A WARNING: There is a more… romantically graphic scene in the middle of this story. It fits the plot and it's not very graphic or detailed, but if you want to skip it, when you see "we're alive." go straight to the next scene break (/ / / / ) and you'll skip it entirely.
Hope you all like, and yes, it's a long chapter.
He stretched back on the grass, feeling the sun warm his torso. Cracking an eye open, he saw Naruto dunk Sasuke under the water, making Kiba bark with laughter. Shikamaru smiled softly, closing his eyes again. He sniggered at the sounds of the Uchiha splattering, then Naruto's shriek followed by a large splash.
"Aren't you going to join us?"
Shading his eyes, he looked at Hinata, who was timidly hugging her bundled towel to her chest. "Nah, I'm good. Might swim later."
"He probably wants to nap," Ino shouted with a laugh.
Shikamaru lifted his head to try to glare at his teammate only to get a face full of water. From all the laughing he wasn't sure who did it, though he had a feeling it was either Ino or Naruto. He reached for his towel that he had dumped next to him with Naruto's. As he rubbed his face, he felt his energy leach from his body rapidly.
Moving the towel away, panic exploded into his system. Everything was dark. He couldn't hear his friends or Naruto anymore, couldn't smell the river, or feel the grass. He hands and fingers ached and stung, his legs burnt, and his ankle throbbed. Trying to take a calming breath, he attempted to move his arms. They were restrained. That's when he realized he was encased tightly. His heart pounded as he focused on controlling his breathes, and thinking through his situation.
Last thing I remember is the river. How did I get here? Were we attacked? Where's Naruto? Is she okay?
He heard something, as though far off. It took him a second to make out the muffled noise but eventually he did. He gasped in relieve and mild fear.
"Shikamaru! Shikamaru!" Naruto's voice became clearer as light pierced into the dark. "I'm here. Shikamaru, it's okay."
Again, he tried to remember how he ended up trapped. Then all at once the memories of what had felt like a year were ripped away from him. He still had them, but they had the haze of a dream. The last thing he truly remembered was trying to reach Naruto in her last moments. But he could hear her now. Was this more of the illusion?
The light spread, stinging his eyes before it was blocked. Blinking, his eyes focused on a tan face, rounded cheeks with whisker marks, and blue eyes. Ignoring his body's protest, Shikamaru lunged into a sitting position. He stared at her, taking in every detail to try and see through the genjutsu. Reaching up, he cupped her face with both hands. The blood on his palms stuck to her hair.
"Are you real?"
Naruto gave a relieved laugh in reply before tackling him to the ground. She buried her face in his neck, her back shaking and her tears dampening his chest. He just held her to him, feeling her heart beat with his.
"I was terrified I was going to lose and leave you trapped in there," Naruto admitted softly.
"I wasn't. I knew you'd save us." He decided to not voice how he hadn't known he was trapped, or his last real memory being her dying.
A clearing of a throat made Naruto sit up and help Shikamaru do the same. Looking over he saw Sasuke, the Fourth Hokage, and the Third Hokage. The first two looked uncomfortable, with Sasuke looking up at the sky and the Fourth glaring at Shikamaru. The Third Hokage however, had a smile of amused contentment so much like the one his son had often worn that Shikamaru had felt a pang of grief at the sight of it.
Naruto ignored the three, her eyes still on the Nara before her. "Can you stand?"
"I think so."
With Naruto's held he rose to his feet and hobbled over to his girlfriend's dad and chosen brother. Both men were still acting in wildly different, yet equally awkward ways to do with him, but luckily the Third was the same as Shikamaru remembered.
"How are you feeling, my boy?"
"A bit tired, Lord Hokage, and sore, but I'll recover."
"Well, you were in the pod for almost eight hours," the Fourth muttered, his shoulder shifting as though he meant to move his non-existent arms. "You would have lost some chakra."
"Eight hours?" he yelped, looking over at Naruto. "Were you fighting alone for eight hours?"
"No, I had Kakashi-Sensei, Sasuke, Sakura, and even Obito." Naruto shrugged, looking across the battlefield as people were slowly recovering from being in the pods, connected to the now gone tree.
"Obito was working for Madara, right?" Shikamaru rubbed his forehead.
"Sort of," Sasuke sighed. "it was Obito, pretending to be Madara, then it was Madara, with the Black Zetsu helping him, then it was Black Zetsu, who was actually working for this goddess who was also his mother. It was weird."
Shikamaru nodded at that statement, deciding to not ask any follow up questions.
"I'll be right back," Naruto muttered, nodding towards a masked man clearly from the Foundation.
For some reason it didn't surprise him when the man knelt before the blonde. He had heard from his father that the Foundation had a new leader, and Naruto was an excellent choice. He had seen how much spending time with the members had helped her, and had heard from Sai how much Naruto had done for them.
"I'm sorry about your father, Shikamaru."
The Nara looked over at the blond man, trying not to wince at the mention of his recent loss. He remembered too clearly seeing his father happy, with his mother only minutes ago before he had gone to the river with Naruto and his friends. Except he hadn't.
"I appreciate that, Lord Fourth." He ignored Sasuke and the Third who were shuffling off to the side to pretend they weren't able to hear them.
"You can call me Minato." The man sighed heavily, his eyes not leaving his daughter's form. "I got separated from Naruto for the final fight. None of us reanimations were able to fight beside them. To hold back my panic, I started rehearsing what I was going to say to you when you woke up."
Shikamaru steeled himself. "Okay."
"Then Naruto came back, she and Sasuke broke the jutsu, and she went running to you. She knew where you were, like she had your position on the field mapped before the jutsu started." He glanced at Shikamaru, who nodded, agreeing to his guess. "I knew Naruto was going to be powerful. Kushina was a force, all Uzumakis kind of are, and all have a lot of chakra. And out of everything I thought about when it came to her I had one hope above others. It wasn't that she was gorgeous, or strong, or even happy. I knew that, like everyone, she would sometimes not be happy, that strength and beauty aren't everything. The one thing I wanted her to have, and to always have, was her own, personal… home. Somewhere or someone she could go to and feel safe, be herself, especially if she was to become a Jinchuriki. My little speech to you went out of my head when I realized I saw Naruto return to her home, and it was you."
Taking a deep breath, Shikamaru turned to face Minato, who copied him after a lingering look at his daughter, as though afraid he would miss something. "You know, when I worked out the Nine-Tails was in Naruto, I didn't react well. I had been putting the pieces together for a while and Naruto gave me the last hint, as though she wanted me to know. I didn't have an issue with her though. I asked…. More demanded my father tell me who was the monster to turn Naruto into a prison. I was disgusted to hear that it was you, because dad had always told me you were a hero. It didn't matter that he insisted that you wanted Naruto to be seen as a hero too, I couldn't understand why you would ever do that to someone, let alone someone so kind, smart, funny, and caring. If there was a person in the world who deserved the mistreatment the least, it was her. When I found out you were her father, I understood a bit better. It had to be an Uzumaki, and you knew how amazing she would be."
He looked over at the blonde who was now talking to Kakashi-Sensei, who had Captain Yamato on his back. The man wasn't looking well. "How you think she sees me, I hope you're right, cause that's how I see her. It's how I've seen her for a long time. And I've never seen her as Kurama. And I stopped seeing Kurama as a monster somewhere over the years too."
