Shikamaru cut off his own scream, berating himself for being frightened of a bad ghost story. He also told himself that he was only holding his pillow against his chest because he was cold. He looked at his friends, whose looks of abject terror told him everything he needed to know about their own feelings.
His suspicions were only confirmed when Naruto shouted out. "Hide! It's gonna get us!"
The terrified eight-year-old scrambled inside his sleeping bag and became a cowering lump. Everyone, besides Shikamaru who remained sitting on top of his sleeping bag, joined Naruto and slithered inside their own bags, trying to hide their faces.
"C-calm down!"Shikamaru yelled, ignoring his own stutter. "It's only a story, right? Just... just a story. There's no such thing as ghosts."
Choji uncovered his face and sat up straight while he spoke up. "But... my dad said-"
"It's just a story." Shikamaru stated firmly, leaving no room for argument. Though if he was honest with himself, he'd admit that he sounded more confident than he looked.
The others slid out from the sanctuary that their sleeping bags offered and glanced at each other, then Shikamaru. A collection of nervous laughter echoed around the room.
"Heh heh, Shika's right. There's no such thing as ghosts!" Kiba said.
"M-m-mmhmm." Sakura mumbled.
Ino exclaimed. "It's just a dumb story!"
"Uh... y-yeah!" Naruto shifted his eyes away from the shadows in the room.
Choji just nodded.
Everyone froze in terror, Shikamaru most of all.
Ino whispered, her face pale as the dim moonbeams coming in from the skylight. "It's coming from outside the glass door!"
They turned as one to see the small, dark silhouette standing on the single wooden step outside, leaning into the glass sliding door with its arms spread out as if catching the stars behind it. It was a child's silhouette.
Sakura scrambled from her sitting position and desperately grabbed for the flashlight Choji's father had left behind. She only knocked it over, but the clatter brought the others to their senses and Ino sprung into action. The blond girl clinched the flashlight in her shaking hands and swung the beam to illuminate the shadow outside.
It was Yota, pressing his face into the glass and his hands banging on the barrier, slapping against the sliding door.
The children inside let out a collective sigh they hadn't known they'd been holding.
Then, Shikamaru stood and ran to the door, Naruto and Kiba following just behind him. Naruto pulled open the heavy glass door a crack by the handle, and Kiba put his hands against the side and pushed. They slid it open, and Shikamaru bent his knees so that he could look at Yota from eye-level.
"Yota!" He hissed. "You're not supposed to be here! Our parents could catch you!"
"Whatever happened to staying at Naruto's place?" Kiba asked.
The others shushed him, one finger held to their lips each. "Shhhh!"
Yota, bouncing on the tips of his toes and waving his arms wildly, explained in a stage whisper. "I was! I was! The apartment, I was there!" His sentences were still choppy, but evidently being able to talk to his friends had improved his speech somewhat. "But someone was coming! At the door! They were older 'an us, bu' not grown-up neither!"
"Hmm?" Shikamaru was curious, and worried. He said. "Go on, Yota."
"T' window was open already, so I snuck out that'a way and looked for you! Found ya now."
Shikamaru asked. "Was it a guy or a girl?"
"Dunno." Came Yota's reply. He thought for a moment, and then said. "But 'e talked to some'un!"
Yota responded with a shake of his head. "Dunno... But they were lookin' for me! They said my name!"
That was a worrying statement. Shikamaru glanced over his shoulder at the others, but they were all paying rapt attention to the two of them. He spoke to Yota, very clearly and concise, emphasizing the importance of the question. "Yota. What exactly did they say?"
The six-year-old scrunched up his face while thinking. He rapped his knuckles on his head and then remembered. "They said, "He's here then? Yota Tenki?" An' then I left."
Shikamaru blinked. "Tenki?"
"'s my- ahhh... -last name." Yota replied with a sleepy yawn.
"Oh, right." Shikamaru stepped back to let Yota in. "Well, we can hide you here till morning."
Other than the arrival of Yota and his disturbing story, the night passed uneventfully, the children falling asleep soon enough. The next morning came in a bit of a panic, however.
As the sun rose higher and the light slowly started fading from orange to white, the early risers of the group woke up. Ino and Sakura sat up and sleepily rubbed their eyes at the same time, their movements disturbing Kiba and Choji, respectively. Choji yawned loudly, and turned over to go back to sleep.
Pat pat pat - creeeeeak
Slow footsteps and a creaking floorboard were heard, the sounds coming from the hallway. Ino abruptly snapped her eyes open, fully conscious, and started shaking everyone else awake.
"Hurry hurry hurry! Someone's coming an' Yota's still here!" She hissed in their ears.
They scrambled to their feet in a mass of confusion, bumbling about before a plan formed silently among themselves. The others spread out to different areas of the room, and Naruto shook Yota awake. The six-year-old was a deep sleeper, apparently, having not woken up in the commotion. Yota blearily slid his eyelids open a sliver to see Naruto kneeling over him and shaking his torso back and forth rapidly. He blinked, and shot up in confusion.
The youngest of the group watched as Kiba and Choji yanked open the sliding door to the backyard and Sakura rolled up his cloak, shoving it into his arms. Naruto pulled Yota up to his feet, and shoved him to Shikamaru, who stood in the middle of the room. Shikamaru then pushed him to Kiba, who pushed him out the door.
Yota stumbled forward a few feet onto the grass, still holding his rolled up cloak, and then turned around, bewilderment in his expression. Ino appeared and tossed his sandals to land by his feet before running back out of view. Choji, who was pulling the door closed again, hurriedly and quietly said to him. "Meet us at the oak!"
Then the glass sliding door thunked closed and Kiba reached to the side to flip some kind of latch. Choji made a shooing motion to the side, and Yota realized that he had to get out of view. He pulled his old brown cloak over his head and tugged it on, not noticing that his headband and bandages were missing. The six-year-old clumsily grabbed his sandals by their strings and ran around the side of the house, disappearing from view.
Back indoors, the children gathered in their group and tried to assume non-chalant sitting positions just before the paper sliding door was opened to reveal Inoichi. The elder Yamanaka wore a small smile as he looked at the children in their friendly circle.
"Hello to you all." He grinned wider. "Sorry, but Ino has to come home now. And so do all of you. The other grown-ups sent me here to pick up this lot of animals." He joked.
"Can't it wait?"
Inoichi chuckled apologetically and said. "Sorry, but you all need to go home. I'm supposed to make sure of it." He then noticed something strange sitting against the wall. "Is that a headband? And bandages?"
The children grimaced at each other in surprise. Yota had left his cap!
Thankfully, Ino thought fast and covered up for the group. "T-those are mine! I'm trying out a new look!"
She got to her feet and scrambled over to the small pile. She grabbed the length of bandages and wrapped them around her midriff as quickly as she could manage, tucking in the ends to make sure they wouldn't come undone. Then the eight-year-old blond snapped the headband around her forehead and turned to face her father.
"See?" She nervously giggled. "D-do you like it?"
"Hmm..." Inoichi's expression was analytical and calculating. Everyone else in the room was a part of the nervous audience.
"I think the bandages suit you, honey!" A smile broke out over his face. "But lose that puffy purple headband, it's a little silly."
Ino's expression of mild surprise was quickly covered up with an honest grin of pride from the compliment. She took off the headband though, as Inoichi advised. Her purple night shirt, bunched up above the tight bandages, stayed as it was after she changed in the bathroom, bandages and all. After everyone was back in street clothes and packed up their pajamas, Inoichi said something that brought cheers to everyone's faces.
"Anyone want to go for ice cream?"
"Yeah!" Was the unanimous reply.
AN: I never expected this quick little chapter to take so long... Apologies, everyone! I'm so sorry about the lack of updates. I just haven't been able to write, recently.