This would have been done weeks ago but my laptop crapped itself and took a while to get fixed. On a happy note I found out in November that I'm pregnant with my second, so needless to say the first trimester's tiredness had slowed me down. At least it's a long chapter so hopefully worth the wait.

He gave a luxurious stretch, feeling muscles that had been tense from stress for weeks stretch and loosen. As his arms flopped back down onto the bed, he let out a content moan. He heard a sigh in response before he felt the weight on top of him shifted and he felt the tip of a nose brush against his neck before lips pressed against his jaw.

Slowly, he opened his eyes. Naruto was laying on top of him, her head on Shikamaru's pillow over his shoulder. All their blankets were falling off the bed. It wasn't hard for him to realise which one of them did that. He barely moved when sleeping, but Naruto, she was a different story. Like when awake, she seemed to always been in motion. She rolled over, kicked the blankets off, pulled them back up, and she even, often, ran her hands over Shikamaru's shoulders, held his hand, or kissed his skin. Her lack of movement had been one of the things that had made him hesitate sleeping beside her. Even though he could see her breathing, she still resembled the corpse.

He blinked, looking at the blankets pooled on the ground before turning his eyes onto the woman who was using him as a bed. Her eyes were still closed, her lips, her face slack, but she was laying on him, she had kissed him. As though feeling his stare, she squirmed, burying her face in his neck and peppering him with small, lazy kisses.

"Naruto," he breathed, "are you awake?"

"You have stubble," Naruto muttered into his neck.

Shikamaru couldn't help chuckling, making Naruto sigh again.

"I missed this."

"Missed what exactly?" Shikamaru asked.

"You, waking up beside you, hearing your sleepy noise that you make every morning-"

"No, I don't."

Naruto laughed. "Yeah, you do. And I love it. Same as your laugh, I always liked how deep it is."

That made Shikamaru pause. "My laugh isn't deep!"

"Yeah, it is," Naruto countered, "so is your voice. The first time you talked after I came back from training with Jiraiya I had a hard time concentrating when I could hear your voice. Especially if you said my name. I nearly ran into a wall once when I heard you with your team."

He laughed at that confession. He could picture Naruto getting distracted, leading to injury, but he couldn't imagine him being the one to cause it.

"If it helps, I get distracted whenever you wear those shorts of yours."

With a chuckle, Naruto lifted herself up on her elbows, looking down at Shikamaru. "I had noticed that, actually. I may have worn them a bit more regularly than I would have because I liked the way you looked at me."

"I'm not complaining." Shikamaru reached up, pushing Naruto's hair back, burying his fingers in the strands. "I'm so thankful you're awake."

"Did something happen? How long have I been out?" Naruto sat up sharply, looking around as though she expected to see signs of aging in the room to show the passage of weeks or months.

Shikamaru sat up too, cupping her face so she looked back at him. "This is the fourth day since we returned home. I just missed you. You just… make my life better."

Naruto kissed him. "You make my life better too." She took a deep breath. "How is your dad, and Uncle Inoichi?"

Shikamaru gave her a sad smile. "They are still unconscious. Dad hasn't shown any change but Uncle Inoichi is starting to show improvements. Ino is hoping he wakes up soon but it's hard to tell."

Gently, Naruto ran her fingers through his hair, making his eyes close at the pleasant sensation. Her hands ran over his shoulders with a soft pressure, down his arms whilst drawing them around Naruto's waist. Her hands glided back up to rest on his shoulders.

"They're both strong. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to help, so I say we get up, shower, and have breakfast. Preferably a large breakfast."

Pulling her close, Shikamaru kissed her deeply. "Once everything calms down, I want to spend the day just the two of us. I don't care how much you make me do stuff. I just want to be with you. I'll stop being lazy for a day."

Naruto laughed, getting off the bed. "How about we go swimming, and then have a picnic and lounge around."

"You in a bikini and cloud watching," Shikamaru jumped off the bed, catching Naruto around the waist and pulling her to him, kissing her again. "Sounds amazing."

The moment they walked out of their bedroom Naruto's stomach started screaming for attention, making them move breakfast higher on the list. Luckily, Iruka-Sensei had sensed Naruto's chakra perk up in a way that apparently indicated wakefulness to those sensory inclined and had started making a feast. Shikamaru was just thankful to finally know how their teacher had always been aware to Shikamaru napping in class. That had bugged him for years. He had thought he snored.

During breakfast the couple worked out what their plan was for the day. Shikamaru couldn't hide the fact that the village had been getting antsy wondering where Naruto was. All of her friends, and especially Shikamaru had been stopped at some point to be asked by people where she was. Because of that, Naruto said that she would stop by the Hokage's office so that Lady Tsunade would know she was awake, then she needed to check on the Foundation. After that, Shikamaru asked her to join him at the hospital. He knew his and Ino's mothers would want to see her and he wanted to see his dad but didn't know if he had the strength to see him in the same state as the previous times without Naruto at his side.

