Hinata ~ A Distant, Fading Dream
Part Two ~ Fading Dreams
Three days after the Allied Shinobi Forces had won the Fourth Shinobi World War, a celebration was held in the Village Hidden in the Leaves. It was a huge event that continued on late into the night without any signs of stopping. It had been a while since anyone in the village had a reason to celebrate, so the Godaime Hokage made full use of the opportunity to raise the morale of the citizens. But there was one young woman who did not join in the revelries. Instead, one could find Hyuga Hinata seated atop Tsunade's stone visage, gazing up at the star spangled night sky. An air of melancholy surrounded the young Hyuga heiress as she once again tried to distract herself from the painful truth.
Hyuga Hinata had lost. Haruno Sakura had won.
The prize had been Naruto's love and affection. The chance to be by his side until the very end. Hinata's face scrunched up in distress as tears filled her eyes; the image of Sakura kissing Naruto in a small medical tent appeared in her mind's eye once again, taunting her. Right after Naruto had been carried back from his last battle with Uchiha Sasuke, Sakura had insisted on tending to his wounds, allowing no one to see him until she was finished.
Hinata, who had been waiting for his return, stood at the entrance to the tent, hand placed tentatively on the flap. Now that the war was over, she could finally tell Naruto how she felt, and find out if he reciprocated those feelings. She had waited for months after her confession during the Invasion of Pain, yet he showed no sign of remembering what took place during the battle.
Mustering all the courage she could, Hinata pulled open the flap. Naruto's name died on her lips as Sakura bent down and kissed the blonde ninja tenderly, rendering Hinata speechless. She stood there staring, feeling her hopes and aspirations being irrevocably crushed and scattered by the cold wind blowing through the campsite. She gazed on in shock as her Naruto, the very person she sought strength from, her only childhood friend and the only person she dreamed of being with, was being held in the arms of another woman.
She turned away when his hands encircled Sakura's waist, gently pulling her closer as he got over the initial shock and participated actively in the kiss. Hinata began to walk away, feeling hollow and empty. Naruto had been effectively removed from her life, how could she go on without him? She would have to keep her distance, seeing them together would only serve to hurt her more. But was that for the best? Could she live in a world where she couldn't speak to Naruto, or see that incredible bright grin?
Hinata felt lonely. More alone than she had ever felt in her life. She surveyed the brightly lit village laid out below her through tear filled eyes, wiping them away when they threatened to spill on to her cheeks. It hadn't been easy for her these past few days, due to current events bringing back rather painful memories. Memories of a time when Naruto had been forcefully removed from her life, due to circumstances beyond their control. Still, those days had been amongst the saddest she had ever experienced, and she had hoped against hope that they were behind her, to no avail.
It was their final year in the preparatory school. The past two years had been the best of Hinata's life, and she was sure that as long as she was with Naruto, the third would be just as wonderful.
They had settled into a routine, Naruto would meet her at the end of her street in the morning and they would walk to school together. Today was no exception. As Hinata made her way down the footpath to the main street that led to the school, she raised her eyes expectantly and was not disappointed. Naruto stood at the corner, glancing around aimlessly until his cerulean eyes fell on her. She blushed when a mile wide grin unfurled across his face.
"G-Good morning, Naruto-kun." a wrapped bento swung gently in her left hand, freshly prepared earlier that morning.
"Morning Hinata-chan!" Hinata felt herself brighten up when he added the '-chan' suffix to her name. He had started using it a few months after they met, but it still made her feel special when she heard it. As far as she knew, he only added '-chan' to Haruno Sakura's name, so it definitely meant that he thought of Hinata as someone precious to him.
Her pale lavender eyes darkened for a brief moment as she remembered that Naruto was in love with another girl. Still, he didn't seem as open about as he used to be, and he made no secret of the fact that Hinata was a very precious friend to him... Maybe there was some hope for her after all.
