A/N: If you have not read the manga up to chapter 451 your going to be completely lost. The song is The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.
Oh and in case you didn't know already, I don't own Naruto.
Listen to the wind blow
Watch the sun rise
Out of the ruins of disaster know as the battle with Pein, rose a new Konohagakure. The once proud village had been dealt a horrendous blow and had not come out of it unchanged. It is not the walls or the buildings or the culture that makes a village but the people themselves. Happy to be alive, their outlook on life had changed. So many things that seemed important before, now seemed trivial and inconsequential. Their own individual desires seemed frivolous and selfish. It was important for them to look at their interests as a whole unit rather than as a collection of individuals.
In the midst of the chaos, Tsunade, the Godaime Hokage, had been rendered comatose. Before most of the citizens were aware of her situation, the Daimyo appointed a new Hokage. A man both cunning and lethal, his age gave him experience and his reputation gave him clout but what truly set him apart was his army of nameless soldiers who knew only his orders and nothing else. He used this new, united sense of purpose to shape the village into his liking. Danzou, the Rokudaime, was not a man to be trifled with.
There were a few citizens who understood the larger picture. They saw Danzou's fascist regime for what it really was and looked with concern at the direction the village was heading in. Even fewer voiced their opinions on the matter because Danzou's private army, know as AnBU Ne, were quick to squash any dissent, with lethal force if necessary. Those who knew could only watch as the peace their village had stood for, slowly deteriorated in front of their eyes. Danzou's heart desired war and his actions were those which would precede one. The ties the village had built with the outside world were slowly fading away as the village was falling in on itself.
The Godiame Hokage had worked hard to redevelop a strong relationship with their only allied village, Suna. The Rokudaime Hokage, however, held little faith in alliances and was working to isolate the village from the outside world. He went as far as to shun the Suna ambassador, the Kazekage's sister, numerous times on her recent visit to the reconstructing village. Without giving a reason, he simply refused to meet with her, an act that she did not take kindly. After his last refusal, she gave up and decided to return home frustrated and under informed.
While the new Hokage refused to acknowledge her, Shikamaru felt compelled to. After all, she was his charge on all of her previous engagements with the village and someone had to guide her through the new streets of Konoha. He knew she was frustrated with the new Hokage and he too, found the whole situation more than troublesome. While he would have apologized profusely, he knew she was smart enough to understand the situation and the fact that he was powerless to do anything about it. Even so, he still felt somewhat responsible for her dilemma.
Shikamaru yawned as he found himself rising earlier than he'd ever imagined. Exiting the tent, he cursed the living arrangements. All requests to provide the Suna ambassador with quarters were left unanswered so he gave her the room he'd been staying in. His masculine pride and chivalrous nature had succeeded in obtaining him a sore back. The prospect of sleeping in his own bed again was about the only good thing to come from the Suna ambassador's departure.
He waited outside the building for her because he knew she was an early riser. For the life of him, he could not understand why anyone would want to greet the day before the sun did but she was unique. As he leaned against the wall, he gave into a yawn that he had been holding off. It's not like anyone was there to see it. As the wind blew through the trees, it carried with it an eerie sense of foreboding of the coming future. Low and menacing, it sounded like the guttural moan of a sleeping beast about to be awakened. While Shikamaru did not believe in omens, the unnerving nature of the wind gave him chills. He would hate to think that the village was heading for another disaster.
The earliest rays of sunshine brought some clarity to the darkness and helped ease the apprehension created by the ominous wind. The billowy white clouds had now become easier to see and it brought a calming sense of peace to his mind. His thoughts were scattered as the sound of the door next to him sliding open stole his attention.
To the indiscriminate spectator, she was just a woman but to the discerning eye of a ninja, she was so much more. From the way she carried herself, proud and determined but light on her feet being always prepared, to the way she presented herself, authoritative and ruthless yet at the same time human, she was deadly in more than just battle. Her appearance said a lot about her as well. From the sleek black yukata, which simple and functional, to her unique hair style, which was complex and showy. To Shikamaru, she was everything he both hated and desired, all rolled into an elegantly simple yet horrifyingly complex package.
When he looked into her eyes, he would swear he could read her thoughts but he remembered that she was a woman. A consistent train of thought was not her forte. She always managed to surprise him and that was both exciting and scary. Each time they met, he could feel her taking over a piece of him that he would never get back and he would wonder how a woman could do that. His only salvation was the fact that she lived hundreds of miles away. Now as he looked into her opalescent green eyes, he could see both frustration and gratitude, neither of which she would voice to him. He knew she felt it and that was enough for him. He could only hope that she could see the deep sense of remorse in his own eyes.
Their moment was broken up by the dawning sun. Casting its brilliant hues of orange and red through the gaps in the trees, it gave the landscape a picturesque beauty that only the human mind could comprehend. They watched as the golden orb crowned the tree tops, illuminating their world in an opulent glow which drove away the darkness. It also affected them, driving back the shadows of doubt that had been growing the past few days. As they once again felt good about themselves, Shikamaru moved to the road. The moment was over. She silently joined him casting one long, last look past him to the sunrise before they moved on ahead.
