When they were younger, Shikamaru used to hang out with Naruto. The two of them, along with Kiba and Chouji, would skip school together and play in the fields (well, those three would play; Shikamaru preferred to lie on his back and watch the clouds go by). But even though they hung out, they never really got to know each other. Naruto was still the troublesome, annoying kid who disrupted class, and who had no skills in being a ninja, yet always argued that he’d be the Hokage one day.
Shikamaru reflected on the times he spent with Naruto as a kid as he watched the very ninja in question completely beat down Kiba using tactical manoeuvres and jutsu far more advanced than a guy his age should be able to accomplish. He thought about how wrong his initial impression of Naruto had been. He’d already had to give Naruto credit for being one of the nine Shinobi to not be sent back to the academy, and again for getting to the semifinals of the Chuunin Exams.
One thing was clear; Naruto was a lot stronger than Shikamaru. He wasn’t even ashamed to admit it. He knew he was a lazy, weak coward. Hell, he didn’t even want to become a Chuunin, not really. Or a ninja in the first place. It was far too troublesome. But he’d underestimated Naruto. It shocked him, because he hardly ever underestimated anything. He was just so used to being right.
So watching Kiba be carted off on a stretcher while Naruto stood proudly in the centre of the ring left Shikamaru in a bit of a daze. Naruto’s win had been…unconventional…but it certainly hadn’t been a fluke. Shikamaru resolved to start watching Naruto more closely, and to never underestimate him again.
A couple of days before the finals were taking place, Shikamaru was taking a break from all of his training. Ino and Chouji had been really strict when it came to them helping him train (especially after Asuma-sensei bribed them with food and trendy hair accessories), and Shikamaru just wanted to lie down and stare at the sky for a few hours.
He ended up not doing any cloud watching, though. Instead, he was sitting next to Naruto, who was unconscious in a bed in the hospital. He’d been like that for over a day due to exhaustion, according to the nurse. Naruto must have been training hard; perhaps too hard, if he’d managed to knock himself out for so long. What an idiot, he thought, but he didn’t really mean it.
Shikamaru glanced over Naruto’s still form. He had a very unconventional looking face, what with three scars—were they even scars?—slashed across each cheek. They had always been there, and Shikamaru supposed that Naruto would look stranger without them now that he was so used to seeing them there.
Naruto groaned softly, and in the silence of the hospital room it made Shikamaru nearly jump out of his skin. He silently watched Naruto shift and sigh before going still again. Shikamaru supposed he wasn’t waking up.
Shikamaru glanced at the clock and heaved a sigh. It was getting late, so he had better head home before he got into trouble with his mother for missing dinner. Chouji and Ino were probably wondering where he was, because he was mean to return to training a while ago. Instead, Shikamaru had liked it better in the calm of Naruto’s hospital room. He decided to come back tomorrow.
The rest of the Chuunin Exams gave Shikamaru a lot to think about. Specifically, he was thinking about Naruto (unsurprisingly, as he’d been thinking about that boy a lot recently). Naruto was back in the hospital—it was typical of him—but this time instead of visiting while he was unconscious, Shikamaru lay on the hospital roof. It was a particularly clear and sunny day, and the concrete was warm and comfortable in just the right way.
As Shikamaru relaxed he mulled over the events that had taken place, starting with the encounter the second day he visited Naruto in the hospital before the finals took place.
They’d stopped Gaara from killing Lee. What was it Naruto had said?
“I have a real monster inside me.”
As if that hadn’t been enough, Gaara had replied, “Then I am the same.”
Shikamaru had felt at the time that there was more to the conversation than either boy had let on. Then when they encountered Gaara at the finals, Shikamaru knew something was wrong. That boy was completely wrong in the head. He’d had a complete mental breakdown in his fight with Sasuke, and then he was gone. Shikamaru had an easy time believing he really was a monster. But he was the same as Naruto?
Perhaps Shikamaru could believe that. Not that Naruto wasn’t right in the head or anything, but because of his fight with Neji.
By all rights, Naruto shouldn’t have been able to produce chakra after Neji had blocked his chakra points. There was no logical way for it to work. Unless he was somehow getting his chakra from an outside source, which was not a common occurrence by a long shot, but it was possible. The chakra that surrounded Naruto had not felt normal, or particularly nice. Rather, it made Shikamaru’s skin crawl.
Shikamaru wasn’t an idiot. He had an IQ of over 200, according to Asuma-sensei. He was good at solving things like riddles and puzzles; at finding the answer when he didn’t have many clues, and Shikamaru was confident that he’d found all the clues he needed.
It was an outlandish idea. He wouldn’t be able to back up his claim—at least, not without delving deep into some very confidential documents—but Shikamaru was convinced that Naruto and the Kyuubi were linked. He had never believed that the monster had been defeated, not when it was reviled as the worst threat to ever face Konoha in centuries. Did that mean the monster Naruto claimed he had inside him was the Kyuubi?
If that was true (and Shikamaru was convinced it was), one thing was certain. Shikamaru had a lot more respect for Naruto. Perhaps even admiration. Shikamaru pondered, as he watched a lone cloud drift overhead, how this new knowledge affected him and his relationship with Naruto. After a while, he decided it didn’t. Naruto wasn’t a complete nutcase like Gaara had been, so Shikamaru failed to see why it would. It explained why the villagers ostracised him, though.
Shikamaru felt an unpleasant twisting in his stomach at that thought. He hadn’t understood it when he was younger, but now that he did, it felt many times crueller. He wondered if his own parents felt the same way as most (if not all) the civilians seemed to. He didn’t particularly want to ask them, despite his disbelief that his own parents would be so closed-minded. He held on to the thought that he had never been warned off from spending time with the blond by his parents like many other children had.
With that in mind, Shikamaru sat up and resolved to go visit Naruto. Friends—that’s what they were, weren’t they?—didn’t just leave other friends by their lonesome while they were in the hospital, after all.
Besides, there weren’t any clouds to gaze at right now anyway.
Shikamaru had come to appreciate Naruto. Working with him on Shikamaru’s first mission as leader had been a nice experience, overall. Sure, Naruto had started off brash and quick to ignore direct orders, but as the mission went on and he grew more serious, he started following orders better and fighting more intelligently.
When Shikamaru had returned to Konoha and there wasn’t any word on Naruto’s whereabouts or current condition, he’d been worried. It had been dimmed somewhat by his concern for Chouji, who was his best friend, after all, but once Chouji was confirmed to be in stable condition and Naruto was reported to have returned to the village injured, that worry spiked again.
It was time for yet another visit to Naruto’s hospital bed. Shikamaru was slightly concerned by the fact that he seemed to spend more time with Naruto while he was stuck in the hospital than when he was out of it and actually free to hang out with him. Still, there was a nagging responsibility that he felt to visit Naruto, him having been the one to lead the mission that lead to his injuries.
However, seeing Naruto sitting up in bed, his whole demeanour perking up the moment he spotted Shikamaru, made Shikamaru feel as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He gave Naruto a smile and made himself comfortable at the end of the bed before filling him in on the conditions of everyone who’d been on the mission, and the tension in Naruto’s body visibly left him as he learned of each person’s stable condition.
Naruto’s relief, however, was short lived once Sasuke was brought up, and then Sakura came in. It became extremely awkward for Shikamaru to be sitting in the room during their mess of a conversation. In fact, Sakura’s presence irked him for some reason. He wished she’d leave them alone again, since as long as she remained, Shikamaru didn’t see Naruto being able to take his mind off his failure to deliver on the promise he had made to her—and from what Shikamaru had learned, to Naruto, not going back on his word was everything to him.
But instead she made Naruto smile, promised him she’d be with him next time, and then left. Shikamaru was glad, he supposed, that the two weren’t at odds because of the collapse of their mission. Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that Naruto still blamed himself for being unable to retrieve Sasuke for Sakura; someone who he had cared about for years and who had gone so far as to put her faith in him and his abilities.
In the silence of Sakura’s exit, Shikamaru turned to look at Naruto again, putting aside any misgivings about the situation. Eyes downcast, Naruto smiled a soft smile, one unlike the wide and squinted smile it had been when Shikamaru had been talking to him. He hesitated before patting Naruto’s leg over the hospital blanket and standing up.
“I’m going to go see if I can visit Neji yet,” he said, “but I’ll be back to make sure you’re resting up. I wouldn’t mind taking you on a mission again someday, really.”
Naruto’s wide grin from earlier returned to his cheeks. Shikamaru’s heart swelled, and he felt smug that he’d been the one to cause it.
“I’ll look forward to it!” Naruto nodded with conviction. Shikamaru couldn’t suppress his own creeping smile at that.
Shikamaru left Naruto alone after that, and once the door was shut behind him, Shikamaru exhaled gently. Admittedly, he didn’t want to leave Naruto alone at all, and he paused in the hallway while he fought the urge to to back in, but making sure Neji was ok took priority. So he continued down the hallway, the memory of the smile that had been directed towards him stubbornly staying at the forefront of his mind as he went.
Apparently, another mission with Naruto wouldn’t be possible. At least, not for another three years; Naruto was leaving soon with one of the Legendary Sannin, Jiraiya, in order to continue his training outside the village. Shikamaru felt like the trip had come completely out of nowhere, but then, he wasn’t very involved in Naruto’s business.
Even so, the news of Naruto’s sudden departure disappointed him. He did still decide to go to see Naruto off, albeit from a short distance away. Naruto seemed very jittery to leave and Shikamaru didn’t want to hold him back for pointless and troublesome things like goodbyes. He’d be back soon enough anyway.
He walked slowly forward as he watched Naruto’s back get further away from the village gate. What was the feeling swelling up in his chest now? He browsed his internal vocabulary to pinpoint the right word for it. While he did indeed feel the pang of disappointment in his chest that he had continued to feel from the beginning of the send-off, there was something more than that. Something he couldn’t put his finger on.
What he was aware of, however, was that he was going to miss Naruto while he was away. The thought made his heart clench and he leaned on the frame of the massive village gates, holding his hand to his chest. He wondered if this was what he suspected it to be. If it was, he wasn’t one to be surprised about it. He thought it was a long time coming. Slowly, he slid down the frame until he was sitting on the floor.
He inhaled deeply, paused, and said in a heavy gust of breath, “Troublesome.”
He flopped onto his back and stared at the many clouds in the sky. The gravel dug uncomfortably into his bare arms and neck, and his ponytail was probably getting filthy, but he ignored these insignificant feelings (and the calls and protests from Izumo and Kotetsu, who were on their shift at the gate, telling him not to not lie in the road) and focused on the most bothersome feeling inside his own chest.
He let out a groan of annoyance and flung an arm over his eyes.
He was crushing hard on Uzumaki Naruto.
…Who he wasn’t going to see again for three years.
What a pain.
Three entire years…it hadn’t seemed worth it to keep up these feelings he was having for Naruto; far too tiring. But that wasn’t something Shikamaru could decide for himself. It was a feeling that just happened. By the second year, it had waned somewhat, but definitely never left.
Those around him seemed to get on with their lives without Naruto, but there was that undercurrent thought within everyone of “I need to train so that I can beat Naruto when he gets back” and “I can be as strong as Naruto” and “I won’t be left out of important Sasuke-related missions ever again”.
Everybody thought about him now and then. Shikamaru hadn’t realised Naruto had had such an impact on the other rookies (who were quickly dropping their ‘rookie’ status as they slowly each became Chuunin) as he’d had on Shikamaru.
Shikamaru trained along with everyone else, and went on missions, and filled out reports, and generally did all of the things he was required to, and there was nothing very different about it compared to when Naruto was still there.
But still, something was different, and it bothered him. So he worked more and he trained more and he complained about the workload more. He was selected to be an examiner in the upcoming Chuunin Exams, and he accepted, and bit by bit, his feelings towards Naruto – which he’d never quite been able to sort out for himself – dulled. He stopped thinking about him so much. He stopped paying attention to others who talked about him plenty.
…Until Naruto came back, that was, and then all of those feelings that had lay dormant in the pit of his stomach rose up again until they felt like they were going to burst out of his chest.
“Hey, if it isn’t Naruto!” he exclaimed, unable to keep the large grin off his face.
“Shikamaru!” Naruto responded with an even bigger smile, turning to greet him.
“Did you just come home then?”
“No, I came back yesterday.” Shikamaru was surprised. He’d thought he would hear about Naruto’s arrival the moment he got back.
