AN: Longest post yet! Because Naruto refuses to listen to me OR Shikamaru. Twitchy little bastard. Never written him before, so let me know what you think. Anyway, spoilers for Shikamaru's first command and whatnot. Sort of a continuation to Hidden in Plain Sight, would be a good idea to read that first. Minorly AU.
Shikamaru prefers clouds to stars, but he doesn't mind the stars. He's sitting on the tiled roof of the library, leaning back on his elbows, watching the stars shift and shine above him. It's just after their failed mission to retrieve Sasuke, and he has a lot to think about.
He feels a familiar presence approach slowly and doesn't bother to turn his head. "The nurses will have a fit if they find out you've escaped," he points out.
Naruto stops, startled, a few feet away.
Shikamaru looks up at him. "Lazy doesn't mean stupid," he points out, and covers a yawn with a hand. "What are you doing up?"
Naruto gives him that wide, fake grin, rubbing the back of his head. "I…ah…is this spot free?"
"Does it look like there's someone sitting there?" Shikamaru grumbles.
The other boy takes this as his personal engraved invitation to encroach on Shikamaru's territory and sits down, hunched over, arms around his knees. Shikamaru notes that most of his injuries appear to have healed overnight. He's pretty sure he knows why, although a lot of the Kyuubi's powers are still a mystery to him.
"I…um…I wanted to talk to you," Naruto says after a moment.
Shikamaru sighs. This isn't a good sign. "What about?" he says.
"There's something I need to tell you," Naruto blurts out, like it'll be easier to say it if he just says it all at once.
"Well, spit it out, then," Shikamaru says, rolling his eyes. "I don't have all night." Well, he does, actually, but he'd just as soon spend the rest of it just him and the stars.
Naruto's fists clench and unclench and he's staring at his feet. "I…um…that is…I don't know how to say this…"
This should be good. "Generally, just saying it does the trick," Shikamaru drawls.
The other boy squeezes his eyes shut. "I'm the Kyuubi!" he says, all at once.
"Well, not exactly am the Kyuubi," Naruto backpedals hastily. "I'm the container for it. I mean—"
"Naruto, what, in our admittedly brief previous acquaintance, gave you the extremely mistaken impression that I am either stupid or unobservant?" Shikamaru asks, rolling his eyes and going back to looking at the stars.
Naruto is gaping at him in a fairly unbecoming fashion.
"I figured it out ages ago," Shikamaru elaborates when it becomes apparent that he has just broken what was left of Naruto's (alleged) mind.
It looks like he'll have to explain himself. "Your fight with the Hyuuga, at the finals of the chuunin exam. Your chakra was shut down like Neji said—you can't just stubborn your way out of a Hyuuga hit. And then you drew on another source of power. It was red and it had nine tails." He looks over at Naruto with a sardonic smile. "It didn't take a genius to figure that one out."
"You…you don't mind?"
Shikamaru shrugs. "I thought it over. You're still the same person. Still thick as a short plank of wood and obnoxious as hell."
"Of course, it does go rather a long way towards explaining why the adults act differently towards you," Shikamaru adds thoughtfully. "Although it's a fairly illogical stance to take. I've already concluded that you're no real threat to Konoha, and whatever bad influence you are on the others, well, I'm sure you're no worse than—" Kiba, he was going to say, but he has to break off there because Naruto seems rather determined to strangle him.
He flails for a moment, thinking he's about to get smothered by eighty-some pounds of pre-adolescent fox-demon container, and then he realizes that Naruto is trying to hug him.
Well, he supposes it's not every day you get all geared up to tell a friend your deepest, darkest secret and then find out that they already know and don't particularly care. Shikamaru pats him awkwardly on the back. He's really no good at this sort of thing.
Naruto's mumbling something into his shoulder, something about the villagers and Iruka-sensei—Shikamaru has no idea what he's supposed to do in this sort of situation, so he just sort of sits there and lets Naruto babble all he wants.
It's a bit of a shock to him to realize just how much Naruto's been dreading this.
After a few minutes, he manages to extricate himself from Naruto's clutches—more difficult than it looks (are they sure it's a fox-demon and not some sort of octopus demon?)—and get the boy calmed down enough to form full sentences. Which is enough of a challenge on a normal day.
"—and I haven't even told Sakura-chan or any of the others, I'm too scared to—"
Which is another shock, because Uzumaki Naruto is never scared.
Shikamaru circumvents his own surprise by addressing Naruto's fears logically. "I can't really speak for some of the others, but I can tell you Ino and Chouji won't hate you for it."
Naruto blinks. And shuts up, which was sort of Shikamaru's primary objective.
"Ino can be a bitch, and she's catty as hell if you cross her, but she won't hate you for something you couldn't help. And I don't think Chouji even knows how to hate." He shrugs. "You worry too much."
