A/N: Um, oh my gosh? Even though I wrote the story, I think I still get to do a little fangirl SQUEEEEEEE right now. Enjoy, please!
Time has told me,
You're a rare, rare find.
A troubled cure,
For a troubled mind.
Shikamaru left the shogi parlour and started to make his way home. The sun was just setting behind the Hokage Mountain, spewing forth a beguiling orange light over the village. Shikamaru was so caught up in his thoughts and in the puffy clouds drifting across the sky that he didn't notice Sai approach him.
"Deer-man!" Sai exclaimed, placing a hand on Shikamaru's shoulder and making him jump, "How lucky that I saw you – I was just on my way to your apartment." Shikamaru removed Sai's hand pointedly.
"Why?" he asked, "Does Kakashi need us?" Sai nodded, and started to walk back in the direction of the ANBU headquarters, indicating that Shikamaru should follow him. Shikamaru paused for a moment, thinking of the comfortable bed waiting for him at home, before falling into step with the other man a touch forlornly.
"There are some rogue nin mercenaries that Naruto wants us to speak with," Sai said, "Apparently there have been some rumours about a copycat Akatsuki organization."
"And that basically means that this is going to take a long time," Shikamaru drawled. Sai beamed at him.
Shikamaru sighed, but otherwise said nothing else. It would be a good way of keeping his mind of Neji for a few hours, at least. As they approached the headquarters, Kakashi was waiting outside for them, leaning lazily against the wall. He raised a hand in greeting.
"Yo," he drawled, "I hope you boys are in a good mood tonight."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes, and followed Kakashi and Sai into the conference room to be debriefed.
Shikamaru emerged from the headquarters – several hours later – tired and extremely irritable. The mercenaries had been as stubborn as hell, but even when Shikamaru broke them it turned out that they knew nothing of the Akatsuki copycat organization.
"What a waste of time," Shikamaru muttered under his breath, raising a hand in farewell to Kakashi and Sai before making his way home. He wanted nothing more than to have a nice, hot shower before falling into his warm and comfortable bed.
Suffice to say, the irritation he felt when he found Neji sitting on his top step, head in hands, outweighed any surprise or shock.
"You should leave," Shikamaru stated, not pausing as he walked past Neji and opened his door. He did not want to deal with whatever issues he and Neji had, especially not at the moment. Shikamaru turned to shut the door, but found it was blocked by Neji's hand. Shikamaru had not even heard him move.
The way Neji said his name sent shivers down Shikamaru's spine. The older man looked a picture of desperation: his long hair frizzed and falling awkwardly and his pale eyes alight with urging. But Shikamaru had made his decision, and he wasn't the type of man to go back on his word.
"I asked you to leave," Shikamaru said evenly, pushing on the door but finding that he could not move it at all. Neji shook his head.
"I think we should talk," he said, grunting slightly as he pushed the door open completely, quickly shutting it again and leaning on it so that Shikamaru couldn't kick him out. Shikamaru felt a spike of irritation low in his belly, his fingers curling involuntarily.
"I don't want to talk to you, Neji," he said slowly, in a low, final tone of voice. Turning on his heel and walking towards the bathroom, he said, "I'm going to have a shower, now. You will be gone by the time I get out." Shikamaru heard Neji start to say something, but slammed the bathroom door loudly before he could finish.
Staring at his reflection angrily, he pulled out the tie holding his hair in place and thought about Mr Nakamura's words. Don't let yourself become hollow. Shikamaru snorted, pulling off his clothes and getting into the shower. What did that even mean, anyway? He wasn't 'becoming hollow' by ignoring Neji; he was just trying to protect himself. Why couldn't everyone just mind their own fucking business?
The hot water sluicing over his body had a somewhat calming effect over Shikamaru, and he felt himself relaxing slightly, reviewing the situation. He rarely allowed himself to become angry, as he found that anger often clouded judgement – so he took several deep breaths, and stared at the tiles in front of his face.
