Title: Long Overdue
Genre: Wannabe fluff
Warnings: Was supposed to be incest, but more of a close, platonic cousinly, relationship.
Author's Note: This so much wanted to be an angsty triangle between Sakura, Hinata, and Neji. I hope you enjoy my attempt at outright fluff. I tried to do something with scarves and snowballs, to find out that Neji doesn't react well to snowballs, and Hinata loses her stitches when she knits
He wakens slowly, almost like his mind is lazily swimming to the surface from the murky depths of his subconscious. He frets about it, a shinobi's reactions should be quicker, and his have always been razor sharp. When had they gotten rusty? There should have been no in between moments between sleep and awake. Yet there was. When his eyes finally opened, and the room swam into focus, he saw it then. The slow drip of medicine into his bloodstream. So that's why, he thinks, before he loses the tenuous hold on being conscious, slipping back into dreams that dance before his eyes, somewhat seductively, somewhat maddeningly.
He wakes up again, and this time, thankfully, there is no medicine running through his body, bending it away from his will. There is however, a dull pain that throbs in his back, and he finds his body still won't respond to his urging, and will only lie there, weak and pathetic.
He hears the door slide open, and he lifts his head, regretting the action that sends stabs down his back, no longer dull. Groaning, he collapses.
There's a whoosh of dropped papers and the clattering of heels, and then numbness flowing blissfully through his body.
"Try not to move as much Neji-kun!" A gentle voice admonishes him, breaking through the clouded haze of his mind. The voice, whoever it may be, mutters under her breath.
"You've managed to tear open your back again. I'm going to have to change your bandages."
He wants to say something, but feels the medic-nin's chakra rushing through him, soothing away all the trouble and pain until it doesn't feel nearly as important to ask questions, to protest.
Cool hands on his back move him so he is sitting on the hospital bed. He feels bandages around his chest being wrapped away, and he whimpers as cold air hits the bare flesh and open wounds. It passes quickly as new bandages are wrapped swiftly around and around his chest. The pain is dulled mercifully, but the end of the process has him sleeping again.
He doesn't know how long he has been in this hospital. He woke up at odd intervals, and drifted through varying stages of conscious. He heard voices chattering harshly about the poor dear and his condition. They grated insistently on his mind until he wanted to let them now he can hear them.
Or he feels himself propped up, and sticky bandages pulled away, to be replaced by the soft dryness of new ones. Sometimes liquids are passed down his unresisting throat, but Neji doesn't taste them, only the coolness that spreads through his body with them.
One day when he awakens, he stays awake. The faint smell that can only be adequately described as 'the hospital smell' surrounds him, and the faint breeze the open window lets in does little to freshen the room. He can see little from his prone position on the bed, and frowning, Neji experimentally tries to lift himself up, to only find the familiar pain in his back. As if on cue, the door to his room swings open, and a medic with distinctive pink hair enters.
"Good morning Neji-kun! I see you're alert today and just in time for breakfast," the medic places a tray on the table beside his bed, "and while you eat, I'm going to check on how your back is healing."
Neji glanced down at the tray, a glass of orange juice, some unidentifiable fruit puree, and plain oatmeal. Inwardly repressing a sigh, he spoons a mouthful of the tasteless mush into his mouth. Swallowing, he finally remembers the medic's name, one of the kunoichi that had taken the chuunin exams at the same time as him, not one he had paid much attention to though she was the teammate of Uchiha Sasuke and…Naruto.
"Sakura-san?" Neji winced slightly as is back was once again exposed to the air, "how long have I been in here?"
Sakura paused in her examination, "two weeks now, I believe."
"Oh," Neji took another mouthful, after that failed mission to retrieve Sasuke he had been in the hospital for two and a half weeks. "My…injury is that bad?"
"What? Oh no, it's healing fine. Though it's not often someone takes three large shuriken in his back and manages to drag himself and an injured teammate back." She remarked conversationally, pulling out large cotton pads from a bag around her waist.
Neji frowned slightly, trying to remember through his drug-hazed mind, exactly what had transpired on that mission.
