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A Troublesome Proposal

Chapter Text

In all 18 years of Naruto Uzumaki's formidable life as a citizen, and later a shinobi of Konoha, she couldn't fathom ever being this surprised. She was the jinchuriki of the village, a woman whose strength rivaled none. Nothing in the world could surprise her anymore, she had seen too much. Yet this, this she did not see. Her jaw unhinged, her eyebrows rose, her eyes widened in dramatic disbelief over the sight that lay before her.

Shikamaru took a deep breathe, "So… What do you say?"

Naruto dry swallowed, her throat suddenly parched, "Please tell me that we've stumbled into some alternate universe where you prank me."

The lazy jonin rolled his eyes, "Don't be ridiculous Naruto, this is serious."

"That's the only explanation I could find for your ridiculous request," She admitted, shuffling in place nervously, "There's really no other explanation."

The Nara grimaced, a hand absentmindedly reaching for one of his comforting cigarettes, "Yes, there is an explanation. You're in trouble, and you need all the help you can get. This was my only solution."

"Why me? I only helped bodyguard the man one time, and now he's convinced of his eternal love for me! We can't do this Shikamaru! We may be friends, but we've never been that close; especially not close enough for what you're suggesting. Plus, you have Temari. Remember her?" Naruto ranted, her eyes scanning the smoke-loving strategists face for a sign that he was just kidding.

Shikamaru grimaced at the reminder of his long-time lover, "Look, I know what I'm asking you for is a little unorthodox."

"Try insane," She interrupted.

"However, this was the only solution we could come up with. Do you think I want to do this? To betray Temari like this? It's all too troublesome. You know it's true. I wouldn't be asking this of you if I had any other choice," He spoke calmly, resigned to his fate.

"There has to be another way," She pleaded, her large blue eyes shining with unshed tears, "I can't… I can't ask this of you. You'll be sacrificing so much… just to help me."

"There isn't," Shikamaru spoke softly, "I've thought of everything. The council isn't about to let this go, no matter how much we strong arm them; they have a lot to gain from the deal going through. You know a lot better than most just how manipulative they can be. If they get their way… if the deal goes through… who knows what repercussions it would have on our village."

"Isn't there anybody else?"

"None of the other guys would make sense; Neji is a branch member, Kiba is not heir, Sasuke has no clan, Choji and Shino have yet to take their mantle… There's only me."

"But you have Temari," Naruto stammered.

"But I have Temari," Shikamaru sighed, bringing a cigarette up to his puckered lips and lighting it with a single snap of his fingers, "She is going to be heartbroken."

Naruto frowned, "You shouldn't have to do this. Not for me at least."

"Naruto, you're my friend. You're my comrade. And someday, you may even be my Hokage. You're the only one I could do this for." Shikamaru admitted, his piercing eyes gazing into hers.

"What will you do about her?"

"The only thing I can. I have to tell her it's over between us. For good."

Naruto groaned as she leaned back into her couch. With a bitter laugh, she said, "We're fucked, aren't we?"

Shikamaru chuckled wryly as he copied her actions, "Utterly."

Several Days Earlier

Naruto laughed jovially as she skipped towards the Hokage building where her team awaited. She had been having a good day; Old man Ichiraku gave her a free bowl of ramen, her elderly neighbor that enjoys scowling at her finally moved, and the heating in her apartment was finally fixed. Yes, Naruto knew it was going to be a great day.

Kicking the door open with her usual enthusiasm, she cried out, "Hey Baa-Chan!"

With a grace only a shinobi could claim to have, she narrowly missed being hit with an empty bottle of Sake. "You're late, brat," Tsunade scowled as she gestured for the girl to have a seat.

Naruto blinked in surprise, "Where's my team? I thought you said I was going on a mission?"

"I lied," Tsunade said, "I just needed you come here in a hurry."

Naruto scowled as she crossed her arms in indignation, "Well that's just mean. I wanted a juicy mission."

"We don't always get what we want brat, deal with it," Tsunade spoke, before handing the younger blond a stack of letters, "Here."

Naruto grimaced as she peered at the contents, "You brought me all the way here to show me more marriage proposals? I already told you that I have no interest in responding, so you might as well just burn them all and save yourself the trouble of having me come all the way down here."

Tsunade resisted the urge to throttle her subordinate, "You don't get it."

"What's there to get?" Naruto asked nonchalantly.

"The council," Tsunade began, "Has took notice of the sheer amount of marriage proposals that come through for you."

"So? What's it to them?"

"They were ignoring it, biding their time until you realize how helpful you could be to us by finally accepting one of the many proposals. Until this specific one caught their interest," Tsunade explained as she pointed to the top letter in the stack, "That is a marriage proposal from the Fire Daimyo's son. I believe you served as a body guard for him a few months back."

Naruto thought back to the small, weak young man she protected during a trip to River Country, "Oh yeah, that guy. Hiro, was it? I spent a total of a week in this guys company, why does he want to marry me?"

"I suppose you caught his interest," Tsunade shrugged, "Regardless Naruto, the council has decided that you should perform your duty as a loyal servant to Konoha, and accept the proposal."

"…WHAT?!" Naruto shrieked.

Tsunade grimaced, "After the war, we are in a poor financial state. World peace results in a lack of missions, which results in a lack of income. By marrying into the Fire Daimyo's family, the village would be given a large dowry since you are essentially a ward of the state."

"The council," Naruto spoke quietly, incredulously, "Wants to marry me off like cattle… for money?"

Tsunade frowned, taking a large swig of her sake, "Essentially? Yes. They do."

"And if I don't accept?"

"Then you will never be elected as Hokage."

The utterly heartbroken look that spread across Naruto's face was enough to cause Tsunade's resolve to waiver. With a sigh, the Godaime spoke, "Don't worry Naruto. We'll find a way out of this. I promise."

Shikamaru cursed as he perused through the files, passing them onto his father before leveling a stare at the Hokage, "You have got to be kidding me."

Tsunade shook her head, a frown marring her youthful features, "The council is adamant. They are determined to use Naruto as a way to increase our own income. I've been outvoted."

"It's true," Shikaku spoke, "While the shinobi clan heads all voted against such a thing, we were outvoted by the civilians and Hokage advisors. They see Naruto as a convenient scape goat."

Shikamaru bit back yet another curse. The one council meeting he misses, and this is what happens, "And if she refuses?"

"Then they will never allow her to be elected as Hokage."

The younger Nara ran a hand across his face in agitation, "But that makes no sense. Either way she'll never be Hokage, if she marries the man she'll be forced to move and resign from the shinobi force regardless."

"They never wanted her as Hokage," Shikaku spoke, "They are using the hat as revenge. They are hoping that she'll stick true to her character and do what's best for the village."

"Are the idiotic?" Shikamaru deadpanned, "Naruto may be self-sacrificing, but this is a bit much even for her. They don't seriously think she'll agree to these terms?"

Tsunade shrugged, "Regardless, they'll get what they want. They would just prefer her to accept the proposal, that way they at least get money out of her."

"Naruto is better off just declining the proposal," Shikaku spoke as he handed his son back the papers, "We can always overturn their vote in the future, working hard to get her elected as Hokage."

"No, she's not," Shikamaru suddenly spoke, his voice solemn as he came to a realization, "If she refuses the Fire Daimyo's son, there would be multiple repercussions. It'll be seen as an offense to the leader of the country himself. He would seek revenge against Konoha for this blatant refusal, perhaps even closing down trade routes in revenge."

Shikaku's eyes widened as he caught on to his sons thought process, "If he does that, then the common merchants and civilians of Konoha would suffer. Our country will produce even less income then before, consequently causing the people to blame Naruto for their strife."

"And she'll never be Hokage," Shikamaru finished.

"I know we don't want to think about it, but what if we marry Naruto to this Hiro guy?" Shikaku proposed with a look of contempt.

Shikamaru immediately shook his head, "No, we couldn't do that. Not only is it morally questionable, but we would never survive the political backlash. Naruto is our hero, the worlds hero. Most of our alliances are only possible because of Naruto's direct intervention. How would our allies, the Kazekage specifically, react when they find out that we sold Naruto like livestock?"

Shikaku stroked his jaw, "They would withdraw their alliance. We may even have another war on our hands."

Tsunade leaned back in her seat, "You see why I called you now? The two of you are the best tacticians in Konoha, we need to find a way to get Naruto out of this. Without insulting anyone in the process. I have been stalling for weeks, both the council and the Daimyo's court are getting impatient. They need an answer: soon."

The Nara men shared a glance as they realized how dire their situation was. One misstep, and Konoha was done for.

Shikamaru leaned back onto his forearms to watch the clouds, a cigarette loosely hanging from his lips, as he contemplated this impossible situation which lay before him. He remembered when days were less troublesome, where all his worries amounted to avoiding Ino's shrieking and Asuma's training sessions. In the days before his sensei's death, in the days before he became a cold blooded tactician, in the days before the war. He missed those days.

In his mind a metaphorical shogi board was set up, his brain connecting each and every possibility and outcome. He needed to find a way to both keep Naruto in the village as a shinobi, while avoiding insulting any other parties. Scenario after scenario played in his head, all picked apart and analyzed with startling intellect.

Blowing a ring of smoke, he wondered how Temari was doing. They had been dating for over three years now, although not continuously. They have broken up and gotten back together more times than he could count. Sometimes the distance would prove to be too much of a strain on their relationship, sometimes it would be Shikamaru's own lazy and flippant attitude. But at the end of the day, they always came back to each other. They were in love, after all.

Their latest breakup had now lasted over three months. Temari had ended it, claiming that Shikamaru didn't put enough of an effort into their relationship. It was bullshit, they both knew, but Temari was angry during a particularly heated argument, and didn't feel like dealing with the aftermath. Not that either minded that much, it was only a matter of time before the two got back together.

Shikamaru wondered why he loved the troublesome woman so much. She was several years older than him, had the tendency to nag him like his mother, but he was always quick to apologize to the woman. Their relationship was a well-known story spread through Konoha, bored civilians always kept track of each break up and consequential make up. Shikamaru supposed he should go to Suna soon to apologize for his part in the break up. He was going to go; until Tsunade issued this newest problem.

Now the young Nara had never been particularly close to Naruto. They were sort of friends in the academy, often times skipping class together with Choji and Kiba. While they were genin and chunin, they went on several missions together, facing many dangerous foes and life threatening situations. During the war, they spent even more time together, Shikamaru planning the impossible missions that Naruto would then execute. They were comrades, certainly. Friends, perhaps. But they couldn't claim to be close.

In fact, now that he thought of it, he knew pathetically little about the blond Jinchuriki. She was loud, friendly, and boisterous. She was always ready for a good spar, usually against the recently reinstated Sasuke. He knew as much about her as everyone else in the Konoha shinobi force did, but he couldn't claim to know anything more. Troublesome.

What he did know, however, was that she was a great person and even better ninja. She was the Hokage that Konoha deserved. She didn't deserve to be placed in such an awful position. She especially didn't deserve being sold off to the Daimyo's son, a man who claimed to love her, like cattle, consequently forced to quit the shinobi force, abandoning both her friends and her dreams. He needed a way to get her out of this.

Slowly, the more he thought of it, a plan started to form in his head. A plan that was looking more and more possible by the second. A plan that made Shikamaru contemplate launching himself off a cliff. Yet with each variable that he tried to counteract, this plan only grew more and more possible.

Soon enough, Shikamaru had gone through several cigarettes, the tips all thrown haphazardly around him.

"You have a plan, don't you?" His father surmised, taking a seat in the grass besides his son.

Shikamaru sighed as his eyes never left the clouds, "Unfortunately."

"Naruto is the hero of Konoha. She belongs here," Shikaku spoke softly, his gaze pitying.

"I know," Shikamaru grimaced, "The plan I have… It's risky. A lot of people will get hurt. A lot of people will be shocked. A lot could go wrong."

"It may be our only choice."

"It is our only choice."

"You're the Clan Head now," Shikaku reminded him, "It's ultimately your call."

"You're still the Head Strategist," Shikamaru pointed out, "You could always veto my idea."

"I'm only the Head Strategist until you decide you're ready for the additional responsibility. I'd like to remind you that I would prefer being fully retired by now. I'll support your plan, whatever it is."

"Temari is going to get hurt," Shikamaru admitted.

"You mean you'll be hurt," Shikaku said, sending a knowing look towards his son.

"I love her," Shikamaru replied, "But my village comes first. I'll follow through with my plan, for Naruto and Konoha's sake. Hopefully, once this is all said and done, Temari will find it in her heart to forgive me."

Sasuke cracked his knuckles as he faced off against his favorite opponent. Off to the side, Sakura, Sai and Kakashi stood watching what was sure to be a destructive spar. Naruto stood in front of him, her long blond hair tied in a high ponytail, her baggy jumpsuit hiding the plethora of weapons that were surely hidden beneath.

"Ready Dobe?" He sarcastically drawled, enjoying the flush of red that crawled up Naruto's face as she grew angrier.

"I'm always ready to kick your ass, Teme," Naruto snarled, getting into her favorite starting position.

"Do they have to fight again?" Sakura asked with a sigh. She loved her team, truly, but she was sick of watching Naruto and Sasuke fight it out. Her lingering feelings for Sasuke not withstanding, she wished they did more team activities other than standing around watching the two powerhouses of Team Kakashi duke it out.

"Jealous Ugly?" Sai taunted with his usual fake smile. Sakura withheld the urge to knock the boy out, instead opting for snarling at him threateningly, which only made him laugh.

She hated how she still loved the Uchiha. While she no longer fangirled, thankfully, and kept a pure friendly relationship with the man, she still held on to her feelings. Sometimes she would even try to flirt with her teammate, which Sasuke ignored with undistinguishable grace. In fact, he ignored Sakura quite often. He ignored everyone. Everyone except for Naruto.

No, the blond container was the only person that could ignite emotion in the previously expressionless Uchiha. When Naruto was around, a small smile would grace his features as they spat out insults back and forth. He acknowledged Naruto as his equal, as his best friend. Something he would never do with Sakura.

She clenched her fist in sorrow as she realized that in Sasuke's eyes, she would never amount to Naruto.

Shikamaru braced himself as he knocked on the front door. He had never been to Naruto's apartment before, there was never any need. She lived in a worn down building alarmingly close to the red light district, far from any of their mutual friends.

Naruto threw open the door in annoyance, "For the thousandth time you old hag, I'm not making any noise-" Her insult died on her lips as she gazed into the amused eyes of Shikamaru, "Oh, Shikamaru. Heh, sorry about that, I thought you were the old hag who lives below me."

Shikamaru smirked in amusement, "Hmm, do we look that similar?"

Naruto blushed at his teasing, shuffling awkwardly in the doorway, "Oh shut up. What brings you here Shikamaru?"

The smile fell off his face as he gazed into the blonds eyes. She looked tired, he noticed. She was probably worrying herself sick, the situation causing her untold amounts of grief. It wasn't fair to her, he knew, being placed in such an awful position. But this was how the world worked, "Do you mind if I come in? What I have to say is pretty sensitive."

Naruto's eyes widened, "Of course! Forgive my manners, I swear I'm usually not this rude."

"Don't worry about it," Shikamaru waved her away as he entered, "We're all allowed an off day."

Her apartment was surprisingly clean, he noticed. Although it should have been expected considering that she's been living alone since the age of six. It was small, with minimal, yet cozy furniture. It was obvious from the plants that littered the windowsill that Naruto tried her best to make a comfortable home to live in. The woman in question directed him to sit on the couch, before taking a seat beside him.

"So… What are you here about?"

Shikamaru took in a deep breath, bracing himself, "It's about your proposal. I have a plan."

Naruto's jaw unhinged in shock, "You can get me out of this marriage?"

"You were considering going through with it?" Shikamaru asked incredulously. He knew that Naruto was a self-sacrificing idiot, ready to do anything for her village. But this was a bit much.

Naruto shrugged ruefully, "It's not like I have much of a choice. I'm not a complete idiot you know. I know how bad it would be if I just rejected Hiro. He's the Daimyo's son. The rejection would be seen as a blatant insult. I can't risk the future of Konoha just because I don't want to be married."

Shikamaru stared at the woman before him. Naruto was always surprising him, at every turn. Just when he thinks he has her figured out, she does something to completely change the way he thinks. Here she was, an 18 year old girl on the cusp of finally reaching her dreams, ready to sacrifice her own happiness for the wellbeing of Konoha. She was amazing.

"Hopefully it won't come to that," He sighed, "My plan is risky. A lot of people will be hurt by it. We have to be ready to deal with the consequences."

"We?" She questioned, her head tilting to the side. Her large blue eyes peered up at him in hope, her eyelashes fluttering.

"We," He nodded, "We are in this together Naruto."

"How so?"

"The Daimyo," He explained, "Is a proud man. He only wants the best for his son, which was why he wanted you. But it is that same pride that won't let him take another man's woman. Especially not the girlfriend to a current Clan Head."

"Shikamaru, what are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about us pretending to be in a relationship."

Naruto gaped, "Wha- Ho- How would that even work?"

Shikamaru ran a hand down his face, "We would need to pretend to be a couple. As far as the entirety of Konoha needs to be concerned, we hooked up three months ago after my latest breakup with Temari, and we've been together since. We're madly in love, but decided to keep our relationship low key as to not let rumors spread, and risk Temari finding out and getting her feelings hurt. In fact, we kept it a secret because we wanted to explore our relationship without any outside influences."

"And you're okay with this? Pretending to be in love with me when you really love Temari?" Naruto asked incredulously.

"I have to be," He responded candidly, "It's our only choice."

"No one will believe us," Naruto stammered, "Anybody who knows us will know that we're lying."

Shikamaru took a look at Naruto. She sat cross legged on the couch, her usual god-awful orange jumpsuit traded for simple pajama bottoms and a tank top. Holy hell, Shikamaru thought as his gaze lingered, Naruto's hot.

With a gulp, he spoke, "That's why we can't just announce that we're dating. We have to be caught in a precarious position, and then 'forced' to spill our 'secret'. With us as a couple, Hiro will be forced to retract his proposal, lest he risk angering one of Konoha's main clans. The rest of the marriage proposals you've been getting should stop as well, at least they will once word of our relationship gets out. This way, no one gets insulted, and you're not forced to marry someone you don't know. It's a win win."

"This is crazy," She gasped out.

Shikamaru took a deep breathe, "So… What do you say?"

Chapter Text

Naruto quirked open one eye as a bright stream of light hit her face. Slowly she rose from her position on the couch as she muffled a yawn. It had been a long, tiring night, she reflected. Stretching her arms above her head, she thought of the nightmare she had just had. The idea of being in a fake relationship with Shikamaru was laughable at best, truly it was pitiful. Just as she was about to return to her bed to finish her much needed sleep, she heard a deep, masculine groan coming from beside her.

Slowly she turned her head, stifling a shriek of surprise as she watched Shikamaru lazily open his eyes. "Damn, so it wasn't a nightmare, huh?" He asked sardonically as he too sat up.

At least the two seemed to be in agreement about the horrors of their new reality. Naruto winced as she watched her friend fix his hair in his signature ponytail, "No, it doesn't look like it."

Shikamaru ran his hand down his face in an attempt to wake up. Damn, he couldn't believe that he actually spent the night here. After coming to Naruto's apartment last night to tell her of the plan, they ended up staying up late to discuss the particulars, and somehow they must have both fallen asleep. They had at least gotten through a lot of details before sleep overtook them, however there was still one thing left to discuss.

"So how are we going to get caught?" Shikamaru questioned as he stood up, cracking his neck in the process. Really, it was much to early for this. He never was a morning person.

Naruto chewed on her lip in contemplation, "Well, if we want to get caught, it needs to be by someone who we know will spread it, despite our fake pleads."

Shikamaru sighed, "Ino it is then."

Naruto grimaced guiltily, "I really am sorry about this Shikamaru."

"Why?" He questioned, "This was all my idea after all."

"But you're doing all of this for me. As if being in a relationship with me wasn't bad enough, now you have to be caught by Ino! And she's such a blabbermouth, which I suppose is why we're choosing her, but she's also one of your closest friends, and I'm sure she's going to be hurt by the fact that you've hidden this, even though you didn't really-"

"Naruto," Shikamaru interrupted her nervous tangent, "I can handle Ino, don't worry about it."

"But you shouldn't have to. Handle her, I mean," Naruto spoke softly, her eyes never meeting his gaze.

Calmly, Shikamaru approached her, using his fingers to tilt up her chin, forcing their eyes to meet, "And you shouldn't have to marry someone you don't love."

"It's not fair," She whispered, her blue eyes blinking away unshed tears, "You shouldn't have to pretend to be in love with me, and risk ending your relationship with Temari forever."

"No, it's not fair," He conceded, "But I can think of a lot of things that are worse than pretending to be in a relationship with you."

A small blush crawled up her cheeks, heating up as she realized that he still held her gaze, "Would you even be able to do it? Pretend to love me when you love another?"

Shikamaru smirked slightly, "Trust me Naruto, it won't be difficult. You're an easy woman to love."

As Naruto looked abashedly off to the side, he realized with a surprise that he was still holding on to her chin, causing him to take a step back. Running a hand through his hair in irritation, he continued, "As long as we play our cards right, and stick to the story we discussed last night, no one would have any cause to doubt us."

"And how long will this charade of ours go on for?" Naruto questioned.

"For as long as it takes."


"Meaning that the Daimyo's son is obviously looking for a bride. He has his gaze set on you for now, but you would never be truly safe until he's moved on," Shikamaru explained awkwardly, itching for a cigarette.

Naruto blinked, "You want us to be in a relationship until he gets married to another woman?"

Shikamaru grimaced, "He won't stay single for long. Now that he's of age, he needs to be married within a year."

"A year is a long time Shika," Naruto spoke slowly, coming to terms with this.

"It is," Shikamaru nodded, "But it's shorter than a life time."

Naruto giggled as she took another bite of her pancakes.

Shikamaru quirked an eyebrow in amusement, "What's so funny?"

Naruto swallowed, a grin stretched across her lips, "It's just, if you asked me a week ago, I would have never imagined that I would end up in my kitchen, eating pancakes made by Shikamaru Nara, with him still half asleep considering he spent the night with me."

Shikamaru chuckled lowly, "Well when you say it like that, it does sound fairly odd."

"Fairly?" Naruto choked out, "It's definitely odd."

"Well get used to it, we're going to be doing this a lot more often."

Naruto leaned her head onto her palm as she smiled cheekily, "Is that a proposition dear Shika?"

Shikamaru leaned in, a slow lopsided grin spreading, "Well of course it is my dear Naru. I thought I made my intentions quite clear."

Naruto withheld a giggle, she quite enjoyed flirtatious banter, "Oh how forward! Aren't you supposed to take me out to dinner before you make such wild propositions?"

Shikamaru lets his gaze drag slowly, obviously across her figure. With a lazy smile, he leaned back into his seat, "You're worth skipping a few steps for, but if you insist I can whip up another batch of pancakes, light a few candles, close the shutters and pretend that it's nightfall."

Naruto felt her heart pound as she gulped. Damn, he was good at this teasing thing. "Where did you learn how to flirt like that?" She asked suddenly, averting her gaze and willing her blush to subside. There was no way she was going to keep flirting if this was how her body reacted to his reciprocation.

Shikamaru shrugged, thankfully not noticing her rather extreme reaction to his innocent flirtation, "I've always been good with words. Temari always said it was my one redeeming feature."

