If the sun had been visible when the walls of Konoha became visible to Shikamaru and his team, it would have just been dipping below the horizon at the end of its travel across the sky, but as it was, the sky was dark, filled with heavy clouds that dropped buckets on the young chunin team as they made their way closer to the gate.
The young genius didn't complain as rain flowed down his hair and face, pounding at his shoulders on what was the most miserable night to travel. He didn't feel it would have been fair, considering both Ino and Chouji were in the exactly same water-logged boat that he was. Taking refuge under the canopy of the guard post, he turned to his two friends, saw Ino's red nose Chouji's over-bright eyes, and knew that they were seeing the same on him and that all three of them would be looking at a nasty cold for the next few days.
"Ino, Chouji, go home and get warm and dry. I'll check in with the hokage."
"Shi-." Ino's face screwed up midword, then her eyes closed as she let out a thunderous sneeze. A second followed in its wake. Both Chouji and Genma, who had been on watch, pulled out a handkerchief for her. She took the guard's, which was blessedly dry. "We can check in with you."
"Keh, you're barely on your feet and Chouji looks like a zombie. Go home. I'll check in and let her know you aren't up for any more missions for a while." He coughed into his hand, feeling more miserable with every second.
"You don't look so hot yourself, Shikamaru-san," Genma said, motioning for Ino to keep his now soaked handkerchief.
Shikamaru glared at him, but at the other man's smile, knew his glare probably took on the look of a petulant child.
Damn the rainy season.
"Believe me, I'm planning on going right to bed too," he said, turning back to his teammates, "but there's no point in having all of us go to the tower to make a report one of us can make. Go home. I'll check up with you tomorrow."
"You're sure?" Chouji asked, his voice sounding even deeper with his stuffed nose.
"Yeah." He rubbed at the water running down his neck from his hair and glanced out at the rain falling around them. "You both live near here, but I have to go by the tower anyway to get home. No point in you guys having to come back this way."
Chouji shared a glance with Ino and knew they would put up no more of a fight.
"Okay," he answered. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Shikamaru waved at both of them as they stepped again into the rain, then sighed.
"You know, Shikamaru, you're really growing up," Genma said, leaning his elbows onto the counter and moving his senbon from one side of his mouth to the other. "I don't hear you call everything 'troublesome' as much as I used to."
"What a pain," Shikamaru sighed in answer, rolling his eyes as he turned back toward the rain. He missed the smile on the guard's face as he coughed into his hand once more and took off toward the tower. He was exhausted, but he wasn't going to stay out in this weather any longer than he had to. His sprint brought him to the tower in just a few minutes, though he was sure it didn't save him from the rain at all. His vest was completely soaked through as he made his way up the stairs, and stepping into the corridor, a large puddle dripped onto the floor under his feet.
He took a moment to squeeze the water out of his ponytail, not to improve his appearance, but to try and stop the steady flow down his neck. Then, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and shuffled toward the Hokage's office.
Genma was right. He had quit calling everything troublesome. It was a conscious choice he had made after Asuma's death that he would be more responsible and protect the village and its people. It was a decision he had spoken aloud only to Kurenai, as he had promised to protect her unborn child- Asuma's child. Somehow, taking the easy route to retirement had become childish in his mind in the wake of his sensei's death.
"Shikamaru!" He stopped, not realizing he was just a few feet from Shizune's desk. "Your team is late."
He sneezed in answer, wincing at the pressure building around his eyes and nose.
"And you look horrible."
"It's raining," he said simply.
She murmured something he didn't quite catch but that sounded suspiciously like a scold, then sat some forms and a pen down on a side table.
"Tsunade-sama's in a meeting," she said, motioning him toward the forms. "If you fill out your report, you won't have to wait for her to finish." When he sighed, she added, "She's meeting with the council."
Meaning: she could be in there all night and unavailable for a debriefing. The sooner he got this done, the sooner he could be at home, dry, and under a few dozen blankets. He pulled out the chair and took up the pen, his mind already creating the report before his hand started moving across the paper.
After a few minutes, a cup of tea was placed next to his left hand.
"To warm you up," Shizune said when he looked up. "And head off that nasty cold you've got going there."
Shikamaru nodded his thanks and picked up the cup, but as he drank, he realized he couldn't taste it at all, but that its warmth flowed from his mouth to his throat and stomach, and slowly worked its way out from there.
The fingers of his left hand still wrapped around the cup for its little warmth, Shikamaru signed the bottom of the document and handed it over. Then he drank down the last of the tea and leaned his head back a little, eyes closed. The room tilted a little as he did so, and he groaned. The next few days were going to be hell for him, but at least it meant many long, motionless hours in his bed.
"Go home, Shikamaru," Shizune said, laying a hand on his forehead. "I'm sure your mom will have some hot broth waiting for you."
"Thanks for the tea," he said, standing up slowly, giving his head a chance to adjust to the change in altitude, then headed for the door in what he hoped was a straight line. "Hey, Shizune-."
"I will inform the Tsunade that your team needs some time to rest up. Just go home."
He nodded again and headed out, while at her desk, Shizune set the small tea pot on a tray with a new cup for Tsunade. While she knew Tsunade would prefer saki rather than tea right now, with the council laid out before her desk, something calming would be best.
