That was all Shikamaru could feel, hear or think. The nerves of his body coursed with the feeling of utter hurt and aching, spreading rapidly from one end of him to the other. Pain encasing him in his own world of utter darkness and blurred noises.

His whole body ached constantly as his blood poured freely out of his body, desperate to congeal and heal the wounds which lacerated him vigorously. It was a futile endeavour, his groggy, numb brain told him. There was too much blood. Too many wounds. Too little time.

The overwhelming soreness was broken sporadically by his body being thrown about from time to time. Shikamaru couldn't see through his closing and blind-prone eyes, but he guessed it was from his teammates hoisting him up higher onto their shoulders.

It did little to help. The pain still spread. The blood still flowed. And it kept getting darker.

Even though through eyes that were desperate to be open, he could still make out the sun pouring out of the bright blue sky, the clouds dotted pleasantly over the vastness both soothing and comforting him. It was a nice last sight to see.

Shikamaru's eyes gave in to the darkness and shut for the last time.

He was still conscious. He thought of many things.

Had he hugged the boy goodbye? Had he promised the girl to come home safe?

Had he told his wife he loved her?

A pair of blue teal wonders flashed across his mind's eye before he threw himself into the arms of eternity for good.

His eyes opened slowly, not focused. Not aware. They struggled to make out two small figures, both of whom were on top of him- somehow.

They were moving. Rapidly and vigorously- their movements blurred by his bodies refusal to accommodate.

He could make out voices- high pitched and loud- but nothing they were saying was coherent. It was distant. In the back of his head, almost.

He blinked.

He swallowed.

"Tousan? Tousan, can you hear me? Kaasan, why can't Tousan hear me? Toooouuuuusssaaaaannnn?"

"Asuma, stop it. He's still sleeping.

"No, he's not! Look his eyes are open and everything. Toooouuuuusssaaaaannnn!"

"Stop shoving him! Okaasan! Tell him to stop shoving Otousan!"

Coughing a little, Shikamaru felt a small wry smile grace his lips. His son kept shoving on his chest, which although it smarted, didn't hurt as much as it would have if he had touched his stomach.

"Otousan? Okaasan, come here! He's trying to speak!"

"Hey," was all he said- his voice sounding strained and foreign.

"I told you he could hear us!"

"Asuma, be quiet! Otousan's not well and it's no good you shouting all the time like this!"

"It's alright," he croaked again, patting his son on the shoulder. Coughing once more he attempted to clear his throat- to no avail.

Asuma proceeded to stick his tongue out at his older sister, before lying down on the bed beside his father.

"Are you better now, Tousan?" he asked precociously, as Shikamaru felt him pull at his hair.

He nodded as much as was possible without straining his neck too far. All of his muscles ached, but none so much as his neck. Probably from when he had been thrown into a tree and his head had whacked off of the bark.

Miu beamed, before mimicking her brother and lying down on the other side of Shikamaru.

"Hatsu-chan owes me a Seiōbo, she told me you weren't coming back!" Miu stated confidently with distaste, now picking at his face as she was prone to do. His two children both had an unnatural obsession with perfecting him. Probably from their mother.

"She'll never give it to you!" Asuma replied, sitting up to get a better look at his sister. "She'd have to ask Hyuuga-san to make it and she won't do it!"

Shikamaru chuckled a little thinking of Hatsu Hyuuga, the feisty eleven year old child of Neji and Tenten. Being the oldest child of the new generation she generally held court over the rest of them, telling them everything and anything they wanted to know-regardless of whether it were true or not. The girl was the shining light in the eyes of Neji- who had resigned from active shinobi duty just so he could stay at home and train her. Consequently, the child was unnaturally powerful for her age- but being an only child, she was still slightly immature and spoilt, needing only to look at her father to get anything she wanted.

It had been quite the Konoha scandal whenever Tenten had fallen pregnant at the age of nineteen, however regardless of how close the two may have seemed, it had taken everyone quite a while to figure out that Neji was the father. Yet, despite Hiashi-sama's insistence, Neji refused to marry his pregnant girlfriend- not, as he had once related to Shikamaru out of lack of feeling for her- but because he didn't want to tell his child that the reason he married their mother was due to social pressure. In the end, Neji and Tenten had never gotten married. No one really seemed to mind anymore, but in Shikamaru's view- seeing as they had a house and a kid they may as well have been married. Really, he viewed Neji as lucky for never having to go through the whole rigmarole of a wedding. A fate few men in Konoha escaped, himself included.

Shikamaru had wondered though why the couple didn't have more children, considering how long they had been together. He had asked Neji once and had been rebutted with the answer that why did they need another child when they already had the perfect one. Shikamaru didn't wonder anymore after that.

His children continued to bicker over Miu's bet winnings, as Shikamaru turned his head to see the rest of the room. He winced as his eyes looked over the table at the bottom of his hospital bed, two crayon laden home-made cards, no doubt from Miu and Asuma, standing alongside flowers- most likely from Ino and Choji, and a shougi board. Shikamaru sighed as he saw the board. It was from his father, which most likely meant that would be spending a few days in here.

As he began to wonder how many days he'd been in here, he painfully manoeuvred his head to the left, eyes fading a little in strain, yet he could still make out his wife. She was sitting in a hospital chair, parallel to his bed, but very far away from him. She wasn't looking at him, but straight ahead to the wall, her slight fringe masking his view of her eyes.

He hated to do this to her, but what choice did he have?

He had made a promise- a promise to his son's namesake to protect his land and its peoples. How could he break that promise?

With a quick glance in his way, before hurriedly looking the other way, Temari rose from her seat and exited the room, ignoring her children's calls asking where she was going.

Suddenly the room went quiet, Shikamaru's eyes still trained on the door, wondering if she would come back in.

He wanted to see her. Remind himself of what he had almost lost. How lucky he was to be alive and with his wife and children

"Kaasan was crying," Asuma said quietly from his right, as Shikamaru sighed. "We had to stay with Obaasan because she wouldn't leave," his son continued bleakly, looking down at his lap and playing with the strands of his playsuit.

Straining himself, Shikamaru forced his body to sit up in order to put his arm around his children. Pulling Asuma onto his lap with some effort, Shikamaru held the four year old close to his body, giving him a quick kiss to the head.

Not one to be left out, Miu pulled her father's arms around her as well, snuggling up to him in a manner that made Shikamaru wonder why he ever left home.

Kissing her on the head as well, Shikamaru realised that the bed was only missing one person. "How long was I out for?" he queried lightly, murmuring into Miu's hair, raven like his own.

