7. The Exhaling Problem
bgm- "Learn to Be Still", The Eagles
Shikamaru grumbled, forcefully not looking at his instructor. Asuma-sensei had that look again, the one he really hated. The one that meant he had really important news that he really wanted to say but would rather hold off until the most opportune moment. And, seeing as Shikamaru was the only one around, it meant that it had something to do with him and was more likely than not something he would really rather not know about. And the opportune moment would also likely be as a last-ditch attempt to swing the game to Asuma's favor. Which wouldn't be happening either way.
With a deceptively careless flick, Shikamaru's customary black stone clicked onto the grid. He frowned at the way his teacher's face scrunched up thoughtfully. This was going to take a while....
But, the boy figured, if he could press his advantage then the older man may have to draw his 'trump' card early and then he wouldn't have to worry about what ill-titled 'good news' could be.
"You know," Asuma puffed in his good-natured way. Here it comes, Shikamaru discreetly rolled his eyes. "I was at the admin building earlier today."
"Oh?" It was just to acknowledge, they both knew.
"I heard something interesting. You might like to know." The way thick fingers flipped down another stone, he knew Asuma was gauging his reaction.
"They have the chuunin promotion list from the exam. It was a real surprise, I must say." Asuma's grin grew as he saw Shikamaru's eyes flinch a fraction. The boy had a good sense, perhaps it really wasn't all that surprising. "You're on it."
There was barely a pause as another black stone came down. "You don't say." But Asuma heard it.
"Yup." He studied the board, wincing at his lack of options. "And not just that, you're the only one on it."
Shikamaru kept his face carefully neutral though the inside of his mind was exploding with curses and screaming and insults at the cold bitch called Luck. He didn't know why she hated him, but he would definitely have to take time to figure out a way to get her off his back.
Of course, the boy's lack of response was just what Asuma was hoping for. That meant that it had the desired effect and it was up to him to keep Shikamaru's mind occupied with things he deliberately did not think of until his little white army could form their line.
"I'm thinking we could have a blow-out of a party. Invite all your friends and family to join in. You know, real celebration-like."
"Dad's on a mission." Shikamaru said, cupping a hand under his chin. "And I don't have any friends."
"Chouji and Ino."
"I'd have to 'celebrate' with them even if they weren't my friends, just because they're my teammates."
"Naruto, then. You hang around with him sometimes."
He shrugged. "He went training last I heard."
"Hm." Asuma contemplated the board. He, of course, knew that Naruto left. He also knew the main reason why Naruto left and why the rest of Team 7 was no where to be seen. He, Kurenai and Gai decided it prudent if the least amount of people possible knew about.... everything. About the Akatsuki being in the village, about the village's only Sharingan users both out of commission and about Jiraiya and Naruto off to find the legendary kunoichi. Shikamaru suspected his instructor was keeping something from him, but- to Asuma's relief -didn't broach the subject.
He set down another white piece. To his dismay, Shikamaru put down his own piece almost immediately after. Asuma glared at the board, then at the boy as the latter signaled for another drink.
With a toothy smile, Asuma said, "Well, we'll just have to wait until everyone's available, then." It was a look that said: 'if I don't win, I'll make you miserable'. A look that Shikamaru completely ignored.
"How're your teammates, by the way."
This was going somewhere he wouldn't like, Shikamaru thought. It was in the tone; Asuma was building up to something he knew would annoy him.
"You saw them the same time I did." He said carefully.
"That was three days ago. You haven't seen them since?" He noticed Shikamaru's frown deepen slightly and grinned. They both knew the boy just slipped up.
"So what?" He scowled, tapping a finger against the side of the board. "You're our instructor."
"I've been on missions." He placed down another piece, feeling slightly more secured that this wouldn't be another post-dinner slaughter. "Ever since the battle with Sand, we've had to show our clients that we still have strength, power, etc., etc. "He bit his lip as he leaned back, arms crossed. "Politics bites."
"So you haven't been hanging around Chouji?"
"What about Ino?" Asuma asked with just enough of a hint in an otherwise nonchalant question.
There was a pause.
And a glare.
"What are you getting at?"
Asuma put on his 'innocent' face. "What?"
"You don't insinuate as good as Chouji so you can drop it." Shikamaru crossed his arms. "You think there's something between me and Ino, too, don't you?"
"Oh? I'm not the only one?" He leaned forward, grinning widely.
"Forget it. She's not interested, anyway."
A thick eyebrow quirked up. "Interesting choice of words."
In retaliation, Shikamaru fairly slapped his stone in the midst of the others. In the worst possible place Asuma overlooked. "Three." He said with a glare.