Instead he chuckled and asked light-heartedly, “Less of an idiot now, then? I mean, you’ve changed, huh?”
“No, he really hasn’t,” Sakura denied, waving a dismissive hand.
“I see…” Shikamaru smiled softly. He was kind of relieved that Naruto was still the same goof that he’d been before he left. He did seem more mature though, and taller...and he seemed to carry an air around him now, one that he hadn’t had before he had left; one that betrayed strength. Shikamaru couldn’t help but slightly admire the way he carried himself, so sure in his own abilities. It felt to him as if Naruto believed he had come back strong enough to protect everyone, and Shikamaru wasn’t sure he doubted it, either.
(That, or he was just reading too much into things).
“So,” Naruto scooted towards him, taking Shikamaru off-guard, and asked, “Are you two on a date too?”
That effectively made Shikamaru’s mood drop significantly. He didn’t want to hear that kind of thing from Naruto, his…crush. Actually, Shikamaru had almost forgotten Temari was even there. He glanced at her before looking back at Naruto with a more serious face.
“That’s not it.”
He and Temari explained to Naruto about the next Chuunin Exams, and how everyone from their age-group had become Chuunin now (and some jounin, and one particular Kazekage). That completely distracted Naruto, and Shikamaru sighed to himself, just a little brought down by the reminder of how straight Naruto was, and how hung up on Sakura he still seemed to be after all this time.
Naruto left after that. He was clearly bothered by the news of his peers’ promotions which left him in the dust. With Naruto gone, Temari was eyeing him as though she’d just had some sort of revelation. What a troublesome woman.
Then, just as quickly as he’d come back, Naruto was gone again. Off on an important mission. Shikamaru had been looking forward to spending at least a little time with Naruto now that he was back, but clearly he would have to wait a little longer. If he went about his work a little moodier than usual, nobody commented.
After a couple of days of anticipation, Shikamaru started thinking of different ways he could spend time with Naruto. He somehow assumed the guy would be very interested in playing Shogi with him, but Shikamaru doubted he’d be much of an opponent anyway. He wondered if Naruto had even seen a Shogi set before. Well, the most obvious thing to do was offer to take him to Ichiraku for some ramen, but he would have to be careful; Naruto had a stomach that could rival Chouji’s when it came to ramen.
Ideally, they could just watch clouds together, lying side by side on a warm summer evening, listening to the chirp of the crickets in the bushes and enjoying the breeze through their hair. Maybe Naruto would point out some interesting cloud shapes. Shikamaru would agree even if he didn’t see them himself. Then Naruto would maybe get bored and he’d lie on his side to watch Shikamaru instead. Maybe he’d say something like “You’re good company, Shikamaru” and perhaps even “I’d like to spend more time with you”. Then maybe he’d move a little closer to Shikamaru and wrap an arm around his shoulders, the two of them leaning into each others’ warmth…
Shikamaru was shaken out of his daydream by the heat burning his face with the intensity of his pounding heart. Chouji, Ino, and Asuma were staring at him. He was at the BBQ place with his team. He had stopped paying attention to the conversation to think of Naruto. Shikamaru forced his face to cool down and cleared his throat.
“Here, Chouji. You can have my share.” There, he had successfully distracted them, at least temporarily, as Ino protested that Chouji shouldn’t eat more than he already did, and Asuma laughed at the look of glee on Chouji’s face as he snatched each slice of meat up and piled them onto his plate.
Get it together, he berated himself. You’re not some troublesome little kid anymore; you’re an adult with an adult attraction. You shouldn’t be blushing and having thoughts like that.
He found that easier said than done though, and spent the rest of the meal imagining Naruto smiling at him and laying with him.
Next time they met, it was Naruto who sought out Shikamaru (and didn’t that little fact make his heart beat faster). Naruto had flagged him down in the street with a wave and a shout as he jogged over.
“Oi, Shikamaru!” he huffed after a breath. Shikamaru raised an acknowledging eyebrow.
“What’s the matter?” Obviously it was something important, going by the way he was bobbing up and down restlessly on the balls of his feet.
“I need you!”
“I-...?” Well. Shikamaru’s heart definitely skipped a beat there. He could feel his skin prickle with the beginnings of a flush, starting at the tips of his ears. Was Naruto saying what he thought he was saying? Shikamaru had frozen, taken off-guard by the suddenness of it all. He opened his mouth to say something, to say...to say what? To tell Naruto how he felt? To ask him out on a date? No, instead he just stood there with his mouth open like an idiot.
“I need you to fill in the gap in our team so that we can go on a really important mission that may help us find and take Sasuke home!” Naruto expelled in one large gust of air.
Oh. Shikamaru exhaled through his nose slowly and deliberately. That was all? Naruto was asking Shikamaru to go on a mission with him. Naruto was not confessing his deep romantic feelings for Shikamaru in a spontaneous and out-of-the-blue moment of passion. He ignored the sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach as best he could, squared up his shoulders, and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Naruto.” Even in the aftermath of his disappointment, Shikamaru hated to turn Naruto down now. He especially couldn’t bear the way Naruto visibly drooped at the rejection. “I can’t.”
“But why?! C’mon, Shikamaru!” Naruto demanded, but with an edge of pleading in his voice that made Shikamaru feel worse.
“Look, I already told you. It’s a pain in the ass, but I’m stuck being a Chuunin examination official.” At Naruto’s unhappy face, Shikamaru persisted, “Don’t get me wrong; I’m still your friend and I do want to help-” sincerely, he wanted nothing more than the pleasure of being on a team with Naruto again, “-But I’m just not in a position where I can do what I want.”
He continued to ramble on about how he had enough people nagging him as it was and he really didn’t want to get on the Godaime’s bad side by skipping out on his duties to go running off with Naruto...until Chouji interrupted, offering to go on the mission with them instead. Shikamaru, feeling even more like a jerk, pointed out that Chouji couldn’t either because he had a mission with Asuma and Ino.
Chouji turned to Shikamaru and said pointedly, “Well I can’t just ignore him.”
Shikamaru swallowed awkwardly, remembering Chouji’s keen perceptiveness. He’d had his suspicions that Chouji knew exactly how Shikamaru felt about Naruto, and his comment felt like a subtle jab to the chest.
But he had no time to dwell on that, as they were promptly attacked by a-- well, a lion, coming straight for them. It certainly didn’t look like a real lion, but Shikamaru had no time to wonder what it was because it was heading towards Naruto at an alarming rate. So Shikamaru did the only thing he could think of, and body-slammed Naruto out of the way.
(If he held onto Naruto for a few seconds longer than necessary after they hit the ground, nobody seemed to notice.)
“Shihh-!” Naruto gasped, winded from the impact. Shikamaru quickly came to his senses and scrambled to push himself off, then turned to face their adversary who was perched on a nearby roof. Chouji swiftly dealt with the lion, and black ink splattered over their faces and clothes.
The person they were facing was wearing a Konoha forehead protector and holding a paintbrush dripping in ink. So was his jutsu to summon pictures?
Naruto jumped to his feet and charged.
“I’ll watch your back! You go get him, Naruto!” shouted Shikamaru, already in position to perform one of his shadow techniques. Naruto yelled an affirmative over his shoulder at the same time the person summoned six more lions, all headed for Naruto.
“Naruto, duck!” Shikamaru yelled. His shadow sewing technique was already shooting towards the lions, knowing before he’d yelled that Naruto would duck at the right time. And he did; the beasts were destroyed in another splatter of ink, and Naruto had launched himself through the mess and directly up to where the boy was sitting.
The two clashed. They exchanged a few words that Shikamaru couldn’t hear, and then the boy vanished in a whirl of ink.
“Get back here!” He heard Naruto bellow at the spot the boy had been in, while Shikamaru himself just stood in stunned silence.
“Who was that, anyway...?” Shikamaru muttered.
Ino chose that moment to arrive and interrupt the confused silence to berate Chouji for being late for the mission. She caught sight of Naruto and called him over excitedly. Naruto didn’t move from his spot, causing Ino to grumble under her breath, not appreciating or understanding why she was being ignored, and before long she had dragged Chouji off. Shikamaru massaged his left temple with his hand.
“This whole situation has become a pain in the ass…” he muttered to himself.
Naruto hopped down beside him with a scowl on his face. Shikamaru reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, smiling at him reassuringly. Naruto turned to face him, hesitated, then grinned.
“Well, whatever! I still need to find someone to go on a mission with me, now that Chouji’s gone…” He stared down the street in the direction Chouji had left, looking put-out. Shikamaru wanted to apologise again, for not being able to help him, but instead he gestured vaguely in the direction of the residential side of the village.
“Before that, we should clean up.” He reached over and rubbed at a splodge of ink on Naruto’s cheek with his thumb, only succeeding in smearing it over a wider area. Naruto automatically went still, his eyes darting from Shikamaru’s arm to his face, looking baffled. Shikamaru hastily removed his hand.
“Oh…right, yeah,” Naruto agreed, glancing down at his orange sweatshirt which had flecks of ink all over the front. “I guess I should go do that. See you ‘round, Shikamaru!” And then he was gone.
Shikamaru wished he’d stayed. He kind of meant for them to go clean up together, but that was insensible, not to mention possibly overstepping their boundary as friends, and Shikamaru shook his head at his own ridiculous idea. It was then that he noticed the state of his own clothes, though he questioned how the ink managed to explode that far out from where it had originated. He decided he should probably wash them before the stains set and his mother yelled at him.
Naruto had already come back from his mission when they next met. Shikamaru had gone with the rest of his team and Asuma-sensei to visit Kakashi in the hospital; Naruto and Sakura were already there, as well as—and Shikamaru went tense at the very sight of him—the boy who’d attacked them before. He could feel Chouji pause in surprise as well.
“You! You’re that-!” He started.
“Nice to meet you,” the boy smiled, far too politely for the situation in Shikamaru’s opinion.
Shikamaru’s brows furrowed, but before he could accuse the boy of treason or thank him for providing an excuse to throw his arms around Naruto, Naruto interrupted in order to explain everything. Apparently he and the boy—who he now knew was called Sai—had gone on an entire adventure of emotions together, and were now friends.
Shikamaru couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of all the time they’d been able to spend together. After all, it was Shikamaru who Naruto had wanted to come with him, and Shikamaru would give anything to spend so much time with Naruto. Especially in a hot spring, which was one of the places they’d apparently stopped off at along the way.
Regardless of his ire, though, he was relieved that the issue with Sai had been resolved and nobody was harmed for it. Even so, he took it upon himself to approach Naruto with the intention of putting himself in Sai’s place.
“I heard about Sasuke from Lady Tsunade. I’ll help you out next time if anything comes up… Those pain in the ass Chuunin Exams are finally over with, after all.”
Naruto stared at him for a moment, before ducking his head and agreeing with a small smile on his face. He looked so painfully sad at the mention of Sasuke that Shikamaru’s heart clenched in regret and guilt for bringing it up.
When Asuma suggested everyone from team Kakashi join their team at the BBQ, Shikamaru turned down the offer, hastily claiming that he had to help his dad collect deer horns for medicine. Chouji sent him a curious look at that, but the temptation of food was too difficult to resist so instead of questioning Shikamaru, he continued with the group to the restaurant. For that, Shikamaru was glad.
Asuma-sensei was acting strangely, now. They were playing Shougi, as per their routine, when Asuma went with an unorthodox strategy which had Shikamaru raising an eyebrow. But when he questioned Asuma on it, he started speaking about metaphorical representation of the world of Shinobi in Shogi, and how his move reflected that.
He compared Shikamaru to a Knight, which Shikamaru supposed was quite flattering, as Knights were considered one of the strongest pieces on the board. Asuma, according to himself, was a Pawn; simply a sacrificial piece.
Then he posed the question to Shikamaru, “Do you know who would be the King?”
“Wouldn’t that be the Hokage?” Shikamaru asked, taken aback. After all, in terms of ruling power, they were the same, weren’t they?
“I used to think so too,” admitted Asuma, “until some time ago. But then I found out I was wrong.”
“Then who is it?” Shikamaru pressed.
“You’ll know when the time comes,” Asuma reassured him, and a frown creased Shikamaru’s forehead. His first, knee-jerk reaction was Naruto. He would protect Naruto. He would make Naruto his king, follow him into battle, and watch his back as he fought. Shikamaru would love Naruto.
