Well, my little boy, Leon, was born just over 4 weeks ago, on his due date no less. We're both doing well and his older brother adores him. I even had an all-natural delivery… against my will. I barely made it to the birthing suite when he wanted out. 15 minutes later he was here. Not too many chapters left and this story will be finished though.
He had honestly expected everything to go back to normal, like the war had never happened, once his father woke up. He hadn't realized how truly he had convinced himself of that delusion until it didn't happen. His father, though awake and stable now, was withdrawn. Any conversation about the clan was met with silence or mumbled responses. Sometimes they would be a few minutes into a conversation before Shikamaru noticed that his father had stopped paying attention and was staring at his unmoving legs or gazing out the window.
Healers had, on Ino's insistence, thoroughly examined both Shikaku and Uncle Inoichi. The bruising on the Yamanaka's brain had healed, showing that he had permanent injury to the visual section, rendering him blind. The man had openly broken down at the news. Naruto had asked if his clan's jutsu would be able to return his sight, if only temporarily to him when he had lamented never getting to see his daughter or wife's faces. He had had to inform her that, no, he couldn't use his clan's jutsu at all without being able to visualize his target. Nothing could give him his vision back, and his time as a ninja was over.
Shikaku's remaining leg had suffered nerve damage from being pinned. There hadn't been the risk of dead blood like his other leg but unfortunately the result wasn't much different. Unlike his teammate, the Nara barely blinked at the news, turning his eyes to the window as the healer tried to explain issues and limitations Shikaku was going to face. Instead of trying to draw him back into the conversation, the healer had assured Yoshino and Shikamaru that the healers would look for sores, infections, and other possible injuries to his remaining leg, apparently a common problem for those who can't feel an appendage, but once he left the hospital it would be Shikaku's or someone else's task.
Both mother and son took it upon themselves to gather information and observed the healer's care of Shikaku. Momoji and Ino had tried to do something similar for Uncle Inoichi, but even with Ino's training, had floundered. Shikamaru couldn't blame them, on the contrary, he envied them. They struggled to work out how best to help because Uncle Inoichi was trying. They would go to hand him something only for him to ask them where it was so he could try. Sometimes they would tell him and wait, only to realise he didn't have the energy to find it. But it was clear he was glad they gave him the choice to reach it himself.
On the other hand, Shikaku barely seemed conscious of what was going on around him. He was fine having little to no independence and spent his waking hours staring off into nothing or half-heartedly joining in on conversations with his family. Shikamaru, more than once, had to stop himself from turning to the healers and telling them something was wrong, they had missed something that was affecting his father.
Unfortunately, he knew that wasn't true, he just didn't know how to actually help his father. He had turned to Naruto for suggestions, only to receive a disheartened shrug.
"I'm sorry, Shikamaru." She reached across the small space on the lounge to grasp his hand. "I'm not even sure if it is something we can help with."
He looked at her blue eyes, dulled with sadness. He wondered if his next sentence was going to be a bad idea before he tentatively started. "You've lost something, like he has. Huruma took your… fertility away. I thought you might be able to relate to my dad having his ability to walk taken. I know it's not the same, but I guess I'm just kinda desperate."
Naruto gave him a sad smile, gently kissing his cheek. "To some extent, I can. But, it's not the same, and even if it was, the feelings I have can't help your dad. They might make it worse." When she received a frown in confusion, she went on, blinking tears away. "I thought I didn't care, that there was no point in letting it affect me when it had happened years before I even truly understood what was taken from me. What does the loss of the ability to have a baby matter to a five-year-old? And when I entered my teens, and realized what it meant, I was still hated by the village and all I could think was that if I could have kids one day, they'd be treated like I was. If I had had a choice, I would have chosen to not have them, not make them suffer like that. But…" she looked away before standing, starting to pace the lounge room.
"The Old Sage's powers stopped Bushier-Brow Sensei from dying, it allowed me to return Kakashi-Sensei's eye!" Her tan face pinched as she tried to stop the tears from falling from her red rimmed eyes. "The village doesn't hate me now, and… I have you, and part of me can't help but wonder what we could have had in the future. I stupidly thought I could heal myself too. Surly the powers of the Sage of the Six Paths would easily undo Huruma's vileness."
"You… you tried to heal yourself?" His heart shuttered. For a second, Shikamaru's mind reminded him that Naruto and he had never used, let alone discussed protection seeing as the two main reasons to use any didn't apply to them, but the thought was banished. He couldn't bring himself to truly care at that moment as he stared at Naruto's tear-soaked face in hope and trepidation.