As they made their way down the reformed streets towards the gate, he could not help but feel that she had taken a bigger part of him this time than any of the others previously. He had grown accustom to her presence and even though she was leaving, he looked with hope to her return. In their moments of silence, he felt strangely satisfied that she was just there. It was a thought that tortured him. How could he have let a woman do this to him?
When they reached the gate, they both stopped. One more step and they would have been outside the village walls. They took a moment just to look at each other one last time. There were so many things left unsaid, so many questions left unasked. The auspicious circumstances that brought them to this point hung over them like a heavy blanket, leaving them wary of the future and what it might hold for them.
And yet, despite all of that, they just stood there looking at each other. Neither willing to voice what they were thinking, running through various scenarios and the consequences they might have. The intensity began to grow and the peaceful quiet began to augment into an awkward silence. However, neither of them would look away or get distracted. Not even the sound of the yawning Chuunin posted at the gate could make them break their concentration. Each was determined in his own mind not to give up.
"This is good enough," Temari broke the silence before turning to look westward in the direction of Suna. Under any other pretext, Shikamaru might have followed her gaze but the vision he wanted to see was standing right in front of him. Even through the awkwardness, he found it impossible to look away from her. When he didn't respond, she turned back and caught him staring at her. A soft smile graced her lips in a way that moved his heart. He was unsure of how she could do this to him but he was pretty damn sure that he liked that smile.
Temari stepped closer to him narrowing the gap between them. The soft smile still fixed upon her face. And while their experience together had built a bond between them, the closeness represented a form of intimacy which made Shikamaru feel most uncomfortable. It was his turn to look away indiscriminately. His left hand began to massage the back of his neck in a nervous mannerism displaying his discomfort. He fully expected her to laugh at him for his foolish behavior but when she didn't, he turned to look at her once more. The soft smile was replaced with her all too familiar grin. That cheesy smile had a way of lightening even the toughest of moods. There was nothing he could do so he said, "Troublesome."
Now she laughs. Nothing grandiose or audacious, it was a unassuming chuckle that lightened the somber mood, forcing him to even display a satisfied smirk. While the intimacy of the moment was not lost on him, the awkwardness had lessened dramatically. Comforted by the fact that nothing was required of him, the smirk grew into a soft smile of his own. If he wasn't mistaken, he was pretty sure it made her blush, even if just a little. She turned as if to leave but stopped and looked at him one last time.
"Shikamaru-kun," she said and it caught him off guard. They never directly addressed each other. Names were formalities that only served to waste one's time and breath and they knew when they were talking to each other. It was an understanding between them but he knew why she did it now. Neither of them wanted to say good bye and neither could say that they would meet again. It was the unusual circumstances that had brought forth the formalities so he nodded.
"Temari-san," he returned and she nodded back. Skeptical of whether they would see each other again, they coped with it the only way they knew how. By dropping the sense of familiarity, it was as if the bond they had formed did not exist. If there was no bond to sever, then how could one be hurt when it was broken? He watched as she walked down the path and out of sight. Yet still, he wondered if there was something between them. A bond could not be broken that easily.
"What was that all about?" the sleepy Chuunin asked. Apparently, he had witnessed there entire exchange and was not privy to the information that had silently passed between them. Shikamaru never looked at him, though. His eyes were still fixed to where the Suna ambassador had faded amongst the trees. He held his gaze for what seemed like an eternity before he spoke.
"Nothing," he said. Even though he was coping with the unknown, it still felt as if a good part of him had left with the Suna ambassador. A part, it seemed, that he would he would never get back. A loss almost as great as Asuma and while he inherited Asuma's will of fire, it looked as if the only thing he would inherit from this was sorrow. Handling it the only way he knew how, he focused it inwardly and it began to eat at him. Turning to the Chuunin, he said, "Nothing at all."
Unbeknownst to him, an Observer was watching the whole exchange. The Observer had picked up on the subtleties that the tired Chuunin had overlooked, making note of all the little nuances and non-verbal cues. While the Observer had no particular thought on the matter, he was sure the information would prove useful. Whether or not he was right was unimportant. There was only the mission.
Depression, in itself, was entirely too troublesome but whether or not he wanted it, depression was setting in. At least, now he would have an excuse for the dour look that he always carried. And while he tried not to think about her, he found that doing so was an impossible task. Leaving the gate, he decided to stroll. Heading home would only remind him of her. His room was the place she slept for the past few nights. Her scent had probably impregnated his room, leaving a solemn reminder that she was no longer there. Going home would only make things worse.
The forest on the edge of the village seemed like a quiet place where one could gather his thoughts without the chance of being disturbed. A fallen tree was laid out like a bench, the perfect place for one to meditate on somber thoughts of an unknown future. With only the ambient sounds of nature, this placed seemed almost peaceful. If it weren't for his dismal demeanor, Shikamaru might have actually enjoyed this place. At that moment, he just wanted to be alone but his luck never listened to him.
