Disclaimer - Characters belong to Kishimoto.

Healing a Shattered Heart

Choza entered the usual bar he and his former teammates frequented

Choza entered the usual bar he and his former teammates frequented. They had a standing arrangement that any or all of them would meet at least once a week for drinks. Thursday evening at 19:00, whichever of them that was not on a mission would come to the bar for a few drinks and to talk about old times and new.

It was never unusual for one, sometimes even two or all three, to not be there on the designated evening. Whichever of them that was able, would carry on like usual, often discussing their missing friend and wishing them the best on whatever business took them away from the village. They never worried, trusting in one another to have the ability to come home.

But, this time . . . This time, Choza was worried.

Inoichi sat at the bar, alone, barely nursing the beer that sat on the smooth wood before him. His mind was obviously not on where he was; and, as Choza sat down, the larger nin knew where it lay. The same place his own had wandered most often, as of late.

Shikaku.

The Nara had missed last few Thursdays, too, as well as a Monday get together Choza had asked him to. Not because of missions. The shadow master had not gone on a mission for nearly two months, and the entire village was worried about him. Or, at least, all those that knew him. He'd even begun to neglect the deer and forest, leaving his son to have to pick up the slack, in addition to his own duties and missions.

No, Yoshino's unfortunate death during a routine mission had changed everything.

Everyone that knew them knew how much Shikaku loved his wife. He was wrapped so tightly around her finger that someone would have to surgically remove him. Despite the jokes of his friends, and even the ridicule of his own son, Shikaku would have had it no other way. And, though nin were suppose to persevere, her loss had broken the strong man.

His son and friends were left to mourn not only Yoshino's passing, but Shikaku's grief as well.

At first, Shikamaru grieved with his father, though in his own private way. But, soon, the younger Nara had moved on, accepted his mother's death as an honorable, if tragic, end to a well lived, but short, life. He, from the beginning, refused to let it beat him down, to wallow. His mother would not have wanted that. She would want him to be strong, to honor her by living as she raised him to, and to be the nin he was taught to be.

Shikaku could not so easily accept his wife's demise.

As Shikamaru grew to accept what had happened, doing so within a week or so of the incident, Shikaku only grew more depressed. For Shikamaru, it was far too similar to the loss of his sensei a few years before. He used what he learned in that grief to let go of the grief for his mother. He would carry on for them both, as he had carried on for Asuma.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to lose himself in his work, Shikaku simply ceased in trying. At first, Shikamaru tried to help his father; but, at his son's ability to accept and continue on with life in such a short time, Shikaku questioned the younger Nara's love for his mother, especially when Shikamaru tried to get him to move on himself.

Small arguments turned into physical fights.

(o)FLASHBACK(o)

Shikamaru entered his family's home almost cautiously, hesitantly. Glancing around, he saw no sign of his father, and that worried him. His father seemed to be growing more and more unstable. He worried that the older Nara may do something drastic if he wasn't able to overcome his grief soon.

"Dad," he finally called into the rest of the house. Not surprisingly, he received no response. Heaving a small sigh, he went in search of the older man.

After a brief search, he found him in the living room. He was spread out on the couch, barely conscious, as far as he could tell, and smelled of alcohol and body odor. The younger Nara walked over to him. Carefully, he began to straighten his father's position before picking up around him as he fell fully asleep. Once done, he made something light to eat and went to rouse the older man.

Shikaku woke groggily, looking around as if he wasn't sure where he was. Then, his eyes fell on his son. "What do you want?" His voice held a slight slur, and not that friendly of a tone. He moved to stand, shoving away the help being offered. On his feet, he swayed a moment before heading for the toilet.

Sighing again, Shikamaru returned to the kitchen. He was setting a plate of food out for his father when said man came into the room. He took in how scruffy he was, how much he stank of alcohol and worse things. "You need to eat, get a shower, leave the house."

"I don't need anything but your mother," he snapped, moving passed the food and Shikamaru in favor of opening the fridge and grabbing a beer. It made Shikamaru wonder how he kept stocked with alcohol, as he obviously never left the house. He was going to have to consider forbidding deliveries to their home.