Her train of thought was interrupted as she felt a firm but gentle pressure on her right hand. She glanced down, spotting Naruto's warm hand wrapped around her own small one. Her receding blush came back in full force, and she smiled shyly as Naruto began to speak to her, steering their conversation from the weather, to Ichiraku Ramen and briefly to the final exams coming up in a few months.
At lunch, they walked over to their usual spot, seeking the shade of their favorite tree from the blisteringly hot sun. Naruto threw himself down against the trunk, settling into his usual groove. Hinata placed the bento between them, seating herself opposite the blonde ninja-in-training. As she unwrapped the cloth surrounding the bento, Naruto's eyes widened in amazement.
Before him sat one of the most exquisite lunches he had ever laid eyes on. Hinata had taken it upon herself to make their bentos the previous year, and her cooking was usually fabulous. On the odd occasion that something didn't turn out quite as well as she'd hoped, he made sure to eat it anyway, and complement her cooking skills afterwards until she blushed with joy.
Hinata giggled softly as she observed his response to her cooking. His awestruck gaze told her that she had done a good job. 'Of course, presentation is only part of the package.' she thought, feeling nervous once again.
"It looks amazing Hinata! But you're making feel really bad you know," he said, watching her initial smile turn into an expression of mild shock. "You've gone to the trouble of making these fantastic lunches for the past year and a half, and I haven't even treated you to... Well, anything!"
She smiled. Naruto truly was a kind and considerate boy. But whenever he offered to buy or do something for her, she would politely refuse, instead giving him a simple answer in her most quiet and subdued voice.
"You've already done so much for me. This is the least I can do for you." she quietly mumbled her usual line, her implied meaning behind it just as sincere as all the other times. And in her eyes, he had done more than enough. In fact, it was a continuing effort on his part, so she made sure that she did her best to repay him whenever she could. It was a simple reason, one she had not revealed to him out loud, but it meant the world to her.
He was her most precious friend.
Uzumaki Naruto accepted her like no one else in her life ever did. He was her friend because he wanted to, because for some reason, he liked the shy, weak-spirited and quiet girl that she was. He put up with all her traits that caused her father to dislike her, and genuinely enjoyed her company. She had asked at the end of their first year why he was friends with her, receiving a hurt look in response.
"Do you even need to ask? You are my first and closest friend, and I don't know what I would do if you weren't." he had surprised her with a long warm hug, which showed Hinata through his actions that he meant every word.
"..." Hinata watched as he opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again, a sad smile on his lips. She knew he had been expecting that line, and as usual, did not have a response. He didn't completely understand what it was that Hinata was referring to, but when he gazed into her eyes, seeing the honest affection and gratitude she held for him seemed to be enough of an explanation. He understood at a subconscious level, and never pressed the issue. But he always became a little more protective of her, trying to live up to whatever it was that Hinata saw in him.
She silently handed him a pair of chopsticks, and he took them gently, almost with an air of reverence. Hinata knew it always touched him deeply when she made lunch for the two of them. Growing up without a mother, he had never had the pleasure of tasting a home cooked meal. The fact that Hinata made and shared a meal she had put a lot of effort into with him meant more to him than he could ever express in words. Hinata knew that he was aware that she understood; they understood each other to the point where words weren't necessary.
The two quietly mumbled "Itadakimasu!" and dug in, enjoying the extra special lunch and the other's company.
As the school day ended, and the pair of friends were free of their sensei and his warnings that exams were coming soon, the pair made their way to the spot where they separated for the day. The sun was setting, bringing an orange glow to the streets of Konoha. As they arrived at the turn off to Hinata's street, Naruto turned abruptly, facing the dark-haired girl. His gaze was intense, sending shivers down her spine. It was times like this that she thought that Naruto was looking right through her, with her inner most secrets laid bare for him to see.
"Hinata-chan," he began, his voice soft.
He gazed off towards the orange sunset, carefully thinking over his words. She waited patiently, knowing that this was one of those moments when he spoke to her from the bottom of his heart.
"I want to thank you. Not just for today's lunch, but for every lunch you've ever shared with me. And also, I want you to know that I am immensely grateful that you are my friend."
Hinata was stunned. What had brought this on?
