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Shadows and Fangs

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"So, what do you think Chouji wants to talk to us about?" Ino asked Shikamaru eagerly as they left the office together to meet up with their teammate at the restaurant. Chouji had proposed dinner, which in itself wasn't out of the ordinary, but he'd added not to bring their respective husbands, which was rarer, so Ino naturally inferred there was something special he wanted to share with them.

"We'll know soon enough," was the Nara's easy reply – and he couldn't resist the urge to place in a yawn to annoy her with his lack of curiosity.

"I think I know!" she tried again a minute later, determined to get him more involved.

"Good for you," Shikamaru said, once more extremely nonchalant as he looked around absently. He did his best not to grin as she reached to pinch his cheek in annoyance, and only weakly tried to fight her off, not missing the wide grin that was on her face. The Akimichi was waiting for them when they reached the BBQ restaurant, and he'd already placed an order so they didn't have to wait for long.

"Shikamaru's dying to know your big news," Ino informed Chouji with a teasing smirk as they hit their glasses together.

Chouji chuckled and grinned at Shikamaru's raised eyebrow. "Oh, I have no doubt – he really does look curious!" he conceded.

"Right? So take pity on him already!" she insisted, on the edge of her seat.

Chouji laughed self-consciously before looking down and taking in a deep breath. "Karui and I will be moving to Kumo for the remainder of the pregnancy," he blurted out.

Shikamaru and Ino turned to each other and the Yamanaka shook her head. "Okay, that's not what I had in mind," she admitted. "I was thinking twins."

"Oh! No, not twins – just the one!" the Akimichi said with a blissful chuckle – twins sounded like maybe it would be…a bit too overwhelming, right from the start.

"But you'll be coming back, right?" Shikamaru asked their friend with a frown.

"Oh, yes, definitely!" Chouji quickly assured them, waving his hands in front of him frantically. "She just wants to give birth at home – which I suppose I can understand…"

"So can I, as a woman; but what about you?" Ino asked him seriously with a worried frown. "I get it that she wants to be with her family for this, but don't you want that too?"

Chouji beamed at her at this, always touched by the way she put them first at all times. "As long as I'm with her, I'm with my family!" he replied earnestly. "Besides, Tenten and Omoi are there, I won't be completely alone!" he tempered.

True, Tenten had moved to the Cloud to be with Omoi a couple of months ago, and they'd both never looked happier. She still worked for the Allied division, but as a technical specialist – she'd turned out to have a real knack for recent technologies, particularly those involving shinobi tools.

"As long as you're sure," Ino noted with a smile.

"I am!" he assured them brightly.

Shikamaru chuckled at his happy expression, not really feeling worried for him. "Well, do remember to call or write from time to time, if you have a moment," he teased.

"I'll try to do my best!" he vowed as he reached for the first pieces of meat as they were grilled to perfection. "Not like someone I won't name!" he couldn't help but add with a raised eyebrow.

"I guess I did set myself up for that one…" Shikamaru had to concede gamely.

Ino chuckled at them and then set her drink down as she flipped her own slice of meat. "I hope that when you come back I'll be able to introduce you to my kid!" she expressed with a pout.

"That would be amazing!" Chouji replied excitedly, already looking forward to it. "Just keep at it, Ino!" he encouraged her, blushing as he realized what he was basically encouraging her to do and making them all laugh.

Shikamaru opened his mouth before closing it and opening it again, figuring now was as good a time as any to give them his own big news. "If we're really lucky, we'll even have the complete trio," he said off-handedly.

He and Kiba had finally given Hana and Aoba their reply, and they'd started really discussing the procedure, so he felt like it was okay to talk about it now.

Ino and Chouji shared surprised looks at this, silently asking each other 'did you know?' and 'does he mean what I think he means?'

"Really?" Chouji finally prompted.

"Really. I mean—hopefully. It's…my first time saying it, you're the first to know – except for Shino of course, because it's an established fact he's the first to know everything that goes on in our couple," Shikamaru started rambling with a frown.

He didn't even know for sure whether Shino actually knew, but past experiences told him he most likely did. He'd even once or twice gotten the clear impression that Shino knew things even before he himself did! (Although that was probably overthinking and overreacting on his part, all things considered.)

The meat lay forgotten as it roasted on the grill, with Ino and Chouji sharing yet another look, this time silently saying, 'he's rambling – this is bad, isn't it?' and 'do you suppose we should interrupt him?'

"Hana offered to carry a child for us," the Nara finally said, to the point. "I mean, Aoba agreed too of course – and it goes without saying that I'm not going to sleep with her!"

"So you'll be the father? And Hana the mother?" Ino clarified with wide eyes, gaping at his nod.

Chouji slowly smiled widely as he reached over to clap his arm and squeeze his shoulder. "That's amazing! It's like your own Nara-Inuzuka mix!" he commented enthusiastically.

"That's the idea…" Shikamaru confirmed, starting as Ino threw her arms around his neck and squeezed as she gave him a hug that might've looked like assault from the outside.

"This is great news!" she insisted as she pulled back to place a hand on his cheek. "You're so brave for doing this," she praised honestly. "Oh, where's Kiba when you need him? I want to hug him so badly right now!"

Shikamaru chuckled and shrugged self-consciously, although he really appreciated their support. "Well…it's not done yet so…don't spread this around for now? I mean obviously you can tell Sai and Karui, but…" he trailed off at this, the implication 'please don't tell your parents or they'll tell my mother and she'll freak out' obvious.

"Of course," Chouji agreed before sighing and hastily grabbing the meat before it became charred – clearly it would take more than that to make him forget about food. "Now I almost feel bad that I won't be here with you guys for this!" he lamented.

"Hey, the fun part starts when the kids are here – and even more so when they can speak!" Ino reminded him, quickly grabbing a piece of meat before he took them all.

Shikamaru smiled lazily as he watched them, inwardly also feeling sad that Chouji wouldn't be there for so long – but he figured he'd made them feel like that when he moved to Suna, so he couldn't really complain though.

When he got home, Shino was there – and he inwardly wondered what more he'd learned. Kiba grinned happily as he told him he'd shared the news with Ino and Chouji, and Shino nodded his approval – as flattered as he felt when his best friend confided in him, as a rule he didn't like to be the only one in the know, for some reason.

