Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

Thank you to: bingbin, een nihc, fricasee, Fxreflies, ibloo, Kaze and Kiba, Lady Rini, Lady The Warrior, mississippimudpiecraves, misspandalily, Pixie07, Poodie, spilihp17, rainyrhapsody, RushiAei, Sakura's Unicorn, Tuvstarr's lost heart, Unicorn Paige, wingedmercury, yara9292, and YenGirl for participating in the Show Me the Love Challenge. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your stories and truly appreciate your support with the Fanfiction Review Movement (FRM) and your help in spreading the positive, constructive review. I definitely felt the review love this Valentine's Day and all throughout the week, and I hope all of you did as well.

Also, at this time, I want to give a special shout out to bingbin who kindly stayed on top of stories as they were posted, and created a comprehensive link on her Profile page. How cool is that?

To end this week and to Show you (my readers/reviewers) The Love, here is the final chapter of Spare Heir...

Chapter 2: The Love

Relieved she was granted this chance, Yoshino gathered her thoughts as she looked down at Shikamaru and Shikadai sitting before her. It was extremely important for her to keep the box in her possession, so she carefully thought things through before beginning her story.

"This was your Grandpa Nara's box in which he hid his old love letters," she told Shikadai.

A smile bloomed on Shikadai's face. He didn't know much about his Grandfather, Shikaku, but by the way his grandmother was starting off, it looked like he was about to get some juicy details on him.

"There was a time when Shikaku Nara had fallen for a lovely young Kunoichi, with promising talent and unquestionable beauty," Yoshino began.

"You!" Shikadai, interrupted.

"Shikadai," she chided. "I'm far from talented and we all know I'm rather plain."

"Huh?" Shikadai looked puzzled. "Not to me Grandma," Shikadai expressed.

She bent to ruffle his hair. "That's very sweet of you, but I'm a far cry from beautiful," she told him. "Anyways, the woman Grandpa Nara fell for was highly admired and the touted genius of the family. She was no doubt a lucky catch for any Shinobi."

"So Grandpa Nara loved... another?" Shikadai asked, confused, causing Shikamaru to nervously rake through his hair, and his grandmother to nod.

"Yes. They were both young and deeply in love. Yoko was the eldest in her family, beautiful, and amazingly talented at taijutsu. Close range attack was her specialty. In fact, she excelled so much that she was sought after not only because she could double as a Princess or a nobles' daughter with her unrivaled beauty, but because she was also a fierce Kunoichi."

"Wow, she must have been pretty cool," Shikadai admitted.

"She was," Yoshino agreed, "and... I suppose it was the jealousy I harbored toward her that drove me to hate her back then."

"Oh," Shikadai said, feeling a little embarrassed he'd hit a nerve with his dear grandmother, while Shikamaru hid a cringe, and looked to the ground uncomfortably.

"Come now Shikadai, don't be embarrassed. I didn't see it then, but she really deserved all the accolades given to her," his grandmother said gently, earning her a small smile in return. "She definitely caught your grandfather's eye and he caught hers."

Shikamaru didn't know where this story was going. He was definitely uncomfortable, but he was also curious to hear more.

"Eventually there was talk about a union between the two families."

"Really?" Shikadai piped in.


Excitement over the story gave way to confusion as Shikadai tried to piece together the story in his head. "You mean Grandpa Nara married someone else?" Shikadai asked, and Shikamaru stilled.

Silence followed but finally Yoshino gave him an answer. "No," she admitted as her expression darkened.

"But, why..."

"His beloved was sent on a dangerous mission and posed as the Daimyo's daughter during a kidnap and territory raid," Yoshino interrupted. "It was a trap with several ninja from other Villages involved. It was reported she took all her attackers down but ultimately succumbed to injuries from a poisoned senbon the very next day. Sadly, her team wasn't able to bring her back fast enough to be treated," she said with her voice wobbling.

"She...died?" Shikadai asked, and Yoshino nodded.

"The Village and the Clans mourned for weeks, but I knew Shikaku, had it the worst. He was smitten with her and his world caved in when she passed on. He was a strong man, but when I saw him cry for the first time ever, the day of her funeral, my heart broke for him."

Tears started to form in Shikadai's eyes.

