Author's Note:

Written for an exchange community on livejournal.


Naruto belongs to Kishimoto.

August hung hot and heavy above Shikamaru's roof, with little cloud cover. He awoke slowly, like most days, with a significant creak of his joints to match the bedsprings. Mosquitoes hummed somewhere in his ear or in his mind, he could never be too certain. All he knew for sure was the sun's warm breath across his face and the indent in the mattress she left a few hours before. He touched his jaw to make sure the last forty years weren't a dream. They weren't.

He didn't remember when it started. He had skimmed through genealogical records and balanced personality traits, weighed options and calculated living costs, and he finally reached one conclusion. He approached her at her office and asked her to marry him, not expecting her to accept. That was in late June, and he married in October. Shikamaru gave her a wedding ring fashioned out of a broken pendant necklace. As he fell asleep on the couch on his wedding night, he blamed the match on parental intervention. Nara Shikaku blamed it on his wife.

A month into his marriage, she placed a vase of peonies on the kitchen table. Shikamaru had always hated peonies; their mature blossoms drooped and bent the stems until myriad petals littered the ground. The blossoms were so overbearing and loud, and once the petals fell, all the stem held onto was the browning saucer in the middle.

He learned to keep his mouth shut after he sported a bruise the color of the peonies for the second month of his marriage.

Three years later, after the first autumn leaves fell, he bought her a real ring and took her out to dinner. When asked why she was crying, she told him she didn't know. Shikamaru realized that even if she didn't it still mattered. He promised not to be his father, and she laughed despite her reddened eyes. He kissed her.

In the ninth year, during a scorching July, she complained about the stuffiness of the apartment. Her belly swelled and Shikamaru arranged to move into his parents' house. It was there he watched as his first daughter came into the world, upon the same floorboards that his mother birthed him. His father took him out for a drink afterward and his wife planted another blossoming bruise onto his chest for not holding her hand. He didn't forget the next two times.

Then the war against Uchiha Sasuke and Otogakure started, and he rarely saw her. He wasn't naïve enough to think she couldn't make it on her own, but he missed her nonetheless. It was a time of action and introspection, one he decided later would probably be the epitome of his shinobi experience. Handfuls of names were added to the memorial stone.

His wife gave him courage when he came home after months at the battlefront. She fussed over the scar along his cheek and down his jaw, and she cried again when he told her it was from her teammate. He didn't really mind the scar, and he felt a twisted pride in the fact that it surpassed even his father's war wounds. He lined his flak jacket in fur and grew a goatee.

One daughter entered the ninja academy and Shikamaru felt empty inside. His wife placed a bouquet of peonies on the kitchen table and lit candles in their bedroom. For the first time he realized that the flowers matched her hair and they smelled quite nice, and the only reason he ever hated them was for the fact that they drooped so low he could never see their full blooms. He decided the peony was his favorite flower.

Seasons passed and the last sannin died. Weeks after the Godaime's funeral, his wife remained in bed, only appearing for a moment to sip some sake or to take a bath. Shikamaru sat at the kitchen table and watched the snow fall. The hollow in his stomach wasn't replaced by food or sake. He visited with Ino, who brought a vase of long-stemmed roses and placed them on the nightstand. It wasn't the same.

When Shikamaru turned forty-six, he began to count the wrinkles on his forehead. He wondered if it was the genes that kept his wife's skin perpetually smooth. Months later when he realized she was using Tsunade's cosmetic henge, he pretended not to notice.

April brought brisk winds and fluffy, bright cumulus clouds. He caught his daughter lying in the fields, watching the sky; she graduated the academy two months later.

The next years passed by relatively uneventfully. To his relief his wife's hair grew progressively less pink. It hung off her shoulders like a cascade of sunlight, and he found it the most beautiful thing in the world. In exchange, his waist began to fill out and training grew progressively more difficult. A desk job in the Hokage Tower didn't aid him in regaining his youthful physique. He strummed a guitar on the back step and watched the gentle flutter of leaves in the wind. She kissed his cheek and went to prepare dinner. When his eldest daughter moved out, he felt emptier than ever. His wife lit the candles again.

Shikamaru sighed and rolled over the empty place in the bed. He groped blindly in the direction of his nightstand, hoping to catch his spectacles, but instead touched the velvet of a peony blossom. It felt remarkably like her hand. Shikamaru decided his wife's name didn't really suit her. A sakura blossom, small and delicate, would be carried mercilessly in the wind until it settled on the ground. His Sakura, he decided, was the wind. Or maybe she was the stem, and he was the overbearing peony blossom.

The clang of metal from down the hallway reminded him of the date, and his limbs groaned as he reached for his spectacles. He touched the ring on his finger, fashioned out of an old pendant necklace. It was his daughter's wedding day.