Right. Temari. A few years previous, Naruto and a few other girls used to come up with wild conclusions and hypothesize on why the gorgeous older blond would date their last friend. Reasons ranging from mean ideas such as pity, to more extreme stuff such as a secret mission ordered by Gaara in order to establish closer ties between Suna and Konoha. But if this was how he flirted innocently without really even trying, then Naruto had to tip her hat to the older ninja. She had discovered a gold mine. And no, Naruto wasn't bitter… much.

Swallowing, she nervously replied, "Well, it looks like Temari was right. Perhaps this whole fake relationship thing wouldn't be as hard as I previously suspected."

Shikamaru smirked, "And why is that, dear Naru?"

Naruto's eyes widened in panic, before she anxiously met his teasing gaze. The damn bastard was just messing with her! Scowling, she muttered, "Oh shut up Shika."

The Nara's eyes widened in faux innocence, his palms upturned in surrender, "Why, I have no idea what you mean."

Naruto grumbled angrily as she shoved pancakes into her mouth, "Cheeky, womanizing bastard."

Shikamaru chuckled in amusement. Naruto was always fun to mess with, but their new found flirtations just made it so much more interesting. He watched her silently as she continued to eat, steadfastly ignoring his inquiring gaze. She was beautiful, he mused, even dressed in tattered pajamas. Not a lot of people could pull off that look, he knew. Every man alive would probably kill to have her, in fact, he was quite certain he could name a list of people who would happily kill him once word of their "relationship" was to get out. That is, you know, if Temari didn't kill him first.

He felt a pang right in his heart as he thought of the older blond. They were together for so long, and hopefully they'll be together again. She would forgive him, he knew. She had to forgive him, because frankly Shikamaru didn't know what he would do if she didn't. The only ones aware of his ridiculous plan were the Hokage and his father. The first time he told the Nara patriarch about his idea, Shikaku suggested telling Temari about it, in hopes of sparing her feelings and their future relationship. Shikamaru was disgruntled as he refused. If Temari was aware of the relationship being fake, she could unintentionally tip someone off to the truth; it was a risk Shikamaru couldn't afford to take. And as much as he hated to admit it, it was going to be Temari's utter and inevitable heartbreak which sold Shikamaru and Naruto's performance.

Shikamaru Nara was an utter bastard. But he did what he had to do, for the future of Konoha.

Shikamaru had left her apartment soon after breakfast, thankfully leaving early enough to not be caught by some of Naruto's more nosey neighbors. With a sigh she gathered her waist long blond hair into a high pony tail, blowing away the traitorous strands that fell across her face. She didn't have a team training session until later in the afternoon, so she used her lazy morning to clean her apartment, allowing her time to think of her current predicament.

A small blush creeped up her face as she thought of the lazy, smoke loving jonin. It was odd, she knew, reacting this way to a man she had known all her life. It wasn't as though she had a crush on him, she just happened to acknowledge the fact that he was handsome. Granted, she had acknowledged that fact quite a few years ago, watching his infamous Chunin Exam finals, but it was slightly different now. Now he actually flirted with her, despite it being in jest.

She sighed once more, an action she knew she would be doing quite often for the next few months that they were forced to keep up this charade. It was kind of him, she realized, to sacrifice his own relationship to help her. She knew he didn't do it for her, well not really. Shikamaru was only helping her to save Konoha, not that she could blame him. He was oddly selfless that way.

Last night, before sleep had inevitably taken over, they went over quite a few details of their new arrangement. At first, she wondered why it had to be Shikamaru she 'dated'. It would perhaps be a lot easier to believe if she were to announce the fact that she was dating Sasuke. Shikamaru grimaced when she told him this, before calmly explaining the situation; Sasuke just didn't have the political backing necessary to make the Daimyo back off. With no clan to his name, being the only survivor and all, coupled with the fact that it was only a few years previous that he was Fire Country's greatest enemy, no one in the Daimyo's court would care about insulting Sasuke by essentially stealing his girlfriend. The Uchiha never fully claimed his seat on the council, considering he was technically still on probation, and his borderline anti-social tendencies have halted him from making any types of political alliances in Konoha. In the eyes of the Daimyo, Sasuke Uchiha has no political power whatsoever, and wouldn't hesitate to steal Naruto away from him in a second.

Shikamaru Nara, on the other hand, was a completely different case. At the young age of 18, Shikamaru was already the Head of one of the largest and most influential clans in Konoha. As the son of the Head Strategist and Jonin Commander, Shikamaru held quite a lot of sway in Konoha's council, the members deeply respecting his opinion and expertise. He was known across the nations for his strategies and unparalleled intelligence, making him a horrible enemy to have. Worst of all, Shikamaru had amassed a sheer ridiculous amount of allies since attaining the position of Clan Head.

He had traversed across the Nations, meeting members of clans and brokering trading deals for the medicine his clan produced. This way, exportation and importation in Konoha practically doubled in size, all thanks to the manipulations of Shikamaru. He was also the Suna Ambassador, the sole physical representation of the Fire Country's interest in the Wind Country. To insult Shikamaru was to insult a plethora of others, a mistake no Daimyo wanted to make. Especially by offering a proposal to his already confirmed paramour.

The Daimyo could, in essence, still demand that Naruto marry his son. However, political favor for him would drop immensely if word were to get out that he stole the woman of another, powerful man. It was all mind boggling, Naruto knew, the sheer amount of politics that went into a decision like this. By asking for her hand in the first place, the Daimyo's son wasn't really messing around, declaring to practically everyone that Naruto was soon to be his. She could always refuse the marriage, but the backlash was going to be the worst. The more she thought of it, the more she realized that Shikamaru was right: this was their only choice.

She just hoped nobody got too hurt in the process.

"You're late, Dobe," Sasuke taunted with a slight smirk creeping across his fine features.

Sticking up the middle finger, Naruto courteously replied, "Blow me, Teme."

Sakura scrunched up her nose in disgust, "That's not how a lady should speak, Naruto. Really, how uncouth could you possibly be?"

Naruto waved her away in irritation, taking a seat on the floor and leaning on the tree, her eyes halfway closed, "Well you can blow me too, Sakura-chan."

Sasuke gave the blond an inquisitive look, "You're not usually this vulgar this early into a meeting."

Damn, the Teme knew her well. With a teasing smile and a glint in her eyes, she cooed, "Awww Sasuke-kun, are you worried about me?"

The Uchiha rolled his eyes, "Only worried that your irritation would actually cause you to be more annoying than usual."

Sai snickered, "I do not believe that is possible."

Glaring at the pale effeminate boy, Naruto bit out, "Fuck you too, Sai."

Sai smiled, "Now? Very well, if you insist."

Naruto groaned, "Kami, I never thought I would reach the day where I wished you were still the hollow man who couldn't begin to understand what a joke even was."

"You have no one but yourself to blame," Sai informed with a shrug.

"I suppose so," Naruto acknowledged, "Anyways, are we going to sit around lazily waiting for our Cyclops of a sensei, or are we going to get some training done?"

A dangerous, feral look entered Sasuke's eyes, "Lets get started."

Sakura just groaned as she watched the two powerhouses of Team 7 get ready for yet another spar. Sakura was waiting at the clearing for her team a full half hour before Naruto or Sai even arrived, with just Sasuke for company. She lost count on how many times she tried to initiate conversation with the stoic man, to no avail. Sure, he didn't blatantly ignore her as he did back when they were genin, but the most she could get of him was a three word response. Yet the moment Naruto enters, it's all smiles and smirks and teasing.

Sakura wasn't jealous of Naruto… much. She just wished that the Uchiha would pay her the same amount of attention as he willingly paid the blond. She needed a drink, she decided, so with a nod to herself, Sakura promised to find Ino after their training was concluded for the day. She really could use another woman's opinion.

"I think you're reading too much into it."

Sakura sighed as she took another sip of her colorful drink. The low lighting created a wonderful ambiance, leaving it perfect enough to see Ino's uninterested expression as she tossed her ponytail to the side, before completing her assessment, "I mean, think about it. Sasuke has always been a lot closer to Naruto, right? Especially when he was a missing-nin, he saw her as a rival, someone he had to overcome. That feeling isn't just going to flip now that he's back to being a loyal ninja. Naruto is someone safe to him, someone he understands and trusts. So obviously he will be more comfortable teasing and taunting her, she's the one unchanging variable from his life."

Sakura frowned, "But how can you be sure? Sasuke is not really an expressive guy, so the fact that he's being this expressive with Naruto surely has to be a sign that he's in love with her."

Ino narrowed her eyes, "Did you not listen to a word I just said? Look, I psychologically break people for a living, and sure, in this case I'm not really torturing anyone for information, but the fact remains that I understand the human mind better than most. Sasuke hasn't been back for long, it's only natural that he clings to the one aspect of his previous life that is unchanged."

"I'm unchanged," Sakura grumbled lowly.

Ino snorted, taking a sip of her drink before responding, "You're kidding right? Sakura, you have perhaps changed the most. Your crush on Sasuke not withstanding, you have completely transformed from the weak fangirling genin to a respectable, kick ass medic!"

"Following that logic, Naruto too has changed. She went from being a dead last ninja with no skill, to being a shoe in for the next Hokage candidacy."

Ino seriously withheld slamming her head on the table repeatedly. She swore Sakura wasn't usually this thick headed, but apparently love made her dumb, "Sakura, I meant her attitude is unchanging. While her power levels and maturity obviously rose, she's still the same foul mouthed, big talking brat that declared Sasuke to be her eternal rival. At a time like this, where his position is still uncertain in the village, and he is still yet to be trusted by the masses, he looks for that same familiarity. Give it time, and eventually he will see what a loyal and great teammate and friend you've been to him during this transitional period."

Sakura sighed, "You're right… Kami, I just hate the waiting."

"Don't we all?"

Shikamaru Nara was reading some pretty important looking documents, when he heard a tentative knocking on his door. Glancing at the clock, he wondered who would be at his door this late at night.

"Hiashi," Shikamaru spoke, quickly masking his surprise with his usual apathetic countenance, "I'm surprised to see you here. Please, come in."

Moving aside to allow the older man to walk into his apartment, he softly closed the door behind him, subtly activating the multiple privacy seals he had sketched into his wall.

"I'm sure," Hiashi drawled, taking a seat at his dining room table, "Unfortunately this isn't a social call."

Shikamaru withheld the urge to snicker, instead he politely offered the Hyuga Clan Head some tea, before taking a seat in front of the stoic man, "Well then, what brings you to my humble abode?"

Hiashi looked at the younger man in contemplation, his eyes gazing deeply to his own, as if to search his very soul. Eventually, the Hyuga sighed in resignation, "I come to you out of respect for our alliance."

Shikamaru nodded sharply. It was a little known fact that the Hyuga and Nara had a close alliance, after all it was only brokered between the two clans a year previously when Shikamaru came into power, "You plan on making a drastic political move."

"I do," Hiashi readily agreed, "I want to propose a marriage between my nephew Neji, and Naruto Uzumaki."

Well, this was… unexpected. Shikamaru breathed in deeply, his features not betraying his rapid thoughts, "And what brought this on?"

Hyuga leaned back into his seat, "We cannot allow the jinchuriki to leave Konoha, especially not one who is to be our next Hokage. Neji and Naruto have a good working friendship, their subsequent marriage would not be taxing on either party, and would bring a lot of prosperity to Konoha."

"As well as fame to the Hyuga clan, I'd imagine," Shikamaru drawled.

"A mere added bonus, I assure you."

"And how would you propose that the Daimyo react," Shikamaru spoke, "When he finds out that the Hyuga clan had offered a proposal to his sons beloved mere days after they offered their own?"

Hiashi's eyes narrowed at they boys taunting tone, "The Daimyo's reaction is of no consequence to the Hyuga Clan."

Shikamaru clicked his tongue, "And here I thought you were an intelligent man. If you go through with this plan, whether Naruto accepts the proposal or not, it would be seen as a blatant insult against the Daimyo's court. He would destroy your clan, Hiashi, regardless of how powerful you are."

"We must try something, young Shikamaru."

"Something, certainly, however this plan is pure suicide. You would offer the woman beloved by the Daimyo's son to your nephew, a member or the branch family who has no hopes of ever becoming clan head? This plan is absolutely idiotic."

"Well then, should I be rest assured that the master strategist of Konoha has his own plan to keep our jinchuriki?"

Shikamaru's eyes widened, before narrowing in suspicion. With a laugh, he spoke, "You never planned on offering a proposal between Neji and Naruto. You planned this all to see if I had my own plan to get Naruto out of this marriage."

Hiashi shrugged, "Can you blame me? I have a vested interest in keeping the jinchuriki in Konoha, I just wanted reassurance that she was safe."

"And it never crossed your mind to ask me outright?"

Hiashi chuckled lowly, "You are many things, Shikamaru, however forthcoming isn't one of them."

The Nara nodded, "Perhaps you are right about that. Regardless, I don't respond well to others attempting to manipulate me."

"Well it is not as though my plan worked."

"Which is why I stressed the attempting."

Hiashi smiled briefly, "I always knew establishing an alliance with you was the right call, very few could match your wit."

"Complimenting me would do little to help you in your foolish goal."

"Well then, prove me wrong and tell me forthright; do you have a plan to protect our future Hokage?"

Shikamaru quickly outweighed the pros and cons, before allowing a sly smirk to spread, "Not a plan, exactly. More like a careful revelation of a well kept secret."

"I hate when you speak in tongues."

"Nonsense, my wit and strategical moves are exactly why you respect me so much."

"A fact I often find myself at odds with."

"Do not worry too much, most people hate my deceitful personality as much as they cherish it."

"So I should not worry?"

"No Hiashi, there is no need to worry. In fact, I will ask you to keep quiet on the topic for the next coming days, allowing the events to pass its course. When it is time, I shall ask you for a favor, one I sincerely hope you will grant."

Hiashi nodded seriously, "If it is within my power, I shall do whatever it is you ask of me. For the future of Konoha."

"For the future of Konoha."

Chapter Text

It was beautiful, he supposed. Almost… serene. Moonlight breaking and shattering through the twisting branches, illuminating the jagged rocks that framed the dirtied pathway leading further and further away from the comfort of his village. Shikamaru sighed as he brought a cigarette up to his lips, snapping his fingers sharply to light the stick. The smoke blew out of his nose in ringlets, his breath strong as he inhaled deeply for yet another puff.

He needed to think. As it was a cloudless night, Shikamaru put aside his usual habit in favor of taking a walk outside of the village with nothing but his cigarettes for company. The quiet and serenity of the forest a perfect contrast to the turbulent thoughts whirling around his head. When he had first accepted the position of clan head of the Nara, he knew he would have to make some deep sacrifices during the rest of his career, his reputation as Konoha's strategical genius preceding him. However he never expected a sacrifice quite as bizarre as this.

Hiashi, after multiple reassurances, had finally left his apartment only an hour previous; his worries about the situation slightly eased due to Shikamaru's obvious confidence. Hiashi's visit made one thing clear however: the scheme had to proceed quicker than Nara had originally planned. If a clan such as the Hyuga's, one infamously famous for staying neutral in regards to Daimyo politics, was ready to risk everything for Naruto, it is only a matter of time before the other clans do something drastic as well. To minimize any potential backlash, Shikamaru had to act quickly.

The first step of his plan was quite simple; he just had to guarantee Ino would be around to witness what he was sure would be the gossip of the year. Once she has first hand proof of the sordid affair, the news would be across the village by the end of the day. By next week, everyone across the Elemental Nation's would have heard the tragic love story of the Hero, the Strategist, and the Prince who stood between them. Public opinion would immediately tilt to their favor, applying untold pressure on the Daimyo's court.

That is when his job would get complicated. Not only would he have to continue tricking his closest friends and family members into thinking he was in love with the local jinchuriki, he would have to find a way to guarantee Naruto's Hokage candidacy. While he no doubt that most of the shinobi council would gladly give the hat to the young woman who had proved herself time and time again, he knew many other members would be weary to give power to a girl tied so intimately with another fellow council member. One whose intelligence was widely acknowledged and feared.

While most people would see their relationship as one of fairytales and dreams, there would be others, the cynical and paranoid, that would believe this all to be a plot from the Nara; a way to control the village from the comfort of their shadows. Now Shikamaru was never the most sincere individual, he much preferred the hidden barbed politics under pleasantly honey coated words, however he knew that if there were ever a time for him to truly seem sincere, it was this.

He could only hope that his acting skills and general friendship with Naruto was enough to convince them.

"I love Shikamaru."

Naruto clicked her tongue as she stared at her reflection in her poorly lit bathroom. Her hair was tied back messily, highlighting the bags that have taken residence under her eyes. Her eyes were bloodshot, pointing to her difficulty sleeping. She had been practicing for a while now, watching as her lips twisted and contorted in an effort to make this strange, almost foreign statement seem natural. So far she has had no luck. It seemed insincere, almost robotic.

"I love Shikamaru."

Now that stress on the word 'love' sounded fake even to her oblivious ears. Naruto huffed, she was never going to get this right.

"I love Shikamaru."

Nope. Still fake. And vaguely rude.

"love Shikamaru."


"I love Shikamaru?"

As if that would trick anyone.

"I love Shikamaru!"

Great. Now she was screaming. Her neighbors already couldn't stand her, she was certain this was not going to help her case. She slammed her forehead onto the mirror, the cool glass slightly easing the tension that had been following her for several days now. She took a deep breath, her chest rising slowly as she tried to calm her spiraling thoughts.

This was never going to work.

It was a statement she was afraid to utter out loud, but it was nonetheless true. While she had no doubt Shikamaru could play his role as a ninja in love, his acting skills coming as a startling surprise to the young blond, she knew that her own were precariously mediocre. While Nara was a diplomat, able to hold a poker face in even the most stressful situation, Naruto was a frontline fighter, her confidence and bravado and fears and worries painted across her features for all to see. There was no way she could convince everyone that she was actually in love with the usually apathetic strategist.

Sasuke, particularly, would see straight through her. She knew she wouldn't be able to tell him the truth, his acting skills fell even below her own, however she had no idea how she was going to convince the man who knew her better than she knew herself that she was actually in love.

But Naruto Uzumaki wasn't the type of girl who gave up. Shikamaru was risking everything; his job, his love life, his very own family, to help her. She wouldn't let his sacrifice go to waste. So it was with a determined grunt that Naruto pushed herself off her mirror, setting her features into one of practiced sheepishness.

"I love Shikamaru."

There was something wrong with Naruto. Sasuke frowned as he gazed at the blond who he called his best friend. For all appearances, Naruto seemed fine. She wore her usual hideously orange jumpsuit, was too loud too early in the morning, laughed at Sai when Sasuke predictably had him on his back only a minute into their spar.

But Sasuke knew Naruto better than anyone. Her jumpsuit was slightly crinkled, as if she put it on haphazardly and in a hurry. Her voice, while high pitched and grating as usual, had a slight edge in it as though she had to remind herself to be loud. And when she laughed, she didn't throw her head back in her usual careless manner, but kept it forward instead. And her eyes which usually twinkled with mirth were only hard in the face of the slapstick comedy that would have usually had her in tears by now.

Even now, as the Dobe was sparring against Kakashi, Sasuke could see that the blonds head wasn't completely in the fight. Her moves were telegraphed and delivered through muscle memory rather than the unpredictable gabs she was known for. The Uchiha was so focused on watching his rival, that he even missed the melancholic glances shot at him from his pink-haired teammate.

So yes, there was something wrong with Naruto. It was unfortunate, however, that she seemed quite determined to keep her current feelings to herself. Sasuke wasn't good with feelings, he had no idea how to get the usual approachable blond to tell him what was wrong. The Uchiha sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose; the Uzumaki was a constant source of his headaches.

The only thing Sasuke could do at this moment of time was wait until Naruto decided to tell him herself. Until that moment came, he would keep an eye on her. The idiot always managed to get herself in ridiculous situations, she needed him to make sure she didn't end up getting herself killed.

"Hey Dobe, let's go get some ramen." He called out. And finally, for the first time that day, a true grin broke out on her features, her eyes twinkling as she ranted about the wonder and splendor that was ramen. So no, Sasuke wasn't good at talking about feelings, but he would always try to make her feel better the best way he knew how.

No one noticed the look of utter heartbreak that passed the features of their team medic.

Shikamaru did not blink. Did not waiver. His eyes peered deeply into her own, his mouth drawn in a soft, loving smile. The moonlight poured through the window, reflecting perfectly off his well defined jaw and piercing eyes. Shikamaru Nara was attractive, of this there was no doubt. "Naruto Uzumaki, I am deeply in love with you."

Naruto furrowed her brows. She hesitantly opened her mouth to return the sentiment, her tongue catching in her throat as she watched the expectant eyes of her supposed lover. With a grimace, she snatched her hand away from his, running it nervously through her golden locks, "Yeah, no. Still too weird."

With a deep sigh Shikamaru let the exposed expression fall off his face, and threw himself on her couch, his arm rising to cover his face, "See, this is why I suggested we practice. We're never going to trick anybody if you can't keep a straight face."

Naruto frowned, taking a seat beside Shikamaru as she thought about their predicament, "I think, maybe the reason it's weird is because it doesn't feel natural."

Shikamaru moved his arm to look at the blond, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, you're here giving me this declaration of love, but it doesn't feel as though it's natural. Don't get me wrong, you're a great actor and anyone would believe you… but I don't know. It's almost like we're not comfortable with each other enough to do this." With a sigh, she continued, "I'm not making any sense, am I?"

Shikamaru sat up slowly, his body weight supported by his forearms, his mouth slightly curling upwards, "No, strangely enough you do make sense. It's not like we've ever been the closest of friends, it's only natural that this seems unnatural."

Naruto huffed, "Well I do sometimes have intelligent thoughts you know."

Shikamaru chuckled, amusement colored across his countenance. It was a deep sound, low and masculine. Well that just wasn't fair, Naruto thought. Really, Shikamaru had no business being that casually attractive. "Yes Naruto, despite being dead last in the academy, you do sometimes have intelligent thoughts."

Naruto blushed, her arms crossed in indignation, "How do manage to make everything sound like a thinly veiled insult?"

Shikamaru shrugged, his smile not fading, "It's a gift."

"So Mr. Strategist, do you have a plan to make this," She gestured between them, "Seem more natural?"

Shikamaru nodded, rising into a seated position, "The only way to make it seem more natural is to be comfortable in what we are doing and saying. And the only way to do that is to get to know each other better. Meaning all we have to do is spend more time together, and it'll all start feeling a little more natural."

Naruto tilted her head, "That's actually a smart idea."

Shikamaru snorted, "Yes I've been known to have those every once in a while."

Naruto turned red, "Oh shut up."

And just as Shikamaru started to laugh, a pillow smacked him right across the head. The Nara narrowed his eyes, "Oh, it's on."

Naruto shrieked as Shikamaru pounced, a pillow in hand and victory close enough to taste.

"You trust the boy?"

Hiashi nodded solemnly in answer. The elders were well within their rights to be skeptical, not many would easily put their faith in a boy half their age. Yet Shikamaru was unlike any of his generation, Hiashi knew this well. The Nara was smart, calculating, and utterly merciless. If there was anyone who would get Konoha out of this precarious situation, it were him.

One of the elders sneered, "The Nara is an official ally of the Hyuga clan. Certainly he would have told you the particulars of this plan, our villages current survival hinging on its success after all."

Ah. Now this was the difficult part. "Dear elders, in my many years of Clan Head, I have never led you askew. I ask that you once more trust the wisdom of my decision, for it is within our best interest to not interfere in the matter."