Shikamaru then told them of Chouji's intention to temporarily move to Kumo, upon which Kiba sighed in disappointment and Shino let out a breath in relief. He'd never really forgiven Karui for her catastrophic lecture at the academy years back, and likely never would – plus now mini-Karui in his classroom was looming closer than ever on the horizon.

Some things decidedly never changed…


As close as family could get, things always had the potential to get awkward – and despite their renowned closeness, the Inuzukas were no difference.

Admittedly, holding a sort-of family reunion to tell your mother and your mother in law that your sister was going to have a kid with your husband was a pretty weird and unusual situation, so Kiba couldn't exactly fault Tsume and Yoshino for looking flabbergasted.

It had started off innocently enough. They'd each invited their mother to come and have lunch, without telling them how many people, exactly, would be present. Hana and Aoba left Kao with Genma and Raido once more, and since Tsume came from the same direction, they walked together to the Nara household. The Inuzuka Matriarch didn't think much of it, and it was a pleasant surprise to her – if she briefly wondered why her granddaughter wasn't there, she accepted their evasive reply.

She started to suspect an ambush when she noticed Yoshino was also there upon arriving to her son's house, but just shrugged it off and took it as an opportunity to rile the Nara, as she so enjoyed doing.

Yoshino also took it in stride, although she was much less amused and Shikamaru suspected revenge in the shape of leeks served with much guilt might be looming on the horizon.

Then again, Shisen, in all his one year old glory, worked wonders to appease everyone, and the mothers momentarily forgot all about being suspicious of their children as they played with the little Inuzuka – Hana looked very smug at this, having probably planned on it, genius that she was.

But once lunch was over and Shisen had fallen asleep, Yoshino and Tsume seemed to surprisingly share a look before the Nara turned to her son.

"So what's this invitation really about? You look like you're both about to confess to a childish prank!"

Shikamaru and Kiba exchanged looks and then looked towards Hana and Aoba for confirmation before tentatively broaching the subject. "Well, we have big news for you."

"Good news," Kiba added because that needed to be said.

"Right. You're going to be grandmothers," Shikamaru declared.

"Oh…so that adoption is finally happening, is it?" Yoshino asked attentively, feeling somewhat excited despite herself.

"We're not exactly…adopting," Kiba corrected.

Tsume raised an eyebrow at this, looking at them in turn. "I'm not sure I like where this is going. Why don't you stop beating around the bush and just come out with it? Whatever it is that seems to have gotten you all in tizzy, I'll wager we can handle it," she noted with a huff. "Right, Yoshino?"

"Right."

In any other circumstances, it would have been amazing to see those two actually agree on something.

They shared another look and then Kiba, agreeing it was best to go right to the point, said, "Hana offered to carry a child for us."

"Hana?" they both repeated in surprise.

"With Aoba's support, of course!" Hana quickly added before, her husband nodding next to her.

"What, are you gonna let her sleep with him or something?" Tsume asked him with a raised eyebrow, jerking a thumb towards Shikamaru.

Next to her son, Yoshino made a shocked gurgle as she awaited the answer. She knew today's youth was more liberal than what she'd been used to, but still…

"No, of course not!" all four replied right away, with various degrees of indignation.

"We'll use…another method," Hana replied coolly, as usual managing to calm everyone present.

"But you'll be the father," Yoshino asked Shikamaru.

"Kiba and I will be the parents," was his reply.

"We'll just be aunt and uncle!" Aoba helpfully supplied.

"But you'll be the father. Biologically speaking," she insisted.

"It's not like I could be, this is my sister we're talking about," Kiba pointed out with a frown.

Yoshino snorted in amusement at the thought, waving the idea away.

"I think what she's trying to make sure of is that it won't be Aoba's," Tsume helpfully conveyed, leaning her face in her hand with a smirk.

Aoba shook his head at this. "I won't be involved – save in a moral support capacity."

Tsume grinned at him, but it was a smile of the fond variety, despite how predatory it looked. "I'm proud of you pups," she told them all simply.

Yoshino chuckled at her words – calling adults like them 'pups' sounded strange to her – but absently pat her son's shoulder as well. "Well, I must admit this is…unexpected, to say the least. An unusual situation, to be sure but…I'm sure it didn't happen lightly…" she commented in earnest. "What will you tell people?" she then wondered curiously.

"Why's it any of their business?" Shikamaru asked back with a frown. "They can just wonder. If they make assumptions that Hana or Aoba are uncomfortable with, we'll clear things up, but until then, it really is nobody's business."

"Well, I suppose it's too early to speak about this now anyhow…" Tsume noted with a shrug before chuckling. "What an adventure though! Kids really have a knack for making life interesting, eh Kuromaru?" she asked her nin-dog as she leaned back against him.

To everyone's surprise, Yoshino actually laughed at this, and somehow it made the stressful atmosphere instantly dissolve.

Family sure never let things get boring, that much couldn't be denied in their case.


"Did Ino say what this was about at all?" Kiba wondered as he went on about preparing dinner.

"She said it was important, that's it," Shikamaru replied with a shrug as he kept brushing Akamaru, the nin-dog diligently remaining accommodating as he enjoyed his grooming. "Then she kind of invited herself and Sai over to dinner," he muttered, though not without any fondness. For all that she was bossy, she was family, and very well knew she'd always be welcome and didn't actually need an invitation.

"Oh well," Kiba replied with a shrug as he moved the pan over the fire to stir-fry the vegetables. "At least with Sai around there's always bound to be one or two awkward moments that we'll be able to laugh about at some point in the future," he mused philosophically.

Shikamaru – and Akamaru – snorted at that. "That's one way of putting it…"

The years, and then conjugal life with Ino, hadn't really done wonders for Sai's people skills, unfortunately. He was still just as likely to start feuds and greatly insult people with an off-handed seemingly innocent comment as he was to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. Sometimes it was like watching a collision in slow-motion; others, it was pretty amazing. (Mostly, it was cringe-worthy.) At any rate, it was entertaining.

Akamaru growled and Shikamaru nodded his agreement – not that he understood him clearly, but after a few years he felt he got the gist of it most of the time. The giant dog then perked up and wagged his tail as he smelled their guests coming closer.

"They're here," Shikamaru told his husband as he got up to remove the fur from Akamaru's brush and throw it away – before Ino threw a fit at the sight of it, and truly, the brushing up part was for her benefit, as she'd never gotten used to dog fur. He let a hand trail down Kiba's back absently as he walked by him after washing his hands and went to the door, opening it right as the bell rang. "Hi. Come in."

