Warning: No beta (Beware!) Three original genin-characters, but they don't do much, so ignore them and lookit the pretty Neji/Shika instead.
Notes: Sometimes I just sit down and write, with no direction or idea for my thoughts. Occasionally, something good falls out.
In case you missed it the first time: Fic contains Shounen-ai (boy/boy love)
Neji grimaced and gripped his shoulder, digging in with his fingers to try and ease the sudden spasm of pain. He hadn't realized he'd strained it so badly.
Walking meekly at his side, Akimichi Saiko saw the motion and went red-cheeked with shame.
"I'm sorry, Neji-sensei," she said for possibly the twentieth time since he had prevented her fall into that spear-lined pit. Even at eleven, she was not a small child by anyone's definition of the word and the jolt when Neji grabbed her had very nearly dislocated his shoulder. He should have known better than to use his weaker arm.
"I know, Saiko," Neji said evenly, "However, I'm more concerned with the damage you might have suffered if I hadn't been there. Don't be so careless next time." Damage nothing; a solid landing on those bamboo spears would have proved fatal. Neji's heart was still racing.
Saiko's round face reddened further from the scolding. "Yes, sensei," she said miserably, hands instantly delving into her pockets for the snacks she ate whenever nervous.
Neji held back a sigh and released his shoulder, rolling it to loosen the muscles. Up ahead, Katsutori was walking backwards with his arms folded behind his head and a thoughtful expression on his impish face. Half a dozen feet to the left of him, Takagawa Heigan was nose deep in the book he'd pulled out upon returning to the village, seemingly ignoring them all.
"We should build like, an obstacle course," Katsutori said seriously, fingers twitching against his forearms, "Or something. With lots of and lots of traps. Pits and trip wires and nets and---"
"What for?" Saiko mumbled around a mouthful of crackers.
"For you, duh," he said and then added hurriedly as her face began to crumble, "And for us, too. Training, you know. We'll construct a really long course and the goal is to make it all the way through without setting off a single trap."
"Would that really help?" Saiko asked timidly as she fumbled with the cracker bag. Katsutori nodded enthusiastically.
"Yep, and when we complete it, Neji-sensei will take us out for beef!" he concluded, shooting his teammate a cheeky grin.
"Yay!" Saiko cried, thrusting one arm up into the air triumphantly. Heigan, as always, didn't even seem to be listening.
"Thank you for volunteering my funds, Katsutori," Neji said, favoring the child with a cold look.
Katsutori winced and laughed guiltily. "But it's a good idea, right Neji-sensei?"
Neji gave the proposed training method all due consideration. "Yes," he said shortly.
The grin broadened. "Great! I'll draw up some plans tonight," said Katsutori. He picked up a rock from the ground and flung it unerringly at Heigan.
The dark-haired boy caught the projectile without even looking up from his book. "You wanted something?"
"You're in on this too, right?" Katsutori said, his voice gaining a gruff, dangerous note that was only partially for show.
"I might as well," Heigan said vaguely, turning a page and sidestepping trashcan with equal ease. "We'll need to find a place to put it. I don't think the village would appreciate us bobby-trapping the local parks."
"Don't know, might put some of the old geezers back on their toes," Katsutori laughed.
Saiko left Neji's side to walk between her two teammates, offering helpfully, "There's plenty of space on my family's land. I can ask the clan-head tomorrow..."
Neji slowed to a stop and smiled slightly, watching them talk. Duty done for the day, he folded his hands into a familiar seal and teleported home.
There was a body in the front entrance.
Neji froze in the doorway, heart nearly stopping for the second time that afternoon and franticly scanned it for any sign of blood or injury. He was vastly relieved to find nothing major.
The body began snoring.
Mouth tightening in haughty disgust, Neji closed the door behind him and toed off his sandals. "The least you could have done is passed out in the living room," he scolded it, "The remaining fifteen feet wouldn't have killed you."
Stepping over the prone form, Neji entered his home, shedding flak vest and various weaponry as he went. Once in the bedroom, he stored them on their proper shelves and hooks, everything fitting right back into where he'd taken it from this morning.
He knelt down in front of his dressing stand and placed his carefully folded headband on the little shelf below the mirror. The bands he wore underneath it were removed and stored with less care. He looked at himself briefly in the mirror, eyes passing over the mark on his forehead with less malice then he'd had just five years previously, and continued undressing.
In the middle of pulling his shirt off over his head, Neji twisted his bad shoulder just enough to send a surge pain radiating up and down his back. He froze and clenched his teeth together, holding in the undignified screech that wanted to come out. Right. Stupid move. Just breathe deep and go slow.
