Watching Clouds and Birds
Confessions over Shougi
Shikamaru moved the piece forward, then leant back on his elbows, eyes returning once more to the sky. "Checkmate," he said, almost as an afterthought.
There was the sound of crunching, then a 'huh', and Shikamaru sighed. Chouji was a fine friend, and an excellent ninja, but he couldn't play a good game of Shougi if his next meal depended on it.
In fact, he doubted if anyone could, except for Asuma, but the Jounin was out on an S-ranked mission. Ino squawked too much when she lost, Naruto and Kiba could barely keep still for the first move and it just wasn't Sakura or Hinata's thing. Shino was smart, but his intelligence didn't necessarily translate to strategy games, and to be honest Shikamaru didn't feel up to asking him. Sasuke might have been an option, if he wasn't a) a jerk, and b) absent from Konoha. Shikamaru knew better than to even mention him, especially with Naruto around.
Slowly, his eyes flicked from the clouds to the grounds they were in. It was strangely peaceful, the Rookie Nine minus one just hanging out after training most of the day. It was rare these days for them to all be together, and Shikamaru had the feeling it was going to just get rarer from here.
"Another game?" Chouji asked. Shikamaru sighed, shaking his head.
"I need a challenge," he muttered. His friend shrugged, not offended, and opening another packet. He offered it to Shikamaru, who took one with a small smile.
There was a noise from the bottom end of the fields, before Naruto's unmistakable voice yelled out, "Fuzzy-brows!"
"Naruto! It is good to see you once more! Sakura-chan, you are also here!"
Shikamaru frowned. Great, another noisy person. Rock Lee was gesturing at Sakura, saying something in a loud voice that sounded suspiciously like 'glad to see you enjoying your springtime of youth'. He decided not to ask.
Behind Lee were his two teammates. Tenten waved at Hinata and then Ino, seeming comfortable with the younger shinobi. Neji was doing a good job of pretending he wasn't there. Shikamaru wondered how his teammates had persuaded him to actually socialise with anyone, let alone those he considered weaker.
Or maybe not, at least not four of them. All five who had set out on that ill-fated rescue attempt appreciated the others' talents more. Shikamaru watched as Neji nodded, first to Naruto who waved manically, then to Kiba.
"Shika," Chouji started, drawing his attention. "Neji's good at strategy, right? He worked out your plan when we were in Jirobo's trap. And he's said to be a genius."
He considered that. Normally talking to someone arrogant like the Hyuuga was too troublesome, but Shikamaru really wanted a good game of Shougi. He probably didn't even know how to play. Still, there was nothing to lose.
"Neji." He didn't bother to raise his voice, but Neji obviously picked it out over the sounds of the others. His head turned, pinning Shikamaru with those eerie white eyes. "Want a game?"
He didn't blink as Neji held his gaze, letting the other see there was no trick involved. He just wanted a game. No hint of his feelings showed on his face, and Shikamaru was about to give up and turn away when the other nodded slightly, walking over to them. Both ignoring the startled stares from the others, Shikamaru set the board up as Neji sat down.
A little distance away, Ino, Sakura and Tenten watched with something akin to fascination. "I don't get it," muttered Sakura.
"Well, they were together on the…you know. I think Neji was impressed with Shikamaru's leadership skills. And he does like playing Shougi occasionally."
"Yeah, and Shikamaru's been dying for a new opponent. He knows everyone else's patterns."
"Yeah, okay, but…" Sakura trailed off, watching as they both moved the counters, neither looking up nor speaking. Shikamaru had his legs loosely crossed, elbows resting on his knees as he slouched, while Neji knelt, back straight and posture perfect. The contrast between the two couldn't have been more obvious. "…I don't get it."
Privately, Ino and Tenten agreed.
Twenty minutes into the game, and neither had yet to look up. By then the novelty had worn off and attention had focused elsewhere. Shikamaru rested his chin on his laced fingers and studied the board. He watched Neji's hand moved, eyes taking in the layout, before allowing a small, satisfied smile. He moved a piece, and waited.
