s the one.”

She remembers that game. She was terrible at it. But it was a fun way to pass the time when she was uncomfortable. “Well, okay, I guess.” She tucks an errant curl behind her ears, her gaze floating over the crowd. “Do you want to pick someone?”

Naruto hums a bit, also surveying the people, tapping his hands. “Alright. Alright. What about that old guy over there?”

She’s short, so it’s hard for her to make out where he’s looking. She stretches her neck. Finally seeing the ‘old guy’ in question. She scans his suit, trimmed beard and coiffed hair. Something professional... “Hmm, a doctor?”

“Wrong. He’s a lawyer.” Naruto smirks knowingly..

“That’s a good guess.” She concedes. “And your evidence?”

“His gaudy lapels.” Naruto gestures, inconspicuously, to his own neck. “Doctors have some humility at least. Faced with the raw truths of life and death!” He’s very dramatic in his explanation, making her giggle behind her hand.“And...” He adds in a conspiratorial whisper, “I know him. He works for the campaign.”

She drops her hand, eyes widening. “You cheater!”

Naruto dips his head, completely unashamed.

“I can’t believe you.”

He gives her a little wink and her heart trips over itself.

“I get to pick this time.” She says in order to refocus. She allows her gaze to trail over the crowd, trying to pick a trickier target. A flash of bright color in a sea of blond and brown catches her eye. “That guy.”

Naruto follows her line of sight, but he shrugs--not quite sure where she’s looking. “Which one?”

“The redhead.”

“Hinata, there’s a lot of redheads, how am I --oh, well, yeah, shit. Nevermind, that’s really red.” He laughs a little, glancing at her.

“Told you.” She smirks.

“Okay, you can go first.”

She studies her ‘mark’ and tilts her head. There’s something about him. It’s like a jingle of memory in the back of her head. He’s an attractive man with pale skin and that obscenely red hair. She can almost place him, but not quite.“Now that I think about it, he actually looks familiar. Like I’ve seen him before,” she murmurs to Naruto.

“Yeah.” He nods in agreement. “Yeah. I know exactly what you mean.”

She looks at him quickly. “Are you just teasing me?”

“No. No! Honestly. Really. I could totally be wrong but I think I know him from somewhere.”

“Really?” She turns back towards the other man. “Where from?”

“I think… I think he beat the shit out of Sasuke one time.” Naruto lit up, smiling at an old, old memory.

Well, then Hinata liked him already.

No, wait.

That was mean.

She glances up at Naruto, watching his smile spread. “Are you being serious?”

He laughs. “Yes, dead serious. Okay, so we used to go to the skate park, on that pier, near Chelsea. Same place that I broke my arm, twice in a row, doing the same trick. Have I ever told you about that?”

She nods, because yes, he had. He told her countless stories and she mentally catalogued each one before tucking them into her heart for safe keeping.

“Anyways --during a different time Sasuke was running his mouth, about something. I don’t even remember what, but running his mouth--as fucking usual.”

Hinata nods a little. Yes, that was usual.

Stop it.

She had really tried to like Sasuke, because he was important to Naruto (for God only knows what reason) but no matter how much she tried she could never get past his perverse pleasure in hurting the one person she loved above all others.

She never would, now.

Not after the pills.

The bathtub…

She shudders, forcefully pushing those thoughts away, listening to Naruto instead.

“...And then, this kid, like way younger than us, like out of nowhere, sucker punches him right in the face.”

“Seriously?” Hinata glances once more at the redhead.

“Yeah. That happened a lot actually. But anyways, this tiny, scrawny kid, beats the living fuck out of him. Like for real, thrashed him. My arm is broken at the time, and I still try and jump in and like pull this feral kid off him. I swear, he was high on PCP or like...something.”

“Really?” Her eyes go wide.

He shrugs like it’s an everyday thing to have to pull a wild junkie off a friend. But then again, that probably was an everyday thing for him back then. She frowns a bit at that thought.

“Okay, make your guess quick,” he urges her.

Wait--what? “Quick?”

He nods. “Cause we’re gonna go find out.”

No.

She does not want to do that.

She’s holding it together right now.

Being surrounded by people was hard enough….striking up a conversation with a complete stranger? She can feel the bile roll in her stomach.

Naruto rubs her arms. “Don’t worry, I’ll do the talking. Promise. I just wanna see if I’m right.”

Hinata exhales slowly. She could walk over there and stand. Right? She wasn’t that much of a failure that she couldn’t pull that off. “Okay.” She holds onto him as they start forward. “I still think I’ve seen him somewhere. Maybe on CNN. Maybe a reporter?”

“Good guess. He is dressed nice, but not overly nice. Like he put effort into looking normal.” He turns a look on her. “But for the love of god please don’t watch CNN. They’re corporate shills.”

She huffs a little breath. “What am I supposed to watch? Fox?”

“Ew, Hinata, what is wrong with you?” Naruto sticks his tongue out like he tasted something bad. “No actually, I prefer podcasts now. Less opinions. More news. And it’s only like twenty minutes. Plus if anything crazy happens, like breaking news throughout the day, your phone tells you anyways.”

Hinata’s neck aches with how she’s looking up at him. She’s actually surprised. “Wow, that’s actually… really interesting. I didn’t know you were… into that.” It was a but disconcerting, but she also liked it--liked learning something new about the person she’d been with for years.

“I’m full of surprises. Maybe you should hang out with me more. I’ll show you my favorite ones after.” He suggests.

“Okay.”

Naruto tosses their plates into a trash before approaching the redhead “Hey,” he says by way of greeting. “ I’m Naruto Uzumaki.”

“Gaara Sabaku.” The redhead’s voice is a lower pitch than Naruto’s but not quite as smooth, Hinata notices. He holds his hand out towards Naruto.

“This is my gir-” Naruto coughs through the introduction. “Friend. Hinata Hyuuga.”

Hinata forces a polite smile onto her face and shakes Gaara’s hand as well, despite her trepidation. His grip is firm but not harsh.

“Sorry to bother you, but I was just wondering if I knew you from somewhere?” Naruto continues.

Gaara clears his throat. “I’m a representative from Brooklyn. I wasn’t up for re-election this year but I wanted to show my support for the other Democrat running. We are neighbors, after all.”

“Oh, congrats, Congressmen, but I was actually thinking, from before that. Like, middle school, high school maybe? Maybe that skate park, on the pier in Manhattan. You know the one?” Naruto presses.

“Pier 62?”

“Yes!” Naruto points in triumph. “That’s the one.”

Gaara studies Naruto for a moment. “I do recognize you, actually. Less tattoos back then, correct?”

“Yeah.” Naruto grins, nodding. He’s so proud of himself, being right. Hinata gives him a soft smile and shakes her head.

Gaara shifts, but his face remains carefully neutral. “I probably owe you an apology-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey man. No need for that.” Naruto interrupts quickly. “Unless it’s for those sick tricks. I was just telling Hinata about that board you had. It was custom right? With that crazy badger on it?”

“Oh, that thing.” Gaara sounds almost embarrassed but his expression is still that same unaffected neutral.

“Naruto!”

Hinata jumps a bit at the new voice, her fingers twisting along her bracelet.

A silver haired man pushes into their group. Hinata recognizes him as Kakashi Hatake from his flyers and advertisements, but they really did not do the man justice. He’s tall and handsome--almost ridiculously handsome, actually. Hinata blinks a bit, startled by both his sudden appearance, and by how close he was to Naruto--invading his space like they were old friends.

“Good to see you! Did you just get here?” Naruto asks, brows raised. “To your own event?”

Kakashi purses his lips. “Good to see you, too,” he deflects. “ And Mr. Sabaku! Nice to see you as well.”

Gaara replies in kind before excusing himself when he’s called over by another group.

“Hey, Kakashi, my friend and I were just playing this game where we try and guess people’s professions. Now hold on, hold on.” Naruto rubs his thumb and forefinger against his chin, theatrically, pretending to study Kakashi. “I’m getting... ‘The Bronx’s new representative’ vibes.”

Kakashi laughs a little, eyes closing. “Hey, we’ll see in a couple hours, now won’t we.” He moves to go mingle himself before pointing to Naruto again. “I’m still awaiting my invite.”

“I promise, I’ll text you.” Naruto laughs.

Hinata has no idea what the exchange is about and she’s only half paying attention--trying not to feel overwhelmed by the situation or hurt by the lack of introduction. She knows, realistically, Naruto was probably trying to keep her from being uncomfortable, but she couldn’t help but wonder if it was because he didn’t want her to humiliate him.

You know better than that. She tells herself. She lifts her chin.

Kakashi has barely taken a step away from the group before Shikamaru Nara appears at their side. “Naruto. What the hell, I was planning on introducing Gaara and Kakashi. You totally stole my brownie points.”

“What?” Naruto blinks. “That was totally an accident. Do you know Gaara too?”

“He’s my fiancé’s brother.” Shikamaru lazily gestures to the woman next to him.

“Temari Sabaku.” She introduces herself, unbothered by Shikamaru’s lack of manners. She’s taller than Ino, but her hair is more gold than platinum blond, Hinata notes. Her eyes are greener, too and her skin more tan.

“Congrats man. I didn’t even know you were getting married.” Naruto tips his head. “Mazel tov.”

“I’m not Jewish.” Shikamaru rolls his eyes.

“What? Really. I totally thought you were Jewish.” Naruto looks over to Hinata for backup. “Didn’t you think he was Jewish?” he whispers quietly.

She shakes her head, letting him down gently. He looks so genuinely confused it makes her lips twitch in sympathy.

“Is it because I’m a lawyer?” Shikamaru raises an eyebrow.

“No!” Naruto quickly denies.

“Whatever. Do you want a drink?” Shikamaru turns his attention to his own fiancé. “Naruto, lets go get them a drink.”

Hinata tenses slightly when Naruto steps back, away from her, but she feigns a calm she doesn’t feel.

“Same thing, right?” He asks her.

She nods with a smile. “Yes, thank you.”

Hinata watches him as he makes his way towards the back of the room and the bar. She tries not to squirm when she feels Temari’s eyes on her. “So,” she clears her throat. “You’re getting married?”

Temari nods with a faint smile. “It took awhile, but I finally wore him down.” Her gaze wanders to Hinata’s hand then to her face. “You?”

“Hm?” Hinata blinks. “Oh, uhm, no.” She shakes her head, but feels the warmth that the idea surges into her. “Not yet,” she amends.

“Well, when you do, make sure you plan as much as you can in advance because all the last minute crap can really wear on you. Actually, just elope. It’ll save you money and a headache.”

Hinata thinks about Naruto’s vision of a large, gaudy wedding. Eloping has it’s appeal to her, but she’d give him whatever he wanted--when the time was right.

She smiles at Temari. “Thanks for the advice.”

Hinata turns towards the bar, catching sight of Naruto and Shikamaru talking.

She turns back to Temari. She could try, right? To be social. To be the initiator of conversation.  “So, uhm, how d-did you two meet?”

Temari blinks, and then smiles a smile that reveals stories to be told.

Over the next few minutes Temari fills HInata in on her and Shikamaru. Right up until he joins them again. Sans Naruto.

Hinata looks around worriedly.

“Bathroom,” Shikamaru says, flatly.

Hinata catches his eye and frowns a bit. Was Shikamaru glowering at her? Before she can feel too uncomfortable about it, Temari resumes her wedding talk. A few minutes later Naruto rejoins them, handing her a glass of red wine.

“Thank you.” Hinata smiles in relief, taking a little sip. Don’t gulp.

“You didn’t get a drink?” Shikamaru asks, noticing Naruto’s empty hands.

Naruto chuckles a little, awkwardly. “I don’t drink.”

Shikamaru snorts. “Ha. Yeah right. I distinctly remember you drunk at--”

Nope.

They were not doing this.

No one was going to have a rehash and bash Naruto session while she was around.

Her own discomfort aside, she wasn’t about to have stories of drunken Naruto told like he was the butt of some joke. She cuts the conversation short, her chin tilted up and jaw set. “Temari, what were you saying about your wedding venue?”

She can feel Naruto’s gaze on her profile--can feel his questions. She turns towards him, her eyes soft. “It’s in a hotel.” Hinata tells him slipping her arm back into his as they listened to Temari tell them a little about her wedding details and giving Hinata some more tips for random things.

Conversation was easy after that, but after a little bit Temari wanted to go see Gaara, so she and Shikamaru excused themselves.

“Let’s leave now.” Naruto says once they were on their own again.

Hinata glances at the televisions. “The votes aren’t even counted yet.”

He shrugs easily enough. “Yeah? The votes are gonna be the same if we’re here or not.”

She frowns at him. “You shouldn’t just skip out like that.”

“I don’t work for him no more.” He ruffles the back of his hair messing up his comb job.

Hinata bites her lip. She really wants to go, but this is his night and she will stay as long as he wants. “Are you sure? You’re having so much fun.”

He shrugs again. “You know what would be more fun?” Naruto asks, already moving her towards where their coats were. “If we grabbed some take out and went back to your place for some Netflix with Argus.”

Oh. That idea she liked.

She liked it so much.

Still... “Are you sure?”

“One hundred and ten percent, Hyuuga.” He squeezes her shoulder with one warm hand.

Relief makes her a little goofy. She follows him out.

The air was a little chillier than when they’d arrived and even more so as opposed to the stuffy room. Immediately Naruto slips his coat of and places it over her shoulders.

“Naruto, it’s too cold.” She shakes her head, even as she embraces the warmth and the scent of him.

“I’ll be fine. It’s not too far.”

“Let’s just take a cab.” She tries to persuade him.

Naruto shakes his head. “I’ll be fine.”

So stubborn.

“But, but-- my feet hurt.” She changes tactics, knowing that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ignore her plight. Besides it’s not entirely untrue. The straps were attractive, but the bottoms were thin and not meant for support and her feet were sore.

“You aren’t even wearing heels.” Naruto smirks at her. “Piggyback.”

“No.”

“Come on.” He wiggles his eyebrows.

“No. Naruto, I’m serious.”

He ignores her, crouching low, letting his arms move out to his sides, making room for her. He casts her an expecting glance over his shoulder. She huffs, before hitching up her dress a little. Her feet did hurt…

She wasn’t just using it as an excuse to get closer to him.

Lies.

You, Hinata Hyuuga, are a dirty liar. Now mount up!

Her breath shakes when Naruto’s hands grip her thighs. She feels his thumb slide over the material of her dress for a moment and she has to bite her lip to keep from gasping. Even so, she finds herself leaning forward. “Sorry,” she whispers.

“Jeez, Hinata, Argus probably weighs more than you. Plus, I’m super buff now. I can punt guys three times your size.” He hikes her up higher and her bottom lip is recaptured by her teeth.

Oh.

She curls her arms tighter, resting her face against the crook of his neck--breathing him in.

They stop at a little twenty-four hour dive for some burgers and fries. It’s clean and the line isn’t long this late at night. She’s not complaining. Appetizers did not fill her up.

“Pinky promise you won’t tell.” Naruto reaches out his finger for hers as they wait in line.

She holds up her pinky finger readily. “Yes, but next time you have to get a salad. Jiraiya already put in your fight weight, so you can’t go too far over it.” She reminds him. She doesn’t want him to have to resort to anything drastic in order to cut before his next fight.

“I know, I know. I promise.” He smiles at her. “Wait, double pinky promise.”

“Why double?” She asks, already moving her other pinky next to his.

“Because I’m gonna get cheese fries.”

She can’t help the laugh that bubbles out of her. It feels good--to be this happy.

With him.

They get their to-go bags that Naruto carries. She insists that she can walk the one block to her apartment complex.

Once there, they are greeted by a very happy Argus.

“Argus!” Naruto yells, excited.

Argus immediately steps back, lowering his head, his gaze wary.

“Shit.” Naruto glances at Hinata guiltily, dropping the boxes onto the counter. “Argus. I’m sorry. I’ll be quieter,” he murmurs slowly approaching him.

Hinata fetches Argus’s vest and returns to them. Naruto’s doing his best to soothe but the moment Hinata kneels next to him he presses his head into her chest. She strokes him in slow motions, humming soothing words. “It’s okay, now. Shhh.”

“I feel so bad.” Naruto says, rubbing his hands against his thighs.

“He’ll be okay.” Hinata pets Argus for another minute before latching the vest on him and giving him a little kiss between the ears.

It only took a few minutes before Argus was back at Naruto’s feet, accepting all the pets that Naruto offered.

“See,” Hinata beams. “All better.” She watches them for another moment, her heart full and lighter than it has been in a long time. This was different than their park dates. This was...cozier.

Like family.

She clears her throat. “I think I’m going to change. I don’t want to ruin my dress.”

“Okay.” Naruto nods, hands still working Argus’s ears.

Hinata touches the shimmering fabric, wistful. Although there were tense moments, tonight she felt a little like a princess. “It’s so pretty though. I don’t know when I’m going to wear it again.” .

“It is pretty.” Naruto agrees, a little offhandedly.

She bites her lip. “It’s the nicest thing I own.”

“You look pretty in everything you wear. But you could probably wear it to one of those Michelin star restaurants,” he adds. Then makes a face.

“Thinks so?” She questions. That gives her an idea.

“Course. They’re all in Manhattan, though. Ehk.”

“There’s one in the Harlem.” She suggests, quietly.

“That’s not… the worst.” Naruto concedes, though he’s still making a face.

Okay. So he wasn’t picking up on subtle.

That was okay.

She could be more assertive.

Right?

“Maybe…w-we… could go… sometime?” She asks, hating the way her voice breaks a bit.

Naruto swings his head towards her, sitting up straighter on the loveseat. “You want to go on a date with me?” His eyes are wide.

Hinata meets those wide eyes, nodding.

“A real date?” he clarifies.

She lowers her lashes, then raises her eyes again. “Yes.”

He licks his lips, drawing her attention to them and her own lips tingle a bit.

“You want to go on a date with me?” he repeats it, like he can’t believe it.

Or maybe...maybe he didn’t want to? She shifts her bracelet around, before meeting his eyes again. She wasn’t going to back out. She nods.

Naruto swallows a couple of times. “That would be… awesome.” He bit his lip.

Yes!

Hinata smiles, before turning away, a little embarrassed. “I’m going to go change now,” she mutters.

In her bedroom she presses her hands to her face and squeals--just a little--and shimmies.

A date.

A real date.

Oh. My. God.

She breathes deeply.

Okay.

Calm down.

You’ve seen the boy naked already.

Not helping with the calm.

She pinches herself--just to be sure. Then, she grabs a long sleeve tee and some comfy joggers before slipping into the bathroom to wash her face and take her hair down.

When she returns to the living room Naruto is still petting Argus and the TV isn’t even on.

“Did you pick anything good?” She asks, sliding onto the seat beside him.

“My bad.” Naruto chuckles a little breathlessly. “I was too busy with my main man.”

Argus rests his head on Hinata’s lap, staring at her adoringly. The feeling is mutual, so she scratches him.

She feels so damn happy in that moment that they can watch mold grow for all she cares. “Well, we can watch whatever. Someone from work told me Russian Doll was pretty good. Or--”

“Can I kiss you?” Naruto interrupts her.

She snaps her head towards him so fast she sees double for a split second. He’s looking at her so openly--so earnestly. She swallows and whispers, “Now?”

Naruto rolls his eyes a bit, because he’s used to her. “You’re beautiful.”

Hinata stares at him, looks into his blue eyes and falls...all over again. All new.

And being all new, she doesn’t want him to feel like she’s allowing him to be with her. She wants--no, she needs --him to know that it’s a choice that she’s actively making.

Them.

Together.

Not him pursuing her.

But choosing one another.

Instead of answering his question she leans in and pushes up, tasting his slightly parted lips with her own. She keeps it soft--light--giving him a chance to pull back if he needs to. He doesn’t. He tips his chin down, pressing against her more firmly.

She sighs, leaning back, her lips trailing slowly against his--lingering over the bottom pout of his. She feels a bit dazed but not half as dazed as he looks. She smiles a little. “Your food's going to get cold.”

He blinks at her before nodding dumbly, but she catches him glancing at her.

She grins, biting a fry.

What a great day.

Chapter Text

Life's not a race.

Nor should it be one.

The finish line, after all, is less than favorable.

Take it slow.


She’s happy.

Happier than she’s probably ever been in her life.

There’s room for more happy, but she’s content.

Things are going well at work, she’s more fit than ever before if the sleek lines of her arms are any indication, she’s got Argus, her friends, her sister, and she’s with Naruto again.

So why then is she sitting up in bed wheezing her way through tears?

Why can’t she just be happy? She wonders, rubbing at her face.

She’s not even sure what woke her or why she’s upset.

In complete truth, she can’t think of one logical reason for it.

She thinks it’s probably her ‘Charlie Brown’ factor (a nickname that causes Inoichi to chuckle a little whenever she brings it up)...her fear of happiness. What a stupid fear.

Who in the heck was afraid of happiness ?

She knows it’s not that simple.

She’s talked it through. She’s aware that it’s not being happy that bothers her...it’s the fallout. This is her childhood trauma rearing its ugly head.

She sighs, getting up and padding her way into her bathroom.

Argus follows at her heels.

She washes the teartrackes off of her face.

At least it wasn’t a panic attack. She hasn’t had one of those in awhile.

She looks up into the mirror and is mildly surprised to see that the eyes staring back at her aren’t defeated....not even a little. She looks determined. And still happy.

She smiles a bit, feeling a warm sense of pride.

She’s not quite the person she wants to be yet, but she’s getting there. She knows that her issues will always be a part of who she is, but she also knows that they don’t define her--nor what she’s capable of.

“Slow progress is still progress,” she tells herself.

She glances down at Argus who is panting and relaxed. Even he can sense the difference. She rubs his ears. “Come on, back to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.” Three meetings and a trip to Eight Gates. She wouldn’t get the chance to see Naruto, between his schedule and hers, so she made plans to meet up with Ino after her workout. Argus would be spending the day with Kiba at Fang over Fang. He needed his booster shots plus it was kind of a ‘play date’ between him and Akamaru, so she wouldn’t worry about him being alone too long.

Once back in her bed, with the covers pulled to her chin and Argus curled at her side, she picks up her phone. It’s just after two in the morning--Naruto would be home and probably still up. He used to shower after Teuchi’s to get the smell off of him and the city grime. She could call, but she doesn’t quite trust her voice. She texts him: Hope your night was good. I miss you.

His reply is almost immediate. Miss you too. Why u up? You ok?

She presses her lips together, considering. Yeah, she was. She smiles at the screen.

I’m ok. Bad dream, I think. Going back to sleep now. Argus says hi.

She watches the typing indicator for nearly a full minute. She suspects he’s typing and erasing his replies, when finally she reads: Hey buddy. Call me tomorrow?

She smiles again, wider this time. Of course. Goodnight.

Sweet dreams, Hina.

She tucks herself against Argus, feeling the goofy grin she’s now wearing. She falls asleep thinking of Naruto and her dreams are, indeed, very sweet.

* * *


There are many things that Hinata adores about both Lee and Guy-Sensei, but their very awful fashion sense is not one of them, which puts her in a bit of an awkward predicament when she is presented with a surprise gift when she arrives for practice.

A brand new green leotard with the Eight Gates logo on the back.

“Oh,” she says, lifting the garment from the tissue paper. “This is...so unexpected.” That was the truth. She stares at the material, both touched and horrified.

Sensei clasps her shoulder, his eyes glittering--looking suspiciously like tears. “Lee and I are both so proud of you,” he tells her, giving her one of his super wide smiles.

Lee nods. “You have proven to be a splendid fighter and an inspiration.”

Guy flashes a thumbs up at Lee. “Our little lotus blossom has come so far!”

Hinata flushes, tucking her chin for a moment, but she lifts her gaze to his--curiosity getting the better of her. Sensei has often called her his little lotus blossom before, and she’s never really questioned it.  “Why do you call me that? Lotus blossom?”

Sensei’s smile doesn’t change, but his eyes are definitely tearful now. “Because lotus blossoms bloom with remarkable beauty, despite adversity. They remain pure and lovely, rising above the muddy waters.”

Hinata feels her own eyes sting, misting up. She always suspected that Guy Sensei and Lee knew more about her struggles than they let on. “Oh.” She sniffs, bowing to him and then to Lee, holding the leotard close to her chest. “Thank you.”

When she stands straight again, Sensei leans closer to whisper. “You do not have to wear it. It’s mostly symbolic.”

Oh thank God.

Still…it means a lot to her. They mean a lot to her. So she puts it on. Just for this practice.

Sensei insists on a picture.

She also takes one. It’ll be one to add to her family wall.

Her family was so much larger than she ever imagined it could be.

She can’t help but feel lighter and happier.

She’s still rising.

* * *

After practice, she meets Ino and Sai for a light dinner. While they are there, Hinata considers Sensei’s words. Nearing desert, Hinata bites her lip and asks Sai if he would sketch something for her. “I’ll pay you, of course,” she tells him. “But, if possible, could I commission a design from you?”

One of Ino’s perfect brows arches. “What kind of design?”

Hinata tugs her bracelet a bit, but smiles. “A tattoo.”

Ino inclines her head, but if she’s surprised it doesn’t show. She simply smiles and sips her wine. Sai takes the request, but refuses the payment. He’ll have some sketches for her by the following weekend.

She’s excited and nervous about it.

She talks to Kiba a bit about the idea when she picks up Argus. He’s the only other person aside from Naruto that has tattoos--at least, that she knows of--so she has a few questions. He recommends a couple of places to her, but adds, “You know, Naruto would be a better resource for this.”

She nods. “Oh, I know. He’s working right now, though, and I kind of...wanna surprise him with it. Is that dumb?”

Kiba chuckles. “Depends on where you get it.” He waggles his brows. “That could be quite the surprise.”

“Kiba!” She flushes bright red. “You pervert. I’m thinking on the back of my shoulder. My god!”

He shrugs. “I can’t see Naruto complaining about it, no matter where you get it,” he responds truthfully. “How are things going with you two, anyway?” It’s said off-handedly, but she has known Kiba almost as long as she’s known Ino, and she can read the subtle tension in him.

“Things are good,” she tells him, watching his expression. “We’re taking it slow.”

“That’s good. I’m happy for you.” He means it. She knows he does. But there’s something he’s not saying.

“Kiba?”

“Sorry,” Kiba mumbles, rubbing his neck. He looks at her and gives an apologetic smile and shrugs “I’m just a little paranoid, with what happened last time.” He takes a breath. “I can’t--I can’t find you like that again.”

She nods, touching his arm. It’s a bitter realization to know that she hurt him so deeply, but she understands where he’s coming from. His worry stems from love and she can’t fault him for that. “I’m sorry that I put you through that,” she tells him. She feels the need to clarify something of her own, though. “You know that wasn’t Naruto’s fault, right?”

One side of Kiba’s mouth kicks up and he rolls his eyes at her. “Believe it or not, yes, I do know that. I’m not an idiot. I was just really scared and pissed at the time. I know that knucklehead loves you. Shino and I both knew that you two would find your way back to one another. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop worrying.” He pauses and his smile turns teasing. “Or giving him a hard time.”

She returns it with one of her own. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if you two didn’t butt heads.”

She takes a photo of Kiba with Akamaru and Argus.

Another one for her wall.

* * *


Naruto’s exhausted.

She can tell by the pull of his shoulders, the slightly hunched posture he walks with. She can see it in the way his eyes droop, even as he watches her routine. She knows he’s pushing himself a little too hard, but she’s trying to be less “parent” and more “partner” so she doesn’t pressure him about it.

That doesn’t mean she can’t help him out though, and tease him a bit in the process. She waves him over from her practice mat when she sees him fighting to keep his head upright.

“Come on sleepy head.”

“...not sleepy.” Naruto mumbles. So convincingly.

“Of course not.” She gives him a knowing smile, her lips quirked in amusement. “But you might want to do some jumping jacks before we walk over there.” She gestures to the ring where Lee and Guy Sensei are set up.

Naruto blinks at her sluggishly. “Wait, are you done already?” He yawns through most of that question, arms stretching.

Hinata makes her way over to him, holding out her hands. He takes them immediately, but stands up on his own. Once on his feet, he pulls her closer to him and she feels a thrum of energy surge through her.

This is new.

Being openly affectionate.

Well, new for her.

Naruto has always worn his heart out for the world to see.

“Ready for practice?” She asks, leaning back to look up at him. She appreciates the strong line of his jaw, the slope of his brow. He’s so handsome it stops her heart.

He nods at her, answering her question.

She uses their laced hands as leverage to pull herself up a bit, to get a better look at his eyes, searching his gaze. “Are you sure?”

He gives her a little eye roll. “Yes. I’m a thousand percent ready for Eyebrows to put me in a triangle choke for the thousandth time.”

He sounds so defeated before even stepping onto the mat and a little bitter. She reaches up to snag his chin, pulling down so that she can actually see into his eyes and he into hers. “Lee and Guy Sensei are very important to me. They are helping you. You need to be respectful to them.” She pinches her lips together. “And you are very good, I don’t like when you talk about yourself like that.”

She was proud of him.

He stares a little. She can’t tell what he’s thinking, though, so she presses, “Got it?”

He smirks at her and nods even as he tightens his hold on her hand while his free one snakes around her waist and lifts so just the very tips of her toes touch the mat. He presses a quick little kiss on her mouth and she feels her whole system short circuit.

“Naruto.” She blushes, eyes blazing.

“I got it.” He promises, letting her go...slowly.

They make their way to the set up area and Hinata bows to her Sensei. He winks at her, nodding in Naruto’s direction. Both Guy and Lee had been teasing her mercilessly since they figured out that Naruto was more than a close friend of hers.

She still blushes every time.

She takes her spot at the edge of the mat and watches as Lee and Naruto square up. Being as tired as he is, she knows that he’s going to struggle through the whole thing, but he doesn’t quit. Never asks for a break. He gets up after every take down, ready to go again.

If that wasn’t a prime example of what made Naruto Naruto she didn’t know what was.

“Fucking Christ kid. You know how to box. You have to strike when he steps in.” Jiraiya’s voice grates on her nerves, but she presses her lips closed and lets him do his thing.

“We’re practicing. I’m not going to jab him in the face.” Naruto defends, waving a hand.

Jiraiya snorts something off color and pushes to his feet, leaving the bench to meet with Guy and Lee--who are being typical Guy and Lee and encouraging one another (loudly). Hinata steps into the ring, handing Naruto a water bottle.

He squirts a bit into his mouth, swishing before swallowing. “Any of your profound wisdom?” he teases.

She does see some areas that he can improve on, but he’s so tired now that she doesn’t want to overwork him. So, she decides to tease him back. “Mmhmm.”

“Yeah? Come on.” Naruto nudges her playfully.

She leans closer to whisper. He does the same--honestly interested in her advice. “Have you thought about... winning?”

“Oh yeah?” He laughs at her little jest. “That’s your great advice? Win?”

“Yeah.” She smiles up at him, unabashed in her open adoration.

Still more new for her.

But it felt so right not to hide from him anymore.

Her heart tumbles a bit when his hands move to rest on her hips, his thumb tracking tingling paths. She lets her own hands wander up his biceps, fingers flexing on the insides of his arms. As she does, she travels back down and comes across tape and bandages.

She frowns, glancing up at him. “Are you hurt?” How had she missed that?

Naruto’s gaze skirts hers, but then returns. He looks contemplative for a few seconds, but then he shakes his head. “Not anymore.” The words feel like a promise.

Hinata knows there’s more to them than he’s sharing at the moment.

But she’s going to hold the promise of them.

They wrap up practice with some stretches and Lee gives Naruto some pointers for “Next time, rival.”

Naruto looks completely confused by that statement, but Hinata grins. “Trust me,” she tells him. “If Lee views you as his rival--you’re doing great.”

He shrugs, taking her at her word.

“So,” he rubs his neck as they make their way outside into the cool air. “Want some company later?”

“Don’t you work tonight?” She asks him.

“I do, but I could come over after.”

She raises one brow.

“Hinata, I don’t have Netflix. We need to see the next episode,” he reasons. He turns to face her, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Come on Hina.”

“I have work tomorrow.” It’s such a weak excuse. She knows it.

“I do too,” he counters. “I’m opening.”

“She’s going to die and wake up in her friends ridiculously decorated bathroom again. We haven’t made any progress so far.” She toes the ground. She can be a responsible adult and resist him...she could. Just as long as she didn’t look into those blue eyes of his.

“I’ll bring you that cinnamon dessert pizza,” he cajoles.

Well...so much for that, she thinks, looking up and getting lost in his gaze.

Let him think it was the delicious dessert pizza.

It wasn’t.

It was him.

Always him.

So despite the fact that she had a meeting first thing in the morning, and she had to be up early, she finds herself up at two in the morning for the second time that week. Except this time she’s curled up with Naruto and Argus and she honestly can’t think of a better reason to be awake.

“Who the fuck is this random dude? He’s dying too?” Naruto questions around a yawn. He’s leaned against her heavily, his hand crossing her lap to reach Argus to half-heartedly stroke his fur.

“You picked this show.” Hinata reminds him, sleepily.

“Nuh-uh. You said someone from work told you it was good.”

“They lied.”

“It is good.”

She glances at him to ridicule his taste when she notices that his eyes are shut. “Your eyes are closed.”

“No they aren’t.” He nuzzles closer into her.

She smiles, leaning her head back. “You’re going to fall asleep,” she whispers.

“Am not.”

He does. Not even a minute later.

She watches him sleep for a few minutes, brushing her fingers through his hair much like he had done with Argus. She closes her own eyes.

She is pulled from sleep a little while later when her very warm blanket is removed. It takes her several groggy seconds to realize that she’s on her loveseat and that she can hear Naruto’s voice--low and hushed--nearby.

“Are we done here?” He’s asking.

There’s a pause and sleep tries to pull her back, but she can hear the edge in his tone.

“It was good talking to you, too.”

Whomever he was speaking to, that was certainly not the case, she thinks, based on the heavy sarcasm dripping from each syllable.

Another pause and then Naruto’s voice loses all pretense of calm and quiet.

“If you don’t keep Hinata’s fucking name out of your goddamn mouth, I’ll put my fist in it. Got it?”

She places a hand on Argus who is also roused, to ease him.

In her kitchen, Naruto is still on a tirade. “I don’t give a single fuck about Sakura or whatever bullshit runaround you two are still doing. Go fuck yourself.”

Oh. So, Sasuke, then.

She swallows back the bitter taste just thinking his name leaves her with. She wishes, wishes, wishes, that Naruto could shake free of that dead friendship...that was never really a friendship. But she knows how Naruto loves and despite everything--or maybe because of it--he loved Sasuke.

She pushes the negative away, and focuses on this moment. On Naruto, maybe hurting. Sasuke always had a way to get to him. “Everything okay?” She asks him, quietly.

“Of course.” Naruto smiles, alleviating some of her worry as he makes his way back towards her. “I’m with you.” He stoops down, kissing her lightly on her temple.

She smiles at that, letting her eyes close at the contact--savoring it.

“If you didn’t need to lock your door, which you definitely do need to do, I’d tuck you in.” Naruto does exactly that to a strand of her hair, tucking it behind her ear. “But you definitely do need lock your door.”

She doesn’t want him to leave. She doesn’t want this moment--this quiet, happy little moment--to be over. “Don’t go.”

He responds by kissing her again, this time on her cheek. “I’d stay anytime you wanted me to,” he tells her. “But I don’t actually have the gym keys on me right now.”

She nods, rousing herself slowly, keeping her blanket cocooned around her. It smells, just a bit, like him. It’ll have to do.

“Will you be safe, going home now?” She asks at the door, checking the time. Yes, he can kick a serious amount of ass, but perps didn’t carry just fists.

He shrugs easily enough. “I’ll bring you a coffee in the morning.” He promises instead of false platitudes and assurance. He bends his head, this time his lips finding hers. She leans up a bit. Morning breath be damned. He pulls back reluctantly.

She gazes up into his sleepy face. “That’s too early.”

“I know. I just want to see you.”

She blushes at that, but it feels good. It’s nice to know that he enjoys being around her. Not simply sharing their space. Sometimes, when they lived together, it was hard for her to determine if it was her he wanted to be around, or that they simply lived together, so he was stuck with her.

He slips his shoes and coat on, zipping them up. He pauses long enough to give her one last kiss. “Go to bed.” He says and the door shuts behind him.

She presses her fingertips to her mouth. “Stay safe,” she whispers.

Chapter Text

Once, when she was younger, Hinata spotted a tee shirt in a local shop that read: If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, don’t waste it. It also had a picture of a zombie nomming someone’s brains on it, but (gruesome image aside) the message always stuck.

She wants to think she’s smart enough not to waste this chance with Naruto.

She hopes he feels the same way.


It’s fight night.

Hinata had been both excited and anxious for the better part of the past week, regarding Naruto’s upcoming battle, and both of those feelings converged in the hours before weigh in, when Jiraiya weighed Naruto and found him a couple of pounds over.

This resulted in Naruto being wrapped in plastic and put on a bike to sweat his ass off.

It made Hinata’s stomach turn to watch the beads of sweat roll off of Naruto’s red (too red) face as he pushed and pushed himself to shed the last bits of weight that he could before his official weigh in.

It caused worry to blossom in her chest and clench at her gut, because she knew just how dangerous this rapid dehydration was. Sensei did not allow any form of cutting at his gym. He would rather take a forfeit than harm one of his fighters...of course, that was rarely the case at Eight Gates. Fighters were regularly driven hard. Not as punishment, but for achievement. Being better today than you were yesterday, and all of that.

Jiraiya, it seemed, only cared about Naruto stepping into the ring. Didn’t matter if he stayed standing once he got there. And Naruto… she presses her lips together and swallows back her complaints, because he’s an adult. It wasn’t up to her to agree with his decision.

It’s very, very , hard for her not to fall back into the familiar role of ‘taking care of’, but she’s not his mother. She’s his...girlfriend? That seems like such an inadequate term, but that itself is an entirely other gut-clenching train of thought, so she shoves it aside for the moment in favor of glowering darkly at Naruto’s sweat slick form.

She catches his glance flicking her way from time to time, and the old her would have tried to hide her displeasure. She doesn’t now. She wouldn’t cajole or criticize or beg him, but she’d be damned if she pretended she was fine with the grueling task he was putting himself through.

So, she stands, mutinously silent as he is weighed in for his first MMA fight. Jiraiya stands beside her, but not too close, and the both cross their arms over their chests.

Naruto comes in just under the cut.

“Nice,” he says, ruffling his sweat-damp locks. He glances over at her and Jiraiya. “What? I made weight.” He points defensively at the scale, as if that justifies any of it.

“By one ounce.” Jiraiya snaps. “Fucking fatty.”

Hinata flinches a bit at that. It brings her back to sitting in her room, with tears rolling down her cheeks as her father rails at her for being a chubby failure that’s too fat and soft, so no dinner for her until she can learn some self control.

Jiraiya’s voice pulls her back to the present.

“You’ve been shoving your face from that falafel cart again haven’t you.”

“No.” Naruto denies with a guilty side-glance.

“It was the cinnamon dessert pizza,” Hinata realizes, her voice tight.

Naruto swings his head towards her in mock horror. “Hinata, how could you?”

“Dessert pizza!” Jiraiya’s normally red, ruddy face turns a near purple shade and his cheeks tremble a bit in his rage.

Naruto, for his part, seems unaffected by his coach’s fury. He shrugs at him, instead, reaching for a water bottle. “Well, I mean this wouldn’t be a problem if you let me go up to Middleweight.”

The game official looks up from his check board and snorts.

“If you say Middleweight one more fucking time I’m gonna snap you in half.” Jiraiya spits out.

Hinata presses her lips even tighter, because she’s the one that put the idea in Naruto’s head. In her opinion, Middleweight would suit him better. He’s tall and his frame is broad. If given the chance to put some weight on and tone it into muscle, he could really be a formidable force. He was now but he was being restricted. At least, that was what she thought, but she wasn’t his coach.

“Gloves.” The official broke into any further conversation, holding out Naruto’s gloves to be taped and initialed. “They’ll come grab you as soon as the mat dries.” He informs them before leaving the room.

Hinata’s momentarily distracted by a vibrating buzz, so she pulls her phone out from her purse. She reads the text on the lock screen: Where are you? This place is smells like testosterone and mommy issues.

“I think Ino is here,” she tells Naruto, needlessly, because in the next breath Ino is striding into the room.

“There you are. It smells disgusting down here. Like testosterone and m...oldy towels.” Hinata spots her friend's subtle glance towards Naruto before Ino modifies her complaint. Ino may seem crass, but she cares, in her own way, and Hinata loves her for it. And a bit for her crassness.

“Hey, Ino.” Naruto waves a gloved hand.

“Naruto.” Her expression is still one of displeasure, but she’s not fooling Hinata.

From the corner of her eye, Hinata spots Jiraiya sit up a little straighter, but he’s surprisingly silent.

“This is my boyfriend: Sai.” Ino gestures towards Sai, who (as usual) looks completely unaffected by anything but at least he’s sort of smiling. Hinata knows from experience how off-putting his neutral expression can be. It took her awhile to realize that he wasn’t being cold, but Sai likes to process things, and take in new experiences almost through different filters. He likes to be ‘open’ as Ino calls it, not letting his own bias frame his perception.

“Hey.” Naruto gives another little wave, glancing at Hinata, one brow lifted. She can imagine his questions, but she’s not one to judge who her friends love, anymore than they are to judge her choice, so she simply shrugs at him.

“Stop fucking around and get ready.” Jiraiya pushes against Naruto’s shoulder.

Naruto rolls his eyes but does as instructed. He reaches over his head to tug at his shirt, pulling it over his head in that ridiculously, stupidly, sexy way men had. Hinata finds her teeth rubbing at her bottom lip as she watches him shed his joggers next, revealing his bright orange compression shorts that hugged his thighs and backside nicely.

She catches Ino’s eye and her cheeks pinken.

Ino’s smile is feral. “Wow, Naruto, are you trying out to be one of those Twilight wolves?” She asks as Jiraiya sprays him down.

Naruto’s brows scrunch.“A what?”

“Or like a model in one of those slutty car magazines?” Ino’s gaze travels over Naruto, flicks to Hinata, then back towards Naruto.

Hinata blushes at the pointed look. So what if she had that one calendar?

Never one to miss a chance to tease her, Naruto peers at her. “Oh, Hinata, you got some secrets? Hmm.”

“No!” She can feel her face flood in color. She taps a foot against the floor, in the vain hope it will open up and swallow her. Nope. No such luck.

“Maybe Naruto can hook up Sai with a work out routine.” Ino contemplates, eyes on Naruto’s abdomen as it flexes with each breath he takes.

Naruto’s lip curls as he lets out a disdainful huff. “Art History major?”

Hinata’s never really reasoned out why Naruto is always so defensive when it comes to her friends, so she tries to be patient, but she won’t take any unwarranted hostility. “Naruto.”

Sai gives her a look, then shrugs easily, his slight smile unchanged. “It’s okay, I’m not compensating for anything.”

Naruto’s eyes widen marginally, and his mouth opens and closes a few times before he musters an elegant, “What the fuck did you just say?”

“Sai!” Ino squeals with a little laugh, delighted.

“I said you must have a small dick.” Sai tilts his head, still smiling. He lets his gaze drop down, noting Naruto’s form fitting trunks, before raising again.

“Wha--Hey! Hinata.” Naruto swings his head in her direction but Hinata is already shaking her head.

“We’re going to go sit down.” She shoves her phone back into her purse and grabs a water bottle for herself.

“Hina!” Naruto pleads, looking slightly (and comically) betrayed

Ino and Sai are already out the door. Hinata pauses long enough to give him a small wave and an earnest look.  “Good luck,” she tells him.

On her way up to her seat, she frets a little. Over an hour on the bike with minimal to eat all day did not add anything favorable to his odds. Still, it’s Naruto and she has to believe that he’ll come out the winner. So she takes a breath and settles herself next to Ino.

