Title: Dress of White
Chapter Six: Offering
Rating: Teen (Mild language)
Disclaimer: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I do not own Naruto.
Standing in front of the full-length mirror at her bedside, Hinata examines her appearance. She smooths the ruffles adorning the front of her blouse with her hands as she scans over the rest of her reflection.
Black pinstripe pencil shirt.
Pointy toe metallic heels.
She even became alittle more adventurous with her make-up than usual.
With a heavy sigh, her gaze lifts to meet the eyes of the unfamiliar woman, her radiant confidence causing a glare against the glass. She has never attempted a look like this before. Her usual attire had more of a conservative, girl-next-door flare, so it was a mystery to her as to why she had picked these up the other day. She examines her figure in her reflection, the clothing clinging her body showing off more of her curves than she felt comfortable with.
Hyuuga Crest, the company her family owns, holds a reputation of having big business, but there isn't anyone there she has to impress-- like a new client. She never felt a need to... except for once, but that was long ago... And for much different circumstances...
Frowning, Hinata pulls her silky, dark hair into a tight bun as she kicks off her shoes. She pads across the carpeted floors into the large, walk-in closet for her trusty sandals and throws on a blazer.
Approaching the mirror again, she examines her reflection.
Leaving the bedroom, she glides down the few steps outside the double door entryway and cuts through the living room, immaculately furnished in stark black and white decor. The splashes of lavender softening the contrast between them.
She passes through the elegantly crafted archway on the other side to the narrow entry hall. As if out of habit, she reaches out for the fine crystal bowl on the side table but stops herself. Hinata sighs and shakes her head, realizing her keys are missing, along with her car. It is of no loss to her, however; she rarely drives the damned thing anyway. She prefers a brisk walk to work any day.
A red light interrupts her walk to work. She attempts to press the Walk button on the side of the streetlight, but her attention shifts to the brightly colored flyers clinging to the pole. She pulls one off and reads over the large, typed print across the top of the page. It reads, Sannin Grocers.
The name of the store arousing an air of familiarity within the young woman, she searches the advertisement for an address. Hinata turns away from the busy street she meant to cross and instead, continues forward down the street-- two, three more blocks before coming to a stop in front of the small business.
She frowns, her eyes displaying her disappointment to the dead stillness of the building. Hinata glances up at the sunbleached sign hanging above the glass door. The once crimson letters, now fading to a pale pink.
Approaching the bay window, Hinata peers inside to steal a peek at the blonde. Her cheeks tint pink and her heart begins to flutter as her gaze rests upon the tall, lean frame of Naruto Uzumaki. She quickly pulls away from the window, cursing her nerves and trying desperately to convince herself that this burning sensation tearing through her body, trembling hands, and weak knees are just reactions from the emotions she built up in the past and that--
--this couldn't be the way that I feel about him now, could it??
Hinata presses her face into the window again, her eyes falling upon the blonde again almost instinctively. He sits behind the register with his head in his hands and a slight slouch in his posture. Although she can't clearly see his expression because of the distance separating them, something obviously had the blonde in a bitter mood.
Rapping at the window, Hinata waits for Naruto to turn her way. After a moment, he lifts his head and gazes at her through the foggy window. A small smile tugs at the corners of his lips at the sight of her. He slides down from his stool and joins the woman outside the store.
Gazing at the blonde up close, Hinata mentally retracts her earlier statement of the blonde's bitter mood. The word couldn't possibly describe this. The only thing Hinata can bring herself to think is:
He's a train-wreck!!
A train-wreck. A term used lightly with the blonde's case, seeing how disheveled he appeared on a regular basis. It is a natural look for the blonde-- his spiky, unkempt hair falling every-which-way around his face, his worn sneakers, faded jeans, and baggy shirts adding emphasis to the previous statement. Of course, Naruto has never been one to make much of an effort when it comes to his appearance. He never really had to, but it worked for him for the most part...
However, in today's case, it didn't...
His eyes are somewhat bloodshot with dark circles surrounding them, almost as if he hadn't slept in days. He looked vulnerable. Dejected. Lost.
"N-naruto," Hinata begins, her voice small and tentative, "you don't seem to look too well. Is everything alright?"
The young man makes his best attempt to smile, but can't bring himself to do it. He lowers his head and pushes his hair up from his forehead, his breathing noticeably deeper than usual. Naruto returns his gaze to Hinata, his eyes darkening with an emotion she can't pinpoint. He remains silent.
Hinata worriedly searches his face for any kind of answer-- even a sign that her words are registering inside his mind. Finding nothing, she nibbles at her lower lip and fiddles with the flyer still present in her grasp. She glances down at the flyer, then back up at him. Smiling sweetly, she raises the flyer up for him to see.