"Heya, Shikamaru!" Ino said happily as she did as instructed. "Ooh, smells good!" she noted in appreciation as she removed her shoes and quickly made her way to peek into the kitchen. "Oh Kiba, you shameless flirt!" she called happily as she noted he had indeed prepared her favorite – to which he grinned modestly and puffed his chest proudly.

"Thank you for having us over," Sai replied dutifully as he walked in, frowning at Ino's comment although he knew it was most likely a jibe – obviously, Kiba's choice of sexual partner would preclude any real interest from his part in seriously flirting with his wife. His eyes then fell to the oversized nin-dog looking at him as though waiting for something to happen. "Hello, Akamaru," he said, unsure what else he was expected to do.

Akamaru huffed in disappointment and went to sit on his cushion – really, the entertainment had better come later.

And it did. Right after dinner. Right as they enjoyed a nice cup of tea, actually. Right as Ino innocently started her sentence with, "So…"

Shikamaru's eyebrows twitched immediately at this. "What?" he asked bluntly.

"Hey, don't be like that!" Ino snapped back. "Hear me out first, would you? Sheesh, you never change!" she muttered under her breath.

"Nag, nag, nag," he muttered back. "So troublesome."

"Ah, this is usually the point where Ino snaps back something about Shikamaru looking like a pineapple, and him retorting that her blonde wig is in the way, no?" Sai wondered out loud, asking no one in particular.

"Yup," Kiba replied anyway as he grinned – those two had a sort of tough love going on, he'd gotten used to it long ago – even long before he and Shikamaru had become a couple.

"So," Ino started again after she'd pointedly and forcefully poked Shikamaru's ribcage to silence him. "As you're aware, Sai and I have been trying to get pregnant," she reminded them needlessly.

Sai frowned at her particular choice of words. "To be completely accurate, naturally, it's Ino we were trying to get pregnant though, not me," he clarified just in case. He was met with blank looks from the men, and a part fond part exasperated one from his lover. "You know – since I'm a man and all."

"Wow, I'm really glad you felt the need to clear that up that for us, Sai – really," Kiba deadpanned as Shikamaru resisted the urge to face-palm himself.

"Aaa-nyway," Ino continued as she reached for her husband's hand – and they were all perfectly aware that it was so she could give him a hint the next time he'd put his foot in his mouth. "It's…well…it hasn't been as easy as we'd imagined," she admitted.

"In all fairness though, our repeated attempts have been far from being unbearable," Sai tempered with all his legendary finesse – but Ino's bashful grin made it obvious that as she squeezed his hand at this there was no threat to the gesture.

Shikamaru grinned lazily at this – perfect example of Sai knowingly saying the perfect thing.

Ino smiled back at him and shook her head before grinning widely. "Regardless, our – ahem – efforts finally paid off! We're expecting a child!" she declared happily, automatically reaching out to slap a hand to Sai's mouth before he once more felt compelled to specify that she was the one expecting.

"That's amazing news! Congratulations!" Kiba exclaimed with a face-splitting grin as he moved to give her a quick one-armed hug and gently bump Sai's shoulder with his fist.

Shikamaru smiled as he watched them, his eyes never leaving Ino. His childhood friend was definitely all grown up now – had been for some time, obviously, but this made him feel quite enthusiastic about the future, and to be honest, he quite enjoyed being an uncle. "Congratulations," he said simply but earnestly, smile widening lazily as she simply reached across the table to give his hand a squeeze – they didn't really need big gestures or words, they knew each other that well, and he simply squeezed back.

"So might we expect a wedding soon?" he then asked with a raised eyebrow, Kiba nodding excitedly next to him – and Akamaru even barking happily.

Ino grinned warmly and even Sai's smile looked quite genuine. "Sai picked up the form today and we're meeting the head of the clan next week, so the administrative part should be taken care of fairly quickly!" she informed them, leaning into her now fiancé's side.

"You're the first we've told, aside from Ino's mother," Sai then informed them. "Unfortunately we won't be able to tell Chouji in person, but there's nothing to be done about that," he added with a shake of his head.

Indeed, as he'd told them, Chouji and Karui had moved to Kumo for the duration of her pregnancy.

"Kurenai's next though because I definitely want to ask her if she has a miracle cure for morning sickness. I asked my mother, but apparently she had a perfect pregnancy – pity that's not genetic," Ino added with a shudder. All three men simply winced sympathetically. She then seemed to hesitate for a second before broaching a new subject. "So…um…how's it been going with Hana?"

Shikamaru tensed the slightest bit as Kiba sobered up and shook his head. "Well, we're still trying!" he replied hesitantly. His smile was more genuine though when Ino reached to squeeze his hand once more.

Of course that implied she'd let go of Sai's hand and mouth, and his words were therefore unbridled. "Perhaps you should try actually having sex with her next time," he told Shikamaru pensively.

There was silence for a moment before the Nara turned to his childhood friend with a tired expression. "Are you absolutely sure it was such a good idea to get him to reproduce himself?" he wondered seriously.

"Hey, I plan on tackling this problem at the root – pun intended," she assured him as she rested a hand on her stomach. "Be that as it may, I think we'll take this as our cue," she then added as she once more reached for her husband's hand, his half-whimper promising future pain.

Shikamaru got up to see them out, and she used this opportunity to say a few last words. "Hey, you know…hang in there, okay? For us too it took some time to work, even going the old-fashioned way," she encouraged him with a soft smile.

"Thanks," was Shikamaru's simple reply as he smiled back at her and didn't resist when she pulled him into a short hug. He then watched them walk off, grinning to himself as she soon started telling Sai about what was appropriate in conversations – for what had to be the millionth time since they'd met him. Shaking his head fondly, he closed the door, and then there was silence – which usually didn't bode well, when you lived with an Inuzuka.

As he returned to the living room, he saw Kiba still sitting at the dining table, with Akamaru's head on his lap as he pat him absently – from snout to ear, the way he always did to calm him, and himself, unconsciously. He didn't need to ask what was bothering him. Shikamaru sighed softly at this. Hana and Aoba's offer had come as an unbelievable and unexpected gift, and yet they'd hesitated for a long time before committing to it despite how tempting it was. Because, at least biologically speaking, Kiba would be 'just' the uncle.

