WARNING: MILD SHIKATEMA
And you all know that I don't own Naruto, duh.
Give Me All Your Love
The war was over; Madara had fallen. Sasuke had his ass dragged back to Konoha (or what was left of it) via his Team 7 teammates. He was currently sequestered in a high-level prison cell underground, pending trial approaching. The only reason it was taking so long was that no one really knew what to do with him. He was a traitor, that was undeniable, but he was literally the last Uchiha surviving now. The power of the Sharingan wasn't something to be thrown away so easily.
Personally, Shikamaru thought the bastard could've just died and saved everyone the trouble. Then he wouldn't have to listen to the Lady Hokage ranting about how she didn't have a clue what to do with him. Why did he have to listen to her anyways? His dad was there too, and the old man could still cream his ass at shogi. Didn't that mean he was smarter?
But Shikamaru didn't think on it now, he and Chouji standing outside the medical tent and wincing as Kurenai gave out another piercing wail. Ino was inside the tent with their Lady Hokage and Sakura, helping to birth the baby. Asuma-sensei's baby.
Shikamaru shifted uncomfortably.
It was finally happening. The legacy of his late sensei was coming, and Shikamaru wasn't sure if he was ready for it. He wasn't sure he was good enough, fast enough, strong enough… cool enough.
But it was coming.
He heard Ino give out a triumphant yell, and Kurenai one last scream before a new voice, one he had never heard before but was hearing now, started to cry.
Chouji looked at him, eyes wide with terror, and Shikamaru was sure he looked the same. The two looked at the tent, wondering if they should come in or wait for permission. Ino made the decision for them, poking her head out of the tent, sweat covering her face and a bright light in her eyes, like the sun shining in the blue sky.
"It's a boy!" she crowed, shoving the curtain aside and ushering them in. Chouji wasted no time, hunkering into the small tent, his big body just barely fitting through the opening. Shikamaru hesitated at the doorway, and Ino smiled softly and grabbed his hand. "C'mon," she said softly, and the shadow user allowed himself to be guided by her hand.
The first thing he saw was Sakura and the Lady Hokage, sweating and breathing deeply, but smiling with faint tears. The genius wondered if it was really that exhausting to help give birth to someone; he expected Kurenai to be sweating and panting, not the med nin's. But the thought was derailed when his gaze landed on his late sensei's lover lying on a cot, tired but unmistakably happy as she cuddled a bundle of blankets.
"Shikamaru, come see," she goaded, and Ino moved aside for her teammate. He knelt by her side, his eyes wide as Kurenai shifted her arms, showing him the little face that poked out of the bundle of blue blankets. The baby was awake, his face still red but no longer crying. He was fussing a little, pushing his little arms out of the blankets to feel the air.
"He's… he's…" Shikamaru started, unsure of what to say, unsure that there was just one word that could describe what he was seeing before him, right now, at this very moment. Kurenai seemed to know as well, what he was struggling with, and merely smiled.
"I want you to name him."
Shikamaru's eyes darted to her in shock. "Me?" he breathed, shaking. Did he have the right? But Kurenai just nodded, holding out her arms to gently lay her new baby into his arms. Shikamaru tensed, awkwardly holding him. The newborn stared at him through his dark eyes, a little hand reaching out for the new person, wanting to explore, to learn, to understand and discover.
"Can we… can we name him Asuma?"
Chouji grinned. Ino smiled. And Kurenai brushed her fingers across her son's forehead.
"Would I have expected anything else?"
He laughed and bent his head down to Asuma's searching hands, crying silent tears of happiness.
"Welcome home, Asuma."
The first thing Shikamaru noticed was that the door was unlocked. Normally, that wouldn't alarm him so much if he didn't know that Kurenai was currently on a mission, but then he remembered that Ino had volunteered to stay with baby Asuma for the night. That made him relax just the slightest, until he opened the door and saw more than one pair of sandals littering the entrance. Which is normally also not a problem, considering people came over to see Asuma all the time. But the unfamiliar sandals he saw were ones he knew belonged to Naruto and Sakura. And there was an extra pair placed neatly beside theirs. And there was only one person who followed those two around like a dog.
His heart pounded loudly beneath his chest, and Shikamaru whizzed into the nursery, where a three month old Yuuhi Asuma slept. He knew he shouldn't be so terrified, really, because Naruto and Sakura were there and they'd protect the baby to their last breath, but there was just something in him that rejected the idea of a bloodthirsty avenger in the same room with a baby, let alone the one that he swore he would protect.
Team 7 looked up when he barged into the room, Naruto and Sakura hovering over the crib while Sasuke stood a bit back, clearly uncomfortable. The innocently surprised looks he got from Naruto and Sakura made Shikamaru unclench his fists, shifting back to his default slouch. "Hey," he nodded, dark eyes wandering over to Asuma, who seemed to sense he was in the room. The baby started to giggle, grabbing his feet and kicking excitedly. Naruto and Sakura relayed greetings, the pink-haired medic gushing when Shikamaru stepped closer and lifted Asuma into his arms. "Hey 'Suma."
Asuma gurgled with happiness, tiny fingers reaching out, attempting to touch the shadow user's cheeks. Shikamaru bounced him lightly in his arms, dangling his finger in the baby's face, watching him try to grab it. "How'd you guys get in?" he asked nonchalantly, but listening intently for the answer. Naruto leaned on the side of the crib.