Shikamaru inhaled deeply, cutting off his thoughts right there. Somehow, he doubted that was the answer Asuma was going for, and he wouldn’t admit it out loud either way. He was still reeling from the thoughts that rushed through his mind at full speed, and there was a slight tremor in his hand as he made his next move.
Shikamaru winced internally; of course Asuma wouldn’t miss anything. He had sharp senses that could pick up the most minor details.
“Oh, Naruto!” Asuma suddenly shouted. Shikamaru jerked his hand in surprise and succeeded in knocking two of the pieces off their correct tiles. Had Asuma seen right through him? Did he already know?
But no, Naruto, the object of his affections, was actually jogging towards them, waving to attract their attention. Asuma had spotted him and was already standing up to greet him. Flustered, Shikamaru jumped to his feet as well, and managed a “Hey” while attempting to slow his rapid heartbeat.
“What brings you here?” Asuma asked goodnaturedly. Naruto began to explain all about his current training on manipulating the wind with his chakra. He’d apparently come to Asuma for advice because they shared the same elemental affinity. Asuma agreed to help him so long as Naruto paid for their team’s next celebratory barbeque. Naruto reluctantly accepted the terms, so Asuma gave him a couple of tips and then demonstrated the effectiveness of wind chakra with his blades, while Shikamaru stood a little way back and watched.
Naruto’s enthusiasm was endearing, even if his mental grasp on Asuma’s explanations was a bit lacking. Shikamaru admired the way his body flexed when Naruto flung the chakra blade. He committed to memory the look of concentration on Naruto’s face at the time, and the adorable stunned expression when the blade Asuma threw sliced right through the tree and embedded itself into the rock behind it.
After the demonstration and following explanation had ended, Naruto thanked Asuma, held his hands up in what Shikamaru recognised was the seal for the Shadow Clone technique, and popped out of existence. Shikamaru startled back slightly.
“What, it was a shadow clone?” he muttered to himself. Asuma turned to him and grinned around his cigarette.
“That Naruto. I bet he’s forgotten Chouji’s on our team.”
Shikamaru couldn’t help the small grin. “You’re evil.”
“Ah, but I suppose,” Asuma folded his arms and turned his eyes skywards, “that you would prefer if it was just you and Naruto, hm?”
Shikamaru went very still. Asuma laughed and turned to leave, patting Shikamaru on the shoulder as he went.
“Great game. I wouldn’t mind a rematch tomorrow.”
Shikamaru waited until he’d left, before slumping on the engawa, next to the Shogi board. Am I that obvious? he asked himself. Maybe if he was that transparent, Naruto knew as well. No, Shikamaru amended, Asuma-sensei is very sharp-witted, of course he noticed. Naruto, on the other hand, can be really dense when it comes to matters of romance in particular.
He let out a self-deprecating smile and began to put the Shogi pieces back to their original positions. Maybe Asuma knowing was a good thing. Maybe he could ask Asuma what he was meant to do? So far, he hadn’t acted on his feelings much at all, and he wasn’t sure if he should.
Perhaps he wasn’t sure if he wanted to. Naruto did seem to be dead-set on Sakura, no matter how many times she (violently) turned him down. Shikamaru felt like, as an outsider from Naruto’s team, and as a boy, he had no place putting Naruto through that awkwardness. It was true that Naruto was a very accepting person; no doubt he’d have nothing against Shikamaru dating another boy, but when it directly involved him, Shikamaru had no idea how he’d react.
Shikamaru groaned and flopped onto his back. The sky was obscured by the overhanging roof above him, so Shikamaru closed his eyes instead. Talking to Asuma was starting to seem like a good idea. He needed to vent, let out his feelings to someone. It was getting to be too much of a pain to have his thoughts and feelings stuck in his chest without being able to share them with someone.
He never did speak to Asuma about it. Asuma died not long after Shikamaru had resolved to speak to him.
After that, Shikamaru stopped thinking about Naruto so much. His feelings for anything except grief and revenge for Asuma had faded. He took up smoking because, in the brief time it took for him to go through a cigarette, it felt like Asuma was right by him again. Each one made his chest burn, and each time it was like he was suppressing all of his other emotions so that he could focus solely on his goal.
He took Ino and Chouji with him to find his revenge; Kakashi ended up coming too, much to the team’s relief. He was definitely a valuable asset. They claimed their victory in the end, though. Shikamaru hadn’t known about Naruto’s involvement in the battle until after his own fight with Hidan was concluded.
When he, along with the reinforcements he’d been sent in the form of Pakkun, Sakura, and Sai, arrived at the previous battle-site where people had been fighting the other Akatsuki member, everybody had already left. The only thing remaining was an eye-poppingly large crater. Shikamaru marveled at the sheer size of it and how it could have possibly been caused.
It wasn’t until the group arrived back in Konoha that he got the full details. It was in fact Naruto who had created the massive crater when he landed his newly developed technique on Kakuzu. The news of this had left Shikamaru slightly stunned and staggered. He’d always known that Naruto was something special. He had also known about the Kyuubi who was stored inside of Naruto, which, if he was anything like Gaara, gave him a power boost.
Shikamaru was standing behind Naruto as Kakashi delivered his report. Naruto held himself straight and exuded confidence. His shoulders were broad and straight, and he looked to Shikamaru like a true warrior; or perhaps even a king.
Shikamaru had promised himself a long time ago to stop underestimating Naruto, and yet here he was, in complete disbelief because he had gone and done exactly that. Naruto exceeded all expectations which had been placed upon him; he went above and beyond. In Shikamaru’s eyes, Naruto’s strength and resolve put him in a class above the rest—the rookies, Shikamaru included, Lee’s team, and even the Jounins—and he wasn’t going to stop there. The ‘Rasenshuriken’ was only one step up in Naruto’s climb to the top, and Shikamaru was determined to follow him.
He was going to climb with Naruto, and he resolved to stay a few steps behind him at all times, so that he could always watch Naruto’s back. Naruto would never have to worry with Shikamaru there, and when he reached the top, and became Hokage, Shikamaru would reach it with him. He would continue to watch Naruto’s back, be his unwavering support, as an adviser, a guide, and maybe—just maybe—a lover.
That thought sparked a feeling in his chest, one which acted as a catalyst for all of the feelings he’d squashed down after Asuma’s death. They hit him all at once like a wave crashing over him. He was reeling at the force of his own emotions. His throat tightened painfully and he had to bite his lip to prevent himself from making any noise.
Naruto was so important to him. He’d almost forgotten, in light of Asuma’s passing, but there wasn’t any way he could ignore those feelings now. He’d already lost one person important to him, and that was more pain than he had ever wished to experience. Now he was more determined than ever to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to Naruto. Not the man he was so willing to give everything for.
When Tsunade asked for Shikamaru’s report, he had to force himself to focus on what was happening outside of his mind and on what he needed to say. He kept his voice steady and he was careful not to trip over his words, but if he spoke a little faster than necessary, well, nobody seemed to notice.
Once it was over and they were dismissed, Shikamaru had time to arrange his thoughts into something more comprehensible. He lay in a field at the edge of the forest owned by the Nara clan, where nobody but a Nara was allowed to enter, and took a deep, calming breath. If he wasn’t before, he was now one-hundred percent certain that he was completely, head over heels, in love with Uzumaki Naruto. The only thing left to ask was ‘What now?’.
The news of the Legendary Sannin Jiraiya’s death was quick to spread through the village. Shikamaru was one of the first to hear of it, only a few weeks after his battle with the Akatsuki. Shikamaru was called to Tsunade’s office to look at a code, which was apparently Jiraiya’s dying message. Of course it didn’t match any of Konoha’s standard codes, and he would expect nothing less from Jiraiya, but it only meant more frustration for Shikamaru. The code was impossible, he decided, unless the person looking at it knew the numerical combination already.
He took it to the people who he thought would know it; first Tsunade, then Kakashi, and then at Kakashi’s suggestion, to Naruto. Shikamaru was hesitant to bother Naruto about it. He’d already been through the grieving period for his teacher’s death, and he figured, like him, Naruto wouldn’t want to be bothered during his own mourning. He didn’t expect much from Naruto in that state. But the task and the information to be gained from it was more urgent for the village than Naruto’s mental well-being was (as simply awful as that sounded), so Shikamaru took a visit to Naruto’s apartment.
Shikamaru noticed how dark it was inside the apartment when Naruto cracked the door open. Naruto peered out at Shikamaru with dull surprise on his face. He probably hadn’t expected anybody to disturb him.
“...Shikamaru?” he asked quietly. “What do you want?”
“Can I come in first?” Shikamaru requested. Naruto hesitated, then opened the door wider, stepping back to allow Shikamaru passage into his dingy living quarters. He flicked the light on as he went and caught the slight flinch of surprise from Naruto out of the corner of his eye as he did.
“Jiraiya left a coded message,” Shikamaru explained as Naruto shuffled back over to his bed and sat down. “We need someone who knew him well to help crack the code. I figured you would be able to help.” He handed Naruto the photograph with the code on it before making himself comfortable on Naruto’s carpet.
Naruto stared silently at the picture in his hand for a few minutes, and Shikamaru sat silently watching Naruto. Eventually, he pressed, “So? Does it make any sense to you?”
Naruto continued to stay silent.
“Oi! Naruto?” Shikamaru called, raising his voice. Naruto jolted out of his trance and looked up.
“Ah, sorry! Sorry!” He said with a put-upon grin which made Shikamaru wince. “What was it again?”
This couldn’t go on. Ignoring, for a moment, the urgency behind cracking the code, he couldn’t stand to see Naruto so depressed. He had to give Naruto the push he needed to get past his sorrow and back to his typical, exuberant self. Shikamaru stood up and gestured for Naruto to do the same.
“Come with me for a minute,” he ordered. He knew exactly what he needed to do.
“Just get up.” Shikamaru grabbed Naruto’s hand to pull him to his feet, then marched towards the door.
“Wh-what the hell?”
It was a short walk towards the hospital. Naruto was too bewildered to complain or slip back into his gloom, so he just followed Shikamaru obediently.
Shikamaru didn’t need to glance at a clock to know that the hospital was where he’d find Kurenai at that moment; he’d been coming here like clockwork every day to see her after her medical check-ups. On cue, Kurenai emerged from the building, looking only slightly surprised by Naruto’s presence. Naruto on the other hand, looked completely taken aback.
“Eh?!” he exclaimed, upon seeing her baby-bump, “Kurenai-sensei’s--!”
“Yup,” Shikamaru smiled.
“You ate too much barbeque and now you’re in the hospital?! You’re worse than Chouji!” Shikamaru resisted the urge to smack Naruto upside the head for being so rude. He doesn’t mean it, he’s just an idiot, he reminded himself.
“That’s a kid, not beef. Man, you’re as troublesome as they come.”
Naruto looked startled. He stuttered, “K-kid? Th...then...”
Kurenai huffed, looking like she’d had enough, and said to Shikamaru with an exasperated smile, “You don’t have to come here every day.”
“I’m afraid I do,” Shikamaru corrected with a short laugh, “Asuma made me promise.”
Kurenai smiled properly this time. She assured Shikamaru that her baby was fine, she was fine, and there was nothing to worry about. She only stayed for a few minutes before bidding them good day and starting off to her home.
Shikamaru and Naruto watched her leave, Shikamaru with a maudlin smile, and Naruto looking completely out of his depth. Shikamaru was the one to break the short stretch of silence.
“That kid’s gonna be my pupil some day. Asuma left him in my care.” Naruto looked at him in surprise. Shikamaru braced himself for his next words. “I know all about Jiraiya. I lost my teacher too...I know what you’re going through.”
Naruto didn’t say anything but his eyes became downcast again. Shikamaru continued determinedly on.
“Nothing’s going to happen if you keep hesitating.” That got a small rise out of Naruto, who shot him an affronted scowl. “It’s time you left that place as well.”
“What are you talking about?”
“My teacher taught me a ton of things. Some of it was invaluable, some of it was completely useless. Yours did too, right? Lots of things...countless things. We’re on our way out there too, you know?” He nudged Naruto with his elbow.
Naruto simply asked, “On our way where?”
Shikamaru looked directly into Naruto’s eyes. He wanted his next statement to matter. He wanted it to reverberate with Naruto.
