Author's Note: Are you stunned to see this up? Me too. I've spent the last year studying and traveling, leaving me little writing time, but I've kept this chapter in the back of my mind. In fact, I think that my travels have influenced this fic a bit here and there. Hopefully you're all still interested. The end's not far away!

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

Life Choices

Chapter Five: Surprises

By Nessie

Shikamaru uncorked his special wine; about a year ago, Chouji had spent a month traveling France and sampling various regional cuisine before finally meeting up with Ino while she was doing a fashion show in Paris. Chouji hadn't wanted his best friend to feel left out and had brought back four bottles of Bordeaux for Shikamaru. Since then, the lawyer had taken to opening a new bottle every time he and Temari needed to have a serious, adult heart-to-heart.

This was the third bottle he'd opened. So much for letting it age.

Temari had her elbows propped up on the kitchen table. She watched him as he poured her a glass, then lethargically brought it to her lips. "This is the fight wine, isn't it?" she said, examining the color of the liquid.

Shikamaru sat down across from her and met her eyes. It was unwise to allow her the upper hand in sarcasm, so he answered, "I chose it for its bouquet of exhaustion, confusion, and a just hint of makeup sex."

"I would have made tea." Halfhearted jokes aside, Temari reached across the table and took his free hand as he drank. "So what is it?"

"We need to talk about our marriage." He saw her take a deep breath, knew she was thinking what marriage, and hurried on. "The first thing you need to know is that I still want to marry you. But Tem…we gotta work this out."

"I know." Temari's shoulders slumped, and she took a long drink from her glass. Her smile was wry. "I mean, it's honestly pretty ridiculous when you think about it. I can memorize entire three-act plays and you can argue half a street gang into prison, but we can't set a date for a wedding."

"Our jobs do make it troublesome," agreed Shikamaru, "but I think we need to stop excusing ourselves with that. Let's compromise somehow, get married, go on a honeymoon—"

"Christ, if we can't set aside one day for the ceremony, how will we ever manage a week or two for a honeymoon?"

"A negative attitude won't get us anywhere," he told her firmly.

Temari turned her eyes to the ceiling, as if optimism might float down through the plaster and into her brain. "Okay, okay…I think we should try to get married this year."

"Agreed." Shikamaru felt more relief than he expressed. It would have been a bad sign if she suggested they push it back further. "June?"

"Oh, baby, that's Tony season." Temari pursed her lips. "Even if I'm not nominated, the show probably will be. I'll have to be in town until the hype wears down. What about November?"

Shikamaru shook his head. "Violence always spikes around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Neji and I will be knee-deep in assault suits from guys who punched their brother-in-law or Grandmas shoved too hard fighting over the Tickle-Me-Elmo."

Discouraged by the block in their progress, Temari changed tracks. "Well…let's come back to the date." She beamed at him. "What about the honeymoon? Where would you really like to go? Gaara tells me Cairo is fabulous."

"I'm not sure Egypt would be a very safe bet right now, considering the situation there. But if you want someplace sandy and warm, there's always Greece," Shikamaru suggested.

"Ugh, and get coerced into performing Euripides the second we get back? No thank you. Prague?"

"The crowds would be too troublesome, and it'll be freezing if we do get married in the winter. Venice?"

Temari shot him a stern look. "Too close to Florence. Sasuke and Sakura went to Florence on their honeymoon, and we are not copying the Power Couple."

"They're not the Power Couple," Shikamaru said, distracted. "Who calls them the Power Couple?"

"Everybody," Temari told him. "Well, not in front of them, obviously. But you know…married the longest, governmentally recognized, probably the wealthiest with what Sakura makes as a surgeon…"

Shikamaru was already refilling his glass and topped hers off while he was at it. "Well, at least we know Naruto wants to cater both the rehearsal dinner and the reception."

"But we need to give him a date to put in the schedule at Uzumaki's."

"Which brings us back to the first question."

They stared at each other across the table, over the rims of their respective wineglasses. They started laughing at the same time.