"Ino let us in. Said she had to go shopping or something." Shikamaru felt a burst of anger at Ino, wondering what was going through her head when she decided to leave Asuma in the hands of these three. He knew his fears were unfounded; Ino loved Asuma just as much as he did but he couldn't stop the emotion that sparked through him. He thought that at least she valued Asuma-sensei's son over her love of shopping. Apparently not.
"Ah," Shikamaru murmured, bouncing Asuma in his arms. Sakura was looking at him with starry eyes, her hands fidgeting with each other at her chest. The lazy genius looked at her, smirking. "Want to hold him?" he asked. Sakura lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Can I?" she asked reverently. Shikamaru nodded, careful as he handed the little baby over to the roseate. He knew he could trust Sakura with Asuma; all females had a maternal instinct, even if it was dormant because they themselves didn't have children.
Asuma looked curiously up at Sakura's green eyes and pink hair, wondering who this new person was and why she was so colourful. Some of the medic nin's short pink locks dangled in front of his face, and he tried to swipe at them, making baby noises. And that was when Shikamaru could see the kunoichi's heart melt. Hook, line, and sinker.
"Uwaah, Sakura-chan, lucky," Naruto said, moving closer to peer down at the baby. Asuma's head turned to him, curious. He could see blonde hair and blue eyes, and his little baby mind thought it was Ino at first. But Naruto's hair was a darker blonde than Ino's, and his skin too tan. So Asuma smiled and giggled at another newcomer, reaching out to try and discover him too.
"You can hold him too, Naruto," Shikamaru said, and the blonde froze, looking panicked. He didn't know how to hold a baby.
Sakura seemed to sense his trepidation, and smiled softly. "Here," she said to him, easing Asuma into his awkwardly placed arms. The medic nin adjusted them when her hands were free, making sure Asuma's head was supported properly. Naruto just let himself be manipulated like a doll, too busy staring astonished at the little baby in his arms. Asuma was still making baby noises and reaching out for Naruto's face, close enough to see that the new person had strange markings on his face.
"He's… he's so tiny," Naruto breathed with shock, his arms trembling a little. "Teme, look, isn't he so small?"
Everyone turned to look at Sasuke, who shifted slightly at suddenly being the centre of attention. He tried to ignore the shadow user's piercing gaze, keeping his determinedly on Naruto and the baby. Unsure of what to say, the Uchiha just nodded, hands stuffed into his pockets. A tongue clucked in disapproval, and everyone turned to the doorway where Ino stood, arms crossed.
"Really Naruto, don't use such vulgar language in front of Su-kun. You'll corrupt him." The purple-clad kunoichi walked forward, taking Asuma into her arms and cooing softly to him, grinning when he started to grab at her long hair. Ino nuzzled her nose into his cheek, and he shrieked with laughter. Shikamaru felt his annoyance sizzle up again, and he regarded his teammate coolly.
"What'd you buy?" he asked, and Ino looked at him. She seemed to sense his anger and turned her own frosty gaze on him.
"Food. Kurenai's fridge is empty, so she left some money for me to go grocery shopping." Shikamaru nodded, his anger dissipating now that he knew the reason and settling lazily against the wall. Ino smiled at his overprotectiveness and continued to coo to Asuma while Naruto and Sakura hovered over her.
"Hey Sasuke," Naruto started, looking up at the former avenger, "don't you want to hold him?"
"Naruto—" Sakura started, wanting to explain to him why they wouldn't be a good idea, given that Shikamaru and Ino were here. But Ino interrupted her, looking up into Sasuke's black eyes.
Shikamaru's fists clenched. He knew Ino's crush on Sasuke was long gone; she had moved onto Sai, right? So he knew that her offering to let Sasuke hold Asuma wasn't on some fancy whim.
It was a test.
If an innocent baby could accept being held by a man who once punched a hole through his friend's chest, then this man was worth trying to reform. Shikamaru was partly relieved that it was Ino who was holding Asuma. A stronger man would've been able to hand that baby over to a person like Sasuke, and although Shikamaru was strong he knew he wasn't that strong. So he shifted against the wall, ready to take Asuma out of the avenger's arms in a second, but trusting his teammate's judgement to give the avenger a chance.
Ino stepped forward and Sasuke took a step back.
"I don't—" he started, but Ino glared at him. There was an unspoken demand storming in her blue eyes, and the Uchiha promptly clipped his mouth shut. Asuma was silent in the blonde's arms, sensing the tension in the air.
Sasuke reached his arms out, hands trembling slightly as Ino eased Asuma into his arms. The baby looked up at him curiously, seeing lots of dark colours, wondering faintly if it was Shikamaru. But the black looked more bluish than normal, and the skin too pale to be his Shikamaru. So he gurgled and reached his hands out, wanting to learn about this new person as well. Sasuke obliged, leaning his head down, letting the baby's hands pat his cheeks.
Asuma roamed his hands along Sasuke's face, catching his fingers in the avenger's mouth. Laughing, he tugged on the bottom lip and grabbed at the soft blue hair, and that was when a collective sigh rippled through the room. Clear.
