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As Asuma sat down for shogi with Shikamaru, he carefully avoided looking at the place where Shika's arm had used be. Shikamaru normally wasn't the prickly type, getting worked up required too much effort, but he also didn't normally lose limbs. Unfortunately, it seemed that habit of not expending energy for the little things extended to not expending energy for some of the big things, like recovering from a mission gone wrong.

Asuma wondered, not for the first time, if he had really gotten the easier of the Nara twins to deal with. That had certainly been his impression when first hearing about Shikamaru's sister.

Asuma had been walking with Ino after their first Tora mission, Shikamaru having decided that he would rather collapse on the spot rather than go home right away. Chouji had stayed with him in a show of solidarity, while Ino wanted a shower before collapsing.

Neither being exhausted nor wanting a shower would stop Ino from complaining on the way back, especially about her teammates. "It's like Shikako got all of the motivation in the womb and Chouji just follows Shikamaru's lead," she had grumbled, emphasizing it with a wave of her arm.

"A motivated Nara?" Asuma had said with some amusement and then tried not to imagine Shikamaru in one of Gai's outfits plus a modesty skirt. "Or just more motivated than her brother?"

"Motivated motivated. We called her KO Shikako in the academy because she wasn't afraid of hitting you where it hurts."

Asuma then had the mental image of Anko as a Nara and had barely resisted the urge to shake his head to clear it out. If Shikamaru's sister ever signed the snake contract, however, Asuma had seriously considering defecting, or at least returning to The Twelve. "When you say where it hurts, do you mean for boys or for anyone?"

"Anyone. We were, ah, strongly discouraged from groin shots in spars if you're worried about that." Ino's voice filled with mirth. "Shikako complained about that. Something about setting us up for bad habits in the field." Asuma had been eighty percent sure that Ino had been joking about that. The problem with Yamanakas was that they were literally raised to play mind games. Though, there was probably a kernel of truth there that had made Asuma glad that he got the boy instead of the girl.

Now he only rated the chances that Ino was joking about that at fifty percent. Shikako, after all, would go on to be the first of their cohort to be blooded, and that spoke to a certain ruthless mindset when necessary. On the other hand, he couldn't imagine Shikako actually saying that to a teacher.

At least with Shikamaru what you see was what you got. Well, socially, not in the field and certainly not in shogi where he could be a sneaky little shit.

Judging solely by the relative amount of times they'd spent in the hospital, Asuma was sure that initial impression of Shikako being harder to deal with had been borne out, even if that wasn't the reason from that first impression. As he lit his cigarette, Asuma idly wondered if Kakashi had any chakra techniques for avoiding ulcers.

In the meantime, Shikamaru set up his side of the board, a slight twitch of Shika's face the only signal that he was annoyed at how slow it was with one hand. Given that before losing his arm Shikamaru could literally do it blindfolded and with one hand behind his back, it wasn't that much of a challenge to do it only one handed. Still, at least he wasn't unhealthily repressing all his emotions.

Asuma's first actual meeting with Shikako had come shortly before the Konoha Chunin Exams. Back then, Asuma hadn't wanted to work too hard at the whole sensei thing. Honestly, it was more about letting the kids be kids than it was about his own personal laziness. It wasn't like they were in a war or seriously preparing for one. Plus getting Shikamaru and Chouji to do anything was a pain and a half. If they wanted to take it easy, then he wasn't going to fight it too hard.

It had been worse than normal motivation wise around then because Shikamaru's sister had been off on her first mission out of the village, so Asuma had to deal with someone who was both unmotivated and preoccupied. Fortunately, she had just made it back so Shikamaru had gotten his head back in the game that day. Unfortunately, Asuma had owed him a game of shogi, so Shikamaru's rediscovered focus was pointed at kicking Asuma's ass on the board. The jounin had been distracted from his inevitable defeat by the sound of Ino shouting.

