Swallow

by Misery's-Toll

Summary: Hinata struggles to be herself. AU College fic NaruHina

Songs listened to: "Can't Beat the Feeling" by Kylie Minogue and "Lucky" by Bif Naked.

I warn you of eating disorders, love triangles, and general drama. I recommend you read in 3/4.


The sight of her bones straining against her flesh should be enough to remind her she's gone too far. The fact that the face in the mirror isn't hers anymore, or that she can't even keep her lunch down should convince her to ask for help.

Instead she fingers the brittle ends of her hair and smiles.


I never meant for this to happen.

0

I will swallow if it will help my sea level go down.


There's something stellar about a carnival at night.

Maybe it's the air, hearty and full with the aromas of fryers at work, and the ease with which it flows into her lungs. It could be the way the lights, so bright and overwhelming, completely block out the stars overhead. Full sensory overload.

It couldn't be the company…no. Hinata was never one for over-enthusiastic social gatherings. Kiba by her side is friendly and exuberant, showing just the right amount of excitement with each and every triumph, but he does not make the occasion. He is like an accessory to the perfect evening.

"Hey, buddy! Why don't you step right up and win your little lady a prize, huh?" shouts the nearest carnie, his booming voice both startling and intimidating. Hinata tucks herself into Kiba's side to shield herself from view, but the heavy arm he slings over her shoulders regretfully informs her that he takes her automatic reaction as encouragement. The carnie continues, "Just throw the darts and hit a balloon! Easy as pie! Three darts for five dollars, five darts for seven! Everybody wins a prize; nobody goes home empty handed!"

Hinata shakes her head, eyeing the arrangement of poorly made stuffed animals, cotton oozing from their machine-stitched seams. "N-No, thanks," she says quietly to her companion, her voice swept away by the loud whirring of the carnival rides, "I'd like to ride the Ferris wheel."

Kiba laughs heartily, voice booming with confidence, "I don't need three darts! Just give me one and I'll hit your balloon!"

The carnie leans over the counter with a greedy grin and shoulders tight with anticipation. "Kinda cocky, ain't ya? And how about you, girlie? Wanna play? Why don't you show your boyfriend who's boss?"

Hinata shakes her head again, backing away from the large booth. As Kiba forks over the cash in his pocket, she takes the moment of reprieve to stare at the tall, imposing Ferris wheel. She'd like to reach the top, feel the warm brush of summer's wind across her cheekbones.

"Are you watching, Hinata? I'll get this, no problem!" Kiba shouts, and Hinata nods without paying much attention. She squints her eyes at the sky, but there are still no stars to be found. Maybe from the top of the Ferris wheel, with all the bright lights abandoned beneath her, she'll be able to see the whole galaxy.

"Damn it!" Hinata hears Kiba cry forlornly, and she finally rips her gaze from the object of her musings. The carnie is laughing pityingly and handing Kiba a consolation prize, a small plastic dog easily engulfed by his palm.

"Wanna try again, young man? Another five dollars gets you another three darts!" the man shouts with overbearing enthusiasm, holding the thin projectiles between his fingers. "You can't impress your girlfriend with such a measly gift!"

Kiba growls and glares at the small toy in his hand, and offers barely a look in Hinata's direction.

"That's a-alright, Kiba. I'd like to ride the Ferris wheel now," Hinata says again, but her voice is too tiny for the vast expanse of the carnival grounds. Kiba grins with determination and slams another few bills on the counter.

"Don't worry, Hinata! I've got this!" he assures, grabbing the darts and preparing his aim.

Hinata checks her watch just to be reminded that the battery is dead. Maybe she really should consider getting one of those iPhone things everyone has. She certainly has the money for it. It would also give her something to do during these awfully long moments of wounded male pride.

She feels uncomfortably exposed, standing in the middle of such a large and open space. The blush rises to her face unbidden, and she can't help but hope Kiba finishes soon. She pulls out her "so-high-school" (as Ino would call it)cell phone and pretends to text, typing gibberish into the keypad.

"Hinata, Kiba!" she hears, followed by a curse as her friend wastes his final dart.