"Many adored her, and though I should have mourned her death, I hated hearing about what terrible a loss it was for the family, and how sorry everyone was. I wished I would have been more sympathetic and respectful back then, but it made me furious because I could never live up what she was. I felt like the family was disgraced, because...because...I would never live up to the reputation of my sister."

Shikamaru's eyes grew wide. Your... sister?

"It wasn't easy, but life eventually went on. I graduated from the Academy that summer with above average scores in taijutsu, but I felt I was never good enough. I was frustrated and always felt like a failure. I could never live up to being another Yoko, and the pain of living in my sister's shadow never ceased to follow me."

Concerned eyes look to Yoshino so she ventured to explain.

"I suppose all the whispers made me lash out at the world. I hated Yoko for leaving me with expectations that would never be realized. I was lonely and frustrated, a disappointment to my family, and an embarrassment to my Clan. I wouldn't let anyone get close to me, and other than Missions, I kept to myself. A few friends tried to help, but after a few public tongue lashings from me, eventually everyone left me alone."

"Oh, Grandma. I'm so sorry that happened to you," Shikadai said, trying to comfort her.

"Don't be sorry," she assured him. "I really deserved what I got...Anyway, things continued along that line until one day your grandfather asked for me to be put on his team for a Mission."

"A Mission? Wow, what Mission?" Shikadai asked.

"Apparently a Kunoichi was needed to distract the guards while a team infiltrated another Village to obtain information from a key player who was the main contact in a ring of crime."

Shikadai's eyes grew wide.

"Your grandfather was chosen for this mission because the team before him had failed. Word had unofficially circulated that he was in need of a special Leaf Kunoichi, and many of Konoha's best wondered if they would be chosen."

"I had heard the rumors, but thought nothing more of it. I was only average after all, so I was truly shocked when Shikaku personally dropped by to see if I would be a part of his team. I let him know I wasn't the right kind of Kunoichi for the job. Flippantly, I told him, that if he were as smart as everyone said he was, he would be looking for a beauty, someone easy on the eyes, the guards would easily fall for. He thanked me for my time, but still asked me to still consider, and left the offer out for the taking."

"I thought my refusal was the end of it until he showed up a couple more times, completely serious on the matter. With each denial, he pleasantly excused himself. It wasn't until the fourth time when he showed up with a dish of homemade kinpira gobo, my favorite food of all time, I was speechless. He told me he prepared it especially for me with roots grown on the Nara farm. I guess I was too shocked to say no to him that day, and he took it as agreement. The next thing I knew the Hokage placed me on his team."

Shikadai smiled. He'd heard his grandfather was known as a lazy Shinobi with a carefree attitude, but when something got into his mind, it appeared he was just like his father and wouldn't rest until it was settled upon.

"It was a miserable trip to the Land of Earth," Yoshino admitted. "Shikaku, Inoichi, and Choza were long time friends, and men," she said as if that explained everything. "It irked me when Inochi started gushing about his then, girlfriend. He was a lovesick puppy, and just like Yoko, his girlfriend was a beautiful young woman who had the attentions of many well known Shinobi and civilian men. Chouza admitted finding interest in a girl too, and if that weren't enough, seeing how blind they were to how miserable they were making Shikaku feel, made my blood boil."

"It took three days but we finally arrived at our destination. The Land of Earth was nothing like Konoha. It was rocky and desolate, barren in many places. The no frills Village soon made me realize why Shikaku chose me to accompany them. Men and women there lived simply. Women dressed plainly with no makeup. Kunoichi like Yoko would have stood out like a sore thumb, but I was able to blend right in. I didn't think I was anything to look at, and really I wasn't, but the mere fact that I was from another Village made me an interesting foreigner, and I readily caught the attention of many a male counterpart upon our arrival. As per our plan, I flirted with the guards while Inochi and Shikaku went to work. Chouza watched us all from afar, ready to intervene at the slightest indication of anything going wrong. Everything was going smoothly until one of the ninja decided to get fresh with me. A hand placed on the wrong part of my body caught him with a surprise fist in the face. Our scuffle attracted attention and soon three other foreign men jumped in and attacked me. I was quick with taijutsu blocks but when an additional three nin showed up to join the fray, one surprised me by pinning me to the ground with chakra suppressing Earth shackles. Chouza appeared and took on the seven, and slowly enticed them away from me, but one came running back, determined to teach me a lesson while I was still shackled to the ground. Drawing out his whip, he snapped its tip centimeters from me as I struggled to move out of the way. No matter how much I tried to move or escape, the shackles had me helplessly at his mercy and it was impossible to avoid a direct hit. The first lashing had me crying out in pain. The leather whip seared through my skin, leaving a burning sensation to linger. Two more lashings ripped through my clothing but before any more harm could come to me, a shadow appeared out of nowhere and held the whip mid-air. The next thing I knew, Chouza was on my attacker and Shikaku and Inoichi were by my side."

