AN: Hey, I'm alive. For a long while I tried to break my brain about what the Halloween party should be, having a) never been to one and b) not liking parties in general. I found a sort of solution, and so now it is up to you to mock me mercilessly.
Shikamaru sat against the wall of the gym with the other players on his team. Among these, as always, was the beautiful senior Temari, the bane of his existence. It was their turn to sit out while the other two teams played, and they were all very sweaty from their exertions. Almost of their own accord, his eyes sought out the troublesome young lady. To his surprise, she was completely fry. He searched the vicinity for a cause, but there were no fans, no vents, nothing. Shikamaru had known for a long time that his family was different from normal people, but this was the first indication that others might belong apart from the general populace. At once, several things fell into place. Why some families, regardless of their profession, are treated with greater respect than was due, even the children. Shikamaru had assumed this was due to mafia connections, or something similar. He got up with a sigh, and moved next to Temari, ignoring the raised eyebrows and low murmuring that rose in his wake.
"Sweat is such a troublesome way to cool the body."
She gave him an odd look, then noted her condition.
"What alternative do you have?"
"None, but someone might have… resources I do not."
"How would such a person avoid the scientific experimentation and examination that would follow such resources demonstrated publicly?"
"I imagine there would be a community that lacked normal people. It would have to be remote and discourage inquiry. Funny how Spoons doesn't seem to show up on any map."
Temari shook her head in reluctant admiration.
"When did you figure it out?"
"Just now, though I've known my… nature for some time now."
Temari looked sidelong at him.
"Any guesses as to mine?"
Shikamaru looked at her long and hard. He guessed, and in confirmation, he was suddenly dry.
"It goes without saying that you will not tell your friends, nor any other underclassmen."
"It helps train us to maintain the masquerade that must be put on for the occasional outsider."
'At last, someone intelligent to talk to. Who knew it would be the violent one…then again, there's mom.'
A week later found Kankuro standing in front of the Nara ranch. The smell of cattle and their byproducts long tainting the air heading up to the grand establishment. The manor was old, maybe since before the founding of the town. It was in the style of the plantation mansions, a veranda extending under a similarly jutting roof. It was the first time he had visited there; the Naras were reclusive by nature, seldom visiting or receiving visitors. Kankuro, therefore, held some reservations as he knocked on the door. It opened with commendable swiftness. Mrs Nara seemed to be in her forties, yet carried her age with remarkable grace and poise. Her attire, a simple grey floor length skirt, and cream blouse hearkened back to the genteel fashions of the deep south. Despite all this, her voice held not but the slightest of a southern drawl.
"Why, hello there, let's see… you must be a Sabaku, you have your grandfather's chin."
"Well spotted, Mrs. Nara. May I speak to your son?"
"Of course, some in, he'll be down shortly."
She drew back from the doorway, then turned and shouted at the house in general,
"Shikamaru! Get your lazy butt down here!"
Kankuro wisely kept his surprise from showing. She led him to a sitting room and, fittingly, sat down, indicating he sit on another of the old style divan.
"By any chance, would you happen to have a sister named Temari?"
Her tone was pleasant enough, but it barely failed to contain the intensity of the personality behind it. 'What has she done now?' Kankuro thought worriedly, though a bit of exasperation thrown in for flavor.
"Indeed, she is one year my elder."
"I understand that she is beating my boy to get him to play games. Are you aware of this?"
"I am unaware of her actions in particular, but she has a… forceful nature."
"Beating the Nara males is my job. Tell your sister I appreciate the help, it gets really tiring. This place alone requires so much maintenance. Ugh, where is that boy? He should be here by now."
She started pacing as Kankuro gathered his wits and resolved never to make any predictions regarding Yoshino Nara. She stopped and said,
"By the way, tell her that she's welcome anytime. You know what? Stay here, I'll get him."
She strode through the door as if one of the two lacked substance. In moments Shikamaru stumbled through the door, albeit in the normal way, using hinges and knobs and such. Mrs. Nara closed the door with a slam, leaving the two boys alone Shikamaru glowered at Kankuro.
"I was napping."
"I'm just delivering a message. Temari wants you to attend the upcoming Halloween party at the Uchihas'. If you don't come she'll do something to you that I'm trying my best to forget the details of."
Shikamaru ran a hand through his hair.
"Any chance holing up here would keep her out?"
"I'm afraid not. Your mom just gave her permission to visit at any time."
"I thought so. Troublesome women have a secret organization, or maybe an oath of cooperation from birth. Fine. Tell her I'll be there."
"If it's any comfort, they just want to help you be better."
"That's the worst part. I can't find fault their motives."
Shikamaru tugged at the collar of the grey uniform.
"This. Is. Troublesome."
"Nonsense. You look just like your father."
Yoshino Nara lounged on a divan, a cat-like smile gracing her sharp features. Shikamaru shot a low-level glare her way. Another boy would have protested, but this one knew nothing he did would change her mind. He didn't have the energy to keep up.
Mrs. Nara nodded happily. Shikamaru strode to the door and opened it. Somehow, he wasn't surprised to see Temari, nor did he offer to much resistance as she dragged him.