"Dad, she's gone. You /have/ to accept that." He watched the older man warily. So, he saw it coming but did nothing to stop it as his father slapped him, hard. The fact that he knew his dad was drunk barely helped him to not react. He wasn't expecting the fist that followed, however, and soon found himself fighting as much to defend himself as to subdue his drunken father before he seriously hurt either of them.

It hurt more emotionally than physically to be his father's punching bag, but he knew the older man needed a target for his pain, hate, anger. But, sometimes knowing things just wasn't enough. His mind knew his dad needed the release, that he didn't mean what he said, what he was doing. Yet, his heart hurt.

He didn't know how much more of seeing his dad like this he could take.

(o)END FLASHBACK(o)

Shikamaru finally left his father to wallow. Caring for the Nara Clan's forest and deer, seeing to his missions, and doing his other duties as a nin left the young chuunin with little time to fight with his old man, especially in physical confrontations that might leave him unable to do any of what he /had/ to do. His father knew he was there for him, or so he hoped, and that he cared. That was as much as Shikamaru could give.

Without his son to give even a little distraction, occasional drinks turned to frequent drinks, which, in turn, turned to constant drinks. He had gone from a highly skilled nin, full of confidence and pride, to a drunken lush with no purpose in life, in a matter of a few months.

It wasn't that no one cared or noticed.

Shikamaru wasn't the only one that tried to help the older Nara. His friends and colleagues tried, unsuccessfully, to draw him from his misery. Even Rokudaime tried to get Shikaku to come around. But, no one was able. Not even Choza, and Inoichi seemed reluctant to try to force their former teammate to change. It would only make it worse, he reasoned.

He was probably right.

Still, as they silently sat on their usual stools, the vacant place to their right was filled with oppressive space, emptiness. Choza knew he could get no where with their friend. There was only one person who could.

Though, he himself had gone through the loss of his wife, as had Inoichi, he had never grieved as Shikaku was, or even as Inoichi had. Nothing in comparison to Shikaku's grief, it had still taken the shadow master to pull Inoichi out of his shell. The blond had turned to his shop, missions, and raising his infant daughter, closing down but functioning. And, it had only lasted a few weeks.

Nothing quite as extreme as Shikaku's mourning.

Stifling a sigh, Choza broke the long silence that surrounded them, "You have to do something, Inoichi." . He did not look over at the blond but at his own barely touched beer. Part of him was waiting for the other jounin to again make an excuse to allow things to continue as they were, while another part hoped he would agree. When no immediate response was given, he sighed heavily. "It has to be you, and you know it."

Staring at his own bottle, he responded, "I've come to realize it." He downed his warm, nearly full beer in one pull. More to not waste it than any desire to actually drink the fluid.

Choza sipped his own beer. "It won't be as bad for you as for the rest of us. You know how he's always felt about you. How you've felt about each other." He noticed the slightly widened eyes of his friend, as well as the way he turned to face him suddenly. "Did you think I was /that/ inobservant when we were young and on a team?"

Inoichi shook his head. "You never let on. But, no, it's not surprising, now that I think about it." He turned back to face the bar. "I'm not sure even that will mean enough anymore."

Choza patted his blond friend on the back. "I think it's pretty obvious he doesn't /stop/ loving someone." He watched the other man. "Unless you're worried Yoshino replaced the piece of his heart that was yours?"

He wasn't sure. They'd never talked about it, and Shikaku never acted like there was anything between them other than their friendship. "I don't know. It wasn't until I lost my wife that I really thought about what he still meant to me, and as much as I loved her, I can't say she was my world like Yoshino was for Shikaku." He suddenly did feel the need for a drink and waved the bartender down. "Sake."

That was understandable. "You weren't with her very long." Choza took another draw of his beer. "And, you had Ino to think about, and your shop. There's nothing wrong with moving on, but there is with getting hung up like Shikaku has." He finished his beer and stood. "He was the only one you'd listen to, and you're the only one he will. Up to you if you help him or not."

Feeling he'd said more than enough, he squeezed his friend's shoulder then took his leave, tossing down money for his beer as he did. He was certain Inoichi would do what needed done.

Inoichi drank his sake, focusing on the burn instead of what he was about to do. He got out the money for his drinks, taking his time. Despite the urgency of the problem, he knew there was no need to rush right into it. Shikaku wasn't going anywhere, and he needed to be ready to deal with whatever may be waiting on him at the Nara home.

