For one becoming a geinin is ages away. For the other being a geinin was only a moment ago. Shikamaru isn't his teacher, Shin just remembers everything Nara-san has ever told him.
From IWCT: Yay, I now have official permission to call this a series. It all started with a drabble called "Special" by the amazingly talented Fairady (to be found in the "In a Word: Naruto" drabble collection). I was inspired to write "A Horrible Thing to Do," and in response Fairady wrote "Surprise" (http://www.ficwad.com/story/48260) The first three could have technically stood alone, but this fourth installment assumes that the reader has at least read "Surprise." If you haven't well, you can read this, but I expect that confusion will follow.
Also, on another note, the first three were dark and gritty. This one is cheery and full of light until at least the middle, and the major character focus switch. I wrote fluff. Phwee!
~ ~ ~
He liked the Suna lady with the wicked twinkle in her eyes. She told him jokes that would make him laugh, even when he couldn't understand them. Also, it was fun seeing how she'd get in trouble for them afterward, and then somehow turn the trouble right around and make it bad for whoever was telling her off. It was doubly funny when it was Nara-san who caught Temari-sama telling him these jokes.
Although he looked up to the man who took him out to play go every once in a while, at the age of seven he knew that the master strategist nin was absolutely whooped within five seconds of playing any sort of game with Temari-sama. Luckily for Nara-san she was only in Konoha for a few weeks at a time, and then would disappear as quickly as sand in the wind for months or even years.
He missed the jokes she told him, then. But right now he was too busy listening in on an argument that he wasn't supposed to be. Temari-sama was a genius.
"That's hardly funny, Temari! Telling a kid something like that even under normal circumstances is just plain weird, but telling Shin-,"
"What?" Temari-sama laughed not even bothering to be innocent. "I only said that ferrets were very awesome creatures, but if he wanted to look for a favorite animal weasels were pretty good, too."
"Do honestly expect me to believe that wasn't a crack about his late and unlamented uncle?" Nara-san's voice was a frustrated growl.
"He's seven, you can't turn this whole thing into some big boogeyman for the poor kid," Temari-sama replied smartly. "You're as bad as that Iruka-sensei of yours, Shikamaru. You can't protect every shinobi in Konoha, and you certainly can't protect them by keeping the truth from them. Just ask your orange track-suited "I will be the next hokage if it kills me" friend."
"This is nothing like Naruto," but Nara-san was faltering. Shin could tell the old nin knew he was going to lose just on the basis that he was facing Temari-sama, who always won.
The young black-haired boy spun around as a very scary figure blacked out the sun. Tsunade-sama was not a woman to cross when you were listening at doors you weren't supposed to.
"Funny, I was certain that you had windows that were supposed to be washed," her hands were on her hips now, a bad sign in Shinobiko's book.
"Yes, Fifth Hokage, ma'am," he squeaked, saluted, and ran like a hare.
He didn't really mind, though. He could tell that Nara-san was too depressed over whatever Temari-sama had said to keep the fight up simply to amuse himself. Therefore the last Uchiha didn't really have a reason to stay, and the sun was shining over the houses of the leaf. Only curiosity about what Temari-sama had to say this time had kept him inside for so long.
He skipped down a dusty road, care free. The windows-his stupid, crappy forced volunteer community service for class-could wait. In fact, if he managed to avoid Aburame Yasua, the creepy bug girl (who he had to sit next to in class because Iruka-sensei was unfair), he could let her do all the window washing, and enjoy this beautiful day. Yasua liked doing boring stuff. Like listening to rules. Stories were vastly more interesting in Shinobiko's mind.
"Shinobiko-kun,"the boy jumped, hearing the voice right at his elbow, and his skin near matched the color of his white shirt, recognizing the soft and strangely deep voice. How did she do that? He could have sworn that no one was following him, but Yasua had ended up right behind him without his noticing. Even Kakashi-sensei wasn't that good. "You were supposed to be washing windows with me today."
She grabbed one tanned arm, and pulled the young, protesting boy away.
It was lunch time by the time Shinobiko and Yasua had finished the windows on the hospital. Shin sat in the shade with a petulant scowl on his face. He was sweating, and they were scheduled to do the Nga apartment blocks after lunch. Stupid community service.
He looked over at Yasua as she sat down next to him, in the shade, her lunch box open. "Wow! Snapper," he exclaimed, seeing the fish in the main section of the box, artistically set off by rolls and vegetables. "Anything special happening?"
"I turned eight yesterday. This was my cousin's gift, because he came back from a mission late."