Naruto bounds up, blue eyes wide with excitement and childish wonder, Sakura and Ino following behind him, too engaged in their private conversation to acknowledge her.

Hinata catches snippets of, "No way! He did not say that!" and "He totally did!" before turning her attention to the tanned man-god in front of her. She might as well be drooling. Is she drooling? She wipes the corner of her lips discreetly to hide any evidence.

"You guys would not believe the traffic! It took like half an hour to even make it to the freeway and then some asshole cut me off, and it was like reaaarngh and honk honk! We barely made it," Naruto babbles, before shooting a glance over his shoulder to make sure Sakura and Ino are still alive and with him. "Those two screamed the whole time like a couple of babies."

Hinata giggles into her hand, hiding her mouth in case her breath smells from the soda she drank earlier. Naruto grins, seemingly happy that she enjoys his stories. "What a c-couple of wimps!" she squeaks.

He laughs, bumping her on the shoulder with his fist in good humor, and she can tell from the heat in her face that she's turning purple. It's unfair that anyone should be as good looking as he is, in just a sweatshirt and some ratty jeans. No amount of clothing can hide his well-muscled body.

"I know, right?" Naruto continues, pausing to gain his breath just in time for Ino to butt in.

"Oh, Hinata! I didn't even notice you!" she cries, throwing her arms around the girl with limbs like tentacles, and even with all of Hinata's effort it's impossible to remove Ino's suction-cup hands, "Oh dear. What are you wearing?"

For a moment Hinata thinks she's talking to Naruto, but she realizes then that all eyes are on her. What? What's wrong with her outfit? It's just a T-shirt and some capris -you can't go wrong with that, right? She'd thought the T-shirt had highlighted her boobs quite well without giving off any impressions of floozy-ism.

In embarrassment, she starts to erupt into giggles, and no matter how hard she clamps her hands over her mouth she can't fight the laughter that bubbles from her gut. Her body seems to forget she needs oxygen in times like these.

"Aww, you've embarrassed her, Ino-pig. You look great, Hinata! Purple's really fetching on you, I think," Sakura says genially, reassuring Hinata with her gentle gaze until she notices the wall of stuffed animals beside them.

"Hey little lady, wanna win a prize?" The carnie shouts when he realizes he's caught her attention, and the cycle starts over again.


The five of them squeeze into a passenger car with varying shades of enthusiasm. Ino seems far more focused on screaming about her lack of service when her text messages won't get through to her boyfriend, while Sakura is content to snuggle the large teddy bear she won for herself.

Hinata is both giddy and jealous, not because Kiba's prize is insignificant in comparison, but because she would have liked to have been strong enough to try and fail on her own.

"There's no way you won that! The game is rigged; I know it!" Kiba growls, crossing his arms over his chest resolutely, "Damn carnies. He's probably getting a good laugh out of it right now."

Sakura chuckles loud and unabashedly, "He's not the only one!"

Naruto's knee bumps Hinata's and she can't help but squeal inside. When he leans forward, the band of his boxers peaks out over the top of his jeans, and her blush comes back tenfold. "Don't be so surprised, Kiba. Sakura has perfect aim. She's whooped my ass at bowling and horseshoes too many times to count!"

Sakura grins proudly, hoisting her victory prize over her head with cheer. Then the big wheel lurches into motion and she scrambles to get it tucked safely beneath her arm.

Hinata peers over the edge of the gondola, gaping at the cityscape before her. She can see far past the carnival grounds, even as far as downtown. But when she looks to the sky, there aren't any stars.

"I can't believe there's no service here," Ino groans, stuffing her blackberry into the Juicy Couture bag by her side. She pulls out her digital camera instead and tosses it haphazardly to Naruto, who fumbles with it in surprise, "Take a pic of me with my bestie! This is totally going on Facebook, bitches."

With the large stuffed animal crammed between them, Ino and Sakura throw their arms around each other, Sakura planting her lips on Ino's cheek.

Naruto blushes and starts pressing buttons, "It isn't working! Your camera must be busted."