The walk over was taken casually, his mind fathoming many scenarios for what may lay in wait.

The house was dark as Inoichi walked up to the front door, despite the waning light of the day. He wasn't surprised by the lack of illumination or any sound from inside. Nor was the unlocked door much of a surprise as he tested the knob.

The air inside was stale, and a bit stifling, like that of a building shut up and not in use. He frowned to himself, worrying more as he advanced through the house; worried at what state Shikaku's health was in, if everything was so still and stagnant. He couldn't imagine anyone being able to live in such an atmosphere, no matter their mental state or level of inebriation.

He wasn't certain, at first, where to find the other man. But, then, he caught the smell of booze and sweat. Following the smell, he soon found his friend face first on the living room floor in a haphazard sprawl, which lead him to believe Shikaku had fallen and never got up. Whether because he didn't want to or couldn't was anyone's guess.

Leaving his friend where he was for the time being, after checking his pulse, he left the room to run a bath. As the tub filled, he got Shikaku fresh clothes, nearly the last ones to be found, and put them in by the tub. He then gathered the laundry, somewhat surprised the grieving man thought to change clothes at all, but he realized he had no idea when any clothes were washed last. Shikamaru likely hadn't gone that far in seeing to his old man, before he stopped seeing to him at all.

Inoichi made a mound with the dirty clothing before going to shut off the water in the tub. He double checked the temperature, knowing Shikaku would be too intoxicated to know if it was too hot or not. The last thing he needed to do was scald the other man.

Satisfied, he returned to Shikaku and stripped him where he laid. It was easier than trying to do so in the bathroom. Shikaku was already prone, and he could just settle him straight into the bath this way, a convenience he was glad for.

No doubt, things were only going to get tougher.

Through the undressing and carrying, Shikaku didn't stir. But, a few moments after being lowered into the water, the scarred jounin began to come around. Inoichi ignored the fact in favor of making sure his friend was clean.

His fingers were deep in Shikaku's hair when the other looked up at him as if not quite seeing him, eyes having a dazed, far away look to them. He could only imagine what the inebriated mind was seeing, but he was quite certain he wasn't it.

It was Shikaku's voice that proved he was right.

"Why did you leave me?" The black-haired nin asked with a slight slur. His hand reached out to stroke Inoichi's cheek, seeing his lost wife instead. "I need you." He leaned in close, mouth just short of the blond's. "Love you so much."

The strength of Shikaku's breath nearly made Inoichi retch. Stilling his rolling stomach, he pulled back from his friend. Both to prevent the kiss he was certain was soon to come, and to rinse the shampoo from Shikaku's hair.

Inoichi ignored the pawing of the other's hands as he set about his task; as well as the Nara's slur-ed words as he begged to know why Yoshino had left, if she no longer loved him, if he'd been a bad husband. Questions the vision of his wife did not answer, apparently, as he repeated himself more than once. Questions Inoichi didn't know how to answer in her stead.

A few times, Inoichi had to avoid attempted kisses, each one seeming to only upset his friend more when he casually avoided the contact. As the shadow master grew more anxious, Inoichi had some trouble keeping him in the tub, let alone washing him.

With little option left, Inoichi had to calm the other man.

Setting aside the rag and soap he was using, he sat his hands on Shikaku's shoulders. "Relax," he spoke gently, sliding his hands to rest on the sides of Shikaku's neck. "Everything is going to be alright."

Shikaku looked at Inoichi, and the blond could tell his friend was still seeing Yoshino. Taking a moment to decide what was the best way to handle the situation, he gave Shikaku time to speak. "Not without you." His hands grabbed Inoichi's face and finally got the kiss he'd been trying for. The kiss was short and sloppy, over before Inoichi could end it.

Inoichi blinked at his friend, ignoring the unpleasant taste as he saw a bit of the fog in his friend's eyes starting to clear. He had to do something. "You'll never be without me. Now relax. Sleep." He stroked Shikaku's cheek; his other hand stroking through the freshly cleaned hair. The words were true, whether from Yoshino or Inoichi.

The Nara blinked, as if trying to wake, but his eyes only began to droop under the gentle touch. This gave Inoichi enough time to finish the bath and see him shaved.