Neji reached out to counter, before stopping. Frowning slightly, he looked at the board again, obviously just realising something. For the first time in the game, Shikamaru looked up. He took on those intense eyes, that slight frown, the narrow line of his mouth, all showing his concentration and frustration. But he also took in the relaxed shoulders and loose hands. Whether he realised it or not, Neji was having fun, or at least as much fun as the stoic Hyuuga could have.
Then Neji managed to do something impressive. He surprised Shikamaru.
"Huh?" Shikamaru blinked at him.
The other looked into his eyes, calm. "I forfeit," he repeated patiently.
An eyebrow rose, scornful. His mouth twisted mockingly. "Because I cannot win, obviously."
Shikamaru's eyes dropped to the board. He was right; he couldn't win, but still…
"You couldn't win from the start," Shikamaru pointed out. It was boasting, or arrogance. It was a simple statement of fact.
Instead of getting indignant, like he'd half expected, Neji inclined his head forward. "Perhaps not. But there was a chance. Now, you have trapped me. In less than five moves, no matter what I do, you will check me. So I forfeit."
Shikamaru looked down at the board again, bemused. It was such a strange thing to do. Not really surrendering, but recognising that there was nothing he could do, and cutting his losses. Predicting his opponents move and knowing when to fall back. Naruto would have called it cowardice. Giving up. But it was smart. It was safe. It was…
…what Shikamaru would have done.
Shikamaru looked up at a movement, and saw Neji beginning to rise. He frowned. "Wait." Neji looked at him, and Shikamaru floundered for a second, wondering why he said it. Then he realised.
The game had been entertaining. Challenging. Shikamaru hadn't had time to look at the clouds, or think about his last mission, or think up ways to avoid his mum's lecture for not cleaning his bedroom. "Another game?"
Neji stared at him, appraising. It was unnerving really. Those opaque eyes could see down to his soul, stripping him of all defences. He remembered him in the preliminaries, ripping Hinata to shreds with just his words. Watching her body language, finding her every weakness and using it to end the match without even a blow. And if Naruto hadn't been there, he might have succeeded.
Still, Shikamaru met his eyes with his own half-lidded, bored. Not really caring if he stayed or went. No expectations, no pressure. From the side there was a yell, and Neji looked over to see Lee brawling with Naruto, Tenten giggling with the girls. A contemptuous look flashed in his eyes. And, really, who else could he sit with? Hinata? That almost made Shikamaru laugh.
Then Shikamaru blinked, startled to see Chouji sitting with Kiba, both watching the two idiots going head to head. When had he left?
Neji sat back down. "Very well". Shikamaru turned his attention off Chouji and onto his opponent.
Maybe this time he could check Neji before the other had time to forfeit.
They were in their third game when they were forcibly stopped. As usual for Konoha, the only warning was a couple of drops before the sky opened up and everyone in the field was soaked.
Due to his habit of endlessly watching the sky, Shikamaru usually knew when it was about to rain. So now he stared blankly upwards at the dark sky, wondering just when so many clouds had gathered. How long had they been playing?
Whoever was still in the grounds began squealing or yelling, starting to rush to the nearest covering. Neji also stood up, and Shikamaru felt a twinge of regret. In the last game, he'd been forced to concentrate his mind, hands forming a circle with the fingertips touching, a move that had got him through the third Chuunin exam. Only Asuma had made him do that in a Shougi game before.
"Want to continue at my house?" It was out before he could consider it, but as long as they could avoid his mother it wasn't too bad an idea. The look Neji threw him seemed to disagree.
"We will lose the placements of the pieces," he pointed out.
Shikamaru shrugged. "I'll remember them."
Neji seemed to think about it, each second getting them more and more wet, while Shikamaru put away the game. Finally he nodded. "I do not have to be back yet."
"Come on." Shikamaru turned and starting walking without checking to see if Neji followed. He'd already agreed, and if he didn't, then he didn't. He also didn't bother walking quicker than normal – they were already wet.
When they reached his house, slipping off their shoes, Shikamaru was relieved to find out his mum had gone to a friend's house, and his dad had left for a mission before breakfast this morning. He wasn't sure why this relieved him, if only to avoid his mother's nagging and questioning why a member of one of Konoha's greatest clans was in their kitchen dripping water on the tiles.
