The fighting is threatening to split the division in half, and Shikamaru can hardly see through the blood in his eyes.
He isn't a front line fighter, he's a proxy commander. And while that has spared him from the thick of it, he hasn't managed to escape entirely unscathed. He's managed to get out of that godawful fight with Asuma alive, with Ino looking rattled but resolute and Chouji only a little worse for wear. It's an ugly thing, this war that they've been made to fight in.
And it's an uglier technique that's allowed the dead to be wrangled back onto the living plane. Shikamaru is a Nara; his family's forests are older than Konoha itself. He has a great, sincere respect for nature. And this technique? Spits in the face of the natural order. He makes a note to find wherever that scroll is, the one that outlines the Impure World Resurrection technique and burn it. Then burn the ashes.
Niidaime created technique or not, that thing was a blight and no one needed the temptation. For a jutsu that was made to protect Konoha, it had been used to decimate an awful lot of it.
His division is being dragged back and forth across the damn nation, split up and pulled back together where the First Division needs reinforcement. Shikamaru is positive that Gaara can handle being in the thick of it with the other long range fighters, and he trusts his own father's strategies, but there is something about the way that obstacles keep popping up after one is defeated that makes the hairs on the back of Shikamaru's neck stand at attention.
If he hears one more thing about the Gedō Mazō, he's going to pop a fucking blood vessel.
Shikamaru's gut has never been wrong before. He follows his intuition because shinobi intuition is battle hardened, learned and cultivated through years of surviving and nearly not surviving battle.
He follows his gut right to the white masked man, in his long purple robes. The one who declared the war.
Shikamaru can feel the sun on the back of his neck; he can feel every shadow twitching on the battlefield. He can feel this man's, and he doesn't think before he crouches down, forms his seal, and uses the darkness in the daytime to trap the man.
"What a shame that you're my enemy," he says, voice clear as day from behind his white mask.
He doesn't need to see Kinkaku and Ginkaku's bodies to understand this man's plan. The Kyuubi's chakra was what he was after, what he was trying to squirrel away to some unknown location, to use in the fight against them. Any advantage to the enemy was a disadvantage to the Allied Shinobi Forces.
He has just enough time to alter his seals for a Shadow-Neck Binding, trying to figure out thirteen contingency plans at once, wondering what exactly Darui plans on doing when a flash of dark blue fabric barrels into the fray.
An idiot. A perfect idiot, if the information gathered on this white masked man, Tobi to be believed. But a clear shot was a clear shot, and Shikamaru could not begrudge this blue dressed shinobi for taking it.
He holds Tobi as the blue clad shinobi approaches, watching with narrowed eyes as the shinobi unsheathes a nagamaki to bear down on him. Across the battlefield, there is a throat scraping roar, and Shikamaru has no time to be astonished at the speed with which the massive Gedō Mazō can move.
He spares a prayer for the shinobi that aimed to strike down Tobi, and releases the Shadow Imitation as the statue's own shadow looms overhead. He has a single, frightening thought of finding enough Nara to manipulate the Gedō's shadow before Chouji grabs him at the stomach and drags him from underneath the statue's foot.
There is the sound of earth being crushed, of the statue's foot making contact to the hard packed ground, but there is also the sound of a battle still being waged.
When Shikamaru turns his head to look back, the blue clad shinobi has managed to move the Jōhei. The shinobi is a woman, whose blue cloak has fallen down over her shoulders, revealing a head full of startlingly pink hair. A Kiri shinobi by her blues, and by the easy way she handles the nagamaki in her grasp.
She stands, blade pointed towards Tobi, directly in front of the Kohaku no Jōhei in a clear challenge.
Shikamaru has enough time to think 'She's going to get herself killed' when a second shinobi leaps down the cliff face to join her. Shikamaru recognizes the Kumo black-and-whites before the shinobi even slows down, but what stumps him beyond a reasonable doubt are the Hyūga pale eyes, and the distinctive bulging veins of the Byakugan.
There is a lot to unpack there.
The Kiri kunoichi doesn't spare him a second glance. She seems to recognize his Allied Shinobi Forces hitai-ate, and she accepts his help without thinking. The Hyūga from Kumo (and how in the hell is Shikamaru going to explain that to Tsunade) dips into an unrecognizable stance, one that Shikamaru knows is not typical of the Hyūga. He's seen Hinata fight before, and this - ? This isn't anything like what she does.
