Author's Note: This is the last chapter and brings Invitation to its conclusion. Twenty two chapters, over 80,000 words, over 13,000 hits, and over 130 reviews. Not bad for a story that was originally going to be a one shot. I hope everyone has enjoyed my story. I have thoughts on a couple possible sequels but I will decide about that later. Thanks for all the reviews and kind words.
Seven days Later
She lit the incense on the altar and then fell to her knees, hands pressed together in prayer. She was making an offering to Kami for Shikamaru's safety and well being. She'd made one every morning since he'd left and would continue to do so whenever she was home or had access to a temple. She found the ritual to be oddly comforting. She wasn't really sure that she believed in it, but if nothing else it gave her the illusion she was doing something to protect him.
"Breakfast is ready." Kankuro called to her from the door.
"I'll be down in a minute." She looked over to him. "Did you mange not to burn it this time?"
He frowned at her. "Hey, I never said I was a cook."
She grinned. "Oh but you look so cute in that apron."
"You know that joke got really old really fast."
"Well get used to it you still have two more weeks." She got up and bowed to the altar. "Come on, you haven't forgotten that we've been assigned to teach some students basic weapons have you?"
He grumbled. "No, and why do we have to do it?"
"Think of it as an honor, they respect our abilities."
"Yeah some honor, you know that the two of us are going to have to do all the work don't you? We're supposed to let them choose who they want to instruct them. There's no way any of them will pick Gaara."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one or two chose him. I mean he is the strongest ninja in the village."
"But they all know his reputation. I bet they all try and stay away from him."
She looked over to her brother. "Did I hear the word, 'bet?'?"
He looked and nodded. "What have you got in mind sis?"
"How about we bet that he gets at least one student to ask for him as instructor?"
He nodded. "All right, what terms?"
"How about if you win I let you out of the rest of your cooking. If I win you have to go on three real dates with a girl I pick, and you're not allowed to see anyone else for two weeks."
He laughed. "You trying to find me a wife?"
"Yes as a matter of fact, and the girl I have in mind is already on your list of suitors so she's definitely worthy of consideration."
That got him a bit curious. "It's a long list, who do you have in mind?"
Temari shook her head. "I'll tell you her name if you lose." She held out her hand. "Bet?"
He took her hand and shook it. "Bet."
Temari was satisfied that there was no way she could lose. If Kankuro won that meant she would be spared two weeks of eating burnt oatmeal. So she was a winner either way. As they neared the kitchen there was a definite odor of smoke. She turned on her brother. "You burned it again didn't you?!"
"I never said I was a cook."
Tsunade looked at the four documents Shikamaru had just handed her. She stared at the young Chunin in surprise. "My, my, my Shikamaru it looks like for once I don't have to send Shizune after you to turn in your paperwork." Her assistant giggled. "Maybe I should send you to Suna more often, it does seem to light a fire under you."
"Hokage-sama I would be happy to accept any missions to Suna you wish to assign me."
She gave Shizune a knowing grin. "Oh I'll just bet you would be." She looked over the first sheet. "I'm a bit surprised the mission report is only one page."
Shikamaru shrugged. "We carried out the mission of providing protection and general security to the caravan. We didn't encounter any bandits or other problems on the way there or back."
"Really? Then why did I receive a message from the Council of Wind apologizing for one of their ninja striking you?"
"That incident took place while I was off duty and so was not a part of the mission." Though he didn't show it he felt relieved. Gaara had told him that the Council would not want it known that he had been attacked by or that he had killed a Suna ninja. The Council would cover everything up including his visit to the hospital. Like the Council he had very strong reasons not to want the relations between the two villages damaged. He had sworn Chouji and Ino to secrecy. If the Hokage didn't already know about it then she probably never would.
"Well since the Council sent me a formal apology I believe that you are blameless but I want a report of the, 'incident,' on my desk by tomorrow morning."
She looked at the next document which was a formal two page proposal. "Interesting idea about issuing radio communicators to all teams. I'll have a cost benefits analysis performed, though I suspect the cost may be prohibitive." She went on to the third document. It was a one page request. Upon reading it she sent Shikamaru a look of utter shock. "Are you serious about this?"
