Title : Bathhouse
Pairing : Sasuke/Neji
Rating : R
Warnings : Yaoi, semi-AU (fic is set several years after timeline), heavy lime, PWP-ish, mild romance
Disclaimer : Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. Not me.
Summary : A nekkid Neji and a going-to-be-nekkid Sasuke stumble onto each other in a bathhouse. Things get heated - fast.

It was overkill, and just a bit ridiculous maybe. But some things had to be taken care of.

Hyuuga Neji's eyes flew open. "Byakugan!" As the veins rippled around his eyes, pumping Chakra to his vision, Neji surveyed the surroundings carefully for any possibly people. So far, so good. Nothing moved. Nothing to suggest that there were people hidden within the cracks and folds of the –

A grimace descended on Neji's refined features.

Of the communal bathhouse.

The indignity of having to share something as personal and as sacred as bathroom privacy loomed over Neji like a death shroud. If not for his idiotic team members...Neji's hands twitched dangerously at the recollection of the stupid squabble between Lee and Tenten. It had resulted in a flying cup that somehow connected with Neji, drenching the Hyuuga descendant in green tea. Perfect timing. Hyuuga Neji had to go for a post-mission debrief with Godaime-sama in just an hour's time. There was no luxury of time of returning to his own home to bathe and change.

Seven years of being in the same team. Seven years of comradeship and surviving near-death wars. And still, Lee and Tenten were fully capable of bickering like a pair of imbeciles.

Neji clenched his teeth and picked his way carefully to the bathhouse, checking again to make sure nobody was around. Suffering the bathhouse was one issue, and actually sharing it with someone was another. Neji didn't think he could live it down, the idea of bathing with someone. He shuddered.

Picking his way with as much dignity as possible, Neji stepped into the bathhouse and surveyed it with critical eyes. It was...not that bad, actually, even Neji had to admit.

The bathhouse was a quaint wooden structure of slanting beams, large tubs and pails. The emerald green of willow trees waved delicately in the skylights and open shafts between beams. It was an almost...pretty place.

Neji had been expecting a derelict rat-hole of sorts, considering this bathhouse was built at the outskirts of the main village. Thank heavens his initial misgivings were proven wrong. Hygiene and aesthetic concerns now taken care of, Neji settled himself down.

He spared a glance of decided distaste at the clothes in his arms. They belonged to Lee. With all due respect to Lee, and some murderous rage because of his be-damned fight with Tenten, but Lee's taste in clothes ran into the sheer absurd. Essentially, Lee still dressed like Gai-sensei. Neji made a mental apology to the good sensei for he had no part in this whole debacle except for his questionable fashion sense.

Still, these clothes were clean. Neji sighed and set them on a ledge several feet away. Now he looked down at himself. This was a dreadful state indeed. His pristine white tunic was stained a light amber green at various places, and even on his pants. He caught a whiff of tea as his hair fell over one shoulder. And on his hair too, apparently.

With economical efficiency, Neji undressed himself. His tunic was the first to go, followed by his pants, and underwear. The last was the cord that held his hair away from his face. All of these were then folded in a neat pile which he placed beneath the ledge that held his change of clothes.

He tugged his hair loose impatiently as it tumbled all over his back and shoulders in a heavy fall. He spared his own body even lesser attention. Neji had no illusions when it came to his appearance. Already nineteen, he was aware of the appreciative glances cast his way by fellow female peers, and some male too. This told him one thing: he was relatively aesthetically attractive. However, Neji had precious little time to waste on such attention. Yes, he had had a drink or two with people. Yet it was just a way to fill in the spare time he had between the more important things like assignments he had undertaken since life had settled back down in the village. There was also his higher mission of breaching the divide in his clan.

Which brought his mind back to the impending meeting with Godaime-sama.

Kneeling down by the large bucket of water, Neji scooped some out with his pail and poured it over his head. It was cold and made his flesh prickle, but perfect otherwise for the sticky-warm summer day.

Neji closed his eyes, finally allowing himself to relax and enjoy the cool glide of water over his skin.

With a final leap, Uchiha Sasuke cleared the canopy and landed at the edge of the forest. He was still breathing hard from his earlier hours of training. It had been a tedious task, recovering fully from the wounds sustained over the years of wars, and an even greater challenge working his body back to its former prowess. Yet he was getting there.

