Title: Tea Ceremony
Author: desolate butterfly
Genre: drabble, angst
Pairing: NaruHina
Rating: G
Summary: Hinata makes tea, because it's the best she can offer right now.


Hinata makes tea.

Refreshing sencha leaves scooped from their tin and into the kettle. Water heated carefully over the stove until boiling then poured with steady fingers to mix with the tea until the water turns a pale willow-green.

Hinata kneels to pour the tea into two delicate cups: one for Neji-niisan, one for her father. Not a drop spills. They receive her offerings with a formal bow. Her hair sweeps the floor with her own prostrations.

The rest of the tea is poured into a small bamboo container with a lid, and Hinata takes this to Naruto when she knows he's at the training grounds and not off somewhere with Kakashi or Yamato or Jiraiya.

He always takes the tea with a grin and much lighthearted lauding of Hinata's skill with a tea kettle; but she sees the chakra burns on his hands, the sweat staining his shirt and dampening his hair, the bruises that are the fruit of his labor.

And then there's the way he gulps frantically at the drink, rushing to get back to his work, to get back to his rasengans and jutsus. Hinata watches him swallow and drag an arm across his mouth with a muted sigh. Her fingers tremble a bit as he places the container back in her hands and flashes another smile, strained this time from the wasted moments taken without thought of Sasuke.

"Thanks a lot Hinata," he says. "I really needed that!"

She feels her cheeks flush again at his attentions but she fights the awkwardness long enough to stutter his name.

"What is it?" he asks.

'Let me help you. I want to help you. I'll do anything,' she wants to say, but the words stick in her throat. She can't fight on his level. She can't be open enough to be his confidant or comfort. She can't offer wise advice, or calming reassurance. She makes him tea, because it's the best she can do for him.

'I'd do anything,' her heart says. Her lips shape the words, "N-nothing, Naruto-kun," and her head bows, ashamed.

Naruto gives her a thumbs up and then runs back into the field to attack a post or tree or rock once more, pretending he's putting holes in Orochimaru's chest. Hinata watches him for a while, and then returns home where at least her failures are familiar.

As she walks, a drop of liquid slides from the container onto her hand. She sucks the bitter tea from her knuckles and wonders if this might be as close to a kiss as she's ever going to get.