Shinobiko sighed, and opened his lunch box. He had stayed over at Kakashi-sensei's late, and the lunch that had been scrounged from the leftovers of their takeout supper last night proved it. Yasua didn't comment as Shinobiko surveyed the two dango and the ramen which had been drained of liquid before being plunked unceremoniously in the box. It was fun training with Kakashi-sensei(well fun, not exactly, as his eyes always felt as if they were on fire afterward, but Kakashi-sensei was vague and didn't seem to know that little boys had bedtimes or shouldn't eat sweets after seven in the evening), however he always missed Hinata-sama's carefully packed lunches in morning.
"Would you like some snapper?" Yasua asked, her expression inscrutable behind her thick fishbowl glasses.
"Sure," Shin leapt on the offered fish with chopsticks in hand almost before Yasua could take her hands off the lunch box. Her eyebrows drew down, and suddenly the air was filled with buzzing.
"Yeahhhg! Yasua, stop that!" The young boy dropped the lunch box quickly, and leapt away as flies poured from the air and alighted on the food.
"I asked if you would like some snapper," Yasua replied in her calm tones as her lunch wriggled and seethed in a sea of black."I did not mean for you to devour the entire thing. One would think that you were taking eating lessons from Kiba-san. Now, would you care to have some of my lunch without wolfing it down?"
Shinobiko looked at black flies crawling all over the food. If he wasn't used to Yasua's pets already from having to sit next to her in class he would have barfed. However, he knew that she did have perfect control over them and if she thought that the food was safe to eat after having bugs crawl all over it he wasn't going to argue, even if the said bugs weren't the highly intelligent chakra devouring beetles of the Aburame clan.
"Sorry Yasua, I promise only to eat what I'm told to," Shinobiko muttered, not liking to apologize.
"Good," she moved her hand over her food, and Shin watched carefully with one red eye as the chakra streamed from her hand, encased the flies, and tossed them into the air.
Both Kakashi and Neji-sensei said that he should be able to duplicate any move in Konoha, but he doubted that he would ever be able to duplicate Yasua's tricks. There was something as alien in her chakra streams as those that fed Neji-sensei's byakagen. It certainly wasn't impossible to duplicate, like the streams of the byakagen, but it was as if she had chakra coming from two different sources within her body, rather than the normal one. It was a little like Uncle Naruto's chakra system, only far, far tamer. It was probably the bugs.
"Shinobiko-kun," Yasua said blandly, "stop using your sharingan. I don't want a report of how clumsy I am, thank you."
"Huh?" Shin asked, his left eye quickly reverting to black as he moved his chopstick back out wearily to grab apiece of the soft fish flesh.
"I already know that I use far too much chakra to summon near by swarms and control them; you don't need to monitor my sloppiness."
"Huh?" Shin tried to repeat around a mouth full of fish.
He didn't understand Yasua most of the time. She had more chakra control than most of the kids in their class, excluding himself, and the two Hyuuga children who were there. Yet she always got so nervous when he used his sharingan on her. She always claimed to be "sloppy" or "amateur" or whatever her adjective of the week was. Why she was ashamed of being able to do things with her chakra that he couldn't even duplicate was beyond Shinobiko. He really just didn't get it.
Her chopsticks battled his as she fought for the fifth piece of snapper. "Try some of the picked ginger with it," she sighed as he won the prize.
She leaned back against the tree, and the young Uchiha took this as an invitation to tear into the rest of the box. She had already eaten most of the other delectable foods, saving the snapper for last as a special treat. Hinata-sama would make him give her a gift in thanks, but he didn't mind the prospect, now.
"What will you be doing?" Yasua inquired carelessly, staring at a bird overhead.
"Dunno. Sakura-sama wants me to go to another check-up, and Nara-san said he'd take me over to Uncle Naruto's. He and Kakashi-sensei promised to tell me about a new jitsu they'd be teaching me, now that Uncle Naruto is back."
"It must be nice, knowing so many people so well," Yasua commented.
"What'd ya mean?"
"Well, they're the greatest nin ever, aren't they? Uzumaki-sama, Hakate Kakashi, Haruno-sama, and you live with the most famous clan in the Fire Country," Yasua pointed out. "I can't imagine what it must be like, knowing so many great people."
"Ah, Uncle Naruto isn't that great. He's just a glutton," Shinobiko waved it away like one of her flies.
"They say he'll be the next hokage."
"You mean he says he'll be the next hokage. I know for a fact Tsunade-sama wants Sakura-sama to follow after her. She thinks that Konoha will be able to prosper better under a leader who isn't as hot headed as she is," Shinobiko shrugged. "Why do you care?"