"You know," Temari told him through an irrepressible grin, "we're the only ones who find this funny. Everyone else thinks we're insane."

"I don't understand that." Shikamaru brought his chair around to her side and threw his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, her head against his. "We're practically married already."

"Mm-hmm." Temari enjoyed the quiet moment, especially the way he ran his index finger in circles over her upper arm. "Pajamas and a movie?" After all, they could cuddle much better on the couch than at the table.

Shikamaru nodded, stood up. He could tell his fiancée was already gearing up his argument for what they should watch. He would probably lose the fight and end up looking at Humphrey Bogart for the next two hours.

"One day we'll have a fight that decides something," he said, only half-joking. They removed to the bedroom for night-in clothes. He hoped it would be about the wedding, and soon.

A few days later, Sakura received an unexpected guest during her clinic hours at the hospital. "Sai!"

But Sai was paying her little attention as he stood in the doorway. Instead, a thin, black-clad body was half-turned so that was facing the hallway. "You did this to yourself. Get in here, before I inform the Times you're too damaged and will never sculpt again."

"You would know about being damaged," came the reluctant squabble. "It's nothing!"

"Sakura," Sai said, grabbing something beyond the door and then tossing another man through it into the small examination room where Sakura had been sterilizing syringes between appointments. "I've brought you a surprise patient."

Lee swayed on his feet but didn't fall. In the bright whiteness of the room, he resembled a column of black-topped jade. His normally well combed hair was disheveled, wide eyes narrowed in an uncharacteristic wince. "Hello, Sakura," wheezed Lee. He held both hands behind his back. "Busy morning?"

"What's going on?" asked Sakura, setting aside her cleaning materials. She had a number of good friends, but none of them made it a habit to visit her at work.

Sai shot Lee a deadpan look that may as well have been a glower. Slowly, Lee revealed his injury. The right hand supported the left at the wrist, holding it aloft. Dried blood covered Lee's knuckles while bruises were forming, dark and purplish, across the back of his hand.

Sakura couldn't suppress an unprofessional gasp. The wound wasn't by the far the worst she had seen, but Lee was a close personal friend – more specifically, an ex-boyfriend. And she knew him well enough to get an inkling of whose fault this was. "What did you do?"

Lee winced again, though this time the expression wasn't sourced at his hand. "There was a benefit in the park this morning. You know, the Broadway Cares thing, and we were doing pieces for this season's shows."

Impatient with his fellow artist's slow explanation, Sai interrupted. "I was painting Donna Murphy, and butterfingers here should've been putting the finishing touches on a bust of Norbert Leo Butz. But you," he said menacingly to Lee, "just had to show off for those girls. That is why gray marble should go on the floor and not in exhibits. Now poor Norbert is missing his nose." Sai crossed his arms and tapped his foot.

Sakura rounded on Lee as well. "I've told you, you have to pay attention! It isn't clay you're sculpting with. It looks like you drove your mallet right into your middle tendon." As she lectured, she reached for antiseptic and bandages.

"Maybe a bit toward the thumb," offered Lee meekly.

Sakura swatted his shoulder, harsh out of care. "You're an artist, idiot. What would you do if you couldn't sculpt anymore?"

Resilience catching up to him, Lee grinned. "Oh, but I would never stop! Even if it took twice as long, I would work and work until more of my sculptures filled the homes and hospitals of all New York!"

Cleaning away the last of the blood, the doctor began wrapping gauze around Lee's hand. "I don't think this place can afford another Rock Lee original, honestly." As she gingerly worked her way between his fingers, Sakura couldn't help remembering college days when they had dated, and knew Lee was doing the same. It felt like eons ago, before she had graduated medical school, before she'd met Sasuke and everything since. Lee had been a great boyfriend, but their dedication to such different celebrations of life had made it difficult to spend time together. And it had worked out for the best after all, at least in her case. Sometimes she wondered if Lee looked back on that time too fondly for his own good.

