Well, here I am again. I'm overjoyed to know that people are liking it so far!
This chapter is the second part of the prologue. After this, it's pretty much straightforward. No more leaps in time, anyway. I just wanted to write this little bit so that you can get a sense of the characters before we start rolling naked and happy in all-out shonen-ai. I like things to be explained first.
But I digress. Less yap, more story? OK.
Dude, where's my disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. There you go.
Pairings: Still slight ChouShika; one-sided ShikaIno. Because I'm jaded and callous like that.
Hope you like!
Prologue Part 2
Chouji regarded the first time he met a girl to be one of the most unpleasant experiences of his entire life.
As they had arranged, at 10 o'clock sharp, he and Shikamaru flung trunks and towels into a bag and made their way down to a small, obscure lake not far from the village outskirts.
The day, as ever, was glorious. The heat had already begun to saturate the atmosphere, the stones beneath their feet baking like coals. The water before them was cool and deep and green, filled with curious black-eyed fish and great nets of slimy black weeds. A tiny waterfall meandered its way over some mossy boulders on the opposite side.
With an almighty whoop, Shikamaru flung his shirt to the ground, kicked off his shoes and sprinted for the shore.
'Wait for me!' cried Chouji after him, still clinging unsurely to the hem of his own shirt.
Shikamaru had already taken a leap into the water, the still surface startled into life but the sudden disturbance. After a few moments he resurfaced, his gasps reverberating off the trees and rocks around him.
'Cold!' he managed, laughing. He waved an arm, beckoning at the shore.
'C'mon, Chouji! What're you waiting for?'
Chouji pulled his shirt over his head and snatched it across his body in one clumsy, shy movement. The sun planted a hot kiss on his pale skin. Despite his trunks, he felt horribly naked.
After a moment's inner turmoil, he met a resolve. Shikamaru wasn't always so enthusiastic about playing; he might as well go with it before he tired himself out and went back to watching clouds.
He folded his shirt carefully to kill some time, and placed it slowly and deliberately in the shadow of an old tree. Hesitantly, he approached the water side. It took a monumental effort not to cross his arms over his body out of embarrassment.
Shikamaru waded up to him, wiping the lake water from his eyes and nose.
He took one of his arms in his cold, wet hand, and led him into the water.
Chouji wanted so desperately to have the understated confidence that Shikamaru exuded, instead of the crippling awkwardness that assigned him to being a mere devoted disciple to the most perfect person on earth. But, in a way, he knew he could be happy with his lot; what better than to fly so close to the sun, and never get burned?
Their pace slowed as the water reached their thighs. Shikamaru turned to look at Chouji. He did not let go of his arm.
'You're lucky to not have all your bones sticking out of your body like mine. Don't you think it looks ugly?'
Shikamaru's ribs started from his skin as he moved. His collar bone was highly pronounced, like the graceful curve of a bow. Despite his leanness, hillocks of developing muscles counterbalanced the stark relief with soft sensuality.
'No, no, I don't think so at all,' Chouji stuttered, wide-eyed.
'I do,' commented Shikamaru mildly, prodding a jutting bone with distaste. Chouji swallowed. He found it hard to think that any person would say such a thing except out of pity.
'You needn't be so shy,' Shikamaru continued, sloshing around as the water reached their waists, 'I don't think there's anything wrong with how you look.'
Chouji felt himself reel slightly from the sincerity of his tone. He tried to conjure up some words of gratitude, but none came.
'And besides,' Shikamaru said, grinning from ear to ear, 'you're more fun to hug!'
With that, he threw his arms around Chouji's neck in a reverse headlock, sending them hurtling backwards. Chouji gasped and immediately received a large gulp of grimy water. He felt the tiny hard stones of the lake bottom against his back, his eyes stinging as they gaped into the cold green. Bubbles rushed from his mouth, making the silhouette of Shikamaru distort as his arms drifted from around him. With a tremendous effort, he hauled himself back to the surface and emerged spluttering.
Shikamaru had swum into a deeper part of the lake, chortling. Chouji flicked his soaking hair from his eyes and flung a handful of stringy pondweed at his assailant.
'I'll get you for that!' he yelled. Laughter and the sound of splashing painted the air.
As Shikamaru locked Chouji in a vice-like grip for the fourth time, they noticed two shapes approach the shore. Shikamaru released Chouji, squinting.
