A/N: Because Shikamaru x NejiLove.
The Best Man
Nara Shikamaru sighed letting the hot water turn his shoulders a slight pink and cascade down his spine. He hated mornings and this one had to be the absolute worst. Consciousness was sneaking up on him and he was fighting it kicking and screaming. He rinsed the last of the shampoo out of his hair and turned his face up into the stream. 'It's not as if things could stay the same forever,' he thought, finally reaching forward to turn off the shower and stepped out, drying off just enough that he wouldn't drip all over the carpet. 'I just thought I still had time.'
He stepped out of the bathroom toweling his hair dry and blinked at the open window. He didn't know why Neji couldn't use the door like a normal person. "...you're early," he said, trying to act casual about the fact the man he'd been in love with since what felt like the dawn of time just got an eyeful of him butt naked. He turned to the dresser, not moving too fast so that the Hyuuga wouldn't catch on that the fact made him very uncomfortable and slipped into a pair of boxers, fumbling about for the remaining odds and ends of his usual attire and getting dressed without looking at the older male again.
'He could at least be a little shy,' Neji thought, just barely winning a war with the pomegranate blush that wanted to dash across his cheeks. Shikamaru Nara had to have one of the most amazing bodies he'd ever seen and he was quite glad when the other male was finally pulling on his customary green vest. "Might as well get it over with," he told the man he considered his best friend. "Maybe afterwards we can play a game of shougi."
"That's true," Shikamaru said, brushing out his sopping wet hair. "After this it'll probably be a long while before you'll be able to stop by for a game. Have you finally stopped arguing about where to take your honeymoon?"
Neji sighed. "We'll go to a hot spring," he said at last. "It's the only thing we can agree on." And therein lay the problem and the bulk of the tension between the two men stemmed from it. Hyuuga Neji had finally run out of excuses and his family had come to an agreement with the Harunos and he was due to be married in a matter of days. The one decision left fully in Neji's hands on the matter was who he'd choose for his best man. Shikamaru had come immediately to mind. The two geniuses had become practically inseparable since Chouji and Ino got married. Shikamaru still felt close to his old friends, but with one child and another on the way Chouji and Ino really didn't have as much time for him as they used to and his friendship with Neji had blossomed for the lack. Shikamaru was glad for it—it meant he got to spend time with the person he'd had a secret crush on since they were children. As far as lovers go he'd always been sure that the Hyuuga was out of his league, but as friends they made a good match. Now they were on their way to a final fitting for their wedding garb and Shikamaru could only hope his body language didn't slip from 'lazy bastard' into 'super depressed.'
'I'm about to lose Neji too,' he moped internally but managed to keep his usual habits. Neji was too good at reading people; he couldn't leave any room for mistakes. He was happy for Neji, in a way. Neji didn't seem too adverse to marrying Sakura—he'd only said 'at least it's not TenTen', when he first told the Nara about the arrangement and that he'd 'probably grow used to the arrangement without much delay.' In short, Neji was resigned to it, possibly because he'd seen what happened when people pissed Haruno Sakura off.
The Nara nodded blandly. "Well, that should be relaxing."
"I hope so," Neji said, waiting for Shikamaru to lock the door behind them and heading down the street, hands stuffed into his pockets. Shikamaru was a quiet guy generally speaking; he didn't talk too much, but there was something different about the silence between them now as they walked down the street, something uncomfortable. 'When did he become so hard to read?' Neji wondered. 'Is he purposely hiding something?' Glancing over at the Nara he noticed that the collar of his vest was wet—his hair was still really wet, and that dropped the image of Shikamaru's naked, freshly showered body into mind and he forced his attention on the road ahead of them. Firm chest, taut stomach, broad shoulders, tight ass, generous...ahem! 'Get your head out of the gutter, Neji,' he chastised himself. 'You're going to be married to Sakura soon.' It depressed him a little after thinking of his best friend's bared body, actually. He didn't have much interest in women—breasts and curves just didn't excite him the way sharp angles and a strong jaw could—so there was probably no exciting sex in his future at all, but even so, he couldn't let himself think about the Nara in such a way! They were friends and that friendship was intensely important to him, he didn't dare do anything to ruin it. It was one of the few relationships he had left that he didn't want to lose. His gaze shifted to the silent Nara again as they approached the tailor's shop. What was this odd tenseness in the air? He couldn't place it but he was sure he hated it.
He opened his mouth to speak and at that exact moment, Shikamaru pushed the door to the shop open. "We're kind of early," he announced. "Should we come back?"