Ino sighs and says through her forced smile, "Give it to Hinata, you idiot. It can't be broken. I just got the damned thing."

Hinata looks up at the sound of her name, scooting warily closer to Naruto to see what he's doing wrong. She may not be big on technology, but she knows enough to work a camera. But she can see just by looking over his shoulder that Naruto is browsing through the photos, only pretending to struggle with the basic controls. He offers her a conspiratorial wink.

"Naruto," she sighs affectionately, pulling the contraption from his grasp and aiming it at her two female companions, "Say ch-cheese!"

"Cheese!" Ino shouts, Sakura's puckered lips turning into cheeky grin against her bff's cheek.

A few seconds pass.

"Oops," Hinata giggles, "It's recording!"

Ino rolls her eyes and shoves a laughing Sakura away from her, taking the camera from Hinata's hands and aiming it toward the girl. "You're hopeless!"

Hinata blushes and looks away from the lens to stare at the great colorful expanse of the scenery around them. She curls her arms around herself uncomfortably and smiles at the camera without really acknowledging it.

"Be careful or you're gonna lose that thing," Kiba says, edging his way into the scene by scooting closer to Hinata, sandwiching her even further against Naruto. She's not sure whether or not to complain. "But I bet your daddy would just buy you another one straight away, no questions asked."

Ino rolls her eyes and ends the recording, stuffing the camera in her pocket, "What do you know, dog breath?"


"Are you hungry, Hinata?" Kiba asks, finally restoring his roll of an attentive date. Not that a date is what she had in mind, but Kiba seems insistent. How does a girl say no when the guy never even clearly states yes? There's always the chance she's blowing this whole thing out of proportion.

The moon is high, and Hinata suspects that it's probably nearing midnight. Beyond the adrenaline and excitement of an eventful evening, she can feel the tug of exhaustion.

Her stomach growls loudly, and that just about answers Kiba's question.

"I'll take her," Naruto pipes in, despite appearing engaged in a discussion with Sakura about the true way to eat a funnel cake. "I'm starved, and you just ate the hugest turkey leg known to man."

Kiba coughs and crosses his arms, "I…I could still eat."

Naruto smiles obliviously and urges, "No, go ahead and ride the bumper cars with Ino and Sakura! Unless you think you'll get beaten by a couple of giiirls."

"I'll kick their asses to Suna and back!" Kiba declares, momentarily forgetting his stake in the argument, and frowns when he realizes his sacrifice. But when he sees the large, glowing sign for the bumper cars, he can't help but cave to the idea just a little bit. "But Hinata and I have a game of goldfish scooping with our names on it!"

Naruto nods, "I'll bring her back untouched…mostly." He grins at her and her knees wobble beneath his dazzling gaze. She's slowly turning into a puddle of goo, and it's all his fault. Why couldn't Kiba make her feel this way?


They separate from the group and end up at Naruto's favorite nearby restaurant, Ichiraku. She wonders if it's habit or if he remembers that once in their Junior year of high school she told him she loved red bean soup, which Ichiraku is renown for along with its ramen.

They both order hearty bowls of their favorite soup, Naruto chatting happily until their food arrives.

"You know what I've always liked about you, Hinata? You order whatever you want. You don't worry about your figure or anything," he comments offhandedly through a mouthful of noodles, broth splashing across the table.

Suddenly the large dish in front of her seems imposing and unnatural. Suddenly she isn't hungry.


The night ends when Kiba drops her off in front of her family's residence. When he leans in to give her a kiss, she whispers, "Don't…m-my dad…"

He seems conflicted but he nods, stepping away from the porch of her massive home and into the shadows, bounding back to his car with a quiet, "Good night."

The house is silent and does not greet her upon return. She knows it is late, but she is surprised by the utter stillness. She can't be the only one still awake. Neji should be studying for an exam, Hanabi having a girlie sleepover that sends resounding shrieks down the hallways of the Hyuga compound.

Hinata crawls into bed and listens to the residual roaring in her ears. Her head is full of the sounds of laughter and music and cheers. She wishes it were enough to keep her warm, but alone with the light off, she knows she'll never fit in with the other girls.


