Notes: For those who are unfamiliar (as I'm not sure how many NejiSasu fans know this term) with "non-massacre", it means that this fic progresses under the assumption that the Uchiha massacre never happened. Hence, Sasuke and all other Uchiha are living peacefully in Konoha.


Neji remembers things in snippets. Once there's a flash, the rest comes in a steady flow. Most of the time, that's a good thing.

Today, it's bad.

He blinks when he realizes that Tenten's waving her hand in front of his face. "Are you okay, Neji? You've been really out of it lately…"

A ghost of a smile graces his lips, and he shakes his head. "It's nothing," he reassures her. "Just that time of year again." She follows his gaze out the window; autumn is taking its toll on the land, and the leaves are becoming rich reds and oranges. Evenings are coming quicker, and the nights are chillier.

Tenten shoots him a look—that look—before wandering outside, saying something about target practice. He doesn't mention that her aim has been perfect for nearly a decade.

Yes. It's that time of year again.

A flash of color. Smirk. Dark, dark eyes.

It is the second chuunin exam, and Neji has Uchiha Sasuke pinned to a tree.

"Do you have a heaven scroll?" he asks evenly, feeling the younger boy's pulse race underneath his palms. He's not sure why he's smirking like that, but then again, he's not surprised; most Uchiha have been known to be overly obnoxious and arrogant. Surely, Sasuke is no exception.

Almost imperceptibly, Sasuke tilts his head to the side. "Even if I did, I wouldn't give it to you."

"That," Neji replies, "would be a very grave mistake." His Byakugan activates, and he can see Lee and Tenten hidden in the forest. There is no sign of Sasuke's teammates.

"And why's that?" And with a twirl of his fingers, Sasuke has shinobi wire wrapping all around him, snapping against his back and yanking him in, right towards him. He would panic that the infamous accidental kiss between the Uchiha and Uzumaki Naruto might be recreated, but the sudden blow to his stomach stops all thought process as the breath is knocked right out of him. He doubles over, body curling into himself as he falls to the ground, gasping and choking.

Just out of his peripheral vision, he sees Sasuke smirk as he kneels down beside him. "What a shame, Hyuuga," he taunts. "I have an earth scroll." And he's gone.

Lee and Tenten are by his side in the next minute, but all he can think about is how Sasuke sounded a little out of breath, a little exhilarated, a little overwhelmed—just like him.

Taunt. Shiver. A warm day.

Because of Lee's new obsession with Haruno Sakura, Team Gai has been bumping into Team Seven a lot as of late.

"You're looking so lovely today, Sakura-san!" his teammate coos at the sight of the pink-haired kunoichi. From beside him, Neji hears Tenten snort.

"Uh, thanks, Lee-san," Sakura says, clearly still a little uncomfortable with his straightforward sort of nature. Neji only briefly scans her, noting that her haircut does her justice, before his gaze falls onto Sasuke. The Uchiha has his hands in his pockets, looking off at something in the distance.

"Oi, Neji!" Naruto walks up and claps him on the back. "Are you signing up for the next chuunin exams?"

He smirks a little. "Of course. I can't let you think that you have a winning streak."

The blonde grins, and beckons at Sasuke. "Oi, teme! I think you and Neji should fight!"

"Maybe another time," Neji replies, entertaining the thought in his mind. It would be interesting. "I'm not sure if Uchiha can handle it."

"May I remind you of the incident in the Forest of Death?" Sasuke's deep voice sends shivers travelling down his spine. "You were the one left gasping and choking on the ground." Neji's smirk deepens as he stares at the Uchiha straight on.

"I suppose we'll have to change that, won't we?" He inclines his head towards his teammates. "Let's go, Lee, Tenten."

When he walks past Sasuke, their shoulders brush, and for a moment, his breath hitches. He can only hope that he has the same effect on the Uchiha.

Dust. Quiet. Lots of quiet.

Dancing has never been one of his things, but that's exactly what he's doing.

This is a new experience for him, but it's fun, he decides. The delicate process of teasing before hopping just out of reach—it's something he's taken to doing with Uchiha Sasuke. He was brought up with proper manners and views on society, so he can't help but think that this is a little wrong, a little inappropriate—but that just makes it all the more exciting.

He's a caged bird, after all. All he wants is to step outside of those bars and fly away.