“How you holding up?” Ino asks once they were situated.

Hinata gives her a look. “I’m not the one in the ring,” she murmurs, fingers plucking at her sweater.

Ino nods, bumping her shoulder. “Yeah, but I saw your face when we came in. What’s up?”

Hinata shrugs. “Naruto had to shed some weight before his match.”

Ino blinks at that, her teal eyes wide. “There was not an ounce of fat on that boy. Trust me, I looked.”

Hinata blushes a bit. “Yeah, well...I think he should jump up two weight classes, but Jiraiya disagrees.”

“Why two?” Sai leans around Ino to ask.

“Because he has the body for it, and it leaves him in Cruiser weight for Muay Thai. Right now he’s fighting at a weight that he can only maintain through punishment, as opposed to one that suits his natural body type.” She gives a little shrug.

“Wow, you’ve thought a lot about this,” Ino comments, looking impressed.

Hinata nods. “It would be more work, but I think he could do it.”

“Do you fight?” Sai asks.

Hinata blinks owlishly for a moment. “Uhm, oh, no...that’s not my thing. I, uh, I just like to relax.”

Ino cants her head, her gaze appraising. “Uh-huh. You know, Ms. Hyuuga...I don’t entirely think that’s true.”

Any response Hinata had was cut off by loud music wafting in from the speakers and the announcer’s voice declaring the next match about to start. They are closer to the ring than last time, as Naruto had managed to reserve a seat for Hinata. He hadn’t had any for Ino or Sai, but the reserved section wasn’t always full, so they were able to make due. Hinata sits up a little straighter, straining to spot Naruto walking in.

She spots Jiraiya’s silver mane first, but then Naruto. He’s barefoot, walking out on the cement, up to the cage and as he approaches Hinata’s heart starts to thunder in her chest. Unconsciously she reaches for Ino’s hand, which she finds ready for hers.

Ino knew her so well.

Hinata takes a moment to study the other man--Naruto’s opponent. Zabuza Momochi looked to be in his thirties with a lean frame. His arms were corded with sinew and muscle. The sword tattoos on his back flexed with each of his stretches. He looked completely relaxed.

Hinata squeezed Ino’s fingers when the attendants shut the door and locked it.

Hinata’s gaze went back to Naruto. He looks... ready . It's a hard look to put into words--but it's like he was focused and alert and any fatigue that he had in the locker room was wiped clean away.

He looks intense.

And sexy as all hell.

She wasn’t the only one to think that, as she heard several whistles and calls of his name.

If he heard them from the ring, Naruto ignored them.

“Your boy is popular,” Ino states, glaring at those around them on Hinata’s behalf.

Hinata nods absently, her focus on the two fighters as they tapped gloves.

Here we go.

Anyone that had seen Narruto’s previous fight was probably expecting him to rush in and take a beating, hoping to get some hits in. So, it was no surprise that Zabuza doesn’t see the kick coming. Hinata winces, seeing how hard it connected, but to his credit, the older fighter simply steps back to open the gap--his expression unchanged. Naruto steps up to lay another one, targeted in the same exact spot and this time Zabuza winces.

In retaliation Zabuza throws a quick right that Naruto catches in the face, busting his lip open. Naruto doesn’t recoil, instead, using his forrward momentm to kick the other man’s hip, knocking him down. Naruto follows him down and what happens next is over before anyone really knows what’s happening. Naruto drops a knee into the man’s ribs and simply hammers into Zabuza’s head and face--mercilessly.

He doesn’t stop.

Not until the ref pulls him back.

Hinata watches--a bit awed and a little worried--as Naruto seems to shake himself into awareness and regains himself. The announcer declares him the winner through boos and cheers and in the ring, Naruto smiles victoriously--blood smearing across his teeth.

“Holy shit,” Ino breathes. She looks over at Hinata. “That was...like raw .” She glances at Sai. “I’d probably lose the dick jokes, babe. Funny as they are. He’ll beat your ass.”

Sai shrugs, unbothered. “If that’s what you want,” he concedes with a smirk.

“God, those are my favorite words from your mouth,” Ino teases.

“I thought your favorite words were--”

“Nope!” Hinata shakes her head, plugging her ears, as she shoves to her feet--though she can still hear her friends’ cackling laughter.

On their way back towards the lockers Ino asks for a ride back into the city. “I thought we’d be here longer--like last time. We have time to go do stuff, if you want,” she suggests.

“That will depend on Naruto,” Hinata says, but acquiesces to the ride.

He’s already in the shower by the time they get through, so they wait just outside the locker room. Jiraiya pushes out a few minutes later, glowering. Hinata can’t imagine why--his fighter won , but Jiraiya looks not only pissed, but worried. He stops near her, just for a minute.

“The idiot’s nose took a solid hit. I can’t tell if it’s broke or not, have one of the onsite doctors look at it.”

“Oh, okay,” she nods.

He sniffs, glances at Ino and then leaves in a huff.

“What’s up his ass?” Ino asks her.

Hinata frowns, puzzled. “I don’t know.” She exhales, letting her irritation and questions go.

It doesn’t take long before the doors swing open again and Naruto strides out--no longer in fight clothes and shiny skinned, but in dark jeans and a well-worn hoodie with his backpack slung over one shoulder.

“We barely got to sit down.” Ino complains teasingly.

Naruto ignores her completely in favor of approaching Hinata. “Hey.” He smiles.

“Hey,” she murmurs in reply. She takes in his clean skin, but the split on his lip looks nasty. She peers at his nose. She also can’t tell if it’s broken or not, but there’s no under-eye swelling, so that’s good. “Jiraiya already left, but he says one of the doctors can look at your nose.”

“Naruto, you basically went ape shit.” Ino interjects, a little smile pulling at her lips. She hadn't stayed around after the last fight, so she hadn't had the chance to tease him then. She takes full advantage now.

Naruto finally glances at her and flips his hood up, making low monkey sounds.

“Cesar is home.” Ino presses her hand against her chest in a fake swoon.

Sai kicks his heel into a crack in the concrete, for the first time showing slight annoyance. “Are you guys done, yet?”

Naruto looks back to Hinata. “Lets bounce. I’m fucking starving.”

As much as Hinata is sure that he is hungry, she’s not sure hanging out is the best call. He really should get his nose checked, plus he looks a little off to her, and she’d really rather get some fluids into him and know that he’s getting some rest.

Ino stalls her rebuttal, though with a swish of her long hair. “Thank god. This place is dingy AF. Manhattan has so many good places.” She’s already making her way out, Sai following dutifully behind her.

“Wait, wait, wait. They’re coming with?” Naruto’s voice pulls her up short. He looks at her with an almost wistful expression, even as his shoulders sag and he looks slightly defeated, which is ironic, considering.

“They came on the subway and asked for a ride back.” She tells him, gently.

He gives their surroundings a look, then returns his eyes back towards her. “And we have to stay here?”

Hinata slips her arm into his, slowly leading him to the exit. She doesn’t really want to hang out in the concrete basement anymore. “How often are we over here?” She redirects, quietly.

He doesn’t reply, but his hand moves down into her hand, lacing their fingers together. It’s as good as an affirmative. She gives him a small squeeze.

Outside, the air is cooler, but not chilly. It was actually quite nice, for the time of year. “It’s a nice night,” she says. If she peered enough, she could almost see a star or two in the sky...maybe…?

“It smells like shit.” Naruto huffs in counter--sidestepping a rustling pile of trash. “Fucking rats.”

“There’s rats back home too.” She reminds him, a little amused at his fluster over rats in New York.

“We don’t live together.” It’s a very barbed dig. Intentional, or not. It reminds her that while their old place--Naruto's place--isn't a dive, it's in a part of the city more well known for rats while hers is not...and that thier home was not the same place anymore.

Oh. Well, okay.

She inhales, turning away on the pretense of looking for Ino.

Beside her, he exhales. There's a longer pause and then, “So what do you wanna go do?” He asks with forced cheerfulness in his voice.

Go home.

Go to bed.

Curl up with Argus.

The parking garage is just ahead of them, with Ino and Sai blending into the shadows in their dark pants and leather coats. Hinata’s not sure how they can dress so chic and not freeze--even on a balmy night like this. Just thinking it has her pulling her coat a bit tighter. Yes, curling up with Argus sounded perfect right about now.

“Is that a new scarf?” Naruto asks her, suddenly, gripping her fingers a little tighter.

She glances down and then shrugs. “I made it.”

“No shit?” He pulls her up short once more, halthing them. “Lemme see.”

They’re on the sidewalk with other people milling about. She raises her gaze to his, questioningly. “Right now?”

“Yeah. Put up.” He holds out his free hand, fingers wiggling.

She hesitates.

“What’re you hiding? Mad hickeys?” His eyes go wide and then narrow. “Am I gonna have to go apeshit on a motherfucker again?”

His words have their desired reaction. She feels herself fluster and the residual unease starts to slide away. “Stop.” She pouts a bit, but it’s more playful than irritated now.

He nods to his hand impatiently.

Sighing, she reaches up and detangles the wool knit from around her neck, handing it over for his inspection.

He gives her a little whistle, perring at the yarn like he's an inspector. “This looks pretty good, Hina.”

She feels oddly charmed by his praise--like when he’s watching her in her circle. “I think I dropped a couple stitches here and there,” she mumbles.

“Blah, blah, blah. Look at this damn good scarf. I ain’t seen nobody else make nothing like this.”

She cocks her head to the side a little, thinking about Maddie and her sweaters. “Trust me, there are these ladies that can knit a thousand times better than that.”

Naruto makes a raspberry sound--that had to hurt with his busted lip. “Psht. Where them hoes at. I ain’t seen shit.”  He takes his hood down, looping one end of her scarf around his neck with a smug little smile.

“Hey, that’s mine.” She makes a half-hearted grab at it.

“Hell naw, the scarf heard you talking shit. ‘S mine now.” He tugs is his hoodie back up over his ears, leaving the scarf around his neck, the two longer pieces laying on his chest. He starts to walk away, towards the garage.

She can’t help the giggle the breaks from her. “Give it back.”

“Fight me for it. Muay Thai means eight limbs but they call me ‘Nine’.” He makes a quick forward motion, almost like he was going to head-butt her, but stops short and plants a quick kiss on her mouth.

He’s there and gone before she can respond to it, leaving her lips tingling.

She flushes, embarrassed at the public affection, and reaches for the scarf again. He evades, playfully.

“Can you stop making out and unlock the door?” Ino yells from her place beside the locked car in the garage.

Hinata’s heart thumps over. She had literally forgotten Ino and Sai were with them. What a terrible friend! She rustles for her keys, giving Ino a hasty apology, but before she can do more than fumble, Naruto has her around her waist, hoisting her up against him. He begins, unabashedly, peppering her face and neck with kisses. “Naruto!” She giggles helplessly.

“Kiss me back woman!” He demands with a playful growl.

Hinata is braced against his shoulders, her hands pressed firm. She blushes, but leans forward, brushing her mouth gently over his--careful of his injury. When she pulls back he looks a bit insulted by her attempt.

He shakes his head. “Try again.” His voice is rougher--huskier--and she feels her own blood warm and sizzle in response. She looks into his eyes. So soft and blue and vulnerable . She can’t deny him anything on her best day, much less when he’s looking at her like that.

She’s never really been the initiator of intimacy between them--and she’s not now--but she thinks, that maybe, someday, she’d like to be. She’d like to surprise him. With that thought in mind, she bends her elbows, pressing her mouth against his slowly--intentionally. When his lips soften beneath hers she tentatively parts her lips, her tongue trailing against the seam of his--tasting a bit of his blood and sweat--and she makes a soft sound.

He tastes so good.

So familiar.

She wants to melt into him.

He moans a little in response, his arms tightening around her as he angles his head up, chasing her fleeting tongue with his own. She sighs, pressing herself even closer. More . She thinks as her arms curl behind his neck.

“Boo!” Ino’s voice breaks in once more. “It’s cold out, you whores.”

Hinata pulls back, blushing. Naruto lets her down--reluctantly--and she’s so flustered it still takes her several seconds to locate her keys. She presses the button, unlocking the car.

Naruto chuckles beside her, handing her scarf over. She grabs it quickly, lopping it around and tucking her face down--hoping (in vain) to hide the red of her flaming cheeks. He loops his arm around her, holding her close to his chest.

“So whatcha wanna do? Bet we could find a good pastry shop, still open.” He squeezes her shoulder affectionately.

He knows all of her weaknesses, she thinks, but she’s interested in that idea. Something tame. “That sounds nice”.

He shuffles around his backpack for his wallet before dumping it into her trunk and closing it for her. They take their places as driver and side-seat respectively.

Ino is giving Hinata a look of approval, and Hinata blushes again. “Anything you guys want to do?” she asks, to prevent Ino from teasing her.

“These are your stomping grounds, Naru.” Ino reaches up and pinches his ear.

Naru.

Hinata hadn’t heard that nickname since their college days. It brings back some happy and not so happy memories, but she recognizes what Ino using that name really means. It’s Ino giving her stamp of approval. Hinata exhales in relief. Ino would never try and stop her, but it was nice to have support on her reconciliation.

Naruto pushes Ino’s hand aside half-heartedly, his gaze on the visor mirror as he checks out his face.

“Why don’t you show us your hometown?” Ino nudges.

“Clinton?” He makes a dismissive gesture. “Not much to see.”

“There are quite a number of theatres down that way. Probably a couple of photo opportunities.” Sai suggests to Ino.

“Photos? What, you some Instagram baddie or some shit?” Naruto closes the visor abruptly.

“I’m every kind of baddie.” Ino tucks her bangs behind her ear. “Hina?”

Hinata has been listening to the exchange, trying to gauge Naruto’s mood. While he’s trying his best to sound off-hand, he’s tense beside her and his words are clipped. She turns her gaze on him, searching his expression.

It has to be his choice.

She doesn’t want to control or mother him.

She has to let him make decisions on his own.

Even ones she may not agree with.

“Hinata?” Ino presses.

She blinks back to life and gives her best friend a little smile. “As long as everyone is okay with that.”

Sai and Ino nod from the back, but Hinata’s gaze is still on Naruto.

He flicks her a side glance, but pulls his hoodie up. She can’t read his face. “Yeah, Broadway traffic. Sounds fun.”

She wants to press him, but Ino and Sai are in the car, so she simply nods, shifting into gear.

The drive was slow but nothing out of the ordinary for the city on the weekend. Before long they found another parking garage and decided to hoof it for a bit.

Ino and Sai went ahead, which Hinata knew was more Ino’s idea than anything. Every so often the two of them would stop at interesting graffiti or a well decorated stoop for Ino to pose and Sai could get a couple snapshots.

Ino was naturally beautiful, but breathtaking when she put her mind to it. She radiated strength and confidence in every pose. Sai was completely enraptured with her, too, which gave Hinata and Naruto some time to just be.

He wrapped his arms around her from behind, standing together as they watched the impromptu photo session. Hinata leaned back, allowing his warmth to seep into her. It was so good being together. There were still some wounds--as evident by his earlier barb--and she, too, had some healing left to do, but this was them and it was good and she was happy.

He was too.

She could tell.

Well...for the most part. He was definitely less than happy at the moment--no matter how he tried to hide it. “Something wrong?” She asks, grabbing her hand in his as they made their way along the street. Ino and Sai were looking for a place with a manageable wait time.

“I’m not going to lie… I fucking hate this place.” Naruto finally replies, looking at her.

Hinata cuddles into his side, wrapping her arms around him. She understands that. She thinks about how hard it had been to be in her childhood home. “Sorry.”

He nods, slinging his arm around her shoulder.

“You’ve never told me much about it.” She hedges, voice soft.

He shrugs, but it’s tight. “There ain’t much to say.”

“Tell me something.” She presses, gently. “About when you were little.”

Naruto looks away from her, chewing his busted lip a bit. She’s not sure if it’s a nervous habit or if it’s one of his old ‘pain to cope’ moments.

He distracts that line of thought a moment later when he speaks. “Uh… When I was little? I wanted to be a Westie.”

She blinks at him. “A Westie. Like the gang?”

He nods with a shrug. “That’s all people talked about back then. Before they got put away. Somebody went missing, someone getting stabbed, it was the Westies.”

“You wanted to be that?” That’s not at all like the Naruto she knows and loves. The one that stood up for people. That tries to better himself and the world.

“I was little.” He sounds defensive. “When you’re getting the shit beat out of you everyday, you wanna be the strong man. You wanna have the boot on their back. You wanna be someone that nobody’s going to fuck with. Plus, it’s not like I really understood what any of that actually meant.”

She can see that. It still doesn’t sit well, but she understands.

“Every night, the streets were just crawling with hookers. I’d sneak out just so I could stare at them.”

Hinata turns to him, a bit startled by the diverted topic and also that he would do such a thing--especially when he’s so critical of Jiraiya being a pervert. His smirk tells her that he’s trying to get a reaction out of her, even as he tells her the truth.

Naruto continues, “If you stared too long, they’d yell at you to fuck off. Unless you had money.”

“How old were you?”

“I dunno. Ten?”

She feels like her heart is breaking. In her mind she pictures young Naruto--so bright and full of love--living that life. She’s appalled. Not at him, but that the people around him could bear witness to his struggle and not help him. That he was so unloved for so long. That he was in need for so long...

“That’s… disgusting.” She whispers quietly, blinking away the sting in her eyes.

“I used to think that was like the pinnacle of what a woman were supposed to look like. Tiny dresses, massive heels, the big hair. Ya’know?”

Oh.

She feels her face flush.

She was nothing like those bold women.

She frowns, feeling both flustered and slightly miffed.

Naruto makes a soft hissing sound, nuzzling his nose in her hair at the part, separating her bangs from the rest. “Don’t get to sassy. My tastes have since evolved.” He whispers into her ear, nipping it.

Shivers chase one another along her back. She is forced to clear her throat. “Oh have they?” She pulls away slightly in order to see his expression.

“Definitely. They’re more tailored to really short, quiet, successful woman with three legged dogs that do Baguazhang and have big tits- ow!” He recoils from her pinch.

She’s less miffed, but still flustered. “That’s a very specific set of tastes.”

“Well, when you love someone, you love someone. Ya’know. It doesn’t matter if they start doing different, cool shit like knitting or leading projects at work, or whatever. That’s just cool new stuff to talk about. Know what I mean?”

Love.

Her throat tightens up.

He still loved her.

She knew--somewhere deep down--but to hear it. She can barely breathe for a moment. “Yeah.” She whispers quietly.

He tips his chin down so that he can see her face clearly. “I love you.” He promises, squeezing her closer to him.

She looks back up at him as openly as she’s ever gazed at him and hopes that he sees how true the words are when she speaks them. “I love you, too.”

His smile is both relief and cockiness. “Fucking better.”

She purses her lips. And they say romance is dead. “Oh really?”

He nods, smug and sure. “Yeah, baby. We’re meant to be. It would be kinda shitty if you didn’t love me.”

She’s always loved him.

Longer than he’s loved her.

It’s ingrained into her very soul.

That was never the problem.

“Are we?” The question is a near whisper--full of all the hope she carries in her heart.

He nods assuredly. “Hell yeah! You better believe it, Hina. It’s me and you. Forever.”

Forever.

She could deal with forever.

She sniffs, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “Even though I don’t wear short dresses and tall heels and have big hair?”

He glares at her a little bit for teasing him. “I love you.” He repeats it; absolutely certain.

Hinata can’t hold his gaze and not cry, so she looks away.

From a little ways away Ino’s voice floats to them. “It’s only a twenty minute wait!”

Hinata’s gaze finds her and Sai in the line outside a small bar. She turns her attention back to Naruto, whose gaze never left her face. “Are you okay with a bar?” She won’t drink, since she’s the driver, but she knows that Ino and Sai can sometimes get a little tipsy and pushy.

He pauses--for barely a second--but she catches it. Even so, he nods. “Do you think they have nachos?”

She frowns, recalling how he had to spend time in a trash bag and nearly puking. “You need to eat healthier, mister. You shouldn’t have cut like that today.” She catches the way his gaze skirts hers.

“After the nachos.” He vows, leading her towards the line with his arm curved around her.

He loves me.

Chapter Text

When Hinata was little she was even more awkward than she is as an adult.

Her stutter was terrible, not to mention that she often wanted to crawl inside of herself, like a turtle, and never come out.

She’s grown a lot since the days of hiding in corners, and as much credit as she is learning to give herself, she also knows she didn’t do it on her own…


Kids can be cruel.

Intentionally or not, and more merciless than people realize.

Hinata can remember very well being cornered on the school playground, being mocked for her stutter and her shyness that was mistaken for a learning disability.

Her home life was cold and brutal. Her little sister too young to offer solace, and her father often ridiculed HInata’s attempts to bond with both him and Hanabi.

She remembers crying and crying and feeling so alone.

And then she remembers a new voice. Over the taunts...over her tears.

“Hey, you jerks! Pick on someone your own size.”

Ino.

Tiny, blonde, slayer of foes.

Standing in front of a cowering Hinata, her fist raised, her chin high as she sniffed disdainfully at those mocking Hinata. She refused to be cowed or bullied or made to feel insecure. She smiled--a shark smile even at the age of six--and vowed terrible retribution on anyone that dared hurt Hinata.

Then, turning to Hinata, she held out her hand and smiled.

Hinata had never understood why Ino had chosen her to be her friend. Sure, their fathers were acquaintances, but that hardly mattered to the other children in similar circumstance. Sometimes Hinata would get worried--waiting for Ino’s inevitable disappointment in her...waited for Ino to leave.

She never did.

Her hand was always there for her to hold.

High school was only marginally better than elementary school, and in some ways worse. Ino had her clubs and sports and activities and those youthful tormentors that delighted in making Hinata feel worthless and stutter swooped in whenever they caught her alone.

Hinata never tattled or told, and yet, somehow, Ino always knew.

And retaliation was swift.

Reputations shredded, relationships destroyed with little more than a word from Ino’s lips.

And yet, as vicious as Ino could be, she was never venomous with Hinata. Honest--yes--sometimes brutally so, but never cruel.

When Hinata had left her abusive home without a penny to her name and no idea of where her future was headed, it had been Ino’s hand she’d reached for--and it had been Ino that told her that Hinata could do anything she wanted. “Fuck what he thinks, Hina. You’re not anything he says you are. He tried to starve the kindness out of you and you didn’t let him.”

Hinata was smart--she had a full ride in college--but there were still nuances she couldn’t navigate and her social skills were abysmal. Even so, Ino never shied away from her. She always introduced her as “My best girl, Hinata.”

When Hinata fell in love with Naruto, Ino had been wary. Not because she disliked Naruto, but because she saw what Hinata was too enamored to notice. Naruto’s infatuation with Sakura. Sasuke’s damning influence on both of them.

Sasuke had a hold, she tried to explain once, that was hard to break. He was...alluring, Ino had told her. In that bad boy needs fixing way. Only, “There’s no fixing him,” Ino said, solemnly. “There’s broken, there’s hurt, and then there’s Sasuke. He doesn’t want to be better. He likes the spiral. He likes dragging everyone down because then he can stand over them. He’s sick in the head, and I don’t think even my dad could work through all of his issues.”

Ino and Sakura had some weird sort of rivalry--at least where Sakura was concerned--stemming from the fact that Ino had dated Sasuke first. Of course, knowing this, Ino was not at all shy about using it to shut the other girl down any time she felt she was getting ‘uppity’. In particular where Naruto was concerned.

“I could tell him to stand on his head naked in the middle of the street, and he’d do it,” Sakura had said one day. “He’s hopelessly in love with me. Can you imagine? Thinking he stands a chance? I mean, who would even want a deadbeat like him?” And then, falsely sweet. “Oh, sorry, Hinata.”

It was never a secret where Hinata’s heart was. At least not to those around.

It was a joke to some of their mutual 'friends'.

Okay...to a lot of them.

Especially Sasuke.

He thought her infatuation was ‘comically pathetic’.

Ino told him that his dick was ‘comically pathetic’. Which, of course had started a fight with Sakura, but had taken the focus off Hinata.

Sasuke, though, had not glowered at Ino. Instead his gaze--dark, brooding--had remained fixed on Hinata.

He didn’t just dislike her, she realized.

He loathed her.

It would have been far easier to just cut and run, but that would mean leaving Naruto in the den of vipers by himself…

So she stayed.

And because she stayed, so did Ino.

Ino refused to abandon her, even if that would have been the smart thing to do.

No matter what.

And Hinata had the same philosophy where Ino was concerned.

She would go to the ends of the Earth for her, if needed.

Ino was her sister just as much as Hanabi was, and closer in a lot of ways. They’d been through so many milestone moments together--so Hinata wanted her at this one, too. She took a look at the sketches Sai had dropped off, and making her decision, she dialed Ino’s number.

Ino answered on the third ring, a sing song lilt in her voice. “Ink time?”

Hinata giggled. She knew her so well. “Ink time,” she smiled into the receiver.

Chapter Text

There are things in life that will last forever.

How she feels about Naruto, she knows, is one of them.



The tattoo artist--Sven--asks her three times if she’s sure before he accepts the sketch and sets up his station. She doesn’t look the tattoo type Ino tells her with a smirk, but it’s kind and teasing and helps put Hinata more at ease. She can’t really argue with that assessment, either, because a year ago, she wasn’t the ‘tattoo type’. But a lot had happened these past months.

Finally realizing that, yes, she was sure. Sven told her and Ino to wait while he made the transfer based on Sai’s beautiful sketch.

The parlor itself is fairly upscale--recommended not by Kiba, but by his mother--and Hinata had had to make a reservation to be seen. The area was clean and Sven was meticulous about his equipment and sanitation.

The whole procedure took just over three hours, and the end result was rather stunning, if Hinata said so herself. Sai had sketched a blossoming lotus flower with fluid, easy strokes,with subtle shading providing depth and delicacy to the image. Sven managed to capture that against her skin quite well.

Instead of being located behind one shoulder, they decided for it to be symmetrically placed between her shoulders. The whole thing was slightly larger than her hand, but not so large that it couldn’t be concealed by her hair.

Sven smeared petroleum jelly on her skin and gave her care instructions. Somehow, she expected the whole thing to have hurt more, but aside from a mild sting and slight burn, it had been almost relaxing laying on the table.

Ino had been chatty, which helped Hinata from worrying too much.

When everything was said and done Hinata could admit she understood the appeal that tattoos held for Naruto. There was something...momentous...about marking yourself with your achievement. She knew that not every one of his tattoos had meaning, and some he had done simply to cover up old wounds--equally permanent--but as she stands gazing at her back in her bedroom mirror, she thinks that she understands a little bit--and that allows her to feel even closer to him than she had been.

They’ve never really been closer than they are now--and she feels a pang that she’s still keeping parts of herself from him. She doesn’t want to do that anymore. She wants to share everything--from this new permanent mark on her skin to the permanent marks left on her by her past...and by the things she’s done to herself. She’s not sure how he will take hearing her reveal her struggles. He’s always only ever believed her to be capable...but she’s proud of herself for her growth. She’s still growing...still trying. Things are still hard, some days, but she knows how to handle the downs and the ups.

She’s still afraid to be too happy--but she’s willing to face that fear. Especially with Naruto beside her. She wants to be his partner. She wants the forever he promised her and she’s willing to fight for it. But he has to know what that means...and who she really is.

She’s got as many scars as he does--just not as visible. But just like his, they are reminders of healing and hurt, and can be made into something beautiful.

She thinks he’s beautiful.

Inside and out.

If she is the lotus, then he is the sun that helped her grow and the light she will always reach for to bask in.

She loves him.

He has left a permanent mark on her heart. She hopes that she has done the same.

Chapter Text

Hinata has never been much of a dreamer. Even as a child, she lived in the world of practicality and limits.

It’s only after she starts dating Naruto that she starts wondering about the ‘what ifs’ of life and dreaming of more than the here and now. Even so, her dreams were never concrete in her mind--never tangible. She was never sure of herself and never (if she’s being honest) sure of when Naruto would eventually realize he had settled and move on. It wasn’t like he’d had a choice in the beginning...

She’s getting better at recognizing her self worth, and she trusts Naruto, so she knows he’s with her because he wants to be...even so, she’s tried very hard to keep her expectations grounded.


 

It starts with a dream.

An actual dream...not some metaphor for the grand scheme of things and her lofty goals.

But a dream.

In which she was very round.

It’s so real--the sounds of the birds outside her window, Naruto’s soft breath against her nape as he holds her close so that they can both feel the baby kick--that when she wakes up, her hands unconsciously slide down her flat stomach and she can’t help the momentary pang of sadness that resounds through her.

One dream turns into two...then three...and then five.

This one was just as real as the others, but instead of a baby, it was her wedding day. Sunlight on an open field, Naruto staring at her with a smile on his face and love in his eyes.

“Forever, Hina.”

She blinks at the ceiling for a few minutes, listening to Argus’s even breathing from where he rests against her thigh. It takes Hinata a few moments to settle her own fluttery nerves, and when she does, she tries to rationalize.

It’s probably because Hanabi had left to go visit Neji and his new baby just a few days prior.

Yes, she thinks, rolling onto her side. That’s all it is.

Except, hours later, sitting at her office desk, she can’t help but wonder... what if .

It’s not like she’s never thought about kids before.

She has.

She can even recall that night, not too long past, when she and Choji were at the Gallery and he’d asked her about it...and then with Naruto in the park while playing fetch with Argus.

Yes, she’s thought about kids before.

But thinking about and wanting are two very different things...and she thinks that she may be further on the wanting side of that fence than she’s noticed about herself.

Sighing, Hinata pushes her laptop lid shut and gives up on the pretense of working. She’s maybe read four actual paragraphs all morning, and could make sense of none of them. Her brain is frazzled with thoughts of Naruto and babies and forever .

She can still hear his voice--low and sincere--say that word to her.

Forever.

She wants that.

With him.

But…

Kids.

She wants that too.

And she doesn’t know where Naruto’s head is in that area. He made so many contradictory statements that day in the park, it’s hard to make heads or tails of whether he actually wants them...or if he’s just thought about it. 

She supposes that’s one of the many things that they still need to sort out between them. As good as things have been, Hinata is aware that they are both still being cautious. She knows a large part of Naruto’s hesitation stems from her. He knows her--better than she probably gives him credit for--so there’s no way he’s not picking up the unease she feels when they get too close to certain topics.

She still worries for Naruto...and about him. Years of experience are hard to shake. She knows that he is better now than he’s ever been. And, if she’s completely honest, she worries that if they do move forward that they will fall into the same old habits they had before.

What if being with her makes him worse?

What if...what if she never stops worrying so much about him that she loses herself again?

What if...what if...what if…

Hinata glances at Argus on his pad in the corner, working a chew bone that Shino dropped off. He pauses in his crunching to glance up at her, his intelligent eyes inquisitive and bright. “I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?”

Tilting his head a bit, Argus gives a soft chuff.

“Yeah,” Hinata gives him a soft smile. “That’s what I thought, too.” Leaning back in her office chair, Hinata stretches her arms over her head. “What do you say we get out of here early today?”

Argus is immediately on his feet, tongue lolling out in eager pants.

Her musing that morning made Hinata realize that it’d been some time since she last visited Choji. Lunch at Akimichi’s sounded good. Grabbing her wallet, Hinata dialed the restaurant on her way to the elevator. She’d drop Argus off with Kiba, if Choji was available.

“Hinata,” Choji’s voice is warm when he answers. “It’s been a minute. What are you up to?”

Hinata clears her throat, adjusting Argus’s leash in her hand. “I was actually wondering if you and Mei were free for lunch?”

“Mei’s out for the day, but if you give me a half hour, I can be.”

“Sure,” she agrees easily. She has to get Argus to Fang over Fang anyway. “I’ll be there in about forty-five minutes?”

“Sounds good.”

* * *

Kiba and Akamaru are always happy to have Argus for a playdate and today is no exception. Akamaru practically knocks over the front desk in his excitement when they walk in.

“Everything good?” Kiba asks her as she removes Argus’s harness.

She nods, tucking a stray strand that slipped from her bun behind her ear. “Yeah, I’m just going to lunch with a friend, so I was wondering--”

“You don’t even need to ask.” Kiba waves her off.

Hinata watches Argus roll on his back, playfully.

“He’s doing really well with you,” Kiba comments, hands in his pockets, also watching the dogs. The upturn of his collar hides part of his face from her view.

Hinata slants him a look anyway. “And I’m doing really well with him,” she remarks softly. “Which,” she adds, “is probably why you chose him for me.”

Kiba raises a brow, startled. “I didn’t choose him--you did. Well...you chose each other.”

Hinata nods, but her eyes are soft on Kiba’s averted profile. He likes to play ‘tough guy’ but Hinata has known him too long for his act to have any effect on her.  “Yes, but something tells me that you knew we would be good for one another.”

He shrugs, feigning nonchalance.

“Kiba.” Hinata reaches out to place her hand on his arm, waiting for him to look at her. When he does, she lets him see the sincerity of her words in her eyes. “Thank you.”

He snorts, but she catches the quirk of his lips. He eventually rolls his eyes and shoves her shoulder, telling her to ‘get out’, but it’s loaded with affection. Hinata’s only ever had Hanabi, but if she’d ever had a big brother, she thinks she’d want him to be like Kiba.

* * *

Choji meets her at the door of Akimichi’s, looking relaxed and happy. He grins broadly when she steps out of her car.

“Wow,” he says, opening the door. “You look great.”

Blushing, Hinata smiles in return, taking in his dark shirt and pants with tailored fit. Choji was built on the larger side and some of his outfits emphasized that. This new look didn’t hide his bulk, but drew attention to the fact that he was more solid than flabby. Mei’s influence, no doubt, but a good one. “So do you,” she replies, honestly.

Choji glances down and chuckles. “Well, I can see my feet now, so that’s something.”

“Stop,” Hinata laughs, shaking her head. Choji has always had a way with making her feel at ease and relaxed. Once inside, she follows him to a relatively secluded table, but where he can still observe his patrons and be seen by them. Choji is a firm believer in being accessible to his clientele. He wants a visit to his restaurant to be a pleasant one that left a person stuffed and smiling.

Seated, Hinata smooths her hands over her lap. “The lights are new,” she says, looking around.

Choji nods, following her gaze. “Yeah, I wanted to modernize a few things here before my focus is totally consumed with the other building.”

Hinata nods, reaching for her water. She remembers him telling her of the impending opening in a few months. “Is that where Mei is?”

It’s Choji’s turn to nod. “Yes, she’s conducting some interviews for waitstaff. Being a former waitress, she has a better idea of what to look for than I do.”

It takes a flicker of a moment, and then Hinata gasps. “Oh, my gosh! She’s the hot waitress!”

Choji laughs at her fluster. “Did you think I was kidding about that?”

“A little...but...that night wasn’t my best…” She gives a brittle shrug, wincing as she recalls what a mess she’d been, and how generous and gentle he had been.

Choji’s already shaking his head. “You were going through some serious shit. You don’t ever need to feel bad about that.” He pauses, tipping his head, to better see her face. “So...things are okay, now?”

Unconsciously her fingers find her bracelet, but she nods, meeting his gaze with a genuine smile. “Yes. Things are...better than okay. I’m good.” She informs him.

“And your boyfriend?" he asks. "Things are going okay there, too?”

She thinks about how happy she’s been...how close to Naruto she feels. Yes, she’s fretting about a future, but now ...now she’s happier and more in love than she’s ever been. “Uhm, yeah. I mean...better than I could have hoped, really.”

“I’m glad for you,” he tells her. “I was hoping you’d say that. I don’t know the guy, but from our brief encounter, I could see some serious sparks between you two. I’ll be rooting for you.”

“Thanks.” She reaches out, resting her hand over his, giving a gentle squeeze, he grips her fingers and squeezes back, smiling. “That means a lot to me.” And it did. Choji had nursed his own heartache and found new love, but he didn’t ridicule her for going back to Naruto.

“Well, isn’t this cozy.”

The voice is smooth, low, and cooly sardonic. It sends a slither of unwelcome unease down Hinata’s spine like a snake. She can’t help the involuntary shiver that has her fingers tightening on Choji’s hand. She doesn’t want to look, but her head turns on its own and her light eyes clash with Sasuke’s dark and bloodshot ones.

His gaze flickers to where her hand rests with Choji’s. “I guess those rumors of reconciliation aren’t true.” His lips curl, his smile razor thin and just as likely to cut.

Hinata catches Choji’s darkening expression out of the corner of her eye, but she gives him a subtle shake of her head. “Was there something you needed, Sasuke?” Hinata asks, her voice surprisingly even. She could be civil. She would be civil, if for no other reason than Naruto's sake.

“From you?” he sniffs, and Hinata can’t tell if it’s disdain or if he’s high. “Not even on my worst day.”

Choji pushes to his feet. “Keep moving, asshole, or this will be.”

Sasuke sniffs again, and this time it’s clearly disdain, but he walks off. A moment later, across the restaurant there’s a bit of a commotion as his entourage seems to realize that he’s left.

Choji waits until the entire party is out before resuming his seat. His face is pinched in a look of displeasure. “You know that guy?”

Hinata shrugs, but her fingers are on her bracelet, worrying it into her wrist. “He’s, uhm, he’s Naruto’s best friend.” She doesn’t know why...she just knows he is , and that his importance to Naruto may eclipse her own. It’s a terrifying thought that she doesn’t want to dwell on.

Choji leans back, eyes wide. “And he lets him talk to you like that?”

Hinata shrugs again. “They have history--”

Choji shakes his head. “That dude is six degrees of messed up. Tell me that he’s not around you, for my peace of mind.”

He wasn’t. Around her, that is.

But Naruto...that was a different story.

And if Naruto had a family…

Hinata takes in a sharp breath.

“Hinata?” Choji gives her a concerned look.

“Sorry. Sorry,” she shakes her head. “No, he’s not around. Me...not me.” She clears her throat and grabs the menu, using it as a shield while she collects her racing thoughts. “What would you recommend today?” she asks, but she doesn’t really hear his reply--her thoughts swallowed by the idea of Sasuke being around Naruto and any family that Naruto someday had.

* * *

Hinata picks up Argus from Kiba. Argus immediately seems to sense that something is off with her, so she takes him for a little ride and a quick park trip. She’s not really dressed for it, in her pantsuit, but it seems to distract her loyal companion and he’s more relaxed when she gets him back into the car.

As she does, her phone is ringing. A quick glance at the ID reveals that it’s Naruto.

“Hey,” he says, his voice slightly raspy.

“Hey,” she replies with a familiar flutter in her stomach.

“I was just wondering if you had some time tonight. So we can talk.”

Hinata blinks. She thinks about her afternoon and Sasuke seeing her and she wonders...did he say something to Naruto? She’s not about to hide her friendships from him, and she hasn’t done anything to be ashamed of, but she feels off at the moment, and she’s not really in the most productive frame of mind… “Talk?” she repeats dumbly. “Talk about what?”

On the line he laughs a little, easing her tension just a bit. “Babe, we talk all the time. Everyday. I love talking to you. What are you stressing about?”

Wanting kids.

Wanting a future with you.

Wanting more than I think I have the right to want…

She sighs, not saying any of that. “Yes, but we don’t specifically state that we’re going to talk. That implies there’s something specific to be talked about.”

“I just meant like, hey come over tonight but let’s not watch TV the whole time, so we can hang out and talk. I mean, if you want to come with specific topics, that’s fine by me.” She can hear his smirk.

Her already frazzled brain stumbles a bit. “No, you’re the one-”

“Yeah, yeah, Hyuuga. I get done at nine. Don’t forget your note cards.” He hangs up and Hinata is left staring at her phone.

Okay. So he wanted to talk.

After she had run into Sasuke.

At lunch with Choji.

And she’s been having frequent dreams of being married to him and pregnant.

Oh.

Fabulous.

* * *

He’s working on his kicks when she pushes into the gym, a little bell announcing her arrival. She’s early, but after dropping Argus home, she went back to the office to try and get a few things handled, so her day wasn’t a total wash. After an hour, though, she was calling it a day. Instead of heading back home, she figured it was better to just pull the bandaid off. So here she was.

“Make sure to sign in.” Naruto calls to her, but his attention is on the bag.

Hinata slowly makes her way over, watching the play of his muscles under his skin. He's always been attractive to her, but lately... She shakes herself a bit and asks, “Working hard or hardly working?”

Naruto’s left foot pivots to the sound, his arm coming out quick to steady himself. His kick is off.

She quirks her eyebrow a little at his faulty form. “That last one was a little sloppy, you better not count it.”

Naruto leans his sweaty head closer to the bag, a small grin tugging at his lips. “That’s funny. You know what else I like really sloppy?”

Oh...so he was in that mood. The let’s see how pervy we can get until Hinata’s face ignites like a match--mood. She narrows her eyes at him.

He laughs, completely unbothered by her glare. “What are you doing here so early?”

She shrugs, but it’s tight. He's sure to notice her tension--he always does--but there's little she can do to prevent that.

“You miss me and can’t stand to be away from me?” he encourages.

Well, yeah. But she’s not saying that.

Naruto pushes off the hanging bag and walks from the mat to her. “I hate to disappoint you,” he tells her, slinging an arm around her, pulling her into a side hug, "but this place is kinda boring.”

“You’re sweaty.” She wrinkles her nose, but she’s not really bothered by it.

“Ya.”

“And I’ve been here before.” She reminds him gently. She doesn’t need excitement to stick around. Too many others in his life had been like that--needing him to perform. To be exciting for them, to be worth their time. She wasn’t like that. They could literally watch paint dry and she would be happy just to be with him.

“True.” He presses a kiss to her temple and she can feel herself blush. Would she ever not be flustered by him?

“Alright, I’ll stop messing around and let’s see if I can get some shit done now. Maybe we can bounce a little early," he syas, moving away.

“Naruto.” She glances around at the patrons.

“I won’t bail if people are still here.” He promises. “Friday isn’t a booming evening. People usually go out, ya’know.”

There were only a couple people in the gym, anyways. It wouldn’t be hard to clean the parts that weren’t being used, she realizes.

Naruto makes his way over behind the desk, grabbing a spray bottle and rag.

“I’ll help.” Hinata offers, reaching out toward his hand--which he evades.

“Nah." He shakes his head with a smirk. "You don’t wanna ruin your sexy clothes.”

Her cheeks are well and truly red now. She can feel her chest flush too. She glances down at herself. “These are my work clothes.”

He stares at her and his eyes are so blue . “I know what I said.” He moves in closer and her heart kicks up just as he brushes his knuckles down her cheek. She closes her eyes, briefly, savoring it. She loves him so much.

He steps away (too soon for her liking) and squirts the bag he’d been using.

The spray--whatever it is--smells acidic. She inhales and it's like she can feel her nostrils fighting to close. “That stuff smells lethal.”

Naruto nods with a shrug. “It’s gotta be. Ringworm is a bitch for wrestlers. Or any of that kinda shit you don’t wanna get rolling around the mat.”

Hinata understood that. She wasn’t sure what Sensei used, but she imagined it was equally potent.

“I mean, s’not like you’d know,” Naruto continues. “I’ve never seen you rolling on the ground.” His voice is light--teasing.

Hinata slants him a look, tucking her loose hair behind her ear. She can’t help the flirty way her own voice comes out, but since it’s intentional, she’s not bothered. “Yes you have.”

Naruto stalls, grabbing the bag dramatically. His eyes are wide and his mouth slightly parted. “Daaaaaaaamn, Hinata, why you do me like that?”

She loves that she can affect him like he can her, but even so, he’s so much more vocal than she is. “Stop,” she giggles softly at his antics.

“Me stop? It’s you. You’re doing it!” he counters.

She shakes her head. “Back to work.”

His gaze travels over her and it’s all sorts of inappropriate. “Mmmmm. Yes ma’am.”