"I didn't get to," Naruto wailed, dropping her face into her hands, muffling her loud sobs.
Shikamaru gave a start. He had never heard Naruto actually cry. Normally, if he couldn't feel her shoulders shake or see her face he might not even notice. He jumped to his feet, gathering Naruto into his arms and holding her up.
Between cries, the blonde went on. "Every time I tried, I was attacked. When Sakura took a hit that I could have stopped I realized I had to make a choice: risk lives or give up on healing myself. With Kakashi-Sensei I basically just copied his existing eye and let his body mold it to fit. With Bushier-Brow-Sensei I just stopped the Gates from killing him and kicking off his body's natural healing. Bushy-Brow told me yesterday that it didn't stop him from losing all feeling waist down. But with me, I got to 'see' how much damage was really there, and it had to be undone. I tried to find the time when Sasuke was blocking us from the Infinite Tsukuyomi but it was too much. I had to open each scar to heal it. I opened two and wanted to throw up. It felt the same. It felt like what Huruma did to me."
She lifted her head, looking him in the eye as she continued to cry. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I just couldn't!"
"Why are you apologizing?" Shikamaru cupped her cheeks, wiping away some of the wetness with his thumbs. "You chose to not put yourself through pain. I'll never be upset by that."
"I don't know. I'm sorry that you don't get a choice about kids or not in the future. I'm sorry… I'm sorry I ever thought about healing myself. I'm sorry I realized that I actually hate that I'm infertile. I wish I never realized I want kids one day. My kids. I want to look like a giant balloon like Kurenai-Sensei. I've tried to go back to not caring, but ever since that stupid thought I can't forget it."
Shikamaru hugged her tightly, taking a shaky breath. "It's alright, Naruto. You're allowed to feel confused about your feelings."
"I'm not confused," Naruto muttered. "I'm mad, at myself, Huruma, and the village. I'm even mad at Uncle Inoichi and Aunt Momoji. I understand why they gave me to the orphanage, but that choice led to this, same as the village not noticing how horrible Huruma was did."
"Naruto, it's perfectly fine to feel the way you do. You're allowed to be angry that so many people let you down. You're allowed to be angry that something you want was taken from you before you even knew you wanted it."
She sniffled against his chest. "Maybe your dad is mad that he can't walk," she suggested after a few minutes.
"Maybe. His emotions have always been hard to read. Only mum can really do it. He just seems… uninterested in what's going on around him."
Naruto looked up at him with a frown, her sniffles dying away slowly. "I mean, he thought he was going to die, and then he woke up and found out he couldn't walk. Maybe he is just having to process it all. You like thinking things over before reacting to it. It wouldn't be surprising if he was the same. Maybe you should talk to your mum. If she can read him, she might know what his feeling and you two can work out how to help him."
Shikamaru nodded, giving her a thankful smile and a soft kiss on the forehead.
/ / / / / /
It took him almost a week to be able to follow through with Naruto's suggestion and speak with his mother. He hadn't wanted to pull her away from his father, and he also had another topic he wanted her advice on and didn't want to risk being overheard within the village. However, his mother had to return home at times for showers and, under his father's assistance, sleep. It was after she had woken from a few hours of rest that he caught her for a conversation.
When he voiced what he had noticed about his father, his mother simply sighed.
"I'm not positive what his going through but I do know that losing something is… hard. Something that was always there, something you never thought about not having, when lost is difficult to adjust too."
Shikamaru noticed his mother's hand twitch towards her abdomen before she reached out to grip his hand tightly. Her eyes had taken on a glossy effect. He had seen this in his mother a few times over the years, always seeming to be caused by nothing. Now, he understood. He grasped her hand with equal strength. He took a deep breath, wondering how his next question would hurt her.
"Can I ask you about… that?"
Yoshino studied his face delicately, taking in every detail. "Shikamaru, as long as I have you, that's all that matters. I can live with what happened. Your father needs time with his loss, especially since he also doesn't have his brother. His in shock."
"No, it's… it's Naruto. You two have both suffered the same thing. I was hoping you could tell me how to help her. It's not something many can understand. Anko apparently can't help Naruto either since even if she had the choice, she wouldn't want kids. Even though she hasn't come to terms with what happened to her, that element doesn't affect her the same as it does for Naruto. But you. You always wanted to be a mum, didn't you?"
