Author's Notes: The New York Society series never completely leaves me alone, even when I think everyone's been paired up happily.

If you don't know, the series began with a one-shot called "Seasonal Society" and exploded when I decided to build on the AU I made for that fic. The story is still up on FFN but will soon be undergoing a rewrite to better fit the other fics in the series. Each fic is designed to stand on its own, but you can get more insight on references made in each fic if you read some (or all) of the others. If I'm not doing a good job of being clear, and it's confusing, please let me know and I'll fix it!

Although the series properly began with Shikamaru and Temari meeting, they haven't managed to tie the knot despite being engaged since before many characters even met! And a lot of people have said they would like to see a story in which all of the main characters in the NYS series play a part. So this will not be just a ShikaTem story. There will be other big events of other characters moving their story along.

Note 2: My apologies for mistakes to any actual New Yorkers reading this. I have never been to NYC but I've always tried hard to be as accurate as possible.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.

Life Choices

Chapter One: Talk

By Nessie

"That could have gone better," Shikamaru said with narrowed eyes. He stowed his carry-on suitcase, then Neji's in the overhead compartment of the plane about to take off from Cleveland.

Neji gave a noncommittal grunt and stepped aside to allow Shikamaru the window seat, knowing his partner enjoyed viewing the clouds during the ascent. Flying coach wasn't his personal preference, but even the Hyuuga & Nara law firm was struggling in the current economic climate. He sat down and frowned at the idea of another several hours with his knees pressed up to the chair in front of him. "At least we set a precedent for cyber libel."

"High school teachers suing teens for slandering them in their blogs? I think the only precedent we set is what a good idea it'd be for Midwesterners to move to New York. They're bored to hell here." Shikamaru sniffed. Irritated, he added, "And my allergies are going haywire."

Shrugging, Neji stared straight ahead as the flight attendants performed the obligatory safety demonstration. He may not have been able to think of ten different ways to survive a crash like Shikamaru, but he was decidedly allergy-free. "You can buy some Kleenex when we get to LaGuardia."

"No, I can't." The ponytailed man flicked a finger at his earring impatiently as the plane rolled forward. "I haven't been to Temari's new play yet. I was supposed to go to the Sunday matinee, but we had to come here, and now I have to go straight from the airport to the theater. It'll be a miracle if I make it before intermission."

"She's doing another show? I thought she was going to take time off for the wedding."

Shikamaru avoided Neji's slightly tilted head and raised eyebrow. Those pale eyes of his would inquire just enough to annoy him further. "She said if I'm not going to stop taking cases, she isn't going to stop taking roles." He couldn't keep the sourness out of his voice and turned his head to watch the ground fall away at the end of the runway.

"You don't mind her acting, do you?"

"Of course not; we might not have met if…" Actually, there had been several factors involved in the circumstances of Shikamaru and Temari's meeting, and while he didn't necessarily believe in destiny, he had a healthy respect for an unlikely coincidence. "It's just that it's been years. We've been keeping each other waiting since before you and Tenten met."

"Not quite," his friend refuted.

Neji and Tenten had met on the same day Shikamaru had proposed to Temari; those two were about to celebrate their second anniversary, and here was Shikamaru, affianced but still unwed.

As though to emphasize Shikamaru's inner musings, Neji folded his arms. The gold band on his left hand glinted mockingly at Shikamaru as he leaned back the seat.

"What do you think I should do?" asked Shikamaru, though he could predict his partner's answer.

"Personally, I'd rather you didn't stop taking cases. But either you marry Temari or you make sure your friend Ino turns up at more parties, because it's obvious she's tired of being the only single woman in the group." Neji's expression turned even more serious than usual. "Just remember something."


"You're a private man, but you've lived with Temari for almost as long as we've had the firm. There has to be a reason for that."

Shikamaru contemplated that point. Neji wasn't prone to giving counsel that wasn't law-related, and the advice was admittedly resonating.

"Remember something else, too." Neji settled into his seat as comfortably as he could and shut his eyes. "Order me a hot tea when they bring out drinks."

