Author's Note: A short ficlet to accompany the gorgeous fanart by a Japanese artist posted in the NejiTen FC. It takes place during the time lapse, before part 2.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Distinction Between Hugs
Tenten stood in the east wing of Konoha's intensive care ward, where bright tile, low ceiling, and wid walls kept her prisoner. She had entered the antiseptic-scented cage of her own volition, glad to be permitted to remain inside, unlike others locked out with the nurses' warning glares the only response to their worry-drawn faces.
The staff knew, however, that no matter who was the patient, a ninja's teammates had as much right to access as family. They did not dare turn out the young pair of Team Gai, just as they had not dissuaded Hyuuga Hiashi's momentary presence, as Tenten had seen over an hour ago.
Rigidly upright beside her, Lee was a black-topped green splash buoyed amid all the white. From the ajar surgery room door they flanked came low sounds of monitoring equipment and the steady pulse of chakra.
Aside from that, the ward was silent. Empty. Clean and cold.
Lee maintained several times between intervals of a few minutes that he could not take this waiting. The female kunoichi of Team Gai, in contrast, leaned on the wall. She was speechless in her concern. The first morning in months that she had not attended her usual training session with Neji, and the Hyuuga had presumably overdone it, resulting in grave injury to himself.
Neji...what did you do
He had been meditating for longer periods of time lately, memorizing his own chakra channels in greater detail and designing a modification of the Kaiten to strengthen the technique in preparation for the Jounin trials. In training with her, Neji had kept the release of power to a minimum as was appropriate for mere sparring. He had always walked away with the usual wear on those days. Tenten guessed that, in her absence, he had seized the opportunity to go a step further, to test himself as he so often felt he must.
Neji Hyuuga had scored serious bodily damage, a race to the hospital, and a major operation performed by the Hokage herself. Bad marks all around.
Chastising herself, Tenten bunched both hands into fists, then ran both rows of whitened knuckles over the sides of her head, mussing her brunette buns. And what had she done that morning? Caught up on some sleep lost on their last mission. Sleep!
Lee jerked his head to face her, heavy-eyebrowed gaze latching onto her semi-dazed expression. Instead of a repeated declaration of his impatience, he turned to her fully. "Do you want a hug, Tenten? Hugging makes me feel better."
More for him than for herself – because, really, her building guilt deprived her of any desire to be touched – Tenten raised her arms to him and pressed her cheek to Lee's spandex-clad shoulder.
Moments like these were hard on the heart of a fourteen-year-old girl.
The pulse of chakra ebbed, then faded altogether. A minute later, Tsunade was stepping through the door. The unhurt members of Team Gai held their breath, dying for information. Tsunade watched them a moment, right before her red lips quirked into an assuring smile. "He's fine," she reported even as aids came rushing from the room, arms laden with bloodied clothes.
Tenten's heart rose even as her stomach plummeted, the altitude thrown into chaos by what she heard and saw. Still timid in the presence of her idol, her voice came softly.
"Go see him?" Tsunade understood perfectly, saying, "Yes, I think that would be fine. He's groggy, so you—" She couldn't finish, however, due to the wind of first Tenten, then Lee, bursting into the room cutting off her words.
There were windows behind the sterile bed, and in them a sunset glowed. It was the kind Nara Shikamaru would find memorable, light-soaked clouds hanging around the sun, holding pink hearts in their centers.
But Tenten didn't stare at the sunset.
Neji was propped against the brass bars serving as his hospital bed's headboard, something he would prefer over pillows. His charcoal hair, sweat-damped and untied, splayed over his shoulders. The recognizable Hyuuga eyes drooped, gleaming silver. The fresh, blue shirt he wore covered a slew of bandages that was a garment all on its own, hiding a long, oblique line of stitches.
What Tenten first thought was she stepped closer to him was that she had never experienced such breathtaking relief. What she said was, "See, Lee? He's okay."
"NEJI!" Already Lee's eyes had grown moist. "I am so thrilled you have retained your youthful life!" His face took on the most martyr-like expression. "I am glad, too, that Gai-sensei is out on a mission so he did not need to endure the same fear which Tenten and I have!"
Throughout his declaration, Neji only blinked at the other boy, blearier than either of his teammates had ever seen him. On his opposite side, Tenten shook her head at the blatant show of melodrama. When Lee raised his arm to scrub at his now energetically-flooding eyes, she leaned over to wind her arms about Neji's neck. She had to partially climb onto the bed, and she was careful to avoid his injured chest and stomach, pressing mostly into his right arm before moving away. The hug was quicker than the one she'd shared with Lee, but somehow this embrace lasted even once she was no longer touching him.
Neji's eyes shifted to hers, and Tenten's cheeks suspiciously heated. "You're right," he said, his voice strained from his physical hardship. "I'm okay."
Lee lowered his arm. His smile was back full-force.
On the edge of the mattress, Tenten's hand rested close to Neji's.
The sun sunk to night, symbolizing another day survived.