Title: Good Friend Chouji

Pairings: Shikamaru x (undecided), Gaara x Naruto, Haku x Zabuza, Kiba x Hinata, Neji x Tenten, Sasori x Deidara (more will be announced at a later date. Pairings will change.)

Warnings: child abuse, self mutilation, bullying, references to sex/sexual acts, homosexuality, underage drinking, attempted suicide, and incest. And stupidity, but that's a given.

Author: Drinking Acid

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If you hadn't figure it out until now, I seriously pity you.

If he'd thought the Uptown streets were rivers, the Konoha High School parking lot was an ocean. The whole paved area was engulfed in gritty rain water, the heavy flood choking the lot like a boa constrictor around a mouse. Several students and maybe even some teachers had forgone the entire idea of parking at the school and opted instead to cluster on a higher elevated lot in front of the library across the street. Kankuro joined them, finding a small space between a beat-up Ford and a shinny new Volkswagen Bug to park his vehicle.

Chouji's umbrella came in handy as they made their way across the street to the school building, splashing rain water all over their pants and soaking their shoes and socks. The umbrella itself was fairly large, since it was Chouza's, but with all six of them trying to squeeze themselves under the water-proof canopy, it seemed almost useless. Shikamaru was very glad that he hadn't been forced to the edge like Kiba, though it was almost impossible to stand up strait with Chouji crushing him from one side and Kankuro from the other.

School, of course, had not been canceled in spite of the rain, and as a result, no late passes were excepted (it was November after all, and these rains hardly lasted all day, according to that arrogant weatherman on the radio. Though it had already outlasted all the earlier predictions by about, like, four freakin' hours. Those damned weather-predictors just never learned, did they?). If any of the staff caught them late to class, they'd get detention, and while it would only be one day, it was Friday and to serve detention on a Friday was damn well near blaspheme.

"Why the hell does it have to be so wet today?" complained Naruto irritably, shaking his wet feet like a cat.

"Maybe this is punishment for you trying to flip that girl's skirt the other day," smirked Gaara.

Naruto looked affronted.

"I wasn't trying to flip her skirt! I was . . . I was . . . I was trying to find that bug that was on her leg, that's all!"

"Sure. That's exactly what happened."

"Shut up raccoon-eyes!"

Once inside the relatively dry First building (the floors were sopping wet from the soaked feet of students passing through), the umbrella was folded back up and dragged along as they headed to their lockers. As luck would have it, their lockers were all relatively in the same direction, and so Naruto took it upon himself to provide entertainment on their way to their destination. Whether he knew it or not.

"So yeah, when I woke up this morning I heard all this rattling and at first I though it was Iruka trying to make breakfast when his hands were asleep, but then when I looked outside my window, it was raining!"

"How can you mistake rain for metal pots?" asked Kankuro skeptically, trying very hard not to say something nastier. For some reason, the middle Sabaku sibling was unreasonably short-tempered today. Maybe it was the absence of kabuki face paint. Or the rain. Whatever.

"Easy: loose your brain and get blonde hair," drawled Gaara, his eyes glinting humorously as Naruto rose to object in the loudest way possible.

"OI! What's wrong with my brain?"

"You mean besides being undersized and undernourished? Everything."

"Yeah! You're brain needs to get fixed!"

"There's nothing wrong with my head Dog-breath!"

"Uh, dingbat, the lab called: your brain's ready."


"It's a joke, blondie."

"I knew that!"

"I highly doubt that, Dead Last," smirked Sasuke, appearing from seemingly nowhere. Naruto jumped and whirled around (having been walking backwards for most of the debate) to glare wildly at the smug Uchiha.

"Up yours, Sasuke-bastard!"

"No thanks."

"Screw you!"

"I'd rather not."

"Grrrr . . . . Go die!"

"You first."

Naruto looked ready to pull his hair out, and he was sure that if they were in some sort of cartoon the blonde would have steam coming out of his ears. For every insult he spouted, Sasuke had a retort, and this never ceased to aggravate Naruto to his very core.

"Good morning, li'l Uchiha," waved Kankuro, his smile widening slightly at the indignation on Sasuke's face. The smile faltered, however, when Sasuke froze, his eyes widening only a fraction as a sure sign of befuddlement, before slipping back into neutral.

"You're not wearing face paint."

