Today her hair is as straight as she can manage it, because normally at work it's done up and iron-curled to all hell.

She can't decide whether to keep it down or up.

If it's down, she imagines his hand will pull it away to access to her neck.

If it's up, she imagines him pulling the scrunchie loose to watch how her hair falls about her like silk.

Well, it's not that silky anymore, but it sure would be ideal if he thought it was.

Her work clothes are unlike herself; ostentatious, shimmering, quite on the revealing side.

Today, despite the intentions of their plans, she would like to go as herself.

To feel like herself.

She gets way too much drunken validation as is. She'd like something honest today, much like the refreshing conversations they've had online the past eight months.

She can't figure out if they're genuinely friends. She can't imagine they could stay friends after today. It would be too weird.

Somewhere along the way, he had mentioned his dislike of being a virgin at twenty years young. And somewhere along the way he got her to admit that she too was still a virgin.

No, actually he didn't 'get' her to admit it at all. She had always been quick to soothe someone else's concerns, to bring herself down to their level or lower just so they can see they're not alone. He told her something so personal that she absolutely had to pay it forward.

But she may have oversold herself a little.

She didn't feel nearly as badly as he did about being a virgin. She always thought she'd die one. Neither happily nor unhappily.

But he didn't want to be one anymore, and she was all too available.

Did she over-commit? Was this decision actually more immoral than it was moral? Was she manipulating someone into bed?

Was she confirming anti-feminist beliefs that women are just sex objects? Or was she supporting feminists beliefs by owning her sexual willingness?

Or was she disrespecting the only friend she had left by secretly providing pity intercourse?

"How do I keep doing this to myself?" Her feet began to drag with the weight of her growing guilt.

She thought she was doing a kindness.

She always thought that.

But it never turned out the way she wanted.

She could only fear how this would end.

Still... somehow, some way, they had formed a pact: As two loveless losers, they would shed their virgin status together and rejoin the world as less of the losers they once were.

When they had the same days free, they would meet up at the red overpass in Akamori Ward, just five blocks from Love Hotel Hill.

And they were gonna…

Hyuuga Hinata slaps her burning cheeks. Even in her own mind, she can't complete that sentence. This curse of hers, of her own dysfunctional traits, has stolen every bit of patience she has left for herself.

She's tired of the way she relies on daydreams to experience flawless interaction with another individual.

She's tired of the way her body jumps and shrinks instinctively when under intense scrutiny.

Tired of the way she feels heavy and dizzy at the same time, all the time. How she would just rather sleep her life away pretending she had lived it well.

Tired of the overthinking, the score-keeping, the negative feedback loop reminding her she should have born as a spirit of seran wrap. At least then, she'd represent something useful, while being every bit as flimsy and invisible as she already is.

But this isn't how she wants to start their day together.

If he picks up on her negativity, he might change his mind. And if he's too nice, he'll go home disappointed.

Stop it! Stop it!

She gives herself another assessment.

She's no good at fashion, but she tried.

She made sure she copied the third image from her 'cute casual fashion' search to a T.

Her hair is pulled to the side so it drapes behind her right ear. She left the ends curled, afraid of damaging it further if she finished off with her straightener.

She's wearing a black pinafore jumper. The straps are pushing the breasts she used to hate so much together even more than her push-up bra is, and the buttoned front stops just beneath their swell. Her white t-shirt is simple, a ribbed high neck style.

Hopefully she looked cute enough to hide all her 'dark, weirdness'.

Her kitten heel mules clap a slow, despondent beat as she nears the red bridge.

She's an hour early because she needs the extra time to pull herself together.

And because she's the type of idiot who physically waffles.

One second, she's about to flake and then immediately ghost.

The next second, she's balling her fists and huffing with the hot steam of fresh determination.

And then she's off to flake, because status quo is her god and everything else is a danger to her mental health.

No, I'm worth it! Therefore I'm staying!

Oh but, why would I ever think that?

Because- Because I'm also a female!

No, no, that's not a good enough reason…

Hinata drapes across the crimson rail and scratches at the paint.

There was a time when she was a part of something. Sort of.

