Chapter 5: Introspection
Naruto watched the sweeping green landscape fade into the blue void. He was being rocked to sleep the waves caressing the vessel carrying him like a mother caresses her infant.
A dry breeze tickled his throat caused him to cough sending spasms down his body as his throat closed and he struggled for air. The west was more cruel and violent than he had expected. He clenched his hand over his stomach preventing his guts from spilling out. Had he the strength to create a shadow clone to heal himself he would have done so.
"Hold tight, son, there's a doctor waiting for you." An old man placed a damp cloth on Naruto's fevered brow wiping the tears out of his eyes with his forearm. "You did a good thing, thank you."
Shikamaru woke up with his adrenaline rushing. He clutched his abdomen searching for blood but found no wound. Slowly his senses returned and logic provided the comfort of understanding.
"Naruto," he mumbled.
Shikamaru knew he would not be able to fall back asleep. The moon told him it would be a few more hours until dawn, but that did not concern him now. He checked on Lee and Anna and found them both fast asleep. Somewhat relaxed he put on his vest and took a short walk back the way they had come until he found what he was looking for. A small pool fed by the streams produced in the spring by the mountain snows melting.
Yes, Anna was with them. Her goal had been to find Naruto and she was on her way to the elemental nations before she came across the Konoha travelers. She refused to explain why she was searching for Naruto but nonetheless they trusted her. Anna was pleasant a woman in her twenty-somethings who while attractive did not attempt to accentuate her attractiveness and let it lie almost hidden under men's clothes and brusque manner. She had kept up with them for the entire day and if any one had been slowed it had been her. Since they had left the village where they had met they had spoken of Konoha but Anna's back round was still a mystery. Her careful answers to probing questions gave Shikamaru only the vaguest sense of who he was dealing with. Still Anna was not a warrior, a hunter perhaps having survived in rugged terrain for so long. But her presence was entirely nonthreatening and she got along well with Lee.
Shikamaru closed his eyes as an image of Naruto's wounds plowed its way to the forefront of his thoughts. His heart rate was still high so he sat on a dry boulder at the end of the pool. Water is calming. The sight of it alone slowed his thoughts. The sound of the stream's contents mixing with the pool lulled away his tension. The moon provided enough light for him to enjoy this. By its presence he had found a haven in the midst of confusion.
"What am I doing?" Shikamaru asked the forest softly. "I've left my family and friends to chase a man who haunts me in my dreams. In my dreams he is in a land so different from Konoha that he must be farther away than can be traveled in a few short months."
Shikamaru was calm. The type of calm however not which sends you into a deep sleep but a calm that heightens the senses. He put his hands together so that his fingertips pushed gently on one another and then began to meditate. Meditation was something that he had begun to do with Temari because it helped her control her temper and he had hoped that it would help him control his anxiety. Meditation did help him. He remembered how he used to calm himself when he was a child in order to plan, but mediation was something different, something more profound.
Naruto used mediation, Shikamaru realized thinking back to the blonde in the year before his departure. Naruto had been changed the most in the last year, morphing into a quieter more thoughtful individual. Meditation had helped transform Naruto into a god. "With power comes responsibility" Sarutobi had once told Naruto after being asked how to become strong.
Naruto had become strong.
Shikamaru spoke as if his friend was there, "For you Naruto the saying would have to be altered, 'With ultimate power comes ultimate responsibility'."
The last time Shikamaru had witnessed Naruto spar he was able to understand how much further the blond had progressed compared to any other ninja living or dead. Naruto had faced off against Lee, Kiba, and Neji one after the other and defeated them without a jutsu of any kind. The demonstration of Naruto's power had been requested by the council to judge Naruto's ability with taijutsu, an ability which had once been a weak area for him. After taking down the three most capable taijutsu users in the village Naruto was no longer considered lacking in the art of simple hand to hand combat.
Shikamaru shivered at the power Naruto displayed. Naruto who had once been a failure at chakra control had mastered it so precisely he could penetrate Neji's ultimate defense. Naruto made up for Lee and Kiba's speed by reading their movements so he could plan to counter an attack as soon as he saw a single of their muscles twitch.
Few people were allowed to know how Naruto had progressed so quickly and the council quickly made the information confidential one of the few SS class secrets. The thought made Shikamaru smile. Such a gesture by the council was really unnecessary because it would have been impossible for anyone to utilize the information. Naruto had, after coming back from his training with Jiraiya, been introduced by Kakashi to the concept of using a shadow clone to learn information. Under Kakashi's guidance Naruto had begun to train and develop at an unprecedented level.
Naruto had not stopped training with clones after Kakashi discontinued his assistance. Naruto did the opposite. After Kakashi's initial instruction Naruto never had less than a hundred clones on stand by performing one task or another. Naruto studied, trained, and even socialized by use of his clones. He was careful never to send a clone on a mission, always undertaking such tasks by himself but the fact remained there was a time when not even Sakura or Tsunade knew if they were talking to Naruto or a clone.
Then one day it stopped. Naruto discontinued the practice of using clones to train. Though it wasn't easy to estimate Shikamaru attempted to place when Naruto halted his training method. His best guess placed the date at six weeks prior to the invasion of the Sound and few weeks after he had fought Sasuke for the last time. A terrible realization hit Shikamaru. A realization that was born of sad truth and that instilled cruel fear. The day Naruto stopped the technique was the last time Shikamaru had seen Naruto truly happy.
"It's over Shikamaru." Naruto said smiling mischievously.
"What's over?" Shikamaru asked, barely paying attention to Naruto due to his wife and Ino's bickering.
"No more clones. It's a relief really. There were points where I didn't know where I was or what I was doing. My brain kinda overloaded on information."
