Notes: A thanks to IHaveARandomLifeXD for the review. To answer your question/request: there are many reasons for the M rating for this story. ^^

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if it will be in this 'book' or the next. If anyone is curious as to why I'm pumping out chapters so quickly, it's because I already had the basic ideas and lay out done before I started writing. The only thing I've had to work on is refining those ideas and making the transition between them smooth. The first book is effectively done because of it and I have a lot ideas for the second. You never know though.

By the way, how's the pacing so far? I know I've been intertwining action with romance and I really hope that's being done smoothly. Also, have you noticed any typos or awkward phrasing? A lot of my time is devoted to proof reading so I hope I'm catching them all. :)

Anyway, enjoy and review please!


Chapter 6: Journey's Start

Shikamaru paced quietly in his room, a torrent of thoughts flooding his mind. Two days had passed and it had done so quickly. It was funny how time did that, speeding up and slowing down as it pleased and always relative to the situation. He had spent those days planning, and re-planning. It had hit him so unexpectedly, it threatened to knock him away like a physical blow: he would be leading his friends on a real mission. There would be real casualties, no doubt on both sides. He would be responsible for their lives. The very thought of it intimidated him and a very different kind of anxiety weighed down upon him again. Was this what it was like to lead?

He looked at his alarm clock which sat next to the window. "5:36 AM." He had to squint to see it. It was still dark outside but night was quickly fading as he could see the sun slowly begin to poke shyly over the horizon. "The sunrise," he idly thought. Had it been two days already? He couldn't help but repeat this over and over again.

He considered sleeping, or what little time remained, but he thought better of it. They would be gone in less than two hours and he realized he didn't feel tired anyway. He felt like adrenaline was being constantly poured in to his body and it was the reason he was pacing mindlessly in his room. He couldn't sit still. It pained him to do so even. It annoyed him that he still yawned.

He was already packed and ready to go immediately. He normally packed light but he decided to bring a few extra things just in case. He needed to be prepared but that was another problem all together. How did one prepare for the unexpected? If it hadn't been for Temari, he was sure he would have gone insane by now. "From my lazy and carefree life to this..." he mused. He knew he had embraced it himself, and he couldn't complain. He didn't really mean it, but it was certainly challenging for him. It was... different.

Then, there was Temari. He had worked hard to prepare for the mission, but he wasn't used to the stress of it all. He needed a breather and during the nights, he and Temari would go out for dinner, and just talk. That 'talk' would eventually evolve into something more, but it was pleasant all the same. By the end of the night, they'd be back at home, and getting ready for bed. They would kiss a final time before retiring for the night and it warmed his soul. But, before he knew it, it was day again and oddly, he felt cold.

As if things couldn't become more hectic, word had finally gotten out about the two of them and there was a fairly substantial buzz. Shikamaru never liked being with a girl, and it was naturally assumed he would die a bachelor, probably a virgin despite being pretty handsome. Now, it almost seemed certain he would be form a union with a beloved. His parents were ecstatic. They had worried for the longest time about their son and whether he would produce an heir to the Nara clan. Their worries had greatly eased with the introduction of Temari.

He had blushed at the thought. He loved Temari but they had only been together for two days. He needed time with her. He was a patient man. Marriage could be a topic for later, much later. And after this god forsaken mission.

He looked at the clock again. "6:22 AM." He sighed almost as if he was relieved. He hauled his bag over his back and quietly shuffled to the kitchen to grab a quick bite. He didn't feel like eating. In fact, he felt like throwing up, but he knew he needed the energy and it would be pointless not to. He could hear the shower as he passed by the bathroom and he could hear movement in the guest rooms. "Looks like the Sand Ninjas are up," he absent-mindedly thought.

It was gradually becoming brighter outside and he entered the kitchen without turning the light on. No one appeared to be downstairs yet. He grabbed two slices of bread and popped them in to the toaster. He yawned as he grabbed the butter out of the fridge. It wasn't much, but at least he was eating.

Shikamaru yawned again and heard someone scuffle down the stairs. He turned his head, but realized his neck was stiff. He turned his whole body toward the stairs instead. It was Temari. She was fully dressed, and packed. Shikamaru grinned lazily as he raised a hand in a welcoming gesture.

"Morning."

"Morning to you to," she smirked.

"Hungry?"

"Very." Temari suppressed a yawn as she dropped her bag and fan beside the door. "What have you got?"

"Not much," admitted Shikamaru. "I'm just making some toast. That okay?"

"Sure."

"Here, you can have these first." Shikamaru passed the recently buttered toast over to her as he grabbed another couple of slices of bread.

"Aren't you a gentleman?" teased Temari. "Thanks."

"No problem." Shikamaru opened the fridge again to grab the milk. As he poured it into three glasses, he looked up at Temari. "Your brother almost ready?"

"Yeah, he's just checking up on Karasu." Temari rolled her eyes. "He spends more time on it than I do on myself."

"Hey, I heard that!" Kankuro was already at the foot of the stairs as he also dumped his pack and puppet next to the door. Shikamaru chuckled.

"You can just shut up." Shikamaru ignored the comment and offered Kankuro some toast.

"Toast?"

Kankuro grabbed the plate without a word.

"What, no manners?" Shikamaru knew he was pushing it, but he was feeling particularly cruel toward Kankuro for his comments two days ago.

"You fucking bastard..."

