The Marauders _ a Naruto fanfiction by 30CK ~ troutpeoples

Chapter 12 (part 2)

While Uzumaki Naruto was giving one Yamanaka the run-down of a scroll, another Yamanaka was giving Nara Shikamaru a blinding headache; and while it was the same headache he'd had since he'd walked into their home, it was a different Yamanaka that was now furthering its painful influence.

He squeezed his eyes shut as a lancing pain hit him just behind his left temple.

Well, to be fair (and specific), it wasn't the Yamanaka alone that was helping him along the path of troublesome physical ailments; it was actually a variety of things, including things like the other occupants of the house, the problem at hand, the Shadows that stretched across the room, and especially the things he could Hear. It's just that the Yamanaka was the largest and most obvious presence on the list, and garnered the majority of his limited attention; therefore, she justly received the majority of the blame as well.

He gave the old woman a tired glare.

He didn't quite understand how she knew that he was glaring at her, but he had quickly come around to understanding that when he glared, she smacked him soundly across the side of his head. This fact, however, didn't stop him from glaring at her – really, he received harsher treatment from his mother for slouching when he walked – and thus he kept doing so whenever he felt the need to do so.

As expected, her hand snapped out like a cobra and whacked him across the side of the head, and he let out an annoyed and mildly-pained grunt as he instinctively let his head travel with the blow; his head bounced back from one side to the other before settling at an angle to the right. He didn't bother straightening it, instead choosing to just let his head essentially lie against his shoulder. It wasn't a very comfortable position, but he could deal with it. He was quite used to the discomfort that life tended to throw his way.

It wasn't that she was an annoying person that was causing him to glare at her so frequently; it was more along the lines of her not really knowing how to simplify the shit she was telling him into something, well, simpler. Just because he could follow what she was talking about in exhaustive detail didn't mean he wanted to follow the overflow of information to its end. He was almost sorry he'd even come to the Yamanaka's residence, and if the goal he was attempting to attain wasn't so important to him, he would've left ten minutes ago when she'd first started talking.

Even though she claimed that she'd heard his conversation with Inoichi in its entirety before her initial appearance, she had bullied him into telling her everything all over again. So, he had sighed heavily – in defeat, in hopelessness, in resignation, in exhaustion – and repeated himself.

Shikamaru hated repeating himself.

He told her that he had an IQ well over 200. He told her that he wanted no part of it, and would really rather it be given to someone else who would actually use it, and use it well. He told her that, to him, it represented extra responsibility, extra work, extra thought and extra admiration and attention and headaches – things he didn't want in the slightest; things he needed even less. He told her that he wanted to gift an ambitious member of the community, preferably within his age group, plus or minus one or two years, with what shouldn't have been his in the first place. It wasn't technically second-hand because he had never really used it in the first place; as far as he was concerned, his intellect was still whole, shiny, and brand-spankin'-new. Anyone to receive it would be truly blessed, and he would be wishing them the best.

After he had finished his little speech – which was significantly/depressingly longer than his regular two-sentence limit – the elder Yamanaka had begun a little speech of her own.

It started off with her name. All in all, it was a good place to start, especially since Shikamaru honestly had no clue what her name was; he'd just known of her as 'Gram', 'Inoichi's mother', or 'crotchety old bat'; now he knew of her as Yamanaka Nyoko, even if he couldn't call her that, as she had firmly stated that he was not to address her in such an informal manner. Personally, he was going to stick with 'crotchety old bat'.

She explained that her father (through marriage), Ino's great-grandfather, was the one who had led the Yamanaka clan into their niche in Konoha; very interested in the mind and how it worked, he was, and his work as one of the first and best medic-nin gave him an intimate look at how chakra worked and acted on and inside the human body. It was on the nearly-dead that he began his tests, his experimentation; he had long since discovered that pulses of chakra into specific points of the body, not limited to tenketsu, could cause a muscular reaction to specific parts of the body. He thought that the same thing could be done with the brain; pulses of chakra, much like the electronic pulses of the nervous system, could cause similar reactions to not only the same parts of the body, but also to their thoughts, to their emotions, to their conditioned responses. Specific, channeled chakra into the brain could, perhaps, completely change a person – be it for better or for worse, he was not overly concerned about.

When he reached the boundaries of the physical, he jumped to the opposite side of the spectrum; he began work on the insubstantial. The mind. The spirit. Things that couldn't be held or touched, but could be affected by chakra every bit as much as the corporeal body could be.

He gained a valuable ally during his research by the name of Morino Kouryou. When all was said and done, when they had found out as much as they could, when they and their 'inhumane' testing was exposed for all the masses to see, they both had had children born, and both had taught them much of what they knew. Yamanaka Nyoko was a natural, practically a sponge for his ideas, theories, and results; he taught her everything he could within the limited time they had together, and made sure to forbid her from some of the nastier stuff he'd done and found out. Morino Kouryou, when teaching his son, had no such qualms about crossing the lines of morality, and shared with his son all the deepest, darkest methods they'd used, all the information-extracting, all the essential mind-altering techniques.

That next generation of Yamanaka was mostly innocent, with knowledge of mind-walking and invasion, and tuned to the psyche and the spirits. That next generation of Morino, and the one following it, was dark and twisted, and quickly became known for unmerciful and masterful torture techniques above all else.

Now, so many years later, Yamanaka Nyoko had learned things that even her father never got to, that her father couldn't have even dreamed of in his time. Morino Ibiki could honestly profess the exact same claim, to the delight of a few and the disgust of many.

When the history lesson was finally over, she moved onto the heart of the matter. The only problem was that, apparently, the 'heart' of the matter was one of the most complex things anyone had ever seen or heard of, and contained far too many large words, side-addendums, and lengthy elaborations than Shikamaru was really comfortable with.

His headache persisted.

Everyone had their own mindscape, the elder Yamanaka had explained. Its exact nature – its general appearance, its dimensions, the areas that correlate to memory or emotion, everything – varied from person to person, and was directly correlated between the experiences each person had had throughout their lifetime. Their mind was built upon their life, and how it was shaped was influenced by what they thought, how they thought, by the way they thought, both consciously and unconsciously.

It was a simple thing for a Yamanaka to erase memory. It was a simple thing for them to play with emotions. It was a simple thing for them to control motor function. All it took was the right use of chakra in the right place, which the Yamanaka were exceedingly well-trained at, and those kinds of things were child's play.

Reducing someone to a pile of useless flesh by completely wiping their mind? A little harder, but still well within their talents. Its drawback was that the process took a fairly long amount of time, mostly due to the large concentration of chakra that had to be gathered.

Forcing someone's spirit outside their body after taking control? Devilishly difficult; a soul outright refused to be separated from their host-body, and the only reason the Yamanaka could do it with such ease was because they had a number of very important chakra points severed, and parts of their brains were altered ever-so-slightly when they were born through the use of large but precise amounts of chakra. It had caused their souls, their spirits, their being to be out of balance; loose; unrestricted. The consequences of such a thing included faster deaths when mortally wounded, included a harder hit from dark or demonic chakra (such as that of, say, a 200 meter tall evil mammalian with a gratuitous amount of tails), included a closer interaction with the deceased and passed-on, from seeing through the eyes of the dead to actually seeing the dead.

Transferring memory from one person to another? Easier than one would think.

But transferring intellect from one person to another? That was a whole different kind of procedure.