She turns away before he can see her bite her lip.One would think she's never been intimate with a man--specifically this man before--the way she reacts to him, but she can't help it. He's always sort of short circuited her.

Behind her, Naruto works on the mat next. “So tell me about your day.” Naruto prompts.

Hinata tenses. “Just work. Nothing special.” She doesn’t want to bring Sasuke up unless she has to. It’s such a sensitive subject with Naruto.

“Yeah, sure. Don’t hit me with that same old, same old B.S.”

“What about you?” Hinata deflects, sitting down on a pile of mats that he had just added to.

“I worked till two at Teuchi’s last night, and then I did an open till close today, so I can have off tomorrow.” He winks at her, reaching for the broom.

He’s been working so hard to save up for their date. A date that she was more than willing to split, but he was not having that. “That’s a lot,” she says quietly, worry seeping into her tone.

“I have my fight coming up.” Naruto interjects, sweeping quickly, avoiding her eyes. “Muay Thai.”

She lets him avoid--for now. “Are you nervous?”

He looks over at her. “Nah.”

She was.

How could she not be?

As skilled as he was, it was still the love of her life getting into a ring with another fighter, whose goal was to take him out.

“You know I got it in the bag.” He’s trying to ease her mind and she adores him for it. Naruto has always tried for her and that counts for more than she has probably ever told him.

She smiles at him, because if nothing else, she does believe in him.

He sweeps up the little pile of dust into the pan. “I’ll be right back. Gotta get some water for this.” He gestures towards the floor.

Hinata watches him walk away and rubs her lips together. He’s being so responsible and trying so hard. It makes her ache with pride and with longing. She sighs, swinging her legs a bit before she hears the bell and Naruto’s voice. There’s another voice that she doesn’t recognize, then Naruto’s again. Then there’s a bang as a bucket hits the floor and Naruto’s voice is harsher.

Hinata’s on her way in the next moment.

A tall, thin, redhead is glowering at Naruto when she approaches and Naruto is glowering right back. There’s something familiar about the redhead and it sets off warning bells in Hinata’s mind and she has come to trust those instincts. She quickly steps to Naruto’s side, linking her arm through his--partly to stall a fight, but also to let him know that he wasn't alone. She catches the pause in the air...the stillness.

The redhead and Naruto sense it next.

The patrons that were still milling about are now moving towards the counter.

Six against one were not favorable odds in any fight, Hinata thinks. She watches the redhead make the same judgement turning sharply on his heel and swiftly leaving without any further comment.

There is an awkward lull after the abrupt departure. Naruto laughs a little to fill the silence. “Wow, them Mormons are something. Missionaries must be wylin’ after that play, am I right?”

The guys laugh a little in return and head back to their stations, one of them donning a hoodie to head out.

“Hey, lemme know if you need a spot!” Naruto turns to called over to the guy at the weight bench. Hinata doesn’t let go of him, though, her gaze on the front door, her mind working to filter out where she knew that man from.

“Told you this place was real boring.” He wraps an arm around her, squeezing her against his side affectionately--reassuringly.

She gives him a look.

“Side eyeing me?” Naruto blows out a breath. “Well, Sassy Pants, why don’t you go sit down while I--” He toes the bucket.

Picking up the ‘Wet Floor’ sign, Hinata follows him, ignoring the way he rolls his eyes at her. She hops onto the mats to wait, watching as he quickly clears the floor.

“Like my sweet skills?” Naruto asks her after a few minutes.

Hinata nods slowly, taking in the sheen of te freshly mopped tiles. “I didn’t even know that you knew how to clean.” She hadn’t meant it as an insult, but she hears his sucked in breath and silently curses herself.

He quickly rolls over the comment with his usual humor. “Psssht. I keep my place spotless baby, you should see it.”

She tips her head. She will.

The tension from the redhead slowly leaves and the rest of the evening is fairly smooth and actually kind of nice. Easy talking and hanging out while Naruto cleans the parts of the gym. Once everyone is gone, all that remains is a trash run. Despite Naruto telling her she didn’t have to join him, Hinata follows him out into the back alley.

Naruto struggles with the trash for a moment, before pausing, long enough to ask her, “Whoa, sexy, is that a new scarf?”

Sexy?

Her?

She feels her face flame again. She pulls up the knit and hides her blush. “Yes.”

He turns to her.  “You already know what I want.”

She rolls her eyes, smiling. He always inspected her knitting and each and every time he made a big show of how amazing and impressive it was. It was endearing and it made her feel proud and happy and...in love. “Throw the trash away first, silly,” she tells him, smiling.

He does. “I always thought it was weird, locking up trash.” Naruto comments.

“If you don’t lock it, other people will fill it before you can.”

“I know, I know.” He nods. “It’s just real inconvenient.”

Hinata shrugs at that, because true or not, it was what it was.

“Plus the neighborhoods getting bad over here. Don’t want nothing weird turning up in your garbage that you can’t explain.” He swings the trash bag back for some momentum, tossing it in and then slamming the lid shut. “Yeah, that little in and out place across the street, the one with the Chinese couple--”

“They’re from Taiwan.” Hinata corrects, softly.

“Oh yeah. You’re so smart, babe.” He beams over at her, locking the dumpster back up. “Anyways, that place got all busted up a couple days back. Like guys gotta work that hard to get overpriced chips?”

“They had that ramen you like.” Hinata comments, feeling a twinge for the hard working people that had their business attacked.

“Sure did.” Naruto frowns ruefully. “Anyways, they already got cameras up and everything now.”

“Can’t be too careful.” Hinata moves next to him, grabbing his hand in hers.

Naruto squeezes her hand reassuringly. “Yeah. But I betcha they wished they had those before hand, huh?”

She could well imagine, but if they had cameras that meant they were protecting something. So...“But they’re open?”

Naruto nods with a semi-smile. “Yup, didn’t even miss one day. Dedication.”

She eyes him, watching his reaction. “Do you wanna stop and get some ramen?”

Naruto hesitates, but eventually shakes his head: no. “I can’t. My Muay Thai fight. Gotta make weigh in again or my girls gon’ be mad at me.”

She scoffs, unamused. “That’s not why I was mad.” She was (is) mad because he’s constantly punishing himself to maintain a weight class that he’s not suited for. She’s mad because his coach, for all of his apparent favoritism, can’t seem to get it through his pervy skull that Naruto is not meant to shred that much weight and still be healthy in the long-term.

He turns to her. “Hey, why don’t we--”

Whatever he is about to say is cut off by a high pitched shriek.

“Help!”

They both stop dead in their tracks. Hinata tightens her grip on him, her gaze scanning their surroundings. She’s felt on edge since the redhead in the gym and this sends her nerves straight to the very edge.

Just a couple feet away from where she and Naruto currently stood was a mini side street. One that connected to the backs of the buildings, where the garbage was stored.

A woman, tall and thin, with a thick top bun, steps out of that area halfway--her features mostly obscured by the building's shadows. “Help! He took my purse!”

It's immediate.

Someone needed help.

Naruto's already moving.

Hinata clamps her hand down on his. She recognizes the woman now. And the redhead. Naruto’s first fight night. Before she can say or do anything Naruto has pulled himself free of her grip--ignoring her plea for him to stop.

“Wait!” She reaches for him, but her fingers close only on air.

He’s off and running.

Naruto is rushing headlong into a trap--she can feel it. And with all things Naruto--his safety comes before her own, so she sucks in a ragged breath and follows at a less break-neck speed.

He’s jumped immediately. They use a rod on him--like a police baton--but Hinata’s willing to wager her annual salary not one of them are law enforcement. Which, of course reminds her that she should be calling them. Her fingers have only just curled around her phone when she’s being shoved into a wall, her back hitting with enough force to knock the wind out of her and the tall woman is sneering down at her, her forearm pressing with significant force against Hinata’s throat, making it hard to breathe.

“No you don’t,” the woman says, voice hard.

The redhead from before grips her wrist--hard. He keeps squeezing until she feels like her bones are cracking, forcing her to let go of her phone. It drops down and he stomps on it. He keeps her wrist in his hand, shaking his head in warning when she tugs in resistance.

“You’re dumber than you look.” Another voice says and Hinata’s wide gaze flicks to where Naruto is pinned against the damp pavement.

Yahiko.

He stands over Naruto with an air of smug superiority.

“Which is saying something.” He finishes with a laughing sneer.

Naruto grimaces against the ground. “I work with what I got.”

“That’s funny.” Yahiko snorts, stepping closer to Naruto’s face. “You think you’re real funny huh?”

“I’ve been known to crack one here and there.”

Yahiko lets out a dark, humorless laugh. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”

“You want my number or something. Lemme let you down easy, but, uh,” Naruto squints up from under the deepening of pressure from the two men on top of him. “I’m taken.”

Yahiko’s humor evaporates. “You think this is a joke? The old man ain’t around to protect you anymore.”

“Are you mad me? Feels like your mad at me?”

Hinata wants to tell him to stop talking because she can see the tick forming in Yahiko’s jaw but she can barely draw breath thanks to the forearm crushing her larynx.

“You think you can waltz right in here, start scalping money out of the fighting pool? Just cause the old man has connections doesn’t mean that we can just let you fuck up a good thing we all had running.”

“Don’t pretend I kicked your lights out just ‘cause I’m Daddy’s favorite.” Naruto smiles.

Yahiko’s eyes darken and the tick goes full throttle. “Listen. I’m gonna fuck you up. Teach you some manners. Then when I’m done… who knows. Maybe... I’ll fuck your girl up.” He turns towards Hinata.

Naruto’s eyes follow, finally seeing Hinata pinned against the alley wall. His image becomes blurry because her vision is fading in and out--her breath thin and shaky. Hinata wonders briefly if the woman even realizes how hard she’s leaning her arm on her neck…

She can’t breathe.

Yahiko stands up, gesturing towards Hinata. “Give her a little taste of Brooklyn. Know what I mean?”

Naruto’s whole body goes still.

It’s almost unnatural.

Hinata blinks, trying to stay awake. She tries centering--conserving her energy--controlling her breaths. Because when there is an opening (and there always is, she can here Sensei’s voice in her head) she will take it.

Naruto’s voice, when he speaks, is calm. Far too calm. Almost...serene. “That," he says, "was the wrong thing to say.”

Then he moves.

Hinata can barely follow in his wake. He pushes himself into the ground--blood marking a path as he tears open his own skin to get free.

To protect her.

He was hurting himself to protect her.

He takes out the men holding him with almost comical ease. He punches from the ground with enough force to knock out one of his attackers immediately. He takes the other out with equally brutal efficiency, choking him down to bounce his head off the concrete.

Yahiko reacts too slow. He goes after Naruto without the skill and finesse of a trained fighter, instead using his larger size and street fighting tactics. His mistake, Hinata thinks. Naruto lived the streets. Naruto tosses the other man around like he was nothing, attacking with a terrifying vengeance. His fists hitting again and again and again.

Blood sprays into the air and it is hard to tell where it was coming from, because Naruto’s hands are open and bleeding--the piercings on the other man’s face tearing into his skin.

“Shit.” The redhead’s grip on her wrist loosens in his concern for their fallen leader.

The arm across her throat lets up a fraction as it becomes clear that the others are no match for Naruto.

It’s her opening. Hinata wrenches her wrist free--ignoring the way her skin burns.

She strikes, quick and hard, to her attacker’s throat. The other woman chokes, gasping. Hinata wastes no time, using her self-defense skills--gripping the other woman by her ears and pulling down, raising her own knee up fast. She catches the woman in the chin, sending her careening into the wall and then onto the ground.

The redhead makes a half hearted attempt to grab her, but Hinata is already rushing for Naruto.

Please, she thinks, don’t let her be too late.

She’s terrified.

There’s so much blood.

What if...what if he killed him?

“Naruto!” She tries to yell but her voice is cracking from having her throat crushed. She moves closer, avoiding his back swing. “Naruto! Please! Come on. Stop! Please, please stop! Let’s go!” He doesn't. It's like he can't hear her.

She lunges, grasping onto his arm, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the face. “Stop! Naruto!”

He blinks a couple of times, his breathing harsh. He looks over his shoulder at her like he’s just now realizing that she’s there.

“Let’s go.” She whispers, tugging him up. They need to go. What if there were more of them?

Naruto isn’t done yet though. The redhead stood where Hinata had evaded him, apparently debating his loyalty. Naruto steps out of Hinata’s grasp and rounds on the thinner man. He kicks him in the chest, sending him into a trash pile--causing rats to skitter out from beneath the dark bags.

Naruto seems to get even angrier at the sight of the rodents. His rage is an almost tangible thing and Hinata can feel her hairs on her neck lift. She does not want this for him. Ever again.

“Naruto. Please. Let’s go. Please.” She’s begging him.

He shakes her off, moving towards where Yahiko lay. He crouches down, patting the other man down. “Last time I got a thousand for fucking you up.” He informs the groaning lump of bloody mess he had left behind. He snakes a brown trifold from the other man’s pants. “Next time, you can schedule me through my manager.”

“Naruto, please...” Hinata is barely holding it together, but until they are out of that dirty alley and safe, she will try.

Naruto stands, turning towards her to grab her arms. It’s like he’s trying to search her for injuries, but she’s not sure what he will do when he sees her bruised throat and probably fractured wrist, so she evades.

“We need to go, “ she tells him, voice still low to hide the cracking. “Please.”

He touches her hair, for a second, nodding.

Finally.

She hurries them along. The moment he took the wallet they lost any credibility with the police. She can’t call them. It’s time to go.

She still wasn’t sure how many others there may be.

She grabs his bleeding hand, tugging him out of the alley way.

The woman that she’d knocked down is sitting up now, but she’s against the wall, holding her throat and coughing.

Naruto gives Hinata a look. “Damn babe, you do that?”

Hinata can’t look at him. She’s a hair’s breadth away from a panic attack. She needs to get them away from here.

Away.

That’s all she wants.

Away.

“Babe, I knocked a guy out from the clench. Did you see that shit?”

“Stop.” Hinata chokes out. She doesn’t want to see it in her head again. She just wants...away.

It’s a feeling that’s dangerously close to the night she OD’d on sleeping pills so she’s trying very hard to be rational and focus on the task at hand--which is leaving.

Her hand  clamps down on his-- tight--anchoring herself.

Focus on Naruto.

Naruto.

If she focuses on him then she can move.

She ignores the tears poking out the edges of her eyes.

“Okay.” He concedes immediately, finally seeing how worked up she is. His thumb rubs against her hand and they hurriedly make their way to her car. “Okay.”

She can barely hold her keys. Her wrist aches so much.

Naruto reaches over and slips the key into the ignition. He takes her shaking for nerves (he’s not entirely wrong) and brushes his thumb against her cheek. “We’re okay, Hina.”

She nods, swallowing against her painful throat. She just wants to get away from there, get to his place, and make sure that he is okay.

She looks at his skinned face and feels the tears threaten again. “Okay. We’re okay.” She nods, putting her car into gear and driving away.

She hopes that’s not a lie.

Chapter Text

“Oh, I'll take your hand when thunder roars
And I'll hold you close, I'll stay the course”


 

She can’t breathe.

Now that the worst is passed and they are safe she feels herself crumbling.

Naruto’s beside her, crooning words that she can barely make out--trying his damndest to soothe her and calm her down--but all she can see is him on the ground.

That baton swinging down on him.

What if…

What if they’d struck his head?

What if…

What if he hadn’t managed to push himself free?

What if…

What if she hadn’t been there to stop him?

Because yes, she almost lost him...but there was a moment that he had almost lost himself and that was nearly as terrifying. To see him lose control. To see him spiral again...

Her breath catches on each and every one of those thoughts, choking her with the aftermath of what could have happened. She’s trying--trying--so hard to focus on what actually happened as opposed to the worst case scenarios, but even the actual is pretty terrifying, so she’s a mess.

Naruto keeps looking at her and she can feel his worry.

He’s never seen her like this.

She always hid this part of herself from him. Sure, he’d seen her cry before, but not a sobbing mess--not like this. Anytime this happened, she’d hide in the shower so he couldn’t see or hear her.

But she can’t hide now.

She can’t...she can’t even breathe.

Because what if?

They’re home now, though and that thought helps settle her, just a bit, even as he lets go of her to push into the apartment. It’s not until they step through the entryway that she realizes that no...she’s not home. This isn’t their place anymore. It’s his.

Every touch of her has been removed.

That shouldn’t even register at the moment, given the circumstances, but somehow it feels like one more physical blow and she sucks in a harsh breath. Naruto is ushering her further into her not home and urging her to sit on his futon.

She does so, dazed, because she still can’t quite pull her brain to the here and now.

All she can hear is the thud of flesh on flesh.

All she sees is blood.

What if…

“Hinata, I’m so sorry.” Naruto’s voice is low and slightly shaky. He pulls her against his chest, as close as he can get her, his hands rubbing down her back in long, soothing strokes. This is not the first time he’s apologized.He’s been doing so on repeat since they slid into her car. Even so, he keeps saying it. “I should’ve listened to you. I...I don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry.”

He adjusts his hold on her, his voice edged and tight, breathy and rapid. “Hinata, I didn’t mean to hurt them that bad. I don’t know what happened. I was just--I wasn’t… thinking straight. Or, I don’t know...I don’t know, I’m just really sorry, babe.”

She can’t respond because she still can’t breathe.

She’s trying to focus like Inoichi taught her, hoping...trying...to stave off a full blown panic attack. She doesn’t have her medication here and Argus isn’t around and...and…

WHAT IF?

She gasps, shuddering violently.

Stop.

Stop it.

She’s grasping for some semblance of control and finding none. Her fingers tingle. Her throat tightens. Ohgodohgodohgod.

Large hands increase their pressure on her back. “Hina, please, I promise I won’t do anything like that ever again. I’m so sorry. Babe, please--” He sounds like he might cry next.

The distress in his voice finally pulls her head up, because if there’s one thing that Hinata can’t resist--is helpless against--it’s Naruto in need. He looks so anxious. So guilt ridden. It hurts her heart.

She blinks through her tears.“Y-you, think that I-I’m m-m-mad?” She can’t help the stutter. She’s too emotional to be embarrassed about it right now, anyway. She looks at him--chest constricting and pulse pounding--staring at his wounds. She lifts a trembling hand to his face, ghosting over his skin.

He hurt himself.

For her.

To save her.

She exhales a shaky breath, fresh tears blurring her vision.

How far would he go for her?

Too far, a voice whispers in the back of her mind. He loves her.

He loves.

Period.

If there is one thing she has always--always--known is that Naruto loved. With his whole being. He saw the good in people despite the darkness he grew up in. He wanted to do good. He would help anyone that he could help. Ino called him a softie recently, but it was so much more than that. Naruto was unlike anyone else that Hinata had ever known, and it was that desire to help others had nearly...nearly...

“I th-thought you w-were going to-” She chokes, swallowing down another sob. Whatifwhatifwhatif...

“You thought I was gonna lose?” Naruto frowns down at her slightly, his eyes soft on hers. “Babe, it’s okay. I’m fine.”

He’s not fine.

He’s bleeding from his hands and face and she can’t imagine what his ribs and back look like.

Because he fought back.

For her.

Against those men and against himself.

“I thought you might die! I was so scared. And they hit you with that, th-that thing. And--and there were more of them than you! And...and...then...” She can’t finish because all she can see is Naruto’s rage and the blood splattering on the ground. She’s run out of air again. Instead, she grabs onto his hoodie, fisting the material, burying her face into his chest where she can hear his heartbeat.

Confirmation that what if didn't happen.

He was alive.

He wasn’t lost to himself.

He was here.

He was here.

She can feel his tension a moment before his arms circle around her, holding her. She closes her eyes, listens to his hammering heart while she tries to regain some composure.

Breathe.

In.

Four seconds.

Out.

Four seconds.

She does this for awhile, the flow of her tears slowing but not stopping. She kind of feels like she wants to throw up.

Breathe.

In...Out...In...Out...

“Hina.” Naruto’s voice is low near her ear. “Babe. Calm down okay?”

She presses her face deeper into his sternum. She never wanted him to see this part of her. She knows that he’s probably worried and confused, but she can’t pretend to be okay right this moment, so he’s just going to have to deal with it.

He does, but not for long. “Baby, for reals. I’m okay. It’s over.” He tries again. “Hinata.” He grabs her arms, lifting her away from him, gently. “Look at me. I’m fine.”

Streaks of blood mar his tan skin, his eyes are shiny and glassy, his lips tight.

“You don’t look fine.” She sniffles.

Naruto gives her a look. “Ouch, babe.”

Unintentionally, though, he has given her something else to focus on. She gives his face a more critical once over. “Some of those scrapes are kind of deep,” she murmurs. “We should clean them out.”

“Alright.” He agrees easily, as if thankful for anything other than her tears. “Just gotta find the peroxide. I know it's around here… somewhere…?”

“Should be under the sink. Unless you got rid of that too.” She winces a bit at her own unguarded comment, but she’s too emotionally drained to watch what she says. She didn’t even realize how much it would hurt to be back in this apartment. She pushes her roiling emotions (all of them) aside in favor of focusing on taking care of him.

Naruto gives her a lingering look before he decides she’s stable enough for him to go fetch the peroxide. When he’s out of sight she wipes her hands over her face, doing her best to mop up the mess she knows that she must look like. She takes a few more steadying breaths, managing to settle herself a little more.

She has a ‘to do’ at the moment, and Hinata has always functioned better with a task.

Besides, taking care of Naruto was like second nature to her.

She glances up when he returns, bottle in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other. She frowns at the two-ply. “Do you have cotton balls?”

He shakes his head. “Nah, I don’t wear nail polish.”

“What?” She shakes her head a bit at that and the simplicity of his reply. “You know, that’s not the only purpose for cotton balls.”

“Oh, yeah.” He nods at her. “What’s that stuff you put on your face?” He makes a little circular motion near his nose.

She can feel a slight smile pull at her lips. He’s trying to distract her. “Toner,” she supplies, reaching for the bottle.

Toilet paper isn’t the most ideal material for swabbing a wound, but she’ll make due. She wads it into a little lump and carefully pours on the peroxide, before recapping it and setting down on the floor by her feet.

She grabs his hand gently, doing her best not to aggravate his wounds before she even starts. “This is going to sting.” She warns him, looking from his eyes to the gouges between his knuckles and over the back of his hand.

He rolls his eyes at her. Clearly too tough to be bothered by her warning. “I know that,” he begins, only to immediately jerk back with a sharp: “Ow!” She tightens her grip marginally.

His breath hisses between his teeth. “What the hell is in that? Gasoline? Vodka?”

Hinata tugs his hand back closer to her, adjusting her hold. She eyes him in mock seriousness. “Don’t be a baby.”

“I’m not being a baby.” He grumbles, his lower lip jutting out ever so slightly. “I think that shits expired.”

“It doesn’t expire. Now sit still.” She tightens her fingers--both in warning and in comfort. She manages not to burst into fresh tears as she cleanses his knuckles but she can feel her lips trembling and chin puckering every now and again. “Other one.” She reaches forward, her palm open.

Instead of complying, something dark flickers over Naruto’s face and he’s abruptly reaching for her forearm.

She winces, not wanting him to touch her throbbing wrist. “Wait--”

He doesn’t, but when he grabs her it’s only to push her jacket sleeve up, exposing raw, red skin, shining bright with irritation, already darkening into bruises around the prominent part of her bones.

She can see his eyes narrow--can see the guilt in his expression. She doesn’t like that look on his face, so she tips her head, trying to catch his gaze. “Naruto.” He doesn’t seem to register her voice. “Naruto,” she tries again, pulling her arm away. She reaches up to cup his cheeks, careful of his injuries. “Hey, I’m okay.” she whispers, finally catching his eyes. “Okay?”

He doesn’t say anything.

He doesn’t have to.

She can see it in his expression.

She sighs, softly. “Let’s finish cleaning you up.”

Naruto stays silent, but he doesn’t argue or try to pull away again. Instead he watches her intently as she wipes his skin. When she’s satisfied that she’s gotten the worst of his hands cleaned up she reaches up to hold his shoulders, guiding him closer so that she can study the lacerations on his face. She cleans those, too, careful not to rub too hard.

“Can I check your back?” She asks quietly, wadding the toilet paper and tossing it onto the floor beside the bottle.

Pushing to his feet, he shrugs his sweatshirt off along with his undershirt, revealing toned, flexing, muscles. She doesn’t oggle him (too much) but glances over his skin to make sure she didn’t miss any injuries.

He resumes his seated position, but facing away from her--his back bent near her hands. She can see where the baton/rod thing struck him. The skin is already discolored and there’s swelling happening in that area. She bites her lip to keep from making any noise and closes her eyes.

Things could have been so much worse.

She exhales, regaining her focus.

She is supposed to be helping Naruto.

“Does it hurt?” She presses her fingertips tentatively to his skin--close to the injury but not directly on it. Naruto inhales a sharp breath, his posture straightening away from her.

“Sorry.” She whispers quickly, snatching her hand back.

“It’s okay.” He assures her, slowly relaxing again.

Hinata stares at the swelling and knows that by tomorrow it’s going to look a hundred times worse. She swallows thickly. “I...I don’t know what to put on it.”

He turns towards her quickly, still holding his shirt and sweatshirt. He shakes his head. “It doesn’t need anything. Don’t worry about it babe.”

She can’t help the tears that prick at her eyes when she looks at him. He’s hurt--clearly so--and he’s trying his best to reassure her. It breaks her heart in entirely different ways.

“Hey…” He leans forward, wrapping his arm around her again and in doing so reveals the inside of his arm. “It’s fine. I’m fine, you’re fine. Everything’s fi--”

Hinata snatches his arm without thinking, her gaze drawn to the scarred lines decorating his skin. Hidden by a new tattoo, but she knew his body better than anyone. Those scars were new...well, newer than his other ones.

She feels like she’s been kicked in the gut.

Naruto’s already speaking. “Okay, before you get really mad, I’m sorry I got another tattoo after you told me not to, but--”

At this, her head snaps up and she hisses a breath out between her teeth. “You think I care about the tattoo?” Her gaze leaves his to wander over the faded cuts again. In her chest her heart trembles. “There’s so many of them.” She whispers, her thumb dragging along his skin. She blinks the tears back, but her vision is still blurry when she asks, “Why would you do that?”

“Um, I was, kind of, going through a hard time, for a little bit.” He tries to explain, awkward and choppy.

She sniffles, nodding, but still...“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Naruto rubs the back of his hair, his eyes flicking away from her. He looks like he’s trying to navigate his own thoughts for a moment, and she gives him that time. When he finally answers the words shatter her.

“You… weren’t… answering my phone calls.”

Of course.

She had been his support for so long...and then she wasn’t. And because she was too busy falling apart and unable to even help herself, she hadn’t been there when he had really needed her and so...

She’d failed him.

How pathetic.

Naruto is shaking his head and for a moment she wonders if she spoke her thoughts aloud. “No. No babe. I know why you left. Really, I do. Okay? This shit’s on me.”

He doesn’t though. Not really. She’s never told him.

He is trying to peer into her eyes, his words coming a little faster. “Alright. So when you left, I kind of… didn’t have a good time. But, I got my act together. I got sober-- uh.” He pauses.

Hinata winces.

Oh.

“Cause, I kinda started drinking again. Rough time and all.” He clarifies, though he didn’t need to. He clears his throat. “But, totally sober now. One hundred percent; I promise.” He takes a deep breath. “I had to sell the furniture for rent. I started taking my medication. I went on a lot of walks so I wouldn’t try and ki--… um… never mind.”

She bites her lip.

Oh, God.

He had wanted to…

Oh.

No.

Her fault.

It was all her fault.

He’s still talking though, drawing her away from her thoughts. She blinks, rapidly, trying to focus on his words, because he is saying them so earnestly. “But then I got the job working for Kakashi. You started talking to me again. Things got better, ya’know?”

He starts rubbing her back again. She leans closer.

“I know we went through a lot of shit. But we’re good now. Right?” He asks her.

She can’t really formulate a complete thought at the moment, so she stares up at him.

“Hinata.” He sighs her name. “You leaving me was the absolute, worst thing that has ever happened to me to date. Which is kind of saying a lot, cause I’ve been through some shit. But, this past year, has really changed me. And, as bad as everything was, I think, it was for the better.”

Hadn’t Hanabi said something like that?

That Hinata needed to let Naruto fail so that he could learn to succeed on his own?

Maybe...maybe that was what had happened?

Naruto nudges her closer still. His large hands stroke along her back. “I can finally be the guy that you need me to be. I know I fucked up tonight, and I’ll probably fuck up again at some point, cause I’m me, ya’know? But, I want to be there for you, the way you are for me. I want to be with you, whatever you want. I love you. I just want to be the guy that you want to be with. Like, forever, ya’know. Whatever you want. I just wanna be with you.”

He reaches up to wipe away her tears with his thumb.

There’s that word again.

“Forever?” She whispers.

He nods. “Yeah.”

She leans back in close, resting her cheek against his collarbone. Naruto sighs against her, leaning his head on her hair. They sit that way for several long minutes while Hinata processes what he’s told her. She still feels guilty--and ashamed--but she can’t change what had happened, and he will always blame himself if she doesn’t reveal some of the darker truths about herself.

She couldn’t be a coward forever.

“I have something to show you, too.” She says, breaking their silence, sitting up and pulling away from him.

Naruto opens his mouth, but closes it, simply gazing at her expectantly.

Hinata rises to her feet slowly, before she loses her nerve. Naruto moves to follow but she shakes her head, gently urging him back down.

Taking a breath, Hinata drops her coat and scarf before working the tiny buttons of her blouse. She can feel her face heating up, so she turns away from him, showing him her back as she shrugs free of her shirt, leaving only her bra on. She unclasps it so that he can view her ink, unobstructed.

“What is that thing called? A sucky-something.” Naruto asks quietly behind her.

She sits back down on the futon, pulling her curtain of hair to one side, over her shoulder. “A lotus.” She corrects softly.

“Wow, I was way off.” He chuckles lowly.

She takes a cautious peek at him from over her shoulder. “You were probably thinking of succulent.”

“I was. You’re so smart babe.” He laughs again, his gaze leaving hers to travel the ink lines of her tattoo. “But, it’s a lotus.”

“Mmhmm.”

“It’s beautiful.”

It is. She knows it is. “Sai drew it.”

“Huh,” Naruto hums. “Guess he’s good for something.”

She frowns just a bit. “Naruto.”

“Why did you pick a lotus?” He deflects. Then, lower, “Can I touch it.”

She nods, sighing when his warm fingertips glide over her skin. It takes her a moment to recall that he’d asked her a question, distracted as she was by his touch. “Something Guy-Sensei told me.”

She thinks about why he called her that.

She thinks about the struggles she has faced...and the ones she’s still facing.

She thinks about the flaws that she is about to reveal to Naruto--the one person that she always, always, wanted to impress, and she feels afraid...but he deserves honesty, so she continues. “The truth is that I haven’t been okay either.” She inhales a sharp breath.

Naruto moves, his hand wrapping around her closest arm, rubbing across the bone with his thumb. “What do you mean, baby?” His tone is subdued--curious, but quiet.

She swallows against her own self doubt, and her instinctive desire to close up and forget that she’d opened this can of worms. She pushes through the anxiety clutching at her...the tiny voice telling her that if she reveals her secrets that he won’t love her anymore. “I haven’t been okay at all,” she tells him. “I’ve had, a really rough time. I’m seeing a therapist, and I’m trying to work through things, and I have been. I think. I’ve been getting better, but--” But she still has work to do.

She pauses, looking away from him, because this is so much harder than she thought it would be. And she had thought it would be pretty damn hard.

Naruto bends his head a bit, his breath fanning her when he speaks. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was so scared,” she confesses. “Of what you’d think of me when you found out I wasn’t perfect. Or totally fine. Or, less than what you thought.” Her voice cracks and she swallows.

“That’s weird.” Naruto rubs her arm.

She feels that word almost like a physical blow. How many people had called her weird or odd in her life? How many people dismissed her as the weirdo or strange girl. She closes her eyes against the sting of it.

Naruto keeps talking, his fingers smoothing her goosebumps. “Because I don’t think there’s anything that you could tell me that could make me think anything less than you being the most perfect woman I’ve ever met.”

Oh.

She tucks her chin, a blush coloring her face.

“And, I want to let you know, that I’m better now,” he tells her in that earnest, honest way of his. “I know I couldn’t be there for you in the past. And I’m really sorry for that, ya’know. If I could change that, I would. There’s a lot of things I wish I could change between you and me, believe it. But, I can't. I can only do better now. Be here for you now. And I want to.” He pauses, searching her expression. “I want to be the person for you, as you are for me. Ya’know? We can be that persons for each other. Am I making sense?” He licks his lips, his gaze uncertain.

She wants to wipe away any of his doubt. “Yes.” She places her hand on his knee.

“Is, uh, is that maybe, something that you might want too?” He clears his throat.

That’s all she’s ever wanted. For years. “Yes.” She adjusts herself so that she can look into his eyes. “Like partners.”

“Hell yeah!” He smiles in relief. “We were the best partners in college, it was like for- four- what’s the word called, like showing what’s gonna happen in the future?”

Her lips quirk. “Foreshadowing?”

“Yeah, that. God, you’re so smart, babe.”

She blushes again, looking down at the ground. His praise always flustered her. “We did a lot of projects together, didn’t we?” she murmurs. She had volunteered at any chance to partner up with him. Most often that led to her doing ninety percent of the work on her own but she got to spend time with him, so she counted it as a win.

“We were the best.” Naruto affirms.

It’s a lie, but it’s a nice lie. She smiles a bit.

“You were so shy.” He presses forward a bit, pressing a soft kiss to the back of her shoulder blade.

“Past tense?” She shivers.

“You’re way better now.” Naruto argues, his breath causing another tremble.

She was. But she still wasn’t as outgoing as the women that Naruto had dated in college, or obsessed over in college, or even: “I’m still not ‘Ayame singing karaoke’.”

Naruto stiffens, affronted. “Baby you have a freaking tattoo! That’s badass. You took out a girl in a street fight. We don’t have to do stupid stuff like karaoke for you to be totally awesome.” He pulls her closer. “Plus, are you for reals gonna throw the one friend date I’ve had that wasn’t with you, in like five years? It was just Ayame, she’s like, my cousin or something.”

Hinata rolls her eyes at him, but she couldn’t hide her rosy cheeks and her little smile.

“Nah, you’re the one.” He’s so sure. “Forever.” He leans forward more, kissing her cheek over her shoulder.

There’s that word again.

The one that causes her pulse to skitter like a pebble skipping across a lake.

She exhales it, shakily. “Forever?”

“Baby, I done already told you!” He gives her a playful little shake. He pulls back, ever so slightly, and takes a deep breath. She can feel the rise and fall of his chest against her back. “You know how we were the best class partners?” He asks her.

She nods, still not disputing the obvious lie.

“I kinda think that we’d be the best partners in everything.”

She nods because she does too. Always has.

“But I think we should have cooler names for each other.”

“What?” Okay, that one confused her. Did he mean like cutesy pet names? It wasn’t something that they’d ever done before, and she can’t say that she finds the idea all that favorable, but she’s willing to try if that’s what he wants.

“Like calling you my girlfriend is kind of lame, ya’know.”

She frowns. Okay, but she likes being called his girl...so...

He keeps going. “We should have cooler ones. Like I was thinking some up, and maybe I could call you something different. Like more badass, to fit your new personality. Know what I’m talking about?”

She thinks about the idea of nicknames and can’t really think of any that she finds altogether appealing, plus, if she’s not his ‘girlfriend’ then what does he want to call her? Fuck-buddy was so out. Especially since they weren’t...currently, at any rate. “No.”

Naruto rolls his eyes slightly at her obliviousness. “Work with me, babe. I was thinking for you, I could call you… my wife.”

Not what she was expecting. At all. She can feel herself kind of go numb. She looks at him, wide eyed. “Naruto,” she warns. She can’t take jokes right now. She’s still too emotional.

She's in luck though, cause he isn't.

He fidgets a bit, his hand going into his pocket, even as he speaks. “Don’t worry, it comes with a cool new name for me, too.”

Everything in her freezes when she sees the box come out. She can’t breathe again, but for entirely different reasons than before. She blinks, and then blinks again.

Naruto lifts the lid, revealing a simple, elegant band. “I asked Ino for some help with it,” he tells her.

Hinata tucks that bit of info away for later. Like when she’s cornered her best friend. But for now, she simply stares--dumbstruck. She blinks once more. You know, just to be sure.

“Oh shit, I forgot.” Naruto moves to slide off the futon top his knee, but Hinata stops him, reaching out and plucking the box from his hands, cradling it protectively in her own.

“You bought this for me?” She whispers, reverently. He wanted to be with her. For real. Forever.

“Yeah, of course it’s for you, baby.”

“You, want to… marry me?” It was so far beyond her wildest hopes and dreams. Even the ones she’d been having lately.

“Yeah. Did I not make it obvious? Oh fuck! I didn’t say the ‘will you marry me?’ line! I’m ruining the whole thing. I’m sorry. I didn’t plan it like this. I was gonna do it after dinner tomorrow, but I kind of ruined that by getting all fucked up. I’m sorry, I know you wanted to wear your dress again. But if you give me a little bit of time, I can try and save up for it again.”

He wanted to marry her.

Her.

Weird. Shy. Dark. Hinata.

She can feel the tears, but makes no attempt to stop them.

Naruto stiffens at the sound of her sniffing. “Baby! Hinata. If--if you hate it or don’t want it, like we can just pretend this never happened. I’m so sorry. I probably should’ve asked you what you actually wanted. I know I just jump to conclusions and shit and I get carried away, I’m really sorry--”

She shakes her head quickly, wanting to remove that notion from his head immediately. “I love it.”

Naruto pauses. “Yeah?”

“I love it so much.” She takes a shuddering breath, wiping her tears away. She’s cried so much tonight for so many different reasons.

“I tried to match your bracelet. Ino knew the place. She forcibly brought herself along.”

Hinata glances at the box. Of course Ino would take him there. Ino was the only person that knew why her bracelet meant so much to her and the milestone it signified. This moment was another milestone. It only made sense that her ring match.

“Can I put it on?” She asks, hesitantly...still afraid that maybe this was actually a dream.

“Baby, yeah, it’s yours.” He smirks at her, rubbing her arm again.

Mine.

She plucks the ring out, carefully sliding it onto her finger. She holds her hand out, watching the play of light on the metal. “It’s a little big,” she muses. But still perfect.

“I can get it resized.” Naruto comments. “Sorry, I should’ve known you’d have tiny fingers.”

She laughs a little. She’s not even sure why. She’s just so happy.

Naruto fidgets again. “Um, it’s okay if you don’t--”

That thought had no place in his head. Hinata spins in place, pressing her mouth to his in a fevered, hurried, kiss. She slides fluidly, hands on his shoulders, moving so that her legs slip around his waist. She keeps right on kissing him, tracing his lips with her tongue.

She feels his surprise, but he recovers quickly. His hands move to cradle her hips as he pushes against her--kissing her with equal ferocity. The taste of him was just as she remembered...just as she loved. And she wanted more.

She sighs into his mouth when his hands creep into her hair, letting the pieces run through his fingers, gently placing them on her neck. He works his lips against hers at a slower pace, taking her frantic edge and turning into something deeper. He holds her close, lingering, sucking on her tongue. She melts against him for a moment before pushing back, shrugging her unclasped bra off.

She sighs, leaning forward so that her soft breasts were pressed to his hard chest. She can feel him, growing harder beneath her, and she rolls her hips in response. His resulting gasp has her feeling flushed and wanton. She’s startled out of the motion a moment later when he stands, hoisting her in his arms.

“Sorry,” He breathes into her. He strides purposefully, making his way to the bedroom.

He turns slightly, in a different direction than she was expecting, and drops her lightly onto his low (very low) mattress. She gives a startled shriek at the unexpectedness of it and he laughs at her.

“Sorry,” he murmurs--very clearly not. “I didn’t mean to - ow!”

She glowers up at him playfully, her fingers poised for another pinch.

“Sassy.” Naruto leans forward to nip at her cheek, his teeth grazing her skin.

He’s playful and teasing, but what she wants is him. She shoves him back a bit, and maneuvers her legs, twisting around so that he’s the one beneath her. She wastes no time--save a moment of enjoyment at his startled and turned-on expression--before she kisses her way down his throat, her hand curling into his pants--seeking.

“Holy shit!” He exhales abruptly.

His reaction causes her lips to curl up in a pleased smirk. She’s always been timid in the bedroom. Uncertain and anxious, and while she is still some of those things--she isn’t right now.

Naruto wanted to marry her.

He was hers.

She was his.

She wanted every bit of that.

Every bit of him.

She felt...possessive.

It was new and thrilling and it made her want to have him calling out her name.

His breathing is growing harsher--faster--as she works her hand against his hardness, stroking along his rigid length in slow, hard, pulls.

Naruto groans something that she can’t quite hear, pushing his head back into the pillow as his hips buck against her.

“Hm?” Hinata hums against his neck. Her hum turns to a moan when he manages to unbutton her pants and curves his hands against her backside, cupping her and groaning.

Hinata pushes away, only long enough to shake herself free of her remaining clothes. She wants, wants, wants, to feel his skin against hers. To have him as close as possible. To show him how much she loves him.

Naruto pants her name when she crawls back over him. Her hands press against his defined pectorals as she grinds down on him, letting him feel how damp and ready she is. He’s so hard against her that it steals her breath.

“Ready?” She asks him, low and aching.

He makes a sound that is vaguely like an affirmative blended with a low whine. She smiles--so very pleased that she’s managed to reduce him to this state. She slides forward a bit, adjusting herself so that when she settles back, it’s with him buried deep--so deep--inside.

“Oh, my Jesus, fuck!” The words sound torn from his throat. His fingers tighten on her hips spasmodically.

Hinata exhales--full and needy. She arches her back, pulling her thighs tight so that they are flush against the outside of his. Naruto makes another satisfying sound. She can’t help but tease a bit. She lifts herself in a slow glide before smoothing back down, again, and again. Faster each time. His mouth parts, hanging open a little stunned. It fills her with satisfaction. “You okay, baby?”

He shakes his head no, but his hands flex on her skin, pulling her down when she moves up.

Her own fingers slip down his chest and over his flat stomach, feeling his abs contracting at her touch. He’s so unbelievably responsive. She tosses her hair over her shoulder, rolling her hips, taking as much of him as she can--as fast as she can.

She rides him hard.

He’s so deep.

She moans his name.

“Fuck, Hinata.” He gasps helplessly.

It’s euphoric, watching him reduced to a mass of sensation and pleasure. She almost wishes that the lights were on so that she could see his expression better. She wants to see him come undone.

His fingers tighten and his back arches a bit. He groans low. “I’m gonna cum.”

She wants him to. She wants him to fill her up. She’s not quite brave enough to say that, so she settles on: “Okay.”

He chokes on air, biting his lip. “Hina,” his teeth grind together. She moves faster. She wants it. “Hinata.” Her name sounds like a prayer. He gasps a broke: “Fuck.” And then he gives in.

She slows her thrusts but deepens them, savoring the way he grips her...the way his head is tossed back, the hard lines of him bent and coiled for her--only her--as he comes.

She sighs, pleased and content, when he relaxes.She leans forward, laying against his chest as he slips from her body. She tucks herself to his side, kissing his chest where his heart still hammers.

She’s not upset that she didn’t come. It wasn’t about that for her. She just wants to feel close to him. She’s satisfied, but she knows that he won’t be until she is completely so she can’t help but tease him. “You did good.”

“Shhh,” he huffs, grumpily. “Give me five minutes. I’ll rock you like a hurricane.” He vows.

She kisses along his jaw, down the strong line of his chin. She recalls his brief obsession with old eighties hair bands and rock and roll in college. “Like Scorpions?”

“Better than Scorpions.” He promises breathlessly.