"Always. After my attack I tried to convince myself that I had been wavering on that but I hadn't. If we hadn't been so young and your father hadn't been recently promoted to Head of the Clan I would have wanted to start having children as soon as we were married. After, your father hated himself for a long time for encouraging me to wait. But it wasn't his fault." Yoshino didn't bother blinking away her tears, instead letting them run down her cheeks and drip off her chin. "I had a chance before I was attacked, before the miracle that is you, so I'm not sure how much my experience would help Naruto. Hasn't she always known she was unable to have children?"
Shikamaru gave her a pained smile. "During the war, she had a chance to heal herself, but it took too much time, and," he ran a hand down his face, hoping his mother would understand, "it was more than literally opening old wounds. She couldn't do it, and I don't know if anyone would have been strong enough to go through that. But now she knows there was that chance, and she is struggling living with knowing that she-"
His throat constricted with a burn but his mother didn't need him to continue. She squeezed his hand, nodding as the tears continued.
"My darling, I'll try, but like with your father, it might not be in our power to help them. Sometimes people need to do it themselves, and sometimes, even though they need to do the hard work, they need help that loved ones can't provide. I have a feeling, with Shikaku but also maybe Naruto, it might be the latter one. Either way, we'll make sure to be there for them both."
Shikamaru couldn't say he was satisfied with that answer. Both his father and his girlfriend were suffering, seemingly by similar things, and yet very different, and he couldn't think of a single thing to help them. But then, Shikamaru, like his father, was never great with emotions. His mother had always helped them through those confusions and it looked like she was still doing it even now.
/ / / / / /
There wasn't an instant turn around for either Shikaku or Naruto after the discussion mother and son had had. However, not to long after, Naruto made an off-hand comment about the therapy that Lady Tsunade had set up for Children of Iron if they ever needed it. Apparently mental health had become a passion project for the Hokage in the last few years, something the village had been sorely lacking for far too long.
The blond had simply remarked that she was thinking of going to both the solo sessions and the group ones. Ibiki, Dia, and someone named Naoki were all attending the group therapy and had found it helpful in different ways to the one-on-one meetings.
"I'm glad you all have support." Shikamaru looked over his shoulder from where he was rummaging in his draws for clothing. Naruto was still comfortably lounging on the bed, the blankets pooling around her waist. Her eyes held none of the sleep that she had only recently awoken from.
"It is good. I mean, part of me hates it but part of me feels better each session. I'm not the only one who is… angry and frustrated to not have anywhere to put that anger. It's weirdly nice to hear that."
"I've heard some people returning from the war are also seeing professionals. The infinite Tsukuyomi messed up some people." He took off his shirt that he had slept in, the night having an unusual cold snap. He watched as Naruto unashamedly scanned his chest. "Seriously?"
"What? You're the one who stripped in front of me." Naruto laughed. "Are you complaining that I find you attractive?"
"No, I'm just wondering when you started." He sat down on the edge of the bed; his body turned towards Naruto. "Was it just lucky timing, cause it seemed you started finding me attractive when I started to pursuing you more openly."
The blonde snorted. "I've always found you handsome. Even when we were in the academy, I thought you looked nice. Then as we got older, I started doing things like wondering what it would be like to kiss you. And that mesh shirt thing you used to wear started becoming a distraction around the time we had the Chunin exams. Do you remember Kiba asking me how I knew I liked guys? I had to bite my tongue from saying something like 'well, if I like girls, I really shouldn't spend so much time thinking about Shikamaru'. Honestly, I didn't think I was very subtle. And you did not help matters by getting hotter when I came back from training. I was fairly certain I made an idiot of myself in Old Granny's office the day I returned."
Shikamaru wasn't sure if he was choking on his own saliva out of surprise, or if he was choking on his laughter. "I had no idea you felt that way. I mean, I eventually worked out you were interested in my physically, but still, I didn't know you had felt that way for so long. I thought you had no interest in me the day you got back. If I had even an inkling that you liked me that day I would have kissed you right there in the office."
Naruto laughed, sitting up, drawing their bodied closer. "I think it was a blessing that you and Sasuke never got alone cause he was the only one who seemed to realise I liked you. Though thinking back Kakashi-Sensei might have had some idea once he had seen us interact. Pervy-Sage worked it out in seconds. He tried to convince me to kiss you so he'd train me."
"I certainly wouldn't have minded if you had." He gave her a rare, cheeky grin.
The blonde matched him with one of her own. "If I had known that I would have followed through with it." She moved sharply to tackle him to the bed.
Unfortunately, he was perched to closely to the edge, making them tumble off with a resounding thump. Once Shikamaru had stopped grumbling about what a 'troublesome woman' she was, and Naruto had caught her breath from her fit of laughter, she pressed her lips against his, hard, with little technique. She pulled back with a bark of laughter.
