Chapter 1: Shikamaru's Sacrifice of his Dignity
Temari rolled her eyes. Shikadai had been demanding hugs since she and Shikamaru had finished their Shogi match, and it was starting to annoy her.
“One more,” Shikamaru said, and Shikadai grinned at him, prompting Shikamaru to smile back fondly. He sat cross-legged on the floor, the Shogi board at his elbow, with his son standing on the tips of his toes to reach his arms up and around Shikamaru’s neck. Shikamaru squeezed him back.
“You indulge him too much,” Temari grumbled, lying on her back and studying the ceiling.
“Yeah,” Shikamaru held Shikadai’s wrists when he let go, keeping the child steady on his feet. Shikadai was still prone to toppling over at random intervals, not quite balanced in the art of walking. “I do the same to you, and I don’t see you complaining about that.”
She looked away. “It’s different.”
“It’s not different.”
“You spoil Shikadai.”
“I spoil you, too.” He smiled at his son, who beamed back at him. “But you’re used to being spoiled, so I have to. Kankuro said you got everything you wanted as a child; I’d hate to drop the standard now.”
She rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t spoiled.”
“Of course you were, running around Suna being their beautiful princess,” he mussed up Shikadai’s hair, “Getting everything you asked for.”
“Hugs, Dad,” Shikadai put in.
“Yup, hugs from Dad,” Shikamaru agreed, and Temari snorted.
“Never got that,” she muttered.
“Wait, what?” he frowned, snapping his head towards her. “Your father never hugged you?”
“Not that I can remember, no.” Temari shrugged. She shifted onto her side, propping her head up on one palm. “What’s with that look?”
He stared at her, utterly disbelieving. “Are you serious?”
“Yes?” She did not see what the big deal was. “You may have heard me speak about him before; he wasn’t exactly overflowing with physical affection.”
“No, but . . . never?” He looked baffled. “Not even once?”
“If he ever did, I wasn’t there for it,” Temari sat up. “He was more into training us hard, and yelling if we weren’t doing well.”
“More hug,” Shikadai declared, tipping forwards into Shikamaru’s person.
Shikamaru caught him instinctively, looking thoughtful.
He was still in a vague sort of dazed shock at lunch the next day.
“What is bothering you?” Ino said, sounding exasperated. She poked him in the arm, “Earth to Shikamaru!”
He snapped back to the present. Chouji was munching barbeque, Ino was staring at him with one eyebrow raised.
Ino sat back. “You look like you’ve been hit in the head. Did Temari finally run out of patience for you?”
“Her father never hugged her,” he said, sounding confused.
Chouji’s chewing stopped. “What?”
“Can you imagine growing up like that?” Shikamaru frowned. “Having someone in your house with you every day who never does or says anything nice for you?”
How many hugs and kind words had Shikamaru taken for granted throughout his life? How easy was it to love Shikadai and give him all the affection and attention he desired?
Ino’s expression was thoughtful. “Does it bother her?”
“She says it doesn’t, but you never know with her.” Very few things bothered Temari – because she was fiercely independent and didn’t like asking for help. Getting her to admit her feelings or that she needed something was akin to getting blood from a stone, and Shikamaru wondered if she ever felt like she had missed out as a child.
There were such simple things that Shikamaru held now as treasured memories – playing Shogi with his father, and letting his mother brush the tangles out his hair. Walks with his father, with deer trailing them, and his mother sitting by his side as he sweated out a fever.
Temari never had that. Never had the small things that seem inconsequential, until you grow up and realize all those small things were just a thousand different ways to say ‘I love you’, and suddenly they mean the world.
Temari had always been more focused on the future, on moving forward, on planning for what came next.
Maybe, Shikamaru thought, it was because there was nothing in her life worth looking back on.
“Temari,” he leant against the doorframe, watching as she sat with Shikadai until he fell asleep. He was in a huddle under his blankets, one fist tucked under his chin, and Temari watched his gentle breathing, a hand laid softly on his back. “This is going to sound stupid . . .”
She didn’t take her eyes off Shikadai’s sleeping face, but her expression snapped into a smirk. “Yeah?”
“. . . But what would you think about doing all the things you never got to do as a child?”
Now she looked up, cocking her head slightly. “What?”
“If we,” he shifted a bit, uncomfortable, but determined to at least get the idea off his chest, “Did some of those things. Better late than never, right?”
Her eyes narrowed, deciding on whether to challenge him or give in. “What did you have in mind?”
“You know . . . you didn’t . . .” This was harder than he thought. Difficult to express, and difficult to make her understand. “You didn’t get to do things that normal kids do. The stuff Shikadai gets to do – and will do. Um, like . . .” He couldn’t give her a hug from her father. That was never going to happen, and he knew it was going to bother him for the rest of his life, because it was one of the most basic things in life. How could she have missed out on that?
