"Your parents at it again, huh?" the blond asked, following with a generous bite from his hamburger, then with a brief sip of his soda.
"Mm-hm," the teal-eyed boy responded as he ran a hand through his dark hair—tied back into the signature Nara ponytail, before lying down with his back against the surface of the train and hands cushioning his nape. "Dad's work has been overwhelming him lately. I don't even get to see him that often anymore."
"Weird. My dad's actually coming home more recently. Heck, he might even be home right now," said Boruto, lowering his head towards the straw for another sip. "He's been training me a little bit while Uncle Sasuke's away from the village. You think maybe that has something to do with it?"
"Maybe. And when we do get to see him, he's usually in a pretty bad mood. Mom had enough eventually and called him out on it, and they ended up having this huge argument. I've never seen him raise his voice at her like that. It even caught Mom off guard."
Shikadai stiffened suddenly. A pained look crept onto his face at the thought of the incident earlier.
Not even a glance.
"Shikamaru look at me!"
He kissed his teeth and turned his head round just enough to see her teal eyes, narrowed and fueled with frustration. "I'm listening, woman. What d'you want?"
She tightened her clenched fists. "What do I want? What do I want? I want a damn husband who'd come home, kiss his wife, and actually bother to ask her how her day was. Then, he'd go and check up on his son to see if he's working hard in his missions or needs any help with training, or hell, maybe even show him a new jutsu or something. Then, he'd have a nice little dinner with his family, have a bit fun and actually smile for once. But no, what do I have instead? A husband who spends an absurd amount of time at that damn office of his, is utterly miserable by the time he gets home, doesn't even look up at his wife and son let alone entertain the idea of acknowledging them, before resting his ass again on the couch or bed."
"Yeah, well, this husband has been working his butt off to provide for both his family and his village, and would hope that maybe his wife would be a little more considerate of the fact that there's currently a shortage of staff at the office. Perhaps not a wife that'll nag endlessly after a difficult day's work."
"There it is again, trying to make me out to be the bad guy here. God forbid I want a husband that isn't a moody git, Shikamaru!" She inclined her head forward and heaved a long, inelegant sigh. "Look. I get it, Shikamaru. It isn't easy. I've done my fair share of paperwork for Gaara too, remember? And I get it, Naruto's been spending less time at the office to be there more for his family. But this has to stop. It's been going on for too long now; three weeks, almost. You're more concerned with helping out his family that you're now neglecting your own."
"Temari, please, just drop it already. I really don't want to have to deal with this right now."
"I give up. You see, Shikadai?" She placed both hands on her hips and looked back at the boy. "Don't say I didn't try. As always, your father is more concerned with shouldering other people's burdens that he fails to recognize the effect it has on him and everybody else around him. Fine," she said, turning back round to face Shikamaru, "I won't continue any further. If you want to spend all of your time being miserable at that damn office doing paperwork all day then so be it—"
"You think I like suffocating myself with a bunch of paperwork?! Huh?!"
Temari and Shikadai both took a step back without conscious thought.
"You think I don't notice how overworked I am?! How much time I spend at the office?! How little sleep I get?! How little time I spend with you guys?! How much it kills me?! But someone has to do it, Temari. They're vital, necessary, confidential paperwork; paperwork which could have detrimental effects on our village if put in the wrong hands. Someone has to do it. And if you'd listen for once in your life, you'd know already that we're short on staff who are capable and qualified enough to handle it. But you don't ever listen, do you?" Shikamaru stood to his feet, fury in his eyes Shikadai hadn't ever seen from him. Skin a shade of red he hadn't ever seen from him. Veins bulging from his head and lips drawn back into a snarl he hadn't ever seen from him. "Because you always have to take the opportunity to be confrontational and unreasonable, don't you?!"
She stood paralyzed as if caught by his clan's signature jutsu. Her mouth lowered involuntarily, air neither being drawn in nor released out through it. He had never yelled at her like that. He had never looked at her like that. Her brain couldn't arrange words together to form coherent sentences, and her vocal cords had decided to no longer function efficiently. She wanted something, anything to escape her parted lips; a sound; a scream; a cry. But nothing did. So she stood and maintained locked in a silent stare with crimson eyes, glaring at her as if she was this... this thing, as if she wasn't his wife, his lover, of so many years.
"I… I didn't leave Suna and my brothers for this!" she finally responded with, disheartened by the uncharacteristic stammering and ache in her voice.
"Then go back to Suna! Go back to your brothers! If it ends your insufferable nagging then pack your bags and just leave already!" he yelled without pause for breath, or concern for the saliva ejecting forcibly out his mouth, before gripping the door tight and sliding it shut as hard as he could.
It was only after the echos had settled did she finally register what he'd said. "F-fine then," she whispered with quivering lips, "if that's what you want, then maybe I will."
She abruptly turned around and stormed towards the door on the opposite end, a single tear parading on her eyelid before losing its balance and glistening her cheek.
"Mom?" Shikadai called with a hand steadily reaching out in her direction.
Temari shut the door with an intensity that rivaled his own, leaving the boy alone and with an unanswered embrace.
She hadn't meant it when she said she'd leave... did she? Surely his dad doesn't actually want her to go back, does he? If she'd truly meant it and left him, would he have to stay here in Konoha, or move to Suna and live with her and Uncle Gaara and Uncle Kankurō? Would he never get to see Dad again? Or Boruto, Inojin, Chōchō and the others? Would he have to start all over?
Shikadai sighed in frustration. Troublesome.