"About who I know," Shin asked sharply, chewing on a fingernail.
Yasua was quiet for a while, before finally answering. "Because they're our teachers. When we grow up to take the ninja's path they will be the ones leading us on that way. And they're all so great, and so /distant/. How do we know they'll lead us the right way?"
Shinobiko looked up through the leafy green shelter of twigs. Blue sky had peeped through, and the bird had left the branch. Neiji-sensei's morning exercise was to make him count birds. He put the lunchbox aside, remembering countless bowls of ramen that Uncle Naruto pushed over to one side as he downed more noodles.
"Anyone ever tell you that thinking so much will make your brain explode?" Shin asked, throwing a clod of earth at her.
"No," her hand blocked the projectile effortlessly, and flies began to circle Shinobiko's head.
"Hey, call them off!"
"Apologize for throwing grass at me," the Aburame girl retorted, as moved by his entreaty as a mountain was by a gale.
"Sheesh, you take everything so /seriously/, Yasua," he complained, his eyes whirling red, as he attempted to read the movements of the swarm.
"I'm meant to. Someone has to be responsible," she countered.
"Responsible for what, being a wet blanket?"
"I'm practicing for when I become a geinin," Yasua retorted.
Shin groaned. The usual reason. The future. Yasua worried about it far too much. He wished that she was more like Atsuo. The boy was fun to be around, even if he did sit in the back of the class with the stupid kids. "If I ever get you on my squad, just slit my wrists. Please."
"If I end up on your squad I believe I would have to request that you perform the same service," Shin cast the girl a look, was she grinning? "I would work better with someone who was less excitable."
"So, you've already planned out which people you'd work best with in a squad, then?" Shin asked. "The exams are years away."
"So?" Yasua asked. "I want to be a shinobi, Shinobiko-kun. I want to be the best."
"Why?" Shin asked.
Yasua looked at him, non-plused. "I--my family is the Aburame Clan. We serve Konoha, it's what we do. Don't you want to be one?"
"Well, yeah. But," Shinobiko looked passed her, hearing the rattle of a sake glass against a stone monument on a rainy day. "Not like that. I mean. I never thought of it as "serving Konoha" and all that. I've always been told that the only thing a shinobi ever has to remember is who his true friends are, and never abandon them."
Yasua must be smiling. He could hear it in her voice, if not see it on her face. "Of course. But what is Konoha, if not your friends?"
Shin looked at Yasua thoughtfully. "Yasua-chan? Don't let this go to your head or anything, but that's a pretty smart thing to say."
"You're still a know-it-all perfectionist!" he flung another earth clod at her head.
~ ~ ~
Shikamaru twirled the shougi board around as he sat with his back to the wall. He took another drag of his cigarette. Sakura was right, he had really got to drop the habit. It was going to kill him before any of the millions of enemies he had made-including her, although she was polite enough not to say it during his monthly physical-ever got a chance. Like Hell he was going to quit.
He moved a piece lazily, fingering the tanto-gata in his right hand. Temari would have said something arch and rude, if she had known that he was playing himself again. He occasionally found himself wishing, even as he reminded himself that marrying a willful woman would kill him faster than smoking, that the brief teenaged affairs he'd had with her had gone somewhere. But she didn't want children, unless he was going to take care of them, and he wasn't going to take care of any children. He wasn't cut out for it. Besides, she was a Sand nin, and was absolutely crazy from too much sun.
Smoke coiled slowly in the air. Perhaps he should try chess? No, thinking forty moves ahead was second nature. Mahjong? Ino said that the tiles looked attractive. But Ino would say anything after a couple of drinks and a few kisses. She seemed to have settled down in civilian life, after her father had died. Both she and Chouji had moved on. They'd often joke about how there could be a new trio, if only Shikamaru got his act together and settled down. They'd given the best years of their lives to Konoha, they didn't understand why Shikamaru was still giving.
He smiled a weary, lazy smile to himself. He didn't understand either. Just that he couldn't give up being a shinobi, couldn't give up leading his teams in lightning swift strikes, protecting Konoha, protecting Ino and Chouji. He had to believe that. He had to believe that he was doing it for them, that he really was protecting them. That he was doing it because it was too troublesome to do anything else. That it wasn't blood spilled for nothing.
He lead teams in, and got them out. When a sacrifice had to be made, he made the decision. He was responsible for that. He often chose to be the sacrifice, pulling missions from the brink of death. He learned his lesson early. Sacrifice was his job in the game. It had cost Mizeika her leg. Tenten had been right about the new girl; not that the weapons mistress was anyone to talk about knowing your limits. He was glad that she had been given such a good teaching post, glad to see the offer for her before Tenten had exited the burn ward five years ago.