He huffed out a breath. “I don’t know, like normal kids’ stuff. I dunno what girls did, but Chouji and I would make snacks with his mom, and find places to hide, and catapult acorns at squirrels. Maybe . . . wanna do stuff like that?”
Temari was watching him with narrowed eyes, obviously deciding if he was pitying her or not, and if she needed to react with instant, automatic anger, or something softer. Eventually, she turned her gaze back to Shikadai, stroking gently down his back.
“Okay,” she said after an agonizingly long pause, and Shikamaru twitched slightly in place. “We can try whatever you have in mind. Might be fun.”
He relaxed a fraction, secure that he was not going to be mercilessly ridiculed.
Temari stood up, leaving Shikadai peacefully sleep. She paused in the doorway, eying her husband. He stared back at her.
“Sweep me off my feet, Shikamaru,” she said flippantly. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
It shouldn’t have sounded like a challenge, but he knew it was.
Fine, then, if she wanted to make it a challenge, he was game.
He was going to give her the best late childhood anyone had ever had.
“Mom,” Shikamaru positioned Temari in the kitchen doorway to his mother’s house, shamelessly using her as a human shield against Yoshino’s inevitable complaining over whatever he had or hadn’t done. “Temari has never baked cupcakes.”
Temari glanced back at him. “That’s your idea of sweeping me off my feet? Thank god we’re already married; you are not great at romantic gestures.”
“That’s never been a secret, and stop it, I’m trying,” he grumbled. “Look, you stay here with my mom, I’m taking Shikadai for the day, and just do things. Do children things. Do things you never got to do.”
“Shikamaru,” Yoshino began, and Shikamaru braced himself. “What on earth are you going on about?”
“Short version – Temari’s dad was an ass, her mother is dead, and she never got to do anything with her parents like I did and I’m trying to fix that because I’m a masochist at heart and you two are judging me so hard right now.” He sighed. “It’s troublesome, but I’m just trying something new. Stop looking at me like that.”
He tried valiantly to ignore his cheeks burning. “I’m just being nice. If you don’t want me to be nice, then fine, I won’t be. I’m leaving now.” He huffed, spinning around and leaving, following by a loud snort from Temari.
Yoshino shook her head. “That boy gets more defensive every time I see him. Now, what was he trying to say?”
Temari smirked at Shikamaru’s retreating back. “He’s on a quest to make ‘childhood memories’ for me, since he seems to think I never had any good ones.”
Yoshino eyed her quizzically. “Did you?”
Temari’s smirk slid off her face. Her brows furrowed together. “Not really, but it doesn’t matter now. It was long ago. Shikamaru doesn’t need to do this.”
“No,” Yoshino agreed, voice level. “He doesn’t need to. But he wants to. Because it’s always bothered him that you didn’t have the small things in life that he always took for granted. He used to talk about it a lot when you two were engaged. You intimidated him, because he’s always associated childhood with softer things, and he doubted you could really be as gentle as he wanted to believe.”
Temari stared at the floor.
“I know he doesn’t worry about that anymore, because he’s seen you with Shikadai, and he loves you no matter what you think and no matter what you’ve been through. But he’s a sensitive little thing, and he wants to know that he’s doing what he can to make sure the rest of your life is as peaceful and wonderful as he can make it. So give him a break, and let him indulge you, because all he wants is for you to have the sort of memories he does.” Yoshino lifted her chin slightly. “You’re a tough girl, and he doesn’t doubt that. Let him share his childhood with you.”
“Does it really mean that much to him?” Temari asked softly. The past was done and over with; all she cared about was the future. She didn’t need to look back fondly at things, all she needed was to chase the memories ahead of her.
“It does. He’s too stubborn to admit it – and don’t you dare tell him I told you this – but he cried because his father couldn’t be at his wedding, and it eats away at him that you didn’t care that you had neither parent there.”
Temari shrugged one shoulder, unsure of what to say.
“So,” Yoshino said, tone turning business-like. “Cupcakes might cheer him up. But you know what will cheer him up even more?”
“A highly qualified therapist?”
Yoshino smiled. “Knowing that you got something he treasures. And memories with parents are something he holds onto tightly. Let him give you that.”
Temari eyed Yoshino, slightly defensive. She didn’t need ‘good memories’, everything had been fine. She had coped. She had had all she could need. She didn’t need meddling and memories and whatever weird things Shikamaru dreamt up in his spare time.
But . . . But she’d been so young when her mother died. There wasn’t much she remembered about her. About spending time with her. Not that she cared, but, well . . . Cupcakes might be nice anyway.
“Shikamaru?” she called gently, leaning against the doorframe to Shikadai’s room.
Shikamaru glanced up from where he was sitting on the floor, watching Shikadai wobble around in drunken circles in a stubborn attempt to prove himself ‘not sleepy’. Shikadai overbalanced and landed on his backside with a soft thump. Unperturbed, he climbed to his feet again, and continued his haphazard path.
