Disclaimer– We don't own Naruto nor any character or setting there from and we're not making any profit off these writings, it's all just for fun.
Warning– For this chapter nothing much. Men being attracted to other men, drooling babies and mentioning of past M-preg, nothing vivid though.
This is a collab between Trulywicked and Acherona. It's a sequel/sidestory of sorts to Ash's story Live, Learn & Love but it can be read perfectly fine on its own since this story concentrates on Itachi and Neji.
My Saving Grace.
Dark eyes narrowed and their owner scowled at his reflection in the mirror, at the slowly re-growing inky black hair. It was short, George Clooney's Caesar cut short, and he hated it. He missed his long tresses, missed the way they'd sweep over his back and brush the sides of his face. He was not ashamed to admit that he'd enjoyed the feel of and playing with his own hair. It was a nice feeling to just run your fingers through long, smooth, silky strands, to feel the gentle tug on your scalp. It soothed and settled him, though he would admit it was better to have someone else doing the stroking.
Now though he had this short cap of hair that was thinner than before, when it had first started re-growing the tips had been completely without pigment so it looked like he had frosted tips, and what was worse, it was growing back in curly. Not too terribly curly but still, he had curls and a new cowlick at the top right of his head. He hated it. Hated the change and what was more, he hated what it represented.
It was a constant reminder of the pain and months of undergoing chemotherapy, of the knowledge that he'd had a disease eating away at him, of the fact that he now would never have children of his own.
A pale fist hit the wall with a dull thud. That was the bitterest pill to swallow, his sterility. For years he'd always known that one day he'd be a father, he'd always felt that that was what he was meant to be. It was just something that had bloomed in his soul from the very first moment he'd held his infant brother. Holding his baby brother in his arms, watching him grow up, helping to teach him wrong from right, and guiding him in moments of indecision or distress had felt right. That feeling of knowing that he was meant to be a father one day had lead him to break from their family's long tradition of going into law and get a teaching degree so he could work with children further and glean more knowledge of how to deal with children of all ages.
He'd fallen in love with the job too. There was no better feeling than when he helped a child grasp a thorny concept or managed to boost a timid child's confidence in their skills. The smiles of triumph he saw always made it worth the few difficult students. He loved teaching and the children loved him, he was recognized as one of the best teachers in the state and even when children moved on to another grade they'd still stop by to visit him.
He'd always known that one day he would have his own son or daughter, had always known in his deepest soul that was what he was supposed to do, that being a father one day was to be his purposein life. One little hiccup in his body, one little thing that decided to go haywire, and that was stolen from him. All it had taken was a stubborn tumor caused by abnormal cell division and his reason for being born had been blown all to hell.
Now he was floundering in what felt like whitewater rapids without a paddle or compass. He had no direction and no more sense of self. He'd even resigned as a teacher because he was afraid that he'd be more of a hindrance to the children's development the way he was now.
These days there were only two things that gave him any surcease from the raw wound in his heart. One was his nephew, Shinji was most definitely an Uchiha to his bones but he had a healthy dose of Uzumaki mischief in him too. He enjoyed looking after his nephew the same as he had looking after Sasuke but it was bittersweet knowing he'd never hold his own son as he did his nephew.
The other was his pursuit of a stubborn Hyuga with long silky hair that put Itachi's former mane to shame. Ever since he'd seen Neji in the waiting room as Naruto labored to bring Shinji into the world, he'd been captivated by the pale eyed man's beauty and bite. And bite the Hyuga did. Every advance Itachi had made was rebuffed to date but Uchihas weren't known for giving up as a rule and just being around Neji pulled Itachi out of the mire of self-pity and soul deep sorrow he seemed to live in these days. Right now Neji was Itachi's only saving grace, though he didn't know it.
Neji winced as Shinji buried his sticky little fingers in his hair and pulled with all his might. For a moment he regretted agreeing to watch the tyke while Naruto and Sasuke went to the movies.
