Summary: Naruto has been living under a mask for as long as he can remember. Hiding behind a smile to protect the cracks in his broken mind. But when the villagers take it too far, three people come to his aid and try pull him from the darkness. Seeing past his façade, they are determined to help Naruto like he helped them all those years ago. Graduation is the least of their worries now, not when Naruto might not make it past the week before breaking down.

Italics = thinking or emphasis on certain words to stress importance

Rating: K+

Word Count: ~1,500

Warnings: Ridiculously short, not much plot progression, not very well written

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto... maybe I'll be more creative with this disclaimer in the future XD

Notes: I promise that the next chapter will be a good length, I'm just trying to get through a horrible case of writers block.

Chapter 7 - Shadow's Return

The wind blew icy and cold across the fields of the Nara estate despite it being summer. Continuing forward through the Nara fields; Shikamaru's feet carried him subconsciously towards his home. His dark hair was pulled back in its usual spiky, gravity defying ponytail, trademark style of of a Nara Clan member. The blackish, purple bags that rested under his dark, brown eyes told of stress and lack of sleep.

A sudden wave of fatigue had Shikamaru swaying on his feet; closing his eyes to brace himself against inevitable collapse that was bound to come. The events of the night before flashed behind his closed eyes. The blood, the cold, the darkness... That frighteningly close emotionless void to which there was no escape. The endless vacuum he almost fell into again. There were many times in the past that pushed him to the edge that gaping chasm, times when he was too far gone to claw his own way out. So so many times he would have fallen back down if it wasn't for-

His mind faltered. Taking a deep breath to ground himself even as his eyes stung painfully with unshed tears. He couldn't break now. He didn't have the right to break now. Not with his best friend lying bloodied and broken in Sasuke's home.


It was Naruto who saved him, was still saving him. But Naruto wasn't around anymore. He wasn't- No. He stopped himself before this thoughts strayed any further. Repeating the same words like a mantra in his head. I can't break now.

He couldn't think of a more fitting name for Sasuke's summons could've given him. Sunlight. His hope, his light, his way out of the darkness.

An elder stag raised his head from where he rested on the tree line.

If he wasn't so tired he might have been surprised at the sudden realisation that he had made it back home. It wasn't often that his mind was so far away that he lost track of where he was. A sudden feeling of dread coursed through him as he reached for the handle to the sliding door of his home. What was he going to say? The three of them had decided to keep as few secrets as possible. Shikamaru was certain that Neji had told Hiashi much of what had happened last night; lying would serve to contribute to future complications, half truths and withheld information were a much safer option. But Shikaku is Konohagakure's Jonin Commander, Nara Clan Head and Leading Strategist for all military operations. Half truths would be seen through and lying was impossible. The only reason no one knew of the friendship between the four of them was because they all worked to keep it hidden. His parents never questioned where he went in his free time, trusting him stay safe and know when to return home.

Of course it wasn't always like that. After the incident they were much more clingy and slightly overbearing. They soon realised that he needed time alone by himself to sort through the mess of things that had happened to him and when he seemed to improve they left it that way. Shikamaru was certain that if Naruto hadn't approached him that afternoon six years ago he would've fallen for their manipulations completely. He would be a tool made of ice and shadow, molded into a 'perfect' shinobi. Naruto saved him from the cold which creeped through his veins like a virus.

"Tadaima." The greeting echoed hollowly across the entrance of his home however before the Nara heir had a chance to finish the last syllable, he suddenly found himself wrapped in a warm embrace.

"My boy, my boy, my darling boy," Yoshino held onto Shikamaru as if he would suddenly disappear. Holding him tightly in her arms, her voice a mix of worry, fear and heart wrenching relief.

Releasing him slightly so she could look at his face, Shikamaru saw the full extent of her grief. Brown eyes so usually full of light and strength were wide and frantic. Dark circles rested under her slightly red and puffy eyes. Hair disheveled and messy; she seemed to have aged a decade in a single night. All this sent a horrible punch of guilt barreling into him however, he didn't regret it, not if it meant saving Naruto.

"Shika-chan," The use of his childhood nickname showed just how badly he had worried her. Then as if a dam had broken, a seemingly endless stream of questions and reasurenses fell from Yoshino's lips.

Shikamaru tried to get his voice to work, he opened his mouth to speak but not sound came out. The exhaustion of completely using all his chakra and taking those booster pills was finally crashing down hard on him. Swaying slightly on the spot, Yoshino was quick to lift him up, carrying him to the couch in the living room. It was only then that he noticed his Father, standing just behind his Mother, his scared face lined with concern and relief.

"Shikamaru what's wrong?" She asked, almost desperately.

"Yoshino," Shikaku's voice cut through her worried questions, "Calm down. He's home now." But even Shikamaru could hear the strain in his voice.