His children were saved the trouble of answering when the door swung open and Sakura marched into the room dressed in full nurse's attire, followed shortly by Temari- her pretty face still ashen and filled with apprehension.

"Four days," Sakura answered briskly, bustling around him as Miu and Asuma hopped down off of the bed to stand beside their mother, clutching at her beryl kimono. "It was touch and go there for a while," she went on, checking the monitor beside his bed and adjusting the dials slightly.

Temari made a low coughing sound, before moving over to the chair that she had occupied before and pulling Asuma onto her lap. Shikamaru looked on fondly as Asuma fussed whilst Temari tried to feed him some grapes that she had pulled out of her bag.

"Asuma," his wife stated warningly. "Eat."

The blonde haired child pouted adorably, before chewing graciously on the grapes which Temari continued to pop into his mouth.

Sakura who had been standing still for a moment watching the scene with a smile on her face, suddenly snapped to life as Miu tugged gently on the side of her dress.

"Yes, Miu-chan?"

"Sakura-san, can I help?" Miu asked quietly, as Shikamaru recalled the past times that he had been in here and Miu had been obsessed with helping at the nurse's desk.

Sakura smiled brightly, before taking Miu by the hand. "Of course you can, Miu-chan! If it's alright with Temari-san."

Miu looked at her mother with pleading eyes.

"Not for too long, Miu," Temari answered briefly, letting Asuma off of her lap, but pulling out a comb much to his son's dismay. "We're leaving in fifteen minutes."

"Arigatou, Okaasan," Miu said happily, running to kiss her mother on the check before following Sakura out of the room.

It was silent again, as Temari combed through a disgruntled Asuma's hair.

Shikamaru allowed himself to lie down again, his muscles now aching at an uncomfortable rate once more.

"You're leaving?" he asked quietly, closing his eyes gently to the sounds that the comb made running through the hair.

"You're awake," Temari answered plainly. "We have to get dinner."

Feeling himself frown, Shikamaru wondered the usefulness of asking his wife to stay. Of letting the kids go home with his mother, who would no doubt arrive soon.

"What's for dinner, Kaasan?" Asuma questioned, positioning himself onto his mother's thighs again, and lying into her, before yawning briefly.

"We'll see what's in the house," Temari replied quietly, sounding thoughtful, giving Asuma a small kiss on the head. "Tired?"

"No," Asuma answered, sounding very much like he was about the fall asleep.

Shikamaru knew that his wife was waiting for his mother to arrive before she left. Whatever she may want to say, he knew that she didn't want to leave him alone just after waking up.

"So, you're finally awake," came a haughty voice from the door as Shikamaru wondered why Asato hadn't arrived earlier.

Asato was the child of Kurenai and Asuma- Shikamaru's genin student and now at the surly age of fourteen, his highest critic. The boy- for being the child of Asuma and Kurenai- looked astoundingly like an Uchiha with his red eyes and black hair. Shikamaru had often heard Naruto comment on how much the boy looked like Sasuke himself- back in the old days that was. As expected from his position in Kurenai's life when Asuma had passed away, Shikamaru had practically ended up becoming a father to the boy but it had all ended when Asato had entered shinobi training and landed Shikamaru as his sensei- he didn't want to be treated differently than the rest of the team- so Shikamaru laid off on the fatherly stuff for a while. He still cared immensely for the boy but he just didn't show it as much...unless they were on a mission. If his three students were in trouble....there was just nothing Shikamaru could do to stop himself- he had to save Asato. The teenager generally didn't speak to him for weeks every time after it happened, but he usually came around- generally after a good tongue-lashing by his mother.

"Asato-san!" Asuma yelled happily, running to his favourite person, as the boy picked up his son and swung him around jovially.

"Sensei likes to sleep a lot, doesn't he Asuma-kun?" Asato said pointedly, raising his eyebrows at Shikamaru who rolled his eyes in response.

"Tousan's awake now, Asato-san," Asuma said happily as Asato set him down, before taking a seat opposite the bed, nodding slightly towards Temari. "Nara-san," he said, smiling lightly.

"How many times have I told you to call me Temari, Asato-kun?" Temari replied, sounding bored, but Shikamaru knew that she was merely feigning. She would have hated to appear worried about him- especially in front of a teenager.

Asato coughed in apology, and Shikamaru smirked when he noticed a slight blush deigning his genin's cheek. Shikamaru had always suspected that his young student had somewhat of a crush on his wife. The boy was generally as outspoken and sarcastic as his mother but around Temari he was polite and well-behaved, often offering to help her around the house and do errants for her. Shikamaru thought it was cute. Temari thought it was annoying.

"How are you feeling, Sensei?" Asato asked thoughtfully, standing up. Shikamaru was about to answer but was interrupted when his student's hip pouch clattered noisily to the floor, the kunai within scattering precariously across the floor.

Asato jumped quickly into action, kneeling down quickly to scramble the weapons back into his pouch.

"Oh for Kami's sake," Temari snapped irritably, striding over to him and grabbing the pouch out of his hands. "Haven't you learned how to attach these properly yet?" she queried aggressively in an obvious shot at Shikamaru. Kneeling down in front of Asato, Temari began to adjust the straps on the pouch in order to fit Asato's waist. As she reached around his waist to attach the pouch, Shikamaru chuckled seeing the boy blush more furiously than before, looking anywhere but Temari and having trouble deciding where to place his hands.

"I'm feeling fine, Asato-kun," Shikamaru remarked pointedly, grinning up at his student. "And you?"

Asato's eyes snapped back to Shikamaru in a mixture of frustration and embarrassment. He coughed and said nothing, moving back to his chair once Temari had risen and moved back to her own.

"Are you okay, Asato-san?" Asuma questioned obliviously, looking up at his idol who had gone mysteriously quiet.

"Eh, I'm fine, Asuma-kun," Asato replied uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his head.

"Your mother said you're staying with us tonight, Asato-kun?" Temari questioned absentmindedly, gesturing for Asuma to come over to her but the boy was too preoccupied.

"You're staying with us, Asato-san?!?" Asuma screeched, going red in the face from excitement and tugging on the pant leg of Asato's trousers.

Shikamaru suppressed another laugh at Asato's stressed countenance. As a young child he had always stayed over with Temari and himself whenever Kurenai had been called away on missions or just needed a break. The trend had continued into the young boy's teens and the result was that Asato was now facing a night alone in the house with Temari. An occurrence that had happened before, but possibly not when the teenager had been quite so...enamoured.

"Eh....yes, Asuma-kun. Kaasan's spending the night with Hinata-san," he said uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his head in a manner that Shikamaru was often prone to do.

