Quotes:

Hinata: 'I think when someone accepts you, for the first time, you feel like you can forgive yourself a little. You can begin to face your fears with courage.'― Natsuki Takaya

Sakura: 'I don't want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did.' ― Henry James


"So, Hinata-san," Kushina said, her tone sly, "how would you feel about having dinner with us?"

"Oh!" Hinata swallowed. What should she do? The thought of having to sit and talk to Naruto and a woman she'd only just met whilst eating in public…

"Would you excuse us for just a second, please?" Rin smiled disarmingly, tugging Hinata off into a corner of the shop, next to the shoes.

"How are you holding up?" Rin asked.

Hinata's throat ached. She gave her a thumbs up regardless.

"Is this meal going to be too difficult for you to handle? Do you have enough money on you?"

"I don't know." Hinata said. It seemed as though the room was swaying all around her. The sounds of the mall tripled in volume, a cacophony of noise and chatter, hundreds of voices melting into one endless din…

The older woman took Hinata lightly by the shoulders, ducking down so her face filled her vision, "Hey. You are not obligated to say yes or no. No matter what that anxious voice in your head tells you, that woman and her son won't think badly of you. So do not force yourself to do something if you honestly don't feel ready for it."

Hinata nodded, her stomach still churning violently. At this rate, she may have to excuse herself to a bathroom, and she couldn't stand using public toilets. Not out of snobbery, but the sheer lack of privacy made it very difficult for her.

"I can do it." Hinata said slowly, breathing out.

Rin looked pleased. "Really? Good for you. How will you get home?"

Kushina must have overheard, because she stepped forward with a grin as disarming as her son's, "I'll drive her back, it's no problem."

Hinata waved her hands rapidly in a clear sign of no thank you or perhaps I am not worth your petrol money.

"It's fine!" Naruto beamed, "Ma loves driving, don't you?"

"Don't call me that," Kushina said flatly, "I am your mother, not your 'ma.' But yes, I'd love to drive you back, it's no trouble."

"Well, you have my number if you need me, Hinata." Rin said cheerfully, squeezing her shoulder, "Just a text away."

Hinata nodded, her smile a little strained.

"Ramen!" Naruto announced, slinging his arm around her shoulder.

"No." Kushina said firmly, though she gave his arm a sly glance.

xxxxxxxx

The restaurant they took her to was small. It wasn't one of the large, classy types her father favoured, the ones with crisp white tablecloths and blindly servile waiting staff. This restaurant was eccentrically decorated, almost as though several decorators with wildly different approaches to style had been assigned different areas to work with. The tables did not match, some so short people were having to contort themselves to reach their plates, others so tall they required stools instead of seats, and every table had its own unique decoration.

The table Kushina and Naruto immediately gravitated to was wooden, rickety and had a large plastic parrot in the centre. Hinata looked closer and saw that it was either being used to hold drinking straws by the staff or some bored former customer had spent their time threading straws through its claws.

They all sat down around the table on the squashy, overstuffed chairs. Hinata took a menu from the parrot's wing and studied it to avoid conversation.

Naruto grumbled about the lack of ramen but seemed content enough, smiling absently at Hinata's profile as she turned her head away, hiding behind the menu. For some reason, his scrutiny alone made her feel hot and embarrassed. She knew without having to check that her face and ears were glowing red. If she kept this up, Naruto would begin to worry she had some kind of problem.

"So," Kushina said brightly, "What's it like being the heir to all of the Hyuuga businesses and associated corporations?"

Hinata choked on nothing in particular and buried her face deeper within the cocktail section. Sooner or later they would notice what she seemed so fascinated by and Naruto would think the problem she had was alcoholism.

Realising she could not ignore Naruto's mother without feeling immediate and well-deserved guilt, she peeked out over the menu and squeaked, "It's alright."

Kushina burst out laughing. It wasn't cruel laughter, but it made Hinata lower her head again self-consciously.

"Hey, don't laugh at her!" Naruto said hotly, "You've no idea how hard that was for her to say. It's not funny at all, it's amazing!"

Kushina sobered quickly at that, though she shot her son a brief quelling look for raising his voice at her, "I'm sorry, you just seemed so unenthusiastic about the whole thing."

