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Who Would Have Thought

Chapter Text

“You picked a Nara.” The ‘over me’ was unspoken, but they both heard it. “I don’t understand you, dobe.”

She had to fight back a bark of laughter. Who would have thought that Sasuke Uchiha, her ultimate rival, would be the one to become jealous of her newfound relationship? The irony of her life never ceased to amaze her. “Whatever, teme, I have to go,” she drawled obnoxiously, glancing down the street to judge how long it would take her to get back to Shikamaru. “I’m already running late.”

“Naruko,” his voice called to her and the use of her given name made her pause. She could feel him staring but for reasons that she didn’t dwell on, she refused to meet his eyes. “Do you ever think about me, when you’re with him? About us?”

Of all the questions she had been expecting, Naruko had not been prepared for this one. There was a flash of righteous anger (How dare he, of all people, ask that?) and then an incredible weariness settled over her, the kind she could feel in her bones. Her breath fogged the air with soft clouds as she exhaled. “Not even once,” she admitted, honestly.

He didn’t stop her when she walked away a second time.

 

Shikamaru should have known better than to worry, because he knows Naruko. The girl is loyal to a fault, faithful to the point of self-destruction. That is also another worrying point. Her allegiance had lain so long with the Uchiha, what if she fell back into her old role? Doggedly chasing after Sasuke as she had for so many years, Shikamaru wasn’t foolish enough to believe he could compete with that.

“Shikamaru!” He jerked out of his daze to find Naruko waving fervently at his from the doorway of the restaurant. She hurried over, dropping down into the seat next to his, despite the vacant seating on the other side. “Sorry I’m late. Did you order already? It’s okay if you did.” She picked up a menu and glanced over it. “Man, I’m starving.”

“No, I didn’t,” he replied, relief flooding his body in a peaceful wave. His arm came around to rest on her shoulders and she eagerly leaned into him. “I’m not too hungry, so I didn’t mind waiting.”

“Ne, you really should eat more, Shikamaru,” Naruko scolded, trying to transfer her heat into his cool frame. She had been outside but she was still warmer than him. “You’re always so cold.”

“That’s why I have you,” he responded easily, taking a sip of his sake.

She grinned, arching her eyebrow. “Is that all I am, a space heater?”

He shrugged the shoulder she wasn’t resting on. “You serve your purpose.”

That had her laughing until the rest of their friends arrived, shivering and complaining about the winter weather as they stepped into warm restaurant.

Chapter Text

Chouji hadn’t eaten since they made camp. The teenagers had settled on the empty rooftop of a supermarket, voices low as to not attract attention from the undead or the hostile living. They ate whatever food they could find, mostly packaged snacks, but those were starting to run low. It was with morbid thankfulness that Naruko considered the small size of their group. It was just her, Shikamaru, Chouji, and Ino, the last people she had been with before the outbreak hit full force.

Naruko had seen Shikamaru try to convince his friend to put something in his body, anything, but to no avail. The Nara had never needed to prompt him to eat and was at a loss as to how to convince him. Ino was of no help, but the poor girl hadn’t spoken a word since they found her in the back of her family’s flower shop. She had promised her teammates a free meal for helping with a new shipment of tools and Naruko had stopped by at the same time to get a flower arrangement for Sakura’s birthday.

The pale blonde girl had been standing in the supply closet, splattered with blood and a pair of gore-encrusted shears in her hand. There was no sign of her parents. It was only when the girl began to tremble that Naruko noticed the strange groaning noises growing louder outside the building. Shikamaru tensely ushered them through the backdoor. It all went by rapidly after that and she could still feel how hyperaware she had been to Ino’s choked whimpers, each wheeze making her wince. None of them had been able to go back to check on their families and friends, the press of the undead had grown too thick in their home town to allow safe travel.

Naruko clenched her jaw as Chouji turned aside another granola bar, deciding to take matters into her own hands.

She approached Chouji when the teen was alone. “Here, I found this for you.”

It was a bag of BBQ chips. Chouji blanched at the sight of it, covering his mouth with a tense hand. When he made no move to take it from her, Naruko frowned. “Come on, man. I searched for it specifically for you. This is your favorite flavor, right? Take it. Please.” She jiggled the bag, a beseeching furrow between her eyebrows.

Gritting his teeth audibly, Chouji grabbed the snack from her loose fingers and stared at it. With a practiced motion, he pulled the bag open and brought a single chip to his mouth. He took a small bite, then another, savoring every crumb. Tears began to well in his eyes as he continued to eat until they spilled over, his face twisting as his shoulders shook. 

Naruko slid down the wall to rest at his side and began to make lighthearted conversation about the various things she had seen on her exploration. She described the huge, intricate spider web she saw strung across a doorway that was too beautiful for her to ruin, even if it meant she couldn’t search inside the building. It was an older structure, probably nothing useful to discover anyhow she reasoned.

The blonde made him laugh through his tears as she told him of a squirrel that had followed her for eight blocks, begging for scraps until she finally relented and tried to give him a piece of her granola bar. The furry bastard snatched the whole thing and ran off before she could blink. Still a bit annoyed, she had continued on her journey, almost spooking a herd of deer that were grazing in what used to be an open air shopping mall.