Ino took Asuma into her arms again, relieving Sasuke of his burden. The blonde looked at him for a long while, her gaze searching. He met her gaze coolly, but Naruto and Sakura could tell he was uncomfortable. Ino's stare tended to do that to people. When she looked at you, really looked at you, it was like she was peeling back the layers of your mind, discovering everything that made you tick. It was unnerving.
But Ino smiled brightly, a string of malice underlying the curve of her lips. "Last chance Sasuke-kun," she told him, her tone sweet but mocking when she said his name. "Don't screw it up."
Sasuke nodded, his eyes gravely serious. He knew that, and he wasn't going to mess it up. Ino nodded with satisfaction before turning her back to him and placing Asuma in the crib. As she straightened, Shikamaru saw a happy sparkle in her eyes and knew that although she hadn't forgiven him, she was giving him a chance. And that was enough for Shikamaru to give him one too.
"So are you guys staying for dinner? I'm making tempura!"
Shikamaru sighed tiredly, trudging up the few steps of Kurenai's little house, fishing around in his pockets for the key. Kurenai was away on a mission again, and as always, Team Ten was in charge of baby Asuma while she was gone. Sometimes she recruited Team Eight, but inevitably his team always found out about it, and always dropped by to check on their little bundle of joy.
That really was what Asuma was; a bundle of joy. And that wasn't just because he always seemed to be smiling and laughing and playing. He was the first baby to be born after the war, a symbol of peace and hope and new beginnings. Naruto (and by extension Sasuke) came by often, usually tagging behind Hinata or Sakura and Ino, leaning over the cradle and watching the baby sleep, or play, or fuss. Shikamaru supposed Asuma was inspiration for the blonde, a motivator to work harder, be cooler.
The lock clicked, and the lazy genius pushed the door open, seeing toys scattered over a plush carpet. Ino was kneeling on the carpet, Asuma in front of her as he laughed and giggled while she made funny faces and blurt out strange noises. The kunoichi looked up when he came in, smiling brightly. "Hey Su-kun look who's here!" Ino exclaimed excitedly, picking the eight month old baby up with ease, turning him to the doorway. "It's Shikamaru!"
Shikamaru felt the corner of his lip tug up, his heart warming at the sight of his blonde teammate and his sensei's son. Ino tickled Asuma, who shrieked and giggled, trying to twist away. "Careful," he told her, and she glared half-heartedly up at him.
"Duh, I know that," she snarked, placing a letter block in front of Asuma, who picked it up and started gnawing a corner. Shikamaru settled on the other side of Asuma, smirking when the baby abandoned his toy to crawl over to him. He lifted the baby up with ease, blowing a raspberry into his stomach. Asuma squealed in laughter and Ino joined him. She never got tired of that; watching the gentleness with which Shikamaru handled Asuma.
The baby boy was set back on the carpet, and crawled towards some of his other toys. Ino shifted to sit beside Shikamaru, both of them watching as Asuma grabbed his pacifier and stuffed it in his mouth before heading for the fluffy bunny on his right. He amused himself wonderfully, allowing Ino to let her focus shift towards the chunin beside her, who was still watching the baby with a steady gaze.
"How's life?" she asked. He shrugged but didn't break his surveillance on Asuma.
"Troublesome," he replied, and she rolled her eyes.
"Naturally," she snorted, nudging him. "Any new missions? Is there a certain Sand kunoichi you have to show around the village?" Shikamaru flushed pink at her teasing, shifting uncomfortably. Ino's mouth dropped; he had never reacted that way before. "What happened?" she demanded, grabbing the collar of his flak jacket and tugging his face to hers. Shikamaru jolted in surprise, blinking at her determined face. She was such a nosy girl.
"S-she just came by yesterday," he replied, looking away, trying desperately not to let his feelings show. But Ino was a hound for sniffing out juicy gossip; his attempt at nonchalance wasn't going to fool her. She glared at him, and he quailed inwardly under her stare. "And… we maybe… might be… y'know, going out," Shikamaru mumbled, his face turning red. He expected Ino to shriek with glee and fangirlishness, as was her normal reaction to learning about a new couple. That was how she reacted when Chouji told her he was now on 'friend' terms with Ayame at Ichiraku.
But when Shikamaru didn't feel his brain splitting from high-voltage screams, and Ino's hands slipped from his flak jacket, confusion spread over him. He looked at her, and she was blinking stupidly, her mouth parted just the slightest as something swept over her eyes, taking over her. He didn't recognize the emotion, but it was scaring him. "Ino?" he prodded gently, and she jumped.
"O-oh!" she answered, breathless. "Sorry, sorry, I just didn't see that coming, was all." Her laugh was awkward and a bit forced as she turned to scoop Asuma up in her arms. "Right Su-kun? Who would've thought that this lazy idiot finally got the guts to get a girlfriend, huh?" Shikamaru's face fell into one of annoyance. Nope, still the same old Ino.
"Yeah, well, this lazy idiot is still right here," he grumbled, and Ino just smiled and played with Asuma. Shikamaru watched them for a while, observing Ino a little closer than he normally would. Despite his earlier dismissal, there was still something wrong that he couldn't place his finger on, but no matter how much he thought about it, nothing came to him.
