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epilogue : part ii (end)

Inojin's mother was a busy woman.

Seeing her in action, one always wondered how she found time for the things she does, as the matriarch of the Yamanaka clan (although Dad has been helping more in this regard lately, attending clan meetings in her place); as the head of the Torture and Interrogation Unit (where, rumor has it, she relishes in "breaking the new recruits," and Inojin often wondered how the new guys feel, seeing his mother. Did they think they were going to have a peachy time, taking in her glorious blond hair, rosy smile, daffodil eyes? He chuckles inly, because despite being beautiful, Mom could be immensely terrifying); as an active shinobi just like the rest of the adults, at the beck and call of the Seventh; as wife; as mother.

It wasn't easy, raising a growing boy. Though Inojin tried to behave himself most days, on some afternoons Shikadai or Boruto or Mitsuki or all three together would call out to him, and he can't help but run to them—with them—elbow to chafed elbow, overlapping shadows (Shikadai's always bigger and darker) across lawns, roofs, and steeples, as boys his age often do—his backpack containing paint and unruled paper left behind somewhere.

Dad though, always found it and brought it home, so that when Inojin comes back from an afternoon of adventure the backpack was always there on his bedroom table, where Mom would see. Dad didn't speak about Inojin's after-school excursions with his young friends, and Mom never suspected a thing, though that didn't stop Inojin from fidgeting when she was around.

But boy did Inojin like it when both his parents were around. Though Mom always took him shopping for clothes or art supplies on the weekends, never failed to hug his neck or pepper his face with kisses (which was embarrassing, especially when the other kids and adults were around, but it wasn't—entirely unpleasant—), and always listened to what he had to say with rapt attention, he mostly found himself spending more and more time with Dad. And being with Dad was—like hanging out with Boruto or the other boys, but different—in a way.

There was something quirky about him—Dad. The way he looked, talked, acted sometimes. For example, the way the little girls in school gushed about Inojin in the hallways, some of the village ladies gushed about Dad. Whether it's a good thing, he didn't know. Dad didn't seem bothered by it though, so they never told Mom. (If Inojin squinted, Dad looked like Uncle Sasuke in certain angles and lights. One time, Chou-Chou and Shikadai tricked him and dyed his hair black without his knowledge. Several passersby asked if he was related to the Uchihas, and he chased them away with an ink tiger like Dad taught him.)

When Dad wasn't on missions, he drew picture books which he took to the local bookshop later on. The books sold well, and occasionally they'd get complaints from neighbors about the racket Dad's "fanclub" made outside their apartment. Uncle Shin and Inojin featured often in Dad's books. Sometimes, Mom would contribute a story too. Dad also liked to draw picture books and give them as gifts on special occasions. For Boruto's fifth birthday, he made a book about the Seventh Hokage's adventures as a kid. For Himawari's, he and Mom made a novelette about sunflowers. In both works, the pictures moved if Dad said the right words.

Yet Inojin often found himself sighing or blushing at Dad's out-of-place observations. On more than one occasion he had to tug forcefully at Dad's arm or waistband or anything he could grab really, to keep him from insulting someone. (Mom could do it better. With practiced ease, she would flash Dad one look, or a smile that strained her mouth and didn't quite reach her eyes, and Dad would pipe down promptly. It was magic.)

Most days when there was no training and nothing planned out with Boruto and the others, he'd find Dad in the library after school. Dad often turned to books for inspiration on a new painting or a picture book he's working on. Inojin liked books, but not quite as much as Shikadai or Dad or Sarada. He preferred looking at pictures and copying them down on his drawing notebook. Sometimes Dad, sitting next to him in one of those long library tables, looked up from his reading and made little comments—

How about you draw this line a little thickerGood technique —That's a nice picture of Mom, but you see her brows arch higher like this

Dad was full of fragmented suggestions like these. Inojin loved hearing him talk about art because when he did he didn't try to please anybody and just talked about what he knew and loved doing, and Inojin could listen to him go on for hours. But it was important to Dad that Inojin found his own drawing style. An artist's pride, he said. That's something not anyone can take away from you. Your own secret.