"That actually probably went better than it would have back then."
Shikamaru snorted, not bothering to move from his prone position on the floor. "I can't say our first kiss was that amazing anyway. I hadn't even really known I was going to do it, and I don't think you even got a chance to respond."
"I liked it." Naruto shrugged. "I thought I was having a very vivid dream for a minute. I honestly hadn't thought at the time that you would ever want to kiss me."
"I guess neither of us were aware of the others feels at the time. Hell, I didn't even notice my own until we were in that damned forest for the Chunin exams."
Naruto's eyes alighted with amusement, that spark that had seemed so permanent when they were young was back. It had been dulled since Jiraiya's passing, some days even being smothered completely. There was a time, as the war loomed and the darkest aspects of the village came to light that Shikamaru wondered if the fire behind Naruto's eyes was going to be lost forever. The thought had made him almost grieve the loss of their younger selves. The thing that had stopped him was realising Naruto had dealt with horrors, mistreatment, and isolation long before he had even met her, let alone before he had learnt to value that carefree element to her personality. Perhaps it would be forever gone, but he had doubted it, and he would love the new person who Naruto had grown into as much as he had loved her before.
Seeing how she knelt beside him now, her legs pressed against his thighs, a small smile on her face and that spark brightening her blue eyes, something that he had been questioning in the back of his mind firmly slid forward. He knew it was never leaving now, but looking at the shadows under Naruto's eyes, and thinking of his father's reluctance to leave his hospital bed, he realised it would have to wait. Thankfully, with the war over, they had the time for him to stay silent.
Naruto studied Shikamaru's face. "What?"
He sat up, brushing her lips with his. "I don't care that we didn't realise each other's feelings. I'm just happy with the way we are now."
He was gifted with a dazzling smile. "Me too. Can't really regret something that might have led to something less than this." She paused, studying him gently before speaking. "Shikamaru, are you alright after the dream world thing?"
Sighing, he moved to finish getting dressed. "I wasn't at first. I kept expecting to see Asuma-Sensei and my uncle. The biggest issue was that my dream world wasn't too different from this one. There were things implied in that world that if I thought about it, I think I would have realised it wasn't real. Like your parents were alive, but you and Ino were like sisters, and we still lived in the apartment. If your parents were alive though, why didn't you live with them? But since outside of those things, it was basically this world without the war it took a while to shake the feeling that I was still in there, or that it was the real world. By the sound of it, others had much different dreams, far from reality. But I prefer this world, even with the losses. The losses make it real, makes everything else worth it."
"I'm glad you're alright. I was really scared when the jutsu was activated. Now come on, Ryota wants to take breakfast to the hospital. He's hoping some home cooked food will do your dad some good."
He gave a heavy sigh, grabbing his shoes. It took time for he and Naruto to reach the point they did, and he had to accept that it would take time for his loved ones to heal. Once they did though, even if they weren't the people they used to be, he would be able to voice the decision he had been waiting to make.
/ / / / /
The alterations to the house were to take a month to finish, which was rather impressive, especially when Shikamaru found out Ryota had had an ensuite added to the main bedroom for Shikaku's convenience. During that time Shikamaru and Naruto had stayed at the apartment. They had offered the spare room to his mother, not bothering to pretend that he and Naruto weren't accustomed to sharing a bed at that point. Something told him his mother had realised already, especially since they had been splitting their time between the estate and the apartment since returning home. She had turned down their offer, telling them that she had chosen to stay with Aunt Kurva who seemed thankful for the prospect of another presence in her house.
"Isn't Aunt Kurva living in a one bedroom?" Shikamaru asked with a frown.
Yoshino nodded. "Yeah. I'm just going to sleep in her bed. It's actually been hard to sleep without someone there so maybe I'll actually get more than an hour's rest at a time."
Shikamaru shot a look at his father, who was laying back and staring at the ceiling, seemingly not listening to his wife. He tried not to give a reaction but he couldn't help sighing in frustration at the man. His mother gave him a hard look, helping to keep him silent.
"What do you think, Shikaku, about the improvements to the house?"
The man looked over at his wife, taking a moment to process what was said. "It sounds good. Shikamaru, you've done a good job."
"It wasn't me. I came home one day to find Naruto and Ryota organising it all. Naruto didn't want you to have to wait, and wanted you to have as much comfort and independence as possible."
Shikaku blinked, sitting up. "Your mum mentioned that Naruto was having a hard time. She should be focusing on herself."