"I found this... D-did you make it?"
"Yeah. Business here hasn't been too good lately, so I made the flyers to get the name out on the streets."
Hinata's smile falls away and she lowers her head again, "I'm sorry... I-I didn't know..."
"It's alright. This isn't your fault, Hinata." Naruto consoles, one corner of his mouth tipping upwards into a warm, meaningful smile. His first one since he found out the destined fate of Sannin's and his predicted downfall. The blonde shoves his hands into his pockets and their conversation enters another void. His eyes remain fixed upon Hinata, the look in her eyes behind her curtain of hair expressing her deep concern for him. He considers telling Hinata about the letter he found on Jiraiya's desk, but feels it better to keep it to himself.
Best not to worry her more than I already have...
"Naruto," Hinata pauses, trying her best to think of something to say to cheer the gloomy blonde up, "w-why don't you come with me? That is, if you aren't d-doing anything right now..."
Hinata hesitantly raises her head up to the blonde to view his expression, but he is looking into the store through the bay window as if considering the offer. Pulling a hand out of his pocket and repositioning it behind his head, he turns back to face the dark-haired woman.
"Sure. I wasn't really doing anything over my lunch break anyway." Naruto agrees, an aloofness apparent in his voice-- the last thing Hinata wants to hear. This, coming from the Uzumaki, is completely out of character. The distant, detached look in his eyes and the sheer lack of enthusiasm in his voice turn him into a totally different person-- like someone she knew entirely all too well as a-matter-of-fact.
She sighs and glances down at her watch, her eyes widen suddenly and quickly fly upwards to meet the pools of blue belonging to Naruto, "W-we better get going! I'll be late if we don't h-hurry!"
"Let me hang up my apron and I'll drive you wherever you need to go." Naruto offers as he unties the knot holding the apron up on his body. Once he relieves himself of the apron, he opens the front door and tosses it onto the counter. The sound of the apron gently floating on top of the counter causing a ripple in the ungodly silence controlling the building.
Turning away from the door, Naruto grips Hinata's hand and begins leading her around to the other side of the store to the employee parking lot. The woman glances back at the front door before it disappears from her sight as they turn the corner. "W-wasn't the shop empty? Don't you t-think you should lock it up first? I'd hate for you to get in t-trouble with your boss, Naruto."
The blonde's muscles tense at the mention of Jiraiya. With eyes darkening from his anger and a scowl quickly revealing itself upon his face, Naruto begins to walk faster. He didn't response to the timid woman's questions until they reach his car. His steely gaze falls upon the back entrance of Sannin Grocers and he grunts in disgust.
"It's not like the bastard actually cares..."
Naruto parks his Mustang in Hinata's designated spot at the front entrance of Hyuuga Crest. Upon seeing the sheer size of the building, all of the blonde's past disgruntlements are quickly overcome with awe. The glare of the afternoon sun bouncing off the hundreds of massive windows covering all four sides of the building nearly blind him. He blinks away the white spots obstructing his vision and turns toward Hinata, who is already standing at the revolving door with an impatient look in her eyes. Naruto steals another glance up at the building before locking his vehicle and rushing inside after the woman.
Once they pass through the lobby and enter the second level of Hyuuga Crest, employees begin streaming in from all directions, stopping whatever work they had to greet the company owner's daughter. While Hinata returns their greetings and engages in some brisk small-talk, Naruto takes in his new, expensive-looking surroundings.
Suddenly, Hinata stops in front of the elevator at the back of the room, causing the blonde to bump into her. With his composure restored, Naruto chuckles and rubs the back of his neck as he scans over the bustling workers. "This place is amazing, Hinata!! I've never seen anything like it!"
The elevator chimes and the doors open as Hinata steps inside with a smile adorning her lips, "I-if you want, I could see into getting you a job here."
Naruto flinches at the idea of Sannin Grocers-- a place where he spent a majority of his time and even helped build-- shutting down. The transition between cashier and advertiser would be a huge leap and not to mention the massive amount of responsibility that came along with it, are only part of the reasons why Naruto disproves of the suggestion.
"I just don't think that I'm ready to give up on the store yet..." Naruto sighs as he steps into the elevator, the doors closing behind him. Hinata presses the button for the eighth floor and gazes up at the blonde, her eyes displaying her obvious confusion.
"What do you mean, N-naruto? What happened to Sannin Grocers?"
Naruto shakes his head and leans his back up against the elevator wall with his arms crossing over his chest, "It's not what happened, it's what's going to happen if I can't raise the amount of customers before the end of the month..."