"Ah, Nara-san, Hyuuga-san, come inside. I'll be with you in a moment."
Another short silence passed. "Shikamaru..." Neji started to say.
"There's not much time left, huh?" Shikamaru answered. "Getting cold feet? You're being even more stand-offish than usual."
"...not really," Neji answered, turning his eyes down slightly. 'Is he right? Maybe I'm the one who's not acting like my usual self.'
'Of course he's not. He's about to marry one of Konoha's most wanted,' Shikamaru thought, then forced himself from the depressing thought as the shop clerk came over. "I'll try mine first if it's all the same," he said.
Neji gave a bland nod and almost had a nosebleed when the Nara came out in the formal attire, complaining a bit, "are you sure these sleeves aren't too big?" he asked the tailor, who assured him once again the drooping sleeves of the navy and lavender formal-wear was just right. Shikamaru turned his head toward Neji as if begging for an opposing view. He never felt right in formal clothing and this kimono was really 'all out.'
Neji blinked once and blanketed, "you look amazing," before his brain could stop his mouth. Shikamaru's cheeks colored at that and he looked away, making a face. "I bet you say that to all the boys," he said quickly—a joke to break the awkwardness Neji had inadvertently just caused. "Alright, I guess I'm done then. Your turn, Mr. Perfect."
"I told you not to call me that," Neji complained a bit. "You know better than anyone that I'm not even close to perfect."
'You're perfect to me,' the Nara thought, but quickly turned away and stretched his back. "I'm going to change back. Let's have lunch at that cafe you like after this." He disappeared back into one the fitting room as Neji was led into another one. He played it as cool as he could, but in reality he just didn't want to see Neji in his wedding kimono before he had to. 'It might be a good idea to be prepared but I don't want him to realize how much it bothers me. He's such a great guy he might try to let me off the hook. I don't want that. Even if it's painful to think about, the fact that at the very least I'm his best man... It's important to me to be able to stand beside him and wish him happiness, if that's all that I can do.'
Neji, meanwhile, stared at his reflection in the mirror. The kimono fit nicely other than some minor adjustments around his slim hips. It struck him as the tailor made them that the only times in a person's life that clothes were so important were weddings and funerals. This was obviously a wedding kimono. 'But if that's the case,' he wondered. 'Why do I feel like I'm about to be buried alive?'
Shikamaru let another gulp of dry sake burn its way down his throat. He'd had a lot, but not nearly enough to feel like the air was on fire and forget his name. No, in spite of the vast quantity of what he'd suspected for hours to be seriously watered down sake he'd ingested, Nara Shikamaru still felt tragically sober.
Neji flopped down beside him, hair a bit tangled as he drooped his head sideways onto his forearms and peered narrowly up at his best friend. "You're not being very sociable," he complained with a slight slur. Neji never could hold his liquor.
"Party's already over anyway," Shikamaru said. "We're the only two people left who are still conscious." The party in question was Neji's bachelor party. There had been some scantily clad women, but they had been more for the entertainment of the other boys—Neji hadn't really seemed all that interested in them, but that was just how Neji had always been. Shikamaru glanced at the skewed clock hanging above the bar. It was 2 am. Neji was getting married in exactly 11 hours and the Nara didn't feel nearly drunk enough to be hungover enough tomorrow to deal with that.
"I guess," Neji sighed. "Well, let's go back to your place." He got up on wobbly legs and pulled the Nara to his feet.
"My place?" Shikamaru nearly squeaked. What in the world??
"Yeah, I told my Uncle I'd stay with you tonight, since I would be home late and I don't want to wake anyone. Hinata's a really light sleeper, and since you live alone it makes more sense." Leave it to Neji to be able to argue logically when he could barely walk in a straight line.
Shikamaru sighed and downed what was left of the sake right out of the bottle before giving the bartender a wave and helping Neji fumble his way to the Nara's apartment. Around the block, up the stairs, and soon Shikamaru had to concentrate as he held Neji upright while the Hyuuga struggled out of his shoes—he almost hit his head on the wall, twice, but what had the shadow nin more concerned was the hot breath tickling his collarbone.
"Do you have a t-shirt I can use to sleep in?" Neji asked as the Nara settled him to a seat on the bed.
"Just sleep in your clothes," Shikamaru answered.
"They'll get wrinkled," Neji said, lips curling a bit downward as he looked narrowly up at the brunette.
