A/N: This is it, the end of the fic. I hope that you enjoy it. This story has been a blast to write, and it's been fun to post because of all the great feedback and committed reviewers. I've received more reviews for this story than any other I've ever written, and I'm truly fortunate to have such great readers. Thanks!
The next three years passed in a blur. With all the money they had saved up, and with the help of their parents, they purchased a modest house with a nice backyard. In Shikamaru's opinion, the best thing about the house was the unencumbered view of the sky. The lot had plenty of trees on it, and so everything was blocked out but the sky. He spent hours lying on a bench he installed, staring at the clouds while Ino whistled as she worked away in the garden. In fact, he missed it when she was on missions and her whistling was absent from his sky watching. She claimed to miss him, too, when she was gardening while he was gone. Ino would occasionally get irate about something, and she was always after him to pick this or that up, or help her pay for one item of furniture or another, but it wasn't as troublesome as it could be, he supposed. Their parents dropped by often, and Shikato and Inoshi tried to get him involved in something called "poker night," but he refused. He preferred to spend his evenings playing shougi or go with Ino, Chouji, or Asuma. Shino sometimes swung by for a game, or Tenten and Neji for dinner. Sakura and Lee were a common sight in their living room, as were Hinata and Naruto. After all, he and Ino had picked the house for its cozy atmosphere and large windows, and their friends appreciated it. It pleased Shikamaru that he could see the sky from any room in the house.
Shikamaru was resting up from his latest mission, hobbling around on crutches. Their last assignment had gone sour after they received a faulty intelligencereport, and only his quick thinking, their good teamwork, and the fast reflexes of his friends had saved him from further injury. His leg had been broken in three places, and while Hinata or Sakura could have fixed it up, their talents were actually needed elsewhere. The fractures would heal fine on their own, and he didn't mind the time off. When, after all, did he mind having time off? It was then that Hinata was chosen to teach a genin team, and so Tenten and Lee were reassigned to another unit until he was healed. Actually, Ino told him she had heard rumors that he was next in line for a genin team himself. Naruto's and Sakura's teams had finally passed their chuunin exams, and while their students were quite good, none exhibited particularly stunning genius or skill.
"Mail," Ino said, flicking an envelope his way as she walked through the room. She had been moody of late, and he wondered if something was wrong with her. He snatched the envelope out of the air and set down the book he had been reading, shifting his cast on the footrest.
"You're home early," he said, listening to Ino stomp up the stairs. "I thought your team wasn't due back until tonight."
"We did our best to finish sooner, since I had an appointment this afternoon, " she called, and it wasn't long before he heard the water running. Sighing, he tore open the envelope. He was always extremely relieved when she arrived home from missions in one piece. The days when he would teach a genin team actually sounded like fun, since he would be home more often. It would be nice to see more of Ino. Students would be troublesome, though.
Shaking out the letter, he read through it, a smile crossing his face. It was from Temari. She had been in much closer contact during the past few years, even stopping by to visit them once in a while. Ino and Temari got along chillingly well. He always felt like he had barely escaped with his skin each time he was with the two of them. They were very similar in a lot of ways, and although the fact they loved to pick on him was troublesome, he was happy that they were friendly with one another.
The last time he had seen Temari was just a few months before he broke his leg. She and her brothers, accompanying the Kazekage, had attended the announcement of the next Hokage. Temari, Gaara, and Kankuro had found him in the crowd, where he stood next to Hinata, Ino, and Chouji. Gaara and Hinata had embraced, a slight smile on Gaara's face, and Kankuro was all grins. Temari and Shikamaru exchanged hugs, and Ino and Temari immediately set to whispering to one another in low voices, looking at him out of the corners of their eyes, which made him nervous. The group, which consisted of nearly all of Konoha and several contingencies from other countries, fell silent as Tsunade, Jiraiya, and the elders took the stage.
"Today we announce my successor, the Rokudaime!" Tsunade called out, holding her hand high. "I will spend the next few years training the candidate, and then I will pass on my position."
The crowd clapped, Tsunade bowing. Shikamaru had smiled; the love the populace had for her had only grown as the years passed. "So now, without further ado, I introduce you to your Rokudaime, Uzumaki Naruto!"
The older portion of the crowd fell into a shocked silence as Naruto's contemporaries shrieked and screamed with delight. "Go, Naruto!" Hinata shouted, waving as her lover appeared on the stage, all smiles. He had waved at the crowd and flashed them a victory sign, his grin so wide Shikamaru thought Naruto's face would split. He and Temari shared a smile, then he put his arm around Ino and kissed her temple, his wife screaming and clapping along with everyone else, her eyes shining.
"I'm gonna be Hokage!" Naruto yelled, jumping up in the air. "Hey, Hinata, you wanna marry me now?"
A laugh bubbled up from the gathered people, and many heads turned to stare at Hinata, who immediately turned the color of a tomato. "Of course!" she cried out, then smiled behind her hand, looking down at the ground. Naruto let out a whoop and jumped again, pumping his fist, then bowed low to the public.
"I promise never to let danger near our city, and I will protect our country to the best of my ability!" he called out to everyone, his eyes filled with love for each and every single person gathered. Shikamaru hoped that the citizens of Konoha understood just how serious Naruto was about his promises. Nobody would make a better Hokage than Naruto. Nobody loved Konoha like Naruto did.
