Author: Snow Tigra
Pairings: Shikamaru & Chouji, Shikamaru & Ino
Warnings: Leaning toward horror, but not so much. Inspired by the movie “Unleashed” but bearing almost no similarity to it whatsoever. Alternate Universe.
Summary: Chouji and his father move into a new house to start over, only to find that the house is already inhabited. By a shadow.
The next morning the kitchen was filled with the smells of breakfast. Chouji woke up smelling the eggs, bacon and fresh from scratch biscuits as if his father were cooking them right next to his bed. Whatever sad thoughts he’d been having the night before melted and faded away in favor of the delicious breakfasts his father made and Chouji found himself nearly jumping out of bed and throwing on his clothes in a hurry, all to make it down stairs before the smell disapated.
He found his father humming as normal, moving with the practiced skill that could be compared with a dancer as he moved between two frying pans, the table and the cupboards preparing all the food. The table was set and the biscuits were cooling on a wooden plate, with bacon crackling over the stove. Chouji jumped into his seat and smiled brightly as he waited for his plate to be filled.
Chouza laughed softly as he saw his son, seeming to appear out of thin air, and filled his plate before attending to his own and turning off the stove. For a while the both of them ate in silence, just enjoying the food. Then Chouza mentioned something strange.
“I think perhaps I was dreaming, but I wanted to make sure. There was a boy in my room last night, Chouji.”
Chouji’s hand paused as he was picking up a piece of bacon and he looked up at his father in question. “A boy?” Immediately he thought about the shadow boy who’d been appearing in his room lately. Had his father seen him? And when? Chouji resisted the urge to frown, he’d kind of liked the idea that he was the only one who knew. But then that was silly, because there was no reason he couldn’t share something like this with his father.
“He’s about your height, a little taller. He wears all black, no clothes that I recognized from anywhere. And… well then he disappeared. I’m sorry, I suppose I was dreaming.” Chouza went back to eating his food thoughtfully.
“No, he’s real.”
The two sat quietly for a second as Chouza regarded his son and processed that thought. “What… is he?”
Chouji smiled at his father, not upset anymore. “He’s not a ghost papa, he’s something else. I think he’s a shadow that is part human, or something. He doesn’t talk, but he’s a real thing… I gave him the name Kage. I know it’s kinda silly, but I didn’t know what to call him. He’s been showing up since the first night we were here, I think. He’s really nice. But he’s afraid of light, so you shouldn’t leave lights on in the house, or it keeps him from moving around. And well… he was here first so we don’t have the right to keep him out of rooms since technically I guess the house belongs to him. But I asked him and he dind’t mind us being here.”
“Well then, I hope he shows up again so I can properly greet him.”
The rest of breakfast passed by uneventfully with simple conversation and planning. Chouza had made a long list of the items they’d need for the new house and their bed and breakfast that would be opening in the next month, so he had quite a few stores to run to. Chouji, on the other hand, was quite content to stay at home and promise his father he’d finish with random parts of the house that needed to be cleaned and arranged. Plates were cleaned and put away, with pans soaking in the sink and both were off to their separate tasks.
Chouji cleaned for a good hour or so before he finally decided to take a break. Heading up to his room he made sure all the windows were covered and the lights were turned off, making the room as dark as he could. Then he turned on the small lamp from his mother and sat on the bed waiting.
“Kage? Are you there? I covered the windows so its safe for you to come out… I think. Unless I need to do something else…”
Chouji trailed off as he glanced around the room, wondering if there was anything else he forgot. After a moment he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to smile at the closet door, where the shadow boy stood quietly. Chouji’s smile was reflected on the boy’s face as he walked over to the bed and silently sat down next to Chouji.
“Sorry I fell asleep so early last night, I was really tierd after everything that happened. Did you miss me?”
The boy nodded, swinging his feet a little.
“Papa said he saw you. I told him about you… I hope that’s ok.”
The boy nodded again, seeming to be comfortable with that. Chouji guessed that the boy wasn’t too keen on being known about by others, but he seemed to trust Chouji and Chouza. Chouji would just have to make sure no one else knew about him or tried to hurt him… especially Ino.
The two boys sat there quietly for a moment, seeming to just enjoy each others presence more then anything else. It didn’t seem like any more cleaning would be done that day, but Chouji was ok with that. The cleaning could wait because right now he wanted time with his friend.
Like any teenage girl, Ino loved her room. It was her sanctuary, the place where she kept her most valuable possessions and the place she used to hide from the world, especially when they didn’t seem to understand her. Now was especially one of those times, but Ino couldn’t keep herself occupied, even in her own little haven.