“I kept thinking of Shikamaru,” Naruko admitted ruefully when Chouji frowned and questioned why she hadn’t killed one to bring back to camp. The Nara Family, well known for their National level Shoji skills, own (owned, she corrected) a deer sanctuary. “I know we need the meat, but…” She shrugged, using a stick to make swirling patterns in the dirt. “I’ll try harder next time.”

“Next time,” he agreed, letting her off the hook. “And don’t worry, I’ll do it. I won’t make Shikamaru do something like that.”

“Yeah, that’d be pretty messed up.” She grinned, rubbing some dirt from her cheek. “So, are you good now?”

Chouji cleared his throat and carefully folded the empty chip bag before tucking it into his pack. “Yes, thank you. That was… You didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad you did.”

“Eh, no sweat.” Naruko stood, brushing off her pants before adjusting her shoulder straps. She was going on another run before it got too dark. “But, I am on the lookout for instant ramen, so if you spot some, save it for me. I’ll do the same for chips, alright?”

Choji followed suit and rose to his feet, smile back on his face. “Okay, sounds like a deal.”

 

Shikamaru cleared his throat, looking everywhere but at her. “Hey, I just wanted to say thanks, you know, for helping Choji.”

“Eh?” She replied passively, scratching her chin. They were out on a run, scouting another possible route back to Kohona that wouldn’t end with them all in a rotting stomach. Chouji and Ino stayed back at camp, so it was just the two of them. “You don’t need to thank me, Choji’s my friend too.”

The other teenager hunched his shoulders. He’s cute when he’s uncomfortable, she noted, feeling her insides warm pleasantly at his flustered expression. Shikamaru winced at he tried again, faltering over his words, “Yeah, no, you’re right. Still, thanks.”

Naruko decided she had tortured the poor boy enough and smiled. “Where does the map say we have to go again? Is it a left or right at the intersection?”

“The right,” he breathed out, failing to make his relief discrete.  She grinned and shoved him with her shoulder, “Come on,  if we hurry we might have time to check around for more chips.”

Chapter Text

It troubled Shikamaru that there were times when he would look to Naruko and have no idea what she was thinking. The girl was an open book. Everything about her projected her inner thoughts: her blue eyes, her loud mouth, even the crinkle of her nose. But there were moments that he couldn’t get a read on her to save his life. This pensiveness, so uncharacteristic of her, would flood her countenance and separate her from him, like a steel door slamming shut in his face.

 The first few times it happened, he didn’t know what to make of it, other than perhaps a new puzzle for him to unravel. As time passed and he was still no closer to understanding this reserved part of her, he began to worry. What could she possibly be hiding? Naruko didn’t hesitate to share her secrets with him, even before they began to see each other as more than close friends.

He held this worry in the back of his mind, almost forgetting it occasionally, but it all became clear one day.

They had settled in the cool interior of his house on an excessively warm day and he was trying yet again to help her develop her Shogi skills. She was improving, but still bad it. He didn’t mind, there was still nothing he’d rather do than spend a lazy evening with her. The thought sounded so sentimental that he had no doubts that she was making him soft, and frankly he couldn’t bring himself to care.

It was her move when she spoke up, waking him from his slumped, half-asleep state. He didn’t need to be fully conscious to beat her, for now, not that he’d ever tell her that. When it came to fighting skill, the blonde could mop the floor with him, easily. He was blunt, but not an idiot.

“Shikamaru.” He glanced up at her voice, blinking heavily. She rarely used his full name in such a serious tone; usually it was only when she had something important to say. She fiddled with a Shogi piece, avoiding his curious stare. That unusual pensiveness was back. “I don’t think I can do it.”

“Do what?” He asked, glancing at the board between them, thinking for a moment that she was talking about the game. He was startled when dread began pooling in his gut. She bit her lip, hard enough that he could see blood well up under her teeth. He sat up, now wide awake.

“It’s just that-” She cut herself off to breathe deeply before glaring down at her lap. “I’m happy with you, I really am but-” No, she couldn’t be, he thought numbly. “-I mean, you’re you and I’m… me.” His hands clenched into fists. No, no, no.

“I just-” She raked her hair harshly with her fingers, almost tugging out her ponytails. “-don’t think I can handle being the one responsible for it.”

“For what?” He demanded, growing alarm making his voice harsher than he intended. She flinched back, eyes darting around the floor as she slowly lowered her hands from her hair.

“Naruko,” he tried again, softer and apologetic (desperate, his mind jeered), “Just tell me what’s wrong.”

She stared at him silently for a full minute, looking torn, almost begging. He opened his mouth to repeat himself.

“I can’t be the one responsible for weakening the Nara line!” Naruko exploded, shocking him into muteness, before bounding to her feet and rushing for the door.

Weaken the Nara line? His mind echoed, struggling to process her words.

Pausing to slip on her shoes, she turned after a moment’s hesitation and forced a grin at him. The dampness in her eyes glimmering in the dim lighting of the room before she could hide it. Bowing formally, she said, “I’m sorry and thank you for everything, Shikamaru. Really, I… I appreciate it.”