"Hokage-sama I would not waste your time if I were not."
"What is it?" Shizune asked curiously.
Tsunade handed the paper over to her assistant. "It seems our young Chunin here is looking for a promotion." She smiled at him. "You do know that becoming Jonin means more work not less don't you?"
He nodded and did not look happy. "I understand that, but I have reasons why I need to become Jonin."
Tsunade laughed. "Would any of them happen to involve a certain blonde haired Suna nin?" When he didn't reply she moved on to the fourth document. It was actually a letter with: For the Hokage's eyes only, written on it. She began to open it.
"I beg pardon Hokage-sama, but I respectfully ask that you and I be the only ones in the room when you open that."
She eyed him warily. "I don't keep many secrets from Shizune."
"But you do keep some?" He asked.
She leaned back in her chair holding the envelope. "Do you really think what's in here is that important?" He nodded. "Shizune would you mind…"
"Not at all! I'll be right outside when you need me."
"This had better not be a waste of my time." She opened the letter and read it. It was short and to the point. When she was done she put it down and stared at him. "Congratulations."
"Thank you Hokage-sama."
"Have you picked a date?"
"We plan to marry on my sixteenth birthday."
"Not wasting any time I see. Any objection to me performing the ceremony?"
"None at all! She and I would both be greatly honored."
"So who else knows about this?"
"Me, Temari, Gaara, and Kankuro; they have all agreed to keep it secret. I would however like to inform my parents."
Tsunade nodded. "Well they should definitely know that they're going to get a daughter in law. I am declaring this to be an S-rank secret. You may inform you parents but you will also have to tell them they may not share it with anyone else. Anyone who spreads this information will end up in a cell." Shikamaru nodded, it was what he expected.
Before Tsunade could say anything else there was a loud noise from the other side of the door. The door burst open and in stormed a blonde and orange fireball. Shizune followed and shut the door behind her.
"Hey baachan I want to talk to you!"
"Damn it brat stop calling me that! Call me Hokage or Lady Tsunade like everyone else!" Tsunade placed the crumpled up letter in an ash tray and with a quick jutsu lit it.
Naruto stood in front of her desk and stubbornly crossed his arms. "I am sick of waiting I want to go after Sasuke right now!"
She shut her eyes feeling a headache coming on. "I've already told you a hundred times why you can't do that. And how many times have I told you not to barge in here? In case you didn't notice I was having a meeting with Shikamaru."
He hadn't noticed. He looked over to where the Chunin was standing with his usual bored expression. "Oh hey Shikamaru didn't see you standing there. How are you doing?"
"Fine," he answered. "Say Naruto I wanted to ask you something."
"I was just wondering, have you always known you were the Kyuubi's container?" Three sets of eyes shot to him and three jaws all dropped. "What?"
"So are you sure you're ok with this? You really are still going to be my friend?"
Shikamaru let out an exasperated sigh. The two of them had left the Hokage Tower and were walking together. "Yes Naruto I'm fine with it, and yes for the hundredth time we are still friends."
"You know you can't tell anyone right?"
"Naruto that was you standing beside me when Tsunade explained about the Sandaime's law wasn't it?"
"I'm sorry, it's just I don't have that many precious people I don't want to lose any of them because they hate what's in me."
Shikamaru stopped and turned to the other boy. He put a hand on his shoulder. "Naruto listen very carefully because I'm not going to say this twice. I consider you to be a true friend and we Nara's never abandon our friends. Now come on I'll buy you some ramen."
"Seriously!" The boy's mood instantly brightened.
"Sure, why not? I just got a mission check."
Naruto was bouncing, there was nothing like free ramen to cure all his worries. "Hey Shikamaru, is it true you're dating Gaara's sister? I remember him asking about you when I was in the hospital."
He nodded. "Thanks by the way for what you said to him. If you hadn't I wouldn't be with Temari now."
"So is she really your girlfriend?"
No, she's really my fiancé. "She sure is."
Naruto nudged his ribs and gave him a ridiculous wink. "So have you kissed her?"
