Usually, I ship ShikaIno, I won't lie. I occasionally ship ShikaSaku but still prefer ShikaIno. Because of that, there's some ShikaIno friendship in here but it's meant to be a ShikaSaku fluff chapter. So let's see how this goes. :3 Please review! But no snarky comments about updating. I got a guest comment saying "Holy fuck I thought this story was abandoned years ago" and not only does it have nothing to do with the story itself at all, it's rude. I have a busy life. Also, I had trouble finding my muse for this story and in general, and on top of school, is it any wonder this was delayed?

Ch.8: The Trouble With Girls

Nara Shikamaru looked at the house before them with disappoint as he followed his parents up the Yamanaka family's driveway. "Shikamaru, stop slouching and smile!" Shikamaru looked up at his mother and sighed. Frankly, going to have dinner with the Yamanaka's was a huge pain. They had a bossy daughter named Ino his age and she thought she was in charge of everything.

His mother looked at him expectantly, hands on her hips. Shikamaru looked down at the dish of casserole he was given to hold. "Fine…I won't slouch but I'm not gonna smile…it's troublesome. All of it."

His mother, Yoshino, glared at her husband pointedly. "I wonder where he picked up an attitude like that?"

Shikaku scratched his head, blushing lightly. "Dunno…but Shikamaru mind your mother." Yoshino gave her son and husband a withering look that promised regret if either of them crossed her and stepped past them and onto the front porch.

Shikamaru shared a fearful cringe with his father. "It won't be so bad," Shikaku tried to reassure him. "It's not like this is our first dinner with them and Inoichi's a laidback guy."

"Yeah," Shikamaru agreed. "But it's Ino that I always get stuck with." he grumbled.

Shikaku chuckled, clapping his son's back supportively as they joined Yoshino on the porch. She'd already rang the doorbell, and almost instantly it flew open and a prim looking brown-haired woman with her hair up neatly and an emerald brooch on the front of her turquoise dress greeted them.

"Hello," she said cordially. "It's been a while hasn't it? You're all looking well. Has Shikamaru grown?"

"It's hard to tell with that slouch he insists on keeping." His mom glanced at him pointedly before looking at Mrs. Yamanaka again. "Tsubame, it's so nice to see you again." Shikamaru watched his mother and Yamanaka Tsubame exchange a quick hug before she stepped aside.

"Please come in," Tsubame said, stepping aside. "I just finished the pot roast."

"Great!" Yoshino exclaimed, "We brought along some casserole." She motioned at Shikamaru and he handed the dish he'd been holding to Ino's mom.

"How thoughtful," Tsubame smiled down at him. She stepped aside to allow them into her home and Shikamaru glanced around warily. Ino could be lurking around any corner.

Suddenly, his father's old friend popped his head around the corner, smiling kindly. "Shikaku! Yoshino!" he called, moving to wrap his parents in a big hug. Greetings were exchanged and then Inoichi moved to ruffle Shikamaru's hair. "Hey there, Shikamaru. Ino should be around somewhere."

Shikamaru mentally made a face. That's exactly what he didn't want to hear.

The Yamanaka home was decorated with a subtle elegance and always smelled florid due to the fresh flower arrangements everywhere. And somewhere in its depths, a bossy blonde girl was just waiting to—he felt himself jump when a hand smacked his back.

"Shikamaru!" a shrill voice said in his ear. There was Ino in a dark pink long sleeved dress with purple lace trim around the waist.

Shikamaru clenched his eyes shut and hunched his shoulders in, staying as still as possible. There was a pause, and then Ino's footsteps, indicating she was moving around in front of him. "What're you doing?" she asked.

"Look. Just pretend I'm not here…" he mumbled.

Ino sighed loudly. "Just come on!" She tugged him hard by the wrist and he was forced to open his eyes. He looked back at the adults for help but none of them seemed inclined to do anything.

"Play nicely together," Tsubame called. "Dinner will be done shortly."

"Okay!" Ino chirped. Shikamaru marveled at how she could be so sweet with adults but so pushy with him. The blonde dragged him up the stairs and to a door covered in flower stickers with a sign on the knob that said "Ino's Garden".

