I want to give lots of gratitude to the people who read Theory of Percussion way back when and are patient and forgiving enough to be letting me drag your eyeballs back to it after such a ridiculous break. Much love and thanks to you all.
As always, dedicated to the people who faved, watched, alerted, or commented. I'm very grateful to all of you and I hope you continue to enjoy ToP!
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Neji does not expect it when, slowly, he comes to realize he's in what he assumes to be Sasuke's room again. He realizes also that he's been here for some time, sitting in one of the cramped wing-backed chairs and staring into space, thoughtless and listless. He glances around, but somehow his eyes move instantly to the foot of the bed, as if they know that is exactly where Sasuke is sitting, cross-legged and straight-backed between the tatters of the bed curtains. He's staring right back at him, unblinking and unsmiling, his face more quiet and serious than Neji has yet seen it. It makes something heavy and cold squirm down his throat with difficulty and drop into the pit of his stomach, sending goosebumps over his skin.
-Quite a lot of which, he notices, is not covered.
He looks down at his shirtless chest in bemusement; examines the unbuttoned state of his pants; leans over to stare at his feet, relieved of their sandals (his forehead, he's happy to note, is still covered). His bare white toes flexing against the dark red carpet look like maggots on a corpse. Uchiha's, he imagines.
"I seem to be somewhat naked," he states neutrally, and steadies his gaze on Sasuke, who- to his leery shock- widens his dark eyes in a Bambi-esque gesture of innocent surprise and doesn't reply for a long moment.
They stare at each other.
"I'd like some clothes." Watching the Uchiha's big black eyes bat at him rapidly, Neji begins to hope he won't have to hold Sasuke's hand through this whole request. Proverbially speaking, of course.
"-To wear, you know."
Now it's Neji's turn to blink and stare in bewilderment. Somehow, he feels admitting that showing so much bare, vulnerable skin (if any inch of skin on a Hyuuga can be vulnerable) to Sasuke Uchiha, (missing-nin extraordinaire and betrayer of the Leaf Village, last of the deadly Uchiha clan, et cetera, et cetera) is making him uncomfortable would be unwise. If there's anything he's learned from this experience, it's that Sasuke is twice as unpredictable and at least three times as moody as he recalled him being at the Chuunin exams- not to mention how much more easily the Uchiha could send him to an early and likely painful grave.
"What do you mean 'why'? I want clo-"
He's cut off by an annoyed wave of the Uchiha's pale hand, Sasuke's face still stony but quickly becoming stiffer in a way that told Neji it was time to give him what he wanted. Whatever that was.
"I wasn't talking about that. I meant your Lee. Why did you hit him," he growls throatily, eyeing Neji with what the Hyuuga is coming to realize is uncertainty beneath all the gruff anger.
...Hit Lee? Rock Lee..? One side of Neji's nose wrinkles up in a bewildered, unhappy expression.
The echoes of Sasuke's roar are punctuated by a fist in Neji's chest, punching him back into his chair and knocking the breath out of him before the Uchiha lifts him by the front of his open pants and a grip around his throat.
"Uchiha! Calm the fuck down and tell me what you're talking about!" Neji barks, tensing his legs to kick chakra into Sasuke's gut if he starts to squeeze his throat. But Sasuke just holds him there against the wall, glaring and looking for all the world like a befuddled child. After a long moment, he starts to speak.
"You escaped," he begins flatly, and Neji makes a low noise of impatience.
"Yes, I reca-" Sasuke's cold stare cuts him off, and it's clear that the leniency he had allowed before the escape attempt is gone now. Neji goes quiet, and stays quiet as Sasuke's low voice continues in a neutral deadpan, though his eyes are burningly frigid.
"Sakura, Naruto, and Rock Lee were found with you in the forest. My men attempted to return you to the base unharmed, but you resisted-" some small shred of strain worms its way into his voice on the last word, as if he is fighting down some burst of emotion, but it's gone before Neji can decipher it- "and proceeded to join the main fight. I had assumed it was to assist Sakura and Naruto." Sasuke goes silent, observing him stonily, and Neji- after several moments of expectant waiting- deduces that he's done explaining.
"...One would assume, then, that I would be in Konoha right now," Neji says at length, shifting in an attempt to lessen the pressure on his throat. He gives Sasuke a stiff stare, which the dark-eyed boy returns just as flatly.
"And not here, with y-"
"You hit Lee."
But for a brief moment, for reasons beyond the Hyuuga's understanding, Neji believes him. And then he remembers.