Shikamaru fought down a smile as he looked out the window. It had been a dreary day in Ohio, wet and gray and humid. As the airplane rose over the clouds, though, sunshine fell on his face, and there were only blue skies outside.

Sakura glanced at her cell phone, ascertaining that the ringer was turned off but keeping the screen in clear view next to her coffee mug on the table. She didn't want to be rude, but if the hospital needed her, she had to be available. At least for the moment, she wasn't a doctor but simply Sakura Haruno-Uchiha: a woman happy to attend a brunch with friends where she could wear a dress instead of a white coat and her new high heels, which were, in her opinion, fabulous.

Not as fabulous as Ino's, whose shoes were five inches high, bright lavender, and probably paid for by the fashion company whose spring photo shoot featured the tall, blond supermodel. The rest of Ino's outfit was equally eye-catching, edgy and modern. It made a sharp but pleasant contrast with Hinata's clothes, a classic blouse and skirt set improved by the dark-haired woman's natural loveliness.

Sakura cast a glance at the one remaining chair awaiting its occupant. The four women were supposed to meet at Uzumaki's at 10:30, and time was steadily nearing eleven. Ino had to be downtown in an hour, and Sakura's own shift began in an hour. Hinata had a consultation at some point for a shelter that was undergoing renovation…

A too-familiar "sorry" tore across the air of the dining room, reaching the three women's ears even over the noise of the artificial waterfall Hinata had chosen when decorating the venue. Tenten Hyuuga dropped into her chair seconds later, a little harried, but otherwise nicely dressed in straight-legged khakis, leather sandals, and a button-up silk shirt.

"Sorry!" the brunette repeated with heart. She reached up to tuck strands fallen from her double-bun hairdo behind her ears, where a pair of diamond studs glittered. "Really, I would've made it on time today, except Neji got home kind of late last night."

Ino's grin was positively catlike. "I bet he missed you after being gone for a whole week. Kept you up, did he?" Tenten only smiled broadly, but Hinata's ears flashed a bright shade of pink.

Sakura knew to intercept before the teasing could go any further and potentially result in their most reserved friend passing out; that kind of blood pressure just wasn't good for anyone. "Come on, Ino. That's Hinata's cousin you're making insinuations about."

"You're right," Ino agreed. Her eyes drifted to the doors leading to the restaurant's kitchen and promptly lit. "Why should I embarrass her with her cousin's nighttime activities when her husband's right here? Tell the truth, Naruto," she continued as an apron-clad restaurateur strolled from the kitchen entrance to their table. "How is it between you and Hinata in the middle of a workweek?"

Naruto's grin outshone hers as he paused beside Hinata's chair and pulled out a small notepad and pen. "Wellll," he drawled with a wink at his spouse, "we've gotta be better than you and Kiba."

Not at all inclined to be a participant in this discussion, Hinata began gesturing frantically for him to stop talking. Ino's eyebrows arched. "How do you figure? Ever since I moved back to New York, we've have a lot of time to ourselves," challenged the model.

"Still, you both have jobs that could interrupt you any second. Me and Hinata, we're our own bosses. So we got anytime." A competitive glow in his eyes, Naruto waved a hand that included the entire space of his restaurant. "And we got anywhere."

Hinata's face turned puce. "Naruto," she hissed. Sakura didn't know who to feel more sorry for, Naruto's wife for being mortified or her best friend for being outsmarted. Tenten obviously did not share her torn allegiance as she laughed heartily at both scenarios.

With the restaurant busy and all of his servers preoccupied, Naruto himself took their breakfast orders and refilled their coffee. He leaned over and dropped a brisk kiss on top of Hinata's head. At first Hinata tried to maintain her upset demeanor, but the gentle affection eased her tension and she showed him a smile before he returned to the kitchen.

