Wavering Between Forgotten Lines
Author's Note: After 1.5 years of absence, I'm sort of back? Either way, I want to finish up my stories before I leave for college in 2012. It's been a long time, but I feel that I have to tie up loose ends and I can't keep on feeling guilty forever. Hopefully my writing hasn't deteriorated too much. I would hate to lose to my younger self.
Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto
Naruto look down at his unfinished bowl of miso ramen. The soggy noodles were clumped together and moist pieces of seaweed clung to the damp strips. It was only his first bowl, and all he had done was jab his chopsticks at the usually delectable meal. If this was any other day, he would have been in the middle of his third bowl, with a fourth one on the way. He knew that the old man was worried about him; he could see the worried expression from the corner of his eye. He held back a sigh, he knew, this behavior was unlike him. Uzumaki Naruto was supposed to be the very essence of sunshine.
"Hey," he looked up at the sound of the familiar voice. The pink haired girl sat down next to him, shifting her weight uncomfortably on the barstool. He tried to summon a weak smile until he realized that she wasn't looking at him. He shook his head, and turned his attention back to his abandoned ramen.
He heard her order a small bowl of ramen, and then it was silent again. Naruto had never done well with silence. He stared at the noodles and oil congealing in the bowl, trying to find something to talk about. What was there to say, though? His mind was still trapped in the argument – fight that had broken out between him and Sasuke. He knew, without Sakura or Kakashi or any of the Rookie Nine telling him – he'd messed up.
It was an unspoken agreement between them, that they would proceed as normal. They would pretend that Konoha was the village that Sasuke had left it as, that the impact of Sasuke's betrayal hadn't struck so deep. At first it was difficult, but Naruto was adept at putting on fake smiles. Besides, the familiarity of his childish actions and Sasuke's annoyed expressions allowed him to believe that the past wasn't so far away. Maybe there was still something there.
His fist clenched the orange fabric of his pants as he felt disappointment well up inside. Why couldn't things just work out, for once? All he wanted was a brother again.
He blinked hurriedly and tried to find his voice, "Y-yeah, Sakura?"
"Naruto," she paused for a moment and then with a firmer tone, she said, "Look at me."
"I'm concentrating on my ramen," Naruto replied steadily. It was true; he had been staring at it rather intently.
"Naruto, you've been staring at that bowl for fifteen minutes," she pursed her lips and said with a teasing tone, "Since when did eating ramen become a mental exercise?"
"Maybe I just want to try something different," he scowled and met her green eyes, "I'm allowed to be different, right?"
"Of course, Naruto," Sakura tried to look reassuring. She stared at him, trying to bite back a weary sigh. His blue eyes had lost their shine, and she felt helpless to do anything about it.
"I'm sorry, Sakura," he lowered his eyes and stared at the ramen bowl, at his chopsticks, at anything but those striking green eyes. "I…I messed up."
It took a moment for the kunoichi to realize what he was referring to. Her eyes widened in bewilderment – Naruto was blaming himself for what had happened? And what did he mean, "messed up"?
"Naruto, you didn't do anything wrong," she whispered. "We…we were just stupid and foolish."
"Everyone else was doing fine," he countered, "I need to learn how to control my emotions better."
"You've already done very well," she tried to smile encouragingly. He still wasn't look at her, and he was fiddling with his chopsticks – a nervous tic he had picked up from Hinata? The thought of the couple made Sakura's stomach flip, and she bit her lip, refusing to let any sound escape.
"Although you did overdo it a little," his head snapped up and she quickly corrected herself, "I mean, with all the happy shouting and yelling. But it wasn't anything wrong." Kami, Sakura. You're such an idiot – just stop talking for once!
"He probably got really annoyed, didn't he…," Naruto looked down again, staring at his hands. "I just…I just don't know what to do anymore." He clenched his fist and the chopstick in his hand snapped in half. Sakura felt the need to wrap her arms around him, to tell him it was alright, to somehow cover those hunched shoulders with her own, to somehow make him smile. But it was wrong, all wrong – Naruto had a girlfriend now. She couldn't just go embracing him as she liked.
"You…," she felt her voice waver, and she took a deep breath, "You don't have to go back."
"But…," his voice trailed off and he raised his head with eyes full of confusion. "But then…then how are – "
"It's alright, Naruto, it's…," she tried to stare straight into his blue eyes as if it would communicate her thoughts more efficiently, "It's time we stopped being foolish."
"Sakura…," Naruto stared at her, suddenly remembering the night long ago, when Sakura had pleaded with Naruto to bring him – Sasuke – back. "It's my only wish, Naruto," she struggled through her tears, "Please…please bring Sasuke back…" She sobbed relentlessly, each cough, each tear stabbing at Naruto's heart. Sasuke's physical body was back now, but Naruto knew what Sakura really wanted. His heart was still not here, and Naruto had to bring it back. He had promised – it was a lifelong vow. He would do whatever it took to bring back Sasuke's soul, because Sakura loved him. And Naruto – Naruto would do anything to make Sakura happy.