When they weren't discussing art, they talked about other things—like Mom, and how they both wished she was home more often, though Dad was often quick to remind him that Mom was "an important woman, many people in this town need her," to which Inojin would almost automatically respond, sometimes angrily, "But we need her too! Don't we, Dad?" And sometimes Dad didn't answer, merely furrowed his brows.

(Dad tried to hide it, but Inojin saw how he looked at Mom, all awed and sometimes afraid, and not with the mock-panic he displayed when he not-so-accidentally gets a rise out of her. It was a deeper, more profound fear, the kind Inojin didn't quite understand—yet. Only years later when Inojin himself has troubles of the heart will he recognize it—an agonized look that's half-afraid, half-expecting someone one loves to leave, without explanation. It was like Dad was afraid Mom would take one long look at him and decide, finally, that she didn't want him after all.)

Mom and Dad rarely fought—that is, seriously fought—and the only time he heard them, their strained voices echoing off the walls of his bedroom, Mom was trying to explain why she couldn't join them that weekend, so could Dad please just take Inojin to Grandma's instead, and Dad was trying—really trying to understand, but it's too much, too much, please stay, just this once.

Through that slab of wood and cement that separated the living room from his downstairs bedroom, Inojin heard Mom cry, and it broke his heart, maybe Dad's too, but Dad was quiet.

Inojin—he didn't want to be a burden. Like some boys his age he could charm his way through most situations, even tear-streaked ones. He got it from both his parents, but more so from Mom, whose smile was like a rushing brook in the summer, a laugh like crackling twigs in fall, and eyes that could charm a silver-scaled dragon into submission. Inojin would use this quality, this special in-born beauty, to mend whatever rip was between his parents. With tear-smeared cheeks, he stole a blank canvas from Dad's study and he painted all day and all evening, when Mom thought he had long fallen asleep.

More than once, Shino-sensei caught him doodling in class and reprimanded him. Shikadai and Boruto laughed the loudest. Chouchou rolled her eyes with a grin as he ducked under his desk to hide the angry blush that started from his ears and continued down his neck.

His painting—of Mom and Dad on their wedding day—copied from a photo he had swiped from Uncle Choji's house—was finished a week later, and he left the still partially wet canvas propped against the wall between the pillows on his parents' bed. He slipped a note under the door of Dad's study—Dad, please talk to Mom when she gets home—then locked himself in his room.

He didn't open up even when Dad came knocking. Anyway, after a couple of unanswered knocks, he saw Dad's shadow through the bottom gap of the doorframe go away. He counted the retreating steps—good, he's back in his study. Mom came home early that day. When she called for him in her honey voice, he didn't come out but instead pressed his ear to the wall of his room. He heard Mom enter her and Dad's bedroom. Silence. And then—

The first sound she made resembled an off-key violin. The sobs that followed were quiet, muffled—he could barely make them out through the thick wall. He heard next the sound of a door opening—Dad, he thought—he hoped. A soft voice—Mom's.

"Sai, I'm sorry—"

Dad's. "Don't—"

Quiet as a mouse, Inojin unlocked his door, stuck a note on the fridge—went to Boruto's, be back for dinner—and left through the back of the house. At the Uzumaki home a few blocks away, he climbed the roof easily to reach Boruto's second-floor window (he and the other boys have climbed it a million times before). He tapped nervously on the frosted glass window.

To his surprise, it was Hima who slid it open. Boruto's sister regarded him first with a confused then pleasant expression. "Onii-chan, Inojin-nii-chan's here!"


Himawari moved to let Inojin through. "Yo," he greeted. "Yo," Boruto greeted back. "Why are you here? Thought you said you had to be home early."

Inojin shrugged. "Changed my mind. What are you playing?"

