Have you ever wondered what made Nara Shikaku tick, and how he became the man and Shinobi he was? This is my take on that...
Have fun reading!
Nara Shikaku, Ningen Shikaku
Did anyone ever share these very same feelings and thoughts he had been harbouring all his life? Anyone at all?
he wondered if his parents had already discarded him and labelled him
unworthy upon clasping their eyes on him for the first time and
naming him, thus sealing his fate. If they had already figured him
out back then, shrewd as they naturally were...
Oh, his name certainly seemed to fall perfectly in line with the apparent clan tradition, and at first glance you would not think much of it, deeming it an affectionate homage to the animals under the clan’s esteemed care and the guardians of the forest.
But he’d figured it out alright, the underlying ugly truth, the branding he was carrying for life, the mark of disgrace and divergence, the stain to the family name – no, the entirety of humankind…
named him Nara Shikaku, disqualified
He had instinctively felt it from a very young age, his difference, his...alienness amongst the humans who made up his clan. And it didn’t take long after learning how to read to find this hidden meaning.
It explained a lot: the emotional gap he sensed between him and the people he shared a last name with, the feelings of being estranged from everyone around him – not just his family, but the entire village –, the bubbling dread creeping up from his gullet every time he had to awkwardly interact with others, the sensation of knowing eyes staring at him as if they could perceive the very wretchedness of his soul by just one single glance. This revelation had the hair at the back of his neck stand on end, a shiver ran down his spine and settled as a permanent lump of coldness in his gut, heavy as a rock and acidic as bile.
had shaped his development from thereon after. The premise that his
entire existence was a failure from the getgo, that his nature
‘disqualified’ him from belonging with the ones meant to take
care of him and provide him with a loving home, set him on his path
and cemented his mindset. He became extremely wary and guarded,
feared for any wrong reaction that heralded the merciless expulsion
or even termination of the merely tolerated parasite that he deemed
himself to be, as his sharp mind was very well capable of imagining a
multitude of the most horrible scenarios how they would put him out
of his misery for the good of humanity. Inwardly it terrified him,
but he dared not show it in any way lest he be struck by the
And while the men appeared to regard him with the reserved indifference you would deign a desp1cable spider just out of reach in the corner on the ceiling – only barely tolerated for the purpose of catching mosquitoes and instantly squashed once it was no longer useful or dared crawl too close for one’s liking--, he was most afraid of the women, who seemed to be able to sense his true nature as if it clung to him like a faint but foul odour of burnt rubber he couldn’t possibly wash off even if he decided to henceforth live in a bathtub and scrubbed himself raw for an eternity.
apprehensive glances scared him so much that he could feel the very
same constant lump of coldness in his gut rise all the way up to his
throat every time he had to face them, fearing he would invariably
vomit all of his ugliness inside at their pretty feet if he so much
as dared to open his mouth.
It was no surprise that he thus became a most taciturn child who only gave off non-committal noises as responses if pressed for answers; it was his only route of defence, he concluded, and in order to maintain his usefulness and therefore the right to continue to dwell in the presence of these humans of this clan – and by extension, the whole village – he had to prove his worth constantly while keeping the lowest of profile at the same time.
His path was that of walking the tightrope of excelling at everything his ingenious mind was possibly capable of and staying almost invisible as to not provoke any form of backlash that might justify them to chase him out of the gentle halo of their lives like a flea-bitten plague-carrying rat, he decided. Making all of the internal effort while pretending to not even bat an eyelash on the outside. Doing everything he possibly and impossibly could to render the label branded onto his very being undone. To erase the invisible stain from his given name.
What would it take to ‘qualify’ him as a Nara, as a human being even?
What would it take, what would it take?!