Asuma was trying to find his pacifier that Ino hid in a pile of toys when Shikamaru stood up, alerting her but not Asuma. "I have to go," he said, padding to the door. Ino nodded, her blue eyes tracking his form to the door.
"Mission?" she asked as he unlocked the door, his cheeks pink.
"Date," he replied shortly, and Ino's eyes widened before settling into a smirk.
"Have fun!" she exclaimed, waving goodbye. "Don't go making any playmates for Asuma, y'hear?" Shikamaru flushed furiously, closing the door a little harder than he would normally have as he stalked out of the house. What a troublesome woman!
Asuma flipped his fluffy bunny over, eyes sparkling triumphantly as he finally found his pacifier. He grabbed it, popping it into his mouth and turning towards his blonde caretaker to show her he succeeded in their modified hide-and-seek game. She was sitting motionless where he left her, head turned towards the closed door.
Confused at why she was looking at something so uninteresting, Asuma crawled forward, placing his little hands on her knees. She looked at him, smiling softly. "Hey, you found it," Ino said, lifting him into her arms, burying her face into his little shoulder. "You're such a smart boy," she praised, and Asuma didn't understand why something wet was dribbling on his clothes, or why she was giving him happy words but sounded so… not happy. But it didn't really matter, because she was sad, and Asuma didn't want her to be sad, so he hugged her tighter.
Shikamaru smiled as he stood with the group of people huddling around the table, watching the cake with the single candle being placed in front of the birthday boy. Asuma was smiling happily, looking around at all the people and the pretty light in front of him. "Mama!" he exclaimed when Kurenai came into view, holding a camera. He had started talking a few weeks ago, but most of it was gibberish except for 'mama'. Ino had squealed for ten whole minutes, urging him to keep saying it. He did, of course, feeding off of Ino's excitement and laughing when she made it such a huge deal.
"… happy birthday to Su-kun, happy birthday to you~!"
Shikamaru grinned, clapping as the song finished, watching Kurenai blow the single candle out for her now one year old son. Asuma clapped his hands together gleefully, looking around at all the people who came to visit. Shikamaru imagined it was a bit overwhelming for the kid, but he took it all in stride.
"Okay, cake time!" Ino sing-songed, brandishing a knife. No one was worried that she was holding a knife so close to Asuma; they were ninja. Handling sharp weaponry was sort of their job. In fact, it seemed to amuse the baby, who reached out for the kitchen blade. Ino expertly dangled it out of his reach, meticulously cutting the cake to hand out.
The shadow user took the time to observe his female teammate. She hadn't really changed during the past few months, but there was always something hovering above her head that Shikamaru still couldn't put his finger on. It could be ignored, but never for too long, always coming back, dangling itself in his face, making him wonder. There were no clues, either, in the way she acted or dressed or spoke. Ino was Ino, the same spunky, ever-optimistic, cheerful girl he had known as a kid. But still, he felt like something was… off.
Trying not to dwell on it, Shikamaru watched Ino turn with a slice of cake towards Asuma, grinning at him. "Want one, Su-kun?" she asked, and Asuma just stared at her for a second. Ino blinked in confusion. "Su-kun?"
The baby giggled. "No!" he exclaimed, and everyone's mouths dropped. Another word!
"No?" Ino repeated, grinning widely. "You don't want the cake Su-kun?" Asuma shrieked in laughter.
"No!" Everyone laughed, and Ino grinned devilishly.
"Oh, well then I suppose I'll just leave with it then," she replied nonchalantly, taking a step away from his chair. But then he looked like he was about to cry, his little hands reaching out for the blonde.
"No!" he yelled again. "No!" Ino panicked a little, coming forward and placing the cake in front of him. She soothed him by running her hand through his short brown hair.
"I'm sorry, its okay Su-kun you can have it." But Asuma ignored the cake, his lips twisted in another cry as he reached his chubby hands towards Ino.
"No!" he yelled again. Everyone was really puzzled now, wondering what he wanted, or didn't want. But Shikamaru saw how Asuma tried to struggle out of his high chair, reaching to Ino with desperation, the 'no' falling repeatedly from his lips. And that was when he knew.
"He's saying your name."
Everyone turned to him, wondering what he was going on about. But Shikamaru smirked, coming to stand beside Ino. Asuma looked at him, sniffling a little. "Shii!" he exclaimed. Their mouth's all dropped. Shikamaru gestured Chouji to join them, and Asuma turned to him to shout, "Cho!" much to the Akimichi's pleasure and surprise.
Ino stood between her two teammates, still trying to wrap her head around Shikamaru's revelation. "Su-kun," she started, leaning forward and pointing to herself. "Who am I?"
"'No!" he replied.
"And him?" She pointed to Shikamaru.
"And him?" She pointed to Chouji.
Ino observed him for a moment, straightening back up and standing equal with Shikamaru and Chouji. "Su-kun," Ino smiled, "who are we?" Asuma giggled, clapping his hands.
It was silent in the room for about five seconds.
"What? No fair, Su-kun, what's my name?" Kiba exclaimed, shoving himself between Chouji and Ino. Ino glared, punching him in the head.
"Let me have my moment!" she snarled, before turning back to Asuma with a sweet smile. "What's my name Su-kun?" she cooed.
"'No!" Asuma repeated. Naruto butt in at that moment too, pointing to himself.
