"They say the only thing to fear is fear itself. That, and a motivated Nara."
chi·a·ro·scu·ro (pronunciation: kēˌärəˈsk(y)o͝orō,kēˌarə-/)
1. The treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting; an effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something.
2. The juxtaposition of light and darkness or shadow.
plural noun: chiaroscuros
"the chiaroscuro of cobbled streets"
"Shikaku! Why are you always like this?"
"You know what I'm talking about, Shikaku! Lazy – lazy – lazy! I'm willing to put up with your limp-sack-of-meal attitude, but I will NOT allow you to impede Shikamaru in the same way!"
"I would never block Shikamaru from – "
"Then why are you so against his – "
My father shot out of his chair, his warped, twisting shadow towering over my mother and stretching across the whole kitchen, and for once, my mother, who I had always regarded as the more forceful of the two, was at a loss for words.
I had never seen him look so angry before. Hell, I had never even seen him angry in any manner before, ever. Annoyed, yes – but the only indication he ever gave to being annoyed was just to shove a pillow over his own head and roll over. That, I could deal with.
But this man was something else entirely, something I could not, for all my expanded six-year-old vocabulary, figure out how to describe. What I did know was that this being was clearly dangerous – and at that moment, my apparently "genius" mind finally grasped the true meaning of a shinobi. Somewhere underneath his sleepy attitude, the man who had killed his way to survival through a whole entire shinobi world war was finally resurfacing, scars and all. The deep streak running down his face, the lumpy layer of skin that I always used to have fun poking at as a baby while he chuckled – that was nothing compared to the scores of pain that radiated from his eyes now.
I had never been so scared in all my six-year-old life.
One thing was for sure – I knew from that point on, that while I could anger my mother all I wanted and get away with little more than a relatively painless scolding and a few minutes in the corner, driving my father to his breaking point was a very unwise course of action and most likely the last one I would ever take.
There were things to be said about the fury of a patient man.
My mother's face was frozen, pale white against the flickering lamp; she could not speak. I was still hiding behind the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. They had not noticed me yet; my parents were so caught up in their argument, and anyway, I was a Nara. Unlike most children, I was not afraid of the darkness – rather, I loved it for the cover and peacefulness it could provide. I was prone to a disposition of the shadows, and I had always been good at hiding. Besides that, I was so small already, even compared to other children my age, and my chakra reserves were still so little, that it was likely my presence had faded in with the increasingly flaring aura of my father's. With every word he spoke, his anger became greater, and so the dark cloud of energy around him grew, working himself into a frenzy that I never thought he was capable of.
My father – such a solemn, quiet, calm man – and this person in our kitchen right now, yelling at my mother – could not possibly be the same person…
And yet he was.
The pictures on our family shrine were rattling alongside his rumbling voice and glowing chakra now. I imagined my two-dimensional family ancestors with their glossy photographed eyes behind the glass panes and carven frames shaking with just as much terror as I was.
If Father could hear their trembling over the sound of his own yelling, he didn't seem to care.
"The three Sannin – one a wayward pervert, one a hedonistic drunk, and one in Kami knows where, rendered so completely inhuman by his own genius!" With each sentence, his voice rose exponentially. "The Fourth Hokage – praise – greatness – bestowed with so many nicknames and titles he'd drown in ink writing them all down! And for what? Dead before he even hit thirty!" He just kept going and going and going and would not stop. "Kakashi Hatake – so completely screwed up in the head that it's not even funny – and don't give me that look, Yoshino, you and I both know that it's true, that that poor man isthe worst head case anyone who knows anything about psychology will ever see short of insanity itself – who wouldn't be when you've spent your whole life since you could walk risking your life for a village that only saw to smash everything and everyone you've ever cared about to pieces – that's why he wears ten masks on top of each other and evades every personal question like oil evades water and reads thatIcha Icha filth in public and purposely arrives late to everything and spends hours and hours upon hours standing outside in the sun, the rain, the snow, whatever in front of that accursed stone, and fucks around with people's minds like he doesn't even care every chance he gets, because it's such an obvious coping mechanism to deal with all the shit life has dealt him, and no one, not even Inoichi Yamanaka, can do anything about it!"
My mother didn't cry. She was a brave, hardened woman, not like the soft little princesses in stories. She had never waited for any man to come and rescue her. Everything she had ever accomplished, from her first mission to grabbing my father's attention, had been entirely of her own merit.
So why was there all this water running down her cheeks now?
"Shikaku, please – "
My father did not hear her, and just kept mercilessly listing every single predecessor of the Konoha Prodigies Legacy, until, finally, he punctuated his argument with such a great volume that I wondered why the whole village hadn't awoken and come by our house to see what was going on already.
Maybe it was because they knew that when the noise was coming from Shikaku Nara's home of all places, it was best to stay away.
"Do you want me to get started on the brilliant, undefeatable, infamous Itachi Uchiha – genin at seven, chunin at eight, and already murdering grown men in their beds as an ANBU captain when he was but thirteen? Completely snapped and gone mad, leaving his beloved younger brother to pick up the pieces! But I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, oh, no, send a little kid out to snap his first neck and slice his first jugulars before his age has even exited the single digits; everything will be fine, won't it? I'm surprised he didn't try pulling some stunt like this earlier! Just think, Yoshino! His entire family, the largest clan in all of Konoha, MURDERED, SLAUGHTERED in cold blood, reduced from over a hundred men to only two, in ONE night! I WAS THERE, YOSHINO! I WAS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL PEOPLE CALLED IN FOR THE INITIAL INVESTIGATION AFTER THE UCHIHA MASSACRE WAS OVER, AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT I SAW? AN ENTIREWATERFALL OF BLOOD, RUNNING DOWN THE FRONT STEPS AND SPILLING OUT INTO THE BOULEVARD BEYOND! AND YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE I SAW? ITACHI UCHIHA'S FOOTPRINTS IN THE SEA OF RED! AND NOT A SINGLE ONE WAS SMUDGED OR POOLED! HE DID NOT HESITATE NOR DID HE RUN OUT OF THERE! HE WALKED CALMLY AND COOLLY AS ONE MIGHT STROLL THROUGH THE PARK ON A HAPPY AND BRIGHT SUMMER'S DAY AS IF NOTHING WAS WRONG – "
And then the anger broke, and the beast was gone, replaced by a man seemingly too old to be my grandfather. Aged, not only with wisdom, but with pain…
His yelling had ceased, replaced with something slow and sorrowful instead. And yet it was these sentiments, born, once again, of a beast different from my father this time, another beast of fear rather than anger, that terrified me more than any of his fury. Even years from now, when I would be confronted with enemies, my memory would revert to this one moment, and I would remember his painful sighs…
"Oh, what next, Yoshino? What fate are we to assign this next one? Shall we make him Shikamaru Nara, the boogeyman himself? The cautionary tale to all future generations of our clan, about he who treaded in the shadows for so long that he ended up becoming one of them himself?"
My mother did not say a word. I did not, either. I simply sat frozen, unable to even breathe, as I watched the dark silhouettes on the wall curl into a most familiar shape.
Let me explain my story from the beginning.
My name is Shikamaru Nara, as you may have deduced. I am the son of Shikaku Nara and Yoshino Nara, formerly Yoshino -, of an insignificant bloodline, and heir to the Nara clan of Konohagakure no Sato. I am an only child, though I probably have some distant cousins from my mother's side living elsewhere. I won't be speaking of them much, which I think will suit them well, as they are civilians who would prefer a peaceful and quiet life far away from all the treachery and cruelties of the shinobi sphere. I do not blame them for this take on life, and I don't think they will be very offended at me, either, when I say that I consider my comrades-at-arms more of my brothers and sisters than blood will ever be.
Blood traits seem to run strongly in shinobi families. Take me, for instance. At first glance I am exactly like my father. The spiky, dark hair, the lazy, hooded eyes, the shapes of our faces and noses, the facial expressions we make in every situation, the uncanny intelligence only befitting of a Nara – even our usual habits, from how we yawn to the way we tend to roll our eyes in exasperation, coincide exactly, though that might be more due to how I was raised (children, after all, do imitate their parents) than genetics.
But for the Academy teachers who were unfortunate enough to suffer through more than one generation of my family, aunts and uncles and distant cousins included, they will tell you right away that in my heart I am my mother.
It is said (sometimes affectionately, and sometimes in complaint) that the Nara suffer an affliction of too much yin. From our minds to our bodies, and even in the signature shadow techniques that we use, we are the quiet, pondering types; intelligent, but not prone to action. Too intelligent, perhaps, and so Nature had to balance out the playing field by reducing something else of ours.
At least, that was how it was, until I came along.
Hokage-sama blames my mother. He never says it out loud, but I can tell, because every time my father decides to participate in Konoha Command Central's "Take Your Child to Work Day", the Sandaime will furrow his old brows and pinch the bridge of his nose and sigh a quiet "Oh, Shikaku, why did you marry her of all people?" each time he lays his eyes on me.
Of course, it was said in jest, not actual anger, so maybe I shouldn't complain so much.
My mother was not a Nara by birth, although she definitely looks the part – she, too, has that rather oval face so prominently displayed when her hair is pulled back. But that is neither here or there. She came from a civilian family – perhaps I had a grandfather who was a Genin on her side; I do not know – and thus she had had to fight and claw and scream her way up to her rank as Chunin, among the rest of her average peers, unlike those "special" teams composed solely of clan children (speaking of which, pretty much every heir to every clan that matters happens to be in my year…). She probably could have made it further, but then I was born, and so she retired.
