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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

People Watching

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People Watching

by: Aedien

AN: Wow! Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed and favorited! This was actually the first fan fic I've every written. I wasn't planning on posting it, but my sister changed my mind; now I'm glad I did! Thank you so much for the constructive criticism, I think it'll help me become a better writer. I hope to post more stories that everyone can enjoy.

I yawn and lean back on the warm tile of the roof that I am currently lounging on. A cool breeze sweeps over me and I smile, enjoying a day off from missions. Normally Shikamaru would be by my side watching the clouds go by; or maybe asleep, sometimes it’s hard to tell. There’s no rest for him today; after he was promoted to chunnin he quickly became an important part of Konoha’s administration. Oh, he still goes on missions, but now that impressive brain of his is also responsible for all sorts of the planning, tests and events that are part of the ninja community. I can’t help but laugh at the idea of him grumbling as he drags his lazy ass all over the city and Hokage tower, doing paperwork and delivering documents. I swear I can almost hear him saying “troublesome” as I picture him in my mind’s eye.

Shikamaru is just one of the many interesting people that I work with. I like to watch people; it’s just another thing that Shikamaru and I have in common; I’m not anywhere near as intelligent as he is, but I know a thing or two. I’m very aware of what I look like, and it suits me just fine. Believe me, I can think for myself, and though no one ever sees it, Shikamaru and I don’t always see eye to eye, but in battle I’m content to be his muscle. I can think on my feet, but that guy can think circles around; well, everyone. Most of the time I’m overlooked; you wouldn’t think that would be possible given my size, but hey, it’s surprising what people can ignore when they think that something or someone isn’t worth their attention.

That brings my thoughts to our newly returned comrade. He’s been away for almost three years now; the other day I saw him for the first time since he’s been back. He’s changed a lot; even more than Sakura and those kids have given him credit for. I saw it, and I know Shikamaru did too; he carries himself differently. He’s powerful; I can tell that without having to see him fight, that alone should tell everyone a lot about how he’s changed. In the past he actively flaunted it every time he learned a new jutsu, now he just smiles and says that his training “went well.” He still acts like the same over-the-top hyperactive ninja that we all know and love, but there is an underlying calm and confidence that the others miss because they aren’t as aware of others as they like to delude themselves into thinking. That’s probably because they never spend hours just watching people the way we do. We each did it for different reasons; me because I thought I wouldn‘t be welcomed, Shikamaru because he didn’t care if he was welcomed, and Naruto because he knew he would be rejected. It’s become a habit now; Shikamaru and I usually sit up here together just watching the world go by.

To some people it might seem boring, but our lives have enough excitement without going looking for it. Once in a while we get Naruto to join us, but I think it makes him self-conscious, he’s completely comfortable around us; we know that. The fact of the matter is he can be honest and say what he wants around us without having to worry about getting us overly worried over him or having us coo over him in pity the way the others would. We know life isn’t roses for everyone and when he says that something’s bothering him; we know he’s just saying it to get it off of his chest, not because he wants us to pull out the pity wagon and a box of tissues. Sakura and the others don’t realize how much they miss about him; he keeps everything to himself because he doesn’t want to worry anyone; more than that, he just doesn’t want them to know. He knows they only do it because they care…well, he knows it now, but when they worry about him they force him to keep thinking about the things that hurt him because they keep bringing it up, he dwells on things enough on his own.

The real problem is that when he sits quietly for too long he starts to hear the whispers of the villagers too clearly and even now it’s a habit. Shikamaru and I always thought it should be obvious to everyone why he insists on being so damn loud; if he’s quiet then the only thing he’d hear would be the curses and insults of the citizens. Shikamaru figured out a long time ago why they treat him that way; that’s why we never get annoyed with him. Sometimes I think Naruto knows that we know, but he doesn’t say anything, so we don’t either. That’s why he likes to talk too, if someone is talking to him then he can focus on the conversation rather than the abuse that’s being directed at him. He never tunes anyone out; even if he was being yelled at, to him, it’s better than the gossip going on behind his back. It’s really unfair. He’s a good guy; he always has been, a lot of people were just too stupid and self absorbed to notice.