The hours of work he put into his self-training served a different purpose at the same time. They kept him from thinking too much, occupied his waking hours so that he did not have to dwell on a life that went the way it did because of costly decisions, and...kept the villagers away from him. Forgiveness was a hard-earned gift, and he did not deserve it yet. Yet already he was seeing acceptance in the eyes of more and more villagers and his former shinobi peers. So perhaps...forgiveness was not so very far away.

The benign old couple living at the outskirts of the village was some of those people who had accepted his presence. Knowing that Sasuke spent the better part of the day training and returning to sleep in the small hut not far away from theirs, they would prepare their little bathhouse for his convenience. Sasuke was grateful for little acts of kindness like this.

Stepping lightly on the wooden stairs that led to the bathhouse, Sasuke peeled off his shirt, feeling the light breath of the breeze washing over his skin. This was one of the few luxuries he allowed himself. His own little space and time within the privacy of water and wood.

That was why he had not expected the extra presence in the bathhouse.

Sasuke came to an abrupt halt at the entrance.

The first thought was that it was a woman he was staring at – and that thought itself brought no small mortification to Sasuke - then he realised his mistake. True, the long hair was feminine, but everything else was decidedly masculine.

The figure kneeling by the bath tub was a study of striking contrasts. His body was a willowy frame of pale, smooth skin and lean muscles. And over this frame flowed waist-long hair as dark as the night sky.

Something clicked uncomfortably in Sasuke's mind. The only man he knew to have such hair was –

As if suddenly realising Sasuke's presence, the man whipped around, eyes already widened in horror.

Sasuke now found himself staring back at huge opalescent eyes.

Hyuuga Neji.

Neji had already finished rinsing himself. He stared at the large bath tub just some way away. He had a bit of time left. He had never tried soaking in such a large tub as this...since he was already at the bathhouse...There was no harm in it, was there...

So wrapped in his mental debate, Neji found himself already at the edge of the tub. Really, it should be no harm at all. He knelt down, about to slide one leg into the water, when he heard it.

The unmistakable sound of footsteps.

How could he not have detected the approach?!

Neji whirled around belatedly.

He saw the feet first, then the black pants. The naked upper body. The blank, handsome face of Uchiha Sasuke.

Neji's mouth fell open in a soundless gasp. Oh heavens, no...

Uchiha Sasuke was the last person in the universe that Neji wanted to be caught dead with in a bathhouse. If Neji's mind worked properly now, he would rationalise that there was just something about their backgrounds that mattered. It all demanded a certain measure of dignity, and Neji was positive his own now lay in shreds before Sasuke's cold, dark gaze.

"You..." Neji could barely keep from choking on his own words. "What are you doing here?!"

With admirable composure, Sasuke simply gave him a patented blank look, before snorting and stepping fully into the bathhouse. "It's a bathhouse. What do you think?" he answered flatly.

"I – I know it's a bathhouse!" Neji snarled, still frozen in the awkward position on the edge of the tub.

"Hn," Sasuke said mildly, stepping across the wooden flooring to place his own shirt on the ledge next to Neji's. "As long as you don't misunderstand that we're here for a picnic."

Neji's head snapped back like he had been slapped. "Is that an insult, Uchiha Sasuke?!"

"It's a point of observation," Sasuke said with a completely straight face. "You look like you've never been in a bathhouse."

Neji's cheeks burned, and he hoped feverishly that Sasuke would miss the blush on his face.

"I see..." There was an unmistakable hint of amusement in Sasuke's voice.

"I – " Neji glared heatedly. "I was here first. Get out and wait your turn."

This brought a startling reaction from Sasuke. The younger man wheeled around purposefully, a chilly smile on his sensual lips. "It's a public bathhouse, Hyuuga Neji. Why, are you too precious to share a bath with a commoner? It dirties your eyes to look upon anything you think is unworthy of your pedigree? Or is it because I'm Uchiha Sasuke?"

Neji drew in a sharp breath. His first instinct was to lash out, and apparently, Sasuke had expected that as well. The younger man's eyes already glowed red behind their usual obsidian. Yet Sasuke's words had also unknowingly drew the painful parallel between the demeaning comparison the Uchiha clan suffered when measured against the Hyuuga clan, and the similar indignity the Branch House knew at the hands of the Main House.