It had been a difficult decision to take, even though Hana had made it clear that she would do this for them, and that she would an aunt. That had been almost six months ago, and so far they hadn't had much luck. In the meantime since then, Hinata had given birth to a healthy little boy they'd named Boruto, and now Ino had gotten pregnant.

Kiba felt helpless—needlessly so, Shikamaru kept telling him; perhaps he wasn't involved in itself, but he was his support and reason for doing it – and source of inspiration when doing it, he always added with a raised eyebrow, and that usually got him a grin.

"It'll work, you'll see," he told him as confidently as he could as he ran a hand through his hair.

Kiba sighed as he leaned into his touch out of habit. He didn't reply anything though, and that was more telling than anything he could've said.


It was almost a month later that Hana knocked on their door and held a piece of paper to Kiba's face as she and Aoba walked in.

"What's this?" Kiba wondered with a frown as he only saw medical stuff – he wasn't even sure which sense he was supposed to read these!

"This, my dear little brother, is the result of a pregnancy test!" she informed him with a wiggle of her eyebrows.

Shikamaru gasped as he walked to look at it. "You mean…"

"It seems you've gotten my wife pregnant, Shikamaru," Aoba informed him, chuckling at his own words. "And yet somehow, here I am, ready to congratulate you for it! Our family's pretty strange, isn't it?" he asked them rhetorically.

"Pregnant…" Kiba repeated as he looked up at his sister. "You're pregnant, Hana?"

"Yup," she confirmed as she rested a hand above her stomach.

"And you're sure it's not Aoba's?" he asked despite himself.

"We were very careful with that!" his brother-in-law reassured him before pointing at the paper. "Besides, we had that tested as well just in case!"

Shikamaru let out a shuddering breath as he re-read the results for the sixth time, finally letting them hit home. They'd hoped, really hard, when Hana told them she hadn't had her periods last month, but still…finally having real confirmation was…overwhelming. To say the least.

"I think I need a drink," was his eloquent response as Akamaru circled them happily.

Hana only raised an eyebrow at him and chuckled, shaking her head. "If I can't drink, you can't drink," she simply said – and Aoba smirked in satisfaction, looking at her adoringly, even though he'd likely be saddled with the 'no drinking' policy as well.

Shikamaru finally calmed down some at this, grinning softly. "Then I think I need to sit down – that's okay, right?" he asked back as he took Kiba's hand and pulled him to the couch.

"That's okay," she magnanimously confirmed as they followed them.

"How are you feeling?" Kiba asked her anxiously as a grin was slowly growing on his face.

"No morning sickness, if that's what you're asking," Hana replied with a shrug.

"No mood swings either," Aoba mock-whispered, graciously accepting the slap she directed at his arm in retaliation. "We were thinking we'll wait until it shows before telling Kao – we don't want to confuse her too much," he started more seriously.

"You can tell your friends though of course, and naturally we'll tell mom – if only because she's babysitting right now and she's likely guessed the reason why," Hana added with a fond roll of her eyes.

Kiba chuckled at this as he tried to keep his emotions in check. "I guess we should also tell your mother it worked," he said with a raised eyebrow. "And hope that she doesn't force you to marry Hana or something!"

Shikamaru winced at this. "Wouldn't that be fun!" he muttered as he shuddered just at the thought. But…as Kiba reached to squeeze his hand, he had to admit that he didn't worry all that much.


In July, several things happened nearly all at once.

First, Sakura returned to Konoha with an infant, a little girl she'd named Sarada. Ino had been ecstatic – hormones not helping. Bringing her up to speed on everything that had happened since she'd left took some time, and more than one person 'aww-ed' when Sarada was put to play next to Boruto – although they were too young to do much more than look at each other curiously and then cry for their mothers.

Following that, the big news came from Kumo, when Chouji, in tears, called to tell them he and Karui now had a daughter. And apparently Karui broke his hand during the labor, but he actually sounded happy about that, for some reason, so Shikamaru didn't dwell on it. They'd already decided on names even before leaving Konoha though, so Chocho it was – the first member of the new generation of Ino-Shika-Cho.

Finally, Hana decided that the time had come to tell Kao, because she had a tendency to tackle her out of the blue quite regularly, so telling her to avoid doing that for a while might be best.

So they all sat down together, and she went right to it in true Inuzuka fashion. "You see Kao, I'm going to have a baby."

Kao tilted her head to the side, sharing a look with Aomaru before looking back at her parents. "So does that mean I'm getting another sibling? Because the last time you had a baby I got a little brother – am I going to have a little sister now?" she wondered eagerly, applying her own childish logic.

"Not exactly," Aoba corrected gently as he gestured towards Shikamaru and Kiba. "You're going to have a cousin."

"Then why is the baby in your belly?" Kao asked her mother with a frown.

"Because only a woman can carry a baby," Hana replied patiently with a smile.

"Ooh," was all that Kao said as she eyed her father and then her uncles before settling on her little brother with an unimpressed expression, clearly coming to the conclusion that boys were useless. She then turned her eyes down to her nin-dog, softening instantly. Well, okay—not all boys. "Okay then."

"'Okay'?" Shikamaru repeated with an amused smile.

"I can play with a cousin too, right?" she asked back with a frown.

"Of course, pup!" Hana assured her as she reached to pat her head.

Kao nodded at this, as though it proved her point, and the adults shared amused looks as evidently, they'd do well to adopt her to-the-point views. Sensing that the 'serious talk' was over, she set her nin-dog down on the ground and stroked his head. "Come on, Aomaru, let's go play hide and seek!" she told the puppy excitedly.

Kiba sighed fondly as he watched the two run off. "She's a number, that one!"

"She doesn't let things get boring, that's for sure," Hana agreed happily as she absently ran her hand through her own hair. "Soon you'll have your own little daily entertainment!" she reminded him warmly.

He smiled back at her, but it was all he could do to keep from whimpering nervously. The wait was nerve-wracking – why were pregnancies so damn long? Although to be honest…he was just as nervous about what would come after.

More so, actually.

Infinitely more so.


Hinata smiled widely as she saw her old teammate standing there when she opened the door – unfortunately, she'd been so busy since Boruto's birth that she hadn't seen her friends as much as she'd have wanted to. "Kiba, what a pleasant surprise!" she said genuinely as she clapped her hands together before leaning down to greet Akamaru with a half-hug. "Oh, you look great as always, Akamaru!"