Another elder spoke, "Then you are unaware of the plan, I presume? How weak, allowing another clan gain the glory of controlling the jinchuriki's fate."

Hiashi smiled politely, "Trust in my decisions. That is all I ask."

The council of elders was dismissed fairly quickly following Hiashi's declaration. As the Head of the Clan stalked through the halls of his home, a small frown marred his usual apathetic countenance. Objectively speaking, Hiashi knew why Shikamaru had to keep the plans to himself. As one of Konoha's finest strategists, he couldn't afford to let anyone else know of his plans prior to execution. It would only skew the results, messing with everything he had prepared. However the Hyuga Clan was getting antsy.

Hiashi had secured an alliance with the Nara through Shikamaru, the first political alliance in Konoha that the younger man formally made. This, in theory, placed Hiashi in a plane of trust above his other allies. And while this was certainly true, Shikamaru trusted him enough to let him know that there was in fact a plan in motion, it wasn't enough to appease the elders. The Hyuga were notoriously famous for staying neutral in all internal affairs. Hiashi broke this unspoken political barrier by connecting himself to the Nara, albeit in secret. When he first brokered the deal, he did so against the advice of the clan elders, who warned him of the Nara's secretive and elusive manners.

However Hiashi waved away their main concerns, speaking candidly of the Nara boy's intelligence and potential to bring the Hyuga into the forefront of internal politics. It was common knowledge at the time that Naruto Uzumaki was going to be Hokage, and equally obvious was her choice for advisors: Sasuke Uchiha and Shikamaru Nara. While tying themselves to the Uchiha would be ridiculous political suicide, making an alliance with Shikamaru seemed more and more like the best choice.

However now, with Naruto's candidacy being questioned, the Hyuga alliance with the Nara seemed to be in a precarious position. With the Nara not trusting or divulging the information of the plan to Hiashi, it seemed as though there was little trust towards the Hyuga. Meaning that if the plan were to succeed, and Naruto was once more in a viable position to claim the hat, all credit for success would go to Shikamaru. This placed the young man once more in perfect position to be named advisor, allowing the Hyuga family to influence him with their own opinions on foreign politics. Yet if the plan did not work, and the hat were to be given to another, then Hiashi's entire point for drawing an alliance with the Nara will be for moot point.

The Nara stood a lot to benefit from the Hyuga; the elder clans resources and fighting force were greater than the shadow dwellers. Yet outside of Shikamaru's own potential, the Hyuga had little reason to ally themselves with the smaller clan. If Shikamaru did not prove his worth, and soon, then the Hyuga elders will eventually question Hiashi's own decision making and rationality.

Hiashi sighed, he certainly hated clan politics. He just hoped young Shikamaru was as intelligent as he thought, for his very own position as Clan Head hung in the balance.

Naruto pulled her hair into a messy ponytail as she lazily sauntered out of her bedroom. Stretching her limbs above her head, she had to stifle a scream as she noticed the pale, amused countenance of Sai staring at her from his spot on her couch.

Naruto dropped her arms quickly, a scowl spreading easily, "Sai. What. The. Fuck?!"

Sai clicked his tongue, "Naruto, you really need to learn how to clean up your vocabulary."

Naruto felt a headache take root as she contemplated the wisdom of slaughtering her teammate, as annoying and boundary pushing as he obviously was. "Sai. You can't just break into my apartment. I thought we had settled this conversation already."

Sai blinked in mock confusion, his head tilted to the side, "You were serious about that?"

Yeah. That settled it. Naruto was going to kill the bastard.

The ex-Root agent chuckled, "It is much too easy to get a rise out of you."

The blonds eye twitched, "Perhaps that's because I don't like it when people break into my apartment. Couldn't you have, oh I don't know, knocked?!"

"And bothered you while you were sleeping? I believe that is considered to be rude."

"It's ruder to break into someone's apartment," Naruto spat out through gritted teeth.

The smug bastard had the audacity to shrug, "Semantics."

Naruto sighed, there was no winning this argument. "What do you want Sai?"

Sai grinned, his lips spreading thin and creepily across his pale features, "Come spar with me."

Naruto narrowed her eyes, "Why?"

Sai quirked a perfectly manicured brow, "Must I have a reason to ask for a spar?"

The blond laughed, "You're Sai, you have a reason for everything."

"Perhaps I have just missed your presence."

"We see each other every day. We spar almost every day as well. It's our first day off in about a week, and I am not going to spend it being made fun of." Naruto huffed. Not to mention, she thought to herself, Shikamaru was expecting her presence at his apartment pretty soon. After yesterdays impromptu pillow fight, they decided the best way to get comfortable around each other was too spend more time together. Considering how pressed for time they currently were, Shikamaru stressing that the sooner the rumors begin to spread the better, they had to spend every available minute together in hopes of developing a deeper friendship.

Sai shifted in his seat nervously, his eyes not meeting her own, "Perhaps there is also something I wished to speak to you about."

"What is it Sai? I really don't have time for this," Naruto called out as she walked to the kitchen, boiling a pot of water.

The effeminate ninja followed her, taking a seat at the counter as he watched his friend prepare ramen, "It's about Sakura."

"What about her?"

"She's in love with Sasuke."

"What?!" Naruto screeched, almost dropping a packet of ramen, "Still?! I thought she got over the Teme a long time ago."

Sai grimaced, "It doesn't look that way. I overheard her and Ino at the bar speaking about this very topic a few days ago."

Naruto glared at the boy, "Sai, we spoke about this. Eavesdropping and spying on your friends is not acceptable social behavior."

The ninja rolled his eyes, "I know, it was purely by accident, believe me."

"Why are you telling me this?" Naruto placed her hands on her hips, "This is Sakura's personal business, and she obviously doesn't want me to know."

"Because it involves you," Sai spoke candidly.


"Sakura is under the impression that Sasuke could never fall in love with her, because he is too busy being in love with another."

Naruto snorted, "Oh please, like the Teme could ever fall in love with a girl. The only thing that man loves is his own reflection."

"She thinks he loves you."

Naruto paused, her jaw dropping in shock, "What? That's just… that's just not possible. Is Sakura an idiot?! Sasuke doesn't love me, we're best friends. Just best friends."

Sai nodded, "I agree with you. As does Ino, for she told Sakura the same thing. However I just wanted to warn you. A jealous woman, especially one on your own team, is poised to do a lot of damage. I would tread carefully."

"Sai don't be ridiculous. Sakura would never hurt me, or do anything stupid. She's my friend." Naruto spoke, full of bravado. She trusted Sakura, and she knew the pink haired jonin would do nothing to inadvertently cause her harm.

"I am not saying that she would harm you," Sai spoke carefully, "On purpose, anyways. However jealousy is a powerful motivator. It could ruin our team dynamics if the tension continues."

"There is no tension. Sakura knows better then to think Sasuke and I are anything more than friends."

"I just wanted to warn you."

"Consider myself suitably warned. Now get the fuck out of my apartment."

Shikamaru listened carefully as Naruto continued to rant. He watched as she paced across his apartment angrily, her arms gesturing wildly, "So when the bastard left my apartment, I started thinking deeper about it. Why the fuck would Sai feel the need to warn me about Sakura's feelings towards the Teme? I certainly have no romantic feelings towards the idiot, and he has none towards me. So why does Sakura think of me as a rival?"

Shikamaru sighed. Really, this blond was just troublesome, "Sasuke is close to you. Very close. You are the only person who he can truly call his friend. In that sense, it makes sense for Sakura to jump to conclusions."

Naruto crossed her arm angrily, "Yeah, well Sakura is an idiot."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes, quickly changing the topic before Naruto can start on another rant, "Did you bring what I asked for?"

"Huh?" Naruto blinked, remembering the situation, "Oh yeah! Why did you ask me to bring such random stuff again?"

Shikamaru caught the bag Naruto tossed at him, carefully taking out each item and examining it with meticulous attention, "If we are going to have anyone believe that we are in a long-term committed relationship, then we need proof of it to be littered across our apartments."

The Nara took out a pair of well-worn pajama bottoms covered in ramen and unicorns, raising a single brow at Naruto. The blond in question blushed, "You asked me to bring the pajamas I wear the most often, so stop giving me that look!"

Shikamaru just smirked as he continued, "We need to make it seem as if you spend more time in my apartment then you do in your own. So personal effects such as a toothbrush, pajamas, and at least one of your ghastly jumpsuits is a necessity if we want to trick anyone into thinking that you actually spend time here."

Naruto nodded in agreement, "What about stuff for the shower? Shampoo, conditioner, body wash?"

Shikamaru hummed, "We can get away with the idea that you use mine instead."

Naruto scrunched her nose, "Then wouldn't I smell like a man?"

Shikamaru smirked, a look that really shouldn't be that damn attractive, "I believe that's the point Naru-chan."

"Don't call me that," She bit out.

Shikamaru just chuckled, "We need to lay the groundwork before Ino can catch us in a precarious position."


"Meaning we need to give the others a reason to suspect something is going on. That way when Ino eventually lets our relationship status slip, it'll seem more plausible."

"And how do you propose we do that?"

Shikamaru grinned, "Feel like taking a shower?"

Naruto smelled like a man. All musky and reeking of sandalwood. All she needed was a light coating of cigarette smoke and she would smell exactly like Shikamaru. Which, she supposed, was kind of the point.

Naruto huffed as she sat across from Shikamaru at his kitchen table, "I smell like a dude."

Shikamaru furrowed his brows, "That was the point Naruto."

"I know that," She said, gathering her wet hair into a high bun, "But seriously, you couldn't have purchased less masculine smelling toiletries?"

Naruto knew she was being an idiot. From the raised brow and slight smirk that grew on his face, Shikamaru knew it too. Before the lazy bastard could start making fun of her, Naruto spoke, "So now that I officially smell like you, what do you want me to do?"

"We can handle that in a minute. But first, I want to show you something," Shikamaru rose from his seat, gesturing for Naruto to follow him, "While you were in the shower, I started rearranging some of my drawers."

The Uzumaki followed him into his bedroom, taking in the sight of the most meticulously clean room she had ever seen. It was a bachelors room, of that she had no doubt, with sparse furniture and even less personal effects. Naruto rolled her eyes as she glanced at the bedside table, the bottom two drawers completely cleared out and filled with her own personal effects. As Naruto looked at them, she grew red, "You folded my undergarments?!"

Shikamaru withheld the urge to chuckle, "I did."

Naruto growled, "And that couldn't have waited until I got out of the shower and was able to do so myself?"

Shikamaru gave a wide-eyed, faux innocent look, "I didn't think you'd mind much, my love."

Naruto facepalmed, "Great. I'm 'in love' with a bastard."

The Nara couldn't help the chuckle that broke through, "It would do you well to remember that, Naru-chan."


"Naruto! Hey Naruto! Over here!" The Uzumaki followed the loud voice to see the excited countenance of her fellow blond. Ino was standing and waving her over from her spot with the rest of her old team, so Naruto had little choice but to go over. After paying the man at the counter, and being told that her food would be ready shortly, she walked over to her friends.

Naruto grinned, "Hey Ino! It's been a while! Hey Choji, Shikamaru!"

As she took the empty seat besides the lazy jonin, she shot a grin at the other two ninjas across her. She took a deep breath, doing all that she could to hide her nerves. Shikamaru had prepared her for this, there was no reason to feel nervous.

"What are you doing here Naruto? We usually have to drag you to this barbecue restaurant," Choji spoke candidly, briefly pausing his feast to glance at the beautiful blond.

And she was beautiful, he noticed. Frankly, he'd have to be blind not to notice. It was an effortless beauty, he knew, and she was completely unaware of it. Naruto was his friend, however, he'd have to be an idiot to ruin a friendship because he found her attractive. But honestly, it was quite ridiculous how gorgeous the blond had gotten in recent years. As Choji glanced up to see where Shikamaru had his gaze locked on, he realized that the Nara thought so as well.

Naruto scoffed, her large blue eyes twinkling with amusement, "It's not that I don't like this restaurant, I just prefer ramen. But I already had 23 bowls today, which is my daily limit before I force myself to eat something with actual nutrients in it."

That was a lie. It almost physically pained Naruto to have to say that there was a limit to the amount of ramen she ate, but Shikamaru gave here clear lines to say, and she would not fail him. From the ghost of a smile that graced his face, she assumed she did well.

Ino huffed, "Naruto you really shouldn't eat that much ramen. It's completely unhealthy and bad for your figure."

Shikamaru couldn't have withheld the snort if he tried. Noticing that they all had their eyes on him, he explained, "Telling Naruto to stop eating ramen is like telling Tsunade to stop drinking. A bad idea for everyone in the immediate vicinity."

Ino crossed her arms indignantly, "Well she should at least cut back a bit. It's really not healthy."

Naruto rolled her eyes, flipping her hair casually to the side, "I think I'll be fine Ino."

The babbling blond, about to start another lecture on the importance of keeping a healthy diet, suddenly paused, "Naruto, did you change conditioner or something."

Naruto stiffened, her hand reaching for Shikamaru's knee under the table in panic, "I- I did. Do you like it?"

She was nervous. It was easy to tell. Shikamaru put his hand over hers, his thumb drawing slow circles over her skin, urging her to calm down. Showing a little nervousness was fine, as they were currently trying to keep their 'relationship' a secret, but it wouldn't do well for her to completely slip up now.

Ino scrunched up her nose, "Yeah… it's nice. Just a little… familiar."

Naruto's eyes darted wildly around the restaurant, never meeting Ino's, "Yeah, well, maybe someone else uses it? Oh look, my take out is ready! Got to go bye!"

Naruto sped away from the table and out of the restaurant as fast as she could without drawing too many eyes. Choji muttered in confusion as he stared at the retreating back of the gorgeous blond, "That was odd."

"Very odd," Ino agreed, "She'd hiding something."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes dramatically, "Ino stop caring about other peoples business. If Naruto is hiding something, she obviously doesn't want us to know. So let it be."

"But what if she's in trouble?" Ino asked, attempting to justify her nosey behavior.

"No offense, but I think Naruto can handle herself just fine."

Ino narrowed her eyes suspiciously, "And why do you care all of a sudden? You've never questioned my curiosity before."

Accusation was painted in her tone, everybody could tell. Shikamaru sighed as he answered, "That's because I tune your gossip out, and it's also usually about some random civilian I've never met. But Naruto is a friend, she doesn't deserve to be questioned about her personal life."

"Shikamaru has a point, Ino," Choji spoke up, "Naruto's a friend. Plus, I doubt she's hiding anything serious. It's Naruto, she couldn't lie to save her life."

Ino frowned, "I don't know… It all just seems too fishy. She smells like a man. And the craziest part is, it's a familiar scent!"

Shikamaru clicked his tongue in annoyance, "Ino, don't be a pain about this. Naruto's not the type of girl to be sleeping around with guys, I'm sure there's an innocent explanation to all this. Anyways, I'll see you two tomorrow. I have an early day tomorrow, and a stack of paperwork still waiting for me back home."

With a wave, Shikamaru departed the restaurant, feeling the glare that was shot at his back as he walked further and further away.

"Choji," Ino spoke slowly, carefully as they watched Shikamaru depart, "I think I recall why that scent is familiar."

Choji had yet to peel his eyes from the door his friend had walked through. With a big gulp, he softly replied, "Yeah, I think I do too."

Ino frowned, "You don't think..."

"No," Choji quickly interrupted, "There has to be some other explanation. It's just not possible."

"But what if it's true?"

"No. Shikamaru is in love with Temari. There is no way he would risk his relationship for some... some fling with Naruto. No. No way."

"But what if-"

"No Ino. It's just not possible. Shikamaru has told me himself that Temari is the only woman he will ever love."

"Then why hasn't he gone to Suna yet to beg for forgiveness? It's already been like three months, they should have reconciled by now."

Choji shrugged, "I'm not sure. But Shikamaru must have his reasons. He's a logical man, he rarely does anything without considering all of the variables."

Ino sighed, "I'm sure you're right. But something is going on, and I'm going to find out what it is."

Choji raised a brow, "How?"

Ino grinned, "I'm going to go talk to Shikamaru."

Chapter Text

Naruto gingerly grabbed a hold of Shikamaru’s hand, softly interlocking their fingers with a delicate sort of intimacy. Her thumb slowly drew circles around the back of his hand, causing small goosebumps to rise in the wake of her ministrations. Her wide blue eyes nervously rose to meet his, a bashful blush of innocence coloring her countenance as she met the smoldering eyes of her more experienced paramour.

“Shikamaru,” She spoke softly, her tongue caressing each syllable of his name, “I love you.”

 A charming grin tugged at the edge of his lips, his eyes illuminating with joy as he rose her hand to meet his lips. Just as Naruto believed he was going to leave a small kiss in response, he turned her hand, his lips delicately brushing over her pulse at the base of her wrist. Naruto felt her heart automatically leap to her throat, gasping for air as she watched the Nara raise his eyes to meet hers, his lips that were still attached to her wrist twisting into a sly smirk. This deceptively innocent action petrified Naruto, whose face was rapidly turning a deep red as she felt the hint of his breath on her skin.

Tantalizingly, Shikamaru released his hold on her, a sheepish grin on his face, “I love you too, Naruto.”

Seconds passed as they sat there staring at each-other, dark brown meeting clear blue. Suddenly, the look of infatuation slipped off Shikamaru’s features, “I think we did good.”

 Naruto scooted away from the jonin, nervously giggling as she rubbed the back of her head, “At least we are more comfortable with each other. I didn’t think we’d ever get to this point, to be completely honest.”

Shikamaru let out a chuckle, his low voice inadvertently causing the hair on Naruto’s arm to rise, “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s a lot better than our previous attempts.”

 Naruto grimaced as she thought of those. Who knew that all she needed to do was spend more time with Shikamaru? They had striven to be comfortable with each other, and to both of their surprise it had actually worked. And fairly quickly too. It had only been a few days since Shikamaru had first proposed this troublesome plan, and mere hours since they had dropped a few hints to Ino about their ‘relationship’, but Shikamaru and Naruto were quickly becoming friends.

  “Don’t worry, Shika! We’ll get better with time. Plus, I’m fairly certain that by now Ino has already all but completely convinced herself that we’re in a secret relationship.”

 Shikamaru groaned, leaning back onto his bed. After escaping the restaurant, Shikamaru caught up with Naruto who was waiting for him a few blocks away. They stealthily made their way back to his apartment, where they had both agreed that Naruto should crash at for the time being.

 “Ino is troublesome, but she’s an interrogator first and foremost. She’ll try to subtly find more information about us before confronting me,” Shikamaru explained, “so we have a bit of time before she inevitably comes barging in here.”

 Naruto grinned brightly, “So you’re saying that we need to drop more hints, huh?”

 Shikamaru chuckled, “I think you’re having a little too much fun with this.”

 The blond sweat-dropped, her hand reaching to scratch the back of her head awkwardly, “Well, it is a bit fun. I mean, if we have to do this anyways, we might as well draw some amusement from it, right?”

Shikamaru smiled softly, “Yeah, you’re right. So, Miss. Uzumaki, what do you suggest we do?”

Naruto felt her lips spread wide, her teeth baring in amusement. If anybody who has had the pleasure of attending the academy with her were here, they would instantly recoil in fear in the presence of this specific grin; it spoke only of an imminent prank. But as Shikamaru was her partner in this specific venture, he could only smile as she began whispering the beginning of a ridiculously elaborate plan.

“So,” Naruto questioned, “What do you think?”

Shikamaru pursed his lips in thought, his thumb and index finger softly pinching his lower lip. “I think,” he drawled, “that it’s perfect.”

Naruto blinked, her head tilted to the side, “Really? You think so?”

Shikamaru nodded, “I do. It’s just what we needed to really sell our relationship. You’re really good at this, Naru-chan.”

Naruto forced her blush to subside before stammering, “Um, t-thanks.”

 Shikamaru smirked, “We can discuss it further tomorrow morning, for now lets get some sleep.”

 Uzumaki grinned, rifling through his bedside drawer to find some proper sleepwear, “Sounds good! I’ll take the couch then.”

 “That’s insane,” he replied. “We’re a couple, aren’t we? It’s only natural for us to share a bed.”

 Naruto scowled, “Stop teasing me, Shika.”

 “Teasing?” He asked sarcastically, “I would never dare.”

 “Damn Bastard,” she muttered as she trudged towards the bathroom to change.

The Nara snorted in amusement, rising from his bed to change. Switching his pants for sweats, he was in the process of stripping off his fishnet shirt when Naruto walked back into the room.

The blond could not help but swallow as she took in the sight. Shikamaru had this back towards her, so she could only watch as the muscles on his back flexed with every move. Turning towards her to discard his shirt, he had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing at her expression, “See something you like, Naru-chan?”

Naruto blushed, her wide blue eyes trailing the movement of his abs as they led down into a properly shaped v-line. “No, not at all.”

Shikamaru nodded, finally ending his little show by wearing a T-shirt, “I was just checking.”

Naruto frowned, the damn bastard was teasing her again! She would not lose, not to a lazy jonin who had nothing better to do than make fun of his less-experienced friend. “It really is nothing impressive,” she dismissed while taking a seat besides him. “I’ve seen better.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes really.”

 Shikamaru laughed, slowly leaning in towards her, “Why so red, Naru-chan?”

 Naruto quickly leaned away from him, “W-what? I’m not red!”

  A glint shined in the Nara’s eyes as he scooted ever closer, “That’s odd then. For I’m sure that your normal pallor isn’t this pink. Are you hot, Naruto?”

 Naruto yelped as she leaned back, falling flat on her back on his expansive bed as the smug jonin hovered over her. She gulped as she watched Shikamaru slowly close the ever so small gap between their bodies, his lips tantalizing brushing her ear with every word he spoke, “It’s okay to be nervous, Naruto. It’s only natural after all.”

Naruto steeled her voice, forcing any hint of anxiety to subside as she answered, “Who told you that I’m nervous? This is nothing to me.”

 A low chuckle interrupted her faux declaration, a mocking sound in the face of her perceived bravery, “Oh really now?”

The jinchuriki gulped. She has faced scarier adversaries: Nagato, Madara and Kaguya come to mind. However this was an entirely different adversary. This was an opponent that Naruto wasn’t even sure she wanted to beat. “Y-yes, I’m s-sure.”

The Nara lowered his head, his tongue poking out ever so slightly to taste the pulse at the base of her neck. “Sh-Shikamaru?” Naruto stuttered, her body frozen stiff from the small action of the teasing jonin.

Shikamaru lifted his head to peer into her eyes, a serious look gracing his face when only a mocking one was there before, “Would you like me to stop?”

Naruto swallowed, her eyes widening in response. She bit her lips, hard, a trickle of blood dripping down in response. She shook her head, “No, go on. It was my idea after all, I should have known you’d be a complete dick about it.”

 Shikamaru smiled softly as though he were in pain, a grimace masked with sincerity, “We don’t have to Naruto. There are other ways to convince my teammate.”

 “None that are as good as this. You’ve said it yourself, we’re tight on time. This is the quickest way to get them on our trail.”

Shikamaru sighed, suddenly tired, “I could stop teasing you, if it would help?”

Naruto giggled, “No, it’s okay. As much as I claim to hate your Bastard-like teasing, it does make it easier for me.”

The Nara grinned, “Alright then, Naru-chan. Since you asked so nicely.”