"Ne, ne, Su-kun, call me Hokage! Ho-ka-ge!"
But Asuma smiled sunnily up at him and said, "Beh!"
Naruto blinked in confusion. "Beh?"
Sakura tried to stifle her laughter. "I think he's trying to say 'dobe'."
"… TEME! WHAT THE HELL DID YOU TEACH HIM?"
Everyone laughed when Naruto went charging towards the reformed Uchiha, who simply smirked with satisfaction.
The streets were bustling with activity as Shikamaru strolled along, Asuma a little over a year old and riding atop his shoulders. He was walking alongside the shadow user a few minutes ago, but fussed about being tired, forcing the chunin to do something about it. Not that Shikamaru minded, given how Asuma was so happy about the new perspective he was granted.
So the duo strolled along the streets, waving to people who said hello. Everyone knew about Asuma, and everyone loved him. Shikamaru always found himself accosted by civilians, mostly old ladies and teenage girls, who gushed over the little boy. Asuma accepted them with his usual baby way, acting cuter and nicer when the teenage girls were around. It made him wonder if his sensei's son would grow up to be some sort of pretty-boy heartthrob like the Uchiha. (That would be really troublesome.)
Shikamaru heard someone call his name, and turned. They were near the gates of Konoha, and a familiar blonde was standing there with her arms crossed. For a moment, Shikamaru wondered if Ino was back from her mission yet (she was due to arrive back today), but noticed the woman at the gates had teal eyes instead of sky blue ones. He blinked in surprise when he realized who it was.
It was Temari.
Frowning, Shikamaru started towards his girlfriend of five months. He didn't remember anyone telling him she would be arriving in Konoha. Usually she was here on business, or he was in Suna on business, and that was really the only time they spent together. It wasn't a lot, a few times a month, but it worked for the two of them and Shikamaru didn't really feel like changing it. He knew Temari was hinting that she'd like him to be closer to her (he was a genius, how could he not know?) but Shikamaru couldn't just up and move to Suna. Konoha was his home, and Asuma needed him.
"Hey," he greeted her. Asuma, who was normally very talkative (gibberish-wise) was silent now, his little hands fisted in Shikamaru's spiky ponytail. "What're you doing here? Tsunade-sama didn't mention you were coming." Temari's eyes narrowed a little, but she shrugged nonchalantly, her arms still crossed.
"I decided to surprise you," she replied, something in her tone daring him to question her. But Shikamaru never did, so he just nodded absentmindedly.
Temari shifted nervously in the silence that followed. "So do you want to do something?" she asked, and Shikamaru blinked in mild surprise. She never really asked him like that before, and usually just stated what they were doing or where they were going and he followed along. But Shikamaru couldn't really do that now; Asuma was with him.
"Can't. I have to take care of 'Suma," he informed her, and Temari's eyes flickered up to the little boy, surprised as if she just noticed he was there. The Suna kunoichi shifted uncomfortably as she stared up at the little boy, who was also giving her wary looks.
"His mom's not around?" she asked, and Shikamaru shook his head.
"Kurenai's on a mission. She'll be back by tomorrow, I think. We could do something then." But Temari shook her head as well, her lips twisting in a grimace.
"I'm leaving early tomorrow," she told him. Shikamaru hummed in displeasure. He didn't want to blow his girlfriend off because he knew how much time they didn't get to spend together, but Asuma was his responsibility right now. He supposed he could ask Chouji, even though it would require interrupting his date with Ayame. But it wasn't like they would mind, right? Ayame loved Asuma just like every other civilian in the city. Then again, two days ago Chouji just came back from a month-long mission. He and Ayame probably missed each other like hell.
But Temari was giving him that look, like if he didn't spend time with her she was gonna stay mad at him for a long, long time. And Temari could do it, too; she still called him a crybaby.
Shikamaru frowned deeper, trying to think of someone who could take care of Asuma for the day. There weren't a whole lot of people he trusted with his sensei's son, so the list was short. There was one person he could ask, but their house was halfway across the village, and Temari's temper looked pretty short. He could get there in a few minutes and come back quickly if he roof-hopped, but he wasn't even sure the person would say yes, so roof-hopping with Asuma and back could be tiring and troublesome.
"Watch him for a sec," Shikamaru said, depositing Asuma into Temari's arms. She tensed, eyes wide with shock at the little boy looking up at her, terrified. Shikamaru had disappeared before Temari could protest, leaving her uncomfortably holding a little baby boy who looked ready to cry.
"H-hi?" Temari spoke uncertainly, panicking when he started to cry, trying to twist out of her arms. She struggled to hold onto him, whispering, "Don't cry, please don't cry!" only for him to wail louder. There was laughter behind her, and Temari turned to glare at the person laughing at her expense, only to recognize the blonde with blue eyes.
"Hi Temari," she greeted, looking dusty and a little worse for wear. There were a few cuts on her body, blood-soaked bandages decorating her arms. "Hi Su-kun," she cooed, stepping forward and relieving the Suna kunoichi of her burden. Temari sighed with mental relief, Asuma quieting as soon as he was in the arms of someone he knew. "Where's Shikamaru?" she asked, and Temari shrugged.
"He just handed me the kid and took off," she replied. Ino hummed with the new information, bouncing Asuma in her arms to calm him some more.
