Author's Note: So I realize it's been months upon months since I've posted anything. I hope college is a sufficient excuse! But probably not. Here's a little holiday fic to get you in the mood.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.

By The Fireside

By Nessie

Neji did not drink cocoa, as Tenten discovered among other things on Christmas Eve. Team Gai spent the evening at her apartment, taking a night off from training. True to her absent-minded form, she had forgotten she'd bought the mix until Lee had left to take their sensei home. A glass and a half of eggnog had buzzed Gai for an hour, during which he had come close to setting her small place ablaze by lighting a fire. The experience had exhausted him so completely that his most admiring student half-carried out the door.

Tenten tried to look as annoyed as Neji, but when the two green-clad shinobi had gone, a grin dominated her features and she broke down into giggles.

"You're laughing?" questioned Neji archly. "He almost burned down your Christmas tree."

"He didn't, though." Blaming the giggles on her own eggnog, Tenten decided to change beverages and reached for her teammate's empty glass. "Besides, the fire's nice. I never use the hearth when I'm here."

Neji made an noncommittal sound in the back of his throat, turning her face to regard the leaping embers. Tenten smiled as the glow sent shifting waves of light streaming through the pitch black of his hair.

"Want cocoa?" she asked brightly, gathering the snack bowls Gai and Lee had emptied like snacking professionals. "I can make it quickly. Unless you wanted to head for home too—"

"No." From his place on her sofa, Neji waved a hand in decline. At first, Tenten was unsure which option he was refusing. "But if you have any more of the tea you made for Lee..."

Both, Tenten noted with delight. She was glad. It had been a few years since she'd had company on this night. The boys always stopped by on Christmas day, but her impromptu private party had been a hit. If the Hokage gave her the pay raise she expected after New Year's, perhaps she would get a bigger place and invite all of her friends next time. "Sure, Neji."

It took mere minutes to make her cocoa. When she returned, Neji accepted the steaming mug with he barest tilt of his lips. His calloused fingers brushed the back of her hand before sliding around the handle. The brief contact was enough to stall her breath for just a moment, before she pulled away and lowered herself onto the couch beside him. That could not be blamed on the alcohol.

Neji spoke first, surprising her. "You decorated well." He nodded to the festive, but tasteful display on her coffee table. "It's better than those lights Lee threw all over his house."

Compliments from Neji were rare. Tenten felt automatically suspicious. If he wanted her to get up early and train with him on Christmas, he was going to be highly disappointed. "No decorations at the compound?" she returned, hoping to deter his line of inquiry.

The look he gave her was bland even from his colorless eyes. "Are you able to envision my uncle hanging tinsel?"

The notion was so absurd – Hyuuga Hiashi trimming a tree, or even supervising the process – that Tenten laughed. "That answers my question." She absently swirled her peppermint stick through her cocoa. "Still – you have family."

Tenten did not have to see his grip tighten on the handle of his mug to know that tension lined his jaw at her words. She pictured his dilemma; Neji could voice how he really felt and respond in the negative, thus risking insulting her, or agree with the fact that he still possessed more relations than Tenten regardless of his feelings toward them. He finished his tea in two, uncharacteristically hasty gulps, causing Tenten to worry that he was scalding his throat.

"I do," he said at last, "but..."

Tenten blew across the rim of her own mug, cooling her drink and hiding a smile. Seven years on his team, and she finally knew him well. "But?"

"Blood is not important," he told her. "Not when sharing moments are what matter. The importance lies in having people you trust, who trust you." Neji brought a telltale hand to the base of his throat and discreetly rubbed. "People who," he added as he stole at glance at Tenten, "will give you tea at one in the morning."

Tenten looked at the clock and saw that it was nearly half past that hour. She kept her gaze on the hand that inched forward so that she would not have to meet Neji's. "Maybe you're right, Neji. Christmas used to make me feel lonely. But I guess it's true that as the years go on, I..."

She did not finish her sentence because the Hyuuga covered her hand with his, and her eyes bolted to him in unconcealed surprise. The touch went no further. Neji did not even close his fingers across her hand but merely allowed his own to rest atop it. Tenten's wrist gave one, startled jerk but then remained still.

"How was the tea?" she asked, and if her question came out a little airy it must have been due to some smoke drifting from the fire.

"Hot. I burned myself with it."

She assured him, "Chocolate will help," and handed him her mug.

"Tenten," Neji began as he accepted it with his free hand, "would you be willing to—"

"Oh no." Tenten grinned at his put-off expression, then leaned back against the sofa. "Not even if you begged."

Neji did not ever beg. And he did not drink cocoa. But sometimes he would take a sip, if Tenten wanted him to.

The End