The problem lay in the inherent difference between intellect and memory. Things like memory, things like emotions, were things easily manipulated; they were controlled by particular portions of the brain, and those portions could be touched, altered, in order to provide a specific type of response. Electrical stimulation to one part of the brain causes sadness, another causes anger; stimulation to a different section blocks or erases memory. Chakra pulses acted under the same principals as electrical charges, and held the same power; could be used effectively in making a person experience what you wished for them to experience.

Intellect, however, was far less concrete, and far more difficult to handle.

Emotions were understood. The chemical reactions that a person underwent when stressed, or when sad, or frustrated, or what have you, had been researched. Documented. Not all of it is for sure, not all of it is one hundred percent, but it is a field that has answers. Memory, while a little more difficult, was similarly understood; amnesia was an understood concept, and how the mind stored and sloughed off memories was detailed in several books already, largely due in part to the work of the Yamanaka family, as a matter of fact.

But intellect?


It just didn't make sense. Sometimes, intellect seemed hereditary – all you had to do was look at the last few generations of the Nara clan to see the evidence of that theory – and sometimes it seemed completely random; genii could be born to the biggest idiots in the world, and two genii could produce mentally-deficient child. There did not seem to be any logical correlation between the parent's IQ levels and their children's IQ levels. There was no definite or confirmed area of the mind that harbored a person's intellect.

So was it impossible?

No; it involved a lot more interaction with both parties' mindscapes than was strictly condoned, and risked turning both parties into brain-dead invalids or sending them straight into very lengthy comas. It was a difficult task, and was not advised due to the level of difficulty; it was definitely not safe, and had only been attempted six times before – two of them succeeded. The…leftovers…of three of the attempts were in the long-term ward in Konoha General. The results of the last one had been mercifully ended, and given a plot in the local cemetery; she confessed that she still visited them once a year to apologize for what she'd done to them.

It was difficult.

It was dangerous.

And he had to be one hundred percent sure that it was what he truly wanted to do before she would even consider attempting it.

She relaxed into her chair and gazed unseeingly at the little Nara, who had not moved from his seat on the beat-up bed since she'd begun speaking.

Shikamaru, for his part, was thinking. Normally, this would include a particular positioning of his hands, a meditative stance that essentially allowed for him to completely calm his body and mind in order to aid in the thought process; however, due to a certain stubborn headache, both hands were busy being clamped on either side of his head. His palms were pressed against his temples, and he was slowly rotating them in long, slow circles in an attempt to stave off the pain.

It wasn't working.

Of course, he didn't really expect it to work in the first place, but it made him feel a little better in that he was actually trying to do something to help instead of just curling into a ball and crying, which is pretty much what he felt like doing, un-masculine though it may have been.

It was hard not to get a headache when you're hearing two completely different conversations at once, and especially when your brain is so stupidly fantastical that it can actively follow, process, and comprehend the majority of both of those conversations at once, and put hard thought into both all at the same time.

On one hand, he had the conversation – not so much of a conversation, though, as much as it was a lecture, which he hated – between himself and Yamanaka Nyoko. It was very important to him, mostly because it involved himself to a very personal degree, and the influx of information required a great deal of his attention and focus.

On the other hand, he had the conversation between Uzumaki Naruto and Yamanaka Inoichi.

Shikamaru yawned widely and let it taper off into a deep sigh. He cracked an eye open and stared downwards at the floor. A dustbunny skittered across the wooden paneling, catching the sunlight from the open window behind him for just a moment before getting blown under the bed.

He stared at his shadow.

He opened part of his mind – and he dove – and voices flared up within his ears – his chakra churned within his chest – the smell of lavender –

– and he closed his eyes; he pushed his palms into his temples and grunted at the pain. The voices faded, trickled off into whispers. Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, always just within his ear, reverberating inside his skull and tickling at his consciousness like the whine of an in-flight insect.

He didn't know why this happened. His dad certainly never experienced anything like it, and he was fairly certain that his grandfather hadn't either before he'd died.

Perhaps it was an evolution, of sorts – the constant use of some-and-such jutsu changes something in the body, something in the mind, that change is passed to the offspring where it is mutated and adapted into a new sort-of offshoot from the original jutsu; a greater sensitivity to the results of that jutsu, greater skill in wielding it, more stamina when using it, and so on. It wasn't a terribly-uncommon occurrence. After all, it's not like the Aburame had always had bugs in their bodies, nor had the Hyuuga always possessed such skill at sensing and controlling chakra. Those things took time to build up, took time to pass down through the generations and grow into something new and evolve.

It had only started up a few years ago – little whispers on the edge of his mind, conversations he could never recall actually hearing that would stick in his mind, personal, private conversations that gave him information that he'd rather not have know about the persons in question. It took him a while to figure out what was going on.

He could hear…through shadows.

Granted, it was a very limited ability – especially given the fact that he really had no desire to expand its abilities, because it was troublesome enough already, and he didn't want more skill at listening in on other people's conversations; he wasn't a bloody eavesdropper, for fuck's sake.

But, as previously stated, his brain was something that didn't always give him a choice when it came to hearing those through-the-shadows-conversations; as much as he tried to ignore what he heard, his brain kept a constant hold on it, and made sure to follow the sounds to the bitter end, following and absorbing the information presented like some nosy, ill-begotten sponge. It wasn't always clear, and it wasn't always complete, but it was always there.

The conversation between Naruto and Inoichi, it seemed, required every bit as much of his focus as his ongoing conversation with Yamanaka Nyoko had – for the last twenty minutes, he'd felt like he'd been stretched, pulled two different directions before being let go simultaneously to fall into a boneless heap. Now, he was just tired. Both conversation were done, finished, and his mind couldn't stop twirling and whirring and processing all that information that he'd unwillingly absorbed. He wanted to go somewhere comfortable – hell, it didn't even have to be comfortable, he could just as well pass out on the floor – and sleep for a good thirty hours. His brain seemed to be the thing that had other plans.

The dual-concentration was the real reason for his persistent headache; the mind can only take so much of a beating before it starts beating back, no matter how capable the mind may be or how much of a beating it could still take.

Shikamaru winced as a sharp bolt of pain shot across his head. He allowed himself to flop down onto the bed; he grabbed the musty old pillow that lay at the head of the bed and pressed it to his face, blocking out the light, and he thought.

He thought about Naruto, mostly, and the boy's little chat with Inoichi downstairs. He hadn't been able to hear all of it – and even his subconscious failed to pick up on a lot of what had been said – but what he had managed to catch had been…


That is to say, it may have been interesting, fascinating even, if he'd heard it in its entirety – but it had been fragmented, and there were large gaps of conversation that he could hardly begin to speculate about for fear of coming to an incorrect conclusion or false assumption.

He'd heard Naruto weave together a story of the night he'd graduated. How he'd broken into the Hokage's Library and stolen not just one scroll, but two. How one scroll had given him the ability to create solid bunshin, and how the other had given him some very good friends.

Shikamaru had thought that perhaps that scroll had been a storage scroll – despite what some inexperienced shinobi thought, it was possible to seal away a human being; it was just a near-impossible task, and severely frowned upon – or a summoning scroll – not from the Summon Dimension, no, but from some other chosen point across the world, sure. But when Naruto began to describe his 'friends', tell how they were, he found his initial assumptions shot down straight to hell.