He gave the boy a flat look. "You know Naruto you sound like that other annoying blonde in my life. But yeah, we've kissed."
"What was it like?" Naruto asked eagerly.
Naruto laughed. "You are soooo lucky Shikamaru! Every time I ask Sakura for a date she just yells at me and sometimes she hits me."
Shikamaru shrugged. "If it makes you feel any better Temari hits me too, and sometimes she does it with a seventy pound fan."
"Yeah, but you get kisses too! Man I wish I had a pretty girl that liked me the way you do."
He looked at the blonde. "Naruto."
"You're an idiot."
"Hey! Why'd you say that?!"
"Because it's true." Seeing the boy wanting to argue he added. "So what kind of ramen do you want?" Having known Chouji all these years he knew how to sidetrack someone.
As they continued walking they talked about their most recent missions. Naruto had recently gotten back from a mission with team eight that had been trying to capture a special bug. "So I was standing there and this super pretty girl was dancing in the waterfall under the moon. You should have seen her, she was amazing."
"And you have no idea who this girl could possibly be?"
"No, it's a total mystery."
"I see, listen by any chance when you got up was Hinata in the tent asleep?"
Naruto suddenly halted. "Hey! Now that you mention it she wasn't."
Shikamaru nodded. "So just as you were watching this girl in the waterfall Hinata happened to be out of the tent. Does this information suggest anything to you?"
Naruto seemed to think about it. Suddenly his eyes lit up. "Hey yeah! I just realized something!"
About time. "What's that?"
"Maybe Hinata saw the girl too! I should go ask her!"
Shikamaru stared at him glumly. "Naruto remember when I called you an idiot a little while ago? Well I take it back."
"Yes, calling you an idiot is an insult to idiots everywhere." He shook his head. "And you're going to be the next Hokage? Konoha is doomed."
"Hey! I am going to be the next Hokage! Believe it!"
"I do believe it that's the problem." Shikamaru let out a long sigh. "Naruto I've just come to a very painful decision. As troublesome as I know it's going to be I've decided that when you become Hokage I want to be your Chief Advisor."
Naruto stared at him and crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh yeah? Well why should I let you tell me what to do when you keep calling me an idiot?"
"Because if you don't I fear Konoha will sink into the ocean."
Naruto stared at him. "But we're in the middle of the land."
"Yes, but you would probably find a way." Naruto just stared at him. "Listen I'll tell you what, I'll show you why you should follow my advice. Now you say you want a girlfriend right?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Well if you follow my advice not only do I guarantee you'll get a girlfriend but she'll be as pretty as the girl in the waterfall."
Naruto stared at him. "No way! I'll never get a girl like that."
Shikamaru smiled at him. "Care to make a bet? I'll bet that if you do exactly as I say you'll have a girlfriend by the end of the day."
"What happens if I don't?"
"I'll buy you all the free ramen you can eat for a month."
Naruto's eyes exploded and his jaw dropped. "FREE RAMEN FOR A MONTH!!"
Shikamaru stuck a finger in his ear. "That's right, but you have to do exactly as I say. And if I win I want two things. First you promise that you'll appoint me Chief Advisor when you become Hokage. And secondly I want…"
Naruto laughed. "Yeah right, like I'd do that. Very funny Shikamaru."
"I'm absolutely serious Naruto. Those are the terms of the bet." He stuck out his hand. "Now are you in or are you going to chicken out?" And just as Shikamaru had known he would Naruto grabbed his hand and pumped it.
"I never chickenout and I never go back on my word, that's my ninja way."
"Glad to hear it." He grabbed Naruto's arm and began dragging him away. "Now let's go get you a girlfriend."
"Hey Ichiraku's is this way."
"We're going to the Yamanaka flower shop first."
"But you said you were going to buy me some ramen!" He whined.
"I still am but we need to take care of this first."
Team eight was just finishing up its training when they noticed two visitors approaching training ground eighteen. Hinata suddenly felt her cheeks turn red when she saw one of them was Naruto. They turned another shade darker when she saw what he was carrying.
"This is so stupid, Hinata's going to laugh at me, so will everyone else." Naruto complained.