"No, you think?" asked Kankuro sarcastically. Sasuke's lips twitched into a frown and he eyed the Sabaku with extreme skepticism. He looked rather like Itachi when he did that.

"What's the occasion?"

"Temari," was the answer given by an overly subdued Gaara. There was no elaboration, and so Kankuro was left to finish the explanation.

"Temari stole my face paint this morning and I couldn't find it before we left."

It wasn't a very good explanation, but Shikamaru didn't care one way or another, so he let the issue drop, even though the other's didn't. They, apparently, thought it was the strangest thing this side of the Pacific Ocean. He was hard-pressed not to roll his eyes.

"Temari's older than you, right?" asked Kiba suddenly, eyeing the Sabaku's with an oddly contemplative look on his face.

"Unfortunately," grumbled Gaara, continuing their parade down the hall. The rest of them followed, including an all-too eager Sasuke. A moment emerged where a claw of suspicion embedded itself in Shikamaru's mind, but it passed quickly and he let the boy's presence melt into the background.

"So, you're all blood related, right?" continued Kiba, becoming far too interested in the Sabaku family inner workings.

"Yeah . . . ."

"Then why does Temari have blonde hair, Gaara have red hair, and you have brown hair?"

There was a heavy pause, confused and pensive expressions crossing their faces. The look that sprouted over Naruto's looked horrendously painful and Shikamaru had to wonder if all their good-humored jibes actually had some basis of fact to them. He really hoped not; Naruto had too good a personality to let it be wasted on a lack of intelligence.

"Ya know, I never thought of that," said Kankuro after a while as he broke away to unlock his locker. There was a moment where Kiba paused, as if internally debating over some issue, before his tanned face flushed and he hurried on ahead, casting water about from his heavy footsteps. Naruto and Gaara continued on, and Sasuke lingered back, looking disgruntled as he glanced around at the loud, wet students that choked the hallways. He and Chouji moved on, making their way to their own lockers.

A junior from his AP English class came up suddenly, clapping him on the back and laughing. He resisted the urge to duck away from the older boy's hand.

"Oh man, Nara, you're never gonna believe this," laughed the junior (what was his name? Nakatsu? Katsuya? Ah, whatever) breathlessly, "Anko—Anko just went stormin' up the stairwell and she was all wet and dripping! She looked like a drowned cat! Haha!"

The image of a soaking wet Anko seething and scowling as she climbed the student-filled stairs was well worth laughing over. Although, in his imagination, Anko had cat ears and a tail that was thrashing around . . . and claws . . . and fangs . . . . Shikamaru shivered. What a gruesome thought.

"Sounds hilarious," he replied.

"Oh, it totally was," laughed one of Nakatsu's friends, Noe something-or-other. "See ya in class." And they were gone, tromping away to wherever they were headed to.

"Since when have you been on speaking terms with Konoha High's best soccer player?" asked Sasuke far too smugly as he came up behind them. Apparently he'd been listening in on the conversation, and he had a very foreboding glint in his eye. Damn. He needed to tred cautiously.

"I'm an aid for Anko third hour and he's in that class. Our desks are fairly close, so it's not as if we haven't spoken to each other before."

He managed to keep his voice even and his pace steady, but he could see out of the corner of his eye that Chouji was twisting his fingers nervously, probably wishing for food. Sasuke's eyes darted over to the Akimichi, then back to the Nara, and he opened his mouth as if to speak before he was cut off.

"Pineapple head! Swirly cheeks! Duck hair! What's up, yeah?" Deidara came prancing up to them, beaming like the bloody-damn sun. The older student's hair was damp, and his clothes were dripping water, but he didn't seem to notice as he flounced along.

"Hey Deidara," grumbled Sasuke, looking annoyed at being referred to as "Duck hair."

"Oh! Oh! Duck hair, have you seen your brother?" asked the blonde, focusing his attention on the not-that-much-smaller teen. Shikamaru took his chance and used the distraction as a means to escape. He and Chouji reached their lockers and split ways to their first hour classes.

In the time it had taken for him to reach AP English, Anko had dried off relatively well and was standing at the front of the class with a god-awful look on her face. This was not going to be a fun class period. Please note the sarcasm.

"Alright, you little water rats," snarled their teacher, her pupil-less eyes gleaming with barely suppressed malice, "it's raining, I'm wet, and I have to teach six more classes, so if you all just shut up, no one's going to get suspended, got it?"

