It was like one of those paintings that had images hidden inside of them. Where at first glance it was just some trees and a stream, but at second glance you could see a face formed in the way the branches touched. And then you looked again and there was a woman in the currents of the stream, or a leaping horse taking shape in the tumble of rocks. So you find yourself looking again and again, wanting to see what else was waiting slightly beyond your normal perceptions.
"You can't see it all once," Shikamaru insisted to Chouji as he sat with legs dangling between the bars of the balcony railing, "You see a little piece of it first and that gets you thinking and looking for the rest. Then you start seeing patterns where before it was just nonsense." He flicked idly at the fly that settled on his arm, making it buzz heavily around his head.
Chouji sighed deeply and leaned forward to look at the trio of genin down below, the chip crumbs that had gathered in the pool of his shirt falling free to the ground. "And I still think you're imagining things."
Shikamaru waved his hand, though whether it was at the fly or at Chouji's doubt was hard to say. He was tempted to explain further, but it seemed that his metaphors and analogies were only making Chouji more confused. Debate wasn't his strong suit anyways. People either got it or they didn't and he hated repeating himself. But, this was Chouji.
"It's the look in his eyes," he said after a while of seriously contemplating his toenails. He wiggled dusty digits against the blue fabric of his sandals and then looked past his feet to take in the scene underneath them.
The famous--infamous?--Team 7 sat on one of the broad benches lining the street, bento boxes uncapped and shared between them as they celebrated Sasuke's discharge from the hospital. There was a tension there; a tightness in the line of Sasuke's shoulders, a strain in the tone of Naruto's boisterous yells, an awkwardness in the way Sakura's hands held her chopsticks.
Sakura's actions didn't interested Shikamaru much; the reasoning behind them was too easy to decipher. No point in wasting thought on them.
Naruto on the other hand. . .one could make a profession out of trying to figure him out. One minute he was an idiot, the next he was pulling shockingly intelligent strategies out of his ass and winning against all odds. Terrified for a friend, then jealous of his strength. Self-confident, self-honest, and both with such strength that it affected you before you even knew what was going on.
"What look?" Chouji asked, wading up the potato chip bag and stuffing it in the sack with the rest of their trash. Shikamaru turned his head to watch his teammate, eyes tracing the red swirls on full cheeks.
"Longing," he said, following the line of the flexing tendon in Chouji's throat.
"Naruto?" Chouji said, taking a sweet red-bean odango from the little brown bag with the teashop name printed on it. "Or Sasuke?"
Shikamaru's gaze skipped over the broad shoulders and drifted away. "Naruto. Sasuke's look is different. Concern maybe, and confusion. Recently. . ." he trailed off.
Self-absorption, self-righteousness; that was Sasuke. Every move radiated strength, purpose. A driving force. But now it seemed that he'd finally noticed something outside of his own little sphere of existence and didn't have a clue what to do with it.
"Recently there's envy," Shikamaru said finally, realizing he hadn't spoken for a while, "He's not used to it. At least not over someone like Naruto."
"No one should be used to feeling envy over someone like Naruto," Chouji said, not cruelly but with the wry affection of one outcast for another. He finished off his desert, licking thick fingers clean.
Shikamaru snorted and rested his forehead on the carved spirals ornamenting the handrail, letting his arms drape limply over his thighs. His eyes narrowed, watching them. Watching the expression on Naruto's face as he tried to draw Sasuke's attention to some great feat of his. Watching Sasuke's expression blend from annoyance to exasperation to tormented self-doubt and back again. He doesn't show nearly as much when Sakura has something to say.
Patterns in behavior, patterns in dialogue; it follows a kind of logic.
"Nah, you're misreading it," Chouji said after a while, shaking his head and smiling as if asking forgiveness for disagreeing, "Naruto is just an attention seeker and as his teammate, Sasuke is the best person to get it from. That's all."
"Ah, come on Chouji, there's this look. . .hell, nevermind." Shikamaru frowned, sagging further against the railing. What's the point of getting worked up over this? It was stupid.
Chouji made a sound that could have been laugh or could have been a loud sigh, and pushed himself to his feet. Discarded paper crinkled and drifted up on the brief breeze created by his footsteps as he made his way over Shikamaru, sitting down next to him with a soft grunt.
The gab between the bars was barely wide enough to accommodate Chouji's thighs, the metal catching on his shorts and pulling them up as he slid his legs through. His left knee brushed against Shikamaru's, a gentle knock of flesh on flesh.
"You make it worse when you do that, you know," Chouji said, with a sort of teasing reproach, "Now you *have to* explain it."
"I've been explaining it," Shikamaru grumbled, studying the way the fabric of Chouji's shorts folded up, the contrast between dark material and pale flesh that seldom saw the light.
"Yeah, yeah," Chouji chuckled, pressing his temple against the handrail and wrinkling up his nose in an undeniably sweet smile, "Try again. For me and the rest of the idiots."
"You're not stupid," was Shikamaru's automatic response, the tone so sour you'd think Chouji was insulting Shikamaru instead of himself, "Keep talking like that and I'll knock you off."
"Ha! I dare you to try to move me. Whoops, he's leaving."
Shikamaru blinked--he'd been distracted by the red-gold highlights in Chouji's hair--and glanced down quickly.
Sasuke had stood, something stiff and overly controlled about his normally confident, loose stance, hands shoved deep in his pockets as he said something they couldn't hear. Sakura protested, weary hopefulness in the way she bit her lip; deep-seated concern in the way her hands clenched in her lap. Naruto scowled and scoffed and folded his arms, turning his head like he didn't care, but Shikamaru could see the lie in the way his fists knotted together.
A shallow dip of that shadow crowned head and Sasuke was walking away, shoulders and arms so taunt the wry muscle that lined them standing out like cords. Naruto titled his head to watch him leave and----
"Now," Shikamaru hissed quietly at Chouji, though if the others hadn't heard them by now they were never going to, "Naruto's face. *Look* at it."
--frustration, pain, desperate want in his eyes, in the pinched line of his brows, in the tight downward curve of his mouth. Damnit Chouji, see it! That's what longing looks like. That's what love looks like. Do you understand yet?
The moment taking place on the stage below them ended quickly; Naruto springing to his feet and rather loudly announcing his need to drain the aftereffects of the juice he drank. Sakura fast responded to this distraction, yelling and punching at the wild boy for his indecencies. And Sasuke walked ever further away from them.
"Eh," Chouji said, scratching at the back of his head, and all of Shikamaru's interest in the conversation drained like water from a pierced bag. "He just looks annoyed to me."
"Saa, you're probably right," Shikamaru said, falling backwards with a sort of boneless-ness that normally only cats could emulate. He folded his hands behind his head. "Lets watch the clouds for a while. I'm bored with talking."
"Hmm. It's a good day for it."