"I'm not going to use these long bandages anymore Neji-kun, just these large cotton pads. You should be good to go in a week." Sakura said, and Neji felt pressure on his back from where she placed the pads.
"Another week…were their complications?"
Sakura moved around so her green eyes were staring into Neji's blank ones. "You could say complications. Neji-kun, in truth, we could have healed your back up in a few days," she raised her hand, silencing any questions, "but while we need any shinobi we have active, we also need them healthy. Which you weren't. I don't know what ANBU thinks, overworking you like that! Anyways, this was the only way we could get you in bed rest to take care of a few issues before they got worse."
Neji took advantage of the pause in Sakura's lecture, "I was perfectly healthy-"
"Perfect healthy? You were going at a rate to collapse! I'm going to have Tsunade-sama let you see our initial diagnosis when you entered. I don't have time to list everything that's wrong with you!" Sakura strode out of his room, still ranting under her breath and her hands miming some rather i interesting /i things.
As promised, a medic soon dropped off a folder at Neji's bedside. He read it through over a lunch as unappetizing as breakfast (soup, milk, and jello), and while a lot of the facts listed were worrying, they didn't apply to him. It was just like medics, he thought, to make something as minor as a cut to be a life or death situation. They were hypocrites really, telling him he overworked when they themselves…
"Neji-niisan?" A soft voice asked.
Only one person called him that, "yes, Hinata-sama?"
"Ah, I was just wondering if you were awake and would mind if I visited." Hinata stammered out.
It was dull, being alone staring at the ceiling or out the window, so Neji saw no reason to refuse.
"You were asleep for so long Neji-niisan," she remarked, drawing a chair from the window closer to the bed.
"So I was told. Did Sakura tell you I was awake?"
"Ah, no. I've been coming when I didn't have a mission," she admitted, a slight blush rising on her pale cheeks.
He hadn't expected that much from her, usually Hinata answered him in the fewest words possible. Though it was unfair, she was going on missions while he was stuck in a hospital bed because the medics refused to heal him.
"Tenten-san and Lee-san and Gai-sensei will be here later. I met them on the way here." Hinata supplied to the awkward silence.
Neji just grunted and continued to stare into space. There wasn't much that could really be said with them, though Hinata tried to initiate a conversation.
"Um, they said something about 'precious bonding time' and more. I didn't stay to catch enough of it…"
Better her than him, really, he thought, which lead him to another thought. "Hinata-sama, would you like some lime jello?"
She shook her head, dark hair swaying. "Sakura-san told me that you have to eat all your food."
That settled it then. It was a conspiracy against him. Didn't these people realize he had a set of functioning teeth?
"It must be awfully boring here, Neji-niisan," Hinata remarked softly.
You have no idea, is what he thought but he wasn't about to admit to her that he was weak and bored.
"If you want, Neji-niisan, I can bring some books from home for you." Hinata offered.
Neji snapped to attention, "I have a pile of scrolls on my desk that would be useful to have here."
Hinata smiled, "Neji-niisan, Sakura-san was quite adamant that you relax. I think Hanabi has some adventure novels that would be quite suitable."
He glowered at her, and to his surprise she began to laugh at him. "What is so funny, Hinata-sama?"
She kept on laughing, though she tried to muffle it with her hands and he barely made out the story. "You looked exactly like Kiba when Shino and I left him at camp that one time-" she abruptly stopped.
Neji knew that Shino and Kiba were her teammates, though it was the second fact that was more interesting to him. "You went alone with Shino somewhere?" he inquired, arching one eyebrow.
"Just to gather information with the Byakugan and his bugs," she hurriedly assured him.
He would have to look into this when he was released from this pri--hospital. To Hinata's obvious relief, the rest of Team Gai chose to make a dynamic entry at that moment, dispelling any further questions from her cousin. To Neji's much less obvious delight, his teammates had brought him a fruit basket. He wasted no time in grabbing a shiny red apple that made a satisfying crunch when he bit it.
Hinata disappeared sometime during his team's visit, a visit that was filled with much exuberance and hugging of Neji, which he did not approve of, but had no choice in the matter of. Tenten at least, didn't give him that awkward feeling that Hinata brought with her.