Its better these days, he’s made friends and fought hard to earn the respect of the ninja and some of that translates to the villagers as well. As far as I can tell there aren’t any ninja that hate him anymore; even if they aren’t his friends, we all have to respect his determination and his dedication to the village. The villager’s aren’t as simple to deal with. Sometimes they still whisper nasty things to each other behind his back, knowing full well that he can hear them, but not caring. I think it hurts him more now than it did before, the fact that it’s less frequent and from fewer people means that those are the people who hate him most passionately. They’re the ones who will never accept him no matter how hard he tries; they don’t even know that they are the ones losing something precious.

They’ve never been in a life or death situation watching as Naruto swears to protect his friends and his village with that determined look in his eye. They’ve never been in a situation where he jumps in out of nowhere and saves their ass then turns and grins at them with a thumbs up and an outstretched hand to help them to their feet. They just can’t understand how close something like that can bring two people. That’s the real reason that the ninjas are such a close knit group. We’re a community within a community, with bonds forged through danger and mutual support. No one gives a damn about the “shinobi should have no emotions” rule; that’s a bunch of bullshit; sometimes emotions are the only things that can save us. It’s impossible to keep from getting attached to one another when everyday our lives rely on our comrades; our need for one another in the field inevitably becomes an attachment that carries over into our everyday lives. It may be strange that Shikamaru and I spend so much time thinking about Naruto, but he’s our best friend, aside from each other. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that, he’s everyone’s best friend; Sakura, Iruka-sensei, Kiba, Hinata, Neji, Lee, Gaara, Ten-ten (surprisingly), even Shino seems to think of Naruto as a close friend even though I haven’t ever seen them speak more than two words to each other. Even Ino, our Ino, seemed thrilled when she heard he was back. I guess he’s just that kind of guy.

I stand and stretch as I walk to the edge of the roof; all this thinking has made me hungry. I don’t know why I’m thinking this much on my day off; maybe I’ve been hanging around Shikamaru too much lately. I look down into the crowded street wondering where I should go for lunch. As I gaze down into the street my eye is drawn to a strikingly blond head of hair weaving through the throngs of villagers running their errands. There are very few blonds in Konoha, but the spiky hair and the glimpses of orange that I catch as he slips through the crowd leaves me with only one option. Well, speak of the devil… or Kitsune as the case may be. I watch him as he moves with the flow of the crowd towards the building that I am standing on; he weaves fluidly through the crowd, not touching anyone; just another habit he picked up as a kid. I can tell he’s not really focused on anything; he has a blank look on his face and a faraway look in his eyes. Maybe that’s why he didn’t see that guy coming; Naruto moves out of the way of a woman carrying a large basket of food without thinking about it. At the same time a man moves into Naruto’s path, purposely bumping into him. Naruto seems surprised by the contact and his head snaps up as he stumbles back a step; I see him start to mumble an apology to the man, but he’s cut off as the villager takes the opportunity that he created to yell at my friend. From where I’m standing I can’t hear what he said, but Naruto’s eyes widen in horror, then his eyes darken and his gaze falls to the ground. He starts to walk away, but he is forced to flip back over the crowd as the man takes a clumsy swing at him. He unconsciously gathers his chakra to his feet and lands on the side of the building across from where I’m standing. The man yells one last insult at him before walking away secure in his own self-righteousness; I frown after him as Naruto crouches against the wall of the building with his eyes glued to his feet. While he isn’t looking I send a well-aimed rock right into the middle of the aggressor’s back and he doubles over in pain dropping his purchases. I smile in satisfaction.

The villagers are watching Naruto, giving him sidelong glances; they try to be discrete, but Naruto and I know both know what they are looking at. No one says anything, but for a moment Naruto looks lost and pathetic and he shrinks against the side of the building; I guess he’s trying to think of a way to get away from the scene without drawing further attention to himself. People like that really piss me off; they treat him like dirt, but they never look at his eyes; even if Naruto never said a word, his eyes speak volumes, once you learn how to read them. He glances around searching for an opening to get his feet back on the street, without a second thought I raise my hand high over my head and wave to him, “Hey! Naruto! Over here!”

His blue eyes immediately hone in on my position, his eyes light up and he grins from ear to ear as he waves back enthusiastically. I wave him over; he pushes off the wall and with one jump he lands in front of me.