“Better than Scorpions?” She blinks owlishly, her lips arched. “Well, then, you’ve got four minutes, fifty-nine seconds and counting, mister.”

It wasn’t five minutes.

It was closer to fifteen.

Naruto shifts against her. “My turn,” he whispers against the shell of her ear before, rolling to his knees.

He spreads her thighs wide, sliding his hands along her sensitive skin. He’s rock hard already and he pushes inside easily due to her arousal and his release. They both groan at the sensation. His thrusts are slow and measured and so, so, deep.

This time they both reach their peak, but the climb is slower.

 When they are finished, Naruto smiles at her, his hand stroking her bare skin. His smile is the most beautiful she’s seen in a very long time--maybe ever. It makes her feel giddy and happy and like they can take on anything that life wants to throw at them. Because it was true. They could make it on their own, but it was better together. Together was a choice and not a necessity and that...that made all the difference.

 

Chapter Text

“No good deed goes unpunished.”


 

A distant buzzing was the first thing to pull her from her slumber.

It was distracting…like a mosquito in your room at night.

Eventually it stopped.

Then started again.

Then stopped.

And just when she thought she was going to get back to full sleep she was beaned in the face.

Hinata had been woken by slaps to the face before--it’s not one of her fondest memories, truth be told--but even with that past experience behind her, it was rather jolting to wake up that way again. Minus slaps plural, to one accidental smack, courtesy of her adorably sleep rumpled boyfriend.

Scratch that.

Fiance.

That distinction actually took most of the sting out of his accidental clumsiness.

She scrunches her nose, wiggling the hurt away.

“Fuck! I’m so sorry, Hina.” Naruto leans over her, his expression anxious, a moment before he curls his arms around her, tucking her close to his chest. “I thought that was you calling me and I got worried, and then I kinda hit you in the face. But, it was like one hundred percent an accident. I’m really sorry.”

He sounds almost out of breath when he finishes, leaving her to blink sleepily up at him. She sighs, quietly, already pacified. She’s ready to snuggle back in and get some more sleep, though. She’s still emotionally and physically drained from the night before.

Staving off a panic attack took a lot out of her.

Not to mention the really good sex.

Naruto adjusts his hold, giving her face a couple of light kisses. He’s very clearly awake.

She blinks her eyes open again, and stares up at him, seeing the wounds still marking his handsome face in the early morning light.It makes her stomach clench, but she lets that go, in favor of focusing on his words. “Why did you think I was calling?” she asks. She had been there all night…

“I dunno I was just confused for a sec.” He sounds casual--dismissive.

Her eyes narrow a little in scrutiny. Concern sharpens her focus. “How hard did you hit your head?” Head trauma was no joke.

“They didn’t hit my head!” He laughs her concern off. “You’re usually the one calling me. And you’re not usually here.”

She’s not convinced. “How much do you remember?”

“From last night? Oh baby!” He scoots closer to her, a devilish smile flirting with his lips as his hands skim her body, coming to rest on her tattoo.

The sensation of his warm hands on her has the same effect it always has--even after years. She feels her heartbeat drum a faster tempo and her blood pulses to a new rhythm.

His voice, when he speaks, is low and rumbly and curls her toes. “I can’t wait to see that tattoo while I’m hitting you from the bac--” His words are cut off by a quick pinch from her.

Hinata lets out a sharp exhale. He had definitely been spending too much time with his pervy coach if he thought he could talk to her that way!

Naruto’s unperturbed by her fluster. He always did enjoy getting a rise out of her. Instead, he strokes his hands along the lines of her frame, tracing her arm until he slides his hand flat to hers, maneuvering them in such a way that her ring catches the morning light.

“I can’t believe it didn’t fall off last night.” He smirks, using his thumb to nudge the band up ring finger.

Immediately, her fingers curl. She’s not willing to take it off. She knows at some point she will--to have it sized--but...not yet. Not yet.

“Do you like it?” He asks her quietly. It’s hesitant, almost.

She can see the unguarded vulnerability in his eyes. It’s a look that only she is allowed to witness. The inner, scared, child in him that wants so badly to love and be loved. “I love it.” She promises, just as quiet, pressing her fingers between his--linking them.

The buzzing sound returns. Hinata glances towards his phone and then at him. He seems in no hurry to pick it up.

“It’s rung a lot,” she tells him.

“Yeah. But now that I know it’s not you,” Naruto shrugs, kissing her temple and then down, trailing soft kisses over her cheekbone and then to the corner of her mouth, and then her chin.

It’s an effective distraction. She’s lost for a moment in the feel of his lips on her, but she has spent so much of her life being responsible she can’t ignore the buzzing. She tips her head a bit while she speaks, still allowing for his trailing kisses. “It could be Teuchi. Or Jiraiya. Or Guy-Sensei.”

“They all know I’m supposed to be going on a superfly date tonight.”He murmurs, moving lower on the bed. He can’t seem to find the angle he wants, or uncover enough of her to his liking. “How’d you get so little?” He grumbles, trying to push the blanket pile out of his way. “You need to eat more.”

She had lost a ton of weight after they split, but she was putting it back on--more in the form of muscle than before--so she is tinier than when they were together, but she’s by no means a waif. “I eat.” She giggles, amused by his struggle.

He grunts something that she doesn’t catch before he wraps his arm around her waist, hauling her higher against the pillows. “I said more.” He counters with a playful huff. He moves again, trying to kiss her neck--a spot she is notoriously weak for.

Hinata counters by tucking her chin. “What should I eat?” she asks with a breathy giggle. Naruto’s early morning stubble tickles.

He pauses-- interested. “Is that a sex thing?”

“No!” Her cheeks bloom.

“Sure,” he teases. He kisses her jaw bone again, and she counters, drawing her shoulders up. The motion reignites the ache from the night before and she recalls the forearm bar across her throat. She doesn’t want to make a big deal of it though, or break his content mood. She likes him like this. This is the Naruto she fell in love with.

“I’m actually kind of hungry.” She moves her hands to his face, covering his seeking lips.

“What do you want for breakfast?” He asks through her fingers.

She tilts her head. “What do you have?”

He’s still playful and relaxed. He reaches up and tugs her hands away, leaning in to blow a raspberry on her cheek. “I have frozen chicken, eggs, spinach and protein powder.”

That sounded about as appealing and chewing tar. She can feel her face scrunch up reflexively.

“That’s what I thought.” He smirks at her, his blue eyes alight. “Let’s go get pancakes,” he suggests and her stomach sings his praises. “I know you like those cinnamon roll ones.”

She hums happily, relaxing. Naruto leans in and then abruptly back. His hand comes behind her head, holding the back of her neck so that he can tip her chin up. His blue eyes--alight with play and mischief a moment ago--darken like a summer sky before a storm.

His breath is harsh. “...the fuck?”

Hinata tenses a little. She knows what his reaction will be before it even starts. “Naruto...”

He releases her and rolls onto his side of the mattress, rubbing a hand down his face even as his breathing rasps through his teeth.

“Naruto.” She moves with him. She can’t let him push her away. Not when he’s going to be blaming himself for something he had no control over. “Hey,” she moves closer, rising so that her chin rested on his shoulder. “I’m hungry.” She reminds him. She didn’t want him lost in what happened--she wanted to go back to cuddling and teasing and being in love. “Let’s go get pancakes.” She presses a lingering kiss to his warm skin. “Please?”

For a moment she’s sure he’s going to refuse. But then he looks at her--his gaze flickering over her features, and something in his expression softens. It’s a look that causes butterflies to riot in her stomach. “You better give me a bite then,” he murmurs.

She pauses, giving him a couple of blinks in lieu of anything more articulate. “What are you going to get?”

It’s his turn to make a face. “I’ll probably have to get some stupid egg-white, spinach, vegetable bullshit.”

Hinata glances at him--at his lean build. Yes he’s trim and muscled, but it’s wiry. It’s not natural. She’s not his mother or his coach, so she can’t really be a pushy bitch about his choice, buuuut she can get him some pancakes. Just for today. They’re celebrating, after all. “I thought we were getting pancakes.”

His lips quirk. He sees right through her. “Just pancakes allowed?” He asks. She nods. “Alright then.” His agreement is easy enough. “Do you think they still have those Nutella banana ones?”

Hinata nods again. “Probably. Those things aren’t really seasonal.”

“You don't need to be so sassy.” He huffs out.

Hinata immediately flushes with embarrassment. Had she been too pushy? Too bitchy--? “No, Naruto, I wasn’t, I wouldn’t-”

He kisses her cheek quickly, before rolling over to stand, leaving her flustered in the comforter.

She pushes a breath out, ruffling her mussed bangs.

He grins at her--smug. “Hurry up, Hyuuga; I’m starving.” He makes to stand, only to exhale sharply and drop back down.

Hinata’s heart drops too. “Are you okay?”

“Course.” He attempts a smile, but it’s more pinched than anything. Little beads of sweat are on his brow.

Hinata’s hands work the fabric of his bedding. She frowns at his obvious lie.

The phone buzzes again, interrupting any rebuttal she was about to make. That’s a significant number of calls this early in the morning. She looks at Naruto, her brows pulling down in concern. “You should really get that. It could be important.”

“You can check it if you want.” He shrugs at her.

Hinata shuffles to his side, reaching over to grab the phone. The ID is one that she’s not familiar with, nor the number. “It says ‘Spoiled Brat’.”

Naruto shrugs again, but his lips twitch. “It’s Konohamaru.”

“He’s called… eleven times. Maybe he needs your help?”

“What could he need me for? He’s a rich little brat.”

“Spoiled brat.” She corrects, jokingly. She tries not to let the comment get under her skin. Naruto has always had a problem with affluent people. Not that she could necessarily blame him, but it could make some things in their future a little complicated. Considering…

She shakes herself out of those thoughts, refocusing on Naruto and the situation at hand.

“Thank you,” he chuckles at her correction.

Hinata holds out the phone. “You should still answer. He might need you.”

Naruto turns away from his closet to look at her. She looks back expectantly. She’s not going to give up on this. Someone calling eleven times is not a good sign.

He sighs, shaking his head.

She raises a brow.

Finally, he relents, walking back over to her side. She thinks he’s about to grab the phone when he bends to snag his pants off the floor. She watches the tightness of his jaw and frowns. He’s hurting, but stubbornly pretending he’s not.

She thinks about his back and wonders if they should stop by a clinic today. He probably wouldn’t want to. Clinics are required to report things like that.

She shakes the phone.

“Thanks,” he mumbles, pulling on his pants. He takes the phone from her and she scoots back into the covers. They’re warm. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Hm?” She smiles innocently, tugging the covers up.

He snorts, rolling his eyes. “Get up! Come on, you talked me into pancakes and now I have a desperate need. Let’s go.”

Her voice is muffled from under the blanket as she counters, “It’s cozy.”

“Don’t even. You’re bed’s way better. I’ve seen it. It looks like the inside of Urban Outfitters.”

Her bed was too stiff, she wants to counter. This is much better. Softer. Familiar. She forgoes a reply in favor of rolling over, wrapping herself in a Naruto scented cocoon. Besides, if he’s really hurting, she’s not sure breakfast out is the best idea.

“I’m gonna go grab your clothes.” Naruto informs her, walking away. Some of her clothing had been discarded prior to the bedroom--like her shirt and bra.

Hinata can hear his voice from the living room, but she doesn’t try to listen in. Instead she curls up and presses her face into his pillow. She barely holds in her happy squeal. She can barely believe it. They’re going to be married!

She wants to sing and cry and dance all at once.

She also just kind of wants to savor this time.

Naruto, it appears, is not of that mind. He returns, dumping her clothes unceremoniously onto the bed. “Let’s go.” He barks at her in mock seriousness, clapping his hands twice.

She’s completely unintimidated. She’s too happy. “Come cuddle me.”

He’s tempted. She can see it. But the lure of pancakes is strong. “After pancakes.” Naruto counters.

Hinata puffs out her cheeks. She’s really going to have to get out of the bed. She blinks at the ceiling and nods. Besides...she’s kind of missing her furry companion. “We need to go check on Argus.”

Naruto smiles and nods. “Okay. We need to go unlock the gym first, before pancakes. And then we can go get Argus, maybe go to the park.”

That sounds perfect to her. “Okay.”

“But first,” Naruto playfully kicks the side of the mattress. “You gotta get dressed, lady.”

Of course she does, she knows this. But...he’s right there. She glances at her clothes, then at him, not moving.

He blinks wide eyes at her. “Oh my God, are you for real being shy right now?” Naruto scrutinizes her with narrow eyes causing her to blush “Are you serious?”

She can hear it in his voice. The incredulity.

They have seen one another naked a lot over the years. Just as recently as last night. It’s kind of silly for her to be insecure, but she is. She always has been. Top heavy with wide hips on a small frame. Her proportions made no sense.

She wants to hide under the covers at the look he’s giving her. So she does. “Stop,” she laments from beneath the cotton.

She can hear him laughing. “Hinata! Fine. I’m gonna go brush my teeth. You have two minutes.”

It takes her ninety seconds before she is making her way to the bathroom where Naruto is putting on some deodorant.

“Mmm, Old Spice.” Hinata has always been partial to that scent on him.

Naruto grins at her from the mirror. “Look at me, look at you. Now look at me, look at you. You’re really cute.” He turns, leaning down, trying to give her a kiss.

She shakes her head. “Don’t. I have morning breath.”

His kiss lands on her cheek instead, though they both know he wouldn’t have minded kissing her.

“Can I use your toothbrush?” She asks, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. She managed a quick finger brushing of it in his room, but it was still a little unruly after being so thoroughly tousled the night before.

“Ew, Hinata, that would be like us kissing. Gross.” He wrinkles his nose, but steps aside for her at the sink.

She doesn’t have long to clean up, because before long, he’s urging her out the door.

“Come on let's go, I’m starving.”

“Stop being a baby.” She smiles, slipping on her shoes.

“I’m not being baby.”

“You should bring a coat, it’ll be cold at the park.”

“Alright.” He opens the closet and then goes still, his frame locking up.

Hinata studies his averted profile, a furrow forming between her brows. She moves a little closer when he remains silent and still. “Hey...are you okay?” She asks, softly.

Whatever had his attention lets go and he nods slowly, looking over at her. “Yeah; ready?”

She hesitates, but only for a moment, before nodding. Stepping out the door brings her up short, her eyes immediately locked on the uniformed men in front of her. She knows before they say anything that they are here for Naruto. Behind her, Naruto is oblivious.

“Okay,” he’s saying, “the real question, is should I get hash brown with my pancakes? Cause you took like, forever, and I’m starving.” He’s turned away from the hall in order to lock the door.

“Naruto.” Hinata’s hand fists into his jacket material, trying to get his attention.

“What? Too many carbs? Should I get eggs then. I could just order two breakfasts, but then I’m still back to too many carbs.”

“Naruto.”

He glances over at her quickly. “What? Are you okay?”

One of the officers steps forward. “Are you Naruto Uzumaki?”

“Uh, yeah, who’s ask…” Naruto turns and his voice trails off as he sees exactly who's asking.

Hinata also tenses, because Naruto doesn’t have the best history with police. Naruto doesn’t have the best history, period, but he has had a few particularly violent altercations and resisting arrest charges in his past. Seeing the number of officers standing in the hall, Hinata can only assume they already knew this about him.

The same officer steps closer. “Naruto Uzumaki, you are under arrest for six counts of assault and battery.”

Hinata feels her breath catch in her throat.

No. Oh, no.

“Hands against the wall, please.”

Naruto takes a step back.

“Naruto,” Hinata cautions him. Old habits had him ready to bolt.

“Don’t you have to read me my Amanda’s or something?”

“Miranda’s.” Hinata corrects, quietly, her hand still clamped down onto his coat sleeve to keep him from bolting. One of the officers moved to her side, reaching out to pull her away. “Ma’am, you need to step away from-”

“Don’t fucking touch her!” Naruto’s voice drops as he moves himself, pushing her further back with the outstretched arm.

Hinata sucks in a breath. He’s wearing the exact same expression as he had on the night before. She needs to get him calm. He needs to be calm. They can sort through this--but not if he reacts violently. Any good grace they have will be lost. She tries again. “Naruto, just listen-”

He’s not.

She realizes it immediately.

He’s not listening. He’s shutting her out.

She’s known at Eight Gates for her ability to see fighters moves before they make them--she can detect their slightest projection--and she sees it now. Naruto is not ready to submit. He’s going to fight.

The officer reaches for her again and Hinata shakes her head, to no avail. Before the man can touch her, Naruto has his arm, yanking him off balance. He adjusts his stance, and she knows he’s going to try and take out the man’s knee.

They could explain last night. There was no way they could explain assault and battery on an officer.

He wouldn’t have a chance.

“Naruto! Don’t!” Her voice is loud in the hallway--louder than she’s probably ever been with him, but she’s desperate.

It gets through. He lets go of the cop abruptly. His eyes go wide and panicked, realizing what he’d almost done. He puts his hands up quickly. “I’m sorry!”

Hinata flinches when she hears the taser.

Naruto’s legs buckle immediately, and he falls back into the door. “Fuck.” He coughs, eyes fluttering.

Hinata pushes against the officer trying to pull her back. “Don’t hurt him, please.”

“Step back, ma’am!”

Naruto’s eyes tip in her direction and she can see the fear in there, and the desire to get up, but he’s down and out. “Fuck.”

The officers converge on him, zip tying his hands, reading him his rights.

“Do you have any weapons? Do you plan to harm us in anyway?” The questions come out fast. The men are on edge.

“Fuck you.” Naruto groans.

Hinata presses her lips together.

The officers respond to his answer by pressing him harder. Naruto gasps in pain. He’s not recovered from last night and Hinata's not sure how much more punishment he can take before the consequences are dire.

She shoves herself forward again. “You’re hurting him!”

Behind them a door opens. “What is going on out here?" There's a pause as Mr. Umino takes in the scene.  "I want to see some badge numbers. Now.”

Hinata’s breathing is shaky, but she holds it together, glancing at Mr. Umino as he steps into the hall. The cops are patting Naruto down. Hinata watches with an impending sense of dread as one of the men reach into his jacket pocket and pull out a trifold that Hinata knows is not Naruto’s.

“Look what we got here.” The man holding up the trifold wallet smirks, satisfied they have their perp.

The others yank Naruto to his feet.

The old Hinata would be in tears by now.

The old Hinata would be ringing her hands and scared.

And while she wants to do those things, she instead moves around the officers, blocking the stairwell. The men look ready to arrest her too.

“Ma’am--”

“It’s not Ma’am,” she counters, ignoring the way her voice shakes. She has never, ever, in her life thrown around her family name, but for Naruto, she would do anything. Even if it makes her feel dirty. “It’s Hinata. Hinata Hyuuga.”

She sees immediate recognition on the older two officers’ faces. Anyone worth a damn in law enforcement knew of her grandfather. One of the most revered and reviled judges in the state before his death. Then there was Neji. Neji was a decorated officer who had both the Medal for Valor and the Police Combat Cross before leaving the force after his father’s death to join the FBI. Her own father, who had taken a different path, was no less well known. Her family had more money than all four of these men would see in their lifetimes--combined. And while she had walked away from it--her father's will had reinstated it. She was the heir to a fortune--one that she didn’t want--but one that she would leverage against anyone that tried to take Naruto from her.

“And,” she continues, feigning an assurance that she does not feel. “I agree with Mr. Umino,” she glances at the older man. He has his own phone out. “I’ll have those badge numbers. Now.”

One of the younger officers shakes his head. “We don’t have time for this--”

“Make time.” Iruka says, voice hard. He moves to each officer, snapping pictures of their badges. He eyes Hinata speculatively as he does.

Once done, the officers start forward again, their limited patience spent.

“Move,” they tell her. “Or join your boyfriend in cuffs.”

“Fiance” she corrects, but steps aside. She’s shaking so hard that her teeth are chattering. Even so, she urges a barely conscious Naruto, “Naruto, do not say anything until you have a lawyer with you. Okay? I need you to promise me that. Can you promise me? Don’t talk. Not one word.”

She has no idea if he actually hears her, because the officers are carting him--too rough for her liking--down the steps. She feels herself starting to crack when Mr. Umino places a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll get my shoes," he tells her. "I’ll drive you.”

She nods, grateful. “Thanks,” she whispers, raw.

“We won’t leave him alone,” he promises.

Hinata closes her eyes, willing her tears back. “No, we won’t.” She reaches into her coat and pulls out her phone. She calls Kiba. He doesn’t ask her why she needs him to go get Argus, he simply agrees. He knows where her spare key is. He and Akamaru will look after him until she can get home.

Three minutes after her call to Kiba her cell is ringing. She picks it up. “Ino.”

“Hina, what is happening? Kiba called and said you sounded upset.”

In broken half sentences Hinata fills Ino in the best she can while Iruka drives. “And..and they’re going to give him some shitty public defender...I can feel it...and I d-don’t know any lawyers...and, and--”

“Breathe, babe.” Ino says, voice soothing. “Breathe. Don’t you worry that pretty head over a lawyer. I’ve got you covered.”

“Wha--?”

“You just get to your boy and be strong. Sai and I will be there soon. What precinct?”

Hinata gives her the info automatically. “You don’t have to--”

“We’re family.” Ino cuts her off. “And Naruto isn’t as alone as he thinks he is. They’re used to running him when he had no one. He has you now. He has us. We’ll be there.”

Hinata does cry then. “Thank you.” She hangs up.

From the driver’s seat Iruka gives her a gentle smile. “Nice ring,” he says quietly.

Hinata sniffs, curling her fingers. “We’re getting married,” she whispers.

She hopes.

 

Chapter Text

Number forty-seven said to number three


"You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see


I sure would be delighted with your company


Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me"


Naruto had been arrested before.

More times than she liked to think about, so this was not a new experience for Hinata; standing in the precinct, waiting for someone to give her the information she needed about Naruto and his booking. She is trying to keep her composure, trying not to dwell on the way in which he was taken into custody, trying not to worry the skin on her wrist raw by twisting her bracelet around and around.

She shifts on her feet, eyes darting around the station. There are people giving statements about any number of incidents, several in-uniform officers and others in civilian clothes--detectives, she assumes, but doesn’t really know. She’s not overly familiar with how the precinct and police run despite it being Neji's career. Her encounters with them were usually her picking up Naruto after a night in the holding cell for ‘disorderly’ or paying his bail and fines.

They’d been lucky so far that his episodes--like the time he went door to door at three in the morning ‘campaigning’ for his presidency or any of his drunken fights hadn’t actually garnered any criminal charges before this. She knew that he had been incarcerated before--years before they were ever a couple--but it wasn’t something he spoke of, and it wasn’t something that she wanted to push.

She winced as her bracelet bit into her flesh. She sighed, mentally forcing herself to relax and shifting her fingers away to move over her ring--rubbing the band. It was a small comfort.

Mr. Umino shifted in his spot beside her, looking a little bit like he doesn’t belong amongst the chaos with his sweater and clean cut appearance. She hadn’t expected him to come in with her, or stay, but he had insisted. Apparently, Naruto had come to mean a great deal to their quiet neighbor...former neighbor, on her part...while she’d been gone.

Seeing him, checking his watch, asking the desk clerk for information, kind of reminds Hinata of a father waiting for their son and it makes something in her heart clench. Naruto deserved all the love and support that life could offer and had been woefully bereft of it for a very long time.

“I’m going to find some coffee,” Iruka tells her after another twenty minutes of no answers and more waiting. “You want any?”

“No, but I’ll take tea if they have it.”

He nods, patting her shoulder. “It’s going to be alright,” he says. “I’ll be right back.”

Hinata watches him walk down a side corridor and feels her anxiety tick up a notch. She inhales purposefully. She’s managed to stay collected this long. She can handle waiting by herself...

“Hina!”

Hinata’s head snaps around at the sound of Ino’s voice, immediately grateful. Ino is pushing her way past a few people--Sai in tow--and marching straight for Hinata. Once she reaches her, she pulls her into a tight hug, then pushes her back at arms’ length, holding her upper arms as she studies Hinata’s face. “You okay?”

Hinata gives a small shrug. “As I can be...considering.”

Ino makes an appropriate sympathetic sound. “You two just can’t catch a break, can you?” she says, shaking her head.

Hinata gives a shaky exhale, but says nothing. What’s there to say?

“How long before we can get him out?” Ino asks.

“I don’t know,” Hinata murmurs with another small shrug. “I’m still waiting…”

Ino shakes her head, moving around Hinata to crowd the desk clerk. “Who’s in charge here?” she demands and Hinata both admires her forthrightness and wants to call her back. Stirring up more trouble is the last thing Hinata wants to do.

The officer at the desk raises his head from the papers he’s filling out and gives Ino a flat stare. “That would be the Captain, and not you, honey, so sit down. I’ve already told your friends that as soon as things are processed I’ll let you know.”

Undaunted, Ino tosses her long hair over her shoulder. “And how long does ‘processing’ take? Aren’t you people in the twenty-first century. Isn’t it all automated and computerized?”

The desk clerk rolls his eyes and makes a shooing motion with his hand. “Sit,” he barks.

Ino sniffs, turning on her heel. “Unhelpful bunch,” she mutters.

Hinata glances about the busy station again. “They kind of have their hands full, Ino.”

Ino scoffs, “They’re gonna have their hands full,” but she moves aside, taking Hinata over to a row of plastic chairs and urging her to sit. “Have you heard anything at all?” she asks.

Hinata shakes her head. “No.” She swallows the tremble in her voice. “They won’t even tell me if he’s okay...I mean, they tased him, Ino.” Hinata rubs at her face wearily. Everything feels so unfocused and heavy. She can still see Naruto’s expression as the current buckled his legs. She shakes the mental image away. She knows it will be nightmare fodder for weeks to come--as will the attack in the alley. So much messed up stuff has happened in the past two days, she can barely keep track.

“From what Ino told me, you and Naruto were jumped, yes?” Sai asks, taking a seat nearby. He slipped a sketchbook out of his satchel, already drawing loose lines on the pages.

Hinata had filled Ino in--briefly--on the ride over. She nods. “Yeah.”

“And...the ones that jumped you are pressing charges?”

Hinata shrugs, a bit helpless. It would appear that way. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but nothing at the moment did.“I don’t know...maybe? I mean...that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but...yeah, I think so.”

“That’s fucked up,” Ino states, eyes narrow. She wraps her arm around HInata’s shoulders. “Shikamaru’s on his way,” she informs her.

Hinata blinks a bit at that. “I didn’t think Shikamaru did criminal law anymore--”

“I don’t.” Behind them, Shikamaru walks towards them. He has his hands in his pockets and his stride is easy, despite the situation. Hinata doesn’t think she’s ever seen him rush for anything--ever. “Well, I don’t like to,” he amends. “Too troublesome. But, I’m making an exception.” He gives a one shoulder shrug.

Hinata presses her lips together. “Thank you,” she whispers softly. He shrugs again. She knows he’s not really doing it for her, but for Naruto (and probably a little to keep Ino off his back), and that actually helps put her mind at ease. She’s still fighting the urge to cry, but having so many people here--when it used to be only her--is helping calm her frantic nerves. Shikamaru is one of the smartest people she’s ever met, and though they aren’t close by any stretch, she knew him to be an honest and upstanding person.

“Here.” Iruka suddenly appears with a steaming styrofoam cup in his hand. “It’s green, I hope that’s okay.” He notices the crowd now around Hinata. “Uh, hi,” he greets a bit uncertain. He glances at her and she offers a small--barely there--smile. Iruka takes it upon himself to conduct introductions before taking a seat across from Hinata. They all sit in a sort of awkward silence for a few minutes while Shikamaru approaches the desk to see what he can sort out.

When he returns, he’s frowning.

Hinata’s nerves twist in her gut. “What is it?” she asks, back on her feet.

Shikamaru sighs, angling his head. “They’ve put Naruto in isolation.”

“What? Why?” Hinata’s voice cracks. All she can picture is Naruto bruised up, beaten, and alone. She wants to go to him and hold him and assure him that it’s going to be okay. She’s going to make it okay.

Please.

“Oh, I don’t know. Could be the fact that he violently resisted arrest,” Shikamaru says, with more than a hint of sarcasm. He casts Ino a ‘what have you dragged me into’ look.

Ino, in turn, waves him off. “Okay, smarty-lawyer-man, when do we get him out?”

At this Shikamaru’s gaze flickers over Hinata. “It’s going to be awhile. They have seventy-two hours to process him. It’s usually quicker, but there’s no guarantee that it will even be today. I’ve already called down. They know I’m his lawyer. That should speed things up a bit.” The Nara name held clout.

Hinata sucks in a breath. Naruto alone, in a cell, for however long it took to process him with no way to know that she’s here--no way to know that any of them are there? Her heart beat increases until she feels dizzy.

Iruka is also on his feet now, a steadying hand on Hinata’s shoulder. “Will it take longer because he resisted?”

“That’s part of it,” Shikamaru acknowledges. “The police do not like it when you fuck with them. Processing could get held up. Nothing illegal, but enough to be a pain. Naruto has been charged with multiple counts of assault and battery. Hence the warrant for the officers this morning. I’m going to try and head off the DA before he can add a ‘resisting’ charge to the list of offenses.”

Hinata feels a little like the world is on crazy pills. “That’s not what happened though! We were the ones attacked--”

Shikamaru holds up one hand, cutting her off. “I’m not saying that’s not what happened, but if that’s the case, that begs the question: why didn’t the two of you press charges? Or hell, even go to a hospital?”

Hinata blinks, feeling a bit under attack. She bristles, defensively. “We just wanted to get somewhere safe and put it behind us,” she says, voice tight.  She knows that’s not entirely why they didn’t. Naruto’s history of violence and his relationship with cops in general definitely influenced their reactions, but she also knows that the moment Naruto took the wallet, he was no longer simply the victim.

Shikamaru exhales. “Look, I’m not trying to get you riled. I know you’ve had a rough morning, but the simple truth is that things like that don’t look good to the police or the DA. I know it may seem like this is all bullshit, and some of it is, but you’ve gotta stay focused, ok? Emotions are only going to make this mess messier.” He lets out a disgruntled sigh. “It’s already messier than I’d like it.”

“How messy?” Iruka wants to know.

Shikamaru slants him a look. “Given Naruto’s history…” he lets the sentence trail off.

“That hardly seems fair, holding the kid’s past over his head.” Iruka counters.

Another shrug from Shikamaru. “Fair or not, it’s fact.”

Breathing is becoming slightly harsher--quicker. Hinata can’t quite catch up to her own body. She can barely hear her own voice over the pulse pounding in her ears. “What...What happens now? How can I help him?”

“Now? Now, you and I are going to sit in one of the side rooms here and sort out your story. I want every detail. We’ll also go and request for a statement to be given here, to the police, after you fill me in. That way we have a counter argument. A flimsy one--”

Hinata feels so frustrated that tears do sting her eyes. “It’s what happened!”

“Still flimsy. You’re involved with him, so that makes anything you say dubious at best.”

“Are you legit questioning Hina’s credibility?” Ino seethes.

Shikamaru rolls his eyes. “ I’m not, no. I’m saying it will be questioned.” He gives the group a collective scowl. “If one of you wants to take over as defense attorney, feel free to show me your J.D. and ABA, otherwise, I’m going to ask that you shut up and let me do my job.”

Sai simply shrugs and resumes sketching while the others slip into a more sullen silence. Shikamaru mutters a quiet, “Troublesome,” before urging Hinata to walk with him.

In a side conference room she fills him in on everything. When she’s done talking he nods, gaze level. “Well, that’s not the best defense in the world, but it’s what we have.”

Hinata presses her palms flat to the tabletop, frustrated. “They tricked him.”

Shikamaru nods. “Yeah, but where’s the proof? It doesn’t matter if it’s true, ” he interjects before she can be indignant. “What matters is what we can prove.

Taking a breath, Hinata rolls up her sleeve, showing her very bruised wrist. Then, once Shikamaru’s gaze locks back onto her own, she adjusts her shirt, showing the ring around her neck. “I have proof.”

“Jesus,” Shikamaru exhales. He gives her a once over. “We need you to get checked by a physician. You also need to give an official statement. I can’t say whether it will be much help. Honestly, any good attorney can flip your injuries and try and suggest abuse.

Hinata’s eyes go wide. “Naruto would never--!”

“I know that.” Shikamaru states with an eye roll. “You just need to be ready for it if they try and smear him.”

Hinata glances up at that, her own eyes narrowing a bit. “What aren’t you telling me?”

At this, Shikamaru leans back, eying her speculatively. “I don’t know who Naruto pissed off, but someone’s clearly pissed, if they went to all this trouble. If these thugs jumped you but feel confident enough to walk into a police station and file a false report...well, then they have someone powerful in their corner or they’re incredibly stupid. I’m hoping for stupid, but I want to be as prepared as possible. All avenues covered, all moves accounted for. No surprises.”

Hinata feels like she’s had enough surprises to last several lifetimes.

“For now, we’re going to get you checked out and then I’m going to get on the line and see what’s what with Naruto. Best case scenario is that we get him out on bail ASAP. A trial, should it come to that, will take the DA’s office time to prep for. We’ll use that time, too. If we’re super duper lucky, then we’ll get this shit dismissed and I can go back to running legal shit for Kakashi and not be neck deep in drama.”

Hinata swallows back the hope that lunges in her throat. “Do you think that we can?”

“Worth a shot, right?” He shoves up from the table. “I could really use a smoke. You good?”

No, not really. But she was going to push through it. No falling apart while Naruto needed her.


Chapter Text

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.


 It would be easy to crumble.

To sit and cry and lament at the unfairness of life.

In the past, she hates to admit, she probably would have done just that. Not so much out of self-pity, but out of the fear that she wasn’t capable or valuable. She’d allowed herself to be brushed aside and under so many times in her life, and she knows that in some ways, she still does, but this isn’t really about her, it’s about Naruto, and when it came to him--she was anything but willing to be brushed aside.

So when the first officer she speaks to seems reluctant to take (much less believe) her statement, she doesn’t back down. She demands a new one. She gets a new officer, a woman, that actually takes her statement, but also helps her phrase it in a way that sounds more assured and not simply a reaction to her boyfriend (fiance) being jailed. Officer Nohara gives her a sympathetic look and words of encouragement before she leaves. It makes Hinata a little more sure about her actions.

Once she finishes giving her statement, she regroups with Shikamaru. He doesn’t have much in terms of new information, but he did successfully prevent the ‘resisting’ charge from being added to the complaint. Hours later they are told Naruto’s bail hearing will be tomorrow. Shikamaru seems unsurprised by the news, and in fact, takes it well.

“It’ll give me time to prepare for some probable eventualities,” he explains to Hinata. “And for you and I to visit the scene.”

She doesn’t want to go back there. At all.

The idea of it makes her skin crawl and her breath quicken, but again, it’s not about her--it’s for Naruto--so she nods.

The others are sent home, with assurances from Hinata that she will call them with any news as soon as she has some. Iruka gives her his cell and insists that no time is a bad time for her to call. She hugs him and thanks him for looking after Naruto.

Naruto’s always had ‘friends’, because he’s wonderful and amazing, but he’s never had a family. She looks at Ino and Sai and Iruka and even Shikamaru and wishes that Naruto could see them--even here in the weird fluorescent precinct lights--all looking a bit worn and weary. His ragtag family, rallied to his defense. Ready to fight for him.

Fight and win, she mentally amends.

* * *

The alleyway is even more disgusting in the daylight.

Her eyes stray to the pavement, to the very spot that Naruto had been pinned, his face planted on the ground as men she didn’t know held him down--hurting him. She can hear the thud of the baton against his back. What if…

She shakes her head, closing her eyes, but that’s even worse, because now her imagination is in overdrive and she can see the blood, hear Naruto’s pained grunts.

“You okay?” Shikamaru’s voice pulls her from her thoughts.

Hinata blinks a few times. “Yeah,” she whispers. Then firmer, “Yes.” She tugs her coat a bit tighter, but steps forward. “We, uhm, we came over here from the other sidewalk.” She points to where she and Naruto had been standing when the woman had called out for help.

Shikamaru’s eyes follow her finger. “Near that shop, over there?”

She nods. “Yes.”

Shikamaru’s gaze becomes speculative, straying towards the front window and the overhang. “You think they have security?” he asks, but it’s not really a question, as he’s already walking across.

Hinata’s heart thumps. Yes. Yes they did. She remembers Naruto telling her. Maybe...maybe they had cameras? She hurries after Shikamaru.

It only takes a few minutes for the shop owner to be convinced to show them his digital footage. Shikamaru watches the scene with a cool detachment, while Hinata can barely look. The footage is dim, but not so bad that faces are unrecognizable. It’s actually pretty easy to pick everyone out.

She watches the footage, tense, and biting her lip.

“Holy shit,” Shikamaru breathes when Naruto erupts from the ground--wrecking everyone in that alley. In the aftermath of the video (as the shop owner Mr. Chen) makes them a copy, Hinata has to excuse herself. She rushes outside and promptly vomits into a nearby trash can.

Watching that scene again only confirmed the worst thoughts in her mind. She had come so close to losing him.

To those thugs.

To himself.

She exhales a ragged cough and straightens, wiping her mouth. Now was not the time to flake, though, so she pushes the fear back down to nestle in her gut. She’d deal with it later.

When she rejoins Shikamaru, he’s on his phone. After a few minutes, he hangs up. “Conferring with another lawyer,” he tells her. “We should probably prepare for an insane bail amount and the possibility that if released they will want a responsible party overseeing him.”

“Whatever the bail is, I’ll pay it,” she says quietly.

“I don’t think you understand how high it could go--”

She sighs, heavy. “I don’t think you understand how little that matters to me.” She still feels dirty--using that money. But she will. “And I’ll sign whatever forms…” she sounds tired, even to her own ears.

Shikamaru looks at her pale face and cocks his head. “I think it’s time we get you to that doctor now.”

“I’m fine.” They need to fill out those forms.

“Well, you look like shit,” he counters. “Besides, we’ll need the report. So let’s go.”

* * *

Her wrist was fractured. Hairline and stable, so she was given a padded wrist brace. Her throat was bruised and sore, but nothing substantial. All in all she was “Very lucky” the doctor said.

They write her a prescription for pain medication that she doesn’t fill.

She’s not sure how they would react to her medications, plus...if Naruto was going to be staying with her… She shakes her head.

He was different now.

Still.

She’d rather not have them there.

She picks up Argus from Kiba and gives him a very brief rundown of what was going on. He tells her that if she needs him or Shino, to just say the word. Back at her place she fills out the forms that Shikamaru had given her. She reads and re-reads them until her eyes go unfocused.

Argus sits at her side, head on her lap. She rubs his ears between paragraphs, taking comfort in his silent presence. Wearily, she rubs her eyes. It’s late and she needs to sleep. Naruto’s bail hearing is in the morning. She already moved some of her stuff around to make room and stopped by the store to get some extra food. Shikamaru seemed pretty confident that it was going to be a monitored release. “At least until I get all of this to the prosecutor’s office and they work through the conflicting stories,” he had told her.

Hinata spends the night awake. Staring at the ceiling.

Everytime she shuts her eyes she sees that alley.

Or the hallway and Naruto being tased.

So she lays awake.

They tried to hurt him.

They were still hurting him--trying to take him away from her.

She rubs the ring on her hand, contemplating Shikamaru’s words. If Naruto had indeed made some powerful enemies, then they were soon going to realize that he had some powerful friends. He wasn’t alone anymore. And if she had her way, he never would be again.

She's not that scared little mouse of a girl that hides from the world anymore.

She was a genius of perseverance.

She's not stuttering, shy, incapable Hinata Hyuuga anymore.

She was the future Mrs. Uzumaki.

With that thought in mind, she finally closes her eyes and sleeps.

 

Chapter Text

Love doesn't die because of distance. It dies because of doubt.

Her mother doubted her father's love for her and it ended up killing her.

Hinata promises herself that she will not allow Naruto to ever feel that way.

He will always know he is loved by her.

Endlessly.


 

Naruto’s quiet.

Too quiet.

There’s a cloak of defeat settled on his shoulders and wearing failure is not a fashionable look for him. Hinata had been watching him carefully from the moment he entered her apartment with Shikamaru--watching the slump in his posture, the dullness in his eyes.

She had seen this look before, and it was a terrible-- terrible --one to remember.

The last time she had seen his eyes like that was right before he had tried to end himself in a bathtub.

She has to forcibly remind herself that things are different now.

He is different now.

She is too.

She shuffles the officers that flank Naruto on his arrival out of her place as soon as she can. She doesn’t like how tense they make Naruto, or the side-eyes they keep slanting his way, like they expect trouble from him at any moment. So she signs their forms, initials where she needs to, and escorts them out with polite efficiency.

Once they’re gone and she has Naruto and Shikamaru settled in her small kitchen, she moves about--trying to keep her hands busy so they don’t fidget. Plus, she always functioned better busy than sitting idle. She, too, has a cloak about her--but it’s not defeat. It’s thrumming agitation and...anger.

She’s angry.

Not at Naruto.

She can’t exactly pinpoint the direct source of her anger.

There’s multiple.

She’s angry at fate? Maybe.

Definitely at the lying bastards that jumped them.

At herself, for panicking and not thinking clearly enough to stop Naruto from charging into a trap or taking the wallet.

She catches Naruto’s eyes flick to her a few times. Like he’s uncertain.

For some reason that makes her even more on edge, but she’s trying not to showcase her unease, so she crosses her arms to halt her fidgeting and presses her lips tight to prevent their tremble.

He’s out of jail.

He’s here.

He’s safe.

They have a strong chance of having the assault charges dismissed. Things were going to be okay. She had to believe that.

“Can I smoke in here?” Shikamaru’s voice draws her from her thoughts. She gives a shake of her head.

“No, sorry. Would you like coffee?” she offers instead. It’s late--they’ve all been busy since early morning but they still have some things to cover, so coffee wouldn’t hurt.

Shikamaru sighs, but nods. He and Naruto are seated at her small kitchen table, both men look tired. Shikamaru had burned some midnight oil putting together paperwork before the morning’s bail hearing and had been with them ever since.

After placing Shikamaru’s mug down, she told Naruto, “I got the stuff for pancakes.” It’s a small gesture, since they hadn’t had to have their celebratory pancakes the other day. She’s hoping it will lighten his eyes a bit, but he simple nods and says “okay” in a far too subdued tone.

It’s unnerving, seeing him like this.

Defeated.

She takes a breath and moves away from the table, letting the two men talk while she mixes the batter. She made sure to get Nutella and over ripe bananas. After she’s made three decent sized cakes, she coats them in chocolate and piles the bananas on top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. She makes a plain one for Argus, who is at the table as well, settled at Naruto’s feet.

His intelligent eyes are solemn and watchful and every now and again Hinata can hear a faint whine emanate from his throat. He, too, is worried--sensing the roiling emotions of the room’s occupants. Hinata makes sure to scratch behind his ears when she drops the pancake down for him to eat.

There’s no room for her at the table, so she makes her way to the counter, leaning against it.

Shikamaru raises an eyebrow at Naruto’s plate. “Nutella and bananas?”

“It’s delicious.” Naruto’s voice is still flat. He sounds tired. Hinata wonders how much sleep he has had--if any. She knows that she barely slept at all, so she imagines that he did even less.

“I have a question,” Shikamaru shifts. “Why do you think these people attacked you?”

Naruto shrugs one shoulder.  “He didn’t want me fighting Muay Thai.”

“Because you beat him before?” Shikamaru asks, for clarification.

Another shrug. “Yeah. Um, I wasn’t projected to win, so he probably lost out on some money. Didn’t want me mucking up the prospects again?”

Shikamaru’s brow lifts. “Don’t you think that’s a little far fetched?”

“What?”

“That sounds like some late night TV shit.”

