Parents need taking care of too. (unrequited yaoi. This fic occurs in the same world as The Risk.)
The room was dark, lit by the stark light from the hall and the street lamps' diffuse glow through the blind. It was after two in the morning now, and Akemi was awake for the fourth time.
Her back shook frighteningly under Naruto's hand as he held her through another coughing fit. He gently wiped her mouth and nose. Too exhausted to do anything but be supported by his grip, she leaned limply back as he tugged her sweaty shirt up over her head.
"S'hot..." she whined, her voice teary with exhaustion, and he murmured quiet acknowledgement, but in the time it took for him to reach for the other nightshirt, she was shivering again. He carefully pulled the fresh shirt on, smoothing back her damp brown hair as she gave another wet cough. He offered her another sip from the cup of water on her bedside table.
Akemi's normally robust, energetic little body was still burning up. When she turned her face away from the cup, he lay her back gently, and she sank back without protest. She lay propped up on three pillows, like Sakura had told him. Naruto leaned over to kiss her hot forehead lightly, drawing her animal-print blanket up to her shaking shoulders. She turned to her side and curled around her stuffed cat.
Naruto crouched by her bed, running his hand in a slow movement down her side. He waited for her rattling breaths to even out with sleep, before he stood and left her room, closing the door partway behind him. He headed toward the kitchen, pausing by Makoto's door long enough to see the little boy sprawled bonelessly under his own star-print covers. The only sign of the cold going around was a slight sniffle on his inhaled breaths. Five-year-olds were tough. Even Akemi's more severe symptoms would pass soon enough, he reminded himself.
Sakura had assured him Akemi really did only have a bad cold, and not any of those scary scientifically-named diseases he could never remember. It was simply that some caught it worse than others. Certainly Mako-chan was shrugging it off.
Naruto sank into a kitchen chair and let his head tip back. He felt drained now in a way he never felt after any of his Anbu missions. Watching his child suffer was a new and terrible experience.
Sakura had given him explicit instructions, even written them down and attached them to the refrigerator with one of Akemi's shuriken magnets, and then looked at him compassionately, and squeezed his hand. "I know exactly what it's like." That much he knew was true. Her and Lee's little son had had a fever scare a month earlier.
He'd waved off Iruka-sensei's offer of help earlier that night. Naruto could handle a sick child! It was easy, it was a five-year-old with a cold. It was... just utterly mentally exhausting, draining in a new and unique way. That thought gave him a mental huff of laughter. Even after four years, almost everything about caring for his children was still new. This was no exception.
He hauled himself upright as he sensed familiar chakra nearby. It moved over the roof, then he heard a light tap on the front door. He opened it, glad of the distraction, and, more than that, elated at his friend's safe return. Neji stood in the doorway, looking a little scuffed but otherwise fine. However, Neji's calm expression turned to a slight frown as he took in the sight of Naruto.
Ever since Naruto's retirement from Anbu, it had become a habit for each member of the former three-man team he was on to let the others know when they'd returned safely, even if, as now, it was well past two in the morning. Being woken up every so often was worth the peace of mind, especially when it was a late return. Neji had retired from Anbu only the previous year, sticking out the job until he was truly worn out. Few remained part of the elite Anbu force past twenty-five. The work was simply too damaging.
"You look terrible." Neji's low voice was tinged with surprise, and concern. "What's happened?"
"Nothing, nothing." Naruto replied tiredly, backing up and waving at Neji to follow him to the kitchen. He turned on a stove burner and filled a pot with water to boil, the sound of metal placed on metal loud in the night-quiet house, then tossed some tea leaves into the teapot. "Mako and Akemi've got that thing that's going around the kids. It's just a cold, but Akemi-chan's got it bad." He leaned against the counter and rubbed his palms into his eyes for a moment, then froze briefly to listen, when the sound of coughing was heard from down the hall. There were no stirrings of awakening, and the fit subsided.
Naruto sighed, then looked up and raised an eyebrow at Neji. He leaned over and plucked a small leaf from where it was lodged just behind Neji's hitai-ate. "You don't look so fresh yourself." He twirled the leaf between his forefinger and thumb as he regarded his friend. Neji could never be classified as unkempt. Nor "rumpled," and certainly not "scruffy," but all the natural dignity in the world could not totally sustain itself under the detritus of combat and fast travel through the woods.
"Thank you." Neji replied wryly. But he shook his hair out, freeing it from its tie and leaning over and raising a hand to card his fingers a few times through the full length. Naruto sat down on a chair again, watching Neji's brown-black hair shine as it swung with his movements. That hair always held a luster, it looked slippery. Naruto bet it would run through fingers like water. That was probably how it stayed untangled all the time, unlike the much shorter blond that hung down Naruto's back... He blinked, and yawned.
He hadn't realized he'd faded out until Neji set a cup of tea down in front of him. He jerked alert. "Sorry." He took the cup gratefully.
Neji just shook his head, and sipped his tea. "How long has she been sick?"
"This is the third night. But it wasn't really bad until last night." He inhaled the tea vapors, feeling comforted by the warmth, and Neji's presence. "She was coughing so hard I called Sakura. But s'just a bad cold." He yawned again, wide enough to crack his jaw. "'Just,'" he snorted. "Doesn't feel like 'just' anything." He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so tired, though he'd been up for longer stretches before.
"Go to bed." Neji told him, and Naruto grimaced.
"I don't want her to have to come and wake me," he protested. Neji shook his head.
"You're a jounin," he said patiently. "It's quite unlikely you'll sleep through anything serious. You'll certainly wake up if she calls you."
"I guess." Neji was right, Naruto knew. He usually was. Going to sleep felt like he was slacking off... but he wouldn't be any good to her tomorrow if he was dead on his feet. "Fine."
Neji turned off the stove burner and put away the tea fixings as Naruto disappeared into the bathroom. When he emerged again he peeked at the doors of both children's rooms one last time. Naruto then waved a hand in the general direction of the hall closet. "Blankets... and... yeah..." A shade of the bright grin Neji was used to emerged, and he nodded in reply, reassured. Neji stood, waiting, listening to the rustle of cloth as Naruto changed into sleepwear, and got under his covers. The rhythm of Naruto's breathing slowed with sleep almost instantly.
He helped himself to the pillow and blankets that at some point had been designated as 'his,' since he always came to Naruto's house after Shikamaru's, and so almost invariably spent the night. He set himself up on the futon couch in the living room. Years ago when either he or Naruto had slept at the others' place, they would share the bed for convenience, but after Naruto had adopted his children, Neji had relocated himself to the living room every time he'd slept over. Not so much for propriety-Naruto didn't give a damn about that, though he believed it when Neji used that as a reason-as because Neji wasn't quite willing to torture himself that way.
Four years ago, when they'd all returned from the big Wind Country mission and Naruto had adopted the two infant refugees, Neji had also come to understand he was in love with his friend. He would never give up the closeness with the little family that let him come and go among them as he pleased, but sleeping in the same bed with Naruto was too much for him to bear, even after so much time keeping his feelings hidden.
So he took his comfort from a little distance. His senses tuned themselves to the familiar rhythms of three occupants of the small house, the subconscious priority on Akemi's breathing.
I'll be listening too, He thought to his sleeping friend.