"It's alright." Hinata repeated, her voice steady and calm. She smiled gently.

"What'll it be?" A gruff-voiced, short man asked, coming to stand next to their table, notepad and pen in hand awaiting their order.

Hinata felt that familiar flicker of panic in her stomach. She felt this way every time – just before she was forced to interact with someone like bus drivers, cashiers and waiters. She breathed out carefully, reciting her order in her mind slowly until she was sure she could say it out loud perfectly by rote.

Kushina didn't even glance at the menu before she spoke up, "I'm having the miso-glazed salmon with the pear salad as a side dish. Naruto?"

He sighed heavily, clearly longing for ramen. "The red bean soup, please."

The waiter nodded, writing the orders down. He turned to Hinata, pen poised expectantly.

Hinata took a breath. Naruto's hand somehow made its way to hers, squeezing it encouragingly under the table.

"May I have the chicken chasseur, please?" Hinata asked, squeezing Naruto's hand back.

"Certainly," The waiter scribbled it down and then offered a short, perfunctory smile, "Drinks?"

"Red wine for me." Kushina said cheerfully. Her expression darkened in realisation a second later, "Oh shit! Damn it, I'm driving. Scratch that, just give me a… uh… lemonade. Urgh."

Naruto laughed at his mother's expression then ordered an apple juice quite happily.

"The Pinot Grigio for me, please." Hinata ordered casually, the wine's name dripping off her tongue familiarly.

Kushina, Naruto and even the waiter stared blankly at her.

Hinata remembered she was sixteen years old and this was not one of her father's favourite restaurants who were happy to serve minors alcohol if it pleased their parents. And it did please Hiashi whenever they tried a small glass of wine, he enjoyed hearing their comments on the quality, calling their opinions 'fresh perspective on an old subject.'

"Um, I'll have lemonade, please." Hinata went bright red, mumbling her new order from behind the menu.

After the waiter had gone, promising to bring back their drinks promptly, Kushina sat back in her chair and laced her fingers together, her expression contemplative.

"How long have the two of you been friends?" Kushina asked, glancing between the two of them.

Naruto waved a hand carelessly, "Dunno. We met at school, you know? She's related to Sasuke! Isn't that cool?"

"One day, your father and I will talk to you about the old families and the politics surrounding them and you will actually listen," Kushina rolled her eyes, "It surprised me when Naruto told me about making friends with a Hyuuga, let alone Hiashi's eldest! The family's got a reputation about being a little stuffy, but I can see that's not the case for you." She smiled brightly at Hinata.

Hinata could only nod.

"I'm from a very old family myself," Kushina wrinkled her nose, "Boring old lot, always expecting proper behaviour and all that. I moved down here when I was a kid, desperate to be away from the lot of them. Suppose they weren't so bad, but it was pretty stressful trying to live up to their expectations."

Hinata looked down at her lap. She could relate to that feeling.

"Don't think the Uzumaki family's ever really interacted with the Hyuuga? No, probably not…"

"They are based in Uzushiogakure, so my family… they haven't quite, um, had the opportunity." Hinata piped up, trying to say as tactfully as possible that the Hyuuga had no interest in them or their business.

"Aha," Kushina laughed, "Got you. My family's pretty redundant nowadays, which I appreciate. Cannot stand the lifestyle that goes with the whole old money thing…"

"But what about Dad?" Naruto asked, confused, "Isn't he going to – ouch!"

The table shook slightly.

"What'd you kick me for?" Naruto asked sullenly, rubbing his shin.

"Being an idiot despite expensive education," Kushina said dryly, "You know we're not supposed to talk about that for a while. Not a big deal."

"I can't keep secrets." Naruto shrugged hopelessly.

His mother gave him an affectionate pat on the arm, "Try."

Hinata was immensely curious, but the waiter arrived with drinks in hand and the chance to ask was gone.

A tall glass of lemonade was placed before her, slices of lemon floating in the fizzy liquid. She poked a straw into the glass and took a sip. It was perfectly chilled, lumps of ice clattering around as she drank. It was refreshingly sweet without being cloying. She chased away the remains on her lips with her tongue – delicately, of course – and sat back with a smile.

Naruto took a large gulp of his and coughed, "Why does this apple juice taste like cinnamon?" He asked no one in particular, looking down at his glass with a furrowed brow.