Shikamaru experimented with a smoke ring as he counted up the injuries and fatalities that his decisions had caused. It was his favorite game to play with himself. His favorite form of internal torture. It was a very, very troublesome habit, because it definitely made him wonder if he was some sort of sick masochist, and took up more time than he had to spare.
But, in another way, it was good to remember, remind himself that each decision he made had a very human outcome, so he'd better be damn careful. Each decision he made hurt someone he knew and cared about, no matter how many times he told himself that the scarred and smoke corroded organ Sakura called a heart had finally stopped feeling. And he was so good at making those damning decisions that Tsunade, and whoever would be hokage after her, continued to pile them on his shoulders.
Even the least harmful of these responsibilities had lasting repercussions. "Like that blasted name," he muttered to the smoke, swiveling the board again. He knew he should have looked carefully through the family records of the Uchiha when he'd taken the baby from his late, unlamented -- at least by Shikamaru -- father's house.
How was he to know that Tsunade and the Council would have foisted the boy onto his hands for two months? Thank goodness Neiji had finally taken pity on his captain, and arranged with his cousin that the last Sharingan user would come into the Hyuuga Clan, Hell or high water. This had been over the Council's opinion that Uchiha's child should be trained by Uchiha's teacher as soon as he could walk, and both Naruto and Sakura's resounding protests that the son of their best friend should live with either one or the other.
Either way, Shikamaru did accept responsibility for leaving the kid without a real name. Shin was almost not troublesome, as children went. Which was probably why Shikamaru had never seen the need to outfit the kid with more than the basic epitaph of "Hey, you." Of course, in the long, mind numbing, troublesome meetings where everyone wrangled about where the kid should stay, how he should be trained, etc, he had been referred to as just "the Uchiha shinobi," or "the child." And so the name Shinobiko had gradually evolved, and stuck to an infant who had no idea that the world was dissolving into chaos because of his needs.
And Shikamaru hadn't done a thing about it. At the time the act had been a lazy rebellion against anyone trying to revive the "grand legacy of the Uchiha" and heap it on Shin's small shoulders. Now Shikamaru almost regretted never having given the child something of his own, that was not part of Konoha.
Feh. That mistake was in the past. Shin was an okay kid. A million times better than his father had been. Naruto said that Shin was just like Sasuke, but Shikamaru didn't see any similarity. He hoped it would stay that way, or he'd find himself making another decision and sacrificing Konoha's last sharingan.
Someone knocked at the door.
"It's open, Sakura-sama," Shikamaru yelled, trying to remember when he'd stopped addressing Sakura informally, and then added the respectful honorific.
Probably when everyone else had. The healing genius was famous, in a few years she might outstrip her teacher's legend. Funny, that. All three students of the legendary sannin were going to live on, and become more famous than their masters. Well, not Orochimaru's last student.
He continued to study the board as the door creaked open. "I swear, Shikamaru, you need to oil these hin-,"
The tanto-gato left his hand, and sped for the large pair of dark blue eyes. They barely even whirled red as a pale hand snatched the knife out of the air, cutting open soft skin to save his own life.
"Shikamaru!" Sakura glared at him. "I've told you about doing that."
"Good job, Shin-kun," the ANBU captain ignored Sakura's righteous wrath as he flowed up from the floor. The black haired boy smiled enthusiastically, as he stored the bloody knife in his spare weapons pouch. "You're becoming a fine little shinobi."
Shikamaru continued to ignore Sakura's glare, as he moved to turn Shin around, and lead the seven year old to Naruto's place. He would have to endure enough recriminations in Naruto's eyes. He always did when Naruto saw him with Shin.
They couldn't prove anything. They didn't know for sure. But they suspected. Sakura knew that Sasuke was not needed the moment he had an heir with full Sharingan capabilities. Naruto had been under Shikamaru's command for plenty of missions. He knew how the Captain worked.
Shin looked up at Shikamaru as they trotted down the steps. "Yasua-chan said she wanted to be a shinobi to serve Konoha. I never thought about it before. Why did you become a shinobi, Nara-san?"
Shikamaru found his gaze straying toward the unseen monument, blocked by buildings. Yet the carved stone suddenly felt like a magnet for his eyes. "Because Konoha's a good enough reason when you're a kid. Later you find other ones."
"Like what?" Shin wanted to know.