Water. Right. He left the room, heading to the bathroom and grabbing two towels before heading back. Neji hadn't moved from just inside the door, looking around cautiously. Shikamaru noticed his unease but didn't mention it, instead throwing him one of the towels.
"Make yourself at home." He knew he wouldn't, but at least the invitation to relax was there. To be honest, Shikamaru didn't blame him. He'd probably be just as wary in the Hyuuga estate. Well, maybe not quite as wary, but Neji seemed to be a natural worrier to him.
He decided to let him get his bearings by himself, putting the Shougi board and pieces next to the fire to dry it. It was only a cheap set, after all. He headed to his bedroom to grab his spare, and was relieved to see that Neji had actually ventured further into the room when he came down. The Hyuuga was looking at some photographs with interest, but when Shikamaru entered the room he turned away and stepped back a step.
Ignoring him, he set up the board on the kitchen table. "Want something to eat?" Neji grunted. Deciding to take that as a yes, Shikamaru snatched some bottles of water, fruit and a couple of crisps he kept handy for Chouji. He threw them all on the kitchen table and began setting the pieces up to how they were before without looking up.
Shikamaru was grimly amused to note it was like taming the Nara's wild deer. You have to pretend you don't notice them, moving smoothly and carefully and making no noises. By the time everything was set up Neji had drank some of the water and was studying an apple dubiously.
Reaching for some crisps, Shikamaru said, "Your move."
A couple of minutes later, his eyes drifted to the Hyuuga's hair. The towel was resting over his shoulders so the hair dripped onto it instead of his back, but that didn't do anything to dry it. Shikamaru's own towel was wrapped around his hair turban style. He knew he looked like a girl, but it was better than catching a cold and Neji hadn't said anything.
"Your hair will take an age to dry."
Neji paused slightly, hand lifting a pierce, before continuing the movement. "That doesn't matter."
"It'll dry strange." Okay, now Shikamaru looked and sounded like a girl. By the small smirk on Neji's face, it was obvious he thought so too. Fortunately, he still didn't say anything.
"It always dries straight."
Shikamaru blinked, then smiled slowly. He couldn't wait to see Ino's face when he told her Neji had nicer hair than her without doing anything while she must spend a good hour a day, at least. She'll blow a fuse.
The silence continued with the game, broken only by the constant patter of rain on the windows. He knew his mum wouldn't return until the downpour was over, if then. She was impossible to shut up when she got going. He'd been relieved to enter the Academy so she couldn't drag him along with her any more.
For some reason, all girls seemed to chatter a lot. Even the skilled kunoichi like Temari and Tenten talked too much. Speaking of Tenten, that reminded him of something he wanted to know.
"It's strange Tenten didn't wait for you."
Neji looked up, the expression on his face telling Shikamaru exactly what he felt was strange. Huh, if he could read him so well, Neji must have dropped his guard. That was…pleasing to know.
Was Neji really this dense? Maybe he just didn't understand social etiquette. "Because she's your girlfriend." Did Neji not grasp the concept?
A choking sound drew his attention up. Apparently his opponent had been taking a drink when Shikamaru had said that, and forgotten how to swallow. Neji took a couple of deep breaths before glaring at Shikamaru, clearly deciding to blame him. "What?"
"She's your girlfriend?" For some reason, Shikamaru was immensely satisfied at making Neji lose his composure. Of course, that stuck-up, stoic façade annoyed Shikamaru, but not enough to actually care. If Neji wanted to be an arrogant snob that was his choice. Why should he care if he actually looked human once in a while?
"What the hell makes you think Tenten is my girlfriend?!" Oh, that's right. Shikamaru had forgotten. Neji had three states of mind: superior, impassive and angry. He remembered him losing it, running at Hinata with the intention to kill. Coming at Naruto with everything he had because he dared to not give up like a good boy.
He didn't think Neji had quite reached that level of anger yet, but who knew? Just in case, Shikamaru decided to try and calm him down. He liked his chakra paths were they were, thank you very much. "So she isn't?"
