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The Levels On Which We Lie

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College seemed like a waste of time to Shikamaru. He rather have just graduated high school, got a boring office job, met an average girl, marry her, have an average daughter, then son, work until he was 65, retire, then die peacefully in his sleep at the ripe age of eighty.

But nooo, his mother had insisted he get some kind of degree. So there he was, sophomore in college with an undeclared major. Shikamaru figured getting his generals would be good enough for his mother, maybe switch to pharmacy in order to really get her off of his back. Not that it mattered one way or the other to him, he knew he would end up working at his dad’s compound pharmacy somehow.

Which is why he found himself in an eight o'clock in the morning accounting course at the start of the fall semester. Gotta learn this bullshit so he can balance the books better for his old man.

The professor was running late. Shikamaru knew him through the dojo he frequented every once in a while to practice boxing. The guy was married to the overly…enthusiastic owner, and had a bad habit of never being on time.

Most of the class milled around in the front, talking obnoxiously loud. It’s too early in the morning for this shit, he sighed, staring out the window. He had prime real estate in the back corner of the room all to himself, which suited him just fine.

Until someone sat directly beside him.

She was pretty with a nose piercing and blonde pig tails. Shikamaru glared at her, because literally, several other desks on the other side of the room that weren’t taken, why didn’t she just grab one of them? The girl made the mistake of looking over at him, and when she saw his scowl, she returned it with an air of What the fuck is your problem?

The professor breezed into the class fifteen minutes late, holding a mug of coffee, “Sorry class, I was caught up in enjoying the morning air, and lost track of time.”

Bullshit, Shikamaru sniffed

Coffee still in hand, he wrote his name on the board with a dry erase marker, “I’m Professor Hatake, but I’d prefer for you to call me Kakashi.” He tossed the marker onto the desk and turned to face the class, “Welcome to Accounting 201.”

Icebreaker games were bullshit; nothing was worse than being forced to participate in one.

Of course, him and the girl beside him were made to pair up and learn about one another. Shikamaru had shot a withering stare at Kakashi when he had passed out the papers they had to write on, but all he got was a wise-ass, crinkly-eyed grin in response.

So he had learn about her, and also talk about himself, which that was fucking great.

Her name was Temari, she was a junior and an Atmospheric Science major, with the intent on becoming a storm chaser. Her favorite color was purple, she had two younger brothers, weasels were her favorite animal, which he could tell from the tattoo that was on her forearm, and she was only in this class because she needed another math elective, and none of the others fit her schedule. She seemed as thrilled to learn about Shikamaru as he was about her.

“What do you mean you don’t have a favorite color?” She asked, eyebrows contracted.

“What’s wrong with not having a favorite color?”

“Everyone has a favorite color.”

He shrugged, “All colors were created equal. I don’t care about one more than any other.”

Temari rolled her eyes, and wrote down ‘nothing’ in the color box, “You’re ridiculous.”

Troublesome woman, Shikamaru groused to himself.

Kakashi clapped his hands, “Okay class, I hope you got to know your neighbor well and like your spot, because I like to do assigned seating for attendance.”

Shikamaru and Temari both groaned at the same time.

What a drag.

It turns out Shikamaru also shared an afternoon Psychology 101 class with her as well.

He barely made it to class on time because his best friend decided to take for-fucking-ever ordering at the sub restaurant that was in the commons area.

All the seats were filled up, except one. Which was beside Temari from Accounting. Her purse and bookbag were in the seat. They had a staring contest until she sighed, and moved them so he could sit.

Again, they had a shitty ice breaker game to they had to play.

“So, you play shogi as a hobby, and…box?”

Shikamaru bristled, “Yeah, what of it?”

“Just a strange combo.”

“Well you like to,” he picked up his paper to squint at what he wrote down, “knit and work on cars.”

“What’s wrong with that??”

“It’s weird. You’re weird.”

Temari was affronted, but before she could snarl anything in response, the professor interrupted everyone to start going over the syllabus.

Shikamaru could feel it in his bones; this semester was going to blow.

The shitty little pizzeria Shikamaru worked at with his both of his closest friends Chouji and Ino had been slammed with customers all day, with what amounted to a skeleton crew working. There were only the three of them working because the other two assholes scheduled called off, and Shikamaru couldn’t get ahold of anyone else (of course he was made shift supervisor, a job he never asked for, but was given anyways). Chouji was delivering, Ino waitressed, and Shikamaru made the food.

All three had ran around like chickens with their heads cut off for the better part of four hours before there was finally a lull: no customers and no orders. Chouji was heading back from what was probably the 30th delivery of the night; Ino was sipping on a water, leaned up against the front counter while Shikamaru finally had a chance to breathe.

