Author's Note: This was not what I set out to write. However, in the time it took my ancient computer to turn on, my original idea disappeared and I was left with this instead. I marked this story complete, but I do plan to add a second chapter in the future. Also, I wanted to let everyone know that this story was written for the Writer's Block Dattebayo Challenge proposed by Perpetual159. Feel free to send her a message if you want to participate.
Cultural Note: Just for some background information, every New Year's Eve an enormous ball of crystal and lights descends in Times Square (New York) to mark the beginning of the New Year. Around one million people gather in Times Square itself to watch the display and millions more watch from their TVs at home.
Summary: Crushed in the mass of the crowd, he whispered a promise. No matter how long it took, she would hold him to his word. Written for the Dattebayo Challenge. Complete.
Betareader: Maerchen Freunde
Counting Down The Hours
After stumbling for the third time that night, Hinata wondered why she agreed to venture into Times Square on New Year's Eve. But when a strong hand gripped her elbow to steady her, she remembered.
It always did come back to him, she thought with wry amusement. She flashed Naruto a smile of gratitude once she regained her footing. Wearing silver stiletto heels did give her a bit of added height, but now she was questioning the practically of wearing them in winter. Ino, of course, had been the one who talked her into them. "The higher the heel, the greater the confidence," she had sung, forcing Hinata into the strappy shoes before departing for a party of her own.
"You alright?" Naruto asked, his deep voice gently brushing over the top of her hair. She knew he had to lean close to be heard but that didn't stop the shivers from racing down her spine.
Not trusting herself to speak, she nodded. He quirked a smile at her and resumed leading her through the dense crowd. She followed, grateful for his guiding hand. Despite her New Yorker blood, Hinata was never a big fan of crowds. She favored taxis over walking but tonight she would make an exception and deal with the hustle and bustle of the city.
Because tonight, Naruto needed her. And that was all that mattered. He had tried to hide it, tried to bury it under smiles and bluster, but she knew better. Hinata bit her lip in dismay and glanced at the man patiently leading her through the crowded city.
Naruto was hurting. His girlfriend of over two years had recently dumped him. Worse yet, it was for the new partner in his architectural firm. Even so, the breakup was tearful but not angry. Sakura still cared for Naruto but she told him she couldn't continue dating him if she was drawn to another man. Apparently Sasuke, Naruto's partner, had been a ghost from her past and things had never been resolved between them.
Naruto claimed he understood and let Sakura go gracefully, but Hinata could see how much the lie had cost him. So when he mentioned he had planned to take Sakura down to Times Square to watch the ball drop, Hinata dropped her arrangements and volunteered to accompany him. Otherwise, she had no doubt that he would sit in his apartment with a bottle of scotch as his sole companion.
So now Hinata followed him. Feet sore from tight shoes and body weary of fending off drunken advances, she continued to follow him because what else could she do for the man she loved?
It took a bit of careful maneuvering but eventually they made it. One of Naruto's college friends had saved them a spot within the view of the glimmering ball. Naruto quickly introduced her to his friends and their girlfriends but their names were soon forgotten and lost in the roar and the excitement of the crowd surrounding them. Hinata simply nodded politely and kept a watchful eye on Naruto.
They passed the time in relative quiet. The drunken clamoring of the crowd made up for any silence on their parts. Hinata knew they probably looked mismatched. Naruto wore a faded pair of old jeans and an old leather jacket with his college's logo on one side. Hinata wore an old designer dress, a gift from her wealthy family she never saw anymore. A faux fur coat complemented the ensemble. If anyone was out of place, it would be her. But she kept her chin held high. If she could handle countless hours of stuffy parties with her family before she was disinherited, she could handle one night on the streets of New York City.
Fortunately, Naruto must have sensed her mood because he snagged a few noisemakers from someone handing them out. He dropped one in her hand and placed other in his pocket. Hinata eyed the shiny pink contraption curiously before deciding to test it out. Feeling slightly ridiculous, she put the toy to her lips and gave it a try. With a loud toot, a ribbon unfurled right in Naruto's face and smacking him on the nose.
Startled, wide blue eyes turned to stare at her as her cheeks began to pinken in embarrassment. Then he laughed. It started slow. Like when a single person starts to clap in a large auditorium, his laughter started softly but eventually grew to a loud roar. Her embarrassment faded into pleasure. It had been ages since he had seemed so relaxed and carefree.
Her breath caught when she noticed the wicked gleam in his eye. But before she could form enough words to ask about it, he acted. With a flick of his wrist he pulled out his toy and unfurled it right in her ear, launching a fun but short lived streamer war. She never managed to get him in the face again. His height advantage meant that he had to do was lean back and could avoid it, but she did manage to pry a chuckle or two out of his lips a few more times. He hadn't laughed in so long and Hinata didn't care what she had to do to get him to smile like that again. Even if it meant reverting to childish behavior.
With they were both out of breath, and Hinata's ears were slightly ringing, Naruto smiled one more time and put his arm over her shoulders in a friendly manner. Her throat tightened at the gesture, but she just swallowed and tried to smile back. He didn't mean anything by it. He never did. But her body didn't know that and it never failed to react to his presence.
The next twenty minutes passed awkwardly. A part of her knew she shouldn't stand there basking in the warmth of his heat, but a larger portion wanted to enjoy the feeling as long as it lasted. She just hoped that it was too dark for Naruto to see her clearly. She didn't want her rosy cheeks to give away her emotions.