Shikamaru forcefully blocked out the sound of the women's feud with a burst of will power in an attempt to focus on what Naruto was saying. "Really?" Shikamaru had not realized that Naruto planned to stop training with clones. "Why are you stopping?"
Naruto rubbed the back of his head an idiosyncrasy that was recently becoming less and less characteristic of Naruto. "Well a few months afters I started my shadow clone training I started experiencing temporary blindness, hearingloss, numbness. So I went to Tsunade about my symptomsand she came to the conclusion that I was damaging my sensory receptor sites and my Thalamus. I'm not really sure about the biological stuff but she said overuse of the shadow clone jutsu was going to lead to me losing my senses. Kind of ironic, huh? Sasuke's sharingan and my shadow clone jutsu, our principal weapons and ways of learning, both had the potential to take away our sensing ability."
Shikamaru felt a bubble of worry grow in his chest. "Will you be alright?"
Naruto nodded, "I only used clones for training for another two month after she explained that to me. A lot of my sensory neurons have died but I have plenty more and I won't kill them using shadow clone jutsu unless I start training again and keeping clones alive for long periods of time. But I won't have to worry about that because I've finished my training."
Shikamaru gave Naruto a skeptical look while somewhat astounded that the girls had argued through all of Naruto's incredible story. "What do you mean finished training?"
Naruto's eyes glowed in the success of his achievement. The elation that accompanies accomplishment is known to everyone. A person even in the most terrible of circumstances can feel elation and joy if they overcome a small challenge. A dying soldier crawling among the bodies of a battlefield in search of water can feel the most pure form of happiness upon finding a canteen with enough to quench the throat.
"My training was basically over. I had plateud." Naruto rubbed his chin as if debating something, "Shikamaru. No one really understood how I was able to keep clones functioning at all times but there was a trick, a silly little loophole that not even Kakashi picked up on. Most of the time when I had the clones out doing work I was asleep."
Shikamaru took a breath trying to imprint that new piece of information into his schema of Naruto. "I see but sleeping would only slow the process of becoming tired. You would have to sleep all day just to maintain active clones."
Naruto let the silence answer for him.
"You would sleep all day?" Shikamaru asked louder than he intended causing for a moment Ino and Temari to turn around and look at them as if inquiring to the source of his excitement. Shikamaru calmed himself at once and the girls continued their conversation.
"Eighteen hours or so on average." Naruto replied once he was convinced the girls were no longer listening. "I would get up to eat and stretch but that's pretty much it."
That information was what the Council kept secret. Still no one else could pull off a sustained shadow clone jutsu. The chakra reserves needed to perform such a thing for six months would have to be as deep as a lifetime's worth of chakra reserves for the typical ninja.
Upon reflection of the conversation Shikamaru mulled over the word Tsunade. When had Naruto stopped referring to the fifth as granny? He couldn't say.
Why was it that he had only become so attached to Naruto once he had left. Honestly the kid was remarkable. Shikamaru was speaking out loud now caught up in his thoughts, "I guess maybe I took him for granted?"
"We all did Shikamaru."
Shikamaru was shaken from his introspection by Lee who strolled to his side and sat down beside him.
"Its been ten years Shikamaru, but I don't think any of the people who knew him have forgotten him even for one day. He touched us all too strongly for that."
How strongly though, Shikamaru wondered. "Lately I've been thinking about him more Lee. Sometimes I even-" Shikamaru stopped himself, hesistant to reveal to Lee his dreams before he understood their significance.
"Yes. I've felt his impact more recently and not just because of Anna. I talked with Kakashi and the real reason I was given this mission was because we had an equal desire to bring Naruto back to the village."
Shikamaru addressed Lee his brow furrowed, "Really?"
"We talked about it for a while, Kakashi and I. Our mission is an excuse to search for Naruto with out arousing suspicion in those who fear his return. Don't ever feel like your alone, Shikamaru. We aren't many but we feel the same loss you do. Hinata has talked to me about her feelings a hundred times and while I never loved Naruto like her the frustration we feel is the same."
Shikamaru nodded, of course he wasn't alone. Yet at the same time he doubted what he felt was the same as what Lee described. Sure sometimes he felt loss and regret but he also felt, perhaps stronger, confused and inspired. Perhaps the difference between himself and the rest of those who missed Naruto was that he was less concerned with bringing the hero home than seeing how much Naruto had accomplished.
He was selfish, Shikamaru could admit that about himself, but wasn't everyone. He hoped Naruto was happy, but he understood Naruto's purpose and knew that happiness for Naruto would not come until the blonde had accomplished the impossible. He had accepted Naruto's quest but it seemed he was the only one.
A realization that made his blood curl and made the hair on his neck stand up hit Shikamaru. Naruto's goal was something most considered impossible and one would have to be a fool to believe that a universal peace could be created. Yet Shikamaru believed it, he believed it as stubbornly as a young child believes their father is the most powerful person in the world. Shikamaru had to believe it because if he didn't he couldn't believe in anything.
"Lee do you think Naruto can create the peace he wanted?"
The pause that passed, before Lee spoke, in the dark of the wilderness was graceful but it could only lead to one answer, one cruel answer. Lee's response sounded pained but firmly honest, "No, Shikamaru, I don't."
Haha so we go from a four month hiatus to a four day one, how's that for improvement? A little inspiration goes a long way for a writer. Unfortunately however you will have to wait because I intend to upload a new chapter for Naruto's Father before I lead Shikamaru further on his journey. Tell me what you thought of the chapter inspite of my decision to wait a little bit for the next update. The style of this one seemed a little different didn't it?