When he pays a visit to the library and reads Konoha's law book, he finds that homosexuality has been outlawed since the creation of the village. He stares at the text for a few moments, before shutting it with a deliberate snap.

So that's his answer.

Snow. Adrenaline. Too many feelings.

It's a tradition among the Rookie Nine and their friends to host Christmas parties at a different place each year, rotating between everyone. This year, it's at the Uchiha compound—large and spacious, and much better compared to Naruto's apartment last year. And there is also proper food, instead of just cup ramen, for which Neji is glad.

There is a large Christmas tree in Sasuke's living room, so many gifts piled underneath it that it's spilling out and tripping people. Neji makes his way to the kitchen for a glass of water, because judging from how Lee is acting, someone—assumedly Naruto or Kiba—spiked the punch. It's quiet there, and he takes his time looking through the cupboards to find where the cups are placed.

"Two more cupboards to your left." He glances over his shoulder to acknowledge Sasuke, before getting a glass and filling it with water from the tap.

"Thank you."

Neji leans against the counter as he drinks, and Sasuke against the table. They fall into a silence that's not tense—an uncommon occurrence.

"I never said it personally," Sasuke says, looking away. "Congratulations on your recent promotion to jounin."

"Ah. Thank you." Neji nods. "Merry Christmas, as well."

"Merry Christmas to you too."

If Neji knew where to look, he would've seen the tips of the Uchiha's ears turning red. But of course, he doesn't, and so he never sees.

There are many things he wants. He wants freedom. He wants courage. He wants happiness. Of these three, he has none. But tonight, right here, right now, he wants a completely different thing—and that thing is Uchiha Sasuke. Neji has never wanted a person before, so he isn't sure if this is something he should be feeling—and although they are only standing a few feet from each other, it feels like oceans and mountains are separating them. He's unreachable.

When he looks at Sasuke, he's met head-on with onyx eyes and a burning gaze. Against his will, he swallows, and the grip on his glass tightens.

Eyes are just eyes. Cells piled upon more cells to create tissues and nerves to provide sight and a greater chance of survival. Eyes are not supposed to be black holes, sucking you in without any hope of escaping.

The tension is broken when Tenten skids into the room, announcing that gifts are being exchanged now.

Neji snaps his head towards her, and his eyes narrow in an almost-glare—and she freezes, seemingly understanding that she's done something wrong.

He doesn't know what that was—all he knows that he was on the brink of something raw and beautiful and ephemeral.

When he leaves the compound alone that night, he glances back—and in the window of the living room, he can see Sasuke's silhouette standing there, watching.

Golden leaves. Panting. A cool breeze.

When Neji goes to the next training ground over to avoid the incessant screaming from Lee and Gai, he bumps into Sasuke. In the distance, he can hear Uzumaki Naruto and Haruno Sakura arguing with each other, growing fainter by the second.

"Not leaving with your teammates?" he asks, inclining his head.

Sasuke crosses his arms, the faintest of creases in his brow. "I want to work on some of my more large-scale ninjutsu, but I don't see how that concerns you."

It only takes Neji a short moment to realize that he's frustrated. Angry. "Would you like to spar?" he offers—although he doesn't know why. This is Uchiha Sasuke, after all, and other than the passing taunt, they haven't been very close. But those dark eyes have always been alluring—and he finds himself waiting for him to accept—almost, dare he say it, hoping.

The Uchiha's frown deepens. "I won't go easy on you."

And Neji can't stop his smirk from forming. "I wouldn't want you to."

And he has to admit; for being one year his junior, Uchiha Sasuke is a formidable opponent. Neji expects no less, of course—he is an Uchiha, after all—and it really turns his gears, making him think of how to fight a long-range opponent with his short-range techniques.

It takes several minutes—or longer, maybe—to finally get behind the Uchiha, and he wastes no time with executing his Juuken—but in a flash, he is suddenly on his back, an overly triumphant Sasuke looming over him. The position is oddly reminiscent of the chuunin exams, and Neji wonders why he thinks back to that time, when there were clearly more interesting events during his time in the Forest of Death.

Sasuke is panting, but looking satisfied. "Do you regret it yet, Hyuuga?"

"Not at all, Uchiha." Neji's indifference visibly throws him off; he doesn't even need the Byakugan to see it. It's as if Neji dragged a rag across Sasuke's face, wiping the smirk off along with it.