Minato gave a wet sniff and a nod in Shikamaru's direction. "When I found out Kushina was pregnant I started practicing how I'd threaten my daughter's boyfriend encase I had a girl. Funnily enough one of the people I practiced in front of was your dad. He and Inoichi used to laugh that they pitied any boy brave enough to go for my daughter. Your dad though, he hoped that our two children would be friends, and someone each other could rely on. I'm glad he got his wish. He raised a great kid."
"Thanks." Shikamaru sighed. "I wish I had realized how supportive he was years ago. It would have helped a lot." At Minato's confused look, he elaborated, whilst keeping him ignorant of anything to do with the trauma Naruto suffered growing up. "I… had trouble realizing I loved Naruto for a long time. It took me almost four years. Then it took me another almost five years to work out if she was interested in me or not. Granted, she was on a training mission with Lord Jiraiya for two and a half of that so not so bad I guess."
The man frowned at him. "You've loved my daughter since you were eight or nine?"
"I don't think I loved her from that young an age, but I certainly started liking her that young."
Minato gave him a small smile. "I was ten. Kushina declared she wanted to be Hokage in front of the whole class. Something between her boldness and her beautiful red hair just got me."
Shikamaru chuckled. "Naruto used to declare something similar. I started noticing her more than was normal when I was about seven and she had just joined my class. But it got worse after a detention we had when I was nine. I thought I started noticing her more cause of the way she smelt but I realized recently, that wasn't it. It was her laugh, and how caring she was. She didn't really like to touch people but she still brushed chalk from my hair. I don't know why but that was it."
When arms slid around his waist he didn't jump, somehow knowing it was Naruto. "I started noticing you more than anyone else when you told me I deserved better."
"That was our first conversation," he reminded, vaguely noticing the sniffle Minato gave.
Naruto gave him a soft smile and an even softer kiss. "I started having feelings for you when Kiba, Choji, you, and I were skipping class and got busted by Iruka-Sensei. He put a leaf on all our foreheads and started going on about the forehead protectors. You looked at me and went cross-eyed trying to look at the leaf. Then you smiled at me. You rarely smiled back and I thought I was so lucky to see something as amazing as that."
Shikamaru only vaguely remembered that day. It hadn't been a particularly unusual event. He did remember making Naruto laugh and being unable to help grinning at the sound. He had felt good to be the cause of it and had had to bite down on the urge to tell everyone about it.
The blonde's eyes moved to look in front of them before she sniggered. She stepped out from behind Shikamaru. "You alright there, dad?"
Turning to the Fourth Hokage, Shikamaru found tears streaming down the man's cheeks. He nodded enthusiastically as he sniffled. "Yes, I'm fine. I'm just so happy to see how grown up you are. You're everything I ever hoped for and more. I'm so glad you have someone in your life like Shikamaru. I'm so glad I was brought back long enough to help you, and to see a glimpse of your life."
Shikamaru looked at Naruto, wondering if he should give them a moment. As though in answer, the blonde's hand shot out to grip his tightly. He hid the wince from the painful throb they gave in response. The damage he had caused them climbing the rocks was worse than he thought. Her mouth pulled tight and she stared at her father, silently begging him to stay.
"I… I don't know what to say. I don't want you to go." Naruto pulled her shoulders back, stepping in front of Shikamaru so that her father could see her fully. "I'll be okay, I promise. Pervy-Sage taught me a lot. I don't always eat my vegetables but I'm working on it, and sometimes I drink, but Kurama stops me from really getting drunk. And I have friends. I didn't always but I prefer having the great friends I have now over any other option. And," Naruto looked at Shikamaru, before looking back at her father with her trademark grin, "I'm happy."
Minato smiled back at her, the corners of his mouth pulling down sadly as his eyes swam with tears. "I know. I love you so much, Naruto."
"I love you too," Naruto sobbed, making Shikamaru hug her to his chest. Her father gave him a thankful smile when she leant into him. When Minato's form started to faintly glow, becoming translucent, Naruto wept harder.
Shikamaru looked away as the father and daughter looked on each other for the last time. He spotted the Third as he put a comforting hand on Sasuke's shoulder, who was keeping a purposely blank face. Even when the Third disappeared in front of him, the Uchiha didn't drop the expression.
/ / / / /
Naruto had moved away from the forces who were starting to realise they had won thanks to the blonde and Sasuke. It didn't take her too long to pull herself together after her father left, perhaps because she had prepared herself for it. She still needed some time to compose herself though. She didn't speak on the topic. Shikamaru kept feeling like Naruto was waiting for something, whether good or bad he wasn't sure. He could see she wanted to say something to him but held back.
Sasuke sat silently on Naruto's other side, watching the forces scramble around. Shikamaru wondered if he was sticking close to her so that he could demand a fight from her when he was recovered. The way he had simply stood guard, scaring off anyone who might want to talk to Naruto as she grieved her father in Shikamaru's arms made Shikamaru doubt it was truly about the fight.
Both men jumped when Naruto suddenly laughed. When they looked at her in question, she laughed again. "My dad was a dork."
Surprisingly, Sasuke cracked a grin before dissolving into laughter. "He's meant to be a genius," he choked out.
When Shikamaru gave Naruto a questioning look about Sasuke practically rolling around on the ground laughing, she simply rolled her eyes in dramatic exasperation.
"Oh, finally," Naruto started saying, hand pointing frantically at her head. "There's a voice in my head."
"Yeah, that's the Nine-Tails." Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"His name is Kurama, and no, not him, idiot." Naruto frowned. "Wait, deer, repeat that. Are there casualties? What? Hang on." The blonde started looking around, spotting Shikamaru's teammates making their way over to them tentatively. "Ino, can you boost the connection with my subordinate? I think she's underground, and possibly injured so I can barely hear her. Patch Shikamaru in, he'll want to know about this."
"Patch me in too," Sasuke pouted.
"And me!" Choji added cheerfully.
Naruto ignored them, letting Ino put her hand on the other woman's shoulder.
"Deer, repeat your report."
"We were able to use your chakra to move the building but we weren't fast enough. The shockwave got us. We had loosened too much heavy earth and the roof collapsed."
"Are the others alive? What about the leaders?"
"I… I'm sorry, Lady Naruto, I'm not sure. I'm safe, but I'm trapped in a side room. I've tried contacting Lion and Crow, they were the closest to me, but I haven't heard anything from them. Dingo was on the other side of the wall from me but I know he is dead."
Naruto swore softly. "Do you need more chakra? If I give more chakra to you, Lion, Crow, and Hedgehog, will you be able to contact them?"
"If you activate the seal again it won't just be them," Deer admitted, sounding sheepish. "I was able to mark everyone here shortly before the attack. It was after you sent the first wave of chakra. I should have told you, Lady Naruto. I'm sorry. The pathway is open to all of them. I can't turn it off."
"Don't be. That was great thinking, putting the welfare of everyone above the basic order. If I send chakra, that could help any injured to stay alive till we get there. I'm going to send chakra and I want you to relax this connection. Give me updates when necessary but focus more on trying to contact those around you instead. We will be over shortly." Naruto lifted the left side of her shirt, showing an intricate seal on her tan skin. Taking a kunai out, she cut her left palm, then let her blood run thickly down the seal. She swayed, making Sasuke grab her shoulders.