"I can drive, woman. You don't need to pick me up."
"You drive slowly."
This one sentence filled him with dread.
Shikamaru shakily got out of Temari's car. He was mildly surprised he wasn't dead. Temari dragged him inside with the steady, implacable pull of gravity or maybe just physical strength. She lead him into a foyer that, had Sakura been there, she would have recognized as the place where she and Sasuke had first dined together. As it was, the room had been redecorated to accommodate more guests and the proportional amount of food. One-armed furniture, such as might have been once used by a busty gothic host, boxed in the end to the hallway loosely. Along one side of the room lay two long tables in an L shape, bearing treats, drinks, and assorted tiny sandwiches. The small table in front of the fireplace was still there, now holding chessboard and the appropriate pieces. Shikamaru glanced at it with longing and a smidgen of curiosity. 'I wonder if she plays…' It is probably significant to some psychologist that he noticed the chess set before Sasuke and Kankuro, the former reclining on one of the couch-things and the latter sat on the arm of another.
"Temari, you are such a cougar. Who's cradle did you rob this time?"
"By your count, you'd be a baby as well, so hold your peace."
Shikamaru was following the conversation with his secondary attention span. The primary one was still distracted by the huntress costume on the senior. He had a suspicion that the bow and quiver were authentic and well used weapons.
Shikamaru felt that mild discomfort that signals that the God of Conversation requires an offering.
Sasuke shrugged and Temari worried. Whenever Gaara disappeared, things turned out badly, or at least, surprisingly. Having received the conversation ball, Sasuke spoke.
"A confederate uniform I see. Is it handmade or store-bought?"
Shikamaru opened his mouth, but Temari beat him to the punch.
"It's an original. Frankly, I don't know why he is using it so carelessly."
"It's a family heirloom. They insisted."
Ah, parental intrusion, something every teen loathes at one time or another. Shikamaru glanced at the costumes of the other two boys, gleaning for a conversation topic. Kankuro wore a Japanese military uniform, somewhere near general in rank, complete with white gloves and, strangely, circular glasses with orange lenses. Sasuke wore dark, casual clothing more in line with emo fashion than his usual style. His hair was combed back, possible moused.
"I thought you didn't like Edward, Sasuke."
"I don't, but I'm not wearing this for me."
Shikamaru continued his examination of the décor. A few paces from the fireplace was a large, shoulder-height pumpkin. It was clearly manufactured, but unmarred by any mark or hole. This was more peculiar due to the myriad of jack-o-lanterns that rested on almost every flat surface of the room. Across from the food tables was a grand piano, a rock of normalcy amid a sea of shifting ornamentation. He surveyed the contents of the food tables, wondering if it was alright to poach a bit before the party got started. Temari sat, indicating he do the same. He chose to sit an arm's length away, what estimated was the furthest he could be without showing disrespect, or maybe fear. There were murmurs from the front door; it opened to reveal Ino, her hair dyed black and let down from the usual ponytail. She wore a long, plain white nightgown. Behind her was Naruto, in a blood red suit with black pinstripes, topped with a small set of horns nestled among his golden locks. He carried several plastic bags.
"-was any sexier, you'd have to keep me on a leash."
Ino shook her head, unconvinced.
"You are so weird, but I'm happy for the both of you."
She skipped over to Sasuke, then examined her fingernails, feigning disinterest.
"So… how's things with Sakura?"
She was rewarded with one of the few almost-blushes Sasuke exhibited in public.
"Fine." He said. "Not that it's any of your business."
"My my, that well, huh?"
He scowled and said nothing.
Meanwhile, Naruto pushed aside a tray of cookies and set down his two bags. He pulled out boxes of store-bought pastries and said to the room in general,
"I wasn't sure if there would be snacks, so I decided to bring some of my own."
Kankuro walked over to examine the offerings.
Naruto nodded with great solemnity.
"Little Debbie is my goddess."
Kankuro didn't quite know what to say to this; it was the first time he actually heard someone call a logo, a goddess. It was rather disturbing, yet charming in a way that was peculiar to Naruto. Thus he nodded and backed away, as any sane person should.
The door opened to admit guests once again. Hinata as a nun, and a stranger dressed as a Victorian gentleman passed through, followed by Kiba in the classic vampire getup. What caught Naruto's attention was Hinata's hand in the crook of the arm of the stranger, indicating a familiarity that did much to disturb his frame of mind. As he strode to the pair, he passed Kiba going the other way. Naruto tried to be nonchalant, part of him wondering what it was to be chalant, but Naruto was Naruto, so both endeavors were doomed to fail.
"Hey Hina, who's your friend here?"
The gentleman smiled, and spoke for her.
"Don't tell me you've forgotten me? It wasn't long ago that we had lunch together."
Naruto squinted at the "stranger", who doffed "his" hat, revealing the bun "he" had tied "his" hair into.
"Tenten, you are a scarily good cross-dresser. Don't tell me you use this to sneak into the men's locker room!"
"This is the first time, but now that you mention it, that is a good idea."