Naruto could feel excitement bubble forth in her chest. Fuck. She couldn’t believe she was actually enjoying this! She was flirting with her partner, and enjoying it. For a brief moment she cursed the day Temari laid eyes on the lazy jonin… until he made her incapable of any producing any level of coherent thought.

Shikamaru sunk down back to her neck, his sharp teeth biting down on her flesh. Naruto yelped, a sound that made Shikamaru chuckle against her neck as he licked her skin in apology. Naruto muffled a groan as he continued to devote his sole attention on her neck: biting, sucking, and kissing in cycles. Naruto felt her eyes roll to the back of her head as she thoughtlessly breathed out, “Fucking hell.”

Naruto knew that when it came down to it, Shikamaru could display a level of concentration the rest of human society could only dream of possessing. She just never thought that she could be the target of his famed devotion; or that she’d enjoy it this much.

With a final kiss, Shikamaru leaned back to examine his handiwork. Naruto was sprawled across his sheets, her long blond hair casting a halo above her head. She was breathing heavily, her eyes closed as she struggled to find a grip on her spiraling emotions. Red stained her cheeks, her whiskers twitching with each intake of breath. Her pajama bottoms rode low on her hips, a sliver of her tan stomach left uncovered. The strap of her tank top was pulled down her shoulder, giving the Nara better access to his target. On her neck, the sight of Shikamaru’s devotion, was a large splotch of blue; a hickey so noticeable you’d have to be blind not to see it. Now Shikamaru had always known, at least on a purely logical level, that Naruto was beautiful. However seeing her like this, panting for breath and writhing under him, he had to acknowledge at least to himself that he was greatly attracted to her.

“Naruto?” He called her softly, tentatively, a worried look gracing his usual apathetic features.

“Y-yeah Shika?” Naruto couldn’t even remember the last time she had been this nervous. Fuck Shikamaru Nara and his fucking attractive self and his fucking ability to make the seemingly unshakable Naruto go incoherent.

“You okay?” He questioned. The Nara couldn’t remember the last time he had asked a girl that question. Temari would have gutted him if he was ever that sappy, and the few girls he had slept with between each breakup practically begged for his every action. He wasn’t used to being… well, careful with a girl.

Naruto nodded, slowly rising into a seated position as she adjusted her tank top, “Of course I am.”

Shikamaru raised a brow, “Oh?”

Naruto felt her cheeks redden once more. Fuck. And just when her blush was finally starting to subside! “Oh shut up, Shikamaru. You know what I meant.”

Shikamaru chuckled, an action he found himself doing quite a lot while in Naruto’s presence, “Sure, Naruto. Whatever you say.”

Naruto shoved him away from her as she stood, an adorable attempt to reclaim what little amount of power she can from the situation. She crossed her arms with a huff, deftly tossing her waist long hair to the side. Shikamaru stretched out on his bed as he watched her pace back and forth, his hand interlocked behind his head.

“Okay so step one is now complete. If we keep it up, we could have the entirety of Konoha tricked in a matter of days!” Naruto exclaimed. She had to withhold the urge to reach up and trace the mark he left on her. She could do that later when his keen eyes weren’t watching her every move.

Shikamaru shrugged, his hands reaching out to his bedside table to grasp a cigarette. With a snap of his fingers he lit it up, placing it between his puckered lips and inhaling deeply. Smoke ringlets twisted out as he exhaled, a soft sigh escaping his lips. “Ino will be the easiest to convince. But we need to make sure that your own teammates have reason to believe the rumors once they’re spread. After all, you’re not exactly the subtlest of people.”

Naruto halted her actions, a frown marring her features, “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you can’t lie to save your life,” He answered candidly.

“I’m lying well enough these days, aren’t I?”

Shikamaru nodded, “Well, yes. I happen to know that you can act; however the rest of our friends are none the wiser.”

Naruto raised a brow mockingly, “Why, Shikamaru! Are you claiming to know me better than the rest of our friends.”

He nodded seriously, “I am.”

Naruto laughed, “And just where did this confidence come from?”

Shikamaru smirked in amusement, his eyes not-so-subtly darting towards the deep blue hickey he had left on her skin only minutes before. Naruto scowled in embarrassment, and with quick actions that displayed her prowess as a future Hokage, she stole a pillow from his bed and chucked it right at his face before stomping out of the room; his obnoxious laughter trailing behind her.

Naruto scowled as she absentmindedly stirred the noodles around in the bowl, her gaze never leaving the wooden counter. Fuck Shikamaru Nara. Fuck him to hell and back. She nervously adjusted her oversized orange jacket, praying that it wouldn’t slip and betray her actions the night before.

            When she entered this arrangement she thought it would be, if not easy, than at least simple in nature. But it was far from simple. Shikamaru Nara, her jonin friend that she never thought of in a romantic light, suddenly uncovered a side to himself that had Naruto quite literally breathless. Fuck. Fuck him. Fuck!

            Temari. She just had to keep reminding herself of Temari. The older blond girl from Suna was Shikamaru’s true love, a woman who against all odds spotted a diamond in the rough and held onto his heart as he morphed into quite an attractive man. When all of this was over, for it had to end someday, he would go running back to Temari before Naruto could even kiss him goodbye. Not that she wanted to kiss him goodbye or anything. Hell, she didn’t even like him that way! He was just… attractive. With a manly charm she wasn’t used to being around, what with her male teammates being the most effeminate men on the planet.

            That was it. Shikamaru was new and different, introducing her to a world of pleasure she had never given much thought to before. That was all it was. A mere attraction that would certainly subside the more she was exposed to his disgusting habits such as smoking. It would fade, certainly. It had to.

            Naruto had never given much thought to boys in general. She could certainly acknowledge that a man was attractive, after all she had known Shikamaru was cute since his famed chunin exams, however she never really gave them the time of the day. While the rest of her peers were entering relationships and experimenting with more physical activities, Naruto was training. So it was only natural that Naruto respond this way to a man, who she had long since thought was attractive, and was showing her such pointed attention. Yup. Natural.

            Just as Naruto was about to start her meal once more, a familiar voice interrupted her, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eating ramen this slow.”

            Naruto grinned as she met the lavender eyes of Neji, smiling at the soft smile that spread across his face, “I dohave manners sometimes. I just usually choose not to use them.”

            Neji nodded, “Yes, I assumed that was the case.”

            The Uzumaki gestured to the stool besides hers, grinning widely as he gracefully sat down, “So what brings the great Hyuga prodigy to this wayward ramen stand?”

            “You, actually.” He answered, perusing through the menu and wrinkling his nose at the amount of sodium each dish must contain.

            Naruto took a bite of her ramen, obnoxiously slurping up the noodles as she questioned with a full mouth, “What for?”

            “Tsunade-sama asked me to call you. Apparently we have a mission,” Neji answered, tossing the menu down as he came to the conclusion that it was better for his health to not entertain such food.

            Naruto chocked on her ramen, coughing and pounding on her chest, “What? We have a mission? Now? At this time?”

            Tsunade knew Naruto’s current situation better than anybody, it was ridiculous for her to send the panicked-stricken jonin on a mission when her very fate was in such a precarious situation. Thankfully, before Naruto could truly lose herself to the waves of grief, Neji responded, “The mission isn’t going to take place for another week or so, Hokage-sama just wants to give us the details now so that we have time to prepare.”

            Naruto discreetly sighed in relief. It was okay, she realized, the plan could still proceed with little to no interruptions. The blond nodded in agreement, “Do I still have time to eat, or is Baa-chan being forceful about it?”

            Neji shook his head, his friend never did truly change, “You still have a bit of time. Hokage-sama is currently still in a meeting with the younger of the villages strategists.”

            Naruto paused mid-bite, “Shikamaru? What does she want with him?”

            The Hyuga raised a brow, “I’m not quite certain, Naruto. They often meet to discuss various situations that arise. I’m sure that you must know this, as Hokage candidate?”

            Naruto coughed awkwardly, a sheepish smile spreading across her face, “Haha, of course I do! I was just, um, wondering what exactly was so important that Baa-chan had to call on him with no notice.”

            “How do you know that Shikamaru-san had no forewarning?”

             Naruto withheld the urge to slam her head against the counter. Shikamaru was right after all; she really couldn’t lie to save her life, “U-um, I uh, I mean I saw Shikamaru earlier! And uh, he never mentioned that he had a meeting with Baa-chan!”

            She did see him earlier, so it wasn’t a complete lie. After Naruto calmed down from Shikamaru’s incessant teasing, the two of them were able to smooth out some more details before once more falling asleep together. In the same bed. It would have been okay, if as soon as they woke up Shikamaru didn’t make some smug comment. Two minutes and a water jutsu to his face later, she stormed out of his apartment with reddened cheeks and a smitten smile. Who the hell would have guessed Shikamaru could be this playful and charming? Fuck.

            Neji frowned, “And why would Shikamaru-san mention the meeting to you?”

            Naruto grimaced, “Um, that’s because, um, we talked about Baa-chan! Yeah! I had asked if he knew of any upcoming missions, I’ve been going stir crazy you know, and he said that he didn’t have any meetings with her scheduled this week but he’d ask her if he saw her!”

            Truthfully speaking, it was a real conversation the two had had. However it wasn’t earlier that day, but late last night while they were ironing out some details.

            It was obvious Neji didn’t believe a word she said. Naruto would have cared more about that, if her poor acting skills didn’t help truly sell their ‘secret relationship’. Knowing that bastard Shikamaru, she was certain he had taken her poor acting skills into account while formalizing this plan. Bastard.

            “Well then,” Neji coughed, “We still need to find Kiba. He will be joining us on this mission as well.”

            “Sure thing!” Naruto slurped down the rest of her ramen, slamming her money on the counter and hopping off the stool, “Let’s go find the mutt!”


            Tsunade raised a brow, her tone off voice colored with incredulous disbelief, “Pardon me?”

            Shikamaru shrugged carelessly, leaning into his seat as he perused through the multiple files Tsunade had handed him, “It would never work. There are too many variables that hasn’t been taken into account. If you proceed with this plan as is, it will certainly fail. So no, I don’t agree with this current method.”

            Tsunade sighed, grabbing the bottle of alcohol on her desk and taking a lazy sip, “You are even more aggravating to deal with than you father is; which I had never thought could be possible.”

            “You asked for my opinion. I gave it.”

            “I suddenly feel quite bad for Naruto,” she lamented.

            Shikamaru raised a brow, confused about the sudden topic change, “Why is that?”

            Tsunade chuckled, “You are quite the bastard Mr. Shikamaru. Young, innocent little Naruto will have to work quite hard to deal with your abrasive personality.”

            “Not my problem,” Shikamaru dismissed, “Naruto knows what she’s getting herself into. As this is the only plan available to us, I’m afraid that she just has to learn how to accept my so-called ‘abrasive personality’.”

             “But certainly you feel bad for her? At least enough to perhaps tone down your careless comments?”
            “Naruto is not a child, she out of all people is perhaps best equipped to ‘handle’ me the best,” he responded almost mocking.

            “Better equipped than Temari?”

            Shikamaru growled, “Don’t.”

            The Hokage smiled in amusement, “Just making a simple comment. Just, go easy on Naruto, okay? She really is a pure girl, and I’ve heard enough rumors about you to trigger my protective instincts.”

“I doubt Naruto would very much like to hear you doubting her like this.”

            Tsunade laughed, “Already using your girlfriend to threaten me? My, you have gotten bold, Shikamaru.”

            The younger boy shrugged, closing the file and tossing it on her desk. Switching the topic back to the original problem, he spoke, “I have another plan for this specific encounter.”

            Tsunade straightened her back, her previously amused countenance turning into one of seriousness, “Speak.”

            “I believe it’s time to announce your new advisors.”

            Tsunade grinned wickedly, “Well, this should make for an interesting council meeting to say the least.”

            Shikamaru snorted, “You mean chaotic meeting?”

            The Hokage smirked, “I meant what I said. See, this is why I keep you around. You may be an arrogant, lazy bastard; but your genius is frankly unparalleled.”

            Kiba spent the entire walk to the Hokage’s tower talking their ear off. Apparently he had met the most ‘stunningly-attractive woman’, and she had actually agreed to go on a date with him! So with a ridiculous amount of detail, he narrated the events that led to his date; ending with what he referred to as ‘quite the magical night’. With each compliment that fell from his lips, both Naruto and Neji grew more and more annoyed.

            “Kiba,” Naruto finally interrupted as they reached the Hokage’s office, “Have you perhaps confused the two of us with your other male friends?”

            Kiba blinked, “Well, no. But Neji is a guy, and I’m sure he appreciates a good story. And well, Naruto you’re practically a guy, so no harm!”

            “Excuse me,” Naruto growled.

            Apparently Kiba took no notice of the warning in her tone, for he just continued flippantly, “I mean, I wouldn’t dare to speak like this in front of Sakura and Ino, they’re kind of crazy, ya know? But not you Naruto, you’re one of the guys!”
            Neji’s eyes quickly darted between the obtuse Kiba and the rapidly infuriated Naruto, “Kiba. Stop. Talking.”

            Kiba just blinked, confusion coloring his face, “Huh? Why?”

            Naruto exhaled sharply, forcing the anger out of her body, “It’s alright Neji. I’ve been friends with the mutt for years, I of all people should be used to complete lack of manners.”

            Kiba cried, “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean!”

            “What do you think it means? Or do you need me to spell it out for you?”

            “You know what you little-“ he suddenly stopped, taking a small sniff, “Naruto, why do you smell different?”

            The girl in question yelped, “Wh-what do you mean?”

            Kiba frowned, “You don’t smell like yourself. Well, you do, kind of. But it’s kind of masked, almost like you spent a lot of time with someone else?”

            Naruto furiously shook her head, “Nope. No idea what you’re talking about. I mean, I did switch shampoo brands, but that’s it!”

            “Huh. That’s pretty weird. It’s a pretty masculine scent.”

            “That’s because it’s the male shampoo! Yeah, it was cheaper than the female one, and I didn’t really think anybody would notice.”

            Neji pinched the bridge of his nose, “Let’s just go in.”

            Naruto grinned, thankful for the distraction, and kicked in the office door with gusto, “Hey Baa-chan! We’re here!”

            Tsunade sighed, taking a swig from her bottle, “Yes, I see that you brat.”

            Naruto blinked in confusion as she gazed upon the amused countenance of her ‘boyfriend’, who was calmly seated and perusing through a thick file, “Shika? What are you doing here?”

            Shikamaru smiled kindly, a foreign look on his face as he looked at Naruto, “I’m here for the mission, same as you.”

            Naruto grinned, “We’re going on a mission together? Awesome!”
            Neji narrowed his eyes. He had never seen such a kind look grace the Nara’s face before. Not even with Kurenai or Temari or his own mother. There was something going on here.

            “Hey, where was this excitement when you found out I was on your team?” Kiba cried.

            Naruto used her pinky to clean out her ear, “Did you say something, mutt?”

            Shikamaru rolled his eyes at the exchange, an almost caring expression taking place on his usual apathetic countenance, “Take a seat guys, Tsunade-sama doesn’t have all day.”

            Naruto uncharacteristically of her immediately sat down at the Nara’s comment, claiming the seat directly besides the intelligent clan head. The other two ninja’s also took their seats, Kiba still muttering about the show of disrespect while Neji was silently contemplative.

            Tsunade cleared her throat, wiping away the amusement she clearly felt watching Naruto and Shikamaru’s little act. “I’ve called you here today for an important mission. I need a scroll delivered to Suna.”

            Naruto groaned, “A scroll delivered to Suna? That’s the important mission?”

            Tsunade clicked her tongue in anger, “Well brat, if you let me finish you may see why!”

            Naruto squeaked, “Sorry.”

            The Hokage sighed, “Anyways, I need to send you all to Suna to discuss and finalize our newest trade routes with the Kazekage and his council. Naruto, I’m sending you for the purpose of convincing Gaara-san that opening these new roads will be in both of our best interests. Kiba and Neji, the two of you are backup. Shikamaru, as the Suna Ambassador you are to take point on this mission. Do whatever it takes to get these routes opened as quickly as possible.”

            Shikamaru nodded, “Understood.”

            Tsunade gave Naruto and Shikamaru a shrewd glance, “I don’t suppose I have to warn you all about not letting personal business derail the mission?”

            “No Hokage-sama,” Both Naruto and Shikamaru responded.

            The elder woman smiled, “Good. The mission will take place next week at 0800 hours. Dismissed.”

            “Hey Naru! I’m meeting the rest of the guys at the bar, wanna come join us?” Kiba invited the moment they had exited the building. Naruto shot a quick glance at Shikamaru to see his reaction, a look that Neji did not miss.

            The girl shrugged, “Sure thing, mutt. It’d be nice to spend time with people who aren’t ridden with fleas.”

            “Excuse you?!” Kiba shrieked as he followed Naruto, a string of playful insults bouncing back and forth between them as they left the two calmer jonins behind. Shikamaru chuckled at the sight, before turning to walk away.

            “Excuse me, Nara-san,” Neji stopped him, “If I may have a moment of your time.”

            Shikamaru frowned, “What can I do for you, Neji?”

            The Hyuga narrowed his eyes at the lazy man, “What is the nature of your relationship with Naruto?”

            The Nara raised his brows, “We’re friends and colleagues.”

            “Don’t play me for a fool. I saw the way you looked at her, and she herself practically let it slip that she has been seeing you outside of an official capacity. That, coupled with the masculine scent Kiba picked up from her, only brings me to one conclusion.”

            Shikamaru glared, “And what conclusion would that be?”

            “That you are having some sort of illicit affair with Naruto.”

            “Illicit affair?” Shikamaru scoffed, “Stop holding back Hyuga. What exactly is it that you are trying to say?”

            Neji stepped towards the Nara, anger visibly growing on his features, “Very well, I will speak candidly. You are taking advantage of Naruto while on your little break from Temari, and the moment the older blond comes running back to you, you will drop Uzumaki and break her heart in the process.”

            “You have quite the active imagination there, Hyuga.”

            “Are you claiming not to be in a relationship with Naruto?”

            “Not at all,” Shikamaru shook his head. “What happens between Naruto and I, is our business. Don’t worry your pretty boy head over it. It’s none of your concern.”

            Neji clenched his teeth, “That’s where you’re wrong, Nara. It is my concern.”

            Shikamaru laughed mockingly, “Why? Because of the little crush you have on her? Oh don’t look so surprised, I’ve known about it since we were chunin. Your little glances at her have not been as subtle as you believe.”

            “I’m warning you-“

            “Are you threatening me?”

            “Yes. I am. If you hurt Naruto, not only I, but countless of others will rally to make your life a living hell.”

            Shikamaru waved him off, lightening up his cigarette and lazily blowing smoke, “Calm down, Hyuga. Naruto is a big girl and can make her own decisions.”

            “Naruto is an innocent girl. You have no right to sully her good name with your actions.”

            Shikamaru frowned, “Oh shut it, Neji. You have no idea what you’re talking about. And I sincerely recommend keeping your mouth shut. Naruto doesn’t quite like it when others tell her what to do.”

            “You’re not good enough for her.”

            “Oh, I know. But then again, neither are you.”

Chapter Text

Naruto choked on her laughter as she stumbled to her front door, heavily leaning on Sasuke as she grasped blindly for her keys. Her entire view of the world was skewed, causing her to clumsily fall and trip at any given moment. Perhaps asking Kurama to shut down her alcohol tolerance was not the best idea, but Kiba had dared her and Naruto was never one to back down from a dare. So that was how she had ended up in this predicament: practically hanging onto Sasuke as he dragged her into her apartment.

The Uchiha, with his ever-present scowl growing deeper and deeper with every drunken giggle that spilled past her lips, rolled his eyes dramatically as he shifted the blond in his arms to grasp the keys from her pockets and open her door. This was not what he signed up for. He had spent the entirety of his day training by himself while his teammates were undoubtedly using their day off to slack off. It was only near dusk that Sasuke finally began to make his way home, only to unceremoniously be dragged into a bar as Naruto and Kiba unfortunately happened to walk by him.

The rest of his night was spent making sure Naruto didn't inadvertently give herself alcohol poisoning during the few hours that Kurama happened to be off duty. As the only one present with enough mind to not drink himself into a stupor, it was perhaps inevitable that Sasuke would find himself being the one forced to take care of an obnoxiously drunk Naruto. It didn't help that with every drink Naruto successfully chugged, Kiba had drunkenly ordered two more.

"Pssst, Sasuke," Naruto slurred, "You know you're kind of pretty when your not being an asocial jackass."

The Uchiha is question took a sharp breath. That's it. He was done. Naruto gasped as Sasuke threw her over his shoulder and strode into her apartment, dumping her onto her bed with a bit more force than necessary. The jonin deftly ignored the blonds adorable pout with an ease that came from years of practice, before walking around her bed and pulling the thin covers to cover her body. He took a deep sigh as he watched her ridiculously blue eyes flutter as the tendrils of sleep began to take hold of her.

"Sasuke," Naruto sleepily muttered, snuggling deeper into her covers as she called out to him.

Sasuke sighed, his eyes shutting as he attempted to reduce the incoming headache, "Yes, Dobe?"

"Thanks for bringing me home," she whispered, a sleepy smile overtaking her features.

Sasuke allowed a small smile to appear, knowing that Naruto was too drunk to remember it even if she could keep her eyes open, "You're welcome, Dobe."

"You're my best friend, you know that right?"

The Uchiha took a seat at the edge of her bed, his fingers softly brushing the hair off her forehead, "Yeah. Yeah I do."

Naruto grinned, "Okay. Good. Just wanted to make sure."

Sasuke bit back an uncharacteristic laugh, settling for a soft chuckle instead, "Why? Plan on replacing me anytime soon?"

The blond frowned, flipping over in bed to face him, "You're irreplaceable, Teme. Even- even if I did have someone, it won't change my friendship with you."

Sasuke scrunched up his nose, confusion masking his features, "Naruto, what are you talking about? Is there someone in your life that you're not telling me about?"

"What? N-no. I'm just saying, it won't change anything if I did."

"Naruto, what—"

"Sasuke," she interrupted, "just say that you know it won't change a thing."

Sasuke took a deep breath, "Yeah Naruto, I know."

"I love you, Teme."

"I know."

"This is where you say: I love you too, Naru-chan."

Sasuke rolled his eyes, "I love you too, Naru-chan."

"Good," Naruto nodded seriously, "You're a good man, Sasuke."

Sasuke continued to run his fingers through her hair, "You hand out a lot of compliments when you're drunk."

"Well, you know what they say: a wise man's words are a drunk man's thoughts. Wait-" Naruto stilled, scrunching her nose up in thought, "that doesn't sound right."

"Kami you really are drunk."

Naruto sent him a look as though to suggest that he was stupid, "Well duh. I'm still adorable though."

Sasuke really did manage to laugh this time. He was glad she wouldn't remember this conversation in the morning, but she just had a way of bringing out emotions in him that he wasn't aware had still existed, "Yeah Naruto, you really are."

Naruto grinned, "I knew it."

Sasuke waited until soft snores were his only reply. Once he was certain that the little blond was asleep, he reached over to help her shrug out of her oversized orange jacket. Fluffing her pillows and making sure that she was comfortable, he made his way out of the apartment.

Not before, however, he noticed the great blue splotch that stained her tan neck. His eyes briefly flashed red before he took a deep breath and forcibly calmed himself down. Once she was awake and sober, they were going to exchange some words. Naruto was hiding something—more like someone—from him, and he was going to find out who.