Shikamaru's eyes widened, remembering Naruto's green complexion on the battlefield, and the blood on her hand and running down her side from under her shirt. He tried to remember when in all the fighting he had seen that. When he realised, his gasped. She couldn't have, could she? It was certainly something she would think of. "Naruto, did you… did you save our fathers?"
"Don't get your hopes up yet. Looks like I didn't enact my plan quick enough." Her gaze on him was soft. This had been what she had been waiting for, before telling him there was a chance.
Naruto snapped her fingers and instantly eight ninjas were crouching before her, wearing masks with different animal motifs to them. "We need to find at least half a dozen of the best earth style users. We have some buried comrades. I can give them chakra if needed. A dozen would be better but be quick. Ask the Kazakage, and the Tsuchikage if they have anyone. Also, someone inform the other Kages about the buried headquarters."
"Understood, Lady Naruto."
Once they left, the blonde turned to Ino and Shikamaru, clearly wondering how they would react to her secret. She froze for a moment when Ino lunges into her arms, hugging her tight.
"Thank you" Ino repeated over and over before pulling back. "I'm going to gather some healers. They're bound to be wounded."
"Ask for Rabbit," Naruto instructed, "just find any Foundation member and tell them I sent you. They'll get you to them."
Ino nodded, Choji going with her as she wobbled on uneasy legs. Shikamaru understood what she was feeling. He felt like his entire world had spun multiple times at that bit of news.
Before his teammates were even out of ear shot Shikamaru pulled Naruto to him, cupping her face before kissing her passionately. He barely noticed Sasuke awkwardly wondering off a distance as he pulled back.
"I love you!"
In reply, Naruto just kissed him.
/ / / / / /
Gaara had volunteered to help them, as had the Tsuchikage's son, Onoki. To transport the small number of Allied forces, mostly consisting of Foundation members, to the headquarters' new location, Kurama's form overtook Naruto's. Shikamaru didn't hesitate to enter the transparent body of the fox, feeling the now familiar chakra brush against his. He looked across, seeing Sasuke, and surprisingly Sakura, also joining him and Naruto up at Kurama's chest. He simply nodded in acknowledgement at the two as everyone else tried to find themselves comfortable within the Nine-Tails form.
The speed of a Tailed Beast was astounding. Glancing at both Naruto and Gaara, Shikamaru realised the two found it somewhat familiar, or even comforting, but he felt somewhat queasy. The red-head also looked a little upset. However, his mournful look alleviated when a loud shutter shook the ground and an enormous form landed beside them as Kurama skidded to a halt.
"Were you leaving me behind?" asked Shukaku. "If you want to move a lot of earth, I'm your best bet."
"I'm glad you want to help," Gaara admitted softly, a small smile on his face.
Somehow the One-Tails managed to look embarrassed. "I'm not helping, I just don't want anyone thinking that they're better at earth style than me."
"Of course," agreed Gaara with a chuckle. The Kage shared a look with Naruto, who quirked her eyebrow at him before jerking her head towards the back of Kurama's. Both Jinchurikis shook their heads as the Tailed Beasts ignored them.
"Alright, everyone out," Naruto said. "I'm sensing my chakra in this location, but I can't sense how many people or who is alive."
She shot Shikamaru and Ino apologetic looks as the earth users started surveying the area. Kurama lowered Shikamaru to the ground before disappearing back into Naruto.
"That probably means they are running on mostly your chakra at this point," Sakura explained. "Are you able to funnel more into them if needed?"
"I can, but I can't target someone particularly unless I'm closer to them." Naruto pulled up her shirt and ran her hand over her side, revealing the seal hidden on the flesh. "This seal is connected to every Foundation member. If I order them to do something that takes a lot of chakra, I can also get them to open the seal on their side, allowing me to funnel chakra into them whenever I activate the seal. However, they have to close it on their side otherwise every time I activate it, they'll get my chakra. I can close it but there's two problems with that."
"What are they?" Sakura asked.
"It's easiest to do when in contact with the person, and the other way is complicated and I forgot the hand signs."
Shikamaru couldn't help the sigh he and Sakura shared at Naruto's sheepish admission.
"On the up side, it's only the people who are in the building who have it activated, and Deer can close it if she can move around to the others."
"Alright." Sakura nodded, mulling over what Naruto had told her.
There was something startling watching Sakura, the woman who had always bossed not only her teammate but the rest of the once Rookie Nine, in the subordinate roll. It seemed almost natural for both women to slip into the rolls. There was no resistance or apprehension from Sakura, and Shikamaru was fairly certain that was purely because of Naruto. She was still lacking in certain areas, such as remembering important things, but she had a confidence about her. She gave orders, formed plans, without a hint of hesitation or self-doubt. Shikamaru knew though, that Naruto would still be open to council from others.
"If any of their chakras dip to low, you might have to give them more. Is that doable?" Sakura asked in a professional voice.
"If needed. Kurama and I can't really help with raising the headquarters up or healing jutsus so we're going to stay back." Naruto looked at Shikamaru, studying his face as Sakura started to arrange the healers in preparation.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "At the moment, I'm not thinking about it. It's easier that way. If his dead, nothing has changed, except we can put his body to rest." He looked over to where the earth style users were trying to work out how best to raise the building without risking it collapsing. "But if I give myself a moment to hope, then I'll feel pain again."
"Do you want me to try to sense him? I might be able to if I funnel enough chakra into the ground."
He smiled at her, kissing her cheek. "No, thank you. How are you doing though?"
"I feel like I haven't had a chance to breath yet," Naruto admitted. "On top of it, Old Man Sage dumped a lot of crap on me about Sasuke that I don't know how to handle."
"What do you mean?" Shikamaru sat down next to Naruto, shooting a look at the dark-haired man standing off to the side looking lost. He went to grab the blonde's hand, only to flinch.
Naruto sighed, wordlessly pulling basic medical supplies out of her back pouch and starting to clean his hands as she explained how the Sage of the Six Paths, who Naruto had somehow talked to, had told her that she and Sasuke were the reincarnates of his sons. Admittedly, he could see the parallels between Sasuke and Naruto and Madara and the First Hokage, however, he failed to see how the two seventeen-year-old Genins were the Sage of the Six Paths' children reborn.
"It's bullshit," Naruto finished, voicing Shikamaru's thoughts. She bandaged his hands, paying extra attention to the fingers missing nails before she moved to the gash on his shin and his twisted ankle. "Yes, I had to struggle at the start, Sasuke had much better control of chakra than me, and he seemed to just breath everything they were teaching us. But once I got to know Sasuke I found out that he worked hard to get where he was. As a Uchiha he was expected to be naturally talented, but he wasn't. And Itachi told him he had to get strong enough to kill him. His entire life revolved around that, and when he thought he was succeeding, the Chunin exams happened and he saw that not only were there many stronger people but that I had excelled a lot more compared to him. Even if we were fairly on equal footing at that point."