He wonders, a little belatedly, if it's inconsiderate of him to be pushing Sasuke's buttons at a time like this. He appeared frustrated earlier, and the spar seemed to have helped—but it's apparent that Neji's presence alone is enough to grate at his nerves.

It's tense for several moments, where Byakugan battles Sharingan, both of them panting heavily.

"Haruno Sakura," Neji says suddenly, a thought flitting past his mind.

Sasuke looks taken aback. "What about her?"

"I was told that she confessed her feelings for you several days ago."

"What's it to you?" The Uchiha's frown is apparent.

He shrugs—as much as he can shrug while pinned down, anyway. "It has just occurred to me that she's the only female you speak to on a regular basis—and if I'm not mistaken, you treat her with a fair amount of respect and care. Why did you not accept her feelings?"

Sasuke snorts, and releases Neji's wrists, rising to his feet. "You speak as if you know me."

He raises an eyebrow as he brushes the grass off of his clothes, standing up as well. "I don't. That's why I'm asking."

It's a long moment before Sasuke answers, his voice much softer and lacking its usual sharp edge. "There are better people for her." He's looking away, off in the distance again—something that Neji realizes he does a lot. Always looking at something out of reach. "I…cannot give her what she wants."

And Neji almost wants to reach out and say some comforting words. But comfort isn't what he's made for, so he doesn't. "What can you offer, then?"

Sasuke smiles wryly. "Not much."

And would it be wrong to have this sudden urge to take him in his arms, and breathe the life back into him?

"Are women…" He says his awkwardly, shifting his weight on his feet and averting his gaze.

"What? My preference?" The younger boy hits spot on, and Neji tries his best not to flinch. "Sometimes. Maybe. Usually not."

"How cryptic," he responds dryly.

"It's not gender," Sasuke says, smirking a little and stuffing his hands in his pockets, "but the person. It's not my fault I'm not attracted to whiny, screaming girls." Then why not Sakura? Neji wonders. She's grown from her twelve-year-old fangirl state. She's a charming, beautiful young woman with undeniable faith and love. "And what about you, Hyuuga? Men or women?"

"Neji," he grits out, suddenly—irrationally—angry. "My name is Neji. Stop associating me with my clan."

And that is his answer.

Sasuke seems to sense this, because he closes the space between them in one step—and they are close, close enough for Neji to feel his breath on his mouth. Sasuke brings his hand up, and it almost, almost touches his cheek—something delicate and palpable and so unimaginably fleeting.

"Then," the Uchiha says quietly, painfully articulate, "the same goes for me…Neji."

He doesn't respond, because the moment before he does, he hears footfalls. Footfalls, and a voice. Tenten. "Neji? Lee and Gai-sensei want to go for some BBQ with Team Ten. You want to come?" The two boys leap away from each other in the next moment, lightening fast, just as the weapons mistress bursts through the trees. "Oh, Sasuke! I didn't know you were here. Would you like to come with us?"

The Uchiha is unreadable as he turns and walks away. "It's fine. You guys have fun."

Tenten makes a face. "What's with him?"

It is a still autumn day that everything changes.

Darkness. Impulses. A slow loss of sanity.

Neji has always followed rules. They are there for a reason, and he will accept them. They keep the chaos at bay, and allow him to think rationally.

But…he has never wanted something that's forbidden so much.

He blames the hope. Knowing that it's within his reach makes him want to just reach out and take it for himself—this small chance at happiness, at being content and satisfied inside of his cage—is it so wrong? Neji has never asked for anything in his life, but just this once…he wants to ask for this.

He is on night patrol when he bumps into him. "You're late, Sasuke," he almost-barks, watching the jounin. "Hokage-sama expected you back hours ago."

Sasuke shrugs. "Solo missions are not always the easiest." Past the slits of his mask, Neji can see that he's limping a little, and there is one clean cut across his porcelain cheek.

"Odd. I would've thought you were confident in your abilities."

"I am human, Neji. Humans make mistakes."

Mistakes, huh? I wouldn't mind making one of those myself.

Deciding that now's as good of a time as any, Neji removes his ANBU mask, breathing in a lungful of the evening air. It's summer. The sky is clear, and the stars are shining brighter than he could ever wish to shine. "It's a nice night, isn't it?" he asks, almost wistfully.

Sasuke grunts. "It'd be nicer if I actually showered once in the last three days."

He glances at the Uchiha's injured leg. "You should see Sakura-san first."