I can’t be the one responsible. He inhaled unsteadily, shaking his head once to clear it.

The door slid shut with a soft thud.

Set into motion by the noise, he scrambled to follow her. “Naruko, wait!”

As he moved forward, it clicked. That terrible preoccupation, the reasoning behind her words, and while he totally disagreed, he also understood.

Even with the addition of the knowledge of her parents, the legendary Fourth Hokage and her mother a veritable Uzumaki princess, an orphan was still an orphan. Dead last (He had failed by choice). Idiot (He was the smartest person in their class, by far). Monster (He was an heir, even though he was a reluctant one). The scars from a childhood of self-loathing and animosity from practically the whole village weren’t just going to disappear without a fight. He knew firsthand that nothing was as debilitating as believing that you’re not good enough.

And having grown up without roots, it would have been hard for her not to be daunted by a heritage like the Nara. In his preoccupation with his own insecurities, he hadn’t considered she might be like him, afraid of falling short of expectations. Still, this was Naruko. How could she not know how amazing she is?

Slamming the sliding door open, he rushed out into the empty courtyard, trying to catch a flash of yellow or orange. Damn it, he had forgotten how fast she was when she wanted to be. With a heavy sigh, he closed his eyes and retreated into his mind to try to find the best solution to the problem. There was the option of waiting for her to come to him, after she had calmed down and thought things over.

That might have been a good tactic for other women, but it didn't feel right for Naruko. Even as he sorted through his choices, a rapidly growing urge to give chase and pin her down until she understood how wrong she was rose in his chest. It wasn’t that she didn’t deserve him; it was the other way around. He was a coward, and a weak one at that. She was going to be Hokage one day, he didn’t doubt it, and she would soar far beyond his reach even as the pitiful excuse for a Nara heir.

At times like this, he really missed Asuma’s words of advice.

He opened his eyes.

It was now or never.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Nara-san. Here is your mission re…” The nin trailed off limply, eyes glued to something behind Shikamaru.

The Nara blinked groggily, leaning heavily against the doorframe of his apartment, waiting for him to finish. The man’s face flushed and his mouth hung ajar, prompting Shikamaru to raise an eyebrow. After another minute passed and the messenger made no sign of continuing, other than a low gurgling noise, he glanced over his shoulder to figure out what the hell was so interesting. Naruko, half asleep as well, had stumbled through his living room to the kitchen where she was boiling their breakfast tea, still wearing the see-through nightie from the night before. And nothing else.

He jerked upright, looking back and forth between the Nin and the blonde, glowering.

“Oi. Naruko.” Shikamaru pulled off his shirt and threw it at his lover. “Clothes.”

She caught it with her face, complaining incoherently as she obediently forced herself into it. It covered the tiny nightie easily but barely reached mid-thigh.

He turned back to face the messenger Nin, who had the decency to look mortified at ogling his superior’s woman. Unamused, Shikamaru prompted, “As you were saying?”

“Uh, right, sorry. Um, your mission report, sir. And the Hokage wishes to speak with you before you head off.”

“Is that all?” He yawned, taking the scroll when the Nin nodded. “Fine, tell the Hokage I’ll see her at noon.”

The man hurried away but not before Shikamaru called out blandly, “Oh, and if you stare at my girlfriend like that again, I’ll have you reprimanded. Understand?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“Good. Now beat it.” Shikamaru yawned again, shutting the door behind him as he made his way to the kitchen. Naruko chewed lethargically on a piece of toast, head propped up on her hand. He sat down next to her at the small table, taking a sip of the tea she poured him. “And as for you, what’s the big idea, walking around dressed like?”

“You weren’t complaining last night,” she said with a sleepy chuckle, eyes still shut.

He frowned, unable to argue against that. “Yes, but not when people are around to see you.”

She shrugged, leaning back in her chair to stretch. Observing her appreciatively, he felt a bit smug at how good she looked in his shirt. “Well, at least he has a stimulating story to share with his friends.”

“I’ll have them all on cleaning duty for a month,” he grumbled, reaching over to pull her into his lap. She giggled and complied, wrapping her arms around his neck as he did the same to her waist.

“That seems like an abuse of power, Shikamaru,” she hummed, playing with his hair. She loved it when he let it down.

He huffed, resting his head on her shoulder, feeling the tension leave his body as she dragged her fingers gently across his scalp. “He’s lucky I just woke up, I wouldn’t have been so lenient if I’d been fully awake.”

“So possessive,” Naruko breathed out indulgently, lifting his chin to press soft kisses to his face. “You know you’re the only one I want.”

Shikamaru curled further into her, tightening his grip. “I know.”

He also knew how lucky he was to have her and the other man’s admiring gaze had only driven home how easily she could replace him if she so desired it. Standing, he picked her up and carried her out into the living room.

A yelp left her lips and she clung to his neck to stabilize herself. “Shi-Shikamaru?!” 

He kept walking, heading to his room. “We’re going back to bed.” 

“Shikamaru!” She managed before he sealed his mouth on hers, ravenous. Panting, she broke away and had to dodge his attempts to continue. “What’s gotten into you?! What about your meeting?!”

One of his hands gripped her hair lightly and he spoke against her lips, “If Kakashi can be late, so can I.”

Feeling the tension in his shoulders and seeing the uncertainty in his face, Naruko’s eyes soften and the words in her throat faded away. She pressed forward, sighing into his mouth. “Fine,” she moaned, letting him slip off his shirt and the nightie, “just this once.”

Chapter Text

The sun beat down from overhead and Naruko was grateful she had invested in a sunhat for gardening. Pots of various sizes packed her tiny patio, growing lush with plant life. Truth be told, she had fibbed when Kakashi scolded her about eating healthier. It wasn’t that she hated fruits and vegetables, it was just difficult for her to afford them and when she could, they were usually spoiled.

After a few bad experiences of biting into a rotten apple or tomato, she decided to forgoe further attempts. Her schoolmates might think her stupid, which admittedly wasn’t entirely incorrect, she was well aware that the shopkeepers hiked up their prices when she visited their stores. She wasn’t book smart, but growing up the way she did, she knew when she was being hustled.

It came to the point when she decided she had had enough and that if she couldn’t buy what she needed, she’d grow it.

It was slow going at the start; she hadn’t realized all that went into maintaining a decent, productive garden, the books she ‘borrowed’ from the library made it seem so easy. There were the various soil-mixes for the different plant species, the all-important drainage of the different pots, and the placement of shade-loving and sun-loving plants; honestly, she had thought all a person had to do was put seeds in the ground and water it. Simple, right? No, not at all, she discovered after caterpillars ate her plantlets to bare stems for the third time. Eventually, after going through several trial batches and discovering the joys of herbal bug repellant, she got the hang of it.

Kneeling back and brushing dirt off her hands, she surveyed the success of her hard-won green thumb with a proud smile. Whenever Kakashi’s words came to haunt her, she simply wandered to her compact garden, plucked a couple of veggies, and added them to her meal. Which was still usually ramen, but the thought was there. At least she could say she was eating better without being dishonest. Nothing would ever overcome her love for ramen, instant or hand cooked, and the sooner Kakashi accepted this fact the better off he’d be.

Naruko was contemplating saving up to purchase an orange tree, and where exactly to squeeze it on her cramped patio, when Iruka alighted on the roof next her.

“Iruka-sensei!” She hopped to her feet before gesturing to around her. “My garden’s coming along pretty good, right? I told you I had a green thumb!”

“Yes, so you did,” he acknowledged kindly, shading his eyes with his hand. “I was in the neighborhood so I just dropped by to see how you were doing.” He leaned closer to examine the leaves of the plant nearest to him. “Looks like you found out how to keep the bugs away.”

“Yeah, it’s an herbal spray! I got the recipe from Hinata, she says it keeps her flowers safe,” Naruko explained, nodding importantly and crossing her arms. “When I told her how good everything was working, she said that she’d like to come see my garden for herself. So I invited her.” Shifting from foot to foot, she glanced over the dingy, mismatched pots that she had scavenged, nothing like the beautiful glazed pots Hinata owned, and ducked her head. “Do you think she’ll…?”

“Naruko.” Iruka’s hand settled on her shoulder and she jerked her eyes up to meet his soft stare. “She’ll love it. You know she’s been your biggest fan since day one. I thought she’d faint from happiness the day you offered to be friends with her.”

Cheeky grin back in place, the blonde scoffed. “Of course! I’m the best! What’s not to like?”

“Well, maybe that ego.” Iruka scratched his cheek, pointedly looking away.

“Oi!” Naruko squeaked in outrage. “I’m the most humble person I know!” She huffed, jabbing her thumb into her chest.

Her former teacher merely continued to gaze into the distance, humming noncommittally as the tiny blonde vented her indignation.

 

When Hinata had visited, she had been so impressed with Naruko’s garden that the blonde had gotten the idea to bring some veggies for her in a bento. She barely cooked for herself, but since it was for her friend, she decided to put in the hard work of preparing the rice and eggrolls.  They would taste good with the sliced bell peppers and cherry tomatoes, the hint of mild sweetness balancing out the saltiness.

However, as she stood anxiously in the doorway to classroom, she felt the bandana wrapped luncheon was too shabby for someone as elegant as Hinata. She was an heiress; the food she was used to eating was far beyond Naruko’s level of cooking skill. Stepping away, the blonde hurried to the rooftop, planning on leaving the bento there until lunch when she could give to her friend.

As she walked back to class, she knocked herself on the head at her own stupidity. Naruko couldn't give Hinata the bento in front of the entire class anyway, the poor girl would combust. No, she’d wait and give it to her in private. Wringing her hands, she sat at her desk and waited for class to start.

 

"Someone left a bento here! Do you think it's a gift for one of us?" Chouji exclaimed, kneeling down to pick up the neatly wrapped lunchbox.

Shikamaru wandered past him to rest against the wall, sparing the box a bored glance. "Che, no way. We're not the Uchiha. Leave it, it'd be troublesome if whoever left it came back to find it gone."