“Thank you,” she said, and he blinked at her.
“For thinking of me,” she explained. “You know, trying to give me good memories. Like you had.”
“It’s nothing. I just . . . You know, Shikadai’s gonna grow up, and when he asks if you ever had a mud fight or tried to slide down a hill in a cardboard box, it’d be nice if you could say ‘yes’ to those questions . . .”
He flushed a bit. “Just want you to be happy. Like he is.”
Shikadai, hearing his name, whipped his head around to his father, and toppled himself over with the sudden motion. He climbed laboriously back to his feet.
“Hey, little guy,” Temari said softly. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Not sleepy,” Shikadai insisted. His wanderings brought him to Temari’s knees, and she leaned down to scoop him up. He yawned widely, resting his head against her shoulder. His eyes drooped closed almost immediately.
“Not sleepy,” Temari scoffed softly.
Shikamaru stood up. “Had a good day?”
“Yeah. Made a cake.”
“Did you bring it home with you?”
“No. Your mom says you have to come and visit if you want some.”
“She’s holding my cake hostage? That’s not very nice.”
“It’s not your cake,” Temari said with a huffed breath. “I made it.”
“And did you have fun?” Shikamaru enquired, reaching out a hand to fluff up Shikadai’s hair.
“Yeah. I did.”
“Mission accomplished then.”
Temari grinned at him, and Shikamaru could feel the teasing approaching. “We talked about you.”
“Of course you did.”
“Your mom thinks you’re a crybaby, too.”
“But a sweet one.”
He supposed he could handle that. He made a mental note, though, to keep Temari and Yoshino away from each other if unsupervised.
“Ever climbed trees as a kid?”
“I grew up in a desert, what do you think, genius?”
Shikamaru shrugged. “You might have gone to a forest on a mission.”
“Because I was allowed so much freedom to play around on missions,” she said dryly.
Shikamaru sighed. “Okay, I get it. Well, we’re climbing trees today. Only one rule – no chakra.”
“Seems like a great way to fall and break your neck,” Temari said doubtfully, eying the branches around them.
“I’ve never fallen out a tree before.” Chouji had – several times – but Shikamaru decided to keep that to himself lest he spook Temari away from attempting. He studied her as she looked around, watching her jaw clench and unclench as she decided what to do next.
Finally, she grinned, “Okay, fine, but if I fall and break my neck, you have to tell my brothers how it happened.”
“Gaara will just kill me and adopt Shikadai, so I better keep you safe.” He squinted up a tree. “This one looks easy. Wait,” he added, seeing Temari start to gather herself. “No chakra.”
“Then how the hell do you expect me to get up the tree when I can’t reach the lowest branch?” she snapped back.
Shikamaru chuckled under his breath, his laughter increasing at the exasperated look she shot him. He stepped up to her, muttering, “Troublesome woman.”
“Troublesome husband,” she replied with a grin.
He eyed the branch above them, not far from her reach. Without a word, he closed his hands around her hips and hoisted her up. To his surprise, she didn’t resist him, just reached up to grab the branch, and swung herself onto it.
He stayed on the ground, watching her. “Not gonna fall?”
“Catch me if I do.” She peered down at him. “Now what?”
“Now you keep going. It’s a tree – you climb it. Have fun – they had fun in Suna, right?”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Ass.”
“A fun ass.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just an excuse for you to look up my skirt?”
“You caught me,” he said dryly. “Now I need a new plan.”
She laughed, and the sound thrilled right through him. It was rare to hear. It made being mercilessly teased worth it. It made him remember why he was being senselessly ridiculed and why he was systematically destroying his own dignity just so Temari could play like a kid.
He was stupidly, one hundred per cent, head over heels in love with her.
Falling out of trees was remarkably easy.
Ino gave up questioning how Temari hurt her arm when she and Shikamaru just snorted and dissolved into laughter at the mere question. Once Temari was healed, she sent them on their way, still giggling, hand and hand, and shook her head.
“Where are we going?” Temari asked, sounding amused, and so far tolerating being dragged by the hand through the village.
“The park.” Shikamaru towed her determinedly along.
“Shouldn’t we have brought Shikadai for that?” Temari raised an eyebrow.
He stopped them by the swings. “Ever spent an afternoon just playing on the swings?”
She stared at him. “No?”
“Are you gonna tell me they don’t have swings in Suna?”
“They do,” Temari lifted one shoulder dismissively. “There was an open area quite close to our home with some swings and stuff. We walked by it every day.”
“And never played?”
“Gaara used to,” Temari mused, staring out at the view. “I’m not sure he actually did anything; he just liked to watch the other kids.”
“You never went with him?”
“We weren’t allowed,” she shrugged. “Dad didn’t like us spending time with Gaara.”
Sometimes Shikamaru was pleased that the Fourth Kazekage was dead. It saved him the trouble of killing him. “Tem, I know he was your dad and all, but I hate him.”