The draining of the tub, and being rinsed off, stirred the shadow master again about a half hour later. He groaned and shifted as consciousness rushed to him. His face scrunch-ed up slightly before his eyes slid open, squinting against the light. He caught sight of yellow blond and frowned. "Inoichi?"

The blond gave him a small smile. "Just relax," he told him as he toweled his hair dry.

Shikaku remained quiet, feeling groggy, as well as comforted by the gentle touch to his hair. The pain behind his eyes left it hard for him to think. He wasn't sure how long he'd been in the tub, or how long Inoichi had been there; but, it was obvious it had been a while, if his cleanliness meant anything.

He kept his silence throughout most of being dried. As Inoichi moved to lift him out to finish, he looked up at his closest friend. "Why does everyone leave me?" He asked, looking despondent. "Why, Inoichi? Why did you leave me?"

The blond nearly lost his grip on the man in his arms. What was he suppose to say to that?

Inoichi's silence seemed to only confirm that Shikaku was right, Inoichi had left him. "Everyone leaves me. Shikamaru will, too," Shikaku said softly, looking down forlornly. The look really didn't become him, Inoichi thought. It didn't suit him at all, and the blond didn't want to ever see it again.

Inoichi sat his depressed friend down and finished drying him off. "He won't leave you. I never left you, either," he told him as he finished. "I'm right here." He finally met his eyes, gaze steady.

Shikaku looked back, eyes sad. "But..." He began, only to have a finger placed over his mouth before Inoichi dressed him.

"No buts. I'm here. Now, I'm going to put you in bed, once I make sure it's clean." He gave him a warm smile, patting him on the back before leaving the room. He made his way to the bedroom, stripping the bed then remaking it after turning the mattress.

Shikaku sat silently, trying to think without his head hurting worse. His returning weariness wasn't helping, either. His mind kept returning to Yoshino; how he'd never see her smile, hear her voice, hold her, even hear Shikamaru complain about her. How could he go on alone?

But, you aren't alone, a voice, that sounded suspiciously like his late wife, informed him.

He rubbed at his face as he yawned and slumped in exhaustion. He felt like he could sleep for a week. Between his headache and fatigue, he failed to hear footsteps approaching. A touch to his shoulder startled him enough to nearly send him to the floor. Only the sure grip of his friend stopped him.

"Easy. It's just me," Inoichi soothed, giving him a warm smile. "Time for you to sleep." Shikaku wasn't the lightest man in the world, and he'd put on weight in the last few months, but it beat picking up someone say, Choza's size; which was difficult without using chakra.

The shadow master gave the blond a priceless look. He could still walk. Granted, it wouldn't be in a straight line. That didn't stop him feeling embarrassed at needing the help. Yoshino really would kick his ass if she were there to do it. He'd been acting like an idiot, and Shikamaru...

He was all Shikaku had left of Yoshino.

Looking up at Inoichi, he watched his friend as they entered the bedroom. There were still people around that wanted him, needed him. His wife would want him to carry on. And, if he died now, Yoshino would only kick his ass in the afterlife. He smirked at the thought.

Inoichi had no idea what amused Shikaku, but he was pleased to see a sign of his closest friend where there'd been none for months. He set the other man down, helping him to get comfortable and tucking him in. "Get some sleep. I'll be here when you wake up." He gave a warm smile.

Shikaku returned the smile, feeling oddly... happy. Not complete happiness, but it was a start.

Inoichi watched Shikaku pass out then busied himself around the house. Laundry needed done, dishes washed, and the entire place dusted and aired out. He also needed to remove all alcohol from the premises.

Shikaku would be hung over come morning, but the hangover would give way to withdrawal before too long. He had to be prepared. Others would have to help as well, of that he had no doubt. Hoping he had time, what with all he had to do before Shikaku woke, he rushed home and left a note for his daughter to come see him at the Nara home. He had errands he needed her to run.

(o)()(o)

Once passed out in his bed, Shikaku slept soundly for at least twenty hours. The first few hours were more an unconscious state than sleep, but they were something both his mind and body needed to begin to heal. He had a lot ahead of him, to be the man he was.

As he woke, many thoughts crossed his mind. From the simple curiosity of where he was, and when it was, to how much of what he remembered was real or figments of an inebriated mind. He shoved himself over onto his back from the sprawl he had been in on his stomach. The world didn't seem to stop moving as his body did. A groan left him and his stomach turned.