This question haunted him constantly, thieved his sleep at night when he lay unmoving and alone on his futon; eyes closed, senses alert, pretending to meditate when in reality his mind found neither rest nor reprieve, and the coldness of mortal dread poured freely from his gut up to his brain like an icky, rancid liquid flowed from the bottom of an 4lmost empty bottle all the way up to the cap when tipped over to the side.
he time and again nodded off during class at the Academy due to
exhaustion from his sleep-deprivation; the tasks asked by the
teachers posed no challenge whatsoever for his mind, and it was
occupied with finding means to survive anyway. Luckily, it also kept
him afloat and helped evade the brunt of all possible trouble as he
still remained able to solve the problems in a jiffy, even if he was
caught napping, quite literally and me
as soon as he carefully trod the path laid out for him by his
venerable family – the path of a Shinobi – he needed to learn how
to interact with people properly without raising susp1cion, to
anticipate their every reaction to his every move, to emulate
appropriate behaviour according to their expectations, and to pose as
one of them… to pretend to be ‘normal’ without being found out
and have his deficiency be exposed for everyone to see. That in
itself birthed a new level of inner terror for him.
it also taught him how to be a true Shinobi: he needed to ‘kill his
heart’ in order to survive in a society of humans as one who was by
birth ‘disqualified’ as such, he needed to steel himself, hide
his true thoughts and feelings and instead donned a mask of
impenetrable boredom and indifference at all times. Living in a world
of make-believe and pretence, always afraid of being figured out,
always afraid of being cast out, he needed to master his secret art
at all cost. Becoming the living shadow of a human so he could
pretend to be one, that was the goal.
Ironically, this fit right in with the image of what he perceived might ‘qualify’ him as a Nara – his clan was that of the shadow wielders after all! And seemingly effortlessly, he was quite apt at these signature Ninjutsus. He made sure not to show anyone how much and how hard he really practised to achieve as much, or what he was truly capable of, though.
shadow only stood out as much as it contrasted to the intensity of
the light shone onto the ob
after graduation he then – like many Nara Shinobi before him –
was placed on a team with the heirs of the Akimichi and Yamanaka
clans, a new kind of perpetual dread entered his sore excuse of an
existence. For if his teammate Inoichi was to glimpse even a fraction
of what he kept hidden inside his mind, his life would be over in a
He knew it the very moment their eyes met for the first time: this was a most dangerous situation that could tear asunder all of his efforts up to this point. There was an extremely skilled enemy right before him, and he was not at all sure how to fool him even for a split-second! All Inoichi had to do was use his d4mnable Shintenshin no Jutsu on him and the ugly truth hidden inside the shadows of his soul would be dragged to light.
So what was he supposed to do? What could he even do to keep it from happening?
answer, he deduced, was to ‘befriend’ his enemy, even though he
didn’t know how to make friends yet, much less convincingly pretend
to be one without disclosing his secret. But his observational skills
and the conclusions he drew from them had yet to let him down, so he
steeled his resolve and fuelled it with his desire to survive.
it turned out, Inoichi was as easy-going as it got, and, as the
Yamanaka boy was a walking, talking one-man-entertainment-show all by
himself, he didn’t even have to put that much more effort into
making awkward conversation than he already did; seemingly his
non-committal noises now and then were enough response for Inoichi to
keep his incessant chatter going for hours.
And yet he had to stay wary of Inoichi’s curiosity and remained inwardly on edge every second of every minute of every hour he had to spend with his teammates, always second-guessing every move he made and every syllable he uttered if they might make the other boy susp1cious of him. He didn’t dare sleep in his presence for fear he might exploit the situation of his lowered defences and dive into his nightmares. So instead he sneaked off whenever he could during the day to meditate, maybe take the shallowest of naps in order to replenish the resources of his keen mind and keep functioning. But Inoichi managed to find him every time and without fail, regardless, like a hound on the scent of fresh blood. It was truly troublesome.
This was also the time when he picked up Shougi –much to his family’s delight--, and soon used it as a defence mechanism to shield his mind from prying eyes: if he focused hard enough on game strategies, moving the pieces on the board of his imagination and solidifying the image of doing so in his mind, it might rebuke Inoichi from prodding further. For he was not the least bit interested in such ‘complicated and boring things’, as he’d put it with the most displeased mien and a thwarting gesture as if he was swatting an annoying fly. This definitely made life easier when dealing with the Yamanaka, and also scr4ped the barrel for some illusion of approval from his clan, even if it did hardly anything to ease his general dread when dealing with other people.