As they walked around the village, people constantly stopped Naruto and Shikamaru, thanking them and sometimes shaking their hands or trying to give them things. Naruto suffered the unusual interactions the most. The gifts ranged from flowers, to food, to even jewellery. All but the drawing children handed over were politely declined. The adults seemed fine with the rejection of their gifts since they instead informed Naruto that she had a voucher for ramen at Ichiroku Ramen. Apparently, a lot of people had prepaid for meals for Naruto as a thank you.

"Want to get ramen for lunch?" Naruto joked as they entered the hospital.

"I wonder how long it will take you to burn through those vouchers," Shikamaru chuckled.

"No idea, but I do hope the attention stops soon. This is worse than after fighting Pein."

"You're officially a war hero."

Naruto rolled her eyes at him. "So are you. It feels weird. When did we become the adults?"

"Naruto, you turned 17 only a few days ago. I don't think anyone should mistake either of us as being on the same level as Kakashi-Sensei, or my dad. Even if you are more powerful than both."

"And yet you are acting head of your clan, and I'm," she leant in so no one could overhear, "leader of the Foundation. How did our lives get so out of control?"

Shikamaru sighed mournfully. "No idea. I think we should hide from the world instead. Our bedroom is a good spot." He wrapped an arm around Naruto's waist, pulling her back and half turning her to face the way they had came. He couldn't help but smile when her laughter reached his ears.

Naruto pushed him away before taking his hand and dragging him to the door of his father's and uncle's room. It took the women in the room a moment after the blonde had opened the door to realise who had entered. When they did, they both shot to their feet, pulling Naruto away from Shikamaru to embrace her in a tight hug.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Shikamaru's mother sniffled.

"I only needed some rest," Naruto shrugged, "nothing major. Are you two making sure to rest? How is Ino?"

"Our clans have made sure we go home to sleep each night, and someone else sits with our husbands. But it is hard to sleep without Inoichi beside me." Aunt Momiji returned to her husband's side as Naruto nodded in understanding.

At seeing that Yoshino shot Shikamaru an amused look.

"I worry Ino is overworking herself but at the same time, healers have to work hard at the moment. Hopefully when it dies down everyone can take some time for themselves." Aunt Momiji took Uncle Inoichi's hand as she observed Naruto in a motherly gaze. "How are you, Naruto?"

"I'm good. Not ready for another major fight but I doubt I'll need to any time soon."

"No, I think we will be without fights for a long time. Especially with the peace currently established between the villages." Yoshino sighed, some tension leaving her shoulders. "Honestly, if Shikaku wasn't in a coma I'd think I was still in the genjutsu. Even with all our losses, the war ended more favourably than any of us could have expected."

At his mother's confession, Shikamaru had reached out for Naruto, remembering too sharply the world tilting moment of trying to reach her dead body, only to find himself sitting with her in the apartment. His still healing fingers gave a throb of pain, that he ignored as he stood behind Naruto's chair, his hand on her shoulder. After breakfast, Naruto had explained to him how she had survived, and tried to explain the fight once everyone was in the pods. Even knowing how she was currently still before him didn't fully banish the part of his mind that wondered if this was truly real.

The couple decided to have lunch in the hospital, Naruto convincing Hiro to go on a ramen run when he dropped by to check on everyone. They even managed to track down Ino and made her take a break in the hospital room with them. As they talked about the rebuilding of the village that had still been going on when the war had started, and how the Nara and Yamanaka Clan were handling having their leaders in the hospital, something made everyone halt, Ino even jumping in surprise.

"Please, tell me you aren't all dead too!"

Shikamaru's head snapped over to his uncle's bed, just as everyone else looked over. The man's face was screwed up, his eyes still shut.

"Dad!" Ino ran to her father's side, stopping in surprise when he gave a sob.

"Ino, please, don't be dead."

"No, dad, I'm not. You're alive. You're in the village."

"How? How is that possible?"

Shikamaru had never heard his uncle's voice waver and faulter before.

"Foundation members had secretly been stationed in the Headquarters. When the Beast Bomb came at you, they sank the building and moved it. They weren't able to get it out of the way of the shockwave fast enough and the roof came down on you." Naruto stepped up next to Ino.

"The earthquake. I thought it was the bomb coming in." Uncle Inoichi blinked rapidly before shutting his eyes again. "Thank you, Naruto."


"I'm a high rank Jonin. I know who leads the Foundation," he chuckled. "So, thank you. Is Shikaku alright?"

"He's alive. He's in the bed next to you." Shikamaru took a deep breath. "He's lost a leg and is in a coma. He's on life support at the moment so we don't know what's going to happen."