No one dared answer.

"Good. Now, all of you know that for by the end of this year, since it is AP English, you'll have to write your own mini story, so to get you ready for that, I want you all to get in a group of three and work on some sort of story together. I've got a few requirements for your story's plot, but other than that, it's all up to your imagination. Now, about the groups."

She looked around at them all, her glare lessening slightly as the amusement of pairing her students up settled in. The sheer foreboding that erupted from that look was enough to send a charging bull squealing in the opposite direction. As her pale eyes landed on him, he knew he wasn't going to like this at all.

"Nara, you'll be working with Uchiha and Hyuuga, got it?"

Aw, shit.

"Yeah, I get it."

"Good. Now, Nakatsu, since you work so well with Kujo, why don't you and Kayashima work with him? And Kenshin, you can work with . . ."

Itachi tapped his pencil against the shell of his ear and Shikamaru sighed heavily as he turned around. A pale smile greet him and obsidian eyes looked far too joyful to be trustworthy.

"Well, well, look at that," laughed the other quietly so as not to be caught talking, "we're partners."

"Whoopty-freakin'-doo," he growled, rolling his eyes. Why did Anko have it out for him? Did he somehow piss her off without knowing it? 'Cause this was getting a bit out of control. Seriously, Itachi? He hated Itachi. The guy was such a conceited, egotistic, selfish—

"—and we'll work on it over there, alright?"

—still-talking-to-him-even-though-he-wasn't-listening-to-him jerk. Damn.

"Huhn?" he grumbled, slinging his arm over the back of his chair. Itachi tapped the end of his pencil disapprovingly on his forearm. He glared at him, only to have that damned smirk flashed right back.

"Tsk, tsk, Shikamaru. You really need to pay more attention to our project. I was saying that you could come over to my house and we could use my computer to type up anything we come up with. Do you have any objection?"

Yes, I do. "What about the Hyuuga? Aren't we supposed to work with him, too?"

"Neji won't have a problem with it," said Itachi with a delicate wave of his hand. "So, are you coming?"

He frowned, eyeing Itachi speculatively. Gut and intellectual instinct alike insisted that this was some sort of trick; like the Burmese tiger trap. Itachi lured him in with the project, and somewhere along the line he'd fall into a leaf-covered pit and onto a bed of sharp spikes. He weighted the odds, shifting in his seat as Itachi continued to stare. Go to the probably-plotting-something Uchiha's house, or stay at his own house until the rained stopped?

. . . Yeah, okay, so that was a no brainer. He sighed heavily, clenching his jaw.

"Fine. I'll go," he said finally. Itachi beamed slightly, tapping his pencil against his arm again (did he have to do that? It was so annoying. And troublesome; it was always troublesome).

"See? How hard was that?" Oh, he so wanted to wipe that damned smirk of that prick's face.

"Go to hell," he snapped, turning back around to sleep on his desk. Itachi laughed lightly, the eraser end of his pencil jabbing him in the back of the neck before Anko drew everyone's attention back to the front of the room. Oh god this was going to be such a bad day.

Something was wrong. He didn't know what yet, and he was a bit wary to find out, but he knew something was wrong.

Kakashi had yet to appear, and thus the class had degenerated to its uproarious state that it donned for the first twenty minutes of class. Naruto and Gaara were having a paper-airplane throwing contest, and he could see Ino and Sakura having a mini cat fight in the corner. Chouji was sitting beside him, munching on a mysteriously obtained chip bag and scribbling on his Biology homework. However, none of these things were causing his misgivings.

Off to the right, just a few seats in front of him, he could see Kiba fidgeting in his seat. The dark-haired teen had draped his parka over his seat and was hunched over the desk top, his face angled towards Shino, who sat next to him. The bug-boy was perched unnaturally still beside him, his face utterly impassive as Kiba muttered softly to him.

The fact that the dog-boy was speaking quietly was weird all by itself, but the way they were sitting was odd too. Kiba was jittery, nervous, and uncontrolled, as if he were freaking out over something (why was his face so red?), but Shino was insanely calm, his stiff body placed a bit too close to the other's. The black-haired boy rested a (hesitant) friendly hand on Kiba's shoulder, replying in a droning voice that made Kiba's shoulders slump. Somehow, it didn't seem . . . as if they were just friends. It looked more like—

"Hello, class!" greeted Kakashi as he bounced through the door. "Sorry I'm late, see, I was trying to teach this lady how to get out of a Chinese finger trap and—"

"LIAR!" roared Naruto and Sakura, pointing accursedly at their silver-haired teacher.