Shikamaru didn't answer as they crossed a boulevard. Finally: "My teacher grew up during the great ninja war. By twelve he was fighting in missions as a geinin that we only let jounin handle today. He did it because he had family that he didn't want to see the horror he saw. Later, he fought to keep his students alive. To let us learn how to protect those we cared about. I don't have family who ever were outside of-separate from the ninja life. But I am a jounin because I want to protect those who take missions with me, those who fight to protect their families like Asuma. If I wasn't a shinobi someone else would be in my job, making my decisions, and they might worse decisions, decisions that wouldn't protect the people I care for."
Shikamaru crested a hill. It wasn't a high hill, and didn't command a great view. Naruto's apartment, rising at the very end of the street commanded better, but he could see the Yamanaka Flower Shop from here, and the Konoha hospital, and the shine of the river, a green blob showing that Lee must be back in town, and practicing weighted water walking. People walked up and down the street, shouting good natured greetings at one another as the afternoon wore on.
"Like them," Shikamaru said, waving his hand vaguely in a sweeping circle.
Shinobiko looked around. "Wow. You know all these people?"
"More or less," Shikamaru answered.
Jeesh, it was troublesome to explain-and really, what could you explain? It was something the kid had to work out for himself. But -- had Asuma ever felt this way? He'd had three kids to worry about. All older than Shin was right now, but how had the man survived as long as he had without an aneurysm?
"So you wanted to be a shinobi because of everyone you knew?" Shin persisted, making Shikamaru wonder why he had ever told himself that the young boy wasn't troublesome.
"No. When I was little it was expected that'd I'd become a shinobi and serve Konoha, and it was too troublesome not to. Then, I started to realize that the village isn't this collection of buildings. It's the people inside those buildings, and all that they do, and make, and pass on, and share. And that's Konoha, and that's what I protect as a shinobi, and that's why I protect it."
Shikamaru realized that his cigarette had burned to the filter as he had ranted. Ugh, so troublesome. He fished around for a pack as they continued to walk in the dieing afternoon.
"But--I don't--It's confusing," Shin finally said, looking perplexed.
"Yeah. It is. You'll understand eventually. Hopefully after you make it to chuunin."
"Yeah. We all get it eventually."
"Now you're just being troublesome," Shikamaru told the boy crossly, as they walked up the stairs, refusing, as much as he could, to be lead along by the spark of mischievous enjoyment in the eyes that would shift from deepest blue-black to red, depending on Shin's whim. That expression was inherited from Naruto. Shikamaru didn't get to see it on the blond man's face any more. He had lost that privilege.
You'll understand eventually. Hopefully after you make it to chuunin.
"Can I knock?" Shin asked hopefully, bouncing on the balls of his feet, opposite the door.
Despite the warm orange sunset, Shikamaru felt the soft patter of rain, and the heavy feel of the soaked mourning clothes. He had only been days away from being a chuunin, but he hadn't known it at the time. "Yeah, Shin-kun, go ahead."
The door opened at the second knock. Nartuo looked down into clouded eyes that were years away, and then further down into deep blue eyes that were smiling back in such a familiar way. "Hey. Come in -- Though all smoking happens outside," both blue eyed boys glared at Shikamaru.
The man shrugged. "I'm just the messenger," smoke coiled from the cigarette, and he turned away.
"Hey, won't you come in for super with us?" Shin asked, like always.
Shikamaru walked down the steps silently, like always. Shin ate supper with his teachers when he was at Naruto's. The day Captain Nara Shikamaru joined that crowd was the day Uchiha Shinobiko stopped having a normal childhood.
It took a village to raise a child. The only thing that the protector of the village raised was a like-minded killing machine.
Cigarette smoke snaked through the cooling air as Shikamaru walked towards the Hokage's office, ready for his next mission. It was still raining in the cemetery, over the Third's grave. The sake glass clinked against the stone monument. Shin was still asking questions. Chouji was an emaciated skeleton. He was staring into that bastard's cool black eyes at the "Welcome Back" party that Naruto had thrown. The weight of the green chuunin vest had never been heavier than when he was waiting alone in the hospital -- but he could see Temari walking down the hall. His father was telling him he was too introspective, and needed a woman to liven him up. The baby was asleep in its basket, and he was putting off calling Neji to come and take Shinobiko for five more minutes. The monument was as clear as daylight despite the rain. It was the lodestone of the ANBU. Sauske's name had been engraved on the marble. The sake glass left a perfect ring of sticky liquid. It was still raining. He was still twelve. Shin was just seven.
The day had turned to twilight, and he'd wasted enough time enjoying himself that afternoon.