"Aww, seems like such a waste though..." His friend pouted, reluctantly setting it back down. “It looks homemade.”

Shikamaru shook his head and was about lay down for his usual lunchtime nap when he remembered he had seen that bandana before.  He turned to regard it curiously. “I think Naruko made that."

"What, really?” Chouji blinked, turning to his lazy companion in question. “How do you know that? She's never brought one before."

"That's her bandana." The Nara pointed out.

Chouji nodded, a sudden grin pulling at his lips. “Maybe she made it for someone. Maybe she made it for Sasuke-kun.”

Shikamaru felt an unfamiliar surge of aggravation at the suggestion. “No way, she hates that guy. She probably made it for that Hyuuga girl, or maybe that pink-haired girl she’s always trying to suck up to.”

“Sakura? No, everyone knows that she diets. What would be the point of bringing her food?” The other boy countered, settling down next to his slothful friend to open his own lunch. Taking a bite of his riceball, he continued, “You said it yourself, it’s probably for the Uchiha. I peeked inside; there are a lot of tomatoes. Ino said that those are Sasuke’s favorite.”

Shikamaru almost let out a snide comment about the dark-haired boy wonder but caught himself. Really, what was going on with him? All of the annoyance he felt was just too troublesome, he sighed. “Well, when she comes back for it, you can ask her.”

“Good point.” Chouji exhaled contently, setting down his empty bento to open his first bag of chips.

 

Naruko was running late. She had to stay a few minutes after class to go over her homework with Iruka-sensei. Apparently the worksheet the other sensei had given her was the wrong one and she had to make up for it, although she didn’t know how that was her fault. Iruka-sensei had given her time to redo it though, so she wasn’t too stressed. However, none of that mattered because she was supposed to meet Hinata to give her the bento she made. That was ten minutes ago.

She raced up the steps to the rooftop and threw open the door with a bang.

Shikamaru and Chouji jumped at her arrival, the larger of the two almost dropping his bag of chips.

“Naruko! Don’t scare me like that,” Chouji complained, tenderly holding his snack to his chest.

“Geez, you almost gave me a concussion, Naruko,” Shikamaru groused, rubbing his head where he had banged it against the wall.

She grinned apologetically. “My bad. Hey! Have you seen my bento? I left it here!”

“So you did make this,” Chouji responded as she rushed over to take the bento from him.

“You bet! I put my heart and soul into this bento! It tastes amazing!” She stated proudly, before sagging in despair. Her blue eyes softened as she gazed at the lunch in her hands. “I hope…”

She shot upright. “Oh, no! Lunch is almost over! Sorry, guys, I’d love to stay and chat but I gotta run, see ya!”

They watched as the blonde raced back through the door.

“Dang it, I didn’t get a chance to ask her who it was for,” Chouji pouted. “I’m going to be wondering all day.”

“Who cares who she made it for,” Shikamaru griped. The image of Naruko wistfully worrying over the bento-receiver’s approval made his eye twitch. She had never made them a bento before, and they had been friends for how long? “Che, troublesome.”

 

Chouji watched the other boy from the corner of his eye, smirking knowingly as he scrapped up the last of his BBQ flavored bites. His best friend was ridiculously smart, but, honestly, he could be so dense.

Chapter Text

“This isn’t how I planned to propose.” Shikamaru rubbed the back of his neck, unable to meet her eyes.  “I mean, I don’t even have the ring yet…”

The bridge felt reassuringly solid beneath his shifting feet. Regardless, he was ready for his world to drop out from under him at her reply. “Will you? That is to say, do you want to? Marry me, to be clear.”

Naruko blinked owlishly at him, standing dazed in the orange-tinted light of the setting sun. If her jaw hadn’t been locked shut, it would have dropped to the ground. He had gone silent, throwing quick glances in her direction and with a jolt she realized he was waiting for her answer. Swallowing hard, she forced her mouth to move.

“I… Uh, I mean, I… I do?” Her face was probably ten different shades of red by now. Had her voice always been this breathy? This wasn’t how she wanted to answer!

Shikamaru wasn’t doing much better. He was visibly fighting back either a panicked grimace or a grin. “You do? Is that a yes?”

She nodded feverishly, watching his mouth move. Her heart was pounding so loudly in her chest that she had almost had to read his lips to understand what he was saying. She wanted to speak but it felt as if a snake was constricting her throat.

“That’s- That’s great.” He settled on a shy smile. “You do. You really… Wow.”

“Yeah,” she managed at last. They drifted into silence and every part of her screamed for her to do something. Her legs felt weak as if she hadn’t eaten in days .This was nothing like the whimsical scenarios she had conjured up in her free time as a young girl. Was she supposed to feel this way when proposed to, so awkward and unsure of herself? If anything, she always thought she would be the one doing the proposing.

Her lips quirked up wickedly and her eyes lit up. ‘Wait a minute. Now there’s an idea.’

Regaining control of her ironclad nerves, Naruko marched forward until there was almost no space between them. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she felt him tense as he returned her gaze and watched as his expression shifted between joy and suspicion. As if he thought her answer was too good to be true.  Always a pessimist, she thought fondly.