With a groan, Shikamaru stared up at the dark sky. The rain had lessened in the time he had filled out his paper work, but now it was a dreary drizzle, as though the very oxygen had turned to liquid form and filled the air rather than falling from the sky. Though Shizune's tea had warmed him up a little, it wasn't enough to carry him all the way home. In fact, it was just enough to remind him just how miserable he was.
He glanced down the road, which most sane people had abandoned, though a few umbrellas could be seen bobbing down the walk. It would take him nearly twenty minutes if he stayed on the street, but only ten if he took the high road. As an unspoken rule, using the rooftops for your own personal highway was frowned upon by the residents. Shinobi who were on duty or emergency personal used them as due course, but for the rest of them, homes and shops were to be treated with respect. Nobody wanted to close their shade for bed only to find a group of jounin having a heated discussion outside their third story bedroom window. Sure, there were a few so highly respected by the community that they could get away with it if they wanted, but for the most part ninja acted like normal people (at least, normal for people who had been trained to fight since they could walk).
Well, tonight he was going to be an exception. He was too damn tired. Another sneeze increased the pressure around his eyes and nose, and his groan was more of a whine as he attempted to breathe in through his nose. Useless. More determined to get home quickly, he stepped out from under the protection of the entrance. Channeling the needed chakra was second nature, needing no real conscious thought as he leapt to the nearest rooftop.
He was surprised, however, when his landing slipping, causing him to slide down a few tiles before catching himself- something he hadn't done since he was a genin. He chalked it up to his increased headache and resulting dizziness of his cold, and silently vowed not to rise from his bed for at least a week. Then, his face set in resigned determination, he sped along the roofline, aware of the presence of other shinobi patrolling the area but making no greeting, until he leapt to the next rooftop.
"By allowing him to travel freely through the countryside, you are placing all of us in grave danger, Tsunade."
Tsunade leaned forward, clasping her hands before her face. This meeting had gone on far too long for her tastes, and though her answers never changed, the accusations that Naruto was endangering the village continued.
"Uzumaki Naruto is a shinobi of this village, and as such will fulfill the duties for which he has been trained. Your concerns have been noted, and the appropriate protection has been placed around him – at your request." She ignored Shizune, who had placed a cup near her elbow and was filling it with hot tea. "He is in no more danger in the field where pursuers would have to search for him, than he would be if he remained in the village." She picked up the cup, holding it in her left hand as she stared Koharu in the eye. "And if he is attacked on a mission, he is surrounded by two teams of jounin and chunin level rather than civilians."
"Your assumptions are-!"
"Shizune!" A dark look crossed Koharu's face at being cut off so rudely, but Tsunade ignored her, instead, turning her attention to her assistant. Her cup of tea was directly under her nose, as though she had frozen in the act of drinking. "Did you prepare this?"
"Of course, Tsunade-sama," Shizune answered, a bit bewildered. Of course she had made it. She always made it. Why would a council meeting need to be interrupted with a question like that?
"Have you drank any?"
"Bring me the tea leaves you used."
Shizune glanced between Tsunade and the council members, then disappeared to retrieve the bag.
"Hokage-sama-" Homura began, but Tsunade silenced him with a raised hand, sniffed at her tea, then peered into it as though trying to see her fortune in the bottom.
Shizune reappeared and placed the bag in Tsunade's waiting hand.
"Where did you get this mix?" she asked as she opened the bag and sniffed at the contents.
"It was delivered by the tea shop." Shizine watched as Tsunade pressed her finger to several of the dried leaves, lifted them from the bag, and sniffed them cautiously.
"Have the owner of the shop brought here for questioning."
"Conium maculatum," she answered, motioning to the bag. "The scent wasn't strong, but I caught it when it was right under my nose. This tea contains poison."
The room fell silent in shock at this pronouncement.
"Shikamaru- his cold-." The hokage looked up at Shizune's halted words and saw that all the color had drained from her face. "He was soaked when he came in to make his report. Tsunade, I gave him the tea!"
"How much?" Tsunade demanded, clearly alarmed.
"A whole cup! He was sick! He couldn't smell it!"
"How long ago?" Tsunade rose from her chair, grabbing her coat and swinging it over her shoulders.
"Just a few minutes. He was heading home."
"Send out a search team to help find him. Check his teammates' and his own house. And get that shop owner here!"
"Tsunade-hime, where are you-?"
"Nara Shikamaru has been poisoned, and he doesn't know it," she answered tartly, opening the door. "This meeting is over for now." She swept out the door, Shizune following her to send out a search team.
Shikamaru leapt toward another branch, relying on the trees surrounding his clan's lands to protect him from the still falling rain. His hand shook as he wiped at his face, and his spinning head warned him that traveling so far above the ground was not good in his condition.
How the hell had he gotten so bad so quickly?
His landing was messy, getting worse with each leap, causing him to get only one foot on the branch before gravity took over. Instinct shot his hand out to grab the branch, but he dangled for a moment before his brain spun in his skull. The last thought to enter his head was troublesome before fell, blacking out before his body even hit the ground.