He shrugs. "In the morning."

They fall into a comfortable silence, and Neji tries his best not to look at him. It's going to be one of those moments. The moments where things are almost right, where they would stare at each other with unspeakable desire in their eyes.

It was only a matter of time before one of them broke.

Angling himself so Sasuke wouldn't see his clenched fists, Neji spoke. "The longer you wait, the worse it'll get."

"It's well past midnight, Neji. She'll be sleeping."

"She would get up, though. She would do it for you."

"What are you implying?" Sasuke's voice is sharp now—the way it should be. Neji should've never had the privilege to hear the other side of him—the other side that spoke with such soft rolls of the R, with so much pain and desperation and longing.

"I am implying," he says, tone just as hard, "that you have a perfect chance at happiness, and you are nothing short of stupid not to take it."

If you don't step out of my reach soon, it'll all come crumbling down.

It has been too long since he's been on the receiving end of Uchiha Sasuke's glare, so he relishes it. "Sakura," he says slowly, "is not my happiness."

Neji is clenching his fists so hard, his nails are digging into his palms painfully. "Then where is your happiness?" He receives no reply, but the way Sasuke looks away is enough of an answer. "You should know better," he says quietly. "That would end in nothing but disaster."

"As if you're any better," Sasuke all but hisses.

"We should stop this."

"Stop what? Nothing? Because that's exactly what's happening: nothing." It takes an entire life's worth of self-control for Neji not to flinch.

He closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, three times. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. When he feels his heartbeat return to normal, he looks at Sasuke. "That is good," he says, regaining his calm demeanor. "We will—we will find women. Strong, capable women who will do us good."

"I don't want a woman," Sasuke says brashly. "I want—I want—" He breathes in shakily, but the last word doesn't escape his lips.

I want you.

It takes a lot of effort on Neji's part to keep his composure. "No," he says with resolution. "No."

"Yes." Sasuke walks towards him with a limp, looking so tired and impatient and so terribly wrong in all of his masculine beauty. "I'm sixteen, Neji. Do you know when I started feeling this way? When I was twelve. Four years. It's been four years, and I'm done."

"You're only sixteen," he tries to reason. "Hardly even out of childhood yet."

The Uchiha snorts. "What a lie. We've been trained to kill since we were six. I'm a jounin, and you're in ANBU—we've seen more than grown civilian men will ever see in their lifetimes."

Neji feels the last of his resolve slipping away. "This is illegal. Homosexuality is illegal."

"That curse on your forehead—that could be considered illegal and inhumane in several other cultures and societies. Don't even get me started."

"The problem is here, Sasuke," Neji says through gritted teeth—begging, begging him not to do this. "The problem is now. We can't do this."

Sasuke's eyes are burning holes straight through his quickly dwindling determination, melting his ribcage and looking straight into his heart, where his darkest desires lie, hidden and never meant to be seen. "Yes we can," he says, unfazed. "Just watch us." And he sounds so sure, so full if drive, that Neji wants so badly to believe him.

Even if he had the time to, he doesn't think he would've stopped Sasuke from kissing him—because in that moment, everything was perfect. It was his first, and in retrospect, he wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Yes, it was clumsy, and yes, it was rough—and yes, he did go home that night with a suspicious cut on his bottom lip—but everything else made up for it. In that moment, Sasuke had become the world to Neji.

It's silly, isn't? To make one person your entire world.

After all, once that one person is gone, you're left with nothing.

Grunts. Momentary bliss. Regret.

The sex comes later. It comes quickly, but later, nonetheless. It comes, creeping, inevitably, waiting for the right moment to pounce, to snap the tension like an elastic band that's been pulled too far back.

Neji can't say it's perfect. He has never imagined sex to be perfect—it's an ugly thing; made for the sole purpose of reproduction, to be done away from the eyes of the general public. And this—sex between two men is the worst of all. But despite its imperfection, he can't say that it's bad. Nothing like that could possibly be bad. Whatever it is that he and Sasuke have between them—terrible timing and misplaced feelings—something that feels so sinfully good couldn't possibly be wrong.

But those moments—those short moments when they relax against each other, panting hard, before one of them finally breaks the tension and pulls on his pants—those moments are what he lives for. Is it wrong for Neji to say that he loves those moments more than the sex itself?

"I hate this," Sasuke grunts one day, detangling himself from Neji.

