Author's Notes: And once again, another story for the "New York Society" series. This time it's NaruHina, using the prompt "sea" for the 50 Alternates challenge at LiveJournal. Thanks to those who are already readers for the series, and welcome any newcomers! Check my bio for previous series installments. It isn't necessary to read those before you read this story, but it may be a little more helpful in understanding the roles I've created for the Naruto gang.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fanfiction.
She loved New York City. Really, she did. It was just that she was wearing a dress beneath her deep brown coat, her feet were sore from her high heels, her long black hair was tangling in her hood, and she was cold even if she did like to see the snow falling gently as it did. But Hinata Hyuuga didn't like to complain.
And anyway, she thought as she descended the steps to the subway (thankfully warmer), it had been a nice showing. Mr. Lee's statues were interesting in style but not by any means ugly. She was seriously considering recommending his work to clients.
If she procured any.
Hinata sighed as she drew back the faux fur-lined hood – it was depressing to be without work, even if she was financially stable.
The swoosh sound of doors closing had her gasping and racing forward in the fluorescent light of the subway stop, scared she would miss her train. She would – she would – she—
She apparently would have her gloved hand grabbed and yanked on so that the rest of her body was pulled neatly into the moderately packed car just before the door shut. Startled, she turned wide pale eyes to those of her good Samaritan, which came in bright blue.
"Close one!" He was almost absurdly tall, spiky blond hair in disarray and damp from melted snow. His grin was wide as looked down at her. "You okay?"
"Y-yes," she stammered. Hinata had been raised to not speak to strangers ("someone who smiles at you could be hiding his evil," her father used to say) but he had just helped her out. "Thank you."
"No prob! I space out a lot, too, so I know how it is. Still, if you were any bigger, you mighta not made it!" There was no ill intent in his words, only factual information.
Quiet though she was, Hinata wasn't usually spacey. Unbidden color rose to her cheeks at the second half of what he'd said.
"It's kinda late," the blond continued. "How come you're out? It's dangerous in this area."
"I...went to a friend's art show," she murmured. "I don't live far away."
"I just got off work," he told her, a bit of melancholy entering his tone. "I'm a pasta chef."
That would explain why he smelled rather strongly of marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. Trying to be polite, Hinata ventured, "Where do you work?" She didn't see much of his face because she tried to keep her gaze anywhere but there; lights streaking the window, an empty seat, a grimy pole.
"Ichiraku's. It's good pay, but I dunno. I'm ready to move on. I've still got two months."
Curious about his sudden exasperation in an otherwise so cheerful man, Hinata queried queried for what he still had two months.
"My contract with Ichiraku's. Well, that, and 'til I start my own place."
She smiled unwittingly. "Your own pasta restaurant?"
"Not just pasta; steak, seafood, burgers, poultry. Pretty much everything!" His enthusiasm was infectious.
"It sounds wonderful," Hinata replied, meaning it. The stranger's grin widened further as their train slowed to a halt. "Well," she began.
"This is my stop," they said together. She blushed again, wishing she weren't so shy. It wasn't graceful, perhaps, but it was inconvenient.
He fell into step beside her as they both exited the car, pausing as Hinata did to pull up her hood in preparation for facing the winter outside. "Well, it was nice talking to you!"
Hinata returned a similar nicety, though her deepest thought was that it was nice that he wasn't a psychotic subway rider. He hadn't so much as glanced at her purse for the duration of the trip, anyway.
They parted ways, and Hinata found herself still smiling even when she arrived at home.
She discovered the next day that they took the same train each morning. He explained after laughing that he had moved a couple of days before and now lived only a few blocks down from her neighborhood. It was left unsaid that he was wealthier than he looked and that Hinata was even wealthier than him.
They didn't always speak to each other, but it was nice to have someone to say good morning to. He always wore the same black and orange turtle-necked coat with a pair of blue jeans and carried a newly-bleached apron. Hinata was always well-dressed, not because she could but because it was expected of someone with the Hyuuga name.