"Not only that," she went on, "but I realise that I'm as strong as I am because of my parents and because I'm a Jinchuriki. Yes, I've worked hard, but if I wasn't a Uzumaki than I wouldn't have Kurama with me or have my chakra level, and my dad invented my best move. I completed it, but whose to say if I would have been able to if I wasn't his daughter? When the Old Sage was telling me about his sons I kept thinking that they didn't sound like us. He tried to say that his version of Sasuke used jutsus for pretty much everything, but Sasuke doesn't do that. He prides himself on his ingenuity, and his hand to hand. It's just stupid! We're ourselves, not some two people who died years ago. Now I don't even know what to do with our fight because it was meant to be between Sasuke and me, not some random people."
"I agree." Shikamaru's soft words pulled Naruto out of her rant. She blinked as though she had forgotten there was someone listening to her angry ramble. She handed him the jar of healing balm Hinata had given her, clearly wanting him to keep it. It was working well on the cuts on his hands. "Do you want my suggestion of how to deal with Sasuke and your fight? I can't believe I'm going to say this, but you need to give him what he wants."
"You want me to let him destroy the village?" Naruto yelped.
"No, of course not." Shikamaru shook his head with a sigh. "What I mean is, that with everything you've told me about Sasuke, about his brother and what he pushed him into, what Orochimaru, Danzo, and now 'fate' has done, I think he needs to make a choice. His own choice, no one else's. And he has to live with the consequences, whatever they are, but he has to make the choice. If he wants to fight you to the death, I'm sorry, and I hate saying this, but you need to fight him to the death. And I don't mean, until you knock him out and drag him back."
The blonde sniffled. "I don't want too."
"I know, but he deserves to choose what he wants to do about all this. You can try to talk him out of it if you want but it still needs to be his decision." Shikamaru took Naruto's hand, bringing it to his lips. He heard the Uchiha coming up behind him as he turned her hand over, kissing her palm softly. He was starkly reminded of doing something very similar, even with Sasuke shadowing him, but at that time Naruto had been unconscious after fighting Gaara.
Naruto barely blinked at the uncomfortable clearing of the throat that Sasuke sounded. At the second clearing, she smiled at Shikamaru before looking up at the other man.
"We have business to finish." Sasuke looked over at the earth style users who seemed to be having issues.
"I'm going to go check on Ino and how the progress is going," Shikamaru stated, giving Naruto a meaningful look before getting up and joining his team. He hid the fact that Naruto had accidentally shown how low her chakra truly had by the fact that she hadn't funnelled any into him to heal him. He chose not to comment and instead hoped that Kuruma was able to help her.
Looking over his shoulder, he watched the two strongest Leaf ninjas move further away. He tried to focus on Ino, who was fighting off the hope for their fathers and seeming to lose. Even the knowledge that the earth users had to dig to the headquarters instead of raise the building didn't grip his attention. Shukaku was making the most headway and as long as they could stabilize the tunnel than it wouldn't be long before they knew the fate of their fathers.
He estimated that he lasted five minutes before he went to see how Naruto was. The longer she was out of his sight the more his heart raced and dread pooled in his stomach. He just had to see her, just a glimpse at least. He couldn't help if the two were fighting. It would be like a bug fighting a volcano. But he needed to know if Naruto risked either death or the loss of her brother. He just needed to see her. Turning around a large rock formation he halted before darting back to hide behind it, silently cursing the pang through his leg. The two were just on the other side, silently standing together. Naruto had been staring at Sasuke, whilst Sasuke had been staring blankly at their surroundings.
"Sasuke," Naruto finally spoke. "What do you want?"
The man didn't answer, just watched the sky quietly. When Shikamaru started to think he was never going to respond he gave soft, choking noise. His shoulders started shaking. "I don't know."
His sobbing grew stronger at the admission. He grabbed Naruto with frantic fingers, pulling her into a tight embrace. "I don't want to hurt you. I'm sorry I ever did. I thought I needed power, that that was my only purpose. And I tried to kill you for that. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, Sasuke," Naruto hushed soothingly.
"No, it's not. I once told you that you could refer to yourself as a Uchiha. That was because I saw you as family. That's what I want. I just want a family again, people who love me, people who won't use me or lie to me, or make me think I'm not good enough. But I'm not even sure I truly had that with my family. I just-" his words were cut off as tears came more rapidly.
Shikamaru shifted, turning to go back to his team. He felt a burning to his cheeks and throat at the privacy he had just invaded. He was halfway back when a cheer rang from the group in front of him and Choji ran to meet him.
"We're in! The Foundation has gone in first to reinforce the ceiling but then we can get in to check on the survivors!" Choji grinned widely, something Shikamaru almost managed to match.
Instantly, the Nara turned back in Naruto's direction, wrapping his ankle in shadow and jogging to where the two Team Seven members had been. When he came around the rock formation, he made sure to be loud enough to warn them. Sasuke had his back to Shikamaru, trying to discreetly wipe his face.
"They're in!" he gasped.
The two didn't hesitate before rushing with him to the still buried headquarters. Shikamaru could barely stay still as they stood at the tunnel entrance, waiting for the Foundation members to surface.
A ninja with a rabbit mask appeared beside Naruto on bended knee. "Lady Naruto, two of the five Root members have been lost. We haven't been able to get close to the others yet."
"Thank you, Rabbit. Ensure you retrieve all the bodies to return to their villages. Is it safe to enter?"
"Healers and a handful of support ninjas to help with the moving of patients would be the wises move."
Rabbit had barely finished talking before Sakura, Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji rushed down the long tunnel, Naruto shooting a thanks over her shoulder before following. The headquarters was so dark that Shikamaru could barely make out the shapes of Foundation members moving about. He looked behind him at Naruto, about to ask how they could even see, but was stopped by Naruto's voice ringing out.
"Night vision off. Bring out lights." She waited a pause before she activated Nine-Tails mode, allowing some light as the Foundation members used summoning scrolls to produce lamps.
"They have night vision?" Sakura asked in surprise.
"Yeah, I got a run-down of jutsus they use." Naruto started scanning the room.
Shikamaru knew his uncle would have still been strapped into the machine that had allowed him to boost his telepathy, so his body would be near the middle of the room. His father, however, who had been touching Uncle Inoichi to allow them both to talk to Ino and Shikamaru, could have been flung anywhere. Silently, he held his hand out to Naruto, asking her to lend him her light. With a sad smile she took it, letting him lead her towards the centre of the room. They had to scramble over large slabs of stone, and Shikamaru had to lift Ino over what looked to have once been a large, heavy desk. The closer they got to her dad's possible location, the more her legs shook. To stop his from being rendered into a similar state Shikamaru kept taking steady breaths of the dusty air, choking it down his airways. He was also certain that if Naruto wasn't so powerful her fingers would be crushed beyond repair in his grip.
Finally, they reached the location. He scanned the area, spotting blond hair tangled around an apparatus encasing someone's face.
"Uncle Inoichi!" he cried, running to the man. He reached his side at the same time as the man's two daughters.
"Dad! Dad, answer me!" Ino reached out to him, only to stop. She turned to Sakura, a pleading look filling her eyes. "We need to get this off him. I don't know if it's safe to move him though. What if his spine has been injured?"