After a moment, he felt safe to move. Raising his head, he looked around the dark room for any sign of the time. He could worry about the date later, much later, the way he felt. All he was worried about was the pain and nausea overwhelming him.

Inoichi entering the room was like drums to his sensitive skull. With a groan, he cracked an eye open, promptly slamming it closed again as soon as light from the open door filtered in. Even if the pain had begun to recede, which it hadn't, it only intensified ten fold.

Seeing the grimace of pain, as well as hearing the miserable groan that emitted from the bed, Inoichi closed the door before making his way over to the bed. He was pleased to see the other awake, and had been checking periodically on him. This wasn't the first hangover he'd seen the Nara subject to, but he knew this one was likely only going to get worse as Shikaku dried out.

The blond gave his friend a faint smile as he picked up the medicine Tsunade had given Ino to bring to him. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he poured out the correct amount and held it out to Shikaku.

Shikaku, who had opened his eyes when Inoichi had sat down, looked at the offered medicine then at Inoichi. With a groan, he rolled away from both, closing his eyes against the pain in his head and the nausea in his stomach. He knew the medicine, had taken it before, and he'd rather be hung over.

Inoichi sighed as Shikaku moved away. The man was so hard to deal with when he was hung over, he didn't want to think about what withdrawal was going to be like. "Shikaku, you know it helps," he said quietly, stroking the other man's shoulder in a plea for him to listen, acquiesce.

The shoulder was jerked away, causing Shikaku to groan again as his head pounded. The medicine may help clean him out, even stop the pain that was sure to spread from his head, given time, but it always made the nausea worse. It was as though it was flushing all the alcohol out through his stomach, and he hated it.

Inoichi sighed and set the medicine down near the bed. "If you don't drink it, I'm not helping you to the toilet so you can throw up, and I'm not cleaning up any vomit in here."

Shikaku grunted, ignoring how much like Yoshino Inoichi just sounded, and, to prove a point, slowly got himself to the edge of the bed. He had to take a small break, to ease the pain and nausea, before he slowly attempted to sit up. The effort was not made without groans, and he swayed several times before he could grip the edge of the bed and lock his elbows. The world was spinning and he squeezed his eyes shut to get it to stop. It took time, but everything slowly began stop moving, though it felt like he was rocking in a circle.

What he didn't realize, he was.

Placing hands on his friend's shoulders, having stood and rounded the bed, Inoichi sighed again. "Stubborn bastard," he said softly before taking one of Shikaku's arms and putting it around his shoulders. Bracing his feet, he hefted the other up and put his arm around his waist. "Don't you dare throw up on me." Not that it would be the first time Shikaku had done so.

With another grunt, the shadow master leaned into the blond and stumbled over his own feet as he tried to help Inoichi help him to the bathroom. The distance wasn't that far, but it took many minutes to get there, with many pitiful groans and moans to sound the way.

The sight of the toilet ended all thoughts of holding in the bile rising up his throat, and Shikaku dropped to his knees gracelessly before it. There was nothing in his stomach to throw up, and the acid that rose up burned the back of his throat as it rushed from his mouth. Each retch made him hurt all over and his head feel like it was going to explode.

Inoichi stroked his back soothingly. "You need the medicine, Shikaku. Please drink it. It'll make this go away faster," he pleaded with the other man softly. He knew it made Shikaku more nauseous, but it also made the hangover last only a short time.

Panting, Shikaku leaned against the blond and nodded very slightly, grimacing in pain at the motion.

Inoichi gave a small smile in victory and relief. He leaned Shikaku against the counter gently and stood, returning to where he'd left the medicine. He hoped it worked quickly. Anything that smelled as horrible as it did should work miracles, in his opinion.

Returning to the bathroom, he kneeled by Shikaku and handed him the medicine. He steadied the man's hand as Shikaku raised the small cup of sour tasting medication to his mouth and drank it down. His face twisted up at the horrible taste, but he didn't ask for anything to wash the taste from his mouth. He knew Inoichi would never give it to him. Liquid would dilute the medicine and make it take longer to work, or keep it from working like it should. It also brought on the need to vomit sooner, before the medicine really got into the system.

With a sigh, Shikaku rested his head on Inoichi's shoulder, closing his eyes.