Kiba grinned as his companion barked back happily – Hinata had always had him eating in the palm of her hand from day one. "Hey, Hinata…d'you have a moment for me? There're some things I want to ask you about – personal stuff, if you don't mind," he asked as nicely as he could.

She blushed for a moment, and he could see her frown slightly as she visibly tried to guess what kind of 'personal stuff' he meant, but he must've looked serious enough, because she nodded back and stepped aside to invite him in. "Are you hungry?" she asked over her shoulder.

"Ah, no, thank you," he replied as he took off his shoes and followed her.

"I was talking to Akamaru," she quipped with a small grin, giggling as the nin-dog barked playfully.

Kiba rolled his eyes fondly at this, gently tugging on a strand of her long hair and calling them both traitors under his breath. "He's on a diet," he informed her dismissively, purposefully ignoring the sour look Akamaru shot him at this.

Hinata's smile only widened as she led them to the garden so their furry companion could frolic while they sat down in the shade of a tree. "This brings back memories, doesn't it?" she asked contemplatively, thinking back on their early genin days.

"Sure does," Kiba agreed. "We're only missing Shino, but we can pretend he's around catching bugs or something!" he added with a wink, grinning as she covered her own grin with her hand.

"Have you visited Ino since she returned home? I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't had a moment to yet!" Hinata confessed with a frown, obviously displeased that she hadn't managed.

Kiba chuckled at this, waving off her worries as usual. "She won't hold it against you, I promise! But yeah, we were just there last night, actually," he informed her.

Fatherhood suited Sai quite well, just as Shikamaru had surmised in the past. Their little boy, Inojin, clearly took more after Ino in terms of loudness and restlessness, but then sometimes out of nowhere he'd fix something for a moment and go so still he made you want to check his heart was still beating – that was closer to Sai, honestly.

Hinata chuckled as he told her this, and then her smile turned more gently, eyes crinkling knowingly. "So now you're the only ones left – but that's why you're here, aren't you?"

Kiba grinned and then sighed as he wondered how to best word his question. "Hey, Hinata…so, uh…after you got married, how've things been with your clan? I mean…augh I don't even know what I really mean, I just…" he shrugged helplessly as he trailed off. Asking for help had really never been his strong point.

Luckily, despite this, Hinata had always been able to understand him. "Why don't you tell me about this from the beginning?" she offered as she cocked her head to the side.

"Yeah, that sounds logical," he agreed before leaning his elbows on his knees. "So you know how Shikamaru and I haven't really changed much the way we relate to our clans despite getting married, even though I joined the Nara clan," he began. "But now that we're actually going to have a kid, it's become relevant in a whole new way and so we've been talking, you know—not that we never talked about it before, but that particular issue just never came up, so there wasn't an opportunity to discuss it and so now that it's happening we have to and—"

"You're rambling, Kiba," Hinata interrupted him gently as she placed her hand atop his.

"Sorry," he apologized with a sigh.

"Don't be," she replied with a shake of her head. "I haven't seen you do that often, I actually find it adorable!" she couldn't help but tease him easily.

He automatically stuck out his tongue at her and then sighed, thinking about the best way to put his question into actual words.

"So…I was just wondering how it was for you, transitioning into another clan with a child involved? I mean, the other people around I know in this situation are Karui and Sai, but I'm not asking her for advice and she's not here anyway. And Sai didn't have a clan to speak of, so you're the only one I can talk to about this, really…well, of course there's also Aoba, but I feel I've been bothering him enough lately," he admitted with a shrug.

Hinata shook her head at this, smiling in amusement. "I very much doubt he sees it as a bother," she assured him before sobering up as she thought about his question and how to best answer it.

"These old clans are all the same, in a sense – proud of their secrecy, but eager to increase their numbers. Outsiders aren't even allowed on Hyuuga clan grounds – not for anything longer than a meeting. Heaven forbid the slightest information about our precious Byakugan were to slip out!" she added, her unusual sarcasm betraying the hurt she still felt when she thought about Neji, of how much he and countless other Secondary Branch members had suffered only to protect their eyes.

She seemed to remember herself then, because she slightly shook her head as though to dissipate her gloomy thoughts. "Marriage hasn't really changed that, although Naruto is now allowed to stay with me when I visit my family. If our son inherits the Byakugan though, the Hyuuga will consider him part of the clan, even though I married into the Uzumaki clan and he bears that name," she explained with heartfelt sigh as she looked at Boruto where he slept in his crib.

Kiba frowned as he figured those lineages with a bloodline limit ability were even worse than your average clan and probably had about a million more rules. "I'm an Inuzuka," he started slowly. "Through and through – and I've always taken great pride in it. But…Shikamaru's more important to me than affiliations. I don't mind having taken the Nara name, I really don't," he said seriously. "And our child will be trained in the Nara techniques, we've already agreed on that. I guess I'm just wondering how I will factor in all that…"

Hinata let out a small breath as she held his look. "You're faster than Shikamaru. Physically stronger, too, and more resilient. Undeniably, you're also better at taijutsu," she reminded him factually. "That's where you factor!" she finished confidently. "And when you have the opportunity, speak to the head of the Inuzuka clan – most of your techniques are secret, that's correct, but not all of them, I'm sure. There has to be something you're allowed to pass down to your child!"

Kiba grinned at her, feeling fonder than ever – she'd always known what to say. "You're something else, you know that, Mrs. Uzumaki?" he asked with a wink and a charming smile.

Hinata chuckled and playfully punched his shoulder, absently running a hand through her hair, looking at the Uzumaki clan crest on Boruto's cradle. "You know…there isn't really an Uzumaki clan to speak of, not anymore – so in the end, I just married a man, and we're completely making this up as we go! Perhaps I'm not the best person to give you advice on raising your child into another clan," she added apologetically.

"You're always the best person to talk to though," Kiba assured her with a genuine grin.

She smiled back at him as she looked up, opening her mouth and closing it as she thought of something else. "Maybe you should ask Kurenai about this," she said pensively.

"Kurenai?" he asked back dubiously as he raised an eyebrow at her. Sure, they'd remained pretty close to their old teacher, heck he'd babysat Mirai his fair share of times, but he'd always made it a point not to burden her with his own troubles – he figured she had enough on her plate, raising her child mostly on her own.