"We need to secure his neck before we move him at all. But first we should check his vitals." It was clear what Sakura was trying not to voice. There was no point in carefully moving Ino's father if he was dead. They would have to move on to others. She signalled Shikamaru to move so that she could step in closer and hover her hands over the man's chest, seeing as Ino's hands were trembling violently.
All three stared at Sakura. Shikamaru wasn't sure if he was breathing properly as he waited.
"There's a heartbeat!" Sakura practically sung, smiling at Ino. Her face turned more serious after the moment of levity. "But there's bleeding into the brain. We have to get him out of this and relieve the pressure before I can assess the damage."
Ino nodded, taking on a calmness she had previously been lacking. "Understood."
"Ino," Shikamaru said in a croaking voice. "I need to find my dad."
"I know. We're good here."
He turned to Naruto, noticing Choji standing behind her, scanning the area for a trace of the other Nara. "Can you sense him?"
Naruto's eyes took the unfocused look Shikamaru was well acquainted with. "I can't tell who is who. They are all still running on my chakra more than their own."
"He would most likely be on this side of the building." He indicated the way Uncle Inoichi was facing. "He would have been thrown by the impact that took out your subordinates and caused the roof to come down."
Lifting her arm, Naruto pointed to a cluster of large boulders that were once part of the ceiling. "There's someone over there."
Instantly, he, Naruto, and Choji ran to where she had indicated. None of the retrieval team were digging in that area but a few stopped at their mad dash, moving to join them. Shikamaru dropped to his knees clawing at the smaller stones, tossing them behind him. He noticed the red soaking into the bandages on his hands but didn't care.
"Dad! Dad, can you hear me?" He threw his shoulder against a large slab that was balanced onto of two others. Whoever it was had to be under them, or wedged between. He grunted against the strain until Choji and Naruto, dropping the rocks they had been moving, took a side each and lifted it. He barely wheezed out a thanks before he scrambled over the under slab, looking through the gap. "DAD!"
Eyelids fluttered but didn't open, dry, cut lips mouthed a word to him. Shikamaru.
"Hang on, we'll get you out!" He jumped back, looking over the rocks. The two that his dad's head and torso were between didn't need to move to lift him out, but there was one pressing on his legs, and another angled against it. He grabbed the one on a diagonal, trying to pull it towards him.
A hand grabbed his forearm. "Stop!"
Shikamaru tried to shake off the hand but its owner pulled him away from his father.
"Stop! You'll kill him!"
Turning with a snarl, Shikamaru was faced with the rabbit mask. "I'm getting him out!"
"I know. But his left leg is completely crushed and from this angle we can't see his right. His been there for hours, for longer than we were trapped in the genjutsu. The blood cells in his leg are dead. If you take the pressure off it, the blood will rush back to his heart and kill him." Rabbit patted his arm, somewhat awkwardly. "We'll save him, but we can't save his left leg, and maybe not his right. Step back, we will take over."
Naruto took Shikamaru's hand, pulling him back and wrapping her arms around his middle. They watched intensely as Choji and the Foundation members moved the two slabs on either side of his father's upper half. The man was barely conscious. Once he was revealed, Rabbit beaconed Shikamaru, letting him cradle his dad's head and when he continued to mouth words, instructed him to give him dribbles of water to wet his mouth.
"The blood flow in the right leg has not been disturbed but there might be some nerve damage," Rabbit informed them. "I'm going to have to render him unconscious to amputate his left leg though. I've examined his head and he luckily doesn't have brain damage. Whether he survives, I can't say. He is badly injured and is suffering from some blood loss. Removing his leg runs some risks too."
Shikamaru nodded his understanding, unable to form words. He kept his father's head in his lap after Rabbit had touched the older Nara's forehead. When the ninja pulled out a saw from a summoning scroll, he debated leaving until it was over, but couldn't bring himself too. Naruto hugged his head to her chest. She dropped a kiss onto his crown, keeping her lips there as she covered his ear not pressed to her jacket. One hand staying on his father's slowly rising and falling chest, he put his other over Naruto's, helping to block out the noise and the sound of his own whimpers. He squeezed his eyes shut so tightly that he saw spots.
Focusing on his breathing and the sound of Naruto's heartbeat allowed him to block out everything else. Finally, he felt Naruto slowly move her hand from his ear, and instead stroking his back soothingly. With miniscule pace he lifted his head, looking at his father. His chest still rose and fell steadily, and his leg, just above the knee, was bandaged tight and cleanly. He knew it wasn't the missing leg that made his father look small and fragile in that moment.
When Rabbit requested Shikamaru move he rose onto shaky legs, letting Naruto hold him up. The woman's controlled strength was reassuring as he watched Foundation medics lift his father onto a stretcher. He followed them numbly, barely noticing as Foundation members reported to Naruto and Gaara that there were seven casualties in total out of the thirty people in the building. Then they voiced concern for the survival of his father, Uncle Inoichi, and a Cloud woman in critical condition, with the journey ahead of them he blinked.
"Shouldn't we stabilise them here?" he asked.
"We don't have the resources to help them." Rabbit sighed, glancing at Sakura before turning their masked face to Naruto. "I can perhaps stabilise them here for some time until we can get a safer method to transport them."
Naruto cocked her head to the side, her eyes glazed. Shikamaru watched a look of mild surprise over her features as she blinked. He had seen her talk to Kurama a number of times and was used to the flicker of expressions she went through unconsciously. Gaara watched her with a mournful frowned. She refocused on them seconds before Kurama's form appeared around her. With a beat of hesitation, she stepped out of the translucent form. "Put the wounded into Kurama. His volunteered to carry them and to ensure their survival."
"If you and Kurama permit me," Sakura started tentatively, "I would like to accompany them to help with their treatment. I'm sure you, Kurama, can keep them safe, but I don't want you overtaxing yourself after the fight."
Naruto looked at the giant fox as he grinned toothily down at the pink haired woman. His growling voice shook through them all. "All right. No promises I won't eat you though."
Something about Kurama being a medic transport whilst threatening death made Shikamaru laugh. His wet chuckled caused some raised eyebrows but he didn't bother to stifle them until Ino and Choji came out of the tunnel escorting Uncle Inoichi. He gave his teammates a questioning look.
"His alright for now," Choji explained, putting a comforting hand on Ino's shoulder. "Until the swelling in his brain goes down and he wakes up we won't know if he has any lasting injuries."
Shikamaru and Naruto sighed with relief as Uncle Inoichi was put into Kurama's form next to Shikaku.
It was decided that Gaara would take the Cloud and Sand members with him, minus the injured Cloud woman who was too unstable to travel without Kurama, and Onoki would take his villagers. They would both journey to meet up with the forces who would be making the trek home to their respective villages. The Rain members were to travel with the Leaf until they encountered their fellow ninjas, since it was easier for all to split now. Kurama assured them that he could take everyone the distance needed to meet the bulk of the Leaf and Rain armies before the two forces had to part ways. They were also in charge of the most injured people, thankfully only six people were in drastic states, the rest having somewhere between bruising to broken bones. Shikamaru doubted the fox would be able to carry everyone for long, what with there being fifteen of the recovery team, then another seventeen people from the headquarters. Thankfully, the headquarters wasn't too far from the army, at least for the fox.