“Hey Chouij! How’s it going?”

“Hi Naruto. I’m good. Are you okay? That guy was a real asshole.”

He blushes lightly, “Ah, you saw that huh?”

I nod, “Yeah, you know he ran into you on purpose right?”

Pain flashes in his eyes for a fraction of a second, he covers it quickly, but I still regret bringing it up, “Yeah, I know.” he smiles, “It’s not a big deal. Some people just have nothing better to do.”

I smile back at him; I know better. I know that isn’t what that guy was after, but it would just hurt him if I push the subject so I let it slide.

“Yeah, what a loser huh?”

His smile becomes less forced, “So what are you up to today?”

“I’m enjoying a well earned day off. How about you?”

He grins again, and this one is genuine, “Just got done with some training for today, but I have the rest of the day off.”

I place a hand on his shoulder, “Good. I was just about to go to lunch. You want to come?”

His face lights up, “Sure! What did you have in mind?”

I know what he wants to hear, but I keep him in suspense for a moment as I pretend to think about it; we both know what I’ll say; but it’s just more fun that way, “Hmm, how about Ichiraku’s?”

He punches the air, “YES! That sounds great Chouji!! No one else appreciates my love of ramen the way you do!!”

I grin at him, “Yeah, y’know I just don’t think they get it. I’ll pay since you paid last time okay?”

His eyes get round and watery with joy, “REALLY!!! Thanks Chouji!! You’re the best!”

“Well that’s the deal right? We trade off.”

He laughs then glares good-naturedly in the direction of the Hokage tower, “Yeah, but you’re honest about it. Shikamaru always tries to trick me into paying.”

I laugh with him, “Yeah that sounds about right. He does that to me too. When there are three of us we each pay for ourselves, maybe that’s the real reason he likes doing things one on one. He can trick us into paying for him.”

“Haha! Or maybe he’s too lazy to focus on more than one person at a time.”

“Hahaha, maybe, sometimes I wonder with that guy.” I smile, “He’s changed a bit while you were gone. Well, either that or the world in general has figured out how to be less ‘troublesome’”

He laughs, it’s a nice sound, I like it when he laughs. Not his fake laugh that he uses when he’s trying to divert everyone from what he’s really thinking; his real laugh, the one that he uses when he’s relaxed. I feel lucky because I’m one of the few people who have heard it; it’s special since it’s not something he does often. No one else in Konoha laughs like that; it’s like he puts everything into it because he’s had so little to really laugh about. It’s infectious too; when he laughs, I laugh with him; even Shikamaru with his normally calm and uninterested exterior can’t help but be drawn into it.

I look down into the crowded streets; that jerk is still hanging around, probably trying to figure out who threw that rock. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that someone did that on purpose. He keeps glaring up at us, he probably thinks that Naruto did it and I realize now why he never retaliates; it‘s a mistake. At the time I had just wanted to give that guy a little dose of karma, but now he hates Naruto even more and he feels probably feels more justified than he did before.

I hear a small groan off to my left; damn it; I let myself get distracted for too long and Naruto is standing by my side to see what I’m looking at. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye; he has a strange look on his face; sad, understanding, and wistful all at once. He turns to face me and gratitude dominates his features, making his eyes shine, “Well, what are we standing around here for? There’s ramen waiting for us.”

I nod, “Let’s go over the roofs. It’s too crowded down there.”

“Yeah, sounds like a plan.”

We jump to the next roof, casually, taking our time. I feel like an idiot, I underestimated him, I thought he hadn’t noticed when I threw that rock, but I was wrong. What I don’t understand is the gratitude in his eyes when he looked at me.

“Hey Naruto…”

He turns to me and grins as we jump easily to the next roof, “Yeah? What’s up? You look really serious all of a sudden.”

I frown and without thinking he mirrors my expression; another rooftop, “I’m sorry about that.”

He looks confused, “Huh?”

I sigh, “The rock. I figure you saw that.”

He blinks at me, “Oh yeah. Don’t worry about it. Anyway, what do you have to be sorry for?”

“He probably thinks you did it. Now he’s going to think even less of you.”