"Very well," Temari said sounding official, "Asuma, you'll sleep in with me tonight, ne?"

The boy protested loudly.

"No, Kaasan!!!! Asato-san has to stay in my room with me," he said excitedly, running over to his mother to plead.

Temari looked faintly amused. Pulling him on to her lap, she gave his hair a quick ruffle.

"Alright," she replied graciously, "but no messing around," Temari went on, suddenly in protective mother mode. "If I see any shuriken you're both in trouble."

In a gesture that Shikamaru found to be endlessly cute, Asuma rolled his eyes- since when had he been able to do that?- and nodded looking exasperated. Asato on the other hand nodded vigorously and gave Temari a quick angelic smile to which she smiled back lightly, resulting in another blush from his genin student.

"Are Sachi-san and Haruo-san coming to see Tousan as well?" Asuma questioned, breaking the silence by enquiring about the rest of Shikamaru's genin squad.

Asato looked thoughtful for a moment before checking his watch.

"They were here earlier," Asato replied nonchalantly, "so they probably won't be back until tomorrow," he went on, addressing Shikamaru, who was quite glad that the other two wouldn't be here to see him in this state.

There was a bustling outside of the room and a loud voice, forcing Shikamaru to brace himself.

"Your mother," Temari said matter-of-factly, not looking at him before making to exit the room. "Say goodbye to your father, Asuma whilst I go and get Miu," she finished; shutting the door effectively before Shikamaru even got to say a word.

Asuma pushed himself up precariously to the bed, scrambling all over Shikamaru before placing his chubby arms around his neck in a hug.

"Bai bai, Tousan," Asuma said quietly, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, before scrambling down off of the bed again.

"I'm coming with you, Asuma-kun," Asato said quickly, giving Shikamaru a quick nod. "I'll be back again tomorrow, Sensei."

Shikamaru nodded in response, as they both left the room. As he waited for his mother to enter the room he wondered if Temari was going to come back at all.

How long had it been since the last time this had happened? Two, maybe three months?

He wouldn't blame her if she didn't visit again- it was draining, having to watch the person you loved at death's door.

But, as she often reminded him on so many occasions- when did he have to do that? She was never stupid enough to go and get herself nearly killed.

Shikamaru tried not to hiss in pain, as Choji and his father trundled down towards his house, their shoulders supporting his own.

Fortunately, he was no longer critical enough to warrant further stay in the hospital- but unfortunately, his muscles- most notably his neck- had still not recovered, meaning that his best friend and his father were left to carry him down the street to his bed. A place where Shikamaru longed to be.

He gritted his teeth in pain, as Choji hoisted him up further onto his shoulders.

"Sumimasen," his friend responded, sounding thoroughly out of the breath. Shikamaru would have felt sorry for him if it weren't for how much pain he was in right now. He was honestly tempted to just tell them to leave him in the road. He'd sleep there fine.

"Nearly there," Shikaku stated in a strained voice, as Shikamaru smiled weakly to see the sight of his house coming into view.

As they got closer, Shikamaru saw Temari standing on the front porch, hands on her hips looking exasperated.

"Domo," she said tiredly, to Shikaku and Choji, pushing the door open further for them to get through.

"Bed or couch?" Shikaku asked when they reached the stairs, questioning where to put his son to lie down.

"Couch," Shikamaru practically whimpered, the muscles in his lower back now starting to strain so badly that he would have been happy to be put in the bathtub.

Temari stopped them as his supporters made their way over to the sofa.

"Bed," she said firmly, giving Shikamaru a look which meant that there was to be no argument.

Shikaku coughed lightly.

"Alright," he said delicately, hoisting Shikamaru's arms up further onto his shoulders once more in preparation for the climb up the stairs.

Once they had reached the bedroom, Shikamaru groaned appreciatively at being laid on to the bed, sinking into the soft mattress with a quiet relief.

"I can take it from here," came Temari's voice, drifting in from the doorway, as Shikamaru felt his eyes close.

"I'll call round tomorrow, Shikamaru," his father said through Shikamaru's haze. "Let me know if you need anything," he added, although Shikamaru was sure that the sentiment was addressed to Temari.

Creaking open his eyes, he saw Choji coming closer. "Feel better soon. We've got that S class in two months, remember" he said a little tactlessly, before patting Shikamaru on the shoulder and trudging out of the room.

Hearing Temari sigh as she shut the door, Shikamaru attempted to get his thoughts in order to say something....reassuring and productive to her. Not just the usual ramble. But he was struggling- his brain still desperate for sleep.

He watched her through half closed eyes as she moved gracefully over to the window, closing the curtains a little but still leaving some light drifting in. She made her way over to the bed, and sat down on the edge beside him, her hands making their way up his chest to the buttons on the shirt he wore- the one that the nurses had dressed him in.

Feeling his eyes close more, his nerves bristled in content as his wife's hands undid the buttons and pulled the shirt back from his torso. Expecting pain to come when she pulled the shirt from around his shoulders, Shikamaru opened his eyes when none came. Instead he found Temari to be staring down at his chest- her eyes fixated on the five or six heavy new scars that he now sported. She ran her fingers gently over each one, her expression indecipherable, her breathing heavy and strained.

"It's nothing..." he said quickly, as her eyes snapped up to his and he flinched to notice them brimming with tears.

She moved swiftly from the bed to the chest of drawers, pulling a drawer open and rooting through it roughly for his night clothes. He heard her sniff and clear her throat briskly, before moving back over to the bed- clothes in hand, still not looking at him. She pushed the shirt back from his shoulders and dragged it down his arms, her movements slowing and becoming gentler when she noticed that he was gritting his teeth in pain. Placing her soft skinned arms around his waist, she helped him to sit up in order to drag the night shirt down over his head. His muscles relaxed from the strain again when he was allowed to lie down once more.

Looking over Temari's strained and pallid face, Shikamaru wondered how many times they had been through this routine. How many more they would go through it again? His father and Choji helping him up to bed, Temari undressing and redressing him because he couldn't do it for himself...his children having to play by themselves because he was too weak to participate.

Whenever Temari had first became pregnant with Miu at twenty-seven, a planned pregnancy that had been more his idea than hers, she had been adamant about not giving up active duty. No matter how many times Yoshino and Kurenai and even Tenten told her that her feelings would change once the baby arrived, Temari was not to be swayed. Six months after Miu had been born, Temari left on her first mission since the pregnancy, lost three comrades and nearly had to be peeled of the tree that the rogue nin had flung her into. Two days after her recovery, she marched into Kakashi's office and handed him her resignation. The shock had been more than enough to alert her to just how much she was gambling, she had told him when Shikamaru had asked her why. Instead, Temari was now the Hokage's advisor- a position Kakashi had offered her straight away, feeling that perhaps a full resignation from duty was too much and a job that Naruto had persuaded her to keep on once he took over the office.