"Do you remember my first day at the school?"
She nodded, not daring to interrupt. He continued on, his eyes focused on the setting sun. His face was bathed with the sun's dying rays, making him glow.
"When I first came to school, I was a week late. But I tried every day on that first week to walk into that classroom, and each time, I lost my nerve. I had no friends, and no one wanted to be friends with me. Whenever I went to the playground, the kids would ignore me, or say awful things to me. They would say "My parents told me you're a troublemaker!" and stuff like that when I asked them why they wouldn't play with me."
Hinata listened closely, feeling a deep sadness tug on her heart. She had known the adults hadn't treated Naruto kindly, but she hadn't known the kids had been just as bad.
"So I would walk up to the gate, remember all those painful words and then go home. However, the Hokage noticed that I wasn't attending class, and he sent a chunin on that day to drag me to school. The guy didn't say a word, but he looked at me with such contempt that I wondered 'Just what did I do? Why do they all look at me like that?'"
Naruto seemed to be struggling to speak. Without being consciously aware of it, she found herself holding his hand in both of hers, trying to comfort him any way she could. His hand gently squeezed hers, and he seemed to find the resolve to continue.
"When he dragged me into class, I looked around at our classmates. I didn't see one friendly face, not a single smile. Instead they were all whispering behind their hands to each other, and I felt worse with every moment as I stood in that room."
He turned his gaze away from the last rays of sun peeking over the horizon. He faced her, and smiled. A gentle smile that radiated gratitude. "And then I met you."
He placed his other hand on top of hers and held them firmly. "I recognized you straightaway, but I didn't know how you would respond. I was nervous that you might hate me as much as everyone else and I almost didn't speak to you. But there's something about you, this calming air that gave me the courage to talk, to ask if you remembered me. And you know what? I'm immensely glad that I did."
He enveloped her in a hug, and she stiffened in shock for a few moments, before relaxing and tentatively returning the embrace. "So what I'm trying to say is thank you, Hyuga Hinata, for giving me a chance, and for being the greatest and most precious friend I will ever have."
Elation filled her senses. She couldn't say a word, but the biggest smile she could manage graced her features. Her heart was thumping in her chest, and tears of joy rolled down her cheeks. She suddenly found her voice and answered in a rush.
"Oh Naruto-kun, I can say the same about you. I'm so very glad that you came into my life... I..." she was overcome with emotion, instead choosing to return Naruto's embrace full force, hoping he would understand. She heard his melodious chuckle, and knew that he did.
If she had known that was the last time they would ever hug like that, or even enjoy the closeness their friendship brought them like that again, she would have never let him go.
The Hyuga Hinata of the present sighed sadly, a mournful sound that carried undertones of despair and longing. Above her, the pale glow of the full moon and its surrounding sea of stars shone down on her lonely perch atop the Hokage Monument, emphasizing how well and truly lost and alone she was without her Naruto. Where had those wonderful days gone? Every memorable moment with the blonde-haired ninja had been like a dream, the best sort of dream that one did not wish to wake up from.
But as she had learned in the most brutal of ways, everyone wakes up eventually. No matter how hard one may try to cling on to that fleeting vision, in the end, it inevitably eludes their grasp, disappearing into the darkest corners of the mind. And the day her dream began to fade away, growing ever distant as time passed by unfalteringly, was the day when her father found out about Uzumaki Naruto.
Young Hinata was positively gushing with joy. Naruto had hugged her! He'd called her the greatest friend he would ever have! Nothing else that anyone could have said to her would have made her as happy as she was now. She wandered up to the front door in a daze, barely remembering to bow to the Branch Members who opened the heavy yet elegant wooden door for her.
'A boy like Naruto-kun is my friend! And he called me his most precious friend! I-'
"Hinata-sama, Hiashi-sama wishes to see you." a contemptuous voice broke through her train of thought; bringing her back to the present with an unpleasant jolt. Her eyes glanced about confusedly before settling on the young boy standing at the entrance to the corridor, imposing in every way.