He smiles wearily and shakes his head, “He’s always going to hate me no matter what. Nothing is going to change that, and I don’t think you could make it any worse.” his eyes darken a bit, “There are some people that are always going to hate me no matter what I do.”

He suddenly brightens as he turns to look me full in the face, “That just means I have to cherish my friends that much more.”

I’m still confused, “But why the gratitude. I saw that when you looked at me. I could have made things worse and you seemed to appreciate it.”

He laughs, the one I enjoy so much, and I feel my face smiling on its own, “Well I can’t say I didn’t think it was funny. The real reason it made me happy is because it means you care enough to worry about me.”

We turn a corner and for a moment he is out of sight as we jump around opposite sides of a water tower. It’s amazing the way the smallest of gestures can make him happy; and I’m reminded once again of how complicated this guy is. In all honesty he has me pegged pretty well. I reacted because that villager hurt one of my friends; if had been anyone else, I don’t think I would have thrown the rock, but Naruto is a special case. No matter what he says, his self-esteem is fragile at best; something he forced together like two mismatched puzzle pieces. That’s why we’re all protective of him; each in our own way. Sure we tease him, but none of us every really tries to bring him down. We all have an unfair advantage over him; he’d do anything for his friends because we’re all he has. I see his weaknesses and I know that if we pushed just right we could break him and he wouldn’t be able to get up again, but we don’t push and he trusts us.

An instant later he’s back in sight and we jump to the next building.

I grin at him, “Yeah well, you’re so hopeless that we all have to watch out for you.”

He tosses his head and laughs, “Oh really? I must be quite a handful if it takes everyone just to keep up!”

It’s so easy to make him laugh; his life is so complicated that simple things tickle him more than anything else. He knows I’m just teasing and to him that is just another sign reminding him of the closeness of our bond. It must be interesting to be his teammate. I steer away from that last thought because thinking of his team just pisses me off.

“Yeah, of course when you’re jumping around like a kid all the time.”

We laugh as we jump the next couple of buildings. He slows down and waves to someone on the street. I slow down as well and move to his side to see who he’s waving at. Shikamaru is walking casually along the street with his hands in his pockets. He sees us and nods with a small smile; he stops when Naruto leaps off of the building and lands in front of him with a grin, I follow wondering what Shikamaru has been up to today.

Naruto leans on Shikamaru’s shoulder; he likes the contact, it reaffirms his affection for his friends and Shikamaru doesn‘t seem to mind, “Hey Shikamaru! We were just talking about you. How’s it going?”

Shikamaru raises an eyebrow, “Hey guys. So you have nothing better to do than talk about me huh?”

I grin, “We can’t help it if you’re just sooooo interesting.”

Naruto chuckles at my sarcasm, “Yeah that must be it.”

Shikamaru glares good-naturedly at us, then he leans on me; now I’m half supporting them both, but I don’t mind.

“What are you up to today Shikamaru?”

He smiles, “I finished for today. I pawned my leftover errands off on some rookie, so I’m set.”

Naruto wrinkles his nose at him, “Lazy ass.”

Shikamaru laughs, “I never claimed otherwise.”

We laugh; this is turning out to be a good day; good company, and soon, good food.

“We were heading over to get ramen for lunch. Come with us Shikamaru. I’m paying.”

Shikamaru’s eyebrow goes up again, “You’re generous today, what’s the occasion?”

I shrug, “Nothing, but I already promised Naruto that I would pay. You won’t eat nearly as much as we will. What’s another bowl or two?”

Shikamaru grins, “Well when you put it that way, who am I to turn you down?”

Naruto wraps his other arm around Shikamaru’s neck, “Awesome! Having lunch with you guys is one of the things I missed the most while I was away! Let’s go!!”

Shikamaru grunts as Naruto puts more weight on him, “Ugh! Naruto! You’re too heavy to lay on me like that! Get off bastard!”

Naruto laughs and releases his hold on Shikamaru, “Hahaha Sorry Shikamaru! I forgot that you’re so weak!”

Shikamaru reaches over to smack the back of Naruto’s head, but Naruto moves with the flow of his hand and avoids the blow only to drape himself over Shikamaru’s shoulders again, “Ha, too slow Shikamaru!” he turns to me, “Let’s go already, I’m starving!”