"She is," Shikamaru assured his father. "Thinking about your needs hasn't taken away from her looking after herself. She's actually been going to therapy lately and she says it's been helpful."
"Really? That's good to hear. Naruto didn't sound very interested in it when I first passed on the information from Lady Hokage."
Taking a moment, he thought how best to compose his response. "I think it took her some time to realise she needed a hand. The war brought up some things for her, but talking to Naruto, I would be surprised if those things didn't come up eventually anyway. Perhaps it wouldn't have been for years but I'm pretty sure eventually she would have needed to talk to someone about how she feels, someone who could either relate or help her work through it."
His father hummed. "When Lady Hokage first pushed the program a lot of older Jonin and Chunins were sceptical. They probably still are. But I am glad to hear it's helping Naruto. She deserves to be happy and not having her traumas always weighing on her."
"I think everyone deserves that," Yoshino piped up thoughtfully. "Oh, Shika, darling, we need to talk to the hospital about whether you can have a day pass or not." At her husband's confused frown, she elaborated, "for the Nara funeral. The Clan has been holding off waiting for you to be able to attend."
For a moment it looked as though Shikaku was going to refuse but then he nodded before letting his gaze slide to the hospital window. His body fell back against the pile of pillows that Yoshino had fluffed. From then on, neither wife nor son were able to engage him in conversation.
/ / / / /
"Naruto," he started, looking at the woman beside him at the dining table. He put his hand on her legs that was stretched across his lap.
"Hmm," she muttered, her bottom lip dancing in and out from under her teeth as she studied the paperwork in her hand.
He waited for her to actually realise he had addressed her, his fingers gently stroking up and down her shin. Finally, she blinked, taking a moment to realise what actually caught her attention before she looked at Shikamaru.
"Sorry, did you say something?"
He gave her an amused smile. "What's got all your focus?"
The blonde hesitated. "Something to do with the Foundation. Danzo was doing some morally disgusting things and now that Old Granny has some time we are working on how to deal with it all. I can't tell you more."
"Why not? I thought the Foundation was going to be more transparent with their fellow ninja."
She gave him a ruthless smile. "Elite Jonins, yeah, but not Chunins. Old Granny gets to decide if you hear anything about what is going on."
"Watch it, Genin," he replied, his fingers skimming over the sole of her foot, making Naruto's leg jerk.
Naruto gave a laugh. "Did you just want to ask about my work?"
"Nah, wanted a distraction. All the funeral plans are starting to do my head in. I used to find all Clan protocol and paperwork tedious but I will say after this I can see the importance of it and how it helps clansmen. I'm definitely reaching my limit, but the only way for me to get a break is to finish it I guess."
He turned back to the documents in front of him. The amount of paperwork he had to do for the clan had trickled down to a much more reasonable stack. Once the clan funeral was finished, he would be able to go days, perhaps even a week or two, without having to see an official Nara form.
He hoped that after the funeral his father would take over with the clan duties but part of him knew that it was unlikely. Shikamaru had tried to tell himself to stop thinking about his father's state, that all he could really do for his father at the moment was be there for him.
He couldn't even ask his father for advice on how to run the clan. The one time he had tried, his father had told him that Shikamaru had been raised for the task and had everything he needed before Shikaku had declared that he was tired and had stopped talking.
Whenever he felt like he was drowning in wondering if he was failing his clan, or in concern for his father, he followed that link between him and Naruto. He had always thought that Naruto simply always surrounded him with her chakra, or flooded the area with it. She did scan the area constantly, an unconscious behaviour at this point, but, as Naruto had had to explain to Shikamaru, only another sensory type had any chance of even noticing. It had sounded so obvious once stated. He had no ability to sense chakra. The only time he could feel it was when it was strong enough to choke even the most chakra inept person. But he had always felt Naruto's presence. Even when she was off training with Killer Bee he had known, somehow, that she was safe. Even from such a great distance, something had been tethering them. That had been something ripped away for a time when Kuruma had been taken from Naruto.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed Naruto putting her paperwork down and frowning in his direction.
"I think we should take a break once the funeral is over. You can finally relax a little, after that, can't you?"
"Yeah, but what about you? I'm guessing by the way Sai and some others have been visiting here on official business, and the frown you keep getting means you're dealing with something big. How can we take time for ourselves if you're busy still?"
"This will be all sorted about three days after the funeral, unless something delays it. We could set something up the day after that. Old Granny wants it done by then too. Neither of us want this crap dragged out." She grabbed the paperwork she had been studying before, closing scroll and tossing it further up the table, away from her. "So, since I'm pretty sure Sai, and maybe Sasuke are feeling the same drain as me from all of this, and I'm sure Choji and Ino are feeling similar to you, so why don't we plan something with our friends?"