Uncle Inoichi nodded before he blinked again and frowned. "Are the lights off?"

Ino moved closer, worry coating her expression. "Dad, can you see me?"

He moved his face towards the sound of Ino's voice. "No. Everything is dark."

The younger Yamanaka's hands glowed as they came to hover over her father's head. "You had swelling on your brain, as well as bruising. Both of those things could cause temporary blindness."

"So, he'll get his vision back?" Aunt Momoji asked hopefully only to notice how her daughter wouldn't meet her eye. "Ino?"

"The swelling is gone and the bruising is healing. Dad, can you see anything? Shadows, shapes, even just some light?" Ino pulled a small torch from her pocket, shining it in her father's right eye as he stared straight ahead.

Even Shikamaru, furthest from the bed, could see that his pupil was unresponsive.

"It's all black," Uncle Inoichi admitted. "You aren't sure I'll get my vision back, are you?"

Ino sighed, putting her torch back. "We won't know until the bruising goes away. It's possible it's worse than we can tell, or has targeted the exact spot to take out your vision, or the bruising could be hiding some more damage. When we can see the actual damage, we might be able to heal it, or not."

The room was silent at the tear-soaked confession. Finally, the man took a deep breath.

"Ok. Well, I guess we'll just wait and see. In the meantime, where are my girls?" He held out his arms, allowing Ino and Aunt Momoji enter his embrace. Ino pulled Naruto in when she realised the other blonde wasn't moving forward. "I know Shikamaru's safe, since his here. What about Choza and Choji?"

"Both are alive and well," Yoshino assured. "They are helping your Clan whilst Ino is busy with the injured. All three Clans are staying strong too."

Uncle Inoichi smiled. "I'm glad. And it's good to hear your voice, Yoshino."

"It's good to hear yours too."

/ / / / /

The news of Inoichi waking up lifted the spirits of all three Clans, but as the week drew on, and the Nara Clan pushed off burying their dead, the fact that Shikaku hadn't improved started to drain any joy in the rather stoic group. Shikamaru had let it be known that any who had lost someone could go through with funerals, but none would hear it. His cousins wouldn't say it, but he knew that they refused to bury their father without knowing the fate of their uncle. If Shikaku was to die, he should be laid to rest with his brother. And perhaps that was why the whole clan held off paying their respects to their lost. Not so much because they wished the head of their Clan to be present but when a Clan had multiple deaths from the same battle, they were buried at the same time. and so, if their leader was to die from the war, the clan wanted their lost to be buried with him.

The realisation had made Shikamaru come close to demanding everyone set a funeral for their deceased. The idea that everyone was waiting for his father to die was more than he could handle. He knew there was a possibility but he still believed his father would wake up, that he would shrug at the idea of losing his leg, and take over running the Clan again.

It was Naruto's presence that calmed him and stopped him from doing anything stupid. She assured him that she was sure that Shikaku would be fine, and pointed out that maybe the Clan wanted to honour his father by burying him with his clanmen if the worst did happen. That perhaps, he had bought into the 'heartless Nara' narrative that the rest of the village often believed, and forgot that, whilst closed off, were hardly unfeeling.

"I have plenty of evidence to prove you wrong," he half joked with a small upturn of the corner of his lips.

"And I have the ability to read, a wallet, an entire clan that has made me feel more cared for than I ever have in my entire life," she smiled, taking his hands in hers, "and an amazing boyfriend who makes me feel like the world that can prove you wrong."

"No fair," Shikamaru muttered before taking a deep breath, letting the tension in his shoulders ease.

Having Naruto in the estate had done a lot to help the growing fear and depression that Shikaku's fate, and the inevitable lull after the war. The realisation that they had one was setting in, but with it came the knowledge of what they had all lost. Seeing Naruto's blonde hair and bright clothing as she made her way through the estate had done a lot for the Naras the first day she had woken up, and since she and Shikamaru had been sleeping in the main house, that feeling had lasted to a degree.

The fact that Naruto had insisted of inviting Ryota, Aiai, and their mother over for dinner every night helped. The close relationship between Yoshino and Satoru was always reassuring to the Clan, and there was no denying that the Naras took notice of Naruto reaching out to Shikamaru's cousins, Aiai in her fragile state with a husband working long hours every day, and Ryota who was working himself into the ground. And, truthfully, it warmed Shikamaru to see Ryota laugh at Naruto's recounting how she had used a male-sexy harem jutsu on a literal goddess, and it worked.

"You were in a fight to save the world, and you thought 'sexy men'?"Aiai gasped, tears in her eyes and a face splitting grin on her face.

"It worked!" Naruto insisted between her own laughs. "We needed to distract her, and, come on, if the sexy jutsu worked on the Third and Fifth Hokage, why wouldn't it work on her?"