“To their side; the side that leaves behind instead of inherits. It may be troublesome, but it’s the way of the world.” His words had the right impact, as Naruto froze, his eyes wide. “Pretty soon, you’ll be the one treating some kid to ramen, and he’ll call you ‘Naruto-Sensei’.” He paused. His next few words made even his chest tighten just a bit. He hadn’t exactly planned a speech out beforehand, but his words were coming to him quick and easy. “We can’t stay kids forever.”
Naruto inhaled sharply. Shikamaru was glad that he’d gotten through to him. He offered a grin to reduce the tension his words left in them both. “Well, not if we want to be kickass Shinobi like Jiraiya was!” he said, with a wink.
Naruto was still gazing at him wide-eyed, and then, slowly, he began to smile. Shikamaru nudged him with a shoulder.
“Now, get a grip. You’ve got a job to do!”
He pulled the photographed code out of his breast pocket and held it up. Naruto’s eyes held newfound determination. They burned with life, which was a beautiful contrast to the dull look Shikamaru had been on the receiving end of when he’d first come to Naruto’s place.
While Naruto had cheered up, Shikamaru knew that he wouldn’t stay that way. There would definitely be days when Naruto felt worse, or felt less motivated, or just wanted to stay in bed. Shikamaru knew because he was in the same state. After his revenge had been settled, Shikamaru had felt satisfied—vindicated, even—but in the few weeks following his success, he’d had his own bouts of gloom. They were short, and Shikamaru kept himself busy so that he didn’t think about them. Naruto seemed to handle his grief differently though, by shutting out the world and keeping to himself. Naruto generally just felt things more strongly; he was a naturally compassionate person.
Shikamaru decided firmly that he would be there each time, either to snap Naruto out of it, or just offer his shoulder for Naruto to lean on. As if to prove it to Naruto—despite not having told him any of this—Shikamaru hesitantly wrapped an arm around Naruto’s shoulder while they walked, and gave him a quick squeeze before dropping it again. Out of the corner of his eye, Naruto looked like he’d turned pink, but it may have just been Shikamaru’s imagination.
After that, they continued to walk, and Shikamaru was very aware of the way Naruto’s fingers occasionally brushed against his as they swayed at his side much closer than before.
When Shikamaru returned home that evening, his father was there at the door, which was unusual because usually his mother was the one who nagged him while his father lazed around with tea, casually flicking through his paperwork.
“Where’ve you been?” Shikaku asked. It didn’t sound accusatory, just mildly surprised at how late Shikamaru was coming back on a day he didn’t have a mission. Shikamaru considered the question.
“Where was I?” He hummed thoughtfully as he wiggled his sandals off his feet. “I went to give Naruto a pep talk; told him to perk up.” Shikaku raised an eyebrow at him. Shikamaru didn’t think it was that strange for him to take the initiative sometimes. Not when Naruto was concerned at least. So he added with a smile, “It was kinda troublesome, but I think he’s feeling better.”
Shikaku’s other eyebrow rose to join the first one. Shikamaru hesitated and turned away, deliberating over his next words before settling on what to say.
“He’s got...something,” he said, his voice calm and firm. “Something the rest of us don’t. He’s one of the village’s most valuable Shinobi...When I hang out with Naruto...I feel like I wanna keep walking beside him, no matter what path he takes.”
There was a silence when he finished. He twisted around to see his father watch him with a calculating gaze. Barely a moment passed, then Shikaku tilted his head forwards and murmured, “I see.”
Shikamaru could just make out the upward curl of his father’s mouth. He offered a smirk in return and pulled himself up.
“But never mind that. How mad is mother at me for missing dinner?”
Shikaku’s smile immediately turned into a grimace. “She’s furious.”
Shikamaru, together with Naruto and Shiho, successfully cracked Jiraiya’s code with Kakashi’s assistance. Nobody was entirely sure what the message meant, so Shikamaru was then put to solving that. In the mean time, Naruto went away to train again. This time, he was training with frogs. Shikamaru found he was a lot grumpier in Naruto’s absence, and worked on solving the mystery behind the real message.
They didn’t have as long as they’d thought, however, because after only couple of weeks, the Akatsuki came to the village. It was Pein—six of them—and Konoha was completely out of its depth.
Pein was on a completely different level. There was no way—no way—they could win. People were dying. People who Shikamaru had known all his life; people who were strong Jounin who had never lost fights before.
Still, they never stopped fighting back, and just when it seemed like they were winning, Pein annihilated them. With one grand sweep, their entire village was turned into a giant, smouldering crater. Along with all the rubble, Shikamaru was also pushed to the edge of the village. It roughed up his body, and he felt as helpless as a ragdoll as he tumbled over rocks that used to be the building he was in. One large slab slammed onto his lower half, splintering the bone in his leg, and he was hit instantly with a wave of nausea brought upon by the pain that blossomed from the wound.
Instantly, Katsuyu was detaching from him and apologising for not being able to protect more of him. Shikamaru realised that it was because of her that more of him wasn’t as shattered as his leg. Shiho had been pushed in the same direction as him and sat a little way away, looking more frazzled than usual.
Instantly, his father was by Shikamaru’s side, helping him out from under the rock. Shikamaru hissed and sat leaning heavily against a slab of stone behind him. “...What the hell was that?!”
“Shikamaru,” Shikaku asked, “are you alright?”
“More or less...my leg’s definitely broken, though.” He’d felt the bone crack himself. Shikaku’s brow furrowed deeper, concern on his face.
A long distance away, near to the centre of what used to be the village, there was a large crash which shook the earth. It sent great clouds of dust into the air, and was followed by a high-pitched whirring sound. It pierced the air and instantly drew Shikamaru’s attention towards it.
“What the hell’s going over there? Is someone still fighting?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s Naruto!” Katsuyu informed him. A spike of cold fear shot through his chest.
“Naruto?!” he cried, sitting bolt-upright. “He’s back?!” Naruto must be facing Pein alone down there. Surely he couldn’t possibly be thinking of defeating Pein by himself.
“Yes,” Katsuyu confirmed. “...He’s learned the art of Senjutsu and is fighting Pein alone.” Dread filled Shikamaru’s stomach and he attempted to stand up, stumbling and grabbing at the rocks for support. The pain in his leg redoubled and Shikamaru let out an involuntary yelp, dropping back to the ground.
Damn it, with my leg like this…
Katsuyu, seeing his efforts, slid over. “He doesn’t want anyone trying to interfere.”
“He can’t seriously be trying to act like a hero now?!” Shikamaru forced to keep the rising hysteria out of his voice. What was Naruto doing? What was he thinking?! Against Pein of all people. “That guy single-handedly obliterated the village! Naruto can’t-!” he tried to protest, but this time, his own father cut him off.
Shikamaru bit his tongue at Shikaku’s tone, resisting the urge to scream at him as well.
“If he really has learned Senjutsu, he’ll be fighting on a completely different level. Staying out of his way is the only real strategy we can employ...We must wait this out, Shikamaru.” Despite his firm tone, Shikaku looked sympathetic. Shikamaru slumped, then dropped his chin onto his chest.
After a few long moments of not knowing what was going on, Shikamaru heard his name being called from behind him. He whipped his head around to find Ino and her father Inoichi jogging towards them. They were accompanied by a member of ANBU who was carrying Shizune on his back.
“Ino, you’re alright!” Shikamaru called back, the relief temporarily replacing his worry.
“Yeah…” Ino slowed down as the group neared. “But Shizune…” She trailed off, eyes downcast. Shikamaru understood that look. He felt horror creep up to mix with the current emotions all mixed up inside him.
“Oh no…” was all he could gasp.
Ino nodded solemnly as the ANBU laid Shizune’s body on the ground. She and Inoichi explained what had happened to her. Shikamaru listened numbly.
“I see…” he exhaled when she finished.
“If we’d just been more alert, she’d still be…” Ino said, close to sobbing.
“We can’t let the information she died for go to waste,” Shikamaru said firmly, with newfound determination. Of course, he couldn’t help Naruto on the field, but they could still do something to help him.
“There’ll be no regrets if we can figure out the truth about Pein...and find where the real one is hiding!” His voice was steady, his words both an order and a promise. Naruto wouldn’t be lost. If they could defeat the real Pein—the one who was controlling the six Naruto currently battled—then Naruto would have a higher chance of survival.
“Take it easy, Shikamaru,” his father’s weary voice cut through his thoughts.
“No, Shikamaru’s got the right idea,” Inoichi contradicted. Shikamaru felt such gratitude to Inoichi as the man laid out the idea for exactly how they could track Pein down. They were going to rely on Katsuyu to consolidate as much information on Pein as possible by having her ask everybody who’d come into contact with him.
His mind began racing, and Shikamaru muttered, “Even the dead might have something helpful left in them...We need to find them all! Even if we need to drag their bodies out from under the rubble.”
That seemed to spark something in Inoichi, who hastened to explain where exactly they would find Pein. The bodies that Pein controlled would always go to the highest tower. They would be looking for the highest place near Konoha to find the real Pein.
“Okay! We’ll check each possible one!” Shikamaru decided.
Shikaku stood up, taking over control. “We need to split into teams of two at the very least. Don’t do anything foolish if you find the real body’s location.”
“We need chakra-sensing types on as many teams as possible,” Shikamaru added. “We need to do this quickly.” The sooner the better. The loud explosions coming from the battlefield had stopped, and somehow the silence was more worrying than the sounds of a fight, because he didn’t know what was happening.
Shikaku looked pointedly down at Shikamaru. “Right. You stay here with Shiho and wait for us to report back.” He ordered sternly.
Shikamaru winced and glared down at his leg. It had started swelling. “Yeah, it sucks, but I can’t move.”
“Right, Katsuyu. Inform everyone of our plan. We need as much help as possible.”
“I understand,” Katsuyu replied.
They prepared to scatter, but a sudden rush of powerful chakra at the battlefield drew their attention. Shikamaru sucked in a sharp breath. He recognised that chakra. It had been a long time, but he was certain. The chakra crackled in the air and overpowered his senses. The last time he’d felt this chakra, it had been during the fight between Neji and Naruto. The last time, he’d just had a small dose of what the chakra felt like. Now he was completely surrounded by it; choked by it. He suspected his fears from so long ago were being confirmed.
“What now?” he asked sharply.
Katsuyu spoke up, “Frankly, I think Konoha itself might end up being eradicated! Please,” she urged, “get as far away from this area as possible! Naruto is using the Kyuubi’s powers now,” she explained, proving once and for all that Shikamaru had been right. “I know this because one of my bodies is still on him…”
“The kyuubi…” he muttered.
“Yamato and Kakashi should have reinforced the seal on him!” Inoichi protested. “What happened?”
“Hinata,” Katsuyu said sombrely. “She tried to protect Naruto and was struck down right before his eyes. Then Naruto…” Shikamaru gritted his teeth. Hinata had? Was she dead?
The conversation went on around Shikamaru but he listened with only half an ear, his mind caught up in shock. Hinata had done exactly what Shikamaru had wanted to do, but couldn’t because of his damn leg. If he’d gone as well, he would probably be dead now too. And now Naruto’s being taken over by the Kyuubi...Shikamaru was honestly struggling to see how the situation they were in could get much worse.
Many people were dead, there was not a single building still standing in the village, everybody was wounded in some way or another, and Naruto—who had been fighting the most powerful adversary Konoha had ever faced singlehandedly—was being taken over by the Kyuubi because of his own grief.
Stay strong, Naruto, stay strong…
Waiting was possibly one of the hardest things Shikamaru had ever had to do.
Shikamaru considered himself to be a pragmatic person by nature. He thought about the practical options and the realistic outcomes, unlike Naruto, who acted on emotion and instinct. Lately, though, Shikamaru had been struggling to maintain his sensible outlook, and it definitely had everything to do with his ridiculously strong, fierce love for Naruto. Falling for him was the opposite of practical. He was wild and unpredictable; he didn’t think before opening his mouth; he didn’t think before charging into battle; he was brave and strong and very tenacious, and he fought his battles until his last breath….
That last one didn’t sound bad, but Shikamaru was making himself sick with worry not knowing what was going on. Katsuyu had said that Naruto had beaten the sixth and final Pein...and that he was going to face the real Pein in his hideout without any backup.
How injured are you right now, Naruto? How exhausted are you after fighting off the nine-tails? How much chakra do you have left? Can you even take on another opponent?
