Title: Lethe
Author: D.A. Maxwell
Chapter: 01
Sooo... this is up as a teaser. Or preview. Or something. The bad thing is that I'll be writing this and Sixty Percent simultaneously... while also working... and going to school... yeah, I suck. The good thing (for me, not for you XD) is that I won't be seriously writing this until AFTER Chrysanthemum is done.
BUT. There is a purpose to this author's note! The beautifully clever Annieme inadvertently gave me a splendid idea on ch4pt3r 11 l0lz of Chrysanthemum. So, uh... anybody wanna be my beta? XD I can do grammar fine, but I'd like somebody who could a) be a grammar nazi and check over it anyway (read: seek and destroy ridiculous typos), b) make sure the story isn't doing something completely stupid (read: flows without making you go "WTF?"), and c) make sure I'm not making HORRENDOUS canonical errors. (Again.) Ideally, I'd like to get one or two just because I don't have the time to keep in such close, thorough contact with a team of betas along with the rest of my life. XD (That is, assuming even one or two offer.) So while this request would/could carry over to Lethe, it's more Chrys that I'm worried about. XD
EDIT - Thank you to everyone who offered! I've gotten several now-- any more, and I think I'd spend more time interacting with betas than doing my homework. XD I'm happyyy. thanks!

He felt cold.

There was mumbling around him, speech heard as if transmitted through water. There was a distant ache somewhere in his head, but it, too, seemed distant. There was something draped over his body-- a blanket?-- feeling scratchy and heavy without offering any proper warmth, but he couldn't move to push it off.

He tried to experimentally raise his arm, but all that happened was a slight twitch of his fingers. He tried to make a noise of frustration, but all that happened was a slight parting of his lips as his breath passed through. He tried to get up, to ask what was going on, to stand-- but all that happened was silence.

Silence? What happened to the mumbling?

Moments after that thought, the mumbling started up again, much faster this time and accompanied by equally distorted sounds of motion. Then came a voice, higher than the rest of the mumbling and closer. "--ka--ru? --ear --?"

"--ain --erns are --ing."

"Th-- --king up?"

"--ive him sp--!"

"G-- doc--!"

"--kama--! If --an --ear me, m-- --inger--!"

How troublesome, he thought as he tried to move his arm again. Actually, he wanted to flip off the annoying flock of people gathered around him. For all their noisy fussing about, they were barely comprehensible. Was it so hard to speak clearly?

They had been sitting there for nearly ten minutes after the second finger twitch, waiting with bated breaths. Of course, Shikamaru was lazy enough as it was when he was awake, so it was natural that he'd take his dear, sweet time responding while asleep as well. Or half-unconscious. Or whatever.

And then their patience paid off.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Shikamaru opened his eyes. The gesture was very slight, and at first Ino worried that he couldn't open them further-- before realizing that the bright hospital room light was just making him squint. "Turn off the lights!" she commanded. An intern hurried to follow the order, lingering by the door.

Once the lights were off, Shikamaru opened his eyes the rest of the way. Yoshino immediately let out a wail and slumped against her husband, beginning to cry. Shikaku-- who looked shaky himself, despite his usual casual demeanor-- held her upright for two seconds before she burst from his arms to rush to her son's bed. "Shikamaru! Oh, god, you're awake! Do you have any idea how badly you scared us?"

"Please, give him a little space, he's bound to be disoriented!" the doctor tried calling as everyone began talking at once, clustering around their newly-awoken friend. Shikamaru, for his part, struggled to sit up, and there were immediately several pairs of hands reaching to help.

"Ino's been taking care of you--"

"How do you feel? How's your head?"

"We'll try keeping others away for a while, but are you okay?"

"My baby!"

"You've been out for three weeks!"

"Everybody, calm down!"

"Can you talk? How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Are you hot? Cold? Do you want some more blankets?"

"Good to have you back, son."

"Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

"W... water," Shikamaru croaked, coughing slightly.

The intern flew from the room to get the water. Everybody continued babbling excitedly as she returned and Shikamaru, with Ino's help, took slow, careful sips.

