A/N: Welcome to the second installment of Shadow Bough. I never thought we'd see the day, mostly because I've been working like crazy on several other multi-chapter fics. Since I didn't know what the hell I was doing when I first posted this story, we'll cover our bases now.
General disclaimers apply throughout: I do not own Naruto, I have never owned Naruto, and I will never own Naruto…much as I may want to, it ain't happening.
First Day of School
"Hush. You can't not go to the Academy."
"But it's only the first day! I already know Iruka-sensei and my friends," the eight-year-old complains, spooning up his cereal and then letting it splash back into his bowl. Despite her offers to make something more substantial, the boy isn't really been in the mood to go through all the work of chewing more than he needs to.
"You're going to school," his mother says, rolling green eyes that match his own, and he sighs. "Speaking of friends, yours should be here soon to walk with us."
"Hey, hey, not my idea." Entirely... "Ino-Pig and Chouji thought it would be a nice idea. And you don't want to upset Ino-oba, right?"
The boy grumbles, and she hides her smirk by turning back to his bento. Her son has a soft spot for her lifelong friend, if only because he knows how she can get. It might be a bit underhanded, but it's also effective.
"Chourou is fine, but Inoka..."
"What about Inoka?" The question is asked sharply, and he gulps. He can tell his mother anything, he knows that, but she is also fiercely protective of the young Yamanaka heiress, and he wonders if he has just made a terrible mistake.
"Inoka is somewhat disturbingly similar to what Ino was like at her age," his father says as he strides into the kitchen, his five-year-old brother and three-year-old sister both in his arms and clinging to the man's neck like monkeys.
"Inoka isn't that bad."
"She's that bad," both father and son say at the same time, in absolute seriousness. Little Ayaka, meanwhile, perks right up at the sound of her idol's name, while Asuma frowns slightly, most likely just from bored sleepiness.
"Inoka-chan is coming over?" the pink-haired girl calls excitedly, and her eldest brother groans, his forehead smacking against the tabletop.
Shikamaru and Sakura share a look, one of familiarity and nostalgia and genuine amusement. If Yamanaka Inoka is anything like her mother was as an Academy student, then Nara Shikamu is a carbon copy of his father.
"I wasn't that bad," Shikamaru says, leaning against the counter top and folding his arms as he watches the Nara brood eat breakfast with varying levels of enthusiasm. His wife elbows him sharply in the side, and he winces, rubbing the spot and hoping the bruise won't be too dark. She rolls her eyes, healing him the next second.
"You were absolutely that bad. I'm still surprised you don't have permanent marks from the number of times your forehead smacked a table or desk."
The man huffed, but couldn't really counter that. He really disliked losing to her, but sometimes she was just too good.
"Yo, Forehead!" the familiar call rings from the entrance of their home, and Shikamu and Shikamaru groan simultaneously, the former genuinely and the latter teasingly.
"In here, Pig!" Sakura responds with a laugh, going to lift Ayaka from her chair and to the floor so she can speed over to the door, giggling madly for her favorite auntie and older best friend.
"Look who we found on the way over, Ayaka-chan," Chouji says as they move through the house closer to the kitchen, until the large Akimichi Head appears in the sunny room, Ayaka perched high on his shoulders. She's twisted around, chatting animatedly with Inoka and Ino, who're directly behind Chouji. Chourou breaks away from his family to sit beside the two Nara boys, and Shikamu easily slides his unwanted cereal in his best friend's direction. Slipping past them, Nara Yoshino greets her son and daughter-in-law, and then moves to kiss her grandsons, while Temari invades the kitchen like a whirlwind, setting herself at Shikamaru's side to pester him while Sasuke settles against the doorway to watch his sons and daughter mingle with the other children like a hawk.
"We've been invaded," Shikamaru groans to Sakura, looking at her pleadingly while trying to fend off Temari's attempts to annoy him, largely unsuccessfully.
"Count your blessings Naruto didn't tag along," she winks, finishing the bentos and handing the first to Shikamu, who looks borderline miserable as Ayaka, Inoka, and Uchiha Karura chatter together.
Like his father, he's thankful for the lack of Uzumakis in the mix, in particular Uzumaki Kazuko, who would have joined the girls in their incessant talking, and Uzumaki Reiji, who would have run circles around all of them.
"Okay people, let's get a move on, time to get out of my house," Shikamaru finally says, trying to herd Ino and Temari outside and hoping their husbands and children will follow along.
"Please don't make me go," Shikamu tries to beg one more time, not above pleading with his mother, but it's all ultimately futile.
"Go to school," Sakura says, green eyes meeting green eyes, and Shikamu finally grunts in defeat, grabbing his bento and moving to walk with Chourou and Itachi. The girls are still grouped together, but Asuma has gone to Chouji to ride on the larger man's shoulders, and Uchiha Daisuke has somehow convinced Itachi to give him a piggyback ride as well.
Sakura smiles at this, and then spots the slight tightening of Sasuke's face as he walks beside her. She nudges him, more gently than she elbowed Shikamaru this morning, though that's mostly out of a desire to avoid a sparring challenge until at least the afternoon. When his dark eyes turn to her, she smiles in understanding.
"Quit worrying so much, Grumpy."
"They're the same age difference as Itachi and I were," he admits lowly. Sakura wonders if he ever talks to Temari about this. Surely he must, because they love each other in their bizarre way, but at the same time, she grew up away from the dangerous and dysfunctional clan politics of Konoha, while Sakura has witnessed, if from a distance, the tragedy of the Uchiha.
"They're not your brother and you. You're not your father. There's no Danzo, you took care of that yourself," she reminds him, just as she had when Itachi was born, and when Karura and Daisuke were born. "And Naruto will never allow anything to happen to them."