Shikamaru lifts an eyebrow at the other teen, “Damn Naruto, do you have to be so loud? So troublesome…”

He says it like he means it, but Naruto and I can’t take him seriously when he smiles at us like that, “Yeah, all this talk has made me hungrier.”

“Alright!” Naruto straightens up and with almost no effort at all he springs to the top of the building that we had just come from.

Shikamaru looks disappointed, “Damn, why are you traveling by rooftop any way? You can’t be in that much of a hurry, Ichiraku’s isn’t going anywhere.”

I shake my head, “That’s not why. There was a little incident in the marketplace.”

I watches me intently so I quickly sum up the scene for him; it only takes a second, but just as I finish Naruto leans over the side of the building, “HEY GUYS!! Hurry the hell up! What’s taking so long?”

We look up and I shout back at him, “Yeah, yeah! We’re coming!”

He disappears over the roof once more and Shikamaru sighs, “Some people still can’t get over themselves, damn assholes. He doesn’t deserve that.”

Without another word on the subject he jumps onto an awning and then to the roof where Naruto is waiting. I smile because I know that if he had been there it wouldn’t have been a rock that hit that guy in the back. I follow Shikamaru to the roof and Naruto gives us his wide foxy grin, “It’s about time! For a minute there I thought I would have to go by myself!”

Shikamaru snorts, “Yeah right. It wouldn’t be fair for us to let you loose on the other, casual ramen patrons.”

Naruto chuckles and jumps to the next roof, keeping an easy pace. We easily fall into step with him, taking our time and enjoying familiar company. As we talk Shikamaru sends a contented glance in my direction and I know we are thinking the same thing: it’s almost like he never left. We’ve changed a lot over these few years, and so has he, but there is no awkwardness, no getting reacquainted. We don’t need it, our camaraderie is much deeper than that and I wonder if the rest of our friends will feel the same way when they see him. A few moments later we arrive in front of Ichiraku’s; Naruto stops at the edge of the roof and inhales deeply, “Ahhh, that smells soooo good!!”

While he stands there Shikamaru and I jump into the street, leaving him on the roof alone, he opens his eyes and looks down at us, “Hey Guys! Wait for me!!”

He joins us just as we are sitting down at the counter; Shikamaru at the end, Naruto in the middle and me on his other side, I don‘t know why, but it usually ends up that way. Old man Ichiraku greets us warmly, “Ah my best customers!” I’m glad to see you back Naruto! How did your training go?”

Naruto grins at the old man, “Great thanks! I learned a lot.”

Ichiraku smiles, “Glad to hear it boy. We’re counting on you to defend Konoha!”

Naruto’s grin widens and he gives a thumbs up, “Of course!! No one is hurting Konoha while I’m around!”

“Hang on I’ll make you boys something special alright?”

Now we’re all grinning at him, “Thanks Old man!!” Being Naruto’s friend has a lot of extra benefits.

Fifteen minutes later Naruto and I are well into our second bowl and Shikamru is almost done with his first. The conversation ranges from weapons, to changes in Konoha, to the exotic foreign women that Naruto encountered on his travels. I roll my eyes with a laugh; I knew Shikamaru would want to bring that up. Ha, I knew he couldn’t spend that much time around Jiraiya-sama and not come back with some interesting stories involving some interesting ladies, and of course we want to know every detail, teenage hormones and all that…right. Ichiraku is listening intently as he cooks our noodles, but I can tell he and Naruto are both glad that Ayame is out on deliveries. Come to think of it, so am I, there is no way Naruto would say what he’s saying in the company of the ‘fairer sex,’ heh, he’s a gentleman no matter what, that “Sexy Harem no Jutsu” is mild compared to some of the stuff we guys talk about, and the strategically placed clouds do a lot to tone that jutsu down when in the company of the ladies or the general public.

Suddenly the peacefulness of the afternoon is shattered by the sound of Konoha’s flattest kunoichi stomping in our direction, “NARUTO!!!”

Naruto cringes at the approach of his pink-haired teammate; he cautiously leans back on his stool and peers around the edge of the stall, “Ah… Sakura-chan…?”

