Author's Notes: Here's a little story for the NejiTen FC's " 'Tis the Season" contest. I decided to set it in my New York Society universe. It's been a while since I've played there and the story just seemed to work better that way, even if it is a dialogue-heavy, mundane morning in the lives of our heroes. Hope you enjoy!
And Call Me In The Morning
A thermometer beeped. "One-oh-one point two," Tenten announced. The corners of her mouth turned down. "That's worse than I thought. Let me get you a cold cloth."
Neji was already sitting up and tossing off the duvet cover. Tenten had realized he wasn't well even sooner than he had; pressed against his too-warm body, finding the bed they shared damp with his sweat, she had leapt to her feet and returned with the thermometer before Neji had opened his eyes to the bedroom's lamplight. Her hair was a loose and tangled brown mass, the skin her long chemise left bare was covered in goose bumps, but her eyes were focused, ignoring herself completely as she gave all her attention to him.
She really was a fantastic wife, Neji thought. He might have said so if his utter bleariness and the ache of his entire body weren't robbing him of his small capacity for romance. Instead he stood up and said, "Don't bother, I need to get dressed."
"Neji! You're sick." Tenten's voice carried the same exasperated tone she used with city council members who didn't understand the difference between handguns acceptable for civilian use and far more dangerous firearms, even if they did look the same, and why one should be outlawed over the other.
"I have a court prep today. Shikamaru expects me there." He spoke evenly, but before finishing his sentence, blackness emerged in the center of Neji's vision and quickly spread outward, like a bloodstain. He heard bedsprings contract, and Tenten grabbed him around the waist in the same second his knees buckled.
His sight cleared after she'd pulled him back into a sitting position on the end of the bed, just in time for him to see her pick up her cell phone. It was lit up with an in-progress call. "Did you hear that, Shikamaru? That was your partner fainting."
Inwardly, Neji protested that blacking out was not the same as fainting, but he was too busy trying to regain control of his senses to tell her so.
"Good," Tenten said. "All right. Yep, I'll pass that on. That too. Thanks, Shikamaru." Tenten snapped down the lid of her mobile and tossed it in the direction of the nightstand. It landed perfectly atop her current book, without dinging either the lamp or the alarm clock. Neji had always been impressed by her aim.
"Well?" he said, raising an eyebrow. What he didn't know was that the expression lost its smoothness when he broke down in a fit of ongoing coughs.
Tenten rubbed his back until the bout subsided. "Shikamaru said you should stay home today. There's no point in explaining trial etiquette with snot running down your face, so he'll do it for you."
Insulted, Neji sniffed—and restrained some of the very snot his law partner spoke of.
"And he says you're troublesome, but you probably knew that without me telling you." Tenten pressed the back of her hand to his cheek. "You're burning up, dear. I'm getting that cloth."
"Don't you have to get going? You don't want to be extra late."
"Very funny," she called from the adjoining bathroom. There was the sound of running water, then more water hitting the bottom of the sink as she wrung out the excess. "But no, I'm going to call in sick myself and take care of you. I've already texted Sakura, and she says you have the flu."
Tenten came out told him to lie back down. She folded the cloth and swabbed it over his face, then let it rest on his forehead. "I thought you had a presentation today," he said, his eyes closed while he enjoyed the comforting ministrations.
"I did it yesterday. Lucky for you, isn't it?" She sighed, passed her hand through his long black hair, the strands cold with drying perspiration. "I asked you to get a new winter coat. Your black one's too old to be warm, and it's been snowing all week. It's still snowing," she added with a gesture to the window, which was gray and frosted with early January morning light.
"It's fine," he objected, even though he had been sneezing a dozen times an hour since last Thursday and had been thinking about her request since. He had assumed it was simply a cold, and though he had missed tasting his food, Neji hadn't been concerned it would develop into anything worse. Besides, crime was up in the cold months, and the law office kept him away from home until past closing time for the nearby stores.
And he liked the snow. This was their second winter as a married couple, and snow reminded him of the night he had proposed to Tenten, a proposal that hadn't gone as smoothly as he would have preferred, but was successful nonetheless. Part of him vainly hoped he didn't look so horrible now that Tenten was currently regretting her decision.
But Tenten was smiling at the moment, ruefully. "And why don't we wear warmer pajamas?" she demanded, mostly to herself. Neji shrugged, taking in her light chemise and his boxers and a Columbia University T-shirt (Tenten's former workplace; he was a Harvard Law graduate).
"I like that," he told her honestly.
"Well, I look cute in flannel. So would you. Are you hungry?" she asked, changing tracks without a pause. She barely listened to his answer as she got up again, threw on her robe and slippers and padded out. Neji turned on the morning news until she came back with two bowls of steaming oatmeal, a bottle of pills, spoons and napkins on a tray. A second trip, and she passed him a glass of orange juice and settled under the covers again.