This seems to reassure him more than anything else, just as she knew it would. Naruto will always watch out for his team, his family, and his village. A tragedy on the scale of the Uchiha Massacre will never happen again under his watch. The corner of his mouth lifts up into a hint of a smile, and she nods once, turning away when she feels Shikamaru take her hand.
"Speaking of our esteemed Nanadaime..."
"Sakura-chan! If I had known the Teme would be walking with you guys, I would have gone to your house too!" the Number One Unpredictable Knucklehead Shinobi shouts from the Academy gates, drawing surprised glances from other families arriving and a face-palm from Iruka-sensei, who has been talking to Atsuko while the two Uzumaki terrors raced each other to the rope swing and back.
"Hokage-sama," Iruka grounds out, looking moments away from pinching Naruto's ear and pulling him away from the Academy and all the impressionable students.
"Eh? Iruka-sensei, you know you don't need to call me that," Naruto laughs, clapping the older man on the shoulder. The blond now towers over most of the people in the village, peers and former senseis as well.
"I've got him," Shikamaru groans, separating from his wife and walking over to grip Naruto's arm and pull him away from the gates, allowing families to enter in peace again. "Come on, Naruto, you know not to distract everyone. Do you have your speech?"
"Let Sasuke or I know if you need help wrangling him!" Sakura calls after her husband, drawing a glare from Sasuke who apparently wants to remain uninvolved with his best friend when he starts acting like an idiot, and an indignant squawk from Naruto, who bemoans how 'his beloved Sakura-chan' has turned on him. Shikamaru merely waves his hand over his shoulder, continuing to pull the blond Hokage along toward the main assembly hall of the Academy.
"Somehow, you're still the best at wrangling him," Atsuko says, moving to join the group of parents as Iruka says goodbye and makes to follow the two elite shinobi. Ayaka and the other girls make a point of greeting Atsuko as sweetly as possible, and then they pull Uzumaki Kazuko into their group, the girl's fiery red hair contrasting with the collections of blonde, brunet and pink. Uzumaki Reiji, meanwhile, beelines directly toward Daisuke, who finally abandons his older brother in favor of playing with his best friend.
"It's a peculiar talent born of years dealing with him as a teammate," Sakura shrugs nonchalantly, reaching out and grabbing onto Shikamu's collar before he can slip past the adults and make a break for freedom. He groans and relents, going back to Chourou and Itachi and flopping onto the grass to look up at the sky. He might not want to be there, but he's not going to make another attempt at escape while his mother is present. It's not worth the effort.
The bell rings inside, and the parents immediately start herding their children into the building, moving to the assembly hall. Atsuko leaves her children in the care of her friends and goes to join Naruto on stage as a force of solidarity. Shikamu, Itachi, Inoka and Chourou go to join the other Academy students at the front of the hall, while the families collect near the back to watch the Hokage's address. Shikamaru is onstage as well, and Naruto seems to be bickering with him right up until he's meant to speak.
Luckily, the dolt has given this particular address several times now with relatively few changes, and once again seems to inspire the Academy students to strive to do their best to become valuable shinobi to the Leaf and foster their own Will of Fire.
When all is said and done, and the four new Academy students are safely sequestered in Iruka-sensei's classroom (and Iruka is forewarned that they're all pretty much identical to their parents), the remaining pre-Academy children are exchanged for various play dates and daycare situations. Temari is happy to host the Nara and Uzumaki children, since she has another week of free time before having to leave for another diplomatic mission to her homeland of Suna. Sasuke seems less thrilled, but that's probably a combination of his normal expression and having to put up with hyperactive Uzumaki children. Atsuko offers to swing by and help later in the afternoon, which the Uchiha seem to appreciate, while Ino and Sakura solidify their dinner plans for that night once the children are all home.
Then they all separate, Temari corralling the children toward the new Uchiha district, Chouji heading home for an Akimichi clan council, Ino off to the T&I department, Atsuko and Sasuke to the Hokage's office, and Sakura toward the hospital. She's been the director for years, after Tsunade departed for a continued tour of the Elemental Nations. Shizune moves between the two Slug Summoners, joining Tsunade from time to time to help establish hospitals and proper iryo-nin corps in different places, but usually remaining in Konoha with her own husband and daughter, helping Sakura in the poisons and research divisions.
Luckily, being director means having slightly more manageable hours, and the rosette kunoichi is home an hour and a half before her children will return, and two hours before the Akimichi-Yamanaka brood will arrive. She's in the middle of prepping dinner when solid arms wrap around her middle, and she leans into the trim torso just behind her.
"You're out early."
"I remembered when your shift was ending," he replied, leaning down to kiss her neck lightly, making her hum happily as she ceased chopping. "We have a little while yet before the kids are home."
"That's true," she responds, catching his smile out of the corner of her eye. She turns to properly look at him, wrapping her arms around his neck to play with the few shorter strands of hair that have escaped his ponytail. His fingers press into her sides gently, tracing abstract shapes as he kisses her for a long moment.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" he drawls when they separate, and she takes a quick moment to meet his eyes, just to confirm that they are thinking the same thing. They are, and she smiles, stepping out of his embrace and taking his hand, pulling him deeper into the house with a serene smile on her face.
An hour and a half later, Shikamu rolls his eyes and bemoans his fate when Ayaka cheerfully reports his parents' location, knowing he'll have to be the one to retrieve them before Aunt Ino, Uncle Chouji, Inoka and Chourou arrive and throw their home into disarray
"Mama and Papa are fast asleep! They didn't even take off their hitai-ate or jackets!"