He was very carefully trying to pull the material up without aggravating his shoulder any further when a pair of warm, familiar hands stopped him. Neji obligingly went still as the hands gripped the bottom his shirt and eased it off with no more than a wince on his part.
"What did you do this time?" came the grouchy question as long fingers instantly went to work on aching muscles.
"Weren't you asleep, Shikamaru?" Neji said evasively, frowning at the other man's dark face. The frown eased as Shikamaru's talented fingers continued their work along his shoulder and bicep.
"Your heartwarming 'welcome home' roused me from the depths of slumber," Shikamaru said dryly, brushing Neji's hair back and grazing the side of his neck with rough fingertips. Neji let his eyes drift closed under the attention.
"It offends me that were accepted into the most elite ninja force that Konoha has to offer," he mumbled, head falling forward as Shikamaru moved around behind him and spread the massage to both shoulders.
"Appalling how the ANBU have disintegrated over the years," Shikamaru said agreeably, lightening his touch as he approached the mass of scar tissue and off-colored skin just below Neji's right shoulder blade, "I blame it on Naruto."
"He joined *after* you did," Neji pointed out coolly, letting out a gasp and arching forward as Shikamaru reached his lower back, "The standards had already been lowered. There was no possible way he could have made it worse."
"You say that because you've never worked with the bastard," Shikamaru scoffed, and then yawned. It was not his usual 'I'm so bored I can't be bothered to stay awake' yawn or even his 'you aren't worth my time' yawn. It was more like his 'I've been on my feet for god knows how long and its a fucking miracle I'm still alive' yawn. Neji could tell the difference.
He turned around and cupped that narrow face in his hands. Shikamaru's eyes had a perpetually tired look about them, but there was a difference between the usual lazy sleepiness and the dark bruise of honest exhaustion. Neji could recognize that, too.
"When did you last sleep?" he asked, in the same serious, but less biting tone as before.
"Besides at the front door you mean?" Shikamaru drawled, elegant eyebrows arching, "What did you do to your shoulder?"
Neji frowned in annoyance, but Shikamaru was obviously unimpressed. He caught Neji's hands before the jounin could pull away, holding them to his face.
"It was a D-class mission," Neji said sharply, as if continuing from a previous conversation, "Because the client failed to mention that their yard was booby trapped from one end to the other. We were clearing out the dead underbrush when Kastutori found the first trap. Not more than five minutes after I warned them to *pay attention*, Saiko stumbled right into a concealed pit."
"Chouji's cousin?" Shikamaru said thoughtfully, "You had to drag her out?"
"No, I had to stop her from going in. There were spears at the bottom," Neji said, his hands tightening slightly, "I should kill the person who convinced me to take a genin team."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll hold Hakage-sama down for you."
"Hmph," Neji snorted, feeling the shape of Shikamaru's cheekbones with his thumbs, "How did they do it? Our teachers, I mean. How could they watch genin like Naruto and Lee and Hinata-sama and your entire team---"
"---struggle through even the simplest missions, and then send them to something like the chuunin exams with a straight face?"
"You led a squad up until last year and had to send them into possible death more than once. It's the same in the end." Shikamaru titled his head so that his lips grazed Neji's palm, his dark eyes gazing seriously into Neji's ice pale ones. "There is no 'how'. You did it because..."
"...I had to."
"Just so," Shikamaru said, closing his eyes and sagging into Neji's hold.
"Three days," he said, not straightening up, "It would have been seven, but Naruto slipped something into my rations on the fourth day. He denies it, but I know it was him."
Neji made a mental note to thank Naruto later. He freed his hands from Shikamaru's hold and pulled off the mask the other man still wore around his neck. "Take off your clothes and go to bed."
Shikamaru fell backwards on the tatami mat. "Undress me, I'm too tired to bother."
"So sleep in your uniform," Neji said calmly, stretching up on his knees to put the mask on a hook in the wall, its black and red mouth curving into an almost demonic smirk below the dog-like nose.
Shikamaru groaned dramatically and struggled up to his feet to strip off his arm guards, gloves, and chest plate. Despite his words, Neji helped him out of his equipment and placed them neatly on a nearby chest. His fingers wandered as cloth and leather was pulled away, tracing over tan skin and well-defined muscles, finding scars both familiar and new.
Soon as they were done, Shikamaru dropped boneless into Neji's futon, letting out an explosive sigh as his body relaxed. His eyes were bare slits as he watched Neji clean up the rest of the clothing. "I'm home," he said softly, pulling back the blanket invitingly.
Neji took off his pants and joined Shikamaru on the bed, resting his head on a shoulder that was warm, solid, and very much living. "Welcome back."