Shikamaru waited until the Uchiha faded from view before he stepped out of the shadows he was pressed up against. Slowly he plucked the cigarette from his mouth, exhaling softly as the smoke curled out of his lips. Naruto didn't show up to his apartment, so the Nara assumed, quite correctly, that she must have gotten drunk again on a dare and had to be brought home. So with that in mind, he waited across the street from her building until Sasuke exited her home and disappeared into the night.

Shikamaru strolled into her building, his hands shoved into his pockets nonchalantly, quickly climbing the stairs and using the spare key she had given him to enter the apartment. A small smile grew as he took in the sight that awaited him. Naruto, Shikamaru had come to learn, was ridiculously hot and attractive. But like this, sprawled out on her bed and slightly drooling, she was too adorable to even begin to describe. The Nara groaned, running a hand down his face in exasperation. Great. Just great. Naruto was slowly turning him into a sap.

Approaching her, the first thing he noticed was the tan skin of her arm as she groaned and shuffled in bed. Meaning that at some point, Sasuke must have taken her usual horrendous jacket off of her. Shikamaru swallowed down his immediate, and obviously irrational flash of something that he will not dwell on for the time being, to realize that this also meant that he must have seen the hickey he left her only the night before. While this wasn't exactly their plan, Shikamaru could work with this. There wasn't anything they could do for now, not until the next day at least, so with a sigh and a soft goodnight, he left her bedroom and made her way over to her couch, where a stack of paperwork he had left on her coffee table was just waiting for him. This was going to be a long night.

Naruto immediately regretted opening up her eyes as a small ray of light blinded her vision and resulted in a pounding headache. With a wince she sat up, her parched throat crying for water. Climbing out of bed, she slowly trudged her way to the kitchen, her arms covering her face in an attempt to block out the light that filtered through the windows.

It was why she practically jumped a meter into the air when a deep voice called out, "Good morning, Naru-chan."

Removing the appendages that blocked her sight, Naruto winced as she took in the amused countenance of her fake paramour as he sat on her kitchen counter, lazily flipping through a book as a smirk crept onto his face.

"Shikamaru? What—" Naruto swallowed thickly, "What happened last night?"

The Nara showed the girl a bit of mercy, hopping off the counter and handing her a cool glass of water that she hurriedly swallowed, "From what I understand, you fell for another one of Kiba's ridiculous drinking bets, and after asking Kurama to turn off your alcohol tolerance, you proceeded to get black out drunk."

Naruto chuckled nervously, "That… tracks from what I remember. Who brought me home?"

"Sasuke," Shikamaru answered, tinkering about her kitchen while preparing a dry toast for her to consume. The Uzumaki tried to ignore the fact that Shikamaru seemed to look quite at home in her apartment, almost as though he actually belonged here. It was quite domestic even.

Naruto tilted her head in confusion, "Sasuke, really?"

The Nara nodded, "I saw him leaving your apartment late night when you didn't come back to my place."

"He didn't see you, did he?" She questioned, taking a tentative bite out of the toast he placed in front of her.

Shikamaru shook his head, "No. But he definitely knows that you have a boyfriend by now."

Naruto frowned, "What? How?"

Shikamaru smirked, nodding his head towards her bare neck, "You weren't wearing a jacket when I came in, I assumed Sasuke took it off of you so that you would sleep comfortably. There is no way he missed a hickey that noticeable."

Naruto blushed deeply, trying to force herself to have a nonchalant tone, "So? What now?"

"Now we wait."

"We wait?"

"We don't know what Sasuke will do, but something tells me that he'll try to interrogate you. You'll lie, quite badly may I add, so he'll come to the conclusion that you are hiding a man from him. When the news inevitably breaks that we're together, Sasuke's knowledge on the fact will be an added bonus needed to sell the ploy."

Naruto groaned, "Kami, he's going to make practice today unbearable, isn't he?"

Shikamaru had the decency to appear apologetic, "Probably."

"This sucks," Naruto pouted, shoveling the rest of the toast in her mouth as Kurama forced her alcohol induced nausea to recede.

"If it helps you feel better," Shikamaru spoke, "I bet that it won't be nearly as uncomfortable as the conversation I had yesterday with Neji."

"You had a conversation with Neji yesterday? What about?"


Naruto choked on the water she was sipping, "Me?! What about me?"

"Apparently you let it slip that you have been seeing me outside of a professional capacity."

Naruto ignored the smirk that grew on his face, "It wasn't that obvious. There is no way that it was that obvious. I know that I'm a bad liar but come on even I'm not that obvious."

Shikamaru shrugged, his knowing smirk never slipping from his features,"Apparently it was obvious enough for him to confront me about it."

Naruto growled, pink tainting her cheeks, "Why didn't he just speak to me?"

The Nara paused, "He seemed to want to warn me."

"Warn you?" She deadpanned.



Shikamaru sighed, "About breaking your heart. There were quite a few threats mixed in there, but I'm sure you get the point."

Naruto blinked, "Why would he threaten you? What does my relationship with you have anything to do with him?"

Shikamaru stilled, his dark eyes peering deeply into her confused blue. She really didn't know. The Nara couldn't help but let out a small chuckle of disbelief, "Don't even worry about it."

Uzumaki scowled, "Why do you look so amused? I know that look on your face! That's your 'I can't believe how many morons surround me on a daily basis' face! What did I not know, that you just so happen to notice?"

Shikamaru tilted his head to the side, his words coming out in a slow lazy drawl, "We really have been spending quite a lot of time together, haven't we?"

Naruto ignored his tone, that drawl always seemed to make her stomach clench in an odd way, and she needed to keep her wits about her if she were to beat the master strategist in a battle of words, "Don't you dare switch the topic, Shika. Why would Neji care about our relationship?"

Shikamaru shrugged, a careful look of indifference gracing his features, "He has a crush on you."

Naruto stilled, "Stop joking."

"I'm not."

"You are."

"Naruto," Shikamaru sighed lazily, as if he couldn't be bothered, "When have I ever cared enough to joke about something like this?"

Naruto shook her head furiously, "You must have misunderstood him. Neji doesn't have a crush on me, he's not some little school boy civilian all moon-eyed over a heroine. He's Neji Hyuga, and he does not have a crush on me."

The Nara shook his head softly, a look of faux confusion overtaking her features, "I'm sure you're right, Naruto. I must have been mistaken. Perhaps he was just protective over you like any good friend would be."

The orange loving blond nodded, falling into a deep and uncharacteristic silence. A few minutes past, and as she swung her legs uncertainly, she softly spoke, "I'm not right, am I?"

Shikamaru took a step towards the confused blond, peering into her crystal blue eyes that were swimming with doubt. He slowly rose his hand, the tips of his finger softly caressing her cheek as he answered, "I'm sorry, Naruto. I know it's not easy to deal with."

"I don't—" Naruto stopped herself, taking in a deep breath before continuing, "I love Neji. I do. He's more than just a comrade to me; he's my confidant, my friend. Besides you, he's probably my closest friend outside of Team 7. But, while I love him, I don't like him like that. I don't think I ever could."

"Naruto, this is not something you should feel guilty over, okay? These type of things happen everyday, and it's not your fault that you don't share the same feelings as Neji, He'll learn, and then he'll get over it. Plus, it's probably just a small crush anyways, it'll be squished within the week," Shikamaru was always a talented liar.

"I just… I don't know, I feel bad I guess. I don't want to hurt Neji. But I don't like him, and I can't force myself too."

"Naruto. He'll get over it, I swear this to you."

"I know he will. But he's not the reason I'm so confused right now. Well— he's part of the reason, that whole thing sort of took me for a loop, but it's everything. Our lives have become some sort of dramatic movie, and we are the unwilling protagonists."

"I know, Naru-chan. I know."

The Uzumaki let out a bitter laugh, "Shika, when did our lives become so fucked up? You're in love with Temari, but you have to pretend to be in love with me. A stranger is in love with me, so I have to pretend to be in love with you. Neji actually has feelings for me, but I'm here hoping that our 'relationship' will serve enough of a deterrence. Meanwhile, Sakura is in love with Sasuke, but she's also under the illusion that he actually holds secret feelings for me when I know that he loves me like a sister."

Shikamaru chuckled, taking yet another step towards the blond and snaking his arms around her waist. Holding her flush against his body in a comforting hug, he spoke with bemusement, "Well, when you put it like that our lives really do seem like some dramatic movie."

Naruto hummed, a small smile spreading. Kami above Shikamaru was literally carved from stone. Sinking into the hug, not at all minding the hard muscles she felt constricting against her, she replied, "If they do make a movie, I want Yukie Fujikaze to play me."

Shikamaru shook his head, "No no, that wouldn't work."

Naruto frowned, her head resting comfortably on his chest, the faint familiar smell of sandalwood and cigarettes lulling her into relaxation, "Why not? Granted she looks nothing like me, but it's nothing some hair dye and contacts won't fix."

"Still wouldn't work."

"But it would. Yukie loves me, and granted she's a Daimyo now or whatever, but she's still taking acting rolls and she would totally do it if I asked."

"Nope. Still not a viable option."

"Why not?" Naruto whined petulantly, and dare he say, quite adorably.

A low chuckle from deep within his chest spilled past his lips, his frame rumbling softly against Naruto, his breath hot against her ear as he managed to lean even closer to whisper, "She's not hot enough to play you."

Naruto squeaked, red quickly painting her cheeks, "Oh."

With a laugh, Shikamaru stepped out of the hug, his fingers running through his hair nonchalantly as he cheekily retorted, "Did I just make you nervous Naru-chan?"

Naruto growled, her arms crossed in indignation, "Quit teasing me you sick sick bastard."

"Sorry Naruto, you just make it so easy."

Naruto grumbled, "Bastards. I'm always surrounded by bastards. Why? What did I possibly do to deserve a constant presence of bastards surrounding me at all times?"

"Perhaps you were just born lucky?" Shikamaru retorted in a flat tone, his dry humor articulated ever so neatly with his well timed cheekiness.

The beautiful blond laughed, a joyful sound in the face of all the drama that was surrounding her. She honestly couldn't help the grin that stretched, Kami Shikamaru was honestly amazing. Only a few minutes ago she was struggling to keep the tears at bay, and with only a few calming words and gentle affection, he had her feeling so much better. "Yeah, I really do think I am lucky."

Shikamaru, as genius as he is, must have seen her expression and had come to the same conclusion, because the look of total apathy slipped off his face leaving only a small smile behind, "Naruto, this whole thing will be over soon. We will deal with this all, together as a team. Okay?"

Naruto nodded stubbornly, "Okay."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes as he traced the outline of Naruto's form as she slipped through her katas with a grace only a seasoned ninja could possess. Her disgusting jumpsuit covered her figure quite admirably, hiding her tan skin and striking form from prying eyes. Sasuke took a deep breath, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. Dear Kami, this woman and her stupid fucking situation was starting to make him think disgusting thoughts.

He did not love her in a romantic sense. Not in the way he was sure most civilians believed he did. He heard the rumors, he was just too uninterested in correcting them. Naruto was his everything; his most trusted friend and compatriot. He would quite literally do anything to protect her, a fact that she regularly jokes about and often makes use of. He loved her, truly and utterly, and the mere idea of someone using her for their own gain was enough to make Sasuke contemplate the consequences of going rogue again.

Which brought him to the revelations of last night. Also hidden by her jumpsuit, Sasuke knew, was a deep blue, and obviously fresh, hickey. The Uchiha quelled down his homicidal rage in an attempt to think about this clearly, not that it helped him within the last twelve hours as he tried to process that somebody was intimate with his teammate.

Soon enough Kakashi called an end to the meeting, and before the obviously nervous blond could shunshin away, Sasuke snaked his hand around her wrist holding the girl firmly in place, "Naruto, we need to talk."

"Kami, I'm really pathetic," Sakura groaned, her head plastered onto the bar counter as her hand absentmindedly signaled for another drink.

Ino frowned, her brows furrowing in rapt concentration as she slowly questioned, "Wait— so you're saying that Sasuke and Naruto are an item?"

The pink-haired medic nodded ever so slightly, her frown deepening, "Kami Ino, you should have seen them interact today. Sasuke was practically stripping Naruto with his eyes as she pranced around the field blushing like a virginal maiden. She looked so nervous and basically ignored him at every given opportunity; she even instigated fights with Sai every time Sasuke even took a step in her direction! And then… then while we sparred, I got her with a clean hook, and her jacket sort of slipped down her shoulder. It was only for a second, but what I saw was undeniable."

Ino leaned closer, ever the gossip, her eyes shining as Sakura tempted her with a new piece of information, "What did you see?"

Sakura downed another shot, coughing as the burn crawled through her body, "It was a hickey. A giant, blue and purple hickey. Bite marks and all. Undeniable proof that Sasuke finally manned up and hooked up with the woman he truly loves."

"Woah," Ino leaned back into her seat, her arms crossed in contemplation, "I didn't even know Naruto was the type to fool around with guys. She's always seemed so oblivious to romance."

Sakura scoffed, taking a tentative sip out of her new drink, "Oh please, she's had Sasuke wrapped around her fingers since day one. It was all an act— that whole innocent little girl act."

"Sakura, you're drunk."

"I'm not!" She slurred, "I'm really not! Naruto, she knows how I feel about Sasuke and yet she stole him from under me! And you know what the worst part of all this is?"

Ino sighed, "What?"

Sakura smiled mockingly, "The fact that I can't even blame her. I can't. Sasuke was her friend first. They were best friends back in the time when I was still stalking him through the day. And neither of them owe me a Kami damned thing. I never owned Sasuke, and I sure as heck never owned Naruto. Who am I to get in the way of this little romance they've concocted for themselves? Which all brings me back to my original statement: I'm pathetic. Lusting after one of my best friends boyfriends, a guy who has never seen me in a romantic light. I'm the worst! The literal worst. I'm the bad guy in all the romance movies, the evil girl who's in love with the nice girls boyfriend."

"Sakura, no," Ino reached over to grab her friends hand, "This is all pure speculation, isn't it? You haven't overheard them saying anything, nor did you see them in a sexual act. It's circumstantial at best."

"Ino, someone gave Naruto that hickey. If it's not Sasuke like you insist, then who?" Sakura asked incredulously.

"I may have an idea."

Naruto shuffled awkwardly in place as she attempted to avoid eye contact with the blood red sharingan. The pale Uchiha had been glaring daggers at her for the last ten minutes, and soon his patience with the silent treatment would run out. If only Naruto knew what to say…

"Naruto, avoiding me will do nothing to help you."

The woman sighed, finally meeting her friends angry countenance, "Look Sasuke, I know what you saw last night, and frankly it's not any of your business." Well, that's not exactly how she meant to answer. But it would work. She hated to admit it, but Shikamaru had a point when it came to her acting skills. Since she obviously couldn't lie her way out, maybe avoidance would work.

Sasuke scoffed incredulously, "Not any of my— not any of my business? You're kidding me right?"

Naruto huffed, her arms crossed angrily, "You heard me. It's not any of your business. Kami, I'm so sick and tired of you people seeing me as this innocent little girl that needs protecting."

"Dobe, don't be an even bigger idiot than usual. You're my best friend, and I have every right—"

"No. You don't," She interrupted, "In fact, I don't know why I'm even humoring you like this. My love life has absolutely nothing to do with you, it's my own private affairs and I will not have it be dissected by a two-faced emotionless Teme."

Sasuke gaped, uncharacteristically lost for words as Naruto used his momentary confusion to shunshin away. What the Kami was that?!

Shikamaru's lazy day in was going splendidly. Sprawled out on his couch uncaringly, with a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips as he perused through an interesting novel. Truly nothing could ruin his much earned day off.

With a bang, his front door opened, his blond hurricane of a faux paramour marching in as though she were stomping off into battle.

"Long day?" He questioned dryly, taking in a deep breath of smoke before exhaling it softly through his nose.

Naruto plopped onto his couch besides his feet, angrily discarding her jacket and tossing it onto the floor, "Don't even get me started."

Shikamaru sat up, his unhurried movements of putting out his cigarette oddly bringing Naruto a sort of familiar ease as she sank into the couch, "What happened?"

"That Teme Sasuke happened of course. He spent the entire practice glaring at me, a fact that even blind people would have noticed had they been there, so obviously my fellow shinobi teammates were quite understandably confused as to why he felt the need to trace every single one of my fucking movements."

Shikamaru winced, "Uchiha really doesn't understand the meaning of subtly, huh?"

Naruto shook her head as she leaned into Shikamaru, resting her head in the crook of his neck as her bodily molded into his. She knew that was getting a bit too comfortable with Shikamaru in terms of physical affection, but she couldn't bring herself to care.

"No, Sasuke's as idiotic as they come." Naruto proceeded to tell her friend all about Sasuke's confrontation, basically stilling in anticipation when Shikamaru began to chuckle at the end.

"You, Naruto, are well deserving of your monicker as the most unpredictable kunoichi."

Naruto huffed, "I'm going to choose to take that as a compliment."

"It was," Shikamaru smiled down at her, "A compliment, I mean."

Naruto grinned, wiggling as she burrowed herself deeper within Shikamaru's embrace, "Good."

Shikamaru chuckled once more as he dragged his finger tips ever so softly across her arm— up and down and up and down, watching with unabashed curiosity as goosebumps rose in his wake. Naruto flushed pink, her throat all of a sudden dry as the Nara languidly continued his action.

"Hey, Shika?" Naruto swallowed.

"Hmm?" Shikamaru hummed, his other hand slowly teasing the small strip of flesh at the bottom of her tank top.

"When—when is I—Ino supposed to catch us?" Naruto stumbled over her words, trying all she can to bite down the ridiculous moan that threatened to unleash from Shikamaru's simple attention. Kami above, even this little action from him was enough to set her on fire. She wondered what he could do if he was really dedicated to the task…

Shikamaru smirked at her attempt to take control of the conversation, "Honestly, any day now. With more and more people catching onto the fact something is up between us, it won't take her long to come storming in here."

"Our plan hinges on her catching us in a compromising situation though; something so compromising that there is no doubt we've been seeing each other intimately."

"That's right," Shikamaru agreed with a nod.

"How are we going to guarantee that we're in a compromising position when she bursts in here. You said it yourself, it could be any day now."

"That's true, but that's why I leave a shadow clone active all throughout the day outside my building in case Ino comes to stop by."

Naruto gazed into the smug eyes of her 'lover', "You really do think of everything, don't you?"

Shikamaru shrugged nonchalantly, "It's sort of my job."

"It's sort of hot."

Fuck. Naruto did not mean to say that. Ever. Especially not out loud. Fuck her lack of a filter and fuck Shikamaru Nara for being so fucking attractive even when he's not even fucking trying. Honestly it was too unfair. And now, as he gazes upon her with a mixture of shock and is-that-lust, she really wishes the ground will swallow her up right about now.

"Oh really?" Shikamaru dragged his syllables teasingly, his fingers halting their actions as his smirk widened. All of a sudden, before he could continue whatever sick game he was playing, a look of seriousness flashed across his features causing him to sit up properly.

"Shikamaru? What's wrong?"

"Ino is here. With Sakura in tow. It's time," He answered in a clipped tone, before unceremoniously wrapping his arms around her waist and hoisting him onto his lap, straddling him, "You ready?"

Naruto quickly took her hair out of the pigtails, letting the locks flow down to her waist as he wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned in close, "As ready as I'll ever be."

A flash of emotion crossed his eyes, and before Naruto could even think of deciphering it she was left incapable of human thought. His lips were ridiculously soft she decided as they pressed up harshly against hers. Fuck. If Naruto thought Shikamaru was talented at leaving hickeys it couldn't even begin to compare to the sensations she was currently feeling.

He tilted his head to the side, expertly biting her lower lip and sucking it with just enough pressure to leave Naruto panting. Taking advantage of her parted lips, his tongue was quick to dive in, leading to her quickest loss in a battle for dominance as he skillfully took the reigns. His hands meanwhile were never idle, moving from her hips to her waist to up her shirt and tracing her stomach, and just before they reached the good part he would bring them back down causing Naruto to let out the most pathetic whine. But she couldn't care less how pathetic she sounded as long as he fucking stopped teasing her.

She had no hopes of stifling her moans, and at first she really tried. However the moment his thumb brushed over her bra she couldn't help the desperate moan that let out but she couldn't care as long as he did that again. She could practically feel his smirk as he kissed her soundly, blissfully, oh so passionately as she dug her fingers into his hair and tried to bring him even closer to her. Her hands soon gave up their position, instead sliding beneath his shirt and removing the offending garment, giving her hands the range to touch every part of his skin. She smirked in victory as she heard him hiss, only to practically scream as Shikamaru dragged her hips forward to meet his in response.

She wanted to feel more of him. She needed to feel more of him. She stripped off her shirt in record timing, a grin of pleasure overtaking her as Shikamaru's heated look. Kami she felt powerful, having the lazy apathetic jonin under her like this, looking as though he would do just about anything for another hour with her like thus. Like everything that has happened thus far, it did not last long as the Nara was quick to reconnect their lips, one of his hands snaking between them to slip underneath her bra.

Her moan was loud enough to drown out the sound of the door being unlocked. But nothing was loud enough to drown out the scream that followed.


Chapter Text


            Naruto stilled in shock, her face rapidly turning red as she realized the situation she was currently in. Quickly she slid off of Shikamaru’s lap, using his body to shield her. Burrowing herself in the cushions beneath her, she bit her lip hard to stop the groan of disappointment that threatened to unleash. She had… well to be honest she had completely forgotten that the previous situation she had been enjoying just a few minutes prior was all a sham for these girls to witness. And she had been enjoying herself. Immensely.

Naruto’s eyes darted over to catch the warm brown of Shikamaru’s. Despite the almost apathetic look he currently wore, the nervous blond could still see clear signs of arousal in his stare as he wordlessly gestured for her to let him take the lead. They had spoken about this before, Shikamaru’s calm disposition would be better equipped to handle this situation. Calmly, the Nara bent down to pick up the closest article of clothing to him, which happened to be his own shirt, before passing it to Naruto who rapidly threw it over her head.

            At the doorway, frozen in shock with their jaws dangerously unhinged, were Ino and Sakura. Their eyes were wide in disbelief as they took in Naruto’s embarrassed complexion and Shikamaru’s careless nonchalance. Seeing as the girls refused to take the initiative in the conversation, likely being too shocked to do so, Shikamaru spoke, “Ladies, you know, most people knock when they decide to drop by a friends apartment.”

            “What the fuck?” Sakura repeated, this time her voice soft and full of disbelief. Ino was still silent, her mouth moving mutely as the words refused to formulate on her tongue. A mere hour ago, heck a mere five minutes ago, Sakura was all but convinced that Naruto and Sasuke had finally confessed their feelings for each other. Yet Ino was convinced that Naruto was actually not with Sasuke, but had in fact been spending more time with Shikamaru. Ino theorized that the two were assigned a mission together that had to be kept top secret. Sakura even foolishly felt a bit of hope since if Naruto was busy with missions Shikamaru, then surely she wouldn’t have time for Sasuke, right? This, however, was never one of their theories.

            With a bored expression and a lazy drawl, Shikamaru spoke, “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific. Unless this could wait for another day, we’re a bit busy as you can see.”

            “Naruto. You’re sleeping with Shikamaru?!” Sakura yelled.

            “Um… yes?” Naruto squeaked out in response, resisting the urge to burrow herself within the safe confines of Shikamaru’s grasp. That would not help the situation at all.