With one mind concentrating on Yamanaka Nyoko and another on Naruto, Shikamaru had listened as the unusually-serious chronic prankster went in-depth describing some of the things that went into the making of the so-dubbed 'Shinobi's Scroll'. He told of the enormous amount of seals that had to be drawn and powered and constantly regulated by its occupants in order for them to stay as they were. He told of an ability to draw, and an awareness of time, of interaction between themselves and the outside world, and of a strange/'totally lame' memory gap between their former lives' years and the present. He told them that they knew who they were, but could not speak of it, and that they wanted him to figure it out; he didn't know if they'd be able to talk about it after he'd solved it or not, but he also said it was okay either way.

He asked Inoichi if he knew of a procedure that could bind minds/souls/whatever to an object like this, or if it was possible without reducing the former/actual occupant into a mindless/soulless/whatever-less husk. He asked if it could be done with a jutsu – or more likely, a large multiple of jutsu – or if Sealing was a more likely avenue.

Inoichi had answered –


He groaned pitifully and pressed the pillow hard against his face for a moment before whipping it off and sending a baleful glare at the old woman. Was it absolutely impossible for a Yamanaka to just shut up for a period of time longer than three and a half fucking minutes? His headache had just started fading, and he was just starting to calm down, and he was just starting to lose himself in the comforting familiarity of his thought process, when she decided that she just had to say something.

Kami, he hated this family.

On a good note, Yamanaka Nyoko didn't slap him silly for his glare. On a bad note, she opened her mouth and continued talking. "Have you decided who you might want to Transfer to?"

He stared at her for a long moment. His lips pressed into a thin line.

His thoughts whirled.

Ambition. Resolve. Determination. Skill. Plus a definite lack of the higher intellects. These were the things, the traits, the aspects of personality and of being that Shikamaru wanted in his Transfer-ee; if there wasn't someone with those things – all of them – then there was no one for him to Transfer to, simple as that.

They had to be ambitious; if they had no ambition, they had no reason to use his intellect to their advantage, no higher goal to get to.

They had to be determined, had to have firm resolve; it would not do for them to give up before they reached their ultimate goals.

They had to have the skill; if they did not have skill, or, rather, did not have the ambition or determination to attain such skill as was necessary, then there was no way for them to reach their goal.

They had to be less intelligent; not stupid, not brain-damaged, but they also could not be a genius; what sort of genius wants to use, wants to rely on the genius of another to make their own mark on the world? No, the gift of his intellect would have to make a large impact on the person in question, and for that to happen they had to be just plain average.

But who among his generation fit those criteria?

His mind first jumped to Kiba. Inuzuka Kiba, son of Inuzuka Tsume, scourge of every clean and hygienic shinobi in the land. Particularly frowned upon by the Hyuuga, tight-assed as they were. Kiba had plans of ruling his clan one day, and wanted to push for getting a Clan seat on the village council – Konoha rule stated that, to lobby for a Clan or Family seat on the council, there had to be a record of two generations, or of one generation for ten-plus years, living within the Village Hidden in the Leaves; Tsume had been in Konoha for sixteen, almost seventeen years, and had arrived in the middle of the War. Her petitions for a seat had gone unnoticed or, more likely, ignored.

Kiba was brazen, and loudmouth, and uncivilized. He was dirty, smelly, rude, and most times he ate his meals with his hands. But that seemed to be the norm in the Inuzuka clan – and maybe it was okay to have a few of those sorts of people in such a large village as Konoha; balance out the neat-freaks.

So he wasn't the best of people. But, then, being good, or clean, or mannered, were not any of the necessary traits Shikamaru was looking for. Kiba had ambition – rule his clan, get a seat on the council, become the best shinobi he can. He had determination – that bullheaded sort of determination that only idiots had, idiots who didn't understand that the world worked a certain way and who tried to ignore all those rules and plow their way through logic and rationality and forge their own path. And on that note, he had the unintelligence that was needed, too. He had skill – not the greatest of skill, but he did show a knack for learning his clan jutsu, and his relationship with his ninken, Akamaru, was better than most people had with a best friend; and, again, he had that determination to become the best he could that could more than make up for any deficits in his skill set.

Shikamaru frowned.

Just from the people in his graduating class, there were a few guys to choose from; there were a few girls as well, but there was something strange and personal and invasive and perverted and weird about transferring his intellect into some girl. Either way, Yoro Yumi was on that list. Fun, bubbly, delightfully perverted, Yumi was the embodiment of cheer; she was fiercely protective of Sakiten Takato almost to the point of insanity, and, in a battle situation, would gladly and immediately sacrifice herself for him if necessary. He wasn't sure if it was an insane fangirl-type crush, if it was some stalker-obsession, or if it was actually a more mature-ish form of love, but Yumi would do anything for Takato, that much was evident.

As far as Shikamaru could tell, that was her only goal in life – and while it was a good goal to have, it lacked the ambition that was needed for her to skip to the top of the list of choices. She wasn't all that smart, which was good. She had talent beneath her lackadaisical manner – surprisingly, Yumi had turned out to be the Genjutsu prodigy of their year, and it was to the wonder of many that she hadn't been placed on Team 8 under Yuuhi Kurenai. There was a rumor that she mostly used that skill to weave together dirty fantasies for her and her boy-toy; considering how she was, it wouldn't surprise anyone if that turned out to be true. And she had the determination of…well, metaphors aside, she had the insane determination to protect said boy-toy at all costs, which was good – just not quite enough.

Unbidden, his mind crept into the past and he remembered several instances where she had done so, much to the ire of their classmates. When Takato'd been sitting next to Sasuke, and his fan club wanted to have that seat vacated immediately; they hadn't bothered asking, and had instead just tried grabbing and pushing him out of it. Yumi hadn't liked that, and to this day, the Sasuke Fan Club remained distinctly wary of her; not scared, but definitely cautious.

Kiba had had several mean streaks in the past against quite a few people, not excluding Takato and Yumi both; they'd both admirably defended the other when they fell under insult and mockery, and Kiba had been withdrawn for a good few days after both incidents by his mother – word was, she ran him ragged; worked him hard, worked him late, and made him damn glad to be able to attend school, if for no other reason than to not work for the entire day.

Naruto, though, got it worst, especially after his tenth birthday when he blew up the men's toilets and Takato got nailed by a chunk of –



Yamanaka Inoichi was intrigued.

Now, this was not a regular occurrence; Inoichi, as with the other members of the Ino-Shika-Cho trio, was a fairly relaxed individual, who liked little more than to have his work finished for the day so he could spend time with his wife and beautiful daughter, and grab a drink with the guys before hitting the hay. There weren't a lot of things that could garner his attention, let alone his interest, and that was a pretty sad fact when part of your job was to interrogate prisoners and look out for treachery within the ranks of Konoha – despite his attentiveness and unmatched skill to his job, none of it was all that interesting, despite how much of a necessary, very-important, war-avoiding, conflict-squashing kind of job it was. It had been a very long time, indeed, since something had captivated him quite like this…

He tapped his index finger lightly against the parchment.

Spitfire says that the mind-walker had better have washed those hands after that brief retreat to the bathroom.


Sparky reckons he did; Yamanaka are pretty clean people. At the very least, they like to keep their hands sterile; some weird parallel-bridge between classic surgery and their mind-diving adventures.