Naruko grinned triumphantly as if he were a fierce battle that she had won. “I want to marry you, Shikamaru,” she declared. “Will you marry me?”

“…I just asked you that,” he answered instead, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

Her face fell and she felt like a fool. “Is that a no?”

His arms came around to pull her against him and he buried his face into her neck, shuddering. “Yes, I’ll marry you, you idiot. After all, since you already accepted my proposal, it’s only fair that I accept yours, right?”

She heaved a shaky sigh of relief and laughed. “How considerate of you. You know, I don’t think I would’ve handled rejection very well.”

“No, I don’t think you would have,” He agreed, running his hand down her back.

Pressing a kiss just below his ear, she crooned, “You’re going to make a great First Husband of the second female Hokage.”

He snorted, muffled by the collar of her shirt. “Troublesome woman, I’m going to be your Advisor.”

Jerking back, she gripped his Chunin vest. “Really?! You would do that for me? But it’s so much work, Shikamaru…”

Rolling his eyes long-sufferingly, he intoned, “Of course, do you really think I’m going to let you run this village alone? As much work as it will undoubtedly be, I do like this place and I’d rather not see it set aflame.”

“Oi, I’m not an Uchiha, pal!” She retorted, chuckling. “I use wind Ninjutsu. It’d be blown away.”

Shikamaru shook his head at this ridiculous woman who was going to be his wife. Grabbing her face in his hands, he met his mouth to hers.  She surged forward, deepening the kiss, moaning when his hand slid up to grip her hair.

“Troublesome woman,” he murmured after he pulled away, panting.

“You already said that,” she shot back cheekily, lips bruised and cheeks flushed.

“Shut up and let’s go. People will start to notice something’s going on if we keep standing here.” Despite his words he was reluctant to break away from her. He intertwined their hands instead and tugged her along with him as they slowly made their way back to the village. The bridge they were on was far from any prying eyes, but this was a village of ninjas. He was taking no chances.

“We don’t want them to know?” Naruko’s blonde bangs fell into her eyes as her head tilted. “Isn’t this a special occasion?”

He grimaced, shaking his head. “They’ll know soon enough, but letting them know right away is too much trouble. Especially Ino, she’s going to be pissed that I didn’t tell her I was going to propose.”

“Hmm, and why didn’t you?” Naruko asked, eying him questionably.

“I had a thousand different strategies set up, but,” he sighed. “You’re a walking disaster, too unpredictable, I couldn’t decide on which one to do.” Glancing sideways at her, he smirked. “So, I took a page from your book and just did it, no plan, no prepared speech. No ring." He smiled wryly. "Nothing.”

“I loved it.” She beamed, all blue, blue eyes and long lashes.

He blushed, staring at her softly before he cleared his throat. “I’m glad. Now, are we going to celebrate or what?”

She slid into a gleeful, fox-like grin. “Duh! We have to have ramen! It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t.”

He agreed. It felt like the only correct choice. “Ramen it is. I’ll buy.”

“Yes! You’re the best, Shikamaru,” she cheered, pumping her free hand in a fist. Her pace remained unhurried, even at the prospect of free ramen and she tightened her hold on his hand.

Matching her leisurely stride, he considered the village around them with a fresh perspective. This is where they were going to raise a family. He knew that eventually he would one day, but this was real and nothing like the average plans he had laid out. The thought made him inexplicably excited. The rest of his life, with her, and he couldn’t wait to get started. How unlike him, he almost laughed.

 “Ne, Shikamaru.” Naruko’s pensive voice pierced through his thoughts.

He hummed his acknowledgement, letting his vision drift up towards the clouded evening sky. Even the sky seemed more relaxing today.

“I don’t think we should have sex until we’re married.”

Shikamaru nodded dreamily until the words registered. He lurched to a halt. “W-wait, wait, wait. Hold on, let’s not be unreasonable here.”

“I wanna do this right! So we’re gonna wait. Maybe we shouldn’t kiss either…” She tapped her soft, pink lips contemplatively.

Panicked, he stammered, “But- But, Naruko-Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?”

“Think of it as motivation for a short engagement!” She practically shined, her smile happiness incarnate, and he felt his resolve dissipate like a cloud in the sun. 

“…I’ll get on those arrangements then.”

Chapter Text

“-aruko. Naruko! Hey, Naruko, are you listening to me?”

A hand waved in front of her face and Naruko jolted from her daze, biting back an irritated growl. Sakura tilted her head curiously, eyebrows furrowed as she leaned back into her seat. It took Naruko a moment to recall what was happening and the smell of fresh baked bread brought it all back. They were at a café, seated outside, having lunch to discuss plans for future missions.

“Huh? Sorry, Sakura-chan, I was thinking about something. Please, go on.” She grinned sheepishly under her pink-haired friend’s frown. What had she been thinking about again? She couldn’t remember.

“Naruko, this is important. You need to know what to do in case someone gets hurt during a mission and I or any other medical Nin aren’t around to help. It’s literally a matter of life and death.” Despite her stern words, her expression softened and she held a hand to the blonde’s forehead. “I know you don’t really get flus but do you feel alright? You’re a bit warm.”