For all they are comrades and have been together on many successful missions, Neji can't help but be glad when they left after much tears and proclamations of tomorrow because then a peaceful silence fills his room.
Sakura bustled in, bearing a tray with supper on it that was hardly better then anything else he had eaten today. She watched him intently until he had eaten most of the rice before she left. Once she was gone he pushed the remaining food away and instead reached for another apple.
The basket was slightly out of reach, but it was stuffed with fruit. All he had to do was snag one of the uppermost apples so that it would roll into his palm. A simple enough matter really, if one didn't realize the fact that the loosely organized pyramid of fruit didn't respond well to a light touch.
The basket tipped over and out rolled all the luscious fruits, thumping on the linoleum floor. Neji winced at the constant plunk of fruit; positive Sakura and her loud voice would be there in an instant to scold. Instead, when the door slid open, it was Hinata.
"Oh!" she exclaimed at seeing the rainbow of fruit on the floor and the expression on Neji's face.
Carefully she set a stack of books on the table and bent down to gather up all the fallen fruit.
Neji watched her uncomfortably; "I would help Hinata-sama, if I wasn't stuck in this bed."
She nodded, dumping her armful into the basket, before crouching again. "Your teammates must really care to get you this much fruit, Neji-niisan!"
He frowned at the odd tone of her voice, was it possible that she was teasing him? He discarded that notion quickly.
"There we go, all done," Hinata straightened up, placing the fruit basket within reach this time.
Neji grabbed an apple, "thank you Hinata-sama."
"It wasn't a problem. I brought some books for you as well." She retrieved the stack of books, and sat in the chair by his bed.
He wasn't too interested in the books, most of his reading was non-fiction, and he knew Hanabi was into the silly tales that Lee adored. The more reason to avoid them in any case. To his surprise, despite her mild threats, Hinata had brought interesting books on history. One in particular caught his eye, Formation of the Hidden Villages.
"I wouldn't mind reading one out loud while you eat, Neji-niisan."
He nodded and pointed at the Hidden Villages book. He watched her slim fingers pick up the volume and soon lost himself in the reading voice she had. It wasn't like her normal voice, hesitant and timid, stumbling over the words. This voice was smooth, and while low, it was sure in the words uttered.
Soon the natural light source in the room left, and Hinata paused to turn on his lamp. He shook his head when she reached to pick up the book again.
"Thank you for reading to me, Hinata-sama. It is dark out so you should return home now."
"Hanabi is the only one that would notice and she has a mission. I don't mind reading to you Neji-niisan." So she read on.
Neji fell asleep first, and Hinata closed the book, carefully marking their place with a bookmark so Neji could find it again. She looked longingly towards his bed as she stumbled to the door.
She had forgotten about a thing called visiting hours, and found herself aimlessly wandering the dark corridors, only to find locked doors wherever she turned. She headed back for Neji's room, thinking the chair and her coat while not as preferable as her own warm bed, were a good sight better then the cold hospital floor.
Neji was still sleeping when she came back; she had to stifle a giggle as she realized her formidable older cousin whistled in his sleep. She sat carefully on the edge of his bed, making sure that her weight didn't shift his mattress and jar him out of sleep.
But once sitting on the bed, she found her head resting on the pillow, and a spare blanket at the foot of the bed, pulled up around her. Yawning, she didn't see any harm in sleeping here, just for tonight.
When Neji awoke the next morning, he was curled on his side, with solid warmth nestled against his chest. To his dismay one arm was trapped beneath the body of his younger cousin, and the other was resting indecently on her thigh.
He removed that hand immediately, but had nowhere to put it. Hinata reacted subconsciously to the loss of the arm around her by snuggling in closer to Neji's side.
This was the site Sakura Haruno saw as she entered Neji's room with a tray of oatmeal. To her credit she didn't say anything to the Hyuuga's face, though later Neji had the distinct feeling he wouldn't live down being caught with his cousin sleeping next to him, and him with his hand in the air and blushing furiously.