"Inventive, I will give you that," Aunt Kurva commented from where she lounged back in an armchair. She had lost weight over the week, her skin looking sallow, and pulled tight over her bones.

Shikamaru wanted to tell her to please eat more, to sleep more, and let them help her take care of herself, but he saw the way she and his cousins looked at him. He noticed how Naruto would come into his father's office where he had been working from, carrying a plate of sandwiches and a coffee, and a cup of water. If he looked in the mirror, he was sure that he and his aunt, who shared no blood, would look very similar.

"Did you turn into Shikamaru?" Ryota bounced in his seat, making Shikamaru wonder how he could be the younger of the two of them.

"Hell no!" Naruto nearly fell off her perch on the armrest of Shikamaru's armchair. "I wasn't gonna let the enemy oogle the man I love!"

His family definitely noticed Naruto's wording, but chose not to comment, though Ryota raised his eyebrows at his cousin.

"Alright, I'm going to start dinner," Aiai declared, a hand on her growing belly as she stood.

"Do you need help?" Ryota asked, half out of his seat.

His sister waved him off. "No, I want to make it myself. I'm going to freeze the left overs so I can bring them to Eiji at the hospital over the week."

"Well, if you need a hand with anything, just tell me." The male Nara followed his sister's progress with his eyes, as though expecting something to happen to her or the baby.

"They are all fine," Naruto assured calmly, reaching across to put her hand on his shoulder.


"Her and the twins."

"THE WHAT NOW?!" Aiai yelped, swinging back into the room.

Naruto looked over with wide eyes. "You didn't know?"

"I… I… no!" I told the healer to only tell me if the baby was healthy since Eiji was out fighting. I didn't want to find out without him."

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" Naruto stood, taking a step towards the Nara woman, though not seeming to know what to do.

"Don't!" Aiai started to tear up. "I'm not mad! I promise. Eiji is in the village. The healers have all just been too busy for me to find out." She gave a laugh. "Mum, I'm having twins."

Aunt Kurva, seeing that her daughter was happy, jumped to her feet, rushing at Aiai to wrap her in tight hug. "You should be sitting down. You should be resting."

"Mum, I'm fine," she laughed again. "Naruto, how do you know?"

"I can sense their chakras," Naruto shrugged. "I had to focus on them to pick it up, since it mingles with yours, but I just wanted to check they were alright after everything."

"That's it," Ryota declared, rising to his feet. "I'm helping you with the cooking. No arguing!"

Even with his statement, Aiai still argued with her brother, and her mother, about their insistence on helping her. Shikamaru and Naruto, who both were horrible cooks, chose to watch the small family in their loving bickering. All the sounds and movement almost hid the fact that there were important members missing in that moment.

/ / / / / /

When he and Naruto crawled into bed, he didn't expect the burning, constricted feeling in his throat. His eyes stung. He tried to breath through it but when Naruto leant against him, asking him in a whisper if he was alright, he gave an embarrassing whine. Tears started streaming down his face, his nose running, as he tried to muffle the noises he was emitting.

Naruto didn't seem to mind the sounds, or the snot, instead hugging him to her, tucking his head under her chin.

He wasn't even sure why he was crying hysterically. He missed his father, but he had hope, and weeping was almost like declaring that he thought his father was going to die. He didn't! he never would. So why was he crying? It was illogical.

"It's alright," Naruto whispered, stroking his back. "Take your time. I'm here."

For some reason, that just made him cry harder. By the time he started petering out, his eyes itched, his throat hurt, and it was hard to breath through his clogged nose. He accepted the tissue that Naruto located for him.

Afterwards, he laid in Naruto's embrace, sniffling softly until he drifted off to sleep.

/ / / / / /

A few days after his dinner with his aunt and cousins he returned home from the hospital only to find Ryota and Naruto standing on the patio talking to another Nara who was measuring the three stairs leading from the grass to the landing. Shikamaru studied them as he walked closer. It clearly wasn't a casual meeting, and it appeared that Naruto was the only giving instructions.

When she noticed Shikamaru, she jumped over the railing next to the steps, her large grin in place. "You're back!"

He returned her kiss before looking back at the man in front of his house. He tried to remember the man's name. He had seen him around a few months previous. His father had hired him to do the repairs on the retirement house. "Is there something wrong with the house?" he asked as they joined the two on the patio.

"No, but when your dad gets home he'll have trouble getting up and down the stairs, so I figured we should at least see about getting a ramp put in." Naruto, waved her hand at the measurements that were being taken. "Apparently, there's more to it then I realised, but Ryota was able to get Akifumi to come over."

Shikamaru blinked at her. For a moment his body felt both weightless and to heavy at the same time. The rest of Naruto's sentence was sludging through his brain whilst her first lines echoes like a chorus. When your dad gets home.