"…I…I made a promise," Naruto continued, "I would bring him back to us, back to you."
"But he's here, Naruto," she countered, "he's right over there, under lock and key. He's back."
"But not really, he's not," he said sadly, "he's not really here. And…and…I just…I" His throat closed up and he tried to keep the emotion from pervading his voice. It wasn't right, what he was feeling. He thought back to Hinata, with her gentle smile and kind eyes. Why couldn't he just love her? She was good to him – she loved him, like nobody else had ever loved him. But…he looked at Sakura, with her flashing eyes and worried expression, somehow…it wasn't enough.
"You did your best, Naruto," Sakura reached up to touch his face, stopping just a few inches away. He has Hinata. Her eyes stung and she blinked a few times, stopping the tears that threatened to spill, "…you don't have to do anymore." Stop hurting yourself.
"It's alright, Sakura," Naruto mustered enough strength to put on a weak façade of a smile, "I'm Konoha's number one ninja! I can get through this." He turned away from her cautious face and reached for new chopsticks, intent on ending the conversation and finishing his ramen. His fingers had just graced the tips of the wooden chopsticks when he felt a hand push his arm down.
"No," Sakura gazed at his arm, avoiding his incredulous expression. "No, you idiot. Don't just – don't just smile at me and tell me you're okay. Stop it."
"What?" Flustered and confused, Naruto tried to wrench his arm from her grip, but her chakra infused fingers wouldn't let him budge an inch. "What're you-"
"I hate it when people lie to themselves," she cut him off. "Get yourself out of the past, Naruto. It's not going to be the same – ever. Sasuke's never going to truly come back to us and…and…that's alright."
"But don't you – " love him? Naruto couldn't find the strength the finish the sentence. It hurt. It hurt like hell, knowing that.
"It's not fair for you, and it's not fair for me either," Sakura continued with a shaky tone. "We have to move on."
"We can't just leave him!" Naruto protested.
"And why not!" A single tear dripped down Sakura's chin, but it didn't seem to matter anymore. Frustration wracked her mind, for the infinite time she cursed his thickheaded-ness. Couldn't he see? Oh, why couldn't he just figure it out? Why did she have to spell everything out for him? She slammed a palm down on the bar table's surface, unwittingly making the wood splinter, "Uzumaki Naruto, just go and live your own life okay? This isn't your business!"
"Of course it's my business! He's my best friend and you're – you're," Naruto couldn't seem to find the words. Sakura glared at him defiantly, thought inwardly her heart beating rapidly. It wasn't – it couldn't – no, it's shouldn't – her thoughts fluttered at the possibilities, even while she tried to suppress any hopes from rising.
"What am I, Naruto?" Her voice was quiet, as if she didn't want to hear the answer because she already knew – hoped – what it was.
"You're…" Naruto looked down at his hands, twisting his index finger around and around, "…you're someone…someone very precious to me." His last few words were barely more than a movement of the lips, but to Sakura, they were loud and clear.
The memories overwhelmed her; she could hear echoes of the past, when he proclaimed his undying love for her over and over again – and her obstinate refusals. When he started dating Hinata, she realized what she should have treasured…and lost. Sakura tried to keep the trembling out of her voice, though she knew she was going to start sobbing in minutes, "I – "
But Naruto immediately cut her off, and with a grim tone, said, "But I know, Sakura. I know, your heart is still … still reserved for Sasuke. It's okay," he glanced at her with his old crooked smile. "I'm used to it. Besides, I have Hinata-chan. She-she's real nice to me, haha. I think I really do like her."
"I- I'm meeting her for a date today," Naruto chuckled dryly, "she wanted to go see a movie and stuff."
"But Naruto, I –" Sakura wanted to tell him the truth, but it would be cruel, wouldn't it? Her lips clamped shut. She had given up her chance long ago, and besides, she had hurt him enough. He didn't need her anymore, and that was that. And in any case, she didn't deserve him either. Saying things now would only hurt him, her, and Hinata.
"Gee, Sakura," Naruto's shaky voice brought her back to reality, "You're going to have to pay for that." He pointed to the damage surrounding Sakura's bowl of ramen. The wood was twisted, warped and splintered from her palms. The fake merriment didn't last long, however. His eyes dimmed again, and he started shoving ramen into his mouth with an expression akin to pain.
Sakura watched him with worried eyes, her fingers itching to touch him, to wipe that agonized look off his face. The conversation was over though, she knew that. The moment was gone, like everything else, it was empty again.