In the following years on the infamous ‘Ino-Shika-Cho’-team he gradually learnt how to deal with these situations, how to behave like a ‘normal’ human being without any indication that Inoichi had figured him out so far. Thus he became quite confident in his act: if he could fool a ‘friend’, one with frightening capabilities such as the Yamanaka’s no less, he could be a little more comfortable around people, and maybe, eventually, one day become ‘qualified’ as a Nara if only he could keep it up until the very end…
That was when out of the blue he received a low bl0w to the gut with the force of a Bijuudama: in his fear of being discovered by Inoichi he had made the fatal mistake to overlook and thus underestimate his other ‘friend’, Chouza! One day, right before the usual training time, the two of them were waiting on their teammate and their Sensei at the appointed place, and he was lost in thought, already preparing himself for the encounter with Inoichi, when Chouza leaned over and muttered into his ear with his disarmingly kind and soft voice: “Shikaku, relax. There really is no need to be on edge so much around us all the time.”
Shikaku snapped his head around, staring at Chouza wide-eyed like the proverbial deer caught in torchlights right before mercilessly splatted by the oncoming wagon, his mind blank with horrified turmoil on overdrive and icy cold panic rising to br1mming. This was an even more formidable foe if he’d managed to pretend to be harmless enough for Shikaku to lower his guard around him while seemingly easily seeing right through him in turn; a true master of deception he could learn so much from! He was rendered speechless.
Chouza only smiled friendly at him and nibbled on his snack as if he
couldn’t hurt a fly even if his life depended on it. “We’re
friends after all,” he added offhandedly as if he truly meant it,
even if his crescent moon eyes held a knowing glint as he kept
smiling. And yet... this was the most cruel bl0w of them all, and it
knocked the wind out of everything he could have replied.
And when he finally did answer, he felt like a mechanic doll helplessly puppeteered by this master-manipulator, flapping his mouth to replay a pre-recorded sentence that sounded as hollow to him as the gaping abyss of dread yawning its maws inside him: “Right. Best friends even.”
Seemingly contented, Chouza nodded slightly to himself and continued eating his snacks without mentioning anything else during the wait, all the while only one maddenlingly frightening thought reverberated and bounced off the imaginary walls of Shikaku’s mind: ‘he knew!’
over the following years, when he was inwardly even more frightened
of his only two ‘best friends’, Chouza did not once behave any
differently towards him: he neither exploited his knowledge to
blackmail him, nor shunned him, nor seemed to have spread the truth
to anyone else. And when the inevitable finally did happen and
Inoichi caught a whiff of what lurked inside his mind, the only
comment he made was “Man, I’m glad I’m not a genius like you.
You sure have issues I could never even begin to imagine, my friend!”
accompanied by a sigh and a pat on the shoulder, before he added:
“Let’s get drunk tonight! You’ll surely forget your worries for
a while once you get to loosen up a little.”
And before he even knew how to react, he was dragged off into one of Konoha’s various Izakayas by Inoichi; Chouza tagged along as well, probably mostly for the food’s sake. That night Shikaku returned home totally wasted for the first time in his life of seventeen years, never even having had the chance to give a heads-up to his caretakers where he had been so late, and hardly even having the recollection of how he’d emptied the content of his stomach onto the porch of the Nara estate... and right in front of a pair of feet, which belonged to the stern-faced man, who had provided and raised that ‘disqualified’ boy under his roof, awaiting his return with arms crossed and shadows of displeasure dancing around his eyes! And even if Shikaku was again reminded of his failure when come morning he knelt scrubbing the porch extra clean while enduring a head-splitting hangover-headache, from there on alcohol and ‘benders with his best buddies’ became a constant companion to somehow keep his innate fears at bay – if only for a while.
He made these frequent indulgences of disgrace up to his clan by putting even more secret effort into making a name for himself, flying through the Shinobi ranks in as much of an 4loof and unobtrusive way as possible, carefully drawing spotlight solely to the shadow he cast with his strategies until his every opinion and insight on a matter held weight enough to invariantly be considered by Council and Hokage and Daimyou alike. As Jonin Commander and head strategist advising the head of government from the shadows, he would certainly become ‘qualified’ as a Nara at long last, wouldn’t he?