Truly fascinating.

"And you say you obtained this from the Hokage's Library?" Inoichi asked, carefully rolling the scroll closed.

Naruto nodded rapidly. "Yeah. When I was assigned to lift the Forbidden Scroll by that bastard fake-sensei Mizuki." He chewed his lip for a moment and added, "It was the only one I found that didn't have a title or a description or anything. I was interested," he concluded with a shrug.

"It's quite a gem," he said admiringly. "I've never seen anything like it." Naruto grinned. "Which makes it that much harder to tell you that I cannot offer you any further assistance."

"What? Why?"

Inoichi leaned forward in his chair and clasped his hands together. He met Naruto's confusion and shock and surprise with a steady, calming gaze, and Naruto, the ever-restless one, quieted down beneath it. "I've told you what I could figure out based on your descriptions of the scroll and my own personal interactions; I've told you my own hypotheses of how it may have been created based upon my admittedly-limited knowledge of Sealing; I've assured you that, to my knowledge, the Yamanaka were not involved in its formation, nor did they have any idea of such a thing happening; I've given you my professional opinions of your friends based upon their personalities and how I've interacted with them, and I've theorized their character as best I could with what I've been given. But beyond a bit of simple parting advice, that's all I can do for you."

"But – but – but there's those jutsu that you guys can do, right? Your mind-jutsu-things? Why can't you use one of those and, like, use it to get into their heads or something?" Inoichi was shaking his head before he finished speaking.

"Our Clan Jutsu are useless here. There has to be a physical body in order for us to enter the corresponding spiritual. I cannot walk a mind if there is no actual mind; and though they are consciousnesses, and they have all the properties necessary to be categorized as such, they are not true minds, and they do not have true mindscapes for me to travel across."

Naruto scowled. "So you're telling me that I came over here and wasted about half-an-hour of my life before you told me that you can't do what I came here to ask you to do. Great."

Inoichi sent him an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Naruto-kun," he said, reaching out and ruffling the boy's hair. The boy in question batted at his hand and gave him a half-hearted glare.

"Well, then, what's that parting advice you have for me?" Naruto asked, sullen.

Inoichi tapped his finger against the table, once, twice, three times, and said, "I was going to suggest that you go check out the library."

Naruto's face scrunched up in distaste. "I hate the library," he muttered. "Nothin' but boring, dusty, useless old scrolls."

Inoichi chuckled. "There's a lot more than that, Naruto; you can't avoid the library forever just because of one little failure."

"It wasn't little."

His mirth left him; "No," he said, quieter, "I don't suppose it was."

"Do you s'pose…" Inoichi looked up at the boy. "Do you think – I mean…" he trailed off, and made a frustrated noise. He crossed his arms over his chest tightly and scowled. "Do you think that–"


Naruto's mouth, still open from his unfinished question, stayed open for another few seconds before he closed it, puzzled. His first thought had been that Inoichi had become unfairly and outrageously impatient and had just yelled at him; but that wasn't right, because the man hadn't even opened his mouth, and was looking just as puzzled as he was. That only left a handful of people – and when the light bulb in his brain flickered on, he realized that it had been a girl that yelled. At least, that's what he was hoping, because it was either that, or Shikamaru was a lot more feminine than anyone suspected. Since there were only two chicks in the household, his brain narrowed the list down to one, based on age and the possibility that some old bat could yell that loud and sound that young, and came to the conclusion that Inoichi's daughter was a very, very loud person.

Not the most startling of conclusions.

He glanced at Inoichi, who was looking curiously up at the ceiling towards a lot of thump-and-scuffling noises. Now in 'mildly concerned parent' mode, Inoichi stood up and walked into the hallway and peered up the staircase. "Ino?" he called. "Ino-chan? What on earth are you yelling about?"

The next little bit happened very fast: Naruto became aware of several loud thumps coming from the staircase-direction, something that sounded an awful lot like his name was shouted to the heavens (because, shouting it that loud, where else would it be aimed towards?) like a very vile curse, he saw blonde, and purple, and then the world flipped itself around him and there was a loud tearing noise and suddenly he was outside, lying on the grass with a very, very angry Yamanaka Ino straddling his waist.

"You – damn – idiot!" she yelled, grabbing him by the lapels of his very-orange jacket and jerking him upwards once before slamming him back down to the grass.

"What'd I do?"

"You're not going to do it if you know what's good for you!" Ino snarled right back, pushing him into the grass and dirt.

" Not gonna do what?"

"I am not going to let you turn my teammate into you!"

"What? What are you talking about?" Naruto flailed helplessly. "Yamanaka-san – Inoichi! Get your crazy-ass daughter off me!"

"No, I'm okay, thanks," came Inoichi's voice from the extra-large hole in his front door.

"You son of a bitch!"

"Ino-chan, honey," came Inoichi's voice again, "tell Naruto that it's not polite to call people names."

"I'm gonna get you for this! I'm gonna get you so – OW!" Naruto yelped as Ino jerked him back and slammed him to the ground again; his head bounced painfully off the hard-packed dirt.

"Don't swear at my Daddy," Ino growled threateningly, "and that's not what we're talking about."

"What are we talking about?"

Ino bared her teeth at him, and clenched her jaw so hard he could actually hear her teeth grinding together; she looked furious, and based on past experience, she looked like she wanted little more than to beat him to a bloody pulp. Expecting an explosive onslaught of small, delicate, and painful fists, Naruto braced himself.

So he was very surprised when no wild-fury-fueled beating came, and she instead gave an angry snarl, shoved him to the ground once more, and got to her feet. His surprise settled down to moderate understanding when she turned her head towards the house and yelled, "Nara! Get your ass out here!" Because there was only one person in the world that could make Ino so very angry, and that was Nara Shikamaru.

It took a very slow and painful two minutes before the figure of the village's laziest shinobi slouched into view. Every little part of him, from his posture, to his expression, to the reluctant way he was walking, stated loud and clear that he really, really did not want to be a part of this, and would much rather be doing something else – like turning around and walking in a straight line for several hundred kilometers until he collapsed from exhaustion. He stopped at the door and looked at the very large exit hole that Ino had made several moments previously through the paper screen; a small and rare smile flickered across his lips before he sighed deeply and clambered through the hole, and walked over to his teammate.

"What," he said, voice flat.

"Tell. Him. Now."

By this time, Naruto had clambered back to his feet and was standing uneasily in place, looking as if he'd rather take off running than stand there much longer. But when Shikamaru sighed and looked over at him, he froze in place. Shikamaru gave the feral Ino one more glance – she snarled at him, like a rabid dog – before lurching over a few meters to stand in front of Naruto. Naruto, for his part, was standing straight and still as a post.

"So…" Naruto said "…I assume I'm 'him'?"

Shikamaru's lips twitched upwards, and he nodded wearily. "Yeah."

"And…what is it that you're supposed to tell me, that's got Ino all…"

"Psychotic," Shikamaru supplied helpfully.

"I was gonna say crazy-insane-what-the-fuck-koo-koo-bananas, but that works too."

Another smile tugged briefly at his lips before dropping. "She wants me to tell you that I was planning, through an old, heavily-frowned-upon Yamanaka Clan Jutsu, to transfer my intelligence over to you."

Naruto blinked once, then twice. "Uh…" Another blink. "That…sounded like a joke…but unless you've been practicing your poker face with Shino, then-"

"It's not a joke, Naruto."