"Almost finished?" Sai's arched eyebrows stood out prominently in his pale face. "I have to get back to the park soon. They say Stephen Sondheim might make an appearance, and I want to persuade him to sit for me."

Ignoring him, Sakura presented her prognosis. "There's no permanent damage, as far as I can tell without an X-ray. Bone tissue heals quickly, but until it does I want you to take a break from sculpting. Sketch whatever you like, but if I find out you've touched a chisel without my blessing, you'll be sorry I'm your doctor. You're just lucky it wasn't your right hand."

Lee pouted. "I'm in the middle of—"

"Doesn't matter. Why don't you plan an ice sculpture for Temari and Shikamaru's wedding?" suggested Sakura. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

"Sure," scoffed Sai, "if that wedding actually happens. You know the society pages say it's all a hoax."

"I don't read the society pages," Sakura told him firmly, "and I bet you don't either. Take Lee home on your way back and lock up all his tools, won't you? Call me if he struggles."

"Okay, Doctor Bossy." Sai shot Sakura's coat a critical look. "Darling, you really should let Ino come in and haute couture the hell out of this place. White does nothing for you."


Ino felt her ears burning and wondered in what conversation she had just been brought up, until she realized that Akamaru was panting at the back of her head and blasting hot breath across her earlobes. "Outta the car, Akamaru," she ordered, shifting before the enormous police dog could drool on her Valentino blouse.

Kiba was already standing outside the car to open the back door for Akamaru. He leaned back inside and grinned at his girlfriend. "Sorry I have to work on Saturday. I'll make it up to you."

"You better," Ino advised, using the steering wheel for leverage as she strained against the seatbelt to kiss Kiba goodbye. "I hope you bust a lot of peddlers. And then I hope Asuma will kick your ass into gear, just for the fun of it."

"Love you too," he chuckled and appreciated the way the tough-as-nails supermodel slackened just a bit. "Bye, babe." He jogged into the station with Akamaru at his side, making his way to his desk with aspirations of a cup of coffee. He had only just sat down when his name was called loudly enough to carry across the entire officers' floor.

Captain Sarutobi's office was as orderly as ever. Asuma was behind his desk, smoking as he went through files on his computer. As Kiba shut the door behind him, he gave his cigarette a hard bite, then crushed it into the tray. "Do me a favor," he said crossly, "and try to bank that oversexed aura in the future."

Kiba fought back laughter. "It's that stage of the pregnancy, huh?" At Asuma's affirming look, he continued, "Don't worry. Kurenai looks ready to pop. It won't be long."

The choice of words seemingly alarmed Asuma – who was unprepared to imagine his child's mother 'popping' in any manner whatsoever – but he quickly hid it. "You and Akamaru are working with me today. Surprise."

"Really? It's been awhile since you went into the field." In fact, Kiba was having a hard time picturing Asuma outside of his office. He was at work earlier and later than most of the Midtown force.

"Guess I'm due for a reemergence." He explained about a dealer whose business of the usual illicit substances was conducted on a playground at Hudson and Bleecker. Until recently, the dealer had come out clean on every body search the Parks and Recreation authorities had performed. NYPD had just learned that the dealer actually went to the playground with his son.

"And if he's selling there, but the drugs aren't on him," murmured Kiba.

Asuma nodded. "Obviously, we can't simply approach a child that way without evidence. But if you happen to be taking Akamaru on a walk around the playground, the dog sniffs out the drugs, and a police captain just happens to be there as an eyewitness?" Smiling to himself, he shook out a new cigarette from a crumpled packet.


"I don't need to tell you," his captain went on as he flicked the wheel of his lighter, "that this kind of thing is never as easy as it sounds. We're talking about a minor here, so be delicate and stay smart."

Akamaru barked joyfully, and Kiba scratched the top of his dog's head. "Delicate and smart. That's us all over, isn't it, boy?"