He remained doubtful and was only ever able to quiet down his dread for a while when he went drinking all night with Inoichi and Chouza, the only two people he trusted to carry him home afterwards without ever treating him as anything less than a human if he dared let down his guard a fraction.
But it still thieved his sleep at night, kept him inwardly tossing and turning in agony, while his body remained unmoving as if trapped in a paralysis of fright and his eyes tightly shut, pretending to be sound asleep. Thus he still needed his naps and brief reprieves during the day, sneaking them in whenever possible as he lounged about in the ready room. Due to his unchanged mindset, he was still pretty much afraid of everyone shunning him even if he had become more proficient in putting up all the appearances over the years, and especially the Kunoichi terrified him.
expectedly, he was practically mortified when Yoshino entered his
life with a force he couldn’t possibly sustain, mentally petrified
by her every action and rendered defenceless by her every glance. For
all he cared, she could sit on him to remind him of his rightful
place as a lowlife-less-than-human, and he would not be able to
How Yoshino captured him with the apparent effortlessness and grace of a grandmaster of Shougi catching a novice’s Jewelled General in a few elegant and efficient moves before they even knew the endgame was already over, remains a story to be told another time…
But suffice to say, even though she expertly managed to hold his utterly unprepared heart captive without fail, and made him experience such a foreign fairytale as love firsthand for the first time, he still remained forever frightened of her. She was a strong and fierce woman like no other, he understood in amazement, yet she could be gentle as the sweet sun in spring at the same time – and she had figured him out as easily as if reading an open picture-book!
to me, Shikaku,” she’d whispered to him one of these nights when
they lay awake beneath the sheets, locking his face between her
slender hands and forcing him to hold her gaze, “there’s nothing
have to be afraid of: you are the rightful head of the Nara clan now,
I daresay your brilliant mind remains unparalleled by any Shinobi or
Kunoichi in whole Hi no Kuni-- maybe even beyond--, you are
thoughtful, careful and considerate in everything you do, your
absence at any governmental meeting of importance in this country is
unthinkable, –just as promised-- you make me the happiest
wife I can possibly be, and I know you’ll be the best father ever
once our son is born. Whoever has the faintest glimmer of doubt in
you being anything but
living embodiment of what it means to be a Nara is but a blasted,
ign0rant fool – so don’t you dare be one, dearest husband of
mine! Remember, there is a third
to your name, and it is more true than everything else.”
kissed the tip of his nose before she let go and snuggled closer,
cushioning her head on his chest so she could listen to the thrumming
of his quivering, trembling heart until she fell asleep. She was
truly just as terrifying as she was terrific. That night he
eventually was able to breathe a little easier, and finally, finally
get at least some rest in the halls of this estate without him
feeling like the burden of his name would come crashing down on him
Yes, he was forever smitten with this incredible, enigmatic woman who he was honoured to call his wife!
And when only a few years later he would notice the cautious glint in a pair of eyes peering up at him as if to determine the right course of action --so very much like his own regard when he’d looked at his father--, the realization struck him like lightning yet again: he was not the only Nara clan member who held these sorts of fears in their heart, burdened with an ingenious enough mind to be capable of imagining the most horrible outcomes and consequences to their every move, sh4ckled by the ac(umulated expectations placed on their frail shoulders by generations of outstanding personalities of the loyal and reliable shadows behind the Hokages of this village; and he was not the ‘alien’, the ‘unworthy’, the ‘failure’.
Never had been.
He swore then and there to himself, he would see to it personally that his son-- his beautifully ingenious little son!-- would never know the full extent of the terrors he himself had lived day in and day out throughout his life up to this point, that he would never feel the vicious seeds of self-doubt bear any poisonous fruit inside his fragile heart, and that he would never think of himself as being ‘disqualified’ as a Nara, much less a human being. (Even though he should still rightfully be terrified of all women and their capabilities, in his opinion!) He would teach him, in due time, even if that meant he would have to make the extra effort to step out of his relative comfort zone and brave the awkwardness of human interaction for him.
he was Nara Shikaku, qualified
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