“Are you kidding me? I’ve seen mother fuckers get stabbed over a dime bag, let alone on thousands.” It’s the first time Naruto’s voice has any inflection since he’s been there. He’s defensive. He looks between Shikamaru and her. “You two wouldn’t get it. ‘Money isn’t everything’ until you don’t got none. People like that, they don’t take too kindly to someone stepping in a chipping off their dollars. My own coach was ready to take a hit at me for ending a fight at round one. You don’t think losing out on thousands of dollars on me wouldn’t make a guy a little ready to jump me?”

Hinata flinches a bit at that. Naruto has always had a not so secret loathing of the wealthy--of the people with influence, money and power not doing a damn thing for anyone but themselves. Naruto’s life was messed up, far beyond hers. She knows that. She tries to tell herself that his anger isn’t at her, but at the unfairness of it all.

Still, hearing him rail against people like ‘her’ and Shikamaru hurts. She does get it, to a degree. She hadn’t had a dime to her name after leaving her father. It took months of hard work and barely eating, and scrimping to manage for a long time. She had her pride and refused help. She had scrounged and saved and worked double shifts through college, still maintaining her GPA and trying to help Naruto. It’s not a time she talks about. The only one of her friends that knew how hard she worked and how much she struggled was Ino.

When she finally had enough money saved to buy herself something nice, Hinata had bought her bracelet. It was a symbol that she could make it on her own. That she was the one in control of her life. No one else. Her bracelet was more than a piece of jewelry. It was a message to herself that she could be enough. It was hard for her to always remember that back then...it was hard now. But she was working on it.

“So is there anyone else lying in wait for you?” Shikamaru asks, clearly annoyed and maybe a little condescending. Looks like she wasn’t the only one stung by Naruto’s remarks.

“Maybe.” Naruto’s lip curls a bit. “His coach. His manager. His bookie. Anyone who lost on a favorable bet, that I upset.”

Shikamaru shakes his head. “That’s insane.”

“That’s life.” Naruto’s shrug is tight this time.

Leaning back, Shikamaru speaks around a yawn. “Well on that cheerful note, this is basically it.”

Naruto blinks, uncertain. “What do you mean?”

“All you have to do is chill here for a few days, and then you’re home free. We just have to use the video evidence at the Chinese convenient store-”

“Taiwanese.” Hinata corrects automatically--slightly amused that Naruto does so, too, at the same time.

Shikamaru slants them both annoyed looks. “Whatever. And we’ll just submit that to-”

“You can’t use that video evidence.” Naruto cuts him off.

There’s a moment of silence before Shikamaru speaks, brows drawn low. “Why the fuck not? That’s the only thing that proves they baited and attacked you. And why the fuck you would do what you did and that you’re not some maniac that needs to be locked up.”

“I’m not the only person that’s going to be on that tape.” Naruto glances over at Hinata and back. “Contrary to what the judge said, I don’t hit women.”

Hinata is touched by his concern, but she’s already given her statement. In fact, she can sing it on an open stage that she beat the snot out of that woman and unless the woman wants to get busted for a false statement, then she can’t correct her. Even if she did amend the charges, the tape clearly shows it as self defense, which Shikamaru is quick to point out.

“I already know about Hinata.” Shikamaru states. “It’s self defense. That’s literally what the tape will prove.”

Naruto seems less than convinced. “You don’t know that. I got a three months, suspended time served drug misdemeanor when I was eighteen for having three vicodin in my pocket.”

Hinata doesn’t want to point out that the circumstances are vastly different.

There’s no way she’s going to jail.

It’s unlikely that she would even be charged.

Name and influence do matter.

He’s not wrong .

“You didn’t have me then.” Shikamaru neatly evades. “You do your job, and I’ll do my job.”

“What is my job exactly?” Naruto asks, rubbing his nose.

“Don’t step your goddamn pinky toe out of this apartment. Don’t even look at alcohol, I’m not even kidding, if you even so much as ingest vanilla extract or drink kombucha I’ll fucking kill you. And pretty self explanatory, don’t do drugs, kids. That’s it. Don’t violate the ankle monitor. That is your only job.”

“I--” Shikamaru paused to sip his coffee, “will get the video footage submitted over to the prosecutors. It’ll take a couple days. More than likely, they’ll drop the case altogether. It shouldn’t take more than a week.”

“What happens if they don’t?”

Hinata shifts at the counter. She and Shikamaru have already gone over this. She knows the worst case. She’s not going to let that happen.  “Naruto-”

“What do you mean? You want to know worse case scenario?”

Naruto nods.

Hinata is already shaking her head. “He doesn’t need to worry about that.”

Shikamaru ignores her. “Assault and battery of the alleged nature are usually felonies punishable by approximately one to twenty-five years in prison.”

Naruto drops his fork, his tan cheeks going pale.

“But that’s not going to happen.” Hinata interjects, stepping away from the counter.

“One to twenty-five?” Naruto’s voice is hollow now. The defeat is back. “I’m being charged with six of those.”

“That’s six to one hundred and fifty.” Shikamaru confirms, making Hinata want to kick him.

Naruto looks like he might be sick.

“That’s not going to happen Naruto.” Hinata presses, firm. “Shikamaru is going to email the tapes, and it’ll just take a couple days for everything to gets taken care of.”

He’s not listening to her. He’s staring at his half eaten pancakes.

“Going to trial is not what you want,” Shikamaru adds. “Getting them to drop the charges is best case. Okay?”

Naruto nods, but Hinata can’t tell if he’s really hearing them anymore.

“Listen to Hinata.” Shikamaru pushes to his feet, tipping his head back to finished the rest of his cup. “I gotta get going. Temari’s going to be up my ass.”

Hinata walks Shikamaru out before returning to the table and quietly taking the seat across from Naruto, who is still listlessly eating his pancakes. When he finishes, he thanks her, but it’s in that same dead tone and her heart clenches tight.

She doesn’t know what to say. After a few more silent minutes she clears her throat and gestures to a large cardboard box near her loveseat. “I tried to get anything I thought you’d need from your place.”

Naruto paws through the box and pulls out his medication. Hinata feels a sense of relief at that. She hates to admit that in her haste and tiredness she had forgotten to give it to him. She had planned on having it out and ready, but with everything being as hectic as it had been… she sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Her head is snapped up a moment later by Naruto’s voice--edged and rushed.

“Did you read this?” His eyes are wide and he’s holding the notebook from his bedroom in his hands. It’s spine-cracked and worn.

She hadn’t.

Well, not past the first page.

The moment she opened it and realized what it was, she had closed it.

Had she been tempted? Of course.

And that made her feel guilty, but she hadn’t ventured past the first page.

White flowers.

Feeling a little better. Still miss Hinata a shit ton. Kind of want to die. Am afraid of dying.

She had sat on his--their--bed and cried. Hard.

“It doesn’t matter.” He interjects before she can reply. His words are quick and rushed. “Can I take a shower?”

She swallows, blinking misty eyes. “Yeah, of course,” she whispers.

He buries the notebook with the pile of his clothes, and picks out a couple pieces that he can sleep in.

“The towels are under the sink.” She informs him quietly, watching the guarded way in which he moves.

She listens to the shower run as she cleans up the kitchen. When she passes the door she presses her fingertips to it and exhales a long sigh. She wants to say something--anything--that will comfort him, but she doesn’t know what words will help and what ones will hurt, so she stays silent.

Argus follows at her heels as she changes into her pajamas and pulls the comforter back and places Naruto’s pillow on the side of the bed closest to the door.

A few minutes after she hears the water turn off Naruto steps past the threshold of her bedroom.

“So I got the couch?”

It’s like an echo in her mind. The first words he’d said entering her apartment years ago. The lump in her throat swells and she can’t seem to move. She takes a few breaths, turning to face him. “This isn’t like last time.”

He shifts his weight, but remains silent, his gaze dubious and unconvinced.

“It’s not.” She insists, gaze pleading.

“I was just joking.”

It doesn’t feel like a joke.

It feels like a chasm.

Between them.

Their past.

Now.

She almost feels like their future is dangling over it.

That terrifies her.

She plays with her fingers, feeling for the band on her left hand. The reminder. “Do you… maybe want to watch something?”

He gives a subtle shake of his head. “I think I just want to lay down.”

“Okay.”

For an awkward moment, neither move. Naruto does a moment later, his motions stiff and uncertain. Hinata turns the lights off and motions her hand for Argus. He has a dog bed, but he’s never slept in it--not even the first day she brought him home.

Naruto lays silent beside her.

Silent minutes turn to hours.

Time is a slow crawl.

Hinata keeps her eyes closed and breaths even.

She can’t sleep.

She doesn’t know how long they both lay there, when Naruto’s soft whisper reaches her. “Do you think, it would’ve been better if I had stopped calling you?”

She turns, fingers reaching over to him, on his bicep curled inwards. She traces the faint scars, gentle. She doesn’t say anything at first, because she has no words.

“Like, if I had left you alone. Like you wanted. If I would’ve let you go. You dated, you did new things. You think you’d be happier? Without me.” His words are halting and heartbreakingly broken.

The idea of Naruto not being with her sets her heart into a chaotic tailspin. “No.” Her answer is immediate. “I didn’t leave you because I didn’t want to be with you. I needed to take care of myself. So did you. But I’ve never stopped loving you.”

His breath shudders out of him. “You don’t think you’d be better off if you didn’t?”

She frowns. Loving Naruto was as integral to her existence as breathing. “I don’t understand.”

“I think you’d be happier without me.” He tells her, voice flat.

No.

Without him was not an option.

Not again.

Not ever.

Did he want to end it? End himself?

She feels fear claw its way from her gut to her chest, stealing her breath. “Wh-what are you talking about?” Her voice is breaking, but she can’t help it. “You love me,” she reminds him. “You said you wanted to be with me forever . To marry you. You promised.” Is she panicking? She focuses on her breathing, but keeps her fingers on his skin, her eyes on his. You promised .

“I do.” Naruto amends. “I love you. More than anything.”

Enough to live for?

Enough to stay?

Those words get trapped, so she shakes her head and says, “Then stop asking me things like that.”

“Okay. I’m sorry.” He responds, tone heavy. “For everything.”

Hinata nods. “It’s okay.” It was going to be okay. She’s make sure of it.

“I do love you.” Naruto promises her. “I do want to be with you. You’re… the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Hinata pushes herself closer, winding herself around him, kissing the side of his face softly. “I love you,” she mouths, inaudibly into his flesh.

And she’d be damned if she ever gave him reason to doubt that again.

Chapter Text

Back in college, Professor Yuhi once told Hinata that obstacles were only put in the way to see if what you want was worth fighting for. She meant the advice to inspire Hinata towards her goal of graduation and all of the hardships she was facing at the time--but it’s a conversation that stuck with Hinata for years.

She thinks about her relationship with Naruto and all of the obstacles they’ve already overcome--and the ones they have yet to face. Would it be easier to just let it go? Probably. But Naruto’s happiness has always been and will always be the one goal that Hinata will fight for again and again.

Whatever obstacle gets in her way will be overcome. One way or another.


 

Morning comes far more quickly than Hinata would have liked. She’s still groggy from her restless night when her alarm begins to beep incessantly nearby. She’s already snoozed it once, and she’s really tempted to ignore it altogether, but she has responsibilities that she can’t ignore, so she reaches over stop the sound. When she lays back against her pillow Naruto is there--his mouth tempting hers in a quick, soft, morning kiss.

It a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. She licks her lips as she blinks slowly up at him, studying his expression. Last night had been a rough one for him. “Good morning?”

The smile he flashes her is quick and wide and completely insincere. “Good morning, beautiful.”

His chipper demeanor is a far cry from the defeatist attitude he had during the night, and though she wants him to feel better, she hates it when he pretends. It reminds her of their younger years--watching him push past every insult and hurt directed at him. “You’re in… a better mood,” she says, quiet. She doesn’t want it to sound accusatory.

He makes a small shrugging motion, acknowledging her comment, but his gaze leaves hers to survey her room so she can’t see his eyes. “So, what do you do to get ready for work?” he asks her like he hadn’t lived with her for four years.

She lets him deflect, mostly because she, too, is tired and uncertain. The idea of getting up is still far from appealing, but she does have to, so she pushes to a seated position. It’s nice to feel Naruto’s solid body weight beside her. She rubs her eyes. “Um, I have to take aaaaaaawww-” Her words are cut off by an unexpected yawn, her jaw practically aching with it. She smacks her lips a bit. “A shower. Excuse me. Then I feed Argus. Make some coffee. Take him out.”

Naruto’s expression is unreadable--but soft--as he shifts to look at her once more, one hand lifting to ruffle his sleep-mussed hair. It stands up at a dozen different angles as he does. “Um, I can feed Argus and start your coffee,” he offers.

“You don’t know how to make coffee,” she reminds him. Coffee was more her thing than his, and in the years they’d lived together, he had never offered to make it. Not that she minded. He drank it so rarely it hardly seemed logical to expect him to know how.

He gives her a shrug as if the answer should be obvious. “Google knows.”

His expression makes her mouth flex in amusement. “You’re going to Google it?”

Naruto nods, leaning close, tucking the hair behind her ear. Just that simple, familiar, gesture has her cheeks pink and her pulse moving from sluggish to awake. He lowers his voice--already rough from sleep-- into a gravely whisper that adds goosebumps to her now active senses. “Yup.” He assures her, popping the ‘p’ with a bit of smugness.

Hinata gives a soft snort. “I can just show you.”

Naruto laughs with mock arrogance, teasing her. “I don’t need you. I have Google.” With that, he pushes off the bed to his feet and Hinata watches the flex of muscle beneath his tee shirt. She frowns a bit, thinking of the bruising that must decorate that skin now.

“Okay, well, if you’re that intent on making it, you can use the French press. It’s easier,” she says, if for no other reason than to stop thinking about him being hurt.

He grabs his phone, waving it. “French press. Got it.” And then he’s off towards the kitchen, leaving her to get herself sorted.

Hinata shifts, flopping onto her side and burying her face in his orange pillow, feeling the lingering warmth and inhaling. She closes her eyes, listening to Naruto in her kitchen, the soft clack of Argus’s nails on her floor, and savors it. Just for a moment.

The real world will intrude, all too soon, but for right now--she’s savoring this. It’s familiar and new, all at once, having him here with her. Waking up to him.

She had missed it, but she hadn’t quite realized how much until this very moment. An ache blossoms in her chest that she quashes down, because there’s no need for empty beds anymore. They’re together--in love--engaged--and there’s nothing that they can’t overcome.

With that resolute thought in her mind, she makes her way to her small bathroom. She showers quickly, slipping on one of her pantsuits, before making her way to the kitchen and the scent of brewing coffee. Looks like he figured it out. When she arrives, it’s to find Naruto standing with a quirky smile on his face, staring at Argus as he eats.

“You look… happy,” she tells him--because he does. It’s not fake. Not in this moment. He feels genuine joy about whatever he’s thinking about.

Naruto angles towards her, his gaze traveling from head to foot and back up again. The gleam in his eye has her blushing already--even before he speaks.

“Damn,” he smirks at her.

She tucks her chin so he can’t see the way her teeth work her lip. She loves him so much and it’s always a thrill to see that affection on his face--that adoration. It makes her weak in the knees. She wonders, sometimes, if he knows the power he has over her.

“How do you take your coffee?” Naruto asks, moving towards the cupboards.

Hinata quirks an eyebrow, curious.

He shrugs a little, dismissive, but he doesn’t let it go and when he speaks there’s more weight to his words than before. “It just feels like something I should know. For tomorrow.”

He’s not fully meeting her eyes, so that tells her that there is more to this than wanting to know how she takes her coffee, but she’s not sure what it could be, so she nods. “Okay.” She goes to show him. A splash of creamer and two sugars later, she twists the lid on and motions for, “Argus” She pets his head as it pushes against her leg. “I’m going to take him out,” she tells Naruto needlessly. “I’ll be right back.”

Once outside the apartment, in the back with the small grassed in area, Hinata crouches down beside Argus. She rubs her hands behind his ears as she speaks--a soothing gesture for both of them. “You’re going to stay home today, okay? I’ll miss you at the office, but Naruto...Naruto needs you today, okay?”

Despite the teasing and the many smiles that he’s been flashing her, Hinata knows that something is still off. Argus nudges closer to her and Hinata presses a kiss to his head. “Good boy. I knew you two would be best buddies.” She rubs his head as she stands, allowing him to go about his morning business before returning to her apartment.

Naruto is standing a bit awkwardly between the kitchen and her sitting area--as though he is still unsure of himself in ‘her’ space--when they come in. She unhooks Argus’s leash and pushes her hair over her shoulder. She, too, feels a little awkward.“So, uhm, I’ll come back on my lunch break. I was thinking about stopping at your place before coming home tonight, in case you need anything else than the stuff I grabbed?”

Naruto’s already shaking his head. “That’s okay, you don’t have to do that.”

She’ll let him set the pace on that, she thinks, but she also wants him to know that he’s welcome here, with her, for however long he wants. “I cleaned out a drawer for you, so, if you want to put your stuff in it, you can.”

He glances away from her, his gaze moving to the floor. His voice is quiet when he replies. “Okay.”

“You can call me anytime,” she continues, forcing a smile into her voice. “Even if I’m in a meeting, I can still text you... if you need me.” She tucks her hair again as she reaches for her tote and mug. She’ll pin it up into a bun once she’s in the car. “You, uhm, you’re going to be okay?”

Naruto gives a small nod but he doesn’t look up. He reminds her of Argus again--when she’d first brought him home. Tentative but trying. She takes a small breath and counts to three. She can’t expect him to do more than try and he will talk to her when he’s ready. She has to let him set the pace. He still looks a little lost and she still can’t really read what’s going on in his mind. He has so much to deal with that she doesn’t want to press--not right now--but she needs him to know that she’s here for him and she’s not going anywhere.

“Okay.” She nods too, shifting her weight. She was near the door, her keys ready, but she's not ready to leave just yet. With a determined breath, she makes her way back over to Naruto and pushes to her tiptoes, kissing him gently on his tattooed cheek before searching his eyes, hoping to see a spark in the blue.

Unexpectedly, Naruto reaches up, grasping the back of her neck carefully before he bends his head to hers, his lips settling with gentle insistence. A breathless gasp breaks between them as he takes her lower lip between his and gently tugs--the faintest hint of his tongue tasting her.

Oh.

She blinks dazedly when he breaks away. “Go kill it.” Naruto nudges her back to the door. “Argus and I are going to be fine. We’re going to do dude stuff. Bro stuff. It’s gonna be lit.”

It takes her a moment to process his words--her senses on overload from his kiss--but when she does, she offers a smile. He’s faking his assurance, but he’s trying and that’s important, too. She doesn’t want to diminish that in any way. “Okay,” she says. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Naruto assures her--and the words do settle her. Knowing he loves her...it makes everything more bearable.

She’s moving at a snail’s pace towards the door. “And promise to call me if you need anything.”

He angles his head. “I will.”

“And if Argus needs anything you can call--”

Naruto rolls his eyes, smiling indulgently. “Get out. You’re going to be late.” He takes the initiative and actually walks her to the door, reaching around her to unlock it.

She’s still hesitating. She realizes now, it’s more for her peace of mind than for his, but still.. “I just want to make sure everything--”

“Everything’s going to be fine.” He promises her.“Seize the Day. Carpe Diem or whatever. Let’s get this bread.”

“If you need--”

Naruto places his hand on the dip of her back, gently, but insistently, shoving her out the door. “I know. I know. I love you. I’ll call you.”

“Careful!” She turns to look at him, standing dangerously close to the edge of her apartment. The police had been very clear in their directives that he was not to leave that apartment for any reason aside from fire or medical emergency. “Not one inch, Uzumaki.”

His feet were still inside her door. On her little welcome mat. He looks down and then back up at her. “I am. Now go be a boss ass bitch.” He pauses, his eyes on her face. “I love you.”

They’d already said it, but she’ll never tire of hearing it. “I love you, too.”

“Go to work.”

“I am.” she says, still not moving.

“I’m shutting the door now.” Naruto grabs the handle. “Stairs are that way.” He points.

“I know, I know, I’m just--”

“Have a good day.” He shuts the door in her face. A moment later she hears the lock.

She stares at the panel for a few seconds--torn between amusement and disbelief. Kicked out of her own home. She makes her way down to her car, but as she goes, she shoots Naruto a text--warning him against overfeeding Argus treats.

His response is immediate and completely guilty.

She shakes her head, holding her phone to her heart for a moment. If she looks silly on the security camera, so be it. She’s in love. Scared...tense...but in love. She smiles a dreamy, glowy smile all the way to work.

Once at the office, however, the smile falls from her face and she is clipped efficiency. Shino meets her in her office, files in hand.

“Are those them?” she asks, reaching for them.

“Yes.” Shino nods. He watches her face as she reads through the first few pages. “Not pretty,” he says.

Hinata nods, distractedly, engrossed in the reports in her hand. “Thank you for this,” she says, quietly.

Shino shrugs. “Is that going to be enough?”

Hinata takes a breath, closing the file. “I don’t know,” she answers. There’s a part of her that feels guilty as she picks up the phone to dial, but it’s Naruto’s future at stake...so she swallows the guilt.

“Hello?”

Her breath leaves her in a shaky exhale. “Neji, it’s me. I need your help.”

Chapter Text

“When you’re backed against the wall, break the goddamn thing down.”


Hinata spends most of her morning on the phone. First, with Neji-- diffusing his anger and concern--as she explains why she needs his help. She has the list of accusers. Neji had police and FBI connections. She needs to know exactly who they were up against and how hard the fight was going to be. Neji could provide some of those answers with a few string pulls.

Then she called Shikamaru. What she was doing wasn’t illegal by any stretch, but the last thing she wanted was for Naruto’s case to be derailed by something she was doing. He wasn’t thrilled, but he didn’t object.  That counted for something, she considers, as she flips through work folders.

She multitasked like a champion, she had been told, so that was how she was keeping her mind off of her phone as she waited for Neji to call her back. Three hours later, he does. When she answers his voice is clipped. He isn’t happy.

“What, exactly, have you gotten yourself into?” He wants to know.

Hinata leans back in her chair, giving a slow exhale. “That bad?” she asks, voice quiet. She already knows, really, but still it stinks to have it confirmed.

On the other end, Neji sighs as well. “It’s not pretty,” he comments. “And I’m just scratching the surface. These people...Hinata...they’re dangerous.”

Tell me something I don’t know.

“Look, I need to make some more calls and gather some more information. Like I said, this goes deep, and I’m only just starting but I’ve already had some serious pushback on the inquiry, and that tells me enough.” He pauses. “I don’t like this.”

Despite his not being able to see her, Hinata nods her head. “I know,” she replies. It's not like she had a lot of options. She would have kept him out of it if she could have. He has his family and a new baby. the last thing he needs is her mess to clean up. Sometimes it feels like she's never changed at all. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t really need your help. I...I’m sorry.”

“It’s not helping you that I don’t like, Hinata. It’s the situation," he clarifies. "Look, I need you to give me everything that you’re not telling me. About Naruto. I can hear it in your voice. What is it you don’t want me to know?”

How did he do that? She wonders. Her entire life, Neji always managed to see through her. Sometimes...before he realized how cruel her father was, he would use that skill to belittle her. It was accepted, even encouraged, to make Hinata feel like shit growing up. But as he aged, Neji quickly went from aggressor to defender. Unfortunately his career, and his father’s death, put physical and emotional distance between them. The love was still there, however, no matter the infrequency of visits or calls.

Knowing that she owes him as much truth as she could give, Hinata relays the attack, the events leading up to it, and some of her own concerns. These people had connections--clearly. So why target Naruto? Was it really a simple matter of ego? After hearing Naruto talk in her kitchen, she knew that life on the street was more complicated than she could fathom, and people literally lived and died by reputation, so it wasn’t impossible for that to be the motivation.

“Honestly, yeah, it could be simply that--personal.” Neji agrees, giving some credence to Naruto's theory. “This railroad attempt is slapdash at best. Sad thing is, with most people, it probably would have been an easy job of it. Especially a case like Naruto--prior offender and a record without financial means for a decent attorney.”

It was terrifying to think of what could have happened that night.

But equally frightening was considering what could have happened if this had taken place during their break--when he truly had been on his own. Well, that wasn’t true...he had befriended  Iruka, and found his own job with Mr. Hatake and got in with Shikamaru. Perhaps it was time to stop thinking that Naruto needed her as much as she assumed he did...as much as she needed him .

“It’s a mess,” Neji tells her, drawing her back to their conversation. “But it’s a fixable mess.”

If it was anyone else saying it, Hinata would assume they words were false platitudes, to keep her from being upset, but Neji never lied to her. If he felt it was fixable, then it had to be. “Thanks, Neji. Tell Hanabi I said hello, and I’ll call her later.”

Taking some additional information--as well as Shikamaru’s number--Neji promises to call her soon. After talking to him, Hinata feels a little more assured that things were going to be okay. She's still stressed… still on edge, but things were going to work out.

Right?

Please.

After a couple of more semi-productive hours of work and she feels her stomach protest and she's ready to head back to her place for lunch. One to check and see if Argus needed out...and two, just to reassure herself with Naruto’s presence. She could only imagine his frustration at being cooped up. He had never done well with stationary before. She didn’t imagine that had changed overmuch these past months apart.

* * *

On the way across town, she makes a quick stop for some take away. Outside of her door, keys in hand, she listens. The place is quiet. Unnervingly so. “Babe?” Hinata calls out, pushing into the apartment with a bit more haste than was particularly necessary.

The kitchen and sitting area sit empty.

“In here,” Naruto’s voice calls out from her bedroom a moment before she can feel anxiety blossom in her chest. He meets her at the door before she can walk all the way into the room. She peers around, eyeing the slightly rumpled bedding.

“Taking a nap?” She guesses.

He shakes his head at her.  “No, I was just putting my stuff away. I forgot to do it earlier.” He smooths down his damp hair.

“Did you take another shower?” And not a bath. One where you are too pale, lips blue, eyes bloodshot, not breathing...not breathing...

“Yeah, I was sweaty.”

Hinata snaps back to attention. There weren’t a heck of a lot of ways to get sweaty in her small apartment, she considers, scrunching her nose, but that's a better answer than the alternative that just played in her mind. “What were you doing?” she ventures.

“Watching cops.” His smirk is amused.

She doesn't find it nearly as funny.

“I was just working out a little.” He laughingly amends, nudging her a little.

“Oh?”

He nods again before gently grabbing her around I the arm and turning her back towards her living room/kitchen.

“Hungry?” She asks him as they go, with her a little ahead. Her hall was narrow and Naruto was wide in shoulder.

“Starving," he replies enthusiastically.

She pauses at that, concern notching a brow. “You didn’t eat breakfast?”

“I did.” He reassures her, sitting down at her tiny table. “How was work?”

She doesn’t want to mention her chat with Neji. Naruto would only worry even more, and the less additional stress she added to his already full plate, the better. “It was fine,” she says, dismissively.

Naruto gives her a not-so-subtle-once-over.  “You look pretty fine.”

She scrunches her face up again, leaning back in her chair a little. He was such a dork sometimes, but it was adorable. “Eat your food,” she admonishes, without any heat.

“You’re trying to make me fat.” He smiles down at the open container.

Hinata rolls her eyes. He had never, ever , been fat. Even at his laziest and sloppiest. Naruto was built fit...he was just now fit fit.

“Maybe you like me better fat,” he continues, wagging a fry in her direction.

“You’ve never been fat.” Hinata finally huffs, throwing one of her own french fries at him.

“Don’t you like me better jacked?” he asks, flexing.

“I always like you.” She dismisses, despite her gaze lingering on the way his tee shirt tightens. Because she had and would. Always .

He tilts his head, considering. “But you want me to go up a weight class.”

It wasn’t a question. She had made her feelings on that subject pretty clear.

“Which class you want me in?” He asks, biting into the fry.

She doesn't answer right away. Instead, she squirts some ketchup down, swirling it in a loop. She’d already told him before. In fact, it had caused a little row between him and Jiraiya. Then again...they argued a lot. It was really odd, though, that Jiraiya hadn’t even bothered to collect the keys from Naruto, much less check on him after the arrest.The gym was open--Hinata had driven by, but hadn’t gone in. She was sure he must have heard about it by now...

“Alright. Fine. What do you want my exact fight weight to be?” Naruto’s voice pulls her from her wandering thoughts. She's been extra flaky today, she realizes. Her attention wandering a bit too frequently.

Hinata brushes her bangs back so that she can look him in the eye and focus on the here and now. “I don’t want it to be your fight weight. I want it to be your real weight.”

“Okay. Lay it on me.” He says.

“One ninety-nine.”

Naruto purses his lips, raising one eyebrow. “We’re just blowing past middleweight into light heavy, huh?”

She nods confidently. He could do it. Easily. She had seen him fight, she knew his power.

“There’s a lot of big mofos in cruiserweight too.” He shrugs one shoulder. “I don’t know if my kicks will measure up in Muay Thai.”

At this, she blatantly splutters, rolling her eyes.  “You know you have good kicks. Don’t fish for compliments.”

“I need your validation, Hinata!” he exclaims.

Too loud.

Argus, who had been chilling alongside Hinata, dips his head and pressed against her. He had improved so much on car rides and park visits, that sometimes it was difficult to remember he has issues. Just like with his missing leg--he was so adept, that it often went unnoticed. Hinata was a little concerned by the fact that a male voice yelling caused Argus an abnormal amount of trepidation. His previous owner had a new dog now, and Argus was hers but she couldn’t help speculate that maybe he wasn’t treated all that well before.

“Oops. Sorry buddy.” Naruto quickly grabs a handful of his fries and dropped them onto the floor next to him like a peace offering, ignoring the disapproving look Hinata shoots him.

Argus loved Naruto, so the offering is eagerly--and easily--accepted.

“So, one-ninety-nine ninety-nine? Hm.” Naruto sits back yupright, tapping his chin.

“Don’t get greedy.” Hinata says as she pets Argus’s head, re-tucked onto her lap. Fries made him happy, but nothing so much as ear scritches.

“That’s like almost thirty pounds I have to gain.”

Hinata scoffs playfully. “Don’t pretend you’re still one seventy. You weren’t even really one seventy on fight night. You would’ve drank a glass of water that day and been over the limit.”

“Wrestlers do it all the time.” He reminds her. Not that she needed reminding. She knows.

She smiles, because it gives her an opening. “Ah, but you won’t have to at light-heavy.”

“Yeah, who am I kidding. I’m liable to go over one ninety-nine if I don’t watch it.” He smiles back, shoving more fries in his mouth.

“Not likely.” Hinata promises.

“You don’t have a scale.” Naruto mentiones, offhand. “So it’s like roulette. We’ll just chance it.”

Hinata’s smile goes stiff against her teeth. She can feel it, even as she tries to ignore it. She can still recall each and every time her father marched her up to the scale, pushing her on it. Calling her fat. Calling her a chubster. She can almost feel the tight strangulation of her guts as she skipped meals for days just so the next time he weighed her she wasn’t over.

She tries to push the memories down, and clears her throat, fighting the urge to twist her bracelet. “I don’t think scales are healthy.”

“It’s not like you need one, you’re hot as fuck.”

“Look at yourself. Look in the mirror. Stop crying! Look at yourself! See how weak you are? Do you want to be ugly and weak your whole life? How will you ever amount to anything if all you do is cry and eat? You need to have discipline, Hinata. You can’t be soft. You need to be stronger than this!”

She sort of understood now--why her father was the way he had been. It didn’t make it any easier to think about, though. Didn’t make those insecurities go away. Didn’t hurt any less.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, hello? I’m hitting on you.” Naruto sing-songed, catching her attention once more.

She looks up, blinking. “I heard you," she replies, distracted. "You don’t need to be so rude.”

He tilts his head, blue eyes alight with mischief. “Well you ain’t blushing enough. What else do I got to say?”

“Nothing!” She curls her nose, unable to pinch back a smile. She's helpless against his affable humor. “Be quiet and eat your food.”

He chuckles, but dutifully eats another fry. “Yes, Ma’am.”

Lunch turns out to be a nice diversion, even though they both knew they were pretending. Real life loomed just around the corner, but it was easier to ignore when she was with Naruto. He made her heart lighter and the weight of her day was temporarily lifted.  

After they ate, she cleared the table, and made her way to the door, making sure to pet Argus on the belly before leaving. “I’m taking the treats with me.” She informs them. The bag was less than half full and it was practically new. She eyeballs them both.

Both whine in complaint.

“Be good.” She giggles, waving.

“Me or Argus?” Naruto asks, leaning against her counter.

She smiles from the front door and simply says, “Yes.” And then she's outside. On her way across the parking lot, her phone rings. Glancing down she sees Ino’s smiling face.

“Hey,” she answers.

“Hey.” Ino chirps. “Just checking in. Any new developments?”

Hinata shakes her head, sliding into her driver's seat. “Not yet, but I called Neji.”

“Really? You think that he can do anything? He’s kind of across the country.”

“I know, but he has resources. I don’t know, Ino. I just want to help.” Hinata sighs, rubbing her forehead.

“I know you do, babe.” Ino soothes. “And you are. He’s not in jail, he’s with you. It’s going to be okay.”

“You think?”

“Oh, darling, I know. ” Ino laugs in that breathy, assured way of hers. It's a confident laugh that Hinat had envied their entire friendship. Not at all like Hinata's own soft giggle. “The reason I’m calling though is that I am going to be out of town for a few days. Sai has an exhibit in Philadelphia. We should be home by Saturday, but if you need me, you call. I mean it.”

Hinata can't help but feel a bit deflated at that, but still, she knows that Ino had her own life to live and that she had already given up more than her fair share of free time over the past year to help Hinata with her issues. “I will. Love you, Ino.”

“Same.”

Hanging up, Hinata tosses her phone into her passenger seat, before reaching up to adjust her mirror. As she does she catches sight of a man. He's tall, dressed in dark clothes, and what looked like a dark trench coat, walking past the parking entrance. He pauses, turning towards the cars, and for some unsettling reason she feels that he's looking right at her. She squints her eyes, trying to  see his face. She can make out some features, but not many, and what she does see is unfamiliar. She doesn’t recognize him. After another moment, he continues walking, shoving his hands in his pockets and rounding the corner.

Hinata stares into the mirror for a few more seconds before prying her gaze away and shaking herself, pushing the chills down. It's just some guy out for a walk. So what if she didn’t recognize him? She didn’t know everyone in the area. She was just being paranoid.

Right?

 

Chapter Text

“Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



They fell into an unspoken routine rather quickly.

Naruto woke up at the same time Hinata did now--which was different and nice. She enjoyed their morning time together. He usually woke her with a kiss (or several) before making his way to the kitchen to start her coffee while she took Argus out and got ready for her day. If things worked out, sometimes she had time for a little breakfast with Naruto. Other times, she was cramming a muffin in her face and jogging to her car. It all depended on how much she got accomplished during the day.

She used a bulk of her actual ‘work day’ running down leads and gathering info via conference call with Neji and Shikamaru. Shino was a life saver, taking as much off her work plate as he could, but she still had a substantial pile of ‘Hinata Only’ projects that she usually ended up bringing home, because she used up her day on Naruto’s case.

Not that it could be helped. It’s not like she could make phone calls and discuss the new information Neji was uncovering in front of Naruto. One, it would stress him out about his case… and two--he would worry about her. Especially after the other morning.

The man in the trench coat was around again.

He never spoke.

Never lingered.

But he knew she was aware of him.

She wanted to chalk it up to paranoia or her overactive imagination, but then she got the letter.

It had been with her usual work mail, but without any outside postage. Inside, a simple sentence: ‘You know what they say about curiosity and cats.’ She had immediately dropped the letter and called Neji.

At first, she just wanted someone to tell her that she was overreacting. Instead, he did the opposite. “It’s a threat,” Neji stated, voice tight. “Hinata, we already know these people are suspected of shake-downs, gambling rackets, and drug running. Violence is clearly not out of the question for them--you’ve witnessed it yourself. Hand this over to the authorities and back away. Let them handle it.”

“Yes, but if they sent this, then, maybe we’re on to something? Maybe they’re scared.”

“Hinata,” Neji had sighed. “People like them--they don’t get scared.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” she countered. “Naruto shook them up pretty bad. For them to come at him this hard.”

“Maybe.” He conceded. “But you’re not Naruto.”

No, she wasn’t. She was Hinata. And if there was one thing that was an absolute truth about her, it was that for Naruto, she’d do anything . Even if that meant standing between him and some really messed up gang of...degenerates. Yeah. Degenerates.

Good word.

She refused to let them shake her resolve.

A day later, another note arrived. This one at her car. On the driver’s seat.

She knew she had locked the doors. She always did.

That means they broke in to leave a note and a picture. It was of her getting the newspaper at a nearby stand. Shikamaru was in the shadows, sipping coffee and looking at the sky. It was taken that morning.

She crumpled the note and looked around the parking garage. She saw no one, but still shouted out: “You don’t scare me!” If her voice was shaking, she pretended not to notice.

She purchased extra pepper spray and tied her hair up tighter. She made sure to wear flats and loose pants. If she needed to defend herself--she would. If they were coming after her, that meant that she was rattling the right cages.

A part of her wanted to let Naruto in on everything; especially after Shikamaru shared the notes and information Neji gathered with the DA. The charges against Naruto could definitely be dropped...except now...the DA had his sights on a larger catch.

He wanted the people that were doing this. He suspected them of being involved in several other crimes. Suspected connections that ran deep into law enforcement and government. For whatever reason, Naruto had their attention now--and he wanted to use that. Use Naruto’s case as a diversion and a lure. So...they couldn’t officially  drop the charges yet. Had to make it all look legit.

Shikamaru was incredibly reluctant to get involved in a sting operation, but he could also see the merits in getting as many of the group off the street, plus he was smart enough to get it in writing that Naruto’s case was dismissed, that way if things went sideways--Naruto would be in the clear. All they had to do was keep him safe and out of sight. At least until they caught the people trying to wreck his life. Neji was using as many connections as he could, but he was getting a surprising amount of resistance. That didn’t really bode well for them, to be honest, but Hinata couldn’t focus on that.

She had to focus on Naruto, and making sure that he stayed well out of harm’s way. If that meant keeping him out of the loop for now--that’s what she’d do. She wouldn’t lie to him-- couldn’t --but it’s not like he’d suspect her of covertly trying to take down a street gang with nothing more than a lazy lawyer and a former FBI agent…

Although, keeping it from him was harder than she thought it would be. He could tell something was off with her. He didn’t push. Instead, he would insert little jokes, casual touches, soft kisses. He gave her space and affection as needed and her heart bloomed inside her chest and she knew without a doubt that she would go to the mattresses for him.

That wasn’t to say she wasn’t unnerved, because she absolutely was. She had a hard time sleeping at night. Her anxiety was spiking. Everytime she went to her car, or outside, or even in an elevator, her pulse raced and her fingers tingled. She felt constantly on edge.

This was something else that she knew Naruto could sense.

He tried, so hard to put her at ease. It worked best when they were in bed, and he was close, and she could wrap herself in his heat and size and him . Like tonight.

Hinata sighs as Naruto kisses down her chin, his lips warm and lingering. Until he abruptly pulls away. “I can’t do this.”

Hinata can feel her pulse kick up, her eyes snapping open. What was wrong? Did he not want her anymore? Had she somehow messed up without realizing it?  She swallows. “What?”

Naruto jerks his head a bit. “Argus is just staring at me. I can’t maul his mother in front of him.”

Oh. Thank God. “He’s a dog, Naruto.”

“He’s smart. He knows. He’s watching,” he insists.

Hinata glances towards the foot of the bed where Argus is laying, ears perked. He looks aware, but not all that interested in the two humans rolling around. “He doesn’t know anything,” she mutters, reaching for his tee, trying to pull him back down.

Naruto shakes his head, resistant. “Take him out. I can’t work under these conditions.”

“Work?” Hinata feels her brows quirk. Did he just call making love to her work?!

“Perform.” He corrects with an adorable smile. “C’mon Hina; no kid wants to know someone’s banging their mom.”

The way he says it has her cheeks flaring to life. Not to mention the idea that one day they may actually have kids that could be embarrassed by what was about to happen if Naruto ever stopped dallying. “Stop putting human constructs on him.,” she scolds with a puff of breath.

“Maybe he can call me daddy.” Naruto smirks down at her.

“Oh my god.” She huffs, letting go of Naruto’s shirt to cover her face.

“Maybe I’ll make you call me daddy.”

Hinata recoils internally at the very idea of it. She knows she has ‘daddy’ issues, so that is definitely not a kink she needs to explore. “Stop. That’s so gross.”

Her reaction prompts a belly laugh from the love of her life. “Gross? Some people are really into that.”

“Ew, Naruto, stop.” She uncovers her bright red face only to reach up and pinch him.

The action only fuels him further. “Come on. You don’t know if you like it until you try it.” He lowers his voice, eyes blazing blue in the shadows.

She can’t take that look and this situation, so she rolls over onto her stomach, pressing her face into the pillow to stifle her mortified groaning.

“I’m just kidding, I’m sorry.” He leans in close,  brushing some hair away from the edge of her face, kissing her cheek next to her ear.

“You’re not sorry.” Hinata calls his bluff immediately, glaring at him from the corner of one eye.

“A little bit.” Naruto argues, clearly not .

“Not even.”

“You just get so cute when your like that.” Naruto smiles wider, kissing her nose.

“I’m never going to call you that.” Hinata vows, dropping her hands from her face to turn more fully towards him, lured by his gentle kisses.

Naruto snaps his fingers in mock disappointment.

“I’m serious,” she insists. “I don’t know how people are into that. Like, that’s what our kids are going to call you. It’s weird.”

Beside her, he swallows a bit, shifting his weight. “I dunno, what if they call me something weird, like Papa? Or what if we’re just like real chill and they call me Naruto. Like, ‘hey, what’s up Naruto?’”

"Now you’re being weird.”

Naruto leans away again, face almost comical in trying to pass for nonchalant. “Psssht. What? Me. I’m being weird?”

Very.

“I am not being weird. You’re being weird,” he continues--flustered.

She watches him with her head tilted, lips pushing together. What was up with him?

“What? I’m just saying like--”

“Do you not want kids?” Hinata asks suddenly, pushing against his chest. She needs a little room to sit up--to breathe--and maybe have her future crumble a bit. She stares into his face, open and concerned. She thought that...maybe. One day. Yes. kids were a yes, for her.

“I uh, I don’t not, not want them.” His shrug is helpless and a little unsure.

“Naruto.”

“I don’t know,” he breathes out, lifting a hand in a vague gesture. “ I mean sure, objectively , they’d be like kinda cool. Like, but...I...” he lets his voice fade, eyes earnest on hers.

“But, what?” She asks, leaning forward. She doesn’t want to pressure him. She just wants to understand.

“I don’t know. It’s just… like… once you have them, you can’t unhave them.” When she doesn’t respond, he clears his throat. “Like, what if it doesn’t work out? Or I’m not good at it.”

What doesn’t work out? Them? “Doesn’t work out between you and me?” She wants som clarification.

“No. No. Not that. That’s not going to happen. Don’t say that.” Naruto’s expression shifted, mouth edging down into a frown. He shakes his head at her.

“Okay,” she nods. That was a relief. “Then what are you worried about?” She asks, voice gentle, coaxing.

“What if I’m a shit at it? A shit dad. I never had a good one. So, like, what’s the likelihood that I’ll be a good one? Ya’know?”

Hinata feels that in her gut. It’s painful, but also a little infuriating. “I never had a good dad.” She tells him, voice sharper than she means it to be. “My mother died when I was little. So I never really had that either. Do you think I can’t be a good mother?” It’s a fear of hers that she’s working on suppressing, so it matters to her, what Naruto thinks. She hasn’t told him about the postpartum or her mother’s suicide. There’s just not been the right moment to unload that amount of baggage, but she knows that when she does, he will love her still. Will believe in her still. She knows, because that’s how she feels about him.