Maternity leave had been a nice idea, but Kurenai had turned it down, opting instead for reduced worktime. She didn't view press conferences as work, per se; all she had to do was direct members of the press to folding, direct the new mayor toward his backstage dressing room in order to prepare announcing his decision not to run for the next term, and direct the relevant security staff to their pre-planned positions. And voila, done.

She swayed on the steps down from the stage and felt a pang of fear (plus a swift mental curse in the direction of her protruding belly). A steady hand grabbed her elbow before the sway could increase to a wobble. Kurenai looked up into the lightly frowning face of Sasuke Uchiha.

"What on earth are you doing here?" she asked, amazed. He certainly wasn't the first person she would have expected to be keeping an eye on her.

Confirming that she wasn't about to topple backwards and free-fall, Sasuke allowed his tight express to relax. "Educating myself." He guided Kurenai down the rest of the steps and into an empty seat in the front row.

"About press conferences?"

"If I'm fortunate," said Sasuke, "I may be holding a few myself before long."

She smiled. "That's appropriately mysterious of you, Mr. Uchiha, but the papers have already revealed your plans to run for…something or other." He had a very cool demeanor that would never make him President, but the Senate could very well be possible for a young, handsome democrat from New York.

Kurenai didn't know Sasuke well enough to ask him for details. Actually, she wasn't positive she had spoken to him since he had worked as the late Mayor Sarutobi's personal bodyguard. Vaguely she recalled that her ties to Sasuke ran stronger through Hinata; she had known the Hyuuga heiress since before she'd taken up interior design, and her husband the restaurateur was a friend of Sasuke's. Or was it more because his wife was Ino Yamanaka's best friend, and Asuma had been a family friend of the Yamanakas for years?

She shrugged. "They're boring things, unless you're with the media, I suppose." Sasuke didn't have time to answer because Sarutobi's deputy-turned-actual-mayor walked out. Cameras began rolling while various reporters took out tape recorders and iPads.

Kurenai tuned him out before he even started speaking. She thought perhaps the bagel this morning had been a bad idea – her stomach was in knots. She would have clenched her skirt if her belly wasn't in the way. Instead she made fists against her ribcage. If Sasuke noticed, he gave no indication.

"While this wonderful city means nothing short of the world to me…" the mayor was saying.

This was no stomachache. She had guessed wrong. Kurenai turned pale, shifting dubiously while trying to ascertain the best route for escaping the room mostly unseen.

"Are you all right?" Sasuke was unable to ignore her ashen face and the way she was darting her eyes about. "What—"

"I think I've…" This was embarrassing, despite the fact that it was perfectly normal for a woman as intensely pregnant as she was. "Mr. Uchiha. I'm afraid my—my water just broke."

That made the famously calm Uchiha face contort with something between shock and fright. It almost made Kurenai laugh, until a new pain gripped her lower abdomen. Grinding her teeth, she added, "I'm so sorry, but – could I trouble you to—"

"Of course." All business, Sasuke regained his composure and pulled her arm through his. They stood up together, leaving no other impression besides a courteous gentleman assisting a pregnant woman in going outside. Kurenai fervently hoped her suit was a dark enough red to conceal the wet stain.

Sasuke asked where her obstetrician could be found. His impromptu charge grinned wryly. Sweating from the pain of that initial contraction, she told him. He immediately took out his iPhone and hit the speed dial.

"Sakura," he said when he was answered, "I'm coming in. I have Yuuhi Kurenai with me. She's going into labor."

As he put her in a taxi and rounded the other side to get in, Kurenai couldn't be more grateful that she hadn't been forced to give birth on TV. "Won't Doctor Haruno ask questions about this?" It was a strange situation, after all.

Sasuke gave her the slightest of smiles. "Sakura's only a little bit of the jealous wife," he assured her, already taking out his wallet to pay the cab fare.

She was reminded to call Asuma and weakly dialed, praying the contractions were still far enough apart to tell him the news. The call went straight to voicemail, and she frowned.

Oh well. He probably still had several hours to get to the hospital.

To Be Continued…