Leaning forward in her seat, Naruko sighed at the heavenly coolness of the hand. “It’s been rough with all these missions back to back, maybe I am catching something.”

“We’ve been under way more stress and you were never affected before,” Sakura pointed out, humming critically as her hand began glow a faint green hue. “Let me check.”

Naruko felt the hair on her arms stand on end and she felt the growl from earlier slip loose. This time Sakura was the one who jerked in surprise.

“Naruko!” Her seafoam eyes widened and she cautiously pulled her hand back. “What was that?!”

The irritation faded as quickly as it came and Naruko could only shrug helplessly as she answered, “I don’t know! Really, it just happened.” She laughed weakly. “Maybe the Fox is feeling cranky.”

In spite of her light tone, Naruko felt her breathing pick up and all of her instincts were telling her to get away from that knowing gaze. But why? Sakura was her friend! She only wanted to help.

Naruko felt her mouth move before she had even decided what to do. “I guess I’m just tired, I should probably go home to rest. It’s getting colder out now that autumn is here, so that could be a factor too.”

There was a pause before Sakura answered, her lips pulled into a thin line and she nodded. “You’re right. Rest would be the best option for now. We can finish this conversation later, don’t worry.”

“Thanks, Sakura-chan. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Naruko replied with a relieved sigh, standing up to leave. She tried to keep her pace normal as she left the café, but feeling her friends stare on her back made her footsteps hasten.


Naruko didn’t feel the tension leave her body until she locked the door to her apartment. Collapsing onto her couch, she groaned. Her skin felt tight and her limbs both restless and heavy. The heat from before had cooled down on the walk back to her home but now it was boiling up again.

“This is your fault, isn’t it, Kurama?” She moaned, weakly wrestling her jacket off. “What are you doing in there?”

No reply, of course. She couldn’t talk to the Fox unless she when into her mindscape but she suspected he could hear her when she complained to him. Or at least she hoped he could, otherwise she was just talking to herself. Sighing, she pulled herself up, feeling parched and wandered over to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

The liquid felt cold on her lips but as soon as it slipped down her throat it heated to lukewarm. She drank almost ten glasses before the water stayed cool on the way down.

“This is the weirdest sickness I’ve ever had,” she stated, confusion making her eyes squint shut. “Not that I have a lot to compare to. I should have let Sakura check me out.”

The idea made her stomach twist painfully, the water sloshing inside her when she clutched at it. “Okay, okay, no checkups! I get it!”

Her skin still felt sticky and stretched so after a moment of hesitation she opted on a shower. The water had the same effect as her drinking; it was cold for a moment then immediately warmed. She turned it on the lowest setting, which usually felt like pouring a bucket of ice on her head. This time the water took an extra second to turn warm, but that was the extent of the effect.

“I can’t even take a cold shower, terrific.” Naruko glowered at the tiles in front of her before exhaling and stepping out to dry off. “No use raising my water bill for this.”

Pulling on the barest of clothes, she turned on the fan to the highest setting and splayed out face down on her cotton sheets. Rubbing her face against her silk pillowcase she pouted, regretting not investing in the full silk bedspread. Why didn’t she get it again? Oh, right, they didn’t have it in orange. Shame, the smooth texture felt delicious against her skin

Flipping onto her back, she gazed at the ceiling, feeling the heat bubbling up from her stomach and spreading out to her fingers and toes. Exhaustion settled on her body and it felt as sore as if every part of her had been worked out. Had her missions really been that draining or was this the Fox’s doing?

“Just what are you planning, Kurama?” She murmured before sleep took her.


Naruko blinked drowsily, inhaling the comforting scent of her own bed and wondering what had woken her. The sun was almost set, the last few rays fading against the wall from her window. A knock startled her upright, making her wince at the stiffness of her muscles. It had only been a few hours since she lay down but it pained her to stand and walk to her front door.

She didn’t bother checking who it was before she opened it, barking, “What?”

Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at her greeting. “Good evening to you too, I guess.”

In a snap, she remembered they had made plans to hang out during their break from duties. They had a sort-of-but-not-really dating situation going on and neither wanted to be the first to take the next step. His reasoning along the lines of fear of commitment and her's being something quite similar, but more related to her abandonment issues. Regardless, they wanted to be around each other as much as possible. “Oh, man, I’m sorry, Shika. I totally forgot about today.”

“I figured,” he responded, meaningfully staring down at her clothes, if you could call a loose, over-sized tee-shirt proper clothing.

Pressing a hand to her blurry eyes, she didn’t catch his look and turned to wobble back into the apartment. “Come on in, anyways. There’s ramen in the cupboards if you're hungry.”

He followed, watching her closely with concern. Pushing aside her discarded outfit, he collapsed down onto the couch with a happy sigh. “Your hostess skills are bar none, as always.”

She laughed mockingly, “Only the best for you.”

He smirked then frowned. “Are you feeling okay? You look tired.”

“I’m just overworked.” She waved her hand airily. “And hot.”

“I’ll agree to that,” he muttered, watching her down a full glass of water. A few trickles escaped from the corners of her mouth to slide down her neck and underneath her shirt. He cleared his throat, adding reluctantly, “If you need to rest, I can leave.”