            Before Sakura could start what would undoubtedly be a very long tirade, Ino bit out angrily, “Shikamaru, how could you?”

            The Nara straightened his back, “I’m afraid I don’t understand your anger. Exactly why is my relationship with Naruto any of your business?”

            “You’re kidding me, right?!” Ino cried, her voice wavering in anger, “Perhaps you’re forgetting about another blond you were dating not too long ago— oh what was her name again— TEMARI!?”

            Shikamaru scowled, “Ino, as much as a surprise as this surely must come to you, my love life is not your business. So stay out of it.”

            “Love life?! Love life!?” Ino screeched hysterically, “Is that what you call this— this affair?” Naruto winced slightly at that statement, a move that thankfully no one noticed.

            “Affair implies that I am being unfaithful, and as I’m sure you’re aware, Temari and I ended things three months ago. As I’m currently unattached, I don’t think my actions are anyone else’s business,” Shikamaru spoke calmly. His eloquent speech deep and smooth with just a hint of his usual lazy nonchalance. If Naruto didn’t know Shikamaru any better, if the last few days hadn’t forcibly opened her eyes to the sheer complexities that make up the Nara’s personality, she would have taken it at face value. But Naruto did know him better so she tried not to wince at the sheer fire she spotted in his eyes. Shikamaru Nara was pissed.

             With a tentative hand placed of Ino’s forearm in an attempt to stop another outburst, Sakura slowly spoke, “I’m sorry, we’re just… confused. We thought the two of you were on an assignment together, not—“ she couldn’t finish her sentence as her skin turned an even deeper shade of red.

            Naruto, who’s face was also exhibiting the most interesting shade of pink, answered, “Um, yeah no. No mission or anything, just…” She gestured comically between her and Shikamaru.  

            A soft sighed reached Naruto’s ears. “That’s it,” Shikamaru muttered quietly enough that only Naruto was able to hear. Rising from his position on the couch, his back muscles flexing impressively under the pale moonlight that filtered through the window, he spoke strongly, “Ino. Sakura. I think the two of you have overstayed your welcome for the night. It’s late, and if you insist, then we can continue this conversation tomorrow.”

            Sakura had to forcibly tear her eyes from his bare skin and the thin treasure trail that led from his ridiculously well-sculpted abdominal muscles past his belt buckle. Yeah. Okay. Sakura could totally get why Naruto would jump into bed with him despite the obvious drama regarding Temari. Hell, Sakura was miffed that she herself hadn’t realized the body Shikamaru hid under that mesh shirt and jonin jacket. Focusing back to the matter at hand, she almost winced at the steel of the glare that Shikamaru was throwing them.

            Swallowing nervously, her throat suddenly parched, she tugged Ino towards the door, “Come on Ino. It’s time to go.”

            Ino grit her teeth, “Shikamaru Nara, don’t you dare think that we are done with this conversation.”

            Shikamaru’s glare steeled even further, “Get. Out.” Yet still his voice was calm and seemingly uncaring. It was then and there that Sakura decided that Shikamaru Nara was perhaps the most terrifying man she had ever met.

            “Let’s go Ino,” Sakura declared, yanking her blond friend and practically shoving her out of the apartment. The medic threw one last apologetic glance over her shoulder as she departed, grimacing at the sight of Naruto’s embarrassed countenance and Shikamaru’s cool anger.

            Everything was still for a while. Until the door slammed shut and the echo of footsteps disappeared down the stairs. With an audible sigh, Shikamaru flopped back onto the couch, his head tilted back in exasperation as his fingers came up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

            “Well. That could have gone better.”

            Trust Naruto to break a tense situation. With a soft chuckle, Shikamaru lifted his head and quirked an eye open to meet the gaze of the squirming girl besides him, her cheeks still stained pink. With a drawl he spoke, “Yeah. It could have gone better. But that was pretty much my expectation anyways.”

            Naruto lifted a brow, “You foresaw Ino’s rather… uh… extreme reaction.”

            Another sigh. “Yeah, I did. I hoped it wouldn’t be that bad, but I saw it coming.”

            “Oh…” Silence filled the room as Naruto continued to squirm awkwardly, “Can I— uh, can I ask why?”

            “Why the reaction was so extreme?”

            Naruto nodded sharply, “I mean, I didn’t think Sakura would be here, and sure she was obviously surprised, but she wasn’t mean about it. Ino on the other hand…”

            Shikamaru couldn’t hide the grimace if he tried, “Ino is… well she’s close to Temari.”

            Naruto scooted over to her friend, her fingers gently reaching out to intertwine with his. She knew how hard it was for him to speak of his ex, as he obviously was still in love with her (and no Naruto wasn’t jealous of that), so she offered him the little amount of comfort that she could in this situation. “How close?”

            “Really close,” Shikamaru sighed, straightening up before softly narrating what Naruto was sure to be an interesting story, “I guess I should start after I became chunin. You were gone with Jiraya-sama on that training trip, so you weren’t here to witness what the civilians referred to as the ‘most adorable love story ever’. Shorty after your departure I was made the Suna Ambassador, and likewise Temari was made the Konoha Ambassador. This naturally led us to spending a significant amount of time together while drafting trade agreements and the like. It all started off as a tentative friendship, I was still weary as I was convinced that Temari still wanted revenge after her not-quite-win at the chunin exams. It took a while, but sometime during the hours and hours of pouring over mind numbing finances we became genuine friends. We started to laugh together and even share quite a few inside jokes regarding our respective villages. It was… different. The only true friends I had prior to this were Choji and Ino, and that was only because we have known each other since the cradle.”

            Naruto nodded as she listened to the first hand account of the love story she had only heard bits and pieces of from various villagers over the years. Knowing Shikamaru as she did, she understood his confusion regarding his friendship with Temari. Outside of Choji and Ino, he didn’t really have any close friends. Especially not ones he openly joked with, he always was a closed off person.

            Seeing that Naruto understood, Shikamaru continued, “I still hadn’t gotten my apartment yet, so while in Konoha we usually worked over lunch at some restaurant as there was no way I was going to make the mistake of introducing her to my mother. One day while we were pouring over some documents during lunch, Ino happened to walk by and witness the two of us share a laugh. That was enough to convince the troublesome Yamanaka that Temari was someone special to me, so she came over to formally re-introduce herself. Somehow that turned into Ino joining us for lunch which then somehow turned into an impromptu shopping trip featuring me as their packing mule.”

            Naruto giggled at the image that presented. She could just imagine his confused and annoyed visage as he unwillingly followed two troublesome blonds with linked arms through he confusing and packed shopping district, his fingers just itching for the cigarette he knew that he shouldn’t light around so many children.

            “The two girls were basically inseparable after that. Every time Temari came to town Ino made sure to spend as much time as possible with her; going on shopping trips, spa trips, and whatever other girly trips the two could come up with. Once they even went on a two week long vacation to Hot Springs Country and damn if it wasn’t the most peaceful and quiet two weeks of my life.”

            Naruto blinked, “I didn’t realize the two of them were so close. How did I not know the two of them were so close?”

            “Most people don’t. Temari was often seen with me, after all, and our romantic entanglement made for much more interesting gossip than their friendly one. But Ino and Temari got quite close over time, and as Temari and I started getting closer and closer, Temari started to confide in Ino. When Temari realized that she was in love with me, a full two years after you had left and our diplomacy meetings had begun, Ino was the first person she told. Knowing me better than most, Ino had realized that I too was basically head over heels for the blond, and she wasted no time in informing her new best friend of this development. That same day, Temari marched over to me in the middle of a packed shopping district, slapped me across the face and called me a coward, before grabbing me by my chunin vest and kissing me in front of everyone. I barely heard the cheers that erupted around us, but I definitely recall that Ino’s was the loudest.”

            Naruto used her thumb to trace small circles over the back of Shikamaru’s hand as he told the story. Her stomach clenched, and that was definitely due to some weird sickness and not jealousy because Naruto Uzumaki did not get jealous damn it. “So that’s why Ino is mad? Because she’s the one who helped you guys get together in the first place?”

            “It’s a part of the reason,” Shikamaru sighed, “Truthfully, I understand Ino’s anger. I in no way agree with it, nor do I condone it, but I understand it. During that time, Sakura was way too busy with her medic training and never spent any time with Ino. Temari, on the other hand, despite living in a different village had become Ino’s best friend. Temari didn’t have any female friends herself, so they both really cherished their friendship to one another. Over the years Temari and I have broken up quite a few times for one reason or another, but we have always found our way back to each other. We were in love after all. Ino had gotten used to our petty break ups and make ups, she just learned to accept that we are both stubborn individuals and will come back to one another when we calmed down. Ino understands better than anyone else just how deeply Temari feels for me, and to see me so blatantly disregard her feelings… well… I understand why Ino is angry.”

            Naruto nodded solemnly, slowly taking her hand from Shikamaru’s grasp and wrapping her arms gently around his torso, her head coming to rest on his chest, “You’re not a bad person Shikamaru. Yes, Temari will be hurt when she finds out we’re ‘together’, but when this is all over she’ll understand why you had to do it. She loves you, you said so yourself. She’ll understand.”

            Shikamaru’s lips slightly quirked, looking down at Naruto and giving her what she believed to be the softest and most sincere smile she had ever received. Lowering his head gently, he briefly allowed his lip to softly kiss the top of her head as he replied, “Thank you, Naruto.”

            Naruto pretended the tears that threatened to fall were from the lingering feelings of embarrassment she had suffered after being caught in a compromising position. She was not jealous. She really really wasn’t.

            Shikamaru stuffed his hands into his pockets as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. There were no words to describe how little he wanted to have this conversation, yet have this conversation he must. He owed it to her.

            Tentatively, he raised his hands and knocked sharply on the door, a scowl of unease pulling his lips downward as he waited for the characteristic melodic voice to call out, “Coming!”

            Kami he really didn’t want to do this, but despite his negative feelings his lips unwittingly curved into a gentle smile. He was, after all, always happy to see his family. He heard the door unlock before it was opened, his dark eyes meeting happily surprised red ones.

            “Hey, Kurenai,” Shikamaru greeted. He had long since dropped the word sensei from her name, it felt almost odd calling her that considering their friendly relationship.

            “Shikamaru! Come on in, dear. I wasn’t expecting you today, is everything okay?” Kurenai questioned kindly as she gestured for him to come in.

            Shikamaru waltzed through the room comfortably, taking a seat at the kitchen table as Kurenai made a pot of tea, it being obvious to anyone if they were watching that he was quite at home in this apartment, “Everything is fine, Kurenai. Is it a crime for a man to want to visit his favorite god daughter?”

            Kurenai laughed charmingly, her voice like bells echoing through the quiet apartment. It was easy to see how Asuma-sensei fell in love with this woman, she was an amazing woman and her simple beauty reminded him of this fact often, “Must you Nara’s have a snarky answer to every casual inquiry?”

            Shikamaru smirked, “It’s a gift.”

            “It’s a pain,” Kurenai retorted sarcastically, placing the finished pot of tea at the table before taking a seat across from her late husbands favorite prodigy, “Well I hate to disappoint you, but Mirai is currently taking at her preschool. It looks like you’ll have to settle for my company instead.”

            Shikamaru’s features curled into one of apathetic distaste, “What a drag. Your conversational topics are not quite as riveting, but I suppose I’ll have to make due.”

            “Yes, I’m sure debating the best flavors of popsicles with a three year old is the cap of your conversational intelligence, so I’ll attempt to keep my own topics at a simple level,” Kurenai sassed, her smile of amusement threatening to dissolve into peals of laughter.

            Shikamaru snorted as he poured himself a cup of tea, “How is she doing in preschool? Has she gotten used to it yet?”

            Kurenai nodded, “She’s doing well. It took a few weeks, but she finally made a few friends that she regularly plays with. She even shared her dolls with them once.”

            Shikamaru whistled lowly. Between himself and the doting mothering of Kurenai, Mirai grew up wanting for nothing and never having to share. To start doing so was an important feat, “I’m glad to hear that.”

            “She has, however, been a bit sad lately that her Uncle Shika hasn’t visited in a while,” Kurenai quirked an innocent brow that always made him feel guilty.

            “I’ve been… busy,” Shikamaru stated, almost awkwardly.

            “Busy with the same little topic that has you coming to visit me for the first time in two weeks?”

            Damn, Kurenai was good at utilizing guilt. With a sigh, he spoke, “There will be a few rumors coming out about me within the next few days. I wanted to talk to you about it before you heard it from some random civilian.”

            “True rumors or baseless ones?” Kurenai asked astutely.

            “It depends of what you hear.”

            “And what has you so sure that there will be any rumors for me to hear in the first place?”

            “Trust me, there will be.”

            “Ah,” Kurenai sipped her tea, the corners of her lips stretching into an amused smirk, “so they’re romantic in nature.”

            It wasn’t a question. Kurenai knew him too well, after all. With a nod, Shikamaru revealed, “I have been seeing someone.”

            “Someone who isn’t Temari.”

            Again, not a question. Shikamaru nodded regardless, “It’s still fairly new. We’ve been seeing each other for a few months, after Temari and I broke up of course. It started off casual, but now…”

            “Do you love her?”

            Shikamaru’s eyes snapped to meet the serious gaze of Kurenai, “I don’t know.”

            Kurenai casually leaned back into her seat, “If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t be here telling me about her. You’d be out and about not caring about the petty little rumors the villagers started regarding your love life, it’s hardly the first time.”

            This was the moment of truth. Shikamaru was a phenomenal liar, but outside of Temari, Kurenai knew him best. If he could convince her, he could convince anyone. With an almost unnoticeable nod, he softly said, “I think I do.”

            Kurenai, bless her heart, only nodded. No immediate interrogation, no accusations about cheating or infidelity, no chastising him for starting a casual relationship in the first place when he was obviously still in love with Temari. “Do I know her?”

            “It’s Naruto.”

            If Kurenai was surprised by the revelation, she didn’t let it show. Instead she took another sip of her tea and said, “She’d be good for you. She’s energetic enough to get you moving, but understanding enough to let you move at your own pace. You probably couldn’t find a better match if you tried.”

            “She’s…” Shikamaru paused and thought of the blue eyed vixen who’d haunted his thoughts and apartment for the last few days. Slowly, a genuine smile crawled onto his features, “She’s something special.”

            “I see her volunteering around the orphanage and academy quite often. She loves kids.” The ‘Temari didn’t’ was left unspoken, yet Shikamaru heard it as clear as day. It was always something of a sore spot between the two of them, a problem both Temari and Shikamaru willingly ignored for now while Kurenai just couldn’t. Shikamaru loved Mirai as if she were his own daughter, spending time with her as often as he could afford. Temari, on the other hand, was not a kid person. She had two younger siblings growing up, and has been disillusioned to the idea of kids since. Temari never understood how Shikamaru could love another mans daughter so fiercely, and it was a flaw that never sat well with Kurenai.

            Shikamaru winced, “She does.”

            Kurenai smiled, “Well, as she’s so special to you, it is only right for her to come to dinner with us one of these days. She should get the chance to meet your god daughter, after all.”

            Shikamaru saw this coming from a league away. Temari was never invited to ‘family’ dinners after the disastrous first one, a fact that she had been relieved about, but Kurenai actually liked Naruto so it was only natural to extend an invitation. “We have a mission coming up soon, so I’ll have to check with her. I’ll let you know what day works best.”

            “Perfect. I’m looking forward to it.”

            Naruto woke up to the sound of knocking. After the fiasco from the night before, she and Shikamaru decided it was best to sleep in their own apartments for the night in case they got any other surprise visitors. It was a bit odd to wake up without the lazy Nara in the immediate vicinity, but Naruto just forcibly shoved that concerning thought down before it spiraled.

            Opening the door, she was quite surprised to see the pink hair and awkward smile of her teammate, “Sakura-chan. What are you doing here?”

            Sakura shuffled awkwardly, “Uh, can I come in?”

            Naruto blinked, before stepping to the side to allow Sakura entrance. Closing the door behind her, she spoke, “Sorry about that Sakura, I just wasn’t expecting to see you so soon after last night.”

            Sakura blushed again at the reminder, before steeling her voice, “I came to apologize.”

            Naruto blinked again, “You did?”

            Sakura nodded seriously, “I owe Shikamaru an apology too, but I had to speak to you first. I didn’t realize the relationship the two of you had, and I carelessly stepped aside and allowed Ino to use her spare key to barge in on you guys. Heck, I pretty much instigated the whole thing.”

            Naruto clenched her jaw, “Instigated how?”

            Sakura gulped, “Well— you see… yesterday during practice I sort of saw your hickey… and I may have assumed that Sasukegaveittoyou.”

            Despite the almost incomprehensible speed that Sakura spoke in, Naruto heard her loud and clear. Her jaw unhinged in disgust, her skin rapidly turning green as she tried to hold down the reaction to heave, “SASUKE?! You thought I was sleeping with Sasuke?!”

            Sakura nodded in embarrassment, her face rapidly resembling the same shade as her hair, “It wasn’t that ridiculous of a conclusion, what with Sasuke practically stalking you yesterday and never taking his eyes off of you.”

            Naruto grew sick once more, the taste of vomit slowly climbing up her throat, “That was because he found out that I was seeing someone and the Teme wanted to know who it was! Not because he and I—“ She couldn’t even finish the sentence without dry heaving.

            “Oh,” Sakura shuffled awkwardly, “Well that makes sense.”

            “How did this lead into you and Ino walking in on us?” Naruto, finally calm enough, asked.

            “Ino theorized that you couldn’t have been spending that much time with Sasuke, because she thought that you and Shikamaru had an assignment from the Hokage. We went over to his apartment to ask, and you know the rest.”

            Naruto sighed, “And let me guess, now you’re here to warn me away from a guy who is ‘spoken for’?”
            Sakura looked scandalized, “What? No! What you and Shikamaru do is your own business. You’re an adult, and if you think the drama with Temari is worth it, then so be it. I just wanted to make sure you knew how sorry I was about everything. I tried talking to Ino… but she’s a little stubborn.”

            Naruto grit her teeth, “I’m not the one Ino has to apologize to. As Shikamaru’s teammate and friend, she should have known that he wouldn’t willingly hurt anyone.”

            “She’ll come to that conclusion in her own time, I’m sure. Are we… are we okay?” Sakura asked tentatively.
            Naruto grinned, “Of course we are Sakura-chan. Just make sure to knock next time, because if you ever interrupt us like that again I won’t be as nice.”

            Sakura gulped, “Noted. But now that we’re on that topic: how’s the sex?”


            “I’m betting it’s phenomenal. I never knew that Shikamaru was hiding such a sculpted and hot body under that stupid Jonin jacket. Damn that man can strip for me anytime,” Sakura continued with an exaggerated wink.

            Naruto was scandalized, her hands covering her eyes as she helplessly muttered, “I am not hearing this. I am not hearing this.”

            “How did this even start in the first place? Because despite Shikamaru’s secret sexiness, I can’t see how you would jump into bed with him,” Sakura questioned, curiosity and her love of gossip basically shining in her eyes.

            Naruto sighed at the inevitable question, “It actually started a few months ago. We were assigned a stay-at-home mission regarding seals.” That was a common occurrence as the two were the only ones in the village proficient with the art, “It was a really difficult assignment, so we often ended up crashing at each other’s apartment. We got closer, and one day… well… you’ve seen Shikamaru without a shirt, try being around that for several days on end and not end up jumping his bones.”

            Sakura cackled, not expecting such a reaction from Naruto, “You actually jumped his bones? Seriously?”

            Naruto nodded in embarrassment, “He was prancing around his apartment with only a pair of low riding pajama pants, and then he was stretching, and then all of a sudden my legs were around his waste and our lips were connected. Really I’m not sure how it happened.”

            Thank Shikamaru and his foresight to come up with a plausible story. Because, if she were honest with herself, it was just typical for her to make the first move, “Anyways, so after that first time we just kept seeing each other. It was really casual at first, actually.”

            This gave Sakura pause. “At first? You mean it’s not casual anymore?”

            “It’s… complicated.”

            “Complicated,” Sakura deadpanned.

            Naruto grimaced, “I mean… well we agreed to keep it casual. And we have been. It’s just… Shikamaru is really special. Special in ways I couldn’t see before, and now…”

            “Holy fuck,” Sakura gasped, leaning into her seat dramatically, “You’re in love with Shikamaru Nara.”

            Naruto winced. This was Shikamaru’s grand master plan. They couldn’t just up and announce that they were in love, it was beyond unrealistic considering the fact that just a few months ago, Shikamaru was in love with another blond. Having a casual relationship on the other hand was believable. A casual relationship that morphs into actual love? Romantic gold. By the end of this plan, everybody in Konoha would be rooting for the two lovers as they watch their romance blossom. Naruto just had to play her part and hopefully not screw up.

            “I… damn it Sakura, I think I’m in love with Shikamaru Nara.”




            “I’m aware.”

            “Does he know?”

            “Fuck no. Casual, remember?” Naruto let out a self deprecating smile, “How am I ever supposed to compare to Temari anyways?”

            Sakura’s jaw snapped shut as she glared at her sometimes moronic friend, “Naruto, Shikamaru broke up with Temari. He’s currently seeing you, not her. You’re beautiful, and strong, and just about the best person in the world. Shikamaru will see that Temari can’t even begin to compare to you.”

            Naruto smiled, a true genuine smile, “Thanks Sakura-chan.”

            Sakura smiled back, “Anytime. But I do have one more question.”

            “What is it?”

            “When in the absolute fuck did you realize that Shikamaru was a smoking hot babe?”

            Naruto muttered something incoherently before raising her voice to a whisper, “The chunin exams.”

            Sakura’s jaw dropped, “The chunin exams?!”

            Naruto blushed, “He was really smart and I found that hot, okay?!”

            The medic just laughed, “Damn girl, you’ve got it bad.”

            Naruto merely scowled in response, because truly there wasn’t a viable response to that statement.

            “Step one is complete!” Naruto called out as she casually waltzed into Shikamaru’s apartment.

            She found the strategist sitting by the kitchen counter, a cigarette loosely hanging from his lips as he scanned the files in front of him. More importantly, however, was his attire. Or lack of it. Kami damn those low riding pajama pants and his tendency of going shirtless, Naruto cursed. Sakura was right: Shikamaru really was unfairly sneaky hot.

            Shikamaru smiled in greeting, “Good. With any luck, Sakura would tell your version of events to Ino, who won’t hesitate to spread it around. By this time next week, everybody will know that the resident jinchuriki is in a secret affair with the Nara clan heir.”

            Naruto grinned, her whiskers practically twitching in anticipation, “This is going to be fun.”

            “Oh?” Shikamaru asked, a brow raised in amusement.

            Naruto nodded before hopping onto the counter in front of him and taking a seat, “It’s like a village wide prank, and you’re my accomplice. People are going to freak.

            Shikamaru chuckled in response, raising a hand to tuck a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Leaning down to whisper in her ear, he drawled, “This is going to be fun. Let the games begin.”

Chapter Text

Naruto woke up more comfortable than she could ever remember being in her entire life. Warmer too. Heat wrapped around her ever so snuggly, causing her in her half-lucid state to burrow herself even further into the source of his great warmth. A sigh of contentment inevitably escaped her chest, and it only grew when the arms wrapped around her flexed ever so slightly and pulled her closer to his chest. Her eyes fluttered open dreamily, her lips curled upwards as she took a whiff of the enticingly familiar smell sandalwood and cigarettes.