The Hyūga lifts his palms, and with pointed fingers that should be performing a perfect Jūken, he begins to throw lightning from his fingertips.
"What on earth - ," Chouji breathes, and Shikamaru is of a like mind.
The technique is only half the Gentle Fist; there is no rotation, only raiton augmented bolts of chakra turned pure electricity fired towards Tobi. The Hyūga doesn't hold back, clearly knows that he can't afford to. He skips straight from kid gloves to an assassination level technique, one that is maddening in its devastation. Other shinobi need to duck and cover, to draw up earthen walls to deflect the lightning the Hyūga is spitting from his fingertips.
Tobi blocks the lightning with an infuriating ease, but the Hyūga does not seem interested in being annoyed by it. Rather, he presses forward, one step at a time, forcing the other shinobi away from the Jōhei.
The Kiri kunoichi does not sheathe her blade. Rather, with one hand, she forms the seals for a water needle technique. Her aim is Kiri-perfect, meant to amplify the effect of the -hesitantly named in the privacy of Shikamaru's own mind- Raiton Jūken the Hyūga is performing.
On any other shinobi, one that didn't clearly consider himself godlike, one that didn't declare a war on the entire world by himself, the combined techniques would have been devastating. Shikamaru himself has a pocket of his mind dedicated to thinking about how a healthy Kumo-Kiri alliance probably would have ended the Third War before it even began; suiton and raiton were a deadly combination, even in the hands of two shinobi that clearly had never fought alongside each other before this scenario.
But they aren't fighting against any other shinobi. Tobi lifts his pristine white gunbai, and blows back the attack against the Kiri kunoichi and the Kumo Hyūga. Kumo shinobi were lightning dominant, and from the way the Hyūga takes back his hit, it's clear he's had to redirect lightning before. The Kiri kunoichi is not so lucky; bolts of the Raiton Jūken augmented with her own water needles dig hard into her stomach, nearly doubling her over.
In the confusion of having an attack redirected, Tobi winks out of existence and back into it, displacing the air around him as he moves for the Jōhei. The Kiri kunoichi lashes out with her nagamaki, but rather than making contact with her opponent, her sword passes through him as if it were cutting through wind or water. The kunoichi's eyes widen, and Tobi waves his gunbai a second time; more a flick than a wave, and it throws the kunoichi backwards.
The Kumo Hyūga leaps over her form as she skitters backwards, and from above, his fingertips are coated with a lightning so white it reminds Shikamaru of Kakashi's Raikiri. The lightning crackles, filling the field with the smell of ozone and rain. It's a killing attack, and a perfect one if the Hyūga manages to land the strike on the tenketsu point at the forehead of his opponent.
Tobi is gone, and he reappears in an instant over the Hyūga's falling form, slamming his war fan into the Kumo shinobi's back and nearly burying him in the earth.
Shikamaru nearly chokes at the display, and his eyes track up to the cliffs where he last saw Ino, and wonders if her training with Tsunade would be enough to stabilize the Kumo shinobi until they got him to safety.
When he looks back at the battlefield, Tobi, the Jōhei, and the Gedō have all disappeared.
Shikamaru stands, already understanding the necessity of moving the wounded and retrieving the tags of the dead. They needed to regroup and figure out their next plan of attack or defense. Ino is the only shinobi on the battlefield with the necessary medical expertise to stabilize those who can be stabilized, and she will be exhausted within the hour if resources aren't allocated well.
"We need support from the First's medical division," he says to Chouji. "We need rapid transport for those in the worst condition to the medic station, maybe two additional field medics to help those that don't need beds immediately."
"Can do," Chouji says, looking over the cliffs to find Ino to relay the information.
Shikamaru opens his mouth to relay a second order, when he spots the pink haired Kiri kunoichi struggling to stand. There is no one nearby to help her, so she sheaths her sword, and uses it as a crutch to help her rise to her feet. She crosses the battlefield to where the fallen Hyūga is nearly buried in the densely packed earth. She gets to her knees and pulls him out of the rubble.
She unsheathes her nagamaki and runs her hand along its edge, and her blood pours into a deep groove at the center of the blood. She shuts her eyes for a moment, then opens them before raising it above the body of the fallen Hyūga.
Darui is on her in an instant, his own sword drawn to stop hers. Because infighting is the last thing they need at this point, Shikamaru bolts to where the altercation has begun. Scattered Kumo shinobi have already smelled blood, are eyeballing the situation warily. Kiri shinobi, always primed for violence are visibly twitching for their own swords.