The woman's eyes widen and she remains silent for a moment. Lowering her head to the button display on the wall before her, she digs deep into her mind to find something to say-- anything she can think of to comfort the blonde. Instead, the only thing she can manage to squeak is, I'm sorry.
"Hinata," Naruto begins, his voice cracking slightly, "the store is going to be shut down--"
The elevator doors open revealing a woman with buns on either side of her head and a stack of files under her arm. She instinctively starts her monologue of reminders and the day's schedule, until she sees Naruto, at which point she stops mid-sentence and glares intensely at the blonde.
"What is he doing here??"
Naruto's expression hardens as he turns toward the brunette. He readies himself to unleash a rather venomous comeback, but freezes when Hinata take ahold of his wrist.
"Ten-Ten, can we talk about this later?" the Hyuuga Crest heiress asks hurriedly, pushing past her assistant to get to her office at the end of the hall. With disdain in her eyes, Ten-Ten watches their figures disappear through the glass double doors leading into Hinata's office.
Hinata sinks into the large, leather armchair behind the black desk occupying most of the space within the room. She cradles her face in her hands and shakes her head slowly. The light emitting from the laptop in front of her reflects off her skin, giving her exposed flesh a tint of pale blue.
Naruto lowers himself into one of the two chairs in front of the desk and watches the woman's poorly concealed abstract gaze--
I have to do something...
Besides Hinata's quick and labored breaths, the room is silent. She dares a glance in the blonde's direction and they immediately lock eyes. In that instance, Hinata catches a glimpse of what appeared to be desperation. She closes her eyes tightly and his figure fades into a black abyss--
...anything... I can to...
Naruto sits on the edge of his seat, Hinata's quivering lips convincing him that she wants to speak. He waits, looking for all the world in Hinata's predicted words like an abused, abandoned puppy. Hinata fidgets, feeling his stare burrow holes through her--
... to save him...
Clearing his throat, Naruto lowers his gaze to the steaming hot cup of tea sitting beside the laptop, giving into the silence. Wringing his hands together, he laments, "I'm at the end of my rope, Hinata. I just don't know..."
His voice dissolves into the air, the sound no longer audible. He continues to stare down at the cup of tea on Hinata's desk until he hears a dull thump.
Hinata is on her feet now, her expression dour. She leans forward against her hands on the desk and scolds, her voice still cordial nonetheless, "You're losing hope and giving in, and that isn't something the Naruto I know would do!"
Naruto gazes up at her in awe; eyes wide and mouth agape. Never before has Hinata shown this sort of confidence. She seems to stand taller, her voice smooth and steady. It almost seems as if she had just transformed into a different person right before his eyes.
Naruto narrows his eyes, Hinata's words rekindling the flame of determination in his heart. He rises to his feet with a quick, fluid motion. "You're right, Hinata! I already have a plan worked out, but I'll need your help for it to work."
The woman blushes and sinks back into her chair, her timid nature revealing itself once again.
"Uh, w-what's the plan?"
Naruto grins broadly, "It's the same as the old plan, just set to a larger scale."
Pulling out the Sannin's Grocers flyer she stashed away in her pocket, Hinata's lips curve up into a smile. "I-I'll get to work on it as soon as I can."
Just then, the office doors fly open with Ten-Ten in the doorway. "Ms. Hyuuga, your four o'clock is in the lobby, so your guest is going to have to leave."
Hinata's gaze dances between Ten-Ten and Naruto before she says, "N-naruto, would you like to meet up afterwards for lunch. I-It'll give us a chance to discuss--"
Ten-Ten frowns and approaches Naruto, gripping the back of the chair he occupies. "Might I remind you, Ms. Hyuuga, that this meeting is with a very important client??"
Naruto rises from his chair and checks his watch as he rubs the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, but I have to go," Naruto replies as if Ten-Ten's not-so-subtle cue to leave never hit the air, "I need to head back to the store. Lunch break's almost over."
Ten-Ten smiles triumphantly. Being able to kick the blonde out on his ass would be her only revenge.
Hinata's lips part as she attempts to speak again, but abruptly stops when Ten-Ten shoves him out into the hall. Hinata slumps into her chair as Ten-Ten turns to her, the stern look in the brunette's eyes melting into concern. "Hinata, what are you doing with Naruto?? I thought you said you were over him. Haven't you stopped to think what--"
"Ten-Ten," Hinata's posture straightens and her expression hardens, "I'm helping a friend of mine who is in need of assistance. There is no crime in that, so leave him out of this."
With a defeated sigh, Ten-Ten exits her superior's office to find Naruto perched on one side of her desk. The blonde flinches at the sight of the brunette's wrathful gaze, the irritation in her eyes seeming to grow with each step. Naruto slides off the desktop with his arms out in front of him, as if defending himself against some kind of attack.