Shikamaru was still asleep as he gently pulled her frame near. Naruto smiled up at his resting face, her eyes tracing his features as he slept. He looked younger like this. Almost… vulnerable. She had to stifle a laugh at that thought, for Shikamaru was never one to call vulnerable. However sleeping like this, his features relaxed and his calculating eyes closed, he truly looked like a normal boy of 18. A devastatingly unfairly handsome boy, but a normal one nonetheless.

And Kami above he really was unfairly handsome. A perfectly sculpted jaw and high cheekbones, his lips pursued ever so slightly in his slumber. His hair was loose for once, tendrils falling across his forehead and covering his eyes. His eyelashes were long and curled, almost unfairly as truly no male should be able to boast eyelashes such as those. Naruto let her gaze drag downwards, from his Adam's apple to his defined collarbones and muscles. He slept shirtless, a fact Naruto had intimately come to learn in the last few days. A fact that often caused Naruto to go multiple nights without sleeping. In the first night when Naruto stayed over at Shikamaru's, he acted like a complete gentleman by sleeping on the couch as she took his bed. For the last few nights however the two had to share a bed, as they did not know if anyone would want to confront them. It was something that Naruto had absolutely no problems with.

Yeah. Naruto could get used to waking up in Shikamaru's arms. Kami above, Shikamaru Nara really was the perfect specimen. Handsome, kind and ridiculously intelligent. A good man who would sacrifice his entire life for the future of Konoha. A man who risked his own romantic entanglements to assist Naruto. A man Naruto couldn't help but admire.

She fit perfectly in his arms, she reflected. Her head tucked under his, her body molded seamlessly along his. Her soft curves meeting his hard muscles in a delicate hold. Her fingers digging into this back as his press into her waist. Her lips gently caressing the pulse point on his neck throughout the night. Unwittingly her lips pursued even further, brushing across his cool skin as his arms tightened even further around her lower back.

Slowly she dragged her hands from their comfortable position on his back around his body to rest firmly on his abdomen. She had been unnaturally curious about his abs since the first time she had seen him shirtless all those days ago. Tentatively she let the tips of her fingers trail across his stomach, watching with unabashed curiosity at the goosebumps that arose in the wake of her ministrations. Back and forth she slowly dragged her fingers, her nails lightly scraping the skin as she goes. Two days ago, during the exciting time they had before getting caught by Ino and Sakura, Naruto was a little too over stimulated to truly appreciate the sheer masculinity that was Shikamaru's body. Now, however, she was not letting the opportunity slip her by.

"Having fun there?" A low drawl interrupted her devotions, lips softly brushing against her ear as her stomach clenched.

Naruto halted her actions suddenly, her face rapidly turning red as she finally woke up enough to realize what she was doing. A chuckle cut through her embarrassment, deep and groggy and seriously how was a chuckle attractive?!

"If you wanted to play with me," Shikamaru huskily whispered in her ear, "all you had to do was ask."

Naruto gulped, her voice shaky as she attempted to respond flippantly, "Y-you're just teasing me again, aren't you?"

Slowly— carefully, she raised her blue eyes to meet his. Dark eyes stared back at her, with no trace of humor to be found. Instead a searing look scorched her very soul, and oh Kami was that lust?

"Sh-Shika?" Naruto stuttered nervously, her skin tingling as Shikamaru used his tight hold on her to bring her even closer, their chests practically plastered together and lips mere millimeters apart.

"Trust me Naruto," Shikamaru drawled, his thumb coming to rest ever so gently on her bottom lip, "not a single man in this world is stupid enough to joke when there's a girl as beautiful as you in his bed."

Naruto's brain short circuited. All of a sudden there was nothing in the world but she and this gorgeously masculine specimen who held her close. She inhaled sharply, and all thoughts of the future just melted away. There was no Temari; no complications nor secret missions. There was just Naruto and Shikamaru and Kami above she was not going to let this opportunity slip away. Not with him.

Naruto tilted her head upwards, ever so slowly, and just as her lips were to meet his a knocking at the door interrupted her actions. Jolting away from her, Shikamaru sat up in his bed and ran a hand through his hair, "Who could that be?"

Naruto scowled angrily, softly muttering, "I don't know, but whoever it is, I'm going to kill them."

Shikamaru shot the disgruntled blond a smirk before launching out of his bed and lazily making his way to the door. Naruto slammed back down onto the bed, throwing her arm over her eyes as she silently screamed. What. The. Fuck. Was. THAT?!

"Sai," she heard Shikamaru's unamused voice greet, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm looking for Dickless; Beautiful told me that she might be here," Sai answered in his creepy faux cheerful tone.

Naruto heard Shikamaru sigh, "Ino always was one to take too much stock in gossip, but Naruto has no reason to be here."

Naruto gently hopped from the bed, slowly creeping her way along the wall to peer carefully out of the bedroom door in order to catch the odd interaction. Her heart hammered in her chest as Sai tilted his head in confusion, "Beautiful told me that you and Dickless have been working on an assignment together. She thought she may have accidentally slept over. Is she not here? I couldn't find her home."

Shikamaru dragged a hand down his face, his voice still laden with sleep, "Sai, I haven't seen Naruto since last night. Knowing her she's probably training or something equally as ridiculous at this time of day."

Sai shook his head, the stupid smile still fixated on his features despite the oddly somber tone of voice he employed, "I already checked, she's not in any of her normal training fields."

The Nara visibly bit back a groan, as though the conversation was physically draining him, "Look Sai, I genuinely don't care about where Naruto could be. She's the strongest ninja in this village, so I'm sure nothing happened to her. She probably got drunk again and crashed at Sasuke's place."

Sai's smile turned visibly more genuine as he replied, "Oh. I haven't thought about that. Yes, it does seem plausible. Thank you, Lazy!"

Shikamaru scowled as he waved the former Root member off, "Yeah, yeah. Try not to ever wake me up before noon again."

Hearing the door slam shut, Naruto crept out of the bedroom, her face contorted in confusion, "Ino kept her mouth shut?"

Shikamaru sighed, "It looks like it. Gossiping to Sai was a perfect opportunity, but it seems like she held back."

Naruto tilted her head to the side as she jutted out her lower lip in concentration, "But why? It's not like Ino to let such a good rumor slide."

The Nara shut his eyes in exasperation, "We always knew that it was a possibility, Naru. Ino does care about Temari's feelings after all, and while she's probably cursing me for being a 'two-faced bastard', she probably doesn't want to risk Temari finding out about my 'betrayal'. It's all just too troublesome."

Naruto marched towards the lazy man, interlocking their fingers before forcibly pulling him towards her body, snaking her arms around his torso in what she hoped was a comforting hug, "You're not really betraying Temari, you know."

Shikamaru hesitated for a beat before wrapping his arms around her, "Temari and I broke up far before we got involved, Naruto. There's no need for you to feel guilty, I am more than capable of making my own choices."

Naruto tilted her head back to grin up at the man, her heart hammering as he let a lazy smirk crawl up onto his face. She always found that expression ridiculously hot. Wrapping her hands around her neck, Naruto stood on the tips of her toes and locked her lips with his.

Kami, it was just as good as she remembered. For a moment there she had wondered whether or not her mind had been playing tricks on her regarding the last kiss they shared, because there was no way it was actually as good as she remembered. She was glad that her memory proved to be correct, a fact she took much joy in as Shikamaru moved his lips against hers, his fingers gently gripping her waist.

From the other side of the window, Sai watched dispassionately as he quietly whispered, "I knew it."

From where Shikamaru was currently peppering kisses on Naruto's neck with such efficiency that she barely heard him, he whispered, "Step two is complete, Sai is definitely watching."

Naruto masked her mischievous grin of victory with a loud moan that Shikamaru inflicted, shivering in his arms as he used that sinfully wicked tongue of his to bring her to ecstasy. She really hoped that Sai was as much of a voyeur as she presumed, because she didn't want this to end anytime soon.

Naruto found herself being walked backwards, Shikamaru's grip on her waist tightening as he pushed her on the couch and climbed on top of her. For a moment he detached his lips from hers, smirking at the moan of protest she let out. She knew that she should be embarrassed by just how passionately she was reacting to him, but she just couldn't help it. Shikamaru Nara was just too damned good at this.

His lips quickly found her neck, sucking, biting and kissing in different intervals as Naruto squirmed beneath him. She fit perfectly against him, he noticed. His knee resting between her legs as her entire body lifted off the couch in a desperate attempt to mold with his. With one hand held at her waist, he kept her firmly planted onto the couch. Shikamaru didn't think he could handle it if Naruto insisted on teasing him any further with that body of hers. His other hand wove through her long blond locks, tilting her head backwards to give him more access to her neck.

Shikamaru had been practically dreaming at the thought of being in this exact position for the last two days, ever since the last time Naruto had her lips locked with his. He shouldn't feel this good with Naruto, he knew. Not when he was in love with another woman. But Naruto was unjustly hot, so it technically wasn't his fault. Perhaps if he repeated it to himself a few more times he just may believe it himself.

She was too good at this, Shikamaru reflected as she scraped her nails along his bare back. But she was a virgin, of this he was certain. Hell, he was fairly certain that two days ago he had even stolen her very first kiss. He should feel bad about this. He should feel like an awful person taking advantage of a beautiful young woman, but frankly he couldn't bring himself to care. Not when Naruto kept moaning in his ear, and really he should have known that she was loud in bed.

With that he forcibly forced his thoughts to turn elsewhere, lest he start contemplating seeing his fellow partner in more intimate scenarios. For this he thanked whichever deity that watched over him that Sai was still being a perverted voyeur, because the pale effeminate boy served as a great turn-off. If Shikamaru was in this situation without the fear of a peeping Tom… well… he wasn't sure that there was a thing alive that could have stopped him from escalating this current situation.

Not that he would have been here, making out with Naruto on his couch, if it weren't for the fact that Sai was watching… although he didn't really believe that. This morning served as great proof that regardless of this mission, Naruto was just as attracted to him as he was to her. Now wasn't that just a concerning thought, he was almost afraid on how he would act on that tidbit of knowledge if things kept progressing this way between them.

Temari. Right. He just had to kept reminding himself of the woman he was in love with, the one who would inevitably be heartbroken at the knowledge that Shikamaru was sleeping with a girl she considers a friend. Even worse, he was sleeping with a girl who could definitely kick her ass. Shikamaru Nara almost groaned, it seemed like he had a type: hot blonds who could fight better than most.

Being with Naruto like this probably should have been a betrayal to Temari. He didn't need to do this whole charade for Sai; Ino would blab sooner or later without Sai's assistance. However this was Naruto's idea, and frankly Shikamaru wasn't idiotic enough to say no. She thought that there was a high chance Sai would come looking for her if he hadn't seen her in a few days, and not finding her in her apartment would have him asking Ino, the only of the Konoha 12 who could stand being around him for extended periods of time, for assistance. If Ino were keeping quiet about what she had seen due to not wanting to hurt her friend Temari, then at the very least she wouldn't be able to help herself in telling Sai exactly where he could find the blond. And when Sai knows a secret, one can be certain that the entirety of Konoha will know soon enough if for no other reason than he couldn't differentiate between something intimate and something that should be made public knowledge.

So yeah, it was Naruto's idea. And he should have stopped her from forming it, really. But it was a good idea, and they were tight on time. Plus, Naruto Uzumaki really was way too fucking hot, the thought echoing in his head while Shikamaru bit back a groan as the girl gripped his hair and pulled his lips back to hers.

He quickly slid his tongue alongside hers, almost cheering as Naruto quickly relinquished control and allowed him to set the pace. The hand that had yet to move from her waist began traveling across her stomach, the tip of his thumb gently brushing against her breasts before traveling downwards once more. He laughed against her mouth as she let out a whine— yeah, she was definitely as attracted to him as he was to her. That was dangerous. Too dangerous. He had to stop.

Expanding his chakra in a small pulse, he noticed that Sai was no where near, probably having left soon after their displays of affection began. Slowly, reluctantly, Shikamaru peppered Naruto's lips with gentle kisses. One. Two. Three. Before finally easing away and raising himself from where he was molded against Naruto.

"He's gone," Shikamaru spoke gruffly, his voice laden with lust as he attempted to ease his bodies rather bold reaction to her. Not that he could help it. She was stupid hot.

Naruto could barely open her eyes, yet when she did even a moron could see the absolute desire that was reflected in her blue irises. Timidly she snaked an arm around Shikamaru's neck, pulling him down for one last searing kiss. She wasn't an idiot; there was no denying that she was attracted to Shikamaru, and he obviously had to feel some type of attractions towards her as well. So while she should probably feel embarrassed by this action, well, it wasn't like Shikamaru wasn't already vividly aware of his affect on her.

Naruto's eyes practically rolled to the back her head as Shikamaru gently caressed the strip of skin between her pants and shirt, his tongue knotting skillfully with her own. She almost saw stars when his other hand made her way down her thigh, picking it up and hooking her leg around his waist. She quickly used her leg to drag him lower, until every inch of her body was touching his, his flexing muscles hard against her curves. Fuck. It was dangerous how much power this man held over her.

Soon, much too soon in Naruto's opinion, Shikamaru pulled away, his ragged breathing mixing with her own as his face hovered a mere inch above her own. Dragging his thumb along her cheek, Shikamaru let out a small husky chuckle, the sound causing Naruto's nerves to stand deliciously on end.

"Well, I think we managed to convince Sai."

Naruto laughed, using the leg that was still around his waist to pull him down on her once more, her body joyfully reacting to the feel of Shikamaru molded against her, "Told you the pervert would be too curious to not want to watch."

Shikamaru clicked his tongue, "Think we can convince him to come back for an encore performance?"

Naruto's eyes darkened as she licked her lips, "I'd prefer no audience for our next performance, to be completely honest."

Nara dared another man to not kiss the blond had he been in his shoes. Because surely, no one could have resisted the urge to kiss the hot blond that was currently giving him such lustful bedroom eyes. And Shikamaru Nara had a strong resolve, but no resolve was that strong.

So without giving it another thought, he swooped down to kiss her once more. He can think about the consequences later.

Sai tilted his head in confusion as he stared back at Kiba, unsure as to why the mutt was being so odd.

Kiba stammered as his attempted to pick his jaw off the floor, "You're kidding me. Please, please oh Kami tell me that you're kidding me!"

Sai frowned a tad, his nose wrinkling in confusion, "I don't understand your reaction. Neji, Choji and a few others had the same odd response when I informed them. What is so grave about Lazy and Dickless having sex?"

Kiba noticeably flinched, his face pulled into a depressed frown, "Because it's not fair! How the fuck does Shikamaru Nara of all people keep sleeping with all of these hot blonds! First Temari, now Naruto!?"

Sai nodded in understanding, "Ah, I see. You wanted to sleep with Dickless instead."

Kiba sputtered, "I don't want to sleep with Naruto. It's just— uh— just…"

"…That you wanted to have sex with her?"

"NO! She's hot, okay?! I'm a male, I have eyes. And… and why Shikamaru!?" The Inuzuka bemoaned, his face drooping as though in agony.

Sai contemplated it for a few moments, "Well I suppose he is good at sex. He has the most experience in our age group after all."

Kiba turned green, "Dude! I don't want to think about Shikamaru's sex life. Ever."

"And yet you don't mind discussing Naruto's?" Sai questioned, genuinely confused.

Kiba's jaw dropped, "What? I— uh, no! I mean— um… shut up!"

"…Are you sure you don't want to sleep with Dickless?"

"NO! Wait— I mean YES! Wait… Ugh! You're infuriating!" Kiba sputtered out, turning on his heel and walking away from the effeminate man and his incessant questions. There was no way it was true, he decided. There was only one choice, he'd have to talk to Naruto about it himself.

Sakura winced as she took a sip of her drink, "Really now?"

Tenten nodded seriously, leaning forward in her seat as she shared the gossip, "It's true! I heard it from Lee who heard it from Kiba who heard it from Sai who witnessed the whole thing! Naruto and Shikamaru are hooking up!"

"That doesn't sound like a trustworthy source," Sakura attempted to say unconvincingly. She cannot believe that the two idiots had gotten caught again, a mere two days after being walked in on by Ino and herself. Really the two had to be more careful. Although it's all moot point now.

Tenten frowned, "Sai doesn't know enough social cues to lie about something like this, so it must be true. Did Naruto not tell you?"

Sakura shook her head, "If it is true, then obviously they wanted to keep it a secret. After all it could get a bit messy if everyone knew."

Understanding crept on the weapons mistress face, "Is Shikamaru cheating on Temari?"
"No," Sakura spoke forcefully, "They broke up over three months ago. Shikamaru would never cheat on Temari, never. He loves her."

Tenten snorted in her cup, " Oh please, if he really did love Temari then he wouldn't hop into Naruto's bed at the first opportunity."

Sakura's jaw dropped, "You can't be serious! You know they're not like that."

"Don't I?" Tenten questioned with a brow raised, "Sure the Naruto part is a bit confusing, I didn't even know she was interested in sex. But Shikamaru Nara has never kept his slag tendencies a secret."

"This is different," Sakura insisted, her face slowly turning red in anger.

"I thought you didn't know anything about their relationship," Tenten prompted, suspicion coloring her tone.

"I don't," Sakura answered uneasily, "But I know Naruto and Shikamaru. They're our friends, and they're not like that. How could you even say such cruel things about them?"

Tenten shrugged, "I haven't said a single thing that everybody isn't already thinking."

Sakura muttered darkly, "That's the problem."

Shikamaru calmly raised the cup of tea to his lips, softly blowing the smoke before taking a tentative sip, his eyes never leaving his host who sat before him, "I take it you've heard the rumors then?"

Hiashi hummed in affirmation as he poured himself another cup, "Are they true?"

The Nara raised a brow, "Does it matter?"

Hiashi clicked his tongue, a habit that Shikamaru had come to learn meant that the older man was amused, before speaking candidly, "I suppose not. Is Naruto safe?"

Shikamaru sighed, "She will be. The daimyo is many things, but he's not a moron. Insulting me is perhaps equal to insulting Tsunade herself, a risk no leader is willing to take. It may be a while before she is completely in the clear, however."

"I presume you mean to wait until Hiro is married and thus unavailable?"

The younger man nodded curtly, "You presume correctly. Until he is no longer looking for a bride, Naruto is in danger. The smartest action for now is to maintain the course, and for me to continue acting as her shield."

"And where does young Temari fall into all this?" Hiashi questioned.

Shikamaru chuckled lowly, "I wasn't aware you cared for my love life. Been keeping up with the civilian gossip, have you?"

"A mere observation from a concerned party, I assure you. We do not need strife with Suna over this; after all we both know how the Kazekage feels for your presumed paramour, and that is without taking into consideration his sisters feelings about the entire ordeal," Hiashi reminded the strategist.

Shikamaru frowned, "I can deal with Temari, she won't cause any issues. As for the Kazekage, Naruto is more than capable of handling any sort of response from him."

Hiashi chuckled, "Already have so much faith in your lover? Careful, Nara, people may start presuming that you're sincere in your affections."

Shikamaru smirked, "Kami forbid."

Walking down the crowded streets of Konoha, Naruto payed no attention to the gawking stares of her fellow citizens. She had long ago grown accustomed to the looks, remnants of her childhood notwithstanding, so it was with practiced ease that she shook off the curious bystanders and continued to stroll along unbothered by gossiping idiots.

Sai had blabbed, it was obvious from the incredulous looks that were being shot at her throughout her walk. She knew that he would, her teammate was a tad too predictable. She would have blushed at the thought of the entire village knowing the sordid details that had occurred this morning, but frankly she was still a bit too busy processing them herself.

What the fuck happened today?! Shikamaru Nara was hot, Naruto had long since come to terms with that fact. Hell, she'd even come to accept that it was obvious to Shikamaru himself how hot she found him. But to pull him down for another kiss when there was no audience to play for? Naruto would have run away in sheer embarrassment if it weren't for one thing: that the next kiss was initiated by Shikamaru himself.

Now that was giving her pause. Shikamaru Nara was still in love with Temari, it was obvious just by the way he spoke about the older woman. Yet he was quite responsive to her during their little moment earlier that day. She supposed he found her attractive…

Naruto shook her head forcibly, as though it would shake the thoughts from her brain. For some reason or another, despite his absolute love for Temari, Shikamaru Nara kissed her without the mission forcing him too. Well, she did kiss him first, but she supposed that was besides the point. Anyways, it wasn't as if the two did anything wrong. Sharing a kiss or two meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, and she was honest when she told Shikamaru that there was nothing wrong with the two sharing a casual relationship, fake or not.

She let out a bitter chuckle. There must be something seriously wrong with her. She was crushing on a man who was emotionally attached to another, and even worse: she was plotting just how to get said emotionally attached man to set aside his reservations for a few moments to at least get a bit physical with her.

Naruto supposed that she could blame Shikamaru and his skill with his tongue for the curiosity that was now sparked within her. To be honest, she had not even been kissed before Shikamaru pulled her to him two days ago when Ino threatened to barge in. She knew that Shikamaru was the most experienced out of the men in their age group; he made no secret to her that he was a bit of a slag. But even when he and Temari would break up, he never slept with someone that his girlfriend knew. Too messy, he claimed. Temari was too jealous a woman to handle knowing that a ninja who worked on a daily basis near Shikamaru had once shared a bed with him. Shikamaru had warned her that Temari may be petty, but Naruto had laughed him off claiming that after this whole charade was over the Suna ninja would understand and be relieved that the two had never actually been together.

Naruto knew that sleeping with Shikamaru probably wouldn't happen. She knew that even having the thought of sleeping with Shikamaru was a bad and dangerous one. But she couldn't help it. Ever since the first time Shikamaru had kissed her, she had been positively dreaming about ending up in his arms. But he didn't like her. He loved Temari.

Naruto let out a huff and she locked her hands behind her head. Well it wasn't as if Naruto wanted Shikamaru like that, he could keep Temari for all she cared. But while they were on a break, there was nothing wrong about having Shikamaru assist her with her more physical needs. Love had nothing to do with it. A casual relationship was both plausible and possible, now all she had to do was get Shikamaru to agree.

Finally she had arrived at her apartment, only to be startled by the dark countenances of her two closest companions.

"Naruto," Kakashi called darkly from his spot on her couch besides Sasuke, "we need to talk."

Chapter Text

"Naruto," Kakashi called darkly from his spot on her couch besides Sasuke, "we need to talk."

Naruto shuffled awkwardly in place as she gazed upon their angered expressions, slowly closing the door behind herself as she awkwardly chuckled, "Hey guys… fine weather we're having, huh?"

"Shikamaru Nara?!" Sasuke spat out through gritted teeth, "Out of all the ninjas in Konoha, you had to choose Shikamaru fucking Nara?!"

"So have you guys eaten yet? I'm kinda hungry, sort of thinking about making some ramen. Want some?" Naruto nervously attempted to deviate the conversation, slowly walking to the kitchen.

"Naruto. Sit," Kakashi angrily commanded, causing the young blond to quickly take the closest chair.

"Soooo," Naruto pursued her lips awkwardly, "I'm guessing Sai blabbed?"

"Shikamaru Nara? Really Naruto? I knew you were seeing someone, but out of all the people it had to be Shikamaru Nara?" Sasuke sighed.

Naruto frowned, "What's wrong with Shikamaru?"

"What's wrong with-?!" Sasuke stammered, before sighing grievously and pinching the bridge of his nose, "Kakashi, you take over the talking before I burn this entire building to the ground."

