Genre: Tragedy, Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Rating/Status: PG-13 / 490 words, complete
Summary: In the aftermath of war, Temari stands beside him, steady. And Shikamaru finally understands.
Author's Note: This one has been sitting in my drafts for well over a year (soon after ch.616 of the manga came out, to be exact), which means there's a peripheral mention of SPOILERS that occurred in said chapter. It took so long to get posted because I kept struggling with the wording, so it ended up getting stashed away until now.
Applicable prompts: 500themes, #169 - A time for tenderness.
Steady Against the Tide
The march back to Konoha is… trying.
He doesn't have it in him to come up with a better word to describe it, not even sure there's one that's adequate. It isn't the first time Shikamaru is confronted with the stark differences between what he thought he knew about the lifestyle he was born into and what reality actually entails.
No one wins in war.
Those were the words his father said to him once, with smoke curling in the air, a shougi board between them. They were words Shikamaru thought he understood.
He's peripherally aware of the teams of ANBU slipping in and out of view high above them in the trees. The forest looks remarkably unchanged from the last time he had set foot within these trees, so vastly different from the Land of Lightning with its terrain forever marked and altered by war.
There's a body bag next to him, and somewhere in the clusters of people ahead of him, he occasionally catches glimpses of Ino. There's a body bag next to her too, he knows without needing to look. Every once in a while, her shoulders shake uncontrollably and he hears her sobs mingled with Chouji's soft comforting words.
He should be there with her — for her — except he just can't. He doesn't think there's anything left in him to give at the moment. His brain, for all the activity that usually goes on in there, is blank.
The cost of defeat comes in different forms, Shikamaru, and so does the cost of victory.
Those, too, were his father's words.
She falls in step with him somewhere along the march. She doesn't talk, doesn't even look at him. But that's alright. He doesn't look at her either.
"Aren't you supposed to be on your way back to Suna with your brothers?"
"I am," she says, her tone a simple matter of fact, like it's natural for her to be walking amongst Konoha shinobi and their dead as opposed to her own.
He nods, like her answer, too, is explanation enough.
"I'm not crying," he offers instead.
"No." She pauses, and he feels rather than sees her eyes on him. "No, you're not."
The march continues, the body bag next to him remains, but the shoulder that brushes alongside his arm feels steady against the tide of his shudders. It isn't long before the trees around them blur until he can barely see where he's going.
Temari doesn't mention the dampness around his eyes or the way it slides down his jaw until it soaks into his shirt. She says nothing at all. But her fingers are warm when they slip quietly into his, and it is this he clings to as he takes the steps back to Konoha, back towards home.
And it is enough.
Even the roughest woman is tender to the man she loves. You'll understand, when you're older.
Yeah. I understand.