"Hate what?"

"This." The Uchiha gestures around them. "Sneaking around as if we're doing something wrong."

Neji refrains from raising an eyebrow. "But we are," he points out, grabbing his clothes and carefully tugging them back on. Once fully clothed, he runs his fingers through his hair, hoping that the scent of sex doesn't cling to him too much before he has a chance to shower.

"This is not wrong." The sudden change in Sasuke's tone surprises him. "This—this is not wrong. These feelings can't be wrong."

And Neji sees him for who Sasuke really is—a young boy who throws himself recklessly into situations, who's desperate hoping for something more, who's barely holding himself together.

What has he done?

Shaky breaths. Tears. That annoying lump that you get in your throat when you're about to cry.

If there is one thing Neji is, it is responsible.

"This needs to stop." He's panting as he lowers himself into a defensive stance, Sasuke only a few feet away.

"No," the younger boy says without the slightest hint of hesitation.

"Sasuke, you do realize what this would do to us if we're found out, right?" Neji can't find it in himself to attack the younger boy. Not with those eyes that seemingly pierce his very being, not those lips that he's kissed too many times, not those hips that he's held in a bruising grip—"We'll be stripped of our statuses. Arrested, maybe."

The Uchiha's eyes harden, and he slowly straightens up until he's standing properly. "Your point is?" It's almost impossible to tell what he's feeling.

"We'll have stripped the honor from our clans."

There is a long pause, and a breeze rolls by. Is it wrong to love the way the wind plays with Sasuke's hair? There is a certain air about the younger boy; he is all pride and dignity, caked onto nothing more than a mosaic that might shatter at any moment. Neji finds himself momentarily entranced, and he can almost feel Sasuke's skin underneath his fingers, his racing pulse beating to match his own—

No. This is wrong. He can't do this. They can't do this. Not anymore.

"Then," Sasuke says slowly, dispassionately, "we just can't let anyone know."

"You're not understanding," he almost-hisses. "This is over, Sasuke. We're over." They were never anything to begin with. It was just a delusional fantasy, a hopeless grasp at happiness.

The silence that stretches out feels far too long, and when Sasuke breathes in, he does it slowly. Neji can see his hands shaking imperceptibly.

"Fine. We're done." And without another word, he spins on his heel and stalks away.

Is it just him, or does Neji wish that he would've put up more of a fight?

This is for the better, he tries to tell himself, even though it takes all of his concentration not to just sit down and start crying. This is for the better.

Numbness. Because that's all there is, really.

"Neji?" He snaps out of his reverie when Tenten waves a hand in front of his face. "You okay? You've been really out of it lately."

He nods tightly. "Just fine."

They're at Team Gai's usual meeting point: a local teahouse, sitting in the booth that was farthest away from the main entrance. The seats across from them are empty for now; Lee and Gai have not yet arrived.

Tenten's brow knits with worry. "Are you sure? Is anything wrong? Any clan problems?"

Again, he shakes his head. "It's nothing, Tenten."

The weapons mistress beside him holds her mug of tea between her hands. "Y'know, Neji…lately, it feels like you've been slipping away from us. You've always been a little distanced from everything, but now, it's like you're only here out of obligation." She looks up at him, chestnut eyes wide and earnest. "We're your friends. Please don't forget that. We're here to help shoulder your problems."

He resists swallowing the lump of guilt in his throat. How can he possibly tell them what's happened? How can he still keep his face if he tells his team that he and Uchiha Sasuke had an affair, and that his heart might've actually been caught up in all of it?

Why is he attracted to Sasuke in the first place? What is it that makes him so wanted?

"There's nothing, Tenten." He keeps his expression blank. He can't break—not now. "There's no need to worry."

For the longest of moments, his teammate stares at him with this unidentifiable feeling in her eyes. It doesn't come as a surprise when she suddenly shifts, and presses her mouth to his in a kiss—short, but so tender and so sweet and so unlike Sasuke—

"I'm sure you've known for a long time," she says quietly. "I'm here for you. Always."

Neji looks away, and wonders what he's done to deserve someone as good as her. "Hn."

Seasons. Colors. Timelessness.

Neji counts. He realizes that it's probably the only thing that'll keep him sane, so he doesn't dare stop.

The hallways in his compound are twenty-two floorboards wide. He sees an average of four birds a day. Tenten shoots him worried looks too many times in an hour to keep track of.