Kakashi huffed, "Naruto, the Nara has a bit of a reputation around this village you know. Now I'm not sure how much you're aware of it but—"

"Are you seriously implying that I don't know about Shikamaru's dating history?" Naruto questioned with an incredulous laugh.

"For him to have a dating history, he'd actually had to have dated those girls," Sasuke muttered murderously.

Naruto shot a glare at her friend, "Look, I know there are certain rumors about Shikamaru's promiscuity, but really they're just exaggerated."

Kakashi's eyes narrowed, "There's nothing exaggerated about Nara's history. He's dated Temari on and off for years, an older woman who I'm certain gave him a lot of experience in the romantic field."

"Plus the hoards of other women he's been sleeping with during each break up," Sasuke continued.

"Hoards of other women?" Naruto laughed, "I never took the two of you for such gossips. Look, I can actually name every single woman Shikamaru ever had any types of 'relations' with, he's been open with me since the beginning. Plus, it's not like it even matters, we're just friends."

"You're sleeping with him," Sasuke deadpanned.

The Uzumaki felt a blush creep up her cheeks as she replied, "Well it's just casual. And frankly, it's also none of your business."

"Naruto, we're just worried for you," Kakashi admitted, "Shikamaru is a known heartbreaker. We don't want him to hurt you like we know he's capable of."

"Shikamaru can't break my heart if he doesn't have it," Naruto explained, "It's just a casual relationship. We're just friends and neither one of us is looking to change that, okay?"

Sasuke felt his eye twitch, "So he's taking advantage of you physically without even having the decency to date you… I'm going to kill him."

"What? Sasuke don't be ridiculous. I'm the one using him. I kissed him first. I initiated everything first. Shikamaru and I know where we stand with each other, and we don't need anyone else to interfere with what is actually a pretty solid relationship."

"Relationship? Is that what you're calling this- this- this sick farce? Naruto, you're sleeping with a womanizer that will drop you the second Temari turns his way again. You're nothing but a placement holder!" Sasuke cried, his voice raising with every sentence that slipped past his lips.

Naruto tried not to feel hurt. She really really did. But she couldn't help the inevitable sting of pain as Sasuke uttered the last statement. Because she, more than anyone else, knew just how much of a placement holder she really was. She wouldn't even dare dream that she could compete with Temari. Not for Shikamaru. He loves her.

"I reiterate: I know where I stand. Now get out of my apartment."

"Naruto, Sasuke didn't mean it like that. He's just worried about you. Heck, we're both worried about you," Kakashi spoke, attempting to calm the situation.

Naruto took a deep breath, her steel voice wavering in the face of true friendship, "I know. You both just want what's best for me, and I love you both forever for caring so much. But I'm a grown woman, and despite your beliefs I'm not naïve. Trust that I know what I'm doing, okay?"

"I still don't like this," Sasuke grumbled, crossing his arms.

"I know," Naruto grinned, before rising from her seat and crossing over to Sasuke. Tenderly she kissed his temple, "But I love you for trusting me regardless."

Sasuke closed his eyes, "You're going to send me to an early grave."

"We knew it would happen eventually," Naruto teased.

"Naruto, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Kakashi questioned once more, his one visible eye trained seriously on her visage.

Naruto nodded sharply, "I do. Shikamaru Nara is a great man, trust me enough to be a good judge of this."

"I do. We trust you Naruto. But if he hurts you, we will kill him."

"I wouldn't expect anything less."

Ino tipped back yet another drink as she calmly gestured for another one to be brought to her, a permanent frown taking residence on her features. Kami damn Sai and his big mouth. All of today she was unable to escape the gossiping whispers of the civilians, their voices carrying in the wind as they discussed the sordid affair between Naruto Uzumaki and the strategist Shikamaru Nara.

She didn't react as she felt someone take a seat at the bar stool besides her, only taking yet another shot before calmly asking, "Do you think the rumors have carried over to Suna yet?"

Sakura frowned slightly as she replied, "Rumors spread fast, but they don't spread that fast."

Ino chuckled bitterly as she responded, "I guess it's moot point anyways. Naruto and Shikamaru will both be in Suna this time next week, so they'll find out soon enough."

"Ino," Sakura began gently, "Why are you taking this to heart? I know that you're friends with Temari, but Shikamaru is your friend too."

Ino slammed her empty glass down onto the counter, "No, he's not. Not after this."

"Ino, be reasonable."

"Reasonable?!" Ino screeched, "Oh come on Sakura! I've spent my entire life being reasonable, I'm sick of it."

Sakura frowned deeply, "Ino… what is this really about?"

Ino drunkenly ordered another drink, "It's not fair."

"What isn't?"

"Why is it always Naruto?" Ino slurred.

"You're not making any sense," Sakura spoke, glaring daggers at the bartender for bringing the drunk blond yet another drink.

"Shikamaru is in love with Temari. It was okay. I understood that. Even though I have been friends with Shikamaru all my life, I understood he was in love with Temari. But now he likes Naruto? Why is it always her?" Ino admitted, her head plastered against the cool bar counter.

Sakura's eyes widened in surprise, "Are you jealous of Naruto?"

Ino snorted, "Of course I am! Everybody loves Naruto. First she steals Sasuke without even freaking trying, and then Neji, the next cutest guy in the village falls in love with her. And don't even get me started on the freaking Kazekage. And and and, Sai! He would do anything for his friend, even if it meant standing me up on a date. Do you know how many times he postponed a date because Naruto needed him for some prank?! And now Shikamaru? My oldest friend? She's going to take him away from me too?"

Sakura gasped, "Ino, Naruto isn't taking Shikamaru, or any of these guys away from you. Her relationship with Shikamaru has nothing to do with his friendship with you."

Ino laughed bitterly, "Oh please, Shikamaru is mad at me. Yesterday he passed by me on the street and didn't even say hello."

Sakura sighed, "Did you think about greeting him first?"

"Of course not! I'm the wronged party here!" Ino exclaimed.

"No. You're not. Shikamaru didn't wrong you, or Temari for that matter. He and Temari have already broken up, and frankly his love life is none of your business. You're the one who entered his apartment without knocking and then proceeded to get mad at him. How would you feel if he yelled at you for getting with Sai?"

"It's not the same," Ino pouted petulantly, "plus Sai and I already broke up so it's not like it matters."

"Yeah, it kind of is the same. Shikamaru is a man, and he knows what he's doing. Yeah, I get that Temari may be hurt and all, but they have already broken up. Shikamaru is just moving on. Like you have. How many dates have you been on this month alone?"

Ino grimaced, "But this is different. Shikamaru and Temari are perfect together. He's my oldest friend, I just want what's best for him."

"Then let him decide what's best for him. As his friend, you just have to be there for him and respect his decisions. Not make them for him," Sakura lectured.

Ino frowned, "Do you think he'll forgive me?"

"I'm not sure," Sakura admitted, "But you won't know until you apologize."

"I hate apologizing."

"I know."

Shikamaru grinned as he lifted the giggling girl above his head, "Woah! Did you get bigger you little monster? You did, didn't you?"

"Uncle Shika!" The little girl screeched, "I'm dizzy!"

Shikamaru halted his movements, bringing the child to eye level as he seriously spoke, "Being dizzy is a serious matter, Mirai. Are you sure you're dizzy?"

Mirai nodded emphatically, her short brown hair moving with the motion, "Yeah! Sure!"

"Are you super sure?"

"Super sure!"

"Are you super duper sure?"

Mirai grinned, "Super duper!"

Shikamaru gave an exaggerated sigh, "Well I guess the only thing I can do is put you back down, huh?"

Mirai shook her head quickly, wrapping her tiny little arms around her Uncles neck, "No! I wanna stay with Uncle Shika!"

Shikamaru laughed as he hugged the girl to his chest, holding her firmly in place as he spun to greet her mother, "Your daughter is as charming as you are."

Kurenai giggled as she closed the door behind him, allowing for Shikamaru to fully enter the apartment, "Oh I'm sure she had learnt all her charm from her uncle, I had precious little to do with it."

"Selling yourself short Kurenai? Where's the arrogant sensei that I remember from my youth?" He teased.

"Ugh stop calling me sensei, it makes me feel old," Kurenai pouted as Shikamaru strolled into the living room, taking a seat on the couch as Mirai crawled onto his lap.

"Yet my classmates call you sensei? How does that make any logical sense?"

Kurenai crossed her arms in indignation, "I refuse to accept that you are the same age as Kiba and the rest."

Shikamaru chuckled lowly, "Whatever helps you sleep at night, Kurenai."

The woman laughs kindly, "So where is Naruto? Is she not joining us tonight?"

"She is," Shikamaru confirmed, a small genuine smile gracing his features, "She just got held up with Tsunade-sama. She'll be here as soon as she can, and she extends her apologies."

"That's kind of her," Kurenai admitted, "when are we expecting her to be here?"

Shikamaru shrugged, "She should be here within the hour. Tsunade just wanted to go over some mission parameters with her."

"I heard about your upcoming mission to Suna," Kurenai said softly, "will the two of you be okay?"

Shikamaru grimaced, "It'll be awkward at best. Temari will not like the new dynamic between Naruto and myself. Plus there's no predicting how Gaara will act when he finds out."

"Try not to provoke the Kazekage, Shikamaru. He hasn't made his feelings towards you a secret," Kurenai warned.

"I'll handle Temari, while Naruto handles Gaara. It shouldn't be a problem, we are all professionals when it matters," Shikamaru explained.

"I hope you're right."

Shikamaru snorted, "When am I ever wrong?"

Kurenai laughed as she turned to her daughter, "Mirai, try not to get a big head like your Uncle Shika over here."

Mirai laughed, her high pitched voice chanting annoyingly, "Uncle Shika has a big head! Uncle Shika has a big head!"

The Nara gave a flat look towards the elder woman, "Thanks for that."

Kurenai grinned as she placed a kiss on the top of his head, "You're welcome."

Naruto crossed her ankles on the desk languidly as she shot a bored look towards her superior, "Baa-chan, is there a point to this meeting? I'm sort of late for a dinner."

Tsunade felt her eye twitch, swigging a drink of sake as she attempted to curb her homicidal rage, "Brat. Get. Your. Feet. Off. My. Table."

Naruto rolled her eyes but did as she commanded, sliding her feet back to the floor and leaning her head onto her palm, "Fine fine, whatever. Now why did you want to see me?"

Tsunade rolled her eyes, "I just wanted to check in with you. I'm sure this charade you're performing can't be easy."

That's where the Hokage was wrong, because it was easy. Ridiculously easy, in fact. Shikamaru Nara made it easy, taking most of the burden onto himself. He was the one who had a love that was being hurt, not her. He was the one with friends who were unsupportive, not her. And yet Shikamaru had no complaints, instead showing genuine joy as Naruto narrated the understanding reactions of those friends closest to her. He was pretty awesome like that.

"It's not," Naruto fibbed, "But it's better than marrying a stranger."

Tsunade grimaced, "I really am sorry about that Naruto. If there was anything I could do-"

"You would have done it," Naruto interrupted, "I know Baa-chan. I can only thank you for being so supportive of me, and bringing in Shikamaru to assist as soon as you did. Who knows what situation I'd be in without him."

"Right," Tsunade shot the blond a contemplative look, "and how are the two of you getting along?"

Naruto shrugged, "Shikamaru and I have always been friends, we're getting along as good as can be expected."

"Hmm… I've been hearing some of the rumors around the village. They're claiming that the two of you are in some sort of casual relationship."

"That's the narrative for now. We can't convincingly act like we're in love when it's only been three months since our supposed relationship began. We need to ease into that," Naruto explained distractedly, her eyes darting around the office scanning each and every crevice.

"And Shikamaru? How is he handling the entire affair?" Tsunade questioned, eyeing the blond oddly.

Naruto snorted, "Shikamaru is a textbook ninja. He's cool, calm and collected."

"No lingering feelings for Temari?"

Naruto laughed, "Oh Baa-chan, don't tell me you're interested in the village gossip too!?"

Tsunade grumbled, "Stop being such a brat! I only ask in order to make sure that this little 'love story' doesn't accidentally cause us an international incident."

"Relax," Naruto said flippantly, "Shikamaru already has an airtight plan. We'll be fine."

"You place a lot of trust in the boy."

"Of course I do," Naruto snorted, "He's the one who get me out of this Haru mess in the first place, and I've never seen one of his plans go awry before."

Tsunade sighed dramatically, "The boy is a genius. A complete pain in my neck, but a genius. You'll be in good hands when you eventually take the hat."

Naruto grinned, "Shikamaru and I make a great team. As leaders for the village? We'd be unstoppable."

Naruto grinned as she nervously readjusted her stance, the large box in her hands wobbling with the motion. With a sigh, she knocked on the door before her, counting down the seconds until it opened to the beautiful visage of the village's genjutsu user, "Hey Kurenai!"

"Naruto!" The red-eyed kunoichi greeted kindly, "I'm so glad you're here!"

"Thanks for inviting me, sensei. I'm so sorry I was late, Baa-chan just kept talking and talking! She really wouldn't stop!" Naruto complained as she was let into the cozy apartment, "Thankfully she finally let me free after an hour of her droning."

Kurenai laughed in amusement at the expressive blond, "So I must ask, what's with the overly large box in your hands?"

Naruto blinked, as if just remembering the heavy cardboard, "Oh yeah! These are just a few things for the little angel. Where is Mirai anyways?"

"Oh Naruto! You didn't have to get Mirai anything," Kurenai insisted, a smile creeping onto her features, "She's much too spoiled as is!"

Naruto gave the older woman a knowing smile, "There's no such thing as spoiling a young girl too much, believe me."

Kunerai put her hands to her heart, as though she were moved by the mere act of someone thinking so kindly of her daughter, "Well Mirai is currently on a walk with her Uncle Shika, apparently there was some super cool tree she just had to show him."

Naruto giggled as she placed the box onto the floor, "Oh you have no idea how many times I fed that exact line to Hokage-jiji. The poor man was practically dragged around the entire village each time he visited me in the orphanage."

Kurenai's expression turned somber as she softly remarked, "I had forgotten how close you were to Mirai's grandfather."

Naruto smiled melancholically, "Hokage-jiji was the closest thing I had to a family; at least until I met Iruka-sensei, Ero-sennin and the rest of Team 7. But for so long, he was the only person who cared about me. Even at Mirai's age, I knew how busy the man was, so I often tried any and every trick to get him to spend more time with me. I'm fairly certain that half his monthly wages were used in treating me to ramen once a month, but he never seemed to complain."

"He was a good man."

"He was a great one."

"I can only hope that Mirai will live up to the Sarutobi name."

Naruto scoffed, "Are you kidding me? With you as a mother? Mirai will turn out to be the most kick-ass kunoichi this village has ever seen! I can only pray that I get the hat before Mirai is old enough to contest me for it, because I don't think that's a battle I can win."

Kurenai grinned, "You're too sweet, Naruto."

Naruto shot a serious look at the woman, "No, I'm just honest. Mirai is already turning out to be wonderful, and that's all thanks to you Kurenai. As a kid, I used to wish that I had a figure like you around. Someone caring who would nurture my independence while making me feel loved, even if I didn't have my parents around. With you as a mother, Mirai really is going to be a force to be reckoned with; mark my words."

Kurenai was a kunoichi, she would not let herself tear up… even if she really wanted to. Despite this, her smile was wobbly as she sincerely responded, "Naruto, I truly admire you."

"And I, you, Kurenai," Naruto admitted, grasping onto the woman's hands, "I can't even begin to imagine how hard everything has been on you, and I can only be sorry I didn't step up sooner. But rest assured that I will help you in any way I can, even if it is just babysitting Mirai every once and a while so that you can enjoy a few hours of peace."

The red-eyed jonin squeezed her hand, "You don't need to help at all, but just the fact that you offered means the world to me."

Naruto frowned, "Kurenai, please don't try to take on the responsibility by yourself. Hokage-jiji really was like a grandfather to me, and Konohamaru is basically my annoying adopted brother. So it's almost like Mirai is family to me as well, and there is nothingin the world more important to me than my family. Let me help."

"Well… I suppose if you wouldn't mind looking after Mirai with Konohamaru one of these days. I love the boy, but I don't think I trust him looking after his niece alone just yet," Kurenai spoke with a teasing smile.

"I'd be honored to," Naruto declared, her grin bright as she finally let go of the older woman's hands.

Suddenly, the door squeaked open as a lazy drawl called out, "We're back."

Kurenai hastily wiped away a stray tear as she responded, "We're in the living room!"

Shikamaru strolled in, his hand firmly grasped by a tiny fist, his eyes immediately meeting Naruto's as a small smile etched across his face, "Naruto, you finally made it."

The girl grinned as she saw her faux paramour with a child, as if Shikamaru Nara wasn't already unfairly attractive enough, he just had to be good with kids too, "Yeah, I just got here. Baa-chan had quite a bit to say."

Shikamaru winced, "Nothing too bad, I hope?"

Naruto rolled her eyes, "She just wanted assurances that I won't accidentally cause an international incident, you know, the usual."

Nara chuckled, "Only you, Naruto, will call causing international incidents the usual."

Naruto shrugged, "What can I say? I'm interesting."

Before Shikamaru could respond, a small voice interrupted him, "Hey Uncle Shika, who is that? She's really pretty."

Shikamaru smirked as he replied, "That is your Aunt Naru. And she is really pretty, isn't she?"

Naruto crouched down to eye level with the girl, responding with a grin, "Hey Mirai! I'm sorry I didn't see you there, you're really tiny."

Mirai huffed, "I'm not tiny! I'm a big girl!"

Naruto hummed, her fingers coming up to dramatically stroke her chin as though in deep thought, "I don't know, you look pretty tiny to me."

Mirai yanked her hand out of Shikamaru's grasp, crossing her arms as she walked towards the blond, "I'm a big girl! I promise!"

Naruto tilted her head to the side, "Oh, you promise? Why didn't you say so?! Then you must be a big girl if you promised!"

Mirai grinned, hopping in place, "Yeah! Yeah I promise!"

"Well then," Naruto leaned in closer to the girl, a secretive smirk gracing her face, "If you're a big girl then I guess you can play with the new toys I got you."

Mirai halted, her eyes widening in childish glee, "New toys?!"

Naruto nodded, "Mhmm! Do you want to see them?"


"Okay, but you have to promise to be a good girl all year if you want the new toys," Naruto said.

"I promise! I promise!"

"Alright then," Naruto grinned, scooping the little girl up into her arms and taking her towards the large box, "New toys here we come!"

"YAY!" Mirai cried as Naruto spun the girl around multiple times before sitting her before the box of toys.

One by one, Naruto pulled out a new toy, demonstrating it for the girl before letting her play with it. As the two girls chatted and played, Kurenai and Shikamaru watched from the sidelines, loving smiles gracing both of their faces.

"She really is good with kids," Kurenai remarked, her smile growing as Naruto handed her daughter a limited addition Third Hokage figurine, her voice low and dramatic and as she narrated one of Mirai's grandfathers greatest adventures.

"She is," Shikamaru admitted, his arms crossed as his smile unwittingly grew more pronounced.

"We had a nice talk before you came back."

"Oh?" Shikamaru turned his questioning gaze to her, "What about?"

"The Third Hokage, mostly," Kurenai reflected, "Did you know that he often would visit Naruto in the orphanage?"

Shikamaru took a sharp breath, "I suspected."

"Of course you did."

"She was always close to him, the only one allowed to get away with calling him all sorts of degrading nicknames. It was the only natural explanation for their relationship."

"She saw him as family."

"She did."

"She sees Konohamaru as family."

"She does."

"She sees Mirai as family, too."

Shikamaru closed his eyes, "That… doesn't surprise me. She always has taken family very seriously."

Kurenai turned to look at her late husbands student, a serious look gracing her beautiful features, "Naruto Uzumaki is a special girl, Shikamaru."

Nara swallowed, "I know."

"I like her. A lot. And more importantly, Mirai likes her."

Shikamaru smiled down at the woman, "I'm glad."

Kurenai frowned, "Are you, though?"

Shikamaru shifted awkwardly in place, "What do you mean?"

"Shikamaru, I know you better than anyone. There's still a part of you, no matter how small it may be, that is still in love with Temari."

The Nara grimaced, "What does it matter? I'm not with Temari."

Kurenai smiled sadly, her hand coming to stroke the younger mans cheek, "Oh, Shikamaru. Naruto is a special girl, and whether you'd like to admit it or not you care for her… deeply. But Naruto Uzumaki isn't the type of girl you can love if a part of your heart still belongs to another. She is either in possession of your entire affection, or none at all."

"So what are you saying?"

"That you need to make a decision. You either need to let Temari go, for good, or lose Naruto before you've even had the chance to fully have her in the first place."

And at that exact second, Naruto lifted her head to stare at Shikamaru, a beautiful grin spreading across her features as she met his eyes. Shikamaru smiled softly, "How am I supposed to make this decision?"

Kurenai smiled knowingly, "It looks like you already have. You just need to accept it."

Kurenai liked Naruto. Kurenai liked Naruto and hated Temari. Kurenai hated Temari. Mirai loved Naruto. Mirai didn't care for Temari. Shikamaru loved Temari, and Naruto was just a friend.

These statements echoed in Shikamaru's head as he and Naruto calmly walked through the quiet and dark streets of Konoha, their hands firmly grasped as they no longer cared who saw them. Naruto tilted her head upwards to look at Shikamaru, taking note of the strained frown on his countenance, "What are you thinking so hard about, Shika?"

Shikamaru sighed, his free hand shoving itself in his pocket as he candidly answered, "Kurenai."

Naruto grinned, in response, her head tilted upwards to gaze at the stars above as she answered, "She really is a great woman. Mirai is lucky to have her as a mother."

Temari didn't like Kurenai much. She had never told him this, however he saw it plainly written across her features with ever jealous grimace she displayed at the mere mention of her name, "Kurenai really is great. I spend a great deal of time with her and Mirai each week."

Temari hated that. She didn't understand why he felt such kinship to his sensei's widow, a beautiful and strong kunoichi not much older than he.

Naruto grinned at Shikamaru as she replied, "That's amazing. Mirai is really lucky to have the two of you. She needs a strong male role model in her life, and I can't think of a better one than you."

Shikamaru blinked in astonishment, staring down at the surprising blond as he incredulously spoke, "You think I'm a father figure for Mirai?"

"Well duh," Naruto dismissed, "Of course you are! And Mirai is damn lucky to have you."

"And you find nothing weird with that?"

Naruto scrunched up her nose in confusion, "Why would I find it weird? I find it admirable. You stepping up for such a large task at a young age, truly it's inspiring."

"You don't think it's odd? That I'm only eighteen, yet I come with the baggage of being basically a father?" Shikamaru questioned once more, doubt coloring his tone.

Naruto yanked his hand, forcing the two of them to stop in the middle of an empty street. Peering up into his questioning gaze, she answered, "I think that there is no one in the world I admire more than you, Shika. Mirai needed a father figure, and you stepped up to the role. You may be only eighteen, but you have already proven time and time again to be a man far above his peers. Any girl will be ridiculously lucky to have you, and I'm honestly finding myself more and more jealous of Temari by the minute for discovering a gem as amazing as you before any of the rest of us."

Shikamaru's gaze softened, his fingers tentatively raising to stroke her cheek, "Naruto, I admire you as well. You were amazing with Mirai today, and for that I can't thank you enough."

Naruto's cheeks reddened as she tentatively spoke, "If you want to thank me, I have one request."


"Kiss me."