Shikamaru rolls his eyes and swears, “She is so damn loud! She makes Naruto seem like a fucking mute!”

The medic nin appears around the edge of the stand and swings a fist at Naruto’s exposed head; he cringes, but doesn’t move. “DAMN IT NARUTO!!” Her fist connects with his cheek and sends him sprawling to the ground with a nice bruise and blood on his lip.

Shikamaru looks annoyed, “What the hell? He could have dodged that!”

I glare at the back of the girl’s head, “Seriously, she’s strong, but he’s a lot faster than her.”

Naruto just looks up at the girl who is cracking her knuckles as she stands over him, “Ugh…ouch…..Sakura-chan what was that for?”

She grabs him by his collar and hauls him to his feet, by now Shikamaru and I are on our feet as well. Shikamaru looks like he’s going to reason with her, “Hey Sakura, what the hell is going on? We’re trying to have lunch in case you hadn’t noticed, what’s with the bitching?”

Well….maybe not reason with her. Naruto has his feet under him again, but she still has him by the collar and he makes no effort to free himself. I just don’t get the strange masochistic relationship he has with her, he lets her beat the crap out of him for things that aren’t even his fault, as though the air headed bitch is his mother. I don’t see how what he does is any of her damn business, but he lets her do what she wants so I don’t voice my opinion.

She continues yelling at Naruto, completely ignoring Shikamaru, “Naruto! You’re coming to Tsunade-sama’s office NOW!”

Naruto scrunches up a little bit, “But Sakura-chaaaaann! We’re eating lunch!!!”

She punches the top of his head, “Well you’re done now!”

He starts to look annoyed, she should know by now not to stand between a blond and his ramen, “What the hell Sakura-chan? What did I DO anyway?”

She sighs and looks at him like he’s the biggest idiot on the planet; and believe me, he isn’t. “Well how about we start with throwing rocks at civilians Naruto! You aren’t a kid anymore!! What were you thinking!? That man came to Hokage tower with the bruise to prove it!!”

Naruto tries to get out of her grasp, “Sakura-chan!! You believed that asshole? I didn’t do anything!”

A vein pulses in her head, “Naruto! He had witnesses! Including a ninja!!” she pulls back to punch him again and he cringes, but this time I catch her fist.

She looks at me shocked, “Chouji-kun? This has nothing to do with you.”

I twist her wrist slightly and force her to release Naruto and Shikamaru pulls him to his side, “Just shut the hell up for two damn seconds and we can tell you what really happened.”

She looks confused, I push her fist back towards her; she’s strong, but she still can’t match me for brute strength, “He didn’t throw the rock at that guy. I did.”

She blinks then her jaw drops, “WHAT!?”

Shikamaru plugs his ears until she stops ranting, “Shit Sakura, don’t you trust your own teammate at all?”

Naruto is staring at his feet, I can tell he doesn’t want to talk about what really happened, but that’s the only way to get this pink-haired monkey off his back. For the second time today I replay the events of the incident for our comrades, “See? That guy attacked Naruto first, and Naruto didn’t even say anything to him, I threw the rock because I can’t stand assholes like that. He deserved it.”

She looks between the sullen Naruto and myself, “Well…that does seem a lot more likely than what the villager told us. Naruto, we still have to go tell Tsunade-sama. She said she wanted to talk to you about it.”

Naruto sighs then turns to Ichiraku, “Hey old man…”

Ichiraku smiles, “I’ll keep it warm for you kiddo, take your time.”


He turns to Shikamaru and me, “Hey guys…”

Shikamru rolls his eyes, “Don’t bother, we’ll come with you.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and grin at him, “We’ll finish lunch when we’re done. Besides, I have to take responsibility for my actions.”
He smiles up at me, “Thanks Chouji.”

Sakura leads the way to Hokage tower and less than three minutes later we’re entering Godaime’s office. As we approach her desk she signs a piece of paper then sets it aside and looks up at us. Her calm expression immediately changes when she sees the dark bruise on Naruto’s cheek and the dried blood on his lips. “Naruto? Don’t tell me what that obnoxious villager said was true?”

He shakes his head, “You know I wouldn’t do that baa-chan.”