"A fate worse than death for you, I'm sure, Mr. Perfect," the Nara gibed.
Neji frowned at him for the Mr. Perfect comment again but relented, falling against the bed and stretching in a way that only a drunk person could find comfort, limbs akimbo on the mattress as if he started to shift into a sleeping position but got too lazy to finish halfway through and just decided halfway there was better than nothing. Shikamaru lifted Neji's right leg from the floor and let it flop on the mattress.
"Shikamaru?" the Hyuuga asked seriously.
"What is it?" Shikamaru returned.
"...I'm getting married tomorrow," he said, and the Nara decided not to correct him by saying 'today'.
"...it kind of sucks," Neji frowned. "Promise you'll still come visit all the time? You won't disappear from my side like you did from Chouji's just because you think something stupid like that you're a third wheel. Come over for dinner a lot, and to play chess. If Sakura threatens to beat you up, I'll let you in through the window when she isn't looking so...promise...okay?"
"...Neji..." Shikamaru didn't know how to answer. It wasn't like Neji to be so needy and straight-forward. The alcohol really loosened his tongue, apparently. Had he been worrying about this for a long time? That Shikamaru was going to disappear from his life. 'Were we thinking the same thing from the beginning?'
"Don't abandon me," Neji insisted. "Don't you dare. I'll never forgive you."
Shikamaru offered the byakugan user a tired smile and pushed a few dark strands of hair out of his face. "Go to sleep. You'll need your energy tomorrow." He pulled the blankets up over the Hyuuga's pale figure and Neji answered the gesture with a tipsy smile; his lips half curled and then seemed to get tired of working and fell back down into a sleepy frown. "Too bad Sakura isn't more like you," he yawned. "You always know just what to say." His eyes fell closed and his breathing evened out. It seemed to the Nara as if he fell asleep almost instantly.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Shikamaru stared down at Neji for a long while, heart aching. 'Don't say things like that to a guy who's in love with you right before you're due to marry someone else, dumb ass,' he thought.
Neji's lips parted into a soft sigh and somehow this pulled him in. Those soft, moist lips seemed to be beckoning him and what little effect the sake was having on him must have messed with his logic centers because as he leaned over the Hyuuga he couldn't stop himself from brushing his own lips over that soft, rosy pout, and he couldn't stop himself when the kiss became a little firmer. He managed to pull himself away, but not quickly enough, and stumbled to his feet.
A heavy sigh left his throat as he turned away from the bed. "How the hell, am I going to get through this? I've got to pull myself together." He raked his fingers through his hair and made his way to the kitchen for a midnight snack—he was pretty sure there was no way he'd be able to sleep properly tonight anyway.
Neji's eyes opened once the Nara was out of the room and his fingers came to his lips. Shikamaru had just kissed him. Why? And more importantly than that, why now? Once, Hiashi had slammed his palm so hard into Neji's chest in the name of training that he'd been hospitalized for three days. At the time, Neji had been sure it was as much pain as a human being could handle without collapsing. Even in his slightly intoxicated state he was positive at least that this—whatever this was—hurt exponentially more.
"Neji, stop fidgeting. I can't tie your obi when you're moving around this much," Shikamaru said flatly. "You're normally a lot better at keeping your nervous habits to yourself."
"It's not nervousness," Neji said. He couldn't seem to forget the previous night, Shikamaru's lips pressing against his own, and the fidgeting kept the blushing at bay. "I just..."
"Cold feet is the same as nervousness. It's too late to back out now, in any case, so just suck it up and for pity's sake, stand still."
Neji caught their reflection in the mirror. Shikamaru's hands were wrapped around his waist as he tried to wind the Hyuuga's obi about his waist, his head hanging over Neji's shoulder as he peered down to see what he was doing. It almost looked like an embrace from behind. The Nara's hair was down—something he only ever did for special occasions, and it tangled with his own long, ebony strands as he worked, worrying his lower lip. He'd grown to be a few inches taller than Neji, and the Hyuuga couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he looked up over his shoulder at the brunette right now. What would he see in those lowered and veiled dark eyes?
He turned quickly around to face the other male, startling him. Shikamaru fumbled a half step back, eyes widening in surprise. "You kissed me," Neji blanketed. It was almost an accusation and he watched as a slight jolt of horror raced through the Nara's eyes. He hadn't expected to be caught in the act and his instinct had him taking another step back. Neji grabbed his wrist to stop him and the Nara was struck by how terribly confused the Hyuuga looked. "Why did you do it?"