"Hmm, we could go out for lunch as a group," Shikamaru suggested. "Maybe just spend time doing nothing. I feel like we haven't done that in ages."
Naruto gave him a smile, leaning forward, kissing his cheek. "I'll set it up. But until then, I think we should call it a night and go get dinner."
He smirked at her. "Did you suggest the day off so you could soften me to the idea of having ramen for dinner?"
"Please, I know you've gained a taste for it."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes, letting Naruto pull him to his feet. "At least it makes you happy."
/ / / / / /
He wasn't sure if Naruto had suggested a day with their friends more for Shikamaru or for Naruto herself. There was no denying that the blonde was feeling some strain from whatever she was dealing with in regards to the Foundation, but Shikamaru could tell it was nothing like what she had already dealt with. Either way, Shikamaru was actually looking forward to the gathering. He found himself walking to the remade barbeque place with Choji, feeling the knot between his shoulders beginning to loosen.
They found most of their friends already standing just off the side of the entrance to the restaurant. Ino waved at them when she spotted them, before she started scanning the street around them. The disappointment that flickered through her eyes made Shikamaru think she was looking for Sai. He, Naruto, and Sasuke were the only ones missing from the group.
"Hey, we thought Naruto and the others would be showing up with you," she admitted when the two men drew near.
"They had some last-minute work to finish off," Shikamaru explained. "Just some loose ends, I think."
He remembered how Naruto had come home the night before and when he had asked her how her work with the Foundation had gone, she had groaned and dropped her head onto the dining table. She had waved him off when he asked if she wanted to talk, mumbling how Old Granny planned to make an announcement and Naruto really didn't want to think about it at that moment. The bulk of the work had been finished from what he could tell, but there was paperwork left to check before handing it over to the Hokage once the older woman had decided to make the information public.
"I visited Sasuke yesterday and he seemed really unhappy with whatever was happening," Sakura piped up from beside Ino. She stood close to the blonde, distancing herself from Hinata and her team as much as possible. The team appeared to be in their own little conversation though, ignoring the pink-haired woman. "I hope they aren't having to do too much. They really shouldn't be exhausting themselves."
Shikamaru shook his head. "Nah, Naruto isn't physically exhausted. I felt more of an emotional exhaustion that passed once it was finished. Kind of like pulling off a bandage." He noticed the two women frown at him. "What?"
"What do you mean you 'felt' it?" Ino asked, tilting her head.
"Through the chakra link," Shikamaru elaborated, only to watch the frown on the two women deepen.
"You and Naruto have a chakra link?" Sakura breathed. "How? When? How strong is it?"
"I don't know, I don't know, and I don't know the difference between a weak one and a strong one."
"My guess is it's strong since it's probably how Naruto put her chakra cloak back on you and how she encased you in a chakra sphere during the Pein fight, but I always thought chakra links took ages to form." Ino turned to Sakura who nodded in confirmation.
"How do you even know about links?' Choji asked the women.
"Yeah, I didn't even know about them until Naruto pointed ours out. I just thought she made sure I could feel her chakra."
"Romance novels," both women answered as though it was obvious.
"It's a common trope in ninja romances. Two ninjas care about each other so much they create a link and can feel each other's pain." Sakura sighed. "Ino and I used to argue over which of us would get a link, since they are pretty uncommon. They usually take a long time to form and they can only form once the people in the link truly trust each other explicitly."
Shikamaru thought over it before he blinked. "Huh. Mine and Naruto's must have started forming shortly after she went and got the Fifth Hokage." At his teammates' and Sakura's questioning looks, he elaborated. "Naruto asked me to teach her a bit about my shadow possession jutsu just after she came back. I let her feel how my chakra was part of the hold, and she sort of… returned my jutsu to me to break it. She doesn't do that to break it for anyone else or to break similar jutsus. I don't think that's when it formed, but I think that's what opened the window for it."
"Damn it," Sakura muttered, "You're basically living out my romance fantasy."
Shikamaru felt arms slip around his waist as a head nestled against his shoulder.
"You two are." Ino gave a Naruto a fake scowl, only to have the other blonde stick her tongue out at her.
Sai moved to stand beside Ino as Sasuke stopped a short distance from Naruto. "Which between Shikamaru and Naruto are you jealous of?"
"Sai, I'm not jealous of either of them. I had just always hoped to have something like what they have."