Hinata left the Uchiha compound with confused feelings, to say the least. Sasuke had been angry with her, and it was nobody's fault but her own. They had gotten along so well, and then she had to go and mention Naruto's name. Still, the memory of his bright red eyes and hauntingly attractive face made her heart thud a bit more than usual. She wasn't used to seeing this much emotion in him. Light amusement and ever present obstinacy, she had seen regularly, but full blown anger was rare. She had felt his chakra tingling and stinging the air around it. Even now she could taste it at the tip of her tongue; it was musky and … strangely, like lightning. How odd.
She had resisted the urge to look back at the Uchiha compound, knowing somehow that if she did, she would see crimson eyes staring back at her. Instead, she focused her mind on her upcoming date with Naruto. Just the thought of her cheerful, exuberant boyfriend instantly lifted her mood. He had been a bit down for the past week for reasons she knew clearly, and that just made her eve more determined to pull him out of it. I'm sure some ramen and some sweets would cheer him up, Hinata grinned despite herself.
Hinata navigated the busy streets of Konoha, ducking in between pedestrians and street vendors. The sun overhead already signaled that she was late, though she knew that Naruto would be plenty occupied at the Ichiraku ramen bar, where they met up for their dates. With a happy sigh, Hinata almost skipped down the wide road that led to the bar – and her boyfriend.
When she saw his orange sweater and that shock of blonde hair, she immediately raised her hand in greeting and was about to call his name when she realized that Sakura was sitting next to him. They were both tense somehow, and when she looked more closely, she could see splinters under Sakura's palm. Naruto's shoulders were hunched over, as if he was in pain. They were talking, though their voices were barely above whispers.
Hinata's voice couldn't come out. Why was Sakura there? Why was Naruto so upset? Maybe she should just ask instead of standing there? Yet she felt fear, afraid of the possibility that had always stayed in the corner of her mind.
Taking note of their preoccupied state, Hinata inched in slowly, taking care to hide behind the Ichiraku's wall. It wasn't nearly as loud on this street as it was on the main road, yet she could only catch snippets of their conversation. Her cheeks heated up – this sneaky behavior wasn't like her, yet she couldn't stop herself. Her feet wouldn't move and her voice refused to call out. She felt the cool wooden wall behind her, unwillingly concentrating on the excited murmurs she heard from within.
"…he's my best friend..." He was talking about Sasuke, Hinata realized instantly. She gulped, knowing that the conversation was completely off limits to her. As much as Naruto talked around her, never once had he mentioned Sasuke. It seemed like it was something only the rest of Team 7 could understand, and she had understood that. Hinata wanted to tear herself away; her mind was screaming at her to leave. Eavesdropping was rude, and highly insensitive. Yet Hinata couldn't wrench herself away.
"you're…you're someone very precious to me…" Hinata's mouth went dry. Sakura? He means…Naruto – she felt her breaths come out in heavy bouts. Her chest was heaving as the phrase ran over and over again through her mind. Someone very precious…she grimaced at the sharp pain shooting through her chest with each heavy thud of her heart. He means…he still loves…
"…But I know, Sakura… your heart is still … still reserved for Sasuke…" Hinata bit on her lower lip, knowing that she couldn't listen to any more of the conversation. All of the insecurities came rushing back at her. She wasn't good enough. She wasn't brave enough. She wasn't pretty enough. She wasn't Sakura. The metallic tang of blood filled her mouth when her teeth punctured her lip. Her legs wobbly and weak, she slowly slid down the wooden wall, sitting on the crumbled gravel.
Naruto, Hinata stared at a weed poking out of the road. A dandelion. The yellow pierced her vision, and she clapped her hands over her ears. She didn't want to hear any more. It hurt, it hurt more than she thought possible. Naruto doesn't love me. He…he still loves Sakura. Damn, you were blind, Hinata. So blind! He always loved Sakura. He will always love Sakura. He will never choose you, she felt herself succumb to the self-deprecating thoughts invading her mind. What happened? Today was supposed to be fun. She and Naruto were supposed to go out for a movie, and then maybe a walk around the lake. He was supposed to talk and laugh, and she with him. He would take her home to the Hyuuga compound, Neji would threaten him about bringing her home late, and maybe, he would kiss her good night. That was how today was supposed to go.
The pain in her chest brought her back to reality, and her eyes snapped open, freeing the tears building up behind the lids. All she could hear was the blood coursing through her arteries and the old wounds straining at the scarring again. She had to get home. The little room with the soft bed and bare walls that had belonged to her since birth – she had to get there. She couldn't collapse on the edge of the road – that would be disruptive, and what if Naruto saw her?
Slowly, Hinata rose to her feet with one hand clasped over her chest. Her home was a good ten or fifteen minutes away, but she had to make it. She had to get away from Naruto, away from everything that hurt her.
