After that second time, Shikamaru came to visit much more often, varying from every few weeks to nearly every week. All in all, he had very quickly and effectively inserted himself into Naruto's everyday lifestyle.
His frequent disappearances were causing quite a stir among his peers, and he sometimes had to make a slight effort to shake off any curious pursuers (a.k.a., Ino,) in the village before entering his new sanctuary.
He felt a slight possessiveness over his blond mystery and also felt that Aoime wasn't ready for more human contact yet. And although it bugged him slightly, he also knew that it was only a matter of time before Naruto wanted to expand his small world. (For some unknown reason, that put a bit of a damper on Shikamaru's mood. Subconsciously he knew why, but his rational self remained in denial for the time being.)
In the meantime, though, he was on a self-appointed mission. During one of his meetings with the Godaime Hokage, he remembered the strange techniques used by Naruto. Strange techniques unique only to the Shodaime, a member of the famed, (though nearly extinct,) Senju clan.
That began a string of new questions, and quite frankly, Shikamaru was feeling he was in a little over his head. He felt the strong urge to discuss the boy with another over a shogi board, if only to be enlightened from the perspective of a bystander to the situation.
He thought of telling his father, sbut, (like with his troublesome newly-realized sexuality,) he'd be forced to inform the clan elders of the developments. Ino would blab, but maybe Choji would be an option this time around.
While his childhood friend was friendly with most anybody, he wouldn't thoughtlessly reveal secrets.
Having made his decision, he headed towards the Akimichi's family restaurant, knowing that was the likeliest place his friend would be.
Sure enough, there was the clan heir himself, in all his big-boned glory. Instead of serving and helping out like he should, he was instead trying to sneak a few servings for himself. Unfortunately, his mother knew of his plans and was ready to whack him upside the head just as soon as he touched a single thing.
Shikamaru casually intervened by calling the boy out, stopping his hand just in time from touching the customers' food.
Having been saved from a sure beating, he threw a grateful smile in Shikamaru's direction. He didn't usually give into his weakness to food so easily, but sometimes his self-control broke when surrounded by delicious treats.
And who could blame him, really? The Akimichis were famous for their special recipes, and there was a reason why every member of the clan was larger than the average individual; (but God have mercy on the poor soul who called an Akimichi fat because they certainly would not.)
Chouji came over sporting a large grin that squinted his eyes and chubbed his cheeks, then called out a greeting while giving a half-hearted wave. It wasn't all that usual for his Nara friend to call him out like this.
"Hey, Shikamaru. What'cha need?"
"Nothing. I just came over so my uncle could sneak into your guys' cheese and wine cellar," Shikamaru deadpanned. Chouji's face grew horrified and was on the verge of going off to break the Konaha's fastest sprint record before Shikamaru snorted with laughter.
"Relax, my uncle's still recovering from the last time he tried that stunt." Chouji visibly relaxed at that bit of information, his marked cheeked heavily dusted pink with embarrassment. "No, I just need an ear to listen to my troubles."
Now that piqued Chouji's curiosity. He might be Shikamaru's best friend, but it wasn't that often when he'd have the privilege of being privy to the Nara's thoughts. Oftentimes he could hardly keep up with the crazy, (though ingenious,) strategies the other came up with, which was why he was content being the heavy-hitter of the team.
"Well, we might want to go somewhere slightly more private for that, but I'm game." So the pair settled at an even pace, one looking so bored he might just kill himself for entertainment, and the other positively bursting at the seams with curiosity.
After a good deal of meandering in seemingly no particular direction, they stopped beneath the large, (though barren,) cherry blossom tree at the back of the academy of their childhood. While Chouji slowly sat down, Shikamaru settled for the simpler approach of just collapsing onto the grassy ground. His dear friend merely rolled his eyes, years of exposure to similar displays having desensitized him of the other's severe case of laziness.
Silence settled between them, and Chouji shifted uncomfortably. When it was clear the other wasn't going to speak anytime soon, the young Akimichi spoke up.