“Bad day, huh?” Ino asked.

He’d been in a terrible mood since he had walked through the door, and work just aggravated him further, “Class sucked.”

Ino nodded, “I can see that.” She kept on sipping her water, “Any particular reason why?”

Shikamaru cleaned up the counter he’d been making pizza on, “It was a drag. I have to wake up too early in the morning. Got stuck beside a troublesome woman for the rest of the semester.”

Ino scoffed, “Don’t be such a baby.”

He stared at her for a minute before returning to his task.

“I’m serious! You need to relax.”

Shikamaru almost shot off at the mouth, but the front door’s bell rang as someone opened the door.

Ino called out a greeting, “Hi! Welcome to—NARUTO, DON’T SKATEBOARD IN HERE.”

Naruto made a face while picking up his skateboard, “You guys never let me have any fun.” He dramatically draped himself over the front counter, “I’m starving, you guys need to feed me.”

“Stop that,” Ino shoved him off, “Tell me what you want like a normal person.”

“Give me the biggest pizza you have with everything on it.” Naruto made an exaggerated gesture with his hands to indicate how the size he wanted.

“We don’t make them that big, asshole,” Shikamaru called from the back.

“Shikamaru,” Naruto intoned seriously, “I am starving, and I need your biggest damn pizza.”

The bell rang again, and in came Chouji followed by Sakura. “—That review you wrote about that sandwich shop was scathing, Chouji.”

“They always get my order wrong, and I’m so tired of it. They deserved it.”

“Sakura!” Ino squealed, holding her arms wide open.

Sakura shoved Naruto out of the way so she could give her girlfriend a kiss, “Chouji mentioned work’s been crazy.”

Ino sighed wearily, “It has. This is the first time we’ve had a break all evening.”

Chouji walked in behind the counter to help Shikamaru with Naruto’s pizza, “Yeah, we’ve been going non-stop.”

Everyone else bantered back and forth, but Shikamaru was too damn tired to keep up. Sakura talked about how her pre-med classes were already starting to ramp up. Chouji mentioned that he had to get some restaurants lined up to review for his journalism class. Ino was already in love with her intro to fashion design class, and Naruto bitched about how he already had a paper assigned.

“Man, this semester is going to be so hard!” Naruto whined, forgetting that he had said that about the prior two semesters.

I pity any child that gets him as their gym teacher, Shikamaru silently shook his head.

After they closed for the evening, Shikamaru drove himself and Chouji home. Out of all of their friends, they were the only ones that had their own place off of campus that wasn’t still with their parents. It was an average two bedroom apartment; Shikamaru couldn’t complain too much about it. Beat living at home or in the dorms.

Chouji called dibs on the shower, which suited Shikamaru just fine. He stripped down to his boxers in the middle of the living room, pulling his ponytail out so he could run his fingers through his hair. God, he needed a cigarette; he cracked open the living room window, and lit one. After he was done smoking, he made himself the dinner of champions: a bowl of cereal.

While he slowly ate on the couch, he texted his parent’s about his day. His mom had blown him up that evening, but he had been too busy at work to answer, so it was that he answered her now, least he face her wrath. He texted Asuma, his long-time boxing instructor and shogi partner, for good measure as well, asking if they could meet up the next for a game of shogi.

“Ah, I feel so much better,” Chouji was also in his boxers, wandering into the kitchen to grab leftovers from work, then plopping down on the loveseat adjacent to the couch.

Shikamaru wrinkled his nose, “I really don’t know how you stand to eat that shit after we’ve worked around it all day.”

“Too lazy to make anything else.”

No judgment there. His phone vibrated; Asuma had texted back in the affirmative, stating that they should meet at his place. Shikamaru looked over at his friend who was eating pizza with a vigor that he felt like he could never muster ever again, “How was class?”

“I don’t like the new newspaper editor. She wants me to take the softball approach to my reviews.” Chouji took his position at the student newspaper deathly serious. His dream was to become a food critic, and he refused to be anything other than brutally honest. Surprisingly enough, he had developed a fanbase who took his word as gospel, and now carried enough weight that local businesses made it a point to get on his good side.

“What did you tell her?”

Chouji grunted, “I told her hell no. I won’t compromise my integrity!”

I guess everyone has a hill to die on, Shikamaru mused. “Glad to hear that, buddy.” He finished his bowl of cereal, “I’m gonna shower, then go to bed.”

“Alright. G’night.

“Night.” Shikamaru dropped his bowl off in the sink, then hit the shower. He stayed in there 10 minutes longer than he usually did, trying to get the stink of pizza grease out of his hair.

