This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.
Warning: This story features male/male relationships. If you are uncomfortable reading about gay male relationships do not read this story.
This story is set in a very different world to ours. In 'known space', different societies and communities are often very isolated from each other and have very different histories. There is no common shared knowledge of Earth's history; in fact all knowledge of Earth as the home of mankind is lost. There is no shared law, no shared agreement of what what is 'right' and 'wrong', no pervasive religion.
Warning: The views, standards, mores and morals of the different groups in this story, including those of 'spacers', are not those of our world. They are the product of a fictional future history. Many of the behaviours they consider acceptable we do not; some of them are wrong by my definition in that they are damaging to one or more of the individuals involved and/or suggest that one individual has more intrinsic value than another.
I would like to thank all readers who have left a review or sent an email. They are very much appreciated. Particular thanks to xxShadowheartxx, TanuKyle, Mosho, kaname-luvr, melissen and WTFflyingmonkeys123 who have reviewed Iteration.
Apologies if the characters have grown differently in their new environment.
Many thanks to 'Small Fox' for beta-ing. For this story he had also been my muse, helping me develop many of the ideas and plot developments.
Chapter fourteen: Stories
"By the Lady, what was Rin doing looking inside Ranmaru's head?" Sasuke grumbled as he and Shikamaru headed for the infirmary.
Shikamaru sympathised. It had been a difficult day that had started far too early. All he wanted was to spend some time with Haru and then enjoy an evening meal with the whole crew.
"You know Rin," he answered. "She homed in on him in the hall and next thing Ranmaru had agreed to have a full scan before even getting as far as the crew room. She sent Dan to find you or me."
"So what is it?" Sasuke demanded once he and Shikamaru were ensconced with Rin in her office.
Shikamaru studied the holoprojection. It showed a fine network throughout the membranes around the brain, tendrils from which reached down into the brain itself. It looked horribly familiar.
"It was probably assembled from nanobot components," Rin told them. "It was extremely difficult to detect as it behaves almost exactly like the surrounding tissue. It took the top-of-the-line fine discrimination scanner to see it."
"What does it do?" Sasuke asked.
Shikamaru took a deep, shuddering breath. "I think it is a torture device," he admitted. "They can also be used to kill. It's called a kill-net."
Sasuke frowned. "You sure? Can it be used to control his behaviour?"
"I don't know!" Shikamaru snapped. He calmed himself and passed a hand across his face. "I apologise, Sasuke-sama. It has been a very difficult day."
He felt Sasuke's hand on his arm. "I know, I am sorry," he said gently. He turned to Rin. "Have you said anything to Ranmaru?"
She scowled at him. "Of course not. I told him that one of the procedures needed more time to work. He is on a treatment bed in a side ward. Konohamaru is with him."
Sasuke considered. "What are the chances that it can harm anyone other than Ranmaru or directly cause Ranmaru to harm someone?" he asked.
"Low," Rin admitted.
"Extremely low," Shikamaru added.
"Then we leave it for another day," Sasuke told them. "We do not tell Ranmaru or anyone else. Rin-san, please check that Dan-san has not mentioned it to anyone. No more investigations until Ranmaru has had time to settle in. You are free to examine the data that has already been collected, Rin-san, but I expect to see you at the evemeal. Shika-san, you and I should be in time to help with bedtime."
It was bath time. Two of the three tubs were in use; Naruto had five children in one tub and Kiba five in the other. Shikamaru was barely into the room before he was tackled by a naked and soapy Haru.
"You didn't come to the playroom," Haru accused. "You promised."
Shikamaru caught him up; the soap made him surprisingly slippery. "I should know better than to give promises I might not be able to keep," he admitted.
Haru considered. "I forgive you." He looked over to where Sasuke had joined Naruto at the other tub. "Papa kept you busy."
Shikamaru was split between challenging Haru about blaming Sasuke and dealing with the look of thunder Kiba was giving him. He decided the latter was more urgent and carried Haru towards the tub.
"Kiba-san is cross," Haru whispered. "'Cos we were left with C-san and we were bad."
Shikamaru flinched. He understood why Sasuke had insisted that Kiba attended the ceremony but the children always played up if one of Kiba, Naruto or Haku was not present; they had even been known to run rings around Sasuke. He placed Haru back in the tub and received sudsy hugs from Kazuki, Hoshi and Ryuu.
Hikaru, the fifth child in the tub, scowled at him.
"Inari came to the playroom," Haru told him. "He brought everyone a present and Hi-chan a special present."
Shikamaru told himself he had been gone only eight days, not divs like Inari, and that therefore presents should not be expected.
"Perhaps you should take off your uniform jacket, Shikamaru-san," Kiba said pointedly.
Shikamaru looked down and sighed. Neji would nag him when he saw the state of it. Perhaps, if he were lucky, he could ask Haku to do something about it before Neji spotted it.
He slipped the jacket off and tossed it onto one of the benches at the side of the bathroom. It missed and ended up on the floor. Hoshi giggled and Kiba frowned at him for setting a bad example. Shikamaru flinched.
"We could have a rinsing tub," he suggested.
Kiba's frown eased a fraction. "That would be useful, Shika-san," he admitted.
By the time they had dunked each of the children from Kiba's tub the water in the third tub was soapy, but Kiba had been quick to refill his and was soon rinsing the kits Naruto sent him. The children who were not being rubbed dry were dashing about in a state of high excitement.
Kiba was on the edge of growling; Shikamaru could tell. He would probably have done so already if Sasuke had not been present.
"Once upon a time..." Shikamaru started.
The children were immediately quieter.
"...there was a pig-human hybrid called Nachunko," he continued.
There was much laughter. "A fox-human hybrid called Naruto," they chorused.
He looked at them in surprise. "Isn't that what I said?" he asked. Then he smiled. "Who wants the rest of the story?"
"We do, we do," they insisted. The kits were bouncing up and down on the balls of their feet.
He looked about the bathroom. "But the bathroom isn't the place for bedtime stories," he reminded them.
There was a stampede for the nursery and pyjamas.
"Thank you, Shika-san," Kiba acknowledged. He turned to Sasuke. "I shall tidy and clean the bathroom, Sasuke-sama."
All three of them knew what that meant; Kiba needed some time alone.
They soon had each child dressed in pyjamas and settled into one of the small bunks that had been installed when they turned three. There were two rows of three and a top row of four. Haru, Hoshi and Hikaru had the bottom tier as they were the poorest climbers. Ryuu was above Hikaru, Kazuki above Haru and Yuki above Hoshi. Across the top tier were Yoshimi, Yasushi, Keizo and Kuuya.
Shikamaru sat in the rocking chair, which he had placed so that they could all see him. Naruto and Sasuke made themselves comfortable on the floor.
"Once upon a time there was a fox-human hybrid called Naruto," he repeated.
There were happy sighs from some of the bunks.
"Naruto grew up without a family. He had no parents. He had to look after himself and it was hard. Sometimes he was hungry and sometimes he had nowhere to sleep.
"He had no brothers and no sisters. There was no one to play with. He was lonely.
"But he always tried to be cheerful. Each day looked better if he was cheerful rather than sad.
"And, in another place called Tarrasade, there was a purebred human boy called Sasuke. He had parents and a big family and a lovely home. He was never hungry and had his own room to sleep in. His mother loved him very much and he was very happy.
"Then an awful thing happened. All Sasuke's family died. He was very sad and lonely. He missed his mother.
"So Naruto grew up trying to be cheerful and Sasuke grew up being sad. They were both very lonely.
"When he was old enough, Sasuke joined the crew of the Silver Leaf and, a little while later, Naruto did too. At first they fought a bit, but then they became friends.
"Naruto taught Sasuke to be cheerful and Sasuke taught Naruto that sometimes it was all right to be sad. Soon they realised that they weren't lonely anymore because they had each other.
"A few standards passed. They grew up. One day they realised that they were more than friends. They were in love with each other. It made them both very happy.
"They decided to spend their lives together. Naruto promised himself to Sasuke and Sasuke promised himself to Naruto.
"Sasuke showed Naruto his family's home in Tarrasade. They decided that they would live there and make a new family.
"And they decided to have children to make their family extra special.
"Now hybrids don't have children, so they decided to have three purebred children, like Sasuke, who would grow up together."
Shikamaru held up three fingers.
"But Lady Luck decided they needed some hybrid children, like Naruto, as well.
"Now Lady Luck never uses a straight way when there is a twisty one. This time she used the twistiest way to give Naruto and Sasuke their hybrid children.
"A bad man found a small piece of Naruto in the infirmary and stole it. From that small piece he made six hybrid babies."
Shikamaru held up six fingers.
"The bad man was going to keep the hybrid babies for himself but there was a dog-human hybrid called Kiba with other ideas.
"Kiba decided that the hybrid babies should be with their To-chan and their Papa, not with the bad man. He told Naruto and Sasuke where to find them.
"Naruto and Sasuke and the rest of the family came and, with Kiba's help, rescued the hybrid babies from the bad man.
"So Naruto and Sasuke brought all the babies to Tarrasade and planned for them to grow up together. They would be one big litter so they would never be lonely like Naruto had been lonely and Sasuke had been lonely."
Shikamaru held up nine fingers.
"But the litter was one short.
"One day, Naruto visited a place for children with no parents. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be there. It reminded him what it was like to grow up with no parents.
"And there, in a corner, he saw a little wolf-human hybrid who was very, very lonely. He was as lonely as Naruto had been. He was as lonely as Sasuke had been.
"And Naruto realised that this baby would make their litter perfect. He showed the baby to Sasuke and Sasuke agreed. So they brought the hybrid baby home to Tarrasade.
"Making a perfect litter of ten." Shikamaru held up all ten fingers and wriggled them.
"Their litter of ten includes one wolf-human hybrid called..."
"...Ryuu," Ryuu whispered, caught out a little at being chosen to go first this time; Shikamaru always varied this last part of the story.
"And six fox-human hybrids called..."
The kits called out their names.
"And two purebred boys called..."
"And a purebred girl called..."
"And they all lived happily ever after," Shikamaru concluded.
Shikamaru hugged Haru and told him that he would try to get to the playroom the next morning. He then slipped out of the door to the crew room while Sasuke and Naruto were kissing each child goodnight.
Neji was standing there talking to Kiba. Across his arm was Shikamaru's uniform jacket. Shikamaru sighed.
He went to change and Neji followed; they still shared Shikamaru's room while Neji's remained pristine.
"You could at least try to remember what you are wearing," Neji complained as he held up Shikamaru's uniform pants. "It is no good, both pants and jacket will have to be cleaned. Why in known space didn't you change as soon as the ceremony was over?"
"Something came up," Shikamaru admitted although, in truth, he had been wearing the uniform when heading towards the playroom, so the likelihood was that the outcome would have been the same.
Neji was studying him. "Bad?"
Shikamaru imagined someone turning on that thing in Ranmaru's brain and what it would do to him. "Not good. I can't talk about it yet."
Neji nodded. He was good like that, he never pushed once Shikamaru had asked him to wait. "We need to speed up, we will be late for the evemeal."
Shikamaru finished pulling on a shirt. "I just need to check something," he said, grabbing his earpieces and goggles.
They were late and Neji was not happy about it. Iruka-sensei frowned at him rather than Neji but that was only fair. They apologised and slipped into their places.
Ranmaru was on the other side of the table between Konohamaru and Tayuya. He looked very tired. Shikamaru hoped that he could cope with so many people at such close quarters.