"You finally get your man," Gaara said to Hinata, the slightest of smiles on his face. Hinata had thrown her arms around him and squeezed him, Gaara's eyes widening before his expression softened almost imperceptibly, and he hugged her back.
"Are you hungry?" Ino asked, ripping Shikamaru out of his reverie and back to the present. The parties the night of the announcement of Naruto's new position had been incredible, and he had tons of fun with the Sand trio.
"What? Oh, sure," he muttered, looking back down at the letter in his hands. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," she said, and disappeared into the kitchen. Ino wasn't the best cook, but she wasn't the worst, either, and although he was the better chef of the two, it was too troublesome for him to cook.
"Do you want to go to Wind country next week?"
"I'm not sure if I'll be able to. It depends on if we're on a mission. Why?"
"I'm pretty sure you'll be free. They're announcing Temari's ascension to Kazekage."
Ino poked her head out of the kitchen. "That's great! Of course I'll be there! Will your leg be fine to travel?"
He glanced at his leg and shrugged. "Probably. We can hitch a ride, most likely. You know Naruto has to go, along with Tsunade, and they'll probably be riding."
She nodded. "Okay, sounds good. I'll be fine to travel, too."
Folding up the letter, he threw a glance at the kitchen. "Ino?" he asked. "Are you okay? You've been acting strangely."
Ino appeared from the kitchen, suddenly in front of him. She knelt and grasped his hands, looking into his eyes. "I have something to tell you," she murmured, eyes filling with tears.
A cold lump formed in his stomach. Was she unhappy? Was she going to leave his lazy, sorry self? "What is it? Is everything okay?" Damn it, whatever it was, it was going to be troublesome.
"We're going to have a baby," she announced, tears streaming down her face, and he realized that she was grinning. They were tears of joy.
"Troublesome," he grunted, but his face stretched into a smile. Gathering her into his arms, he squeezed her tightly. "I'm really glad I'll be around more, then. Have you told your parents?"
"No," she said, burying her face in his neck as she climbed into his lap. "I just got the test results today."
"I'm so happy," he murmured, and he could feel all his dreams coming true.
The ceremony inaugurating Temari was fabulous, and, since they were friends of hers, Shikamaru and Ino were treated as special guests. She spoiled them rotten, especially after she found out Ino was expecting. Temari then told Naruto that she would kill him if he let anything happen to Ino or the baby, or anybody else in their group of friends,which actually seemed to scare the blonde jounin. What Shikamaru liked best of all, however, was the affection in Temari's eyes as she gazed at her latest lover, a tall, dark-skinned man with silvery hair. He actually gave Shikamaru an interesting game of go, although Shikamaru still won in the end, and Temari confided to him that even though she still wasn't interested in marriage or children, she liked the new guy well enough to keep him around for a while. Shikamaru was able to go home with a full heart.
Time flew by as he was introduced to, and passed, his first genin team, who immediately dismissed him as a slacker until he all had them doing handstands with a shadow bind. He suspected they resented him for watching the clouds while he made them run laps, but Asuma had been a lazy bastard, too, and his team had turned out fine. As Ino's pregnancy progressed, Naomi was over more and more often with Inomaru and their second child, who was already a year old. Sakura herself attended to Ino as she gave birth to their first child, Cho. She was a beautiful baby, and she grew into a beautiful little girl, with wide blue eyes and dark, silky hair. Cho was the apple of his eye, even when she would scream and yell and demand that Shikamaru play with her. It was troublesome, but then she would fall asleep in his lap at night, and he would take in the sweet scent of her skin and realize that he would fight the whole world to keep her safe if he needed to. Ino was a wonderful mother, and she was able to enforce discipline, and Cho definitely inherited her drive. That, combined with the intelligence she inherited from him, made her a hellion. She delighted him.
Then Ino announced that they were expecting again. Naruto became Hokage shortly afterwards, and Sakura and Lee had their first baby. Naruto and Hinata were married at long last, with much grinding of teeth of the Hyuuga clan, and under Naruto's direction, the Hyuuga were forced to accept Neji and Tenten back into the fold. Hitaro, Shikamaru's son, was born many months later, and Cho immediately set about terrorizing her dark-eyed brother.
Cho was five and starting her first day of ninja academy, her little hand in Shikamaru's as he walked her to school. "But what if they don't like me?" she asked, eyeing the other children running around the yard, screaming and playing, as the parents stood around and chatted.
"Just find Inomaru. He'll play with you," Shikamaru said with a sigh, but smiled as he looked down at her. He secretly treasured the feeling of her warm, slightly sticky hand in his. It wasn't too troublesome to feel contented, and contented he was.
"Hitaro, you stop right there!" Ino screeched behind them as Hitaro toddled past. The two-year-old was making a beeline for a swing, his blonde hair shining in the sun.
"Mommy's scary," Cho said, blinking up at him with a gaze identical to the sky-blue eyes he had based much of his life upon. "Why did you marry her?"
Shikamaru stopped for a moment, looking up at the clouds, and felt his life in motion, his being in synch with the world. He had fulfilled his dream, albeit more successfully than he had aimed for. His wife, his children, and his love were all far more than merely average. The sunlight glinted off of his wife's hair as she snatched up their son, wiping dirt from his face as she turned to Shikamaru and grinned, and her trim form and beautiful face, along with the fiery personality and tender soul behind it all, still made his heart flip over with joy. He smiled back at her as she kissed crown of Hitaro's head, then he tenderly met his daughter's blue gaze.
"Because," he said, "She's worth the trouble."