んな夜に: On this night
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto, Shonen Jump, and Viz. I do not own it, or any characters, places, or ideas from the Naruto series. There, that's professional enough, right?
(¸.•´ (¸.•` ¤ Chapter 11: Crash
The movie he'd gone to see was only so-so. Predictable plot points, an obvious villain, a clear hero. Rock Lee was crying by the end of it, naturally, but Tenten was half-asleep in her chair by the time credits rolled. Neji didn't blame her one bit, but Lee had been talking about seeing the newest Nine-Tailed movie since its premier commercial, so it was the obvious choice of movie to see when they'd arrived at the theater.
Sitting alongside his friends had been worth skipping class, though, even with the lackluster movie. Afterwards, they grabbed a bite to eat before going their separate ways. Lee offered to drive Tenten home, so they left together. By this point, it was late afternoon: the sun began its slow descent, glimmering golden, with the clouds like white paint splatter framing the reddening sky.
Neji pulled into the family compound and drove all the way down to where the main branch houses were; then parked in the garage. From there, it was a short walk to his destination: the head of the Hyuuga's sprawling house was closest to the parking garage, after all.
He let himself in through the front door, took his shoes off in the entranceway, and headed I side. Sounds barraged him from down the hall, and sure enough, when he turned the corner, his youngest cousin was standing close to the television playing a video game.
He waited; after a few more moments of double jumps and shooting monsters, the character stilled on-screen, and Hanabi turned around and greeted Neji with a bright smile.
"Hi!" she said. "Welcome home!"
"Thanks." Neji moved to sit on the white couch nearby. He recognized the game she was playing as one she played often, though its name eluded him. "What're you doing today?"
"Grinding in the Dreaming City," she answered. She turned back towards the t.v. screen. "It's not a new thing for this season, but it's pretty fun, and I like grinding here because it's pretty."
She went back to playing, and that was that. Neji was content to sit quietly and watch her as she progressed. Back before Hinata had fallen ill, the three of them would often spend time in the living room together, talking while finishing homework, or playing board games or cards; sometimes, they would even sit in silence, just enjoying each other's company for what it was.
Once Hinata had fallen ill, everything had changed. Hinata started heading to bed earlier and earlier, first with headaches, then aches and pain, and finally with pure exhaustion and loss of strength. Once that wasn't enough, she wound up in the hospital. Hanabi had turned to video games after that.
Neji was determined to stay put. With or without Hinata here, he'd sworn to keep her and her sister safe; that was an impossible promise to keep for a dying girl, but he could still keep his promise and protect Hanabi. And keeping Hanabi company like this helped them both stay a little bit more sane.
About ten minutes passed like this, with him and Hanabi quietly keeping each other company, when Neji's cell phone rang. He almost missed it because Hanabi's video game was turned up to an obnoxiously loud volume, but as soon as he recognized the ringtone he'd assigned for Tenten, he pulled his phone from his pocket and stood.
"Be right back," he said to Hanabi; she acknowledged his words with a nod of her head, but her eyes never left the screen. Neji stepped into the hallway, where the video game noises were fainter, before finally answering his phone.
"Hi," he said. "What's—"
He knew something was wrong from the pure terror in her voice. She sounded panicked.
"Neji, it's - Lee!" He heard scuffling of shoes, a sharp cracking noise, and then Tenten, from a distance, yelling. "Don't - Let me come with him! I'm his friend! He doesn't have - please!" Her strangled cry sent chills through his body.
Without thinking, Neji was already moving, pulling his shoes on and running out the front door, heading towards the garage. He heard Hanabi's startled cry from behind him somewhere, but he ignored it, instead breaking out into a run.
"Tenten. Tenten!" He only vaguely recognized the own desperation in his voice. "Tenten, what's happening?"
He heard shuffling, and then sniffles through the speaker.
"O-On the way back," she cried, "a car hit us. I'm okay, b-but... But Lee is... It's bad, Neji, it's so bad..." She was crying hysterically. It was all Neji could do to focus as he ran. He was parked on the third level; he took the stairs.
"Where are you right now?" he asked her. She blubbered out a cross-street just a few miles away from where Tenten's house was; his heart lurched. "I'm coming," he said. "Wait there, you're in no condition to be alone right now."
"The car is totaled," Tenten said.
That was the least of their concerns right now.
"I'm on my way. Stay on the line."
"I can't, I have to call—" Tenten cut off, taking a shaky breath. "I'll call Gai. Meet me at Leaf Hospital, that's where they're taking him."