“No! What? No, not at all.” Naruto snatches her hand quickly. “You’d be the best mom ever . Are you kidding me?”

“So why couldn’t you be a good father?” she counters. “You were a child. You can remember what it feels like. You can remember what you needed.” She squeezes his hand back in both comfort and reassurance. “You can be what you needed for our children. I know you can. And I think, because you’re worried about failing, that’s precisely the reason that you won’t. You care so much. I know it might make you nervous, but I know that you would do your absolute best.”

Naruto stares at her for long, silent moments. She doesn’t press, but waits. Waits as his eyes survey her expression--every line of her--and she sees them darken a bit with uncertainty. “What if I fuck it up?” Naruto asks her quickly, quietly, with his voice hoarse. “Cause, you know I fuck stuff up, sometimes. Even when I don’t mean to. Ya’know. Sometimes it just happens.”

“Baby,” Hinata pushes to her knees, moving to scoot right into Naruto’s lap. She slides her thighs over his, securing herself flush. She makes sure to look him dead in the eyes as she speaks. “That’s life. You don’t think I ever ruined anything?”

His answer is immediate. “No.”

“Are you joking?” She’s incredulous.

“No! I’m being serious.”

“How many times have we gone out and immediately had to leave because it was too loud or too crowded?” She can’t even count the number of times. It was a lot to say the least.

He quickly shakes his head. “That doesn’t matter.”

She tips hers forward. “How many times have you wanted to do something but cancelled because you knew I’d be too uncomfortable?”

“That’s not the same.”

“My anxiety has stopped us from doing lots of things. Has held us back from a lot.” She points out.

“That doesn’t matter to me!” Naruto promises her vehemently. “None of that stuff matters to me. I don’t care if there’s stuff you don’t want to do because you have anxiety or whatever. I still love you. You’re still amazing and great and-”

She smiles, softly, and with certainty. “Now, why can’t you see that I feel the same way about you?”

He goes still, breath catching. “What?”

She presses her advantage. “You can love me, even though my anxiety affects our life. Our relationship-”

“It doesn’t,” he interrupts.

She smiles again, shaking her head. “It does. But you love me anyways. You think I’d be a great mother anyways. How could you not possibly see that I feel the same way about you?”

“You,” Naruto licks his lips, searching her face. “You think that about me?”

“Of course I do.

He nods his head slowly, accepting her words.

“Don’t you still want to marry me. And have a house in Jersey. Two kids.” Her voice is whisper soft and hopeful. She leans closer.

“Don’t forget the minivan.”

Leaning forward, she kisses his cheek. "I won't" She parts her lips and does it again. Slow. She takes the time to really savor the feel of his skin on her lips, the taste of him. She trails over his cheek bone, down his jaw, onto his neck. She is delighted when she feels him shiver against her, his breath quickening.

“Having kids is a really big step.” She whispers into his ear, just before tracing the shell of it with her tongue.

Naruto is nodding, but she’s not sure he even realizes it. She can feel him growing hard beneath her and she sighs, tugging at his lobe with her teeth. They weren’t ready for kids now. They both knew it. Even so...“Practice makes perfect,” she murmurs, following his racing pulse.

“Hold on.” Naruto pulls back again, earning a frown and a soft groan from her. “Just one thing, real quick,” he insists, nearly tumbling off the bed.

He turns around and opens the door as fast as possible.

“What! Where are you going?” Hinata slants him a disbelieving look.

“Argus,” Naruto ignores her, calling out for their companion. “Lay down boy.” He points over to the dog bed that sits in the hall because it’s never used.

Naruto follows him out, leaving Hinata staring after them. She hears the murmur of Naruto’s voice before the quick thump of his bare feet on the floor. Then her bedroom door swings open and shut and Naruto is suddenly there pressing her back against the mattress, his mouth tight and hot on hers.

“Welcome back,” she laughs, breathlessly.

“Where’d we leave off?”

“Honestly?” she murmurs, hitching her leg up against his hip. “I say we jump ahead a few moves.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, hands already on the strings of her pajama bottoms. “Let’s.”

Chapter Text

The first time Hinata invites Naruto to live with her, it’s because he really doesn’t have anywhere else to go--and she is afraid that if he leaves her sight, she won’t ever see him again.

She asks because she needs the reassurance.

She asks because she is afraid.

It’s a terrible, terrible reason to want someone to live with you--being afraid that they might vanish if they don’t...or worse. To want them close out of fear, not out of love.

She knows when the time comes for that step again--this time--it will be different.

 It already is.



“What should I do about my apartment?” 

The question catches Hinata off guard--which is unusual, because lately she’s been feeling particularly ‘guarded’ almost twenty-four hours a day. Still, she wasn’t actually expecting a question. They’d been sitting in relative, comfortable silence. She looks up from her salad and blinks a few times, realigning her thoughts to a new direction--away from case files and missing persons, and the fact that every lead they had was being stonewalled...

“Okay,” she says, shifting in her seat, giving him her full attention. “How much money do you have left? Do you have enough for next month?” She asks quietly.

Across from her he swallows, angling his head away from her. “No. I would’ve. If I had been working.” He defends before she can say anything. 

Hinata nods, tucking her hair behind her ear before clasping her fingers together. She lets go, then clasps them again, before letting go to just twist her bracelet. She’s tempted to offer to loan him the money for the rent, but at the same time...she doesn’t really want that either. She’s just not sure if he wants to take the next step yet. The talk of kids the other night seemed to spook him.

She decides on a different approach.“What happened to your savings?”

Naruto glances pointedly at her ring finger.

Her eyes followed his and she feels warm and light the moment her gaze finds her dainty ring. She nods, acknowledging him and how hard he must have worked for that money. “Okay.” She breathes again. It’s now or never, really. “Well, I guess we could sublet it. Or have someone take over the lease,” she suggests.

Naruto shifts in his seat, reaching back to rub his nape. He looks at her, uncertainly. “Um, are you sure?”

She evens her lips out, watching him. Not answering. Because yes, she is. She wants this for them. Not because she’s afraid he can’t make it without her, but because she knows he can , but she wants him to choose her anyway. 

But it has to be his choice. 

“Are you sure?” he asks her. 

“It’s okay. It makes sense, for us to move in together. We’re engaged now. It seems like a normal transition,” she reasons. She doesn’t want to pressure him. She reaches over to place her hand on his. Whatever he decides, she will understand. “We can find a way for you to keep it, if you’d rather, you know, not…?”

He gives a subtle shake of his head, but still looks dubious. “You’re sure?” He repeats.

She nods. “Yes. I’ll call the landlord tomorrow. I’ll need to go take some pictures of it, put it online.” She lets go of his hand to grab her phone.She will need some help gathering the rest of Naruto’s things, plus she will have to stop by Iruka’s and give him their new address. 

“Do you need me to do anything? Or sign anything or something?” Naruto hedges, eyeing her as she types. 

She shakes her head no. This was almost trivial, compared to what she did for work--handling complex contracts. Switching out of a lease was easy enough to handle--and a nice distraction from her other endeavors as well. “I’m still on the lease.”

Naruto nods, distractedly, and Hinata can’t help but wonder if he really wants to make the switch. She watches him for a few more moments, before he gets up and kisses her cheek. “I’m gonna shower. Have a nice rest of your day.”

Hinata watches him walk down the hall and listens for the bathroom door to close. She knows he is frustrated. She wishes she could put his mind at ease, but there’s nothing that she can say. Pieces and people were being put into motion, and for now...all she could do was try and keep him safe. She just hoped that when it was all said and done, he would still want to be there. With her.

Chapter Text

Friendship, Hinata had come to learn, didn’t always mean liking the choices your friend made.

Friendship meant love and patience and sometimes harsh words and ‘truth bombs” as Hanabi called them.

Hinata could count on her one hand the amount of people that she considered friend and Kiba was right there at the index. She loved him, and he her, and no one was ever going to change that.

No matter what.



Moving Naruto back into her apartment was more work than she could handle on her own, but luckily for her she had a best friend that could be bribed with pizza and beer. She could tell that Kiba was less than thrilled with the idea when she called, but he came anyway.

Because he always did when she needed him.

Standing in the middle of her and Naruto’s old apartment, boxes all around them he had turned to her and looked her dead in the eye. “Are you sure about this?” he had asked.

She had nodded. “I’m sure.”

His exhale told her that he had more to say on the matter, but he was biting his tongue. She didn’t want to assume his words, so she decided that she would wait until he was ready to talk. Besides, they had much lugging to do and their energy would be better served hefting boxes than bickering, so she had bumped his shoulder with hers and nudged him into motion.

Nearly four hours and two trips later, they were carting the last of Naruto’s belongings from his truck into her apartment. Kiba is ahead of her, awkwardly trudging forward with Naruto’s standing bag through her door--shifting awkwardly beneath its weight. 

“You know, you could’ve taken the sand out of the bottom.” She hears Naruto say.

There’s a thumping sound as the base hits her floor and she winces. Kiba is tired--probably as hungry as she is--and has been biting his tongue all morning. She had seen his furtive glances, heard his sharp inhales like he was going to speak, only for him to shake his head and gather another load. Kiba’s patience is frayed and she understands that, but knows that Naruto doesn’t...or if he does he doesn’t care. 

With Kiba and Naruto’s relationship it was hard to really say. They had both antagonized one another endlessly over the years. Their personalities were similarly ‘in your face’. “Alphas” as Kiba’s mother called them with an eye roll. Competitive and too stupid to control themselves. And yet, when Naruto had crashed in college it was Kiba that readied her apartment for him while she sat in the hospital, and when Sasuke got too mouthy at parties it had almost always been Kiba to tell him to “shut the fuck up”. Honestly, Hinata reflected, the only real strain in their adversarial camaraderie seemed to be her.  

Kiba was overprotective and Naruto...well, she hadn’t always made the best choices when it came to Naruto.

Just inside her door, she can hear Kiba bite back. “Yeah, you fucking try hauling all this shit around you lazy ass.”

“Just trying to help.”

Kiba’s voice rose an octave. “Help my fuckin’-”

“Okay,” Hinata pushes her way through, stepping in the kitchen in hopes to defuse the explosion she senses building. She shifts the box in her hands, voice tight. 

Immediately Naruto lets his argument drop and is motioning for the box. “Babe, here.” 

“Thank you.” She breathes, handing it over. She glances around the little fortress of boxes, wiping her hands on her leggings. There wasn’t much room left, but there wasn’t much more to carry. She takes a few deep breaths, slightly icking at her shirt sticking to her back. She glances over at Kiba, who is still glaring at Naruto. She waits until he catches her eye. When he does, she suggests, “There’s a couple more boxes, so-”

“Yeah, okay. Naruto,why don’t you wait here,” Kiba responds, voice dripping with sarcastic sweetness.

She shakes her head as he strides out the door, feeling even more tired than just a few seconds ago. She turns towards Naruto with a soft sigh. “I’m sorry. About him.”

Naruto shrugs. It’s not like this is new for them--this bickering. Still, she wishes that things were smoother. Naruto’s withdrawn--has been since she started moving him in and she’s still wondering if this is a decision he’s really on board with, or if she’s overstepped and he feels trapped. And Kiba...well, his anger is currently hard to place. She knows it’s directed at Naruto, but she’s not entirely sure why. 

Hinata opts to stop overthinking things. With a quick readjustment of her sweaty bangs, she nods again. “Okay, I’ll be right back then.”

“How many ratty shirts do you need?” Kiba grumbled immediately upon entering back into the apartment, dropping the boxes onto the kitchen floor. “Have you gotten rid of anything since college?” Kiba nudges the box with a striped hoodie on top with his foot. “You had that when we were freshmen.”

Naruto shrugs, but Hinata catches the shift in his breathing, the subtle tension around his mouth. 

“It’s not a big deal.” She defends, setting down her own box on the loveseat.

“Not a big deal? Where are you even going to put it?” Kiba retorts, pointedly looking around her small space.

“The pizza should be here any minute.” Hinata replies instead, narrowing her eyes in her own pointed look. Kiba chuffs and shrugs, looking away from her. He takes a seat at her table and she decides to join him, hoping to garner some reason for his overt hostility. It’s more than usual, and it’s worrisome. 

Across from them Naruto makes himself busy, taking the box off the loveseat and replacing it with himself so that he can start sorting through his stuff. Hinata’s brows furrow a bit at the rigidity of his posture. He was so tense. Part of her wanted to move behind him and run the tension from his shoulders, but she also wanted to try and figure out what was bothering Kiba. 

“So when’s your court date?” Kiba shifts his posture, one elbow on the table, angled away from her prying eyes. 

“Soon.” Naruto responds, voice flat. 

Hinata presses her lips together. There isn’t going to be a court date. She knows this...she wishes she could tell him, but she can’t. The case against Naruto had to look real, Shikamaru told her. Like they were going to go after Naruto hard. 

She hated that she couldn’t put his mind at ease. Hated it so much that she couldn’t sleep most nights. Not to mention that she was still being followed. She was trying not to worry about it too much, but it was unnerving. She kept pepper spray in her bag, a baton in her dashboard, and she sometimes skipped lunch at home to go work with Sensei and Lee at Eight Gates. If Naruto thought she had a lunch meeting, or was working, she didn’t correct him.

As long as she didn’t outright lie to him, she could almost justify it all in her mind.

Almost. 

She catches Naruto’s glance towards her and tries to offer a reassuring smile. He gives a halfhearted twist of his lips in response, but goes back to his box.

Hinata sighs, turning back to Kiba. He avoids her gaze for a few moments before he gives up and looks at her. “What?” he whispers.

She could go with: “Why are you being an ass?” but she knows he’s not doing it intentionally, so she opts for: “Are you okay?”

He blinks at her. “I’m not the one that has to take care of all this,” he deflects.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” she counters, voice quiet.

He shrugs, defensive. “Then I don’t know what you mean.”

“Kiba--”

A knock at the door interrupts the conversation. Naruto, even though he’s furthest from the door, stands up first, dropping down the box. “I’ll get it,” he offers quickly.

“Why? You didn’t pay for it.” Kiba grumbles, not so under his breath.

Hinata casts him a reproachful glance before she pushes to her feet. As she rises, she places her hand on his arm and gives a soft squeeze. Kiba blinks and clears his throat, turning his attention to Argus and Akamaru in the corner, curled together.

Hinata moves behind Naruto at the door, eager to see his reaction to who she knows is on the other side. It doesn’t disappoint. Naruto opens the door and nearly screams like a middle school girl. “Ayame!”

Hinata has to grab his arm before he steps out the door. Yes, the DA has dropped the charges, but that’s not official or public knowledge, and the police would respond accordingly, and she doesn’t think she can handle seeing Naruto in cuffs again. “Naruto!” she warns.

He dutifully steps back, giving Ayame enough room to enter. He takes the boxes from her and quickly sets them on the counter so that he can wrap Ayame in a hug. 

“I missed you too.” She snorts with a laugh.

Hinata is amused and a little sad as Naruto quickly launched into snappy, rapid fire questions, one right after the other, about Teuchi, the restaurant, his replacement.

“Poor kid is awful.” Ayame replies with a hearty eye roll. “Dad can’t wait for you to come back.”

He can’t wait to go back, Hinata knows. He cared for Teuchi and Ayame like family and she wants that for him. For him to be surrounded by love all of the time. 

Naruto peers at her and she is absolutely delighted to see some of that familiar sparkle back in his eyes. They aren’t flat and listless, but blue (so blue) and happy . She wants to give him that feeling always. Always, always, always.

He smirks at her, casually wrapping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer into him. She smiles in return, wrapping her own arm around his back.

“I can’t wait either,” he says to Ayame. “Hinata misses my sweet tips.”

Behind them, Kiba snorts but that doesn’t stop Ayame and Hinata’s giggles.

Naruto inclines his head. Yeah, Kiba wishes that pet store tips even came close to my mad tip skills.”

“Getting tips isn’t a skill.” Kiba scoffs.

Naruto’s smile is slightly smug. It’s good to see him teasing, Hinata thinks, even if she hopes the two of them would stop bickering.

“Don’t know whatchya don’t have, huh?” Naruto eggs Kiba on. 

Ayame rolls her eyes at the banter before she turns to wave politely at Kiba, still seated at the table. “Hey, Kiba.”

Hinata watches, a little amused, as Kiba sits up a bit straighter. His gaze is definitely more focused and interested now. “Hey.”

“Ayame?” Hinata notices the pizzas on the counter.  “I think I only ordered two.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Hina.” Ayame waves her hand. “My dad threw in a cinnamon one for you.”

Hinata can feel her cheeks pinken. He smile widens a bit though. “Thank you so much. Here, give me the receipt so I can add a bigger tip for you guys.”

Instead of handing over the receipt, Ayame pulls back an inch. “No, receipts. It’s on the house. Dad says family eats free.”

Hinata’s gaze flickers to Naruto. She’s held against his side, so she’s pretty sure she’s the only one that notices the hitch in his breathing and the sheen of his eyes, but it makes something deep inside ache for him. 

“Aye, careful, if that’s the case, I’ll eat your poor dad right outta the store,” he jokes. Naruto defense maneuver numero uno. 

Ayame makes a sound like a raspberry. “Yeah right. I know that physique wasn’t built on pizza.”

“Wow, Ayame, you can't be checking me out right in front of my girl.” Naruto teases, his hold tightening a fraction on Hinata’s shoulders.

Ayame is completely unaffected by the teasing, but Hinata can’t help but do a quick side glance, checking out said physique. She blushes a bit more when Naruto catches her.

“You wish,” Ayame says, pulling their attention. “It’s good to see you, Hinata.” Leaning in, Ayame surprises her with a quick hug. Hinata’s not much for open displays of affection--aside from with Naruto--so it catches her off guard, but she quickly adjusts, squeezing back.

“You too,” she murmurs. 

“Get a haircut.” Ayame tells Naruto before making her way out. 

“Does it look that bad?” Naruto asks, looking at Hinata.

Kiba stands from the table, stepping towards the pizza at the counter. “Yes.”

Hinata pushes her lips out, contemplating. Slow, she reaches up and touches the hair near his ears.  “It reminds me of when I met you.” She thought he was the most beautiful person she’d ever seen--still does. Whisker marks and all. She gets lost in his blue eyes for a moment...she’s always so lost in him...

“You were a dork.” Kiba supplies, lifting a slice of pizza from the box and breaking the spell.

“Please! You didn’t think I was a dork when you were trying to come over to every party we had,” Naruto counters.

Kiba shakes his head, chewing his pizza, folding it over so as not to flop around. “If you still think it was me that wanted to come to your stupid parties, you’re dumber than I thought.”

Hinata snaps her head around, eyes narrowing. She can practically feel the gloating coming from Naruto now. 

“Did you wanna come to my parties?” He teases her, his raspy voice a little sing songy.

“They weren’t even yours. You just lived there.” 

They both ignore Kiba’s interjection. Hinata focuses on trying not to be humiliated by how pathetically she pursued him. While it’s not a secret, she still doesn’t necessarily like to revel in the fact that she was lovesick for so long before he ever even noticed her...and she still struggles with the doubt that he ever would have if he hadn’t...hadn’t…

She swallows against the swelling of her throat.

Best not to think about that.

“You don’t even like parties.” Naruto presses, following her to the pizza.

She opts to ignore him and shoves some cinnamon goodness in her mouth so as not to have to explain anything .

“So... is Ayame single?” Kiba asks, switching the subject.

Hinata lifts a brow at that, but doesn’t say anything--especially since her mouth is full. 

Naruto shrugs off the question, piling some Pizza on a plate and retaking his seat. “Dunno.”

Kiba reaches for another piece. “How long did you work for them?” 

“A long time.”

“You ever date her?”

“What?” Naruto glances over at Kiba. “Ayame? No, never.”

That’s not true. “Yes you did.” Hinata reminds him. It doesn’t sting anymore...not since he talked to her. Not since she understood.  

“Huh? No I didn’t. I’ve never dated - Oh my god! Are you kidding me?” Naruto stares at her incredulously. “I told you! I only asked her on a friend date, because I lied to you when I said I dated people all the time and I didn’t date anyone.”

“You lied and said you dated people all the time?” Kiba asks around a mouthful. “That’s pathetic.”

Naruto glances from Hinata to Kiba and back again and Hinata lets a little smirk slip out. Naruto shakes his head at her, amused by her teasing. 

“Is she single?” Kiba repeats his earlier query. 

 “She’s too nice for you though, nice try, slick.”

“I can be nice.” Kiba answers, his voice dipping suggestively.

“I thought you were seeing someone?” Hinata interjects. Granted, Kiba dated more frequently than many of her friends, but he had been seeing the same woman for a little while, last she knew. 

Kiba shrugs, but Hinata caught the brief flare of sadness on his expression. “Didn’t work out,” he mutters.

“Oh.” Hinata lets out a breath. She didn’t know that and not knowing makes her feel like a shitty friend. She resumes her seat across from him. “You okay?”

He shrugs again. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “I just...wanted to check.”

“All good. No worries here.” He flashes her a toothy grin and it’s so fake that it hurts.

“Kiba…”

“Oi, Naruto, you gonna eat this last slice?” Kiba asks, cutting her off.

On the loveseat, Naruto doesn’t respond. Which causes both Hinata and Kiba to sit up a bit straighter. 

“Naruto?” Hinata repeats his name a few times.

There’s a moment, and then, “What?”

“You were veggin’ out.” Kiba informs him.

Naruto glances back down at the box at his feet. “Have you heard of the Konmari method?”

“What?” Kiba frowns, looking at Hinata for clarification. She shrugs. That’s a pretty random question for her too.

“Marie Kondo? The ‘this sparks joy’ lady. Know what I’m talking about? She’s got a special folding method.” Naruto tries to demonstrate a fold on one of his shirts.

Kiba shakes his head, clearly confused. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“She helps people get rid of clothes. Other stuff too. But I don’t really have a lot of other stuff.”

“Yeah that pile of junk over there says otherwise.” Kiba nods towards his workout equipment.

“Naruto needs that for training.” Hinata points out, pushing from the table to clear the counter. 

“Well, it only needs to be here for a little while I guess.” Kiba mutters.

That brings Hinata up short. She tilts her head, questioning. There’s something underneath all of Kiba’s comments and digs and she feels like it’s about to come to the surface. “Why a little while?”

Kiba turns away from Naruto to look back at her. “Well, like it’s one of two options, right? Like, he’s going away for a while or he can get his own place again.”

She shakes her head in the negative. “He’ll stay here. Until we can get a bigger place.”

Kiba pauses, looking Hinata over for a moment, weighing what he was going to say next. “Moving in together for real? That’s pretty permanent.”

“Getting married is pretty permanent, too.” Naruto supplies, offhand.

Everything stops. Or at least it feels that way to Hinata. Kiba stares at her, wide eyed and unblinking for several long seconds. He finally does blink--slowly--and swallows. “What?”

Hinata inhales slowly. She had planned on telling him--actually on telling everyone--once things had settled. She was even entertaining the idea of an engagement party to celebrate. Naruto would like that. Still, she could feel the hurt radiating off of Kiba as he stared her down, his gaze accusatory.

“What are you doing?” he asks, sharp and abrupt. Each syllable bitten out.

Hinata didn’t answer. Instead she met Kiba’s hot gaze with a level one of her own. To Kiba she had always been his frail ‘kid sister’ that couldn’t take care of herself, and needed him to fight her battles for her. He had need to be the shoulder to cry on, the support to take her to parties that made her uncomfortable, to be her protector, and he had filled that role so well, and she would love him forever for it. But things were different now. She was different now.

“I’m fucking serious, Hinata. What are you doing? Are you just pretending that all the shit that happened just doesn’t exist? Like that night didn’t happen--”

Oh.

Okay. 

Now, it was making sense.

“That was not Naruto’s fault.” Hinata cut him off. She hadn’t explained that night to Naruto, and she wasn’t about to hash it out now, but she knew better than anyone how a moment like that could scar. She understood Kiba’s pain, but she needed him to lay the blame for that on the right person.

Her.

Kiba nods, tossing his hands up. “Right, right. Because nothing is Naruto’s fault? Huh, Hinata?” He’s pushing for a fight. 

“You said that you respect my decisions. You told me that you knew we were going to get back together.” Hinata snaps back.

“Yeah, because I thought that you were going to be smart!” Kiba argues. “ You know, take your time, maybe think things through. I did not think you were going to just jump back into the same exact position that you were in before.”

“You’re being rude.” 

“You’re being stupid!”

From the love seat, Naruto stands up immediately.

Hinata’s eyes snap open wide, her hands up and placating. “Naruto…” She’s stepped between their fights enough times for her to be wary.

“Shit,” Kiba scoots his chair back, leaning away from him, and the impending fight.

Naruto for his part looks like he’s the one that took a hit. He gestures jerkily over his shoulder towards the bedroom. He leaves them quickly.

Hinata’s heart hurts as she watches him go. She turns back to Kiba and he’s staring down the hall as well. Eventually, he blinks, turning back towards her. “Kinda thought he was gonna hit me,” he says, rubbing his thighs.

She did too, truthfully.

Hinata sighs, rubbing her temples. “Kiba--what...what’s this really about?” She looks over at him.

He looks like he’s going to rebuff her again, but then Akamaru is at the table, nudging his head into Kiba’s stomach and Kiba lets out a long breath. “I...I’m scared,” he tells her.

Hinata nods, pulling the chair back and sitting. If he’s ready to talk, she’s ready to listen. “Of Naruto?”

Kiba scoffs. “Fuck no, not of him.” He lifts his eyes to her and they glint at her. “I’m scared for you...because of what being with him does to you.” He rubs Akamaru’s head. “It was always there, you know...that fear. You were so...obsessed. It was like all that matters is him and everyone comes after. Everyone...including you.”

She nods, because really, what’s to say to that? “I’m sorry.”

He nods in return. “I know that. I just...I can’t find you like that again.”

“You won’t.” She promises hastily.

He chuckles but it’s without humor. 

“Really,” she assures him, reaching out to take his hand. “Kiba, I promise. It’s different this time.”

He looks around her apartment, at the boxes. The reason Naruto is moving in isn’t exactly romantic. “Doesn’t look that different to me.”

Again, she has no argument to that. She simply knows what she feels. “I won’t try and convince you. I just...please don’t take your anger at me out on Naruto.”

Kiba frowns. “You’re so fucking special and smart and he ruins that, and you refuse to see it...and I can’t watch this again. I won’t.”

“If I’m the way I am, it’s not because of him, it’s because of me.

“Maybe,” he concedes, “but you’ve never seen Naruto for anything other than perfect, so I don’t know why I expect you to now.”

“He’s not perfect. I know that. None of us are. I’m not. Kiba, I’m not some fragile thing that he tarnishes, okay?”

“No. He just breaks you. Over and over again.”

“That’s not--”

“What? True? It fucking is, Hinata. And the worst part is that you know it.”

“We’re different now.”

“You keep saying that.”

“Because it’s true. I know that it may not seem like it, but look at me. I’m serious. Okay? What happened before wasn’t just him. I was as much to blame as he was. So...Yell at me. Get mad. But don’t...don’t push me away or pretend I’m some innocent, when we both know that I was the one who p-pushed. I was...I was the one that took the pills. Okay? If you need to be mad, that’s okay. But be mad at me.”

Kiba’s hand stills on Akamaru’s head and his gaze drops. “Yeah. Okay.”

Hinata breathes a bit, but then his gaze lifts and it is angry. Probably the angriest she’s ever seen him. “I do need to be mad,” he tells her. “At you, and that fucking hurts. You know?”

She nods, pressing her lips together. 

“I need some time. This new you? New Naruto? I don’t see it. I want to, but I don’t. Maybe I will when I’m done being mad, but right now--you’re right. I need to be mad.” He sniffs and wipes at his eyes. “I’m gonna go. Don’t...don’t call me again, okay? I need space.”

A small swell of panic and grief lodge in her throat. She’s had Kiba her whole life. “Kiba--”

He senses it and shakes his head. “Not forever. Fuck, never forever. I love you too much for that, but right now, Hinata, I need time.”

“Okay.” She swallows and nods. “Okay. Whatever you need.”

Slow, Kiba moves to his feet. At the door, he turns towards her. “I don’t hate him.”

“I know.”

“But I sure as shit don’t like him.”

She feels her lips twitch and her eyes sting. “I know that, too.”

He nods once and then is gone. It hurts her to know how much she hurt him--not just recently, but over the years. The least she can do is give him some time and maybe...maybe then things will work out. She can only hope. Hinata rests her forehead against the closed door for a minute before she feels composed enough to clean up her kitchen. She puts the leftovers in her fridge and some treats down for Argus before she makes her way down the hall.

When she pushes into her room Naruto is sprawled on the bed, music playing. “Duran Duran?” she questions, moving forward to climb on the bed alongside him.

Naruto shrugs, tense and wary. He’s waiting for the fallout, she knows, but the fight was between her and Kiba and that’s where it will stay.

“I thought you were a more of an Ozzy fan.” She scooches up higher. She wants to be close to him. Wants him to know that she's still there for him.

“All aboard. Ha. Ha. Ha. Haaa.” Naruto replies, half heartedly.

She smiles anyways. “I remember a lot of Guns n’ Roses. Scorpions. Bruce Springsteen. Kiss. Van Halen. Pink Floyd.”

Naruto wrinkles his nose. “I didn’t like Pink Floyd.”

“Another Brick In the Wall?” She remembers that being played on repeat at several parties.

Naruto rolls his eyes, smiling a little. It’s not much, but it tells her that he’s not lingering on the negatives. “That’s their only good song.”

The edges of Hinata’s lips twitch up and she breathes a little easier. “Oh, baby. None of those songs were good.” She tries to lighten the mood even more.

“Like your music was any better. Mr. Jones? The Dixie Chicks?” he teases right back.

“I didn’t listen to the Dixie Chicks.” 

“Cowboy, Take Me Away ! You’re gonna look in my face and tell me that you didn’t play Cowboy, Take Me Away on your CD player.” Naruto presses. “That 90’s trash. The Goo Goo Dolls?”

“You said you liked Iris .” Hinata pushes his shoulder, laughing.

Naruto acts like her push has more weight behind it than it did and rolls onto his back. He stares at the ceiling, putting a hand up dramatically. “And I don’t want the world to seeeee meeee! Cause I don’t think that they’d understand!”

Hinata pushes closer, shifting her head onto his shoulder, still laughing as she shushes him.

Naruto takes her shushing as admonishment and immediately looks for Argus. “Where’s Argus?” He shifts to sit up. 

Hinata moves so that she more fully over him, pushing him flat down, straddling his waist. Her face ducks down, kissing the side of his jaw. He tastes a little salty. She nips a bit. “I left him out there.”

“Oh?” She can hear the active attention in his voice now. His hand trails over her hip then to her backside, cupping. 

“Don’t worry,” she murmurs, tongue touching his pulse. “I gave him a treat.” 

Naruto hums approvingly, and Hinata takes that as a sign to continue. She shifts her weight, grinding down a bit, moaning when she feels him hardening between her thighs. “Want you,” she sighs, pressing again.

“You have me,” he groans, pulling her head down to kiss her. “Always.”

Chapter Text

When they first got together, Hinata would lay awake and watch Naruto sleep.

She would count the measured rise and fall of his chest.

She would listen to the steady drum of his heart.

Just to reassure herself that he was still there. Still fighting.

And he did.

He woke up every day to fight the same demons that tried to take him down and made him so tired.

Every day.

He fought.

So, while the long hours of night stretched before him and he was at his most vulnerable, she watched. She guarded.

She sometimes wondered if it made any difference at all. She liked to think it did. After a few weeks she noticed his breathing was deeper. His heart steadier.

She liked to think he knew that she was watching over him.

That she always would.



“What do you mean, a log?” Hinata asks, adjusting her blinds to prevent the morning light from slanting across her eyes. She’s tired from the night before. Her fight with Kiba had been emotionally draining, but her time with Naruto had worn her out in other--more pleasant--ways.

Thinking about it caused her face to ignite and her thoughts to skitter, so she was having a hard time following Neji’s conversation.

“I mean, a log. A record of accounts,” he repeats, sounding just this side of exasperated. It’s early for her, it’s predawn for him. “I want you to write down every incident that has occurred since Naruto’s arrest until now. Every time you spotted someone strange at your apartment, or at work, on the street, or grocery store--every time.”

Hinata took a breath. “I think that’s a little paranoid,” she says, quietly, tapping her desk. “I mean, there’s no way I can know everyone, so if I list all the people I don’t know--”

“That’s not what I told you to do, so stop being obtuse.” She hears him shift. “You know what to look for, Hinata. You took a defense class, plus you’re smart. If you question it, log it. Log the phone calls, the pictures, the notes, all of it. Email me your log every day.”

Hinata takes another breath. She’s just now starting to get her anxiousness under control and now she’s supposed to be actively looking for trouble?  Intentionally paranoid? It’s not like she’s been turning a blind eye to it, it’s just that she’s really rather not let it get to her. And if she’s trying to make a note of it...then, yeah...it’s going to get to her. She's already having difficulty sleeping. Plus she upped her anxiety medication's dosage. "Is that really necessary…?” She knows the answer, but she asks anyway.

“Hinata.” Neji sounds less ‘this side’ and more ‘definitely’ exasperated now. 

“I mean, it’s all just to scare me right? Into, I don’t know, into stopping. To stop trying to get Naruto released? It’s about him, not me.”

“Yes, it is,” Neji agrees readily. “And right now, with all the information we’ve gathered, all I can say is that Naruto managed to piss off the wrong people. Dangerous people, Hinata.” He waits a beat and she hears him sigh. “Are you sure you’ve told me everything? Is there anything that could have happened that you don’t know? That Naruto hasn’t told you.” Neji pauses for another moment, before he pushes. “Is there a chance this is drug related?”

“What?” Hinata sits up straighter. “No, Neji. No. Nothing like that. Naruto...he’s not like that, and besides, he’s clean. He’s been clean for a long time.”

“He wasn’t doped for his fight?”

Hinata inhales a sharp breath, simultaneously offended on Naruto’s behalf, and confused. “You think he cheated?”

“Did he?”

“No!”

“You know that for sure?” 

“Yes.”

“You were there?”

Hinata nods, her lips thinning. “Yes,” she says, voice tight. “I was at the fight.”

“In his locker room? At weigh in? The whole time? Were you with him when he showered or took a piss?”

“What, no...Neji, that’s just...no.” She exhales a steadying breath. “Neji, no. He wouldn’t. He didn’t !” 

“Calm down. I’m just covering every angle that I can think of. What about his coach?”

Hinata shifts in her seat. “What about him?”

“You think he may have helped Naruto along? Maybe without Naruto knowing?”

She swallows. Was it possible? Could Jiraiya be the reason for the whole mess? She didn’t want to believe that, but it wasn’t like he had even called to check on Naruto, and Shikamaru had tried several times to reach him at the gym, but was always told he was ‘unreachable’, so...maybe? 

Even if he was involved, that didn’t mean he had drugged Naruto. She had seen Naruto train. She knew his speed. He had won that fight fair and square. “I can’t give you anything more than the truth, and what I know. And I know Naruto. And, and I know...I know what Naruto looks like strung out, okay. He wasn’t.”It’s painful to recall that she does know what Naruto looks like high. What he looks like after a bender. What he sounds like. She knows him--at his worst and at his best. He wasn’t doped.

She tells Neji as much.

“All right,” he relents. “But it’s still not a bad idea to look into the coach.” Hinata can hear paper shuffling. Notes, most likely. “Didn’t you, uh, say that this Yahiko character brought up the coach? Something like: ‘ The old man ain’t around to protect you anymore’ .”

“I think so,” Hinata confirms. “I mean, I can’t be sure that’s who he was talking about, but it makes the most sense. But, I don’t know.” She bites her lip, feeling dejected. She feels like she’s being absolutely no help. Like they’re all still running in circles, chasing tails and dead-end leads. 

“Finding a motive would sure make this make a lot more sense.”

“I thought you said it could just be a grudge.”

“That was before I went digging. From what I’m gathering these people have been looked into by a number of agencies, and right now the DEA is sniffing after them, and yet they’ve managed to slip loose every time? Something isn’t adding up here, Hinata. They’re not a group of random thugs. They’re too organized.”

Her throat tightens. She runs her free hand over her desk-top, grounding herself to prevent a spike in her anxiety. “And they’re after Naruto.”

“Apparently.”

She feels a little like crying. Naruto, who’s only ever known struggle--who finally found a passion--only to have that yanked away from him and is now stuck in her tiny living room because fate loves to screw him over? It wasn’t fair. She just wants him to be happy. 

“Why?” she whispers, although she’s not expecting an actual answer.

“The coach is a good place to start pressing. I’ll make some calls. In the meantime, you--start that log. And stay safe.” There’s an edge to Neji’s voice. “You’re too close to this.”

“I will.” She pauses, considering. “Uhm, can you make an excuse? For Hanabi to stay with you. For a little longer? I just…I don’t want her involved.”

Neji gives her an affirmative answer before hanging up. Shikamaru is his next call, and they will make a plan. She’s supposed to sit tight and try to look like a worried girlfriend. 

Well, check.

She was.

Maybe not about Naruto going to jail, but worried even so. What were these people after?

Why was he a target?

Was it even about him ?

Grabbing her keys, she pushes to her feet. It’s early yet. Her first meeting isn’t for a couple of hours. She has time to run an errand. They need answers. Which means finding Jiraiya.

She has no idea where that perverted old toad has hidden himself, but she’s going to kick over as many rocks as she can to flush him out. ‘Unreachable’ her ass. She’d reach him all right and strangle him with his frayed grey hair. But not before he explained just what the hell he had gotten Naruto mixed up in.

Someone had to know where he was, right?

Chapter Text

per·se·ver·ance

/ˌpərsəˈvirəns/

noun

    persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.



“A genius of perseverance” is what Guy Sensei has called her on more than one occassion. She is more than ready to take on that role when it comes to Naruto and helping him. She refuses to give up. Even after she’s been given the runaround for two days trying to locate Naruto’s wayward coach.

“Look, it’s like I told you yesterday--he ain’t fuckin’ here. He’s out of town or something, I dunno. And no I don’t know when he’s coming back. I just work the desk.” The guy behind the desk gives her a leering once over. He looks out of place, she mentally notes. He looks too young to be sporting the grey hair he has, and she wonders if it’s dyed as opposed to natural. Either way, it’s slicked back and his tank top is clearly two sizes two small. He’s tall and has some weight to him, and muscle, but nothing like the toned and cut physique of many of the others at the gym had. Whoever he is, he’s not a gym rat. 

Undeterred by his hostility and lecherous eyeballing, Hinata pushes. “Yeah, well, this is his gym, right? So what happens in an emergency? How do you reach him?” Normally, she’d never be so aggressive. Confrontation is not something she enjoyed, but she needed some answers, because it looked like the DA’s case against these people was falling apart. Yes, Naruto would be clear, but these bastards would still be around, and they were a threat to him.

So for him, well, there wasn’t much Hinata wouldn’t confront. 

Greasy hair-muscle-tee shrugs with a dismissive snort. “We ain’t had no emergencies, so it ain’t a problem.”

She glances around the gym. It looks much the same as the last time she was in there, with the exception of the floors being dirtier, and she’d be willing to wager her paycheck that the mats hadn’t been sanitized since Naruto did them last. “Who even hired you?” she asks, wrinkling her nose.

He looks properly affronted and annoyed. “How is that any of your business, Miss Priss?”

“I’m just asking--”

“For trouble. What you’re asking for is trouble. Now, either sign up for a membership or get out. I’m done answering questions.” With that he crosses his arms over his chest and stares her down.

Hinata knows a wall when she hits one. Sighing, she pushes away from the desk, worrying her lower lip with her teeth as she strolls near the rings. She surveys the gym again, wondering if she’s missing anything. Was there a way into Jiraiya’s office, maybe? Did he even have an office? She honestly had no idea. 

“Hey!” A new voice catches her attention and Hinata turns. She recognizes Konohamaru Sarutobi from the few times she’s run into him with Naruto. “Hey!” he repeats, half walking, half jogging towards her from the bench press. “You’re uh, Hina-something, right? Naruto’s girl?”

She gives him a small smile, nodding. “Hinata. And yes.”

“Cool, cool.” Konohamaru grins back. He rubs his head a bit, looking a bit over her shoulder. His gaze is searching and a little hopeful. “So, uh, like, where is he?”

She glances over her shoulder and then back again. “You mean Naruto?”

He nods. “Yeah.”

“Oh.” Hinata winces a bit, debating on how much to say. “He’s uhm, he’s taking some time off for a little bit. I can tell him you said hi,” she offers, almost apologetically.

“I’ve been trying to call him.” Konohamaru complains. 

She doesn’t really have an answer for his unvoiced question. She could tell from their brief encounters that this kid was more than a little enamored with Naruto. Not that she faulted him. Naruto was amazing. It was really a surprise that more people didn’t pick up on that. She felt a sympathetic twinge in her gut. She knew from years of experience what it was like to have Naruto oblivious to infatuation. “I’ll, uhm, I’ll make sure to mention that.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmhm.”

“So, what are you doing here?” Konohamaru glances around the gym, gesturing. “Grabbing his paycheck or something?”

A light flickers on in her mind. She nods. “Yes. Actually, yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing.” She says a quick goodbye to Konohamaru before she turns and marches back towards the desk with new motivation. “Uhm, excuse me…?”

“Jesus Christ on a fuckin’ cracker, what now?” The man stands up from behind the desk, placing his palms against the top, leaning towards her. It’s an intimidation tactic, and it would normally work, but she’s on a mission, so she doesn’t let his aggressive posturing deter her.

“The reason that I need to speak with Jiraiya is that I’m supposed to pick up a paycheck.”

“Uh-huh.” The guy rolls his eyes. “You don’t exactly look like the ‘service desk’ type,” he drawls, eyes once more raking over her pressed pant suit. It’s a creepy look. One that has her skin crawling.

Hinata fights the urge to fidget. “It’s not for me. It’s for Naruto. Naruto Uzumaki.” She watches his face carefully when she says the name.

The reaction is almost immediate. His eyes narrow, and lips tighten. His posture tenses up and she catches his gaze skirt a little to the side. When he looks at her again, his hostility is nearly palpable. “Naruto, huh?” He pretends to recall the name, tapping his chin. “Yeah, yeah, maybe. I think I saw something for him in the back.” He leans away from the counter, sweeping his arm out. “Follow me.”

Every nerve in her body goes on alert. The hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She glances around the gym, noticing that there are several people there. Konohamaru and one of his friends included. She takes a breath and nods, but not before calling out to Konohamaru.

He lifts his head from where he’s spotting his friend and gazes at her questioningly.

“They have Naruto’s check in the back,” she says--borderline yells. “I’m going to get it. If I’m not back out in five minutes, I want you to call the cops.” She doesn’t care if she sounds frantic or crazy. She’s not risking it.

Several heads now turn her way. Some gazes are openly curious, a couple hostile. Konohamaru blinks owlishly at her, his eyes going from her to the man beside her. He takes in her tense posture and then his own eyes firm. He nods. “Five minutes,” he echoes. He’s at his duffle bag, reaching for his phone. 

Beside her greasy-hair chuckles. “Let’s go, Priss.”

Swallowing, Hinata follows him through the door behind the desk. She glances once, over her shoulder, catching Konohamaru’s curious and worried expression, before it shuts, cutting her off from the rest of the gym.

Chapter Text

“Knowing where the trap is—that's the first step in evading it.”


 

It turns out that Jiraiya did have an office.

An office that was small and messy and smelled faintly of sweat and alcohol, and one that was occupied by a familiar (and not so familiar) face. The moment Hinata steps past the threshold and her eyes lock with the man seated at the desk, she freezes. Her every instinct clamors for her to run. Turn around and run. Run.

Her mind blanks and for a moment all she can hear is the thud of a baton and all she can see is Naruto laying face first on the ground. It takes everything in her to control her breathing.