Hinata's cousin Hyuga Neji had never liked her. For reasons beyond her, he took every opportunity to speak down to her, under the guise of addressing her respectfully. He even managed to place an emphasis on her '–sama' suffix that made it seem like an insult. All the happiness she had felt before vanished in an instant, and not just due to Neji's ominous presence.
"F-Father w-wants to s-speak to m-me?" irritation flashed briefly on Neji's usually impassive face, just for a few moments, before his forced monotonous voice delivered the answer. Hinata winced; she knew Neji's found her stutter annoying. But she couldn't help it, and if anything, the stress of the current situation was making it worse.
"Yes, Hinata-sama. He is waiting in the Clan Meeting Hall. Excuse me." he brushed past her without a second glance, clearly wishing to spend as little time as humanly possible with the Hyuga heiress.
"Sit." the simple command was uttered the moment Hinata stepped into the spacious meeting room. She hastened to bow respectfully before kneeling on the cushion opposite her father's on the other side of the long table in the centre of the room.
Hiashi began without preamble. "Hinata, it had been brought to my attention that you have been spending an unhealthy amount of time with one Uzumaki Naruto." Hinata did not miss the slight undertone of distaste in her father's voice when he spoke the name of her best friend. Hinata kept her gaze firmly on the wooden table, not daring to look her father in the eyes.
Hiashi waited, and upon realizing that Hinata was not going to respond, continued on speaking. "Despite my displeasure, I allowed you to maintain your friendship with the boy as he seemed to have a positive effect on your self-confidence. However, recent reports brought to me by Neji have forced me to reconsider."
His words caused Hinata's eyes to widen in shock. Her father had known about Naruto? She had gone out of her way to make sure her father never found out about their friendship, since she knew that the Hyuga Clan as a whole did not approve of the blonde-haired boy, for reasons unknown.
"We of the Hyuga are among the most prestigious clans of Konohagakure. As such, we are expected to maintain a certain public image at all times. Rigid composure, impeccable manners and personalities of calm indifference are hallmarks of the members of the Hyuga Clan. As such, overly fond gestures and public displays of affection are not, and will not, be tolerated."
Hinata felt a cold shiver run down her spine. Neji had seen Naruto hugging her? He had told her father about it too? Hiashi eyed her coldly, maintaining his ramrod straight, upright position with practiced ease. She could feel his eyes burning into the top of her head, but she refused to meet his gaze. Her own eyes came to rest on her hands, twisting nervously in her lap. 'What is he going to do? Will he tell me to never see Naruto again?'
"The boy known as Uzumaki Naruto is notorious for being a troublemaker. He has been ostracized by the villagers for being a nuisance and a living memory of a dark and bloody stain on the history of Konoha."
"A stain on Konoha's history? What could Naruto have done?" she had often wondered why the adults treated Naruto like dirt, often being undeniably cruel for no apparent reason. But Naruto took it in stride, saying that by having Hinata as his friend, their words didn't bother him. But they bothered Hinata, and as far as she knew, the villagers seemed to hate Naruto simply for being alive.
"The elders and I agree that we do not want that boy to be associated with the Hyuga name. To this end, I forbid you from interacting with Uzumaki Naruto on a personal level."
"I forbid you from interacting with Uzumaki Naruto..." those words, those harsh, brutal words were the cold steel blade that she felt sliding slowly into her fragile heart. She could not believe it. A look of horror settled on her features, but her father had more to say.
"Furthermore, to ensure that he will not pose a problem by objecting or seeking to subvert my authority by other means, I have ordered Neji to 'convince' the boy to leave you be through any method he deems necessary."
"No!" father and daughter glanced at each other in mild surprise; neither one had expected Hinata to speak out, to object as loudly as she had. Hiashi's brow furrowed as he noticed the tears in her eyes, threatening to spill at a moment's notice.
"Y-You can't..." her objections were silenced by his ferocious glare.
"I am the head of the Hyuga Clan; my word is law in this place. I will not tolerate being spoken back to by my daughter. Furthermore, a weak and pitiful being such as you has no business telling me how to run this clan. Leave me now; I grow weary of your presence."