She whirled around, blue eyes blazing. “No!”

Shikamaru pressed himself back into the cushions. “Uh, alright. I’ll stay.”

Naruko shook her head, covering her hand to her eyes again. Her vision had cleared for a second but now her head felt stuffy, her thoughts sluggish. On the bright side, her body had loosened up and she weaved her way to the couch, gathering up her clothes and tossing them into the laundry basket near the door way. “Sorry for the mess,” she yawned before plopping down next to him.

“Nothing I’m not used to,” he replied, already feeling his own eyes closing. There were no lights on and the sun had finally set, the darkness of the room made it that much harder to stay awake. As a bonus, Naruko always exerted a lot of heat, which made her an excellent nap partner. He threw an arm around her shoulder and he felt her shudder at his touch. “Are you cold? You feel like you're on fire.”

She scoffed, running her fingers through her loose hair. “I am. I'm burning up.”

Nodding, he tried to pull back his arm but the blonde grabbed it and drew herself closer, almost into his lap. Her face hovered unnervingly near his and he swallowed. “Uh, Naruko?”

“It seems to help when you touch me,” she mentioned, as casual as if they were talking about the weather. Throwing her leg over his lap, she straddled him, her chest on his, chin resting on his shoulder. “Ahhh, much better,” she hummed, blinking heavily.

Face red, Shikamaru’s eyes widened, and all thoughts of sleep left him. “H-hey, uh…”

Naruko shushed him, turning her face to nuzzle into his neck. “Sleep.”

“Ha,” he laughed bitterly, feeling every part of her body pressed against him. “Right.”

After a lengthy internal debate of moral ethics, Shikamaru decided to just go with it and raised a hand to card through her hair. She flexed her thighs against his waist, purring appreciatively with her eyes still shut. He gasped quietly, hand stilling until she whimpered and wriggled. Biting his lip, he raised both hands, gently skimming over her neck, down her back to rest on her hips momentarily before repeating the process.

“Harder,” she ordered sounding nearly asleep. He choked. Nudging him with knees, she repeated herself, “Shika, harder.”

Shikamaru looked up, hoping for a sign but none came. With a suppressed groan, he did as he was told, trying to think of visual equivalents of cold showers. Ino and Sakura fighting over Sasuke, the older Ino-Shika-Cho in a drinking competition, that time Gaara almost killed us in the hospital, that time Gaara almost killed us in the Forest of Death, that time Gaara almost- It wasn’t working, even though that was the usual line up that help him regain control.

He bit his lip, accidentally gripping harder than he intended on her neck. Her body tensed around him as she gasped. She leaned back and in the dimness of her apartment, he could have sworn her eyes glowed. “Shika,” she said, voice low and soft. Her hands slid up his neck to dig into his hair, gently tugging off his hairband to let it fall loose. “I’ve always wanted to do this, you know.” She hummed a tune as she let her hands continue to roam.

Shikamaru sat perfectly still, unsure of what action to take. Did he want this? Yes. Were they ready for this? Probably. Was he going to stop her? Absolutely not.

He panted as her hands dipped lower, skimming under his shirt to trace his stomach. Grabbing her hands to stop them, he leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers.

Naruko blinked vacantly even as a blush grew on her face. “That was nice. Do it again.”

He did. Again and again and again, until they were writhing against each other, his hands locked onto her wrists to keep them from roaming, which they were eager to do. There was only so much he could handle in one day and they had taken several steps already.

She was panting harder than he was, repeating his name over and over. Her face was still flushed and her eyes were unfocused yet they never wavered from his when they were open.  The skin underneath his hands felt boiling hot. He pulled back for air and she tried to chase his mouth, but he turned aside and her attention diverted to placing kisses to his neck. “Naruko,” he wheezed, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

He felt her lick a stripe his neck and he moaned, almost forgetting what he was asking. “Naru-” he cut off with a yelp, feeling her teeth dig into the side of his neck followed by her tongue smoothing over it. Pressing a kiss there as well, she sat back in his lap, trailing her lips over the soft underside of his wrists, her hands still trapped in his grip.

“You bit me,” he stated, not quite accusatory.

She nodded, unrepentant and her eyes, they were definitely glowing. In the darkness of the room, they shone like little sparks of light.   

Shikamaru inhaled deeply, trying to slow his heart rate so he could think properly. This most likely had to do with the Fox sealed inside her. That was the only explanation that made sense. The eyes, the touching, the kissing, the bite, the heat- he paused, feeling his brain screech to a halt.

“Naruko, I think you might be in heat.”

She stared uncomprehendingly before leaning up to press close again, humming.

“Right. I’ll explain later then.” He groaned, letting his forehead rest on her shoulder. “I can’t believe this. The first time we kiss and you aren’t even in your right mind. Just my luck. What a drag.”  

“Shika,” she sighed into his ear.

He looked up in surprise and she stared back at him, before resting her forehead against his. “Shika,” she repeated, pressing a feather light kiss to his lips. “Shikamaru.”

“Alright,” he said, with a breathless smile. “I guess you are in there.”