Shikamaru had a feeling that it was the perfect job for her. She got to keep Naruto in check, boss people about and schedule as many diplomatic visits to Suna as she wanted. Just over two years later when Asuma was born, Temari had told him that she didn't know how she had managed it the first time around- leaving Miu that was. It was all he could do to stop her from taking his son into the office with her. Being the family man that he was- Naruto, still only two kids in at the time and Hinata pregnant with another, had set up a childcare facility in the building- something that he and Temari had been endlessly grateful for. Now, with five sons of his own- all carbon copies of the Hokage himself, Shikamaru had a feeling that it was Naruto who was grateful for the facility.

Shikamaru was snapped back to the present as Temari began to pull off his trousers delicately, before folding them to put away. She stood up to exit but Shikamaru managed to grasp hold of her hand in an attempt to hold her back. The children were both still at school- he wanted his alone time with her. Yet she wriggled out of his weak hold.

"You need to sleep," she said quietly, before exiting the room and shutting the door with a resounding click.

It was another three days before Shikamaru was fully able to move around his house unaided. The days spent in bed had been endlessly mind numbing, despite his father's frequent shougi visits and Asato's smart remarks.

Temari never spent more than ten minutes in the room with him, coming in only to feed him and open and close the windows. She still hadn't looked at him either.

It was the first night that he had been able to eat at the dinner table when the argument finally came. Shikamaru had been expecting it. Just not in this way.

Asuma and Miu were both sound asleep in their rooms, and Temari and he had just finished off the dinner she had made for them that evening in silence. Deciding that he was going to have to force her to talk to him whether she wanted to or not, Shikamaru was pleasantly surprised when his wife broke the silence for him.

"I need you to sign this," she said quietly, but looking him in the eye for once, sliding a stapled document across the table to him, complete with pen.

He nodded slightly at her, feeling that although paperwork wasn't the most exciting thing they could have said to one another for their first talk in over a week, it was enough.

Looking down and scanning the documents title, he frowned a little before meeting his wife's gaze again.

"What is this?" he queried, flicking through the various pages that the staple held together.

"Extended insurance," Temari replied nonchalantly, taking another sip of her water and setting the glass down with a loud thump. Shikamaru could feel the tension already, and knew what was coming.

"Extended insurance?" He asked thoroughly puzzled. "We already have insurance through the village- all active and retired shinobi do," he went on, wondering if she had forgotten Konoha's policy of taking care of bereaved widows and orphaned children.

"I know," she said through a sigh. "That's why I said extended."

She was being flip.

He knew that meant she had reached her breaking point.

"Alright," Shikamaru said forcefully, looking at her through narrowed eyes. "Why do we need extended insurance?"

"I don't think the current policy covers us enough," Temari responded simply, leaning back in the chair to stretch.

"It covers every other shinobi family in Konoha well enough," Shikamaru replied, still puzzled and wondering how spending more money on extra insurance that they didn't need was going to help. Money was stretched thin enough as it was- especially with him being out of action for a few weeks. "It covers Naruto and his five kid's fine," he went on as if to illustrate his point.

"Naruto's not about to get himself killed is he?"

And there it was. He knew it was coming but for some reason tonight was just not the night that he was ready to deal with this.

He looked up at her and saw her teal eyes boring into his. As a teenager he had generally been so astounded by the sight of her eyes that he would have let her win any argument. Now, as an older, married man- he was less susceptible to his wife's charms. Not that they had lessened to any great extent, in fact he found himself more able to appreciate the beauty of Temari's features as an older man now, but he had also developed a number of tricks in order to circumvent her hold over him. Namely, looking away- which he proceeded to do.

"I don't want to do this now, Temari," he muttered quietly, hoping to avoid an argument by coming over as uninterested. But, as usual it failed to work.

"So when do you want to do this, Shikamaru?" Temari asked vehemently, her hands gripping the table. "When you're not here anymore, and I'm left to do this by myself?" she went on, gesturing to the house in general, and Shikamaru knew that this wasn't about insurance anymore.

"I'm not going anywhere, woman!" Shikamaru responded, sounding tense for the first time- but truth be told, he was. He hated talking about this- him dying and leaving his family behind. He just didn't understand why they had to force the issue. Couldn't they just be happy when they were together and leave the unknown to the future?

Temari rolled her eyes and gave a short derisive snort, a sound which Shikamaru found to be endlessly annoying.

"What?" he snapped a little too loudly, feeling his face flush from anger.

She gave him a fixed glare, a nasty sneer taking over her face.

"Not going anywhere?" she said through a sarcastic laugh. "Please, what is this? The third time in six months that you've almost died?"

"Still here aren't I?" he spat back, feeling his heart pounding against his chest. "It'd be nice if you could have a little more faith in me."

"Faith?!" Temari yelled incredulously. "This isn't about faith, Shikamaru- this is about you ignoring the issue!"

"Issue? Temari, the only issue I see here is you sulking because you don't want to admit that you were worried about me for once!" Shikamaru yelled back, equally mad and wanting to rile his wife up to the same levels of exasperation that he was currently reaching.

She breathed a laboured breath through her nostrils; pinching the bridge of her nose- her eyes squeezed shut. Shikamaru was genuinely surprised to see her eyes open again, once more brimming with tears.

"Sulking, Shikamaru?" she said quietly, the tears making their way slowly down her face, as she sniffed in a fruitless attempt to stop them. "No issue, is there? Alright, well then tell me what am I supposed to do whenever you're not here, and Miu doesn't want to be a shinobi?" she went on, her voice cracking. Shikamaru felt his stomach lurch in truthful realisation. "She shows no interest in it, you know," Temari added, looking down at her lap. "She's you. What am I supposed to do whenever she wants to go to civilian college and I can't afford it on one salary? Naruto's insurance plan doesn't cover education, does it?" she asked once more, giving him a small smile.

Shikamaru was about to answer, when he saw Temari's face change to recognition.

"Miu...what are you doing up?" she asked officially, wiping at her eyes as Shikamaru turned around to see his little girl standing on the stairs in her pyjamas, teddy bear trailed after her.

"You were yelling," Miu said looking scared. "Okaasan's crying," she went on, looking to Temari with a worry in her eyes which made Shikamaru want to shield her from everything that could ever hurt her.