Naruto laughs, shakily. "Iruka-sensei always tells me I don't worry enough."
Shikamaru shrugs. "He used to say the same thing to me," he says. "But I think you're underestimating your friends. You don't really think Sakura's going to care, do you?"
"She doesn't like me anyway," Naruto mumbles.
Shikamaru rolls his eyes. Why are people so thick? "Just because she doesn't want to go out with you doesn't mean she doesn't like you," he points out. "I can't imagine it'll change how she sees you, either way."
He wonders if Sasuke knew. If Orochimaru will know soon. If Orochimaru already knew. It's a twisted web before him now, and it'll take more skill than he has now to unravel it all.
Naruto's watching him with wide eyes. "You…you really think so?"
Shikamaru shrugs. "You know her better than I do. Is she really going to hate you for something that's not your fault? Say what you like about Haruno, she's not particularly stupid," he says grudgingly.
Naruto looks like he's torn between defending the love of his life and agreeing with the backhanded compliment. Shikamaru decides to redirect the conversation before his head explodes from the conflict.
"As for the others, well." He nobly refrains from making a crack about Sasuke being more of a monster than Naruto on his worst day and casts around for something slightly more diplomatic to say. "I can't see any of them holding it against you," he says slowly, considering his classmates, "although I'm not going to try to guarantee anything. People will surprise you."
"Yeah," Naruto says fervently, and Shikamaru wonders just exactly what outcome he'd been expecting from this little conversation.
He pushes that—rather interesting—train of thought aside and focuses on Naruto. "You should probably tell them, though," he says. "They'll find out one way or another, at this rate, and you aren't exactly the most subtle ninja around." And better to have Naruto tell them, and possibly lose a friend or two now, in what was a relatively peaceful time, rather than to have them be told by an enemy and freak out in the heat of battle.
"Um," Naruto says, and swallows audibly.
Shikamaru considers the effects of a childhood like Naruto's, and thinks maybe this is going to be a bit more difficult than he'd anticipated. "If they're going to hate you for something that's not your fault in the first place, do you really want friends like that anyway?" he tries.
It's obviously a concept Naruto has trouble fitting into his head. His face twists in confusion and Shikamaru bites back an irritated noise at how screwed up this all is.
Screwed up. Maybe he should talk to Neji. Neji's better at reading people than he is. And he's one of the few who Shikamaru thinks may have already figured it out. Or at least, may have an inkling of what Naruto carries.
After all, he was on the wrong end of all that power during the chuunin exams. Surely no one's that oblivious, particularly not a Hyuuga.
But Shikamaru has to do something about this now, because now is when Naruto's sitting in front of him, still wrapped up in bandages like a mummy and too jittery to talk sense.
With a sigh, he resorts to bald, simple truths. "Look, I don't hate you. I don't think Sakura is going to hate you. I don't think Ino or Chouji will hate you. I can't speak for the rest," –but he can work subtly to influence their opinions. Or at least figure out what their reactions will be. So much work—"but I can tell you that I think you're being unfair to them."
Maybe not entirely unfair, but the phrasing should play upon Naruto's thing about protecting his friends. Shikamaru has very few qualms about using whatever leverage he has to achieve the desired result. Unless it's just too much trouble.
Then again, there are very few things that are too much trouble about keeping Naruto (who would probably level small cities if he were to lose control) relatively sane and happy.
And Naruto's also his friend, which makes him more than a tactical advantage.
Of course, that's where things get tricky in Shikamaru's head. It's much easier when he's on a mission, with a team and with clear parameters and objectives laid out in front of him like pieces on a shougi board.
Life's never easy, he tells himself.
Naruto's looking at him with wide eyes again. "You-you think so?"
Shikamaru shrugs, deliberately casual. "In the end, it's your call. I'm not the one who'll have to deal with the consequences after all." Bullshit. He'll be the one stuck with damage control if things go badly.
"I dunno," Naruto says, hugging his knees to his chest and looking up at the stars. "I guess…I guess Iruka-sensei didn't mind. And Kakashi-sensei doesn't treat me any different."
Ah. Perfect. Shikamaru nods. "And they've known all along, haven't they?" Of course, that's a sword that cuts both ways, because the senseis have had enough time to look past the Kyuubi and see Naruto himself, but it's not like Naruto is going to realize that.
Naruto nods tentatively.
Shikamaru smiles, slow and lazy. "And, be honest, Naruto. What reaction were you expecting from me?"
Bullseye. The red creeps up Naruto's neck and into his face and he sputters himself into abashed silence, staring at the roof tiles next to his bare foot.
Shikamaru looks up at that stars. "People will surprise you sometimes," he says again, and thinks about Naruto, foxes, and Uchiha Sasuke.
Endnotes: So yeah. Didn't know how to end this one, so I just kept writing. I think the ending's all right, though. Let me know what you think?