The glare burning a hole in him clearly stated Neji wanted a better explanation. Shikamaru was too busy working out this new puzzle to comply.
Ino had clearly said once that Neji was off-limits. Chouji had wondered why every girl was after Sasuke. She'd mentioned that some girls liked Neji too, but weren't allowed to go for him. He was someone else's.
At the time Shikamaru had thought that meant Tenten, but if they weren't going out? Of course, Tenten could have easily stated her claim without actually telling Neji, but just in case…
The glare faltered, turning confused. "What about Lee?"
"Are you going out with him?"
Oh look, the glare was back and much, much stronger. "No!"
So it was Tenten then. The puzzle solved, Shikamaru turned back to the game. Neji, however, didn't seem quite as willing to let it go.
"Why would you suggest that I was…with Lee?" There was definite revulsion there. Personally, Shikamaru didn't blame him. Those eyebrows and hairstyle really didn't suit him.
It was troublesome to answer questions, but Neji hadn't made a move and Shikamaru had a feeling he'd have to give him what he wanted if they were going to finish the game. Honestly, he was like a women in that respect. "There's rivalry between you two. You're on the same team. You speak to him." Apart from Tenten, he was the only one Neji did speak to. It wasn't that great a leap.
"The same goes for Naruto and Sasuke!"
Neji opened his mouth, frowned, and closed it. He seemed to consider that comment for a few moments before shaking his head sharply. Shikamaru smirked. Some people were so clueless.
Neji seemed to dismiss that topic, holding onto the original one like Akamaru to a bone. "But we are both male!"
Shikamaru looked at him blankly.
Neji glared at him pointedly.
The silence stretched.
Neji blinked. "Men…do not-"
"Why not?" Shikamaru knew he had interrupted, but this was too good to pass out on. Surely the great genius of the Hyuuga wasn't this stupid? This oblivious? Just how sheltered was he?
That was the question, Shikamaru realised. How sheltered was Neji? Shikamaru had been giving the humiliating, never-ever-again sex talk by his dad and the threats that were his mum's version of a sex ed years ago. Had anyone ever done that for Neji? Without parents, with only a strict, distant uncle and an eccentric sensei, Shikamaru doubted it.
Had anyone ever told him relationships between two guys were normal, especially for shinobi who lived day to day and didn't have the luxury of discriminating where they got their few pleasures and comforts?
Neji didn't answer the question. He sat back and stared at Shikamaru and, like before, Shikamaru stared back. He let his sincerity and honesty overcome his usual boredom, let Neji see that he wasn't teasing him or joking, that he was being completely serious.
And Neji was a genius. He was a master at reading body language, at understanding a person just from they way they moved. At seeing underneath the underneath. It didn't take him long to determine that Shikamaru was telling the truth, then apply it to everything he had known previously. Shikamaru waited for his conclusion, waited to see whether Neji would decide he was right or wrong.
The answer came in a way Shikamaru was coming to expect. Neji reached out and moved a piece. Letting a small smile quirk one side of his mouth, he countered, and the came was on again.
About ten minutes later, a voice slightly quieter than usual but with the same confidence and arrogance as normal asked, "Chouji?"
He didn't need to have it expanded. "No." Chouji was a good friend, true, his best friend, but that was all.
There was a split second pause, where even the rain seemed to stop falling. Shikamaru looked up, eyes wide in horror.
Then collapsed into hysterics.
When he was still laughing thirty seconds later, Neji huffed, "I'll take that as a no."
But as Shikamaru looked up, wiping the tears out of his eyes, he noticed that despite the tone of voice and stern set of his mouth, there was something light and amused in those colourless eyes.
And Shikamaru knew he was grinning inside, and so he grinned back.
Shikamaru won the game, naturally.
And his mum yelled at him for the puddle on the kitchen floor.
Remembering the almost-smile, he decided it was worth the lecture.
A/N: This is the first in a series of oneshots about the relationship between Shikamaru and Neji. It will eventually become yaoi - this is your one and only warning. It's my first Naruto fanfiction, and only my second ever fanfic, so I'd appreciate some feedback. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.