"Are you guys spending the day together?" she asked. Temari shrugged.
"He said he needed to take care of the kid." Ino bristled inwardly at how the fan user continually addressed her Su-kun, but let it go. Instead, the three of them just stood in silence, waiting for Shikamaru to come back, which he did about two minutes later.
"Okay, so I got Hinata-san to take care of 'Suma," he said, only to catch sight of Ino holding the baby. His eyes widened. "Ino! You're ba—" he started, unable to finish because her foot slammed into the side of his face, her own darkening comically in anger. Temari blinked in astonishment at the fast kick, admiring the kunoichi's speed.
"Lazy idiot!" Ino reprimanded. "Don't you know Hinata-chan's first date is with Naruto today? Idiot, idiot, idiot!" Ino kept pelting the other chunin with kicks, her ire not fading as she railed on him. Asuma laughed at the scene, being jostled in Ino's arms and enjoying it. Shikamaru was flustered as he blocked Ino's kicks, getting back up on his feet.
"I can't just leave Temari alone!" he defended, and Ino rolled her eyes.
"You can, oh I don't know, take Su-kun along with you?" she suggested. "It's not like you'll be doing indecent things—oooh!" Ino smirked, and Shikamaru flushed a bright red.
"Ino, it's not like that!" he exclaimed, and Ino pretended not to hear him.
"No worries, no worries! I understand completely, two lovers separated by hundreds of miles, impatiently waiting for the next time they'll meet before they—"
"Ino!" Shikamaru yelled, and Ino grinned devilishly. She placed her sandal on his back, pushing him towards his girlfriend. He tumbled into her, but Temari was able to steady him so they wouldn't fall on the ground. All the better for her, Ino thought. She didn't think she could see them in such a couple-y position.
"Seriously, go out and be with your girlfriend. I'll take care of Asuma for the day and go tell Hinata her date with Naruto is still on." Ino turned swiftly, headed towards the Hokage tower to hand in her mission report. She shifted Asuma in her arms, trying to lessen the load on her arms. Asuma shuffled to peer over her shoulder, making crying noises and reaching out for Shikamaru.
"Shii-nii!" he yelled, sniffling. Ino stroked his back to sooth him, but the little boy wouldn't relent. Shikamaru smiled softly at the action, stepping forward and alerting Ino to his approach. She turned fully, facing him so the shadow user could ruffle the baby's hair.
"Sorry 'Suma," he apologized. "I'll hang out with you tomorrow, okay?" Asuma sniffled, shaking his head. He reached his arms out for Shikamaru again, lips pursing.
"Kiss!" he demanded, and the two chunin's looked at each other in surprise. Asuma had never asked that of them before. But his face was set in that stubborn line, and they both knew he wouldn't relent until he got what he wanted. But Shikamaru hesitated, wondering if kissing him would be considered 'uncool'. Ino seemed to pick up on his thoughts and grinned as she rolled her eyes.
"He's not gonna remember it, Shikamaru," she told him, mirth lacing her voice. Shikamaru sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and muttering his favourite word under his breath before leaning down, lips brushing against Asuma's forehead.
"Be good for Ino-nee-chan, okay?" he whispered, and Asuma giggled. When he looked up, Ino was smiling with a tear in her eye, alarming him. "What's wrong?" he asked, and she shook her head silently, clearing her unfallen tears with a finger.
"Nothing, nothing," she laughed, and that was when Shikamaru noticed the bloodied bandages on her arms. His eyes narrowed in concern, and he snagged her wrist, bringing it closer for inspection. Ino was surprised at his sudden handling of her body, flushing red and trying to pull her arm back.
"It's not that bad," she insisted, and it really wasn't. She had healed them already while coming back to Konoha, after her chakra replenished. But Shikamaru still looked at them, worried. He even peeled back some of the bandages, just to check that she was telling the truth and not being macho. He let her go once his inspection was finished, satisfied that they weren't anything serious. Ino smirked. "Told you." Shikamaru sighed and shook his head.
"You never change, Ino," he chuckled. Ino grinned.
"You bet I don't." Between them, Asuma squealed with laughter and clapped his hands, trying to get their attention. The two of them looked down at him, laughing and smiling. They didn't noticed Temari on the sidelines, feeling very third wheel-ish.
"Shikamaru! Let's go!" she called, and he turned to her, his smile dropping into its customary slight frown. The difference made something twist inside her, a little voice telling her it looked oddly like a mask falling over a face, hiding the true feelings behind a façade. She ignored the voice, focusing on how Shikamaru broke off from his teammate and the baby, heading towards her. Temari's eyes lingered on Ino and Asuma, her gaze calculating.
'I'm not giving him up without a fight.'
Ino smiled sadly, turning away towards the Hokage's tower. The action puzzled Temari. She was expecting a glare back in return; a declaration of war from the usually competitive Yamanaka. Not this… this grim acceptance.
"Are we going?" Shikamaru's voice broke into her thoughts and she looked up into his dark gaze. It was unreadable.
Shikamaru heaved a sigh as he lay back on the grass of his favourite hilltop, looking up at the clouds. Chouji gave him a concerned glance from the corner of his eyes, his big hands enveloped in Asuma's tiny hands as the baby stood up, babbling incoherently. He was about a year and a half now, learning the names of all his other friends and always listening to discover new words, trying to fit them into sentences.
