another beginning (april)

Shikamaru heaves a heavy sigh.

The spring breeze is just enough to make his tie flop around, occasionally smacking him in the face. He and Neji are walking in an amicable silence—Neji's school uniform buttoned and straightened impeccably, unlike Shikamaru's sloppy demeanor. It's a beautiful morning, Shikamaru has to admit—but that doesn't mean he'd rather spend it asleep in bed.

It's peaceful until they meet Naruto a few blocks away from school. The blonde is jumping and shouting, acting as though it's been more than a week since they last saw each other. Luckily, Shikamaru and Neji don't have to entertain him for long, because Sasuke joins them not long afterwards. (It's common knowledge that if given the choice, Naruto would much rather pester Sasuke than Shikamaru or Neji, because Sasuke actually gives some sort of amusing reaction.)

The opening ceremony is just as Shikamaru remembers it: extraordinarily dull. He yawns as their principal rattles on about students, teachers, goals, and other inspirational things, and wonders when class will start so he can sleep.

His phone vibrates in his pocket and jolts him out of his half-conscious state. Shikamaru reads his new text message from Naruto, who is sitting right beside him.

Guess what? I've messaged everyone on Facebook to vote for Sasuke as the class president as a prank. I bet he's going to hate me.

Despite himself, a grin twitches at Shikamaru's lips. If he's in the same class as Neji, I think Neji will hate you even more. Being class president has been Neji's entire life since they were old enough to even have class presidents. He's been class president every single year.

Nah, he needs to take a break and get off his high horse for a while. It'll be good for him!

Shikamaru doesn't think Neji will see it that way, but he doesn't particularly care, so he just laughs quietly and pockets his phone again.

The ceremony lasts for fifteen minutes longer before all the students finally disperse to their respective homeroom classes. Shikamaru caught a glance at it earlier; he and Sasuke are in the same class. Neji is stuck with Naruto, poor guy.

"Good thing I'm not in the same class as Naruto this year," Shikamaru comments.

Sasuke shoots him a look. "You haven't been in the same class as Naruto for three years," he replies blandly. "Meanwhile, this is the first time I've been without him since high school started."

"I understand," Shikamaru says, feigning sympathy and patting Sasuke on the back. "You've been traveling down a long and hard road."

Sasuke glowers.

Having already been in high school for two years—this year being their third and final one—they already know how this works. They navigate the hallways easily, passing by the new students without much thought, find their classroom, and take their regular seats in the back corner before anyone else can claim them. One by one, other students enter the room as well, some faces familiar, and some not so familiar. Shikamaru waves to Kiba, who's with Ino and Sakura. Shikamaru's eyes follow them for several long moments, before he wills himself to look away.

"Who do you think is going to be class president this year?" Shikamaru asks Sasuke, just to get his mind off unwanted things.

Sasuke shrugs. "Does it matter?"

"I don't know. Maybe." His train of thought is cut off when the door slams shut and the class falls quiet. All heads turn towards the man walking up to the front of the class.


"I'm your homeroom teacher this year," Morino Ibiki booms as he writes his name on the chalkboard. "Do any of you punks got a problem with that?" No one even dares to breathe. "Good."

Ibiki starts off by checking the attendance, before he begins to appoint roles to various students in the class. Shikamaru rests his chin in his hand, anticipating the show. Naruto is going to be upset that he missed this—but then again, Naruto might have to spend the next two months avoiding Sasuke if he doesn't want to die.

"So? Does anyone want to be class president?"

Silence lingers over the classroom until Kiba raises his hand. "I nominate Sasuke."

Shikamaru senses Sasuke tense in the desk beside him.

"Sasuke for class president, yes or no?" Ibiki drawls.

The number of hands that go up could start a revolution.

Shikamaru glances at Sasuke. He's very, very pale.

"Alright. Sasuke, you're up." Ibiki steps off to the side, and Sasuke stands from his chair, stiffly, and walks to the front of the room.