Hinata numbly staggered to her feet, unable to grasp what her father was ordering her to do. She couldn't freeze Naruto out of her life at the drop of a hat nor could she argue with her father about it. As she bowed and turned to leave, her father's cold voice stopped her in her tracks.
"Remember this, and remember it well. If you make any sort of attempt to maintain a friendship with Uzumaki Naruto, there will be severe repercussions... And they will not fall solely on you. If you wish to protect your former friend, heed my warning, and heed it well."
She couldn't breathe. She ran from the room as fast as she could, desperate to get away before more awful words could be said. She sprinted through the empty hallways, eventually reaching her lonely room near the back of the compound. Sliding the door open, she tumbled miserably onto her bed, landing face first amongst the soft pillows and toys that adorned her place of rest.
She sniffled. Somewhere out in the village, Neji was hurting her Naruto. And he would do it again and again if she did not sever her ties with the blonde boy. But Naruto was too stubborn, too loyal and caring to just end their friendship at the whim of a stranger.
Her day had turned from one of the best in her life to the very worst in a matter of moments. Her eyes burned with unshed tears, and finding herself on the edge of despair, did the only thing she could: weep for her broken dreams. She was weak, she knew that and once again it had gotten in the way of her happiness.
Finally giving in, the tears began to flow, darkening the bright orange fabric of her pillow, heralding the approach of a dark and bleak future.
The next day, Naruto did not turn up to school. Hinata was out of her mind with worry. She knew how strong Neji was; her sparring matches with her cousin often ended in her lying bruised and battered on the padded floor of the Hyuga dojo. Hinata turned her head, gazing out at the playground outside her window. The lesson continued on but she paid it no mind. She could feel the emptiness of the seat next to her, the lack of Naruto's presence beside her was almost like a physical void both by her side and in her heart, one that made her feel very much alone.
At lunch, Hinata found herself at their usual place by the large tree in the playground, staring at the groove in the tree where Naruto had sat countless times, a large bento swinging idly in her hand. She sat herself down opposite Naruto's spot, placing the bento in the middle as she always did. She unwrapped it slowly, pulling off the lid and presenting a lunch even better than the day before to the Naruto-less tree trunk.
The sheer loneliness of the situation struck her then; her delicate hands covered her face as tears began to course down her cheeks and her shoulders shook with sobs.
The older Hyuga Hinata felt tears prick the back of her eyes and hastily blinked them away. She had toughened up during the war, and it wouldn't do to be brought to tears by a childhood memory, undoing all of her progress in the process. Her legs had fallen asleep, and she wiggled on the spot, trying to regain feeling in her appendages.
She found herself sliding closer and closer to Tsunade's stone hairline; from that point onwards, falling off the top of the head would find Hinata dashed against the stone nose below, before free falling to the base of the monument. She peered hesitantly over the carved middle parting, trying to gauge the distance from the head to the ground. Her efforts were for naught; the base of the monument was shrouded in darkness.
Hinata swung her legs over the edge of the stone head, allowing them to dangle into the abyss. She watched as the last of the fireworks exploded, painting the night sky with hues of orange and red. Cheers began to ring out, no doubt celebrating the triumphs of the war heroes. Yet here she was, all by herself, distancing herself from the revelry. She knew she shouldn't feel so alone; it had been years since she and Naruto had been so close, and had been the other's only friend. Since the incident, Hinata had been taken in by Sakura, Ino and Tenten, who had taken pity on the lonely girl sitting by the large tree in the playground by herself every lunch time.
They had welcomed her warmly, more so since Naruto was no longer around. They seemed to genuinely enjoy her company, despite the fact she said only a handful of words whenever they were together. Hinata was grateful for their company; they managed to ease the feeling of loneliness that threatened to engulf her. But neither of the girls could fill the void Naruto had left in her heart, and she often wondered how he was or if he had made any new friends like she had.