"Oh." He scratched at his head. "Well…I guess my first question should be why, but I'm going to go ahead and ask – are you really smart enough to go and lend me a few of your IQ points?"

"I have an IQ well over 200."


"You – you're doing that serious-face thing again, and I really can't tell whether you're joking or not," Naruto said, frowning.

"Still not joking."

"Oh." Scratch, scratch. "So you're…what, some kind of undercover genius?"

A very long sigh. "Something like that."

"Too troublesome?"

A smile. "Yeah."

Ino, a few meters away, made a sound like a growl, a snarl, and the combined screams of one hundred hell-bound souls. Clearly a cue for them to get on with it.

Shikamaru shot her a glare – truly, a fearless being was he – before turning back to Naruto. "I don't like being intelligent, I don't want to be intelligent; I'm far more open to the idea of giving it to someone who might actually use it. Someone who, no offense, could use a boost in the IQ department, someone who has an ambition that would put it to good work, such as being Hokage, someone who was skilled enough that he wouldn't go and die out on a mission and waste this little action; you're bullheaded enough that you won't die until you've gotten to where you want to be, simply out of sheer stubbornness." He gave a one-shouldered shrug. "I want to get to get to chuunin in a few years, then settle down with a normal wife, have a family, and coast at some easy, stress-free chuunin-rank job until my son becomes a shinobi and makes it to jounin. After that, I'll retire, and take care of my family until I die. After my wife." He gave another shrug. "You don't need much intelligence to do that. It'd be better off with someone else."

"And by 'someone else', you mean me," Naruto said.

"Not exclusively, although you are the leading candidate, yes."

There was another silence; awkward, this time. Uncomfortable. Stifling. Naruto shifted from one foot to another, frowning at the grass, trying to think of something to say. Shikamaru looked up at the clouds and suddenly he didn't seem too perturbed about much of anything anymore.

It would have gone on like that for a half-hour, at least, had the only female in the direct vicinity chosen to stay as quiet as her two male counterparts. Sadly, this was not to be. After the silence had passed the two-minute mark, Ino, jaw clenched and teeth grinding and hands just aching to be wrapped around their throats – at this point, she wasn't too choosy about which one went first – stalked up to Naruto, right up into his personal space, and grabbed his collar.

Naruto, startled, looked up from a very interesting patch of grass into the soulless eyes of the sole female of Team 10. It was not a pretty sight, and he immediately tried to look back down to the grass but found the sight blocked by her feet, legs, waist, torso, flat-chest…her whole body, really. He tried to take a leaf from Shikamaru's book and tried looking up skywards, but a vicious downward jerk on his jacket collar nixed that idea.

When Ino was quite certain that she had Naruto's full attention, she told him, very slowly, very clearly, "You. Will not. Be doing it. Got it?"

Naruto, for his part, did get it. It wasn't a very hard thing to get, really. Don't get Shikamaru's intelligence – Ino doesn't tear throat out with teeth. Simple.

"Absolutely," he said.


And with one last, chilling glare in Shikamaru's direction, she opened the totally-ruined front door, stepped through, and closed it with a sharp snap.

Naruto looked over at Shikamaru and raised an eyebrow. Shikamaru shrugged. Naruto nodded.

"So you're not gonna do it?" the undercover genius asked tiredly.

"Nah," Naruto said, waving his hand flippantly.

"If this is because of Ino being in her psychotic-threatening-mode, I can assure you that that'll only last for about a month before she chills out and accepts it." The fact that the object of her rage, which at that point would more likely be Naruto than him, would probably be in the hospital for the following year was left unsaid.

"Nah, not really. I mean, sure, it was kind of terrifying, and there was a little bit there where I was frightened for my life, but that's actually got nothing to do with it."

Shikamaru furrowed his brow and frowned. "Really." So Naruto was willingly shooting the offer down…why?

"Yeah. See, I had a few minutes to think about this whole thing."

"And that's all you needed to come to – quite possibly – one of the most important decisions of your life."

"Apparently," Naruto said with a shrug and a very sheepish smile. Shikamaru grunted, though the specific meaning of the grunt was difficult to interpret.

He followed the grunt with an annoyed-tinged, "Let me hear it, then."

"Well," Naruto said, pausing to swallow and wet his lips, "it's not that I'm not grateful, and surprised, and absolutely what-the-hell stunned by your, um, offer, because, well, I am." He gave off a nervous-sounding laugh. "But I don't really don't want it." Shikamaru raised an eyebrow, requesting further explanation – Naruto didn't hesitate to do so. "I mean, I do kinda want it, just a little, but that's natural – I mean, you're basically saying, 'hey, in one quick, easy procedure, I could turn you into one of the smartest guys in Konoha, how does that sound to you?', and who wouldn't, who hasn't wanted that before?" His hands gestured wildly in the air. "I'll tell you, if you'd come and approached me with this after any Academy Test – paper or Genin – I think I woulda said 'yes' in a heartbeat."

"And if I were capable of traveling through time, I'm sure that information would be extremely useful to me."

Naruto blinked rapidly, and a grin bloomed on his face – Shikamaru was actually capable of 'funny'. "Yeah, too bad about that," he said with a chuckle. "But now, I've grown up; I've matured a little since then."

"Since a week-and-a-half ago?"

"Okay, a very little, but that's so totally not the point I'm trying to make here."

"And that point is…"

"That it's not that I don't want your help in getting me to where I want to be – I just don't want to do it the way you're talking about. That it's not that I don't want assistance – I just don't want to have so much assistance that I go up the ladder on someone else's shoulders." He made a face. "It wouldn't be right."

Shikamaru frowned his displeasure and said, voice low, "Normally, this is where I would get into a philosophical argument on what exactly 'right' was, and turn the argument around and eventually bully the person opposing me – in this case, you – into agreeing with what I want from them." Then his shoulders slumped, just a little, and the brief flicker of fire fled from his voice. "But I don't suppose I could do that with a bull-headed idiot like you."

"Hey, I didn't insult you, ya bastard. And you don't have to get your underwear all twisted up into knots about his, you know."

"So I should be doing cartwheels down the street instead?"

"No – you know, try to be positive about it. Find the bright side, and all that jazz." Naruto's fingers added a little flutter to highlight the final word.

"Transferring my intelligence to you through judicial uses of highly-questionable Yamanaka jutsu was me being positive about it." The fire that had flickered before began burning once more, hotter, as the words began pouring out of the young genius' mouth. "It was my bright idea, my bright side, my light at the end of the tunnel. Doing it would have allowed me to live my life as I truly wanted, would have let me avoid becoming as miserable as every other human wretch in the world. And with you, my best candidate, saying 'No' straight out, I am suddenly feeling very terribly annoyed and disgustingly depressed about this entire ridiculous situation. Now, would you care to tell me something positive about anything I have just said?" When Naruto scrunched up his face and appeared to be seriously be trying just that, Shikamaru sighed; sighed deeply, as if he were intentionally trying to completely empty his lungs of air. "Just forget it."

"No, come on!" Naruto protested loudly. "The only reason I'm saying 'no' in the first place is because I want to achieve my goals by my own merits, not by somebody else's – that's practically cheating!"


"Now you're just talking crazy, there's no way that's cheating."