It took Naruto scolding Kurama to pull him away from taunting Shukaku about not being able to as easily carry people as him. But finally, they were saying goodbye to the others, with Gaara promising to tell the other Kage about the injured members travelling to the Leaf.
Shikamaru's stomach jumped into his throat with the leap that Kurama took but within moments they could spot the marching forces. He was startled when, once the forces were alert to them, a cheer went up, loud enough to echo in his eardrums. It made sense though, the two who had ended the war were standing next to him after all. However, when they reached the ninjas and exited Kurama's form to ease his burden, he was stunned to find some of the praise heaped upon him too.
He was saved from whatever awkward reaction he was bound to give by Uncle Choza, as well as a combination of Naras, Yamanakas, and Akamichis pushing to the front. Many squinted up at the fox's glowing form, trying to make out the shapes protectively laying in his chest. Uncle Choza, Dani, Ryota, Eiji, and Jun stared at Team Seven pleadingly. Surprisingly, the Naras weren't looking at Shikamaru for answers, but Naruto. They weren't turning to her for comfort on purpose, that was clear, since his mother was still the Heart of the Clan. Instead, they all knew that Naruto was his emotional core. Unfortunately, she didn't understand why they had turned to her and was instead looking at Shikamaru, waiting for him to give them the news.
"We got them," Shikamaru spoke levelly, and perhaps a little emotionlessly. "We won't know the extent of their injuries until they wake up, but for now, they're alive."
The difference between the three clans were evident in that moment. The Naras mostly sighed with relief, the Akamichis gave a good-natured cheer, the Yamanakas gave a boisterous cheer that thundered through the area. Watching them, Shikamaru felt his mouth stretch in to a smile, tears pooling in his eyes. Looking at his teammates he found the three of them in similar states. One glance at Shikamaru and Ino had Choji pulling them into a tight hug.
"They're alive," he whispered, not seeming to believe his own words, "we're alive."
/ / / /
Naruto hadn't been willing to stray far from Kurama the entire time they marched to the Leaf Village, however, when the army stopped shortly after midday, Shikamaru noticed Naruto leave the fox surrounded by their friends and slip away. She did shoot looks back at him as she went, and Kurama followed her progress keenly with his eyes. No one else noticed her, except for Shikamaru. It wasn't surprising that he was the only one. She was trying to not draw attention to herself, but he had been keeping a close eye on her since he came out of the pod. If she did leave his sight, he felt a crushing wave of panic engulf him.
Everything was going too well. Yes, Asuma-Sensei was still gone, as was his uncle, but Ryota, Uncle Inoichi, his dad, and Naruto were still alive. Holding his hand up, he looked at the fresh bandages Ino had given him. He still remembered crawling his way to be at Naruto's side. He remembered the feel of her Nine-Tails' cloak ebbing away from him, the sound of Kurama's voice echoing across the battlefield as he was torn from her. His throat burnt as he thought of Allied ninjas helping him get to her, and the fact that he had been too late. She was back, but for how long? And how could he be sure? His heart gave a hollow ache.
His breathes started coming short and he grasped at his chest as he fought the tears welling in his eyes. As he tracked Naruto's progress away from camp, willing her to come back, he felt the tug of her chakra, letting him follow her if his wished. Of course, he did. He wasn't sure how, but she had found a secluded area with lush grass, a small pool of water, and a rocky barrier on three sides. The only opening was obscured by heavy shrubbery.
"Went through this place in the mad rush to the battle," Naruto explained to his silent question, shrugging her jacket back on after her quick river bath. Her eyes bore into him. She stood oddly still, the only movement being her fingers twitching like they begged to reach out and clutch something.
Shikamaru rushed to Naruto. Wrapping his arms around her, he kissed her with little refined skill. Normally his hands would glide down her back, or comb through her blonde hair. Now, he touched and explored with a fever. Even the bite of pain his injured fingers gave didn't stop him. His lips desperately moved from bruising her mouth to trailed over her cheek, under her ear, to her neck, where her heartbeat was rapidly quickening.
"Are we hidden?" He barely got the words out in an uncaring grunt before reattaching his lips to her pulse point, his teeth scraping the skin and causing a hitch in the woman's breath. He didn't want anyone seeing Naruto in the state he intended to reduce her to but at the same time, short of Naruto's choice, there wasn't anything that was going to stop him.
"As much as we can be," she said with a breathless laugh, her hands gripping the back of his Chunin vest tightly. "We're decently far from everyone. And unless you know this place is here it's easy to miss."
Giving a grunt of reply, Shikamaru stripped Naruto of her signature jacket, never lifting his head from her neck. The woman didn't move to stop him and instead unzipped his Chunin jacket, tossing it to the side. He didn't slow his rapid pace as he stripped Naruto of the rest of her garments, only halting long enough to safely drop their weapon pouches away from them but close enough to reach if needed. His heart was pounding in his chest and he couldn't shake the daunting feeling that all of this would disappear.
When they lowered themselves to the soft grass, he didn't stop his frantic groping, instead taking more time to explore, touch, and feel. He noted every sigh, chuckle, and groan Naruto uttered, relished every arch, twitch, or buck of the hips that he drew from her. Alive. She was so alive, and here. Calmer than she had been for their last embraces, as though she was savoring every moment in her own way. Shikamaru gave a breath of a laugh against her thigh at the switch they had undergone.
He hadn't felt like he had had time to breath until he had entered the clearing. He had been so focused on fighting, of trying to survive and help others see the next day. Then he had felt like everything was a figment. Finding out what Naruto had done for him, for Ino, had seemed too good to be true, even now. But even if it was hard to believe, he could still finally breath. And as he entered Naruto, he breathed in the scent clinging her skin and hair, under the dirt and blood she had failed to wash off, the scent that had first drawn him to her.
It was almost impossible to think that if he hadn't questioned her smell when they were so young, he might not have become fascinated with her. He might not have discovered how caring, but not naively trusting, how understanding but unwavering she could be, how intelligent and underestimated she was. And how strong she was, in every definition of the word. She was easily the strongest ninja and person he would ever meet.
Naruto used that strength on him suddenly, flipping them without them parting. Shikamaru felt his heart pick up even further, his skin heating and his eyes dilating as his back smacked into the ground. His mouth watered at the feel of her powerful thighs pressing into the sides of his hips, and the hand pressed firmly against his chest. Although he didn't think Naruto would stop him from sitting up the strength in that one arm was overwhelming. How she managed to have such control over so much power, and be gentle with it, astounded Shikamaru. For once he decided to not question his arousal at Naruto man-handling him and instead decided to simply enjoy it.
He gazed up at the woman as she doubled over with a wave of pleasure, letting a lazy leer slip onto his lips as he groaned deeply.
"You're not about to say 'troublesome woman', are you?" Naruto teased in a breathless voice, her long ponytail falling over one shoulder.
With a small chuckle he pushed up onto his elbows, kissing the blonde soundly. "You are the most troublesome woman, but you're worth every second of it." Laying back, he looked up at Naruto, finding her blue eyes staring at him intensely. Her gaze left him feeling exposed and raw, like she could see every aspect of him, every flaw and attribute. And yet, he didn't want her to stop. There was a hunger, affection, wanting, and satisfaction in that look. He had always wanted to be on the end of her studying gaze. The idea of being on the end of so much focus and power had made him want to claim Naruto in any way she would allow, but this was more.
He lunged up, searing her lips with his, one arm wrapping around her waist, stopping her hips movements and leaving him deeply in her, whilst the other desperately groped at her chest. It wasn't enough. He needed to touch her more, needed to leave her completely satiated. He frantically started making a path down to her breasts with his mouth.
"I love you," he panted into her skin as she buried her hands in his hair. "I'm never going to stop."
Naruto's mouth brushed his ear. "I love you too."
He sat back sharply, looking up at her in disbelief. In reply she grinned at him before kissing him with the same amount of passion as he had had trouble containing only moments before.
It was her turn to be handled aggressively when he flipped them both again, pressing Naruto into the grass. He chuckled breathlessly at her squeal of surprise. He loomed over her, their bodies embracing as Shikamaru's pace became urgent.
"Please, say it again," he begged, taking in every detail of the squirming woman beneath him.
"I love you," she gasped. "I love you. I have for a long time and didn't know."
/ / / / / /
He gazed at the woman next to him, watching her blink slowly, a content smile on her face. He went to run his fingers up her side, only to swear, pulling his fingers back. Naruto frowned down at them.
"How'd you do that to your hands anyway?"
"Trying to get to you when you were dying. I didn't want you to be alone. I didn't make it, even with people trying to help me."
Naruto gave him a sad smile. "Thank you for trying so hard. I wish you didn't hurt yourself doing it but at the same time, I'm glad you tried that much." After a beat she stifled a yawn.
"I think you need to sleep."
"I can't. If I go to sleep Kurama will go back into me." She suddenly sat up sharply, hugging her jacket to her chest that she had been using as a blanket. "I should get back to him."
"Shh, breath, love." He sat up beside her, kissing her shoulder. "His with our friends. Sakura is staying with him, and no one in the army is going to let anything happen to him. But, come on. We'll head back and get you some food."
Naruto gave him a grateful smile as they rose to their feet and started dressing. When they walked up to their friends, they found that their absence had been noticed.
"There you two are," Ino scolded. "We got you both some food but we had no clue where you had gotten off too."
"We weren't far," Shikamaru answered nonchalantly, wondering if anyone would notice the bite mark on Naruto's tan neck.
Kiba sniffed. "Why do you two smell like sweat and each other?"
"I mean, I had just finished a whole day of training when I entered the war, so I haven't had a proper shower in almost five days. Only a quick river shrub," Naruto said with a shrug.
"That doesn't explain why you two smell like each other," Kiba pointed out.
Shikamaru didn't say anything, instead raising an eyebrow at Kiba before dropping to the ground, his back resting against a rock. He reached up, threading his fingers with Naruto's as she lowered herself to the ground next to him.
"Oh, seriously?" Kiba yelped. "Gross! Please tell me you weren't anywhere near us."
Choji chuckled at the man, handing two food rations to the couple. Ino, who had indicated her suspicions of their level of intimacy when she had seen Shikamaru's hickie gave a cackle. He noticed the blush coating both Hinata's and Neji's cheeks, whilst TenTen looked scandalised. Shino and Sai looked unfazed, and Sasuke had his horrified expression buried in his hands. Lee and Sakura however, had different looks of confusion on their faces.
Lee turned to his teammates, asking them what Kiba was so shocked by. When Tenten muttered about Shikamaru and Naruto being 'together' Lee was enthused.
"I know, Tenten, they are a lovely couple, aren't they? I just don't understand why they have to be a couple away from us."
With his face turning deeper red, and a scowl, Neji pulled Lee close to whisper in his ear. Shikamaru gave a breath of a laugh as he watched Lee's eyes widen in shock.
"Wait, what's going on? I feel like I missed something," Sakura said, looking around the group.
It was fair. She was been jumping down from Kurama's chest when they had first appeared and probably entered the discussion halfway through.
"Naruto and Shikamaru had sex," Sai answered plainly, making Naruto give a bark of laughter.
"Sai, never change," the woman requested.
"Seriously?" Sakura blinked at the both of them. "Why would you want to lose your virginities on the hard ground. Beds exist!"
Shikamaru found himself staring at Sakura, having not expected that. Naruto, however, fell against him, holding her sides as she laughed.
"We did use a bed the first couple of times," Shikamaru assured. "I'm surprised you aren't like Kiba or Tenten right now."
Sakura waved him off. "I'm a healer. I've had many awkward discussions before. Though I will say I hope you're using protection."
"Don't exactly need it." Naruto shrugged. "And none of the times were planned."
Shikamaru drew his arm tighter around her, knowing her casual reference to her infertility was at least half put on.
"How many times have you done it?" Kiba shrieked, his face turning scarlet.
Trying to not grin darkly as he watched his friend squirm he replied, "depends. When you say times are you talking about sessions or... individual times?"
Naruto, always the mischief maker, picked up on what he was doing. "Yeah, cause depending on which the answer changes drastically."
"I'm kinda surprised at that," Choji said, his shoulders lightly trembling with suppressed laughter. "Shikamaru gets tired from leaving the house."
"I mean, I don't have to leave the house for this. Except this time, but I was already outside."
"Pretty sure if Naruto was outside, naked, he would have more than enough energy to run outside," Hinata piped up.
"Hinata, don't join this conversation!" Neji begged, only to be waved off.
Everyone ignored Kiba.
"If Shikamaru's stamina is that low, I worry for Naruto's satisfaction," Sai voiced, making Choji, Ino, and Hinata laugh, and making Sasuke, Kiba, Tenten, and Neji look like they wished they were somewhere else. Tenten did simply walk off, Lee following her to make sure she didn't try to get her hands on the fan they had used against the Gold and Silver brothers. She wasn't strong enough for it, no matter what she thought. Sakura, surprisingly, looked like she thought Sai had a point.
"Hey!" Shikamaru frowned at the artist.
"Don't worry, Sai, turns out Shikamaru has a reserve of stamina just for it."
"Oh, that's good."
"Please, stop!" Kiba bemoaned, making Choji, Shikamaru, and Naruto laugh. "Why? Why is it always me you three have to traumatise?"
"Because you're the only one who really reacts to it," Choji explained, "And we used to do it to Shikamaru too. Remember?"
"I regret becoming friends with you lot. Naruto, as revenge, I'm becoming Hokage, and having Shikamaru as my adviser!" Kiba pointed at the blonde as she lounged against Shikamaru, her exhaustion hitting her again. The Nara rolled his eyes at the other man before Naruto gave Kiba a lazy, lewd, smile.
"Do that and your adviser and I will have sex on your desk."
Shikamaru's snort was drowned out by the laugher of the others. Even Neji was chuckling into his fist at Kiba's expression.
After they finished eating, Lee came jogging back to the group, a grin on his face. Shikamaru wondered why he was so happy, but noticed that he was staring at Naruto as he drew to a holt.
"I just came from seeing how Guy-Sensei was feeling. He is recovering well. Thank you so much for saving his life, Naruto."
The blonde waved him off bashfully. "It was the old Six Path's powers, not mine. I can't repeat it unfortunately."