"Next is the appointment of vice president," he says, sounding impressively collected for someone who just landed a job with huge responsibility but no salary for the next year. His ears are a deep red. He's pissed.

(Shikamaru dreads what's in store for Naruto.)

The rest of homeroom goes smoothly (Sakura for vice president, Shino for treasurer, and then Shikamaru dozes off after that), and when they're dismissed for lunch, Sasuke stalks right up the aisle to Shikamaru and grabs his tie. Shikamaru chokes as he's yanked towards Sasuke, nose to nose.

"You knew," Sasuke hisses. "You knew."

Shikamaru gulps. "Well, yeah. I had no hand in it, though."

"…It was Naruto."


Sasuke lets go of his tie, and Shikamaru flops back into his seat, sighing in relief at having narrowly escaped a slow and painful death.

"The moron isn't even in my class this year and he still finds ways to torture me."

"I think that's a special talent of his," Shikamaru supplies.

As if on cue, the door bursts open and Naruto leaps into the room, Neji following behind. The fact that Neji is much better composed than Sasuke means that he did make class president, and he's actually glad about it.

"Yo, Sasuke—"

"I'm going to rip you to shreds."

"Whoa, whoa, is that how a class president should act?"

Shikamaru and Neji meet each other's eyes, sharing a mutual understanding. Even if the rest of life turns on them, at least they're not Naruto.

They have lunch in the bleachers, as they always do, and always have since their first year of high school. Sasuke is throwing a tantrum and refusing to talk to Naruto, so in between bites of his sandwich, he plays Temple Run on his phone. Neji and Naruto are discussing the merits of putting butter and jam on toast versus just jam, and Shikamaru sips on his juice box, trying his best not to fall asleep.

Maybe he'd have more motivation to live if life was actually interesting.

"Toast with just jam is bland," Neji reasons. "The butter gives it richness that the toast and jam alone cannot replicate. The butter is really what makes a good piece of toast, a good piece of toast."

"Are you kidding me?" Naruto shrieks. "Butter makes it disgusting! That's like mixing juice and milk together; it's wrong!"

"Naruto, that is an invalid argument because you can buy fruit flavored milk."

While Shikamaru is glad that his friends have such strong feelings for how one should enjoy a piece of toast, he can't help but think that there should be more than this—there must be more than this.

He's about to abandon deep thinking in favor of taking a nap when Neji and Naruto's conversation is interrupted by Hinata, cautiously tapping Neji on the shoulder.

"Do you have my calculator?" she asks her cousin, the worry clear in her eyes. "I couldn't find it anywhere at home this morning and it's not in my bag…"

Neji digs around in his own backpack before he pulls out a graphing calculator. (They're for the Calculus students—Shikamaru would like to call them freaks, except he's taking Calculus too. But he doesn't need a calculator. Who's the freak now?) When Neji turns it over, it's his name that's written on the back in a thick black marker. "I don't have yours," he says to Hinata. "Did you misplace it?"

"I must have! What if I can't find it?"

"Can't you just buy a new one?" Naruto butts in, loudly.

Shikamaru rolls his eyes. "Do you even know how much those calculators cost?"

"Yeah, but," the blonde protests, "aren't you guys rich or something?"

"We don't get access to our inheritance until we're of age," Hinata explains, cheeks beet red, but much more patiently than if Neji were the one doing it. "Until then, we're the same as you. And I don't have a job, so…"

Finally looking up from his phone, Sasuke says, "Maybe you lost it here at school at the end of last year. Do you want us to help you look?" In truth, no one wants to help Hinata search for her calculator, but Sasuke is a genuinely nice guy who can be really scary if he wants to be, so no one speaks up against him.

Hinata smiles at Sasuke, only the faintest blush in her cheeks now (she blushes whenever she looks directly at a boy who isn't Neji, but she's a pathetic mess whenever Naruto is even in the same room as her). "That would be really great, thanks."

"Cool. We'll come over to your classroom after school." Sasuke returns to Temple Run. Naruto gives him a stank face.