He smirked at the memory of Sasuke lecturing him before they left, he was such an overprotective mother hen, it was quite adorable actually, seeing the cold, broody Uchiha wrapped around his husband and his son's fingers.
Neji was still struggling to get Shinji's fingers out of his hair when the doorbell rang. Shinji bounced in glee at the sound and started to struggle to get out of Neji's lap making him pull on Neji's hair even more. Neji didn't even want to think about what could make the babies fingers that sticky. Neji wondered who it could be since he was at Sasuke and Naruto's house but he still couldn't ignore the door.
With a sigh Neji lifted Shinji, still tangles up in his hair like a happy little spider and went to answer the door.
Itachi's brows lifted and a slow, deadly sexy smile crept over his face as he saw Neji standing there with an armful of impish infant. "Well this is a surprise, a very pleasant one."
Pale eyes widened at the sight of Itachi, well if it wasn't his own personal stalker...Neji didn't know how to act around the older Uchiha, the man confused and made him feel things he wasn't ready to feel and that scared him.
"Sasuke and Naruto aren't home; they'll be back in an hour or two." Neji said shortly.
Shinji squealed loudly right into Neji's ear at the sight of his favorite uncle and he reached out his chubby little hands towards Itachi, making Neji's long tresses come along.
Itachi's smile shifted to that of the adoring uncle as he reached out and took his nephew from Neji, carefully and expertly extricating the strands of dark chocolate hair from the chubby fist. "There's my favorite little man! Have you been a good boy for your Mama and Dada?" He brought Shinji close, his cheek nuzzling the small cap of baby hair, and slipped into the house, deliberately brushing against Neji just to see the other man's reaction. "I came mostly to see my nephew. I must say that seeing you here as well is quite a treat."
"Hmm." Neji didn't quite manage to repress a shiver as Itachi brushed against him, it felt as if the other man had an electric field surrounding him and if you got too close you couldn't help getting shocked. "I thought you were busy since Naruto asked me if I could babysit." Neji closed the door and walked back into the house after Itachi. He admired how the older Uchiha moved, all lean grace and sexy saunter.
Itachi shook his head. "No I wasn't busy, Naruto probably thought I was at school since it's Monday." He moved to sit with Shinji on the floor, his gaze catching on the slender man he was so interested in. Neji was exquisitely gorgeous, moonlight pale skin, that long silky hair that Itachi longed to run his hands through, the opalescent eyes that seemed to see everything, and a truly delicious body. He liked the man's personality as well, the cool humor and affection he showed those he cared for. Not a position Itachi enjoyed as of yet but he liked the claws Neji had shown when dealing with him just as much.
"Ah, that must be it then." Neji watched how Shinji placed wet baby kisses on Itachi's cheek as he tried to get his uncle's attention. Shinji wanted all eyes to be on him at any given time. Itachi was absolutely wonderful with his nephew and that was one thing Neji could admit that he admired about the other man. Neji fished out a tie from the pocket of his dark jeans and ran his fingers through his frazzled hair before pulling it up into a tight ponytail, just in case Shinji would be tempted again. "Wait, why aren't you in school since it's Monday?" Neji raised an eyebrow, he didn't know why he cared what Itachi was doing with his days but for some reason he did.
Itachi chucked Shinji under the chin and tickled his sides, drawing delighted giggles from the child. "I resigned my position recently." His tone was a bit flat, somewhat empty, as if it hurt to say, even as he smiled for his nephew.
Now that surprised Neji, from what Naruto had told him Itachi loved his job as a teacher and that he was really good at it. Naruto had talked a lot about how much the children Itachi taught adored him. He heard from Itachi's tone of voice that the man didn't really want to talk about why he had quit and as annoying that Itachi could be Neji didn't want to make him uncomfortable. "Huh, do you have any idea what you want to do now?" He figured that question was a safe one.