The blonde noticed his silence just as Ryota piped up, clearly coming to Naruto's aid.

"We would have mentioned it to you but you've been busy today and it only came up last night after you had gone to bed. We weren't going to order anything without your permission."

"No," Shikamaru said slowly, before shaking his head to clear it. "No, you two, please, take charge of this. The alterations here, and to the retirement house. I know dad wanted it repaired soon so mum could have however long she wanted to be able to decorate it, so please, make it comfortable for dad too."

Ryota nodded stoically, whilst Naruto beamed. "Excellent," she exclaimed, before an idea came to her, "oh, what about the bathroom. Sakura mentioned something about a shower seat and stuff. Some of the stuff was for if you're dad can't use both legs but the seat at least was for his current condition."

"It shouldn't just be a seat we put in there for him, since you guys would have to remove it to shower, and then there is the risk of forgetting to put it back for him. We could expand the bathroom, and make a bigger shower with a bench inbuilt. I imagine you guys wouldn't complain for that after long missions either."

"Yeah, not to mention the bathroom is a little small in general so if he needs a wheel chair it won't fit. We should make sure it's comfortable for him and nice looking."

"Gento is a plumber," Akifumi piped up, jotting down information on his notebook. "I can take measurements and specks of the room now and talk to him. He and I have worked on customised bathrooms for injured ninja before. And we can ask one of the medics in the clan for advice on how best to meet Shikaku's needs. With your permission to speak of his medical issues, of course."

Akifumi looked at Naruto and Ryota before blinking, and quickly moving his questioning gaze to Shikaku's heir.

"I'll ask Eiji to talk to you when he has a chance. You'll have to work around his schedule unfortunately."

"Not a problem, sir. We will, of course, make ourselves available for the head family." He turned his gaze back on Naruto. "Lady Naruto, if you could show me the bathroom, I'll measure it, and then see in which direction to extend it."

"Of course. And leave the repairs and alterations for the retirement house until after everything has been complete here. We want you to do your best work, but we also need it done in time for Shikaku's return."

As Naruto started to lead the man into the house, Shikamaru couldn't help but notice how the blonde's words made Akifumi's shoulders pull back and he looked more serious.

It took an hour for Naruto, Ryota, and Akifumi to hash out some of the details. The man left with a small smile, which was something for a Nara, and a promise that he would be back the next day with Gento to work out the last of the details.

Ryota offered to walk the man out and to go and discuss the information with Gento with him today. He clearly noticed Shikamaru's state and knew he wanted a moment to speak with Naruto.

Unfortunately, he had barely had time to draw his arms around her waist before there was a hesitant, yet sharp knock on the door. With a groan he looked in the direction of the sound. "Who the hell is that?"

"Oh, sorry, that's Sasuke. I asked him to come here since I didn't know how long I'd be talking to the builder. If you mind, we can go elsewhere."

"I still don't like you being alone with him yet," Shikamaru admitted.

"Then sit in at the meeting. Just don't tell anyone. It's technically official Foundation business but as the leader I'm allowed to tell anyone I want."

Naruto let the man in, leading both him and her boyfriend into the office she had been using as her own. It was meant to be Shikamaru's but he had never bothered to use it, and once he had need for it, Ryota had pointed out that he needed to use his father's office, since it sent a stronger, more assured message to the Clan and the outer village. He wasn't play acting at leading, after all, even if everyone was hopeful that Shikaku would recover. It had turned out to be beneficial for Naruto, since she wouldn't have felt comfortable using the main office but she didn't seem to have a desire to travel to the Foundation Headquarters everyday so soon after the war.

"So," Naruto started once she was lounging in the chair behind the wooden desk. Shikamaru stood off to the side, eyeing Sasuke who almost looked nerves in his chair. "I'm sure you are aware that you pissed a lot of people off. The Cloud actually put you in the bingo book. Congratulations, you are officially a rogue ninja."

Sasuke sighed. "I know I screwed up. If they want to imprison me, I promise to not fight it. You don't need to be the one in charge of me to ensure I cooperate."

The woman snorted. "We're not imprisoning you, idiot. Don't get me wrong, the elders wanted to, but well, I'm clearly still to weak from the war to handle you, so they haven't been able to do anything about you yet. Which was lucky, since this came by bird the other day."

She lifted a note off her desk with a flourish. "It's from Killer Bee, brother to the Raikage. You might know him as the Jinjurikki for the Eight-Tails. He wrote to inform us that you were well aware that the carcass you took back to the Akatsuki didn't contain any of their chakra and that they had actually hidden themselves in what appeared to be a severed tentacle. In light of this information, the Cloud is removing you from the bingo book and withdrawing their accusations against you."