"Cinnamon," Neji murmured with appreciation after swallowing some oatmeal. It was mostly a guess, as he was unable to smell or taste it. He eyed her mug of coffee and its promise of caffeine with envy, but knew it would be pointless to ask for some. He couldn't withhold his smile when Tenten pecked him on the crown of his head. Cinnamon was his favorite.
They watched the news together as they ate, and when they were finished, Tenten cleared the dishes and refilled his orange juice. She placed a waste basket on the floor by Neji's side of the bed (left; he'd lost the fight for the right side) and wedged a box of tissues between their hips. She made him put on a long-sleeved shirt and changed their pillowcases for fresh, dry ones. The used ones she put in the wash with the Columbia T-shirt. While she was gone he went to the bathroom and washed his face, noting with some satisfaction that he did not look as bad as he'd feared, though his white eyes were glassy from fever.
He took a nap at her insistence while she did laundry and washed their used dishes. When he woke up, rested but not energized, the afternoon had mostly elapsed. Tenten had changed into lounge pants and a hoodie, put up her hair, and was watching a television drama at very low volume. Noticing he was awake, she turned off the TV in the middle of an NCIS episode, and they sat in companionable silence.
"The good news," she told him, "is that we don't have to go to your uncle's dinner this month."
Hiashi Hyuuga, Neji's uncle, had a rule obligating his family to come together every other month to share a meal and catch up. At least, Neji had supposed that was the point; Hiashi was not a sentimental man, making each affair stiffly formal and altogether awkward. Truth be told, Neji had forgotten the dinner was scheduled for tonight. "I thought you liked going," said Neji, half-joking. Tenten had never complained before.
"I like the food," she corrected him, and pursed her lips. "But your uncle gives me this look every time, like 'Hurry and procreate.' I thought it would stop after Hinata and Naruto got married, but now he just does it to both of us."
Neji pretended to blow his nose so she wouldn't see him grin. "Maybe he doesn't want hyperactive grandchildren," he suggested into the tissue.
"I think Hinata's reservation would even out Naruto's energy." Tenten spoke with fondness, but they had already had this discussion. Both Neji and his wife were busy with hectic careers, and until at least one of them settled down a bit, professionally, children would have to come later. They were young and healthy, and Neji knew time wasn't a problem. But sometimes, secretly, Neji pictured a child with Tenten's huge brown eyes, and Tenten imagined a baby who looked just like its father.
"I'm glad Hinata convinced us to go with red on this room," Tenten said cheerfully when Neji began coughing again. "And you wanted gray. How dreary would that have been, Neji, if you had to look at unhappy gray walls while you were stuck in bed with the flu?"
"It would have made it easier for you to find your things when you lose them," Neji argued, no heat behind his words. The bright scarlet walls tended to block out clothes and other items which Tenten enjoyed flinging any which way. He had to admit, however, her habits were improving.
Tenten didn't respond. Instead, she asked, "When you get better, will you go get a coat? Please? I'll even buy you a nice scarf to go with it. And it can be gray, if you want."
Obligingly, Neji slipped his hand into hers and pulled her closer to him, further beneath the covers of their red-blanketed bed. "All right. Tomorrow then."
"If you're fever's gone."
"Yes," he agreed, smiling. Tenten eyed him suspiciously.
"What?" she demanded.
"I was just thinking…" He passed his thumb over the back of her hand, exploring the row of knuckles, though he knew them now by heart. "I might also get you some flannel pajamas. You did say you look cute in them."
She smiled and patted his shoulder. "Better keep those thoughts for later. We want your temperature to go down, not up." As if reminded, she plucked the cloth from where it had fallen past his hairline, now drier and lukewarm. Before she could climb out of bed again to wet it a second time, Neji captured her arm.
"Hm?" She looked at his orange juice glass instead of him, no doubt wondering if she should refill it so he could take another dose of medicine.
"I love you."
Her eyes zoomed to his, stayed there. Her smile was frozen in place until, after a moment of shock, it widened. Neji wondered if he told her less than he should. "I love you too," she murmured softly. She reached across him and took up the glass he'd set on his nightstand.
Tenten was halfway across the room when she paused, hands full. She angled her head up just a few degrees and, very quick and violently, sneezed. Turning back, she and her husband stared at each other. Then she giggled.
Neji smirked. " 'Tis the season, I guess."
As she continued into the bathroom, he reached for his cell phone and started a text to Shikamaru, stating he wouldn't be in tomorrow, either: Tenten was coming down with something, and he wanted to be at home to take care of her.