"Girls think you're so perfect," he grouses once Hinata has left, poking at his cup ramen with his fork. "If only they knew how much of a bastard you really are."

"No," Sasuke replies airily, "I'm only a bastard to those who think it's funny to make me class president. Which, let me remind you, is a prank with consequences that last for the entire school year."

"One school year isn't even that long!"

"I'll deprive you of ramen for one school year and then we'll see if you think it's not that long…!"

It's Neji that keeps Sasuke from strangling Naruto.

Shikamaru yawns.

After school, they make their way to the Hinata's classroom. Other students are making plans as they walk down the hallway, taking advantage of the fact that it's only the first day of school and the workload isn't too big yet.

"Remind me why we're doing this again?" Shikamaru asks lazily.

"Because Hinata is our friend, and we are good friends," Sasuke replies.

"Are we?"

Sasuke glances at him. "Well, I suppose you're kind of a dick."

Hinata is already waiting for them when they arrive. She appears to be struggling to remain conscious while Naruto mindlessly babbles at her, and Neji is playing around on his phone. Almost everyone else has already left.

"Sasuke, Shikamaru!" Hinata escapes Naruto and walks up to them. "Thanks so much for doing this."

"No problem," Sasuke says, shrugging. "What else are friends for? It's not like we have anything else to do anyways."

"Don't you have student council business to attend to?" Naruto snickers. Sasuke glares at him.

"I've already asked Kakashi-sensei if he's seen my calculator, but he said no." Hinata bites her bottom lip worriedly.

"He's your homeroom teacher? Man, you're lucky; we have Ibiki."

"Ibiki-sensei is…nice too." Her attempts to comfort Shikamaru are more or less futile.

"Let's go ask the other teachers," Sasuke suggests. "Anko taught you Math last year, right?" Upon Hinata's affirmation, they all begin to move out like a herd; Sasuke and Hinata leading the way, and the others following like baby ducklings.

Again, Shikamaru wonders why all of them have to help with searching for Hinata's calculator.

They spend the next half an hour asking all of the teachers whether or not a calculator has been left behind last year, but all answers come back negative. Hinata looks very discouraged and anxious by the end of it, so Sasuke takes pity on her and buys her a juice box when they go to the convenience store down the street.

"What am I supposed to do? I have Calculus first thing tomorrow…Neji, can you share yours?"

"I'm in the same class as you," Neji says stiffly. "I don't think Anko-sensei will be impressed with us if we keep on passing it back and forth."

"Neji, you ass," Naruto exclaims. "You just don't want her touching your stuff!"

Neji neither agrees nor disagrees with that statement.

By now, Hinata is looking very pale—the palest Shikamaru can ever remember seeing her, which is quite impressive, because she's already very pale in the presence of four boys. "I don't have enough money to buy a new one," she murmurs to herself. "And I'll get scolded if I tell Father…"

Shikamaru, Sasuke, Naruto, and Neji stand awkwardly, as boys tend to do when a girl is distressed. Finally, Sasuke pulls out his wallet and starts counting his cash. Hinata squeaks.

"I can't cover all of it," he says, "but hopefully it'll help." He stares at Naruto.

Naruto valiantly tries to win the staring contest, but he isn't quite as skilled in the art of not blinking as Sasuke is. Giving in, he pulls his wallet out as well. Neji follows suit, acknowledging that he probably has no way out of this one (and it's probably for the better anyway, if he doesn't want Hinata messing with his own calculator).

Briefly, Shikamaru wonders if they'll notice if he just turns around and walks out of the convenience store right now.

Hinata violently shakes her head and backs away. "I can't ask you guys to do that!"

"Why not?" Sasuke pushes his money into her hands. "You'd do the same for us."

"But it's just…" She looks at Neji and Naruto, who more or less look agreeable enough as they hand over various numbers of bills (Naruto significantly less than Neji).

Sasuke roughly elbows Shikamaru in the ribs. Shikamaru grunts. "Are you really going to be a dick?"