Junior High at Konoha South.

The second years and third years all referred to them as the Rookie Nine. She doesn't know how she ended up grouped with them. At most she felt like she was an honorary member because she happened to float in their periphery just often enough.

Speaking of periphery floaters, she's starting to see hers, which means she really is getting older. The way they run away the moment she spots them is something she can empathize with. A bit too strongly, actually.

Hinata edges away from the rail, she turns to leave because anxiety has taken the wheel again.

"Hey!"

Hinata stiffens as though a bomb had exploded behind her.

"Are you 'little bird'?"

She nods stiffly. There's scratchy quality to her friend's voice, it's kind of sweet, like they still haven't fully exited their boyhood.

But it's deep enough, too. He's definitely her age.

"Were you about to leave?"

Oh god, I'm wretched. She shakes her head and steadies herself with the rail. Okay. No where else to go. Turning around now. Turning around… turning around…

Black basketball shoes, black joggers, white A-shirt, light orange cotton jacket… tanned skin, almost ruddy… blue eyes, blond-

Hinata locks up. Not because he looks better than she could've possibly imagined, but because-

"You… You moved."

Five years ago.

When their junior high days were behind them and it was time to choose: Stay and finish up at Konoha North. Or move onto a private education.

Uzumaki Naruto didn't have either of those choices.

Wait a second… She no longer sees the immense confusion on his face as she dives deep into her memories.

Exactly eight months ago…

Post: WELCOME HOME ME!

Swirly_boi: Hey, so I just got back in town. I've been in Uzushio for the past four years and I'm feeling like an outsider all over again… Anyone cool wanna show me around? Preferably a hot babe. And by 'hot', I mean H-cup hot.

What possessed her to answer him, she didn't know.

Maybe because she happened to be an H-cup?

Or because he felt like an outsider?

It had taken her two weeks of stalking his thread to work up the nerve. His audacity sure had been his downfall, for no one had taken pity on him until her. Even then, she had to convince herself it wasn't truly pity if she had been curious all along.

But it all made sense now.

Flames crawled from the pit of her stomach up to her face.

Her head craned slowly down in little increments, as each and every conversation they had collided to the forefront.

She had told him… so many things… so many… embarrassing… lurid things…

She turned round to run, but his big warm hand clamped down around her wrist.

For her, it was like red hot iron brand searing her skin open.

"Whoa, Hinata?! What's your problem?!"

It's as if some primitive error code in her brain is going off: 'You're rejecting Naruto-kun. You're rejecting Naruto-kun. You're rejecting Naru-'

Hinata squeezes her eyes shut before allowing her wrist to go limp. She swallows and side-eyes him.

He's more than a head taller than her now. He's wearing his hair all short and clean cut too, that it's not even fair. Her inhibitions are nothing against the might of his good looks.

And yet his good looks are strained by the hurt pinching his face.

She doesn't know how to feel. Happy that she incited such a reaction? That she matters somehow? Awful that she made him feel even more like an outsider?

Awful. Her mind and her heart chooses to feel awful. As always.

"W,Welcome home… Naruto-kun…"

He lets go of her wrist, his hurt changing over to insulted.

She knew it. These things never go the way she wants.

"... Was it something I did? Cuz, y'know, I had nearly five years to wonder…"

She wants to cry. She's so flimsy that the smallest disapproval upsets her. But coming from him, his disapproval is always asteroid-sized.

"You never… did anything."

"But you never showed up to my Goodbye Party."

You wouldn't have noticed I was there. Instead she mumbled: "I'm an eye floater…"

Naruto's frown twisted and deepened, his brows scrunching harder. "What?"

Hinata knew no one should kiss her, because all they would taste was foot. Still, she doubled down on her awkward admission. "I,I'm an eye floater… You don't notice m,me most of the time. A,And when you do, I float away…"

His incredulity softens, but he's still unhappy. He considers her for a minute or two, looking more pensive now. "Well, then maybe that makes me a solar eclipse, what with the way you're never able to look at me directly…" Naruto took a step closer. He bent forward at the waist to meet her at eye level. "... Even though you want to."