“You wouldn’t be the first person to say that.” Temari sounded unconcerned.
Shikamaru mumbled under his breath, before placing her firmly onto the swing. “Sit here and have fun.”
“You don’t have to worry, you know,” she murmured, but she sat down anyway, scuffing at the dirt beneath her with one foot. “I don’t have any regrets as a child. I didn’t miss out.”
“You did,” he moved behind her, leaning lightly against her back, gripping the chains of the swing in each hand. “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t try to give you something special to think about?”
“A normal one?”
“Shh,” he pressed his lips to the top of her head briefly. “Don’t be like that. You never learned to have fun, you never learned to relax. Did you even laugh as a kid?”
She grew silent then. Very gently, she leant back against him.
Not really, she thought. But it hadn’t mattered then, and it didn’t matter now. She had changed her whole life and gained things she hadn’t expected.
Without warning, Shikamaru jumped up behind her, standing on the edges of the swing. “We’re going to swing, and you’re going to like it.”
“Oh, look at you, trying to order me around.” She tipped her head back to grin up at him.
He was gazing down at her with his odd expression of indifference and worry. There was so much he owed her, for all the happiness she had brought him. And if this could make even the smallest difference, he was going to do it.
“Hold on,” he muttered, starting to swing.
Temari stayed quiet at first. After a few minutes of gentle swinging, she said, smirking at him, “Kinda anticlimactic when, you know, I can fly if I wanted to.”
“Woman, stop it,” Shikamaru ordered. “Stop resisting everything. Just do what I say and enjoy yourself.”
“That’s my line, not yours.”
“Try listening to me for once, then.” Shikamaru nudged her back with a knee.
In one swift motion, without disrupting the swing’s momentum, Temari pulled herself up and turned around to face him, bodies pressed close together. Shikamaru looked deep into her eyes.
“Kids don’t usually do this,” he pointed out.
“You have no idea what sort of things I got up to as a kid,” Temari grinned.
“Kissing boys on swings?”
“Maybe not that.” She nuzzled him lightly. “But that has time to change.”
She could feel the air gliding through her hair, feel Shikamaru’s muscles tense down the front of his body as he kept the swing gently rocking back and forth. She could see the way his arms braced as she leant against him.
She didn’t often give him quiet, soft moments. She was a spitfire and a force to be reckoned with, and he loved the times when she just let him look at her, without talking or fighting or any other number of things she liked to do. Moments like now were special.
Even when she nearly pulled him off the swing by letting go without warning and winding her arms around his neck. He managed to keep them both upright, despite her weight leaning nonchalantly against him. He stayed still when she kissed him, continuing his gentle rocking of the swing.
“You know how, when we were younger, we’d look at the other kids holding their moms’ hands and walking to the store, and wonder what that was like?”
Shikamaru stopped dead, not quite in the bedroom doorway, when he heard Temari’s quiet voice from inside. He was home late, and had fully expected her to be asleep. It didn’t take a genius to figure out she was talking to Kankuro on the phone. He kept his back to the wall, listening curiously.
“Well, I did that.” Temari’s voice almost glowed. “Yoshino let me. And we baked together – did you know baking is actually easy?”
Shikamaru smiled, pleased at the wonderment in Temari’s voice.
“A cake. But she said we could make cookies too . . . No, that’s normal. Families do that.”
Shikamaru waited, wondering what Kankuro was asking.
Temari continued, “Shikamaru is. We’re working through a list. He said it wasn’t fair that I never got any of the things he did – not like that, I know we had it better than most, but it’s the stuff Mom would have done with us. Stuff Dad never had time for.”
There was a longer pause, and Shikamaru wished he could hear the other end of the conversation. He had to be content with what he had – and honestly, the softness in Temari’s voice was rare and worth it.
Then she laughed, soft and musical, and he bit his lower lip, hard, to stop himself from smiling like a complete idiot.
“He can be sweet sometimes. And it’s like . . . Like I’m getting things I didn’t know I wanted. We climbed trees and played on the swings. Just . . . stuff that wasn’t work.”
Shikamaru stared at the floor. It didn’t matter how often Temari told him her childhood had been fine, she carried the scars clear enough for him to see. What would it have been like to spend all your younger years never having down time? Never having a chance to just do nothing, to play, to have fun, to be free-spirited, to make your own choices. Her life had been regimented from the start, and if it affected him this much, he knew it was worse for her.
So it was incredibly satisfying to hear her sound so gentle and happy. To hear the joy of discovering things – things she should have known a long time ago.
She laughed again, and it made his heart race. “Kankuro, don’t be stupid. We’re having fun. You can . . you know, next time you’re here, we can . . . Yoshino won’t mind. We can do it together. She doesn’t mind being a mom to you, too.”
“All the things we never got to do. All the things we wanted.” She paused again. “Yeah, you know. Just little things, that can mean a lot.”