Shikamaru had been going along with being towed around up until that point, but the minute he realized he was about to be taken into enemy territory he dug his feet into the carpet and pulled back. "Hold on, there's no way I'm going in there…it's a girl's room."

Ino's cheeks puffed out indignantly, her hand on the doorknob. "Yeah, well, guess what? I'm a girl Shikamaru, so deal with it!"

"Why do I have to go in there?" Shikamaru frowned. "Why do I have to go anywhere with you at all?"

Ino looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, Shikamaru, you have a point…I'm always telling you what to do, huh?"

Shikamaru eyed her suspiciously. "Yeah. You do."

"And I guess…" she huffed, "You don't have to do everything I tell you to."

Shikamaru felt his brows raise in mild surprise.

Ino suddenly grinned deviously. "But you will. And you know why? Because. I. Said. So!" He didn't have time to kick himself for thinking Ino was going to change, because she pushed him into her room with a hard shove to the back. He landed face first on an overly plush carpet that tickled his nose.

Shikamaru sat up, sneezing. When he looked around, cringing at the fact that the room was just as girly as he'd expected with stuffed animals, posters of cute animals on the wall, light purple walls and a bed that had fairy princess print sheets. He couldn't help but cringe.

Ino walked over to her bed and threw herself down on it with a sigh. 'Of course,' Shikamaru thought. 'She's in her element. I'm just a prisoner.'

"What do you want, Ino? I've been to your house before and you never made me come up to your dumb room."

He found himself dodging a teddy bear lobbed at his head. "You take that back!" Ino hissed. "Nothing's dumb about a girl's paradise!"

Shikamaru picked up the stuffed animal and stared into its glassy black eyes. Its face almost looked like it was frozen in a plea for help. But…maybe that was just his imagination making him think the bear could feel his pain.

"And you should feel lucky. I usually don't let boys come in my room. Only Sakura," she sniffed haughtily. "My parents told me when you came I should try to be nice to you, but don't get a big head—"

She kept talking but he stopped listening. Shikamaru blinked slowly. She knew a Sakura…? But then, that wasn't such an unusual name. What were the odds? Not only that… but he hardly even spoke to the girl named Sakura in his class. Even if he wanted to, their classmates were always buzzing around her like…like bees buzzing around a flower.

"Are you listening?" Ino asked. Shikamaru looked up. She was glaring at him. Typical.

"No," he answered, setting the bear down. "Not really. But tell me something about your Sakura. What makes her so special?" Shikamaru settled himself back on the carpet with his hands behind his head. It'd piqued his curiosity, and even though he didn't care that much he still found himself asking.

'Just a way to pass the time.' He told himself. 'I'm stuck in here until Ino lets me out.'

Ino gave him a hard stare with narrowed blue eyes. "What're you curious for now all of a sudden?"

"I dunno, bored I guess."

"Well if you must know, we used to go to the same school. She's my best friend. Unlike you, she listens when I tell her stuff." Ino stood up and took something off her dresser. A picture he hadn't noticed.

She walked over to him and crouched by his head, shoving the picture near his face. "You see this?" Shikamaru felt his eyes widen minutely. It was the same Sakura. The pink hair and green eyes weren't exactly as common as the name. The photo showed Ino and Sakura embracing, wearing twin smiles, their eyes bright. "This is friendship. We do everything together!" she boasted. Then her proud expression wavered slightly. "Or we used to. She doesn't even go to the same school anymore, so I don't see her as much," her shoulders slumped.

"Yeah," Shikamaru said, "She goes to my school now."

Ino's head instantly lifted. "What?! Since when?"

Shikamaru looked at her blankly. "A few months maybe." He shrugged. "Not like I pay attention to that stuff."

"Well, pay attention!" she raged. "Do you talk to her? Is everyone being nice to her? How come you never said anything sooner you big dummy?!"

Shikamaru held up his hands defensively. "Slow down!" His mind only took a second to catch up to her questions once she'd stopped talking. "No, we don't really talk. And yeah, all those morons are all grabby with her all the time. They're nicer to her than they ever are to each other."