Shikamaru sighed, he'd been complaining all the way from the flower shop. Would it really be so bad to have Konoha sink into the ocean? "She won't laugh, though I don't know about Kiba. Now you know what you're supposed to say?"
Shikamaru laughed and gave him a nudge forward. "Well go get her Romeo."
Naruto sent him a glare but got going.
As he approached Hinata she felt her heart pounding furiously in her chest and her index fingers nervously pressing together. For her part Kurenai stood back and just smiled. Kiba laughed and Shino merely stood there watching passively.
As he got near her he suddenly felt very nervous. It's just Hinata why should I be nervous? He wondered if she was feeling all right, she looked really red. He noticed Kiba was grinning at him like an idiot. He would have stopped and turned around but he'd given his word. When he stood in front of her he took a deep breath.
"These are for you Hinata-chan." He handed her the bouquet of lilies he'd been carrying. "I want you to know that even though it's only been a couple days I missed you and I think you're beautiful."
Did Naruto-kun just call me beautiful? Did he just call me Hinata-chan? "Th… Thank you… Naruto-kun." She took the flowers from him. They were lilies, her favorites. "They're beautiful… I… really love… them."
The way she was looking at him was making him feel strange. He suddenly noticed that she really was very cute. How had he never noticed that before? He gulped down some air. "Hinata-chan would you go out on a date with me?"
Her reaction was immediate and in character, she fainted. Kiba and Shino were both there to catch her before she hit the ground. They gently put her on the grass and Kiba checked her pulse. Suddenly he looked up at Naruto "She's dead! Naruto you killed her!"
Naruto stared at them in complete shock. "What?!"
Kiba grabbed his sides and fell to the ground howling with laughter.
Shino shook his head. "Please forgive my teammate's foolishness, she has merely passed out I am certain she will recover in a few minutes."
Naruto turned back to Shikamaru. "I told you she didn't feel that way! You owe me that ramen!"
He rolled his eyes. "She hasn't answered you yet Naruto."
Kurenai approached the two boys with an amused look. "What is this about you two?"
"I am preserving Konoha from imminent disaster." Shikamaru replied. Before Kurenai could ask anything more Hinata opened her eyes.
She looked up to see Naruto kneeling over her with a worried look.
"Hinata I'm sorry are you…"
"Yes!" She replied fiercely, afraid he might change his mind.
She sat up and, 'glomped,' onto him. "Yes Naruto-kun, yes I will go on a date with you!"
He looked at her amazed. He was surprised, but was very happy to see how excited she was at the thought of a date with him. As she continued to hold onto him he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see Shikamaru smirking down at him.
"Congratulations on your new girlfriend." He handed Naruto a 50 ryu note. "Here, that should be plenty for the two of you to get some ramen together. Since I know you never go back on your word I'll see you at the Hokage Tower tomorrow at noon."
Naruto looked up from where Hinata was holding him. The abject fear was obvious. "Shikamaru you're not serious about that?"
"I told you I was Naruto."
Hinata looked between the two of them. "Naruto-kun what is he talking about?"
Shikamaru stuck his hands in his pockets and began to slouch away. "Oh just come to the Hokage Tower tomorrow at noon and you'll see." He waved good bye to them. "Have fun on your date."
Tanya was leaving the café and heading home. She was not sure what she was supposed to do now. She was happy just to be alive. For now she was content simply to enjoy life. Eventually she would get a new job, but she had 40,000 ryu stashed away and was in no hurry to find employment. Sulamon had not contacted her and she was not sure whether or not he ever would. She was not going to contact him.
Hearing her name she instinctively turned around. She felt a fist crash into her mouth. The next thing she knew she was looking up at a very angry looking Temari as she spat out blood. "Temari-sama I…"
"Shut up," she said menacingly. Wisely the girl did exactly that. She could feel the killer intent radiating off the younger girl. "I came here to give you this." She tossed a piece of paper at her. "Don't say anything, don't waste your breathe or my time. I know why you did it. I understand it but I won't forgive your betrayal or the fact you put the man I love in danger. Consider that your severance, and it's more than you deserve." Temari turned around and stomped away.