"The old man would be proud, I made a woman into a pervert."
"You're the one who immediately thought of the perverted use of cross-dressing, I just happen to agree."
Naruto turned his puppy eyes towards Hinata.
"You know I'm not a pervert, right?"
Hinata giggled behind her hand.
"I don't know what to believe anymore. How do you explain how quickly you thought of the voyeuristic use of her talent?"
"I can't help it! I'm such a genius that I instantly think of an unconventional use for anything."
Hinata hugged him in reassurance.
"It doesn't matter. Either way, I still love you."
He hugged her back, a goofy smile on his face.
Ino, meanwhile, was shaking with stifled laughter at the melodramatic swishes and flourishes Kiba performed on his way to her.
"You really love that cape, don't you?"
"It's so… dramatic! It is totally worth the trouble of snagging on stuff."
"Only you would say that. And maybe Naruto."
"Girls like to twirl in dresses, guys like to swoop around in capes."
Sakura walked in, a long white doctor's coat swishing about her legs. Sasuke stood up, remembering his manners. She smiled apologetically.
"Sorry I'm late, I had to get an umbrella to get to the car."
Sasuke glanced out a window.
"It's not raining."
CraKOOM. Patter patter patter.
"It's a conspiracy."
"Whatever. And by the way, stick with the duck butt."
Sasuke stared at her for a long moment.
"I can't win tonight, can I?"
She pecked him on the cheek.
"I'm still here, and that's all the win you need."
He smiled ruefully.
A resounding boom echoed from the west wing throughout the mansion. Temari's head whipped towards Sasuke.
"Do you know where Gaara is?"
He strode to the giant pumpkin and pushed it effortlessly.
"Not anymore. Let's hope he wasn't trying anything dangerous."
The hosts ran to the west corridor, following the echoes. The guests followed, worried, yet a small part of them wondered if this was somehow part of the night's activities.
They opened doors as they went, searching for evidence of Gaara's passage. The guests glimpsed walls covered in writing, furniture languishing under a thick layer of dust. Ino caught up to Sasuke.
"Who lived here?"
"My great-grandfather Madara. He went crazy in his later years, ranting about a good snake and a bad snake. My brother Itachi lives here now. Says the writing doesn't bother him since he's blind. I hope he heard where Gaara went, this isn't working."
They came to a set of double doors. They opened to reveal Itachi, an immense serpentine mural behind him. His snake blinked languidly as it coiled around his arm. Sasuke didn't look at his brother's face.
"Do you know where Gaara went?"
"Gaara?" Itachi stroked the snake thoughtfully.
Ino frowned in confusion as Itachi lead them further down the hallway.
"I thought he was blind." She whispered.
"Blind, but not deaf, Ms. Yamanaka. I can hear very well."
Ino's face flushed in embarrassment.
"My apologies, Mr. Uchiha."
Itachi nodded, then opened a door, seemingly at random. The inside was much the same as the previous rooms, only the dust was disturbed, and a trapdoor lay open, a rug rolled beside it.
"Gaara! Are you alright?" Sasuke yelled into the dark passage.
Footsteps echoes up, then a voice drifted back.
"I am. The stone door fell, though."
He emerged, wearing a suit made to look like pumpkin innards, as well as a decent amount of dust.
"Thank you all for worrying about me. Shall we go back to the party?"
The night was lively to the bitter end, filled with games, bad karaoke, and sugar in various forms and solutions. Gaara sighed in contentment as he lay in his bed. His alarm clock filled the room with a gentle red glow that declared that the time as 1:32 AM. His bedroom door opened, and Itachi entered, preceded by his cane.
"What did you find."
Gaara wasn't particularly surprised at the intrusion.
"Will you read the to me, later?"
The ride back wasn't much better than the ride to the Uchiha residence. Shikamaru breathed easier when they came to a stop before his house. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was openly staring at him, her chin lifted, a challenging without words. Thus it fell to him to speak.
"I… enjoyed the party. Thank you for inviting me."
"You're welcome. It's been a while since Kankuro had a new opponent."
The challenging look was still there. It was this sense of expectation that made him think deeper about the situation. In the past, she had forced him into whatever social function she felt he must attend. At this point in time, he had fulfilled the barest social obligation Temari thought was appropriate. From this point on, he was free to choose what niceties he would observe, above the current level. Now the choice; he could remain distant acquaintances, or actually get to know her. In retrospect, fencing with her intellectually and the various battles won and lost in their peculiar arena meant more to him than the countless chess games, the countless books he ran through. It would be crass to say she was more entertaining, but on some level it was true. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that time was best spent in her company. A new opponent was nice indeed.
"I know my mother has already said this, but for what it's worth, you are always welcome in my home."
He saw a certain warmth in her eyes when she said, "Thank you.", and to him, that warmth was as the breath of life that was blown into the figure of clay.
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AN: Almost none of this was in the plan, except naruto's quote had to end up somewhere. As for my favorite character, you have one guess. In retrospect, spoon is rather like a magically oriented Eureka, for those who have seen said program. If anyone would like to beta, please drop me a line.