Being grounded made her room just not worth it.
Her door was closed but she could still hear her brother on the phone, talking to that fat kid across the way, going on about something or another. More then anything, the very sound of Naruto’s voice, even if she couldn’t understand him over his insensent music, was just eating away at her patience. She couldn’t watch tv, she couldn’t talk on her phone… effectively all she could do was sit at her window and glare at the house next to them, up at the window she knew was his. How dare they do this to her. What right did they honestly have?!
Ino frowned more to herself, pacing the room as her anger grew. They had no right to essentially lock her in the room that was supposed to be her sanctuary. They had no right to lock her in her own home. And they had no right to take over the house across the street. They knew nothing about it! They knew nothing about him!
Or wait… maybe they did. Maybe that little fat boy did.
That was unacceptable. Complete and totally unacceptable!
Ino moved over to her bed and silently picked up the phone, listening to her brother’s voice. She needed to know… she needed to know if they knew. Then she’d decide what to do from there.
“So so so, how’s the ghost?”
Chouji laughed on the phone. “Naruto, I told you, he’s not a ghost. He’s a shadow.”
“Booooooooooooooring. It would be more interesting if he was a ghost. A walking, not talking shadow is just boring. Come on I want a real ghost story! I was reading this one the other day about this horrible and huge demon fox – like Godzilla size! – that attacked this village and all the fighting and war that broke out and all the people had these powers they could use to fight it-“
“Naruto! That’s just fantasy.”
“Hmph. So says you.” Naruto dropped back in his bed and stared at the ceiling. “Fantasy’s much more interesting then some shadow coming to life in your house.”
“Your entire family is obsessed with fantasy.” Chouji stuck out his tongue over the phone, even if Naruto couldn’t see it. “Aren’t you always saying that your sister made up her boyfriend?”
“Yeah! She did! She comes home one day, a couple months ago, claiming that she’s got some boyfriend she’s calling Shikamaru. Who has a name like Shikamaru anyway? But she and I go to the same school, and there’s no such person by that name. And I know Ino isn’t going out with some guy from another school, because she’s always home and there was no time for her to do that. She’s completely and totally lying. Shikamaru’s just an imaginary boyfriend she made up because all her girl friends are going out with guys and having normal lives.”
Chouji opened his mouth to answer, but something stopped him. Behind Naruto’s rambling, for a moment he could have sworn he heard someone else breathing. And then there was a soft click, barely even noticeable.
After the phone call ended, Chouji went back to cleaning up the house. Sleep came slowly that night as he watched the covered window. He was sure Ino had been listening in on the conversation and for some reason, that thought really scared him.
Late that night, Chouji dreamt of his mother. He remembered their old house, the small two bedroom with the small living room and the yard out front that really was so small you couldn’t mow it. He pictured her sitting at the kitchen table, the pieces of glass and hot glue gun sitting out as she meretriciously made the glass shade for the old lamp. Butterflies and odd little shapes, rigged to spin slowly and project their shapes on the wall as the light was turned on.
He remembered her long hair, always tied back out of her eyes. When she’d gotten sick she’d always complained about how they cut her hair short, and how it always fell in front of her eyes, forcing her to constantly push it back out of the way.
He remembered her hands, always working on something. She’d loved to cook and around meal time she and Chouza were always dancing around the kitchen, preparing large and delicious meals that Chouji loved. He remembered her enjoying the food too, and he remembered how thin she got when the hospital told her she had to restrict her diet. When they told her she couldn’t eat her own and her husband’s cooking. He remembered her being little more then a twig when she died.
Chouji remembered her smile, and how it lit up the room just like his father’s. He remembered how happy she was, even with the small house and the money troubles they always whispered about when they thought Chouji was sleeping or out of the room. He remembered her delighted eyes when he brought home report cards, class projects and recommendations from teachers. He remembered everything that made her happy.
He remembered her making the lamp again, cutting her fingers on the glass.
He remembered the blood staining the table, soaking into the wood so that it couldn’t be washed. He remembered it dripping on to the floor and smearing, long red lines that faded.
Chouji opened his eyes in the darkroom, curled tightly in his thick quilt as he struggled to breathe. The room around him was dark and for a moment he panicked, until he remembered that the light bulb having burnt out in the lamp somewhere in the middle of the night, with a loud pop and he’d been too lazy to replace it.