"Same old. Here." Boruto threw a spare console at him. "Need help clearing this stage. Hima's no good at all."

"Hey!" his little sister squeaked, blushing indignantly. Hinata found them, an hour later, still playing the online game. The Hokage's wife did not seem surprised to see him there, and instead only smiled—kindly—like she often does."Inojin-kun, your mother called. She said dinner's ready at your house."

He turned paler, and then scarlet—did the plan work? He tried to shrug away his apprehension. Giving his best impression of Shikadai—shoulders hunched, words slurred, hands in pocket—he said, "Guess I better get going now. See you in school, Boruto."

All lights were on when he got back home. Mom—whose eyes were clearly bruised from crying—hugged him the minute she caught sight of him. Dad, who came to stand beside Mom, at first looked like he didn't know what to do with his hands, but in the end he settled for ruffling Inojin's hair. Inojin pretend-whined (Dad was trying, after all). Mom laughed and Dad smiled too, finally.

It wasn't easy, getting Mom to take a vacation from all of her jobs at the same time but they managed, with a little help from the Hokage himself. It took a little weaseling to get the Academy to let Inojin miss a week of classes, but Mom convinced Shino-sensei that she will "personally see to it that Inojin catches up with his homework and lessons." With a sigh (and a low-voiced grumble about how he couldn't go on vacation because everyone always forgot to invite him), Shino-sensei agreed. "After all," he added, "you were one of the top students in our class. I trust you'd teach your kid well."

The clan elders had to be convinced as well, but they were still somewhat terrified of "Sai-dono"—the mysterious shinobi that Konoha's golden girl decided to marry. One icy smile from Dad was all it took for them to retract their initial objection (Dad was only pretending to be scary, of course, a trick the Hokage said he learned from a Captain Yamato).

With everything in order, all three members of the Yamanaka main family set out for a week-long vacation at Grandma's retreat. Grandma was there, which delighted Inojin because she made the best sweets in the world. She showed him an album with pictures of Mom when she was a little girl ("She really looks like me!" he mouthed happily). There weren't many pictures of Dad until the last couple of pages of the album where he and Mom were all grown up. There was the wedding day photo that was exactly the same as the one Inojin filched from Uncle Chouji (he made a mental note to return it when he came back from vacation).

The last picture showed Dad holding Mom holding baby Inojin wrapped in a purple blanket. None of them were looking at the camera but it was the loveliest picture he had ever seen. When Inojin looked up, Grandma's eyes were wet with tears."Be proud of your parents, always," she said, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her handkerchief, "our little sunshine."

(And Inojin was—very proud of his parents, that is.

Aunt Sakura once told him, Inojin got very sick when he was just six months old. A rare infection that affected only kids—Sarada had it too, for a while, but she recovered. Dad was on a month-long mission so only Mom was there to take care of him. When his temperature spiked, Mom rushed him to the hospital. They stayed there almost a week. Mom barely slept or ate, even when Aunt Sakura and the nurses got angry at her. She read medical books to learn how to make Inojin's sickness go away faster. Mom cried, Aunt Sakura said, every night that little Inojin tossed in his fever-ridden sleep.

"It's my fault," she said, "I must have done something wrong. I wish Sai would come home."

Dad did come home, and the fever went away. Inojin felt better, and a week later he was running and skipping all over the house again. Mom bought him new scrolls and art supplies to celebrate his getting better. Inojin loved Mom a lot a lot, even when there were knots in her hair and ink stains on her cheek when they played, and Mom loved him very much too.)

On the way back from the trip, they visited the Yamanaka-Nara-Akimichi memorial. Mom teared up and hugged Inojin very tightly. Dad whispered later on that it was because she missed Granddad terribly.

Mom had cried too, when she gave him the symbolic earring. "You're going to surpass me someday, honey," she said, kissing his cheek.