"What a drag," Shikamaru mutters, rapidly approaching.
The Kiri kunoichi, despite the clear burns lanced across her stomach, barely breaks a sweat as she holds her blade up against Darui's. He's got several pounds on her, he's taller, too, but she doesn't even flinch.
"Fight me if you will," she says through gritted teeth, "but your comrade's blood will be on your hands if you do."
"I'm sorry, but you Kiri shinobi are odd," he replies, eyes narrowed. "You think drawing a sword on a fallen comrade will save his life?"
"If I were going to mercy kill him, I would have done it already," the kunoichi snaps.
"That really helps your case," Shikamaru drawls as he approaches.
The kunoichi's eyes cut to him, and then back to Darui. With one great heft of her sword, she pushes Darui back, then doubles her sword back onto herself.
"Watch," she says, impaling herself on her own weapon.
Shikamaru knows instinctively that yanking the sword out of the kunoichi's stomach would make her bleed out, but he can't help his first reaction. He reaches out, tries to stop her hand, but her long sword pierces her straight through.
She barely gives a grunt of pain before the unimaginable happens. Through the ripped fabric on the stomach of her shirt, Shikamaru can see the puckered, blistering scars from the Raiton Jūken slowly begin to heal. There is a faint blue glow to her weapon then, one that spreads across her stomach as tissue knits back together.
As she pulls the nagamaki out of her stomach again, the skin there is clear, unblemished. Completely healed.
Shikamaru's jaw drops. It really does.
"Now if you don't mind," the healed Kiri kunoichi says, pouring more of her blood into the groove of her nagamaki, "I would like to save the life of the shinobi that bothered to help me in that fight, instead of gawking from the sidelines."
Darui and Shikamaru back off, and as they do, the other gathered shinobi do as well. The Kiri kunoichi raises her blade before she brings it down decisively into the Hyūga's stomach. That faint green glow seeps into the fallen shinobi, pouring over his battered body, repairing his wounds. After some time, his closed eyes squint, then open.
With a measured slowness, the Kiri kunoichi draws the nagamaki from his stomach. The Kumo shinobi blinks hazily at her, and then at Darui, and then at Shikamaru. He's alive.
The kunoichi's name is Haruno Sakura, or Iyashino ken no Sakura. Sakura of the Healing Sword. Well known in Kiri for her ability to imbue her nagamaki with healing chakra for battleground wounds. The sword was custom, of her own design, Kiri made, with a groove that could be filled with her blood for minor field surgeries.
The shinobi's name is Neji. Obviously, Hyūga Neji. The so-called 'dead' son of Hyūga Hizashi. The Hyūga Incident of Shikamaru's youth hadn't only ended in the death of Neji's father; the main branch had allowed Neji to be stolen, had switched the children in their beds at night, so that Kumo stole a child whose eyes they would never be able to use. Hizashi had revolted against the main branch essentially giving his son to Kumogakure to protect Hinata; he had challenged Hyūga Hiashi to a fight to the death for leadership of the clan, and had lost.
And they were both under Shikamaru's command.
When questioned, Darui had little to say.
"Sorry, but I rarely spoke to the kid in my life," he murmurs, arms folded. "The boss tutored him personally. Kumo took him under the Sandaime's reign, so he went from being the Sandaime's ward to the boss's."
Shikamaru pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Which means that he probably never took missions outside of the village," Shikamaru says, "and that only people with the highest possible security clearances were allowed around him."
"I can honestly say that I don't know that much about him," Darui says. "I only knew what I had to. That he was an orphan, one of A-sama's wards, and that he belonged to Kumogakure."
"And the Yondaime Raikage didn't think that having him on the battlefield would raise some questions from Konoha shinobi?"
Darui levels him with a look.
"If the Hyūga were willing to give him up, why would the boss be worried about them wanting Kumo to give him back?"
Shikamaru wants a cigarette.
"Sorry, man. He's a long range fighter, meaning he's one of yours," Darui says, lightly clapping Shikamaru on the shoulder in a rare show of camaraderie. "While we're all allies, it won't make a difference. But I know you've got your orders. Do what you have to."
Shikamaru does nothing. Because there is literally a war going on, and there isn't very much he can do. The Hyūga will just have to deal with the fact that their least loved son is the Sandaime Raikage's protege. And the Allied Shinobi Forces will have to deal with the fact that Iyasashino ken no Sakura needs to stab them to save their lives.
He knows one thing for sure. Tsunade is going to love Haruno if she didn't knock the girl into the stratosphere first.
The war ends because Naruto and Sasuke finally realize they've been in love instead of rivals for the past sixteen years, surprising absolutely no one except for themselves. Shikamaru slams a hundred fifty ryo into Ino's palm, rolling his eyes fondly as she goes to collect from the Konoha Ten.
The nearest hidden village that hadn't been absolutely decimated in the fighting was Kusa, so the Allied Shinobi Forces flooded Grass Country while their commanders focused on getting the armies back to their respective villages.
Shikamaru's authority has been all but ceded to Kakashi. He doesn't really mind. Between the shock of seeing Asuma reincarnated, losing his father, and having no idea in the slightest where his mother was among the madness, he is more than happy to let responsibility slide off his shoulders.
Ino is worried about him though. Gives him analyzing glances that say, 'I'm not going to invade your mind to figure out whether or not you're processing your grief in a healthy way, but I absolutely could'. So to calm her worry, he lets her take him out of the small Konoha shinobi encampment through the smooth grassy fields of Kusagakure towards the nearest bar.
Ino is a poison's mistress first. She's a talented medic, but she preferred Shizune's teachings to Tsunade's. One thing she did manage to get from the Godaime that she did not get from her own master was a healthy love for alcohol.
Ino can drink the entirety of the Akimichi clan under the table. It is a sight to behold. Usually, Shikamaru is content to simply behold the sight; he isn't a big drinker himself. But tonight, Ino slides a beer down the bar at him, and he knows that the only place that makes better beer than Grass Country is Hot Springs, so he takes his cigarette out of his mouth and he has a long pull.
"Slow down, taichō," comes a wry voice, "mind your vices. You've got one in each hand."
He looks to the side and sees Haruno and Neji nestled in a booth not too far away. Haruno has a pristine ceramic choko halfway to her lips, a bottle of sake sitting on the table. Neji has a half finished tumbler of whiskey at his elbow.
"Haruno," Shikamaru says, nodding at the pink haired kunoichi, and then at Neji beside her. "Neji-san."
Haruno smirks at him; she looks looser than she did in battle. There's no blue hood up to hide her hair; rather, it spills down over her shoulders in a display of her strength, not unlike the current Mizukage's. Neji has his hair pulled in a tight ponytail at the nape of his neck, a black bandana pulled down over his forehead to hide his Caged Bird Seal.
"Sit with us, taichō," Haruno says, waving a hand at him to beckon him over. "Come have a drink with your lowly subordinates."
"Did you just tell me to slow down?" Shikamaru asks, walking towards their booth despite himself.
He purposely sits down beside Haruno; Neji doesn't appear to notice. Shikamaru tips ash into the tray at the center of the table.
"Are you ready to go home, taichō?" Haruno asks, lifting an eyebrow as she drinks. "You look exhausted."
"I think everyone's ready to go home, Haruno," he replies. "It's been one hell of a year."
Neji chuckles at that, and Sakura pours herself another cup of sake.
"That it has," she muses.
She knocks back the drink, then gives the two of them assessing gazes.
"Y'know," she says, alcohol clearly loosening her tongue, "I thought I'd like you, taichō, I really did. But you drink beer. And that? Is a tragedy."
"Does that meant you don't like me any more?" Shikamaru asks, smirking around his cigarette. "I didn't think you liked me at all."
"Not many people say 'What a drag' when they see me use Ōkuninushi the first time," she drawls.
"Most people attack, I imagine," Neji says, speaking for the first time in the short conversation.
"Like your superior did," Haruno returns.
There's a bump of her leg rising on the table, then Neji's arm comes down off the table. Shikamaru betrays nothing; it's obvious that Haruno's just put her foot on Neji's lap, and that Neji doesn't seem particularly bothered by it.
War time romances weren't all that strange or uncommon. Shikamaru knew for a fact that Tenten and Temari were all over each other whenever they were in the same village, much less in the same army. But he can honestly say, he didn't peg Neji as being Haruno's type.
"I liked your balls. So I liked you. But because you like beer," Haruno continues, settling her foot on Neji's lap, "I'm afraid I don't like you any more."
Shikamaru chuckles around his own drink, holding it easy by the neck.
"That's a shame."
"Do you like sake?" she asks, speaking on the edge of his last word.
Shikamaru shakes his head.
"Never had a taste for it."
"How about whiskey?"
"Haven't had enough to tell for sure."
Haruno's gaze snaps to Neji, and she smiles prettily at him. The way she bounces between an obviously lethal killer to sweet faced is enough to make the Godaime and the Mizukage both green with envy. And also probably pride in the kunoichi of the future.
"Neji," she coos. "Let him have some of yours."
Neji already has his tumbler to his own mouth, and he lifts one dark eyebrow at Haruno when she makes the request. He finishes his sip of his own drink, before setting the tumbler back down and gently sliding it across the table towards Shikamaru.
Shikamaru sets down his beer and reaches out for the whiskey; with this many Konoha shinobi in the room, a poisoning was incredibly unlikely. When he takes the glass, his fingers brush against Neji's. He looks at the lost Hyūga, whose pale eyes glitter with something like mischief.
He takes a sip of the whiskey, and it burns like lightning in his mouth, like stars down his throat. He licks at his upper lip when he takes the glass away from his mouth, and he catches the way Neji's eyes watch the movement.
"What is that?" Shikamaru asks, liking the flavor and the bite that comes with it.
"Red Stag," Neji answers, making no move to take the tumbler back from him. "Cinnamon whiskey."
Shikamaru nods and puts the tumbler back down on the table between himself and Neji. Red Stag? Shikamaru chuckles at the name; made for him, or at least made to interest a family who owed their livelihood to the deer on their lands.
"Oh, good," Haruno says, running her finger around the rim of her choko. "I was hoping this would happen."
"Hoping what would happen, Haruno?" Shikamaru asks, looking at her though he is loathe to take his eyes off of Neji.
She smiles the way all Kiri women smile, full of fang and sex appeal, well aware of how stunning she is, holding herself like a weapon that wants to be handled.
"Taichō," she purrs, putting her elbows onto the table. "Come to bed with us."
Shikamaru blinks. He looks over his shoulder to where Ino is currently knocking back shots like it's her last night on earth, and not like they didn't all just risk life and limb to ensure that there would be very many more nights on earth.
Haruno puts a hand on his arm, her dark blue painted fingernails gleaming with something toxic in the formula of the nail polish.
"Hold me still with that shadow of yours," she murmurs, nodding her head to Neji across the table. "Neji wants to see what it'll take to break that cool of yours."
Shikamaru takes a sip from his beer, and finds that its taste has nothing on the Red Stag.
"This is sudden," he says when he finishes.
"We were at war, taichō," Haruno says to that. "Besides, isn't it good for our villages, for us to form bonds with each other?"
Shikamaru puts down the beer and lifts his cigarette with the same hand, leaving Haruno's palm squarely on his forearm. Neji has placed his chin in his hand, and his foot below the table is tracing a warm line up Shikamaru's clothed calf.
They're both touching him, connecting the three of them above and below the table. Shikamaru finishes his cigarette and reaches for Neji's whiskey.
"I'll be honest," he says, finishing the last of what's left in the tumbler. "I'm the lazy type. I prefer to watch."
Neji smirks at that, drumming his fingers against his face.
"That won't be a problem," he says. "Sakura likes to perform."
"And what do you like, Neji-san?" Shikamaru asks, stars bouncing in his mouth as the whiskey burns its way down his throat.
Neji looks him up and down, and Haruno presses in closer, her pretty mouth unashamed as it starts to tease a line up the side of Shikamaru's throat.
"I'd like to fuck you, if I may," Neji says.
It makes Haruno laugh against Shikamaru's throat, her warm breath ghosting over Shikamaru's skin.
"He does seem like a pillow princess, doesn't he?" Haruno asks.
"He does," Neji says to her, his gaze not leaving Shikamaru. "You won't even have to lift a finger, taichō."
Shikamaru hums, pretends to mull it over. There are several reasons why he shouldn't, and several others that say there's no harm in it. There's harm in everything, he knows that from making it out of the last couple of years alive. But Haruno's mouth is warm and bitter, and Neji's pale eyes are electric in their intensity.
"If it makes a difference, taichō," Neji says, "we have a bottle of Red Stag in our tent."
He laughs lightly at that, and taps his finger on the empty tumbler.
"Well when you put it like that…"
Haruno gives his bicep a little squeeze, excitement writ in her bright green eyes.
"I like you again, taichō," she declares, she and Neji rising from the booth as one. Her smile is infectious, and her Hyūga bedfellow seems just as pleased. "I love a man who can hold his whiskey."