It didn't occur to her until one month after their initial meeting that she did not know his name. Timid thought she was, Hinata knew she couldn't go on forever thinking of him as the pasta chef. When she tremulously asked, he laughed whole-heartedly.
"Man, I can't believe we haven't done that yet!" he exclaimed in genuine astonishment. "Sorry. You'd think I'd remember to go through such a basic–" He stopped, realizing he was blabbing, before repeating, "Sorry. I'm Naruto Uzumaki."
When she gave her own, his eyes went wide. "The lawyer, Hyuuga?"
Her confidence made a swift drop. "No...that's my cousin...Neji."
"Oh, I was gonna say. You don't really look like a lawyer. You're kinda weird and quiet!"
The drop became a free-fall.
"But in a totally good way! What do you do, Hinata?" When she told him, his enthusiasm – and volume – increased noticeably. "Interior design? So you get to, like, decide what people's homes look like and stuff?" At her silent nod, he leaned against a pole and appraised her for a handful of seconds. "You gotta be pretty creative, huh? That's really cool!"
Hinata had never been put in relation with anything "really cool." By the time her stop came, her blush had receded and most of her tension had dissipated. And that day, she advised the clinic she had been hired to choose colors for that deep orange on the walls would be perfect in the pediatric ward.
Tenten Long, Hinata's soon to be cousin-in-law who she had met the same night she ran into Naruto, called her for help on populating her wedding guest list. Like any large family, there were Hyuugas who could be overlooked and those who would not hesitate to estrange themselves if they were not invited. Hinata expertly categorized relatives for her, knowing fully well that Neji would just elope if he could and sever all ties.
"We'll be moving into the new condo after the honeymoon. I'm thinking red for the color scheme but Neji likes white or gray. So consider yourself hired if you want the job," said Tenten. The offer kept Hinata delighted for the rest of the week, and Naruto noticed it.
"You really like decorating, huh?"
She flushed a little. "It's just that...I've always been cared for. My father never saw me as much of an achievement." Hinata wound her fingers together nervous as she divulged. "So it's...important to me...to take care of myself." She saw him flick a glance at her well-dressed body and shifted.
"Well, you're doing it," he insisted.
"Y-yes." Gracing him with a shy smile, the Hyuuga nodded. "I suppose I am."
"Oh!" he exclaimed, dropping a fist on an open palm as he remembered. "I wanted to tell you! I've leased my building." When Hinata looked at him blankly, "For Uzumaki's!" he specified.
"Ah! That is such good news," Hinata replied, relaxed by his joviality. "You only have a little while left at Ichiraku's, don't you?"
"I've put in my two week's notice, and so has Chouji. Yeah, you'll have to meet Chouji! He makes the best rib rub in New York!"
It occurred to Hinata later that day that meeting Naruto's kitchen-manager-to-be would involve being with him somewhere other than the rattling, dirty subway car where they had their morning chats. (Well, Naruto chatted, Hinata tended to remark every now and then.)
In March, the winter coats were being put into storage and Hinata took to wearing lighter suits or skirts with blazers. She thought she would faint from equal flattery and embarrassment when Naruto commented (loudly, as usual), "Hey, Hinata! I had no idea you had such nice legs!"
She attended her cousin's wedding that month in addition to planning the design of the home of Neji and his wife. She went to the family dinner obligation dictated her to endure every other month at her father's house, during which Hiashi asked why it was that she hadn't married yet. Hinata wondered if her hair turned pink as well as her skin.
Naruto would tell her of the menu he was working on, showing her printouts and asking what dishes would be appropriate for the richer clientele. Mornings became her favorite time of day.
"I don't have a clue about what it'll look like though," the blond chef was saying one Thursday. "I know what the food'll be, but Ichiraku's was so dull, and I know my place can't be like that!"
Hinata stood silent even though it was hurt place to speak, vacillating between responding and keeping quiet.
"Hey!" Naruto grabbed her arm suddenly, causing her to jump. "Why don't I hire you to decide on all that, Hinata?"