Shikamaru gave a quiet snort of presumably-laughter before giving his head a little shake and larger yawn. "Well," he said. "I suppose that's that." He scratched idly at his jawline, muttering, "Guess I'll find the next on the list, then…" He turned and started walking away.

Naruto frowned and trod after him. When they were level, Shikamaru looked over at him from the corner of his eye, yawned again, and gave a one-shouldered shrug, not breaking stride.

After a few minutes of walking in relative silence, Naruto spoke up.

"Hey, Shikamaru?"


"You said that you wanted to make me smart so you wouldn't be anymore…and you said why, but it still – it-" he frowned again, deeper "-it, just, still just doesn't make sense to me."

A sigh. "It's no secret that I'm the 'laziest sonofabitch across three Countries', as it was once put. My dreams, hopes, and aspirations are every bit as lazy and unimaginative and simple as I am."

"But you're not simple," Naruto protested.

"But I want to be," Shikamaru shot back.

"Why?" Naruto practically yelled, stopping and stomping a foot on the ground in a fit of childish frustration; he crossed his arms and glared at his dark-haired counterpart. "Why do you want so bad to be simple? You want to be stupid so you can get a mediocre life – why? If you want to throw away everything that you could become and settle for less, than fine, but that does not mean you have to go and shell out the one thing about you that makes you so freakin' unique!"

"Just because it's a part of who I am does not mean I should have to deal with it if I don't want it."

"Why don't you want it?"

"Because I'm a terribly lazy-"

"-than why are you like that?"

"You imitate those that you look up to," Shikamaru said, his voice sharp despite the subject matter, "from the job they hold to the example they show, to the friends they have to the people they marry. You might not consciously realize it, but it happens all the time. My father was my role model, and when he was a kid, he had the exact same goals as I do today: reach chuunin, relax, get married to some easygoing civilian chick, have a kid, retire when the kid – that was I, at the time – hits jounin. The only reason he couldn't follow all of those was because of the War; it screwed up a lot of things, and before he knew it, he was a jounin, leader of a team, married to some short-tempered restaurant owner that he'd met and bedded on an outside mission. Everything he wanted, really, was down the drain at that point, and he raised me up with his goals in mind, wanted me to have what he was not able to get. His dreams, his path through life, became mine."

"But you are not your father! Why the hell should you live like he wants you to? Why can't you live like you want to?"

"That is how I want to live, Naruto! Just because he wants me to live one way doesn't mean I can't want to live that way as well!"

"Oh my god!" Naruto cried out in frustration, throwing his hands into the air briefly before clutching his head and growling. He took several deep breaths before allowing himself to look back up at the Nara. A frown slashed across his lips, and his eyes were hard. "If this were about your father wanting you to live your life a certain way, I wouldn't have a problem with it – or, at least, not as much of a problem with it. But Shikaku-san is not wanting you to live your life, he's wanting you to live his."

He gave a disgusted-sounding sigh and shook his head. "Fuck this," he said, running a hand through his messy blonde hair. "If you want to do it, I can't stop you. But it's the stupidest shit I've ever heard." He turned a sharp 180 and started walking away. His hands were fisted at his sides, his shoulders straight, tight. "I hope you're not a drooling vegetable the next time I see you."

And he left, leaving Shikamaru to stare after his retreating back.

"Welcome back."

"Great to be here again, Hokage-sama." A pause. "So, why am I here again? We don't do mission debriefing until high C-classes, or in extenuating circumstances – neither of which has happened around me in the past week."

"Kakashi, something has recently come to my attention regarding one of your students' welfare."

Kakashi blinked. Welfare? What did that even mean? Was it, like, their overall health? As far as he knew, none of them had broken any bones recently, or gotten beat up by a drunkard, or gotten decapitated. Of course, he hadn't seen any of them for the entire day, so he supposed anything was possible. Maybe it meant how they were doing. Wel-fare; how well they were faring? No, words didn't just get smashed together like that to make a new one. That would be silly.

Seeing Kakashi's blank look, Sarutobi Hiruzen elaborated. "Conditions of living," he said. "Their physical health, their mental health, their general state of being."

Oh. Well, maybe words did get smushed together. How strange. "I knew that," Kakashi said, pushing some petulance into his voice.

"Of course you did," Sarutobi responded, not sounding the least bit condescending. Kakashi pouted. "Now, the student in question is one Uzumaki Naruto, whom we both have some extended experience with. He came to me a number of days ago with an informal complaint about his jounin-sensei."

Kakashi blinked again. A complaint? What the hell did Naruto have to complain about? The kid had it a lot better than he had at his age; he hadn't even had to kill anyone yet.

His mind gave a sort of shrug; at least it was an informal complaint, his mind said. A formal complaint, no matter how little, would have gotten entered into his record. Of course, with how many complaints Kakashi had in his record – mostly about unprofessionalism on the job public indecency – one little student's bitching wouldn't make too much of a black mark, but hey. He did have some sort of reputation to uphold, right?

As he tried to think of exactly what kind of reputation he was supposed to be upholding, Kakashi said, "Oh?"

"Yes," Sarutobi replied. "Oh." He flipped open a small folder on his desk and perused its contents. "Naruto said that you accosted him at two o'clock in the morning approximately one week ago-"

Oh, that's what this was about. And it was one fifty-three!

"-and 'forced him', via threat of several explosive-note-laden kunai, to run laps around the village until he eventuallypassed out from exhaustion. Your actions caused damage to several properties, Uzumaki Naruto's apartment being the most extensive."


"From the account, and based upon what I saw when I went over for a look, one kunai, explosive note attached, hit the apartment's outer wall and detonated; one third of the entire wall was demolished, taking out a window, several plants of personal value to Uzumaki Naruto, and tearing through an ill-placed water pipe; the burst water pipe then proceeded to pump gallons of water into the apartment, ruining a number of Uzumaki Naruto's belongings."

He didn't like where this was going.

"There was also report of further leakage on the floor below – more water damage." The file was closed with a snap, and the old Hokage met his subordinates eyes. "I have a budget that covers shinobi-involved accidents. I have limited medical insurance for my shinobi, jounin-level and up. I have a special stipend that gives aid to un-adopted orphans. There are numerous things I use the tax money for, numerous things I am allowed to brush under the rug because of who I am and what I have done; but this," he said, tapping the file with a long, thin finger, "is not going to be magicked away like that. Because it was not an accident, and because there is someone wholly responsible for the damages."

This was so totally unfair.

"I'm afraid you won't be seeing much of your paychecks for a while, Kakashi."

He felt like crying.

Stupid Shikamaru. Stupid IQ scores. Stupid paper-screen-door.

Naruto kicked savagely at a small rock in his path, and watched vindictively as it sped down the road.

Stupid Inoichi. Stupid old lady. Stupid rock.

He kicked the rock again as he came up to it, and got to watch it tumble away from him once more.

Stupid Yamanaka. Stupid mind-transfer-jutsu. Stupid library.

His foot lashed out and hit the rock again, and it soared into the air and away until he couldn't see it anymore.

If there was one thing in the entire village that Uzumaki Naruto could truthfully say that he hated, it would be the public library.

He gave a grunt and shifted his thoughts a little; he didn't hate the library, per se, so much as he hated a particular part of the library. The Konoha Public Library was divided into three separate sections, each fairly large in their own right and, being under one roof, made the library one of the largest buildings in Konoha. The first section was the Civilian library, which held everything from cookbooks, to 'how to' books, to world maps, and whatever else it was those crazy civilians needed from the library – Naruto wasn't really entirely sure, as he'd only ever seen ninja in there.