"When the confrontation was over, Inoichi carefully wiped the memories of those involved, and we escaped. Happily we were able to head back to Konoha, proud in knowing our Mission was a success."

Shikadai looked impressed.

"Unfortunately that night, I came down with a fever. The wounds from the whip grew red and angry, and fear struck there was a fast acting poison used on the tip of the whip. My health rapidly declined thereafter, and in my haze, I hardly remember how we made it back to Konoha."

"Oh no, Grandma. What happened next?"

"Lady Tsunade came to my rescue once I made it to the hospital, and I would later learn I had one foot into death's door. Shikaku was the first person I saw when I opened my eyes from the hospital bed. I felt weak when I came to consciousness, and cast my eyes to the floor. I was extremely disappointed in myself the Mission ended the way it did. The poison made me feel terrible, but it was nothing compared to the shame."

"Shikaku didn't seem to feel that way though. 'Yoshiko!' he exclaimed in utter relief when our eyes met, and from the lazy, carefree Shinobi he always appeared to be, the hug he gave surprised me."

"My rehabilitation took a few weeks. I was irritable and hard to be around, but Shikaku was persistent. He showed up at the hospital every day and made sure not to help me too much, but whenever I overdid it, he was first to be by my side. I suppose I was blind to it before, but the kindness my sister said he possessed began to shine through during those first days of utter pain, and he really was a wonderful friend through it all."

Shikadai's smile peeked out.

"By the second week, I was dismissed from rehabilitation and I was the first to tell him to go back to his team. Sure I appreciated his help, but his duty was done with me, and I assured him I was fine. I was being released from the hospital after all."

"'We'd like you to come to dinner with us,' Shikaku mentioned as I was leaving the hospital. 'Inoichi, Chouza, and I have been waiting for this day. We should celebrate.'"

"Shikaku really was instrumental in my rehabilitation. There was no doubt about that, so despite my hesitation, I reluctantly agreed."

"The new dress my mother bought for me, and a fresh shower had me feeling more like myself. I wasn't the epitome of beauty, but it was an improvement from the hospital gowns I was confined to all those days and nights."

"'You look good,' Shikaku had commented when he came by that night. I hadn't gained all of my energy back yet, but I was glad he noted my improvement."

"On our outing, Shikaku was quick to help when I faltered, but otherwise let me do things on my own. He was the perfect gentleman, holding doors open for me so I could walk without obstructions, letting me decide on what to order for dinner, and even asking me for a dance to celebrate the fact that I was able to walk again and was finally free from the confines of the hospital. As the night wore on, I realized it was fast becoming like a date. It was a beautiful night, one of celebration and wonder. Shikaku definitely made me feel special, and treated me like the most important girl in the world. Had it been anyone else, I may have been brave and admitted that indeed I had some feelings for him, but a big part of me still believed he would always belong to Yoko. He was hers forever and could never be mine."

"Over the next few weeks, the Ino-Shika-Cho team became busy again, and I returned to work as a part time cook at my parent's restaurant to help support myself until I completely recovered and could return to the Shinobi world."

"To my surprise, Shikaku came by with his team weekly, just to check up on me, and gradually, thanks to his persistence, over the next few months, we became good friends. As time passed, my hesitations faded, and before I knew it, we started doing things with each other regularly. I enjoyed spending time with him, and from what I could tell, he enjoyed his time with me as well."

A look of satisfaction appeared on Shikadai's face.

"It wasn't until the Clansmen started to talk behind my back that I began to believe his interest in me may have been orchestrated by them, and I felt betrayed. It was easy to convince myself Shikaku was just abiding by his Clan to marry into mine, and now that Yoko was gone, they had settled on me as her replacement. In my mind, his affections were too good to be true, and I convinced myself the only reason he would pay any attention to me was out of duty. It hurt terribly, and before he could reach out to me, I completely shut him out, refusing to see him anymore. He was confused and hurt, but he gave me space, abiding by my wishes not to see or talk to him for as long as I needed. I missed him, but I believed staying away was for the best."