Neji nearly tripped on the stairs. "No, I'll pick you up," he said.
"Neji, go to the hospital!" Tenten sounded frightened; Neji grit his teeth, pushed through the straining of his muscles, and flew up the last few steps leading to the third floor. "Someone has to be there for him!"
Neji paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath, and to think.
Tenten was close enough that she could walk home, or catch a ride from one of her other friends. Gai was Lee's legal guardian, so someone did need to let him know; and Neji knew the layout of Leaf Hospital all-too-well by now.
"Fine," he said. "But call me when you're home, got it?"
"I will," Tenten promised him. She hung up. Neji slid his phone into his pocket and was about to break into a run again when he heard someone call out to him from below.
He turned around and saw Hanabi, panting, coming up the stairs.
"Is Tenten okay?" she asked between gasps. Neji reached out to help her up the last few steps.
Hanabi must have followed him. He hesitated to bring her with him, but the determined look in her eyes told him she wouldn't take no for an answer. He didn't have time to argue with her, anyway.
"Follow me. Hurry." He took off at a run, and groaning, Hanabi followed. The reached his compact car and got in quickly, and Neji gunned it out of the garage.
"What's going on?" Hanabi asked again once she'd finally caught her breath. She yelped as Neji took a sharp turn.
"Tenten and Lee were in a crash." Hanabi's eyes widened. "Tenten's fine. Lee's in the hospital."
Hanabi was silent. It was just long enough for Neji's own worry and fear to start creeping in. Just how bad off was Lee? Tenten had been screaming. He hadn't asked for her to clarify.
"Okay," Hanabi said. "Which hospital?"
"Where did it happen?"
"A few blocks from Tenten's place. Lee was dropping her off."
"What happened to the other driver?"
"I don't know," Neji said. "Didn't ask."
"I'll find out," Hanabi said. She pulled her phone out. "Don't speed. We son't need to be in a crash, either."
Neji obliged, slowing down to just the speed limit as they reached the freeway. Hanabi dialed a number and waited a beat; whoever she called must have picked up, because she started speaking right away.
"I need a favor," she said. "No, shut up and do it, okay? It's important." As Hanabi's voice flooded the car, Neji felt his nerves calm, just a bit. But he was still worried.
Lee, you'd better be okay.
Hinata smiled as brightly as she could as her father entered the room, closing the door behind him. He smiled gently back at her. He held a clear vase with water and freshly-cut flowers in it - sunflowers, her favorite.
Her father set the vase down on the windowsill to the side of her bed, then settled himself into the chair beside her. (The same chair Sai had sat in while waiting for Naruto to wake up. That didn't matter right now, though.)
"Th-Thank you for the flowers," she said honestly. "Y-You didn't have to."
"Nonsense," her father replied. Hinata remembered her video, how plain and bare the room looked; he must have felt guilty after watching it. She felt her own guilt set in at that. "They've been your favorites since you were a child."
"Yeah..." She glanced over at them now: the blue sky through the window pane framed the yellow petals nicely, and the water caught the sunlight beautifully. She turned her attention back to her father. "I'm h-happy to see you."
Hiashi nodded. "I'm glad to spend time with you, too," he said. Hinata did not miss the fondness in his voice, or the sorrow in his eyes. She felt compelled to look away, but she clenched her hands on her sheets instead.
Sasuke's speech had been a challenge. She knew that much about him, even if she didn't understand his reasons. She knew she seemed weak. She was dying, after all. But for her family, she would be as strong as she could, or at least appear to be.
She wouldn't back down from Sasuke's challenge, either.
"I heard y-you signed a contract... W-With O-Sound." Hinata went right to the point. As much as she loved spending time with her father, he was a busy man; she wouldn't keep him here for too much longer. "I-Is that true?"
Her father sighed.
"Yes," he admitted, and crossed his arms. His eyes closed for a moment, and when he opened them again, Hinata was startled by how pearl-bright they were beneath the flourescent lights of her hospital room. "About your... Video." He sighed.
Hinata tensed slightly, then forced herself to relax. If she stayed tense for too long, it could bring on one of her coughing fits or fainting spells.
"Ah..." She began. Her throat was dry. What was she supposed to say? "I... Never meant for it to be... Any t-trouble..." It was hard to find the right words to say.
Gently, her father reached out and put his hand over hers. She started, but then slowly unclenched her fists.
"You don't need to apologize for being honest," he said. "If this is what you want, I will do everything I can to make it happen for you."