Kushina pushed away her own lemonade and tried Naruto's drink. "Mm! Because it has cinnamon in it, and it is yummy." She said cheerily.

The two of them looked at each other. "Swap?" They asked in unison, then laughed and switched glasses.

Hinata felt content just looking at them. Kushina certainly was nothing like the fairy tale mother she imagined her own to be, but her relationship with Naruto was enviable to say the least… She imagined speaking and acting as freely around Hiashi and felt herself shrink back into her seat. No. Despite his new, sudden remorse, he was still far from approachable.

The speech she was going to have to do in no time at all kept flinging itself to the forefront of her mind and refusing to go away. She rubbed her knuckles against her forehead where a headache threatened to emerge. Every time she thought of something she could say, self-doubt crippled her and she tried to just forget it, angrily embarrassed at herself.

I believe in and I wish we could were two ever present thoughts. The speech sounded naïve and idealistic even to her and she could hardly imagine how her father's workforce would react. Polite but insincere applause? She was the boss' daughter after all. She hadn't been picked for her talent in public speaking. All of those workers were going to be pulled from their jobs, made to stand around and listen to her stammering, all because her father wanted to test her.

That horrible, churning sensation in her stomach would arise every time she tried to plan her speech. The more time passed in which she was unprepared for the day, the more anxious she felt, but every time she tried to prepare, she would feel worse. The only solution was to push the whole problem to the back of her mind and hope she would be somehow well-equipped to deal with it later.

After a few minutes of comfortable silence in which Naruto stared hopefully at the dessert menus and Kushina sipped her drink, Naruto finally scraped his chair forward and leaned towards Hinata.

"So, how's your cousin?" Naruto asked brightly, "He doing alright?"

Taken aback, Hinata paused. "Yes," She said musingly, "I believe so."

Ever since Neji had got a good job at a well-respected hospital – his own, polite form of rebellion – he had seemed a little happier. Less restrained, brooding. He also spoke of Sakura with a mixture of amusement and admiration, leading Hinata to hope they would become friends. Sakura's friendship was like being steamrolled with good intentions. It was oddly helpful, her confidence and cheer inspired Hinata almost as much as Naruto.

However, ever since the night of the ball, Neji had been slipping the odd veiled insult into conversations with Hiashi, an occasional subtle phrasing that may or may not mean something offensive. Hiashi had begun to notice, and he did not appear to like it at all. Ever since he was a young boy, he had lived with them as a strange combination of cousin and indentured servant. He was always polite, controlled and obliging. Now, he was slow to follow Hiashi's requests, he spent most of his time in his room and he seemed obsessed with studying. Though Hinata strongly disliked how her father treated him, she still feared for his position at home should he rebel against Hiashi openly.

"Sasuke said he thought he was funny." Naruto said, "And a good dancer."

Kushina looked questioningly at her son, but he didn't notice, too intent on staring straight into Hinata's eyes.

"I remembered how I met Hinata-chan just now!" He announced proudly, "She broke her dinner and I let her have my ramen."

"…Broke her dinner?" Kushina looked even more confused.

"And it was raining that day and Sasuke-bastard – sorry for swearing – forgot to tell me practice was cancelled!" Naruto waved his arms eagerly, "And we've been friends ever since."

Hinata would have told the story with rather more detail personally, but she couldn't help but feel grateful Naruto neglected to mention the cloakroom incident. Falling over in front of him and then promptly having a panic attack whilst fleeing hadn't been her finest moment.

The waiter returned with steaming hot plates of food, twisting elegantly at the waist to deposit all three upon the table.

"I hope you enjoy your meals." He said gruffly, pressing napkins and cutlery down next to their plates and offering a quick, perfunctory smile. He left quickly to attend to another table.

Hinata started to methodically cut up her chicken into small, neat little pieces. The sauce smelt heavenly. The whole meticulous process of separating her meal into bite-sized mouthfuls was lengthy and particularly torturous when the food smelt and looked so good, but Hinata was very strict about eating in public.

She looked up and met Kushina's confused gaze. "Hinata," She said pleasantly, "What are you doing?"

Naruto stopped eating to look at her, a chunk of bread hanging out of his mouth.