As he drank, his worried visitors fell quiet. Once the cup was empty, he took a deep breath and looked around at his friend and family.

"Who are you?"

He couldn't understand what all these strangers were doing, talking to him as if he should know them. That blonde girl kept looking like she was going to cry one second or strangle him the next. The doctor had given up to stand off to the side with a frown. The older woman with long, brown hair kept bawling each time he caught her eyes and huddling against that guy with the funny spiked ponytail. Honestly, what was with that thing? It looked like a hedgehog went and died on his head. The fat boy with the dorky spirals on his cheeks just stood there, blubbering a bit. The intern seemed to not know what she was doing there, hovering near the doorway.

And what had the girl called him? Deer-something? What was with that? Come to think of it... what was his name?

His eyes widened slightly. Who was he? Where was he? Okay, a hospital, that much was obvious-- but what village was he in? How old was he, what did he look like?

The blonde girl trembled a bit as she perched at the edge of his bed. "Shikamaru... you don't remember us?" she asked in a small voice.

Shikamaru? So that was his name? Eh, whatever.

He shook his head, then glanced at Shikaku and Yoshino. "I'm guessing they're my parents, with the way she's freaking out? Or-- aunt, uncle?" he asked uncertainly. He looked back at Ino. "But you don't look like them, so you're probably not my sister... a friend?"

The blonde bit her lip to keep from crying again. Without any warning, she leaned forward and gave him a tight hug before sitting back and taking a deep breath. "My name is Yamanaka Ino. I've known you since we were six. My birthday is one day after yours. We're... well, I'd say you're a good friend. You usually say that I'm annoying."

"Sh-- Shikamaru," the older woman called shakily. "You... you don't remember anything? I-- we--" Getting choked up as tears came to her eyes again, she lost her strength as she fell, quickly caught by her husband.

The man sighed wearily as he held her. "Yes. We're your parents. You've been in a coma for the last three weeks, son. Ino is a medic at this hospital, and she's been taking care of you. Chouji--" He gestured over at the fat boy. "-- has been coming every day as well. They were-- are-- your best friends."


The doctor moved then, coming closer with a sigh. "You received a blow to the head. Fortunately, most of the rest of your injuries were minor so you didn't have any damaged organs or broken bones. You did suffer some blood loss from the impact, however, and we weren't sure how much of your functioning would be affected. You were hit from behind, and while most of your brain seems to be unharmed, the hippocampus has been the primary region that was a cause for concern. The hippocampus is a part of the brain located behind the brain stem that--"

"I know what a hippocampus is," Shikamaru sighed.

"... Do you know how?" Ino asked hesitantly. Shikamaru blinked, thought for a moment, then shrugged. She sighed. "Your clan... you have a strong medical background."

"Ino, you can discuss this later," the doctor pointed out firmly. "Right now, the issue is the accident."

"Since you say I was hit behind, something tells me this wasn't really an 'accident'," Shikamaru drawled. "But no, I'd rather she fill me in on these things so I'm not sitting here wondering why the hell I know what a hippocampus is. Anyway, go on?"

"Well," the doctor continued after clearing his throat, "what you are experiencing right now is called retrograde amnesia. Sometimes it only goes back to losing memories shortly before the accident, but other times-- as seems to be your current case-- you may lose your entire life's worth of memories. Many victims of retrograde amnesia do eventually regain some, if not all, of their memories; however, in some cases, the memories never return."

"Okay. Would anything help?"

"Having friends and family support you may," the doctor explained. "In the same way, participating in past hobbies. They could act as triggers, little reminders of your past. However, this depends on the severity of the damage. If your hippocampus is irreparably injured, then even triggers won't help. However, there doesn't seem to be noticable physical damage, so I'd say the odds are slightly skewed in favour of regaining something. In addition," he added to everybody else in the room, "loved ones may notice a few changes in the way you behave, but that's very normal for this sort of situation. Such as finding an interest in things he didn't care for before, or vice versa. Nara-san, do you have any other immediate questions before we shoo everybody out to give you a check-up?"