"Shikako!" There had been a blur to the side as Ino launched herself at a girl. Thankfully she didn't look like a mini Anko, but instead like a miniature Yoshino Nara, except with an absurdly long braid. Maybe it just seemed long because the girl was so short, shorter than any of his brats at least. Or maybe Asuma's memory made it longer than it had been at the time now that he'd witnessed Shikako strangle a man with it. Ino had lifted the shorter girl off her feet. "You're back! How was it? Lazy-bones over there wouldn't tell us anything."

After Ino had set Shikako down, the Nara waved and then bowed. "Sorry for interrupting your team training, Asuma-sensei."

Asuma had waved back lazily himself. "We're nearly finished here anyway. It's not like we were particularly busy." And it had gotten him out of admitting defeat for once.

"I was just going to fetch Shikamaru home for some clan training once you were done with him."

"Dad's teaching us?" The brat had actually sounded like he was looking forward to training.

Shikako had smiled and said "No" in a tone that made Asuma want to hide under a bush. At the time Asuma had wondered if Kurenai had been giving lessons, but now he had come to the conclusion that it was just something she could do instinctively.

Shikamaru somehow had seemed oblivious to the sensation of impending doom, though he did frown a bit. "What?"

"Mum is."

Asuma had fought back a laugh as the color drained from Shikamaru.

"Why don't you tell Ino about your mission? She's been wanting to hear about it all day." The brat had the nerve to look to Asuma for help.

"Well, I don't want to interfere with clan training," Asuma had said, not even bothering to hide the smirk. At least someone could get him to work.

A few different emotions had crossed Ino's face before she seemed to remember swearing revenge on the lazybones earlier today. "We can catch up tomorrow after training." Impressively, she hadn't even sounded like she was gloating.

Shikamaru had let out a sound like his soul was leaving his body. That had only made both girls look more gleeful. Shikako then replied "Better yet, you can walk with us. I'll tell you on the way. You want to come too, Chouji?"

"Ohh, I've heard all kinds of rumours about it," Ino had said, before kicking Shika squarely in the thigh. "Up, lazybones, time to get moving. We're not standing around waiting for you forever!" Asuma had suppressed a wince at the increase in pitch at the end. It was one of the few things that made Shikamaru react so he had to learn to live with it.

Chouji had stood up and offered Shikako a chip. Asuma had already suspected that all the kids were close, but that cemented it. "That's kind of mean, setting Ino on him like that."

The rest of the conversation between Chouji and Shikako had been drowned out as Ino literally dragged Shikamaru to his feet. The foursome had set off with another wave, Shikamaru being pulled along. Too bad that didn't work for things other than getting him to go to places.

Asuma had heard about Team Seven's mission. It wasn't classified, so news of a mission going that far off the tracks had spread like wildfire. Except Shikako hadn't looked like someone who had gone up against the Demon of the Mist. If Asuma had been a civilian he might have assumed that she had gotten over things quickly. As it was, Asuma had marked the possibility that she was just that good at repressing, and had decided that he was glad that he wasn't sitting on that ticking time bomb.

Asuma frowned as Shikamaru pushed his rook pawn forward. It was still too early to be sure, but he got the impression that Shika was repeating a game on him. That wasn't a good sign. Asuma was only familiar with a limited number of openings, and Shika usually took the opportunity to experiment a bit against an inferior opponent. Shogi was the one area where Shika usually didn't need to be bribed, coerced or guilted into showing motivation. Of course, guilt was something that only rarely worked on him, a notable exception being the Konoha Chunin Exams.

Asuma hadn't thought much about Shikamaru's twin between their first meeting and the Konoha Chunin Exams. He had been slightly surprised by the fact that she had managed to detect Orochimaru during the prelims. It had taken a while to work out that she was the one who detected it and not Kakashi, but Kakashi wouldn't have been as smug about it if he had detected the missing nin himself. And she had to be a sensor with the way that she passed on information on Temari to Gai's girl.