"So, what did you want to talk to me about?" Shikamaru gave no outward indications that he'd heard the question as he remained sprawled out next to him.
". . . I met this boy." Shikamaru cringed at how similar he sounded to a stereotypical teen-aged girl, but forced himself to continue. "I've never seen him before, and he seems to inhabit Konoha's forest. I honestly have no idea how no one has found him before I literally stumbled upon him by accident." There was more frustration in Shikamaru's flat and slightly sarcastic tone than Chouji could ever remember hearing from him.
"He's a puzzle," he continued. "He can hardly speak English, thinks in animalistic terms, and is so utterly isolated from civilization that it astounds me every time I meet him! But I've learned so much from him already, and I don't know what to do about him. . ."
"If he's that big a deal, why not just go to the Hokage about him then?" Chouji asked. It was an honest question, really; any other loyal ninja of Konoha would've immediately reported to the Hokage, but Shikamaru almost immediately shot that down.
"I thought of that, but here's the problem: he has mokuton."
"Ah, that-" he choked in surprise. "Mokuton?!"
Shikamaru yawned, then nodded his head sagely, eyes unfocused as he looked to the puffy near-white clouds, nose pink from the chilly air. "Yep. And that's when I knew he would be more troublesome than any woman I've met.
"But more than that: Ino's sniffing at my tail." Chouji was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that there was a wielder of the mokuton blood limit. How in the seven nations had Shimaru done all this almost without anyone noticing?! And he was still visiting the stranger who he'd deemed as 'troublesome' right off the bat?! Chouji was getting a bit concerned now.
"I know that I won't be able to keep him a secret forever, but I don't think he's all too keen for more company as of this moment. And you know how the village works. Tsunade's only a figurehead while the council runs things, and they'd place him under the CRA as soon as possible since Tsunade isn't young enough to safely restore the Senju."
He was babbling now, Shikamaru knew. But he couldn't stop the words from flowing in an attempt to convey the full severity of the situation from his perspective. Explain his reasoning so maybe his friend could offer any help, even if it only took the form of moral support.
Chouji held up a hand to stop the influx of information. "I think. . . I might understand. Maybe not as thoroughly as you'd like, but work with me here."
Shikamaru's tension melted at that admission and his body reverted back to its normally relaxed state.
"So if this guy you met is as 'troublesome' as you say, why do you keep visiting him? Being on the brink of war, you know you could be accused of treasonous behavior if this got out."
"He's such a mystery that he constantly fuels my curiosity. It's like when I received my first 72 step puzzle box; the excitement, the thrill of the chase. I don't think I've been this motivated in my life!" In the depths of his steel grey eyes, an almost manic gleam appears, slightly unnerving to say the least.
"I'm happy you're finally feeling challenged, but how would you rather go about this? You came to me, so I don't think you want to do this alone, but what about the others? With you keeping contact, he's not going to stay hidden for long." Of course, Shikamaru had mulled over this problem several times before, but it was somehow. . . different when someone else confirmed his suspicions.
He let out a heavy sigh, already feeling slight fatigue at using so much brain power at one time. Maybe he could convince Chouji to give up a chip or two?
"I'd already thought of that; and with Ino catching on, that point's come sooner than I'd hoped. I think we're going to have to slowly expose Naruto to the village if we're going to keep him from freaking out when comes the big reveal.
"He won't take kindly to leaf ninja taking over his den and territory," he said, speaking from experience. He really wouldn't like to experience a repeat of that occasion.
"His name's Naruto? That's strange for having been born in Fire Country."
"That's the point. His hair is a darker and brighter blond than the Yamanaka, his eyes too dark to pass as one of them as well. He clearly looks like a foreigner, so I thought that a foreign name would help him blend in with whatever backstory we come up with." His eyes closed when a particularly chilly draft passed them by, adding to his aloof appearance.
"That. . . makes sense. Man, I'll never get used to your level of thinking; always at least five steps ahead."
"That's fine. Keeps my niche open so I don't have to do anything more than the bare minimum."