Shikamaru's worries faded into the back of his subconscious as the class started to return to normal.

"You're going over to Itachi's right?"

Shikamaru hesitated, not sure if he'd heard that right, before lifting his head out of his arms and yawning widely. Math was such a good class to nap in; Hayate never bothered him, though the same couldn't be said for the students, obviously. With bleary eyes he glanced over at his intruder, blinking up into pearly white eyes.

As was the trademark for the Hyuuga's, this person had perfectly white eyes that held absolutely no pupil. He didn't know why they didn't have pupils, since it was one of the major components of an eye's functioning, but it worked well enough (they tended to get very good marks on vision tests). He was pale, with dark hair that came down past his shoulders, and if it weren't for his surprisingly deep voice, Shikamaru would've claimed him to be a girl (like he'd done with Haku before the sophomore had told Naruto otherwise; that had been a very funny lunch session, by far).

"Hmm?" he murmured incoherently. The other glowered, looking quite a bit as if this were the last thing he wanted to be doing. Shikamaru fancied the thought of prolonging this conversation, just to get the other riled up. He seemed like the type of person to fall for something like that.

"Are you going to Itachi's tonight?" he asked again, an edge entering his voice. He resisted the urge to groan. Damned Itachi . . . .

"Yeah, I guess," he sighed, letting his head fall back onto his arms. This, of course, was not what the Hyuuga had wanted him to do. A hand slapped against his desk and he shot his head up, the vibrations ringing through his head as if a gong had sounded. Glaring up at him, Shikamaru leaned back, letting his arms wrap loosely around his waist as he surveyed his sudden disturbance.

"Yes? Can I help you?" he asked in a falsely curious tone.

"I have a cooperate party I need to attend tonight, so I won't be able to join you," said the Hyuuga briskly, his voice as cool as the pounding rain outside. "While Itachi will be sure to get a lot done, I'm warning you now: if you lower my grade with your lazy-ass tactics, I will personally skin and gut you and then hang you outside on the flag pole. Got it?"

An image of Gaara laughing manically flashed through his head, and Shikamaru wondered if maybe this guy and the red-head were somehow related. They were morbid enough, he could've believed it. Sighing, he shifted in his chair and met the Hyuuga's glare head on.

"What's your name?"

"Neji Hyuuga."

"Well, Neji, I wouldn't want to hurt your grade, so I'll promise you this: you and Itachi can work to your heart's content on this project and I won't get in your way at all. How's that?"

Neji glared. "In other words, you're going to let us do all the work."

"Hm, so you are a genius after all," he yawned, replacing his head in his arms and drifting seemingly instantly back asleep. He almost felt like smiling, but his unconscious state prohibited expressions, so he was left to blandly face his desktop. Neji didn't bother him after that (thankfully).

To say he was relieved would've been an understatement.

A really, really severe understatement.

He let out a contented sigh, slumping over slightly as he thanked whatever deity had taken pity on him. Beside him, Chouji was smiling with the same relief, munching away at a bag of mini cookies that he'd obtained sometime during his third hour. On his left, Naruto was pouting, the thought of not being able to run around in the rain like an idiot with a just cause putting a damper on his mood, while Gaara remained as unaffected as ever (he was probably jumping for joy internally; now he wouldn't have to worry about ruining his eyeliner).

Why were they all in such an array of moods? Why were they not dressed in their P.E. uniforms? Why were they all standing around the gymnasium? Why was Kureni looking so disappointed? Why was he bothering to ask you any of this? Because it was raining (that didn't exactly apply to the last one, but whatever).

And they didn't have to go outside.

It really was a weight of his shoulders to not have to dress out or anything. Mostly because rain made him sleepy, but also because Nori hadn't been particularly nice the night before and he wasn't sure if he'd left a bruise or not. It was just better for him if he didn't have to dress out at all.

"Alright, for the remainder of the period, I want you all to sit up on the bleachers. If some of you want to play basketball, that's okay, but you're responsible for any equipment you use and if it isn't returned the way you found it, I'm writing some referrals. Alright, mingle." The woman walked away to talk with the other P.E. teachers, since all the scheduled physical education classes had been relocated to the gymnasium.