Hinata sighed loudly, the sound whipped away by the steadily strengthening breeze. During class, Naruto had acted like she wasn't there; that had been deeply wounding to the delicate Hyuga. It wasn't until later in the year, when the final exams were about to commence, that she found out why Naruto had taken it upon himself to cut her out of his life so completely.
Hinata could remember the day very clearly. She had finally found where Naruto spent his lunch times two weeks prior - at an old wooden swing on the Academy side of the playground. Strictly speaking, students of the Preparatory School weren't allowed there, but for reasons unknown to the Hyuga heiress at the time, people generally ignored him, treating the swing like it was just an empty piece of playground equipment.
Hinata had taken it upon herself to watch him from a distance, to see how he was faring. To her dismay, he was still alone and looked worse for wear. When he was alone, his ever present grin slipped off his face, leaving behind an expression of pure sadness, an expression that no mother would ever want to see on their child's face. But Naruto had no one to cheer him up. There were no parents or siblings waiting for him when he got home and no friends for him to spend time with. He was all alone, and it broke her heart to see him like that.
"Uzumaki Naruto," She jumped as Hyuga Neji approached Naruto, stepping into the shade cast by the tree. Quick as a flash, Naruto's false cheerfulness returned to his features, succeeding only in further upsetting the concealed Hinata. "I trust you've been holding up your end of the deal?"
Naruto's expression turned sombre. "You know I have. I gave you my word didn't I? And I never go back on my word."
"Considering the beating I had to give you to force that promise out of you in the first place, I hope you'll excuse me if I'm sceptical." Neji's impassive tone took on a sarcastic edge near the end of his sentence. Hinata covered her mouth, feeling shock course through her system. How badly had Naruto been hurt because of her?
"Scepti-what?" Neji shook his head, smirking as he did so, as if confirming Naruto's apparent stupidity. He towered over Naruto, attempting to accentuate his superiority while addressing him.
"Never you mind, I doubt a boy like you could fully grasp or truly appreciate the intricacies of our language." Neji leered at the younger boy as he spoke. "Instead, why don't you repeat the promise you made, just to show me that even an idiot such as yourself can remember something so simple."
Naruto scowled at the white-eyed boy before speaking. "You told me to leave Hinata alone, to completely ignore her and have absolutely nothing to do with her, or else you'd beat her the same way you did to me for twice as long." Naruto's fists were clenched and shaking with fury as he repeated the words.
"That was not quite what I said; nonetheless, your less than eloquent version seems to have the gist of the message. Remember, she and I live in the same compound, and her father said I could use any means necessary to keep you in line."
"Yeah yeah," the sound of the bell signalling the end of lunch reverberated through the school grounds. "Well, that's the bell; don't you think you should be heading back to class?"
Neji glared at Naruto, but did not deign to reply, instead choosing to stalk off towards the Ninja Academy. His roving eyes landed on Hinata, his eyes locking with her own. She shivered under his intense glare before turning around and sprinting from her hiding place behind a pair of bushes, heading for the safety of her classroom.
She could feel Naruto's eyes on her back as she ran, and she wanted nothing more than to turn around and hug him, to try and banish the aura of loneliness that surrounded him.
Hinata's hands clasped together over her chest as she watched an impromptu parade begin its march down the main street of Konoha. Even back then, Naruto had looked out for her, sacrificing his happiness for her safety. It still touched her to this day how caring he had been, and how he'd tried to protect her despite the orders of her father.
'That's just the kind of person he is,' she thought as a brief rush of warmth, a giddy feeling she had long since come to associate with Naruto, rose in her chest. 'Selfless and caring and... Taken.'
An image of Sakura appeared in her mind, crushing the warm feeling and replacing it with the heavy weight of sorrow. Naruto was no longer someone she could watch from a distance; it would hurt her too much to see him in the arms of another woman. All she had left were her memories of their days together, and even those would fade with time. But certain memories were more precious than others, and they were of Naruto's actions during their years as genin in the Ninja Academy. Those memories were a testament to their past friendship, and would live on in her dreams, weathering the tests of time.