Naruto put it back on her desk, leafing through a pile of paperwork. "Now, obviously that doesn't clear you of your attack on Danzo. I've been able to find evidence that Danzo manipulated the Elders and the Third Hokage to orchestrate the attack on your clan, but according to the old hags that's not enough to make your attack on him justified. Even the knowledge that he forced them to vote him Hokage doesn't do it."

The Uchiha nodded solemnly, clearly willing to accept any fate that the village wanted to give him. Shikamaru was unable to tell if Killer Bee was telling the truth about Sasuke knowing he hadn't actually beat the Eight-Tails. The Uchiha wasn't schooling his expression so much as looking like a chastised dog that was well aware it had peed on the carpet when it shouldn't have.

"Unfortunately for the Elders, you attacked the Head of the Foundation and according to this piece of law that one of my members found, if someone is to attack a member of the Foundation, it is up to the Foundation's Head to decide the fitting punishment. Danzo was the Hokage, but he was illegally one, so he was only the Foundation Head. Meaning, any punishment is to be left to me."

"You can't just let me off without any punishment," Sasuke pointed out. "Plenty of the village hates me from my reputation, and the Foundation doesn't have the best image from what you've told me. Naruto, do what is best for you, not me."

"Again, idiot!" Naruto gave a bark of laughter. "Your reputation isn't so bad. After all, you sheltered the village after the Pein attack, you gave comfort and a roof to scared civilians."

"But I didn't do that," muttered Sasuke, clearly wishing to know where all of this was going.

Shikamaru had to hide his smug smirk. He knew the wicked look in Naruto's eye. He had seen it from her a few times when she had a scheme or prank that she knew was going to work, and that no one saw coming. He had no doubt that she had been planning this moment longer than any of them truly knew. He couldn't help but take every last detail of her in, studying the sharpness to her eyes, the upturn to the corners of her lips, her relaxed but powerful posture. Admittedly, he was having a hard time focusing on the words she spoke when he was busy envisioning having her gaze on him. She had gone from being incredibly kind and thoughtful to truly devious and Shikamaru couldn't decide which he preferred in that moment.

"Funny, cause I could have sworn that before you left the village, you signed a form giving one Naruto Uzumaki the permission to act in your sted. Actually, the form states that 'any and all actions undertaken by one, Naruto Uzumaki, in regards to the Uchiha estate and assets are done in the name of Sasuke Uchiha, the last Uchiha.' So that means, when I housed them at the Uchiha Estate, all documents regarding the incident, and the statement that the Council made to the village, is that Sasuke Uchiha opened the gates of his estate to them. No one mentioned me doing anything about that part. Also, recently, the orphanage is a bit over capacity whilst injured ninjas are in the hospital and next of kin are being tracked down, and you have graciously let them use one of the buildings in the estate. That was nice of you."

Sasuke blinked, seeming to process what Naruto had done to create an image of the man to the general populous. "So, what is my punishment, exactly?"

Naruto gave him an evil grin, pushing paperwork and a brush and ink towards him. "You are to join the Foundation and work for the betterment of the village until I see fit to release you. If, when that time comes, you wish to stay with us, that can be seen too. Perhaps, with time, you can even work to be my second, and, when I became Hokage, my successor. Who knows. The village could use the presence of a Uchiha to help better themselves and heal old wounds."

Shikamaru had to bite the inside of his cheek as Sasuke, in a daze, signed the form. He had known she had been trying to create an appearance for her team mate amongst the village, but he had no idea she had so fully taken Sasuke out of the Rogue Ninja category, and out of the Elders hands. Shikamaru made sure to keep his face in the bored expression that Sasuke was used to as the other man let the ink dry before taking the form and following Naruto's orders to go to Sai who was to be his Foundation instructor.

Once the Uchiha had exited the room, closing the door behind him, Naruto looked at her boyfriend, noticing his controlled expression. She turned her body towards him, slowly rising to her feet. She stepped towards him, her eyes scanning his face.

"Are you mad I saved him? I could have forced the Elders to let him be exiled instead."

He contemplated the answer to Naruto's question, realising why she might think him annoyed. "I'm not. I don't really trust him, especially with you, but he did help save everyone and I do realise he has been dramatically mistreated by the village."

Naruto blinked in surprise. "Then why are you so… controlled? Like you're stopping yourself from doing something?"

"Because I am." He stopped keeping his face at the blank expression, watching Naruto's cheeks redden as his eyes raked over her. "I didn't think it would be very professional for you to have a meeting with a potential member of the Foundation whilst I was leering at you."

"What has gotten into you to cause this?" Naruto asked with a grin, letting herself be backed into the edge of the desk.