"Bad day?" Chouji asked sympathetically, but Shikamaru sighed again.
"More like a bad week," he muttered although Chouji heard him loud and clear. "Temari's mad at me." The Akimichi hummed in thought, letting Asuma toddle over to Shikamaru and flop on his flak jacket. The little boy giggled, playing with the pockets.
"Oh? Why?" he asked, and Shikamaru scowled.
"Hell if I'd know. Women are so troublesome." The shadow user reached out, lifting Asuma onto his stomach and playing absentmindedly with him. Chouji watched him with a strangely sad look on his face, although he couldn't see it, too caught up in Asuma giggling frantically at his fingers.
"I guess so. But maybe we're sort of at fault, y'know?" he chuckled. "For falling in love with them in the first place." Shikamaru sat up abruptly at Chouji's nonchalant statement, flushing pink. Asuma yelled and giggled as he toppled off of the flak jacket, landing on the soft grass.
"W-what? Chouji, don't be ridiculous, I don't love Temari," Shikamaru protested, flustered. Chouji chuckled, patting his best friend on the back in hollow comfort.
"No worries, Shikamaru. We were all in denial at some point," he told the lazy genius. The pink stayed stubbornly on Shikamaru's cheeks as he picked at the grass, following Asuma's lead.
"Okay, fine, so maybe I'm a little bit in love with her. Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered, and Asuma looked up at him, curious. He clapped his hands for attention, making the two shinobi look at him and his petulantly curious pout.
"Shii-nii, Cho-nii, what 'love'?" he asked cutely, and the two adults froze. What the hell were they supposed to say to that? Men were basically idiots when it came to anything regarding love. Sure they felt it and stuff, but trying to rationalize and explain it to a one and a half year old? Kami shoot them now.
"Ah, well, you see Su-kun," Chouji stammered. He looked at his best friend, panicked. "Shikamaru, you tell him." Shikamaru froze, dark eyes shifting for a way out when Asuma turned to him with those damn eyes. He spotted a shock of blonde hair coming up the hill.
"Look, 'Suma, it's Ino-nee-chan!" he said quickly, jabbing in her direction. Ino heard him as she came into view, blinking at the oddly random gesture. Asuma brightened and toddled over to her, hugging her leg, chanting her name.
"'No-nee-chan! 'No-nee-chan! What 'love'?" he asked again as Ino bent down to pick him up. Ino seemed mildly surprised at the question, but then a beautiful smile blossomed over her face, and she hugged Asuma tightly to her chest. For a moment, Shikamaru thought she was going to do that sickening baby talk thing and gush and squeal about how she loved her little Su-kun so, so much. But the kunoichi simply ran her fingers lightly over his dark hair, settling on the grass in front of her teammates. And for the first time ever, Shikamaru felt a peaceful serenity in her as she stood Asuma on his little feet and looked him soundly in the eyes.
"Su-kun," she started, pointing to her heart hidden under her purple shirt, "what's this?"
"Heart!" Asuma crowed proudly. Ino nodded her head, smiling and ruffling his hair. He giggled, batting her hands away.
"Yes, heart. That's where your love comes from, Su-kun," she told him, and he looked confusedly at her chest. Asuma reached forward, poking the place where her finger was.
"Love here?" he asked, and Ino laughed lightly but shook her head, taking his finger away. Shikamaru and Chouji watched silently, thoughtfully, as she turned Asuma's finger, pointing it at his own heart.
"No, Su-kun. Your love comes from here," she told him. Her finger pointed at her own heart again. "And mine from here. And Shii-nii-san and Cho-nii-san from their hearts. And when you love someone, Su-kun, you give them a little bit of your heart." Asuma thought about that for a little, his mouth twisting in confusion. But then it pouted in irritation and he stamped his foot.
"No!" he exclaimed, this time meaning the actual word instead of his strange nickname for Ino. "Want all 'No-nee-chan's heart!" He rushed forward, grabbing at the place where her heart was. Ino's face fell sadly, but there was still a soft smile on her face as she swept Asuma into a hug, kissing the crown of his head.
"I can't give you all my heart, Su-kun," Ino told him softly, trying to get him to stop squirming in her arms. But he kept struggling, tearing up because his sister wasn't giving him what he wanted, like she usually did. So he screamed harder.
"Want heart! Want 'No-nee-chan's heart!" he screamed, tugging and pulling with his eyes narrowed and his mouth set in a stubborn frown. When he wasn't showing signs of stopping his little temper tantrum, Ino's face hardened just the slightest and she yanked him away from her arms, cupping his chubby face between her palms and forcing him to look at her.
"Asuma-kun," she warned, shocking all three of her boys. She never called Asuma by his full name before; only Kurenai did that and only when she was angry at him.
Asuma started to cry when he realized that his big sister was mad at him, and Ino's face immediately softened. She tugged him back into her arms, shushing him, stroking her fingers through his short hair in comfort. His cries lessened to hiccups, face buried in Ino's shirt. She didn't seem to mind that it had tears and snot and saliva all over it.
