Shikamaru stares at the sticky trap seal in dismay. Naruto’s stupid. Everyone knows that. So when he’d taken approximately ten minutes to conquer the seal’s basics, and then spent a couple hours giggling over it as he practiced it and tried out the results, Shika had assumed that it must be blindingly easy. So why is it that he’s been at this for five hours and still has yet to quite get it right? This is such a drag. He’s tempted to take a nap, but he’s a little too annoyed that the class dunce has managed something with such ease that is giving him such a hassle. Such a drag.
Naruto picks himself up off the ground where he’s smacked into it after falling off the tree for like the 50th time (okay 67th, Shika’s counted) and trots over curiously. “Whatcha need, Shikamaru?”
“How do you do this? I’m usually pretty good at theory (he’s the best, but bragging’s too much of a drag), but I’m not getting this.”
The beaming smile is almost blinding as Naruto bounces on his toes, then drops to sit next to him. (Where does this kid get his energy? He’d probably be in the infirmary if he wasted half as much energy as Naruto.) “Oh, it’s easy! You did the exploding tags ok, right?”
Shika nods. Those hadn’t been so hard.
“Well, you know how they’re all phtzz phtzz spark boom feel and only go when you touch them and tell them to? So these are all squish glue squish feel and only go when someone else touches them.”
He blinks at Naruto’s enthusiastic tone and thinks cutting thoughts about would-be ninja that use language that three year olds would, then pauses as it suddenly makes sense. Probably. “Are you telling me that I’m infusing the wrong kind of elemental chakra?”
Naruto gets a blank, panicked look on his face. “Er… Sure! That’s it!” He pats Shika on the shoulder and bounces to his feet. “I gotta keep training!”
Shikamaru stares after him and then groans and flops back to watch the clouds. Such. A. Drag. If Naruto does all his chakra stuff on instinct, it’s no wonder he’s terrible at classwork. And it makes so much more sense now that Sasuke is wildly jealous of the dunce. It’s infuriating to go about things the logical, normal way and excel at them, only to see someone who sucks at doing it that way catch up to you anyhow. And seals are…well, you infuse them with energy, the seals themselves are the control. He knows just enough about tree climbing theory to know it has something to do with chakra control, so given how much Naruto fails at that, he has terrible chakra control. Which means he’s been learning blindly through sheer persistence up until this point. And logically that makes it amazing that he even made it to final year class standards, even if he has failed to graduate like four times.
Just thinking about the amount of persistence that took makes Shika want to take a nap in sympathy. He scowls as he realizes he has been thinking so hard he’s forgotten to pay attention to the clouds. A blur just misses his head, then Chouji is standing there, looking mournful. “I can only do this for about ten feet still, but I’m hungry.”
Of course he is. Shika is too, come to think of it. Storing up chakra is a lot harder than it sounds, particularly when he’s using it for other stuff, like failing at sticky trap seals.
“What’s wrong, Shikamaru?”
“Eh. Not wrong, really. Naruto’s going to be a lot better with seals than me. Probably better than Sasuke and Shino, too.”
“Huh. Well, it’s good that he’s good at something.”
“Yeah, buddy, it is.” He slaps Chouji’s leg affectionately. “Let’s go eat.”
As it turns out, ‘the wrong kind of elemental chakra’ wasn’t quite what Naruto had been saying, but it was close. More ‘loosely associated affinity to an elemental type of chakra’. The sticky traps can be used with plain water chakra (if one is careful to not overdo it), or a combination of water and earth chakra, and Shikamaru thinks that’s probably what Iruka Sensei was expecting them to use, because once he quits trying to do it the wrong way, the seal is terribly basic. But what Naruto can do with the seals (seals, because he figured out how to alter the original in several ways with varying effects) is a thing of frightening beauty.