"There is something very sexy about you using your hidden intelligence to trick everyone. And I've always found your unpredictability attractive but," he groaned, dropping his head so his forehead pressed against Naruto's. "I swear you revealing all of your plans just then felt like a very enjoyable, personal fantasy. Honestly, you troublesome woman, do you have any idea what you, just existing as you are, does to me? How much you mean to me?"


He opened his eyes, his hands, that had been running up Naruto's bare legs, stilled. Looking at the blonde, he could see the certainty in her blue eyes.

She smiled slyly at him. "I'm not the only one who lets emotions through the chakra link between us. I felt your presence when my dad and Sakura revived me." She blinked away tears. "I didn't even have a chance to reach out to you. The moment I woke up, your chakra grabbed me. I felt everything. Why you were trying to get to me."

After a moment, she took a breath, her hands moving from where they were braised against the desk to travel up his arms, coming to grip his shoulders. "And just so you know, your intelligence is sexy to me too."

He gave her a small smirk. "But I never hide my intelligence." He moved more into her space as his memory turned back to the events minutes ago, that started the conversation. He felt his heart rate increase again.

"Now you know my struggle." Naruto kept her face, and more, her lips a breath from Shikamaru's, no matter how much he tried to change that. "I'm glad I can return the favour."

"Troublesome woman, let me kiss you!" he growled as Naruto practically bent backwards to avoid him. In reply he simply received an almost cackle. In retaliation, he grabbed her hips, lifting her onto the desk.

Naruto was clearly surprised, for she didn't stop him from cradling the back of her head and finally gaining access to her mouth.

It didn't matter how many times he kissed her, or embraced her, part of him still couldn't believe that he could express his affections for her so freely. He had spent so long denying his feelings for her, and then even longer denying Naruto's feelings for him. Perhaps, one day, he'd be able to believe that something he once saw as an impossible dream was truly his reality. Until then, he was going to enjoy every indulgence Naruto allowed him, and the fact that she let him see the true her, the intelligent, unpredictable, terrifyingly strong, mischievous person she was. Some were given glimpses, but Shikamaru knew he was perhaps the only one who had the privilege to really see her. All her strengths and weaknesses. Part of it was because he had always paid attention to her, whilst others had actively or unconsciously ignored her. But he knew, most of it was because Naruto had noticed his inquisitive gaze early on and had let her guard drop, little by little, allowing Shikamaru to study her to the fullest.

Perhaps if Naruto had misinterpreted his attention, or found it unwelcoming they wouldn't be where they were now. Perhaps if Shikamaru had continued to fumble his well-intentioned slow courting, or if he followed through with burying his feelings deep out of a misguided discomfort over his sexuality, something he had seen as unimportant years later once he was so deeply in love with Naruto, the person, not infatuated with Naruto the possible girl or possible boy, he would have lost his chance with the blonde. Luckily, they had managed to reach the point that they had, and he wasn't going to take that for granted.

/ / / / / /

As sleep slowly left him, he was hit with a crash of panic. He found himself holding his breath, trying to hear any movements beside him. The sound of his own heartbeat increasing made it hard to hear anything. He started to tense but let out a shuttering breath when he felt an arm slide over his chest before he felt the pressure of a head resting on his shoulder, a warm body pressing against his side.

"What's wrong?" Naruto muttered.

Shikamaru went to say that it was nothing but stopped himself. "You're not going to disappear, are you?"

"I mean, I've been told I'm a bit of an eye sore, so I doubt I can ever disappear," Naruto tried to joke before she sighed. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. I fought against it, and if I ever find myself in a situation like that again, where I risk... disappearing, I promise I'll fight then too to return to you."

He wrapped his arms tightly around her. "I know. I just wish I could forget."

Naruto was silent at first, her hand moving to rest over his heart. Finally, she started softly, "Even if I'm not physically close, you can always find me."

"I know, you always have your chakra connected to me. But I have to focus to sense it."

He felt Naruto shift to hover over him. He opened his eyes to see her look of confusion.

"I'm not the only one doing that, Shikamaru. You reach out your chakra to me as well. I don't think it's something we control anymore. Even when I'm not trying to sense people, I can always feel you. Haven't you noticed that you rarely need to know where I am to find me? You only probably have to focus because you haven't realised it's there. When your soul was taken from your body, causing the enemy's hostile chakra to rise only helped me know the difference between your body and your soul, since I wasn't sure at first which one I needed to go to." She gave him a soft kiss. "Next time you need my presence, just follow that link. I do. I did."

She tucked her head back down on his chest so he couldn't see her face. "When I realised Kurama was going to be taken, I focused on that link. You were on the other side of the battlefield, but I didn't die alone."