Chouji let loose a hearty laugh, then pulled an unopened bag of chips from. . . somewhere on his person. Ripping it open, he took a handful before offering it to the Nara.
"Want some?" Despite having asked the question, the mirth in his eyes said that he knew the answer perfectly well.
"Hm. Don't mind if I do." With the previous tension resolved, they laid there, watching the clouds in companionable silence.
Shikamaru found himself walking through the forest once more. There was never a trail to follow, no familiarity in the trees he walked past. With every venture into the trees, he had to rely on his gradually advancing tracking skills to follow the subtle path given to him.
He found that with each visit, the "trail" grew sparser and sparser, a new challenge each time. It excited him.
Winding through the foliage, he meandered along, new sights and smells bombarding him. He wondered what would come up in their "lessons" today.
When Shikamaru taught Naruto things about his culture, things like writing and reading, trying to explain the theory of more complicated subjects, he didn't really ever go in with a lesson plan, per se. It still fascinated him when he managed to get a new reaction out of the boy.
And in return, Naruto would teach him things of the forest. He had once tried to teach the Nara the language of the deer, but that hadn't ended in anything productive. Most times Shikamaru learned from observation: little things he picked up that the blond knew and didn't consciously think about, (much like him in a way.)
Shikamaru learned that animals were, in a way, far smarter than humans. They could learn just as humans could, could work around their anatomical shortcomings, and their deeply ingrained instincts allowed them more strategy than most people could scrounge up in a lifetime.
Their entire life was a constant duel to the death, each move a dance of shogi pieces. Even the plants had to fend off others from invading their territory!
He also learned that the entire forest was alive. Not in the sense that every creature lived off a small degree of nature chakra, (though this was certainly true,) but in that the forest was a more complicated environment than any human civilization.
The animals all knew where they belonged, kept each other in balance and created a beautiful ecosystem together. That's more than he could say about humans.
Shikamaru knew he was smart. Having been lauded as a genius all his life had kept him assured of his intelligence. But in this new environment, he felt clumsy and stupid for the first time since he could remember.
Naruto was a picture of familiar grace, bounding through the trees, predatory in his demeanor; a host of contradictions.
It was beautiful.
A small shuffle sounded from his right, making him tense. For fight or flight, he didn't know; but he would be ready.
Turns out neither were needed, as it was just the blond resident of the forest greeting his favorite 'People.'
"Shika! Come!" That was the only warning he got before a hard tug pulled him through the forest. His shinobi training failed him and his feet clumsily tripped over obstacles he didn't have the presence of mind to avoid.
Jesus, he's fast.
The blond was going faster than he would ever go without enhancing his muscles with chakra, blurring through the trees so quickly the animals nearby didn't have enough time to react. His balance kept being offset by the dips and twigs in the ground, but thankfully Naruto's tight grip kept him from falling forward at such high speeds.
Various shades of greens melded together, and Shikamaru grew nauseous. Finally, when his arm ached and he was sure he would hurl any moment, the pair came to an abrupt halt.
The world seemed to tilt around him, swaying from side to side. Or was that just him? His head throbbed; he groaned and fell to a heap on the ground, covering his eyes to regain his equilibrium.
Long, painful moments passed before he was sure that if he stood, his lunch would stay in his stomach right where it belonged. When the dizziness passed, his other senses kicked in.
Soft, moist, squishy soil dampened his pants, cooling his legs where he'd fallen into a kneeling position. Soft splashes were almost consumed by the dull roar of larger rapids, water tumbling over itself in its rush downstream. The clean scent of fresh water and mud led him to the obvious conclusion of them being at a river.
But why; and how?! His mind ran through all the maps of Konoha he'd seen, and all told him that the nearest river was at least ten miles from the village! He didn't think it was possible to run that far in the span of maybe three minutes. (Well, unless you gave either Lee or Maito Gai a challenge.)
But even then, they both had formal training and harsh conditioning. Conclusion: it should be impossible for Naruto to manage such a feat. But he did. And he's no mere civilian either. He has access to his chakra and can perform mokuton techniques without a single hand sign.