Utter silence and stillness seemed to creep over Itachi, a darkness flashing over his face. Shinji whined and his hands bat at his uncle's chest, as if he knew something was wrong and didn't want Itachi sad. The Uchiha blinked and shook himself out of it to cuddled Shinji in apology for upsetting him. "No." His voice was soft and almost...lost in tone.
"Don't worry, it will come to you." Neji picked up a bright orange...thingand waved it in front of Shinji, smiling softly as the baby giggled. "Just look at me, I'm twenty-six and I'm still spending my time playing around with computers as my uncle puts it." Neji looked up into Itachi's dark eyes. "Take some time to just be."
"Hn." Itachi's expression softened as Shinji reached for the orange toy. "What do you play with on the computer?"
"I build websites for different companies, I was a geek all through school and I suppose I still am." Neji gave sort of a half smile. He really liked his work but his uncle still waited for him to stop playing and join the company. He loved Hiashi like his own father but joining Hyuga Corp. was the last thing he wanted to do.
Itachi's eyes warmed. "There's nothing wrong with being a geek," his gaze swept over the other man, "You'd be the perfect PR man for reshaping people's view of the geek."
"Oh you should have seen me in high school, braces, pocket protector, I had it all. No one would give me the time of day except for Naruto; he was determined to become my friend anyway." Neji smiled at the memories. "How about you? I suppose you were Mr. popular."
Itachi's lips twitched. "You'd be wrong. I was one of the 'bad boys' of the school. Leather jacket, piercings, tattoos, and a small gang. It was rather cliché."
Neji let his eyes roam over Itachi's form, trying to imagine him as the bad boy. He had to admit that the image was kind of hot. "Piercings and tattoos huh?" Neji couldn't help but imagine where those tattoos were placed since he hadn't seen any ink on the pale skin. Maybe Itachi had gotten rid of them which would be a shame according to Neji, he had a major thing for tattoos, they made him all sorts of hot.
The Uchiha's eyes lit and he purred. "If you ask nicely I might show you where they are."
Blinking Neji pulled his eyes away. "Pfft, as if I care." The Huyga busied himself with Shinji and his toy again so he wouldn't have to look at Itachi and picture where those fucking tats were.
The older man just smiled, his eyes twinkling at Neji's reaction. "Oh I'm wounded."
"Yah I'm sure you are." Neji grumbled as he made funny faces at Shinji, smiling himself when he made the baby giggle his bubbly laugh.
Itachi leaned back on his hands and watched Neji with the baby. A soft, wistful smile curved his lips as his mind wandered through the minefield that had become his self-esteem. He wondered if Neji had ever considered having children and, if he had, how might those children come about. He was sure the opal eyed man was gay but what if he was wrong. A slight crease formed in between his brows in consternation. If Neji wasn't attracted to men then he was just making a fool out of himself by coming on to the Hyuga and Itachi felt battered enough these days. He didn't need that blow to his already shaky self-worth.
Neji groaned as his knees started to ache from holding all his weight; he wasn't used to play on the floor anymore. He was just about to suggest to Itachi that they could move in to the kitchen when the door rattled.
"We're home! Where's my beautiful baby boy?" Naruto's voice sounded through the house. Neji looked at the watch in surprise; they must have left in the middle of the movie to be home so soon.
Itachi chuckled and called out. "You simply couldn't stay away for very long could you?"
Naruto pouted as he came rushing into the room throwing himself on the floor to nuzzle his son. "Aw come on...No movie in the world can compare to this treasure right here...No sirree." He kissed Shinji's plump cheeks. "Hi 'Tachi by the way, didn't think you'd be here."
Sasuke strolled into the room, a brow raised in his brother's direction. "Isn't it Monday?"
"Why yes little brother. Good to see you can remember the days of the week after all these years." Itachi's hands came together in a mocking clap that was mimicked by his nephew, with much more enthusiasm.
"Shut up you evil a-" Sasuke's gaze went to his son, "hiney-head."
Neji burst out chuckling, he couldn't help himself, he looked at Itachi with his eyes filled with mirth.