She frowns, “Then who..?”

Shikamaru butts in, knowing that Naruto probably won’t mention that Sakura did it, “Ask your violent apprentice over there. She appeared out of nowhere and suddenly started beating on him before we even knew why the hell she was there in the first place.”

She turns and glares at her student who’s expression changes from embarrassed to fearful, “Sakura! What the hell were you thinking? I just sent you to FIND HIM!!! Why would you attack him without knowing the full situation!!!? What kind of Shinobi are you!!!??”

Sakura tries to mumble an excuse; Tsunade has crossed the space between the younger woman and her desk and starts yelling at her for having poor ninja qualities. If Naruto didn’t have such a serious look on his face, I would laugh.

Naruto shuffles his feet anxiously, uncomfortable with this turn of events. Tsunade finally relents and returns to sit on the edge of her desk, “So what did happen?”

Naruto opens his mouth to speak, but I step in before him, “I threw the rock Godaime-sama. That jerk ran into Naruto on purpose just to get a chance to yell at him. When Naruto tried to walk away, the man insulted him and tried to punch him. I know that none of the villagers are capable of hurting Naruto, but I still wanted him to get little dose of karma. That’s all there is to it. Naruto didn’t do anything wrong, he was barely involved.”

Tsunade nods, “Yeah I thought it might have been something like that.” she gives me a look that makes me suspect that she knows that we figured things out.

She reaches out and takes Naruto’s hand and pulls him towards her, he allows himself to be moved and soon he is standing between her knees, “Well your cheek isn’t bad, but the lump on your head must hurt.” she glares daggers at Sakura, “Triple training for you today!! I’m going to work your ass off for your lack of patience and trust in your comrades!!”

Sakura jumps then stares at her feet; Shikamaru smirks in satisfaction, I smile too, it’s nice to see that self-righteous brat getting chewed out for once.

Godaime’s hands glow with chakra and she places one hand on Naruto’s cheek and the other on the top of his head, “There you go kid, you’ll be all set in no time.”

The chakra on her hands vanishes and she holds Naruto at arms length examining him, she smiles and pats him on the head, “Alright, good as new.”

His eyes are still fixed on his feet and he has a frown on his face. We all watch him intently wondering what he’s thinking; he finally looks up at her and tries to force a smile, “Thanks Baa-chan.”

Godaime’s eyes soften; not surprising; he always was her favorite, “Naruto…”

She sighs then tugs him into her arms; I am surprised when he allows her to hold him. His head rests on her ample breasts, but he doesn’t make any lewd comments; she wraps her arms around his shoulders in a motherly fashion and tucks his head under her chin. I’m surprised again when he wraps his arms loosely around her waist and closes his eyes, sighing in contentment. Shikamaru looks at me and we seem to be feeling the same thing; we’re witnessing an uncommon display of tenderness from both of them and I get the feeling that they’ve forgotten us; it isn’t something anyone else is meant to see. We stand quietly as she comforts him in a way that only she can; Sakura seemed to be as shocked as we were by this turn of events, but she knows she’s already in trouble, so I doubt she’ll say anything.

Godaime whispers something into his ear and he gives her a little squeeze, I can’t see his face, but by the expression on Godaime’s face, he said something back to her, something she was hoping to hear. She releases her hold on him and he takes a step back from her, I still can’t see his face, but I can imagine him smiling.

“Sorry about the mess with that guy baa-chan. What do you want me to do?”

Suddenly Godaime is all business and any trace of their previous tenderness vanishes from them both. “You don’t need to worry about him. I’ll take care of that little liar. As for the ninja and the others who were collaborating his story, I’ll deal with them as well.” She turns and looks at me and I realize that we were not forgotten, our presence was just unimportant when compared to her favorite shinobi’s wounded feelings. “As for you Chouji…”

I stand up straighter, willing to accept my punishment, “Yes Tsunade-sama?”

She grins at me, “There will be no punishment for you. I’ll have to make a report of the incident to appease that damn council or those old-farts will be riding my ass for the next month. I’ll just put in that you were defending a comrade from an unprovoked attack.” she smirks at us, “Just let them dare to contend that.”