Temari blocked out the conversation. She was still tired and she unintentionally recalled the last two days she spent with Shikamaru. She was still astonished and felt it had been nothing but an amazing dream. It seemed so odd that two people like themselves could connect on such a level. He hated girls, she thought guys were a waste of time, yet here they were, inflicted by affection. She could still remember, bitterly, growing up without anyone to really show her they cared. Shikamaru did care and it was an overwhelming emotion to comprehend for her. It was as if the years she had lost to the sands were taken back. She wasn't just grateful to Shikamaru, she loved him. As sappy as that sounded to her, she couldn't deny the truth. They had only spent two days together, but they were the happiest two days she could remember. When they got back from the mission, she had some interesting ideas for the two them. She grinned at the thought. She noticed that Shikamaru had been looking at her the whole time, smiling. She had long grown to love that smile.

Kankuro noticed the two of them gazing at each other and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He decided to end the moment and cleared his throat loudly. They both blinked rapidly as if they had just been broken out of a trance. They both glared at him and he wilted. "Maybe that wasn't such a great idea..."

"Morning Shikamaru." A bleary eyed Shikaku appeared from the study. His hair was ruffled, and it appeared if he hadn't slept.

"Dad, what were you doing in there?"

"Paper work. Damn bureau is in over drive with your mission. They wanted to me to get you these..." Shikaku pulled out a small but fairly thick manila folder. "Every person who was connected to my assassinations in Kasai Bara is in there. Photo IDs, affiliations, and current known location and status." Shikaku hesitated and looked uneasily at Shikamaru. Shikamaru also grew troubled. His dad never got worried.

"What is it dad?"

"I've been also told to advise you that if any of those people in that folder jeopardize your scouting mission, you've been granted permission to kill on sight."

Shikamaru gaped at his dad. He knew he'd have to get his hands dirty, but this was akin to taking a sledgehammer to a surgical operation. No worse. More like taking a tree saw.

"Furthermore, the council has requested that you observe the members of Kuroi Bara along with their contacts. Kill if need be." Shikaku exhaled. The burden of telling his son to kill was heavy. Although he understood that there would come a time when killing was necessary, the council asked too much of his son.

"Holy shit... I thought this was a scouting mission?" inquired Kankuro.

"It technically is, but the council decided to add these orders in last minute. They want a 'clean slate'," replied Shikaku with a resigned voice.

"Don't worry Shikamaru, we got you covered." Temari gave Shikamaru an earnest look and he returned a look filled with appreciation.

Suddenly, he noticed something was wrong. "Um, dad. Where's mom?"

"She's upstairs. Give her a hug before you go. She's a wreck."

"She heard about the new orders huh?"

"Unfortunately. Now hurry. You should have left for the gate five minutes ago."

Shikamaru jumped up the stairs. When he was out of sight, Shikaku looked at the two Sand Ninjas, and in particular, Temari. "Take care of him... please."

"Of course," said Temari confidently.

"Thanks." He trudged back to the study. He would need a cup of strong sake.


"Mom?" Shikamaru called out tentatively.

"Shikamaru...?"

Shikamaru entered his parent's bedroom and he found her still lying in bed. He looked at his mom's face and he could tell she had been crying. He suddenly wanted to give her a hug but he waited, almost as if he wanted to be on the side of caution. His mom never showed weakness, especially like this. He only now appreciated how much she did care and how hard it must have been to bottle up those emotions all this time.

He bent down and finally gave her a hug anyway.

"Mom, I'll be fine. Stop worrying and get back to your normal self. You're scaring me."

"Shikamaru... don't you dare get killed," scolded Yoshino.

"Ah better. Don't worry mom. If I get killed, Temari will kill me first. You'll only get the left over bits." It was a weak joke but Shikamaru's mom chuckled. She stopped abruptly and eyed him, her eyes were bloodshot.

"Please come back."

Shikamaru hugged her again as if to assure her. "I will."

He walked back to the door and paused before it. He turned his face partially to her.

"Bye mom," he whispered. She looked up but he had gone.


"You're late," Janus pointed out.

"Yeah, sorry. Family stuff," said Shikamaru apologetically.

The features softened on Janus' face. "Ah, I see. Ino and Choji are beyond the gate now."

Shikamaru nodded and continued walking and as he passed Janus, he heard him speak warmly as if he were his dad.

"Be careful Shikamaru. The enemy is numerous and dangerous." He placed his hand on Shikamaru's shoulder. "Return with everyone alive."

He hated repeating himself but he felt it was necessary to say it. "I will."

"Good lad." Janus let go of his shoulder and simply watched them pass beyond the north gate. Shikamaru shuddered as he passed the threshold. It was a silly thought but he felt as if he had just left the last and only haven irrevocably. Maybe it was just his nerves acting up again.

"Shikamaru!" greeted Ino.

Shikamaru raised his hand in return. "We ready to go?"

"Yeah. What's the path fearless Chuunin?" Choji was in a good mood this morning. Shikamaru winced inwardly. He hadn't informed them of the new orders yet.

"We'll stick to the main road for a little while."

The sun had finally peaked over the horizon, bathing the world in light. It was a morning no different from the one two days ago. It was one full of promise, but as the group moved along the well travelled road, two shadows followed them unnoticed just within the tree line. As the north gates of Konoha closed with a resonating thud, one of the shadowy figures ran ahead with the other carefully watching the quintet. The trap had been set.


So ends Chapter 6 of The Fallen Leaf!