He went to check on Shikadai, who was sleeping soundly. Shikamaru rubbed his back gently, smiling at him. Satisfied that his child was settled for the night, he returned to their bedroom, where he could hear Temari still chatting.
Shikamaru rounded the doorframe.
Temari was lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows, phone in one hand. She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Hey. Kankuro, Shikamaru’s home. I’ll call again tomorrow. Bye.”
“Didn’t have to hang up just for me,” he said, moving to sit next to her.
“We weren’t discussing anything important,” she shrugged, rolling onto her side to regard him with a quizzical expression.
“Did you say anything nice about me?” he asked, reaching a hand to her hair.
Her eyes narrowed. “Why? Do you think you’re nice?”
“I’m very nice. I just thought maybe you were bragging about what a great husband I am.”
“What a sappy crybaby you are, you mean?” she smirked.
“I can be more than that, you know,” he pulled his fingers through her hair, tugging lightly every now and again. “I’m going in late tomorrow. Wanna do something fun in the morning?”
She tilted her head slightly. “Alright. Let’s see what you’ve got up your sleeve.”
“This,” Temari said, “Is practically blasphemous.”
“Yeah?” Shikamaru quirked an eyebrow. “How?”
“Because where I grew up, you didn’t play with water. You treasured every drop. You certainly didn’t stick it into balloons and throw them at each other.”
“Wanna know how to make it even worse?”
She cocked her head slightly.
“If you had done this as a kid, how angry would your dad have been?”
“I would have been in so much trouble.”
“Knowing you,” Shikamaru said slowly, “Would you have ever done something to get into trouble on purpose?”
“I was not that bad,” she scoffed, watching with interest as Shikamaru piled up balloons. “I didn’t often misbehave just for attention.”
“Often?” Shikamaru raised an eyebrow.
Temari huffed. “Okay, not every day. Maybe once a week. Or more often. I dunno, I can’t remember.”
“You’re bad at lying,” Shikamaru grinned. “Well, we’re here now. With a pile of water balloons, and all your pent-up childhood aggression. So come on,” he shrugged. “Let’s waste some water.”
He almost didn’t duck in time.
Chapter 2: The Consequences of Sacrificing One's Dignity
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was actually Hinata who approached him first.
Heavily pregnant with her second child, with Boruto orbiting her like a small, loud, yellow moon, she shuffled up to him on his walk home, smiling shyly.
Shikamaru sighed. “Can I help you?”
“I heard about what you were doing for Temari.”
Shikamaru’s mind went to entirely the wrong place for a moment, and he wondered vaguely how Hinata, of all people, had heard about that. Then common sense made its grand re-entrance, and he relaxed, “Oh, right. That. Yes?”
“I think it’s a sweet idea. I want to do the same for Naruto.” She shifted slightly, looking down at the ground. Boruto face planted in front of her, but was up and running again before she even had a chance to react. “How did you start it?”
Shikamaru shrugged. “Just thought of stuff I used to do that Temari never got to do. And then we do that.”
“What have you done?” Hinata asked, adding on, “If you don’t mind sharing.”
He rubbed the back of his neck, wondering how he had ended up being the go-to person for relationship advice. He felt hideously underqualified. “You know . . . baking cookies with Mom, or staying up all night playing board games . . . Just stuff. Just kids’ stuff.”
Despite his lukewarm, thoroughly embarrassed answer, Hinata smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Shikamaru. You’re very kind.”
“If anyone else asks, it wasn’t my idea,” he claimed quickly. This was just meant to be between him and Temari, how was it spreading around the entire village? He made a mental note to be more careful about who he was talking to.
Ino was next, sliding next to him while he was out to barbeque with Chouji. “Hey, so, what exactly do you and Temari do on your ‘childhood recreation’ dates?”
He blinked. “They have a name?”
“Because,” Ino snatched his food, unashamedly. “I want to do the same for Sai. He didn’t have anything growing up, either. He also needs good memories. He never did any kid stuff at all.”
“They went to the park one time to play on the swings,” Chouji put in helpfully. “And climbed trees the time before that.”
“Does privacy not exist anymore?” Shikamaru wondered.
“Come on, don’t be a pain in the ass,” Ino grumbled. “I’m just trying to get ideas.”
“Whatever you did as a kid,” Shikamaru shrugged. “That’s all we do.”
Ino nodded. “Like picking flowers and catching frogs by the river?”
“You’re sweet, sometimes,” Ino patted his shoulder and leaned in to give him an affectionate peck on the cheek.
“Ew, Ino, get off,” Shikamaru ducked away. “Be gross somewhere else.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I’m taking Sai flower picking.”
“What a lucky man,” Shikamaru grumbled. He jerked aside as she swung an arm at his head, and Chouji chuckled. “Be gone, crazy woman, you’re interrupting lunch.”
“I’m gonna tell Temari you were being mean to me,” Ino smirked. “Do you write her love notes? We used to do that all the time in class. That’s a childhood thing.”