Naruto turns and flashes a foxy smile in my direction; “Yeah, I knew she’d understand!” he turns back to her, “You’re the best baa-chan!!”

She stands and ruffles his hair, “Yeah, yeah, someone has to keep you out of trouble. You’re just like your teacher. You and Jiraya are both a pain in the ass.”

Naruto pretends to pout, “Baaaaa-chaaaaan!!! What the hell is that supposed to mean!!!!?? There is NO WAY I’m as perverted as Ero-sennin!!!!”

Godaime taps him playfully on his forehead, “Quit whining kid! I swear I’m spoiling you! You’ll turn into a brat at this rate. Well, you‘re free to go you three.”

Naruto smiles at the good-natured teasing; “Cool! We can get back to our lunch! I’m still hungry!! Hey, hey! Baa-chan! Do you want to come with us?”

She shakes her head and sits behind her desk, “Sorry, not today Naruto. I have to finish this paperwork today or Shizune will bug me all night.”

Naruto looks a little disappointed, but he smiles at her anyway, “Oh, okay, I understand.”

Godaime rolls her eyes and smiles at him again, “Ha, you really are spoiled. How about this kid? Come by around the same time tomorrow and we’ll go to lunch. Okay?”

Naruto punches the air with a huge grin on his face, I smile with him and I can see Shikamaru smiling out of the corner of my eye, “Awesome! I’ll be here!!”

He turns to Sakura, who is still standing quietly (for once) behind us. I see Shikamaru grimace, we both know what he is going to say, neither of us likes the idea, but we put up with her because he likes her, “Hey Sakura-chan, do you want to come with us?”

She opens her mouth to answer, but Godaime interrupts her, “Sorry Naruto, she can’t go either, she has a lot of training to do, she’s going to be up half the night as it is.” She glares at her apprentice over some papers, sending shivers down everyone’s spine, though Naruto seems unaffected by the look. Apparently her anger towards the kunoichi has cooled, but is not forgotten.

Naruto smiles and waves at them both as he heads for the door, “Alright then. Bye baa-chan. Bye Sakura-chan, good luck.” he turns to Shikamaru and me, “Let’s go guys. Our ramen won’t stay hot forever!”

He bounds out of the room excitedly, exiting through the window and back onto the rooftops. With a nod to our Hokage, Shikamaru and I follow.

We fall back into our familiar pace as we hop from one roof to the next, Shikamaru is watching Naruto out of the corner of his eye and I can’t help but wonder what his impressive brain is working on.

“Hey Naruto…”

Nice. It looks like I won’t have to ask.

Naruto grins at him, “Yeah?”

Shikamaru cocks his head at our blond friend in a questioning gesture, “What did she say to you?”

Naruto seems confused, “Hmmmm? You were there.” he laughs, “Or did you fall asleep standing up?”

I laugh at the indignant look on Shikamaru’s face, “Ha, I’ve seen you do that too!”

Shikamaru sends a glare in my direction, but ignores Naruto’s question, “No dumbass. What did she say when she hugged you?”

Naruto laughs again; the nice one, the one that makes us laugh with him, “Oh that.” he looks ahead at the sun that is beginning to set, “She said, ’I missed you brat.”

Now I’m curious too, “So what did you say back to her?”

He turns to me and laughs again, “What do you think? I said, ‘I missed you too you hag.’”

Shikamaru shakes his head and laughs loudly, “Damn Naruto, only you could get away with calling the leader of the strongest shinobi village in the world a ‘hag’!”

We jump off the roof and back onto the street then back into Ichiraku’s stand. True to his word our ramen is still piping hot and waiting for us on the counter.

Naruto waves at the older man, “Hey, we’re back.” He spots the bowls waiting for us, “How did you know we were coming?”

Ichiraku smiles and waves a spoon at us, “Ha! How did I know? I heard you laughing Naruto! I can recognize your laugh from a mile away!”

We sit down and conversation comes easily as we enjoy our ramen; it feels good to be doing this again. Nothing can ever replace the feeling of relaxing with friends so close that you can finish one another’s sentences; it’s not something that comes without working for it and friendship is something that all three of us have had to work for. A lot of people have close friends, but the only way to truly know someone is to become an expert at people watching, just be careful or it becomes a habit.


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