He can vary their stickiness and strength at will. From something that can allow one to perch in improbable places until one chooses to release the trap (minorly sticky, but strong), great for immobilizing someone in practice. To one that’s a terrible nuisance (fairly sticky, but weak) and clings to anything just enough to trip one up and make life really, really difficult until one washes off the residue or lets it dry, to the consternation of several wealthy and not too nice citizens. To one that even a jonin has difficulty breaking (super sticky and extremely strong), as evidenced by the jonin who has been hanging like a booger off the sculpture of the First’s nose for a couple hours now. A long, wiggling, cursing booger.
Though frankly, while Shika’s not willing to go close enough to figure out who it is, he’s pretty sure they could use a few more working braincells. Releasing one’s self from that height and angle is pretty dangerous unless there’s someone there to assist, even for a jonin.
Naruto had been laughing himself silly about it until Hinata had timidly asked how he planned to release the trap if he accidentally caught an ally with it instead. So now Naruto is muttering over the seal figuring that out in between glances up at the cliff face accompanied by manic little giggles.
To be fair, all of them are having that problem, even Sasuke and Chouji, though they’re hiding it better. Chouji because he’s serious about honor and duty and not laughing at comrades (even if comrades is a pretty far stretch for this one). Sasuke because he seems to think showing emotion is beneath his dignity or something (Shika still respects him, but he really does take the dignity thing a little too seriously). Shino is quiet, but even his bugs seem to be amused, setting up a hum every time Shino breaks into a fit of snickers. Kiba and Ino keep breaking into outright howls of laughter and Sakura isn’t much better, while Hinata has been keeping up a pretty much nonstop stream of shy giggles since she noticed.
If anyone catches them, they’re all screwed, because they’re all way too amused for others to not think they’re involved.
“Naruto! What are you doing? You’re supposed to be figuring out how to release that jonin trap!”
“Aww, but Sakura! I’ve already figured that out. I’m trying to make it less sticky, so I can put it on my shoes and use it to walk on walls without getting stuck. Cool, huh?”
Sakura looks fond and ruffles his hair. “As long as you don’t try to use it to cheat with the tree walking.”
“I wouldn’t! Come on, Sakura!” he says in a pouty tone.
Ino looks up abruptly. “Incoming jonin.”
Shikamaru yawns. “Look alive, folks. Get back to practicing. Naruto, hide those seals and practice tree walking. No giggles. That means you too, Hinata.”
Everyone scrambles to look busy and innocent, while Shika flops back (because no one will believe it if he’s not being his normal self) and Chouji plops down beside him and opens another bag of chips.
By the time the three jonin show up a few moments later, Naruto is falling off a tree, Chouji is defending his chips from Akamaru while Kiba grins, Hinata and Sasuke are trying and failing at their jutsus (much to Sasuke’s open disgust; the kid must really hate speaking up), Sakura and Ino are looking believably surprised at the intrusion, and Shino is doing a fair job of disappearing from notice.
Naruto yelps and almost runs face first into the tree as he tries again. He’s actually getting a lot better at the tree walking thing, but he still sucks at it. “What? What did I do!?”
“You know what you did! The Hokage will want to see you.”
Annnd, okay, maybe Naruto’s reputation as a prankster is a little too well established.
“See him for what?” Sakura asks innocently. He’s impressed. He had no idea that she could lie that well with her face. Then again, she does hang around with Ino, who has sweet and innocent malice down to an art form when someone annoys her.
“For that!” The jonin gestures at the rock sculptures that dominate the cliff face. Yup, still covered in paint that looks like bad makeup and…oh, nope, they got the booger-jonin free finally.
They all dutifully turn to look and plaster on expressions of wide-eyed surprise. Though the fact that even Sasuke does it should be a dead giveaway to anyone with half a brain. Shino even breaks his jutsu and comments, “That’s quite startling.”
Shika hides a smirk when the jonin nearest Shino jumps a little in shock that he’s there.
“Wow, that’s quite a prank. But what makes you think Naruto did it?” Ino asks brightly.
“It’s always Naruto.” One of the jonin says witheringly.
Shika knows he’s going to regret this, but sits up. “Do you have any proof?”