The smile that worked its way to her lips was small and tremulous. "You – you think so?"
"Of course! Here I've been, talking to you about Uzumaki's all morning for the last, what, month and a half, and worrying all night 'cause I don't know anything about decorating – and you're an interior designer!" He laughed, at himself and at the situation, and Hinata's smile grew stronger. "I'm so stupid!"
"No, you aren't," she began, but Naruto surprised her by setting both hands on her shoulders. Her moonlike eyes went impossibly wide.
He said, "Tomorrow I have a meeting with Chouji and with some other people who are gonna work for me. Are you free on Monday? We can talk it over. I'll buy you lunch...scratch that, I'll make you lunch!"
She was agreeing before she could fully comprehend the situation in its enormity. On Monday, she really was going to see Naruto outside of the subway...like a regular person, not just a traveling worker...almost like a – like a—
"Whoa," Tenten observed the next day when she arrived at the newlyweds' condo. "What are you so happy about, Hinata?"
Hinata hadn't been aware her elation was so obvious. "Oh, I..." She couldn't bring herself to speak of Naruto to an outside mind just yet. "I'm just excited to begin working on yours and Neji's place."
"Uh-huh." Tenten smiled in a way that indicated she clearly did not believe her, but fortunately the arms consultant did not question the matter further. "Well, I'm not complaining. It's nice to see you like this. And anyway, if you'll follow me to the bathroom, I wanted to ask you about replacing light fixtures."
"I think I like someone."
Chouji Akimichi regarded his soon-to-be boss with some aback. "You think what, Naruto?"
Naruto's expression was not quite solemn, mostly because he wasn't the type to fully pull off solemnity, but he did appear competently dazed. "I think I like someone," he repeated. "Like...like, like."
"You still have that little crush on Sakura Haruno?"
"No way! Man, what kinda person do you think I am?" Naruto folded his arms and glared. "That was over when Sasuke married her, c'mon! It was never serious!"
"Okay, okay, sorry I asked." Standing in the kitchen at Ichiraku's, Chouji scraped grilled chicken tenders onto a plate of Naruto's macaroni and cheese for a child's meal. "Who is it then?" Around them, waiters, waitresses, and table bussers scurried.
"Have you ever heard of Hinata Hyuuga?"
After the past chef explained her profession as well as her relation, the larger redhead nodded. "Gotcha. So you see each other all the time."
"Not that way," Naruto said. "Well, not yet. I'm talking to her about designing the inside of Uzumaki's on Monday. And making her lunch. I think I–" He stopped here to scratch the side of his head before continuing hurriedly, "I think I might actually be falling for her!"
Chouji only gaped at him, unblinkingly, for a moment while the chicken strips steamed between them. "Did you have an aneurysm or something?"
"Hey! What's the supposed to mean?" demanded Naruto, affronted.
"You just don't really seem the type to just go and, you know, fall in love like that."
"Oh, whatever, man! You're only saying that 'cause you watch Shikamaru all happy and engaged and you get lonely."
Chouji turned and stalked back to his station. "I don't get lonely. Or if I do, I just eat and then I feel fine."
Naruto sighed melodramatically. "You're living a lie!" However, he honestly felt that he, Naruto, was not. And the beginnings of the feelings he was experiencing were, well, weird, especially since his initial impression of Hinata was not too dissimilar from that.
He grinned to himself. If nothing else, she was very cute. And she did have nice legs, he thought, right before cutting his thumb on a tomato slicer.
Lunch by Naruto Uzumaki, Hinata learned firsthand, was an amazing thing. Sitting in his apartment only a seven minute's walk from hers (a location that had made her nervous until only a few minutes after arriving, once he warmly situated her at his tiny dining table to wait), she felt quite pleased.
And she liked watching him cook, she discovered. Even though lunch was only a simple salad and a warm meat and cheese sandwich, he added certain spice blends to give the meal an appealingly exotic taste. And his smile grew more sincere as he seasoned and steamed, or so it seemed to Hinata. Less outward, more self-focused. And his eyes appeared to darken a little, so that the blue was not reminiscent of the sky so much as the harbor leading to the sea.