The second section was, of course, the Shinobi library. It, too, held such mundane things as cookbooks and 'how to' books (only ninja-fied; example: grilling steaks in a ninja-fied cookbook involves, not a barbeque grill or an open fire like in the civilian copy, but a number of Katon jutsu, and tips on better controlling that flame; some of the best cookbooks could actually double as training manuals), but it also held things like shinobi erotica (of which the Icha Icha series was the most popular), publically-released jutsu scrolls (the greatest collection this side of Fire Country), weapons manuals (some of them were worn, torn, and dirty, and the pages stuck together for some strange reason whenever that little Tsume girl checked them out), and every single release of the shinobi 'bingo book' – from the first volume, published almost thirty years ago, all the way to volume two-hundred-thirty-seven, published three days ago. Being of a slightly more dangerous nature, the section was patrolled by one special jounin in order to keep out unwanted guests, small children, rowdy library-goers, and any foreign shinobi (if they were stupid).

The third section was the smallest, and was tucked into the back corner, farthest from the front doors in every possible way. Like the Shinobi section, it had a single patrolling special jounin at all times, on six-hour shifts, in order to protect some of the slightly-more-sensitive information that was held within. The information in question happened to be general censuses of the Konohagakure population; the census was taken near the end of each year, one for the civilian population, one for the shinobi, and while the original copies were squirreled away to one of several hidden rooms of the Hokage, the edited versions were sent to this third section.

It was this section of the library, the Konoha Population Archives, that Naruto had a problem with. Hell, if there was a term more extreme than 'problem', than that was exactly what he had with the Archives. He hadn't entered the library for the last five years because of it, after all.

Naruto scowled and kicked at ground, sending up a spray of dust and pebbles.

But that, apparently, was Inoichi's so-very-wise advice to him. 'Go check out the library.' Yeah, great, wonderful. If it were any place else, he'd be okay, happy even, to go and check wherever-it-may-be out for help. But…

He sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair.

…if he was ever going to be serious about discovering the Pranksters' identities, he was going to have to look through the Archives.

He stopped walking and looked around.

The Konoha Public Library stood, in all its splendor and library-ness, right in front of him. He scowled up at it, then looked down at his feet. "How the hell do you guys know exactly what I'm thinking?" he asked them; they didn't answer back. Shrugging, he shook his head, and walked through the large double-doors.

As his eyes adapted to the change of light, he looked around; and the first thing, the one thing that managed to cut through his obvious distaste of the place, was how different it was from back then. It looked…good. No more peeling paint or broken beams. No cobwebs. It smelled nice, too. And there were a lot more people; not just adults, like it had been before, but kids, too, of a wide variety of ages. Young ones, younger than him. Either those were really dedicated Academy students, or the library must have put up a children's section at some point. The thought almost made him smile.

He walked through the extra-large room, weaving in between patrons, tables, and the occasional midair book or scroll, relaxing just a little more with each step he took. With all the doom and gloom and bad memories hanging around him like a proverbial storm cloud, he'd completely forgotten that the library could actually be a good place; a place of peace, and of refuge. He might have to come here more often, after he'd faced his demons; turn all that darkness into light.

A sharp, stilted sort of movement, unnatural in the current environment, made itself known in his peripherals, and he turned his head to take a look. What met his eyes familiar, if nothing else: long overcoat hiding almost any hint of a body, poofy black hair held back by a shiny new hitai-ate, dark-tinted glasses completely obscuring the mysterious eyes beneath.

Naruto looked at Aburame Shino, and Aburame Shino looked back. Separate from the white noise of the public around them, a soft hum began to fill the air.

"Hey, Shino."

Shino nodded stiffly. "Naruto."

A short silence. "D'you come here often?"

"If one should seek wisdom," Shino said, his voice crisp and clear, "one should go to where wisdom resides." His head inclined towards Naruto – who looked rather confused at the fact that someone like Shino had not immediately answered a direct question – for a brief moment before he continued with, "I frequent the public library at most available chances. The pursuit of knowledge is not something that should be put off for another day."

Naruto frowned a little bit; was he being told something important under thinly-veiled subtext, or was he just feeling really guilty/annoyed about not coming to the library sooner? "I suppose," he said aloud. He looked around and asked, "Are you here with your team? Or is it just you?"

"Kiba and Hinata-san are seated at a table further in to the library. I had wanted a map of the Elemental Countries in order for us to tutor Kiba on the finer points of war tactics and, as such, had left them in order to procure a copy. I was just heading back when…" he trailed off and motioned to Naruto, who only then realized that Shino was holding a large-ish scroll in his left hand.

"Oh," Naruto said.

"Will you be joining us?"

Naruto's head snapped up at the question, and he stared into the blacked-out glasses with no small amount of surprise. "What?"

Repetition was something a standard Aburame exceeded at, so it would have been no trouble whatsoever for Shino to simply repeat himself; instead, he chose to add a slight change to the wording. "Would you like to join us?" he asked calmly.

Naruto gaped a minute, then flushed and looked away.

Even if his life was a lot better now than it was way back when, it was still rare that someone would invite him to something. And he would like to join creepy-smart Shino, and the ready-to-rumble Kiba, and the shy-for-whatever-reason Hinata for whatever it was they had going on, boring military strategies or not. He would like to do that; hell, he'd love to do that, be included by his…team's…team…mates? Hell, save for Yumi – who wanted to destroy him with several well placed telephone poles – and Ino – who, at this point in time, seemed to want to tear his head off his shoulders and stick it on a pike – he'd be pretty okay with hanging out with any number of the graduating class. He'd be positively thrilled.


His hand rested on his pants pocket, and felt the scroll within.

"The pursuit of knowledge is not something that should be put off for another day."

…he couldn't; not today.

His lips spread into an apologetic, but genuine, smile, and he said, "Maybe another time."

"Ah." Shino appeared to stand up a little straighter if that were possible. "You have more pressing matters to attend to?" Naruto, not noticing the faint change of tone, simply nodded. He glanced in the direction of the third section of the library, and Shino followed his gaze briefly before turning back. Blue eyes met black glass, and when Shino reached whatever conclusion he'd come to, he nodded. "Very well. It would be rude of me to take up any more of your time, so I shall allow you to return to your initial business, as I shall to mine." He inclined his head and said, "I wish you good luck on your endeavor."

Naruto nodded back and gave a lopsided sort of smile. "Yeah," he said, "you too." His smile turned mischievous, and he added, "You're gonna need it."

Shino let out the smallest of sighs, and Naruto was sure there was a smile on the lips hidden behind his collar. "Teaching Kiba anything should be a mission in and of itself," he murmured. Naruto grinned. "I shall see you another day, then," he said, giving one more respectful nod; he turned and began walking away, pace slow and measured.

"See you later, Shino," Naruto said, still smiling. He, too, turned away, and resumed his own walk. He passed rows of tables, and towering bookcases; unfamiliar faces were all around him, smiling faces, annoyed faces, faces locked in concentration. Books and scrolls were stacked in towers and piles on some tables, stretches of parchment filling half of the space and new-age pans, older used brushes, and even older ink wells (and ink stains) thrown wherever convenient. On others, lone children, lone adults, sitting straight in their chairs with a book held in front of them, lost within that literary world.