Everything was a blur as she stumbled her way back to the compound. She nearly collided with a vegetable cart; her eyes were gazing far into the distance so she hadn't noticed the mountain of turnips before her. The little old man that operated the cart yelled obscenities at her but she didn't notice. Strangely, everything was muted somehow. She could still hear, but all the sounds seemed to blur into one constant buzz. Hinata knew how silly she must look, tear streaks on her face and all. If her father had been there, she would never have heard the end of it.
When her hand came in contact with the textured white stucco of the Hyuuga compound's surrounding walls, she breathed a sigh of relief. Only a few more minutes and she would be safe inside. Safe from Naruto, safe from her emotions. When Hinata saw the guards outside, she wiped her eyes hurriedly, trying to hide the fact that she had been crying. Her father would be angry if he heard that she came home upset. It would be embarrassing.
"Hinata-sama," one of the guards regarded her cautiously, "…are you not well?"
She quickly looked up, red rims and all, "Ano…I'm fine. Just…allergies."
He looked unconvinced, but pushed open the wooden door anyway, allowing her in. With a slight nod of gratitude, she stepped over the ledge quickly.
Luckily it was the middle of the afternoon and everyone was off busying themselves with training and such. There were barely any Hyuuga wandering the compound, a fact she was thankful for. She didn't want anyone to see her in this sorrowful state. She walked down the hall briskly, keeping her head down and her steps soft.
As Hinata turned down a hallway and her door came into view, she heard a deep voice behind her, "Hinata-sama?"
"N-neji?" Hinata turned around with shock. Since when had he been there? "I-I thought you were on a mission…"
"We got back early," he replied nonchalantly, taking notice of Hinata's quick breathing and pink eyes. He looked down to her hands; they were trembling. As if she had noticed his inspection, she balled up her hands and tried to keep them together to stop the movement. She tried to put on a wobbly smile, which only served to trouble him more.
"What's wrong, Hinata-sama?" Neji narrowed his eyes, his anger rising quickly. Someone had made Hinata cry, and he wasn't about to let that slip.
"Wh-what are y-you talking about Neji," Hinata tried to counter his accusatory tone, "I-I'm fine."
"Hinata-sama, your hands are trembling, your eyes are pink, and," he said in a softer tone, "You're stuttering again."
"I-I'm sorry –" The instantly mortified expression on her face made him want to hit himself. Pointing out all the ways her emotions were leaking out was not the best way to approach this. Neji took a deep breath and cupped her hands in his own, trying to soothe the shudder that wracked her body.
"Don't be, Hinata-sama," he whispered gently. "I just want to know what's wrong."
"I – I," Hinata bit her lip. She knew what would happen if she told her cousin the truth. No doubt, Neji would immediately go and beat Naruto to a pulp. He had certainly threatened to do so enough times.
"N-neji…can I…can I just be alone, for a bit?" Hinata gazed up at him with desperate eyes. She didn't know what to do if he refused. His jaw tensed and she flinched at the furious look in his eyes, but finally, he sighed and let go of her hands.
"I apologize, Hinata-sama," Neji intoned. His arms hung at his sides, "I've kept you from your rest."
"Neji – " Hinata felt every word go through her, pricking her conscious painfully. He raised a finger to her lips and smiled, letting her know that he was letting her go. She gave him one last glance before disappearing into her room.
She closed the door securely and waited to here the click of the lock slipping into place. Every ninja knew how to pick locks, but the action was below most Hyuugas. Hinata felt relief as her shoulders slumped and she stared listlessly at the ground. It wasn't as if she hadn't felt anything. Naruto had always been distracted around her – somehow, the time she had with him had always felt strained, now that she thought back on it.
Slowly, she lowered herself onto the floor, her arms hugging her bent legs, trying to hold whatever was left of herself together.
Neji stood outside her door, keeping his breaths shallow and unnoticeable. Hinata wouldn't tell him what was going on – that much he knew. She was supposed to be on a date with Naruto, that he knew as well. He heard her sob quietly behind the closed door. It took every ounce of his willpower to keep from crossing the wall between him and Hinata, but he knew that she needed her time alone. With his eyes closed, he could see her exact position in her room. She would be sitting in the fetal position, her arms wrapped around her knees with her eyes half open.
He opened his eyes again, noticing that she had become silent. After a few minutes, he sighed and walked away from her room. It wouldn't do to have people notice him standing outside her room for too long. First, he had to find that blond idiot and beat him up. Yeah, that would be a nice relaxer.
Author's Note: uh…sorry for the lack of SasuHina. I've never written NaruSaku either, and I'm not to fond of it either. Hmmm. It should only be a week or two until the next chapter – I won't make you wait that long anymore!
Anyways, please read and review~