Unbidden, Hinata's lips drew upwards.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Her father smiled back, but then frowned.
"But I didn't sign any contracts with O-Sound," he said. "Such a disgraced company... I would never allow them to try and use you for their own means." He shook his head. "No, it was with Akatsuki Corp. They're far more suited to the task."
Now it was Hinata's turn to frown.
"A-Akatsuki Corp.?" she asked. That... That didn't make sense. No, she was sure that Sasuke belonged to O-Sound... Right? "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Hiashi answered, nodding. "Their CEO reached out to me personally."
"...Ah." It was all Hinata could manage to say. She wanted to pull her laptop off the tray beside her and start searching for any new music industry information, but... "I'm... So grateful you did that." She smiled up at her father. "R-Really. You didn't have to."
Her father smiled sadly at her.
"Yes, I did," he replied. For a moment, there was silence between them. Hinata knew her father was not the sentimental type. He rarely spoke out with emotion alone; fact and reason ruled his mind. Even when her mother had passed, Hiashi had never said much about it to her, or to Hanabi. He kept his feelings mostly to himself, burdened himself alone with them.
She knew it was out of love. Even now, she was positive he was taking on a lot of work without allowing himself enough time to grieve for her, or to let out his emotions. It pained her to think about.
"Dad," she said softly, barely above a whisper. "When... Wh-When I-"
The door slammed open, startling Hinata and her father both. In the doorway stood Shizune, panting. Her eyes combed the room even as she spoke.
"Tsunade- Have you seen her?" Shizune waited for a moment, but Hinata and her father were still stunned silent. Shizune shook her head. "Sorry." She closed the door; Hinata heard her shoes pounding against the tiled flooring as she ran further down the hallway.
Hinata and her father both looked at each other, surprised. Then they laughed.
"Wh-What was that about?" Hinata asked.
"I have no idea," Hiashi said. He cleared his throat. "What were you saying before, just now?"
Hinata breathed in sharply.
"Ah..." She trailed off. "N-Nothing." She licked her lips, then continued. "H-How has work been treating you?"
As her father launched into all the business deals and corporate gossip of the Hyuuga Company, Hinata quietly breathed a sigh of relief.
She wasn't done yet. She wasn't long for this world, but still, she had plenty of time to say what she wanted to. But now wasn't the right time. That conversation could wait, still.
She looked over at the sunflowers.
"There's a package for you," Neji said, tossing it at her. She tried to catch it, but missed, and it hit the ground, the contents clattering. Neji smirked, and Hinata's ears turned red in embarrassment. He turned and left her room without saying anything else, leaving the door wide open. Hinata had been sitting at her desk studying, so she stood, snatched the package off the ground, and stomped to her door, closing it again.
She felt flustered, but she was also excited. She hurried back to her desk and tried to rip the package open; when that failed, she grabbed her scissors and cut it open that way. She turned it over and emptied the package's contents onto her desk.
An album fell out. Her heart leapt into her throat. It was the K7 album she'd pre-ordered. The case was cracked, but the c.d. inside was still intact. Hinata carefully slid the c.d. into her computer and waited for her music player to register it; as soon as it did, she clicked play.
"One time I was lyin' on my back
In the middle of seventh grade, and I
remember thinkin' that the sun shines brighter everyday"
Uzumaki Naruto's voice, solo, drifted out from her speakers. Her heart skipped a beat. Like always, his voice seemed to carry so much emotion, as if he sang every word from experience. By the end of the song, Hinata felt breathless and happy, like she'd laid down under the sun herself. The next song started with Sasuke's dark, crooning voice, but Hinata flipped the album over to look at the song list, eager to find out the name of the song she'd just heard
It was called "Towards the Sun." It was then that she really looked at the cover art, and after admiring the three band members posed back-to-back, she realized something: the group was standing in a field of sunflowers.
Sunflowers, she thought, are really, really pretty. She looked at them and thought so. But they didn't hold her attention like Naruto did, there on the cover. He was grinning, and looking up at the sky above him.
She couldn't look away from the blue of Naruto's eyes.
A/N: Hi. It's been a while. I got depression, anxiety, and a sleep disorder all at the same time and ngl, that shit horted. But I promised some people I would finish this fic, and as we say in this fandom, "I never go back on my word." Stay safe out there, everyone.
(off-topic but important: #blacklivesmatter.)
Look forward to several more updates and at least 5 more chapters. Gonna aim for one every two weeks. Hold me to it.
PS: thank you Bluewarrior3 for pointing out my brain derp! Fixed it :)