“Boys don’t do that,” Shikamaru defended.
“According to you, boys don’t let women do whatever they want to them, but Temari divulges a lot of information after a few drinks, so don’t think we don’t all know how whipped you are, Shikamaru,” Ino batted her eyelashes at him. “Enjoy your lunch.”
“Not likely now,” Shikamaru muttered.
Chouji looked at him sympathetically.
Ino flounced off, and Shikamaru sighed, sinking lower into his seat.
“Look on the bright side,” Chouji said, and Shikamaru stared balefully at him, silently indicating there was no bright side. “Temari is happy.”
“Never let her know that it’s completely worth it.”
It was when Tenten and Lee skipped up to him that his exasperation reached boiling point.
“What do you want?” he asked, irritably.
“To recreate our youth!” Lee exclaimed joyously. “As you are doing for Temari.”
“Who is telling this to everyone?” Shikamaru wondered, because he had been silent about it, and he was sure Temari wasn’t running around announcing their private activities to the entire village. It must be Ino. He was going to throttle her. “Look, I’m not doing anything special, just leave me alone.”
He never thought one of his biggest regrets would be making his wife happy. In hindsight, he should have seen this coming. No good deed goes unpunished, after all, and the moment he admitted he loved her, he knew was doomed to be eternally punished.
Troublesome, he thought.
“Temari thinks it’s special,” Tenten said brightly, and Shikamaru sighed, muttering something under his breath. “She told us.”
For some reason, he couldn’t imagine Temari saying anything was ‘special’. He didn’t think he’d ever heard her say the word without it dripping with sarcasm and usually directed at him or Naruto.
“Sure about that?” he said skeptically. He was going to have to talk with Ino about these ‘Girls Drinking Nights’, since it seemed he came up as a topic of conversation more frequently than he was comfortable with.
“Yup,” Tenten beamed. “She said you were putting a lot of effort into this, and she thought it was really special and sweet, and super romantic.”
When Shikamaru just gave her his most impressive Nara deadpan, she added brightly, “And she feels so lucky to have you looking out for her in such unusual ways – since this was something that didn’t really matter, but you still took it seriously.”
He stared at Tenten. Finally, he said slowly, “I don’t believe you.”
“If it helps make the story more believable,” Lee put in, “She did preface it by calling you a lazy, useless lump of meat.”
Now that he could believe.
He wasn’t sure when everything started spiraling out of control, but it became painfully obvious that it had when he came home and heard voices in the kitchen.
“Two cups of flour, measure it carefully.”
And that was fine, that was his mother’s voice, and she was probably working through another recipe with Temari. Except it wasn’t Temari who answered.
“Is there a limit on the chocolate chips, or can we just use the whole lot of them?”
“Kankuro?” Shikamaru gaped, standing in the doorway and struggling to comprehend what he was seeing. “What are you doing here?”
Kankuro looked up. “Oh, hi, Shikamaru. We’re making cookies.”
Yes, yes he was. Shikamaru was flabbergasted into silence at the sight.
Yoshino smiled warmly at him. “Welcome home. Temari took Shikadai out; they’ll be home in a few hours.” She returned her attention back to Kankuro, “Then mix that in well.”
Shikamaru just stood in the kitchen doorway, unable to think of anything to say. He found his voice eventually, right after Yoshino patted Kankuro on the back, somehow making that look endearing despite the fact that he absolutely dwarfed her. “Um . . . Did you come all the way from Suna just to bake cookies?”
“We made banana bread, too,” Gaara appeared from nowhere, sounding proud.
Shikamaru finally noticed the little knot of Suna Anbu on the porch outside, all armed with slices of bread, and he sighed.
So this was life now.
Shikamaru had to blink once, twice, then rub his eyes and shake his head just to check that what he was seeing wasn’t an illusion.
No, it was definitely real.
And that was definitely his mother, as regal as ever, walking down the street with the Kazekage at her side, hands entwined, and the Kazekage’s brother at her other side, holding her other hand, and that was definitely his wife right behind them, followed by a neat, obedient group of Suna’s Anbu.
The entire entourage glided down the street and turned into the little shop where Yoshino had always taken Shikamaru to get sweets as a child.
The Anbu fell into single file, like a trail of well-trained, meek little ducklings.
Shikamaru needed a drink.
Naruto managed to convince Gaara to come to the park with him to play on the swings.
Shikamaru needed a stronger drink.
“This has gotten out of hand,” Shikamaru claimed firmly. “This was just meant to be a nice, fun way to experience some of the things you didn’t get to do as a child.”
“I never got to do this as a child, fuck off,” Kankuro retorted.
“Language,” Yoshino reprimanded sharply, unashamedly cuffing him on the back of his head where he sat, wedged against her side on the couch. Gaara was pressed to her other side, expression completely blank.