"No," Neji said quietly. "I don't mean that."

There was a small flicker of surprise in Sasuke's eyes, the Sharingan fading as swiftly as it had appeared. He lifted his shoulders in a careless shrug.

The next few moments were an uncomfortable blur as Neji tried not to watch Sasuke undress, and failed embarrassingly. It was like morbid fascination, seeing another naked body besides his own, and gods forbid, drawing comparisons. In one fell swoop, Neji discovered that Sasuke was as pale as he was, and that was where the similarity ended. Hardened by battle and training with a blade, Sasuke was muscular all over, without being bulky. Rather, he reminded Neji of a coiled snake. The same sleek musculature and deadly strength rippling beneath sinuous grace.

Lowering his head and sending a fall of ragged bangs over his face, Sasuke poured water over himself, from the same bucket that Neji had drawn from just earlier, and the running rivulets of water simply accentuated all the masculine angles of his body. Then Sasuke turned around in full nakedness, and Neji quickly looked away. There were some parts of the male anatomy that Neji didn't think he wanted to examine up close, even if it was Uchiha Sasuke, who encapsulated male beauty.

All right, that last thought was unbidden.

"How long are you going to stay like that?"

Neji looked down at himself, uncomfortably reminded of his own painful half-crouched posture. "I..." he fought the urge to cover himself. "I'm done bathing." Actually he wasn't, but he was certainly not going to admit it.

"Oh?" The smirk was back on Sasuke's lips as he strode towards the bath that Neij was hovering over. "Then you wouldn't mind if I use this."

"Wait!" Neji's voice sailed a little too high for his own comfort. "Let me get out of the bathhouse first."

One of Sasuke's brows arched eloquently. "I'm not stopping you."

"Turn – " Even at the risk of sounding like a prissy pansy, Neji had to say it. Bathhouse be damned, communal or not. "Turn around."

The sound was sudden, and strange, and Neji couldn't recognise it at first. It hit him a second later. It was laughter coming from Sasuke. Neji wondered grimly if it would count as a miracle, making the great emotional blackhole Sasuke laugh.

"Hyuuga Neji," Sasuke stood there with his hands on his hips, still naked, incidentally, and smirk-smiled at Neji. "You amuse me."

He would have said more insulting things, Neji was certain, if not for the interruption. Footfalls, again. Neji glanced wildly at the entrance of the bathhouse, half-expecting to see the whole Rookie 9 crew there gawking at him and Sasuke. But no...the footsteps had stopped outside the bathhouse, interspersed with loud, talking voices.

Sasuke had heard them too. He paused, a frown gathering at his brows. "I didn't think there'll be people at this time."

It was completely childish but Neji couldn't resist. "It's a bathhouse. What do you think?"

Sasuke's lip curled in grim humour

Outside, the footfalls resumed again, this time much louder.

Sasuke turned his head to look thoughtfully at the far end of the bathhouse. As if having made a quick mental decision, he bent and snatched up his clothes.

Neji sprung to his feet, his own nudity forgotten. "What are you doing?" He hissed, seeing that Sasuke looked like he was going to leave. "Where are you going?"

For a moment, it did look like Sasuke was just going to yank on his clothes and take off, leaving Neji to deal with the situation.

Then like a streak of lightning, Sasuke moved, reappearing by Neji's side in a flash. He clamped a hard hand around Neji's arm.

Neji barely had time to even gasp.

Turned out there was an opening right at the far end of the bathhouse. It was nearly invisible, and clearly known to only familiar patrons. Beyond it, lay a short winding walkway that led to a single wooden cubicle.

This was where they entered. Neji was practically flung into it, his back thudding against the wooden wall. Sasuke appeared a second later, pulling the rickety wooden door shut behind him.

Sasuke had just a bit more time to make sure they were not being followed, before he felt hands on his shoulders. Instantly, he found himself with his back against the wall, and a very furious Neji in his face.

"This," Neji spoke each syllable like he was biting its head off then spitting it out. "Is your idea of escape?"

Sasuke blinked into the narrowed opalescent eyes boring into his own. Actually, yes, he thought it was a very good idea. This way, they could avoid an inevitable clash with outsiders. And more importantly, Sasuke could still have his private time in the bath. With Hyuuga Neji, no less.

