[[A/N]] I regret to inform you all that this is the last chapter of Home. After much consideration I decided to forgo an epilogue so for now at least, this is it.
Shikamaru walked through Konoha slowly. When he first arrived at the village he was awed by the autumnal trees making the village glow brightly in a way that made it worthy of its broader title, The Land of Fire. Now, in the middle of January, the bare branches of the winter's trees brushed against the eaves of the houses Shikamaru passed and the grey skies cast shadows even at the height of the day.
With practiced ease, he found his way through the lesser walked streets of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Back alleys and lanes led the way through the village towards the Hyūga compound.
Why am I even here?
The thought came unbidden to Shikamaru's mind.
Why am I still in Konoha? I should have run the second I was let out of the hospital.
For all of his ability to think and strategize, Shikamaru had no idea what he was going to do now he was back in Konoha. He'd expected Neji to inform the Hokage immediately about his defection and what had happened in Ame. He had expected to be in a cell or back in Ibiki's hotseat. He had expected his life to take a drastic change for the worst.
What he hadn't expected was for Neji to hold his silence. He hadn't expected to be able to walk around the Village Hidden in the Leaves free as a bird. He certainly hadn't expected life to continue almost as it had before they left for Ame.
Before he knew it, Shikamaru was in front of the Hyūga compound, his thoughts carrying him on the path with a practiced ease.
Dammit. I was hoping for more time.
Shikamaru turned at the sound of his name and saw Hinata Hyūga stood at the other side of the gate.
"Hinata," he greeted. "Hi, is Neji around?"
"I think he's training with Hanabi in the courtyard," Hinata said. "I can take you around if you'd like?"
Shikamaru nodded and followed Hinata through the compound to a courtyard he once watched the Hyūga heiress training in before.
That seems like it was a life time ago.
Neji's voice echoed through the mostly empty courtyard.
"Let's just watch them for a little while," Shikamaru suggested to Hinata.
With a nod of her head she turned to watch her cousin and sister sparring. Hanabi took up the Gentle Fist stance and in a few moments was approaching her cousin. Her face was set in a scowl as he blocked each of her attacks. Jumping backwards she pulled out a kunai and threw it at Neji. Neji span in a small circle throwing the kunai out of harm's way.
"You will never defeat me if you resort to tricks like that, Hanabi-sama. Either come at me with the intent to hurt me or you will fail."
Hanabi grimace and stayed where she was.
"If you will not come at me, then I shall come at you," Neji said.
In an instant Neji was in front of his younger cousin, throwing Gentle Fist jabs towards her arms and chest, forcing her to block his attacks. When he relented for an instant, Hanabi pushed forward, throwing her own hits towards her cousin. Her attacks got progressively quicker and soon it was all Neji could do to keep blocking her.
"Good, "he said as he blocked yet more of her hits. "You're finally coming at me like you're serious"
Hanabi's hands kept moving and soon Neji was forced to dodge instead of just block. Then she started to falter. Her steps became less fluid and her hits became slightly sporadic. She was tiring fast.
"That's enough," Neji said. He placed his hand on top of her head and ruffled her hair. "You did well, Hanabi," he praised her. "Keep practicing."
"Thanks, Neji-nii-san, I will." Hanabi took off at lightning speed, leaving Neji with his other cousin and friend.
"Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to come over?" he asked without turning to Shikamaru and Hinata.
Over a game of shogi in Neji's old bedroom, Neji explained everything to Shikamaru. No, he wasn't mad. No, he didn't want to subject him to Ibiki's favourite chair. No he hadn't told anyone about what really happened in Ame. Yes he still wanted to kick Shikamaru's ass for lying. Yes, he was going to wait until they sparred again before he proceeded to beat the Nara within an inch of his life. Alright, maybe he was still a little mad. God, yes, he was ready to go home.
The days passed calmly and Shikamaru was finally beginning to feel that maybe Neji had meant what he said about not telling anyone. As winter finally turned to spring, Shikamaru's fears of ending up in a small room with Ibiki subsided. Towards the end of March, he was cleared to do missions again, much to his relief. A month later he was to participate in the Chuunin exams which he did with relish. Being in close quarters with Ibiki again for the first time since he returned from Ame shook Shikamaru more than he was willing to admit but following a gruelling written exam and five days in the forest of Death, he progressed to the final exam.
The end of May brought with it the summer sun and Shikamaru's promotion. With his new found status as Chuunin of Konoha came more responsibilities. While he was used to Solo missions courtesy of his role in Ame, and he'd gotten used to being ordered around like a child thanks to his status as a genin in Konoha, he had never been a team leader before. The only experience he had of ordering people around came from the escape attempt during the winter.
He soon found out that co-ordinating four people was a little more difficult than co-ordinating two but thanks to his prowess with Shogi barely more than "troublesome". After his first unsuccessful mission (his actions after which earned him a stern talking to from both Neji and his father) he began to succeed more than anyone would have thought for someone who had been a ninja for less than a year. Only he and Neji knew otherwise.
One morning in late July just before the sun rose, he headed out of the house he shared with Neji. He didn't know where he was heading but thanks to being unable to sleep he felt the need to walk off the stiff neck he had acquired tossing and turning.
Shikamaru found himself on top of the Hokage monument as the day dawned, the clear skies promising yet another warm day in the Land of Fire. After growing up in the Village Hidden in the Rain, sunny days were still something of a novelty to the young Nara. He watched as fluffy clouds rolled over the mountain in the distance and as the sky gradually lightened and as he watched, he thought about how much his life had changed in the last year.
He found himself almost wistful as he thought about the circumstances that had led to where he was now. He had friends here in Konoha, something he'd never had in Ame. People treated him like a person instead of like a weapon to be used. Going back to Ame had almost destroyed what he had built up in Konoha but Neji had forgiven him. Sure he'd had more than a few bruises before the older shinobi finally relented but when he did it was with a smile and the words "everyone makes mistakes, Shikamaru. You're no different."
But was he really no different from those he'd come to like in Konoha. He had been a spy for an enemy nation. He had been planning to take over the village. He had led his friend into danger all so he could maintain the pretence.
But you got out. You made it right again.
Was it really all right again? The balance had shifted and he no longer knew his place in the world.
It's here, a small voice in the back of his mind said. It's right here in Konoha. Here with your friends and family.
Shikamaru sighed and dropped his head into his wondered how different things would be if everyone had found out what he had done. He wondered how many people would hate him for it. At least he could be sure that Tsunade would be baying for his blood.
While he was lost in his thoughts, Shikamaru failed to notice someone approach him, almost until they sat down next to him.
"It promises to be a beautiful day," Neji said as he took his seat next to Shikamaru.
Shikamaru nodded and looked back towards the sky.
"You know, thinking about things doesn't necessarily mean they'll make sense, right."
Again, Shikamaru nodded. Neji sighed.
"I just don't get it," Shikamaru said slowly. "I don't understand what I've done to deserve friends like you and the family I've got. Especially after everything I've done."
"What you've done doesn't matter. What you intend to do in the future is what you should be thinking about," Neji said. "Now, unless you plan on overthrowing Konoha single-handedly, which I doubt, I see no reason to dwell upon what may happen."
Shikamaru looked over to Neji to see a faint smile adorned his face. This was what he wanted. The friendship that came between them, unconditionally. He looked back out over Konoha.
"You're right," Shikamaru said with a smile. "Let's go home."
[[A/N]] Thank you all for joining me on this ride. It's been fun and at times stressful but it's all been worth it. I'd like to thank everyone who has reviewed, favourited and added this story to their alerts. Without you all I'd probably have given up a long time ago.
Lessthanthree you all