"Shikamaru!" an orange blur dropped from the trees and landed next to Shikamaru. Caught off guard, he didn't even sense his presence until Naruto was upon him. Startled, Shikamaru stood up too quickly and fell backwards over the log. He had been so far into his own thoughts that he couldn't even hear his noisy friend approach and he cursed himself for his carelessness. Naruto approached him as he lay on the ground and looked at him sideways. "Are you alright? You've never reacted that way before."
"Sorry," Shikamaru said, refusing to get up. "My mind's been elsewhere." As he lay there, he looked up at his friend who had a huge grin plastered on his face and for the moment, he forgot all the things that were troubling him. Naruto extended a hand and help him to his feet, a little too quick for his liking. As he dusted himself off and collected his thoughts, he remembered something. Of all people, Naruto should be depressed by the current situation. "Why are you so happy?"
Naruto looked confused for a minute as if his brain was processing the question. He scratched his head to further emphasize the thought. "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean?" Shikamaru scoffed. "I mean, with the current situation. The new Hokage, Sasuke and all, it's a very negative atmosphere for you and yet, you're still happy. Why?" When Naruto's smile disappeared for a second, Shikamaru was afraid that he had burst his bubble but Naruto just smiled again.
"Because I understand now," said Naruto. When Shikamaru wrinkled his brow, he explained. "While the current situation looks bad, it is only a setback. I have a new goal now and it's bigger than Konoha. As for Sasuke, I understand how he feels and I can't wait to meet him again."
"A new goal?" Shikamaru asked quizzically. Naruto stood up taller and if it was possible, smiled even bigger. His fist raised to his chest in a proud pose.
"I have to break the chain of hatred," he said. "The day will come when people will truly understand each other and it's up to me to see that it does. I'm not exactly sure how but Ero-sennin and the Yondaime Hokage left that for me and if they said it could be done then who am I to argue?" He let out a chuckle. Even though his goal was lofty, his mind was made up and the stubborn blond would not give up no matter how impossible it seemed.
"What's this 'chain of hatred'?" asked Shikamaru. Naruto sat down on the fallen tree and he followed suit as Naruto began to explain.
"Hatred brings dissent, murder and war," Naruto said solemnly. "All off those things bring more hatred and the cycle continues on like a never-ending chain. Each time someone hates, it adds a new link to the chain. As ninja, we're supposed to stop the hatred. We were given ninjutsu to stop wars, not to create them. As long as the current shinobi system exists, the chain of hatred will continue. I have to change it."
"That's not entirely correct. As long as humans exist, hatred will exist," Shikamaru countered. "Everyone hates. That's human nature. For example, women hate each other all the time over the stupidest things." Naruto seemed a little confused by the example so he continued on. "People hate each other for all sorts of reasons: Pride, Religion, Nationality, Maltreatment or they just have an angry demeanor. You would have to eliminate all the reasons for hatred or give them a big enough reason to overlook the differences. Either way, it's a tall order."
"I know," Naruto said earnestly but that grin crept back onto his face. "But I've gotta do it!"
There was something about his friend that got to Shikamaru. Despite the mounting odds and the strange logic, despite the despondency of the situation, he believed his friend could do it. He could feel a smile, that normal would have been to troublesome, cover his face. "Well, Naruto, whatever road you head down, I'll walk with you."
Naruto beamed. If Shikamaru didn't know any better, he would have thought that he made the energetic ninja's day. "Thank you, Shikamaru," he said standing to his feet. "By the way, what was troubling you earlier?"
Shikamaru stood as well. Why? He wasn't particularly sure but he used the opportunity to stretch out a group of sore muscles. He let out his signature yawn before he answered the question. "Compared to the daunting task we have ahead of us, my problems seem insignificant. It's not like I can predict the future." Little did he know that his problems and Naruto's goals would soon cross paths.
"Oh," Naruto said. He appeared lost in thought for a moment before unleashed a string of questions. "Hey, what are you doing out here? Are you training? Would you like to train with me? If I'm ever going to face Sasuke again, I got to get better. Do you think you could help me with that?"
Inundated with question, Shikamaru threw up his hands in protest. "Whoa, I was just taking a walk out here to clear my mind. Running into you was purely accidental. I wasn't planning on doing any training today. I think there was something I need to do today but if you want to train I might be able to…" The sentence was interrupted as a figure appeared dropping down from the trees.
A masked and cloaked ninja landed between them and looked at Naruto for a few seconds before turning to address Shikamaru. "Nara Shikamaru-kun, the Hokage wishes to see you."
Shikamaru looked blankly at him for a moment before looking questioningly at Naruto who was even more confused then he was. "What's this about?" asked Shikamaru wondering what the Hokage needed him for.
If the Messenger made a facial expression it was lost behind his mask. They were trained not to show emotion and his voice gave no clues. "The mission will be explained upon your arrival," the Messenger said plainly before turning as if to leave. He paused and turned back to Shikamaru. "Make it expedient," he said and left as quickly and silently as he appeared.
"Mission," Shikamaru mumbled wondering what kind of mission warranted being hunted down by a messenger.
A/N: There are going to be seven chapters in this story. Unlike most of the stories I write, I actually took the time to make an outline before writing this one.