"No, no Itachi don't mock your brother, you know how sensitive he is." Naruto chided Itachi with a teasing glance at his husband. "Oh and Neji you can never guess who we saw at the movies...Gaara, it seems he's back in town."
All mirth disappeared from Neji's eyes at the mentioning of his ex boyfriend. "Is that so?" He said in a flat voice.
Itachi went still. He didn't like hearing the emotion wiped from Neji's voice and liked even less seeing it gone from his face. He reached out and tugged lightly on the ponytail of dark chocolate hair, trying to distract the other man.
"Be careful, I have both spit and baby formula in my hair after handling this little hellion." Neji grimaced at Itachi, the first thing he'd do when he got home was to take a long, hot bath.
The Uchiha chuckled. "I've been regurgitated on by first graders and Kindergartners. A little baby spit is nothing in comparison."
"Eww." Neji scrunched his nose up. "I can't even clean up my cat's coughed up hairballs without throwing up myself." He was a weakling but he wasn't afraid to admit it.
"Oh yes you should have seen this wuss during my days of morning sickness, fighting me for the toilet." Naruto snickered and poked Neji in the ribs.
Neji squirmed closer to Itachi to get away from the poking finger; Naruto knew all his ticklish spots. "Well puke is gross." He said as a defense, well aware of how lame it sounded.
"Hmm." Itachi didn't know what to say to that. When he'd been undergoing the chemo his stomach had revolted more easily than Naruto sucked down ramen and that was the least foul of the bodily fluids that he'd ended up excreting as a result of the treatment.
Sasuke looked at his brother in concern. He remembered being with Itachi when those horrible vomiting spells had struck and nothing had scared him more than to see his strong, almost invincible big brother dry heaving and crying as his body refused to let him rest. "There are worse things than vomit Neji."
"I know that, just because I don't like it doesn't mean I can't handle it." Neji said without looking at Sasuke.
"It's true," Naruto nodded. "Even though it did make him sick himself he was right there taking care of me when I needed it...You're still a wuss though." The poking finger came back and Neji squirmed further away until he was almost pressed against Itachi's side.
"So anyway back to the gossip." Naruto took his sleepy son from Itachi's arms and rocked him gently. "Gaara was alone at the movies." He looked at Neji expectantly.
Neji tensed. "No offense Naruto but I really have no interest to hear anything about that lying and cheating piece of shi...feces."
"It's okay Neji...if it's any comfort Sasuke offered to kick his ass...My hero." Naruto looked up at his husband and even though the hero comment was said as teasing love shone out of his eyes.
Sasuke leaned down as if to brush a kiss over Naruto's brow then he thumped it. "Language my idiot."
"Sorry bas...Sasuke but he's sleeping, I don't think he heard." Naruto leaned against Sasuke's thigh.
"Hn!" The duck butt haired man lowered himself down to sit next to his idiot. "If you don't remain in practice then you'll end up slipping when he is awake. If our son's first word is one that can't be repeated in public I'm going to kick yourbehind."
"It was a simple slip of the tongue." Naruto furrowed his brows. "Don't act so high and mighty, you've had your fair share of them too." Naruto said grumpily.
"Okay, now that you're home and everything is in usual order I think I'm going to start heading home." Neji said from his place on the floor.
Sasuke nodded at the Hyuga. "You're welcome to stay for dinner though if you'd like."
"Thank you, that'd be nice." Neji loved his friends dearly and after all there was no one waiting at home for him except his cat. "Would you mind if I borrowed the shower to rinse out my hair a bit though?"
The younger Uchiha shook his head. "No, help yourself. As Naruto says, you're family."
Neji smiled and went towards the bathroom, he took off his shirt and took the shower hose holding it over the sink as he bent over and rinsed out his hair. Afterwards he dried it with one of the guest towels and let it hang loose. Shinji was asleep so at the moment he wasn't a threat. Pulling his shirt back on Neji went back out to join the others.