What had started as irritation at finding the proud, aloof Hyuuga occupying the bathhouse had gradually, but surely given way to a whole slew of...new possibilities.

Sasuke was no innocent to physical needs, not even to those that started as a slow burn in his guts to spread tingling thrills all over his nerves, demanding he spend himself on a willing body. The only problem lay not with finding one, but finding one that suited his tastes.

It hadn't taken long for his shrewd gaze to study Hyuuga Neji and identify each aspect that made him more and more a desirous partner. The slenderness that not even lean cords of sinew could hide, the pale, smooth skin, the girlishly narrow waist, and the fall of pretty hair.

As if sensing the unholy nature of Sasuke's thoughts, Neji pulled back a little, confused. "Say something, Sasuke! What are you, mute? Do you have any sense of courtesy at all? Not even a whit of it? I expect an apology for how you treated me earlier."

Sasuke wanted to guffaw, except it would worsen the situation to an abysmal degree, and it would not be in Sasuke's favour. He wondered if all Hyuuga men were like that – that they talked like that, so presumptuous, demanding, arrogant...and decidedly interesting. If anything, he already guessed, correctly, that the Hyuuga descendants were a sheltered lot, even the Branch House. He could imagine Neji as a child, pampered from all sides. No doubt Neji would have been a prodigiously talented child, and precocious in temperament too, but that would mean that his family members would have jealously protected him even more, afraid to share their precious child with the world.

Well, now that precious boy was trapped in the same cubicle with Uchiha Sasuke, and nowhere to run to.

Sasuke guessed again, and this time it would not be far from the truth either, that Neji was much unschooled in the arts of physical pleasure. It was so very evident, as Sasuke slowly, purposely slid his gaze down the entire length of Neji's body, from the way Neji flushed and shifted as though he wanted badly to cover himself and only masculine pride prevented him from doing so.

"Don't – " Neji growled in fairly strangled tones. "Don't stare! It's rude!"

Sasuke could think of ruder things to do to the scandalised Hyuuga, but he wisely kept them as thoughts for the time being. Instead, he let his gaze settle on the man's slim thighs, and the tempting arch of delicate hip-bones.

"Stop looking at me like that."

It was the tone in Neji's voice that made Sasuke look up from his scrutiny. Standing very stiffly, and faintly shaking, Neji looked stricken. Sasuke realised with a start that the shimmer radiating from the Hyuuga was actually Chakra vibrating all over Neji in distress, and made worse by Uchiha Sasuke witnessing the whole wretched situation. Sasuke supposed it was really bad for Neji. From nineteen years of austere, pristine living, to all in one day, descending to the humiliating depths of being laid out like an exhibition for Sasuke's viewing pleasure.

"Very well," Sasuke said with finality and a glint in his eyes. "Let's finish what we've started."

Neji just looked more confused. Sasuke spared a second to make sure that the Hyuuga did not have his Jyuuken to fore; Sasuke had no wish to be exchanging taijutsu moves in a tiny cubicle barely able to fit two grown men. He reached out, snagged his arm around a pale waist, and pulled.

Now he had Neji back in his face again.

"What – !" Neji began, realising belatedly the position he was in, and starting to struggle. "Let go – or I'll – "

"Stop moving."

"Then let go!"

Sasuke let go, so suddenly Neji almost stumbled. He reached up to flick on the very primitive wooden water dispenser, sending a crisp shower of water cascading onto both of them. "There's one shower," Sasuke reminded Neji as a matter-of-factly. "And there're two of us. I suppose you're in a hurry."

"The meeting – " Neji gasped, remembering something. "I have a meeting with – I'll be late!" His opalescent eyes glared at Sasuke as if it was all Sasuke's fault. In retrospect, that would not be far from the truth.

"Then we do have to hurry," Sasuke said agreeably, moving nearer to Neji.

The cubicle was truly too small for them, and the water from the shower was more a trickle than anything else. Sasuke had no complaints. The only way to share this cubicle was to stand very close to each other. And Neji allowed it, compelled by the situation. He turned, keeping his back resolutely to Sasuke, so that all Sasuke could see was a stream of wet dark hair ending just above the tantalising swells of buttocks.