Naruto was stubborn. He never stopped fighting until he got what he wanted. Shikamaru respected that about Naruto, but at that moment—leg be damned—he wanted to just get up and charge after Naruto. He needed to be there in case Naruto could no longer keep going, so that he could take Naruto away from the danger, and then Naruto could live to fight another day.
Honestly, Shikamaru knew that Naruto would prevail, because Naruto usually did. He knew, deep down, that Naruto had a plan. He wouldn’t end up dying just like that. But he didn’t know, didn’t have complete, unequivocal proof until he saw Naruto in person, and he was either going to have to continue the agonising wait, or start hopping towards where Naruto was (which, Shikamaru didn’t want to acknowledge, he didn’t even know the location of).
Shikamaru was just on the verge of giving standing another go, when Katsuyu began to talk. She started explaining—to everybody, it sounded like, not just Shikamaru and Ino—exactly what was happening with Naruto and Pein. Shikamaru was instantly put more at ease when she told them that Naruto and Pein were not fighting, but having a conversation. She recited everything that was being said.
“I will lift the curse.” Shikamaru could even hear the words in Naruto’s voice, in his head. “If any kind of peace exists, I will grab hold of it, and never let it go. I refuse to quit!”
Shikamaru felt a smile creep onto his face. Trust Naruto to go and say something so profoundly idealistic that it went against all of Shikamaru’s principles, yet only served to make Shikamaru love and respect him all the more.
Shikamaru didn’t have much time to dwell on this thought, however, because something—he had no idea what—was happening. The sky was filled with green lights, like a meteor shower raining down on them. One of the lights whizzed right past Shikamaru’s ear and enveloped Shizune’s body in the same green glow.
The next thing he knew, Shizune was groaning and sitting up.
“What...what is this?” Shikamaru breathed, staring at Shizune, now alive and moving about, and looking very shaken.
“Pein was so moved by Naruto’s words, he has sacrificed himself to bring back all those who died in the attack using the power of his Rinnegan!” Katsuyu hastened to explain.
Shikamaru was surprised, he supposed. He thought that this information should make him feel a lot more than surprise, because bringing what was likely hundreds of people back literally from the dead was something which should be impossible. He should be floored, gobsmacked, perhaps even a little terrified by the implication that there were people out there who were so powerful they could achieve something as monumental as this...but Shikamaru was far, far too tired to feel anything of the sort. His brain had been put under far too much stress today, and he didn’t have the energy to worry about anything else.
Instead he welcomed Shizune back to the world of the living almost pleasantly, then forced himself to stand. Naruto would be heading back, and he could already see people gravitating in one direction. Someone must already know which way Naruto had gone. Shikamaru ignored Ino’s protests and started to limp in the same direction as the crowd, but before he’d managed to take two steps, Chouji appeared.
He hurried over to Shikamaru and immediately wrapped a supportive arm around his waist. Shikamaru gratefully leaned on him, slinging his arm around Chouji’s shoulder, and they continued walking among the stream of people. Shikamaru liked that about Chouji, that he didn’t need to ask Shikamaru what he was doing, he just helped Shikamaru do it. Ino hurried to walk on Chouji’s other side, sending the occasional reproachful look at Shikamaru, but she wanted to see Naruto as well, so thankfully she kept her protests to herself.
The crowd eventually slowed to a stop, so the three of them pushed their way clumsily to the front. Shikamaru stumbled a few times after bumping into people and catching himself on his bad leg, but Chouji held him up through it all. Once they neared the front, Shikamaru spotted the distant figures of Naruto and Kakashi making their way towards them. Kakashi was carrying Naruto on his back but when Naruto looked up and saw the throng of people eagerly awaiting his return, he slid off Kakashi and began to walk forward by himself. His eyes widened with awe as the people began to cheer for him.
Shikamaru’s knees went weak with relief, seeing Naruto looking just fine, if a little exhausted. All of the tension left his body and he found himself leaning all of his weight on Chouji, who didn’t seem to mind. As Shikamaru watched Naruto, their eyes locked for a second, and Shikamaru offered him a wide, tired, but very happy smile.
Everybody crowded around Naruto after that, but Shikamaru stayed where he was. He couldn’t bring himself to move another step, and besides, he didn’t need to interfere with Naruto’s reunion with Sakura or anyone else who had come forward to rejoice in their victory.
The excitement had been quick to settle as people finished celebrating Naruto’s win and started coming to terms with the fact that they were all homeless. Shinobi dug through the rubble to find food and supplies which had survived the destruction, and individuals, both ninja and civilian, hunted vainly for items which held sentimental value. Donations by nearby villages wouldn’t be able to arrive for at least a few days, so everybody had to make do with what they had on hand. Some buildings on the edge of the village had managed to survive, and the owners donated the food stocks they had to the village, and offered space to the grievously sick and injured.
The Nara clan was one of the lucky few; the forest they owned lay outside of the village walls, so they’d constructed their clan compound on the very outskirts for quick and easy access to it. Of course, “lucky” was not quite true. Only half of Shikamaru’s house remained standing, while the other half had caved in from the onslaught of rubble. The inside of the house was trashed beyond use, but they still had most of their possessions.
Shikamaru had stood in his decimated bedroom when the Naras came to inspect their houses for the first time since the battle ended, watching his alarm clock ring where it lay on the ground. It was one of the few objects of his that remained somewhat in tact, and while Shikamaru didn’t put much stock in material possessions, it saddened him to see everything he’d ever owned, ruined.
He couldn’t be bothered to dig through his stuff. He grabbed some blankets from what was once an airing cupboard, and slung them over his shoulder to take back to the injured. He had to go slowly because while his leg had been treated, it was still injured and he wasn’t supposed to be walking on it. He had been given a splint and a crutch made by Yamato to hobble about with, but it was advised that he get some rest instead, so he left the responsibility of tidying up the Nara compound to his father and branch family, and took the blankets back to the medical team.
Naruto was stuck in a makeshift tent on bed-rest by Sakura’s orders, and had been out cold for hours. Now it was the middle of the night, though barely anyone was sleeping. There was, after all, nowhere to sleep. Many of the citizens had made the decision to go to the next village over to rent rooms, leaving mostly ninjas busying around Konoha and clearing up the mess.
Shikamaru decided to sit in Naruto’s small tent, tucking himself into one corner. It was a bit cramped and Shikamaru didn’t have a seat, so he was sitting instead on the cold filthy floor, with both shoulders brushing against the heavy, slightly frayed and dirty canvas of the tent. Naruto was sleeping on top of a folded blanket because the few usable futons had gone to the children and the elderly, and Naruto had insisted that he didn’t need one. Still, Shikamaru winced in sympathy for Naruto’s back and how much it would undoubtedly ache when he woke up.
“It’s funny,” Shikamaru murmured to Naruto’s unconscious form. “I used to spend so much time with you like this. You in hospital and me by your bedside. It’s been three years since the last time, but here we are again. Though I could hardly call this a hospital.”
Naruto slept soundly on.
“I want to tell you something when you wake up. Something that’s been on my mind for a while now. It’s probably not the kind of thing you want to hear from me...but, well….” He paused. “But I’ve been keeping my thoughts to myself for far too long. It’s troublesome,” he said with a chuckle, “so I’ll just tell you what I’m thinking instead.”
Having said his piece and feeling satisfied with himself, Shikamaru drew the knee of his good leg up to his chest and propped his chin on it. His eyes were drooping slightly from exhaustion, but he didn’t plan on sleeping. There were no comfortable places to sleep, and there was too much activity going on outside of the tent anyway.
Shikamaru had no idea what time it was, just that it was dark out and that the sun had set a while back. Occasionally people would pop into the tent to check up on Naruto, and they would spare Shikamaru a glance as they did so. Chouji had even brought it upon himself to bring Shikamaru a few of the rations they’d scrounged up, for which Shikamaru was extremely grateful once he realised just how hungry he was. Hinata had also poked her head through the tent flap, but when she caught sight of Shikamaru she shot him a terrified expression and vanished again. Shikamaru didn’t have a clue what that meant.
Notably, Sai came to visit at some point. He’d crouched down by Naruto’s side to see how he was doing, but kept shooting boggling stares at Shikamaru, then when he was leaving he paused and smiled at Shikamaru then offered a thumbs-up. Shikamaru could only assume (no doubt it was his paranoia speaking) that meant Sai, of all people, had worked out how Shikamaru felt about Naruto. If emotionally-stunted Sai knew, then he must have been a lot less subtle than he’d thought.
Shikamaru sighed softly through his nose and closed his eyes.
He started, his head jerking up from where it rested on his knee. There was sunlight filtering through the gap in the tent and Naruto was sitting up, looking rumpled from sleep. Shikamaru realised he must have dozed off, but it felt like like he’d only blinked, and his eyes still itched from exhaustion. He had to ignore that for now though, because he’d already resolved to tell Naruto everything when he woke up.
“Morning, Naruto,” he greeted with a small smile.
“Morning. What are you doing here?” Naruto asked through a yawn. He didn’t sound accusatory, just curious.
“Keeping you company. I can’t help out with my leg like this, after all.” Shikamaru patted the knee of his bad leg. Naruto glanced at it, spotting the makeshift splint and the crutch. He looked like he was about to say something, but Shikamaru started talking again before he had the chance. “Actually, there’s something I wanted to tell you...I promise, it’s not a bad thing!” He added at the worried expression on Naruto’s face, but quickly amended, “well, probably not, anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Naruto eyed him warily.
“Well.” Shikamaru hesitated. He geared himself up for what he was about to say. “I’ve come to realise a few things during the years I’ve known you.” Deep breath. “First of all you’re the bravest, most honest person I’ve met, and I don’t think that’s something that’ll ever change. I have so much respect for you.”
“Let me finish, I’m not at the most important bit yet. Secondly, I want to see you accomplish your dreams, and I’m determined to help you along the way. Or maybe I want to be a part of them, and take on the role of personal advisor when you become the Hokage.”
“Well yeah, that’s a given! You’re my first pick--!” Naruto started with a smile, but Shikamaru held up a hand to silence him.
“And…” He resisted averting his gaze and forced himself to keep his eyes on Naruto, “And I’ve...I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Naruto’s smile slid off his face. He was staring at Shikamaru, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
“Huh…hah…” Naruto ducked his head so Shikamaru could no longer see his face. “I must be popular!” he said with an awkward chuckle, “You’re the second person to say this to me in two days!”
Shikamaru froze. He felt cold, as though he’d been doused in ice.
“Hinata, she...um, she said kind of the same thing as you did, when she came to help me during my fight with Pein.”
“Oh.” Hinata had? Shikamaru’s pulse pounded in his ears and he drew deep breaths trying to steady it. Of course she had. She’d liked Naruto since their time together in the Academy—he had known this. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, honestly. He swallowed thickly.
Pushing himself to his feet, grabbing his crutch on his way up, he stepped past Naruto to get to the entrance of the tent. “Well, I’ve said everything I need to...I’ll leave you alone before I overstay my welcome.” He offered a small smile before letting the tent flap fall closed behind him and hobbling away.
His chest still felt cold with dismay, but his face was hot with humiliation. He’d thought he was prepared for any reaction Naruto could give him, but Naruto continued to prove just how unpredictable he could be. He certainly hadn’t expected Naruto to laugh and go ‘Well that makes two confessions!’
...Though admittedly that wasn’t quite how it had gone. That didn’t change the fact that Shikamaru’s eyes were burning.
Not wanting to run into anybody at the moment, Shikamaru decided to go to the Nara clan forest. He took the route around the outside of the village walls, where he could avoid everybody. Once he entered the forest, Shikamaru wagered that he could go undisturbed for a good few hours before someone found him. After all, they would have to either be of the Nara clan, or disrespectful of the clan’s rules, to even enter the forest.
Laying down on the forest floor, he stared blandly at the cloudless sky above. A few tears of frustration dripped down his face which he wiped away with the back of his hand. It was silly getting emotional over Naruto’s non-response. It hadn’t been flat-out rejection, but Naruto had sounded so uncomfortable it might as well have been.