Sakura thought it exceptionally sweet, considering she was married to the world's most privately affectionate man. Sometimes it seemed Sasuke's true passion would only emerge if they were several stories up with the blinds closed. Which would explain why he had frequently visited her office on the top floor of Manhattan General, where she worked as a resident surgeon although she was technically the on-call medical consultant for the New York state government. Those visits only happened when Sasuke was in the best of moods. When his political work wasn't going well, he tended to adopt a fatalistic attitude about the world. When it was smooth sailing, he liked to be with Sakura and see firsthand that the world was and always would be a place of possibility.

Their circle of friends, for example, was intertwined through coincidence and chance: she and Sasuke had met because of Tsunade, her mentor. Sasuke and Naruto had become part-friends, part-rivals years ago. Sakura had been friends with Ino since kindergarten; Ino's father was a friend of NYPD's Captain Asuma Sarutobi, whose father Sasuke had once worked for and through whom Ino had met her boyfriend, Kiba. Sakura had met Tenten while dating Lee in college; Lee knew Kakashi Hatake, a friend of Tsunade's. Ino was friends with Shikamaru, who was Neji's partner and Chouji's best friend; Naruto was Chouji's former coworker, now his boss and Hinata's husband; Hinata was Neji's cousin; Hinata had worked with Lee and met Tenten through him…

It was, Sakura reflected, enough to make her dizzy.

"Where's Temari?" asked Tenten, and the mention of the actress caused Sakura inward stress as she hadn't even added Shikamaru's fiancée to the list of Her People. "I thought she was coming this morning?" she went on, with the tone of one hoping she wasn't the last to arrive.

Hinata lowered her coffee to tell her. "There was some trouble with the sound system in last night's performance. She had to go to the theater today for…I believe it's called a tech rehearsal?"

"Okay," Ino said loudly and leaned in with intent, only to have to lean back again as Naruto brought out her bowl of fruit and yogurt. "Can we please have this conversation? What is up with those two?"

"Who?" asked Naruto, having only heard the last question.

"Temari and Shikamaru," Hinata told him, helping to place her friends' plates on the table.

"Oh." He abruptly turned on his heel and went off again, clearly not wanting to be party to any conspiracy.

"You're his friend," Tenten said to Ino. "Don't you know what their deal is?"

"No. Has Neji said anything to you?"


Tenten and Ino sat in momentary frustration at the definite lack of information.

"They're engaged," Sakura said. "What other deal is there?"

"They've been engaged for over two years," snapped Ino unheatedly. "And they dated for a year before that. I used to think it was a schedule thing…"

"Lawyers are very busy," Tenten pointed out. "If my schedule was any less flexible, I'm not sure Neji and I would be married. We just wouldn't see each other."

"But they live together," Hinata reminded all of them. "That is…I wouldn't have been able to move in with Naruto before I married him but—"

Tenten chuckled dryly at this, cutting a waffle into perfectly even squares. "That's because your father's a Nazi."

"So it's not that they aren't living together well, is it?" Sakura chewed thoughtfully on her ham and cheese omelet. "Or…is it that? Has Temari said anything?"

Ino nodded vigorously. "It always comes back to the sex life. I swear to God."

But although the four women kept in touch regularly with her, none of them could explains why the actress was still Temari Sands instead of Temari Nara.

"She's keeping her name. It makes the Playbills less confusing," Hinata offered, trying to be helpful.

The detail was highly unsatisfying.

Someone's cell phone chirped, and each woman reached for hers on reflex. Sakura saw a name that wasn't work-related light up her screen. Normally, she wouldn't have answered since she was busy. This person, however, would not like being ignored.

Answering the call, "Tsunade?" she said.

"Sakura. I can't speak long, but there's something you ought to know about before it hits the news."

"What's up?" asked Ino when Sakura froze with tension. She lowered the cell phone the to table, so distracted that it landed on top of her remaining eggs.

"It's the…it's Mayor Sarutobi," Sakura told them all, each word dropping like a stone from her lips. "He's dead."

To Be Continued

One last note and then I'll shut up. Being a student and with the last stretch of school year and finals coming up, I've no idea if I'll have that much time to update this very quickly. But I will be working on it and will of course finish it. It probably won't be that many chapters, so I want it all to be good. Thanks for being here!