All around him the house was dark, and out the edges of the window he could see the sun was still down. But he was awake now and didn’t feel like sleeping anymore. Instead, he felt hungry. For a long moment he lay in bed, fighting the urge, but finally his stomach won out and he decided to go search for food.
Chouji untangled himself from the blankets and climbed out of bed, tugging his night shirt straight as he headed down the stairs to the kitchen. He was careful to step on the very sides of the staircase, so the wood wouldn’t make sounds and wake up his dad. Silent foot steps and low, quiet breaths brought him to the kitchen where he pondered what to make. Upon opening the fridge he was delighted to find cookie dough that his dad had prepared the night before for baking in the morning.
The perfect midnight snack.
Grabbing himself a spoon he took a large chuck of the cookie dough and put it on a plate, then sat down at the table to enjoy it without his father’s disapproving eyes. Of course, his father would notice in the morning, like he always did, but for the moment he was allowed to enjoy his guilty pleasure.
As he ate, Chouji ignored the dream he’d woken up from, not wanting to think about his mother or the strange string of memories that had flowed through his mind. Instead, he imagined that she was upstairs with his father, and that in the morning he’d hear scolding from both of them about the cookie dough, only to be given a plate of cookies as soon as the batch was cooked. Because neither Chouza or Shizune could ever resist having their son sample their culinary works, no matter how much trouble he was in.
It had been perfect. So he just decided, that while he enjoyed the cookie dough, he’d imagine it still was.
Though, perfection it seemed, wasn’t willing to stick around for him. As he was enjoying the cookie dough, he heard a small muffled sound from the basement. It unnerved him enough for him to set down his spoon and wander over to the door, opening it very slightly. He paused, holding his breath, as he heard a voice from down the stairs.
“Damnit, I need to talk to you, so you had better appear!”
Chouji frowned, recognizing Ino’s voice instantly. What was she doing in his basement? He glanced up the stairs toward his father’s room, vaguely considering waking him up, but he didn’t think he could make it silently back up the stairs and he didn’t want Ino to run away in between. Not to mention that he wanted to know what she was talking about. Chouji decided to move slowly down the stairs, happy in the fact that these ones were concrete and therefore silent, even if they were cold on his feet.
The basement was lit from various small windows, scattered along the ceiling to the yard. Moonlight shown in, giving Chouji plenty of light so he wouldn’t trip and fall, yet not enough to be overly noticeable. He moved completely down the stairs and hid on the other side, so Ino wouldn’t see him. Ducking out of sight, he couldn’t help but stare… as the boy appeared in front of Ino, out of the shadows.
“All right, just what the hell are you doing? Since when did I say you could make friends with that fat boy?! You were supposed to be my boyfriend! I’m the one who gave you the name and everything! I’m the one who didn’t run away from you! How dare you turn around and do that to me!” Ino’s voice was hushed, to not wake anyone up, but it was still very apparent how angry she was.
The boy didn’t seem phased at all, as he frowned back at her in his silence. A couple times Chouji noticed him clenching his fists in anger, but otherwise he didn’t show much of a reaction. Once Ino was done yelling, the boy shook his head and stepped back from her, making a show that he was leaving her and not staying around. Chouji was pretty sure that meant he wasn’t happy with what she was saying.
“Don’t you even dare walk away from me to him! Shikamaru!!”
Chouji blinked and covered his mouth to keep from making a sound. Shikamaru? Wasn’t that supposed to be the name of Ino’s imaginary boyfriend, according to Naruto?
Suddenly it all made sense to him. Her anger, her rage and just pure hatred of Chouji could easily be summed up and explained. Ino knew about Kage… she’d named him Shikamaru and she’d claimed him as hers. That also explained why she was so upset when Chouji and his father moved into the house. They’d taken the boy away from her, completely unknowingly.
Chouji moved to stand up, ready to say something to stop Ino’s anger from being directed at the boy, but he second guessed himself when he saw her pull out a lighter and flip it on. The small pin of light dramatically changed the darkness in the room and Chouji watched as Kage stumbled backward, quickly moving away from the fire, shaking his hand that it had been close to.
Kage wasn’t just afraid of the light. It hurt him! And Ino was planning to do just that, because she moved forward, swinging the lighter in front of her, and purposely backing the boy into a corner.
“Ino! Stop it!” Chouji wasn’t second guessing himself anymore, instead he quickly climbed over the stairs and stumbled toward her as quickly as he could to catch her hand. Ino, for her part, was completely surprised and completely dropped the zippo lighter to the concrete floor as she gave a small cry from burning her own fingers. Turning around to react to Chouji, she shoved him back into a pile of empty boxes, causing them to fall all over the room.