It's not that Shikamaru doesn't like Hinata. Out of all of the girls that he's known since middle school, she might be the most agreeable and amicable. Being with Hinata is easy because she doesn't ask annoying questions, and she just quietly does homework whenever Shikamaru falls asleep. Even Sakura, who Shikamaru generally thinks is pretty cool, is a little chatty, solely because she's a social butterfly and is good at making conversation. He doesn't like anything that requires effort, and reciprocating in a conversation definitely requires effort.

(He doesn't even want to talk about Ino.)

But just because Shikamaru likes Hinata doesn't mean that he has to contribute to the Hinata's New Calculator Fund, does it?

Sasuke stares at him. Shikamaru doesn't even try, and turns to walk away instead.

"I don't even know why we still keep you around," Sasuke mutters, grabbing Shikamaru's arm in a death grip with one hand, his other hand—

"It's not my fault I like to keep my savings—are you feeling up my ass, Uchiha?"

"No!" Sasuke hisses, succeeding in plucking Shikamaru's wallet from his back pocket. "God, you disgust me." He flips open the wallet, and scowls. "You don't even have any cash on you."

"I know," Shikamaru drawls. "I would have donated to the cause otherwise."

Tossing the wallet back to him, Sasuke gives him a look. "No, you wouldn't have."

Nah, he wouldn't have.

Meanwhile, Hinata counts all the money Sasuke, Neji, and Naruto gave her, along with her own money. "I think I have enough now? Thanks so much, you guys; I'll definitely pay you all back."

"Whatever, Hinata-chan." Naruto grins. "Just treat me to ramen and we're good!"

She smiles, shyly. "Okay."

It's nearing dinnertime by the time they leave the convenience store with a few snacks in hand. Under the pretense of needing to be home before they get yelled at by their parents, Sasuke and Shikamaru leave first.

"Do you really have to be home, or did you just want an excuse to leave?" Sasuke asks flatly.

"I actually have to be home. I thought you would've known by now how troublesome my mom is. She chews my ear off if I miss dinner."

Sasuke shrugs. "I think your mom's a nice person."

"Oh, and you're suddenly a saint, huh?"

"Not towards dicks like you, obviously."

Once they reach an intersection in the road, they go their separate ways. Shikamaru sighs, finally glad to get some peace and quiet. Sometimes, it feels like all everyone does around him is scream and shout. It doesn't happen often, but today is one of those days—maybe because it's the first day of school and he doesn't quite want to accept that the break is over yet.

He's known Sasuke and the others since middle school. They've been friends for several years and they understand, most of the time, that Shikamaru gets like this once in a while. Maybe it's depression. He doesn't know. He hopes Hinata doesn't take too much offense.

"I'm home," he calls out once he walks through the front door. The smell of dinner is wafting through the house, but he isn't hungry.

His father is reading on the couch as usual, and his mother is bustling around the kitchen as usual. "About time," she says. "You're not going to start off the year with being a delinquent, are you?"

"Actually, Hinata lost her calculator and we were helping her find it," he says as he makes his way upstairs to his room. Of course, his mother doesn't answer him—she never does, and Shikamaru's already accepted it as a type of response now. Silence is a good thing. It means she doesn't have to scold him.

Shikamaru flops onto his bed and stares at the ceiling, until his eyes slowly flutter shut.

It's going to be a long year.

A/N: I have recently fallen in love with this ~slice of life~ genre, so I'm going to try it out. This is lighter than my usual works (or so I say, until later chapters come and they are heavier than death), and I tried to focus more on the friendship between Shikamaru, Sasuke, Naruto, and Neji, than the romances that some of the boys have, although I am still not very good at writing friendship, clearly. Too many people to deal with.

There are twelve chapters in total and I have written eight so far, and my plan is to post one chapter a week, which should cover until the end of August. A (supposedly) happy story for you guys during the summer, so if this flimsy sort of thing tickles your fancy, please let me know your thoughts!