Warnings: Strong language, violence, possibly angst, possible future yaoi and het, no pairings at the moment. Updates likely to be sporadic.
All feedback is welcome.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, and I'm not making money off of this.
The morning had promised to be quiet, but somewhere along the line, it got off track. In fact, Shikamaru observed through his headache, it had turned into something entirely too chaotic for his taste.
Naruto clutched an Anbu mask so hard the silk-mache bowed under the tension in his grip. It was a fox face, long-eared and grinning, with whiskers painted on its cheeks to match the young man who held it. It wasn't really a pleasant mask. It looked aggressive, with its toothy smile tilting the eye holes to a malicious angle. It was hostile and angry, and more expressive than most of the animal masks ninjas wore. It also wasn't the mask Naruto had picked when they were sworn into the Anbu the day before. That had been a frog, and much friendlier than this one. Shikamaru had no idea how the mask had ruined his morning.
At least he wasn't alone in his confusion. Neither Hinata nor Sasuke seemed to know any more than him. Squinting against the light in Naruto's apartment, it wasn't really much of a consolation.
The Fifth Hokage's nostrils flared with her anger, her eyes flashed as she looked for somewhere to pace. The room was too small. Naruto's face was grimly blank, but his charka charged the air with a force Shikamaru had seen break rock without even touching it. By the window, Jiraiya wore a pensive expression and Kakashi's visible eye was tired. They all knew something here that the three of them didn't.
Shikamaru felt distinctly lost.
The apartment was trashed. The frog mask, cut into pieces and scattered across the floor. A few dishes had been broken, and packs of ramen broken open and thrown through the kitchenette. Clothes had been dragged out of their drawers in haphazard piles. Knickknacks were knocked off of shelves and lay upended on the floor. Someone had slashed the cushions of Naruto's couch, and dense white stuffing pushed out of the tears. Posters had been torn down. The word "monster" was written on one wall in some dark, unidentified liquid.
Beside him, Hinata shifted uneasily, her hands moving in an abortive gesture. Shikamaru knew how she felt. What were they supposed to do? He and Naruto weren't the best of friends, but he didn't hate the guy either, and he certainly didn't think he deserved this. Whatever this was. They were teammates. Should he be offended on his teammate's behalf? Get angry?
He wasn't angry. He was tired, and bothered by what he didn't understand. His headache pulsed, made him want to rub his temples.
Kakashi knelt to pick something up off the floor. It was a broken picture frame. Shikamaru couldn't see the photo from where he stood, but he could make out the older ninja's frown behind his mask. He set the picture down on the window sill. After two tries, he got it to stand.
"Will someone say something, please?" Naruto asked tightly. His charka crackled, nearly audible in the quiet apartment.
"Naruto - " Hinata began softly, but Tsunade's stronger voice overpowered hers.
"This happened while you were out?" the Hokage demanded, planting her hands on her hips and leaning over Naruto. Sitting down, his head was on the level with her breasts, Shikamaru noted, but he didn't even glance up.
Instead, Naruto snorted, and answered sarcastically. "No. I figured, hey, why not just let someone come in my home and tear the place up, you know? Seemed like a good idea at the time."
Tsunade's lips thinned. Naruto finally met her narrowed gaze. His expression was flat in a way that made Shikamaru want to squirm and look at the floor. The mask in his hands bent alarmingly, until he wondered if the lacquer would crack.
"Whoever did this was a ninja," Jiraiya said, breaking the staring match. "I doubt we'll find anything here."
"But why would anyone do this?" Hinata asked suddenly. She knelt as she spoke, picking up a coffee mug with a broken handle, then a ramen wrapper, a bulbous bit of mask that might have been a frog's eye once. No one responded, watching her. When she picked up a sweater, unfolded it, and then added it to her growing pile upon finding it cigarette burnt, they finally realized what she was doing: she was cleaning up.
Shikamaru sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and ignoring the sense of helping her. He knew Naruto wasn't the most popular person in the village - hell, Shikamaru's own mother seemed to have a grudge against the guy - but he couldn't think of any reason why someone would be motivated to be this cruel.
"Well?" Sasuke said after another moment without response.
"I'm sure I have no idea why they did it," Tsunade said, her hands balled into fists at her side. "But I intend to find them."
"Really? Care to enlighten us as to how?" Jiraiya's voice was even, unconfrontational, but only he would have said that to the Fifth.
"What do you mean?" she replied tartly.
The frog sennin shook his head. "How are you going to find the culprit?" His lined face looked very old this morning. Though, Tsunade's false youth looked more brittle than normal as well. "You're looking for a ninja, in a shinobi village. No offence, but I wouldn't have the vaguest idea where to even start."
"There's bound to be some sort of clues here - " she began heatedly, then cut off abruptly, throwing her hands in the air. "What would you suggest? I do nothing?"
"I'm not saying that, but you won't be able to find them."
"I'm the Fifth Hokage," Tsunade hissed. "I think I can find a few fucking vandals!"
"Yes, I imagine you could." Jiraiya agreed. "But you would have to exert yourself as Hokage to do it. Are you willing to respond that drastically to some harassment?"
That stopped her. Mouth open to argue, she paused, silent while she registered his words. Shikamaru was glad they seemed to make sense to her. He didn't have a clue what they were talking about. Why the hell wouldn't they try to find the vandals? Why would it take the Hokage's power to track them down? His head throbbed sullenly.
"Why," he asked aloud, "are you making it sound like the whole town is suspect? There's got to be a motive. Start there."
And there it was again. That thing that Naruto and Kakashi, and the sennin knew, that he didn't. It flashed in their eyes, and in the awkward way they looked at him, then away quickly. The way they frowned. It was in Tsunade's softening resolution to argue, and Jiraiya's bitter victory.
"We can't not respond, though," Kakashi said. His attention still seemed fixed on the framed picture. "That would seem unnatural as well."
Tsunade nodded in defeat while Shikamaru watched dumbfounded.
"Unnatural." Sasuke repeated into the resigned quiet that followed. "What do you mean unnatural? Aren't you going to try to find who did this? Isn't that what the police are for?" There was no heat in his voice, nor ice, but something black and sharp as a coated blade. "Well?"
"Sasuke," Kakashi said in a tone that remembered that the other had been his student once. "Don't - "
"Don't worry about it," Naruto interrupted, reminding them all that they were all still in his apartment, that he was still sitting right there. Even with his charka pulsing at the edge of his senses, Shikamaru had nearly forgotten him. Jaw set in a firm line, he looked up at them all from under taut brows. "Don't bother looking for them. Don't bother asking. I'll wear this mask. Really, it sort of suits me better anyway, don't you think?"
"No," Tsunade told him firmly. "I don't think so."
Shikamaru had to disagree. Just then, with out the smile that normally turned his angular features into something goofy and affable, it did.