Ino didn't quite look convinced. "What do you mean grabby? What about the girls in your class? Are they nice?"

"I mean everybody's always fighting over who gets to spend time with Sakura and it's a real drag. It's too troublesome so I try to sleep through it. And she's the only girl in the class."

Ino's jaw dropped. "The only girl? The only girl?! In a class full of droolly, smelly, pushy boys?"

"Hey!" Shikamaru said indignantly. But he didn't really have a comeback. She had a point ironically.

Ino suddenly had a fistful of his itchy dress shirt in her hand. "Listen, Shikamaru! You'd better be Sakura's friend and keep her happy. If I find out one boy made her cry…"

Shikamaru remembered back to the art incident. 'Too late for that…'

"…I'll never forgive you!" Ino was saying.

'I can live with that.' he thought. But what he couldn't live with was Ino's retaliation.

"Ino…I really think she'll be fine. She's already got a lot of friends in the class. And that sounds like a lot of effort. It's trou—"

Ino pinched his cheek viciously, making him yelp. "Don't say it." she warned. "Just be her friend, or else. You're the only boy that's too lazy to try anything funny."

"Ino! Shikamaru! Wash up and come downstairs. Dinner's ready!" They heard Inoichi calling.

Ino let go of his face and Shikamaru instantly rubbed at what was sure to be a nasty bruise. He'd have to play it off because he didn't want anyone knowing he got threatened by a girl. "Remember what I said." Ino stood up, dusted at her dress and set her picture back in its place.

Shikamaru watched her walk out the door, still on the carpet. He shook his head when it closed behind her. Being around Ino always reminded him of what he'd known all along. Girls were crazy. And now, he was supposed to make friends with one.

When he went back to school the next week, Shikamaru still wasn't convinced Sakura needed another friend and protector, least of all him. He was content to daydream as he stared out the window, put minimum effort into classwork, and sit on the carpet with Chouji, dozing in and out. Wading his way through the nuisance of fighting boys who clung to Sakura Haruno almost every second of the school day was beyond troublesome. It was…it was… "Not worth it."

But he might've been the only one who thought so, he realized, watching as Sai, Sasuke, Kiba, Naruto and Gaara eyed Sakura intently when Neji got a book from a shelf she couldn't reach and gave it to her. She beamed at him, thanking him brightly, while the other boys watched the small tint of pink on the Hyuga's cheeks like hawks. Bloodthirsty hawks. Shikamaru didn't want to end up the mouse that they hunted.

'What's so special about a troublesome girl, anyway?' he thought, pulling out a book of his own. It wasn't one of the small picture books in the classroom. It was a book on dream theory that talked about how to have lucid dreams. One of the only things interesting enough for him to bother reading. 'Girls are bossy.' He thought of his mother and Ino. 'Or they cry when they don't get their way. They think they know everything. They don't know how to be quiet and just watch clouds.'

Shikamaru could go on forever about why he'd rather not associate with the fairer sex. He watched Sakura from over the edge of his book. Naruto had managed to get close to her and they were reading the book together, with Naruto pointing to the pages excitedly and making her giggle. It was true that of all the girls he knew, Shikamaru thought Sakura might be the least troublesome. The problem was she was surrounded by people who were troublesome, and that made her troublesome by extension.

He put the book down beside him and stared at the classroom ceiling woefully.

"You okay?" Chouji asked in concern from his side.

"Yeah, I guess." He muttered. "I was just wondering why girls are such a drag. We're guys that like taking it easy."

Chouji nodded in understanding, waiting for Shikamaru to continue. They both understood the other, because neither of them were all that complicated. Shikamaru liked cloud-watching and naps. Chouji liked food, food and to an equal extent, Shikamaru's company.

"Girls like Ino are a drag." Shikamaru finally said. Chouji cringed. He'd met Ino too. All three of their fathers were longtime friends. "And girls like Sakura," he lazily waved a hand in her direction. "Are too complicated."