Itachi had been answering Naruto's questions on the best ways to teach an infant but when Neji returned he broke off, his gaze drawn, as it always was, to the other man's hair then to the Hyuga's face. He lost track of what he'd been saying as he stared.
"Do I have something on my face?" Neji rubbed it with the back of his hand causing Naruto to snicker as he picked himself off of the floor and placed Shinji in a bassinette in the corner of the living room. "Let's move this in to the kitchen, Sasuke is cooking tonight and I like to watch."
Itachi rose gracefully to his feet and caught an errant water drop that had decided to linger on a set of long lashes framing one of Neji's opalescent eyes.
"Ah...Okay..." Neji flushed a bit and turned away from Itachi to follow the blond to the kitchen.
Naruto hurried away from the doorframe where he had been peeking and went to the stove and wrapped his arms around Sasuke's waist from behind. "Oh man, they both got it sooo bad...Do you think we can do something to hurry it along?" He nuzzled the back of Sasuke's neck as he whispered to him.
The dark eyes of the Uchiha flicked back at him. "Matchmaking? Shinji doesn't keep us occupied enough?"
"But it's your brother and Neji...I want them to find love, to be as happy as we are...Wouldn't it be awesome if they found it together?"
Sasuke half-turned and brushed his lips over Naruto's. "Unless you know how to get Neji to give my brother a chance it's doubtful it will go anywhere."
"I'll figure something out." Naruto said full of confidence. "Neji wants him, he's just not willing to admit it to himself yet but he will, I'll make sure of it." Naruto quieted as Neji and Itachi came in to the kitchen.
Itachi went to lean against a wall and watch Neji out of hooded eyes. "So what's on the menu?"
Neji shifted as he felt Itachi's gaze on him, heat pooled in his stomach but he didn't know how to handle it.
"Chicken and pasta." Naruto answered Itachi happily well aware of the looks between his friends. "Here," He shoved a bowl with tomatoes at Itachi. "You can rinse and chop up those and you," He turned to Neji. "You can do the same with the salad." He pointed them towards the counter, pleased that they would have to work close together. Humming to himself Naruto went to set the table.
Itachi just chuckled and moved to rinse the tomatoes before choosing a very sharp chef's knife, a paring knife, and a cutting board. He used the paring knife to core them before taking the chef's knife to the tomatoes. Chopping them into half inch chunks with expertise. Every so often his elbow would brush Neji's, sending a sensual thrill though him. "So what do you normally do with your time Neji?"
"Hmm? The usual, nothing much I think." Neji rinsed the salad and tore it into nice sixed pieces before placing it in the large blue bowl Naruto had placed in front of him. "I work, hang out with friends, visit family. Nothing special." The brunette shrugged and blew a few stray strands of hair out of his eyes. "Oh and I love to go on flea markets...cliché of the gay man to like I suppose but I still find it fun. Used to drag Naruto with me on weekends, bored him to death." Neji smiled.
Itachi tsked. "He just doesn't have any sense of culture."
"Oh isn't that the truth." Neji agreed.
"Hey I can hear you, you know...Standing right here!" Naruto flailed and pointed to himself. "And flea markets...culture? Please...You spent hours looking at old cracked tea sets and books with torn out pages...I was afraid you had turned into an eighty year old woman."
Itachi snorted. "You obviously do not understand the intricacies of flea market shopping. You probably wouldn't watch Antiques Roadshow if you had a gun to your head."
"Erk..no, spare me. Five minutes watching that crap and it feels like my head's about to explode." Naruto shuddered.
"I rest my case. No culture. Flea markets are a gift to society." Itachi did enjoy flea markets but he enjoyed poking at Naruto about it more.
Naruto shook his head and wrapped his arms around himself forlornly. "I...I don't know what to say. It feels like I don't even know who you are anymore." He gave an exaggerated gasp and flounced over to bury his face in Sasuke's neck.
Neji laughed, loud and throatily at his friends antics. He supposed he should be somewhat offended since he really did like both flea markets and the Antiques Roadshow but he wasn't, he knew that they didn't mean anything bad by their banter.
