Cries of the Forest @shiro1sora
Chapter 15

"Was that r-really necessary, Shino?"

The Aburame heir had recently regained mobility and was now walking next to his subtly irate teammate, the only other that could possibly distract from his hasty actions still in a dead faint on the back of his giant ninken.

He wanted to cringe at how impulsive he'd been, and his posture slouched in a silent pout none but those closest to him would recognize for what it was.

". . . I admit that I was hasty," he relented. He quickly interjected before she could say more. "Why? Because it was I who initiated the fight, and you also seem to disapprove of my actions." He couldn't say that he felt bad; the stranger had held his own quite well for someone he assumed to be untrained, (which was suspicious in and of itself, but he was in enough trouble with Hinata to bother prying more than he already had.)

"B-But it d-d-doesn't sound l-like you regret what you-you've done! You at-t-tacked someone with n-no basis o-o-other than the feel of their chakra!" Veins had started appearing around her pastel eyes unconsciously in her anger, (which was scary, stutter or no,) and her long black hair started to fan out with her rampant emotions.

He felt like a child being scolded, (which he recalled having happened only a handful of times in his childhood, being a generally logic-driven child.)

He was usually the most rational of the three, known for his level-headedness. How embarrassing.

Hinata was now working on calming herself by stress-eating some dango he hadn't even registered she'd purchased. Chances were, though, she would need a good few cinnamon buns in the end anyway, as she always did have quite the liking for them.

"It's true that I don't regret my actions. Why? I was merely taking precautionary measures." A grumpy, petulant stare urged him on. "His chakra, while feeling generally friendly, seemed a bit dangerous. I have never seen that person before, and he fought too well to be a simple civilian." Which was true. He'd unconsciously held himself in a ready stance, used wooden techniques only one other was known to use, and was much too fast to be written off as being completely harmless.

Of course, he could have been that ANBU rumored to be able to wield the Shodai's techniques, but that boy seemed to lack that sense of melancholy and overwhelming experience he'd observed to be a commonality among the Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai.

Therefore, he was suspicious; (though it was a testament to Hinata's kindness and strength of character that she didn't automatically suspect every part of their surroundings.)

"I-I think I get it...," Hinata said begrudgingly, though he noticed that she wouldn't quite meet his eyes, (or, really, his shades.)

The high sun's light seemed to reflect off her long tresses through obscurity, refracting through her eyes like the iridescent wings of the pearl Morpho Sulkowski, while the common passerby went past in a blur of color and white noise. He looked away, just as Kiba started groaning on the back of Akamaru, signaling his awakening. (He was thankful for the exceptionally high collar of his jacket then, for had it not been there, all would be able to see the subtle pink tint high on his otherwise stoic face.)

"Dudes, I feel like I got hit by one of Tsunade's punches." Shino almost laughed at that, because of course Kiba would know exactly how hard the Godaime hit.

They stopped at the side of the street to allow Kiba to collect his bearings; (though this was a rather generous way of putting it. Others saw him slide off his ninken's back and lie in a heap somewhat pathetically.)

Shino, already far too used to his other teammate's antics, simply sighed and waited for the opportune moment to make fun.

"Well, m-m-maybe next t-time you should look where you-you're going!"

"Look, not everyone can have 360° vision! So I didn't see 'im in time, sue me!" Kiba had now pulled himself into a sitting position and was currently rubbing at what was probably a very sore forehead. They were attracting stares, but that wasn't new.

"I don't think it's hard to see someone dressed in that shade of orange and still claim to have not been able to react in time. Why? Because I know that not even you are that bad of a ninja."

A small smile curled on his lips, hidden while Kiba started to splutter in outrage. He wondered if there would ever be a time when Kiba wouldn't take the bait. Then he decided he didn't want to see those times come to fruition.

"Look, I don't have to take this-!"

"Noisy as ever, Kiba."

Kiba perked up with the newcomer's appearance. "Shikamaru! Yo, I didn't know you were back from your mission!"

"Literally just-," he was interrupted by a wide yawn, and Shino twitched with the effort of not doing the same, "-got back."

He supposed that was reasonable, as they had unconsciously wandered closer to the gates before Kiba awakened from his impromptu nap.

"Kinda weird seein' you so tired again. Didn't notice before, but you've seemed more energetic lately." A bit unusual, but no one could claim to fully understand the Nara heir.

Shikamaru helped pull up Kiba, (or, really, stood there while Kiba used his nearest arm as a limp support.) They started ambling towards the Hokage Tower in light of Shikamaru's unfinished mission report.

The lazy boy grunted, eyes drooping tiredly.

"Look, I don't usually question your actions. Like why I found you in a puddle on the ground outside the shopping district." Shino made a mental note of that subtle deflection and wondered what his friend would possibly have to hide. Though he never was one for gossip.