"She married into an ancient clan and raised her daughter following their traditions even after she was widowed," Hinata reminded him simply, unable not to frown sadly as she thought back on the day they'd learned about Asuma's passing. "If anyone knows about leaving their own clan's ways behind for love, it's her."

"Huh…you actually have a point," Kiba mused as he really thought about it.

"Don't I always?" the white-eyed woman asked back teasingly with a soft giggle.

Kiba laughed heartily at this, feeling incredibly relieved, his previous gloominess all but forgotten. He knew Hinata would be able to make him feel better – she always could, the years hadn't changed that. Leaning forward, he grabbed her hand to give it a gentle squeeze and winked at her. "Thank you," he said earnestly.

"Always," she replied readily with a bright smile. She then grinned softly before looking around, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Could you have imagined this, back when we first met – the two of us talking about marriage, clans and children?" she wondered playfully.

"'Course not!" he replied with a huff, grinning at the thought. "You know foresight was never really my thing! It was even too abstract to think we'd be having kids at all – I mean I was sure I wouldn't!" he joked, shaking his head as he tried to imagine his eleven year-old self learning about that part of his future. "But now more of us have kids than don't! I guess we are all grown up now…" he mused, grin widening. "At least, our team 8 is still here! Through thick, thin, marriage, children, school, and whatnot!"

"And I wouldn't have it any other way!" the kunoichi replied happily as she looked at him knowingly.

"Neither would I – except perhaps if Shino was here to crash the mood with his clinical talk of nuptial responsibilities," he air-quoted.

Hinata laughed as she couldn't deny it, but still shook her head at him. "You're so mean – I just might tell on you," she threatened good-heartedly.

"Yeah, you do that – and then I'll tell him you laughed when I said it!" Kiba promised back with wiggling eyebrows. Akamaru barked happily next to them and they shared another smile. "So, while we're at it, should we try to find someone for him so that he can actually join us the next time we talk about this?" he offered wickedly.

"Kiba!" Hinata protested out of loyalty although she couldn't help but giggle at the thought as she slapped his arm. There was a comfortable silence for a moment before she frowned. "Does he even have a type?" she wondered despite herself.

Kiba opened his mouth to reply, but had to admit he was stumped at that. "Huh…you know…I honestly have no idea!"

"Hmm," she replied thoughtfully. "Guess that's one more mystery to add to the 'Shino list'!"

Inwardly, they both wondered whether one day that list would finally stop growing longer.


November 13th started out as a fairly unremarkable day, as far as most felt concerned. It had snowed just a little in the morning, only enough to give the air that particular chillness, but not enough to hinder anyone's workday or routine. Nothing catastrophic in the grand scheme of things had happened, but nothing exceptional either.

Except that November 13th turned out to be the day that Hana went into labor. Aoba was the first to get the call, and then he immediately reached out to Kiba and Shikamaru, following which they directly met up at the hospital as soon as they were able. Naturally he went to be with his wife, while the other two could only wait.

Tsume, who'd been alerted, dropped by Kao after having picked her up from the academy and then went to relieve Shisen's babysitter. She insisted they didn't need her there to add to the stress, but to give her a call once it was done and she'd come over running with Shisen. She'd asked Kao whether she wanted to accompany her, but the little Inuzuka insisted she wanted to stay there, as support.

Kao was only seven, but she already knew a lot about reading people, and indeed she did help them deal with frayed nerves – with Aomaru's help, of course. Needing a break and some fresh air, Shikamaru had gone outside after a while, leaving her to cheer up Kiba.

He hadn't expected her to follow him, though.

"Uncle Shikamaru?"

Shikamaru snapped out of his thoughts at the hesitant voice, turning to look down at his niece and willing himself to calm down. "What is it, Kao?" he asked her curiously.

"You smell scared," she said cautiously, as though worried he wouldn't appreciate her pointing that out. "If you want, I'll lend you Aomaru, he really helps me when I'm scared," she quickly continued, holding up the small nin-dog.

Shikamaru chuckled fondly at this, kneeling so she wouldn't need to look up so much. "Do you get scared often?" he wondered teasingly.

"Of course not!" was the immediate reply as she puffed her cheeks. "I just meant that if I did, he would help me! But I don't," she insisted hotly as Aomaru yipped to back her up.

The Nara felt himself smile as he looked at the duo, inwardly hoping they'd be able to do even half as decent a job as Hana and Aoba had done with Kao. "Would it be okay if I hugged you both?" he asked her with a raised eyebrow. His smile widened as she didn't hesitate before stepping into his arms, and he wrapped them around her while being careful not to smother Aomaru between the two of them.

And she was right—it did help.

"Are you feeling better?" she asked earnestly after a moment.

"Yes, Kao, thank you," he replied honestly. "And you too, Aomaru," he added, chuckling as the puppy licked his chin in response.

Kao grinned, smug in the knowledge that she'd helped, and looked down at her nin-dog. "Uncle Kiba is just as scared," she informed him sadly. "But he's got Akamaru, so he'll be okay!" Aomaru once more yapped his agreement at this.

Shikamaru chuckled as he brushed her hair back from her face. "What would we do without you, Kao, I wonder…" he mused, not expecting her to reply nor understand, shaking his head in amusement at her confused look. "Okay, let's go back," he then prompted as he stood and held out his hand to her. As they returned to the waiting room she went to sit with Akamaru, and Shikamaru walked to kneel in front of Kiba and reached for his hands. "Kao's got a great remedy against fear, if you'd like," he said with a tentative smile.

"Do you, pup?" Kiba asked their niece fondly, trying to indeed stop worrying. He actually laughed when she proudly held up Aomaru once more, and he reached to rub both their heads in turn affectionately. An unmistakable wail then resounded from behind the delivery room's doors, and he froze, slowly turning to Shikamaru.

It was some time before Aoba walked out to them, but not enough for them to get their voices back. "Someone's ready to meet you," he told them with a reassuring smile as he stroked his daughter's hair when she ran to rest against his side.

"I think I'm going to need you to help me up," Shikamaru told Kiba seriously.

"Are you kidding me? You're gonna need to help me up!" Kiba protested with a frown.

"I'll help you both up!" Kao decided as she set Aomaru on her head and walked to grab their hands before pulling and almost growling as the task proved much harder than she'd anticipated.

Aoba chuckled as he held the door for them, nodding encouragingly, and they shared a look before walking in.