It wasn’t like Shikamaru had ever considered getting together with Naruto an actual possibility. Not when he fawned over Sakura all the time, or when he got into one of those ridiculous sexy-jutsu competitions with Konohamaru. Shikamaru wasn’t exactly Naruto’s type. Wasn’t it stupid? That Shikamaru had been slammed with all these emotions for a person he couldn’t have. He would have to settle with his average-looking wife and watch Naruto marry a woman he really loved (Probably Hinata, he thought bitterly) while Shikamaru settled for being nothing more than Naruto’s advisor and would never consider dating another boy again because it had gone so wrong and damn it all, he was crying again.
He scrunched up his eyes and vigorously rubbed the tears away, biting down on his tongue to suppress the noise that tried to escape. His chest convulsed and his breath quickened and Shikamaru knew he’d lost the fight when a heaving sob tore from his throat, followed by another, and another.
Soon he was sobbing loudly with his face buried in his arms, trying desperately to muffle the sounds he was making, when a twig snapped nearby. Shikamaru jolted and looked up, started.
Of all people, Hinata was standing a little ways away, halfway hidden by a tree trunk and looking at him warily.
“U-um…” she said hesitantly, taking a step forward. “I guess you told him?”
Shikamaru didn’t know what to say. His face was blotchy and smeared with tears and he kept hiccoughing, his breath coming out in shudders.
Hinata elaborated. “...You know, how you felt.”
“How did...you know?”
She took this as an invitation to come closer, but even as she did she kept a small distance between them. She sat on the grass and kept her eyes cast somewhere on the ground between them.
“I’ve been in love with Naruto for a long time, so I guess it was easy for me to notice when you were feeling the same things as me,” she explained softly, fiddling with the grass.
Shikamaru absorbed that answer, before asking his next question. “How did you know where to look for me?”
“I--” she flushed, “I’m sorry. I followed you. From the moment you left Naruto’s tent.”
“No one except the Nara clan is allowed here,” he pointed out.
“I know! I’m so sorry!” Hinata ducked her head further in distress. Shikamaru heaved a sigh.
“So? Why did you come after me?”
“Well, I…I guess to say I was sorry?” she said, sounding unsure. Shikamaru snorted.
“You’ve done that a lot already. But sorry for what?”
“I’m sorry, um…” Hinata trailed off, chewing her lip. Her eyes darted to him and a way several times before she continued. “I suppose I’m sorry I...didn’t take your feelings into account when I told Naruto how I felt!”
Shikamaru raised his eyebrows in confusion. “But why would you need to worry about how I felt? Surely, if anything, I should be the one apologising. After all, pretty much everyone knew that you’ve liked Naruto for so long, and you finally managed to tell him how you felt, then I come along literally a day later, completely disregarding you, and tell him how I felt.” He was really feeling like a dick at the moment.
“Did he...reject you because of me?” Hinata asked, then squeaked and hid her face in her hands. “That sounds so presumptuous! And so full of myself! I didn’t mean--!”
“He didn’t exactly reject me. He mentioned you, though.” Shikamaru’s voice came out more bitter than he’d intended. “He said you’d said the same thing and laughed awkwardly, then I left.”
“Oh...I’m so sorry!”
“You’ve mentioned,” Shikamaru said dryly.
“But, um, he didn’t reject you. He hasn’t said anything to me either. E-Either of us could still have a chance!” she pointed out sincerely. Shikamaru thought privately that Hinata stood a lot more of a chance than he did, if either of them even had one in the first place. Outwardly though, he allowed himself a small smile.
Hinata smiled cautiously back. “Oh! And no hard feelings no matter what he says?”
Shikamaru blinked, taken aback. He really, really wanted to be upset by the thought of Hinata and Naruto getting together, but she sounded so earnest that he found it difficult to maintain his resentment towards her. He sagged, scratching the top of his head absently.
“Deal. No hard feelings.”
Hinata beamed at him. “Then...why don’t we go back to the village? I heard that some supplies have already come in from the closest villages and Ichiraku’s already making food to feed everyone. We could get some too!”
Shikamaru had to admit that he was feeling very hungry. There was no point wallowing by himself anymore either. “Alright,” he agreed, grabbing his crutch. Hinata beamed and helped him to his feet, and the two slowly began to make their way out of the forest together.
Thanks to Sakura’s tremendous healing skills, Shikamaru’s leg had healed by the next day. He still had a slight limp but he no longer needed the support of a crutch, and he had started to help out with the planning of the reconstruction of Konoha. At one point he built up the courage to walk by Naruto’s tent to see how he was doing, but the tent was no longer there. He supposed that meant that Naruto had recovered.
That was fine. Shikamaru didn’t need to see Naruto if he already knew the boy was back in good health. Still, he found himself looking around for a glimpse of Naruto every time he ventured into the main construction sites, with no success.
By evening, Shikamaru had decided that it was a good thing he hadn’t seen Naruto. It would probably have just made him feel worse. He headed back towards the Nara forest once his duty was finished for the day, but this time he stayed on the outskirts, close to the village if anybody needed him.
There was a grassy hill there, just a small one that was perfect for lying back and gazing at the sky. He supposed it would be alright if he slept there. He’d declined the offer for a futon—the Shinobi had organised a rotation for the few futons they had where people would be able to use them in shifts—but he had to admit he was quite exhausted.
The sky was always the most interesting during the sunrise or the sunset. That day, it was filled with stratocumulus clouds, which Shikamaru was always particularly fond of, and they were reflecting the colours of the setting sun so pleasantly. They were covered in hues of purple, pink, and orange….
The sound of soft footfalls on grass interrupted Shikamaru’s absent admiration of the clouds. Each step was slow and sounded hesitant. Shikamaru waited until they began coming down the slope before turning to look at his guest, and he was certain that his heart stopped for a moment.
Of course it was Naruto standing there, looking down at him with a sheepish grin on his face. Shikamaru stared at him uncomprehendingly until Naruto took a seat on the grass next to him, laying back in the same manner.
“I came to tell you something.”
Shikamaru wasn’t entirely sure if he was emotionally prepared for this. He fixed his gaze on the trail of colour the sun left behind as it made its slow descent over the horizon. He tried to relax and look natural as well, but his tense muscles ruined the effect.
Wetting his lips nervously, Shikamaru nodded and said, “I’m listening.”
Naruto was silent for a moment before admitting, “I...actually don’t really know where to begin.” He laughed. “Your speech was kinda good. You knew exactly what you wanted to say.”
Well, of course he did. Shikamaru had been thinking exactly the things he’d said for a long time. He’d had time to turn each thought over in his head and work out exactly how he’d felt. He hadn’t planned any sort of speech beforehand but he hadn’t needed to because everything had been planned out in his mind for months, and in some cases, three years. Shikamaru didn’t tell Naruto any of this though. He just stayed silent and waited for Naruto to continue.
“Okay, well…” Naruto took a deep breath. “I guess the main thing that surprised me was the idea that I could date another guy. I just...hadn’t realised it was an option, or something. But...well, it sounds stupid now.”
Shikamaru wasn’t sure of what to say to that. He hadn’t really given it any thought once he’d realised he had a crush on Naruto. He just accepted it for what it was. However, he had tilted his head so that his gaze was now on Naruto instead of on the sky. That was the main issue?
“Well, anyway...another thing that surprised me was that it just kinda seemed out of the blue. You telling me all that stuff, that is. But when I thought about it after you left, it started making sense. I dunno, like…” Naruto squirmed and waved a hand, “Like, how you always like hanging out with me.”
“I think that’s pretty standard for friends, too,” Shikamaru pointed out.
“More than anyone else, I mean! You hang out with me in the hospital a lot. And sometimes you blushed around me.”
“I-I did not blush!” Shikamaru spluttered, instantly going red (to his mortification).
“You did! Like that time you tackled me, remember?”
Oh, Shikamaru definitely remembered. It was probably one of the memories he recalled the most during his times of idle relaxation. The thought only served to make his face flush hotter and he pulled a flustered pout, returning his eyes to the rapidly purpling sky. Naruto continued speaking.
“You know, I think you’re really cool, Shikamaru-” That earned Naruto a snort which he ignored. “-and I can’t blame you for wanting to hang out with me, because I like hanging out with you too, ya know. And you’re just as brave as I am, even though you think you’re a coward, plus you’re really smart. I have so much respect for you, too.”.
Shikamaru was rigid, as his words to Naruto from the other day came rushing back to him. He just couldn’t relax. It had hit him that they really were talking about this, Naruto was going to give him an answer, and he was doing it in a way which made Shikamaru’s heart thump wildly in his chest.
“When I become Hokage, I want you to be right next to me. I’ve always wanted you to be…. Only now that you’ve given me this option, I thought that maybe you could...how should I say...” Shikamaru twitched at the sudden feeling of cold fingers on the back of his hand. He inhaled sharply, and for a moment, it was like his whole world had narrowed to the sensations of his chest pounding, and the fingers that slid in between his own. “...You know?”
Shikamaru’s hand quivered and he tentatively readjusted his grip to hold Naruto’s hand firmly in his own. Shikamaru turned his head slightly and locked eyes with Naruto. He was startled to see Naruto’s electric-blue eyes so close to his, but he was still too bowled over by the turn of events to react.
Naruto took Shikamaru’s grip on his hand as an encouragement to lean forward—balanced awkwardly on the arm he was holding Shikamaru’s hand with—and offer a tentative kiss in the corner of his mouth.
They were both red-faced by that point, but, under the darkening sky, it didn’t matter. Shikamaru took a long breath, futilely trying to calm his thumping heart. Barely above a whisper, he said, “Yeah. I know.” With that he rolled onto his side and wrapped his arm around Naruto, pulling him in for a proper kiss.
The kiss only lasted a few seconds, but they stayed locked in their embrace for the rest of the night. They spent the time talking about unimportant things until they drifted off to sleep, and all the while their hands never let go.
For most of his life, Shikamaru had scoffed at the type of sappy romantic love story in which the main character would always be described as a “lovesick fool”. He had always thought that these books were unrealistic and, frankly, uninteresting. If he absolutely had to read a book, he preferred reading non-fiction; at least then he could possibly learn something interesting.
Yet, Shikamaru felt like he was now the lovesick fool. Certainly, if he’d been obvious enough for his friends to notice how he felt towards Naruto before, now he was obvious enough for passing strangers to give him second glances. Instead of slouching around with his hands in his pockets and a grumpy expression on his face, Shikamaru was…well, he was still slouching around with his hands in his pockets, but he was grinning giddily at his toes, and every now and then he’d let out a breathless laugh.
He couldn’t help it. Who’d have thought, back when Shikamaru was just a thirteen-year-old boy with a crush, that he’d actually be given the opportunity to call Naruto ‘his’? (He still wasn’t even completely sure he didn’t dream last night up.) Shikamaru reckoned that he was entitled to act a little more cheerfully than normal.
The previous night, after the two of them had fallen into a light sleep, they had been woken up by the sun when it had begun to rise. Shikamaru had to go help with planning for the rebuild of the village, so they had made their way back out of the forest, sharing another shy, hesitant kiss before they had reached the village walls.
After that, Shikamaru had been too distracted during discussions about creating fields and the integration of trees to be of any real help. Instead, he wrote a few notes on some diagrams and doodled some simple maps, then left. His dad kept glancing at him with a thoughtful frown. Shikamaru wondered if he should be worried, but no, he was feeling too elated to worry about anything right now.
Spying Naruto up ahead, Shikamaru jogged over, calling out his name. Naruto turned around, his face instantly lighting up. Shikamaru was sure in that moment that he could have floated off the ground at the sight. Behind Naruto, Shikamaru noticed, were Kiba with Akamaru, and Ino.
“Hey!” Naruto greeted. “I was just thinking of getting lunch, wanna come with?”
Shikamaru agreed, pleased by this turn of events.
“Sounds great,” Kiba interjected, stepping between them. Naruto faltered, having been about to head away with Shikamaru.
“Oh…Um, Shikamaru and I were…” he gestured between them, “we were actually thinking of going, you know, just us two.” There was a long pause, then Naruto elaborated, “As a date?”
Behind him, Ino shrieked.
“I knew it! I knew it! We knew it! You two are-! You are dating, aren’t you!” She was pointing between them and Shikamaru sighed. The troublesome girl was definitely going to run off and gossip all about them.
“Oh, I see how it is,” Kiba sniffed. “You jump in all hero-like, you save the village, and you get the girl-!”
“Oi,” Shikamaru interjected.