“Ah, Hidan. You didn’t tell me you were bringing a guest in.” It’s said casually, but the look Yahiko shoots the other man is icy. 

“Miss Priss here says she’s looking for a paycheck. Uzumaki’s paycheck.” Greasy-hair (Hidan, apparently) says with a smirk.

 Hinata clears her throat. “I’m actually looking for Jiraiya,” she corrects, fidgeting.

Yahiko ignores her comment, instead slowly rising to his feet. Beside him is a long haired blond man, his hair styled much like how Ino wore hers in college, grinning maniacally.

“Whatever pay Uzumaki thinks he is owed, I’m pretty sure he stole it from my wallet the night he attacked us.” 

Hinata inhales a quick, harsh breath, swallowing the lump in her throat as she squares her shoulders. “You mean the night you jumped him,” she corrects again. She hates the way her voice trembles. Just once she’d like to be a force to be reckoned with. An Ino with command and control. Instead, she is shaking like a leaf, her fingers wringing against one another as she tries not to let her fear and her fury show.

She thinks that may be the part that frightens her the most. Because more than wanting to flee to safety, she now wants to leap across that desk and punch Yahiko right in his still bruised mouth. How dare he , she thinks. Stand there in smug confidence free to do as he pleases while Naruto is trapped in the confines of her small apartment, and trapped even more by the guilt she sees on his face every day. He may not be going to jail but that doesn’t mean he’s not in a prison--a prison this... person ...put him in.

And for what?

Why?!

She still doesn’t understand and that frustrates her so much.

Yahiko turns his attention back to Hinata, tilting his head, appraisingly. “You’re either very brave or very stupid,” he says, voice low and quiet.

Hinata glances around the office, doing her best not to feel cornered or intimidated, though she is both. She ignores his taunt and asks once more: “Where’s Jiraiya?” 

The taller man shrugs; indifferent. His gaze moves around the room before returning to her. “Not here.”

It’s a response that causes her to clench her jaw. He’s mocking her.

She’s a joke to them.

“Why did you attack Naruto?” It’s like a switch, everytime she says his name. Postures shift--tension mounts--and the others are watching Yahiko closely, almost as if waiting for a cue. Yahiko for his part tries to keep his expression neutral, but she catches it, in his eyes. A flash of emotion. It’s mostly anger, but there’s fear there, too. She hadn’t intended on asking that question, but since it was out, she doesn’t regret it. She wants to know.

She wants them to leave him alone.  

“Pretty sure the police report has that the other way round.” Hidan says from behind her, bending closer. It’s an intentional invasion of her space--one meant to rattle her. 

And it does.

Still, she refuses to back down. “Is this really over you losing some stupid fight?” she presses. “You’re going to try and ruin a person b-because you can’t handle losing? Because you’re scared of him?”

The entire room goes still at that.

It’s one heartbeat and then two, and then Hinata is spun and slammed back into the wall. It’s hard enough to jar her teeth, knocking the breath out of her. A fist plants itself into the wall beside her head. She stares, wide-eyed and trembling, at Hidan, who is glowering in her face. He slants Yahiko a look that’s both amused and hostile. “This bitch super dumb or what?” 

“Not so dumb,” she whispers. “Five minutes, remember?”

“What the hell does that mean?” The unknown blond asks, leaning back.

Hidan shrugs, unconcerned. “She told some twerp to call the cops if she wasn’t out in five minutes.” He chuckles. “You think the cops scare us, little girl?”

No. She thought Naruto scared them. She just didn’t know why .

“I can go have a conversation with the twerp, if you want, boss.”

At that Hidan shakes his head. “That twerp is off limits.” He speaks to Yahiko. “It’s the Sarutobi brat.” 

The name is well known. Naruto had told her that he was a legacy kid or something like that. Old money and politics. 

Hidan leans closer and tsks at her, shaking his head. “You really should stop nosing around in business that doesn’t concern you.”

“Naruto is my business,” she counters shakily. She will not cry in front of them she tells herself, blinking furiously. 

“Risky business,” the blond states, cackling at his own joke. 

“You’ve overstayed your welcome.” Yahiko tells her, voice low and steady. He watches her in a way that unnerves her. 

“Let’s go, Priss.” Hidan grasps her upper arm and Hinata can’t help the involuntary yelp that she emits. The mocking laughter of the others grates on her nerves. She yanks her arm, but to no avail. Hidan’s grip is tight. 

“That little mouse kicked Konan’s ass?” She hears another cackle as Hidan marches her towards the office door. 

“Shut it, Deidara.”

Hinata turns her head, trying to get another look at Yahiko. “Pretty sure the police report has that a little different, too,” she says, straining. “Stories are so hard to keep straight.”

“Bitch--” Hidan starts to snarl, his grip tightening. Before he can do anything more Yahiko holds up his hand and Hinata is once more turned towards him.

He seems less amused than he was at the start of their exchange. “Your word against ours.”

Her nerves are rattled, but her tongue is loose. “The truth against lies.”

The blond (Deidara) gives a low whistle. “You really are very brave or very stupid, lady. Word of advice...there’s a reason we call him Pain. Stay out of it.”

Hinata shakes her head, not looking away from Yahiko. “I won’t let you hurt Naruto.”

Yahiko studies her, his own expression blank, but watchful. “Only fools pick fights they can’t win.”

“That’s a bit ironic,” she murmurs, momentarily defiant. “Coming from you.”

He makes a disgruntled sound, giving her a shooing motion and Hidan grunts, yanking her arm so hard and high that she is on her tiptoes as he practically bunny hops her out of the office. When she enters the main gym area again Konohamaru is pacing near the front door, his phone in hand. He looks at her pale face and rushes over. 

“I was just getting ready to call. What is going on?” he questions, his eyes darting over her shoulder towards the desk and the door.

Hinata shushes him and motions him out the front. Outside, in the sun, on the sidewalk, she finally inhales a steady breath. She can feel her fingers tingle and her eyes are misting over. She’s having a hard time controlling the way her body is reacting. She’s shaking enough so that her teeth chatter despite the warmer air.

“Uh...Hinata?”

She waves a hand at him. “It’s fine...I’m fine. Just...maybe you shouldn’t come back here for awhile, okay?” She glances through the large window--sees Hidan watching her. “There’s another gym that Naruto likes. It’s on the other side of town. It’s called Eight Gates. Tell Guy or Lee that I sent you, ok?”

Konohamaru looks confused but he’s nodding. “Yeah, sure. Does any of that have to do with why Naruto is taking some time off? This new management sucks.”

Hinata glances back through the window, her eyes narrowing. “Yeah, they do. Go get your stuff, and your friend. I’ll wait for you here.” She instructs.

If he’s confused, which he clearly is, Konohamaru still nods, and follows her instructions. Once she sees him safely on his way she whips out her own cell phone. She’s making her way hastily down the sidewalk towards where she parked her car. 

She glances over her shoulder several times, the hair on her neck on end. She feels like she’s being followed...but what else was new. 

“Yo.”

“Shikamaru, hi. Listen, we need to find Jiraiya. Jiraiya is the key.” She sounds slightly frantic, she knows, and out of breath. 

“Yeah, yeah. We’re looking into it, remember.”

“Yes, I know, but we need to look harder. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know he’s involved somehow.”

Nearby a car horn honks.

“Hinata, where are you?”

She winces. “I may have gone to Jiraiya’s gym again--”

“Fuckin’ hell. Are you trying to muck everything up?”

“I wasn’t--I just wanted to speak with Jiraiya and guess who’s here? It’s them , Shikamaru. They’ve taken over.”

“Hinata…”

“They’re holed up in there. There has to be a reason. The only connection between them and Naruto is Jiraiya.”

“And the fact that Naruto beat their asses,” Shikamaru helpfully supplies.

“Well, yes, that too, but it can’t be that simple,” she counters. She ignores the voice in her head that sounds like Neji that tells her that it just might be that simple.

On the other end, Shikamaru sighs heavily. “Naruto is going to have my ass if he finds out you’re out there confronting a fucking gang on your own. You realize that, right? My ass. Mounted in a trophy case.”

She pauses, a bit guiltily, because she knows that if Naruto knew, he’d be beyond furious. Just like she would be, if he was putting himself in harm’s way. But hadn’t he? Hadn’t he only fought back so hard to defend her? To protect her? Surely he’d understand that instinct.

“Well,” she says, quietly. “Don’t tell him. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

Okay, so maybe she sounded out of breath and shaky, but that was because she was , so… 

She waits, silent. She hears him mutter a tired ‘troublesome’ under his breath. “Okay, yeah,” he mutters. “I’ll call the DA. See if we can’t up the search. Meet me at my office around six. We need to re-establish some ground rules.” His tone is firm.

She flinches a bit at that. His office meant a conference call with Neji, for sure. “All right,” she concedes. “Six o’clock.”

Right now she's going to sit in her car and have a good cry.

Chapter Text

“Panic attacks are a lot like being drunk in some ways, you lose self-control. You cry for seemingly no reason. You deal with the hangover long into the next day.”


 

She has a hard time focusing at work, but she manages to muddle through two contracts with Shino. She wants to ask him about Kiba, but she doesn’t. Kiba asked for space, so she’ll honor that request. Shino, for his part, senses her needs anyway and mentions in passing how he and Kiba have plans to catch a movie later in the week. It’s not much information, but it’s something and she’s grateful.

After the contracts, she debates on whether or not to email Neji about her experience at the gym. She’ll add it to her log (which is longer than she’d like, but not so long as to be really alarming, she tries to justify) but she’s not sure that she needs to rehash the details with Neji. He’s already agitated with her close proximity to the case. She knows that if she doesn’t tell him about it--at least in passing--that Shikamaru will, so she resigns herself to doing so. Just...maybe not right this minute.

She makes a few phone calls for Mr. Otsutsuki and manages to get a meeting with an important potential client next month. All in all, for being distracted, she’s still fairly productive. Her job is one that she enjoys, and takes most of her concentration, so it’s a nice way for her to avoid overthinking her emotional situations.

It’s nearing four o’clock when her phone rings. 

It’s Shikamaru.

“No meeting tonight,” he tells her. “Something’s come up.”

“Is it about Naruto?” she asks. She knows that Naruto is not Shikamaru’s only client, and he has other people relying on him, but she feels that they’re so close to a breakthrough. She’ll be pushy if she has to.

“Not directly, but yeah. Look, I’ve gotta go. This could be big, though. You were right. I’ll message you when I can.” He hangs up before she can even so much as mutter a ‘bye’, but that doesn’t stop her heart from racing and a small smile from forming on her face.

You were right.

Could they have found Jiraiya? Or was it something else? Either way, Shikamaru sounded almost energetic , which for him was something. She doesn’t want to get her hopes up, but she can’t quite stop the optimism that blossoms in her chest. She takes a few deep breaths to calm herself down. She shouldn’t get ahead of herself, but she closes her eyes and hopes as hard as she can. For Naruto’s sake. She wants this over.

Without her meeting with Shikamaru, she can leave as soon as she finishes up her last contract bid--which she does in record time. She waves to Shino on the way out, hurrying towards the elevators so she can head home to Naruto and Argus. 

Her favorite place to be.

* * * * * 

The apartment is oddly quiet when she pushes into it, but she doesn’t think too much on it. She’s just happy to be back with her boys. “Naruto? Argus? I’m home.” Argus bounds up to her, a little more hyper than usual, his head working back and forth. She crouches down to rub his ears, laughing a little. “Okay, easy. My meeting was cancelled. Argus, calm down. How lucky, right?” She glances up from her over-eager companion, towards the little loveseat where Naruto is. He still hasn’t spoken. She feels a frisson of tension skirt her spine. “Babe? What’s wrong?” 

“He needs to pee.” Naruto tells her. His voice is flat. Heavy. 

Hinata slowly stands straighter, concern lowering her brows. She glances from Argus to the couch. “Are you okay?” She asks him quietly.

“No.” 

Hinata gently disengages from Argus, moving closer to Naruto. “What’s wrong?”.

Naruto blinks, slowly, but she can tell he’s not really focused on her. “Did you know, that I can still experience mania while taking my medication?”

She pauses, contemplative. She’s not sure where this is going. This isn’t a usual beginning to any of his episodes. So, she waits.

“I didn’t know that,” he continues, in that same flat voice. “So I Googled it. Apparently the average cycle is twice a year.” He lets out a cold, lifeless laugh. It causes her fingers to curl. “Fucking twice. How about that?”

“Naruto...” 

“No matter what I do. I can go to bed early every night. Not drink. Not smoke. Not abuse pills. Work out. Eat right. Keep my appointments. I can do all of that… and I could still go psycho twice a year.”

“You don’t know that.” Hinata finds herself arguing. He’s dejected, but who wouldn’t be, cooped up in her cramped apartment. She knows from her own experience how easy a relapse is, so she’s careful in how she approaches this. “You’ve never been this healthy before. People go into remission for years. You could be just fine-”

“What if I’m not?” Naruto cuts her off. “What if, no matter how hard I try, what if I’m not fine?”

“We take those times as they come,” she insists. It’s not like she didn’t know what she signed up for. She takes a breath, tilting her head, hoping to catch his eye, get him to look at her. “Naruto, what’s going on?”

“Are you seeing someone else?”

The question hits her so unexpectedly that it takes her a moment to form even a semi-coherent thought. She blinks rapidly, shaking her head. “What? No! Why would you--?”

“I’m not--I’m not going to freak out. I’m not going to yell at you,” he tells her. “I won’t punch your walls or break your stuff. I won’t threaten to hurt him. I just…” he pauses and swallows hard. “If there’s someone else... If they can be a better boyfriend, or fiancé, or husband or dad or whatever you need, just tell me so I can--”

“No!” The idea of it hurts her so much that she loses her breath. “No, what are you talking about?” She steps to him quickly, crouching down next to him, grabbing his shoulder. “Naruto, what is going on? Please, tell me.” She’s never seen him like this.

Naruto finally turns to look at her and his expression breaks her heart. It’s so confused and hurt and broken. She just wants to wrap him up and hold him and take away all of the heartache he’s ever had. 

“I called Sasuke.” 

That name is enough to make Hinata’s hackles raise, but it only takes her a fraction of a second to place why Naruto would be asking these questions after talking to that person. Her eyes widen and her heartbeat plummets. She thinks about his smug demeanor and the sneer on his face. The way he had looked at her. “Isn’t this cozy.”

What had he said to Naruto?

What doubts did he fill his head with?

“No.” Naruto’s voice is plaintive--beseeching--and it tears her heart wide open. He’s looking at her like every truth he’d ever been told was a lie afterall. “No. No, no, no-”

“Naruto,” She reaches out with her other hand to grab him but he’s already slipping away from her, pushing jerkily to his feet--staggering. “Fuck.” He looks so lost.

“Naruto. Naruto, just stop.” She needs him to calm down. She has never seen this exact expression on his face and she’s seen just about all of them. This one, though--it scares her. Not for herself...but...

He evades her quickly, stepping around the loveseat, using it as a barrier to keep her at more than an arms length.

“I can’t do this.” Naruto chokes out. She can see the tears in his eyes--the paleness of his face. She reaches for him again, but he shakes his head, angry. “Stop.” 

She can’t stop. She needs him to calm down and talk to her. So she can explain.

She should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.

Naruto twists around, quickly maneuvering away from her. His longer stride takes him the distance he needs to get free--moving into her small bathroom.

Her heart hammers harder. “Naruto! Don’t!”

He slams the door in her face and she hears the little pop-lock click. Even so, she grabs the handle, shaking it. It stays firm. She swallows back a whine and slaps her palm to the wood. “Naruto, open the door. Please, please open the door.”

Silence on the other side.

She slaps the wood again.

Please .

She thinks about the pills in her cabinet. The razors she’s stopped locking up, because he was doing so good. She’s edging on the verge of breaking down herself, because in her mind her clean white door isn’t in front of her.

It’s chipped paint in a dirty apartment.

The silence on the other side is deafening.

Terrifying.

She sees pale skin.

Blue lips.

Limp hands.

Not breathing.

Gone .

“Naruto!” She gives up slapping the wood and curls her hand, slamming her fist against it. “Naruto, please just calm down! We can talk about this, just let me in. Please.”

Please .

Not again.

She can’t...she won’t .

She shudders with the force of her sobbing, both fists pounding on the door. “Baby, please. Please, don’t. I need you. Open the door. Please. Let me in. Don’t leave me. Pleeeease.” She’s a gasping, sobbing mess.

Argus is beside her, whining in tandem, his claws scratching at the wood that she’s so desperately trying to get through. Kiba always said he was smart. Thinking of Kiba reminds her of a trick he showed her when they were in middle school. A way for him to get into his sister’s room and steal her CDs. Hinata pushes off the door and practically sprints to her room, grabbing one of her tennis shoes.

Her fingers are shaking so much she can barely hold the lace, and she can’t see much past the fat tears smearing across her face, but she knows how to do it by feel. She has no concept of time, at the moment. It feels like he’s been in there for ages...long enough to settle into her tub… She lets out a shuddering sob when the door gave a little ‘ping’ as the spring on the inside the lock popped open, unlocking the door. 

Her gaze immediately finds the bathtub and she blinks in mild confusion to see it empty. Her little room swims before her eyes and overlaps with her memories. Her bathtub is clean and empty and yet she can somehow see him there.

“Well,” Naruto shrugs a little, leaning back from his spot on her toilet to face her better. “I guess you’re just lucky I wasn’t taking a shit.”

Hearing his voice breaks through the memories.

He’s not unconscious in a tub.

He’s here.

Alive.

And hurting.

And alive.

And she loves him.

He’s here.

That’s all that matters.

She drops the sneaker, moving forward. She reaches her hand out to him and makes a painful sound when he flinches away from her--like he’s waiting for a hit. She would never hurt him like that. She has an overwhelming hatred for the people in his life that did--that made him think that he was an inconvenience. That his pain should be punished with more pain.

She curls her hand around his head and she feels his breath hold. Then she tugs him closer, pressing him into her chest. Holding him.

Holding on.

He exhales shakily and then his arms move, curling around her hips and he’s holding her just as tightly.

A soft sob catches in her throat and she pushes it down. She sniffs, focusing on him and his pain--not on how she’s hurting. “How could you ever think that?” She whispers, her hand moving from the back of his head to rub down his cheek affectionately. “There’s nobody else. There can never be anyone else. There was never anyone else. It’s just you. It’ll only ever be you .” She bends forward to press her lips to his forehead, her nose in his thick hair. She inhales his familiar scent and closes her eyes. Only ever.

“I’m sorry.” Naruto chokes, his fingers flexing into her skin.

Hinata sniffs again, stroking her hands over his shoulders, along his back. Soothing motions. “You know, if you keep trying to break up with me -- I’m going to start taking it personally.” 

Naruto squeezes her a little tighter at that.

She presses her lips together, to stop their trembling, before she begins to explain. “I had lunch with Choji. On Friday. You made me nervous when you said you wanted to talk. So I left work early. Remember, I got to the gym early to be with you.”

She can feel him nod against her.

“And...well, Sasuke was there. He was incredibly rude.” She adds as an afterthought.

Naruto breathes against her sternum. “I’m sorry.”

“You aren’t responsible for the way Sasuke behaves.” She reminds him. She continues to stroke her hands over him. “Why didn’t you call me?” she asks. “Or your doctor?”

“I did!” It breaks out of him hoarsely. He sounds like he’s about to cry. He sounds...lost, still. “I called them as soon as I started freaking out. But...but they told me they couldn’t help me.”

Everything in Hinata stills. Her own tears. Her breathing. Everything. When it starts up again, she is hot with fury. She gently pushes back off his shoulders, making enough space for her to lift his head up. She feels her breath hiss past her teeth. “What?”

He sniffs, nodding. “I did. I called both of them. My therapist told me not to stress and psych office told me to ‘take a walk’.” 

Hinata stares at him for a long moment, steady, in both disbelief and rage. They were supposed to help him and they dismissed him?! She blinks a few times, her teary eyes gone dry. She tries to speak twice before she manages to get the words out. “Where is your phone?” She finally asks.

“Uh...I think I left it out there on the floor.” He sounds apologetic. And sad.

She rubs the back of his neck. She’s mad, but not at him. As if afraid she was moving away, she feels Naruto’s arms tighten.

“Don’t.” He presses his face closer into her chest. His voice is muffled.

“I’m going to call back your doctors office. I cannot even believe the nerve!” She bites out each syllable. 

Naruto pulls himself closer. “Please don’t.”

“No, Naruto. I’m not just going to let your doctors, the people that are supposed to help you, ignore you! This is ridiculous!”

He needed help and they left him to flounder.

And she wasn’t there.

Guilt trickles through her system.

She’s been so wrapped up in his case...had she missed warning signs? Had she neglected his needs?

“No,” Naruto shakes his head a little. “I don’t care about that. Yell at whoever you want, just don’t let go.”

The pleading notes in his voice pull ehr up short. She feels her anger being pushed aside in her concern for him. She will deal with them later. Right now, her place was here. “Baby?” She croons quietly, brushing her fingers through his hair. 

“I’m sorry.” She can feel Naruto struggle against her, his shoulders hitching with uneven breaths. His fingers dig into her shirt. “I’m really sorry, I - I - fuck, I can’t calm down. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m sorry Hina, I don’t know what to do--” he is crying now. She doesn’t think he even realizes it.

“Shhhh, hey, hey, hey it’s okay.” She soothes, rubbing his scalp through his hair, cradling him closer to her. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be fine.” It’s a promise. She’s going to make sure of it.

“Okay.” He whispers back, but his grip is still tight, his breathing still erratic.

“Okay. Good. Okay. Here, hold on.” Leaning a little away from him, Hinata stretches for her medicine cabinet. Her fingers shake a bit, but she pulls her bottle down and taps out one pill. “Here.” 

“What?” Naruto looks at the pill and then her in confusion.

She swallows a little. “It’s mine.” She urges him to take it. “I think you’re having a panic attack. This is for that. It’s to help manage spike of anxiety. Or stress.” It’s her higher dosage, but she had made specifically sure that her pills wouldn’t mess with his--just in case.

She didn’t think she’d ever completely lose that caution where he was concerned, but that was more her than him. 

Naruto’s eyebrows knit together. “I don’t understand.”

She shifts a bit in his arms, but refuses to be a coward. “I have panic attacks. It’ll help you. I promise.” Maybe not a cure--or a fix--but definitely help.

“I’m not like that.” Naruto declines.

She tries not to feel stung by that. “Naruto, it’s okay to have panic attacks, it’s not--”

“No,” he argues, quietly. “I’m not a junkie anymore. I know I used to use and shit, but I promised you I was better. And I know I did a fucking shit job, but I promise. I’m not like that. I’m not a piece of shit.”

Hinata grabs his chin quickly, maneuvering his face and tilting it up towards her. “You were never a piece of shit.” She’s going to find each and every person that ever hurt him and she’s going to wreck them.

He makes a face at her. “Come on, Hinata.”

“No. you’re wrong,” she stays adamant. “I know that you’re not like that anymore. You’ve done so well staying clean. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. And I’m so proud of you. But you can’t just hold yourself to some unattainable standard.”

Naruto scoffs a little at that. “I don’t think not being a drug addict or an alcoholic is an unattainable standard, Hinata.”

“That isn’t fair! You didn’t have parents. There was nobody there for you. You were abused. And you have a mental illness. Do you know how common substance abuse is with mental illness? High, because you don’t know what to do and you’re just trying to feel better. That’s what you were doing Naruto. You were just trying to get by, and survive in a world where nobody taught you how.” She can’t help the way her voice rises or the heat of her argument. He means so damn much to her.

He lays his head back against her chest. “I think Kiba was right,” he murmurs.

She blinks at that. Never in all the years they've known one another has Naruto thought Kiba was right about anything. “What?”

“That you just make excuses for me. I know it’s because you love me, but I was just a piece of shit, Hinata.”

“That’s bullshit.” She snaps and then presses her lips together. He doesn’t need her anger. She runs her fingertips through his hair, over his ears. “I know you," she tells him, softer. "I know you’re different. I know you’re doing better. I love and respect you so much for it. But if your doctor isn’t going to help you, I am. At least until we can get you into a new one.” She’s going to call Inoichi. But until then...“Trust me. This is basically just like Benadryl. It’ll make you a little drowsy, and calm you down. Then we can go from there, okay?”

She shifts the green capsule in her hand, holding it closer to him.

“Just this once.” She promises. “Trust me.”

Naruto looks up at her with nothing but trust in his gaze. He nods, lifting his hand, palm up. “Okay.”

It’s not long after he takes the medication before his head is nodding forward. He has yet to let go of her--not that she is complaining. Even so, she urges him to his feet. He takes his own medicine with a swish of water from her bathroom sink and follows her down the hall to the bedroom. She lays him down gently and gets him extra blankets when he mumbles that he’s cold.

It’s part of the aftermath of a panic attack, she knows. She lays with him until his breathing evens out and the tension leaves the hand clutching hers. Then she takes Argus out and rewards him for his concern and help. She rubs his belly for a long while while she has her own silent cry--letting her own emotions drain--before she takes him into the bedroom and pats the spot beside Naruto.

“Stay with him,” she whispers. It’s not that late, and she’s not tired, but she emails Shino and lets him know that she’ll be taking a day or two off of work. He’s not her boss--she pretty much is his, actually--and she runs her own schedule with the exception of meetings, but she knows he would worry otherwise.

She wants to stay home with Naruto--not to monitor him--but because she feels like she’s neglected his progress. Neglected him. She’s been so wrapped up in the things about him that she’s lost focus of him as a person.

She doesn’t want that.

She wants them to be a team.

She wishes that she could fill him in on everything, but after tonight, she’d rather focus on helping him cope with being trapped in her tiny box and letting him know how proud she is. She quickly compiles the list that Neji wants. Her ‘log’ of incidents to email him. She makes it into a spreadsheet because she’s extra like that.

She makes a salad for dinner and tries to watch the news, but in the end she simply paces her apartment for awhile. She stays up late, but Shikamaru doesn’t call. She can’t help but feel a bit bummed by that, but she had more important things to focus on at the moment.

With that thought in mind she pads down the hall and curls up into the bed. Argus makes room for her, but keeps his snout on Naruto’s belly. She pets him gently and then reaches out to stroke her fingertips across Naruto’s lips before resting her palm over his heart. “Love you.”

Chapter Text

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway



Naruto sleeps in.

Which wasn’t surprising, all things considered. 

He needs his rest, and after the emotional tumble he took yesterday, she’s more than happy to let him slumber. She gets up quietly, moving about her apartment in the early morning, stifling a yawn, while Argus pads at her heels.

She debates on making coffee, but her own nerves are still a bit frayed, so she opts for some green tea instead. She puts on her electric kettle and feeds Argus. She’ll wait until he’s done eating before she takes him out. In the meantime, she fishes her laptop out of her work tote and settles herself on the loveseat.

She has a few work emails that require her attention, but nothing super immediate.

There’s also no messages from Shikamaru--on her phone or her laptop. She’s trying not to let that worry her--she is determined to focus on Naruto--but still...she can’t shake the feeling that something has happened. 

Sighing, she shifts, adjusting herself into a more comfortable position. She opens her secured files and scans through the documents she’s either scanned in or taken pictures of. Police reports, incident reports, some witness statements. Things she is definitely not supposed to have, but were pretty easy to procure with the right push or the right amount of money. 

Neji wasn’t kidding when he said that these people were dangerous, but for her that’s all the more reason to be involved. If dangerous people wanted to harm Naruto, then they’d have to get through her first.

After a few minutes of reviewing the information she already knows, she makes herself her tea and settles in to type up her log. The days she spotted someone following her, or that she felt uneasy. The day she got the photographs...and the day the flowers had shown up in her office. A lovely bouquet of Anemone. A bloom known to mean ‘fading hope’. 

While none of the events were direct threats, even she couldn’t deny the pattern of intimidation. She frowns at her screen, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Neji was definitely not going to like her list...especially once she included yesterday’s events. She debates leaving that info out, but she knows that Naruto’s best chances are if she doesn’t hide information that she doesn’t need to.

So she emails Neji.

He won’t be awake for a few more hours, so she has a little reprieve from the tongue lashing she will undoubtedly get. In the meantime, she creates another document, analyzing the events from the night of the attack, to previous events--like their fight night--and trying to see if there’s anything...anything at all...that made sense. 

The timeline seems pretty linear, which is frustrating.

They need Jiraiya. 

She can remember him warning Naruto about fighting. Despite his perverted asshole demeanor, Hinata truly believed that Naruto's coach had cared for him. Which was why his absence in the face of all of this was so troubling.

If he wasn’t directly involved, then he knew way more than he had ever told them.

She’s brought out of her frustrated musing by a soft whine from Argus. He tilts his head--expectantly. She glances at the time, realizing belatedly that she’s been working on this stuff for longer than she realized. A couple hours had passed already. 

“Sorry, buddy,” she whispers, setting aside her laptop. She slips into her room and grabs some lounge clothes before she changes and takes Argus outside to do his business. When they re-enter the apartment, they startle Naruto.

He’s looking at her with wide eyes and a bit of confusion. She wonders if the drug is still in his system. She actually hadn’t expected him to be up for awhile yet. She knows that her attacks keep her out for the better part of the following day. Of course, Naruto was different. He’d always been stronger than her.

She offers up a soft smile. “Oh, good morning sleepy head.” She’s about to unhook Argus when she spots her open laptop. Open with all of her investigative research and a list of incidents... “Wait, did you look at my laptop?” She asked quickly.

Naruto blinks at her. He still looks like he’s catching up. Argus leaves Hinata’s side and pads up next to him, brushing his fur against his palm. “Why would I look at your laptop?” He asks, slowly.

Hinata gives a little shrug, not wanting to sound accusatory--or like she was hiding anything. Side stepping off the welcome mat she moves forward a bit so that she can reach out and shut the open laptop. “I don’t know, sorry.” 

She eyes him for a moment, taking in his disheveled hair and sleep rumpled clothes. “What were you doing?” She asks gently.

“Looking for my phone. To call you.” He tells her, shifting awkwardly. 

“I plugged it in for you.” Hinata can feel her cheeks warm. He was going to call her? As soon as he woke up. It’s...flattering and her heart beats a little quicker. He’s always had that effect on her. She tries to sound nonchalant when she asks, “Um, you were going to call me?”

“Yeah,” he admits, nodding slightly. “To apologize. Y’know, for… yesterday.” 

“Oh.” She gives him a reassuring smile. “You don’t need to apologize.” In her mind there was nothing that he had done wrong. He had been hurt and confused and alone . It was enough for her that he was okay today. An apology was wholly unnecessary. Unless it was coming from her.

“Sorry that I wasn’t here to tell you how strong you are and how great you’re doing. Sorry your asshole friends try to hurt you rather than help you. Sorry that I can’t always be what you need.

 “But, but I accused you of cheating on me,” he reminds her, licking his lips.

She nods. He had, but not without reason. “Because your friend told you I was.” Because he’s a little shit. “Isn’t that what happened?”

Naruto frowns thoughtfully for a second before he nods.

Encouraged, Hinata continues. “If Ino, my best friend, told me that she saw you with someone else, it would be hard not to believe her. I’d at least bring it up to you.”

“You’re just making excuses for me.” Naruto resists. It’s the same thing he said to her last night. 

She frowns, hanging up Argus’ leash before stepping closer to him. “We already had this conversation. Yesterday.”

“I didn’t apologize.”

She tilts her head, gaze searching. “What could you possibly need to apologize for, Naruto?”

“For everything.” 

“You didn’t really do anything.”

“What are you talking about?” he questions, voice tight. “I freaked out like a psycho.”

“You got upset.” Hinata corrects. “How could you need to apologize for getting upset?” How many times in his life had people made him feel like his emotions were a reason to be sorry? That he had no right to feel them. That he had to justify and apologize for his hurt?

“You’re not my punching bag. It not okay for me to just unload on you-”

“Punching bag? What on Earth are you talking about? You didn’t yell at me. You didn’t break anything,” she tells him.

He winces a little at that, because they both know he had done so in the past.

“You got sad, Naruto.” She enunciates slowly, carefully, as she takes the last steps to him. He has been using the loveseat as a barrier--keeping her at a distance. She didn;t know if it was because he didn’t trust her, or himself. Either way, she wanted to remove the obstacle--and his doubt. “You were sad and upset. That’s really all that happened. And you did everything that you were supposed to. You called your doctors. You talked to me. That’s not something ‘psycho’ that you need to apologize for.”

He rubs his hand against his nape, staring at his feet. “I ruined your night.”

“I’ve ruined dozens of yours.” Hinata reminds him with a soft, sad smile. So many she lost count. 

Naruto’s immediate reaction is to deny. He’s always only ever seen her in the best light. “No you--”

“Don’t.” She cuts him off with a sharp shake of her head. “I have. And I probably will again someday. And it’s okay. Because I love you. And you love me. And we’re both just working on being better.” It was all they could do.

He is still reluctant. “That’s not true.”

Hinata stops moving closer, looking up at him, searching for what he means. There’s something heavy in his tone.

“You don’t think I’m better,” he clarifies.

Argus whines against his side, uncomfortable by the change of pace in the conversation. The atmospheric shift.

“That’s not true.” Hinata tells him.

“I can see it, Hinata. You still watch me the same. Still making sure I’m not going to fuck something up.”

“Naruto,” she reaches out, grabbing onto him, holding him by the triceps.She wants him angled towards her, so she can look him directly in the face when she speaks--so he can see the truth of her words. “Don’t be silly. You’re so different. It’s like night and day, really. In a good way.”

His response is an eyeroll of Ino calabre.

“It’s true,” she insists, despite that. She takes a breath, because here is where he needs to hear her. Where he needs to understand. “And I’m sorry if you feel like I don’t think that. Or, if I’m smothering you. It’s just… it’s just my own problems. My anxiety… I - I worry about you. Not because I don’t trust you. I just...well... I love you.” She holds his gaze, allowing her emotions to shine in her expression--unguarded. “It’s not at all your fault that I worry. It’s mine. The stress, from work, from your case, from... everything. I’m sorry. But don’t even think for a second that I don’t see how different you are. Or how amazing you’re doing.”

“Yeah,” he scoffs a little, self-deprecating. “Pretty bloody amazing.”

She shushes him. “That’s not fair. You’ve been cooped up inside for weeks. This stress is enough to drive anyone crazy. I can’t believe how well you’ve done, everything considering.” She would have broken long before now. She doesn’t say that, because he will only argue with her, but it’s true. Naruto is the strongest person she knows. She angles her head to keep his eyes when he dodges her gaze to look at the floor. “This is why I wanted to stay home today,” she tells him.

Naruto raises an eyebrow, silently questioning.

“So I could make sure you knew that I loved you and that you’re doing so good.” She’s been doing such a terrible job of showing him that. She’s been so caught up with trying to get the people that were after him off of the street so that they no longer posed a risk to him that she missed all of the other risks. “And I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “That this has gone on so long.” She wishes she had more answers--that she could do more. 

“That’s not your fault.” He dismisses quickly. 

She bit her lip a little, tipping her gaze away guiltily. Because wasn’t it though? What if she just told the DA to shove his sting operation and to hell with Yahiko and his cronies? What if she told Naruto that he was free? 

Free but in danger, she reminds herself. She had to think long term. Still, in the short term she could make sure that Naruto was taken care of--loved on. “Are you hungry? Let me make you breakfast.” She pushes to her tiptoes (he’s so tall) and kisses his cheek. “I was thinking pancakes? And maybe some eggs.” She smiles, taking him by the hand and leading him over to the little table.

“Sounds like a lot,” he hedges, eyeing her carefully.

“I’m really hungry.” She says, letting him sit down, brushing her fingers down the back of his head, pressing his hair down before kissing the side of his temple. She knows she’s being overly affectionate--it’s almost always been him that initiates their contact, but she wants him to feel how much she adores him. How in love with him she truly is. 

As she passes it, she scoops up her laptop, placing it on the counter beside his little black box. The one that tied his ankle and the rest of his body to the apartment. She gives the box a little glower before moving to the fridge to get the eggs and cheese for omelettes.

She makes quick work of breakfast--it’s an easy enough meal and one she’s made a time or two. Before long she has a couple of plates piled with food and she’s scooting into her seat across from Naruto.

“You didn’t have to do so much.” He tells her, looking down at his plate. 

Hinata shrugs a bit. “My favorites.” It’s not entirely true, but she does enjoy them.

“Are you sure you’re not just trying to make me fat again?” He teases her a bit. It’s less enthusiastic than his usual teasing, but it makes her smile all the same.

“Shush.” She mock glares at him from her spot across the table. “Eat your food.”

He does.

He makes quick work of it, actually. He must have been hungry, she thinks, watching him. What kind of breakfast did he usually eat after she went to work, she wonders. He always had her coffee and sometimes her lunch ready before she was out the door. Was he eating properly while she was gone? Was he taking care of himself. 

“So what do you usually do in the morning?” She asks, being sure to keep her tone casual. She wasn’t trying to be accusatory--she was genuinely curious. 

“I work out.” 

She nods, waiting for him to elaborate.

“Then I take a shower.” He stops.

She waits a moment. Then another. When it becomes clear he’s not going to provide anything further, she prods him. “And then?”

He shrugs and tucks his chin. It’s almost sheepish. “Wait for you to get back.”

Hinata watches his expression--wondering if maybe he’s funning her. He’s not. She tilts her head, curious.“What? Why don’t you watch TV or something?”

Naruto shrugs again--stiffer this time. “I dunno,” he mutters. “I don’t wanna waste your cable.”

She blinks owlishly at that. “What? Waste it? It’s already paid for.” He doesn’t comment, but looks a tad defensive. She pulls back on her questions. Instead, she smiles gently. “Well, let's definitely watch something then tonight.”

“Why tonight? You can watch anything whenever.” He glances at her television.

“Nuhhuh.” She hums, smirking just a little. 

“What?” He’s confused. It’s adorable, really.

“We have to workout first,” she fills him in.

“We?” Naruto raises his eyebrows.

“Mm.” She nods, biting her lip. “Ready when you are.”

Or so she thought. The little work out he’d managed to create for himself had her sweating and her muscles thrumming. She missed a real workout. Her lunch break sessions with Lee were primarily focused on her learning how to break holds and a more intense form of her Bagua, but her sessions were only twenty to thirty minutes. Not enough time to really get into a zone.

While this session wasn’t much longer, her muscles all felt awake. 

Naruto had designed a super effective workout with limited equipment and space. She wondered if he realized how much talent that took.

“You do this everyday?” She asks him, her breath a little more labored than usual, her cheeks pink. She felt sweat creeping into her brows, so she quickly dabbed it up with the hem of her sweatshirt.

“Yep.” He licks his lips and Hinata can’t help but follow the motion. She feels a little pull in her gut.

He’s so handsome.

She blinks that thought away, rolling her shoulders. “I don’t know why you’re so worried about me trying to make you fat.”

Naruto’s eyes narrow on her knowingly. “I knew it!”

She giggles a bit, but doesn’t deny it. “Ugh,” she glances down at her soiled sweatshirt hem. “No wonder you need a shower after. You weren’t joking about being sweaty.”

“Nope.” He laughs a little, raking his hair up, the sweat sticking it in all different directions.

She smiles a little at that, quietly looking from his face up to his hair. It reminds her a bit of college. His hair was always in wild disarray--especially after a class he pretended not to sleep in. He looks young, she thinks. 

Naruto’s looking at her in much the same way--though she can’t read his thoughts. “Ya know, we could take a shower,” he suggests.

She blinks a little, because yeah...wasn’t that next on the list?

“Right now.” He amends, seeing her confusion. “Together.”

Oh.

Oh.

Yes, please.

“Okay.” She whispers, blushing. It’s daylight and though her bathroom isn’t large, there’s a little window that streams in a fair amount of sun. Sex with the lights on was something she still struggled with even after four years. But today...she wanted him. Wanted to love him and be loved by him.

Naruto grins at her--a flash of white teeth. “Let’s go.” He reaches for her--hesitating on which arm to grab before he settles on the one not injured in the attack. She feel sher heart soften a bit at his consideration. He’s excited, but he always thinks of her.

He tugs her along, his steps so eager that she can’t help but giggle. Argus trots along with them, curious, but happily wagging his tail, before Hinata makes a hand signal at the door. “Sorry bud, we’ll be out soon,” she tells him.

“Soon?” Naruto angles his head down to scoff. “What, ‘soon’? I’ll show you soon.”

Hinata covers her face, realizing how that sounds. She giggles a bit, blushing harder. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Suuuure.” Naruto drawls it out, teasingly, nudging her into the bathroom before pressing the door shut behind her. The angle puts his arm over her shoulder and his chest close to her face. She tips her head up and finds his blue eyes focused on her mouth. “Sure you didn’t.”

He quickly grabs the hem of her shirt, pulling it up, over her head. It’s a jerky lift due to the sweat on her skin and for a moment she fears it’s going to get stuck, but he shimmies and then it’s off, skewing her bangs. She giggles a little at his eager expression, reaching up to pull him in for a kiss. 

He goes willingly, his mouth hot and slick over hers. His hands and mouth are everywhere, Tugging off the rest of her clothes, sliding over her skin. He crowds her into the shower, trailing his teeth along the lines of her neck. 

“Naruto,” she sighs, clutching at the wide breadth of his shoulders, shaken with the depth of her love for him.

He’s overwhelming to her senses. He’s working her like he has something to prove. He’s so much hotter than the water slicking over their skin. She wants to show him how much she loves and wants and needs him as well, but he’s not letting her catch her breath.

His hand is between her thighs, fingers rubbing along her clit as she gasps his name into his shoulder. “Naruto, Naruto, Naruto” she chants. She’s so close to coming already. He feels it and turns her. She arches her back, pushing onto her toes as he adjusts his stance, sinking deep.

She moans, long and low, and presses her hands to the tiles for balance.

“I love you.” He breathes into her ear, one of his hands braced beside hers on the shower tiles, the other on her hip as he pounds into her.

Her breath hitches in the back of her throat as a reply. She can’t speak.

She can only feel.

He’s so hard and so deep and…”Oh, God,” she gasps when the hand on her hip slides around to the front, finding her still sensitive clit. He rubs in slow hard circles--a contrast to the steady rhythm he’s established. She gasps a little, reaching over her head to grasp at the back of his neck. 

“You’re so good,” he tells her, panting against the shell of her ear. “You feel so good.”

It’s him that feels good, she wants to argue, but the words get lost or turned into moans--she can’t tell which--as he pushes her over the edge. Her hands leave their place on his neck to slap against the tile, her  fingers curling as she cries out his name, her hips moving with the waves of her orgasm as it rolls through her. He brings her to a second one within minutes, moving in long hard thrusts, crooning in her ear that she’s perfect and how much he loves her. When he finally comes, it’s with her name on his tongue and his arm banded tightly around her waist.

After, when they are properly cleansed, Naruto wraps her in one of her oversized, fluffy towels. He makes sure to kiss her tenderly at every chance. He holds her hand as they stroll to the bedroom. They put on some clean clothes--still loose sweats and tees--but stay cuddled on the bed for awhile with Argus hopping up to join them. They get the pillow wet but Hinata can’t even begin to care. She’s wrapped against Naruto, sharing slow, leisurely kisses as they whisper back and forth how much they are in love. Her life is perfect.

After awhile though, she knows that she needs to check her phone and her laptop. If Shikamaru was trying to reach her...

“I have to go work on some stuff.” Hinata plays with the hem of his clean tee shirt. She doesn’t really want to get out of the bed. She wants to stay here with him. Wants more kisses.

He presses a kiss to her nose, appeasingly, letting her know that he’s not bothered by her unvoiced request. “Yeah, I still have some boxes to go through.” 

“I told you we could get a bigger dresser.” She reminds him. She hates the idea of him giving up things he cares about to ‘fit’ into her apartment.