Shikamaru felt a pang of guilt in his chest for yelling so loudly. It had been a while since he and Temari had had a fight like that.

"It's okay, Miu," he said in the calmest voice he could muster. "We were only having a conversation," he said making his way over to the figure on the stairs and picking her up in his arms. "Let's get you back to bed, eh?"

Miu nodded a sniff into his neck, her small arms winding around his shoulders.

Making his way up the stairs with her in his arm, Shikamaru heard Temari pottering around in the kitchen, putting the utensils away. Clinging onto his daughter a little tighter, Shikamaru felt the familiar realisation of purely being so tense because he had been away from his wife for so long. Unable to hold her and be with her....reminiscent of the days whenever they had been dating and she had still lived in Suna. Usually, when they met up after six months of being apart an argument ensued. Tonight was no different.

Pushing open the door into Miu's room, Shikamaru gave the girl a quick kiss on the head, before laying her down on the bed and proceeding to kneel down to tuck her in.

"Otousan?" Miu asked quietly, as he pushed the heavy covers down around her small form.


"I know a secret" Miu responded in a cheeky whisper, making Shikamaru look up to see a conspiratorial smirk on her face. She was so like Temari.

"Really?" he asked, exaggerating his interest, sitting down on the bed to tuck her teddy bear in with her.

"Yup," she said proudly, her little fingers coming up out of the bed to tug at his lose hair. "I heard Okaasan telling Obaasan," she went on, pulling a lot harder than he should have let her. "You want to know?" she said still whispering, yet sounding even more excited than before.

He smiled and nodded, thinking that it was probably something about what Temari was getting him for his birthday.

"Okaasan's going to have another baby," Miu whispered smiling up at him, as Shikamaru's arms went limp and he struggled to remain nonchalant.

He was torn between running downstairs and kissing his wife to within an inch of both their lives or to waiting for her to tell him herself.

This explained why she had been crying so much.

In the end he went for the latter.

"Really?" he probed, leaning back against the wall and stroking Miu's hair.

Miu nodded happily.

"Yup..." here her face faded to confusion. "But she was crying when she told Obaasan. She said you were going to leave her alone." Before Shikamaru was given a chance to respond, Miu rattled on determinedly. "I asked Hatsu-chan and she said that you'd leave if you didn't love Okaasan anymore and get a diborce," she said precociously, her face once more tainted with that worry that Shikamaru hated.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead.

"I'm not going anywhere and no one is getting a divorce," he replied, playing with her fingers now. "I love your mother very much," Shikamaru went on, thinking that Hatsu Hyuuga really needed to learn when to keep her mouth shut. "We just have a disagreement now and then. But all parents do...even the Hyuugas."

Miu's eyes widened in disbelief as Shikamaru smiled. Apparently the Hyuuga's were perfection in his daughter's eyes.

"So, you're not leaving?" she asked, sounding puzzled but altogether happier.

He shook his head.

"No, now get some sleep, musume," he added, giving her a pat on the head before exiting the room.

When Shikamaru left his daughter's room, he noticed that the house was in darkness. Temari must have cleaned up and went to bed. He entered his bedroom and found her to asleep already- well, he couldn't tell, her back was to him.

Resolving to sign the insurance form in the morning, he crawled into bed beside his wife and promised that he wouldn't get into any unnecessary arguments with her anymore. Firstly, because he hated seeing that worried look on his daughter's face and secondly, because Temari deserved better. He loved her more than anything- but it was just that when life got stressful and missions got hectic, Shikamaru forgot sometimes. He would remind himself in the morning. He would remind her in the morning.

As it turned out, Temari wasn't all that receptive to being reminded in the morning. When Shikamaru woke up she was already gone from their bed, and by the time he got downstairs she was too busy fussing over Miu and Asuma- trying to get them ready for school- for her to hear anything that he had to say.

She left the house, kids in tow, without one word to him- only a filled breakfast bowl sat waiting for him at the kitchen table.

Feeling thoroughly exhausted by all the arguing, wondering why she still hadn't told him about the baby and finally wanting nothing more than to just pretend the last week hadn't happened, Shikamaru grouchily ate through his miso soup and steamed rice. His wife's cooking may have been simple but it was a hell of a lot better than that crap they served at the hospital.

Getting ready, he noticed the distinct smell of vomit in the bathroom and decided that he'd have to learn to sleep lighter from now on. When she had been pregnant with Miu, Temari had been so pissed about the vomiting and the cramps that she had refused to let him sleep through any of her midnight episodes. She always woke him up. Her second pregnancy was a little better- he could only recall two or three times when she had awoken him because of her stomach. And now she wasn't waking him at all. That worried Shikamaru more than he would like to admit.

Reassuring himself that she was probably just "extra-emotional" because of the hormones, he decided that today would be a good day to go and visit Kurenai. She usually seemed to have some insight into Temari's mind- for a reason Shikamaru could not fathom- and so, after deciding to stop off for some dango on the way, he found himself in front of Kurenai's door....probably looking a lot more pathetic than he would have liked to.

"She's just worried about you, surely you can see that," his hostess said reassuringly, whilst pouring him out some tea.

"When normal people get worried, don't they usually just hug you and tell you they missed you?" Shikamaru responded, trying not to pout too much. It was funny but talking to Kurenai always made him feel as if he as a kid again.

"Surely you especially would know that Temari-chan is not normal," Kurenai stated through a wry smile. "She's always done things differently. You've been married nearly ten years now..." she went on, almost counting in her head. "I thought you would have gotten used to it already."

Shikamaru groaned.

"I have," he protested feebly. "The quirks and the yelling, I can deal with. It's when she's like this that I don't know what to do..." he trailed off, taking a sip of his drink and letting the warm tea attempt to sooth his insides.

Kurenai gave him a little smirk.

"Like what?"

"When she won't tell me what she wants me to do!" he answered exasperatedly, the previous comforting effect of the tea now washed away. "She's barely speaking to me, let alone looking at me. If she would just tell me what was bothering her, then I would...."

Kurenai cut him off.

"You would what, Shikamaru-kun? Give up your job? Do whatever it took to make her feel better?" she questioned, balancing the tea cup before her lips. "We both know that's not true.....and so does Temari-chan. That's probably why she won't talk to you. She's knows that it would be useless."

Shikamaru sighed, putting his heavy head in his hands.

"I promised him, Kurenai-san," he said weakly. "I promised him I would do this...."

Kurenai put a hand on his shoulder.