Tanya carefully looked down at the piece of paper. She smoothed it out and read it. Her breath caught, it was a government notice. Her brother had just been returned and was currently in Suna Hospital to receive treatment for malnutrition. With a shout of joy despite the pain in her mouth she ran to see her baby brother.
Shikamaru finally got home in the late afternoon. He found both his mom and dad in the kitchen. He could smell dinner cooking. He put his back pack down by the door and sat down in the chair across from his dad. His mom was standing by the oven.
"Hey mom are we having steak tonight?"
"Of course we are dear. Don't we always when you or your father comes back from a long mission?"
"Do you think I could have mine medium rare?"
She looked at him in surprise. "You don't want it well done?"
He shook his head. "Say dad, thanks for teaching me that teleportation jutsu."
Shikaku looked at him. "Your very welcome son. Anytime you want to learn some more of our family jutsus just let me know."
Shikamaru nodded. "How about tomorrow afternoon?"
Shikaku looked at him in real surprise. "You serious?" Shikamaru nodded. "All right, which jutsu were you wanting to learn?"
"All of them, and I want you to teach me anything else you think I should learn."
Shikaku stared. "You do realize that'll take awhile?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "I need to learn everything I can if I'm going to be a Jonin."
His mother turned around to look at him. "Jonin?"
He nodded. "I've already put in the request with the Hokage to take the Jonin exam."
His parents shared a conspiratorial smile. "Say son," Shikaku asked. "How is that girlfriend of yours?"
"She's just fine."
Shikaku raised an eyebrow. "You did hear what I asked right?" Shikamaru gave him a bored look. "The last time I called her that you denied she was any such thing."
Shikamaru leaned back into the chair and smiled. "Well that was before I gave her my heart."
Both his parents shouted the same thing at once. "What?!" His mom joined them at the table. "Tell us everything!" Yoshino insisted.
Smiling Shikamaru did exactly that. He told them about meeting her upon his arrival. About the dinner and about getting that first kiss. He told them what it was like to spend an entire evening dancing with her. He mentioned visiting her garden and playing shogi against her brother. He dropped the little matter of knowing Naruto was the Kyuubi's jailer. And yes he'd told Naruto, and yes they were still friends, and yes he knew about the law and would keep it secret. He told them about being punched by Senya and about later fighting him to the death. And by the way he hadn't told the Hokage so they couldn't tell anyone about that. He mentioned Temari ending things and his going to see her to unend them. He related how he had offered her his heart and she had accepted. He then added the fact that they had been betrothed and that she was now officially, but secretly, his fiancé and oh by the way that was a secret too.
"So I kissed her one last time and left. That about covers everything." His parents were both just staring at him with open mouths. "What?"
"Temari what are you doing?"
She slowly opened her eyes. She covered her mouth and yawned. "What does it look like? I was taking a nap."
"A nap?" Kankuro asked.
She sat up and nodded. "Naps are always good."
Kankuro shook his head. "Listen there's something I wanted to ask you."
She smiled. "Laureen, Akuri Laureen, that's who I am setting you up with."
Kankuro started. He had to think for a moment. "Oh of course! I remember her now. She's a puppeteer; we used to play together when we were kids. She doesn't have the ability to mold chakra though, she's simply an entertainer. I haven't seen her in a couple years; I didn't even realize she was on my list. Why her?"
"Because she's a good girl from a good solid family who would be a good wife for you. And most importantly of all, for some reason I can't fathom, she actually likes you."
He thought about it. "Well I always liked her and I always thought she was kind of cute, but I don't know."
"Just give her a chance. Give her three real dates and see how it goes."
Kankuro shrugged. "Well I suppose it won't hurt. But that's not what I was wanting to ask you about."
He looked a bit embarrassed. "Temari, can I see your garden?"
She looked at him suspiciously. "Why do you want to see it?"
"Because you've let Gaara, Baki, and Shikamaru see it and I really want to see it too."
She considered it for a moment. "All right, you can see it."
He smiled at his big sister. "Really?"
She nodded. "But I swear, if you step on one flower I am kicking your ass!"