Inoichi stroke his hand through Shikaku's hair, letting him rest there a moment before he sat him up. "I'm going to put a pail by your bed then let you lay back down. You can take a nap while I fix you some soup. You need something in your stomach, even if it doesn't get to stay there."

Shikaku made a small noncommittal sound and rested the back of his head on the counter behind him, eyes still closed. He listened as Inoichi stood and left the room then returned a few minutes later to help him to his feet. The trip back to the bed wasn't quite as hard or long as the one from it, but Shikaku still felt sore and tired as he sank down onto it. He felt Inoichi rest a hand on his forehead before the other man quietly left the room.

He tried to rest, but as he felt himself starting to doze, he felt his stomach start to roll. With a little effort, he rolled onto his side and reached for the pail by the bed. Just in time, he had it beneath him as he again expelled the contents of his stomach. This time, the burn of the acid was joined by the horrible taste of the medicine, which was intensified by the alcohol it was drawing from his body.

Before the end of the day, he'd thrown up more times than he could remember, and he was tired. The pain of the hang over was gone, but the soreness caused by heaving into the pail had sat in. No matter how many times he tried to get some rest, his body seemed to rebel just before he could fall asleep, and he had to grab the pail again.

Inoichi had checked on him several times, but seeing the state he was in, knew it was hopeless to try to feed him. He did re-administer the medication at one point, despite Shikaku knocking one cup of it out of his hands with a glare. In a way, it was nice to see emotion on his friend's face. The pain and sickness always gave way to irritable Shikaku, and it was a sign that things may be getting better.

After many long hours of retching, Shikaku finally fell into an exhausted yet fitful sleep. He tossed and turned, tortured by dreams of his wife, his son, his friends, even the deer. All of them angry with him, turning away from him, leaving him. He reached for them, begged them to stay, crying as they kept moving away from him. In the darkness of his dream, he gave up hope, knowing he'd always be alone.

Until he felt someone grab his hand and pull him into a warm, solid embrace. Words were murmured in his ear but he could not see who held him, could not understand the words or tell who was speaking to him. He decided it didn't matter. Someone was there for him, with him. In that embrace, with those words soothing him, he rested. Whoever held him kept his dreams at bay.

Inoichi had, at first, not known what was causing Shikaku's sudden anguished cries. He had quickly made his way to the bedroom, finding his friend reaching out above himself, begging someone not to go. Initial-ly, he assumed he was calling out to Yoshino, but as he moved to the bed, he heard several names passed the other's lips. The only thing he could think to do was grab Shikaku's hand and pull him back into his arms, assure him everything was going to be alright.

Hours passed, and Inoichi couldn't keep from dozing off as he held onto Shikaku, keeping the shadow nin's nightmares at bay. It was a soft snore from the black-haired man that roused the blond, and looking at the relaxed, calm expression on Shikaku's face, Inoichi felt safe to leave him to sleep on his own. He would have to wake him and give him and make him eat in the morning, then give him the foul smelling medication again shortly after.

As he saw it, the first hurdle was behind them, and while some of the next might be much higher, there was no turning back. He would get Shikaku through this, no matter what he had to do.

(o)()(o)

The first few days were the hardest, and after a week, Inoichi could see the light at the end of the tunnel. While Shikaku did not go into withdrawal as Inoichi had expected him to; having no shakes, hallucinations, or other common symptoms; he had still been stubborn, grouchy, and all around hard to deal with. Bouts of depression still came and went, making the Nara wish for a drink in place of his missing wife, but Inoichi steadfastly denied him a drop of alcohol.

The two men argued, and Inoichi imaged that Shikaku was trying to drive him away just so he could have what he wanted, much as he'd done to Shikamaru, even if he wasn't aware of his own motives, or just what he was doing.

As one week turned into two, the depression and the fights occurred less and less. Shikamaru was finally talked into coming to visit his father at the beginning of the third week, though it had taken going through certain channels to get him to give in. That Shikamaru loved his father was never in question, and they couldn't blame him for not wanting to see his old man yet. But, when Inoichi had tried and failed, as had Ino and Chouji, it had taken Rokudaime himself to get Shikamaru at his father's door. That Rokudaime had to accompany him was not mentioned.