If her stomach had been a jar of caterpillars the past few years, one look into his eyes had released thousands of butterflies in an instant.

The look he was giving her was a rare one, at least when it concerned her.

'Let's cut the bullshit', it said. Yes, she could read him so well, even after all this time.

Apparently, she was a kindergarten book to him.

"Can we go to a café and talk?"

Her tongue was useless and her mind was blank. But her motor skills were intact.

All she could do was nod.


This was one of those things they had shared with each other online: they both ordered red bean soup.

Granted, she preferred zenzai, but that was for its mouthfeel, not flavor.

Finding out they had such a tiny thing in common, it would have never come out normally between them.

It never had.

Naruto seems like he doesn't have an appetite though, with the way he's leaning so far back in his chair, fingers laced over his lap and his mild glare boring into the side of her heated face.

She pokes her spoon through the burgundy mush.

She doesn't have an appetite, either.

"Everyone says you fell off the map."

She nods, withstanding his disapproval like a masochist.

"Where did you go?"

"... I went to Our Lady Kaguya-sama's… after you left."

"The All-Girls School?"

She nods.

"Any particular reason?"

She shrugs. "It's what father always wanted. My mother is an alumni. My little sister will be graduating soon."

"'Kay," He continued to stare, unsatisfied clearly, but also unsure what else to ask. "Those school's are strict, right? Can't hang out with boys anymore, or..?"

Hinata held up her hand parallel to the table and tipped it from side to side.

"'Kay, so what about the girls? Sakura-chan and Ino? What was wrong with them?"

What on earth was this interrogation? 'What was wrong with them?' Why did he think she had a problem with those two perfectly normal, attractive girls?

Hinata offered up a clever, and mostly true fib: "They hung out with boys. Often."

Naruto sighed through his nose, relenting against her response. Somehow she still felt transparent to him, and she hated it.

He opened his mouth. Thought against whatever he was going to say, and he decided to distract himself with his dessert.

The way he jostled the table like a lion pouncing on a weasel, he embodied the very meaning of 'stress eating'.

He finished it in five spoonfuls. It wasn't very much. It looked like it had gone down bitterly, though. Like each spoonful was the past five years; hollow and unsavored.

He glared at the shallow, red-stained bowl.

"... Am I… not even your last choice?"

Hinata stopped stirring her soup.

He stared at her again, and maybe she wasn't so transparent after all.

"You'd sooner drop your panties for anyone until you find out it's me-"

No.

"You're lying to my face if you say I didn't do anything wrong. You know how I feel about that, Hinata."

"I,It's embarrassing…" Her voice squeaks as tears well up.

"What's embarrassing, Hinata?"

"Everything… I,I told you things I never wanted to…"

His jaw shifts to the side, his cheeks pull up a little into his eyes. It's soggy grimace that's trying to be a smile. It's a smile that's not a smile at all.

It's the grin of disappointment.

"So what you're saying is… You never wanted me to get to know you."

Her throat's too tight. She can't hum, let alone breathe.

Naruto chuckles and it's hollow. He shakes his head.

"God, you're so cold. You were always so fucking nice, but I… wow. I dunno. I just don't know."

She doesn't know, either.

She doesn't know why she can't be normal, why she can't be bubbly and cute. She doesn't know why she can't vulnerable with the one person she trusts most.

Why?

"Well…" His eyes settle over her chest, darkening, and suddenly it's like every part of her is fake but those. "Thanks for responding to the H-cup part, even though that was a joke. Glad to know you weren't lying about those," Naruto's eyes search the pedestrians passing by. One young man nears them, and Naruto hails him down. "Yo! I wanna talk to ya!"

Out of curiosity, the young man agrees and stands by their table. "Yeah?"

Naruto gets up and Hinata doesn't understand what he's doing.

Suddenly he's pushing the young stranger into his chair.

"Take my seat," he says. Then he gestures at her like she's some prized pony. "This here little scamp is giving her V Card away! And you're the lucky man she's giving it t-"

The stinging in her palm informed her before she knew what she had done.

The glaring red spread across his left face solidified her realization.

She just slapped the love of her life.