Hana grinned at them from the bed, obviously exhausted but doing very well, considering. And on her chest, there rested a shriveled mass of red skin—a baby, they quickly corrected themselves. "Come meet your son, you two," she chided them good-naturedly as they remained close to the door.

"Son?" Kiba squeaked out as he squeezed the life out of Shikamaru's arm – who, in all fairness, didn't even notice.

"Son," Hana confirmed with a warm grin. "Come on, blood's been washed off and he can't bite you yet!"

Kiba chuckled but the words didn't really compute in Shikamaru's mind just yet. He let Kiba's hand pull him along, his eyes glued to the baby.

"Looking good, sis," Kiba told Hana warmly as he pressed a kiss to her forehead before turning to the newest addition and biting his lips to keep his grin from splitting his face. "He's so tiny," he noted, voice full of wonder.

Maybe it was because he was biased, but he looked even smaller than all their friends' babies – or his sisters', for that matter. Hana moved to hand him over and he turned to Shikamaru but he was still frozen so he carefully took the bundle from her and cradled him to his chest, doing his best not to agitate him.

Seeing him in Kiba's arms finally seemed to snap Shikamaru back and he stepped closer, reaching to touch those tiny fingers almost reverently. He shook his head however when Kiba told him to hold out his arms. "Not when he's so small," he told him – he'd never carried a babe that young before. Not once – until they were a few months old, he felt they were too fragile, he was scared that he wouldn't be able to be gentle enough. It was a silly fear – not so uncommon, he knew – but he couldn't shake it off.

"It's different this time – he's yours," Kiba told him softly. "C'mon, hold him."

"Kiba, I don't know how," Shikamaru insisted, trying not to panic – and certainly not in front of Hana, after what she'd just been through for them, he didn't want her to think he wasn't up to the task.

"Of course you do, just watch me." Luckily Kiba knew how to work him, and showing patience and care his usually loud demeanor would not indicate he possessed, he handed the baby over to him.

Hana grinned at their expressions, letting out a satisfied sigh. "Yeah, I knew it – completely worth it!" she declared happily with a bright grin. "C'mon, go show Kao her cousin! She's been asking after him nonstop for months!"

"You mean walk while holding him?" Shikamaru asked with wide eyes.

Kiba chuckled fondly as he pressed a kiss to his temple. "You're doing just fine, Shika," he said reassuringly.

The shadow-nin nodded slowly as he let out a breath before shaking his head. "One step at a time – I'll get there eventually, but for now, you take him," he asked him.

Kiba didn't need to be persuaded, since he knew him so well. With the same dexterity he'd demonstrated before, he took the baby back into his arms, gently rubbing his back to keep him soothed.

Hana stopped them before they could go. "Oh! I almost forgot! He needs a name!" she told them with a grin.

A name. Shikamaru almost felt that word like a physical punch. Names made things real. So real.

"Kiba…thought of a really good one," he said in a voice he barely recognized as his own.

Kiba grinned modestly as he turned to look at the small hand on his chest. "Shikadai. D'you like it?" he asked no one in particular – or everyone, just as well.

Hana chuckled and looked up as she tested the name. "Yeah, I do! We can nickname him 'Dai' so we don't get him confused with you, Shikamaru!"

Yeah, Kiba called him Shika regularly after all, so for their son, choosing a name that could be shortened in another way had definitely sounded like a good idea. "Shikadai it is, then," he confirmed with a smile.

Kiba beamed back at him and then waited for him to open the door so they could show Kao and Akamaru the newest addition to their family. The nin-dog was beside himself with joy, turning on himself several times and going to rub his head against their backs in turn. The younger Aomaru took his cue from him, although naturally he could only reach their shins.

Kao grinned happily, pointing out that he looked all red and wrinkly just like Shisen had, but he got better soon, so it should be okay, right? She then blinked in confusion as she looked up at Shikamaru. "Uncle Shikamaru, you're crying. Do you need another hug from Aomaru?" she offered genuinely.

The adults shared looks at this and chuckled, and Shikamaru wasted no time in picking her up in his arms. "I'm okay Kao, I've got every one of you after all!"

"You're silly! Of course you do, we're family!" she replied, visibly amused with his sorry emotional state.

Biting his lips to keep another chuckle in, Shikamaru turned to Kiba, wondering how he was supposed to express all that he was feeling. But as he saw the same emotions in his eyes, he figured they understood each other. And now, they had a family of their own.

He'd honestly never known something so terrifying could feel so wonderful.

Besides, in the end the funniest thing about this had been watching Yoshino and Tsume compete for who got to carry Shikadai the most – with Yoshino reminding Tsume that she had other grandkids she could play with.


"What's taking so long? Why isn't everyone ready by now?" Ino asked with a frown as she walked back to the bathroom where Sai and Chouji had disappeared a moment ago with their kids. Pausing at the sight that greeted her, she resisted the urge to slap a hand to her forehead. "Sai, did you leave your ink lying around again like I told you not to?" she asked her husband sweetly.

There was a pause during which he shared a quick look with Chouji before replying a very neutral, "No."

"Then why are Inojin and Chocho's faces and hands covered in ink?" she asked back with narrowed eyes.

"And why are you doing such a poor job of erasing the evidence?" Karui asked with a snort as she looked over Ino's shoulder. "Can't you just make it come off with a jutsu or something?"

"It doesn't work like that," Sai mumbled.

Karui huffed, as though disappointed, before her gaze softened as it moved to her daughter – who, despite Chouji's best efforts to clean her face, was more interested in pressing her ink-covered fingers to her father's cheeks. That kid was a genius, as far as the Kumo kunoichi felt concerned.

Ino didn't even find it in her to sigh as she looked up, sensing their last visitors were almost there. "Shikamaru and Kiba are literally around the corner – fix this," she said simply as she went to the door, indeed not having to wait long before letting them in. "Enter at your own risk," she told them ominously as she made a welcoming gesture with her arm.

"What's going on?" Shikamaru asked her with a raised eyebrow as he helped Kiba extract Shikadai from the cocoon he'd been wrapped in to ward off the cold.

"Inojin's artistic streak compelled him to redecorate his and Chocho's faces," Ino helpfully supplied before immediately mellowing as she took Shikadai into her arms and cooed at him. "You don't have an artistic streak, do you, Shikadai? No you don't. Oh yes, you don't!"