'What the hell have I done?' Shikamaru thought. "...I thought you were asleep," Shikamaru answered, finding his throat thicker and his voice flatter than he would have liked.
"That's not an answer," Neji frowned.
"This isn't a conversation we should be having now," Shikamaru replied.
"Why not? Because I'm about to get married is what you mean, right? I'm not going out there until you're honest with me, Nara Shikamaru."
Shikamaru looked away and sighed. "You're always so difficult. Obviously, it's because it was my last chance to find out what it would be like. Just leave it alone and turn around so I can get this god forsaken obi on you."
'His last chance?' Neji thought, relenting anyway. He needed a moment to collect his thoughts, and the Nara was right regardless. No matter what the answer was, Sakura was due to walk down the isle in thirty minutes. The cloth wrapping around his waist, while not being tied too tight, felt like it might as well have been a noose to hang himself with. 'I don't believe he's telling me this now. What can I possibly say?' "Shikamaru..."
The Nara didn't answer, noting the serious tone and getting the sinking feeling he was already in for it. Since he said nothing, fastening the knot of the Hyuuga's obi silently, Neji continued. "...how long have you been in love with me?"
Shikamaru tensed. 'So I was right after all,' Neji thought. It was a bitter pill. Shikamaru loved him. If that was the case after he was married he couldn't ask the Nara to stay by his side. He couldn't justify causing him to suffer like that. It was a long time before Shikamaru turned away and answered, his voice just barely audible, "always."
Neji's eyes widened in apparent shock. "Always?" He rested a hand on one of Shikamaru's broad shoulder. "That answer...be more clear."
'Why is he doing this? He knows that even if I admit to it it doesn't change anything. I thought if I kept it to myself then at least I would be able to stay beside him, but now...' He sighed heavily. "...since we were children," he answered. "But that doesn't matter now."
Shikamaru gathered every shaky ounce of migrant courage he had in his body and straightened his shoulders, turning to face the Hyuuga. "I'm your best friend and your best man and you're about to get married to a beautiful woman. Anything beyond that isn't important. Come on, fix your hair. We're already behind schedule. Girls always take longer than planned anyway, but the groom, at least, is supposed to be punctual. Especially if it's you."
'You've got to be kidding,' Neji thought. 'My best friend is in love with me and I'm about to lose him for good and it's not important?' To one degree he knew Shikamaru was right. He couldn't disgrace his clan by freaking out and changing his mind now, so it really didn't change the fact that he had to go through with this. He'd probably grow to care for Sakura given enough time, too. ...but there would be no happy honeymoons for Hyuuga Neji. 'Damn your cowardice, Nara! If you'd told me this a year ago...even a month ago...I...! What would I have done? Would anything have changed for us? Damn you, Nara.'
"...you're right," Neji said at last, his tone a little defeated. "I shouldn't be late to my own wedding."
"...yeah," Shikamaru answered, fighting to keep the depression out of his voice. "That's basically how it is."
The hidden meanings between them were endless. They both knew with so many admissions and so much living there was no way things would ever be the same between them. For the two of them, the inevitable 'I do' was basically the same thing as 'goodbye', and somehow they were just going to have to suffer through it and find a way to move on.
Chouji and Ino looked at each other and for once, Chouji lowered his bag of chips and frowned a little.
"This doesn't feel much like a wedding," Ino complained, having at least enough discretion to complain quietly.
"Well, it's not as if Sakura and Neji are in love," Chouji answered. It would be time to take his seat soon. Ino was the maid of honor, and even if she was seven months pregnant he thought she still looked really beautiful in the pale purple dress she was wearing. Of course Chouji would always think Ino was the most beautiful girl in the world.
Ino sighed. "I know," she answered. "Shikamaru's trying to act indifferent, and Naruto didn't even come."
His friends really knew him too well. Shikamaru was doing his damnedest not to mope, but he knew the second the after-party was over he would go home, strip down to his boxers, crawl in bed and not leave the house, shower, or shave, for at least three days. If anyone gave him a hard time he would claim it was food poisoning or the flu, maybe both. 'Why did I have to go and kiss him? Now things between us can't go back to the way they were. He knows.'