A flash of that same shade of obnoxious tangerine appeared in his periphery, but it was gone too quickly for him to bring attention to that strange boy.

"'S not my fault I got wiped out during our spar! Some weird kid was there and I almost accidentally killed 'im! Me an' Akamaru were doing our thing, then next thing ya know, BAM! I got knocked out by the dude!"

Kiba's animated retelling almost had him knocking into some civilians, (all who sent him dirty looks.) His friends merely sidestepped before a stray hand could land a blow on their persons.

"W-we tried to warn him, bu-but Kiba was too slow..."

"Yes, and then he created a wall of wood in defense, hence the knot on his forehead." Shino couldn't help but notice the sudden attention Shikamaru was giving him.

"Ah, I guess you guys met Naruto, then."

"Naruto?" The question came from Hinata, who flushed and retracted shyly when they looked at her.

". . . Yeah; he's a friend of mine that I've been meeting for a couple of months now. Came from another village kind of recently."

His story checked out, (not that Shino was overly suspicious, but even he gets curious sometimes, and a ninja's suspicion can never quite be silenced.) It certainly explained why he wasn't familiar with the blond.

"Really? I was under the assumption that Tsunade was the last living Senju."

"Mmh. Well, he never knew his parents, so it could be anything from recessive genetics to a secret love child of our dear Hokage's."

"Don't even joke about that!" Kiba laughed. "If she hears you saying that, she'll be after you like you've drunken her oldest bottle of saké!" There was a collective shiver at that imagery and resolved not to stir the hornet's nest.

"W-well, next t-t-time we see him, we'll ha-have to apologize again..." Shino supposed he should be a bit repentant by now, knowing that there really was no good reason why he attacked a civilian.

"Yeah, well maybe he should apologize for wearing that stupid jumpsuit in public! Seriously, who does that?!"

"I don't think you are the most qualified to talk about fashion, Kiba."


Shikamaru snorted, then waved a hand at the loud Inuzuka.

"I got a fun mission report to complete, both written and oral."

"Yeah, get outta here!" Kiba said playfully, attention momentarily diverted from whatever ongoing feud he had with Shino.

Shikamaru turned away from the quartet with a small smile on his face and a lazy satisfaction that everything was right in his world once more, at least for the moment.

Naruto had felt the chakra of Shikamaru reenter The Village, but couldn't yet find the energy to go all the way back into Konoha just to greet someone who was also tired and would probably visit him sooner rather than later.

This isn't to say he didn't want to see Shika after so long, but... he didn't think he could handle more People in one day. He was all Peopled out. But, now that he had a bunch of new clothes from Ino, that meant he could visit again soon and not feel like a rock in the river!

He was glad to be back in his familiar skins, though. While he'd kept his bone and bead necklaces, he would probably always prefer the comfortable weight of the furs draped around his waist, layered in such a way as they wouldn't easily fall to the ground while he hunted or ran. He was a bit slower than usual with the bulky and awkward bag from that hellish store, but he still made good time and picked up some snacks on the way to his den.

It was dark now, and the only way to see was to distinguish the darker silhouettes of the trees from everything else or hope there was an occasional sliver of moonlight to illuminate his instinctive path.

But his keen senses easily aided him in traversing the natural chaos of The Forest. Wisps had started lighting false trails around him, though he paid them no mind. Some had wings and some didn't, but neither was very helpful for him. Though Father had told him that simply thinking of one's purpose isn't always enough, so maybe it was best to use the root system to get back to the den...

Taking his time to greet each and every tree on his way, he 'walked' through the visualized tunnel of roots that allowed the technique to happen. (The trees were happy enough to greet and assist him, as it had been far too long since they'd gotten to enjoy the gifted boy's presence.)

And when Naruto emerged from his dearest tree's roots, he was safe at home in his den full of furs and his beloved knick-knacks.

He stayed up a while longer just to talk to his tree. To tell it about how his days have been going, that he might have to leave it soon, about his fears of living in The Village, even with his Shikamaru's help. He took his time to thank it for all it's done for him in the time it had sheltered him and poured a little more chakra into it with each word of praise.

He was grateful and he wanted to show that.

When all was said and done, he leaned against the smooth bits of bark he could reach from the inside, and simply felt for the gentle hum of chakra the tree had made its own. This tree was like another mother to him, and he felt he wasn't ready to move on, to outgrow its loving shelter.

So he slept there, communicating all his thoughts and feelings to this tree he loved so dearly, and hoped it grew big and strong to protect others like him and to protect itself from the unrelenting chaos of the wild.

Someone brought up the good point of Why didn't Ino think that this weird kid might not have the money to pay for this new wardrobe? And my answer is: she did.

Edited 12/18/2019

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