Sasuke took a slow, long breath. It had been a while since his body had demanded satisfaction and Neji had unwittingly presented himself in a very inviting position, and still Sasuke had not done anything. There was something almost ironic in his choice of Hyuuga Neji. There would be no surrender without a fight when it came to Neji. And Sasuke would not take what he want by force. Perhaps in the darkest abysses of his mind there lay the bloody fascination of possessing something he knew could challenge him, and then tearing it apart to watch it bleed. Yet Sasuke had left those dark dreams behind a long time ago, and he had no wish to return to them.

However, it was not like Sasuke either, to be left unsatisfied and wanting without doing something about it. He studied Neji's hair again, deciding to find out for himself if it felt as soft as it looked. Lifting a hand, he tangled his fingers into the dark silk.

Neji reacted instantly, as if already expecting Sasuke to make a move on him – an interesting thought – and lashed out with a backward palm. Sasuke's reflexes reacted almost by instinct. He caught Neji's wrist easily, trapping it against Neji's chest.

"Relax," Sasuke said into his ear. "I'm not doing anything. I'm just – " he paused, searching for the right expression. " – helping you wash your hair."

"That's doing something!"

"True," Sasuke admitted, then decided to go for the low blow. "But it'll help you save time and energy." There was a good chance it'd work under these trying circumstances.

And it did. "Whatever. Just hurry," Neji snapped, tugging his wrist free and letting it dangle by his side.

Whatever the meeting was, it must be very important, Sasuke mused to himself. And likely, Neji had also resigned himself to the reality of enduring this whole bathhouse encounter as best as he could. But he didn't waste too much time on just thinking. What was more significant was that Neji had given him the go-ahead to touch him.

Sasuke rested his fingers on Neji's scalp, then dragged his fingers down through the thick, wet hair, separating the locks under the water. He repeated this again and again, each time as gently as he could with hands more used to wielding a blade, until Neji's shoulders relaxed and even swayed back towards Sasuke.

It was all about timing. The moment Neji felt comfortable enough to actually lean against Sasuke, Sasuke's hands slipped under hair to rest on the skin of Neji's back. Neji went rigid again.

"So, why are you here?" Sasuke began speaking.

A hesitant pause, then Neji sighed crossly. "Lee was being...his usual self and he made Tenten angry."

"What did he say?" Sasuke slid his palms up Neji's back, easing over knots of tension under the smooth skin.

"He made fun of her hair – well, knowing Lee, he didn't do it on purpose. He was just – "

"Being Lee," Sasuke suggested.


"What did he say about her hair?" Sasuke probed. His hands were now on the rounded tops of Neji's shoulders. He rubbed them slowly. "That they looked like buns?"

"Like rice balls." The laugh in Neji's wry tone was unmistakable.

Even Sasuke almost sniggered at that. His hands however, had not forgotten their purpose. They slipped back down, tracing a path over Neji's defined shoulder blades, before sliding around and up sleek planes of Neji's chest.

Neji's breath caught. "Sasuke – "

"You still haven't told me how you ended up here," Sasuke reminded him. It was like trying to soothe a cornered wild creature. But Sasuke was a master at taming such creatures.

There was no way Neji would be unaware of what Sasuke was trying to do now, even innocent as he was. Not when Sasuke's hands were caressing over his abdomen and chest. Above them, the water trickled to a slow stop. Sasuke's touch was all Neji would feel now.

"I..." Neji's voice was a brittle, tensed breath. "They started arguing...threw things...Tenten's teacup landed on me..."

Sasuke's lips curled into a triumphant smile. The absence of an objection from Neji was as a moment of revelation to him. This was consent from the proud Hyuuga. Confident he would not be struck again, Sasuke dared to brush his fingers over the pert nipples standing out from Neji's chest. He heard the soft hiss from Neji and decided he liked the sound of it.

"Why didn't you avoid it?" Sasuke continued, dipping his head so that he could speak against the contour of Neji's ear.

"I couldn't..." Neji had his eyes closed as if he couldn't bear to see what Sasuke was doing to him. Yet he was feeling it, every little sensation, and his body, so unused to teasing, responded with a virginal eagerness. "I can't..."