Shikamaru felt the dampness forming on his chest as Naruto tried to quieten her sniffle. He just hugged her close, taking a breath and feeling the link that she had mentioned. It was the one he had always sought out, but he had never noticed how his own chakra was interwoven with Naruto's. He had always assumed it was hers alone, since she had more chakra, more control over the sensory. It took him a moment to work out how this connection hadn't been costing him chakra. He was normally very precise with his chakra use, since, compared to most Chunins, his chakra was pitiful. Then he felt the ebb and flow between his and Naruto's chakra. His chakra wasn't funnelling into Naruto, or vis versa, they were simply connected. Shikamaru had no doubt that at times, Naruto probably did use it to give him needed chakra, and perhaps it was how her chakra cloak reappeared on him when he needed it. She hadn't needed to know he needed help consciously, because she was always subconsciously monitoring the link between them. She was fighting for her life but part of her knew he was losing his, and she had reached out for him. Just as he had reached out for her for the moment of her return.

Neither of them appeared to be in a hurry to make the other break their embrace. The war felt like it was a thing of the past, something they had learnt in school instead of something they had experienced, and yet, it also felt like the moment they were taking at that moment was their only chance to breathe before the next wave. Other wars had lasted months and years. There was a whole generation of ninjas who went from graduating as Genins to being Jonins and burying loved ones in the span of a war. The Fourth Hokage had only just been promoted to Jonin and made a sensei when the war broke out in full. He hadn't been on the Council's list of possible leaders until the close of the fighting, where he had been pivotal.

Their war though, the Allied War as it was being called already, had been two weeks long. Over half their forces had died, Shikamaru had had to fight his sensei, experience the loss of his father and two of his uncles, and only one had stayed dead, and had had to feel true desperation as he tried to return to Naruto's side. All but four ninjas had to live through their deepest dream, only to wake into a scared world. Shikamaru would choose the true world over the dream, but there was no denying that reality hurt more.

In two weeks, the world had changed irrevocably. The truce between the ninja villages might not last, but in years to come students everywhere would be learning about how all ninjas in the world fought together, how the two Jinjurikki that lived had turned the tide of battle. How the Allies would have lost if it wasn't for the 'monsters' everyone had feared. And perhaps the teachers of the Leaf would tell the students how Naruto died and Kuruma had made sure to save her. Shikamaru doubted though, that the teachers would ever know to tell their class that Naruto didn't fight losing Kuruma not for her life, but for the fox's. Maybe the teachers will think to refer to Kuruma as his own self, instead of just an extension of Naruto, or as the Nine-Tails.

Eventually, Naruto and Shikamaru did pull themselves together and back into the world. They both had paperwork in desperate need of completion before they could visit Shikamaru's father and Uncle Inoichi in the hospital. However, as Shikamaru passed Naruto her tea as he took a sip of his coffee, their plans changed. Naruto's eyes blanked as her hand failed to grip her mug. The searing liquid splashed her hand as Shikamaru's shadows came out to grab the cup, trying to protect them both. The blonde didn't even blink at the pain though.

She came back to reality, her eyes instantly finding his as he put both mugs down. "We need to go to your dad!"

Naruto grabbed his arm and next moment the village raced past him in a blur. He tried to ask her what she had felt but his words were stuck in his throat. He noticed that Naruto glowed with her Nine-Tails cloak, something he hadn't expected to see for some time.

Moments later they came to a halt before his father's hospital room. Without pause Shikamaru threw the door open, running into the room. Uncle Inoichi started, turning his head as though to look at them.

"Whose there?" he asked, sounding small.

"It's us, Uncle Inoichi," Naruto assured, her eyes moving to the still prone Shikaku. She started answering Shikamaru's unspoken question. "I have been monitoring his chakra. It started wavering, I don't know why."

"Where is my mother and Aunt Momiji?" Shikamaru turned to his uncle before going back to studying his father's face.

"I asked them to go get lunch," Uncle Inoichi admitted softly. "I just…"

He didn't make the older man elaborate. "Maybe we should get a healer."

"Don't bother."

All bar Shikaku jumped at the gruff words. Slowly, the Nara sighed, his eyes slowly opening and sliding over to rest on his son's face. "I thought perhaps I couldn't feel my legs because of some medicine, or because I had been asleep for too long. That's not it, is it?"

Shikamaru opened his mouth, intending to tell his father the truth. Instead, a whimper came out. His mouth clamped shut only for his bottom lip to tremble and his eyes started to water. He dropped his head onto his father's shoulder, his hands gripping the man's hospital shirt tightly. Shikaku's arms slowly, weakly, came up to embrace his son, his entire form shaking with his own sobs. The Infinite Tsukuyomi had given him this before, and yet, this raw, sorrowful moment was better than anything it could have created. His father couldn't walk before him anymore, but his life was true, and not just a manifestation of Shikamaru's desperation. He didn't have to question his reality in moments like this.

R and R if you wish.