He shakes his head, mouth set. “No, it’s okay it’s mostly trash,” he insists.

“But… you love those.” She glances at the box of familiar well-worn shirts.

He shrugs indifferently, removing his arm from her waist. She rolls to a seated position, her still damp hair slipping forward to brush his cheek as she bends to kiss his mouth. She lingers a bit, smiling at his soft sound.

“Well, it’s up to you,” she tells him as she pulls back. “Okay?” 

He nods and she reluctantly walks out of the bedroom.

In the living room she checks her messages. There are none yet, but she does actually have a few more work emails that she really should handle. She takes her time, going over the contracts, using the quiet of her home and how relaxed (satisfied) she is to her advantage. 

She checks the time, realizing that Neji will probably have read her email by now. She’s not looking forward to his reply--but when she checks her personal account, there’s nothing. The radio silence is a bit unsettling, but she tries not to dwell on it. 

She shoots off an email to the DA. She wants an ETA on when they were going to make Naruto’s release official. She knows he’s trying to build a bigger and better case against Yahiko and his goons, but her priority is Naruto. His freedom will mean nothing if he breaks mentally from being confined.

She works on her actual job for another hour or so before calling it a day. Really, she’s just ready to get back to Naruto. She closes her laptop and shuffles to the bedroom.

“Hey, babe?” Hinata asks, knocking on the door for a second before entering, standing at the doorway. Naruto was laying on the bed, slightly turned away from her. “I just finished up.”

Naruto glances over at her, waiting. 

She has to bite back a smirk. “I thought, maybe for dinner, that I’d order ramen.”

His eyes go wide and he opens his mouth a bit before closing it. He does that a couple of times and her smirk turns into a full giggle. “Whaahhn?” 

 “I’ll go order it, okay?” She steps over to the bed, stooping to pet Argus, who was still hovering around Naruto. She crawls a bit onto the bed, leaning forward to press her lips against naruto’s temple. He smiles at her and his eyes crinkle. It’s her favorite smile. She kisses him again before scooting back off of the bed to go and call in their order. 

She’s in the living room, dialing, but Naruto hasn’t followed. She turns a bit, peeking down the hall, but there’s no motion. Maybe he opted to lay there for a bit more? It’s no big deal. She knows his order by heart anyway. She’s told it’ll be about forty-five minutes to an hour before they’ll deliver. Hanging up, she makes her way back down the hall. Sure enough, Naruto is on the bed with his eyes closed. She’s about to close the door, thinking he may want to nap but she catches the tension in his jaw.

It’s clenched.

Tight.

He’s...angry?

“Babe?” She calls out to him. It takes a few times before his eyes open and he turns towards her. “I thought you fell asleep but your jaw looks… intense.”

He shifts his mouth around, forcibly relaxing it.

“Are you upset?” she asks, brow furrowed.

“No.” Naruto promises her quickly. “I was just thinking.”

She tilts her head, inquisitive. “About what?”

Naruto shrugs instead of answering.

It’s his second method of deflection. It causes a little shiver of apprehension to run through her. Was he still suffering and she was being blind again? “A lot on your mind?” she ventures. Because of course there is--with everything, considering. 

Instead of directly answering he takes a breath and fakes a smile. “What movie do you wanna watch tonight?” 

“Whatever you want.” She allows the topic shift, deciding to let him set the pace.

Naruto purses his lips a little, shaking his head. “You pick.”

She blinks at that. He never really seemed all that interested in the shows she liked. “Me?”

Naruto finally rolls over to face her. “Yeah. You.” There’s something possessive in the way his eyes travel over her in the doorway. 

It makes her blush. “Okay. Well, come help me.” She clears her throat and holds out a hand.  

Naruto, in turn,  lifts one of his own lazily.

Hinata rolls her eyes, before stepping closer to help him up. “Don’t pull me down.” She warns. She knows this trick...

“I won't.” Naruto smirks.

His fingers lace fully in between hers before he yanks her down on top of him.

“You!” She wrinkles her nose, laughing. 

Naruto laughs a little before- “Ow!” He rubs the spot on his arm she pinched.

She stands back up, giving him a little glare. “Come on.” She tugs at his arm a little. “Up.”

“Alright. Alright.” He smiles and this time it reaches his eyes.

She smiles back. 

They decide on a comedy. Neither one are in the mood for drama or tension. The ramen will be there soon so there’s nothing to clean up or prepare. Hinata decides to take Argus out before the food gets there.

 She’s just taking him into the grass behind her complex when her phone vibrates. 

A text.

It’s Shikamaru.

‘Tried to call you at work. Where are you?’

‘Stayed home.’ 

‘Good. Stay there. Don’t leave. No matter what.’

Hinata frowns at her phone. ‘What’s going on?”

‘We found Jiraiya.’

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, when she was a little girl, Hinata dared to dream.

Somewhere between the death of her mother and the abuse by her father, she lost that. She was told her dreams were silly. She was too weak, too useless, too much and not enough all at once.

She found the ability to dream again, years later, with Naruto.

He ignited her heart and made her dream.

Of a future. Of happiness. Of unconditional love.

But there’s still that cloud of doubt that those who dashed her dreams before had left in her mind. That she wasn’t worthy. That she’d ruin it.

Sometimes, she’s scared that maybe all her future will ever be...is dreams. 



‘We found Jiraiya.’ 

Three words that she had desperately wanted to hear.

But not like this.

Never like this.

‘Dead. They killed him.’

Hinata’s fingers shake so much the buttons get pressed too many times. It takes her a couple of tries but she finally gets her response typed in. She’s blinking furiously, her gaze flickering towards her apartment where inside Naruto was, waiting for her...they were going to watch a movie, eat some ramen, cuddle...and now…

‘Paperwork is still in progress and warrants being slapped together--in the meantime, I need you to stay still and stay out of it. There’s no telling what they’ll do, especially now.’

He’s worried about retaliation.

She’s just worried about Naruto.

A sudden, terrible thought crosses her mind and she can’t help but ask herself. How long…? What if her pressing for answers caused this? The question breaks over her and she can’t finish that train of thought. Shikamaru isn’t known as a genius for nothing, and as if he senses where she’s already mentally going, he texts another message. 

‘He’s been dead awhile. It’s not because of anything you did.’

It’s only a minor relief. He’s still gone. Naruto will still be devastated.

Shikamaru doesn’t give her details, but he tells her enough. It turns her blood to ice and breaks her heart. She tucks her chin and inhales, fighting tears. Argus nudges her hand. 

Her phone vibrates again. ‘Naruto’s situation doesn’t change. He stays put and out of trouble until it’s over. Not much longer now.’

That’s been the plan all along, hasn’t it? Keeping him in the clear.

She nods her head, even though Shikamaru can’t see her. ‘OK’

He tells her that he’ll be in touch with more details as soon as he has them. He re-emphasizes the need for caution. She’s not stupid, she gets it. She’ll stay home. She’ll keep up the pretense. 

She rubs her eyes hard. Argus nudges her again.

Her heart hammers in her chest.

She couldn’t say that liked Jiraiya--not even remotely--but Naruto cared for him and Naruto had already had so much taken from him in his life...it wasn’t fair. She didn’t want him to hurt anymore. She thought she could protect him.

Maybe that was a silly dream, too.

Chapter Text

Professor Yuhi was one of the few people that never made Hinata feel like she was a bother. In fact, she was probably the person that Hinata looked up to the most. She had taken a liking to Hinata as well.

She offered advice and guidance and an ear when Hinata needed it. Hinata was always worried about doing the right thing and where the lines of right and wrong were.

“It’s easy to ‘know’ right from wrong when everything is smooth and clear, and going your way,” Kurenai had told her. “But let everything go to shit, and then see how difficult it becomes to distinguish between the two.” 



He’s going to hate her.

She’s going to lose him.

Those thoughts run on repeat in her head in a near consistent loop. 

She can’t sleep.

She eats until she vomits.

Old habits and all that.

She takes her medication as often as is ‘safe’. It helps settle her nerves but does nothing for the aching sadness she feels.

She clings to Naruto.

It’s pathetic.

She can’t help it.

When he realizes what she’s done…

She’s waiting for the ‘all clear’ from Shikamaru. It’s moving quickly, he assures her, despite it feeling like these past few days have stretched forever. In fact, they have a court date. The closer it gets the more Hinata’s anxiety ratchets up. 

Every sound jumps her.

She wants to tell Naruto about Jiraiya, but she’s not sure if that’s smart. She’s not sure how well he will cope with grief in addition to his stress. Stress he has that he doesn’t need, she reminds herself. Stress that she is partially responsible for. Even so, she doesn’t want to trigger a relapse. He managed to pull himself up from his last spiral on his own, and she was so proud of that, but he was still cooped up and he was still tense--and although he was pretending that he was okay--she knows him and she knows he’s lying.

For her.

Because he loves her.

Will he love you when he learns the truth?  

She can’t quite shut up the little voice in her mind.

When it gets loud, she curls against Naruto, leaning into his warmth.

Let him love me now, she thinks. So she can have something to hold onto when he doesn’t.

Ino calls her, and can tell something is up, but Hinata can’t talk to her about it. She can barely think about it. It’s almost over, she can hear Shikamaru in her head, and although she knows he’s referring to their case and trial, a part of her is terrified that it will be the end of her and Naruto.

She tries to mentally pep talk herself. That if he leaves her--then that’s his right. But he would be safe and that was what her goal was. His future. She wanted to give him that. Whatever he did with it, was up to him. If her heart was the price of his freedom--she’d pay it, a hundred times.

She tells herself this, but that doesn’t stop the tears from soaking her pillow at night. Doesn’t stop her from crawling across his lap and trying to press herself into his skin...to hold him. To hold on.

She loves him so damn much.

She hopes he knows that.

When the time comes and he learns everything--she hopes he knows that much at least.

And Naruto...he’s so good to her. He’s softer now than he’s ever been. Holding her--letting her be as clingy and as needy as she wants. He’s doing whatever he can to take care of her, as is evident by his suggestion that she take a bath before their dinner arrives.

She’s sprawled out against him, with her arms around his neck, like some sort of clinging vine. She resists the idea of leaving this position, her arms curling a bit tighter. A bath does sound nice though. "Come with me,” she breathes against his skin.

"I would,” he says, and she can hear his negative answer before he voices it. “You know I'd love to. But I should stay out here, to hear for the food. You know?" He runs his fingers through her hair, a couple times, letting his fingers massage her scalp.

She’s seen him do the same thing to Argus when a particularly loud explosion on the tv startles him.

She’s almost amused by it.

She wonders if Naruto wants her to bathe so she can relax or so he can get a break from her. She really should let him have some breathing room, she considers, reluctantly. "I won't be long, okay." 

He smiles, and nods. "See you when you get wrinkly." He waves her off down the hall.

Inside her little bathroom, she runs the hot water.. She dumps in some salts and climbs in--welcoming the way her legs begin to tingle and pinken at the hot--scalding--water. She curls her knees up, wrapping her arms around her shins before pressing her forehead against her knees.

The tears come almost immediately.

Large, fat droplets, plopping into her frothing bathwater. 

Her shoulders shake and she presses her lips as tightly together as she can, so not a sound escapes. She doubts that Naruto would even hear her over the water but she doesn’t want to add to his worry. 

He’s already worried about her.

He doesn’t need to see her fracturing.

She’s not breaking--she won’t. Not yet, anyway.

She might when he leaves her, but that’s...that’s not something she can control right now, so she lets that thought roll down her cheeks into the tub as well. After a few minutes she twists the tap and closes her eyes, leaning back, allowing the water to close over her entirely. She lays there, eyes closed, submerged, for long moments, purposefully disengaging her mind--blanking her thoughts. It’s a technique that Inoichi had taught her, and it was one that worked better than most.

However, her tranquility is broken when she can hear the faint rumble of Argus growling in the hallway. She pushes up and out of the tub, quickly toweling herself off. She doubts that Argus is growling at Naruto--he adores him--but something has upset him. Maybe the delivery guy was there? Argus was usually pretty good about that, but she was usually with him.

She opens the door ready to soothe her worried companion but realizes almost immediately that Argus isn’t so much upset as he is defensive. He’s put himself in front of the door she was behind.

That’s when she hears it.

A voice that taunts her in her sleep--however infrequent that is.

"What's she going to do without you? She might need to look around for a new man to protect her. I hear a lot of people are headed to Brooklyn these days. Better real estate."

Yahiko.

Hinata tenses up.

"My girl's good here. Thanks though,” Naruto replies, his voice surprisingly even--considering.

"Well see." Yahiko winks. 

"Well, if that's all you came to say--"

"Get. Out." Hinata bites out each syllable. Argus is still growling beside her. He’s a former military dog. She knows the hand signals that will send him over the loveseat to tear out Yahiko’s throat.

She’s tempted.

More tempted than anything.

A murderer is in her living room threatening her beloved.

Instead, she gives the signal to ‘hold’ and steps forward. She can feel Naruto’s eyes on her, but she’s looking only at Yahiko. The man that tried to ruin him.  "Right now, or I'm calling the police." Or releasing her dog. She’s undecided, really.

Yahiko has the audacity to smirk at her, but she sees the edge to it. The hatred in it. That’s fine. She hates him right back.

"Cold, Miss Priss. Chill a little. Just got finished talking." he steps towards the door, with a biting smile aimed at Naruto. "See you tomorrow."

Naruto slams the door behind him, locking the dead bolt. His chest is heaving.

The moment the lock is turned Hinata’s knees turn to jelly. She rushes to Naruto’s side."H -how did he get in here? W-what did he do?” She scans him for injuries. “What...what--what did he say to you?" God, she hadn’t stuttered that much in years . She’s rattled.

Naruto looks like she feels. "I don't know,” he says, voice raspy. Winded. He turns to face her. "How do they know where you live?" 

Hinata's mouth snaps shut.

She doesn’t know how to answer that, not really. He’ll hear it all tomorrow...but right now--he’s already on edge. Yahiko has him shook. She doesn’t want him to do anything that could jeopardize things and if she tells him that they know where she lives because they’ve been following her--she knows he will do something.

Her non-answer is answer enough though and she can see him work through something in his mind. "Okay." He says, quietly. He doesn’t argue with her.

Hinata blinks at him, searching.

He stares right back. He’s a little guarded and hurt, but he’s not pushing her away. 

They both jump the next instant when there’s a knock at the door. Naruto turns around to quickly check the fish eye peephole. "It's just the food." He tells her, clearing his throat.

She nods, letting him know it's okay to open. She glances at Argus, who is still tense, but she tells him it’s okay. He relaxes his stance, trotting to her side. She rubs his ears as Naruto thanks the delivery guy.

"Did you pick which movie you wanted?" Naruto asks, moving around her. He sounds...different. He’s pretending to be fine. 

For her.

It’s always for her.

He does so much for her.

Which is why she’d do anything for him.

She  fiddles with her bracelet around her wrist a few times before swallowing. "You can pick."

He shakes his head. "Nah, I want you to pick."

Hinata bites her bottom lip because she wants to cry again. He’s so good to her.

She loves him so much.

And he’s going to hate her.

Naruto senses her distress and drops the bag of food on the table. He walks to her and pulls her into a hug. "It's okay." He promises her.

She nods into his chest but it’s a lie.

She knows it’s a lie.

Because she’s the liar.

Chapter Text

“Love gives you strength.”



She takes two anxiety pills with her morning coffee. 

She pep talks herself in the shower.

When she’s dressed, she stares at her reflection for several long minutes. Today was not going to be easy, she knows, but if it was going to be difficult for her, then it was going to be excruciating for Naruto, and if there was one thing that Hinata was good at, it was pulling herself together for his sake.

Today was the day he got his freedom back.

That made her happy.

Joyful, even.

Today was also the day he would learn that she’d been duplicitous. 

Today he would learn about Jiraiya.

Today was the day she could lose him.

She stops that thought before it really starts. It does her no good to dwell on it. Beating herself up for things she couldn’t undo was pointless. All that mattered right now was getting through the next few hours and making sure that she was there for Naruto. That he could rely on her--lean on her--and depend on her. To do whatever he needed.

She would be strong enough.

With that thought in mind, she steps out of the bathroom to go make Naruto some breakfast. He’s already up, at the sink. He gives her a sort of half-smile that doesn’t come close to reaching his eyes and mumbles a faint “Morning.”

She steps behind him and runs her hand over his back. “Hey.” She tips her head, to look up at him. “It’s going to be okay,” she tells him. He looks at her and pretends to believe her. She decides to believe enough for both of them.

She gets him fed, gets him dressed. He even lets her comb his hair.

He’s going through the motions.

She wants to hug him and confess everything. 

But she can’t.

Not yet. 

The police transport will be there soon. 

After breakfast, Naruto disappears into the bathroom. He’s in there for awhile before she ventures closer. She’s trying not to mentally ‘worst case’ him in there. She thinks Naruto in the bathroom may always be some form of trigger for her. 

Not much she could do about it really.

Open floor plans with a no wall bathroom were not easy to come by.

She gives him a few more minutes before she calls out. "Naruto? Are you okay. They'll be here soon." 

There’s no answer. She can hear shuffling on the other side. Water running. Splashing?

“Babe?” She eyes the handle. Her fingers curl against her palms.

Space.

Trust.

She needed to give him those things.

She needed to be his support, not his keeper.

Still… "Naruto?" 

The door opens and he’s standing in front of her. He’s slightly disheveled, but he’s holding together. "Are you--"

"Okay?” he interrupts. “Yep." He smiles--tight lipped and tense. A clear ‘drop it’. 

Space.

Trust.

"Okay." She concedes, softly. She follows him out to the kitchen. He’s fidgeting--tapping--tense. She’s surprised when he takes a seat at the table. Argus pads over to him, offering silent support. He’s in his vest--a precaution she took, knowing there were going to be strangers in her apartment. Strangers touching Naruto.

She takes a breath.

Almost over.

She takes the seat across from him. "Baby, everythings going to be okay." It’s a promise. She had made sure of it. She'd do it all again, too. The late nights, the sneaking around, the confrontations. Anything, to keep him from being hurt anymore.

"Yep." He replies, his eyes skirting hers.

She takes another breath. She hates this. She can’t hold it in anymore. It’s bubbling up. His pain is drawing it out of her.  "Naruto, I-" She chokes on her words for a second, trying to find the right ones. Where to start? Jiraiya is gone? You’ve been free this whole time? Neither option seemed ideal, but she had to say something . Anything to take away that ‘deer in headlights' look he had on his face. "I need to tell you something."

He looks over her quickly, eyes widening.

Oh, no, she’s made it worse.

Before she can open her mouth there’s a knock on her door. She wants to ignore it but she knows who it is...knows she can’t ignore it.

"Sorry. I overslept." Shikamaru huffs around a yawn when she lets him in. He gives her apartment a cursory glance, cocking his head. His dark hair is tied in a neat ponytail at the nape of his neck. "I still can't smoke in here?"

He already knows the answer before she shakes her head.

"Coffee?"

That she can provide. She makes her way to the counter and pours him a cup. 

Shikamaru slumps down into her seat, uncaring that he’s rumpling his dark grey suit. "You look like shit,” he tells Naruto. Hinata’s eyes narrow and she swallows a reprimand.

Of course he does, she thinks. After all he’s gone through. Shikamru didn't really need to point it out.

Shikamaru, oblivious or ignoring Hinata's glare, leans back into the chair, yawning. "Relax a little, jeez."

Hinata knows that his casual aloofness is in part his personality and in part because (as he told her last night) it was all over. Naruto was free. Bad guys were going to be punished. Life was moving on.

It’s over for him, yes, but it’s not that simple for her and Naruto. There’s going to be aftermath.

Hinata redirects the conversation--more for her own peace of mind than anything. “Shouldn’t they be here by now?” She places his coffee on the table.

"They're usually late." Shikamaru replies with a limp hand wave.

She nods. He would know better than her. She leaves him to his coffee and turns her attention back to Naruto. He’s still restlessly agitated. She smiles, gentle, loving and slips her hands over his. She’s surprised to find herself steady and calm. Maybe it was seeing him so distressed that did it--that made her resolve tighten. Whatever the case, her tension eased away as she stared into his blue eyes. 

He gives her a disjointed little nod. “'I'm going to be okay. I will. I-" Another knock on the door stalls his voice. 

Shikamaru groans. "They're here already?" He looks down at his coffee regrettably before taking another long drink.

Hinata gives Naruto’s hands a squeeze before she answers the door.

Four police officers greet her on the other side.

Shikamaru is on his feet at the table, as is Naruto. One of them looking decidedly more anxious than the other.

One of the four move towards Naruto. "Hands." 

Naruto complies, hands out in front of him.

"Behind your back." The cop corrects, a little impatiently.

Hinata glances at Shikamaru. He shrugs. She returns her gaze to Naruto. She hates seeing him in cuffs. It brings back too many bad memories, but she refuses to look away from him. He needs her to be strong now. 

"We'll meet you there, Naruto." She tells him. "We'll be there as soon as you get in, okay? I promise."

He nods at her before glancing over at Shikamaru--who was still trying to drink down his coffee in hasty gulps.

"What, aren't you supposed to give me some advice or something. Isn't that why you're here? Aren't ya'll called advisors or whatever?" Naruto asks, watching as the black box on the counter is taken apart.

"You want some advice?" Shikamaru shrugs. "Keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself? How about that?"

"Play nice. Got it." Naruto says. 

"Let's go, Uzumaki." 

Hinata watches the officers flank him to walk him out of the apartment. Beside her, Argus whines pitifully in his throat. SHe presses her hand to his scruff. “It’s okay,” she whispers. “He’ll be home soon.”

Shikamaru downs the remaining drops of coffee and tilts his head. “Ready?” he asks.

She nods, moving to grab her coat. “I still don’t understand why he has to ride there like that.”

“Well, it’s like I told you. We need time to get you into the courthouse to testify, and we need to keep Naruto out of their sight. If they can goad him into doing something stupid, then everything you’ve done will be for nothing. Okay? Besides, you wanted him safe, right? Surrounded by cops is pretty safe.”

She frowns at that, following Shikamaru to his sedan. “That would depend on the cops,” she mutters.

“These were hand picked by Neji. You have issues, take it up with him.”

That made her feel at least marginally better. The cops hadn’t seemed nice but they hadn’t been completely antagonistic, not like the last group. She nods, silently.

“Hey, this is all going to be over soon and we can all get back to our normal lives,” he says, shifting into gear. “Man…” he sighs. “I miss normal.”

 

* * *

The courthouse isn’t crowded with reporters. 

She’s actually a little surprised by that.

News of an organized crime ring takedown was a big story, but the DA was apparently sincere in his desire to wrap everything up neatly and make sure no loopholes could be exploited. A media circus and open trial would only muddy the waters of a clear-cut case. 

That’s just fine with Hinata. The ideas of cameras in her face is too much. As it is, her testimony is to be given in a secured, closed room. 

She tells the judge everything. Answers every question.

The attack in the alley. The stalking. The letters. Pictures. The incident at the gym. 

All of it.

All in all, it only takes her forty-five minutes.

She thinks it’s almost funny that weeks of trauma could be summed up in less than an hour.

By the time she’s done, Shikamaru is told that the transport vehicle has arrived. She can barely restrain herself from running down the hall in her little heels. She can only imagine the anxiety and tension Naruto must be feeling at the moment.

Shikamaru huffs at her to wait up as she speed walks down the steps.

"Is here still in there?" He asks when they get to it.

One of the officers nods.

Hinata peers at them. Surely they could have uncuffed Naruto and had him out by now? "Excuse me. It's freezing out here," she mentions pointedly. 

"I'm hurrying." The officer tells her, moving to uncuff Naruto from his seat. He then turns him and unshackles his wrists.

"I don't have all day, man." The officer says, watching Naruto rub his wrists warily.

Hinata can see the confusion on Naruto’s face. He moves out of the truck, jumping down to the pavement, but his eyes are guarded--like he’s expecting a trap to spring at any moment.

She hates that look. The one that tells of a little boy that was hurt by everyone--the one that was scared to trust because trust meant pain. He trusts her and she--

She shakes herself out of that thought and moves to his side quickly, wrapping his arm in hers and rubbing. "You're so cold."

"We can head inside to talk." Shikamaru tilts his head towards the front entrance. Not the gated, guarded, side entrance for prisoners.

Naruto hesitates, eyeing the whole scene with caution."What's going on?"

"I just said inside. " Shikamaru states firmly, walking towards the entrance without them.

Naruto looks down at Hinata. It’s such a vulnerable, confused look. She swallows. "It's okay,” she whispers, drawing him towards the door. "I'll tell you everything. I promise."

"I'm sure you're confused." Shikamaru talks over his shoulder as they follow him into one of the open rooms. He walks over to a table of hot water pots and instant coffee. "I don't miss this gruel." He laments while still preparing it for himself anyways. "I can't wait to get back to my office in DC. I have a Keurig. Not the best coffee, but so fucking easy."

"Shikamaru," Hinata interjects, voice impatient. She’s been steady up until now, but the edge is cutting into her.

"Right. Ugh, this is such a pain. 'Pain.' Ha." He smirks a little, shaking his head. He stirs some powdered creamer into his coffee, tapping the rim. Like they had all the time in the world.

Hinata pauses at that...because didn’t they?

Now.

Naruto was free.

Naruto was safe.

The cost had been so, so high, but he wasn’t going to jail. The people that had tried to hurt him were going to be taken care of.

"Look,” Shikamaru starts speaking to Naruto, pulling her attention. “The DA unofficially dropped the charges against you awhile ago. But they wanted to 'tie up any loose ends' so to speak. So we wouldn't just put away a couple goons but then, like, find you two floating in the river a couple weeks from now, you know what I'm talking about."

Yes. Hinata knew. All too well.

"I can honestly say that I do not." Naruto frowns.

He’s confused. He’s looking at her for answers.

"You were right." Hinata tells him quietly. "About other people being upset. About you beating Yahiko. There was a lot of people. Organized crime." 

"Yep. And we got all of them. Thanks to Hinata." Shikamaru tilts his styrofoam up towards her in mock salute, although the admiration in his words was genuine.

"What?" Naruto continues to look at her, but now his confusion is tinged with something else.

Shikamaru sips his drink. "Hinata pulled some very powerful strings. Not to mention her own testimony."

Naruto blinks. Twice. "What? Her testimony of what?"

"You know, being stalked. Threatened." Shikamaru says it so blandly, like it’s obvious. 

Hinata glowers a little. This was not how she planned to talk to Naruto about this. 

Naruto swallows so hard that she hears it. "What. The. Fuck ?"

"You know, you probably should've told him at least that." Shikamaru sighs, letting his shoulders sag. "So we could avoid this little temper tantrum."

Hinata shoot shim a look. Shikamaru clearly didn’t know Naruto well if he thought that a little black box would have stopped him from marching right out of her apartment and handling Yahiko personally if Hinata told him that she was being threatened.

But she can’t worry about Shikamaru’s misguided logic concerning Naruto.

No, she had to focus on Naruto himself. "I was going to tell you,” she insists.

"Uh, when, exactly?" His eyes narrow and she flinches.

"Right now." She replies, quietly, almost a whisper. Today. Maybe not like this--well, definitely not like this--but today.

"I do need to let you guys know though that both Yahiko and Nagato made a plea deal early this morning, on the murder charge. So this sentencing is just on the remaining 'loose strings'."

"Jesus fucking Christ. They murdered somebody?" Naruto takes a sharp breath. She can almost see scenarios running through his mind. 

"Yeah, don't worry. They're still getting life." Shikamaru informs them in that same bland tone. "Their plea is for other bullshit, like the level of security on their prison and other dumb, clerical shit like that. But it's just another nail in the coffin for the rest of them. I don't see how any of those people will walk out today free. Or any time this decade."

"Fuck," Naruto breathes out quietly.

"Yeah, how'd you not know that?" Shikamaru stops taking a deep drink of his cup. He glances at Hinata and then at Naruto. "Didn't you know the guy?"

Beside her, Naruto goes utterly still. Slow, he turns to face her and Hinata wants to cry at the trepidation in his eyes--the plea she sees there. Her eyes fill with tears. She doesn’t want to hurt him. She doesn’t want this for him. Life has done nothing but punch him down and he's always managed to get back up, but this...this is different. She swallows the lump in her throat. It still chokes her. "Baby," She tries to use her softest voice. She holds his gaze. He needs to know that he’s not alone in this. She’s here. She’s here. She loves him and she’s so...so… ”Baby I'm so sorry.”

Chapter Text

She cried when her mother died.

She remembers that much.

She also remembers that her grief was given a time frame by her father. She was only allowed to mourn for so long before she was ‘pathetic’. She needed to pull herself together and move on.

It hurt--to have to bottle up her grief. To put away her pain.

She understands now--that it was for his comfort and not hers. Her grief was a reminder to him of his own. Even so, she resents him for it.

She vows that she won’t ever make Naruto do that for her.



Naruto stares at her for a long, silent stretch. His eyes are a storm of emotions that she can’t place. She sees anger--she’s familiar with that--but there’s so much more. Guilt, maybe? And sadness too. Betrayal? It’s all too hard to read because suddenly he’s turning away from her and striding towards the exit.

“What? You don't want to stay?" Shikamaru tsks, head tipped to the side. He looks properly befuddled and a little put-out by Naruto’s actions, but Hinata can’t worry about that because Naruto, of course, ignores the question and keeps right on marching.

"Baby? Baby, where are you going?" She still has his arm and his steps cause her to stumble a bit. 

He doesn’t answer right away, instead his jaw tightens and a tick forms near his temple. He’s furious and sad and confused. It’s a lot to take in under the best circumstances, but combined with his bi-polar and just the fuckery of the entire situation, she doesn’t really know what to expect.

"The gym." He says, finally.

She nods. That made a certain amount of sense. Still, she didn’t want him trekking across town in the condition he’s in, plus it really is quite cold. "You're already freezing,” she tells him, running the arm she’s attached to. “Please let me drive you. Naruto, please." 

Part of it is that she wants to look after him...the other part (the selfish part) is that she’s afraid if he walks away from her, that he will stay walking. That she’ll never have him again.

He shrugs at her in a non-answer answer and allows her to navigate them towards where she parked. She tries to pay attention to the traffic, tries to focus on the road, but she’s shivering and it has nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with the heavy blanket of uncomfortable silence between them.

She wants to talk--to explain to him the reasons she did what she did. Why she had to...but she knows that he’s not ready. He’s not in the mental state to listen and she can’t blame him for that, so she won’t push. 

When they get to the gym she takes a steadying breath before following him to the door. It’s locked, which isn’t all that surprising, really. She knows that Naruto still has the spare keys at her place. She’ll take him back to get them and then here. She’ll do whatever he wants.

Naruto, however, doesn’t even wait for the suggestion. He grips the handle and does something to crack the old wood. The handle wobbles uselessly, pieces falling to the ground. Hinata casts a glance over her shoulder, then back to Naruto. It’s not really breaking and entering, she thinks. Since Naruto has the keys...and Jiraiya’s not exactly around to press charges.

She swallows the odd lump that thought brings and blinks her stinging eyes.

Naruto strides over the broken bits of door and flips on the lights. 

The gym actually looks worse than the last time she was there, which is saying something. She glances at Naruto and sees the tick in his jaw speed up.

"What the fuck?" he hisses, eyeing the disgusting conditions.

"This is the place they were operating out of. After--" She drops off the sentence abruptly, seeing how his expression twists. Part fury, part agony.

"Those fucking people had the audacity to use Jiraiya's place for their bullshit after they fucking killed him?"

Hinata's not sure he realizes he's speaking out loud.

Naruto takes a quick, and deep breath through his nose and pushes up his already rolled sleeves.

Hinata follows silently behind him, shrugging off her suit coat and rolling up her own sleeves.

"You don't have to stay." Naruto dismisses her.

It hurts, but this isn’t about her, so she doesn’t respond to the sting. She’ll stay. As long as he needs her. She’ll stay.

She follows him through the back door and down the little hall to Jiraiya’s office. Had she been here just a few days ago? It felt so much longer. Her gaze flicks to the hole in the wall. The one Hidan had punched beside her head. She quickly averts her attention back to Naruto. 

She doesn’t need to relive that and he certainly doesn’t need it. 

Naruto has moved forward and is in the process of grabbing everything he can reach and shoving it into a small trashcan. Hinata catches some scrawled notes...some numbers? 

"Maybe...maybe we should save that?” she hesitantly suggests. “It looks like a lot of handwritten notes. Maybe they could use that as evidence or something--"

Naruto straightens and casts he a disbelieving look. "Shikamaru said they were all going away already,” he snaps. His gaze narrows a little and causes her pulse to skitter. "Maybe that's your problem. That you don't know when to fucking stop ! You don't know when enough is enough."

His voice is hard and tight. Like a fist to her heart.

She knows this is about the case...about Jiraiya..and yet, a part of her hears his words as an accusation. She had inserted herself into his life years ago...had clung to being around him...had made herself completely at his disposal and when he spun out of control, it had been her to pick him up after the crash--but he hadn’t ever asked her to. No...that was all her. She never stopped.

Did he want her to?

That was the fear, really. But that was also for another time. Right now she lets him lash out. He needs it. "Naruto, I know... I know I shouldn't have kept all this from you.” It wasn’t entirely her idea, but she doesn’t want to throw anyone else into this, doesn’t want his wrath directed anywhere than where it belongs.

At her.

She swallows a little, shifting beneath the heavy weight of his cold stare. She finds the ring on her left finger and touches it. “I was just afraid that you'd do something--"

"Yeah, that's always been the problem hasn't it? That you keep things from me, because I can't handle them. You do that! You do that until you don't want to anymore, and then you fucking leave. Then you decided you 'can't take care of me anymore'. Isn't that right?" He's throwing things into the trash can indiscriminately now. Just grabbing stacks of paper and folders and chucking them into the trash can as fast as he possibly can. 

Her heart feels raw. She inhales and exhales steadily to keep herself from crying. He needs her to be steady right now. Later...later she will deal with the wide open wound he just cut into her.

"No,” she says quietly, pleadingly. “Naruto, baby. No I promise. It's not like that." 

"You promise lots of things,” he accuses bitterly. “So if you're going to fucking go again, then just do it already okay? Fucking, go! " He drops the trash can and sets both of his and onto the desk, and in one quick swoop, throws every single thing on the desk, against the wall and onto the floor.

Somewhere in the mess glass breaks.

Hinata flinches.

"Shit!" He’s not even looking at her as he drops to his knees. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." He picks up a frame from the rubbish. His fingers work over the edges of it. He’s shaking. "I'm sorry. Fuck, I'm sorry. I don't want you to go. I - I don't know what I'm fucking doing. God damn it!" 

Hinata moves to him because it’s instinctual. It’s second nature for her. He’s hurting--she needs to comfort him. She kneels down right next to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and shoulders, cradling his head into her hold. 

"I don't know what I'm doing." He chokes out against her. 

"It’s okay." She soothes, shushing him gently. She rocks a little, back and forth, stroking her hand down the back of his hair. "It's okay. It's going to be okay. We'll clean the place up. Okay? Together. Then we can go from there. Okay? It’s okay." She whispers the promise against the shell of his ear. 

She doesn’t know if he believes her.

All she knows is that she refuses to leave her lost boy alone. She loves him--unconditionally. She will love him forever. She will cloak him in that love for as long as he will allow it.

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe she doesn’t know how to stop.

Maybe they have that in common.

Chapter Text

I'll reach my hands out in the dark
And wait for yours to interlock
I'll wait for you~


They cleaned the gym from top to bottom. They scrubbed the floors, disinfected the mats, replaced the broken door handle, and cleaned out every scrap of paper that didn’t belong. All the while Naruto was practically mute.

She didn’t hold that against him.

What was there to say, after all?

So much to digest in such a short amount of time. She couldn’t imagine the roller coaster of emotions that he was on. He once again offered her the chance to leave, but she simply shook her head and went about sweeping.

She wasn’t ever going to leave him again.

It takes a long time to get the place back into shape, but there’s a certain satisfaction in Naruto’s posture when they finish. He looks out over the gym and there’s a mixture of pride, sadness, and a little anger in his expression, but it’s not one of defeat and she is so proud of him for that.

“Ready?” he asks her, indicating the trash bags piled at the door.

She nods, moving to help carry them into the alley.

The alley.

It still bothers her, walking into it, but not like before. She’s faced down the monsters that hid in the dark. It doesn’t scare her anymore--but it was New York--a healthy dose of caution was always warranted. 

After, they walk down the sidewalk together, side by side. He doesn’t reach for her hand, but he doesn’t move away from her when their arms brush, so she counts that as a positive. He’s still hurting. She’ll give him all the time he needs.

On the way back to her car she orders dinner. She doesn’t feel like cooking and she can’t imagine that Naruto does either. She keeps it fairly light, with the exception of the fries. They’re home and finished most of their meal before he actually starts speaking to her.

"We need to go get your bond back tomorrow." Naruto says quietly.

Like their relationship? She wonders. Had she broken their bond? Had she hurt him that badly? She blinks at him, confused. "My bond? Like… our bond?" If he needs her to work on their bond--she will. She just doesn’t know what that means exactly. 

"What? No." Naruto snorts a little, shaking his head. When she looks up, he appears far less tense than he had been. Almost like he’d been thinking over things in his mind while they chewed in silence. She wonders what conclusions he came to.

"The bond. For bail,” he clarifies. “Those places are total assholes, so you better get it back as soon as possible."

"Oh," Hinata nods absently. "Right, that." Hm. In all the chaos of everything else she hadn’t really considered how this particular subject would be broached. She wonders if he’ll consider it another lie. Or if he will resent her for making them live paycheck to paycheck when she had the resources to secure them, financially at least. 

"Um," She chews at the bottom of her lip. Was this the right time to drop it on him? After everything else? He’s already endured one shock after the other. She should tell him, though. If for no other reason than to show him that she trusts him--completely. No more secrets. No more partial truths...

"Hmm?" Naruto glances at her, his fingers rubbing at his forehead. He’s clearly tired. 

Maybe she should wait? She wonders, twisting her bracelet. What if it ruined the semblance of peace he had worked out on his own. She didn’t want to upset him again.

He sits up straighter, eyes focusing on hers. "What?"

"I, uhm..." 

"What's wrong?"

She’s making him tense. She doesn’t want that. The words rush out of her. "I didn't pay your bond!"

He blinks at her for a second. He inclines his head. "Who did?" 

Okay, deep breath, Hinata. "I paid the whole thing."

He blinks for another second. She can see it working through his mind and not making sense. She’s not really making sense. He pauses, asking a little uncertainly: "I thought you just said you didn't?" 

She takes another steadying breath before speaking again. "I paid the entire bail."

"The entire thing? Sixty thousand dollars? " Naruto chokes out, his eyes going wide. "How the hell do you have sixty thousand dollars. Fuck! Did you borrow it from somebody?" She can hear worry edging into his disbelief. 

Quickly, she shakes her head to alleviate his concern. "No, nobody."

"You had sixty thousand dollars!" Naruto repeats, clear disbelief on his handsome face. "From what? Where? When did you get this?" The questions are rapid fire, and cause her to twist her bracelet a little faster.

"I’ve… always… had it…" she whispers.

"What are you talking about?" Naruto squint at her, watching her face.

She looks away, down at her hands. "My dad." She finally replies, quiet. She’s not sure how to explain the situation. Her mother’s death and life insurance was one chunk, and then her father--old money for generations--another. How did she explain to a person that grew up with absolutely nothing that she grew up with more money and finery than most people could even imagine and yet she had made them live on a budget? That the money made her feel dirty? That none of her fancy clothes or instructors or horses had made a damn bit of difference. That she would have given it all up for her mother to be alive. For her father to love her. "He had… a lot of money." She settles on.

"So, you're rich?" It’s still a question. He still looks just a little unsure--of her or the situation, she’s not certain.

"My dad had money, yes." She corrects, heat flushing her face. 

"He's dead." It’s blunt. Open and forthright. The only way Naruto knows how to be.

Hinata nods. It still aches, somewhere deep down where a little girl still longs to be loved. Longs for a father. It aches, but it’s a dull ache. She’s healing. 

"So, you and your sister?" Naruto prompts her when she offers nothing else.

"I never took any of his money,” she points out, softly. “Well, I borrowed some from my sister. For the apartment. But I paid all of it back." She wants him to know that she didn’t use the money for her own benefit when she didn't for theirs ."But I couldn't chance bonds. I needed to make sure you were really out. All the way. That nobody else could possibly mess with anything." That no one could take him from her.

There’s a lengthy pause while she works her bracelet and Naruto seems to consider all of this new information. He nods, to himself, before he lifts his gaze to hers. "So, are you like, my sugar mama?"

She can’t help but be surprised by the abrupt mood change. She was expecting...she’s not sure, actually, what she was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Not this softness. He’s smiling at her and it’s not tight or edged. It’s genuine and turns his eyes into the afternoon sky. She feels her pulse jump to attention.

"I mean, you've always kind of been my sugar mama,” he teases, “but like, I just didn't know exactly how much sugar we were talking about."

At that her cheeks burn even more, because it’s a lot of sugar. 

He sees it in her expression." "Oh my fucking god!” he crows--jumping both her and Argus (who has been glued to Naruto’s side since they arrived). “Do you have a place in the Hamptons?"

She snorts a little, her hand coming up to her face--hiding in both fluster and embarrassment. She was brought up to never speak about money--it was bad form and all that. Real money never announced itself. It showed itself. Such ridiculousness. She shakes her head, attention returning to Naruto, who is very clearly amused. "What?" 

He cocks his head adorably. "Can I get Sperry's?"

"What?" She snorts again, covering her mouth. 

"Boat shoes, Hina! For the Hamptons." He insists with an infectious grin. "And I need some polo shirts. Some khaki shorts."

She pictures him in exactly that outfit and finds her mouth wrestling with a smile. "You hate Long Island." 

"That was before."

"Before what?" She asks with a giggle, flushed still.

"Before I found out you were super freaking rich!"

The word rich does bring up a point that she felt needed mentioning. Because as much as he seemed to be accepting of this right now...she wasn’t sure how he’d feel after the day was done and all of the trauma and drama were settled.

"You hate rich people." She says, warily.

Naruto levels a look at her and it’s open and honest. "I don't hate you." The words are soft, sincere, and pierce right through her insecurities. "There's nothing that could make me hate you,” he tells her, reaching out his hand on the table between them.

Hinata glances down at his open palm. 

After everything that’s happened to him--before this and now--he’s still willing to reach out. Still willing to be vulnerable for her.

She doesn’t hesitate.

She presses her fingers between his, interlocking them. 

"I love you." He tells her. It’s a promise.

"I love you, too." Always . It’s a vow.

There was still a lot for them to work through--not just as a couple, but there was the situation with Naruto’s doctors, finishing up all of the lawyer business with his case, her work and his...but it was going to be okay, she realizes. Not just okay...they were good . Strong.

They were together and together there was nothing they couldn’t achieve. 

Her inner emotional thought process was brought to a screeching halt by his very next question, however. 

"Okay, but like, exactly how much money are we talking here?"

She splutters, shaking her head. "Stop,” she begs, trying to cover her flaming cheek with her hand. 

He’s not stopping. He’s in a groove now. Amusement tilts the corner of his mouth. "Did you go to private school? Did you wear a uniform?" He leans in a bit, watching her cover her eyes. "Oh my God you did, didn't you?”

"Stop!" It’s a very undignified whine. She tries to no avail to tug her hand free of his to hide her face. He was always so good at teasing her.

"Oh shit ," His voice drops to a low, husky tone that sends shivers along her skin. "Do you still have it?"

"Oh my god! Stop! You're being gross again!"

He’s laughing now, pleased with himself at his ability to fluster her. "Okay, okay, hear me out-"

She’s mortified and a little breathless at the implication. But still: "No!"