Asuma hadn't thought about that too much, however. Eighty percent of his concentration had been on Orochimaru. The snake bastard had left after Kakashi and Sasuke and that had sent all sorts of warning signs up in Asuma's head. The two biggest possibilities were either that had shown an unhealthy interest in the Uchiha, or he had wanted to break sight to get a better attempt on Asuma's dad. Asuma and his old man had their differences, but they weren't nearly big enough for him to ignore that kind of threat in the vicinity.

Maybe if he hadn't been using only twenty percent of his concentration on the match ups he wouldn't have tried that bribe with Chouji, but on the plus side he didn't end up having to pay out the full amount.

When Hayate had announced the twins' match up, it had been interesting that neither of them had looked surprised at being pitted against each other. Upset, yes. Surprised, no. The geniuses had probably figured out how things would be rigged several matches previously. They certainly wouldn't have fallen for the lie that the matches were random. Shikamaru had been tensing up that entire time.

"Troublesome," he had muttered.

Asuma could tell he had been about to forfeit, but his sister beat him to it. She had glanced at her brother and then "I forfeit," had come from a dry throat.

Shikamaru had looked over at her and sighed. "You really want to do that?"

She then repeated her forfeit in louder voice.

"What's the point in that?" Temari had asked. She had put up a good front, but it had seemed like bravado to cover up nervousness, which was odd at the time because her match had already finished. "Hanging in here to forfeit now?" In hindsight, it was amazing that Temari had kept it together so well when she felt she was in enemy territory. Well, even more enemy territory than usual when attending a chunin exam in a foreign nation.

Shikako had shrugged. "There are two people in this room that I would forfeit rather than fight. My brother just happens to be one of them."

Asuma had wondered if she meant among the people left or if that statement included the kids who already fought. Knowing what he did now, the other person had probably been Gaara, this being before she had improbably made friends with the future Kazekage. Asuma still didn't understand how that happened. Then again, judging by some of the looks he'd seen, Sasuke didn't seem to understand how that happened either.

Then Naruto had shouted, "You can't do that! Why are you just giving up? You used to kick his ass all the time at the academy!" Asuma had thought at the time that, if that was the case, given how much Shikamaru had slacked off back then, she could still have done it. Now, after having seen her in the Grass Exams, Asuma was positive that she could have wiped the floor with her brother and made it look easy.

"Think about it," she had said to him, quietly, but not quietly enough that she seemed to want privacy. "Everyone here is watching. When it comes to the finals, they're going to have no idea how Shikamaru fights. That'll give him the advantage."

"You still could have won," the orange brat had whined.

"Maybe. Maybe not. But he's my brother. A promotion… that's not a good enough reason to fight him."

Asuma would have put money on her actually forfeiting just to guilt the slacker into giving his all in the next round. Not that Asuma knew it at the time, but Naruto would have accepted that, though he would have been disappointed. So Asuma still didn't understand why she didn't lead with that.

The fact that the loudmouth let that go with a simple "I guess" was even more surprising in retrospect than it was at the time, which was pretty damn surprising.

"Besides," she had continued. "If I forfeited, that just means the Shika has to become Chunin."

"Troublesome," Shikamaru had muttered. "You had a better chance of getting through the Finals than me." Asuma had briefly wondered if that was guilt, but, no, Shikamaru had followed her thought process and had been annoyed that she was right about him needing to put effort into it now.

"If you're really torn up about it, you can do my chores for me," she had tried.

"Not a chance."

One miracle had been enough for the day and Asuma had made sure that Shikamaru didn't have time for extra chores leading up to the finals. (Kurenai would have tossed a sadistically into that sentence somewhere.) Though, now Asuma was positive that guilt had been only part of Shikako's calculations. Another, larger chunk was getting their mother to focus her attentions on preventing the boy from blowing things off.

That interaction did make him wonder at the time if manipulation was a standard tool of choice in their interactions. Now... at least manipulation meant talking to each other rather than at each other.