Only a small part of Shikamaru's attention was on the meal and the conversation that accompanied it. He was thinking about the kill-net in Ranmaru's brain and the men who had put it there.
Men who had almost succeeded in getting someone into the heart of Uchiha. Or had succeeded; it depended how you looked at it.
Men who could design a kill-net to be almost undetectable. Or just detectable; again it depended on your point of view.
"Shika," Neji insisted, nudging him. "Shino-san was talking to you."
"It wasn't important, Shika-san," Shino told him.
"I apologise, Shino-san," Shikamaru said and then gave a woebegone smile. "Neji got me up very early this morning."
"He isn't over the shock yet," Neji added but his tone was a little too sharp.
Once the meal was over Shikamaru made himself sit on a couch and be sociable even though all he wanted was to be deep in the data stream looking for clues. After ten minutes Neji sighed. He took Shikamaru's hand and stripped the personal chronometer from his wrist. He set the alarm and then returned it to its place.
"Go," he told him. "If you aren't in our room by midnight I will come and get you and I will not be happy. I have set your alarm for ten minutes and five minutes before."
Shikamaru did not ask if Neji were sure; there was too good a chance he would change his mind.
On the way to the laboratory he adjusted the strap on the chronometer. Neji had fastened it too tightly, a sure sign of his irritation. Shikamaru smiled. Neji had given him the chronometer for its alarm which, like that evening, Neji usually set for him.
Shikamaru returned to the crew room early. Neji was in their room brushing his hair. He signalled that Shikamaru should sit down and unclasped the silver ring holding his hair.
Shikamaru submitted. Neji was using his own hairbrush on Shikamaru's hair. It was a gesture of peace, like Shikamaru turning up with fifteen minutes to spare.
He managed to make the tail end of breakfast the next morning. Iruka-sensei was still there. He had made real coffee, presumably for Kakashi, but there was enough left for Shikamaru to claim a cup.
The change to Iruka-sensei's routine was explained when Ranmaru appeared. He looked flustered and gave a small bow.
"I apologise for being so tardy, Iruka-san," he said.
"It is fine, Ranmaru-kun," Iruka told him. "I told Kono-kun to make sure you slept in. Both Tayuya-kun and Haku-san assure me that you rise early and are always on time for your duties." He glanced towards Shikamaru. "Unlike certain other people when they were cat."
Ranmaru managed a small smile.
Shikamaru imagined the kill-net being activated and his gut clenched.
"Why don't you make us a fresh pot of tea, Ranmaru-kun? Do you want some, Shika-san?"
Shikamaru shook his head. "The coffee is excellent, Iruka-sensei, I shall not dilute it with tea. I must be on my way, Iruka-sensei, Ranmaru-kun."
Shino was in the laboratory so Shikamaru made time to converse for a while before investigating the outcomes of the searches he had set up the evening before. The results were very pleasing. He decided to concentrate on the kill-net.
Thirty minutes later he was on his way to the infirmary.
"I wondered when you would turn up," Rin acknowledged. "Coffee?"
Shikamaru nodded. None of them were sure if Iruka knew about the coffee machine in Rin's office. It had been bought out of the medical budget and installed in a cupboard. Rin bought the coffee from the market. Occasionally the other coffee addicts who called at her office would contribute.
"What have you found?" she asked.
They went through every small detail. It was good. The way Rin talked, they may not be able to remove the net but they might be able to modify it. Specifically, they may be able to combine the information that Shikamaru had found with her expertise to design a nanobot that would block any signal receivers. The solution made sense; it should work.
"Of course, modifying the net might set it off," Rin suggested. "A booby trap."
Shikamaru stared at her. How could she say such a thing in the same tone of voice that she used when offering him a cup of coffee? How had he ever been attracted to her?
"There is no sign of it," he said.
She shrugged. "It could be present but disassembled. It could assemble when we begin interfering."
He took a deep breath. "The scanner did not trigger any booby trap," he observed. "Is there anything we could do to make any such trap less effective?"