“Sorry,” Kankuro apologized, and Shikamaru nearly fainted on the spot, because Kankuro had never apologized for anything before – except once, when he nearly killed Shikamaru out of reflex in Suna, but they tried not to talk about that because it got Temari in a huff. He leant his head meekly on Yoshino’s shoulder.
“We’re watching a movie,” Yoshino explained to her mystified son. “All cuddled up together on the couch, just like we used to do. Are you going to join us?”
Shikamaru wasn’t sure what the answer was supposed to be. He cleared his throat softly, “What are we watching?”
“Not sure yet,” Gaara put in. “Shikadai gets to choose.”
Well, that narrowed it down to exactly one possible option – Shikadai had been watching The Ugly Duckling on repeat for three weeks. Shikamaru could recite the entire thing by memory. He sighed, resigned to suffering through it once more, “Okay.”
Given that Gaara and Kankuro had possessed his mother, Shikamaru slumped on the open end of the couch, chin in his hand, as he waited for Temari and Shikadai to return with, predictably, The Ugly Duckling DVD that for some reason had yet to vanish under mysterious circumstances.
Shikadai claimed his spot on his father’s lap, and Temari kicked a big enough space between Shikamaru and Kankuro to sit down, leaning into Shikamaru’s shoulder and casually throwing a leg over Kankuro’s lap, which he poked until she removed it.
It was halfway through the movie when Shikamaru opened his eyes again, taking stock of the room. Shikadai had fallen asleep on him, conked out without much thought, and Temari was dozing against his shoulder. He shifted his arm around her.
Gaara was staring at the TV, looking absolutely riveted, and both him and Kankuro were still snuggled into Yoshino’s sides. This was not what Shikamaru had imagined, at all, when he considered adding them to his family. This was mortifying and bizarre.
“Shikadai’s asleep,” he said. “Do we really have to watch until the end of the movie?”
“Shh,” Gaara murmured. “I want to know how it ends.”
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you have the Ugly Duckling in Suna?”
“No,” Kankuro whispered harshly. “We had ‘Fuck my brother’s a demon and everyone is dying’, now shut up and let us watch.” He flinched when Yoshino walloped him on the back of the head without even blinking. Kankuro shrunk down slightly.
Temari snickered softly, shifting to lean more heavily against Shikamaru’s side. She entwined their fingers as they sat, in a silent attempt to hold him down.
“I’m putting Shikadai to bed,” he muttered.
“You will stay right where you are or I’ll snap your fingers off.” Temari didn’t even raise her voice from the soft whisper it had taken on whenever Shikadai was asleep.
And at the end of the movie, with Gaara still looking wondering at the TV, and Kankuro nodding sagely, he wondered if life would ever return to normal.
What had he done?
The hug thing was still bothering him.
It was still stewing in the back of his mind, every time he looked at Temari, every time he saw her gather Shikadai in her arms, and he wanted to do something about it.
“Is it too much?” he asked Chouji. “Am I over thinking this?”
“You overthink everything,” Chouji said helpfully.
“But . . . Is it worth it? Will she think I’m completely insane for even thinking about it?”
“Honey, she thinks you’re insane already,” Ino put in helpfully. “And if you’ve survived this much ridicule, I think you’ll be fine.”
“What’s your plan?” Chouji asked. “Since, you know, neither of you two have a father at the moment?”
“And Asuma would have been your second choice,” Ino added softly.
Shikamaru sighed. “Yeah. I know. I thought of that. Asuma was like a father to us all. I called Kankuro, and he had a suggestion. The only problem is, I have no idea how to make the phone call I need to make.”
“Just go for it,” Ino said brightly. “I’m sure Temari will appreciate it.”
Shikamaru stared at her. “I must be completely out of my mind.”
“Maybe I should forget about it.”
“Make the call, Shikamaru. The last thing on your list is ‘a fatherly hug’. That started this whole fiasco, it’s sure as hell going to finish it.”
Shikamaru groaned. “. . . I am going to get teased about this forever.”
“I don’t know how you talked me into this.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But please just . . . just bear with me, you can punch me or whatever afterwards.” Shikamaru sighed. He drew in a deep, grounding breath, then shouted into the house. “Temari!”
Somewhat on edge, he waited for her to reply.
She came out after a moment, with Shikadai held on one hip. “Yeah, genius, what do you wan- Baki?”
“Hello, Temari,” Baki said stiffly. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah,” she said cautiously, sending Shikamaru a look. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t be mean about this, but . . . But I can’t stop thinking about the fact that you’ve never had a fatherly hug.”
“And I said it wasn’t a big deal-“
“Yeah, but it is,” Shikamaru interrupted. “I can accept a lot of the things you went through, because you think they’re normal. But not this. And if my dad was here, he’d have been happy to hug you, if that’s what you needed. But he’s not here anymore, so I had to think of something else. And Kankuro said Baki was like a second father to you all-“
“Just a mentor,” Baki muttered. “None of that other emotional crap.”