And Sasuke—he only thinks of Sasuke once a day, because once he enters his mind, he doesn't leave.

And frankly, Neji is beginning to get tired of it. He is finished with Sasuke—done, over, and it won't ever happen again. So why won't he just leave him alone? He thinks of him wherever he goes, no matter what he's doing or who he's with. It seems like wherever he goes, there are reminders that they existed; that dango shop where they discussed "missions", those training grounds where they sparred and ended up distracted, doing…other things, that alleyway where they nearly got discovered—

And himself. Every time Neji looks at himself in the mirror, he thinks that Sasuke should be there, standing right beside him.

It's silly, isn't it? To wish for the presence of another. One doesn't need the company of another to succeed. In fact, it's better if he's alone.

They walk past each other in the street like they don't know each other. They don't even spare each other a greeting or a glance. Neji's getting better at ignoring the ache every day, but a part of him doesn't want him to. What good will ignoring do?

Nothing, that's what. Ignoring will do nothing.

A sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Stillness. A ray of light shining through the curtains of the window.

It shouldn't be a surprise, right? No, of course it shouldn't. This was bound to happen.

The card is crumpled in Neji's tight grip, but the golden letters engraved into the crème-colored parchment is the same. He could burn it to a crisp, and it would have still been an invitation to the wedding of Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura.

What should he have expected? It's been several years, already. He didn't think that Sasuke would've actually held on, did he?

No, he didn't. But that didn't stop him from hoping.

"What do you think I should wear, Neji?" Tenten bounds into the living room, holding several dresses. For a moment, he just stares at her in surprise—since when has she ever bothered to dress up? "Should I wear my hair down?"

He shrugs. "How you decide to make yourself look has nothing to do with me."

The weapons mistress feigns a pout, before grinning. "Of course it does! You're my boyfriend; you have a say in this!"

"You will look wonderful no matter what you do, Tenten." He resists sighing. Sasuke wouldn't bother with what to wear. He would grab something ten minutes before he has to leave, shove it on, and walk out the door without even checking if his hair is okay. This is why women are so fussy.

The crumpled parchment is clamped tightly in his clenched fist. Slowly, he flattens it and reads the message again.

We cordially invite you to the marriage celebration of:
UCHIHA SASUKE & HARUNO SAKURA

{dinner and dancing and eternity to follow.}

It almost sickens Neji, how perfect their names sound together. They're the picture-perfect image. And where does that leave him?

Out here, cold and miserable and never lonelier.

Snow. Cold. Raging heat.

Happiness should not have to be obtained. Happiness should always be present. One should never be unhappy.

That is what Neji thinks. Clearly, the fates think otherwise.

Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura are married on New Year's Eve—fitting, Neji decides. On the brink of something new and beautiful, but always still clinging to the past. That's a little like him too, isn't it?

In Konoha, the snow never stays for long, so he isn't worried when he steps outside for a breath of fresh air to find a thin layer of it on the ground. It's almost refreshing, in fact; it's like a sting on his cheeks that he hasn't felt in a long time. Something to pull him out of this slow, sluggish dream. Something crisp. Something real.

He takes a sip of his champagne, looking out into the distance. He has to let go, doesn't he? In fact, why hasn't he yet?

Neji doesn't even have to turn around to know who's approaching him. That chakra, those footsteps…

"I suppose I haven't congratulated you yet." He drinks again from his glass of champagne, hoping that it'll soothe him a little. It doesn't.

"I suppose you don't really want to." Sasuke sounds older now—more mature, more experienced. More knowing. Not expectant of the world, because he knows that it doesn't have a lot to give.

"What makes you say that?"

"It's true, isn't it?" Neji stops himself from flinching. "Contrary to popular belief, you're not that difficult to read."

He doesn't answer, but that's because he doesn't know how to.

What would be the right thing to say? Lie, of course. Say that Sasuke's wrong, that he cares fully and completely for Tenten (who, did he mention, is his girlfriend?) and clearly he has never been interested in men in the first place

But all of that would be a lie. And Neji hates lying.

"Are you happy?" he asks, wondering what this gut-wrenching feeling is supposed to be. Jealousy? Relief? Anguish?

Sasuke tilts his head to the side, and Neji wonders if he even knows this man anymore. "I'm not unhappy," he finally settles on saying. "Sakura is a good woman."