The next thing allowed little time to react. Chouji landed hard on the concrete floor, scraping his hand enough for it to bleed. The boxes around him rolled, making a loud crushing and moving sound as they spread out. One of the boxes must have landed next to the lighter, because the next thing Chouji knew the three boxes between him and Ino were burning brightly, lighting up the room around them. Chouji kicked them away out of reflex as he scrambled to his feet, looking for a path out of the basement. But everywhere he looked fire was popping up and smoke was clogging the air. He could only imagine that the door to the basement door had slid shut somewhere along the line, blocking the air in. That meant the basement was going to get smoky fast. And the fire was getting bigger, the room growing brighter-
Chouji stopped and turned quickly, looking over to where Kage/Shikamaru had been. The fire was creating light and that meant it was hurting him! Chouji could see him cowering in the corner, hugging himself tightly as the light seemed to be drawn toward him. His normally black skin was puckering and turning red, seeming to curl like paper slowly burning away. Chouji could see the boy was scared and shaking, obviously in pain.
Then another box tumbled from the fire breaking down its shape, rolling toward the boy. The flames actually touched him this time and Chouji stared in horror as the boy let out a scream of pain.
The air seemed to shatter around them, and suddenly the shadows were moving. Darkness darted out from the wall, diving into the flames like water, trying to put them out. The flames danced around the darkness, and more screams filled the air, as if others were burning as well. Chouji curled up in the corner, covering his ears as he watched Ino standing in the center of the flames, the shadows wrapping tightly around her.
One by one the flames hissed out, water coming in through the windows and the door, yelling and lights filling around him. Chouji’s mind took a full minute to realize the shape coming toward him wasn’t a shadow, but rather a fireman, yelling in a muffled voice to see if he was ok.
The flames were gone now and Chouji couldn’t see anything, his eyes still adjusting to the darkness. As the fireman lifted him and carried him out, he looked back into the basement for something… anything.
But Chouji was the only one left in the basement.
Police and fire truck lights of red, white and blue flashed across their front yard, illuminating the night in splashes of color that quickly faded away, only to reappear again. The whining of the alarms had long since dulled in Chouji’s ears and he found himself feeling numb as the kind nurse with the short pinkish blond hair checked his hands and arms for burns and other injuries. Before he knew it the burn on his arm was patched up, and he was drinking warm, but tasteless, hot cocoa form the ambulance while the uniformed officials moved in and out of the house before him.
Across the yard, next door, Naruto and his father stood at the windows, watching the spectacle. Chouji knew that Inoichi had to be holding Naruto back, to keep the blond boy from rushing out and joining in the ‘excitement’ of the incident. He couldn’t see Ino in any of the windows.
And they hadn’t brought her out of the house either.
Chouji frowned at the half full cup of warm chalk tasting cocoa. Of course he wouldn’t see Ino in any of the windows and he wouldn’t see them carrying her out. He’d seen the shadows come out and attack her, swallowing her up into nothing as they defended their own. He’d heard her scream and he’d seen her seemingly snap out of existence. She was gone. As weird and as odd as it seemed, she was gone.
How was that going to be explained to Naruto and Inoichi? He couldn’t tell them what he’d seen. Well, he might be able to tell Naruto, but all he could imagine was Naruto getting upset with him and breaking off the friendship right there. Telling Inoichi what happened would probably just bring a tired look and persistent insistence on the truth, rather then this ‘lie’.
But he knew for a fact he couldn’t stay silent about what he’d seen.
Commotion came from the front door, interrupting Chouji’s thoughts as yelling moved across the lawn. Seconds later a stretcher was pulled out from the ambulance next to him and rushed into the house, coming out a moment later with someone wrapped in a white sheet, officials crowding around them and yelling at each other.
Chouji jumped down from where he sat and quickly rushed over, ignoring the people around him and nurse’s protests for him to stay out of the way. Weaving around a fireman and an officer he stopped next to the stretcher and his body just seemed to freeze from what he saw.
Lying in front of him, on the stretcher, was the boy made of shadows. But he wasn’t shadows anymore. Instead he looked as human as anyone else, with burns covering his skin, but not to a horrible degree. Now he had black hair, burned close to his face, and his skin was pale in spots where it hadn’t been burned, as if he were a normal boy who stayed inside all the time. And when he opened his eyes and looked at Chouji quietly, his eyes were a fractured green, with patches of darkness still showing, almost resembling a cat’s eyes and their extreme sensitivity to light.