Hinata flushed again, "I'm just… cutting up my d-dinner…"

In public, food slipping from her mouth or fork was painfully embarrassing. She always felt as though the whole restaurant had seen the slip up and they were all judging her for it. It was illogical and dumb, and while one part of her brain laughed at her own idiocy, a much larger part cringed at the possibility of public humiliation. She couldn't separate her rationality from her irrationality, though she could recognise both. I'm being stupid, she would think, but I can't help it.

Kushina stared for a fraction too long, then shook her head, "Well, hurry up or Naruto might just scarf down your meal as well as his. In our house, you learn to inhale your food before this one can."

Naruto glared at his mouth, cheeks puffing out like a hamster's, "I never eat yo foo'" he said indignantly, almost inaudible through the amount of bread stuffed into his mouth.

"Don't talk with your mouth full." Kushina shoved a napkin in his face and laughed when he spluttered, "Oh – whoops, don't choke! You alright? OK, swallow. Idiot."

Though Naruto pretended to cough and affected an injured expression, Hinata could tell he wasn't upset in the least.

He shot her a quick grin, his whole face scrunching up with laughter, shoulders shaking.

Her breath caught in her throat. She smiled back, hesitant but warm, felt it unfurl like a flower upon her lips. When she was looking into his eyes, all of her anxiety seemed to melt away. The rest of the world was white noise and static, irrelevant and not at all frightening. It was just him and his bright eyes and wide smile.

She finally tasted her chicken chasseur, smooth sauce like fine wine and tender, soft chicken, all laid out on a pillow of white rice. She savoured every bite and not once did she worry about spilling food.

When the bill came and Kushina took out her purse, Hinata dug deep into her bag to find her own.

"Oh, hey no." Kushina shook her head, red hair spilling around her shoulders, "My treat."

"But…" Hinata held up her silver card, Hyuuga embossed on the back, "I –"

"It's fine." Naruto said easily, "I'm not paying either."

"That's because you are a leech. You soak up money like a sponge." Kushina snorted, elbowing him. She handed the waiter her own card pointedly and smiled at Hinata, "Honestly, I like paying for things. It makes me feel all grown up and accomplished."

"In that case, can I have –"

"No." She cut her son off abruptly and keyed in her pin number.

Then they were standing up, ready to leave and Naruto wordlessly plucked her coat off her chair and held it out to her. She took it as gracefully as possible, pleasantly surprised by his courteous behaviour.

When they reached Kushina's car, Naruto insisted that the two of them sit in the back together. His mother had simply shrugged and sat in the driver's seat without questioning him, leaving him to eagerly scramble into the back, beaming expectantly at Hinata through the window.

Hinata got into the car - a rusty blue model with bags of character - and sat down next to Naruto, pressed up against his side thanks to the confined space.

Naruto rifled through his coat pockets and triumphantly revealed a notepad and pen. He did his seatbelt up one-handed, beginning to scratch out a note for her to read. She gamely looked away, not wanting to spoil the surprise.

As the belt clicked into place and Kushina started the car, Naruto held up the pad and showed it to her.

Hey Hinata-chan! You did SO WELL today, I'm proud of you! I wanted to say that you looked super pretty at the ball thing and I felt bad that your dad was so mean to you. OK? Today was fun!

Hinata met his eyes after she finished reading and couldn't fight off the smile that was creeping up on her. A warmth was spreading through her chest, a fluttering, gathering sensation like the prelude to laughter. Naruto thought she looked pretty. And once, hadn't he said her eyes were pretty too?

He handed her the pad and pen for her to reply.

Thank you, Naruto-kun. I cannot claim all of the credit for today. You make everything easier, you see. You are so cheerful and honest and you make me feel brave. Like nothing is impossible. I believe in the short amount of time we have known each other, I have said more to you than I have said in years. You give me a voice.

Naruto read very slowly. She squirmed in her seat, wondering if she had said too much. Then, he reached a certain line and made a pleased noise, his hand shooting out and touching hers automatically.

Hinata stilled, his hand warm on top of hers. His wide blue eyes met hers again, and he did not take his hand away.

He wrote out his reply, occasionally looking up to smile at her then look away quickly, bashful.