That is, on paper. In spirit she has always remained a shinobi, and every morning without fail she proves it by faithfully dragging me out of bed at the crack of dawn to do our exercises. (She gave up on trying to get my father to wake up that early long ago, because by the time she finally manages to get him out of bed the allotted time is already over anyway. Although, she still nags at him once he's finally awake.)
Had I been my father, she would have given up on both of us.
But I was not like my father. I was my mother, and for once, the yin of the Nara were balanced out with the yang of my mother – new, fresh blood, born from the natural social injustice of the established clan system, bred out of nothing but sheer will and determination, hot and eager and ready for action. Yes, I was born with my father's brain, but I had my mother's heart, a heart carved out from the trials and tribulations, not only of shinobi life, but of the shinobi political world in general, with little more than an average instructor, a mediocre family name, and all of her courage and fierceness.
I started the Academy at the age of six or so, just like everyone else in my year. And at first, the difference between my classmates and me hadn't really been that bad or obvious. The first few days were mostly theory, so the civilian-born children at least wouldn't kill themselves when they finally tried to pick up a kunai the wrong way, so I didn't have much opportunity for demonstration other than answering basic questions. Sure, I got them right, but so did most of the other kids who had bothered to crack open a textbook the day before. Even one of the civilian-born girls - Sakura Haruno - could answer those types of questions perfectly.
Even after the basic training finally started, I seemed perfectly normal compared to the other clan children. Sure, thanks to my practice sessions with my mother, I could throw my weapons and execute all my katas perfectly, and rank relatively high in spars, but that was to be expected from someone of my background. There were many other students, like my friends Ino Yamanaka and Choji Akimichi, who had also received clan upbringings and therefore did just as well.
Our class that year had had the most number of clan children for a long time, and all of us happened to be clan heirs. Something like this must have been planned, since to me there was no way this could happen at random, but I said nothing since it was a useless fact anyway, and my father always told me to never waste time on useless facts.
The point was, for the first few weeks, there was very little to distinguish me from the rest of my classmates, especially since a third of the class was working with the same advantages I had. In fact, had it not been known that I was a Nara who didn't spend half the day napping, I would have been one of the less significant clan heirs, classified right in that same group that Shino Aburame was in, given that there existed kids like Sasuke Uchiha and Kiba Inuzaka, both of whom were much more prone to showing off than I was.
But I couldn't hide forever. Though my father had tried his hardest to instill in me a strong sense of modesty – mostly through the doctrine that good shinobi should neither be seen nor heard – my mother had sort of cancelled that and ideal out with her own doctrine – of always trying your best and giving everything your all.
Given my natural-born intelligence, that meant I had a lot to give.
In the end, that had ended up manifesting itself in a compromise. I never volunteered to do more than was asked of me, unlike Sasuke who took to demonstrating complicated taijutsu takedowns in front of the instructors with every chance he got, but everything that was asked of me was finished in such a way that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that I was clearly capable of much, much more than what I was showing. So I fulfillled both of my ends of the bargain. I hid 75% of my abilities, just as my father wanted me to, but damn if I hadn't held back on the other 25%.
Looking back, perhaps that was done as much out of my own selfishness as it was out of my obedience to my parents' principles of becoming a good shinobi. I, like any other child, wanted to be recognized for my own brilliance. It was my own little backhanded way of showing off. Of course, at the age of six, one does not really think of the reality of the moral implications of one's actions. I had simply convinced myself that I was doing the right thing, no selfishness involved whatsoever, because all the adults around me believed so. My dad got what he wanted, and my mom got what she wanted. End of story.
It was halfway through the first semester when the signs that I was more than simply different started showing. Every written test, I always finished first and always got a perfect score. Not just one or two minutes ahead of the next person, either – sometimes the difference was as much as half an hour, depending on how much we had to write and how much shown work was demanded for the calculations. Multiple choice tests I could literally finish in seconds. A lot of these questions were common sense - if I didn't know the answer, I could easily reason it out.
I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that I was not finishing quickly on purpose for the sake of proving my own superiority to my classmates, as most children would do, but rather, to prove my own ego to myself – and to my parents. I liked games, and so to me, every test was like a game, and my score was determined by how much time I had left. Besides, the more time I had left, the more time I would have to go outside to the Academy playground and train by myself. I knew that sitting for a few more minutes to check my work would not help me any more than not checking my work, whereas exercising my muscles would. One of my father's many philosophies, after all, had been those born blessed with a superior mind must still work like anyone else to develop a superior body. And, as my mother's work ethic always taught me, take advantage of every second you've got – and so I did.