Shikadai frowned.

"And then it happened. My worst nightmare. Shikaku was brought back from a Mission unconscious and terribly hurt. Two deep gashes marred his beautiful face and a third nearly missed his heart. He was in critical condition for weeks and no visitors were allowed. I went into hiding because I was shocked to the core. The last thing I had ever said to him was: 'I don't want to see you anymore.' It couldn't have been further from the truth, but his demise felt like punishment for a wish I asked of him. The moment he was conscious, I immediately ran to him, and ignoring the whispers around us, I stayed by his side, just as he had done for me. It was a slow process but I helped him gain his strength day by day with rehabilitative exercises at the hospital. It took months but he made great strides and eventually in the Spring, he was ready to be released and go home. We celebrated his homecoming with a dinner with his teammates and a short, tender dance."

"That night, I knew in my heart I was given a second chance and I promised myself I wasn't going to mess it up."

Shikadai smiled up at her, enjoying this part of the story.

"Six months later, out of the blue, Shikaku asked me to marry him, and to his surprise, I agreed. After all he had been through, I vowed not to lose him again. His teammates were already married and very happy with our announcement."

"A wedding soon took place and we were content in those first weeks as newlyweds, but shortly after taking our vows, Clan pressures eventually had me stressed and worried. I still had some growing to do and didn't feel quite ready to start a family yet, even though it was heavily suggested. Yet again, Shikaku came to my rescue and talked his teammates into waiting a bit before moving in that direction. I felt bad for interfering with their plans, and honestly I was scared. Shikaku had proven he'd loved me, but I still bore insecurities that he would have been better off with someone else."

"Two seasons came and went and in the Spring, Akimichi-san asked for my blessing to proceed with her wishes to expand their family. It made me nervous but I didn't have the heart to deny her. She had waited long enough. An announcement came in September that a little Akimichi was on it's way. Shikaku was patient and never rushed me, but I knew I was as ready as I would ever be. Soon after, we were expecting Shikamaru, and my life truly felt complete."

Shikadai smiled happily at his Dad.

"A week after Shikamaru's birth, our first big fight came over differences in Clan politics. Shikaku and I weren't seeing eye to eye, and I was probably still emotional from the delivery. Careful control came from the elders once a baby was in the picture, and I had a hard time adjusting. To fuel the fire, after our blow up, I caught Shikaku rummaging through this wooden box. When I grabbed a fistful of its contents and realized he was looking through his love letters with Yoko, my heart shattered and I cried for an hour straight. All my insecurities came flooding back and I wanted to leave. I resented the fact that he was stuck with me and felt foolish for thinking he ever loved me. I started gathering my things in an attempt to leave, but when I turned and saw Shikaku in the doorway with tears in eyes, I froze. It was the first time I had ever watched him cry since Yoko died. He took advantage of my momentary shock and managed to pull me aside and pleaded with me to hear him out."

"'Yoshino, please. You are my wife. The mother of our child. I can't bear to let you go,' he'd said."

"'Please,' I dismissed, with tears in my eyes. 'I know you wish she were here,' I egged him on. 'Yoko would have done things right and made you happy.'"

"'No,' he insisted. 'You have it all wrong.'"

"'Spare me,' I accused him. 'It's obvious you never stopped loving her. Look at you, still pining over her letters.'"

"'That's not it at all,' Shikaku said sadly, shaking his head. 'Look Yoshino, just listen, then after I'm done you can decide my fate.'"

"I said nothing, but I eventually relented and nodded. I owed him at least that much."

"'Yoshino, we've built a life together...a love together...one I cherish. When I look at these letters,' he said with tears in his eyes, 'I see a man who's failed. I promised myself, if I ever found love again, I would do everything in my power to make that special woman happy. I'd never take a moment for granted and I'd always, always, be there for her. When Yoko died, a part of me died too, and I clung to the idea that love was not meant for me. Honestly, I never thought I would find it again. I had truly resolved to that fact ...until I met you. You're nothing like her,' he teased. 'But everything I need, and more than I wanted or deserved. I married you, Yoshino, because I loved you. And I vowed to make you happy. I want to make you happy...always. So...I'm sorry...' and then he broke down in tears again."