As the third week passed, Inoichi felt it was time to go home and begin seeing to his own life again. The house had been cleaned and habitable for weeks, and Shikaku was back on his feet again. He was even scheduled to train with his son, as well as Inoichi and Choza, within the following week. Once he was back in shape, which no one figured would take very long, he would begin missions again, as well as helping to tend the deer and forest.

Shikaku had been very proud of how well Shikamaru had taken care of things, alone, and the two had hugged over the fact, Shikaku resembling Gai with the display, as Shikamaru was quick to point out.

With his friends and sons watching over him, Inoichi saw no reason that Shikaku needed a babysitter any longer. Yet, it was still four more weeks before he got around to going home. Shikaku was scheduled for his first mission in nearly half a year, and it seemed like the best time to go.

(o)()(o)

Shikaku watched as Inoichi packed the few things he had required while staying at the Nara home. He didn't want to admit it, but deep in his gut, he felt like Inoichi leaving was very wrong. Like a part of him was leaving, and he knew that wasn't quite rational. It wasn't like Inoichi was leaving forever, or that he'd be very far away. He told himself that it was just because he didn't want to lose anyone else anytime soon, but deep down, he knew that wasn't exactly it.

As he watched his friend get ready to go back to his own home, he knew there was something Inoichi had to know. "She never replaced you, you know." He smiled as the blond dropped his weapons pouch on his toe.

Inoichi looked at Shikaku, eyes widened slightly. The simple statement had come out of the blue, and he wasn't sure what Shikaku was getting at by saying it. He looked at the other man, waiting if there was more to whatever he was trying to say.

Shikaku sighed softly to himself. "What I mean is that," he paused as he licked his lips, uncertain why this was so hard to say when it was the truth. "I never stopped loving you, even after I got married, had Shikamaru. Some part of me was still yours. They didn't take it."

Slowly, Inoichi nodded, understanding what he was saying, if not why he was saying it. "I understand. No one will ever replace her, either. Love's not replaceable. You just find more room to love someone new." He picked up his dropped pouch and moved to put it on. The only reason it was off was because he'd showered shortly before.

With silent steps, Shikaku walked over to the blond. "I don't know if I'll ever love anyone new, but you are right about one thing. You won't replace her."

The pouch slipped through suddenly lax fingers, sliding down Inoichi's leg to rest around his ankle and on the floor. He blinked at Shikaku dumbly at first, not quite sure if he was understanding what he said, and knowing he couldn't be understanding what the words meant. His tongue slipped out to wet his suddenly too dry lips, and he gasped as Shikaku leaned in and caught the agile muscle with his own.

As he pulled away, eyes only half open, Shikaku slid a hand into hair Inoichi had not got around to putting back up. "You won't replace her, like she didn't replace you," he said softly. "I need someone to love, Inoichi. I can't be alone. You had me once, years ago. I'm asking you, begging you, to have me again. Just let me love you."

Inoichi looked into Shikaku's dark eyes, reading the truth and intensity of the other man's words. "Are you sure you're ready?" He asked softly.

Shikaku seemed to consider this before he gave a small nod. "I'll never be any more ready, even if I wait another ten years. I'm as 'moved on' as I can be. I've accepted Yoshino's death. That's all I can do." A brief glimpse of pain flashed across his eyes, but it disappeared as Shikaku gave a faint smile.

With a small smile of his own, Inoichi leaned in and kissed Shikaku softly. "I suppose this was your way of telling me to stop packing?" He leaned further into the other man as Shikaku put arms around his waist and pulled them together.

Holding Inoichi to him, Shikaku shook his head. "No. We don't have to live together if you don't want to." He nuzzled into the blond hair hiding the long neck from his view, mouth seeking and finding the skin hidden under the golden curtain.

Inoichi shivered as the lips ghosted across his skin. They could worry about living arrangements later. Right now, he wanted something he'd not had in nearly 18 years, and someone he'd not had in over twenty. He leaned on Shikaku, moaning as lips, teeth, and tongue molested the pale skin of his neck. His legs felt like putty, and only the strong hands at his waist were keeping him upright.

Smirking, Shikaku dipped down and swept an arm under Inoichi's legs, picking the other man up and heading for his own bedroom. Feeling Inoichi chuckling against his chest, he looked down curiously. "What?" As far as he knew, he hadn't done anything funny.