"Geh!" He put a hand over his face. That spot had been open for sometime, and he had never realized the danger it held to his survival. Now, looking over the board, unless something came around and knocked Shikamaru unconscious, he had no way to win.
Asuma sighed. Looks like he went too far with that one. He patted his vest, looking for his partially crumpled box of cigarettes. He hated losing and he hated being pushed into a corner. And whenever he needed to think, there was nothing like a cigarette to put everything into focus.
His thick fingers twined around the filter of one and with a frown, he placed it between his lips, trying to figure out which pocket he put his matches in. Asuma then became aware of someone looking at him.
"Hm?" One of the cooks was giving him a disapproving frown. "What?"
"This is a no smoking restaurant?" Shikamaru said. His tone and expression as apathetic as always, though there was a slight glimmer of sadistic satisfaction. Shikamaru, Asuma had come to realize over time, could be amazingly petty. Subtle enough you wouldn't notice, but petty nonetheless.
With his good-natured grin, Asuma lifted his open, empty hands, allowing the cook to see that he wouldn't be any trouble. Slightly reluctant, the man nodded and turned away. Though an eye would still drift towards their table every now and then.
"That's a good rule." The jounin said, though he kept the cigarette in place. Gnawing on the filter, he could still get a taste of the nicotine. He wondered idly if that proved he was more addicted than was necessarily healthy.
There was a noncommittal response from Shikamaru. "I wouldn't expect that from you."
"Smoking is a terrible habit." The boy lifted an unconvinced eyebrow. "I'm serious."
Shikamaru just shook his head.
"You don't believe me."
"If you know it's bad, why do you still smoke?"
With cheesy, dramatic flare, Asuma bemoaned, "Alas, I'm far too addicted. I don't have the strength to beat this vile poison in my veins. Ever since I started at the tender age of 14, I-"
"Is this soliloquy going to take a while? It's your turn."
"Is it? Oh! So it is! Sorry, got distracted."
"I can tell."
"Have you ever thought about smoking, Shikamaru?" Asuma asked. He moved to place a piece, halted just above the board, then quickly set it down in a different position.
"Good. Don't start."
Shikamaru's gaze flickered from the board for a moment. "You did."
"For a lot of reasons. None of them good, now that I think back on it." The instructor smiled as he waited, somewhat edgy. "It's kind of funny, actually. A lot of people don't know what they're doing the first time they smoke."
"What's so hard about smoking?" He grumbled to himself.
"Nothing, you'd think. You just inhale, then exhale. But somehow, people get this impression that they're suppose to swallow the smoke." He laughed under his breath. "Though some of the shades of green some people turn is sort of amusing."
Shikamaru shook his head and put down another piece, delaying the inevitable just because it gave him something to do.
"You know, everyone knows that they're suppose to inhale it, but it's the way they do it that gets them in trouble." The man leaned in close on the board, trying to find an overlooked opening from various angles. None of his options were any better no matter how he looked at them. "You have to inhale straight into you lungs, or you just keep it in your mouth- which people think solves most of the health hazards but really doesn't. But instead, people tend to inhale as much as they can in their mouth and then try to move it in their lungs. By swallowing."
"Which will make you sick." The other put in with no effort. "I know."
"You do?" He was surprised. "I thought you never tried to smoke?"
Shikamaru scowled. "I haven't. People get sick from smoke inhalation because smoke goes into places it doesn't belong." He leaned heavy on his elbows. "Technically smoke isn't supposed to be in people's lungs, either, which is also a reason why people get sick the first time they try a cigarette."
"Ah, you're so clever, Shikamaru-kun." Asuma smiled. The boy frowned, he really hated endearments. "It's to be expected of you."
"Of course, that would also be part of the smoking problem."
"Hm?" Now what's he talking about?
"You see, people think about things too much. They don't realize that just by breathing naturally, they can smoke easily. They think themselves right out of an easy situation and get themselves into trouble."
"....." Shikamaru blinked slowly. "So....?"
"That's what you do. You think too much."
"I.... think too much."
"Ah, glad you think so too! Though maybe you shouldn't think so because then you would be thinking a lot again.... Hmmm...." He stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"Just what," Shikamaru had to force his voice to stay level, "are you talking about?" Asuma, for some reason, was really getting on his nerves today.
"You think too much for your own good. You know, some things happen if you just let it. Let things happen naturally and they almost always come out for the best."
He lifted the corner of an eyebrow. Isn't that what people didn't like about him....? Because everyone thought he was lazy?