Shikamaru decided to think some more on that later, because he was sure there was something important he was supposed to be paying attention to, judging by the slightly impatient grunts he heard coming from his companion. Sigh. Fine. . .
Looking up, he was greeted with the sunlight glinting harshly off the spraying water and large blue scales not dissimilar to the prussian blue pigment Ino had gushed over during a rare visit of merchants from Hoshigakure. Wait, scales? He did a double-take and nearly fell to the ground in shock! . . . Again.
There, standing nobly amongst the rainbow spray was a fabled kirin. Being a cross of a deer and a dragon, it was strangely elegant, not at all gangly nor monstrous. Its scales were only slightly lighter than the hair at the base of its hooves, blending seamlessly into the dark blue fur that shone a brilliant sapphire. Ridged horns, light brown in color, rose from its brows to point to the sky.
In a word, magnificent.
Wise and intelligent eyes stared into his own and he felt the sudden urge to show his respect in some way.
"This is Father," the boy he'd nearly forgotten proudly proclaimed.
". . . What do you mean by 'father'?" he asked.
Naruto stilled, features slackening then gained a face of persistence. Tapping his head, he nodded once jerkily. It was then that Shikamaru noticed a feather-light pressure settled upon his mind, one small touch that foretold unimaginable power hidden beyond his senses.
Cautiously, he allowed the presence to take root in his mind. He was relieved when the presence remained relatively passive and didn't force him to take the backseat in his own mind like the Yamanaka he- thankfully- wasn't overly familiar with.
'So we meet, young one. ' Well shit; if that wasn't the most startling thing ever, he didn't know what was.
'Were you expecting me? ' Was he really talking to a mythical deer hybrid right now? This was his life now, Shikamaru realized with more than a little resignation.
'Oh, for decades now. Our little prince has taken quite the liking towards you,' came the amused reply.
'I guess so. So long as I don't offend him, he's a ball of sunshine.' He deliberately ignored the mention of 'decades,' instead filing that little tidbit away to examine later.
'Yes, he is quite excitable. He never completely understood the mannerisms common to your people, so I can imagine the misunderstandings.'
Shikamaru snorted, recalling the introductions incident. That had been a mess he never wanted to repeat. 'There are many. However, if we can maybe slowly acclimate him to the human society, he would gain more understanding. . .' He trailed off on his thought, unsure of how to continue.
'Ah. I meant to ask if perhaps I could introduce him to my friends one at a time, try to get him used to human contact that isn't limited to just me. Would that be an option?' The King looked over to see Naruto animatedly chasing some birds, playing a game of tag farther down up the riverbank. He seemed to be thinking it over, but what would he know about reading the expressions of a deer.
After an awkward moment, just when Shikamaru was about to retract his words, The King spoke again: 'That would be agreeable. His fate is with you; he cannot stay sheltered in the forest any longer. The seed has been nurtured to a strong sapling, and it is time that he spread his branches and reach for the light.'
Cryptic words were not his cup of tea; hence why he specialized in shogi and not poetry.
'. . . Thanks for your approval. I know that he values your opinion very highly.'
'But of course. My time has nearly run out, and he still has much to learn of the world.' Well, that was foreboding. He didn't like the sound of that at all.
'In that case, I think I should mention that the leader of my village will most likely force his induction into our military forces. He is not ours, but his gift with nature is nearly unprecedented,' Shikamaru said a bit sheepishly. He felt like apologizing in advance for the stupidity the council would put in action.
The King just huffed. 'Though I am hesitant to allow it to happen, it is necessary. The future has always been shrouded in darkness, but your "Naruto," as you call him, has enough love in his heart to light the way.'
'That's. . . cool. Awesome.' Why was it that he felt so uncomfortable when elders decided to speak in riddles? He felt the topic had closed and was relieved when The King's presence receded from his mind.
Since he now had nothing to do but perhaps cloud watch, he reclined the base of a tree and let his eyes droop lazily.
Not even a minute later, playful footsteps sounded before the impish face of Naruto appeared in his line of sight, blocking out the sky.