Chouji tilted his head, glancing over at Sakura and back at Shikamaru. "Eh…you sure you're okay?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "Maybe. I dunno." He closed his eyes. "Wake me up…when it's time to go outside…"

"Iruka-sensei's gonna make you get up way before then," Chouji said, his voice broken up by the sounds of chips being crunched.

Shikamaru rolled over on his side, already blocking out the world.

"Alright, morning break is over. It's time for addition and subtraction!" Iruka announced. The class groaned, everyone putting away what they were playing with and preparing to do the dreaded classwork.

"Race you to our seats!" Naruto said playfully, awarding Sakura with a large grin.

"I have to put this book back first," she said, running toward the bookshelf. It wasn't far, but the faster she put it back the faster she could sit with her friend. Sakura was so focused on her goal that she ignored her untied shoelaces, toppling over a lump on the carpet and going down with a shriek.

Everyone turned to see what had caused her distress, but she waved them off bashfully. "I..I think I'm okay…"

"…I'm not."

Gasping, Sakura looked down to see she'd landed on Shikamaru Nara who had been napping on the floor again. His dark eyes were half-lidded as he stared up at her with a look of mild irritation. "Do you think you could get off? Your knee is on my arm."

Blushing heavily, Sakura scrambled back, letting Shikamaru sit up. He rubbed his head, glancing around in bewilderment. "Sheesh…a guy can't even nap on the floor without getting trampled."

"Hey, Sakura-chan are you okay?" Naruto and Sasuke had raced over.

"You shouldn't be sleeping there in the first place." Sasuke snapped. "It's not her fault."

"Didn't say it was…" Shikamaru grabbed his book and shook his head. He really hadn't been expecting the same girl he'd been thinking wasn't worth the trouble of befriending to fall on him! "Still was a drag, though."

Sakura clasped her hands together, looking at him guilty. "I-I'm really sorry! My shoe was untied, and I should've tied it before I tried to run and—"

Shikamaru silenced her with a dismissive wave. "It's fine. Seriously."

"Shikamaru, you lazy idiot!" Kiba barked, poking Shikamaru hard in the chest. "You made Sakura-chan upset!"

Shikamaru brushed his finger aside with a glare. "She doesn't have to be upset over me. I'm not mad."

Sakura bit her lip, watching Shikamaru take his book back to his seat.

Iruka cleared his throat behind them. "As long as everyone's okay, then let's move on with the lesson. I want everyone in their seats by the time I finish counting to ten. One…two…three…"

Sakura scrambled to put the book back on the shelf and take her seat. Her classmates all took their seats with grunts or complaints. She chanced a peek at Shikamaru but he only looked out the window in boredom like he did every day. His cheek rested on his palm and it looked like his thoughts were far away. He'd said he wasn't mad and Sakura believed him.

But she suddenly felt curious. What did he think about when he looked out the window? Whatever it was, it was more interesting to him than Iruka-sensei's lesson, and his lack of attention always got him in trouble.

"Shikamaru, seven plus seven—"


Yet when he was called on, Iruka-sensei never could quite catch him off guard.

'He's so smart! Way smarter than me…' For the rest of the lesson, Sakura listened to Iruka-sensei as he put equations on the board. Several times he called kids up to solve them. First Sasuke. Then Neji. Even Shino and then Chouji. Chouji had some trouble until Iruka-sensei gave him a hint, and then he was triumphantly able to get the answer. For the last problem, he called on Sakura, and she slowly walked to the board.

He smiled down at her encouragingly. "Alright Sakura, you're very bright, so I'm giving you one that's a little harder. Is that alright?"

She nodded shyly. "Okay…"

"If you can't get it right, it's fine. I just want you to try."

He wrote out the problem and she watched nervously. "5+6-2+10" it read. Her heartbeat increasing, Sakura accepted the marker and studied the numbers carefully. She knew that five plus five was ten, so adding one more made eleven. Taking two away from eleven was nine…plus another ten was…well, ten and ten made twenty and nine was only one less. "Nineteen!" she exclaimed, writing the number on the board.

The whole class leaned forward, gasping. Iruka gave her a proud smile. "Correct! Very good Sakura!"