All I ever wanted was for you to like me.


Hinata struggles to stay awake. She stayed up the night before to hurriedly finish a paper she hadn't realized would require full annotations. Professor Jiraiya teaches literature with a passion that normally keeps her back straight and eyes focused, but today she's sinking forward in her chair.

Naruto pitches a balled up piece of paper in her direction and it hits her in the temple, bouncing off her head and landing on the floor.

It sits there, unacknowledged. She can't just lean over and pick it up! That would be embarrassing, and it would be so obvious that they are passing notes. This is so high school, she imagines Ino saying, popping a bubble of watermelon gum between her teeth.

Hinata sighs. It's no use. She'll just have to wait until after class to see what Naruto wants to say.

After another moment, the redheaded boy beside her picks up the note and holds it in front of her with a smirk. She lets out a small squeak. How did he manage that so nonchalantly? Professor Jiraiya didn't even glance his way! The student (Gaara, she thinks his name is) holds it out insistently, and she blushes under the intensity of his gaze.

"Ah, that's not mine," she whispers, and immediately wants to smack herself in the face. Gaara just rolls his eyes and sets the paper on her desk, returning to scrawling notes in his journal.

GOING 2 MALL WIT GANG. R U COMING?

Hinata cringes at Naruto's horrible English, especially considering what class they're in, but a tired smile wins over her countenance anyway. She hurriedly scribbles her answer down and crinkles the paper into a ball in her palms.

Then her hands begin to sweat when she realizes she'll have to throw it back. She can't do that! She has horrible aim! Sakura is much more fitted for something like this. She glances at the back of her pink-haired friend, but even she is too far away to ask for a favor.

After a solid minute of sitting ramrod straight, the note crunched uncomfortably in her damp fist, the redheaded boy beside her sighs, holding out his hand to her without looking up from his notebook.

She stares at the offered hand blankly, uncomprehendingly. What is she supposed to do with that?

"Give me the note," he says, looking perfectly focused on copying down the material on the whiteboard. Hinata jumps, cramming the note less than gracefully into his awaiting palm. He looks up momentarily to toss it at Naruto, and he goes back to his work.

"Thanks," she whispers, feeling foolish and overheated with a rising blush. He shrugs like it was nothing and she almost thinks that's a smile forming on his lips.

"Who doesn't just text, nowadays?" he asks himself quietly, and Hinata doesn't know the answer.


On the way out of the classroom, Naruto grabs her by the elbow, and she lets out a loud squeal of surprise.

"Hey, why can't you hang out with us? Ino and Sasuke get out of Bio in like twenty minutes. The wait isn't that long if that's what you're worried about," he says, and quickly guides her out of the way of the exiting crowd so that they're standing next to an inspiring case of trophies and plaques.

"Ah, no…that's n-not it…" Hinata stutters, Naruto's hand almost scalding against her skin.

Twenty minutes alone with him sounds glorious, but Professor Jiraiya just assigned another 2,000 word essay, and she needs at least Bs for the rest of the mini-mester if she's going to pass. Her father would be furious if he knew all the money he was dumping into her education was being wasted.

God, she's such a failure.

"We were thinking of seeing that new movie with whatsherface in it. You know, Yukie Fujikaze. I can't remember what it's called, but Sasuke thinks she's really hot -don't tell Sakura I said that. I'm sure we all want you to come, Hinata," he says, leaning against the glass of the trophy case, looking dashingly handsome.

"Kiba's not going?" she asks, almost hopeful. She can imagine herself sitting next to Naruto in the theater, the lights going dim as the film begins. Naruto's knee would bump hers, but he wouldn't move it. And then a few minutes in, they would both reach for the popcorn at the same time and…

"No, he's got work," he replies, a peculiar expression on his face. It looks so peculiar on a man who's never been anything but an open book.


From her seat by the library window, she has a view of her friends heading toward the parking lot, looking jolly and generally having a good time. Without her.

