Loko: This is in response to the 30kisses challenge over at (The URL should work, I think.) Will be multi-part eventually.

Disclaimer: Soooo not mine it's tragic.

Summary: Neji's looking, and Sasuke's not. SasuNeji, NaruNeji, implied SasuNaru­.

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Count

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It was unexpected. That much could be said.

Sasuke had frozen onto a limb and performed as rapid a genjutsu as he could manage, thinking as strongly as possible don't look over here, don't look over here, I'm uninteresting, don't look don't look don't look.

It was Neji, so Neji had looked.

Byakugan had spawned Sharingan, after all.

Sasuke had leapt: touch one branch, touch another, touch, touch, onetwothree count.

Neji had caught up, and remembered later to realise that catching up to Uchiha Sasuke was an unusual thing. At the time, though, he'd barely spoken, just:

"I thought you might have been involved."

It hadn't been as messy as some of the other incidents in which the Otonin had been involved – usually a roomful of gore, at least, marked the renegades hidden in sound. The alliance of nations hadn't even been quite able to detect whether it was Akatsuki or Otonin until the akatsuki had denied involvement. Which was also unusual. Most everything involving this mission had been unusual, and so –

"All this was your doing, then."

Neji doesn't ask questions. He sees answers and then twists them any way he likes.

Sasuke doesn't ask questions. He destroys them before they can reach his lips.

They've kept pace for a while since then, and Sasuke remembers later to realise that Hyuuga Neji not attacking as soon as possible was an unusual thing. At the time, though, he only says:

"Naruto got to you."

His mouth forms around the name eagerly, something it hasn't tasted in almost a year, something like sunlight, and yet Sasuke knows Naruto better than to just think that. It's disrespectful to that memory to just think sunshine and have done with it, so Sasuke does with that memory what he does with most he can't escape: ignores it.

"Yes," Neji acknowledges, and finally stops.

Sasuke skids and turns, one smooth halt, on the branch ahead. They stare at each other.

"You know," Neji says suddenly. "I may be cadet, but Uchiha is only an offshoot branch, not even cadet."

Sasuke nods. His family is not the oldest or the most powerful, but the Sharingan has surpassed the Byakugan in practicality already, and they both know it.

"Magenkyou," Neji says, and Sasuke starts.

"What?"

"Ma – gen – kyou," Neji enunciates. "Did you get that, yet?"

"Why would I tell you?" Sasuke says softly, hands slipping toward his kunai.

"That is a point," Neji nods. "You didn't kill Naruto."

"No," Sasuke says. "Obviously."

Even Magenkyou couldn't keep an illusion like that up so long. And Sasuke didn't get the Magenkyou. He couldn't kill Naruto – that was why. Neji slides carefully into Jyuuken position, the gentle swaying stance with the welcoming arms as if offering an embrace. Sasuke sees his opportunity and his eyes begin to fog red, although Neji hasn't yet summoned his kekkei genkai.

"No," Neji agrees. "You couldn't."

Sasuke closes his hand on his kunai.

"I have him," Neji says very quietly. "Do you understand?"

Sasuke colours, understanding and not caring not caring not. "Why do you think it matters to me?"

"It does," Neji says firmly.

"It does not," Sasuke says, calling into mind the image of his brother, painting with sure strokes the paleness of the face, deep lined teenager's face, and the eyes exactly like his own. It's easy, easier than picturing Naruto, whose face is too nuanced for Sasuke's artistry. "I congratulate you and wish you luck, former comrade."

"I," Neji pauses, and for a moment there is a stiffness to a stance that should be as fluid as a mother's rocking arms. "Have no luck."

Sasuke looks confused, although his crimsoned eyes read no emotion – not even Byakugan can understand what lies behind the swirling mirror-wheel eyes.

"He thinks we are alike, you and I."

"He thinks?" Sasuke says, childishly, and regrets it instantly. Neji's face frowns, naturally as expressionless as the Sharingan makes Sasuke, and his body relaxes back into threat.

"We are identical," Neji clarifies, and without any warning switches to Byakugan and attacks: "Hakke Rokujuyon Sho," He speaks decorously, almost politely, unlike other ninja who decry their attacks at the top of their lungs.

Sasuke has learned to watch and does, although not without penalty, despite his flying kunai dodging each other and clanging against themselves to aim back at their target's weak spot, but both he and Neji see and understand that they count at the same time:

"Ichi. Ni. San. Shi."

There is a moment between sixty (on target), sixty-two (not) and sixty-three (not, Sasuke's gotten better already) when both kekkei genkai lose focus and flicker off and suddenly they're standing there, still slightly off-balance from the forward-leaning technique, and Neji's standing slightly above Sasuke, who's crouched on the ground with kunai raised.

Neji leans forward, very carefully, as if afraid one or the other of them will break, and plucks the kunai out of Sasuke's motionless hand, and his dark hair slips forward and screens them both. Dark strands mingle against Sasuke's cheeks until they can't be separated, and Neji kisses Sasuke, and Sasuke kisses back.

When Neji returns, he says he fought one of the Otonin, but his opponent got away.

Naruto doesn't quite understand why Neji tastes like woodsmoke, but there are a few words and it's all explained away, like everything else in their relationship.

Between Sasuke and Neji, there are no illusions.

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words: 891

:bows: Feedback would be appreciated. Arigato, minna-sama.

Loko