Sasuke stilled his hand on Neji's belly, where he had been rubbing slow circles. The evidence of Neji's arousal rose in a blood-flushed length against his abdomen. It would be easy to take Neji like this, the Hyuuga descendant already a quivering mass of intoxicated need. And Sasuke would have done so too, not so long ago. Yet his lovers of the past were not like this man in his arms now.

Sasuke's mouth curved into a smile at Neji's ear. "You win, Hyuuga," he said, too softly for Neji to hear. Gripping Neji's chin with one hand, Sasuke jerked his face around so that he could see every expression on the sculpted features. "Look at me," he commanded.

It took several heartbeats before Neji obeyed, snapping his eyes open, and revealing their opalescent depths to Sasuke's intense gaze. Sasuke studied those eyes, reading the vulnerability, the pride, the shame, and most of all, the desire in them. Yet silent surrender was not enough for Sasuke.

Lifting Neji's face and lowering his own so that their lips were a hair's breadth away, Sasuke spoke against that quivering mouth with harsh clarity. "Do you know what this means?" He thrust his body against Neji, the unmistakable blunt hardness of his own erection and his barely-controlled need digging into Neji's back. Opalescent eyes widened further, and Sasuke smiled mirthlessly.

"I want you, Hyuuga Neji. And I want to hear you say it. I want you to tell me that you want this."

Again that storm of emotions in Neji's eyes, longing and fear warring in equal forces. Submission was not something a Hyuuga would concede easily. Not something Hyuuga Neji, whose pride was too often the only thing he had left to protect, would concede easily.

For the second time, Sasuke felt the breath rush from him as he was swerved and slammed up against the wall.

Neji held him there, not by brute strength, but by the lethality in the palm he held against Sasuke's neck. They were so close Sasuke felt the burning brands of their erections pressed between their bodies. Neji wanted this as much as he did, that much was obvious, but the situation had taken an unexpected twist – Sasuke certainly had not expected the tables to turn at this point – and he wanted to find out what lay around the bend.

Now Neji read him with those all-seeing, luminous eyes of his. Sasuke wondered what he looked like reflected in those pale orbs, what Neji was seeing in him. Between the two, and it was a thought both bitter and enlightening at the same time, Neji had the better vision.

"I want this."

Sasuke almost missed those words, barely above a whisper they were and spoken in one shuddering breath of surrender. But Sasuke heard those words anyhow, and that was all that was needed.

Surging forward, he drew their mouths together in a crush, silenced the gasp from Neji and taught him the simple pleasure of taste through lips and tongue. Neji's mouth moved clumsily against his, but Sasuke felt the purity in those unschooled kisses and knew they were sweeter than the most skilled caresses from his past lovers.

When they finally drew apart, Sasuke still held Neji by the chin, their faces so close that his own breath was warm over Neji's and Neji could not turn to hide the flushed red of his cheeks.

"Have you ever..." Sasuke began, and trailed off.

"What?" Neji blinked, confused. Then he understood abruptly what Sasuke was asking, and he flinched, lips pressing into a thin line. "I had teachers and masters who watched me day and night in training. I'm never left alone – do you think I – "

"No I don't," Sasuke kissed him again, slower this time, but no less demanding. Sasuke had no gentleness to offer, and he wouldn't expect Neji to need any. Not for two men who knew the better part of their lives fighting and living even when death came too close.

"I'm a very good teacher as well," Sasuke's mouth curved into a smirk as he looped an arm around Neji's waist, his free hand rising to wrap around Neji's length.

Neji would have jerked away, like Sasuke had expected, but Sasuke's arm held him fast. Even if Neji had consented to the situation, his instincts still bid him to run. Before Neji's senses could clear and react, Sasuke began stroking the hardening flesh in his hand. Fingertips first, feathering light touches up and down the entire length.

Neji was biting down on his lip to stifle his own sounds, almost drawing blood, even as his hips undulated towards Sasuke. Sasuke complied, tightening his hold, massaging Neji's erection in long drags until it swelled to full hardness. He slid his thumb over the dripping head, drawing more of that wetness, teasing at the slit until Neji's head arched back in a soundless sob.

Sasuke lowered his mouth to take the arc of neck offered to him, biting hungry kisses over the pale skin. Neji's body writhed within the prison of Sasuke's arms.