Sakura watched the two of them as Naruto moved to stand in front of Shikamaru, letting him wrap his arms around her and brush his lips onto the skin behind the blonde's ear. In response, Naruto practically melted against him, her back resting comfortably against his chest.
"How did I never notice how close you two were? Was it always that obvious?"
"Yes," both Kiba and Hinata piped up, Shino nodding silently.
"Where's Lee's team?" Naruto looked to Hinata for answers.
"They decided to stay with Guy-Sensei. His going through some physio and they wanted to support him."
The blonde nodded in understanding.
"No, seriously, how was it that obvious?" Sakura continued as they all started trailing into the restaurant. "I couldn't have been that oblivious."
"You were," Sai assured. "I barely understand emotions and I could see that Shikamaru meant more to Naruto that others. She is more grounded with him nearby. When I first watched Naruto and attacked her to test her, I realised quickly that Shikamaru valued Naruto above his own safety."
"Even I knew they had a thing for each other and I've been gone for years," Sasuke admitted. At the raised eyebrow the Nara gave him, he smirked. "I knew Naruto liked you for a while but I knew it was returned the day she fought Gaara and you cleaned her bloody knuckles after carrying her to the hospital."
"Even back then they liked each other?" Sakura looked around the group, as though expecting someone to say they were all joking.
"I've known since the academy," Choji added, clearly not minding making Sakura feel worse. "At least I knew about Shikamaru's feelings."
Everyone looked at Kiba in surprise. "When you were teaching Naruto how to read. I almost walked in on that but one look at your face made me turn back around until I smelt Choji's presence. I thought it was a little crush that went away once we graduated but I realised it didn't the day you became a chunin. It wasn't until after Naruto came back from training that I realised it was returned though."
"If it helps, Sakura, I didn't realise how close they were until after Naruto returned. Kiba helped to confirm it so we made sure to try to make it clear to them both that we supported our friends expressing their love." Shino's words would have sounded more reassuring if he hadn't delivered them in a flat tone.
"Ohh, is that why you and Kiba told me you didn't mind who I dated after Pervy-Sage died?"
"Yes, and then you decided to try to make me uncomfortable!" Kiba shrieked.
Naruto sniggered into Shikamaru's shoulder.
"Maybe they just wanted an excuse to kiss," Hinata supplied. "And I knew back when we were all waiting for the Chunin exams to start. I was trying to work out why Shikamaru was giving me dirty looks. Then I realised he had picked up on my crush on Naruto and was jealous."
"You had a crush on me?"
"Yeah, pretty sure Neji had a little one on you too after you both fought. Guess it's something he and I share." Hinata looked far to amused about Naruto's bewilderment for a woman that Shikamaru once saw as sweet and kind.
"What am I, a Hygua magnet?"
"Do I have to worry about Emon getting feelings for you?' Shikamaru sniggered.
"I'm pretty sure he has a thing for a Nara," Naruto whispered in his ear.
Shikamaru didn't bother to ask if she meant Jun or Hiro, knowing she wouldn't answer. Instead, he turned to Hinata. "Sorry about the glaring. I didn't realise I had feelings for Naruto at the time. Actually, my jealousy for you helped me realise." He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly as Hinata waved him off.
"So, everyone knew around the time Naruto came back from training?" Sakura asked as they sat down in their reserved section.
"No," Ino assured. "I didn't realise until I saw them together after they had had lunch. Naruto had been back for a little while by then. Shikamaru was so open with Naruto, in a way I had never seen before. Though, considering you were with me at the time, I'm a little surprised that you didn't notice how close they were."
Sakura looked at Shikamaru and Naruto. The Nara decided to ignore her stare, instead twisting a strand of hair that wasn't in Naruto's ponytail around his finger.
"You look beautiful today," he whispered to her.
She looked down at her outfit before looking up in confusion. "I'm in boy form today."
"Okay, handsome than," he retorted, getting a snort in reply. He kissed her behind her ear again before kissing her cheek.
"They weren't always that obvious, right?"
"No, Sakura," Choji chuckled. "They didn't really kiss in front of anyone before they started dating. But they were at this level of touchy, whispery though. Have been for a long time actually." When Shikamaru frowned in confusion at him, he grinned. "You aren't touchy at all, Shikamaru, but even in the academy, you would initiate a lot of physical contact with Naruto. It's only gotten worse over the years, and honestly, I find it cute."
He blinked at his friend, trying to think of the last time he had initiated contact with the bigger man, or Ino. Outside of necessity he couldn't remember any moment in recent memory. Even before they dated though, he barely went a minute of interacting with Naruto before he had reached out for her in some way. "I honestly never noticed. I hadn't realised how obvious I was being."