When he was done, and in his room, Shikamaru didn’t even bother to get dressed. He was too exhausted from the day; he got under his covers and passed out.

“Damnit. Lost again.”

Shikamaru smirked, “Kurenai will kill you if the baby picks up your cusswords.”

Asuma cast a glance over at his baby girl, who was absorbed in playing with her stuffed animals and not paying them any mind, “Mirai’s fine. She’s off in her own world.” He started resetting the board, “So your classes blow, and work sucks. Anything, I don’t know, positive going on?”

Shikamaru shrugged his shoulders, “It could always be worse, I guess.”

They played some more. Asuma worked Wakamono Dojo as a boxing instructor. Shikamaru’s parents, as well as the rest of his friend’s parents, thought it would be a good idea to start the kids in karate. Yeah, it was fine, but it bored Shikamaru to death. Boxing vaguely interested him, but he had no desire to do that either. It was only when Asuma convinced him to start playing shogi, and drawing parallels between the two, did he actually find any enjoyment out of it.

“Have you seen Sakura,” Asuma asked as he considered where to put his knight, “She’s supposed come in and train tonight.”

“Saw her yesterday, but I can text her.”

“Nah, don’t worry about that, I’ll call her.”

“Shika!” Mirai had wandered over from her toys, “Hug!” she giggled, throwing her little baby arms in the air.

“Hi Mirai,” Shiamaru pulled her into a big hug, “You havin’ fun?” Honestly, Shikamaru was perfectly neutral towards kids. He would see someone cooing over a baby and think, Ah that sure is a child. Mirai changed that, or rather, she was the only kid he loved being around.

“Eh, eh,” she squirmed in his arms, trying to reach the bag of goldfish crackers he had been eating out of.

“You want some?” He righted her, “Hold out your hands.”

She did as she was told, and got a handful full of fish-shaped crackers as her reward. Immediately, she trotted over to Asuma, “Eat, daddy.” Mirai, in all her sweet toddler nature, attempted to push crackers into Asuma’s mouth.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” he ate some before gently turning her around, “Why don’t you go get your bear, come back over here, and help daddy win his game.”

“Okay!” she toddled off to get her bear, then ran back over, crackers going everywhere.

“You know, having a cute kid isn’t going to stop me from beating you, right?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,”Asuma helped Mirai sit in his lap, “She might be my good luck charm.”

She wasn’t. Minutes later, Asuma stared at the board in disbelief, “You gotta be kidding me. Damnit, I thought I had you that time.”

“Damnit!” Mirai happily parroted.

Shikamaru snickered as Asuma scrambled to recover, “Don’t say that Mirai, that’s a bad word.”

“But daddy said it,” she pouted.

“Yes, because daddy is a bad man, who mommy will not be happy with if she heard you say that.”

“Say what?” Kurenai asked, towering over the three of them with her arms crossed.

Asuma started visibly sweating, “Oh, hello dear…I didn’t hear you come in….” He stood up quickly, Mirai in his arms, giving his wife a kiss on the cheek. Mirai held out her hands to be taken, but instead of saying ‘mommy’, she giggled, “Damnit!”

Shikamaru knew when to get out of dodge, “Well it’s great seeing you Kurenai, but I remember that I have a thing I need to do, so I gotta go.”

Kurenai gave Shikamaru a bright smile, “Bye Shikamaru,” then turned cold, murderous eyes onto her husband. Asuma gave Shikamaru a desperate ‘don’t let me die’ look, but Kurenai had already started scolding him for teaching their baby cusswords. Shikamaru didn’t hear him plead his case, as he was already out the door.

Two weeks of the semester in, and not a single one of Shikamaru’s friends were free to eat with him. He guessed that’s what happened when everyone either had a huge class load, or was involved in clubs.

Every single table in the commons was packed full of people eating lunch; there was a table near the corner that only had one occupant, but it was Temari and she was doing homework.

He sighed. It would be easier to sit on the floor and eat, but instead he approached her, “Hey,” she looked up at him in surprise, “It’s a drag, but can I sit here?”

Temari clearly weighed her options, but eventually moved some stuff out of the way so he could sit.

They didn’t speak much. He asked her what she was working on, which was physics homework she had just got assigned. She asked what he was eating, which was just a BLT from the sub shop. But that was about the extent of it.

There was no need for small talk, and Shikamaru was actually grateful. It was nice to eat in silence, but still have the company of someone else. Even if she was a bother.

Once he finished, he stacked his trash up on his tray, “Good talk. We’ll have to do this again.” It was meant to be sarcastic, but at the core of it, there was some truth. Having a peaceful lunch was a luxury he rarely got.

She must have had similar thoughts because “Whatever you say,” was her only response.

He took that as a yes.