But she's not your woman, Neji wants to snap. There are several things he wants to do—hurt Sasuke, suffocate Sasuke (with both strangling and kissing), talk to Sasuke, fight with Sasuke, hold Sasuke make love to Sasuke SasukeSasukeSasuke—

He just wants Sasuke.

Breathing in deeply, he turns to face the Uchiha, features impassive. "Then this is where we truly end, isn't it?"

Do something. Say something. Show that at least at one point, you cared.

Sasuke's face remains blank. "We agree that nothing ever happened between us."

"Yes. Absolutely nothing."

And that is that.

Darkness. Ragged gasps. One last time.

Several more years pass. Tenten is officially a part of the Hyuuga clan with their first child on the way, and Sasuke and Sakura are already the parents of two.

It's better now, he supposes. He still thinks about it frequently, but it doesn't hurt as much anymore. There are more important things in life, after all—his job. His family. He has a family now, and it's his responsibility to protect it.

"It's a small mission, but to be safe, I'll be sending you two." The Hokage rolls the scroll across her desk for Neji to take it. "Can you handle it?"

On the scroll is a large sticker with the letter A emblazoned onto it. He hasn't seen that in a while. "Of course, Hokage-sama." Beside him, Uchiha Sasuke grunts his affirmation.

Tsunade nods. "Good. You will leave tonight."

It is a simple find-and-retrieve mission, and once Neji finishes scanning the scroll, he tosses it to his fellow ANBU member to read. "The gates at eleven?"

"Sure."

They part ways there, but Neji's mind is sent reeling.

When was the last time he had a mission with Sasuke? And alone, no less? Usually, ANBU are dispatched in platoons of four—and Sasuke is not in his regular team. The thought of spending a few days with him and just him makes nostalgic butterflies flutter in his stomach. It's been a while since he's looked forward to anything this much.

(Something in the back of his mind tells him that it's a sin, to be more excited to leave the village with a man than to come home to his wife.)

"Mission tonight?" Tenten asks, waddling into their room while Neji is packing.

"Hn. I'll be back in a few days."

"Where are you headed?"

"The Rain Country. A client wants a katana that's heavily guarded in the daimyo's palace." Clothes, shampoo, toothbrush…where did he put his soldier pills?

"Well, the baby's expected soon—I'd love it if you were here when he's born."

"You're sure it's a boy?"

"Mhm. Tsunade-sama did the chakra ultrasound herself." It's then that he actually looks at his wife—plump and sturdy and absolutely glowing. And it finally hits him—this woman is bearing his child; together, they've created life—and how amazing is that? How lucky is he, to have such a wonderful wife, who is willing to accept all of his flaws and has the patience to deal with his stubbornness and inability to socialize?

He blinks when his wife waves a hand in front of his face. "Neji? You okay?"

He looks away before she can see the blood rushing to his cheeks. "Just fine. I'll be heading out now." After pecking Tenten on the cheek, he walks swiftly out the door and out of her sight.

The moon is hiding behind the blanket of clouds when he meets Sasuke at the main gates, and he finds it fitting. They've always met away from the eyes of others. Always wearing masks, like they are right now, when around their friends. Neji had gotten so used to acting and pretending that once things ended between him and Sasuke, he suddenly realized how bland his life was.

"Are you ready?" He inclines his head towards the Uchiha, who nods in response. "Let's go, then."

No words are exchanged for the first few hours, and he expects no different. If there's one thing he can count on from Sasuke, it's the peace.

When they finally stop for a break, Neji removes his mask, pulling the elastic out of his hair and retying it. "How are the children?" he asks Sasuke, who also frees himself from his ANBU mask.

"Fine. Akari will be graduating soon. And Tenten?"

"The baby will be due in a couple of days, she said. It's a boy."

"Ah. Well, congratulations."

Funny, how time can erode even the most passionate of bonds. Neji can remember the days when all he wanted was Sasuke's presence; not his words, not his touch, not even his acknowledgement—just knowledge that he existed and was right there was enough for him.

And now? He couldn't say the same about that anymore.

"Do you regret it?" he asks, looking up and staring at the sky. Out here, they could see the stars—the clouds back in Konoha have disappeared.

"Sometimes." For the first time in a long time, he can almost catch a hint of emotion in Sasuke's voice. "Rarely. Do you?"

