Shikadai peered out into the hallway, shouting out a questioning, “Mom?”
When silence answered, he closed his bedroom door with a look of smug satisfaction. “She’s not home. We won’t get caught.”
“Since getting caught is clearly the only thing worrying you, why don’t you just tell her and eliminate the risk altogether?” Inojin lay on Shikadai’s bed, shoulders propped on the pillows, frowning over his hand-held game.
Shikadai made a scoffing noise as he returned to the bed, sitting down next to Inojin.
“I told my parents ages ago,” Inojin continued. “They’re fine with it.” He frowned. “It’s kinda weird that they’ve kept it a secret. You’d think it would be the sort of thing they like to discuss.” Inojin might have called his mother a gossip on occasion. Most people agreed with him.
“Have you told your parents yet?” Inojin asked after a few moments, in case he had missed the big event and it was purely embarrassment that kept Shikadai locking doors and checking hallways and muffling moans.
Shikadai snorted. “My parents are the last people we’re telling.” He folded his hands behind his head and flopped onto his back. “It’ll be such a drag, and they always make a big deal out of everything. Things have been going just fine with no one knowing.”
“Except you panic whenever we’re here,” Inojin pointed out. He set his game aside, sitting upright to regard Shikadai with a tilted head and curious blue eyes.
“So,” Shikadai shrugged. “Relax me then.”
It was a while later, when Shikadai had one hand in Inojin’s now loose hair, and one hand up his shirt, that his brain registered a sound. He didn’t respond immediately, mostly because he was occupied with Inojin’s mouth over his own, and the other boy persistently grinding his hips down, which never did much for Shikadai’s powers of concentration. It was only when he realised the noise had not come from either of them – difficult to discern, they had both been making a lot of interesting noises -
Shikadai bolted upright, shoving Inojin aside. “Damn it, that’s my mom. Move!” He pushed Inojin a suitable distance away, hands flying to right rumpled clothing, cursing under his breath. “She’s right there-“
“How can you not hear her coming?” Inojin hissed, scrambling to tie his hair back.
“She’s a ninja!” Shikadai hissed back.
“So are you!”
“Uh, such a drag,” Shikadai groaned, suddenly jumping to attention as Temari knocked on the door.
“Hey, boys, I’m home. Everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” Shikadai shouted, sounding a bit too high pitched and not quite calm enough. “We’re just playing.”
“That’s what we’re calling it now,” Inojin said in a low voice, pale eyes sliding sideways to Shikadai.
When Temari did not enter the room, Shikadai let out a sigh of relief.
Inojin cocked his head to one side. “We really need to tell her,” he pointed out. “If you’re that nervous about being found out.”
“Ugh,” Shikadai covered his face with his hands. “I really don’t want to . . .”
“I’ll do it with you,” Inojin offered.
“No, it’s okay,” Shikadai breathed, emerging from behind his hands with a sigh. “I’ll . . . figure out a good time . . .”
The fact that it had been a year and he hadn’t found a good time was probably testament to how little he wanted to do this. But, it only seemed fair.
After all, he reflected, Ino and Sai were fine about it. So, hopefully, maybe, his parents would be too.
He timed it carefully. Shikamaru had been working late the night before, so he was tired and hopefully not firing on all cylinders, and Temari was due to leave for a visit to Suna. Shikadai hoped that meant she wouldn’t have time to yell at him too much.
His father was standing, leaning against the kitchen counter, staring blearily into his cup of coffee. His mother was bustling in and out, gathering things, tidying things, shouting out instructions to Shikamaru, none of which seemed to be penetrating.
Shikadai seized his moment. “Uh, Mom, Dad?”
He received a tired, raised eyebrow from one parent, and a look from the other, as though she knew what was coming.
He fought down a flush, eyes on the counter. “So I . . . um, well . . . Please don’t hate me.”
Shikamaru frowned. “We wouldn’t hate you.”
“What’s the matter, little one?” Temari asked, coming closer. Shikadai fought the instinctive urge to protest that he ‘wasn’t little anymore’.
This was why Shikadai liked putting things off. Admitting things was just not worth it. Ignoring it, living with it, seemed like a much better option. He drew in a sharp breath, “So I think I’m gay.”