Neji wasn't much better off. Once everyone was seated and Sakura began to walk up the isle he couldn't help but think it was only appropriate that Death be a beautiful woman. It made the blow slightly easier to bear. Sakura did look lovely, but he couldn't see her now as his future wife. All he saw was his executioner slowly breaching the distance; his feet felt like they were in cement and he hoped he wasn't white as a sheet because he certainly felt that way. His hands were clammy and he was cursing the byakugan right now because it let him see Shikamaru's plastic smile as he leaned over a little and shared some joke meant to break the ice with the Hyuuga. It didn't work. Neji felt like he was underwater. He could hardly make out words and was fighting an overwhelming sense of vertigo. 'Shikamaru...'
The priest was talking but he hardly noticed, something about having, holding, taking, and obeying, till death do you part. That last part rang cold and clear in his ears though, breaking the spell. Till death.
"Neji," Sakura whispered. "Everyone is staring."
He blinked. Apparently he'd taken to long to answer. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "I." And then his tongue went thick. It was an easy word to say, 'do', only two letters. One syllable. Just 'do'. It got stuck in his throat and as you'd expect at the end of a life all of his happy memories with Shikamaru raced through his mind in an instant; the horrible cake massacre that had been their effort at making something special for Chouji's birthday, playing shougi at 3 A.M., falling asleep to some of the worst movies ever made and debates about art and music. All that was about to be gone. "I..." 'Do'. Just say it, Neji. 'Do.' "I can't." It came out without his permission and when it did his own eyes widened in surprise as a number of shocked gasps tripped their way through the room and echoed off the vaulted ceiling. Once the words were out though he didn't want to take them back and bowed deeply to the pink haired woman. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I can't do this." 'I can't give him up. No matter what, I can't lose him.'
When he looked up, Sakura looked almost relieved that one of them was able to say something. Neither of them wanted the wedding. Everyone was staring at them in silence. They should have said something much sooner, both would-be bride and would-be groom seemed to be wearing the same expression. They should have said something so much sooner. "I'm sorry," Neji said again. He wasn't prone to apologizing, but when you were about to leave a girl at the alter it was about all you could say. "It's just...there's someone I..."
Before he could say 'love'. An overzealous blond nin burst in the door clad in his usual day-glo orange and declared, "I object!"
Sakura blinked. Neji blinked. Shikamaru was too stunned by recent developments to even consider breathing, let alone making his eyelids move. Naruto, looking slightly abashed, shifted his feet. "Ah...were we not to that part yet?" he asked.
Sakura laughed. She actually laughed and the air in the room lightened. "Naruto, you're such an idiot."
"But I do, Sakura! I totally object! There's no way I can let you marry some other guy, not even Neji!" the blond really was a talent for making scenes.
"I feel the same way," she said.
"But...eh? Wait, you do?"
In the confusion, Neji grabbed Shikamaru's hand quite firmly, causing the Nara to blink. "Let's leave," he said.
"Wha--?" It was the most eloquent half of a word Shikamaru could come up with at the time.
Neji didn't wait to tug him right back up the isle as Sakura and Naruto started bickering. It was going to be all over the Konoha Tribune tomorrow, but right now, Neji didn't care. Adrenaline was pumping through his veins, and more than that, love. So much love. He couldn't wait to get Shikamaru back to that tiny apartment with its unmade bed and a dish drain that was always overflowing. He pushed the Nara against the wall of the first side street he found and crushed their lips together.
Shikamaru's eyes widened in shock but it wasn't long before he was returning the kiss just as eagerly. He couldn't help it. Neji was kissing him. "Neji what...?"
"It's the same for me," he said. Okay, so technically he hadn't been in love with the Nara since they were children. He hadn't even realized how much he'd come to need him until he was due to be married, and he certainly hadn't known he loved him until it was far too late in the game to end things gracefully. But now, looking back, he was positive it was something that had been between them for a long time, slowly blossoming like the first flowers of spring. He fisted the lapels of the Nara's kimono and pressed against him as if trying to melt into the shadow nin's body. "It's the same for me," he repeated. "I don't want a life without you in it."
Shikamaru's heart ached and he wrapped his arms tightly around the older nin. "...Your uncle is going to kill us both for this," he said, burying his face in Neji's satin hair.
"Tomorrow, maybe," Neji agreed. "But even if he actually did kill us tomorrow, we still have today."
Shikamaru cupped Neji's cheek and lowered his mouth over the Hyuuga's this time, and the years of need were painfully apparent there. Hyuuga Neji decided he didn't care what he had to go through; he didn't care what the cursed symbol might do to him if Hiashi was particularly irate, and he didn't care if he'd just dishonored his entire clan with his actions. As long as Shikamaru was by his side, he was certain that everything would work out for the best.