Kissing up the slender throat, Sasuke quickened his strokes over the engorged member in his grip, until he drew the shuddering climax from Neji. The Hyuuga froze against him, helpless in his climax, deep moans finally wrung free from him as Sasuke milked the last of his release.

They remained locked in stillness for several moments; Neji's forehead pressing into Sasuke's shoulder; Sasuke's arm still loosely holding Neji in an almost-embrace. Sasuke kept still even as Neji finally stirred and raised his head. Sasuke himself had not found relief yet, his arousal still achingly hard.

"May I?" Neji said solemnly but almost shyly as he kept his gaze resolutely fixed on the wall behind Sasuke.

"Yes, you may," Sasuke quirked a smile, tickled by Neji's peculiarity for etiquette even at a moment like this.

Sasuke watched Neji's pale hands as they hovered hesitantly. Neji seemed almost overwhelmed at the prospect of having to pleasure another body. Those hands finally cupped Sasuke's face; he inhaled a little too sharply as Neji's luminous gaze trapped his own.

"Look at me," Neji said quietly.

Neji's hair had shifted, revealing the seal branded into his forehead by the unforgiving hand of his clan. Sasuke looked at him, at the delicate features now set in childlike concentration, at the seal of the caged bird that could never hope to trap the spirit that lay within Neji, at Neji's eyes and how they reminded him of the moon. And Sasuke kept looking at him, even as Neji's hands left his face to slide down his body in gentle caresses, following but not mirroring the path that Sasuke had mapped on his body.

Sasuke had thought Neji to be as tentative and shy when giving pleasure as receiving it. He did not expect it when a firm hand closed around his arousal, and stroked him with bold sureness, if a lack of skill. Neji's free hand wandered over him, leaving a tingling trail in its wake, rousing Sasuke's senses like no lover he had in the past ever had.

Pleasure thrummed in a relentless wave through him, and Sasuke clenched his teeth to silence himself, more out of habit than a valiant attempt at protecting his dignity. There had been too many encounters, hard and fast and dangerous, when an errant sound could lead to death. Sasuke had learned to swallow his whimpers, stifle his cries against his arm until it was bloody from his teeth.

When Sasuke came in a white rush that blanked his mind, Neji's mouth was there and Sasuke kissed him with a brutality that was painful as much as it was desperate. He had closed his eyes, he realised, only when he opened them later, and found Neji's opalescent gaze still enveloping him.

"Was that...adequate?"

There was a thread of anxiety in Neji's tone that made him sound so young; Sasuke had a vision of a little Neiji excelling at everything he was taught yet still eager to please. It was an oddly touching image.

"More than adequate," Sasuke said with a straight face, and backed up his claim with a squeeze of firm buttocks that promised darker pleasure and drew an undignified yelp from Neji.

"Uchiha Sasuke! That was hardly appropriate! Now look – "

Sasuke shut him up with a last kiss.

Eventually he had had the meeting with Godaime-sama, albeit several days later, together with the rest of his team. She had been understanding, and even sympathetic, apparently well-aware of the volatile dynamics within Team Gai. She had laughed too, when hearing about what had happened to him.

Neji was relieved, knowing that his tardiness had not resulted in any negative repercussions. Of course, he had left out the true events in the bathhouse. Even at her most patient, he doubted the Godaime-sama would appreciate the salacious details of bathhouse encounters.

Neji had not returned to the bathhouse since.

He walked along the winding corridor with a light step. Outside, the sky was a pure azure. He had counted the flock in the distance. Sixteen birds, fluttering in the sky like wisps of ribbons. When he reached his room, he toed off his sandals and slipped into the dim, soothing interior of his quarters.

The figure on his futon stirred. "You're late."

Neji arched an elegant brow. "Are you complaining? Considering you're always the one delaying me..."

"Come here."

Neji obeyed, but paused at the edge of his futon. The figure had turned around, the blanket slipping low to reveal swathes of bare skin. Neji's breath caught, then left his chest in a rush as he was grabbed by a long arm, and tugged roughly onto the futon.

Night-black eyes gleamed down at Neji.

I want you, Hyuuga Neji. And I want to hear you say it. I want you to tell me that you want this.

"You want it. Come get it yourself," Neji snorted wryly as a mouth, hard and demanding with a chilled fire that belonged only to Uchiha Sasuke, descended on his.

June 2007