"The desperation in his voice overwhelmed me and I wept with him. I realized I was being foolish and I cried until no more tears were left. The incident helped solidify things. I realized I couldn't allow myself to be swayed by what I thought the elders expected of me. I needed to be strong for myself and for our family. Shikaku alone couldn't always be the one to stand up to them, so it was up to me to stand my ground. With him to back me though, I knew we would survive and thrive."

"That evening Shikaku put this box away and never brought it out again as far as I ever knew. I discovered it in the far recesses of our closet one time when I was cleaning, but I never said a word about it. I'm sure Shikaku was worried I would be resentful he still held onto the box, but I don't think he knew what special meaning it had for me. I've even gone through the box of their letters now and then. It reminds me of their love. Of my sister. Of how fate sometimes takes things away from us but it can bring other wonderful things together in the process. I miss Yoko, more now than I think I ever did. And I miss your father," she said to Shikamaru. "And your grandfather," she directed at Shikadai, "with all my heart. This box has special memories for me, Shikamaru. I don't resent the fact it has letters to his first love. On the contrary, I think it reminds me how much he really did love me and all he gave up to find love with me. It reminds me he never thought of me as the spare heir. I was never just a replacement. I was his wife, and although he may have asked you to dispose of it, I'm here with a plea for you to allow me to keep it."

Never in his life has his mother ever shared anything so tender and Shikamaru blinks in attempt to keep the tears from falling. Growing up he never saw what his Dad saw in his Ma, but with this disclosure, he was able to see a glimpse of the woman his Dad loved and happily married.

A silent debate ensued, but after a short pause, Shikamaru slowly handed his mother back the box, and gave her a hug. Forgive me Dad, he said to himself, but Ma's been through so much. Perhaps it's time I learn about my Aunt Yoko as well.

Yoshino smiled and took the box from him, while Shikadai pat his Dad on the shoulder, letting him know he did the right thing.

"Thank you," Yoshino said to Shikamaru. "Let me put this where it belongs and I'll be back."

Once the private confines of her room, Yoshino sat and gazed at a wedding photo of she and Shikaku. "Your secret is out," she whispered, 'but I think the story of this box managed to bring the Clan closer together," she told him. "Please, Shikaku, don't hold any of this against Shikamaru. I made him give it to me," she urged.

Silence remained but when she closed her eyes, deep in her heart, Yoshino could feel his presence.

"Silly husband, if only you knew how much this box meant to me too and how much you're missed. I'm not quite ready to get rid of it yet. A part of you will be with me when I hold it. For now I want to cherish these memories just a little while longer, okay?"

Just then a breeze caused the curtains to billow and they knocked over a picture Yoshino had set by the window. Her eyes snapped open at the noise, and as she reached out to set the picture upright, her heart warmed. In her hands rested a family picture of she and Shikaku with little Shikamaru, and in that moment she felt like Shikaku was giving her his blessing.

Wiping a tear from her eye, Yoshino rose to set the box to the far recesses of the closet where it once resided, then composed herself and headed out to help her boys clean out the rest of the shed. Her love of her husband had always remained strong, but now after revealing the box's story, she hoped the bittersweet memories she shared with them allowed her boys gain a special look into the extraordinary man Shikaku was and the kind and wonderful husband she had married.

The End

Author's Note:

Here's my wish for you this Valentine's Day week:

May your wonderful memories never fade but only get sweeter with time.

Well, this may not be the explanation many of you had regarding the box, but I wanted to at least share my take on it. Now that the story is complete, I'd love to hear what you thought.

At this time, I want to thank those who have supported me with your words of encouragement over the years. I would have never dreamed I'd be hosting a challenge like this in 2018. Positive vibes go a long way and feedback is vital. Creating a fanfic community that encourages this type of interaction and allows authors and their stories to continue to improve has been such a wonderful thing.

By the way, if you find the message about the positive constructive review resonates with you, I invite you to make a pledge to the Fanfiction Review Movement and send me a PM.

Note: Even if you're not quite ready to pledge but simply enjoy reading, please consider leaving feedback to stories you read when you can, and when you do, remember kindness always goes a long way. Thanks for your support everyone, and here's hoping you felt the Love on Valentine's Day and all throughout the week!