"Aw man!" whined Naruto, slumping over miserably as they made their way over to the bleachers, along with the rest of the horde of teenagers. "I wanted to play soccer!"

"In this rain?" asked Chouji incredulously. Gaara rolled his eyes.

"It's the curse of the stupid," droned the red-head. Naruto sent him a withering look.

"I'm not stupid, raccoon-eyes!"

"That's what they all say."

"But I'm not!"

"Well, then, what's the square root of 529?"

Naruto's face was utterly blank. "Um . . ."


"Wait! That's a math question and I'm bad a math!" exclaimed the blonde. He whirled on Chouji, fixing the surprised student with a determined gleam. "Chouji, what's the square root of 529?"

"Huh? Oh, uh, it's . . ."


Naruto looked at him confusedly, now walking sideways, while Gaara just raised a nonexistent eyebrow. Chouji blinked, then nodded, wolfing down another handful of chips. He decided to ignore them, angling them towards the stairs that lead up to the top row of seats.

"How'd you know that, Shikamaru?" he asked, staring at the Nara with utter surprise. He sighed, casting a look over his shoulder before starting to climb up the makeshift stairs.

"If you ever took the time to look in the back of your math book, you'd know this stuff," he lied. "Besides, that kind of thing is for middle schoolers." He picked a row somewhere around the middle and sat down, Chouji taking the seat on his left with Naruto and Gaara seated on his right. There was a sea of students milling around on the basketball court, some of them trying to funnel their way up the bleacher steps and others trying to organize a basketball game. From his position, he had a good view of the front doors as well as the wooden-floored court and the teacher's post against the far wall. If only it weren't so freakin' loud.

"Okay, so we're sitting in class right? And Iruka's telling us about how in Junior year we're gonna have ta right a story so we'd better start learning how to make a structured sentence now so we don't fail the assignment, and I started talking about—"

Naruto continued to talk, but Shikamaru tuned him out, leaning back against the seats, his feet propped up and his hands laced behind his head, to take a much-needed nap. The unsavory din of the gym, as well as the rhythmic munching of Chouji, helped to lull him into an unaware state, and he was pleased to say that he was falling asleep.

Until he was so rudely interrupted.

Warm air was wafting over the skin of his face, heating him up before chilling his flesh and then repeated the process. It was distracting and troublesome, and he wondered vaguely if he was being teased by some sort of giant dog (although, since when did dogs use Listerine?), but when he'd yet to be licked by a slimy tongue, he decided it had to be human. However, what annoyed him most was that the person breathing on him seemed to be smiling. How troublesome, he thought. He opened his eyes.

A single blue eye, shaped a bit like a sideways teardrop, was staring back at him, the other covered by a curtain of bright blonde hair. He was, in fact, smiling, his face just inches from his own. From what he could tell, the other was leaning over him from the seat behind his head rest, and that there were quite a few more people huddled around then there had been previously. At the edge of his hearing he could pick out the uneven crunch of Chouji's nervous habit, and he decided it was time to ease his friend's anxiety.

"Get the hell out of my face, Birdie," he growled, keeping himself as still as possible (damn, he was so close!). The blonde's eye flashed with surprise, before his face split in a wide grin. Laughing, Deidara sat up, freeing his vision and allowing him to sit up and see just who'd joined the four of them at their seats.

Sasuke had wandered over to them, seating himself nonchalantly in front of Naruto (who was blushing furiously), Lee, also having decided to join them, perched next to Sasuke and trying to hold Chouji in a conversation (it wasn't going so well), though the most surprising people attending their group were the ones lined up behind them (and consequently, next to his head). He couldn't help but roll his eyes and sigh disappointedly.

Sakon and Ukon were engaging Kisame and Kankuro in a game of Texas Hold'em, while Sasori pretended to ignore Deidara who was (still seated far too close to his head) grinning broadly down at him. Between a giggling Deidara and a politely listening Kankuro sat a very calm, very smug Itachi. Shikamaru had to resist the urge to sigh in exasperation. What the hell was up with the freakin' universe? Was it trying to drive him crazy?

"—has your face always been that tan?" That was Kisame, his voice curious and grating all at the same time. Kankuro's face twisted into a frown, and though he'd just been delt a new card, Shikamaru knew that look was directed at the question.