Two very different parts of Shikamaru were having a fight. The first part of him – the logical, cool-headed part – was pointing out that the only reason he was ignoring Neji was because he was rejected and now felt embarrassed and belittled. The other part – the irrational, teenager part – was arguing that he had no obligation to Neji, thus there was no reason to expose his own weaknesses to the other man. While Shikamaru was more level-headed and sensible that most, he was still a human being, and it was for that reason that the teenager part of him was currently winning out against its rival. All he wanted was for Neji to be gone by the time he got out, so that he could go to bed and forget that this entire day had ever happened.
Shikamaru washed and dried himself quickly, brushing his teeth before pulling on some tracksuit pants and leaving the bathroom. To find Neji sitting on his couch, looking at him expectantly. Before Shikamaru could open his mouth to say anything, Neji butted in.
"I'm not leaving until we've talked about what happened," he said, his eyes shining with determination. Which was when Shikamaru snapped.
"What the fuck is there to talk about?" he exploded, suddenly feeling an insatiable anger well up inside of him (so much for the calmness), "Why is everybody making such a big deal about this? I propositioned you, you rejected me, and now I'm just trying to get on with my life! That's all there is to it." Neji made to retort, but Shikamaru hadn't finished.
"And since when were you so interested in talking?" he spat bitterly, "As I remember it, that was the one thing that you definitely didn't want to do." Neji frowned suddenly.
"That's not fair, Shikamaru," he snapped, pushing an errant strand of hair back irritably.
"I don't have to be fair," Shikamaru barked in return, "I'm the one whose feelings were hurt, not you."
"How do you even know that!" Neji exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air in a thoroughly uncharacteristic gesture, "You're making illogical assumptions about how I feel."
"I'm making that assumption because you didn't try and stop me last night," Shikamaru said in a low voice, "Now I know that you were only in it for a few shogi games and a quick fuck."
"Kami-sama," Neji cursed under his breath, before getting off the couch and coming to stand in front of Shikamaru, "I tried to explain this in a logical way because I thought you would appreciate it. But obviously you are completely adamant about acting like a fifteen-year-old girl, so I'll have to explain things the simple way."
"I want to be with you, Shikamaru. Last night didn't prove that to me, but it did make me realise that you not being in my life is something that I don't want to happen. I want to wake up next to you in the morning. I want to play shogi with you for hours on end. I want to make love to you, and I want you to make love to me. I want you to worry about me when I'm away on missions. I want to go back and change the way I've handled this entire thing, but I can't. So I'm telling you now. It was a mistake, letting you go last night. I've talked to some people today who have made my own unjustified fears clear to me. Now I'm finally giving you what you want – what we both want – and you won't even give me the time of day because of some silly mistake."
Shikamaru felt his mouth fall open.
There was a long pause in which Shikamaru did nothing but gawk at Neji stupidly, but then Neji smiled and closed Shikamaru's mouth gently.
"So -" Neji began, breaking the silence, but Shikamaru shook his head slightly and put a finger to Neji's lips.
He felt a cold thrill run through him as he looked at Neji's face, as open and trusting as Shikamaru had ever seen it. This man, this beautiful, deadly shinobi was offering himself to Shikamaru. He was offering a new life, a new purpose, exactly what Shikamaru had wanted. All his qualms and pacts to himself suddenly seemed petulant and childish in the face of the possibilities that Neji was offering. Shikamaru took an unsteady breath.
Neji smiled again, softly, and took a step closer, sliding an arm around Shikamaru's waist in such an intimate gesture that Shikamaru couldn't help but swallow. His own hand fell away from Neji's lips limply.
"Shikamaru," Neji murmured, his breath fanning onto Shikamaru's face pleasantly, "Do you want this?"
For once, there wasn't a mad voice in Shikamaru's head screaming at him to get out quick. As Shikamaru met Neji's gaze evenly, he could see clearly that everything Neji had said was true. Shikamaru felt a smile forming involuntarily on his lips as he realised he knew the answer.
"Yeah," he replied, pulling Neji's other arm so that it too was around his waist, "I do."
And then Neji kissed him.