“Get the guy then, whatever,” Kiba continued as though he hadn’t been interrupted, “and now you don’t have any time to hang out with your pals!” He prodded Naruto in the chest, and Naruto raised his hands in protest.
“Relax, I’ll still make time to hang out with you guys, promise,” he placated, “but right now I just want to spend some time with my new boyfriend, ya know.”
Whatever annoyance Shikamaru was feeling was washed away by the word ‘boyfriend’. He bit his lip and smiled down at his toes. Was he Naruto’s boyfriend? They hadn’t discussed this, they’d just held hands and sort of snuggled...but he was now, he supposed. Naruto had said it, and Shikamaru had no interest in contradicting him.
“Ugh, whatever,” Kiba groaned, wrinkling his nose. “You guys go be disgusting somewhere else. Feel free to hang out with us when you’re less gooey.” He turned away and put his hand on Akamaru’s head. “Come on Akamaru, I get when I’m not wanted.”
Shikamaru rolled his eyes skywards before nodding his head in the direction of Ichiraku’s newly set-up ramen stand. “Come on, let’s get some food.” Naruto laughed and fell into step with him.
“We’re not gooey, are we?” Naruto asked, then after a moment, added, “Well, you kinda are, but I’m not.”
“Hey, if anyone’s the sappy one here, it’s you,” Shikamaru protested, but his ears had gone red. He had to admit that he was kind of disgustingly sappy, or “gooey”, as Kiba had put it. Naruto immediately jumped to his own defence as they made their way through the construction work and towards Ichiraku’s. Shikamaru just smiled and listened to him talk.
They arrived and sat at a couple of stools by the temporary counter of the ramen stand where Teuchi greeted them warmly.
“Naruto! It’s good to see you. You two having lunch together?” he asked, then winked unsubtly in Shikamaru’s direction. Shikamaru flushed. He really must not have been as subtle as he thought.
“Yup! We’re on a date,” Naruto confirmed cheerfully while Shikamaru turned his red face away, biting back a pleased smile. In the span of ten minutes, Naruto had let the two main sources of gossip in the village know of their new relationship status. If he’d been hoping for subtlety, Shikamaru would be very disappointed, but he knew not to expect anything like that from Naruto.
“That’s fantastic,” Teuchi exclaimed with an even less subtle thumbs-up in Shikamaru’s direction. He resisted the urge to hide his face in his hands. “So, what’ll you two like?”
Teuchi explained which ingredients he had available, and they placed their orders. While he cooked, he conversationally asked, “So when exactly did you two get together?”
“Just last night.” Naruto smiled at Shikamaru. He seemed to be enjoying the attention they were getting as a couple, at least. Shikamaru offered a soft smile back, resting his elbow on the counter and propping his chin on his hand.
“Well then! These are on the house for my favourite love-birds.” Teuchi placed their ramen in front of them with a flourish, startling Shikamaru and pulling his gaze from Naruto.
“Sweet. Thanks, Pops!” Naruto elbowed Shikamaru, a thrilled look on his face, before tucking in. “Food tastes so much better when it’s free.”
Shikamaru nodded idly in agreement, watching Naruto put his food away at a ridiculous pace. Behind the counter, Teuchi seemed to be rambling about a time long ago when Naruto’s parents were having their own innocent lunch dates at his stand, back in the good old days, and how the puppy love of today’s youth was what truly made the village a beautiful place. What a sap.
When Naruto’s bowl looked about half empty, Shikamaru plucked a few pork slices from his own and slipped them into Naruto’s food.
Naruto looked up at him in surprise. Shikamaru shrugged and started to eat without providing an explanation. He wasn’t sure he could say “I like how happy the food makes you,” without feeling ridiculous. Naruto paused and shifted beside him, then Shikamaru nearly dropped his chopsticks, startled, when he felt Naruto’s arm slip around his waist. Goosebumps spread across his hip from the touch, making him shiver involuntarily.
He didn’t comment and continued to eat his food, only smiling when Naruto finished his food and snuggled up to Shikamaru, even though it was obvious Naruto’s true intention was to steal food out of Shikamaru’s bowl.
However, when Shikamaru and Naruto were just finishing up Shikamaru’s meal, Kiba, riding on Akamaru’s back, came sprinting up to them. Sakura and Sai came running after him, serious expressions on their faces. Shikamaru and Naruto swivelled around on their stools, surprised.
“Listen, I know you’re on a date, and I swear I was gonna leave you guys alone,” Kiba said, sounding urgent, “but listen, this guy – Danzo – he’s just been elected as the sixth Hokage!”
“What?” Naruto gasped.
“Wait, there’s more. He’s put out an order to kill Sasuke.”
Naruto shot to his feet and Shikamaru stumbled after him. Just like that, any thoughts of dates and romance were gone from their minds. Kiba hurried off to inform the others while Naruto, Sakura, and Sai started off in search of Kakashi to discuss things further with him. Shikamaru considered following them, but his father caught up to him, wanting to talk to him about this “Danzo”, the new Hokage.
It was a rather sudden, harsh reminder that they had bigger things to worry about than relationships. They were on the brink of a war with the Akatsuki—and Shikamaru had no doubt it would come to war, not after the entirely destructive assault on Konoha—Sasuke was still an issue, and was becoming even more of one, and Tsunade’s odds of waking from her coma dropped with each passing day.
Shikamaru decided to simply be thankful for the very brief time he was given with Naruto, and to fight to make sure they both – they all – survived the upcoming battle.
Too much had happened since they’d gotten together, and none of their time was spent together. By the time Naruto was sent into hiding and the troops began to assemble, the day Naruto and Shikamaru had spent together—properly, as boyfriends—seemed like a far-off dream, as if he’d imagined the whole thing.
Shikamaru knew that was the wrong way to think, and furthermore, he shouldn’t be thinking about relationships at all because, as he repeatedly told himself, there was no place for romance on the battlefield. That never stopped his mind from drifting to Naruto all the time. Whatever Naruto was reported to be doing—being safe in his hiding place, joining the war at every division, fighting Madara—he could never stop worrying about him.
Even when Shikamaru’s division arrived to help him out, seeing Naruto in the flesh—alive and looking only a bit roughed up—didn’t alleviate his concern.
Even as Shikamaru lay dying on the battlefield, he didn’t think of himself. He could only think of Naruto. He could feel Naruto’s presence surrounding him, and his hazy mind struggled to comprehend the world around him. He could hear Sakura thinking about Naruto too; she was begging for Naruto to focus only on his fight and leave it to her. Shikamaru thought maybe he was the ‘it’ she was referring to. Was Naruto trying to help? Was the feeling of Naruto engulfing him more than just his imagination?
He began to remember that Naruto had given everyone his chakra a while back. That would explain it. His mind was slowly sharpening as he recovered at a rapid rate, and he managed to catch the tail end of what Ino was saying.
“...doing this subconsciously—just the strong will of his heart to save Shikamaru makes Naruto’s chakra move.”
Shikamaru sluggishly turned his gaze to the battle, trying to see Naruto in the fray.
Naruto… he thought, and his voice sounded soft even in his own mind. Honestly...You’ve always been like that. Shouldering the burden...trying to do the impossible… He wasn’t sure if he was trying to berate Naruto or not, since his voice sounded so fond. He knew everyone around him could hear him through Ino’s mind-connection jutsu, but he found he couldn’t care about that. Instead, he just carried on. Just how far are you willing to go for us? We haven’t done anything useful until now yet you still prioritise our health. You are you. As if that explained everything. He paused, his eyes pulling away from the battle when they started to sting from tiredness. I felt like, when something was bothersome, I couldn’t do it…
Shikamaru paused again. His breath came shallow and his lungs burned, but he took a deep breath and said out loud to the dim (was it dim? Or was it just him?) sky, “Old man…it seems like I won’t be dying today… Thanks to Naruto, eh?” The corners of his mouth twitched into a slight smile.
“Shikamaru, don’t talk!” Sakura ordered, sounding on the verge of panic. “I won’t let you die. Naruto needs...no, everyone still needs you!”
Naruto as a child flashed into Shikamaru’s mind. Alone, depressed, but still persevering by himself. Shikamaru hadn’t been there for him then, when Naruto needed someone like him, but now… Unlike the First Hokage, Naruto doesn’t have a brother to confide in. Shikamaru’s thoughts, previously rushed and jumbled, started to come into clear focus. That’s why…that’s precisely why, when Naruto becomes Hokage, I’ve got to be his right hand man!
With Naruto’s chakra and his own willpower, Shikamaru pushed himself into a sitting position, a small grin forming on his face.
Sorry dad, but I won’t be joining you yet.
“Don’t go jumping the gun, Shikamaru,” Kiba smirked, but Shikamaru could hear the relief in his voice. “I might sneak up on ya and become Naruto’s advisor instead!”
If Shikamaru was honest, the idea of Kiba advising Naruto didn’t fill him with confidence. The two were too alike, for starters. Still, Shikamaru appreciated what Kiba was really saying—they all had faith in Naruto becoming Hokage.
Shikamaru swallowed and started to stand up to join the battle again, driven by his renewed determination. It was clear when his ears began to ring and his knees buckled that determination wasn’t all he needed to get better. He collapsed into Chouji, who had put his arms around Shikamaru for support, grunting in pain.
“That. Hurts. A lot.” he hissed through gritted teeth, his eyes clenching shut.
In the next instant, Lady Tsunade had stepped up, resting a hand on Shikamaru’s head. The difference it made was instantaneous. Shikamaru felt revitalised, the exhaustion in his muscles faded away to nothing, and he could feel strength returning to them. It was like she had turned on a faucet in his body and was filling him with stamina. He wanted to thank her, but she was already turning to speak to Sakura.
Once she left, Shikamaru stood up again, but this time it was easy. It was as though he’d simply woken up from one of his naps; he was a bit tired, but newly energised. With that realisation, he was ready to re-enter the battle. He was going to keep fighting, and more than that, he was going to take over for his father in directing everybody to victory.
Naruto wasn’t the Hokage yet, and Shikamaru wasn’t his advisor, but this felt like they were. That he and Naruto had already ascended to leadership of the village and they were officially fulfilling their respective roles.
He needed to not get ahead of himself. When his dad died, he passed on to Shikamaru the responsibility to direct the Allied Shinobi forces to victory—but not as Naruto’s advisor. Shikamaru’s leader was still Tsunade, not Naruto. At least, not officially. Shikamaru still firmly felt he was following Naruto into battle...but, if not as Konoha’s Hokage, then at least as Shikamaru’s love.
Actually, Shikamaru didn’t spend much of the battle conscious, in the end. He, like most everyone else in the war, was caught under the infinite genjutsu for the rest of the fight. While everyone was unconscious, Naruto had faced off against Madara and come out triumphant, though Shikamaru was a little fuzzy on the details.
He didn’t remember what he dreamed of when he woke up from the genjutsu, his muscles stiff and aching and his eyes glued shut with sleep. The light was blinding when he finally peeled his eyes open, and he squinted groggily up at the sky until the silhouette of Naruto appeared above him, blissfully blocking the sun from his face. Shikamaru decided then and there that there was nothing more stunning than Naruto’s smiling face, telling Shikamaru that everything was okay.
Despite the pounding in his head, Shikamaru forced himself to sit up, and Naruto shifted to lean back on his haunches. Shikamaru glanced around. The battle ground was completely trashed and still-unconscious people were already being lined up on white mats to be treated, but the entire atmosphere was calmer and more cheerful. There was still an undercurrent of gloom, though, even as people quietly rejoiced the victory of war.
Shikamaru hadn’t forgotten his dad’s death, but really, he’d come to terms with it on the battlefield. He’d died a noble death befitting a Shinobi and he would be honoured for it. Besides, there was no time for grieving yet. There was work to be done; people to contact; dead bodies to count; scribes to employ…
But before all of that, Shikamaru had his selfish priorities to indulge. He wrapped his arms tightly around Naruto’s waist and pulled him close. He intended to give Naruto a kiss, but somehow he ended up foregoing that at the last minute, and instead buried his face in Naruto’s shoulder. Out of the blue, he’d been hit by a great surge of emotions. His breath hitched and wavered in his throat, and he tried to steady himself, but the intense relief that it was all over and Naruto was okay was hitting him hard.
Naruto’s arms had snaked themselves around Shikamaru as well, squishing them together as closely as possible. Naruto’s turned his head slightly to Shikamaru’s ear and his breath tickled Shikamaru’s neck which made him twitch impulsively.