And he did. Inojin at sixteen was a jounin leader. At his promotion party, Mom pulled him aside. He expected her to cry, but she just ran her fingers through his hair like she used to when he was a little boy. "I'm so proud of you, darling," she said. "You're looking more like your Dad and your Grandpa everyday."

He didn't mean to but he frowned. "What are you saying, Mom. I couldn't have done this without you." He took her hand—his hands were bigger than hers now—and squeezed it, "Besides, I look more like you than anyone else."

At twenty-one, Inojin was named head of the Shinobi Alliance Intelligence Division. He still went on missions with Shikadai and Chouchou from time to time, but most days he spent inside the dingy headquarters. He worked closely with his mind-reading clansmen, some Hyuuga and many shinobi from the other states. It was back-breaking work, but he loved it.

"Wow, this is strangely nostalgic, isn't it Shikamaru," Uncle Choji had said when he and Shikadai's dad came for a visit. "It's like watching your mother work when she was your age."

"Was Ino-sama also this terrifying?" an assistant chirped. Inojin coughed.

"Worse," Uncle Shikamaru answered, which made everyone laugh.

Later on Dad came by too. Even in middle age he was still making awkward remarks that made the assistants blush. At the end of his visit, he clapped a hand on each of Inojin's now broad shoulders. "I'm proud of you, son," he said seriously, "you're everything that's good in me and your mother."

Watching Dad's retreating back, Inojin wondered if all parents were this way too. If all of them—Mom, Uncle Choji, Uncle Shikamaru, even the Seventh—acted like they were making up for something they did in the past all their lives. He wondered if he'd be like that too, someday when he had his own children. Will he be guilt-ridden, hiding in the shadows of his own deep sins?

He remembered the time Dad showed him the picture book with Uncle Shin, the day he never saw it quite the same way again. He was fifteen. Dad told him about his past in Root, the acts he was asked to commit in the name of a blinded cause. Mom was there, listening, but she didn't say a word, only held Dad's hand as he spoke in shudders and shivers. Inojin felt goosebumps rise like ghostly waves all over his arms and neck. At the end of the story, Dad was frozen pale—so scared, but why? Inojin thought.

"Do you—hate me?" Dad asked, finally.

Mom leaned forward and brushed something away from Inojin's cheeks. Only then did he realize he had been crying. "Honey—" Mom started to say. But Dad, oh poor, poor sad Dad—

"How can I hate you?" Inojin said. He was big enough to take both parents in his arms. He pulled them into a tight, tight hug. "I can never hate you, Dad."

And he could hear—no, feel—every quiver in Dad's chest and shoulders. Inojin could tell that Dad was crying his heart out in a way only he could—in silence. They didn't say a thing more.

That night, instead of the usual dinner at home, Mom and Dad invited their friends over. There, surrounded by all familiar faces, Inojin had never been more in love with his parents, and all that they've been through. Before going to bed, Dad had pulled him aside and said the same thing:

"Son, I'm very proud of you. You're everything that's good in me and your mother."

And he may never know the full extent of what Dad meant, he only knows that he will cherish them forever, Mom and Dad and their sometimes inexplicable words. They were a slightly strange bunch, the Yamanakas, but one could never say they didn't love each other.

Note: And there it is, the final chapter! I didn't mean for the epilogue to be this long, or to take so much time to finish. It's a little ooc at some points, I couldn't help going off-canon from time to time ^^;

A few comments: I'm not a big fan of the idea that Ino would be a terrorizing mother. She has her "moments," and she could be fiercely responsible (which could be a problem), but I think she'd be very sweet to Inojin (and Sai, lbr). Speaking of Sai, I have a headcanon that he never really truly forgot about his past, and that's okay. Ino and Inojin are his anchor—they keep him in a sunny place. Anyway, I wish we could have had more Yamanaka family interaction in canon. They're really great, story-wise.

Finally, it was fun and frankly agonizing completing this story, but I'm glad I did. Thank you all for reading and reviewing. If you have prompts, headcanons, or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or a PM :)