"He opened all eight gates," Neji remarked, "It doesn't matter where you acquired the abilities or how long they last, what you did was not only impressive, but something we are eternally grateful for."
"I feel like I've missed a lot," Choji said, getting a few nods of agreement. Sasuke gave a brief explanation, since Naruto would have struggled whilst fully conscious. "But you really have none left."
"I have some dregs left," Sasuke said, Naruto nodding in confirmation.
"It's the only thing currently keeping me going."
"When was the last time you slept?" Sakura asked, looking closely at her teammate.
"Just after my last shower." Naruto tried to give her a humorous smile but it came off as tired. She sighed. "I should talk to Old Granny about... something." She shook her head, clearly trying to dispel the sleepy fog. Her 'something' was probably to do with the Foundation. Although some now knew she was the leader, she was probably not allowed to announce it still.
Shikamaru noticed the blonde shoot a fearful look at Kurama, making him squeeze her shoulder and swallow his own anxiety. "I'll stay with him," he whispered in her ear.
"Thank you," she whispered back.
Although they had been quiet, it seemed their friends had noticed Naruto's hesitation. They all noticed Kurama's large paw shift as thought to wrap around his holder. It didn't, since he clearly stopped, looking around as though worried that someone saw his protectiveness of her and was going to use it against them.
"Naruto, do you mind if I go with you?" Hinata asked softly. "I feel like I need to stretch my legs, and since Shino and Kiba might be a while talking to their parents, now would be a good time for it."
"Oh, excellent idea." Lee jumped to his feet.
"I would like to come too," Neji added, standing and pulling the Genin to her feet. He let her lean on him as they walked.
Both Shikamaru and Kurama watched her go, the fox's large ears pricked for any noise. Neither of them paid anything any attention until Ino cleared her throat, making Shikamaru glance over at her.
"Um, Shikamaru, if Naruto healed Guy-Sensei from dying from the eight gates, perhaps she healed her... um, issue?" Ino glanced at Sasuke and Sakura. "You know, that thing..."
"I know about her infertility, Ino," Sasuke grumbled. "Naruto made some comments when we were younger about never having a family. It wasn't hard to put together what she meant."
"I'm aware too," Sakura assured gently. "I was one of the medics working with the Children of Iron."
"Okay, well, wouldn't she have healed her scar tissue?"
"No," grumbled Kurama. "She had the half of me that Minato had, not the half that knew what she had suffered, so that half didn't suggest she heal herself."
"But she knows about her infertility, and she knew how well she could heal people at that moment," Choji pointed out, making Shikamaru sigh.
"Yes, but she doesn't actively think about what she's gone through, and she'd never think about herself in the middle of a fight. She barely thinks about herself on a day to day basis."
Sasuke swore, realising Shikamaru was right.
"None of us will breath a word of this to Naruto. Got it!" Shikamaru watched everyone nod silently. In the distance they could see the blonde and her temporary guards making their way back to them.
/ / / / /
Shikamaru was thankful when Kurama asked him if he wanted a lift to the village when they first rejoined the army. Not only did it take the weight of his ankle, which he had started wrapping in his shadow, but it allowed him to be with Naruto and his father. Ino was also with them, watching her father closely. Naruto had asked Kurama to allow Sai to join them as well, for the Yamanaka girl. It seemed like Kurama didn't mind Sai and had agreed.
"How are they, Sakura?' Shikamaru asked, watching his father's face contort in pain.
"They are stabilising more. I can't tell you about Inoichi without next of kin permission."
"Dad is Naruto's legal guardian, and Shikamaru is like family," Ino piped up, her voice wobbling. The levity of earlier hadn't lasted as long as they had all hoped.
"Oh, well then. With head injuries it's hard to say the extent of the damage until they wake up and start recovering. He has extensive bruising and swelling to a portion of his brain and the bleed added pressure to it. We won't know if the bruising will all go away or become permanent damage until he starts to heal. It's all about waiting and seeing at this point." Sakura looked at Ino and Sai before looking back at Shikamaru. "Are you comfortable with me discussing your father in front of them?"
"Yes. Ino is family, and Sai is a friend."
"Alright. We won't know if your father has damage to his other leg until he wakes up but... Kurama is manually pumping his heart right now."
"What!" He heard Naruto gasp beside him, and saw both Ino's and Sai's heads snap up to look at Shikaku. "But he just had to have his leg removed!"
"He suffered a lot of bruising and lacerations from being thrown, as well as blood loss from a puncture to his side. On top of that, sometimes the trauma can weaken the heart. If he is to live, it's up to him." Sakura sighed, looking like she wanted to comfort him but knowing it would be unwelcome.
"What exactly do you mean by 'it's up to him'?" Naruto started rubbing circles on Shikamaru's back, staring intently at the pink haired woman.
"It's hard to explain. But sometimes the body just gives up in these situations. Your dad is strong though, and I'm doing everything I can to help him. I just... I can't promise you anything right now."
Shikamaru nodded numbly, staring at his father, focusing on the rise and fall of his chest. The only thing anchoring him to reality was Naruto's hand on his back. He wasn't sure how much time passed before she spoke.
Raising his head, he spotted the village. The gate was wide open, and swarming on either side of it were the people of the village. As they drew closer Shikamaru could feel Kurama tense around them. Then the thunderous applause started. Whether it was simply the relief of knowing the war had been won, or everyone realising Kurama was marching home a hero, no one in sight gave him or Naruto a loathing look.
"There," Naruto pointed.
Following her finger, Ino and Shikamaru saw theirs and Choji's mothers, as well as Aiai. All four women were crying. As Kurama's bulk prowled passed they waved.
"Mum!" Ino cried out, almost falling out of the fox's form. Sai managed to pull her back.
"We will find you inside, darling," Aunt Momiji yelled back.
Ino nodded dumbly, watching as they passed their mothers. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Kakashi-Sensei suddenly appeared in the mix.
"We will be going to the assembly area in front of the Hokage Tower. From there, those who need immediate attention will go to the hospital, those who need bandages, or disinfecting, things of those sort will be sent to the Academy, and everyone else will be sent home. Genins will be there to register where everyone is going so families can find out. Naruto, I'm certain you and Sasuke are going to sleep for days once you both stop. Where would you like to be for that?"
"Home. Sasuke can stay in my guest room if he wants."
Kakashi-Sensei nodded. "You can go straight there after getting Inoichi, Shikaku, and our Cloud guest to the hospital if you wish."
"I want to make sure they're settled first. I'll make sure Eiji knows when I go, so he can check on me. He is one of my personal healers, after all."
The man turned to leave, only to pause. "Happy birthday, Naruto. You've done really well." He saved her from a response by jumping to the ground.
Shikamaru looked behind them, at the trailing line of ninjas, and the civilians filing in behind. Because of Kurama's bulk and long strides they were towards the front of the line. He tapped Naruto on the shoulder, pointing behind them. At her confused look, he smiled at her.
"We look like a school of fish."
The grin she gave him was more lovely than anything the Infinite Tsukuyomi could have created. He kissed her.
"Welcome home. You have a secret to tell me. I didn't forget. You promised, once you returned, you'd cough up."
"Not a secret," she assured. "I love you."
Smiling, he raised Naruto's hand to his lips, kissing the back of it.
R and R please.