“You don’t have to worry anymore,” Naruto said softly. “I took care of the problem.”
As though the problem was as trivial as a bug that Naruto had squashed for Shikamaru. Shikamaru couldn’t suppress the bark of laughter that forced itself out of him, and he pulled away slightly to get a proper look at Naruto. He was grinning, looking a bit smug. Trust Naruto to win a war against the worst threat to ever face humanity and feel a bit smug about it.
Maybe they were both still a bit shell-shocked.
Shikamaru exhaled softly and let himself smile as well, casually offering a vague “Thanks,” in response.
It was then that Naruto decided to lean forwards and kiss him, fully, on his mouth. Shikamaru was taken completely off-guard, and didn’t think to react at all except to close his eyes and hum low in his throat. They stayed that way for a few seconds before Naruto pulled away again. They were both gazing at each other, pink in the face.
Then Shikamaru glanced around again, realising there were people everywhere—people he recognised—ogling them openly. “That was kind of public,” he pointed out.
“Who cares?” Naruto huffed.
“Well…” Shikamaru said with a grin, “Isn’t it a bit early to be doing that kind of thing in public? We haven’t even gone on our second date yet.”
“I didn’t think you were the type to care,” Naruto responded, raising his eyebrows. Shikamaru shrugged lazily and leaned against Naruto’s chest, making himself comfortable.
“Oh, who even cares? We’re official, aren’t we? It’s about time everybody knew.”
Those words made Shikamaru’s stomach squirm with bashful glee.
He smirked. “I can’t argue with that.” To be fair, though, he was sure everyone who knew them already knew they were together. It was hardly news anymore.
Naruto gave him another quick kiss, and this time Shikamaru returned it.
“Oh yeah,” Naruto blurted suddenly, pulling away, “Actually, about that...I’ve been thinking about where we should have our second date!” He grinned sheepishly.
“You have?” Shikamaru raised an eyebrow. “What, were you discussing it on the battlefield or something? Asked Madara if he knew any good restaurants?” He laughed when Naruto whapped him lightly on the shoulder, holding up a hand in defense.
“No, before then!” Naruto huffed, wrapping his arms back around Shikamaru, then began to rattle off places he thought would be ideal for a second date, and giving his reasoning for each one. He also decided that the places he had in mind which no longer existed in Konoha after Pein’s attack should each have a new establishment built especially for the purpose of having their second date there. It unnerved Shikamaru how legitimate that suggestion was, now that Naruto was the hero of all of the countries and people would no doubt be more than happy to drop what they were doing to give him what he asked for.
They talked for another half hour before Sakura interrupted to remind them that there was still work to be done and a war to clean up after. Shikamaru was reluctant to let Naruto go but everyone who was still able to move around had a duty to help out with the clean up, and they were no exception.
The body count was terrifying, and still rising. Shikamaru knew it had already long surpassed the other three great Shinobi wars’ individual body counts, and he felt terrible for every family who’d lost someone important to them. He had mixed feelings on the fact that his father’s body had been completely obliterated from existence; on the one hand, he didn’t have to look at his dad’s blank, dead face. But on the other hand, they wouldn’t be able to give him a proper burial.
Most of the bodies were being piled up and burned because there were too many of them, but Shikaku had been of a respectable rank as the head advisor to the leaders of the war. He would have been part of the funeral service. As it was, however, they could only carve his name on the war memorial stone. Shikamaru wondered how he would break any of this news to his mother. It was a heart-clenching thought. He’d be able to do it, of course, because it was his duty—and he would never let anybody else do something as important as that—but it was going to hurt. That was for sure.
He could only be thankful that Naruto, his bright-orange beacon of light, would be there to hold him just like he had at their recent reunion. Naruto had no reason to run or hide any longer; Akatsuki was demolished, Madara was dead for good, and Sasuke was apparently returning to Konoha without the intention of destroying it.
Finally, maybe they could do those things he’d wanted to, like play shougi, or take naps together, or lay in each other’s arms and lazily watch the clouds go by. The stress that they’d been fighting since they were 13 was finally over. Shikamaru was aware that his eyes were watering with the realisation that everything was actually going to be able to be like that. It was true that no Shinobi’s life was a constant safe and happy thing; they’d still have missions to embark on, and no doubt their faces will have made their way into rogue ninjas’ bingo books with a very pretty price, but those things seemed so laughably insignificant now.
Shikamaru did laugh, quietly, even while tears leaked from his eyes, and nobody around him questioned him or judged him—the exhausted shinobi all simply understood, and left him alone, a wordless empathy being shared amongst them.
Epilogue: 7 Years Later
The Hokage’s office was conspicuously empty, Shikamaru noted as he entered the room, glancing around with suspicious eyes. He dumped the armfull of unsorted documents he’d been holding on the desk and glanced around for any sign of where Naruto could have gone. It was mildly irritating—the papers desperately needed to be looked through, and if Naruto wasn’t around to do them, Shikamaru would have to instead.
He checked the side room to make sure Naruto wasn’t in there either (which he wasn’t) and just as he’d turned to leave the office to go search for Naruto elsewhere, he nearly collided with Kiba. They both recoiled back a little, Kiba throwing up his hands.
“Whoa. Hey. Shikamaru. I was just looking for you.” Then he added with a cheeky grin, “or should I say, Mr. Uzumaki.”
Shikamaru stared at him, arms folded. Admittedly, when people normally brought up his and Naruto’s recent marriage (well actually it was two years ago, but still), he’d get all bashful and sappy, but this time he was too concerned with Naruto’s whereabouts to care. Naruto wasn’t normally out of office during his office hours without letting Shikamaru know where he was going.
“Well?” Shikamaru prompted.
“Oh, uh, just letting you know Lord Hokage’s in the hospital again,” Kiba said casually.
“What?!” Shikamaru’s heart started in his chest, but he forced himself to relax. Kiba didn’t seem worried, so he had no reason to either. That Naruto. Shikamaru had a feeling it was probably Naruto’s fault in the first place, too, considering how accident-prone he was. He stepped through the doorway and past Kiba, speed-walking down the hallway towards the exit.
Kiba jogged after him and explained, “It’s that new technique he’s perfecting! Tried to show off with it I think, according to Konohamaru anyway. Yeah, he might have singed his eyebrows a bit, but hey! Nothing to worry about.”
Shikamaru nodded once. Of course Naruto would use his lunch break to land himself in the hospital.
“Thank you, Kiba. You can go back to your desk now,” he dismissed, and Kiba slowed down grudgingly, conceding to Shikamaru’s point grudgingly. Shikamaru continued out of the building and made his way to the hospital with a brisk pace.
Arriving at the desk, Shikamaru quickly but politely (he didn’t forget his professional manner) demanded to know what state the Hokage was in. The receptionist kindly told him that Naruto was fine and being kept in his usual hospital room, up in the east wing on the top floor. Shikamaru thanked her and turned to head that way.
He knew the direction to the room by heart; Naruto wound himself in hospital on a near regular basis because of his brash and reckless nature, though he was becoming more mellow and calm as the years went on which resulted in fewer emergencies. However, he still had a permanent room reserved for him at all times, just in case.
Just as Shikamaru was coming to the door, it slid open and Sasuke stepped out. He closed the door with a quiet click and turned to leave before realising Shikamaru was standing there. He faced Shikamaru properly, his expression the same look of disinterest it usually held. That was probably a good sign.
“I just finished checking him over. The idiot’s gone and given himself a few burns but we’ll have a specialist come in and prevent them from scarring.” He held the clipboard of medical information out for Shikamaru to glance through, and Shikamaru skimmed it for the important information before handing it back with a thanks.
“Is he awake right now or should I come back later?”
“He’s asleep, but you can visit him anyway,” Sasuke answered with a small smirk.
Shikamaru resisted the urge to sigh. Since Sasuke had rejoined Konoha after the war, his comments had become a lot less biting and a lot more teasing. His favourite person to tease was Naruto, and by extension, Shikamaru. Shikamaru supposed that was his idea of ‘friendly’, and he much preferred this attitude over how Sasuke used to act.
Of course the downside was that, as Naruto’s nurse (as well as the nurse for the rest of the ward) it meant that Sasuke had a downright terrible bedside manner. It was a surprise to all when Sasuke decided it was in his best interest to train under Sakura (who was naturally Naruto’s doctor) to learn medical ninjutsu using his Sharingan to identify and help heal damage to inflicted to patients’ chakra.
According to him, it was the ‘best possible use of the Sharingan’. Shikamaru speculated that Sasuke was just tired of fighting all the time, and he sure wasn’t complaining. Despite Sasuke’s terrible attitude unbefitting of a nurse, he’d become an invaluable asset to the village.
Shikamaru slipped through the door after Sasuke had stalked away, flopping on the chair next to Naruto’s hospital bed. Naruto’s face was covered in bandages which stank of antiseptic, but he was splayed messily out over the bed and drooling in his sleep, so Shikamaru supposed he was feeling fine.
“If you missed seeing Sasuke so much we could have just invited him ‘round for dinner,” Shikamaru muttered fondly, tugging the Shougi board towards him from its place tucked away in the corner. He began to set it up. “Honestly, it’s always the hospital with you. I wonder if we should just start having our romantic dinners here since you’re more likely to be here than at home.” An exaggeration, but still. “Did I tell you I fell for you while you were in hospital? I must have, right? Although I guess that’s not quite true.”
He moved a few pieces around on the board.
“I realised that I liked you right when you left, years ago. It didn’t feel it at the time but it was probably the most fortunate time to realise, so my thirteen-year-old self didn’t try to messily confess to you or something. Does that sound like something I’d do? No...probably not.”
He took a piece off the board as a new piece claimed its space.
“Though...I’m not sure if it was love back then. The details are sort of fuzzy. Well, it’s been a long time since then. I suppose I’m still amazed that everything worked out…” He paused in his game of Shogi to fiddle with the gold band around his finger. “...Huh, Naru- TO--!” Glancing over at the bed Shikamaru started when he realised Naruto had cracked one eye open and was gazing at him, smiling broadly.
“Shikamaru!” he crowed, “You’re such a sap!”
Pink in the cheeks from being caught in the middle of his nostalgic ramblings, Shikamaru huffed and folded his arms.
After a moment’s pause, he said, “...Yeah, I guess I am.” And he grinned sheepishly back at Naruto, who sat up in his bed to lean over and give Shikamaru a peck on the cheek.
“Your age is showing if you’re admitting to stuff like that,” he pointed out teasingly. Shikamaru nudged him in the ribs.
“Oi. Lord Hokage, I’m glad to see you’re awake, because you have a lot of paperwork to catch up on when you return to office!” he said briskly, standing up and tidying up the Shogi board. Naruto moaned in protest, grasping Shikamaru’s elbow.
“But I’m in pain, look, I’m all burned,” he protested in a voice that sounded suspiciously like a whine. He pulled on Shikamaru’s arm until Shikamaru stopped messing around with the board and allowed himself to be tugged to the bed. Naruto shuffled over to one side of it, obviously expecting Shikamaru to get onto the other side.
“Okay okay,” Shikamaru relented, wrapping an arm around Naruto and cuddling up to him. “My poor husband, look at the state you’re in,” he murmured playfully. Naruto grumbled but pulled Shikamaru closer to him. Shikamaru kissed Naruto’s jaw before settling to rest his head on Naruto’s chest and allowing himself to relax. A little time off work never hurt anyone anyway.
He felt as Naruto reached up and tugged on his hair-tie, allowing his ponytail to fall out, then Naruto’s fingers tangled themselves in his now-loose hair. Shikamaru hummed contentedly, allowing his gaze to rest on the view from the window of the gently drifting clouds outside. It was nice. He hardly ever got time to watch the clouds nowadays, and now he had the opportunity while he was wrapped in his husband’s arms.
The clouds were thick and hid the sun, but as they meandered along, a gap in between then allowed sun rays to spill out and cast a dazzling spotlight upon the village.
Crepuscular rays, Shikamaru thought in admiration at the unusual phenomenon. As the clouds continued to move gently, a break formed between two of them and caused sunlight to shine down on his face, and he closed his eyes to shield them from the glare. The sun warmed his skin, and he spared a moment to think, This is nice, before drifting off as peacefully as the clouds into a content sleep.