She can see the way Naruto is enchanted by Sakura's smile and Hinata tries to part her lips in just the same way, stretching them wide across her teeth. It feels unnatural. She catches the glance of a nearby student and ducks beneath her textbook.

Why does she have to be so embarrassing?


Were you thinking about me? Did you worry?


"I heard Kiba asked you out," Sakura says, twisting Hinata's hair into a well-practiced French plait. Because it shows off her long neck, she said, but that doesn't sound like a good thing to Hinata.

"W-What?" Hinata stammers, cheeks burning scarlet. Being able to see the whole thing happen to her reflection makes it even worse, and she averts her eyes from the unattractive image, "No!"

Ino laughs, putting the finishing touches on her own pedicure. It's the new "crackle" nail polish, whatever that means. When Hinata asked, the blonde only laughed. "Really? Well he's going to. Sure taking his sweet time, that boy."

Hinata risks a peek at her reflection, and finds that the blush hasn't diminished any. Why would Kiba ask her out? She hasn't led him on in any way! …has she?

Sakura gives the braid a final blast of hairspray before throwing down her styling tools, feigning an expression of exhaustion. "Phew, I thought I'd never finish! Your hair is so thick, Hinata!"

Is it thick? Does Kiba think so? She examines Sakura's handiwork in the mirror, but can't decide if she agrees. So she utters a quiet thank you and slinks out of the chair, allowing Sakura to get a start on her own make-up application

"I'm so excited to see this new club," Ino gushes, wiggling her toes to admire her painting job, "I bought a dress and everything."

"Really?" Hinata asks, and she wonders if maybe she should have gone shopping for the occasion. She was just planning on wearing jeans and maybe a racerback tank. She's never been to a club before. Do people usually wear dresses?

Sakura dabs on a plentiful amount of Love & Beauty lip gloss, fluttering her eyelashes at herself alluringly. "I did too, but it's not fancy or anything. Don't you have any short skirts or anything, Hinata?"

Short skirts? Hinata goes to her dresser and begins to rummage through. She has a lot of capris, a few V-necks. She's never really owned any skirts; there's no way her father would ever let her go out in one.

"Maybe a pair of skinnies would be better, don't you think, Forehead?" Ino says, and Hinata senses a mild appraisal of her legs.

She knows she's not a size 2 like Ino or Sakura, but Hanabi said a size 10 is nothing to be ashamed of. Hinata just has a lot of curves. Sakura gives Ino a meaningful glare that she thinks Hinata doesn't see, and that's when she knows. She knows this is something they gossip about when she's not around. This is something they've discussed.

"Ah, Ino is p-probably right," Hinata tries to laugh good-naturedly, hiding her expression by digging further into her drawer, "I don't really have any skirts."


Usually she would change openly in front of her closest friends, but this time she hides in the bathroom so they won't see how her size 10 ass jiggles. Or how she has to suck in her breath to even get the pants to button.


She trips over her own feet in such ridiculous high heels, but Kiba is always there with an arm around her waist to keep her from falling. She wishes it were Naruto, but she hasn't seen him yet this evening. How can she when she's blinded by Technicolor strobe lights every other second?

"You look really hot," Kiba breathes into her ear, and the butterflies in her stomach feel more like nausea than anything. The club is too loud, too stiflingly hot, and Kiba's overbearing warmth isn't helping.

"Ah…" she mumbles in response, but she can't blush any brighter. Sweat is beading between her shoulder blades and beneath her arms. Soon she's going to have some very unattractive stains if she doesn't get a little air.

Kiba leans even closer, if such a thing were possible, and says, "You wanna dance?" She can feel his moist breath against the shell of her ear and an unbidden shiver travels down her spine.

She can see Ino's sinuous body twisting around her handsome boyfriend, unrestricted and graceful in every movement. Hinata is highly aware of her own stumbling gait and awkward limbs…there's no way she can dance out there next to someone like Ino. No way!

"I'm, um…thirsty," Hinata says, and blinks hopefully in his direction. Maybe Kiba sees something promising in her wide opal eyes, because a second later he's smirking and grazing her earlobe with his teeth.

"I'll be," he presses a kiss to her temple, "right," to her cheek, "back," her throat.