He patted her head and Sakura felt a blush starting to make its way to her cheeks. She'd been so nervous, but getting the right answer was also sort of exciting. She walked back to her seat with her head held high, and when she glanced around the room her classmates gave her varying looks of awe and pride. It was when her eyes landed on Shikamaru that she felt her heart stutter slightly. For the first time when he looked at her, she saw curiosity, and then a small smile.

Sakura's mouth fell open slightly, but she recovered and managed to smile back. That little bit of approval was even better to her than getting the problem right.

Class continued, and when recess came, she urged her friends to go on without her, telling them she'd catch up soon. Naruto pouted and protested, and Gaara looked sad, but Sasuke pushed them both out of the room.

"We'll wait by the swings." Sasuke promised.

Sai trailed out behind them. "Hurry along, Ugly."

Kiba gave her a sharp-toothed grin and a wink and then ran out with Akamaru, who he didn't even bother to hide anymore.

Sakura waved after all of them, making her way slowly to wear Chouji and Shikamaru sat. Chouji was nudging at a sleeping Shikamaru's arm, trying to wake him up.

"Hi," she said it softly, but Chouji still jumped slightly. "I can help you." Sakura was surprised by her own boldness, but didn't retract the offer.

Chouji glanced at her and fidgeted unsurely. "Well, okay…I guess I could use the help."

Sakura nodded, moving to his other side and shaking his shoulder. "Time to get up, Shikamaru!" she called. "It's…it's recess time!" Shikamaru stirred, mumbling in his sleep.

"Urgh, Chouji…when did you start using strawberry shampoo?" he sighed, sniffing before burying his face back in his arm. Sakura drew her hand to her chest, worriedly fisting her shirt.

"Is…is there something bad about my shampoo?"

Chouji laughed a little. "There's nothing bad about anything that smells like food!" he exclaimed wholeheartedly. "Shikamaru's nose is sensitive, but I don't think he meant it in a bad way." Chouji slapped Shikamaru on the back.

Sakura continued shaking his shoulder again. Finally, grumbling under his breath, Shikamaru slowly raised his head with bleary eyes. Yawning, he stretched his arms over his head. Chouji sighed in relief.

"It's about time! Come on, recess already started." the chubby boy complained.

Shikamaru rolled his shoulders. "Yeah, yeah…" He rubbed at his eyes to get them to focus. Pink hair and amused green eyes came into view. "Wait, wha—Sakura?" said pinkette looked at him.

"She helped wake you up." Chouji explained nonchalantly.

"Why?" Shikamaru asked. Normally it was only Chouji who stayed behind to wait on him. The others took the first chance they could to book it to freedom.

Sakura looked startled, not expecting him to ask that. "Er…b-because Chouji looked like he needed help?" she offered feebly.

"You're not the easiest person to wake up," Chouji admitted.

"Shut up," Shikamaru smirked, playfully shoving at his friend. He got up from his desk. "That was a good nap. I'm ready to watch some clouds now."

Sakura blinked curiously, "Watch…clouds?"

Shikamaru glanced at her as he and Chouji started walking. "Yeah. Not the most fun hobby to some people, but I like it."

Sakura mulled that over as she walked behind them, fiddling with her fingers, a habit she'd picked up from her friend Hinata. "Could you show me how?"

Shikamaru stopped in his tracks. "Say what?"

She blushed as the two boys looked at her in surprise. She shook her hands helplessly. "Sorry! Never mind—" she tried to rush past them, but Shikamaru easily caught her wrist and pulled her backwards. She refused to meet his eyes, her green eyes finding the floor a better option.

"First. I'm not saying no, I'm just surprised. Cloud watching is something girls don't really like. There's nothing to it, by the way. You just look at the sky and try to see pictures in the clouds. Second: I'm pretty sure Naruto and them are waiting for you. It'd be a drag if they thought I was trying to take you away and came after me."

Shikamaru rubbed at his neck, his mouth twisting into a thoughtful frown. Sakura, unbeknownst to him, was watching him with innocent confusion. She didn't understand…Naruto and the others? They could all cloud watch together, couldn't they?