He remembers Sasuke standing straight-backed and calm on his branch, raising his hands lightly in preparation to count an oncoming attack by Naruto. He remembers the concise, graceful movements of his fingers through the air, long and slender and bone-white, and the way his dark hair ruffled slowly across his pale cheek as he began to turn fleetly on the pads of his feet. And he remembers the green blur that was Lee shredding through the air toward him, and just then, how Sasuke's head turned and something about the calm set of his lips and dark wings of his lashes over his skin had Neji seeing white, pupil-less eyes beneath his half-lowered lids and long blue-black hair, and that serene look on her face when she bent to pour him tea and the shift of her kimono over her collarbone that made her look so frail. And then all he could see was Lee's face, close to his, blank and stunned, sliding out of view as his knees buckled beneath him and he fell away from Neji's outstretched palm. The rest of the memory- Sasuke tugging him along, sharply dismissing his men as they reached the base, leading him to his room and pushing him into a chair, awkwardly loosening his shirt from his pants, pacing away toward the bed, pausing, and then returning to stiffly remove the majority of his clothes, glaring at the Hyuuga the whole time- is dazed and distant, as if he's watching someone else's memories and not his own.
Sasuke- the Sasuke of the present, the one here and now, in flesh and blood- is watching him warily, lowering him back to the floor and dropping the hand from around his throat- the fingers curled into the unbuttoned front of his pants remain, as if he's leery of Neji suddenly attacking him again and attempting another escape.
"...Well," he says after a moment, his voice irritated and ever so slightly uncertain, "you hit him, didn't you?"
Neji's surprised that it's actually a question this time (the Uchiha seems so indisposed toward asking things), but at the same time he knows what he's really saying is 'Why?'. He feels his jaw flex uncomfortably, and he raises his chin a fraction, his spine so straight against the wall that he can feel his vertebrae digging into the stone.
"It wasn't intentional."
And they both know he doesn't mean hitting Lee. That was quite clearly intentional.
It's Sasuke's turn to go stiffer, his lips tightening thinly and his dark brows beginning to curl down. Neji can feel his knuckles beginning to press the buttons of his pants uncomfortably hard into his abdomen. But his voice is very, very calm.
"-Hinata. I was moving quickly to outrun your subordinates and clearly the chakra loss and injuries sustained in our last battle were affecting me and I thought I saw... Hinata." He runs his tongue over his teeth tensely, disliking how even with some of his chakra back he's acting like Sasuke's dog to keep from getting a Sharingan brain-melting.
Sasuke, meanwhile, has gone so stony and unreadable that Neji suspects he isn't sure how to take this information. And then promptly hates how easily he's coming to understand the Uchiha's body language. He's nothing like Sasuke. Not where it counts.
Sasuke remembers Hinata, vaguely, after much thought on the matter. She was a shy, quiet, unobtrusive girl with a stuttering problem who had sat in the back in Iruka's genin class. More importantly, though, she was horrendously weak. Pathetically weak. He hadn't paid her much mind, and had certainly never considered her a threat, nor anyone he would want to be close to (not that he wanted to be close to people in general). She was a liability- worse than Sakura had been- and he couldn't even recall much of her appearance beyond short hair and shapeless clothes, hunched shoulders and nervous little steps (because this was before he'd realized the importance of details, and her terrified insistence on making herself as invisible as possible had made her even less memorable than most of them). But her name on Hyuuga's tongue was a tender breath, wistful and wanting, and it makes Sasuke realize that she obviously hadn't been so invisible to everyone.
"-You love her," he says suddenly, and his abrupt voice- louder and more startled than he'd meant to allow it to be- echoing in the confines of the stone brings to sudden clarity that they'd been hovering in front of each other against the wall for several minutes without saying anything. Sasuke becomes aware of the rather unnecessary location of his hand on the Hyuuga's crotch and removes it, instead putting his palms against the wall on either side of Neji's chest.
The Hyuuga blinks his impenetrable white eyes at him, his loose hair scraggly and dirty and tumbling around his face in tangled strings.
They stand there quietly for a few more moments as Hyuuga waits for Sasuke to get to the point and Sasuke wonders why he said anything and why Hyuuga felt compelled to reply with such calm confidence, as if stating that yes, of course I breathe, you fool, isn't it obvious? And then Hyuuga clears his throat delicately, as if to carefully change the subject.
"My clothes, Uchiha?" An awkward pause. "...Please."
Sasuke grunts and pushes off the wall, turning away to the door.
"They're on the floor. Over there."
He stops, doorknob in hand, and says with intently bland pointedness, "The bath is down the hall to the right." The dark look those pale eyes burn into his back as he closes the door behind him makes him feel better, and he saunters down the hall with the unquestionably arrogant spring in his step of a predator that has just one-upped his prey.