And when he leaves her side, she almost collapses. After a moment of wavering uncertainly, she decides to sit, the hard ground a welcome reprieve for her aching feet. Without another second of hesitation, she yanks the silver pumps from her heels and tosses them into the undulating crowd. Good riddance.

She knows she only has a minute to choose between fight or flight, and her body quivers with anticipation, but she can't even face the idea of making a decision right now. How can she possibly choose between a romantic evening with Kiba or breaking his heart?

"Are you okay, Hinata?" she hears, and from the mere fact that the voice is distinctly male, she fears she's run out of time. But when she looks up, it's Naruto's cerulean gaze she's graced with instead of Kiba's maroon eyes.

"I'm just taking a b-break," she gestures at herself flippantly. She's already made a huge fool of herself. There aren't many ways she can look worse in front of Naruto than trembling in a sweaty heap on the floor.

Naruto laughs and sits down beside her without prompting, examining the writhing party goers and the sinning couples with an objective interest. "This isn't like high school parties. No kegs or nothin'. A lot of drugs, though. That's the same."

Hinata giggles halfheartedly, "Hoping to relive your g-glory days, Naruto?"

His smile is lopsided as he loses himself to a memory, and he sighs, "Something like that."

In silence, the two stare into the crowd, catching glimpses of Ino and Sakura and their respective dates, winding around each other and whispering secrets. Then abruptly, like nothing happened, Naruto is jerked back to the present.

"You're so practical, Hinata," he says suddenly, looking her over without pretense. Not like Kiba who'd been undressing her with his eyes since he first saw her.

She shakes a little harder beneath his scrutiny, reliving the memory of Sakura and Ino's earlier implications, "What do you mean?"

He laughs, maybe just because he can and says, "The others are all about their fancy make-up and clothes, but you're just you. None of that dressy stuff."

Before Hinata has the chance to respond, to even blush or cry, Kiba returns. The Shirley Temple in his hand is not promising. She wants to sigh. If she wanted a non-alcoholic drink, she would have gotten it herself. She's tired of everyone assuming that just because she's shy or a little bit weird that she can't hold her liquor.

"Hey, Naruto. You stealin' my girl?" Kiba asks it teasingly, but there is a definite underlying threat in his tone.

Naruto pulls himself to a reluctant stand, smiling at the red drink in Kiba's hand. "That for me?"

"You wish. Go find your own date," Kiba grins and the tension is broken. Naruto's lingering gaze catches Hinata's, but the thump of her heartbeat grows too loud in her ears so she drops her gaze to her bare feet.

"Like I'd want a pansy-ass Shirley Temple, anyhow. Hard liquor all the way for me, baby!" Naruto shouts, pounding his chest with his fists as he stomps away.

Whatever sight Kiba expected to return to, it probably wasn't this, Hinata thinks to herself. Feeling uncomfortable and exposed on the floor in front of Kiba, she shakily stands, avoiding all eye-contact with the man in front of her.

"You don't like me, do you?" Kiba asks, holding the vermillion-filled glass away from himself like it's diseased.

All the bones in her body begin to vibrate, and for a moment she thinks she's going to faint. And what a welcome distraction that would be, if only unconsciousness would come. But instead she's shaking and sweating and staring at the floor while Kiba looks at her insatiably.

"I…" she starts, and chokes on the lump forming in her throat. She can't do this. This can't be happening.

"I like you," she says, and her fate is sealed.


It was hard enough without you judging me.


Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of the miscellaneous brand names mentioned. I also don't own the italicized quote at the beginning, by Emilie Autumn.

A/N: This started out as a one-shot that quickly got out of control. It will probably be four chapters in length, probably each about this size. I have almost the whole thing written, so I'll probably update every other day. Just as a warning, pretty much everything was written in a sleep-deprived state, all in one sitting, and I don't have a beta. So...yeah.

This is my first NaruHina centric fic, but it'll be angst like all my others. I'll try to keep a decent balance between angst, comedic-relief, and romance, though.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you'll let me know what you think so far. (:

-MT