The idea hit her like a thunder crash, and while his back was still turned to her , Hinata pulled her miniature sketch pad from her purse and began to hastily draw with a blue-ink pen. Naruto faced her once their sandwiches were both prepared, and, as he brought them to the table, he caught sight of her impromptu project.
"What's that, Hinata?"
She hesitated, as though unsure of whether or not she really wanted to show him. Presently, she angled the sketchpad so that he could view the rough drawing properly, then waited for his assessment.
"Palm trees, awesome! And hey, a waterfall! Where's this, Hinata? Someplace you went to on vacation?"
The notion was almost enough to make her laugh a little, but she held it in. "I-it's Uzumaki's. Well," she hastened to add when his eyes flew to hers, "if you want it that way. I was thinking you could put in four-person tables here—" She lightly sketched a few boxes in to represents such items. " —and build a waiting lounge off to the side for people who can't get in right away..."
"It's like a tropical resort right here in the city!"
"That's what I picture. There are so many people who, I think, would like to get away, but the availability just isn't there and—"
And Naruto was looking right at her, so intently Hinata could have sworn she felt the pressure of his gaze on her skin. If she looked in a mirror, she wondered, would she see indentations at the spot where his eyes rested?
She tried to ask about his looking, however, her mouth only formed the word "what" without any sound actually emitting from it.
"You lose that little stutter you do when you talk about your work." Naruto stated this by way of observation rather than information, his tone even and a little surprised. "You're obviously more confidant."
Immediately flustered, the Hyuuga woman leaned back in her chair. "Is that so?" She spoke so lowly it was nearly a whisper.
Naruto took her by surprise when his volume also dropped under his breath as he bent over and inched closer to close the distance she had unknowingly created between them. "It's excellent." And he fastened his lips to hers, the motion as seemingly reasonable and anticipated as salting an unflavored dish. There was nearly the suggestion that neither of them could possibly have expected the occurrence of anything besides this event.
Except that Hinata hadn't expected it, and when she started to slip awkwardly sideways in her chair, Naruto had to brace one hand on her shoulder to keep her from sliding off the chair. "You okay, Hinata?"
Oh, and he was speaking to her now? Now when she couldn't formulate a proper sentence to save her very life? "Y-yes..."
The chef only laughed. "Too soon?" he asked, his blue eyes glimmering. "I guess I just got excited about the restaurant and the fact that you're a genius!"
That stopped her. The word "genius" had always, since her childhood days, been applied to her cousin Neji and never to Hinata; even though Hinata was Hiashi's daughter, even though Hinata's name topped the will for the vast majority of her father's assets.
"I'm not," she started to say, but Naruto laughed and slipped his arms about her narrow waist. The fingers on one of his hands played absently with the ends of her hair.
"Yes, you are." He merely stared at her a moment before his eyes widened a fraction and he stepped back. "You're probably hungry too. Here's your lunch. I know it's not that great. Anyway, we can talk about your payment for decorating. Do you go by the hour or by the job? I don't know anything—" Naruto halted his own nervous ramble when Hinata gripped the edge of his sleeve. When he looked back, she was smiling at him, color dusting the bridge of her nose.
"I..." She made to withdraw her hand, but Naruto caught and held it. "I think you're a genius as well, Naruto."
He grinned. "Not too soon then, huh?" Leaning down to her level, he slid his lips across hers and was only too happy when she reached up to hold him at his back.
Hinata realized two things that day. The first was that Naruto's food was still good even after being microwaved (their sandwiches cooled before they managed to eat them). The second was that she could be far more successful, confidant, and all-around happy if she let herself.
Five months later, when Uzumaki opened its doors, Hinata held up her celebratory glass of wine and clinked it against Naruto's, whose arm was settled comfortably around her shoulders. Her engagement ring gleamed against the glass, and a sea of possibilities was stretched out before her.