"Su-kun," Ino murmured, "love isn't something that can be taken. It has to be given, and even then you don't get to choose who to give it to." Here, her lips curved up bitterly, and Shikamaru felt anger swell in him at the sight of such a broken expression on a woman who otherwise rivalled the sun when she smiled. He swore he would kill the guy who made her look like that, like defeat was the only option left.
"Ino," Chouji whispered, and she looked up, a little surprised like she had forgotten they were there. A sheepish smile spread over her lips, and she laughed awkwardly.
"Not that you'd have to worry about that, Su-kun," she said, Eskimo-kissing him as he laughed. "Ino-nee-chan already loves you lots, yeah? She's already given you a BIIIG chunk of her heart!" Asuma giggled, escaping out of her arms and the Eskimo kiss, running to shelter himself behind Chouji. Ino prowled around Chouji, grinning mischievously, like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. Asuma squealed and ran away as Ino leapt at him, this time hiding behind Shikamaru. Ino settled on her haunches, pretending to observe her nails and ignore the two men sitting on her right. Asuma watched her carefully, inching out from behind Shikamaru to see if she was really done with chasing him.
Obviously not, since she pounced a second later, making him squeal and run away.
Shikamaru and Chouji laughed as they watched their teammate and their sensei's son running around the hill, partaking in a game of cat-and-mouse. A little while later, she managed to drag the both of them into it too and the game suddenly changed into tag, with Shikamaru as the 'it' person.
The lazy genius sighed, rolling his eyes good-naturedly as he watched his precious people run away from him, yelling and screaming. Asuma was trying to keep up on his little feet, a toothy grin on his face as Chouji jogged to give the toddler a chance to catch up. Between them, Ino was grinning brightly, her eyes looking as they were plucked out of the very sky itself as she baited Shikamaru to catch her with lewd gestures. A devilish grin rolled across his face as he stood, his shadow lengthening across the grassy hill.
"That's all anything ever is to you, huh?"
"… I don't think I can do this anymore, Shikamaru. I don't think I can keep pretending that one day you'll come with me to Suna, and I don't think you can keep pretending that our relationship will really work. It won't."
Ino gasped, shooting up in the guest bedroom at Kurenai's house when she felt the vibrations through the floor. A second later, loud bangs started to register in her ears and she realized someone was at the door. The clock beside her blinked dully, and she groaned, running a hand through her unbound hair and slipping out of bed. She stalked through the hallways with a thin robe on, swinging the door open furiously to give a piece of her mind to the idiot on the other side. I mean really, who the hell was trying to break the house down at three frickin' a.m. in the morning?
"I don't know if you realize, but there's a two year old on the other side of this door that took forever for me to get to bed so if you don't—Shikamaru?"
Ino blinked dumbfoundedly at her fellow teammate standing at the welcome mat, his hands gripping the sides of the doorway, head lowered. There was an acute shaking to his shoulders that Ino could barely make out in the dim moonlight, but it sent a wave of concern crashing over her. Shikamaru always lowered his head to cry, trying to block his pain so others would worry about him. But Ino always worried.
"Shikamaru?" she tried again, placing a hand on his face. He jerked away from her touch, but not fast enough for her to miss the wetness on his cheeks. "Shikamaru," she breathed, placing a hand on his shaking arm. "Come inside, come on," Ino goaded, leading him into the house and closing the door silently behind them. The kunoichi was half expecting Asuma to come toddling out the room to see what was going on, but he thankfully remained fast asleep.
Ino led Shikamaru over to the couch, letting him sink into it with some sort of relief, burying his face in his hands and taking a few gasping breaths. Ino kneeled on the plush carpet in front of him, brushing her fingers across his hands that stubbornly shielded his face. "What happened?" she asked, and he choked on a breath. She let out a silent sigh, knowing that it was useless trying to talk to him now, when he was like this. So she simply wound her arms around his shoulders, bumping her shoulder against his face. His reaction was immediate, arms snapping around her back and shoving her closer to him, letting his tears seep into her thin robe.
They stayed like that for long minutes, Shikamaru breathing in the sweet lilac scent of her shampoo, his arms steel bands around her body. She was softer under him, rubbing his back with soothing strokes, murmuring hushing sounds and nonsensical comforts in his ear. "I'm here, its okay," she kept repeating, pressing her lips gently to his temple a few times. "Just let it out, Shika, I'm right here."
Shika. Ino hadn't called him that since they were kids. She stopped after they entered the Ninja Academy, of course, making a bunch of new friends and discovering that it was 'uncool' to be seen with guys like him and Chouji. And then she was stuck on a team with them, and started bossing them around. They always followed her orders, of course; risking her wrath was never a good idea. But right now, Shikamaru could only remember that Ino was always there for him; that Ino never denied him anything that he really wanted, even though it was hard to tell because the lazy genius rarely ever asked for anything. Sitting here, breathing in her scent, all Shikamaru knew was that he needed her right now, more than anyone else in the world. More than Asuma, more than Chouji, more than… Temari.
She felt her robe slipping off her shoulders, and Shikamaru's warm breath on her neck. Somehow, the woman knew that it would come to this. That all she'd ever have of Shikamaru's love were shallow imitations, brought on by sadness and grief and total desperation. But feeling his arms around her, his lips against her skin, Ino didn't care. She'd take whatever she could get. And then she'd lock it in her heart and cherish it forever.