"Oi!" Boruto yelled out, disrupting Shikadai's thoughts. "Relax, will ya? I'm sure they'll kiss and make up soon and things will go back to how they use to be in no time. Don't stress over it too much."
He expressed a smile with every tooth on display, crumbs and grease from his meal still smeared across his mouth, prompting Shikadai to respond with a smile of his own, feeling the twinge of pain in him slowly plummet.
No, he couldn't start again. He couldn't leave his village behind. He couldn't leave his friends behind. Somehow, someway, he was going to fix this. He stared ahead, a solid look of determination in his eyes.
The train came to a slow halt, and sounds of footsteps once drowned out by the moving vehicle progressively became more audible. Noticing, Boruto whipped his head round. He distanced his eyelids into wide eyes before tugging on Shikadai's shoulder to get his attention. It wasn't often that somebody else would join the two here at the highest point of the train. Or rather, it was a first.
The figure looked sinister, draped in entirely black attire, with the only signs of color being the slight tear on his sleeve exposing his ghostly pale skin, and the lower half of his face, devoid completely of any facial hair. His impassive eyes were concealed by the hood of his cloak, difficult to see, but unquestionably driven by cold intentions.
Both Boruto and Shikadai immediately jumped to their feet and adjusted themselves into a fighting stance. The two consciously agreed to wait for the hooded man, no longer approaching and stood stiff as marble, to make his intentions clear first.
"The son of the Seventh and the son of his advisor, hm?" he said, voice strained and gravelly. "I need a couple guinea pigs…"
Boruto cautiously neared his hand towards his kunai pouch and turned his head to Shikadai, firing at him an anxious stare. The figure briskly turned around and placed a scroll down, then turned back to face them again.
"…and you two will suffice."
Without warning, the scroll behind him combusted violently. Aggressive green flames were now present, and began rotating in a circular motion. He then brought their attention to another scroll balancing vertically on his hand, then threw it straight into the circulating flames, dissipating instantly on contact. With a single one-armed hand sign, he disappeared completely, leaving behind only a trail of smoke.
Almost immediately after his departure, the green flames began exhibiting strong gravitational forces, so strong that the soles of Shikadai's footwear were lifted off of the train's surface completely, hauling, dragging him towards the flames, up until a hand shackled around his own.
"Shikadai!" Boruto yelled. He penetrated the surface of the train deep with a kunai, anchoring him in position. "Hold on!"
But it was no use, the gravitational pull was just too vast, too immense, too overwhelming. His hold on Shikadai continued to weaken more and more and more—until the hold broke free, and the two hands separated.
"No! Shikadai!" Boruto screamed, watching the green flames devour his close companion.
Dread, fear, disappointment, confusion, anger and a myriad of other thoughts all flooded Boruto's mind as he desperately tried to regulate his heart rate and reason that Shikadai was still alive. He had to be. Dad! He needed to get to his dad right now!
Boruto drew out another kunai with his other hand and began continuously piercing, removing and re-piercing the two kunais a further distance away, feeling the effects bearing down on him less as he steadily distanced himself more and more from the flames.
Who was that man? What did he want? What did he want with them? His chaotic thoughts were interrupted by a loud horn, signalling that the train had resumed moving again.
The air resistance of the moving train coupled with the strong attractive forces of the flames proved to be too much for Boruto, and his hands could no longer hold to the two kunais. In an instant, Boruto was completely engulfed by the flames, too fast to even respond with an emotion. The flames abruptly stopped rotating and condensed itself into a small, glistening ball of light, then erupted into a large shock wave, leaving behind absolutely nothing.
Clouds obscuring pale, blue skies was what he first saw when he separated his eyelids. Now that he'd given it some thought, he'd never really taken an interest in cloud-watching like his dad had. Shikadai put a hand to his head, unsettled by the memories of parents.
No, that hadn't been the reason why his head hurt. He'd landed, hard, down onto the ground beneath him. Boruto, the mysterious man, the scroll, it was all coming back to him now. He sat himself up and glanced around at the familiar setting with curious eyes.
Outside of Konoha? How the hell d'I end up here? Shikadai questioned to himself.
Just then, he felt a presence.
He was not alone.
Behind him stood a girl—no, a young woman. She wore four pigtails and an attire dominated by the color black, and on her back was a large block of iron; a tessen. With a raised eyebrow, slightly crooked lips and a hand above her hip, she stared at him with her bright, teal eyes.
"Oi, crybaby! What the hell are y—" She paused, studying the bright teal eyes now staring back at her. "Wait, you're not…"
Boruto, however, wasn't as fortunate to have been greeted with a delightful view of the sky. No, instead, he was greeted by a dog, unusually familiar and currently fondling his face with its tongue.
He inwardly groaned. You're one of Uncle Kiba's, aren't you? The dog let out a loud bark, prompting Boruto to lean back his head and wince in response.
"It isn't Naruto, Hinata, you can stop hiding already."
Boruto sat up after the dog had taken off, no longer violating his proximity, and stared ahead. In front of him, a figure slowly crept out from behind a large tree. A girl, shy and timid, and looked like had just completely lost her composure. Her cheeks donned a shade of red, bright and illuminating. She possessed long, violet hair, and pale eyes that belonged to a clan he was all too familiar with.
"N-no Kiba! I-I just, h-he just c-came out of nowhere, a-and I—"
"Yeah yeah, whatever, save it."
Boruto glared intently at the girl with wide blue eyes and a completely dumbfounded countenance. This action caused her to take a number of steps back behind the tree, fixing her gaze elsewhere.
Simultaneously, both Boruto and Shikadai yelled out in sheer and utter confusion: