Yay, my favorite chapter!! ^^ It's where Asuma shows up. I know you guys have been waiting for it, too. Sorry for the delays in updating - my personal life has been a little insane lately. Let's leave it at that. haha. But enjoy this FINAL installment, and thanks for reading! :D


Anko was in the middle of painting Kurenai's toenails when the three heard the knock at the door. Hinata stood immediately to answer it, but she stopped short when she noticed the reactions of her companions. Anko had paused and was looking back and forth between her best friend and the door to the apartment. A drop of Vivacious Plum fall from the tiny brush she held and hit the floor, but Kurenai certainly didn't notice. Her eyes were closed, and a look of dread was beginning to form on her face.

"Is it him, Hinata?" she asked quietly.

Hinata only nodded.

"Then it looks like the fun ends here, ladies," Kurenai said softly. Shaking her head and taking a deep breath, she got up.

"Kure… Wait…" Anko started. However, her friend had already passed her and was unlocking the door.

"Hello, Asuma," Kurenai said with a forced smile as the night air rushed in. Asuma didn't appear to notice her discomfort. Giving her a light kiss and a smile, he stepped past her into house.

"It smells fantastic in he – well, hello!" he called pleasantly, interrupting himself mid-sentence as he noticed Anko and Hinata. "I didn't know you already had company."

"Hey Sarutobi," Anko said. Though she smiled, she was also unable to completely mask her hesitance. Hinata, although she would have liked to crawl under the table from her sudden bout of shyness, managed to wave.

Asuma looked around and saw the DVD case, the abandoned nailpolish, and the chocolate cake sitting on the table.

"Looks like a girl's night, huh?" he asked, laughing. "Maybe I should come back another time…?"

"No," Kurenai said, more forcefully than she might have intended. Realizing how she had sounded, she amended her tone. "I mean… you should stay. There are some things we should talk about."

"With them here?" Asuma asked, clearly caught off-guard.

"Yes," Kurenai said firmly, surprising both Anko and Hinata.

"You sure?" Anko asked hesitantly.

"Yes," Kurenai repeated, allowing herself to collapse onto the empty couch. "Guys… I don't want to do this by myself."

The first to notice the tears that were forming in Kurenai's eyes, Anko immediately put an arm around her shoulders. Hinata quickly placed a hand over her sensei's.

The look in Asuma's eyes was one of pure terror and confusion.

"What's wrong?" he demanded, instantly on his knees at Kurenai's feet. "Are you sick? What's going on?"

"Take a deep breath, big guy," Anko said softly, placing her free hand on Asuma's shoulder. She was clearly stalling for time. Hinata looked back and forth helplessly, but before she could figure out what to do, Kurenai took a shuddering breath and made her confession.

"Asuma," she whispered. "I'm pregnant."

The look on the male sensei's face was actually very difficult to determine. Hinata thought for a moment that it seemed like relief. He had clearly assumed the worst when Anko started acting so strangely and Kurenai started crying, and evidently, as far as he was concerned, pregnancy wasn't the worst.

However, as soon as he had a moment to consider the ramifications of what he'd heard, Anko felt Asuma's shoulder begin to tremble.

"What are you going to do?" he asked, giving Kurenai an expression of helplessness. "We're not parent-material."

"We have to be," Kurenai said her voice growing firmer. "Because I'm keeping it. It's our responsibility, but more than that, it's a human being. And it's ours."

The conviction with which Kurenai spoke made Hinata's breath catch. The only time she had ever heard that tone from her sensei was the time Kurenai gave Team 8 a pep talk before the chuunin exams. She was only that way when she really believed something and knew that it mattered.

"Of course," Asuma said, lowering his head. "I mean, I know. But this is scary. This is the biggest responsibility I've ever gotten in my life, and I don't feel ready."

Asuma looked up, tears beginning to gather in his eyes as well.

"Kurenai, do you feel ready?"

Now crying outright, Kurenai could only manage to nod and choke out a few words.

"I have to be."

Anko and Hinata retreated to the kitchen as Asuma rested his head in his girlfriend's lap and they cried together. The two kunoichi had given their friend the moral support she required, but now it was time to give the couple a chance to sort things out together.

"I've always admired her," Anko remarked once they were out of earshot.

"Me too," Hinata agreed. "She's my sensei."

"I know," Anko said. "I wish I had a sensei like Kurenai. Or, you know, maybe just one who didn't experiment on me and leave me for dead. But hey. We all take the hands we're dealt."

Hinata, who was at least somewhat familiar with Anko's history with Orochimaru, knew better than to comment. However, as she nodded and made a "hm" sound, she couldn't help but consider the depth in Anko's words. They were all dealt different hands, and they didn't have any choice but to play with the cards they were given. Everybody kind of had that in common.

But this thought process was interrupted fairly early on.

"Hey Hinata – before we put everything up, why don't we make Sarutobi a plate? I'm sure even a big tough shinobi can work up an appetite dealing with life-changing decisions and reassessing his own existence."

Hinata smiled a little bit.

"Yeah. I guess so."

And just like that, it was back to work. Things never resolved themselves – not really. Each day was just a new adventure in taking it as it came and rolling with the tide. It was all just a game of give and take, and all they had to work with were the hands they were dealt.