It was getting close to midnight. The music and the fanfare quieted as people began to check their watches more and more. Hinata had left hers at home. She trusted the announcers to tell her the time and she didn't want to risk it being stolen. She looked up at the reporters on the ledges looking down at the city. She had thought of becoming a journalist once. But the thought of meeting and interviewing people scared her away from ever giving it a try. It didn't really matter. She was happy working as a design consultant. If she hadn't made the choices she did, she never would have met Naruto.
Naruto sighed and shifted away from her. Hinata looked at him but didn't say anything. When he tucked his hands into his coat pockets she reasoned that he must have just been getting cold. He never did remember to wear enough weather-appropriate clothes.
"I was going to propose."
The words shocked her.
"What?" she asked craning her neck to see his expression in the darkness. The agony in his blue eyes shone brightly in the night.
"I was going to propose to Sakura right here."
Her heart plummeted. It sailed past her stomach and shattered on the concrete pavement beneath her shoes.
He smiled bitterly. "I still love her," he admitted, "she betrayed me and I still love her."
She put a hand on his arm trying to comfort him as he spoke.
She pulled her hand back sharply. "Where? When?" she said.
"In about a week. I'm heading to visit Gaara's firm in Japan."
She tried to hold back the tears, but he noticed them immediately. He could always tell things when it came to her, except for the most important thing. He never could figure that one out. He pulled his hands from his pockets to wipe away her tears.
"Stop, please stop," she tried to push his hands away from her face. Gestures like this were the reason her emotions were always so muddled. Eventually, she gave up on stopping him. He was too stubborn for her own good. A rough, calloused hand gently wiped away her tears. She fought back the tremble it evoked.
"How long?" she asked, voice muffled by emotion.
"A year, maybe longer."
Her voice stumbled on its way out of her throat, "Permanently?"
He sighed, "I don't know. It's possible."
As the announcers proclaimed a five minute warning, the tears began to fall in earnest.
"Hey, it's not the end of the world," he said, a cold hand gently cupping her chin.
She shook his hand off. He was wrong. Her world would end the moment he stepped on that plane and left.
"I'll write to you," he tried, "and we'll talk on the phone."
She shook her head again. "It won't be the same without you," she confessed.
He smiled tenderly and wrapped her in a tight hug, careful to tuck her head under his chin. "I'm gonna miss you," he whispered, "that's for sure."
She bit her lip, choking back a sob. The timing was completely off. It was downright horrible. But she didn't know when she would get another chance. He was leaving soon and she would lose him forever.
She had to take a chance. She had to step out of her comfort zone she used to steadfastly adhere to. Slowly, she pulled away to look him in the eye and the words came tumbling out.
"I love you," she said.
He blinked and then smiled at her like her cousin Neji did, lips curled with brotherly affection.
"I love you too Hinata-chan."
Hinata shook her head, knowing he had misunderstood. She gripped the edges of his jacket tighter and tried again, slowly this time to make sure he understood. "I love you."
The announcers began the one minute countdown but Naruto could only focus on her. She knew he understood her words that time.
"Since when?" he whispered. His beautiful blue eyes looked pained with desperate confusion.
She smiled bleakly. At least, he hadn't shoved her off in disgust yet, that was a good sign. "Since about a month after we met," she confessed.
"That was six years ago!"
She shrugged, not knowing how to respond.
Naruto made a motion as if to speak but then his mouth closed. When he grimaced, she understood. He didn't love her. But then again, she never really expected him to, especially not when he had just confessed that he still loved Sakura.
She eased her grip on his jacket and gently patted his chest. "It's okay," she said gently, possibly to reassure herself, "it's okay."
When she turned to leave, to disappear in the crowd and cry, he grabbed her hand and pulled her back to his body. Her nose bumped against the hard plane of his chest. Two strong arms wrapped around her to keep her from leaving.
"Naruto," she pleaded, pushing against his body.
He was her weakness. She didn't want to cry in front of him but she didn't know how to avoid it when he was so close to her body yet she was far away from his heart. She pushed harder, struggling. He didn't release her though. If anything, his grip tightened like a shackles around her body. Her shoulders hiccupped and soon the tears began to fall from her eyes and land against his jacket.
For a minute he did nothing. He didn't move, didn't speak.
And then, his chest rose and fell on a sigh.
"A year," he said firmly.
"Give me some time to head to Japan and sort out this mess and then one year from now I'll meet you right back here with an answer."
She shook her head. She longed for his love, not his pity. She never wanted him to return her feelings this way. "Naruto, you don't have to do that, I underst-"
He released her slightly, gave her just enough space so she could look at his face. "I want to do this," he said, "One year from now I will find you again, dattebayo."
She smiled slightly at his trademark phrase, a leftover remnant of his childhood. The first time it accidentally slipped out of his mouth she laughed so hard she spit out her coffee. It was also the first time she had ever seen him blush.
But that time seemed so long ago now.
That was the time before he met Sakura and fell in love.
That was the time when Hinata still felt she had a chance for him to return her affection.
Hinata stared at him, eyes checking his expression for any trace of a lie. His blue eyes looked back unwaveringly. He meant what he said. But the separation…. It wouldn't be easy. Could she really hold him to such a promise? A part of her felt like she was taking advantage of his vulnerability, but looking at him, she couldn't find it within herself to say no. After all, for six years she had waited, longing for just a chance.
Her lower lip trembled as she agreed. "One year," she said.
When the clock finally struck midnight and the city erupted in cheers, Hinata remained frozen by the feel of chapped lips gently pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"One year," he breathed into her ear, "I promise."