My raw strength had been just the same as all the other students', but when it came to things like technique – how to most efficiently distribute power – I had an edge. I was a fast learner, a fast mover, and highly coordinated, and so physically I could deal out more damage than the rest of my friends even though we all were more or less on the same level strength-wise. And so no matter how many shuriken Sasuke Uchiha, the runner-up, threw, no matter how many ANBU Naruto Uzumaki, the dead-last, outran, the Academy teachers soon pronounced that it would be impossible for anyone to catch up to me.
Which wasn't true. I knew I was smart now, but if there was one thing my father warned me against it was arrogance, because no man can control the future perfectly.
But never mind that. Despite being Shikamaru Nara, I was still just a regular six-year-old, and whatever words of wisdom my father came up with, they would surely be ignored in favor of so-calledexperience when they passed through my lips.
And therein came the source of my parents' first – and, luckily, their last – argument.
It had started innocently enough. At around the end of the first semester marking period, the Academy instructors and some other Konoha officials had analyzed my scores, and, after realizing that they were leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else they had ever seen, including all of the child prodigies that had come before me, considered bumping me up a few classes.
I was still young and naïve then, for all of my intelligence. I had had no opinion on the matter at the time. I was just a kid. As long as I could still have my friends and praise from my parents and teachers I was happy. Vaguely I knew that I was a smart and special kid, since everyone always told me that, but I couldn't exactly tell just how far apart I was from my classmates. When you're six years old, you areyou and they are them. So what if I had more gold stars than everyone else? Ino was Ino and Choji was Choji and Sasuke was Sasuke and Naruto was Naruto and biologically speaking, your brain takes a while to fully develop its own sense of self.
My mother, on the other hand, had been all for it.
That was when my father stepped in and rescued me.
"No," he had said, and put down his foot firmly, and so even the Hokage, who had been wholly in favor of the idea, backed down. "Just – no."
The nice thing about being a Nara was that no matter how quietly you talked, when you talked (and I mean actually speaking, not just complaining), people listened.
But my mother was a Nara, too, by name if not by birth, and she had had different ideas. A headstrong woman, she could not fathom why anyone wouldn't take such a grand opportunity when it was right in his face like so. That night, she had asked – well, demanded was a more appropriate word, seeing as this was my mother – to know just exactly why my father was halting my education.
Of course, he had anticipated this question, and had had an entire list prepared.
And so we come back to me – six years old, huddled up against the wall, hidden in the shadows, finally getting a glimpse of what the fate of a child like me might be.
"No child genius has ever had a nice life. Not in the shinobi world. Shikamaru can have fame and glory if he likes, but it will not be as a child prodigy. His life will be hard enough as an adult, in this line of work. Let him be happy while he can."
My mother might be considered by many to be a bossy and overbearing woman, but never let it be said that she didn't know reason when she heard it.
When the next day finally arrived, there was no more of that "ridiculous talk" (my father's words, not mine) of me graduating early. I would stay put where I was, with children my age, and grow up normally – or, I suppose, as normally as anyone could, being bombarded with all this war and desensitization propaganda at the age of six moving forward.
Still, my mother managed to convince my father that he should help fuel my talent before it died out completely, since it was clear that I was becoming bored at school. That, my father could agree on – he didn't particularly care how far I advanced between ages six and twelve, as long as I didn't put on the Konoha hitai-ate any earlier than that. I think in the ideal world, for him, children wouldn't formally complete their education until they were at least eighteen, but when they finally did, we'd be pumping out students no less than jonin level. For him, one did not become a Chunin after one passed the Chunin Exams – one should already be high-Chunin level walking into that thing. No point in taking a potentially lethal test only to fail, or worse, die.
I suppose this arrangement ended up being all the better for me. I had friends in my class – Choji and Ino from before the Academy days (though more Choji than Ino, who liked to play with the other girls, too) – and I didn't want to leave them. Even if Sasuke had a habit of sulking and being moody for no apparent reason, and Naruto and Kiba were a bit on the boisterous side. They were still my friends. Anyway, my teachers were knowledgeable of my situation, too (as they were the ones who had brought up the whole "skip six grades" idea to my father and the Hokage in the first place), and usually let me do my own work while they helped the rest of the class on a concept that I had mastered a long time ago. Plus, at night, unlike the rest of my friends, I got to stay up late, sometimes even past twelve, sitting around a bonfire with my father and watching the light and shadow flicker around on the ground.
My childhood was a quite pleasant one, apart from the regular trials and tribulations of children.
But time flies so quickly, and soon I was looking at my own reflection on my polished forehead protector, wondering when I turned twelve.
Maybe that was why my father liked to take things so slowly.
(But I never forgot my father's boogeyman, and all throughout my life, his words – words that he didn't even know I had heard – would haunt me.)
("Those who walk the shadows may very well become one with them.")