“B-But, jonin-sama, N-Naruto has b-been practicing with us s-since s-school let out.” Hinata pipes up, interrupting him.
Wow, go Hinata. Now he understands why Ino and Sakura have taken such a liking to her. She’s got guts for someone so timid. And Hinata might only be an ex-clan heir, but she’s still a Hyuuga from the main family. It makes the jonin pause and look at the rest of them suspiciously.
“Is this true?”
“Hn.” Sasuke confirms.
“Naruto walked with us after school to here and has been here since.” Shino adds in his ‘just the facts’ polite tone.
Technically, it’s true. Naruto has been with them the entire time. After school let out, that is. It’s not their fault that no one noticed the prank he set up on lunch break until after school let out. Aren’t jonin supposed to be more observant than that? As long as no one directly asks if Naruto is responsible for it, even a truth jutsu won’t catch them out. Well, unless they use Ino’s dad or one of the other skilled Yamanaka, but who’s going to do that to a bunch of kids over a prank? They are totally going to get away with this.
“W-Well, if you-” The jonin stutters a little and starts to backtrack.
Naruto sighs and droops dramatically. “I’ll just go. They always think it’s me, just because I enjoy a good prank.”
Well, okay, they are going to get away with it unless the dunce opens his big mouth.
Naruto drags his feet as he walks towards them. The three jonin look surprised but triumphant. Sakura throws herself at Naruto. “No! Naruto! You can’t just take the blame!”
“That’s right! There’s a limit to being noble!” Ino scolds.
“There is no point in taking blame that cannot be laid properly at your feet.” Shino agrees. Shikamaru makes a note that Shino is excellent at stating the truth in a way that makes it an utter lie.
“Y-You w-were with us the entire t-time, Naruto!”
“That’s right. Akamaru would know if you’d left.” Kiba adds fiercely (though probably only because Hinata looks as upset as she sounds).
“W-Well, that’s true.” Naruto agrees, looking surprised and straightening a little.
“No proof. You shouldn’t accuse someone with no proof.” Chouji says disapprovingly, pointing a chip at the jonin. “Bullies aren’t nice.”
The jonin flush at the accusation, which is promising.
“What a drag. You jonin should know better than to make accusations without proof. Even we know better, and we’re not even genin yet.”
“Fine.” One of the other jonin says. “We’ll inform lord Hokage of the mistake.”
Shikamaru pointedly does not hold his breath until Ino says, “Clear.”
They all slump in relief.
“Um. Why-? Why did you guys-? Uh?” Naruto sounds both happy and terribly confused. “I mean…”
“Idiot.” Sasuke opines, then yelps as Ino rolls to her feet with a disapproving look in her eyes. That’s just sad. Shikamaru shudders. Their relationship reminds him way too much of his mom and dad’s.
“There was no reason for them to not believe us. We were not lying.” Shino tells him.
“Yeah! What were you thinking, practically admitting to it like that!” Ino snipes, still stalking Sasuke.
“W-Well, I thought- I mean, I didn’t want you guys to get in trouble too. You didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“N-Naruto, we w-weren’t going to g-get in trouble. B-Besides, y-you’re our friend.”
“Yeah. You’re pack. Pack doesn’t let pack get into trouble alone.” Kiba adds, looking disgruntled at his own words. There’s no doubt that he’s doing it for Hinata, but now that he’s said it, he won’t take it back because that’s how the Inuzuka are: loyal to a fault.
Shikamaru flops back to watch clouds. “That. Was a thing of beauty. They’re never going to find out who did it unless you tell them, Naruto.”
“Don’t tell them.” Sakura orders.
And oh, yeah, he probably should have added that, but what a drag. Hopefully one of these days Naruto will figure out when to keep his mouth shut without being told. Eh. The world will probably end if he does, though. What a drag.
He sputters as Akamaru decides to use his face as a launching pad to Chouji’s chips and gets a paw in his mouth. “Gross! Akamaru!”
The puppy has no chance at those chips, though. Chouji’s finally found motivation to use that acceleration technique properly. Serves the muddy little dog right.