"Listen, Ten-Ten. I know that you're still kinda pissed about what happened at the Curry of Life and--"
The brown-haired woman interrupts him by pounding her fist on the desk. After a moment, she stands up straight and sighs. Pushing back her bangs, Naruto notes that her expression is completely muted of all emotion.
"I'm sure you can find the exit on your own, Naruto." she says, venom and something else lacing her words as she takes a seat at her desk. Naruto sighs and turns to leave, his culpability worse now than it had been when he arrived. He boards the elevator at the end of the hall and presses the button for the lobby.
Just before the sliding doors close completely, something flies in through the gap-- like a bullet-- and nails Naruto in the forehead. He winces and rubs the place of impact. He glances down at his hand to find his fingertips blackened with ink. He scans the floor of the elevator for the object and his eyes catch sight of a black permanent marker. He picks it up and rolls it over in his hands, noticing the pink label across the side reading:
Property of Ten-Ten.
Back at Sannin's, Naruto finds Jiraiya standing on the ramp leading to the back entrance of the store with an ever-present bottle of sake in his hand. Naruto glares up into the hazy, dark eyes of the man towering over him and grunts. Jiraiya lowers his gaze to the blonde, his mind too busy drowning in the alcohol he chugged to fully register Naruto's presence. He lifts his gaze back to the distant horizon and snorts a chuckle.
"Seems that I can't ever picture you with a smile anymore..." Jiraiya slurs, parting his lips to allow another gulp of sake to slither down his throat.
Naruto raises an eyebrow, "What the hell is that supposed to mean, Old Man?" he questions as he crosses his arms over his lean chest. The blonde waits a moment as Jiraiya reluctantly pulls away from his bottle, his eyes never leaving his view of the horizon.
"Yer too busy bein' an ass. That's what I'm sayin'."
"Me?? I'm not the one ruining everything for not only yourself, but for me too!! You're the selfish asshole around here, Jiraiya!!" Naruto snaps, his hands gripping the steel bars of the railing so hard that his knuckle whiten.
Jiraiya sighs and lowers his eyes to his shoes, closing his eyes against the rays of the sun above him. Naruto's heavy breathing gradually slows to an even pace as he steps away from the railing, combing his fingers through his golden locks. "Look," he huffs, "I have a plan to save the store and I want you to hear me out on it. I'm getting Hinata to help with this and I just really think that--"
"No," Jiraiya interjects, his voice resembling thunder.
"What do you mean?? We have a chance to fix this whole mess and you're turning it down??"
"That's what I said, Naruto!" Jiraiya roars, his eyes quickly narrowing into a steely scowl.
"Why, Jiraiya?? Give me a reason as to why you're so determined to throw all of this away!!" Naruto retaliates as he gestures towards the store with his hand. The older man pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head, his skull pounding with frustration.
"I spent too much of my time and energy on this place and it took away from my goal! My writin' is sufferin' cuz'a this place!" Jiraiya explains, his voice slowly rising into a yell.
Naruto snorts, "Then let me take over! I'd do a better job than you ever did!!"
"You can barely take carra yerself! How am I supposed'ta trust you with somethin' like this??"
Naruto opens his mouth to snap back a response, but his words get caught in his throat, which as grown suddenly parched. He frowns and turns his gaze towards his car, unwilling to look the older man in the eyes any longer.
"I'm clocking out for the day."
With this, Naruto storms over to his car and drives away with no certain destination in mind.
He eventually ends up in the Hyuuga Crest parking lot again, thinking he'd wait for Hinata to tell her the bad news. He shuts off the engine and sits in the drivers' seat for a moment with tension building in his chest until it becomes unbearable. He hurriedly escapes for the small confines of the Mustang and lays on the hood, staring up into the light wisps of clouds speckling the skies above. The sight mesmerizes the blonde and he promptly looses track of time.
An hour quickly passes when his trance is broken by the thunderous beating of wings. His eyes open to a swarm of pigeons flying overhead. He sits up and sweeps his hand over his face, his eyes readjusting to the sunlight beaming down upon him.
"N-naruto? What are you doing here?" asks a small, timid voice.
The blonde blinks away the white haze shrouding his vision to find Hinata leaning against the side of the building. Her eyes, even from a distance, visibly red and puffy. Naruto slides off the hood of his car and links his hands behind his head. He winces at the pulling sensation in his heart seeing her this way caused, but he quickly shrugs the feeling off.
Maybe I'll tell her later. Right now my main goal is to cheer Hinata up, Naruto thinks, putting on his best face for the troubled woman. A crooked half smile adorns his lips as he chuckles softly.
"How does a bowl of ramen sound to you?"