They were girls. One was tall for her age, though slightly stout, with long flaxen hair that she had combed severely into a ponytail. She wore a brightly coloured two-piece swimsuit. The other girl was smaller, with slightly shorter hair that shone an odd shade of red in the sunlight. They both appeared to be looking directly at the two boys who peered at them from the middle of the lake.
'C'mon Ino, there're already people here. Let's find somewhere else to swim,' said the red-headed girl, glancing back the way they'd come.
'Sakura,' replied the girl called Ino sharply, 'they don't own the lake. I want to swim here, so I'm going to.'
The blonde set her large bag upon the ground, and strolled resolutely into the water. She set off at a swift stroke, and began to cut a large circle around the two boys. They followed her progress in baffled silence. She stopped, apparently balancing on tip-toes beneath the water. She fixed a steely, blue eyed gaze on the both of them.
'Do you mind?'
Shikamaru and Chouji exchanged glances.
'Do we mind what?' replied the dark-haired boy bluntly.
'I am trying to swim,' explained the girl in a slow, simplistic tone, 'so would you mind not staring at me like I'm the first girl you've ever seen?'
Chouji knew that, in actuality, she probably was the first girl he'd ever seen. The only woman he had known closely was his mother, and perhaps the odd smattering of female relatives.
'What are your names?' she enquired suddenly, wrinkling her nose at them.
'Shikamaru,' the first answered coolly, picking a piece of pondweed from his hair.
'Um… I'm Chouji…' replied the second quietly. He bent his knees slightly to hide his wide, pale shoulders. The girl surveyed him with an air of ill-disguised contempt.
'I'm Ino, and that over there is Sakura,' replied the girl, waving a hand vaguely at the shore, 'I suppose we'll be seeing you in our new classes at the end of the summer?'
'Yeah, I guess,' answered Shikamaru distantly, looking up through the canopy above them, where the clouds roved dreamily overhead.
Ino stared hard at him.
'I'm going to go sunbathe,' she said eventually, and with a graceful movement made to swim back to shore without another word.
Chouji watched her climb from the water, where her friend Sakura greeted her with a towel. She had yet to approach to the lake herself, having hung back through their entire encounter.
Shikamaru's gaze drifted to the waterfall at the deepest part of the lake.
'Wanna try and dive off that?' he suggested, breaking the lull in conversation.
'N-no,' began Chouji, his head still the only thing visible from the water, 'I think I'll just, uhm… sit on the grass and watch.'
Shikamaru cocked a narrow eyebrow.
'Not scared of a couple'a girls, are you?' he smirked.
'No, it's just… I'm a bit cold,' he replied, with an unconvincing laugh.
Shikamaru shrugged and paddled backwards into the deep. Thankful that he hadn't pursued it any further, Chouji scrambled from the lake behind a convenient rock, skirting the shadows so that he could collect his clothes and put them back on unnoticed. But, looking up, he realised he needn't have bothered to be so cautious; both girls, lying in the sun, were watching Shikamaru dive from the waterfall.
Sakura sat with her knees hugged to her chest, smiling distantly. Her lips would part in a delicately amused expression every time Shikamaru performed a particularly difficult feat. Ino appeared to be unimpressed; she glared into the sunlight at the boy, then clicked her tongue and flicked her hair when the sound of splashing water reached the shore. Chouji observed the exhibition and its audience with an increasing and inexplicable sense of worry.
When Shikamaru tired of diving, he lifted himself onto the rocks and began wringing water from the hem of his trunks. He took down his hair, the sodden strands settling like black webs upon his neck and cheeks. A little drier, he strolled past the two girls to collect his towel from where Chouji was standing.
'Ugh, he flicked water all over me," hissed Ino contemptuously.
Shikamaru glanced at her, and she returned it coldly.
'You wanna go get something to eat?' he offered, turning back to Chouji without regarding the remark.
'You're going?' chirped the blonde girl, cutting off Chouji as he opened his mouth.
'Yeah,' replied Shikamaru shortly, drawing his hair back into a ponytail.
'Oh,' said the girl, flicking her hair again. She pouted her lips and widened her blue eyes. 'Can I ask you something?'
Both boys looked at her.
'Shikamaru,' she began, and then, quite unabashed, 'will you go out with me?'