"I know, Shikamaru-kun, I know," she said comfortingly. "I guess when you were sixteen, you weren't really sure of everything that that promise would entail....all that you would have to sacrifice."

He nodded in acceptance. When he had promised Asuma to protect Konoha, he had never thought that it would mean making a choice between his family and his village. There was no one else in Konoha who had to make that choice. It was always family first for them. A prime example was Neji...even Temari.

They were just different from the older generation, he guessed. Shikamaru wondered if his dad ever had to make a similar choice.

"Do you know what Asuma promised to me, when we got married?" Kurenai asked her voice now quiet making Shikamaru look up. He shook his head, signalling for her to go on. "He promised me that he would always take care of me..." she said, her voice shaking slightly. "At the time I told him I didn't need taking care of," she continued, a reminiscent smile overtaking her face. "Sometimes I wonder if he ever really meant it."

Her eyes had filled with tears now as Shikamaru set down his tea cup, annoyed at himself for upsetting her. He seemed to be on a real winning streak when it came to making women cry.

"Of course he did," Shikamaru said clasping her shaking hands in his. "He just couldn't change the future, Kurenai-san. He was a brave shinobi, who fought for his village...but that didn't change how much he cared about you," he said earnestly, thinking of he and Temari's own situation. Just because he loved Konoha didn't mean that he loved her any less.

She sniffed in acceptance, clearing the tears away from her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "Here you are coming to me for help and all I do is complain about my own problems..."

"Problems?" Shikamaru asked puzzled. It was natural for Kurenai to get upset about Asuma every now and then but she had never called it a 'problem' before.

She nodded slightly.

"It's Asato," she admitted unhappily. "He's been moody for the past couple of weeks. Ever since you left on that mission...I just can't get him to do anything anymore. He's snappy all of the time...cheeky to everyone. You should have seen the way he talked to Neji-san the other day. I was worried he would have hit him if I hadn't have been here," Kurenai blurted out quickly, wringing her hands in her lap. "I just....he just won't talk to me anymore. Anytime I try to say anything all he does is roll his eyes and leave the room. I don't know what's wrong with him."

Shikamaru considered this. Asato had always been a little on the cheeky side, but never offensive. Witty and smart, but never rude.

"I'll talk to him," Shikamaru said by way of comfort. "Or maybe I'll get Temari to talk to him," he added with a smirk. "She's good at keeping him in line."

Kurenai was silent as Shikamaru wondered if he'd offended her. It had been meant as a joke.

"What?" he asked confused.

"He spends a lot of time with Temari-chan, you know," she replied oddly. "More than he would tell either of us....he was only supposed to spend that one night in your house while you were in hospital....he stayed three nights," Kurenai said meaningfully.

Shikamaru furrowed his brow. Three nights? He had only spent three nights in hospital and Temari definitely had not said anything.

"He's fond of her, Kurenai-san," Shikamaru said by way of unsure mitigation. "You know that...we've laughed about it from time to time. But it's nothing to be worried about..." he added, wondering what 'it' was. "Like I said, it's probably good for the boy if he spends a little time with Temari...I doubt she lets him get away with any of his lip."

Kurenai nodded, yet the worry lines had still not left her forehead.

He looked at his watch.

"I'd better be going anyways," he stated, standing up and straightening his clothes. "Choji said something about barbeque," he lied....

The clouds were calling.

Here was peace, Shikamaru thought lying beneath the clouds and just gazing upward, letting the warm sun wash over his face. Lying there contentedly, Shikamaru could let his mind wander- a thing it rarely ever did usually being focused on some issue or another. It was nice just to allow his mind triviality and thoughts of the unimportant.

He was awoken out of his sleep by the smell of cigarette smoke wafting up and over the hut he was lying in. Sniffing derisively- and caught between addiction and repulsion- Shikamaru let his eyes open wearily to see who the offender was. Lying where he was provided no further answer, so Shikamaru sat up to offer himself a better view.

Gazing around, he saw Asato standing with his back to him, leaning against one of the stands of the hut and puffing away. Eyes narrowing in displeasure, Shikamaru coughed a little to alert the boy to his presence.

Asato didn't jump but merely turned around, gave his Sensei a quick nod and returned to smoking.

So there was the insolence Kurenai had mentioned.

"Yo," Shikamaru called in incredulity. "What do you think you're doing, shonen?" he questioned forcefully.

All he got was a shrug in response.

"Asato-kun," Shikamaru called again, now standing up and making his way over to the boy. "I asked you a question."

Sighing and rolling his eyes, Asato turned to give Shikamaru an exasperated glare. "I'm smoking," he said impertinently. "What does it look like, Sensei?"

Gritting his teeth to stop himself from chastising the boy too harshly, Shikamaru grabbed the cigarette from his hand and threw it away.

"No you're not," he said simply, before making his way over to a bench within the hut to sit down.

He heard his genin sigh forcefully before leaning back against the pillar once more.

"Congratulations by the way," Asato suddenly said, sounding very much like he meant not one of the sentiments that those words were meant to convey.

Shikamaru tucked his hands behind his head and lay back on the bench, closing his eyes again.

"For what?" he asked nonchalantly, forcing back a yawn.

There was a few minutes silence.

"I hear Temari-san's pregnant again," Asato said, trying and failing to sound uninterested.

Shikamaru took a few moments to open his eyes and when he did he found Asato to be staring at him. Biting the inside of his cheek, Shikamaru closed his eyes again.


"That's it?" Asato questioned derisively after a few moments, as Shikamaru opened his eyes once more to find the genin looking at him with a condescending expression on his face.

"Yup," Shikamaru retorted lightly, fixing his gaze on the clouds above.

Asato snored scornfully. "Typical," he mumbled sarcastically, though loud enough for Shikamaru to hear.

"I'm sorry?"

"I said it was bloody typical," Asato spat, his shoulders hunched- looking quite like a cat ready to fight.

Shikamaru decided that if the boy wanted to play the confrontational game then there was only one way for him to react. As calmly as possible. It would do no good for him to show Asato that he was getting under his skin.

"Oh?" he asked, actually allowing himself to yawn this time. "In what way am I being 'bloody typical', Asato-kun?"

There was silence again for another few moments, in which Shikamaru actually had to look at his student to ensure that he was still there.

He was. His eyes were filled with anger and some other emotion that Shikamaru couldn't place. Fists clenched, shoulders tense and mouth narrowed.

Shikamaru felt an odd feeling in his stomach. He had never seen Asato this riled up before.

"How can you keep doing this?" Asato began quickly, his voice tainted with scepticism yet still quiet and shaky. "How can you keep acting like nothing's wrong? Like she's not sitting at home every night crying?!"