It was almost noon and there was a small crowd gathered on the steps of the Hokage Tower. Looking around Shikamaru was surprised at the turnout. All of the Konoha eleven were here as well as their senseis. The Hokage and Shizune were also here and so was his dad. He noticed that Hinata was speaking excitedly to Kurenai who was listening with a smile on her lips. It looked like Naruto's first date had gone pretty well; hopefully he would manage not to screw things up. He spotted someone he wanted to talk to and went over to her.
She nodded to him. "Hey Shikamaru, so what is going to happen?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "Nothing much Naruto is just going to pay off a bet he made with me. How did you hear about it though? I mentioned something to Hinata, but the only other people I told were my folks, Asuma, Chouji, and Ino."
"Oh Ino pig told me and I'm pretty sure she told Tenten. I mentioned it to Lady Tsunade. I don't know about everyone else though."
Shikamaru shook his head. Well, he'd told Ino, he should just be glad half the village wasn't here. "Listen Sakura I was wondering if I could ask you a favor."
"Listen, would you mind teaching me and my team some basic medical jutsus?"
She looked at him. "Really? What did you have in mind? I'm not really proficient yet."
"Well none of us are medic nins but I was thinking that if there were a jutsu that would stop a cut from bleeding, it might be really useful in combat."
Sakura nodded. "I could teach you that." She suddenly took on an evil smile and looked in the direction where his blonde teammate was. "I don't know how eager Ino will be to have me teach her though."
"I've spoken about this with Asuma and he agrees it's a good idea. So don't worry about Ino, she'll follow Asuma's order."
Sakura laughed. "Oh! I am going to enjoy being Ino pig's sempai."
Shikamaru returned to his original spot where his dad and Asuma were talking.
"Shikamaru, your dad tells me you're applying for the Jonin exam." Asuma said, cigarette as always in his mouth.
"Any particular reason why you're suddenly so motivated?"
"Yes, she lives in Suna and carries a fan on her back."
Asuma gave him a smile and seemed to take a quick peek in the general direction of Hinata and Kurenai. "You know I'm sorry I missed this mission. I want you to tell me all about it when we get together for lunch."
"I'm afraid I won't be able to tell you everything, but I do have a lot to share."
"Is that Naruto?" They heard Kakashi say.
Conversations suddenly ground to a halt as they all saw the blonde coming down the street. At the sight of him stomping towards them the temporary silence was suddenly replaced by howls of laughter and people asking questions and making comments. Most eyes were on Naruto but a few were sent his way. He noticed Ino and Chouji grinning and giving him thumbs up.
"Shikamaru," Asuma was barely able to keep the laughter out of his voice. "Just what did you do?"
He gave his sensei a little grin. "Oh, I made him a bet that Hinata would go out on a date with him if he asked her."
Asuma laughed. "Sucker bet."
Naruto walked up the steps and came to a halt in front of all of them. For the first time any of them could remember he did not have a scrap of orange anywhere on him. He wore baggy brown pants, a grey jacket over a black fishnet shirt, and his head band was tied around his left arm. His blonde hair had been corralled and put into a top knot. A surprising number of cameras, including Shikamaru's of course, began snapping pictures.
Naruto cleared his throat and spoke out loud. "I Uzumaki Naruto, future Rokudaime Hokage hereby proclaim that I will appoint Nara Shikamaru as my Chief Advisor and always listen to his advice. I also proclaim that Shikamaru has the world's hottest girlfriend and that I am his personal bitch."
Most eyes turned from Naruto to him. Shikamaru smiled and he thought about everything that had happened to him since the day he met a loud troublesome blonde girl at the finals of the Chunin exams. His life had been completely and radically changed. He had been through quite a number of troublesome situations and he was sure that there would be even more of them in the future. Then he thought about his Temari. What that first kiss had been like. What it felt like to kiss her and hold her in his arms. He thought about that special smile she gave him. He remembered what it had felt like when she had accepted his heart and when she'd said she'd be his wife someday. In his mind he balanced all the trouble and future trouble against the joy being with her had given him. There was only one obvious conclusion.
She is worth it.