Row upon row, he passed each one, looking at every one and every thing; a title or a person would jump out at him – he'd need to read 100 Ways to Win Over Your Landlord, and hadn't he seen that tall, purple-haired dude before? – and he'd grin and file it away for later; and before he knew it, he was there.

There was nothing particularly special about the door that separated the Shinobi Section from the Population Archives. It was made of a dark wood, was about two inches thick, and happened to be balanced very well on its oiled hinges. There was a small white plaque above the frame that stated 'Archives'. But that was about it. The door was always open, and he could easily make out the small, uncomfortable chair and table that the on-duty shinobi usually occupied.

Stale air blew gently out, and Naruto tried not to breathe it in; he hated that smell.

He closed his eyes briefly, and stepped through the doorway.

When he opened his eyes back up, he came face-to-face with death itself. Without thinking, he closed them again, tightly, made a noise like a cornered animal, and said, hurriedly, "I still don't have any money because we're still taking D-ranks and if you want to blame someone blame Kakashi and I would really prefer it if you didn't kill me!"

There was a humming noise; this was a lot better than the possibility of hearing the sound of a kunai getting stuck somewhere into his person, so Naruto cautiously opened his eyes. Seeing no one there immediately, he looked around; to his left, there was a very feminine figure bent over the small table. His ears managed to pick up the words "Glow-in-the-dark, indebted, pranking piece of shit, 14:37" overlaying the scratch of a pen on paper before the very feminine figure stood back up straight and turned back to him.

Naruto looked up at her, his bravery and courage fleeing to some remote region of his body – possibly his pancreas – and said, very weakly, "Hey, Anko."

"Brat," death itself, more commonly known as Mitarashi Anko, stated in greeting. Her voice was casual – but it was chilling in its ease. "I wasn't expecting to see you back here any time soon."

His body, tight with anticipation, relaxed when she didn't straight-out kill him as was expected; he sighed heavily and his shoulders slumped. "Neither was I," he muttered sourly, distaste overriding terror. "But some stuff's come up where…where I have to get some information."

Anko raised an eyebrow. "So you've quit the whole being-a-whiny-little-girl shtick and finally manned up?" Naruto glared at her in response, and she snorted. "About time your balls dropped, brat."

"That's really nice of you, Anko – very charming. Can I go look some people up now?"

Anko waggled a finger at him and then, suddenly she was holding a very ominous-looking kunai, which she then waggled at him as well. "Oh, no," she said, grinning. "You're not getting away that easily. You owe me a lot, kiddo – the least you can do for me right now is to share some interesting conversation; I'm practically falling asleep over here."

Naruto scowled at her, and his hand crept into his pocket to grip tightly onto the Shinobi's Scroll. "I don't want to sit down and have a chat right now, you psychotic-"

He froze.

A very clear thunk sounded through the room as a kunai embedded itself in the wall behind him; a thin line of blood opened up on his cheek.

Truthfully, he didn't even notice.

He had stopped talking because his mind caught up to what he was saying, and what he was about to say, and how that mirrored somebody else very closely: he was going to say 'you psychotic bitch', and his mind spat out the fact that, so long ago (had it only been a few days?), Hawkeye referred to the purple-haired special jounin as 'that psychotic bitch', too. His mind turned that fact around a little bit, and suddenly, he had something to talk about; something he wanted to talk about.

"Hey, Anko?" Naruto asked, idly wiping the streak of blood off of his face. Anko, who was mildly confused at why he didn't shriek like a little girl when she threw a kunai at his face, raised an eyebrow in question. "Do you remember anyone that used to call you 'Little Anko' when you were young?" It was how the Pranksters – save Hawkeye – referred to the Snake Mistress; perhaps she'd remember them?

From the stupefied expression on her face, Anko hadn't been expecting that sort of question at all. She stared blankly at the smaller boy in front of her, and her hand came up, across her chest, and gripped at the back of her neck. "No," she said, her voice flat, as bleak and blank as her gaze. "No, I don't."

Across the library, deep within the bowels of section two and nearest to the very back wall, sat a table. At the table sat three people. One was very loud. One was very quiet. And one was not speaking at all.

Hyuuga Hinata was being patient. Her voice soft as ever, it hitched and stuttered when she spoke, her nerves obvious as she pointed to the map, tapping the former Whirlpool Village and tracing a finger across the waters and the land, through the Countries and past the borders until reaching Konoha. Her hands fluttered in the air as she spoke, pausing their flight to point at Iwa once, tap on this village or that, as she told her feral teammate some of the major events of the last War.

Inuzuka Kiba was being difficult. He kept trying to delve into the details of each of the battles – not to discover useful information on, say, tactics, or strategy, but to try and discern how many enemies were killed here, or there, and who had fought there, or where. He was being stubborn, insistent, and he was forcing Hinata to be just as stubborn in her teachings; some parts of this reaction were good, some bad.

Aburame Shino was being pensive. He had had another encounter with Uzumaki Naruto, and still he had not said anything. He had not said anything about the Kyuubi, or about the difference of a jailor and a jail, and he had not done anything about his strange-but-understandable empathy towards the blonde boy's situation.

He told himself that it had not been the right time to speak up, but – as he stared at the insects tumbling about his cupped hands – that did not make his reticence any more acceptable.

It did not make his disgraceful cowardice any easier to bear.

Ugh. This thing's been hanging over my head like some black fuckind cloud for the last few months. I haven't written, edited, reworked, and REwritten so much of a chapter since I've started fanfiction; it's exhausting. And it still didn't come out as good as it should have. Everything from about halfway on seems rushed, kinda stilted, even in this final copy...or is that just me bitching? I dunno...

Anyway. 12, part 2. LOT of shit going down in this chapter. Yamanaka history, followed by wtfshadowabilities, a chat with Inoichi, crazypsycho!Ino, an explanation from Shika, angry!Naruto, a visit to the library, an appearance of Team 8, and Anko's introduction (which seemed kinda tame to me...). And guilty!Shino. Poor Shino.

Shika's wtfshadow abilities have been nagging at me to be written since I got the first niggling of such an idea while writing out chapter 10. We'll have some Shika and Ino cutscenes next chapter, so they can properly reflect on what the hell happened at her house. And the reason for Naruto getting so (very, very, almost Out-of-Character) angry was because he is someone who believes in that little kid dream that you can be and do whatever you wish in this world, and that if you have the talent and skill to help people, you should help people. That Shikamaru pretty much outright refuses to do so gets under his skin, and when he finds out that Shikamaru isn't even properly living his own bleeding life, he just kind of loses it, and ends up throwing his hands up and walking off in an angry funk.

For those of you who wanted reparation for Kakashi fucking up Naruto's apartment, there you have it. As for Naruto's Deal with the library Archives, that's something that'll get mentioned here and there, and won't become important until we get nearer to the end of this shindig; sometime around the Chuunin Exams, I should think.

Chapter 13 won't be up for another (longer) while, so try and be satisfied with this for now. I'm gonna take a good week or so off of this story - maybe try to muddle through Lollipops a little in that time. But I'll probably just read a buncha shit in that time...anyhow, Chapter 13: The Beginning of the So-Totally-Overdone Wave Mission! Coming eventually!

~ 30CK / troutpeoples