"The tree does not like you doing that," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "'Ask politely' is what King always says!" Shikamaru gingerly sat up, wondering at how smoother Naruto's speech had gotten since they've started their "lessons."
"I'm sorry, I guess. I don't know what the trees are saying, so I hadn't thought to ask first." His neck was still bent to inspect the fluffy masses floating in the azure expanse. The weather had been unusually nice as of late. 'Ah, that cloud looks like a mushroom. I wonder if Chouji ever went shiitake hunting like he wanted.'
"Hm. I am bored."
Shikamaru snorted. "Then look up. Or look around. Anything can entertain you, even something as simple as bubbles."
"Do you not have a name for them?" He pointed to the shallow part of the river, pockets of air resurfacing from the frothing depths.
"Oh! They go *pop,* don't they?" he said, pressing his lips together and rolling them out to make the *pop* sound. Shikamaru chuckled, relieved that Naruto's childishness remained intact even with his advancing education. He didn't want to change him; just be able to understand him better, and vice versa.
"Yes, those are what I'm talking about. There's another way to make them than from the motion of the river, and they last a bit longer as well. Would you like to try it?"
Naruto's eyes practically gleamed in excitement; it was always thrilling for him to try new things that The People had invented.
"I think I brought some for you to try out, give me a second." He rifled around in his kunai pouch first, then moved on to the many pockets of his chuunin vest. On his third pocket, he found the little tube of bubbles, satisfied he's kept it from those damn kids' last prank. He unscrewed the cap, took out the miniature wand and made a show of blowing a few bubbles.
Naruto was mesmerized, and his hand reached out to touch the one nearest to him. When his finger made contact, it dispersed making that same "popping" sound he'd demonstrated earlier.
Naruto's eyes grew round, a little panicked that he's broken the rainbow bubble, but calmed when he saw that Shikamaru was trying not to laugh. At this, he pouted.
"Don't laugh!" he yelled, cheeks red with embarrassment.
"Yes, yes, your majesty. I live only to tend to your bubbly needs," the Nara said, dragging out his sentences to sound mocking. He blew more bubbles before Naruto could catch on though.
A clawed hand swiped at the delicate spheres, and they promptly met their untimely demise. Expectant eyes fell on him like a weight, and he couldn't help but sigh in fake annoyance before complying with the unspoken demands.
Round after round of bubbles met their ends in ways similar to the first and second batches, and Shikamaru was hard-pressed to keep his supply up for the demand. But he was determined.
Eventually, Shikamaru tried using his Shadow Possession Jutsu to try to control a bubble, and attempt to keep it out of the blond's reach to keep him entertained. And maybe to have some fun himself, but no one else had to know.
Sadly, his plan didn't work and he had to continue churning out bubbles. But then the inevitable happened:
He ran out of breath.
Falling backward in almost comical slow-motion, he collapsed to the grassy ground, red-faced and puffing for all he was worth. The remainder of the bubbles spilled beside him, and all he could do was feel some sort of vicious satisfaction that the bubbles were no more. All the while, Naruto was positively howling with laughter at his expense, just short of rolling on the floor with how low he was leaning over and clutching at his stomach.
"It's not funny," the brunet grumbled, cheeks still ruddy from a mixture of embarrassment and shortness of breath. When the blond showed no signs in stopping his torment, Shikamaru's eye started twitching and he ground out, "I'll get you back at some point. When you least expect it, I will have my revenge." And that was a promise.
1. I also got a rough timeline figured out, so by now the Suna/Oto invasion has already taken place, (+Gaara's dead,) Tsunade's Hokage, and Sasuke's defected, (though that's not exactly relevant to the plot anymore...)
2. To clarify, this is a bXb novel. Beyond mild swearing and gore, there will be nothing Rated R or 18+. If I do write anything of that nature, it will be in the sequel or a separate oneshot. Yes, the main pairing is gay, but I don't think I really need to make EVERYBODY gay, so main pairings will be present for the most part with the exception of figuring out what the hell I need to do with Team 7.