"Shikamaru," He began, crouching down before his son who had sat up and was now leaning against the back of the couch, "Are you hurt?"

"N-" His voice cracked and Yoshino passed him some water, "No," His voice almost a whisper. He wasn't hurt. Naruto was. Kami Naruto! I-I'm sorry!

"Give me a run down on you condition Shikamaru," his father said sternly but not unkindly, realising that his son wasn't fully there. A shinobi, even one still in the academy had an integrated response drilled into them when given orders.

"Chakra exhaustion. I lost count on how many booster pills I had taken after I got to five. I know it was dangerous but I- I couldn't-" he hunched over, a sob wracked his body. At hearing what her son had done to his body, Yoshino immediately flooded his system with healing chakra, seeking to fix the damaged network.

Although the amount of chakra the young Nara had used was extremely dangerous, they didn't need to take him to hospital. Being a Clan Head meant that you had to learn a certain number of techniques, basic healing being one of them. Shikamaru being a Clan Heir would've received extra training on top of his academy curriculum. Shikaku and Yoshino also fought in a war, chakra poisoning from over use of pills was common and a way to combat that was routine knowledge.

"Shikamaru, who is Sunlight?" His father's question caused Shikamaru to look up at him in shock, he shouldn't have been surprised, Shikaku was a singular person when it came to his intelligence. A weary look of acceptance entered the young Nara's eyes.

"You spoke to Jinsoku?"

"He was cryptic as summons usually are."

"What do you know?"

( Sparrow wishes to fly but cannot, he is caged … He is a small, strong bird; loyal as well as hidden …. Eyas cares very much for Shadow, Sunlight and Sparrow … Shadow follows the sunlight to protect him from the darkness which he once fell into, like a Shadow he is also an extension of Sunlight's will, following behind and never leaving. He is their Sunlight because he saved them all … Their Sunlight was calling for help … Shadow will blame himself. )

"Four of you. All male. Sparrow is older but by how much I do not know. Eyas is the summoner, your age. Sunlight, also your age. The hawk had some interesting things to say about you and their characters."

"Shikaku," Yoshino's tone was warning and the Clan Head's eyes widened in surprise when he realised what he was doing. Interrogation. Tone, sentence structure, the listing of facts in the most effective way to gain information. He didn't mean to subject his son to it but his emotions were running high and almost out of control. Shikaku was worried, terrified even. Shikamaru meant the world to him, his son, his blood, his family. Over six years ago he failed his duty as a Father and he'd be damned if he did it again. Information was power, not knowing was something people in power had trouble accepting. He had lived through two wars and lives rested on his orders. Lack of knowledge meant he couldn't plan, prepare, work towards the best possible outcome. He hadn't even realised he was using these techniques on his son.

But Shikamaru just looked at him with a level of understanding he didn't expect.

"Tou-san it's okay," Shikamaru took in a deep breath, "I can't tell you everything but I won't lie to you."

Shikaku gave a firm nod and Yoshino wrapped her arm around her son. He closed his eyes, afraid that if he opened them he would lose his nerve. Every minute that past added another crack into the fragile barriers he had created to contain his rising fear, desperation, hopelessness and kami knows what else.

"I've known them for years. They're more than friends Tou-san, Kaa-san. I'd go through hell for them, " He looked right at his father, trying to convey how serious he was, "I never told you because I guess we were afraid. All of us were terrified that if someone found out then we'd be torn apart. Sparrow, his home life isn't ideal and Eyas is tangled in a tone of political shit. S-sunlight, he's, Tou-san he's the most amazing person I've ever met. He saved us all. He's my leader, my brother, and without a doubt he will be my Hokage."

Shikaku froze. Hokage, Sunlight, misjudged, Shikamaru's age. It was so clear, everything clicking into place.

"Shikamaru, do you know why I let you go last night despite everything that's happened?" His son looked confused at the abrupt change in subject but shook his head, "Your eyes. You looked like shinobi on a battlefield who could see a comrade about to die and too far away to do anything about it," Shikamaru's eyes widened, "I have no doubt that these three mean a lot to you. But you can't fight whatever battle you're waging alone. We're your parents Shikamaru, it's our job to protect you so let us protect you. Please?"

In that moment Shikamaru's barriers fell. Curling in on himself as heart wrenching sobs wracked his body. Tears fell uncontrollably as his entire frame shook with some invisible pain.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so so sorry," the eleven year old repeated this over and over again.

Hello! So I've planned the plot for this fic, I just can't seem to write it. I'm fairly certain though it was just this scene that was hard to get through. I'm not happy with the quality of the last two chapters. If there are any inconsistencies and spelling errors please let me know.

Thank you all for such wonderful reviews! It really makes my day :D Have a nice week!