There was a lengthy, pregnant silence. Ino's expression had softened little from its permanent mask of aloofness. Sakura's eyes darted from one to the other. Chouji felt like his insides had plummeted to the ground he stood on.
'Uh…' Shikamaru began, appearing to recover slightly from this seemingly unprovoked proposition, 'I'm sorry?'
For someone of such intelligence, words appeared to have failed him for the first time.
'So it's a no,' she returned slowly.
'You want me to be your boyfriend?' Shikamaru asked, apparently finding it difficult to keep incredulity from his voice.
'If it's a no, then just say it!' snapped the girl, making everyone flinch at the noise.
'OK, then,' he replied simply, 'no.'
Ino looked both flabbergasted and deeply offended at the bluntness of the remark.
'No? No? Why?'
Her eyes flashed.
'Is it because I'm ugly?'
Sakura squirmed uncomfortably and stared at her knees, chewing her lip. Chouji couldn't bear to look at anybody, ashamed at the overwhelming sense of relief he now experienced.
'Hey, I didn't—'
'Is it because you think I'm fat? Is that it?'
Shikamaru gaped silently in disbelief.
Ino stood abruptly, stuffing items of wet clothing and towels hurriedly into her bag. Chouji caught glimpses of beach toys and lavishly packed but unopened lunch-boxes before they disappeared beneath crumpled, sodden fabric. She straightened and looked Shikamaru hard in the eye. Helpless apology was etched across his face.
'I'm sorry to have bothered you,' she said loudly, but it sounded like she didn't mean a word of it. They all ignored the tremble in her voice.
'I've seen you around the village. I should have written a letter, maybe then I wouldn't have had to make such a fool of myself,' she blurted, twisting her hair furiously, eyes slowly turning misty and red. Chouji's relief began to blend with a horrid sense of pity.
'Come on, Sakura. I want to go home.'
With that, she disappeared into the trees. Sakura turned pink and jumped to her feet, slipping on the rocks as she hurried after her friend. Minutes later, Chouji thought he could hear the sound of distant sobbing.
Shikamaru rubbed his temples and sighed. This was neither the first nor the last time that stray butterflies would be unwittingly snared in his web.
Chouji watched him for the longest time, unnoticed. He had always been terrified that his friend would be kidnapped out of the blue at any moment; that big eyes and blonde hair could be the only thing to snatch him away, never to return. He contemplated that, inevitably, the day would come when there wouldn't be a Shikamaru to eat with, to play with. The thought saddened him to the pit of his very being.
'Why did you say no?' he asked quietly.
Shikamaru turned, and to his relief, smiled.
'Didn't you think she was the most awful person you've ever met?'
'Well, um… uh…'
'She wasn't my sort. Way too aggressive.'
Shikamaru sighed and pouted. Chouji loved the way his mouth would meld into a comical curve, his eyebrows deeply furrowed.
'Geez, why are women such a drag?'
Despite the rhetorical nature of the remark, Chouji smiled in answer, but hurriedly checked himself when Shikamaru noticed. He swung a bony arm around his neck and patted him amiably on the shoulder.
'Don't sweat it, Chouji. I'm not going anywhere yet.'
Shikamaru surprised him every day with his level of perception. Chouji laughed, turning his smiling mouth to the sky, towards the clouds.
People are like chocolate, a fusion of the sweet and bitter. It only takes one taste to know what displeasure lies beneath. I won't be bitter, I'll be all sweet; I'll be all his.
The summer waxed and waned, strayed into autumn, and their days at the academy began. It was the time when they'd be lumped together, cultivated and nurtured into a band of model men and women.
The years flew by, and with them the barriers of innocence were broken piece by piece. The new summer shimmered with a new and fractious force, and Chouji, aged fifteen, found his cosy chrysalis dissolving beneath the ebb and flow of a mischievous, carnal energy. It frightened him, it captivated him; childhood fascination seemed transformed into something deeper, darker, adult. He wasn't a man, he wasn't a child; he was half-formed. And, as ever, there was a light that blinded him, a single flame that dominated his very being, a light that lured him forward, led him to believe that death was better than seeing it extinguished. It was here that childish adoration ended, and where something deep and unshakeable began.
I walked into your dream
And now I've forgotten how to dream my own dream
You are the clever one aren't you
Brides in veils for you
We told you all of our secrets
All but one…
Tori Amos: 'Mother'
End of Prologue Part 2
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Bye for now!