He expected the silence that followed. Shikamaru was staring at him, expression unreadable. Temari was studying her nails, frowning and picking at one of them, as though that warranted more of her attention.
“Gay . . .” Shikamaru repeated deliberately, the wheels in his head turning unusually slow. “As in . . . liking men?”
“Yes.” Shikadai nodded his affirmative.
“Okay,” Temari said dismissively, dropping a kiss onto Shikadai’s head. “I’ll be home in two days, don’t burn the house down-“
“Oh, god,” Shikamaru exclaimed, colour draining from his face.
The other two occupants of the kitchen paused, waiting to see where this was going.
“My mom is going to kill me!” Shikamaru said, both hands in his hair and eyes uncharacteristically awake. “She’s going to think this is my fault. I’ve ruined the entire clan. I’ve ruined the entire family history. She’s going to kill me, and my father is rolling over in his grave.”
“Calm down, cry-baby,” Temari snapped.
Shikadai sat very still, trying not to draw attention to himself. He nearly leapt out of his skin when Temari laid a hand against his back.
“Seventeen generations,” Shikamaru repeated, starting to pace. “And I managed to screw it up. Seventeen! All I had to do was marry and have a kid, so he could have a kid, and I still managed to get that wrong-”
Shikadai wasn’t quite sure what to think of his father’s ramblings, but there was a definite sense of relief that Shikamaru didn’t seem to be blaming him.
“You’re upsetting him, just shut up for five minutes.” Temari’s bold tone got Shikamaru’s attention, and he stopped pacing. “It’s no one’s fault, geez, how behind are you? You are the most moronic genius I’ve ever met.”
“Are you mad at me?” Shikamaru asked, disbelieving.
“Yes. Because you’re making it sound like it’s a problem.” Temari stayed protectively at Shikadai’s back. He shrank down into his seat a bit more. “There’s nothing wrong with Shikadai. And you’re not the last Nara, so could you stop going on about the end of the clan? You’re scaring him.”
Shikamaru finally seemed to come back to his senses. He drew in a deep, calming breath. “Sorry. Lost my cool a bit.”
“A bit?” Temari snarked.
“A bit,” Shikamaru said firmly. He sighed. “Shikadai, sorry, I don’t . . . I’m not angry at you. It’s just . . . oh my god . . .” He covered his face with both hands. “I’m dead.”
It had never occurred to Shikadai how much the clan might mean to his father, and he was suddenly realising what sort of consequences his . . . preferences . . . might have. The Shika-Ino-Cho trio was a tradition. One that he would most likely break. He chewed on his bottom lip, uneasy and finally taking note of the enormity of his declaration.
Was there some sort of fail safe for a situation like this? Would he be forced into an arranged marriage? He had never taken a huge interest in the clan traditions before. Now it seemed like he should have. Maybe it would have been better if Inojin had been here . . .
Then Shikadai remembered the other boy’s complete lack of tact, and was grateful to be alone.
“Dad?” he ventured.
Shikamaru dropped his hands down, looking at his son with something akin to resigned despair.
“No, no, no,” Shikamaru waved his hands. “No, you aren’t. You don’t need to be. You never need to be sorry for who you are. Just, for gods’ sake, don’t tell your grandmother until I’ve had a chance to think about it.” He leaned heavily against the counter. “This is so troublesome . . .”
“Man up,” Temari said firmly. “Your son has told you something very important to him, and all you’re worried about is what your mother is going to think?”
“You’ve met my mother,” Shikamaru said slowly. “She’s going to flay me. Do you not remember how she went on about us having a kid? Do you not remember how she keeps asking when Shikadai’s having a kid? Do you not remember when she said she was going to set him up with some nice girl because you and I were clearly not bothering with a second one!?”
“And exactly who said it was a bother?” Temari replied sharply.
“I should go,” Shikadai slid off his chair. Leaving seemed like a good idea, even though the attention had shifted entirely from him – he was grateful for that, it seemed to overshadow his confession, which was nice. Certainly preferable to many ways he thought the conversation would go.
“You’re twisting my words,” Shikamaru said. “I said-“
“I swear, I will drag you into our bedroom right now and bother you until we have another child-“
“I’m out!” Shikadai yelped, making a mad dash from the kitchen.
He reflected, as he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked down the street, that on a scale of one to ten, that had gone remarkably well.
Shikamaru took an emergency lunch, calling his team to meet at their usual barbeque place. He knew he was free to discuss anything with them, and thought the input of other opinions might be beneficial. He blurted out his new discovery the moment all three of them were present.
“Shikadai thinks he’s gay.”
Ino, bless her, didn’t bat an eye. “And?”
Chouji just continued to eat unphased. “Okay.”
“Am I over reacting, or are you two underreacting?” Shikamaru frowned. “This is a big deal. For the clans, anyway.”
“Something like this was bound to happen eventually,” Ino pointed out.
“Does it bother you?” Chouji asked.
“I just . . . I love him, obviously, that would never, ever change . . .” Shikamaru sighed. “But it just feels like the Nara clan ends here. It’s been tradition for so long, you marry, have a kid, and that’s the next generation of Shika-Ino-Cho. I have been trying to keep it together all morning, but I don’t know what everyone else is going to think. What if the clan shuns him?”
“Don’t tell them yet,” Chouji said simply.
“You don’t know exactly how things will work out,” Ino added sympathetically. “He’s still young, he’s only sixteen. There’s a lot of time for things to change.”
“Yeah, I know,” Shikamaru sighed. “This is just a lot to take in.” Shikamaru liked things to work out. He didn’t like problems he couldn’t solve. He really didn’t like that he was calling this a problem. He had no idea what was going on his head, and it wasn’t something that sat well with him. “I just want him to be safe and happy. And now . . . Well, what if people don’t like it?”
“Protect him,” Chouji said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Yes, duh, but . . . I just want him to be happy, and I don’t think he is right now. And I think that’s because of me.” Shikamaru stared at the table top. “I’m worried he feels alone in this.”
“He might have spoken about it with Inojin or Chocho,” Ino offered. “Those three share everything. I’ll talk to Inojin tonight when I’m home.”
“Thanks,” Shikamaru said heavily. “Am I a bad parent?”
“No, you’re doing fine,” Chouji said.
“My mom is going to kill me,” he muttered.
Ino and Chouji shared a look.
“We’ve got your back,” Chouji said.
“We’ll keep you safe,” Ino added. “Although, you do seem to be overreacting a bit. It’s not like he told you he’s killed a man in cold blood. And your mom won’t mind.” She paused, thinking that through. “Okay, she might mind a bit. Or a lot.”
Ino shuddered slightly. “She’s going to be so angry.”
“Exactly,” Shikamaru said despairingly. “I love my son, but if my mother kills me, I’m rising from the grave to kill him.”
“Hey, darling, got a moment?” Ino slid into Inojin’s room that evening.
Inojin was sitting on his bed, a pad of paper in his lap, drawing quietly. He looked up. “Yeah. Is something wrong?”
“Has Shikadai been okay lately?” Ino asked, taking a seat next to Inojin on his bed.
He continued drawing. “Yeah, he’s fine.”
“He hasn’t mentioned anything . . . important?” Ino prompted. She knew Inojin and Shikadai were very close, and figured Inojin already knew about Shikadai’s little secret.
Inojin sent her a sideways glance. “Why?”
“I was just wondering,” Ino said, trying to sound innocent. “Shikamaru mentioned that he’d been a bit . . . um, different, lately. I thought I’d check with you in case he mentioned anything. Anything important?”
“Oh, you mean the whole gay thing,” Inojin realised. He nodded, attention back on his drawing. “So he did tell them. I offered to do it together, but I guess he managed on his own. I said I wouldn’t mind doing it with him. It only seemed fair since we’ve been together so long.”
“You’re a good friend,” Ino said, blissfully assuming ‘together’ meant ‘team mates’.
“Also he was nervous that Temari would catch us, so the sooner the better. I did say it would be pretty self-explanatory if she caught us, but he wanted to do it right.”
There was an odd sense of trepidation forming in the pit of Ino’s stomach. “Uh . . . caught you . . . doing what?”
Inojin blinked at her. “Making out.”
Ino froze in place. “What?”
“I told you.” Inojin’s pen moved confidently over his sketch. “We’ve been together for over a year.”
Inojin misinterpreted the silence that followed as Ino’s calm acceptance, and not as her complete and utter surprise and bafflement. The implications of his words finally sank in, and Ino bellowed at the top of her lungs, “Sai, get in here!”