Neji thinks before he speaks. "I could. But regretting will get me nowhere. So I don't do it." He's just glad that it happened. Yes, of course. That's what they all say. And sometimes, it really just feel that way—other times, he honestly wishes that it was Sasuke's masculine body pressed against him, panting and sweaty, and not Tenten—who, despite being a strong kunoichi, still has the soft frame of a woman.

"You've always been the practical one." The Uchiha almost sounds wistful, and Neji wonders what's going through his mind. "The thing is, I don't think I'd regret it at all if I knew it was over. But it came…unexpectedly."

He looks away. "We were young. You were too young."

"I was old enough to know what I was doing."

And it's then that Neji realizes, Sasuke is just as vulnerable as he is.

"You sounded final when you ended things," the younger man continues. "And so I did the most logical thing: I moved on. It didn't mean that I wanted to, Neji. It was just necessary." He looks at Neji directly—the first time in months—and Neji is reminded of how hot, how scorching his gaze is. "I'd like to remove that regret, though."

He takes his time, processing his words. "What you're saying is, you want one more night."

Sasuke tilts his head to the side. "Yes, I suppose so. The most important part of ending something is knowing when the last time will be."

And how can he say no to that?

Never has Neji felt so compelled to finish a mission in his life. They complete it in the next day and a half, and they have one more day before they're expected to begin their return to Konoha. They take refuge in a small, but bustling village—and he finds it a little odd, because he's never been intimate with Sasuke in broad daylight. The Uchiha reaches for his hand while going to the market—and despite the looks and whispers that are directed at them, Neji couldn't be happier. And it's strange, almost, that only Sasuke can grant him this happiness.

Such simple pleasures—he's never had the chance to experience them. He almost wishes that they have more time.

This time, they do it correctly. Neji said he didn't mind if things progressed the way they always did, but Sasuke insisted. And so they have dinner at a nice restaurant, talking like lovers, talking in a way that they haven't for years.

They do it slow.

Neji's forgotten that Sasuke is now a man—not the adolescent he used to love, the boy barely out of his cocoon. He takes his time, tracing Sasuke's arms, the contours of his chest—because this is the last time, and he has to remember every moment of it.

And afterwards—afterwards, they lie beside each other in bed, naked and exposed and nothing separating them. All he can hear is their breathing, the occasional shuffle—and what is this feeling? Bliss? Peace? Both, perhaps. Neji closes his eyes and he almost (almost) cries, but he swallows the lump in his throat before any tears come. This isn't something that he should cry over.

"I know I'm not perfect," Sasuke says suddenly, breaking the silence. "And I don't know what it is that draws you to me. But…whatever it is…thank you. And I'm sorry."

It takes a moment for Neji to process, because he's sure that no one has ever heard Sasuke thank someone and apologize and lived to tell the tale. "The same goes to you."

"Sakura is a good woman."

"Yes, as is Tenten."

"We will be happy. We are happy."

"Yes. We are."

"We will regret nothing."

"Absolutely nothing."

Sasuke reaches over, and Neji closes his eyes at the feeling of the younger man's palm against his cheek—something so soft and tender that he's sure Sasuke is breaking on the inside. He responds slowly when he kisses him—just lips and slowness and finality.

And this really is the end.

Neji snaps out of his reverie when the door when Hizashi, his first son, opens the door.

"I'm home," the chuunin announces, removing his shoes.

"How was your day?" Neji asks, standing from his spot at the table and walking towards the kitchen, intending to make some tea.

"Okay. We're being deployed on a C-rank mission tomorrow, though—I'll be back in a couple of days."

A few hours later, Tenten returns with their second child, Kaori. She's only seven, and still in the academy—and at the sight of her father, scurries across the kitchen and hugs him around his legs. "Daddy! There are so many pretty leaves outside! Let's play!"

Neji can't help but chuckle and pick his daughter up. "Of course," he answers, much to her delight. "After I finish making this tea, alright?"

"Okay!"

The rich colors of autumn have always made Neji a little wistful—but as he goes outside to play in the leaves with his daughter, his wife and son watching on the side, he decides that it's not always a bad thing.

And when he turns away from his family, he smiles.


A/N: Neji/Sasuke is one of my crack!OTPs. That being said, I am still a terrible Sasuke/Sakura fangirl, and I do write it quite frequently. (But Itachi/Sakura still beats all.)

Why yes, I do write stuff other than yaoi. Why do you ask?