Stifling a chuckle, Inoichi jerked his leg sharply and, a second later, his weapons pouch landed on his stomach. Shikaku shook his head and rolled his eyes, continuing the trip to his bedroom. Once there, he laid Inoichi on the bed, kissing him gently.He dropped the weapons pouch to the floor. Deftly, his fingers undid the zips and clasps holding Inoichi's clothes on.

As he exposed the skin, he sucked upon it, leaving a trail of rosy pink patches where his mouth had been. Every sensitive spot was worshiped thoroughly, drawing moans from his lover that sent a thrill down his spine, into his belly, and lower still. It had decades, but he remembered well the workings of Inoichi's body, the sounds he made when certain spots were assaulted just right.

Inoichi was incoherent as his upper body was bared and Shikaku licked and nipped at his navel. His hands clutched at the other man's hair, causing it to fall from the confines of its tie. He gripped it as Shikaku pulled at his pants, baring the rest of his body to dark, hungry eyes.

The blond bucked, letting out a sharp gasp, as Shikaku took the head of his firm erection into his mouth. Shikaku sucked gently, lovingly at Inoichi's cock. He had forgotten how different a man tasted than a woman, but it wasn't a bad difference. The musky flavor, salty and slightly bitter, could have been worse. He lave-d the entirety of Inoichi's long, pale cock with a loving relish.

As his mouth loved Inoichi, drew out mewl after mewl and moan after moan, he searched blindly for the weapons pouches he'd dropped with the blond's clothes. Honing oil wasn't the best lube in the world, but it would suffice. It wouldn't be the first time they'd used it, and it would give him an excuse to join Inoichi in a shower later, to make sure it was all gone.

With a careful, loving touch, his fingers began to stretch his lover, mouth continuing to love the now weeping cock in his mouth. He could hear Inoichi whimpering in need, feel the long, agile fingers in his hair tugging as the blond begged for more. So, he moved as quickly as he could to stretch his lover while still keeping his ministrations gentle.

Soon, he moved back, standing and looking down on the wanton display that was Inoichi. Flushed and panting softly, hair splayed out on the pillow, legs spread, turgid cock curving up against his stomach, Inoichi was one of the most erotic things he had ever seen. Unlike with Inoichi's clothes, he didn't take his time, ripping his own off quickly before moving to kneel between the blond's legs.

Their eyes met and Inoichi shivered at the raw need he saw in Shikaku's eyes. He didn't know if it was a need to claim him, or it was the need to simply love him, but it made his heart beat faster, his breath catch in his throat. Swallowing, he nodded that he was ready, pulling his legs up toward his sides more.

He moaned in pleasure and pain as the head of Shikaku's thick cock stretched him further. As much as he wanted to relish it, he wanted the burn to end, too. Wrapping his long legs around Shikaku's hips, he pulled him in further, quicker than the other man wanted to move in. He panted, looking up into the dark eyes of his lover, smirking at the small disgruntled look Shikaku gave him.

Shikaku finally chuckled, kissing Inoichi. "Always so impatient," he whispered in his ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth.

Inoichi's smirk widened. "Because you're always too slow." He bucked up against Shikaku, letting him know he wanted him to start moving.

Doing as his lover wanted, Shikaku set a loving pace. What they were doing wasn't about sex, it was about love, and he was going to make love to Inoichi, no matter how fast the other jounin wanted him to go.

Together, they moved closer and closer to orgasm, Inoichi begging for him to go faster, but Shikaku refused, keeping the pace slow and gentle. Each slide of his cock grazing gently along Inoichi's prostate had the blond whimpering and beginning all the harder, but still he did not give in.

Finally, Inoichi came, harder than he could remember doing in far too long, calling out Shikaku's name as though his lover were a god. Shikaku could take no more himself and came soon after, kissing Inoichi tenderly.

Smiling, Shikaku eased out of Inoichi and laid down beside him. "Next time, I'll let you set the pace." He laughed as Inoichi practically tackled him with a growl. "You're suppose to be worn out. I know I am," he teased.

Growling, Inoichi straddled Shikaku. "I'll show you worn out," he threatened before showing Shikaku that you didn't have to go slow to show someone how much you loved them. Passion spoke just as loud when hard and fast.