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. Everyone he had ever met from Suna was emotionally constipated. “Anyway. Baki agreed to come here and hug you.”
“You dragged him all the way from Suna just for that?” Temari asked, surprised. She gawked at him.
“Yeah, pretty much.” Shikamaru reached to take Shikadai from her. The child was studying Baki curiously, unintimated by the absolutely deadly glare Baki was levelling in his direction. Shikadai held out a hand, little fingers outstretched.
Baki turned away from him. “Temari, I don’t know what your idiot is trying to accomplish, but he made it sound important. So, let’s get this over with, and never speak about it again.”
“It is important,” Shikamaru said, voice bordering on indignant.
“You hug me all the time,” Temari pointed out. “It’s the same thing.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Shikamaru insisted. “It’s very different.”
He wasn’t sure how to explain it to her – but he knew what he meant. A hug from a father was different to one from a friend, or a lover. It was different because it meant different things. It meant comfort and safety. It meant gentle, protective love. It meant enveloping warmth and the innocence of childhood. It meant everything Temari never had.
“Just believe me,” he sighed. “It means something.”
“Means you’re an idiot,” Baki muttered.
“You wouldn’t have come if you didn’t think it was worth it,” Shikamaru said sharply.
Baki shifted in place, and Temari watched him. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’m not saying it’s important, or even relevant, but I couldn’t give you much as a child. I needed you to be a powerful warrior, and that’s what I helped make you into. But this idiot,” Baki shot a swift glare at Shikamaru, “Seems to think that I don’t need to do that anymore. That now, since life has settled down, I can give you the things you didn’t get.”
He paused, looking away. “Do you remember when you got hurt on the Iwa mission, when you were twelve?”
“Yes,” Temari nodded. It was a hard mission to forget. She had been dragged home by a bleeding, stumbling Kankuro, dazed and confused by a powerful blow to the head, with her arm and leg broken, and blood gushing from various wounds. She had been whimpering in pain, vision blurring at the edges, unable to even summon the strength to carry her fan.
She remembered the night spent out in the desert, with Kankuro sitting anxiously at her side, the fire burning, as she shivered and wiped tears off her cheeks, and wished for something to numb the pain.
“All I did on that journey home was push you harder,” Baki said gruffly. “Because I needed to get you home. I didn’t say a gentle word to you, because I thought you didn’t need it. You were always the strong one, and I thought you knew that. But when I watched you spend the night sweating and crying, I worried that you wouldn’t be able to make it home.”
She watched Shikadai. He was still reaching towards Baki, interested in this new person.
“It was the closest to losing you I ever came,” Baki continued. “And I realized on that mission that you three kids weren’t just an assignment anymore. You meant something to me. But I never said anything about it. I thought I didn’t need to.” He shook his head. “You’re in Konoha now, and we don’t speak much, and I should have told you this before, but I miss you. Honestly, it didn’t take much convincing from your idiot to get me here.”
Shikamaru raised an eyebrow.
“That aside,” Baki added firmly, “You will never, ever repeat that to anyone, and never tell anyone what I’m about to do.” He drew himself up. “This doesn’t mean that I’m-“
Temari cut him off, making a sudden move to close the space between them, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his chest. Baki hesitated for a moment, startled at her sudden rush, before he carefully and awkwardly wrapped his arms around her.
She squeezed him tight, and he, cautiously and uncertainly, returned the embrace.
“Miss you, Princess,” he said softly. “But I’m glad you’re happy now.”
Temari drew back, with a sunny smile and shining eyes. “Thank you for coming all the way out here just for that.”
Baki indicated towards Shikamaru. “He thinks you’re worth it.”
Shikamaru looked faintly smug.
“Down,” Shikadai whispered. Shikamaru placed him on the ground, and Shikadai wobbled a bit in place, before making unsteady steps to Baki. He stared up at him imploringly, until Baki stared down at the child.
“Hug?” Shikadai asked quietly, and Baki’s expression contorted into something akin to being tortured.
He sent Shikamaru a filthy look, then sighed and held out his arms. Shikadai stretched his arms above his head, wobbling slightly.
“Your husband,” Baki grumbled to Temari, as he lifted Shikadai up into his arms, “Is annoying.”
“I know.” She leant her head against his shoulder.
“Always causing trouble. We are shinobi, not touchy-feely civilians. This is not proper behaviour for a shinobi.”
Shikadai’s little arms locked firmly around Baki’s neck.
“Hug,” he said in a satisfied tone.
Baki grunted, but he shifted Shikadai slightly to the side, so he could put an arm around Temari again.
Shikamaru shoved his hands into his pockets, working hard to fight down a self-satisfied smirk. Sure, Temari might think he was a sappy fool, which he was, but she couldn’t exactly deny she was loving every moment of this.
A hug from a father figure might have been more than twenty years overdue, but, Shikamaru supposed, it was better late than never.
Hug your dads while you can, kids