Disclaimer: Naruto the characters and the world is not mine. No money is made, no infringement intended.
Time and Ashes
She complained constantly about it, ranted and raved about how it would shorten his life and how filthy a habit it was. She was a medic-nin. Did he just expect him to heal his lungs after he destroyed them on his own? He just had to go outside and downwind as not let that smoke in their house.
His response, along with calling her troublesome was that they were shinobi. Their lives were generally short. She knew why he did it, because it reminded him of Asuma, the first adult who first looked beyond his façade of indifference to the intelligent mind beneath. It made him feel close to his dead sensei, a man who had saved his life more times than he could count, more times than he deserved. Then, he would go outside and stand under the eaves of the house and inhale on the cigarette, letting the flavor coat his tongue.
Kurenai never said anything, only smiled sadly and said that he couldn’t smoke in the house, especially with the baby there. She had not let Asuma smoke in her house, either. She never said anything about his health, she probably had the same arguments with Asuma, but Asuma had never stopped, so he would not.
They shared raising the baby, the two women and he. He often shook his head and wondered how his life had come to this, two bossy women and a five year old child that was his in all but blood. Not that Kurenai’s team 8 wasn’t always underfoot and Ino and Choji, but when Kurenai’s specialty was needed on a mission that had her away from the village, the Hokage would always arrange to have either him or her apprentice in the village for the length of Kurenai’s missions and when they both happened to be home, taking care of the child, Sakura would laugh and say they were playing house.
Shikamaru cherished those times, with his girlfriend and Kurenai and Asuma’s child. They would eat together, go through the bed time rituals of stories and songs. He would take the baby to the monument and they would take their fingers and trace Asuma’s name on the stone and the Sandaime Hokage. This is your family, Shikamaru would say, not that Sakura and he did not love the child, but the legacy of the Sarutobi family lay in the hands of this little child and Konohamaru.
He was often at the house as well, Konohamaru and the Konohamaru Corps. Moegi babysat often. Udon would come by and Konohamaru was fiercely protective of his little cousin. He would often hold the child and tell stories of their grandfather and their fathers and how they had died protecting Konoha and how it was their responsibility to do the same for the village they loved and who loved them.
He looked over to the house just off the main Nara compound. A light turned off and he knew Kurenai had gone to bed. He moved them close to him, close to his family. Shikaku and Yoshino considered the baby a grandchild. They sent presents and offered to babysit. Yoshino and Kurenai became close in the late months of Kurenai’s pregnancy and the early months after birth. Shikamaru had never been more grateful for his mother than at those times when Kurenai would need a female to hold on to and cry with. That was before Sakura, of course.
“Shikamaru?” a hesitant voice came out of the darkness. Shikamaru turned, stubbing out his cigarette. Choji hated the smell of the smoke, he said it interfered with his sense of smell and the taste of whatever food he was eating. “Yakumo sent for me this afternoon. I brought it.”
Shikamaru smiled. The picture was for Sakura. It was time.
Choji looked at the wrapped canvas before turning curiously to his oldest friend and staunchest supporter, “You know,” he said a bit doubtfully, “you always said you didn’t want a bossy woman.”
“I think it’s too troublesome to find a new one after this one is all broken in.”
Choji snorted in amusement, “I don’t know who’s broken in,” he taunted, “I think it’s you that is broken in, not her.”
Shikamaru shrugged as if it did not really matter. Maybe in the big scheme of things, it did not.
“What about you? When are you settling down?” Shikamaru asked trying to divert attention from him and the course of action that he decided upon.
“Ah,” Choji said with a smile, scratching the back of his head. The years had been good to Choji and so much of what was considered fat while he was younger now translated to bulk on his toned body. While he was avoided and teased for his size while he was younger, he was now quite sought after, not only for his looks, but his kind heart and gentle disposition. “Well, now that you are taken, I have to console all the disappointed ladies,” he said with a chuckle.
Shikamaru chuckled in return knowing that Choji’s popularity was all his own and he was glad for his friend. There was no one more deserving.
“Shika!” Sakura called coming around the corner of the house, “Where are-. Oh, Choji, did Shika invite you to dinner?” hard eyes turned to Shikamaru, “He didn’t inform me,” before they swung back to Choji, friendly again, “You know you are welcome any time.”
“Sa, sa,” Choji said shaking his head and waving a hand, “No, not tonight, thank you, I think Shika wants some time with you alone. Both here and Kurenai home with the baby. That’s kind of rare for you.”
Sakura smiled a bit sadly and shrugged, “That’s the life of the shinobi.”
Choji lumbered over and gave her a quick hug, “I was just dropping something by for Shikamaru. I have someone to meet in a little bit, anyway.” Sakura’s eyebrows winged up curiously, “and I’m not telling.”
“You know I will just get Ino to wheedle it out of you tomorrow.”
Choji just chuckled and started down the path leaving the Nara compound. He waved at them laughing as he heard Sakura stomp her foot and yell after him that he had better not get hurt any time soon because she might not be disposed to heal him.
“You shouldn’t give Choji a bad time,” Shikamaru said as he picked up the painting in one hand and slipped his free arm around Sakura. They started walking around the small house that they shared towards the front door. She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed. “After all, you have me.”
Sakura chuckled as she slipped her own arm around his waist and squeezed gently. “What is that?”
“Something for you, for us,” Shikamaru said, “We’ll open it inside. Don’t want Yakumo’s work ruined out here.”
“Yakumo?” Sakura asked.
“Sakura, have I told you how much I love you?”
“Good, because I decided long ago what I wanted, and although you are more beautiful than I had planned, I think I should go ahead,” Sakura stopped in front of the door. Shikamaru turned to face her, his expression unusually uncertain, “I want to get married and have two kids. A girl and a boy. . .” Sakura started whispering with him as he spoke, “Retire when my daughter is married and son is independent and die before my spouse.”
“Now why would you want to do that?” Sakura asked aloud, breaking the familiar litany.
Shikamaru’s eyes met hers as he reached into a pocket on his jounin vest, “Because I don’t think I want to live a day without you.” He pulled out a ring. It was plain with three inset diamonds, because he knew that she would want something practical rather than flashy. He held it out in front of her.
Sakura smiled and reached up to take the ring from his hand to slip it onto her finger. When they kissed, he tasted of smoke and ashes.