"I honestly don't know, blue boy, I don't look in the mirror that often."

"Obviously. I mean seriously, your pores are huge," said Sakon, riffling through his cards. Ukon rolled his eyes, and all those who heard him gave the freshman very strange looks.

"Dude, do you have any idea how gay that just sounded?" asked Kisame, blinking owlishly at the (much, much) smaller boy. Sakon blinked back, stilling his cards, before smiling.

"Who said I wasn't gay?"

"Okay, too much information," declared Naruto, holding up his hands.

"Oh, calm down Blondie. It's not like he declared that he had some sort of stuff cat filled with the bones of his dead mother who got butchered to death by a stray chainsaw."

There was a pause that was quite uncomfortable and Shikamaru had to wonder if maybe Gaara had hit the nail on the head with that one. Ukon burst out laughing, rocking back and forth with mirth. Sakon just rolled his eyes and tossed down some cards.

"Anyway," said Itachi, lightening the mood, "why aren't you wearing face paint? I don't think I've ever seen your face like that."

"Yeah well," grumbled Kankuro, studying his cards intensely, "I couldn't find it this morning and I didn't have enough time to look."

"I don't mind," said the older Uchiha with a smile. "You look cute."

A blush erupted on the middle Sabaku sibling's face, quite apparent now that he wasn't wearing his normal layer of thick make-up, and a few of them laughed, Gaara smirking as Deidara squealed and ruffled Kankuro's hair.

"Aw, Kanky's loved!"

"Shut up, Dei!"

"Hey, you guys want to play with us?" asked Naruto. Gaara and Naruto, as well as a far too enthused Lee and a reluctantly grinning Sasuke, had cut into the twins' game while the others had been talking and snatched up all the cards. Sitting up, he nodded his consent to the blonde and Chouji and he scooted to help form a sort-of-if-it-weren't-so-lopsided circle. They squeezed in between Gaara and Deidara, who'd flounced over at the announcement (how he could flounce over bleacher chairs, he had no idea, but the blonde managed it with flying colors) while Gaara handed Kankuro the cards for reshuffling.

"What game are we playing, my youthful comrades?" boomed Lee, bushy eyebrows shooting up and down in time to his words.

"It's called BS, or Bull Shit, and we start with putting down the ace then two's, three's four's and so on. I'll set down the first card and then Itachi, then Dei, then Shikamaru and onward," informed Kankuro smoothly, dealing out the cards. "Everyone puts down at least one card, and if you think someone's bluffing, you say BS, and if you're right, they take the pile, but if you're wrong, you take the pile. Got it?"

"Most definitely, my youthful drama partner!" saluted Lee, fanning his cards out in front of his face determinedly.

"Hey, you playin' Sasori, yeah?" asked Deidara, looking back over his shoulder at the reluctant red-head.


"Please, yeah? C'mon Sori, won't you play, yeah?"


Deidara stuck his tongue out at the older teen. "Meanie!" The red-head leaned forward to peck the blonde's nose, effectively silencing any further protests.

"Alright, anyway," said Ukon, rolling his eyes. "Kanky, why don't you start us off?"

"Yeah, yeah," mumbled the junior. "One ace."

"A pair of twos."

"One three, yeah!"

"I've got three fours."

"One five."

"Two sixes."



"Aaaaaarrrrggghhh!" roared Naruto, snatching up the pile angrily. Sasuke smirked, tossing down two cards.

"Two eights."


"Take it, Blondie."


"Ha ha! Sucker! I got four nines."

"One ten."

"Hey, did you know that the one-eyed Jack follows you where ever you go?"

They all looked over at Sakon, who was waving one of the cards in front of his face, one eye closed so the other could focus on the shifting image. There was a moment where no one said anything, simply watching the electric blue head bobble back and forth as he watched his card intensely. Ukon elbowed him in the side, snapping his attention back to the game, and Sakon blushed, tossing down his single card.

"One Jack."

"Two Queens, YOSH!"

"Ha, three kings."

"Two aces."

"A two, yeah."

"Three three's."

"Uh, a four."

"Ha! BS!"


"Okay, two fives."

"Four sixes!"

"A seven."

"An eight."

"Two nines."


"Alright, alright, no need to shout!"

"Three tens."

"Two Jacks."

"A queen."


"Nicely done, Shikamaru."

"Haha, you took out the genius!"