"Finding pictures in the clouds sounds fun to me," Sakura said earnestly. "And if the others want, we can all try together. We're all friends, right?"

Shikamaru couldn't believe she was that quick to trust and that eager for friends. The hopeful look in Sakura's big green eyes was proof enough she was serious. He shared a glance with Chouji, but his friend only shrugged, opening up his fourth bag of chips that day. The Nara rolled his eyes as Chouji continued to happily snack. Some help he was.

"Sure," Shikamaru drawled reluctantly, "You can come if you want. You'll probably get bored pretty quick anyway,"

He tried to ignore the giddy squeal behind him.

The minute they stepped onto the playground, the group of boys that had been waiting for Sakura rushed at them impatiently.

"What took so long?!" Naruto whined, getting in Sakura's face and clutching at her shoulders. Shikamaru couldn't believe she didn't seem to mind how the blonde annoyingly had to have his hands on her all the time. She'd just give him a fond smile.

"What were you doing in there?" Sasuke asked, a suspicious edge to his voice.

"You missed the first ten minutes of recess." Neji informed her, looking displeased.

"Do you…want to play in the sandbox today?" Gaara added quietly.

"I thought of a new fun thing we could all do together." Sakura said, a proud grin on her round face.

"I'm always up for something fun!" Kiba fist pumped.

Sakura clapped her hands together, pleased. "So then let's all cloud watch with Shikamaru and Chouji!"

Her eyes were closed in a smile, so she didn't see the way the faces fell in disbelief. "Cloud…watch?" Naruto repeated, dumbfounded.

"I told you they wouldn't want to." Shikamaru shrugged. "Come on Chouji."

"But wait," Sakura cried, reaching a hand toward their retreating backs. Her friends were all looking at her skeptically and she was suddenly feeling nervous. "P-Pictures."

"Pictures?" Everyone turned to see that Sai had come over, looking curious.

"Oh great," Sasuke muttered.

"Yes, pictures!" Sakura continued. "Cloud watching means l-looking for pictures in the clouds. Who knows what we might see? A bunny!" she waved her arms, "or a rocket ship, or a…giraffe…?" Everyone was staring at her with blank faces and her hopeful look crumbled in embarrassment, her bottom lip wobbling. She could feel her face heating in humiliation and she willed her eyes not to water. She would not cry. "It's stupid…" she laughed weakly. "Sorry guys," Sakura tried to beat a hasty retreat to the play tubes near the slide. She could sit in there until recess was over and no one would see her ugly, red face.

"Wait Sakura-chan!" She didn't plan to stop, but something barreling into her almost tackled her from behind. She barely managaed to keep from falling.

"Naruto, what the heck?" Kiba yelled. "You almost squished her!" Akamaru yapped, grabbing onto Naruto's pants and shaking.

"Get off dobe!" Sasuke snatched Naruto off by his shirt collar.

"S-Sorry!" Naruto said sheepishly. "But you guys know you wanted to stop her too!" he accused. He looked at Akamaru and shook him off. The puppy went flying and Kiba jumped to catch him.

"Stop her, yes. Injure her, no." Neji said.

Gaara tentatively stepped closer. "Um, cloud watching sounds like fun. If you're doing it, I will too."

"I would also like to join you, Ugly." Sai smiled gently.

Naruto glared at Sasuke challengingly. He turned to Sakura and raised his hand. "I'm definitely gonna do it!"

"You couldn't be quiet long enough," Sasuke scoffed.

"Where would you like to sit, Sakura?" Neji asked, ignoring the bickering.

Sakura sniffled, a look of awe coming over her face. Her friends were always there for her. What had she been thinking? They'd never made fun of her for any of her other ideas. "Let's go sit with Shikamaru-kun then!"

"Of course," Neji offered her a hand, and she took it, oblivious to all the angry stares from the other boys.

When they found Shikamaru and Chouji, laying across the grass and looking up at the sky, Sakura let go of Neji's hand and darted forward. "Shikamaru-kun, can we all still cloud watch with you?" Shikamaru picked his head up off the ground at the sound of footsteps and Sakura's voice.