Kiba and Shikamaru exchanged a look before the shadow-nin turned back to his teammate with a sigh. "I suppose given the particular circumstances that's a compliment," he mused.

Akamaru trotted ahead of them towards the others and his tail wagged frantically as he slid past Karui into the bathroom to greet the other pups. Chocho couldn't resist and wiggled in Chouji's arms to reach for the nin-dog, but her father tried to keep her at bay so she wouldn't redecorate his fur along the way.

"Is this where the party's at?" Kiba asked teasingly with a shit-faced grin as he poked his head in, grin widening as Karui huffed and stepped closer to take over for Chouji. He then whistled as he saw the state Chocho and Inojin were in. "Just how much ink can there be in an inkwell?" he asked Sai with a raised eyebrow.

"I have no comment on the matter," was the artist's pragmatic response.

Even Chouji had to snigger at that one as he left the bathroom as it was getting too crowded – plus someone had to appease Ino after all.

"Looks like it's gonna take forever to wash it off," the tracker commented offhandedly. "It's a pity, they look cute with handprints on their faces," he added seriously.

"Well, if we left them like this for the picture, Shikadai would look like he wasn't invited to the party," Karui commented as she smirked at their antics.

However following her words, Kiba raised an eyebrow, Sai paused in his cleaning, and Akamaru whined as they exchanged glances.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Karui asked them very seriously.

"I'm surrounded by infants – surrounded, I tell you!" Ino declared later as she vainly looked around the room for support.

Kiba and Karui – probably the instigators, if she knew them at all – were doing a poor job to tone down their amusement as they guffawed like children. Sai tried to keep a straight face, but she knew him well enough by then to realize he was just trying to behave. Shikamaru and Chouji, to her side, were no help, plus they were too whipped anyway, she'd always insisted so – no support to be had there, either.

"Come on, they look pretty cute like that, gotta admit it!" Karui reasoned as she bumped her shoulder against Ino's. "Better take that picture before they start crying!" she added philosophically.

Ino raised an eyebrow at her and sighed once more, but she had to admit they did look pretty cute.

Besides, years from now, when people would wonder why Inojin, Shikadai and Chocho's faces had hand-printed ink blotches on their faces on the first 'official' Ino-Shika-Cho picture taken, they'd likely get a good laugh out of it.

Admittedly, it was even funnier when compared to the picture she'd then taken of Sai, Kiba and Karui, whose faces hadn't managed to remain unmarred by ink either. (And it served them right, pranksters that they were, Ino reasoned.)

"I'd say this new Ino-Shika-Cho team might just be the best yet!" Chouji commented happily, smile widening as naturally no one present could deny it.

"Hey, they still have lots to live up to!" Kiba reasoned as he leaned against Shikamaru, reaching to smear some ink on his face as well just because.

"At least, it looks like they'll be peas in a pod," Ino added with a chuckle, looking at the three future team-mates who seemed quite content in each other's presence.


11 YEARS LATER


Team 3, under Moegi's leadership, had been steadily progressing over the months since their graduation and promotion to genin. Only D-rank missions had been assigned to them, naturally, and at this time, all within Konoha and its immediate surroundings. That was probably why on the morning of Team 3's first C-rank mission, which would additionally take them outside the border, their parents were at the gates to see them off – to the children's great mortification.

"They'll turn around," Chouji said confidently – or at least, he pretended to be, frown deepening more and more the further their kids walked away without looking back at them.

"They might not," Sai supplied pragmatically.

"Don't act so smug just because your kid did!" Kiba snapped back.

Ino chuckled at them, refraining from adding that their Inojin was obviously the sweetest!

"This is ridiculous – they're not babies anymore, why are you even here?" Karui commented with a roll of her eyes.

"Yeah, why are you here, Karui?" Kiba asked back cheekily, grin widening as she crossed her arms over her chest but didn't reply to him.

Shikamaru just rolled his eyes in amusement at their antics as he watched the genin team walk down the road.

"I just hope she's packed enough snacks!" Chouji commented anxiously.

"Worst case she can always eat the other two," Karui drawled with a smirk, actually laughing when 'the other two's' parents turned to look at her with raised eyebrows.

The children for their part were having very different reactions.

"Seriously Inojin, why did you turn to wave at them, that was so uncool!" Chocho complained to her teammate as she looked ahead resolutely. "Our parents seeing us off at the gate…so embarrassing!" she muttered under her breath, wishing she knew some doton techniques so she could hide underground.

"It makes them happy," the Yamanaka replied simply, as if it was the only reason they'd ever need. "If we die a horrible death while away on this mission, at least they'll remember me waving back at them with a smile!" he then added, completely emulating his father and his legendary finesse.

Moegi frowned at this, turning to him with a raised eyebrow. "It's a C-rank mission, Inojin, and I'm here – I can assure you that none of us are going to die a horrible death," she pointed out very seriously.

"You never know what might happen on a mission, Professor – you said so yourself," was the pragmatic response.

Moegi just sighed and stifled the urge to groan, because really, what could she say to that? "Don't focus on what I said before – listen to what I'm saying now!" she finally settled on.

Chocho and Shikadai shared a look and sighed deeply, figuring it wouldn't exactly hurt – besides, it was done: their departure was definitely already uncool anyway. So they turned – completely for Chocho and sideways for Shikadai – and waved back at their parents – widely with both arms for Chocho and with one hand for the principle for Shikadai – unable not to smile as they saw how happy that simple gesture made the adults.

Inojin just looked at them knowingly, opting not to say 'I told you so' because he was nice like that.

"Told you they'd turn around!" Kiba said happily as he slung an arm around Shikamaru's neck, Akamaru barking cheerfully from his other side.

Karui huffed and looked the other way, but everyone noticed the small smile on her face, while Chouji beamed happily and kept waving even though the kids had turned back ahead.

Ino laughed at their expressions and tilted her head to the side. "We've turned into our parents – embarrassing our kids at every turn!" she noted in amusement.

"Isn't that the fun part?" Sai asked quite seriously, smiling as his wife leaned against him.

"Obviously!" Karui muttered with a fond look at Chouji as he kept his eyes glued on their kid until he wouldn't be able to see her anymore.

Shikamaru just smiled as he shared a look with Kiba. Yeah, that was the logical evolution, wasn't it? Their days were over; they were boring adults after all.

Now it was the new generation's turn to write their story.


THE END