Shikamaru stared at him for a moment. "... 'Nara'?" he echoed.

The brown-haired lady let out a sob.

"Nara's your family name," the fat boy-- something about a butterfly, wasn't it? Choushi, Chouji, Jichou?-- finally spoke up, coming closer. He looked almost afraid, and continued to hang back awkwardly from the rest of the group. "Nara Shikamaru."

"Oh. Okay. Why are you standing back there?" Shikamaru asked curiously. "Are you shy?"

Chouji flinched, then shook his head. "No... not really," he mumbled. "I mean, I just wasn't sure if you'd like me anymore..."

"Why wouldn't I?" Shikamaru blinked. "Do you have some major personality defect?"

"What? I don't think so..."

"Then don't worry about it. If you were my friend before, I'm sure you'll be fine now. Just don't act like a scaredy-cat around me like you're doing now. Come on, come over here."

"He can do that later," the doctor interrupted. "Right now, everybody should leave. You need a check-up, and you'll need some rest. You're coping very well, but I'd imagine you feel a little disoriented?"

"I'd imagine you're fond of understatement?" Shikamaru drawled.

The doctor smiled slightly. "Well, patients and their visitors don't usually appreciate, 'you probably feel queasy and sick and everything is obnoxiously noisy and bright'," he reasoned. "Is that better?"

Smirking, Shikamaru nodded.

Later, Shikaku and Yoshino returned to check on him before going home, reassured of his safety. Yoshino held him tightly as she talked at him until Shikaku pointed out that he seemed to be having trouble breathing while caught in a loving, motherly headlock. Shedding a few more tears, she allowed her husband to guide her away.

Once they were gone, Ino returned. Pulling up a chair, she settled beside her old friend with a sad look on her face. "Some of the others will probably start coming by. I... warned them. That you probably wouldn't remember..."

"Okay. Thanks. I think." Shikamaru sighed as he sank into his pillow, rubbing his eyes. "This is such a pain. I can't even think where to begin catching up on everything I forgot. Is there anything important I'll have to take care of as soon as I'm out of the hospital? Do I work or go to school?"

"You work," Ino confirmed quietly. "But you're on leave until you've gotten the hang of your life again. You're a seventeen year old ninja. You live with your parents, mostly because you're too lazy to do your own chores. You have a lot of casual friends and acquaintances, but don't generally get close to people. You're deathly loyal to your loved ones anyway, you just hate socializing." She smiled faintly, wandering down memory lane. "You almost flunked out of the academy even though you were the smartest kid in class, just because you were too lazy to do the homework or take the tests. You're a born analyst, making you the village's leading tactician. At times, Tsunade-- our village leader, the Hokage-- has hired you out to allied villages to plan combat strategies for them as well."

"No pressure, huh?" Shikamaru sighed. "Great. So I'm a boring, asocial but dependable genius that passively gets along with people."

"Basically," Ino agreed, although her bright blue eyes still looked pained.

"Don't give me that look," Shikamaru groaned. "I can't do anything about it, okay? Come on, tell me more."

Letting out a small chuckle, Ino looked surprised as she put a hand to her mouth. She wondered how she could possibly laugh, given the situation... but Shikamaru seemed so bored with everything already! Leave it to him. "Okay. Your favourite pasttime is cloud-gazing, but you also like strategy games, surprise-surprise. You intend to eventually get married, have a son and a daughter, and retire once they're old enough to fend for themselves, but I don't think that was something you really had your heart set on-- just an expectation. Your family raises deer, hence you and your dad both have 'deer' in your names. Our dads-- yours, mine and Chouji's-- were all friends growing up, the same way we were."

"I thought you said we didn't meet until we were six," Shikamaru reminded with a confused look. "If our dads were friends, why...?"

Ino shook her head. "I don't really know why we didn't meet sooner. Just circumstances, I think. We both had stay-at-home moms who weren't really interested in being out-and-about in society, and our dads would usually get together and hang out at places kids don't go. We probably met when we were too young to remember, but then we were just at that age where we'd stay home with our moms."