They had most of a plan by the time Shikamaru's alarm went off, reminding him that he was due to visit the playroom.
"You should bring him here," Rin suggested when he explained where he was going. "If he's like you, he'd love it. All that new information."
Shikamaru came up with some neutral response. He was certain that exposing Haru to Rin's laboratory would be an irreversible process that they would come to regret.
"He's with Haku," Kiba told him as soon as he walked through the door of the playroom. "I got to the bottom of what happened with C-san and, as always, there was Haru."
"Did you say he couldn't see me?" Shikamaru asked.
Kiba scowled. "Yes, but he got upset. He didn't see much of you yesterday. I said that he could have thirty minutes with you and told Haku-san that you would be coming."
Shikamaru thanked him and went to find Haku.
They were in the closet. Haru was restricted to a square of fabric that Haku had placed on the floor. He was holding a piece of cloth with a regular network of holes, a large blunt needle and some blue thread.
Shikamaru realised that Haku was teaching him to sew. Or, rather, that Haru had been given sewing as his only alternative to doing nothing.
"Haku-san, Haru-chan," Shikamaru acknowledged.
Haru did not say anything, he just looked up at him with huge, pleading blue eyes.
"You may greet your genetic father, Haru-chan," Haku informed him.
Haru dropped his sewing and flung himself at Shikamaru.
"Thirty minutes, Shikamaru-san," Haku told him. "Set that alarm of yours."
They did not waste time talking about what Haru had done. Haru knew that Shikamaru would only involve himself if Haru had been cruel or if he felt the punishment was unjustified.
They played on one of the couches in the crew room; games of words and numbers and chase and tickles.
Suddenly Haru stopped. "Who is that?" he asked.
Shikamaru looked and saw Ranmaru watching them. "That is Ranmaru, our new cat. I will introduce you. Ranmaru-san, this is Haru. Haru-chan, meet Ranmaru."
Ranmaru smiled and bowed. "It is a pleasure, Haru-chan."
Haru bounced to his feet and bowed in return. "It is an honour, Ranmaru-san." Then he consulted Shikamaru's chronometer and grimaced. "Pleased excuse us, Ranmaru-san, but we only have nine minutes playtime left."
Ranmaru's smile broadened. "I understand, Haru-chan."
Once Haru was back with Haku, Shikamaru checked to see if Ranmaru was still in the crew room. He was in the galley, helping Choza prepare the midday meal alongside Moegi. Shikamaru accepted Choza's invitation to sit at the table. A bowl of snacks appeared in front of him.
"I apologise for Haru dismissing you like that, Ranmaru-kun," Shikamaru said.
Ranmaru favoured him with an unexpectedly stunning smile. "It was fine, Shikamaru-san. He is lovely. Is he your son?"
"No, his parents are Sasuke and Naruto," Shikamaru replied.
Choza tutted. "Sasuke-sama and Naruto-san are his parents but Shikamaru-san gave his chromosomes because Naruto-san, as a hybrid, cannot have children in the usual way."
Ranmaru frowned. "But you are all males," he observed.
Moegi sniggered, only to receive a spoon across the back of her hand from Choza.
"We use gestators, artificial wombs," Shikamaru told Ranmaru. "Ask Rin-san to explain."
Shikamaru studied Ranmaru when the children invaded for their midday meal. He watched them throughout, obviously fascinated.
After the midday meal there was an unusually long strategy meeting. They went over the ins and outs of the Ranmaru situation including the new development of him having a kill-net in his brain. Shikamaru presented the plan he and Rin had constructed.
"Even with all the precautions we can think of, there is still the risk that we will trigger it," Shikamaru admitted.
"And if we do nothing?" Kakashi asked.
"When they turn up and he refuses to do what they want they will trigger it," Shikamaru stated. "They may kill him, or they may knock him unconscious, or they may just use it to torture him."
Sasuke considered. "I shall speak to him about it," he decided.