Asuma seemed to realize this and laughed. "Oh, I don't mean all the time! I mean about important things! You knew it when you distracted the Sound Nins. You knew you were the best one for the job, but you also knew if you thought about it, you'd think yourself right out of it. Like with your current situation."
"What 'current situation'?" He glared. "If you say 'the one with Ino....'"
"....Okay, I won't." But he hummed loudly, suggesting that it was, indeed, what he was going to say.
"I do /not/-"
"Ah, look at that time! Wow, that clock must be fast!" Out of reflex, Shikamaru turned to look at the clock and caught Asuma moving from the corner of his eye. "Aw, that's a pity, too. I almost won."
Shikamaru looked down at the board, then glared up at his instructor. "You took out three of my pieces and switched them with three of yours."
Asuma looked aghast. "How can you insinuate that your teacher would do such a thing?"
"Because I can see three black pieces in your bowl of whites."
He looked down. "Oh." He dug around the stones with a finger. "Ah well, next time I'll hide them better."
"Next time, huh? Next time I won't let you touch the pieces."
"Eh? Then how am I supposed to play?"
He leaned back. "Hm, I can already imagine beating you right now! Oh, there's a good spot!"
"Forget it. Your imagination is more annoying than anything else."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you always came up with annoying work for us." Shikamaru scowled, putting away the game. "I'll see you later."
"Of course, of course." Asuma waved at the boy. "You have a promotion ceremony in a week, I'll help you get ready for it Tuesday. And Shikamaru! Don't forget! Don't think so much!"
He only paused to scowl before he walked out the restaurant.
His mood was foul. It was almost tactile as he half-stormed, half-sulked down the street. His mind raged, cursing at every horrible, horrible turn of events. He didn't want to be a chuunin. He didn't want to do that rescue team and damned if he didn't want to be a hero! He was only glad no one else really seemed to know about that, and maybe he was weird, but the new found respect he saw in the eyes of some of the instructors and fellow (former fellow) genin really got on his nerves. He wasn't out to impress anyone, but no one was letting him sink into the background.
As always when he was in a bad mood, his mind raced with thoughts. Mainly thinking about cursing someone's ears off or beating the inanimate shit out of the underused punching bag at home. And, as always, when he finally got home, his mind had already burned off all the excessive energy, leaving him more than happy to just lounge around and slow down his thoughts.
"I'm home." He called out dully, slipping his sandals off at the door. He wasn't surprised to hear no answer.
However, as the young Nara walked out to the living room where the shogi board laid out (he and his father would move a piece whenever one of them got the chance, so it was always in the middle of a game- until his father got tired of losing that game and started over from the beginning) and went to move his piece (he'd been waiting for this move since his last turn), he saw a piece of paper stuck on the board.
It read: 'Heard the good news! Will be back to celebrate tomorrow. Be sure to eat a lot of greasy food until then, boy!'
Then again, he thought, maybe a few rounds of beating something wouldn't be too bad....
He left then, turn forgotten.
Edit: I changed their game to one that I actually know how to play. My mom taught it to me, it's Korean. I have no idea what it's called but basically what you have to do is try to get your stones (either white or black) into five in a row. Once you get three in a row, you say 'three', giving your opponent two chances to try and save their asses.
Blargh. I really haven't been feeling like writing, so I'm sorry for this. Hell, even trying to think of an author's note is a pain in the ass.... -.- ;;
The thing about luck, well, a lot of people would say that Shikamaru is one lucky bastard. He's smart, he's depended on by his team, thought highly of by the people closest to him, and he's the only one in his class to be promoted. But, then again, his dream was to be an average guy that no one bugs, so getting all this attention is exactly the last thing he wants. Hence he cursing luck and thinking that he has bad luck.
Er.... I don't smoke myself, so I hope I sound convincing enough about all that dookey for you^^ And yes, Asuma-sensei does strike me as the type that would cheat if he had the opportunity. And also that type that would probably annoy Shikamaru most because he doesn't really seem very 'adult' (of course, that would mean he'd get annoyed with Kakashi-sensei even more, probably). Also note: greasy foods tend to help keep you from getting drunk. It's really helpful when you get people trying to get you drunk enough to puke knows this well.... er, except for people trying to get me to puke^^;;
Though I'm really enjoying this arc, I really hope it ends soon. Some of the later chapters sort of depend on what's going on in the series. I mean, I could just come out and say this is a complete AU type thing, but I'd rather not if I can help it. But don't worry, whatever happens in the series won't change what I already have planned had this fic all figured out before she started Yes, I'm anal.
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