Shikamaru frowned. "Okay. Still doesn't make much sense to me, but whatever. What else?"

"I... I don't really know," Ino admitted. "I mean, I know your personality, general likes and dislikes. I know your family, your job. Other than that, you really didn't like to do much. You spent most of your free time napping at the park or by yourself."

"I didn't hang out with you and Chouji?" Shikamaru asked. "Then why were we good friends?"

"You hung out with Chouji," Ino corrected. "But it was just a situation of our lives going in different directions. Chouji is more the type to get sent out on missions because he makes for a strong offensive. You do more background or solo work, and I'm a medic-nin. I've always been too girly for you, so I think you thought of me as an exasperating little sister or something. You're protective, even if it doesn't usually show. You don't mind losing if you're working alone, but you can't stand others getting hurt on your watch. You have a pretty bad guilt complex, I think."

"Hmmm... maybe that's why I kept myself away from people," Shikamaru mused, "to not be responsible for hurting them. So I take it I never went to parties or dated or anything?"

"Well... you would come with us to social gatherings, but you were generally quiet. You'd end up in a conversation with someone, or playing some kind of game, and that would keep you entertained for the rest of the time. And I have no idea if you dated," Ino confessed in a slightly exasperated tone. "Everyone thought you and Temari were dating-- she's from a different village, a little older than us-- but you both always said you didn't, so... I don't know. You didn't date anybody from our class that I know of."

"How many people were in our 'class'?"

"Nine." Ino began counting them off her fingers. "Naruto's a blond loudmouth who tends to be out of control and immature. But he's really strong, and insanely devoted-- he probably works harder than any of the rest of us to make his goals. Sakura is another medic-nin, so I'm sure you'll see her around. She has pink hair and a volatile temper, so be careful. She's not bad, but I don't think you liked her very much. Hinata's got a huge crush on Naruto, but she's this really shy, sweet little thing, and he's dense as a brick. Hinata's teammates are Kiba and Shino. Kiba is... well, think of an adolescent puppy. That's how he acts. His dog's usually more mature than him. Shino's really quiet, hardly speaks but tends to be very direct when he does. You two wallflowers seem to get along well.

"Then that's you, me, Chouji... Naruto, Sakura... Hinata, Kiba and Shino. Who's the ninth?"

Ino winced. "That... would be Sasuke. He..." No, I'll save that for later. He doesn't need to know right now. "He defected, and left the village a long time ago. Very smart, very talented. Very hot," she couldn't resist adding, grinning when Shikamaru snorted and rolled his eyes.

There was a knock at the door then, and a two-second delay before it opened. A girl with long, dark blue hair came shuffling in, holding a large, white basket full of fruit, flowers and-- was that a teddy bear? Wasn't he seventeen, not seven? "Sh-- Shikamaru-kun," the girl greeted with a slight bow.

"You must be..." Shikamaru glanced at Ino. "Hinata?"

Looking surprised, Hinata smiled and nodded. She entered, leaving the doorway open as a young man followed her in. Having been eyeing her and her unexpectedly white eyes quizically, it took Shikamaru a moment to glance up at her companion.

When his own dark gaze (as he'd finally gotten to a mirror) met up with another pair of white eyes, curtained between long, chestnut hair, he momentarily wondered if he'd lost his senses again as his focus seemed to zero in on the stranger, the room and its occupants becoming flat background. Who's that...? he wondered.

He jumped slightly when Hinata put a hand on his arm, tearing his gaze away to blink at her. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

Hinata looked nervous. "I... I asked how you were feeling," she replied before handing over the basket. "It's not much, but, um... the bear is from Hanabi," she explained apologetically. "My little sister. She insisted that hospital patients always need teddy bears."

Shikamaru stared at the basket in his hands blankly. "What am I supposed to do with it?"

"I'm not... sure," Hinata admitted. "Give it to Temari?"

For some reason, Shikamaru glanced up at the other man again at those words-- just in time to catch a slight flinch. His brow furrowed as he took in the minute reaction. "And you? Your name is...?"