Shikamaru had taken more four moves before he did something different than the game Asuma remembered. Not radically different, but from what he could see, a more elegant approach than before. Asuma repressed a snort, because that certainly wasn't a word he'd associate with Shikako.

Asuma's next interaction with Shikako had barely counted as one. He had tracked down Ino for training for the Finals, and Shikako cleared off as soon as training was mentioned. Good etiquette, despite who her sensei was.

"Brainstorming, huh?" Asuma had said to Ino as Shikako had left. She hadn't gone far enough that she couldn't have heard with chakra enhanced hearing, if she knew how to do that back then, but she obviously would have already known about this part.

Asuma had spared a fleeting thought about why Shikako was helping Ino and not Shikamaru, but that could have had many possible explanations: they could have already talked about it, Shikamaru could have rejected help, Shikako not feeling right about helping against Shino, a fellow Konoha nin, and so on. Knowing her better now, he would bet that Shikamaru just hadn't woken up by the time Shikako had decided to go visit all her friends.

Ino shook her head and said with a wry smile, "Mad Bomber Shikako suggested large amounts of explosives, but I told her that I didn't want to infringe on her style."

Asuma had blinked. "I thought her nickname was KO Shikako."

Ino had looked at him as if he was an idiot. It was a look she had an unfortunate amount of practice with, but it was usually directed at her teammates. "You can have more than one nickname."

"Most genin don't have multiple nicknames about how violent they are."

"Shikako just believes that if explosives don't solve your problem you aren't using enough of them."

After the Grass Chunin Exams, Asuma was now positive that this was paraphrasing something Shikako had actually once said, though he had been doubtful about the accuracy at the time. Still that was enough to make him take back any idle thoughts that he had ever had that might have implied he would have preferred the motivated Nara over Shikamaru, as few as those thoughts had been. At least that had explained how she got along on a team with a notorious prankster and a pyromaniac. Asuma had briefly felt sorry for Kakashi, but at least that meant their team dynamic was nothing like Kakashi's original team.

Putting aside memories of a tragic case of friendly fire, Asuma had said the first thing that popped into his head. "Good thing she can't make her own explosive tags then." Ino's silence hadn't been encouraging. Neither were the twitches that indicated that she had been repressing a laugh. Looking back with the benefit of experience, Asuma wasn't sure how Ino had managed to not cackle madly at that statement. If you told him that Shikako been born knowing how to blow things up, he'd probably believe it… which would help explain Shikamaru's love of peace and quiet.

Asuma had sighed. "That seems… inelegant for a Nara."

"KO Shikako. Remember, sensei? Looking good is secondary to winning." The last part had sounded like a quote, and not one Ino agreed with one hundred percent.

Asuma had shaken his head. "How do you develop that attitude in a clan of shogi players?"

Ino had looked thoughtful for a moment. "Probably because Shikamaru is her brother." She had probably recognized that as a rhetorical question, but decided to show off her insights.

"I don't follow."

"Shikamaru is better at shogi. He's better at it than anyone other than Shikaku-sama," Ino had said, waving her arms as if to encompass all of the Fire Nation. "But no one likes to lose all the time. So Shikamaru is good at the games with rules that tell you what you're allowed to do, like shogi. Shikako learned to be better at the games with rules that tell you what you aren't allowed to do."

"Like the Final Exam."

"Maybe I should try a few explosions," Ino had said thoughtfully. She did end up using what Asuma at the time considered to be a large number of explosives for a hopeful chunin. Obviously after the Grass Chunin Exams, he had reconsidered his stance on what constitutes a large number and by that standard, it really had been just a few explosions.

Asuma frowned as they entered mid game. Elegant was no longer the word he would use to describe Shikamaru's play. Turtling was more accurate. Oh, Shikamaru was too good to actually turtle, but compared to his normal play, it was far more cautious than normal.

It was odd. If Asuma had gotten the story of what happened in Moon right, Shikako went the opposite direction. Stress and trauma made her more reckless rather than more cautious, as in "assault a fortress on her own" reckless. Not that caution seemed to be a natural part of personality to begin with.

Asuma's next encounter with Shikako was by far most disturbing of any of them. Considering Orochimaru was in spitting distance for one of those and another of those involved her throwing down one on one with someone who was days away from becoming Kazekage, that was saying something.

They had been having a team meal at the barbeque place and for once it wasn't the result of a bribe. Instead it had been the result of some sort of complicated dance between Ino and Chouji that they were doing about his diet. Asuma had tried not to take sides in that one because he could see both their points. Chouji needed the calories for his clan techniques but he probably should be eating more healthy foods. The adults in his clan could get away with those proportions because they actually used their clan techniques more frequently, so Asuma had concentrated more on trying to motivate the boy rather than change his diet. He had mixed results.

He had let the kids greetings wash over him as Shikamaru showed up. Honestly he had been more concerned at the time with how to apologize to Kurenai for not being able to read her mind. (Though from talking to Yamanakas, being able to read your girlfriend's mind actually made things worse, because then you might be tempted to try and that opened all sorts of cans of worms.) Asuma had felt a vague irritation that Shikamaru had brought his sister along because these meals were supposed to be for team bonding, but it had remained only a vague irritation because these kids had been friends since basically the cradle.

Then Ino and Chouji had tensed at Shikako's greeting and that had caused Asuma's instincts to go into overdrive. He had immediately discarded his first thought as paranoia. No infiltrator that could fool Shikamaru (or the Jounin commander) would have gotten detected by Ino and Chouji. Once that initial panic had been suppressed, Asuma assumed things couldn't be too bad, since she was out and about with her brother, but had still asked "Alright there?"

"I had an accident in training," she had replied. Asuma didn't know the girl very well back then, and by most standards still didn't, but the way she had responded seemed much less lifeless than his previous interactions. He'd seen puppets with more vim. Granted, those puppets had been trying to kill people, including him.

In contrast, Shikamaru's body language had shown plenty of life, practically screaming discomfort. He had tried to maintain his habitual slouch, but that appeared to be an act for once. Though, on some level his level of solicitousness had been rather cute. "Yeah, Dad says she's on lockdown for a while. No training. So…."

Up till then, due to his time in the Twelve, Asuma had less practical familiarity with the Nara clan than most jounin his age. That said, Shikaku himself had given him a short lecture on some of the dangers of practicing clan techniques, along with Inoichi and Chouza for their kids. How accurate Asuma's knowledge was was up for debate. The three of them had said that some of their explanations were metaphor since the details weren't explainable without actually teaching the techniques. So Asuma knew that a training accident could be very bad, but didn't have the experience to know how bad it actually was.

"A training accident? That sucks. Those can really mess up your whole day." Ino at least hadn't seemed to think it was particularly bad, judging by her tone. It had sounded like this had happened to the twins before, or at least Shikako. Later Asuma would find out that Shikamaru had never fallen into the black and as far as Asuma knew, still hadn't.

Chouji hadn't reacted strongly either. "Yeah, that sucks. Want some barbeque?" Asuma had been around Chouji long enough for him to know that the boy actually believed that food could solve all problems in sufficient quantities, but it was a shame that most non-Akimichi couldn't consume those quantities and had to rely on less effective methods.

"You should eat," Shikamaru had said, physically guiding his sister.

Asuma regretted thinking about puppets earlier, because Shikako's motions eating were bizarrely mechanical, and definitely reminded him of them.

"She's not going to stay like this, is she?" Chouji had asked. The kids hadn't been worried about the possibility of a training accident, but they'd never actually experienced either of the twins going through one. Though, at the time, Asuma assumed that the had seen the aftereffects of one and this one had been severe.

"I hope not," Shikamaru had replied, which had been a worrying response.

And then Ino had started talking. Asuma wasn't sure if endless tides of gossip are a recommended form of therapy for Shikako's problem, but the way Ino went on and on, he had gotten the feeling she had thought it would help. Though maybe it was a girl thing, because if it were him, hearing about azaleas and orchids would probably have caused him to retreat further from reality, not that he was stupid enough to admit that out loud or even think about it too hard.

But then Ino had mentioned Gai's clone and how the hospital was rather bleak on his prognosis and Shikako finally responded. "I visited him at the hospital. He's always out in the practice fields. It frustrates the nurses."

That was an attitude that Asuma had wished his team had a little more of. Still wished, actually. "Some one like that isn't going to give up just because things are painful."

Shikamaru, of course, had a counter for that. "And sometimes knowing where your limits are is more important."

Shikako had replied with a quiet "Yes" and Asuma wondered which one she was agreeing with. Perhaps both. Shikaku had said something about going to extremes being one problem with learning the clan jutsu. Try too hard, take risks and you land in situations like Shikako. Don't try enough and you don't grow as much as you could, which sounded like Shikamaru.

"Moderation, that's the key. Too much of one… too much of the other, it's equally as bad."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Shikamaru replied. Rude. Not that Asuma had been better at that age. Then again, maybe the brat had just been trying to provoke a reaction out of his sister.

No, as much as he liked Shikamaru, Asuma couldn't convince himself that was what the brat had been thinking.

Shikamaru was definitely using a standard castle defense formation without any of the minor variations that would usually throw Asuma. Asuma had never played against the other twin, but had troubles imagining that she would ever play the same way, except as a demonstration. Judging by the first spar they had where Shikako replaced Shikamaru on Team Ten for the Grass Chunin Exams, formations were not how Shikako thought. Even after intense team exercises, she still hadn't been comfortable taking Shikamaru's role on the team. Asuma still wondered if that was because that was Shikamaru's role and as twins they tried not to step on each other's social positions.

That was something they were taking to ridiculous extremes, like with romance. Shikamaru had been or was dating that girl from Gai's team (it was hard to keep track), but Asuma couldn't recall him showing any interest in any other female. In contrast, Shikako, as Ino would put it (and loudly complain about), had surrounded herself with hotties but displayed as much sex drive as a rock. It had been bad enough when Asuma had to listen to Ino complain about Shikako and Sasuke being on a team together, but it got definitely worse when the Grass Chunin Exams rolled around.

Asuma frowned slightly in distaste at the thought of the Grass Chunin Exams. A lot of good had come out of that mess, such as somehow the brats spearheading an alliance between Konoha, Suna and Kiri. Shikako had also made quite the impression with her enthusiastic spar against Gaara (and the scary part was that it was clear that it was just a friendly spar as she obviously deliberately did not follow through with many of the openings she created). Plus, all of the kids made chunin.

All that said, Asuma felt like it was a personal failure that someone had gotten through to attempt a kidnapping on Shikako. His time with the Twelve had driven home that no one could be alert constantly, but he had separated from the kids right before it happened. Asuma didn't self flagellate over it, but it definitely colored his memories of the entire event unfavorably.

That thought occurred to him about a third of the way through mid game when Ino and Shikako arrived.

"Asuma-sensei!" came Ino's distinctive voice. "You're back from your mission!" There was a pause as Ino plopped down to sit next to them. "Are we going to have some team training?"

Asuma considered the game in front of him, with Shikamaru just going through the motions. "No, I don't think there would be much point."

No one said anything for a moment. Shikako definitely tensed at his statement, as if she wanted to argue but couldn't. Ino and Shikamaru seemed more confused than anything else.

Shikamaru finally broke the silence. "What? I thought you were here to suggest it."

Well, that might explain why his game was so uninspired and mechanical if he was thinking of a way to get out of it. No, even when he'd been preoccupied before, like when Shikako had been in the hospital, Shikamaru could do better. The problem was deeper. Some of that was recent and some long standing. "You didn't ask. You've never asked for training. And that's why it would be pointless."

"You don't think I can do it?" If Asuma hadn't been looking for it, he might have missed the slight flinch as Shikamaru said that.

"You're a genius, Shikamaru. I think you could do anything you set your mind to. And that's the problem, isn't it?" Asuma didn't regret letting his kids be kids, not really, because if watching the aftermath of Ino's encounter with Orochimaru or hearing about Shikako clinically dying twice (that Asuma knew of... and rumors of more may not be groundless after studying under Kakashi), if none of that taught Shikamaru to get up after taking a bad hit, then Shikamaru couldn't be taught it. He had to experience it himself.

"I-" Shikamaru broke off and avoided eye contact.

Asuma gave Shikamaru a second to continue before continuing himself. "This isn't a simple injury. It's not going to be easy to overcome. Especially not if you want to surpass the level you were at before." Asuma flicked his eyes over to Ino for a bare second. "I am absolutely certain that you could do it – if you wanted to. That's what I'm not so sure about. And that's what matters, right now. You're going to have to work harder than you ever have before. And that's not something that other people can do for you."

Both the girls seemed to be in shock that Asuma would say this. But then, neither of them had needed to be told this. Ino had clawed her way to sanity after tangling with the snake bastard and Shikako had taken a genjutsu so strong that she was still screaming while unconscious, but by all reports had barely time to change clothes after getting out of the hospital before she was training again. Asuma was convinced that the only reason Ino had ever considered giving up was because of Orochimaru fucking with her head, and Shikako had trouble understanding the concept of giving up.

Seriously, losing her chakra wasn't enough to stop fighting and going up against a jinchuuriki just meant a target tough enough to try out her fun toys guilt free.

Whatever. The sister's helping of Kakashi branded insanity wasn't relevant at the moment. What was important was getting through to Shikamaru. "Your intelligence could still take you a long way. You'd make Special Jounin for tactics easily enough. But not in the field. And not with Team Ten."

"Asuma-sensei!" Ino's voice had that slight unattractive screech to it that indicated that she was genuinely hurt by that comment, as opposed to the high pitched whine she made when faking being hurt.

Asuma tried to give her a reassuring look. "I'm not making a ruling. I'm not kicking him off the team. I don't have that power, not anymore. What I'm saying is this; if you can't fill your role on the team, then the team won't be deployed. If you can't keep up with Ino and Chouji, then you'll be dragging them down. And right now… you can't."

There were kinder ways to put it. Kinder words, however, would have ignored the consequences that Shikamaru would have cared about. Fewer missions? Not making Jounin? Stuck in the village? None of that really mattered. Asuma was proud that Team Ten was something that did, even if he had the feeling that was only a little bit of his doing.

"I won't," Shikamaru said, staring down at the castle he built on the board. "I won't let them down."

"It's not going to be easy. And there's only so much we can do to help you. It's going to come down to you, Shikamaru. And how much you're willing to do."

Asuma noticed that Shikako had clenched her fists. It seemed clear that she very much wanted to take this burden on her own back. It was an interesting contrast, as Shikamaru's response to Shikako getting hurt was to try to get her out of the field rather than to help her do better in it. Then again, Shikamaru hadn't been clinically dead multiple times.

"I said I won't let them down," Shikamaru said again, with more irritation in his voice this time. Asuma wondered if he had spotted his sister's reaction. "You said I could do it if I decided to. Well, I'm deciding to."

Asuma settled back while Shikamaru scowled at the board. It wasn't that he was in a bad position. He just wanted to smack Asuma a good one for what he had said and had been playing too defensively up to this point to get in a good blow without some setup.

Asuma didn't begrudge him some retaliation. The training Asuma had in mind wasn't going to be pleasant, and he was probably going to enjoy it entirely too much.