Suddenly everything became clearer. The sky was brighter, the wind was louder, the clouds were quicker and Shikamaru was fully awake.

"Before we go any further," Shikamaru cut in harshly, "I'll thank you to remember that this is my wife we're talking about."

Asato nodded abruptly, his jaw strained...fists still clenched.

"Your wife..." he said oddly, looking at Shikamaru with a glint in his eye. "Your wife that you don't even deserve."

Shikamaru, still with his eyes trained on his student, felt his own fists clench involuntarily. In an attempt to steady himself, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting the sunshine wash over him.

"My relationship with Temari is none of your business, Asato-kun," he said steadily. "You should remember that, also."

"None of my business?" his student responded scathingly. "That may be, but if I don't talk to you about what an asshole you're being, then who will? Kami knows Temari-san or Kaasan won't!"

Another soothing breath.

Hearing his student...who had just a week ago been so polite and well-mannered....insult him in that way. It was a little too much to bear.

He coughed a little to clear his throat.

"I don't know why you are unhappy, Asato-san and I intend to find out why, but you will not talk to me like that," Shikamaru said firmly, attempting to assert any authority he still had over the unruly teenager.

"I'm telling you this because you need to hear it," Asato pressed, standing firmly by himself and breathing heavily. "Because you need to hear how much you are throwing away because of my bastard of a father!"

That was the line.

Standing up quickly, Shikamaru kicked the chair back roughly and marched towards his genin to tower over him.

"You will not disrespect your father in that manner," Shikamaru breathed viciously, restraining himself in every way from grabbing the boy by the neck.

Asato shook his head, almost in disbelief. Taking a deep breath, the boy stepped forward to Shikamaru, attempting to meet him at eye level.

"My father..." Asato said daringly, "was an asshole. Just like you."

And with that all restraint was gone. Shikamaru punched the boy the head roughly, sending him flying to the ground, hands clasped around his injured head. Breathing heavily, he turned away from Asato to grasp onto the opposite stand of the hut, attempting to regain some form of self control. Shikamaru felt himself sweating from both the anger and the exertion and gripped the stand tighter, trying to steady his heartbeat.

"Feel better?" came Asato's shaky voice, laden with either tears or anger. Shikamaru clenched and unclenched the offending hand, feeling the blood coming from his knuckles. He already knew it was a hard punch.

He chose not to answer, for fear of what he might do again.

"Do you know what it's like to grow up without a father, Sensei?" Asato asked emotionally, as Shikamaru could tell he was crying. He shook his head as it balanced against the stand. "Well, I do. It isn't all that great," he went on, his voice laden with a tremble. "It's horrible actually. Coming home from my missions to you congratulating me, instead of him. Finding out about the facts of life from Kaasan, instead of a father. Knowing that he won't be the one taking me for my first drink or that he won't be there for my wedding. The birth of my first child. That'll all be you, won't it?" Asato questioned, his voice now high with the tears.

Shikamaru turned to comfort the boy, feeling anger at himself for letting his emotions get the best of him. Temari was going to kill him for hitting the boy. As it was, Shikamaru wasn't sure he'd ever forgive himself.

He was about to interject, when Asato cut him off.

"But what makes all of that worse," he began quietly, his gaze towards his lap and hands still holding his head. "What makes it all knowing that he chose this."

There was a silence as Shikamaru tried to grasp at what the boy meant.

"He knew..." Asato went on bitterly, "he knew that Kaasan was pregnant with me. And he still went on that death mission," he choked out. "He still went. He could have waited. Waited until I was born...waited until Kaasan had been through the pregnancy. But no..." the genin continued, finally looking up at Shikamaru, who swore his heart broke to see the tears on the boys face. "He still went. He didn't give two shits about me or Kaasan."

Sighing heavily, Shikamaru pulled up the bench he had kicked down previously and sat down slowly. He thought of all the things he had ever told Asato about his father. How great of a ninja he was, how much of an inspiration he was to the younger had never occurred to him to say how much Asuma loved his family. It had just seemed like a given at the time.

"Asato-kun..." Shikamaru started quietly, looking down at the floor as he was no longer able to look at the pain stricken face of the boy.

"Don't." Asato cut in abruptly, wiping his eyes quickly with his wrists. "This isn't what this is about. This is about Temari-san. This is about Miu-chan and Asuma-kun and how you are in great danger of doing to them exactly what my father did to me."

Furrowing his brow, Shikamaru sighed once more, thinking of a way to reassure Asato.

"You know everything that I just said...?" he questioned shortly to Shikamaru, who gave him a brief nod to show that he was listening. "It makes me hate my father."

Shikamaru closed his eyes in a mixture of disbelief, pain and exasperation. How had it gotten to this stage? How had he not noticed Asato's resentment?

This was not what Asuma would have wanted. His son full of hatred and his wife crying every time she talked about him.

"I hate him so much for choosing work over me...for choosing everyone over me, and leaving me with the substitute," he said wryly yet still tear stricken, nodding towards Shikamaru. "I just can't believe that you would want to do that to Miu-chan and Asuma-kun," Asato went on, his voice more steady now. "To have some else walk Miu-chan down the aisle to her wedding or to leave it to Temari-san to tell Asuma-kun about how to be a good father. I never thought of you as the type of man to do that...until I spent three nights with Temari-san and saw how much she does. How she teaches Asuma to use his shadows when it should be you. How she tells them both that you love them, because you're not there to say it," he continued earnestly, looking at Shikamaru with such honesty in his eyes that Shikamaru was forced to look away.

"She's given up so much for you," Asato said, deathly quiet now looking out onto the Konoha horizon. "Moved away from her family, given you two...three kids, made friends with all your friends, left her ninja life behind. And she can't even talk to you about how she's feeling. Instead she has to talk to me because you are already doing to me what my father did to you, aren't you Sensei? Letting me take your place in your family so that when you are gone, there will be someone else there to pick up the pieces."

Shikamaru looked at the boy for once with an odd feeling in his heart. He had never known that Asato had felt pressured...the way he had once felt when left with Kurenai and the new baby in her arms. He had never known that Temari had been talking to someone else instead of him...telling Asato how she felt, just like Kurenai used to do with him.

"It's not all her though..." Asato began again, twisting his hands uncomfortably. "I like talking to her too. Temari-san's the only one who listens, you know? Listens to how I actually feel about my father. Around you and Kaasan, it's as if he's some sort of God...she lets me hate him," he said with a dry laugh, and a look towards the heavens. "She hated her father I guess she understands."