I dunno how to put it, but you have really good eyes. Like I can tell what you're thinking when you look at me, and it's like we have secret conversations all the time. You aren't like anyone I've ever met, you know? You're so kind and shy and every time you smile at me, I feel like I've really earned it. And you're really graceful too! You have a really cool way of moving, like slow but cool, like a dancer maybe? And you've got such pretty hair, it's always so neat. I'm rambling! Ha! I'm gonna say something else though, and I feel super embarrassed about it, but I'll just write it out quickly. You never make me feel dumb. Even Sasuke does sometimes and he's my best friend. But you, you act like I'm something special or something, I dunno. Sounds dumb, ha ha, forget it!

By the time she finished reading the note, her smile was so wide her eyes were crinkling up and her cheeks hurt.

She opened her mouth to say something but he shook his head.

"Uh, I dunno," He scratched his head awkwardly, "It… It's like apples and cinnamon, isn't? Shouldn't go together, but they do. So maybe… uh, maybe um… it's not like lemons and lemonade! It's not obvious that it'll taste good or anything but –"

"Naruto, what the hell are you babbling about?" Kushina turned to stare at her son, arm resting on the steering wheel as the car rolled to a halt at a traffic light.

Naruto flushed and puffed out his cheeks, "God, nothing! Just – just drive, I'm talking to Hinata-chan!"

"Brat." Kushina gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look then turned and made a show out of checking the mirror and fiddling with the wheel.

Naruto's face was still bright red when he turned back to face Hinata. He picked up the pad again, scowling.

I'll text you later. Mum's a big butthead. I haven't forgotten that I promised to take you out for some ramen soon, so I will! And we can go to the park! Or the library or whatever you like, OK? It'll be great, I promise.

Then he drew a massive smiling face at the bottom and copied it, white teeth gleaming in his big grin.

"We're here. God, this place is huge." Kushina announced, the car sliding to a standstill in front of the Hyuuga gates.

Hinata scanned the front of the house anxiously for any relatives, her shoulders slumping in relief when she saw her father's car was gone.

"Thank you very much." She said quietly, giving Kushina a rather wobbly smile. The older woman grinned back, looking very much like her son at that moment.

"No problem! You are welcome at our house anytime you know. You seem to have a calming effect on Naruto, he's usually bouncing off the walls every hour of the day."

Naruto's skin darkened with a blush again, then he scrambled out of the car.

"Oh no, please don't run away from home." Kushina said tonelessly, winking at Hinata. "I would miss you oh so much. Woe is me."

Naruto walked around the car to Hinata's side, making a face at his mother through the window.

He opened the door for her and waited for her to get out. As she did so, his hand slid against her elbow and he whispered, "I had a lot of fun, Hinata-chan."

xxxxxxxx

When Hinata was busily writing and crossing out most of her speech, her phone vibrated in her pocket. She rolled over into a sitting position on her bed and pulled it out, a pleasant flutter in her stomach at the sight of a text from Naruto.

I think you're the apple, I'm the cinnamon. Xxx


The awkward moment when your mother drags a girl to dinner with you and teases you mercilessly in front of her.

If this whole chapter came across as a hilariously PG chaperoned date, that's only because that's exactly how I wrote it XD

TWO DAYS TILL I'M BACK AT UNI, OMG I CANNOT WAIT! I HAVE BEEN SOOOOO BORED! I've been off since forever!

Though I'm only there two days a week for like a grand total of five hours. Nice to get my money's worth… then again, they have a Costa in my uni building so I am NOT complaining.

I kind of sort of based the restaurant off of one I've been to (and am going to tomorrow), though in real life it's far less wacky. Still, utterly delicious. And stupidly expensive.

I love writing Naruto and Hinata! Adorable little shits.

Oh and for those Anglophiles out there (lovers of England or English culture), please read Sarra Manning's books. Awfully English, I promise. I recommend Unsticky and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, though there is naughtiness in both!

Quick poll for fun: Favourite mythological creature?

I believe mine is the mermaid. At least, not the bitchy child-drowning sort from Peter Pan, or the scaly ones from Harry Potter, but the pretty, colourful ones I was obsessed with as a child. There were these mermaids in a film called Hook that I thought were the coolest things ever when I was a wee lass.