Sasuke snorted. "Itachi has always liked flea markets Naruto. The first field trip he takes the kids on in any given year is toa flea market, supposedly to teach them money values and bargaining."
Itachi's eyes were wide and innocent. "They're important life skills."
"I think you just do it so you can be there on a day when the best bargains happen."
Neji laughed harder at Naruto's disbelieving stare and Itachi's faked innocence. "I for one think that's an excellent field trip, and if it happens to be on a day when they get new material in then that's only an added bonus." He grinned and placed the salad bowl aside, having finished tearing it up.
Itachi smiled at the Hyuga, loving the way humor lightened his face and made him seem to glow. "Thank you Neji."
"Nothing to thank me for, it's the truth." Neji flushed pink again and pushed his hair behind his ears.
'See?'Naruto mouthed to his husband behind Itachi and Neji's back, giving Sasuke the thumbs up.
Sasuke shook his head at his husband. He was impossible but Sasuke wouldn't have him any other way.
Itachi just continued to focus on Neji. "I'm just glad to know that there's another person who is intelligent enough to grasp what makes flea markets special."
"Me too, most people I've met thinks they're boring." Neji paused, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "Maybe...Maybe we could go together some time?"
Brief surprise lit Itachi's gaze but it was soon drowned out by the sheer pleasure that Neji had just asked him out. His smile softened. "I'd like that, I'd like that a lot."
"Hmm, good then." Neji smiled softly. "If you don't stop with the grinning I swear to God I will smack you." He said to Naruto without even turning to look at him.
Naruto tried to dampen his smile and failed miserably.
Itachi 'accidentally' slipped with his knife and a big chunk of tomato flew at Naruto and hit him square in the face.
Naruto flipped Itachi off and went to find a towel to wipe the tomato gunk off of his face. "Aw man, I think I got some in my eye...You're a brute Itachi...I'm starting to believe the horror stories Sasuke has told me about you now."
"Nice aim." Was Neji's only comment.
"I do try."
Sasuke glanced over at Naruto, the message clearly a loud 'I told you so'.
Naruto was rubbing his eye furiously but poked his tongue out at his husband.
Suddenly a wail was heard and Naruto dropped everything to hurry out of the room. "He's already awake? I thought he would sleep at least another hour." All traces of the teasing Naruto was gone and the parent firmly in place as he rushed to his son's side.
Itachi turned in time to see Shinji babbling at his 'Mama' and cuddling into Naruto's hold. A brief spike of sharp envy bloomed within him and he had to turn away to get himself under control. Inside he wanted to just start screaming 'It's not fair!' and break down into sobs but if he did Sasuke would likely call the men in white coats.
His brother wasn't ignorant of Itachi's sudden focus on a tomato he was utterly pulverizing but he knew Itachi would never talk to him about what was bothering him. So he turned to Naruto instead. "Is he hungry?"
"Um, yeah...I think so." Naruto blushed redder than the tomatoes as Shinji began to peck with his tiny little mouth at Naruto's chest. "I'll...I'll just go into the bedroom and feed him."
Sasuke lifted a brow. "You're still uncomfortable nursing him around family?"
Naruto nuzzled Shinji's soft hair as the baby kept pecking, growing more and more impatient, looking like a little baby bird. "Well it's not you who has to whip out your man boobs all the time; I'll go to the bedroom." Naruto was still blushing bright as a stop light.
This time a piece of tomato hit Sasuke on the cheek as Naruto flounced to the bedroom. The younger Uchiha turned to glare viciously at his brother. "Stop that!"
Itachi just smiled. "Be more considerate of your husband."
Sasuke growled as he turned back to the stove, wiping the tomato sludge off.
"Again very nice aim, I highly approve." Neji told Itachi as he finished setting the table in Naruto's place. He could see why Naruto was embarrassed by nursing in front of them even though none of them would think anything strange of it.
Itachi just exchanged a smile with him as Sasuke growled.
To be continued…