"You can't be serious."
"Don't laugh, Kankuro. I'm tired."
"So you're going to commit sister-assisted suicide?"
"She won't kill me. She'll thank me. Eventually."
"Don't hold your breath."
"You have to understand; I would never do this to her if everything hadn't lined up perfectly. It's what's best for Suna. More importantly, it's what's best for her."
"More importantly? Really?"
"I don't expect you to spread that particular opinion around. I trust you."
"She's going to accuse you of playing god."
"She'll say that you're treating her like a child."
"That's ridiculous. If she was a child, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Gaara...she's going to call you O-tousan."
"...I'm expecting that."
"You know, your self-assurance is starting to make me angry, and I'm not even your sacrificial goat."
"I'm sorry. You're free to be excused at your discretion."
"I think I'll take you up on that. But good luck. She's going to attack you. She may go for the balls."
"Thanks for the warning."
"As if you needed it."
O O O
Shikamaru dragged through the front door, kicking off his sandals and leaving them in the hall. Classes were over and it was three o'clock, his official, after-work nap time. And he needed it. The younger kids had been completely out-of-control; they'd given him a headache sometime around eleven and hadn't let up since. He couldn't really blame them. They always got this way in the spring: too much energy, and way too loud. They needed to be outdoors, not cooped up in a too-small, jury-rigged classroom learning facts and figures that they'd probably never use. He needed to be outdoors. And he would be. Right after his nap.
That was the plan, anyway. He trudged up the stairs, feeling his brain reverberate painfully within his skull with each step. (Sixteen in all.) Then he went down the hall, into the room he shared with Chouji, shed his vest, and his shirt too, why not. Then he lay face down on his bed. He exhaled slowly, thoroughly, letting his body deflate and sink into the mattress. He was hot, tired, and a little bit brain damaged. This nap was going to be amazing.
There was a knock on the door. He felt his eyes slowly crack open, already glued together with sweat and sleep. This was not happening. There could not be an interruption to his plans, at least not until he'd accomplished the nap part. A second knock and he deduced that it was Dad; Mom's knocks would have been louder, brusque, and probably punctuated by random orders and sounds of agitation. Chouji and Ino wouldn't have knocked at all, and their parents didn't usually have a reason to come upstairs. But Dad might, and the knocks were patient. Even bored.
He groaned and pressed his face into his pillow. Maybe he could suffocate himself. Would that work? Would that be a good enough excuse to ignore Dad right now? Not likely.
"Come in," he finally called into his pillow. He heard the door slide open, and the footsteps of his father on the wooden floor.
"You have a mission."
He rolled his head to the side, dragging his face across his pillow, until he could see Dad. He blinked. "I do?"
A solemn nod.
"Can it wait? Just an hour or two?"
Dad crossed his arms and stood by Shikamaru's bed, quiet for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was sober. "You need to have it completed before Tsunade's death."
Shikamaru turned and sat up in bed quickly, ignoring the stab of pain behind his right eye. The way Dad talked...it sounded as if Tsunade's time was a lot shorter then had been predicted. They had initially said that she had weeks left.
"Is she really that bad?"
Dad's eyes were unfocused, staring off into some space that Shikamaru wasn't privy to. He finally nodded slightly, his voice softer than normal, as if he was existing in both planes at once. "Yes. She only has a few days left. We'll be lucky if she lives a week, but three or four days is what they're predicting, now. And since your mission requires reporting to the Kazekage, you have to hurry."
"That's my mission? Reporting to Gaara?"
"I said that your mission requires reporting to him."
"Will he be giving me the rest of it?"
Shikamaru's head was spinning. Three or four days. A sudden trip to Suna. The Kazekage. Headache. No nap.
"Weren't you just in Suna?"
"I was," Dad said. He was staring out the window, now, clearly distracted.
"Is my mission related to yours?"
Dad looked at him, giving him his full attention for the first time since he'd walked into the room. His tone left no room for argument. "I'd suggest you start packing, Shikamaru. Time is short."
A/N: So...yeah. I had to do it. I've been sitting on this fic for months, and it begged to be published. It was based on a premise that I thought, at the time, to be completely ridiculous, but now it seems more more likely. Or, not likely, so much as plausible. Imaginable. Upcoming manga events may render it AU, but I'm sticking with the idea. I just like it. The plot's been done a thousand times, but never by me. :)
Most chapters will open with a bit of untagged dialogue. Thanks for reading, and please leave me a review and let me know what you think so far! :D
[This fic has been revised for formatting and minor changes on 11/24/10.]
Update for new readers, 11/24: When I first started publishing this fic, almost a year and a half ago, it ran parallel to the then-current storyline. It has since diverged from the plot of the manga, as Kishimoto went one way, and I went another. But I've tried to keep things as in-line with canon as possible, and I think you'll still enjoy it. Let me know!