"One king, yeah."

"An ace."

"A two."

"A three."


Gaara grinned. "Take it, Blondie."


"Now, as you'll see here, the cells that make up plant life include . . . ." Orochimaru's voice just barely penetrated the haze of his sleepy mind, though the steady beat of rain echoed clearly in his head. Only through self-preservation did his body allow him to sleep sitting up during his seventh period, and he could hardly blot out the glow of the overhead in the darkened room. Napping was so hard in this period.

The desks had been rearranged (again) by fifth hour (again) and so the seating arrangement was skewed (again). Now all the desks were replaced with tables that seated two, and all the lab partners were grouped together around the room in some indiscriminate pattern. With this current seating chart, a very jittery, nervous looking Sasuke was thus seated beside him, barely able to restrain himself from tapping his pencil against the tabletop. His only consolation was that the raven-haired boy had yet to actually say anything to him.

"The packet I'm handing out contains everything we've covered this week, and I want it turned in before the end of this class hour." Orochimaru passed around the papers, pausing just a tad too long at their table to hand Sasuke their worksheets. The younger Uchiha glared holes into the table, tossing him his paper without any thought as to where it would land.

Shikamaru blazed through the packet, taking special precaution not to finish before Sasuke. That kid was too bright, and caught on to situations far more quickly than he was comfortable with. While that might be great in, say, a chess match, it did very little to prolong his social life of secrecy. . . . Wow, that sounded like something out of a soap opera. Which was really weird considering he didn't even watch daytime TV.

As Orochimaru went around collecting the finished worksheets, he stopped at their table, nonchalantly taking up their work. Sasuke was sitting stiffly, his clenched fists hidden under the desk as the snake man continued to eye him with frightfully yellow eyes. He could tell that there was something very . . . unholy about the interest their biology teacher was showing the black-eyed boy (jeeze, since when was he such a religious person?). Just as he passed behind them to take the Hotta twin's papers, he spoke in a far too relaxed tone.

"Uchiha, I'd like to see you after class."

He waited until the humanoid snake was at the other end of the room before jerking on Sasuke's sleeve. The raven-haired boy sent him a scathing look, his face a bit paler than it had been a few minutes before, and he snatched his arm away. Leaning forward, he locked eyes with Sasuke and held them.

"You can't stay after class," he hissed. Sasuke's face didn't change, but his eyes did.

"What are you talking about? I have to, he's a teacher!" the other growled back.

"No! I can not be left alone with your psycho brother all afternoon. You're not staying after school."

"What?" Sasuke's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What are you talking about?"

"I . . ." —Fuck, how was he supposed to go about this?— "Your brother's offered me a ride home, since Kankuro's car doesn't have any more available seats, and said I could stay for lunch. The only reason I took the offer was 'cause I'm getting a ride and he's giving me free food. But I'm sure as hell not going to eat alone at your house with your brother."

Sasuke glowered. "You're such a prick, ya know that? Fine, you want me to come with you? Tell Orochimaru that."

"Fine." Swallowing all his survival instincts, Shikamaru forced his throat to work properly. Turning, he focused his gaze on their teacher and let his voice carry. "Orochimaru?"

The black haired teacher turned to look at them, his eyes cold and annoyed, as if to ask "what the hell do you want, slacker?" However, the teacher responded in a decidedly cool, silky tone. "Yes?"

"Sasuke can't make it after school. Maybe you can reschedule?"

Orochimaru's eye narrowed ever so slightly.

Oh, he was so going to die.

"Really now?" said the biology teacher, stepping over to them. "And why is that?"

"He has a family issue that needs to be delt with and it can't be altered." The answer came out quickly, with little thought put into it, and he was utterly surprised at the reaction he got. Orochimaru had stopped moving and was eyeing him skeptically.

"If it's a family emergency, then I suppose there's very little I can do, now is there?"

He turned back around and continued to collect up their worksheets, ignoring the numerous stunned looks that were passed around the room at their intimidating teacher's retreat. Shikamaru turned back around to face the front of the room, slowly letting out the breath he'd been holding. He slumped forward, resting his chin on his arms and closing his eyes. Damn, that had been close.

"You are going to tell me the truth about your little escapade with my brother, got that?" growled Sasuke close to his ear, before pulling away. He sighed.

It figures that this wouldn't be over. Damn the Uchihas!

To be continued . . . .