Chouji couldn’t breathe.
“Is he all right?” Warm hands rested on Chouji’s shoulders, helping him become grounded again and making the light feeling in his head go away. His father had asked the question, sounding not surprised at all at the boy’s appearance. Chouji managed to close his mouth and stop looking surprised, as he watched them fit a breathing mask over the boy’s mouth, giving him fresh oxygen.
“He doesn’t look too badly injured.” The pink haired nurse was beside them in seconds to answer that question. “Of course we want to take him in to get the burns looked at, but from what I can see now there’s a couple 2nd degree, but nothing too bad. Is he family?”
Chouza opened his mouth to answer, but Chouji cut in. “He’s my cousin. Shikamaru… he was staying with us for a couple weeks.”
The boy on the stretcher blinked at Chouji, at the mention of that name and reached out toward him. Chouji stepped forward and caught the pale hand, giving the boy a comforting smile.
“Can I ride with him to the hospital? He’s from out of town and I don’t want him to get scared.”
The nurse smiled at Chouji. “Of course you can, since we need to make sure your burns are taken care of too. Just come this way.”
Chouji smiled up at his dad and followed the stretcher to the ambulance, never letting go of Shikamaru’s hand. As the stretcher was loaded up in the back, he climbed up with it, making sure the boy could always see him. At first the boy squeezed his hand tightly, while the ambulance went off but soon his grip loosened and he soon began brushing his fingers against Chouji’s skin, seeming to be fascinated with the fact that he could touch him.
Chouji leaned forward, speaking softly in his ear. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. I promise.”
Shikamaru looked at him quietly, for a long moment. Then he smiled and nodded, looking completely relaxed and content.
It was that incessant music again. Sasuke. Sasuke. Sasuke. Always Sasuke. Sasuke’s music playing from speakers. Sasuke’s face plastered on the wall. Sasuke’s deep voice coming up to announce the actions of the computer. Sasuke’s most annoying tune as the ringtone on the phone.
This hell could only be one place in the world, and when Ino opened her eyes, she could only stare with complete hatred at her brother’s room and all the paraphernalia of the black haired pop star. Her brother wasn’t lying in bed, and she was standing alone in his room, in completely darkness… but she couldn’t remember why.
From the window she could see lights flashing in bright colors, obviously from police cars. Ducking back into the corner of the room, she quickly made sure she hadn’t been near the window enough to be seen. She couldn’t remember clearly, but she’d remembered the house next to them burning. Served them right if their wonderful place was burning down now. That’s exactly what they deserved for taking it all away from her.
She waited while the lights died down and the noise soon faded, leaving the silence from the night. Somewhere in the house she head the front door close and her father and brother talking as they passed to the living room. No doubt they were planning to watch the news for updates, as they weren’t family and weren’t allowed to go to the hospital. Silence passed again, and Ino waited until she heard the tv click on quietly, before moving.
As soon as she was sure it was safe, she stepped out from the corner and moved toward the door.
It was right at that moment that she realized she wasn’t alone in the room. Somewhere along the line she’d felt eyes on her, but had ignored it to make sure she wasn’t caught, but now the feeling was stronger and as she walked to the door, she noticed the eyes on the poster next to her moving, following her steps.
Ino paused, turning her head to face the poster. It was simply laminated printed paper, and it couldn’t be looking back at her. She was obviously paranoid and not thinking straight.
But the picture did move. The eyes did follow her. And the face did slide out of the poster, slinking to step out and land on the ground.
In the blink of an eye Ino was surrounded by vaguely human shapes, all resembling the outlines of human bodies, but lacking eyes, mouths, and any detailed features. She could make out heads and indents where eyes would be, but nothing else. And the things moved around fluidly, like water, surrounding her.
Whispered filled the air, all just a step from understandable words. She could hear them, but she couldn’t understand a word being said, even though the volume was rising, the sound loud enough to crawl over her skin.
Ino suddenly remembered the basement.
She remembered the fire, and she remembered the boy.
She remembered his scream as the fire touched him.
She remembered his skin burning like paper.
She remembered the air closing around all of them.
She remembered the shadows coming to life and surrounding her.
She remembered them yelling in her ear and burning her skin.
She remembered screaming as the darkness covered her.
Ino screamed again, the shadows diving at her.
It’s just too bad, that shadows can’t make sounds.