(a/n) this chapter occurs a significant time before the first chapter and second chapter (4 years ago)... but the flashbacks in those chapters make the timeline more muddy. sorry about that! It's also heavily Naruhina for parts of it, so you have been warned :S #slowburn because realistic relationships burn.
thank you for all the kind reviews, follows and favorites. Sorry this chapter took so long. I had it written in a couple of days but for some reason, I just wasn't happy with it. Still not happy with it, but I'm going to upload anyway so I don't make another 1000 changes to it. please forgive me for the errors.
(disclaimer) I do not own Naruto.
3. Growing Pains
Tokyo University – Second Semester, February 2015 – 8:45 pm
"—And then I almost missed my ferry to Koh Samui because the traffic was so—Hinata? Hello? Are you still there?"
She was typing furiously away at her Macbook whlist trying to balance her iPhone between her ear and shoulder. She murmured into the phone distractedly. "Mhmm. Sorry I'm—" Mid-thought and rereading the sentence she just typed… that doesn't sound quite right. She hit the backspace repeatedly, quickly and loudly; frustrated with her inability to form coherent sentences. "Sorry, I'm just working on a finance case. Y-you missed the train… go on?" she urged gently, a little ashamed that she was only paying half attention.
They tried to maintain regular contact but it wasn't often and it wasn't enough. Their connection relied mostly on Naruto's ability to access wi-fi and Hinata's class schedule. This limited their interactions to mostly at night when he was finally at the hostel or guest house that he was staying. The wifi connection in public and communal places in Thailand were unreliable and trying to maintain a decent FaceTime call was more trouble than it was worth.
He had sent her loads of pictures, though. Probably an attempt to get her to change her mind, but she had been so busy, she only briefly glanced at them. Naruto could tell she wasn't smitten with country, and he couldn't blame her. She was so driven with her academics and future that leisure time was almost a foreign concept to her.
"R-right. Um… I almost missed my ferry,"he emphasized, suggesting that he heard her slip up,"— Because of the crazy traffic in Koh Samui…" Hinata could hear the excitement and adoration he had for the country as he shared with her his latest venture. She smiled fondly, slightly relieved that he wasn't going to call her out for not paying attention. "I really wish you were here, Hina-chan."
"I-I do too," she replied, unsure of what else to say. They had already gone through this.
"Tell teme to do all the work! I want my girlfriend back," he cried dramatically.
"A-ah… I can't do that, Naruto," she jokingly chided. "He could give me a bad peer mark," she giggled, eyeing her unsuspecting partner across the study table. The raven-haired male looked at her curiously, eyebrow raising in question.
Hinata had sort of laid out her ambitions to Naruto before he left. So sensing this was a losing argument, he let it drop. "I'm probably going to head to Cambodia after this," he stated nonchalantly over the click clack of her keyboard.
Delicate fingers immediately stopped, he had her full attention now. "W-what? Y-you're not coming back yet?"
"Yeah. Get this… I was talking to this old man that I met on a boat—on a boat!" he laughed, as if he couldn't believe it himself. "–His name is Jiraiya…" Naruto rambled enthusiastically but Hinata had stopped paying attention somewhere between Cambodia and boat. Her mind was solely focused on the fact that he wouldn't be returning yet—not soon at least.
Her throat began constricting and a heavy feeling began to form in her chest. Suddenly the T-shirt she was wearing felt way too thick for the room. No.
For the past 2 years since graduation, they have been mostly in a long-distance relationship—or Hinata has been in a relationship with her phone.
Hinata had immediately been accepted into her first-choice university in Tokyo to pursue her Bachelor of Business. The revelation came shortly after she completed her entrance exams, not giving her much time to plan for vacation or a break. She had multiple offers from multiple institutions, but she chose the farthest one. Naruto decided he would attend a community college to further refine his delicate palate for ramen in Culinary Arts. She couldn't be more happy for him, at least he was chasing his dreams, even if it meant he would stay in Konoha while she packed her bags for Tokyo.
Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, he dropped out a year later. He wanted to travel and see the world first before he 'had to start adulting'. She had jokingly rolled her eyes then, not taking him seriously and not predicting what the revelation could mean for her future—their future. She had planned everything down to a Tee, but him 'soul-searching' was something she had overlooked. It was only when he was already at the airport, bags packed, that he decided to text her, 'Hey Hina-chan… Sorry for the suddenness… but I know you're in class and I'm about to board my flight for Shanghai, so... Love you, I'll talk to you soon'.
His uncanny and carefree nature was not lost on Hinata, but nothing could've prepared her for this. She had not gotten a chance to respond until he was already boarded and in airplane mode. With him, she was always a minute too late.
"—And he said I could hitch a ride with him." Naruto paused, waiting for a response. "H-hello? H-Hinata… are you still there?" he exasperatedly asked. It was the third time during this conversation that he had to check up on her.
"A-ah… s-sorry. I'm just… I'm just really busy right now…" she lied. She was a horrible liar.
"Oh… um… okay… I-uh I guess I should go then. I should be sleeping anyway. Big day tomorrow," he chuckled nervously.
Wait, don't go! Her mind screamed. She wanted him to probe her, ask her what was wrong. Did he notice the quiver in her tone? She hated her pride and shyness. She bit her lip, the words never leaving her tongue. She wanted him to fight for her. Instead, she said the opposite of what she intended. "Okay. I'll… I'll talk to you later," she said meekly, moving the receiver away from her ear, not wanting to hear him say goodbye.
"Bye, Hina-chan. I love you! Tell Teme I said Hi! " She heard him yell from the speaker but she deliberately chose not to respond as she abruptly hit 'End Call'.
Taking a moment to collect herself, she stared blankly at the document in front of her. Hinata couldn't tell him to come back, she didn't have the right to. Not when she could tell how much he was enjoying himself, and especially not when he was chasing his dreams. He supported her easily and without conviction even when she had difficulty returning the favor.
"Naruto?" asked her quiet partner, his eyes never leaving his screen.
"Yeah," She paused, seemingly wanting to say more but ultimately choosing not to.
"Hn. Where's he at now?" Sasuke inquired despite maintaining regular contact with the blond, though he didn't say this to her.
Reminded of the conversation she just had, she swallowed the lump in her throat. Taking a deep breath and blinking away the tears that were beginning to sting her eyes, she said, "H-he's in—" She paused, not wanting him to see her in such a sorry state. "—Thailand. H-he's not coming back yet," she said, more to herself than to Sasuke.
"I see," he noted. He seemed to have wanted to comment further, but caught himself before the words came out. "Are you okay?" he asked softly instead, eyes peering over the top of his screen.
"Y-yes," she nodded, immediately breaking eye contact. She could feel herself grow red as she realized he noticed her shaky voice. He subtly pursed his lips, something she would've missed if she wasn't so in tune with his mannerisms. He didn't believe her, but she was grateful that he didn't pursue it.
"I-I changed your section a little bit. The um… the net present value you used did not take in to consideration the approximate market size so…" she started, desperate to change the topic.
"…so that's why I was getting a negative value," he continued for her, eyes lighting. It made sense.
"Exactly," she smiled.
"Nice. How did you find out?"
"I… I looked at the stakeholder mock proposal we wrote together last year… You actually had it done… correctly," she said, surprisingly. Pretending everything was okay was too easy. "…And I just followed the same steps."
"Wow. I…" he stuttered. For the first time in a long time, he was at a loss for words.
"Me neither," she continued for him in jest, feeling slightly smug she bested him in something, earning an eye roll from the boy in front of her.
"Cocky," she heard him mutter. She giggled in response, momentarily forgetting the dreadful conversation she had with her boyfriend minutes earlier.
They continued in silence, him going over the assignment to see how he possibly could've messed up the steps, and Hinata? She was internally wrestling her emotions.
He abruptly rose up from his seat and pushed his chair in. She looked up in confusion, eyes questioning where he was going. "I'm going to get something from the cafeteria, want anything?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I-I'm good."
"I'll get you something warm anyway, I'll be right back."
She watched his retreating form and idly her eyes wandered around the study hall. She could see other students in the same state as her; cramming last minute for an exam, or trying to finish a report that was most likely due the next day.
She stared at her unfinished document again, fingers ready to type but mind blanking. Her hand reached for her phone and silently hovered over Ino's contact information. Oh how badly she needed a friend right now. She pressed on the icon, but maintained a long hold before moving her fingers off the screen, preventing the call action from being processed.
The bluenette sighed, she couldn't bother her friend at this hour. Not when Ino is most likely studying for her med exams.
Luckily the cafeteria that Sasuke was headed to was not connected to their library. It would probably be a 5-10 minute walk across campus for him, giving her some time to recollect her thoughts and compose herself. For once, she was glad he wasn't there. The Uchiha doesn't say much nor does he pry, but he could be awfully perceptive and at that moment, she couldn't trust herself to pretend anymore.
Her mind was properly distracted now. There was no way she could work on the report. She briefly toyed with the idea of sending Naruto a text message. He was only two hours behind her, so she was positively sure that he would answer. It was only midnight in Japan.
'Hey..' she typed out on LINE. Losing her momentary courage, she quickly erased the message altogether.
'Can I call you?' she tried again. No. Too forward. She erased the text and tried again.
'Are you awake?' she sent. Belatedly realizing that she had actually sent it, she could feel her anxiety rising. Heart hammering in her chest, she immediately turned off her phone and stuffed it in her pocket. Her hands returning to her keyboard as she readied herself to type another paragraph.
This wouldn't do, her subconscious said. You're being silly.
She pulled the iPhone out of her sweater, turned it back on and gently setting it aside and rested her head on the table. Part of her wanted to talk about it, so badly. But another part of her, the infuriating part of her, wanted to kick it under the bed and forget about it.
A familiar ringtone rang out in the library. Crap.
She had forgotten to turn on silent after rebooting her phone. She frantically reached for the device and nodded apologies to the irritated stares around her. Quietly, she whispered, "H-hello?"
"Hey, Hinata. What's up?" his raspy voice asked over the line, as if he read her mind.
"H-hi Naruto. Um.. w-what's up?" she asked, feigning ignorance though they both knew why he called.
"No reason. Just felt like it," he chuckled. "I miss you."
"I-I… me too," she responded lamely, not fully convinced of the words leaving her mouth. She was too frustrated, upset, annoyed, sad and etc. to appreciate words the of endearment from him right now. What do you really want? The silent question hanging off the tip of her tongue, the words that she wanted to say but couldn't.
"W-when are you coming back?" she blurted, attempting to hide the frustration in her voice.
"Hm… I don't know," he chuckled. "When was the last time I was in Japan?" he asked. It had been so long, she honestly couldn't recall.
"P-probably 2 months ago. B-but even then, you don't… you don't stay for long," she pointed out. "I-it's been a long time."
"I know, I love it here though! There's so much to see, Hina-chan. I wish you were here. I see all these couples travelling together, and it makes me miss you even more," he said unabashedly.
On a regular day she would've melted at his words. But today, it just irritated her. If you miss me, why don't you come back and see me?
"Y-you know I can't, Naruto-kun. I have school. I'm graduating soon," she paused, seemingly losing it, "—and you won't even be there to see me". She could hear her tone rising and she hated it. She hated being so demanding, but that was it, wasn't it? That was why she was upset with him and the stupid paragraph she had been trying to write for the last hour.
Hinata wavered from wanting to take back her words and wanting to say more. Instead, she held her breath and waited for him to speak.
Naruto didn't say anything and Hinata waited with bated breath, still firmly holding on to the resolve that she wasn't going to break first.
He wasn't dense or dumb to her feelings. He knew his wanderlust bothered his girlfriend of three years. But they were so young. How could she throw away her prime like that?She hasn't even seen the world yet… yet she's willing to throw it all away for a nine to five?! He wanted to ask her, why, but he fought the words back, already knowing what the outcome would be. Naruto didn't want to fight with her, at least not now… Not when he was more than 4500 kilometers away.
"I-I'm sorry Hinata. You know that. It's… It's just not a good time to come back yet, " his voice no longer raspy and boyish like she remembered, but serious and quiet. "I'm not ready." Sometime while he was overseas, he grew from a boy and into a man; she had missed out on that.
"I-I know… I can… I can pay for your flight back, it's not a big deal. I want you here. I can fly you here, and then fly you back!" she quietly exclaimed.
"Hinata," he said seriously, causing her to pause and regret her words. "You I can't do that. I-it's not about the money, it's… it's more personal than that," he said quietly. "J-just come here and see me when you're done! I can show you what I mean."
"I can't, Naruto. Why don't you get that?" she cried in to the phone, this conversation felt all too familiar to her. They had talked about this before. "I plan to start work immediately after graduation, I-I don't have the time for that."
"And why don't you, get it, Hinata?" he asked seriously and tiredly. This conversation was awfully familiar. "I told you I wanted this, and you said you would be okay with it. If you weren't, why didn't you say anything?"
She shook her head, regardless of whether or not Naruto could see it. Hinata couldn't do this anymore, her hand fisting by her side. Stop. She didn't want to hear anymore. "You always say we don't make plans together, but you always make plans without me," he said quietly. Anxiety was quelling within her, stop. Stop. Shut. Up.
"I-I did… I mean, I still do, but…" her voice wavering with frustration, anger and something more while tears streamed down her face. Upon noticing Sasuke's approaching figure from the distance, she quickly rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. Not wanting him to hear their conversation or see her crying, she motioned to the raven-haired boy that she was heading to the washroom.
In the safety of the washroom, she felt a little more courageous. "But I want you here, Naruto. C-Can't you do that? …For me?" she pleaded simultaneously recalling her conversation with Ino. The rambunctious blonde had firmly stated, 'If he loves you, Hinata… He will do it. Without a doubt.' The blonde had been unsympathetic of Naruto's 'soul-searching' and Hinata understood why. Although she couldn't agree. Naruto was different. He wasn't Shikamaru who silently agreed to the blonde's spontaneity with no method or motivation to deny her, Nara responded to her beck and call.
"I-I… I can't talk about this right now, Hinata. I'm sorry," he said softly. This was hurting him too. He knew better than anyone that if they continued, they would probably say something that would hurt and that they both would regret.
Frustrated with her own inability to control her emotions and her irrational anger with his inability to read her mind, she ended the call.
Not wanting to hear any more of it or risk Naruto contacting her, she turned it off and stuffed it in her pocket. She didn't want to talk to him right now nor did she want to risk herself repeatedly checking her phone; checking to see if there was a missed call or message from him. It was distracting and she needed to study and finish the assignment. Although a part of her subconsciousness hoped he would get the hint, give in and find some way to reach her.
Hinata stared at her reflection in the mirror, eyes red and blotchy. She rubbed them furiously, hating the person she was being at the moment and hating how she looked. She fingered the loose strands of her messy bun, and her fringe that was beginning to clump in chunks. She frowned. Her hair was a physical embodiment of her current state.
Frazzled, tangled, and a mess.
She turned on the tap and pressed cold water against her eyes in an attempt to get rid of the red and swollen lids. Sasuke would raise his eyes in question, but he wouldn't pry. It was wrong to dump her drama with Naruto on his best friend, she wasn't that petty.
Gathering her courage, she took a deep breath and returned to her seat, avoiding eye contact from the Uchiha in front of her.
"It's brown rice tea," he said as he nudged the warm cup towards her.
"Thank you." She took the drink gratefully, gently blowing at the opening before bringing the cup to her lips. She relished in the comfort that the warm tea brought her.
"Hn. How's the case coming along? Are the financials ready for presentation tomorrow?" he asked distractedly as he typed at his laptop.
"I just… I just need to calculate ROI and finish the pie chart and then we should be… should be good to go," she responded, proud of her ability to sound so normal in contrast to the turmoil boiling inside her.
"Sounds good," he said. "We've made good progress today." He checked his watch and frowned, 12:38am. "It's getting late. We should head home soon. I'll walk you back to your dorm."
"H-huh?" she looked up to see him packing his bags. "A-already?" she asked, feeling incredulous with herself. She felt her stomach drop at the thought of returning to her dorm. She needed a distraction but she didn't want to be left alone.
"Yeah. You have an 8am class on Mondays… usually, right?"
"R-right," she admitted, albeit reluctantly. Click. Click. Click. She wasn't writing, but she had unconsciously reached for her pen and is now fidgeting with it. Her conversation with Naruto left her feeling sour.
Noticing her reluctance, he sighed. "Do you not want to leave?" he asked softly, shamelessly taking the words right out of her mouth. She had a bad habit of pulling all nighters at the library, and he knew that.
"N-no," she muttered with down casted eyes.
"Do you want me to stay?" he inquired gently. Sasuke was a deliberate and purposeful person. He was no different with words.
Maybe, she thought to herself. She swallowed the lump in her throat.
"Yeah," she responded so quietly he would've missed it if he wasn't listening.
Hinata watched owlishly as Sasuke sat down and unzipped his backpack, retrieving the laptop which he had earlier tucked away.
She refocused her attention to her screen, shoving Naruto out of her subconsciousness and taking a deep breath. She would finish her section of the business case tonight and she will call Naruto tomorrow, after her presentation. She had reacted irrationally and wanted to apologize.
But the circumstances weren't kind to her, it would be 4 days before she spoke with Naruto again.
"Has he really not spoken to you since Sunday?" her friend asked as she took a bite of her cheesecake.
Hinata nodded. "Y-yeah."
"Why?" Ino paused. "Did you call him?" She licked the icing off the spoon.
The bluenette toyed with her cinnamon bun. "No… but I hung up on him." Normally she loved the cafeteria's treats but today… it tasted incredibly bland to her. Actually everything she ate in the past couple of days tasted incredibly bland.
"So?!" asked the blonde quizzically.
Hinata blinked at Ino, not understanding Ino's surprise. "Wh-what do you mean 'so'?"
"As in… he really does not get the hint? Why does it matter you hung up on him?"
"W-well… he's a guy…" she began, as she poked her index fingers together.
Unimpressed with Hinata's reasoning, the blonde deadpanned. "That really doesn't explain anything."
"I-it explains everything!"
"No. It really doesn't, Hinata." Ino picked up her spoon and pointed it at Hinata, eyeing the bluentte intensely. "You've been together for 3 years, you'd think he's doing it on purpose."
"Sasuke once said Naruto doesn't play mind games."
"You talked to Sasuke—?!" the blonde responded incredulously before catching herself. Shaking her head, she shot Hinata a knowing glance. "—Nevermind. Naruto is his best friend. Of course he'd say that."
"No, he wouldn't!"
"How would you know?"
"I just.. I just do."
Ino's stare softened. "Okay… my point is… you need to be more direct with Naruto."
"I can't… he hasn't called me since."
"What? And why can't you call?"
"B-because I'm… I'm scared."
"It's called confrontation, Hinata." Ino paused, as she took the last bite of her cheesecake, finishing the dessert completely. "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. Call him."
"H-huh!? R-right here?" Hinata asked disbelievingly. "Right now?!" She whispered, seemingly very aware of her surrounding and the prying eyes.
"Yep. I just finished my classes for the whole day. I have all day, Hinata." The blonde leaned back, smirking at herself. No way was she going to let Hinata off that easily.
"Okay," she squeaked. She took out her phone and looked at her 'Recent'. Her heart was heavy in her chest. Still no contact from Naruto yet. I can't do this.
"You have to, Hinata. He's your boyfriend. How can you be scared of speaking with your boyfriend?" Ino picked up their dishes and Hinata followed her, "You're doing that thing again."
"W-what thing?" Hinata asked as she placed her empty dish on the counter and they exited the cafeteria.
"The thing where you run away and pretend everything is fine."
She sighed. Ino was right. If this relationship was to ever move forward, she would need to speak her mind more often. Glancing at the digital clock on her phone, she opened his contact.
"Can we at least do this in your room?" Hinata asked tiredly.
The blonde nodded and the two proceeded to walk across campus to her dorm buildings.
Ino was one of the few who applied for university in Tokyo. Although they were never close in high school, they bonded in post-secondary. It was an easy friendship where Ino complemented what Hinata lacked, and vice versa.
It was 8:02 pm by the time they had entered and Ino had changed into something comfortable. Hinata made a mental note as she glanced at the digital clock, Naruto should still be awake.
Hugging Ino's cushion pillow to her chest, Hinata picked up her phone and tapped on Naruto's contact card. The dial tone rang shortly before he picked up, "Hi-Hinata?" He answered, surprised.
Heart hammering in her chest, she started. "N-naruto."
"Y-you called…" he spoke, boyish and raspy again. "What's up?"
"I-i—" she tried.
"Sorry… Sorry I didn't call you earlier," he said quickly.
"I…I was thinking a lot and…" He began.
"I-I'm sorry for how I acted earlier," she tried. He didn't need to explain himself, he had nothing to explain for. She had acted irrationally.
"It's okay, Hinata. You… you have nothing to apologize for… It's… it's me who should be apologizing."
"Huh?" She blanked.
"Well…" he began hesitatingly. "I… I feel like I'm being really unfair to you… I-I know we both promised we would support each other…"
She nodded even though she knew he wouldn't see. Ino took a seat in front of her, cerulean eyes intense and curious. The blonde made a gesture, well?
Hinata chose to ignore it, instead she spoke into the phone. "Y-yeah…"
"And to be honest, I-I really love you. It's… It's just I'm not ready for this… us. I'm so sorry."
No. Why. Why? "Wh-why do you say that, Naruto?" She asked, dropping the endearing -kun.
"I've been away for so long, Hinata. I, myself don't even know when I'll come back. I'm just… I'm just not ready to. And I feel like I'm holding you back. You're always waiting for me, and you don't deserve that," he said. He must've thought about this long and hard. Probably had rehearsed it in his head.
In a way he was right, her subconscious argued. But it didn't matter, her emotions were everywhere, her eyes were burning and she was picking at her wool sweater. She was shaken out of her stupor when Ino had moved from across from her to pull the girl into a warm hug, while Hinata struggled to speak in to the phone.
"I..I… I don't know what to say," she said quietly.
He waited a moment before continuing, not wanting to interrupt her if she did. "I-I'm sorry, Hinata-chan. I really… really am."
"O-okay," she responded lamely. She felt butterflies in her stomach, but not the kind that gave you fluttery feelings. No, this kind made her never want to eat again.
"W-we're still friends… right?" he asked, voice breaking but realizing she wasn't going to say anything, he took a deep breath. There were things he wanted to say too, but couldn't bring himself to if she wasn't going to try. "D-do you have anything else you want to say?" he probed. Maybe he was throwing her a line for her to catch, but she was too meek to take it.
"N-no… you'll... You'll always be my friend." She felt like throwing up.
She had rehearsed her lines in her head over the days, but in the end when push came to shove, she had given up.
Her finger trembled over his contact card as Ino rubbed circles on her back. She wanted to call him back. So badly. But ultimately, she turned her phone off scornfully and stuffed it in her bag.
In the end, she was her own greatest enemy.