"Helps explain how you two ended up with a chakra link though," Ino piped up, rolling her eyes before changing the topic. "So, what has been keeping you three so busy anyway?"
Sai and Sasuke shot Naruto a look, clearly wondering what to say. The blonde sighed heavily.
"Old Granny is going to inform ninjas over the next few days so we are allowed to talk about it. Donzo had collected DNA off various people and tried to clone them. Some he tried to combine the DNA of said people. Only two of his experiments reached a living state, though they both still need to stay in the incubation tubes. One is a clone of Waku Uzumaki who I was in the orphanage with. I told his boyfriend today and his going to raise the clone like his and Waku's son. The other is technically the off-spring of two people. Explaining to them what Donzo had done wasn't fun. They are in shock at the moment but they have plenty of time to think everything through before a decision about the baby needs to be made. All bar the two tubes being used have been shut down, though they haven't been destroyed yet encase the two functioning ones need repairs. Once the two babies no longer need to be incubated the whole lab will be destroyed."
"Shit," Kiba muttered. "Donzo was really a dick!"
"Yes, but thankfully that is the last horrendous thing of his that had to come to light." Sai started pouring drinks from the jug on the table calmly.
"That is a relief, that's for sure," Naruto said, accepting the cup that Sai passed her. "Now the Foundation can move forward." She took a deep, calming breath. "But I'm sick of work. Choji, are you going to man the barbeque?"
"Of course. I'm not letting you cook. Aunt Yoshino told my mum about the mess you and Ryota left behind after Airi's wedding."
/ / / / / /
Three months after returning from war and the village was fully repaired from Pein, with many of the ninjas returning to regular duties. The decrease in population was noticeable, as were the fresh scars on many of the fighters, but for the most part, life was returning back to normal. Shikamaru couldn't help the sting he felt whenever he walked through newly built streets and observed the healing of time.
He nodded to the man at the entry desk of the hospital before turning left, taking the stairs up two levels. The fifth door on the main hall had been sombre since Inoichi's discharge. No matter how many visitors the room had, it was always dreary. Like every day previous, his mother was sitting by his father's bed, reading as comfortably as if they were in their living room. There was a tightness in her shoulders though that gave her away. His father staring out the window, something he seemed to do continuously whenever Shikamaru visited.
Shikamaru exchanged soft greetings with his mother as he perched himself on the windowsill. He was tempted to move into his father's line of sight, but chose not to. The wheel chair, that his father had used for the funeral, sat untouched in the corner of the room. He looked away, letting his eyes skid across the room. Everything about the room fed into the pit in his stomach, his jaw clenching. Reminding himself to breath, Shikamaru focused his gaze on the vase of flowers on the bedside table.
They looked fresh, perhaps only a day old. Ino had probably brought a new bunch. She did every time the old ones wilted beyond the help of fresh water.
"I hope Naruto isn't working too hard," Yoshino commented in a soft voice.
"No, she actually has the day off. She and Sasuke have found a clearing far enough away from the village to do some training. The two of them are a little worried they won't know how to pull back in a regular fight now. Not to mention both of them have been so focused on training for specific fights that they haven't been able to fully explore what they can do. They both seem pretty excited to branch out, honestly."
"I'm glad. After everything, Naruto deserves that. So does Sasuke. I can't believe the things Donzo was able to do. The two of them deserve to live their lives, without thinking about the next fight, or the next person after them."
A clearing of a throat snapped Shikamaru's attention to the bed. His father was no longer looking out the window, but was looking between Shikamaru and his mother. He cleared his throat again.
"The alterations on the house are finished, right?"
"Yeah. You saw the changes after the funeral." Shikamaru frowned. He was tempted to look at his mother to see if she knew where the conversation was going.
"I just wanted to make sure all of them were done. What about the retirement house?"
"They're still working on that one." Yoshino reached out, putting her arm on her husband's forearm. "Would you prefer to move into that one?"
Shikaku's eyes darted to his son before moving back to his wife's face. "If the house it ready for me, it would be a shame to not use it. I just want to go home. I think it's what I need now."
Shikamaru shot a look at his mother, not willing to believe his ears until he saw the smile building on his mother's face.
"I've been thinking I've imposed on Kurva enough. She's hinted that she is wanting to move in with Airi during the last stage of her pregnancy to help her. Don't worry, Shikamaru, you and Naruto won't have to go back to pretending you don't share a bed."
"Wasn't planning to," he assured with a shrug, trying to will away his blush.
R and R if you like.