There was silence as Shikamaru tried to take everything in. Tried to sooth his aching brain. Tried to shut out the loud voices screaming in his head, telling him that he was going to hell for even thinking about Asuma in this manner. How could he break a promise to a dead man? How could he do it....? no matter how much he wanted to give Temari more.

"Don't do it," Asato said weakly, again with that earnest look in his eyes. "Don't make them hate you, like I hate my father. They deserve so much better. She deserves so much better...for what she gives to you. Don't abandon them like he did to me."

A shaky breath later, Shikamaru slid off of the bench to sit beside Asato. Taking care he placed an unsure arm around the boy's shoulders.

"Your father had his faults," he conceded quietly, his breathing still not altogether regular. "It's okay to be mad at him, sometimes Asato-kun," Shikamaru added, giving Asato's shoulders a quick squeeze. "Just don't hate him...please," he said a little desperately. "I know you didn't know him....but he was a good man, and he loved you and your mother so much."

Asato nodded gently.

"It's a pity he's not here to tell me that though, isn't it?" he replied, a tinge of sarcasm tainting his voice, yet he sounded much calmer than before.

Shikamaru sighed, leaning his head back against the pillar.

"You know, it was actually Kiba-san who told me about the facts of life...not my father," Shikamaru said, a little more light hearted than before.

Asato's brow furrowed in question.

"Oh yes," Shikamaru said with a short laugh. "And I'm pretty sure it was also Kiba-san who got me drunk for the first time."

Asato gave a small smirk.

"Good thing he did. You would have never said anything to Temari-san without a bit of alcohol in you," he replied, a grin now gracing his face.

Shikamaru replied with a derisive laugh, thinking back to the night he had arrived at the Sunan embassy, drunk off his head and rambling something about oblivious blonde diplomats.

"You're not a bad substitute, you know?" Asato said quietly, giving Shikamaru a short nudge with his elbow. "Domestic abuse aside."

Shikamaru groaned, and put his head in his hands. He mumbled an apology, before lifting his head to inspect the wound.

"Don't be," Asato said matter-of-factly. "I was being a bit of an asshole myself. Deserved it."

Shikamaru shook his head tiredly, but was interrupted once more.

"I just don't like to see her upset," Asato went on oddly, looking down at his hands.

"I didn't realise you and Temari were so close."

Asato gave a short laugh, a very natural smile taking over his face.

"She's pretty idea how you managed to marry her."

"Me neither," Shikamaru replied meaningfully, his heart contracting at the thought of how much she had been going through alone with only Asato to comfort her.

His student was right. He had been so preoccupied with his work that he had forgotten his duties as a husband and father. He had always known that no matter what he would do, he could never fully deserve Temari...but he had promised to do everything he could to make her happy. A promise he had made to her when he had proposed. One, that had somehow, slipped by the wayside.

"Come on," he said, giving Asato another shoulder squeeze. "We've got to get you wrapped up before Temari and Kurenai-san both kill me."

"We could take them," Asato said happily, standing up with alarming spry for someone who had just received a cold punch to the head. "Troublesome women shouldn't be fighting anyway."

Two nights later, he was at home making the dinner, waiting for Temari to get home from work. Miu and Asuma were both in bed, having been tired out from the day he had spent playing with them.

The day had been an eye-opener really. He saw how much Asuma was progressing in his skills- for a four year old he was so quick and was hard to believe. He saw how bright Miu was...she never picked up a weapon once...but instead yelled at Asuma for his lack of speed, giving him tactical methods which he could use to improve. Shikamaru wondered how much he had really missed of his children. How much more Temari and his parents knew, because they spent more time with his children than he ever did. It had been like a shock of ice cold water. And Shikamaru couldn't have been more thankful that he had realised soon enough to do something about it.

He was broken out of his reverie when he heard the front door shut quietly. Turning off the gas cooker, he took a cloth towel in his hands to wipe them free of the cooking debris.

His wife appeared in the door frame, her eyes tired from having worked such a long day- yet still there lingered a fire which Shikamaru longed to see, once more. She appraised him slowly, as he did her.

"Naruto-sama told me you resigned," she finally said quietly, her hands clasped together, playing with each other.

Shikamaru nodded.

"I've taken a permanent job at the Academy," he replied, equally as quiet whilst he set down the towel.

This time Temari nodded, sighing heavily and blinking a few times.

Shikamaru moved towards her. Finally reaching her welcoming form, he placed his hands gently on her hips, pulling her a little closer to him. He revelled in her smell. She smelled of so many of the things that he adored, that he couldn't live without...his children, his home, his land...but most of all, she smelt of her. He felt her earthy scent caress his body and felt a calm that he hadn't experienced since he had come home.

"I just realised what I was gambling with," he said meaningfully, rubbing his nose against hers. His hands came up to clasp her wind cold face, her cheeks tinted with a beautiful womanly blush that made him slightly weak in his stomach. Kissing her gently, his brain went hazy in the warmth of familiarity. Of knowing that she still loved him. He felt her hands encircle his waist lovingly and couldn't help but to pull her flush against him, the way he used to do as a hormone driven teenager. Her lips tumbled lushly against his, reminding him of everything he had been missing...all of the things he had promised her when they had married came flying back to him as he felt his wife's presence, firmly joined to his body- exactly where he needed her to be.

He pulled back to notice that there were quiet tears making their way down her emotion-laden face. She gave him a small smile and a laugh, and he knew that she was embarrassed for crying. Kissing her again in brief reassurance, he leant his forehead against hers.

"I'm sorry it took me so long," he added, looking meaningfully into her once more alive eyes and wondering how he had lived without that look. Without that fire...that beautiful soul of hers that came shining through whenever he looked at her long enough.

She nodded slightly, leaning her head on his shoulder and shuddering a little. He kissed the top of her head and placed his hand on her stomach, unable to go any longer without feeling the warmth of his third child.

"You know?" she asked quietly, her voice thick with tears.

He nodded into her hair.

"Our daughter has some amazing stealth skills," he said, moving his hands to her back, to rub it in reassurance.

She laughed a little in response, nuzzling into his neck.

"We wrecked the plan," she added through a small chuckle, holding on to him tightly.

He smiled thinking of how they often made reference to his childhood plans- Temari saying she would try to make herself as plain as possible on their wedding day, with him telling her that it was impossible.

He shook his head.

"You were the plan," he replied, looking into her eyes once more. "Everything else is just a bonus."

They were silent for a moment as Shikamaru held his wife in loving apology.

"When I said I wasn't going anywhere, I meant it," he stated with a quiet firmness to his voice.

And he really did.