He blinked slowly. "You've gotta be joking." he drawled. "I can believe Sakura, but you guys seriously wanna cloud watch with us?"

"Just scoot over!" Naruto flopped onto the ground, sprawling out on his back.

"Hey, watch the leg," Shikamaru complained. Soon everyone was laying on the ground in a loose circle. Somehow, Sakura had found her way to his side, and was peacefully staring up at the blue sky, her hands resting on her stomach.

"So…what now?" Kiba whispered loudly.

"Now we watch, obviously." Neji replied, sounding sarcastic.

"…Hey, I think I see something!" Naruto said excitedly. His finger pointed up into the air. "It's a rice ball?"

"Dobe…" Sasuke tisked.

"Nah, that's a hamburger." Chouji sighed dreamily. Sakura squinted up at the spot. She thought it looked more like a small snowman.

"MY YOUTHFUL FRIENDS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Everyone besides Sakura picked their heads up to shush Lee as he raced over.


Lee halted, putting both hands over his mouth worriedly. "Oh, my apologies," he whispered. "But…I still don't understand what you're all doing."

"Cloud watching." Kiba explained.

"So either come lay down and be quiet or go away." Neji growled.

Lee decided on the former option, trotting over to lay down beside Neji. The Hyuga sighed in irritation as Lee made himself comfortable.

A comfortable silence drifted over the group of children.

"…Okay, that's totally a racecar." Kiba said after a while.

"You are wrong." A new voice said. "That's a tiger beetle."

Everyone glanced up to see Shino had appeared silently.

"Eh?! Shino! What the…give a warning next time!" Kiba scolded.

"You forgot about me. We're supposed to be friends, Kiba, and you forgot about me."

"Oh, man," Kiba groaned, running a hand through his hair. "Stop being all sappy and gross and come sit down if it's that big a deal to you."

"Make room then," the Aburame boy pushed Kiba over and made room for himself. "Now, as I was saying. That's not a car but a beetle."

"Yeah, right!" Kiba retorted.

The children continued to point out clouds, arguing over what shapes they were taking.

Shikamaru felt eyes on him and glanced at his side to see Sakura staring back.

"What?" he asked.

"This really is fun! We should do this every day!" she said back.

"You…really are a weird one, aren't you?"

Sakura's eyes widened comically. "Huh?"

"Every day, huh? Better be careful or I'll hold you to that."

Sakura met his eyes happily.

In his mind, Shikamaru thought that just maybe, watching out for Sakura wouldn't be as troublesome as Ino made it out to be.

The Cherry Blossom class was unaware that their teacher was watching them in amusement. For the first time in a long time, he didn't have to run around the playground breaking up fights, or digging a child that had been buried alive out of the sandbox. It was peaceful…

'It's about time…' Iruka thought, content. 'Maybe they're finally getting along.'

"IT'S A PANDA!" Naruto suddenly screamed.


Iruka stared at the two boys wrestling in the grass, surrounded by their exasperated classmates, and slowly reached into his pocket for his bottle of blood pressure medicine. He could already feel the persistent throb at his temple. "Iruka, you fool," he told himself. "When will you learn?"

I'm not ashamed to admit I started this chapter not knowing what direction it would take, just knowing the aim was "ShikaSaku fluff at any costs". *shrugs* I'm not sure how I feel about the way this turned out…hmm…

It might've gotten done a little sooner, except for the fact that my iPad Pro finally came in the mail and it completely preoccupied me, not even gonna lie. XD I'm trying to post digital art to my tumblr as soon as I get the hang of using a tablet to draw/color. So I'm eventually gonna be doing art for this story and my other stories. More details about that are on my profile if anyone likes looking at crappy art. Also gives anyone who wants to ask me any burning questions about my fics between updates the chance to. I may even take prompt ideas for side-shot projects. All just depends.

Just eleven more chapters to go after this. Well, that's the plan. I never intended for this to be a really, really long story so I think twenty chapters total is a nice little wrap-up. I'd like for there to be a sequel set in the future eventually but that's a ways away. Still gotta get through this fic first.

Next chapter sees the return of the "Akatsuki" boys (and Konan).

Please review!