There was silence for a moment before the man turned his head away and leaned against the doorframe, crossing his arms. "Neji," he replied in a cool, even tone.

"Neji... okay. Why don't you come in?" Shikamaru asked.

"Neji-niisan, please, come in," Hinata urged. Letting out a slow breath, Neji reluctantly moved. He closed the door behind him before coming closer, standing a couple of feet behind Hinata.

Shikamaru glanced at Ino. "I don't think you mentioned a Neji...?"

"I didn't. He's not from our year-- he's a year older than us. Neji is Hinata's cousin, and also extremely bright. Probably the smartest guy in our generation after you," Ino replied. While a year ago-- hell, month ago-- she would have made this appraisal in a gushing tone, her attitude now was kept very neutral and informative. Still, Ino was Ino, and she grinned. "Handsome, isn't he?"

"Yeah," Shikamaru agreed automatically, glancing up at Neji again. Ino blinked a few times, and Neji tensed, but kept his eyes on the floor. The silence lingered for a moment before Shikamaru sighed. "Did I say something wrong? I'm not allowed to make a judgment?"

"N-- no, of course you are!" Hinata assured. "It's just... it... we..."

"Guys just usually don't admit to things like that," Ino clarified.

Shikamaru blinked. "What? Why not? It's not like it means anything other than that he has good genes."

"Well, yeah, but people would still interpret it differently."

"So let them. Their opinions don't affect me." Shikamaru looked up at Neji again. "Did it bother you?"

Tensing up again, Neji crossed his arms before finally meeting the other man's eyes again. "No," he replied, voice low and... controlled? Yeah, that was the word for it. The way he stood, the way he shielded any thoughts from his face, the way he spoke even that single syllable-- he was extremely controlled.

"... Okay," Shikamaru said several still moments later when it seemed like the room's other occupants expected some sort of response. Truth be told, he sort of... forgotten them again, just for a few seconds. What was with him? Who was this guy? Why was he staring at Shikamaru so intently? For that matter, why was Shikamaru staring back? Ino had made it fairly clear that Neji wasn't part of their regular crew, so what was it that caught his attention?

"Hinata-sama," Neji called suddenly, breaking eye contact. "We must be going. You promised Lord Hiashi that you'd be quick."

"Actually, I should probably get going, too," Ino decided as she stood. "I'll come here first thing tomorrow-- okay, Shikamaru?"

"Fine. I'm not going to break just because you're not around to babysit," Shikamaru drawled.

Hinata rose to her feet as Ino smiled. "I know, tough guy. Sleep well, okay? With any luck, maybe you'll have some memories back in the morning. Good night!"

"Maybe. We'll see," Shikamaru responded doubtfully. "Good-night, Ino, Hinata, Neji. Or should I be calling you Neji-san?"

"Neji is fine," the brunette replied. "Hinata-sama..."

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Hinata glanced back at Shikamaru, then smiled. "I'm sorry for everything that happened... but I'm very happy you're awake now. Sweet dreams."

Shikamaru blinked. "Uh-- you, too?"

Giggling, Hinata followed Ino out the door. Trailing after them in the back, Neji drew the door closed behind him-- but not before looking back at Shikamaru one more time with that carefully closed off, guarded expression. Shikamaru stared back with a puzzled look, bafflement growing when he saw something change. He couldn't tell quite what it was, but somehow, Neji seemed different than he did with the girls in the room.

Before Shikamaru could analyze it any further, the door shut, and he was left alone to his thoughts. Sighing, he stared up at the ceiling until the stress of the last few hours caught up to him and he closed his eyes, drifting off into sleep.

So, I was at work, plugging away at my numbers like a good little accounting geek, when this fanfic idea completely sideswiped me. "How cute would that be?" I thought. So even though I have classical Japanese grammar to learn, and noh plays to read, and Spanish to study, and Chrysanthemum to write... I went ahead and started this anyway. Because I completely couldn't resist. And it seemed like a good opportunity to look for a beta anyway.
For those not in the know, "lethe" is the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology.