|a million doors
Author: Visions PM
She thought it was too hard, that she could never love him. Then she found out how wrong she was. InoShikamaru, as requested.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Words: 5,977 - Reviews: 178 - Favs: 275 - Follows: 23 - Published: 07-30-04 - id: 1988583
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Don't own Naruto.
Shika/Ino, as promised. Hope you enjoy, Neptune47, who's given me so many wonderful reviews. Arigatou and just so you know, this is called 'a million doors'.
Your heart is like a house with a million doors.
What do you mean?
What I mean is that I don't have the keys, Shikamaru, and what do you know? It's just too troublesome to knock them all down.
His ascension to ANBU surprises few and pleases most.
Naruto squints at the white, bear mask and frowns, "You're too lazy for this kinda job, Shikamaru."
Sasuke remains silent, but his black eyes reveal what he is thinking. They say, with all the grimness and pain that comes from experience, that the life of ANBU is one filled with regrets.
It is Sakura who expresses best what the other two are trying to tell him. She gives him a small, sad smile and asks, "Are you sure you want to do this, Shikamaru-san?"
But the majority of the citizens are pleased. They can sleep safer at night with the knowledge that a genius is guarding their lives with his own. His reputation has been growing like wildfire ever since the Chuunin exams. The adults smile when they see his spiked ponytail sticking out from behind the mask and the children stare at the hailed strategist of Konoha, whispering his feats among themselves.
It is, he thinks dully, more admiration than he has ever received in his life.
A part of him deems it, like everything else, an annoyance. But it is against his nature to protest and after all, a little appreciation never hurt anyone. So he says nothing when the neighbors leave a small, formal Christmas card at his door, a cheerful, red and green reward for being a good soldier and killing people all year round. And he is ever compliant when Hinata's son, ignorant to his mother's protests, bounces up to him and asks eagerly if Shikamaru-nee-san has ever killed any bad ninjas and how and how many.
Some. Can't tell you. Don't remember.
Then again, his answers are always vague and Hinata's son, like most of the village children, leaves in disappointment that his hero is not strong and cool but a quiet, even boring man with an unreadable attitude.
Noone knows that the number lurks like a weight in his mind. The body count is two hundred and seven and rising steadily. Though beloved in his own, he is well-hated in rival villages and condemned as a sneaky, conniving villain. The Shadow-User, they call him.
At nineteen, he wonders what happened to his simple dreams. He no longer looks at clouds because the price of distraction is death.
If life is a game, he figures that somewhere along the way, somewhere between growing up and becoming old, he made the wrong move because a troublesome thought nags and keeps him up all night like an unsatisfied lover,
This isn't what I asked for.
Brilliant as he is, Nara Shikamaru doesn't realize that he is dying an early death.
"Don't follow me, Shikamaru!" she screams at him. She is out of uniform, wearing a sunny, yellow dress that looks too out of place in this dingy bar. It is revealing, showing more than enough leg to make naughty thoughts come out.
"I'm here to get a drink." But he orders nothing and merely stares at her through the eyeholes of his mask. His mouth tightens for he recognizes the gleam in her eyes. She is like a cat on the verge of extending its claws.
"Don't lie," and her voice becomes a venomous hiss, "Don't think I don't know what you've been doing all this time. Always following me. Joining ANBU because you think I can't look after myself."
"That's not true," he replies before delivering an annoyed jab of his own, "Geez, Ino, you always think you're the center of the world, don't you?"
She shrieks indignantly, "I do no—"
"Where's your son?" he asks, changing the subject. He's not in the mood to fight. The death of a comrade in the last mission is too fresh. The wounds that cannot be seen have not yet healed.
"At home," her anger turns instantly to weariness, but the adoration that is sparked in her eyes never fades, "I never knew two-year-olds could be so tiring. It took forever to get him to go to sleep."
"Shouldn't you be getting back?"
"Ah," she nods, the alcohol perhaps making her more compliant than usual. Then again, it could be that their normally heated relationship has hit a cool spot. She stands, swaying.
"We have a mission tomorrow, don't we? It's kind of soon, isn't it?"
Her tone is kept casual, professionally indifferent. But he knows the emotional hell she goes through when she leaves her little boy. It's not just the separation – it never is – it's the thought that she will never see his precious, smiling face again. He, more than anyone, understands.
Her feet wobble so he holds her up by the arm, "Yea. But Hokage's orders. Two months, this time." He hesitates before adding what it his duty as her leader to say, "Better say your good-byes this time. Just in case."
"Just in case," she echoes in a voice so dead that even he cannot fathom what is running through her mind, "Right. I will."
He walks her home in the ensuing silence and when she collapses, too much drink in her system or maybe too much sadness, he picks her up and gently puts her over his shoulder. Behind them, the bar door swings with an ache.
Somehow, she is a major factor in his decision to become ANBU. The brutally honest side of him says that she is the cause. Yet, it is not out of love that he joins, but fear. Every time they visit Chouji's grave together, a yearly custom no matter what animosity they are experiencing towards each other, he thinks to himself that he cannot lose another teammate.
He is irresponsible and a practiced slacker. But obligation and duty have deeper roots in his heart than anyone suspects. His genius lies not in his strategies but in his innate understanding of sacrifice. He knows, with that rare instinct that needs no teaching or testing, how important it is to protect one's precious people and that nothing less than everything is required for the job.
This ideal is what Naruto recognizes in him, why Sakura still apologizes for doubting him while they were racing against the Sand Ninjas in the forest, and the reason for the Uchiha's respect, a thing rarely given.
And it is also why Ino, stubborn, reckless, annoying woman that she is, is nevertheless someone he will give his life for without question.
"Your heart is like a house with a million doors."
She is sixteen and used to chasing and being chased. He is sixteen and a half and not used to the game at all.
"What do you mean?"
Her smile is meant to be cruel, he knows. Being on the same team for so long has done nothing for them. Nothing has changed between them; perhaps nothing ever will.
"What I mean is that I don't have the keys, Shikamaru, and what do you know? It's just too troublesome to knock them all down."
It's her attempt at making rejection sound poetic and it's strangely successful. She walks away, her stinging words hanging in the air.
Gah, love can be a bitch sometimes, he thinks, more irritated than upset, and metaphors are a pain in the ass.
When she drops the bomb, he is tempted to slam the door in her face. It has been two years since she walked away and he's had a hell of a time forgetting about it. Now the reminder is standing on his green welcome mat with eyes redder and more dangerous than the Sharingan.
"I don't believe this," he says flatly. He cannot bear to look at her in her moment of weakness without bitterness. No matter how many tears are sliding down her face, they cannot match the cracks that are splintering his heart.
But for some reason, the door remains open and he gives the reluctant invitation, "Come in."
She complies, finding her way to his sofa, sitting down before rising again. "Can I use your b-bathroom first, Shikamaru?" she asks.
"Ah," he nods, "It's—"
Before he can finish, she's already gone down the hall. A second later, he hears the click of the bathroom door being shut. It's only been a week since he's moved into his new apartment and yet, she knows her way around as if she's been in his place a hundred times. He wonders if that means anything. He sits down in the chair opposite her, leans backward, and tries to look like he doesn't care if it does.
When she returns, he assails her with his first question, "So who's the father?"
"Noone you know," she says evenly enough. The sobs are gone. The bitterness is like a knife, "Believe me, Shikamaru, he's long gone. I should've dumped his ass a long time ago."
"But you didn't. And now you're in this goddamn mess, pregnant with some bastard's son. God, you're such an idiot, Ino."
She flinches. But this visit has nothing to do with comfort. If she had wanted someone to hug her and tell her that she could overcome this, she would've gone to Sakura.
No, she knows what she wants and right now, she wants someone to tell her the situation, plain and simple. She wants someone painfully honest, who won't soften things at the sight of her tears, who will present the facts, bleak and frightening as they are.
She wants Shikamaru, who never argues unless he knows he will win, who will rub her nose in her mistakes, who is always so calculating and certain and sure.
"I'm guessing you're not going to be getting any help from your folks since your dad just retired and you're not the kind of daughter who relies on her parents to get out of a self-made mess."
"So that means, you're eighteen and single and pregnant and without a single dime."
"And homeless," she mutters, "I told my parents I was moving out after the baby was born."
"And homeless. Ino, you're a Chuunin. You're not going to get paid a lot for your missions. And considering the nine-month break you'll have to take, how are you going to support yourself? Do you know how much money it takes to raise a child?"
She shrugs, "I'll borrow. I'll repay. Who knows? I might even become ANBU. They get more money, I hear."
"You? ANBU?" he snorts. Impossible.
She flares up, the tears long gone, replaced with indignant fury, "Don't you dare insult me, you lazy-assed bum."
He dismisses the retort, leaning forward to say seriously, "The smartest thing would be to get an abortion."
Argh, why is Shikamaru always so damn cold?! With Sasuke, it is an intriguing trait, something mysterious and dark. With him, it is heartlessness and a distance resembling a million doors that she can hardly stand.
"I'm keeping the baby."
"So you're going to be a mother? You've got to be kidding me."
The question is laidback, delivered with eyes closed. The insult is even more matter-of-fact, an opinion of her incompetence and lack of motherhood ability. He is her biggest critic and probably always will be.
She tries to keep calm, knowing that she should've learned to deal with his attitude by now. They are old teammates, after all. Somehow, though, one way or another, he always manages to bring out the worst in her. It's part of his genius, she thinks, How he always makes me want to beat the crap out of him. Ino clenches her fist, fighting exasperation that borders on hot, boiling rage.
"And the baby's going to grow up without a father?"
"Maybe he doesn't have to." Her fist relaxes suddenly. A thought is blossoming within her, like a flower of hope…
"Forget it, Ino," he snaps, "I'm not going to pretend to be the father of some kid that's not mine."
The flower, the hope, whatever it was, is dead before it even has a chance to bloom. She's quite the idiot for even thinking about the possibility. The idea is so stupid it makes her want to bang her head on the wall as righteous punishment. Shikamaru? The father? Why the hell would she want that? Of course. Of course she wouldn't. Of course he wouldn't. If her as a mother is a joke, then Shikamaru as a parent is nothing short of absurd. As for her asking… Maybe she just wanted to hurt him… That was the usual reason, after all…
The silence that follows is odd. She cannot completely grasp her feelings. They are foreign, alternating between sweet anger and tired sadness. Before she can figure things out, the latter has won. She no longer wants to cry in front of him, this unforgiving, troublesome man. The tears are falling anyways.
"But you could help me raise him, anyways," she says softly.
When the baby is born, it is perhaps the happiest and most painful experience of his life. Ino's hand grips his so tightly it feels as if all the bones in his fingers have been crushed into dust. But that is secondary to joy, which is all-consuming. Troublesome as it is, he cannot help but give himself over to the elation.
Her hair is matted to her skin with sweat, golden locks limp against her face. Her blue eyes are to the brim with fatigue. She breathes awfully with large, unbecoming gasps that are slowly minimizing themselves. She is quite a sight, a mess to be more precise.
And the most beautiful woman in the world.
Her son cries heartily in her arms. A healthy boy with a nice set of lungs. Ah, so he had guessed right…
"Name him, Shikamaru."
His eyes widen at the privilege, even as his arms move to take the small, loud bundle that she offers. She is delighted by that expression on his face. For once, she has caught him off-guard. For once, he is just like anyone else, too wrapped in the moment to stand back and analyze it.
"Can we… can we call him Chouji?"
Her smile says yes.
The last time she drinks is the first time he slaps her. Her eyes, previously groggy, are wide now and shocked. Her hand clutches the redness that stings her cheek. She stares at the man before her, who looks at her squarely in the face.
"Stop. You can't do this anymore, Ino."
His voice is what breaks her daze. She hisses, "How dare you…"
"I'm tired of dragging your butt home." It's partly true, but that isn't the whole reason.
"I never asked you to!" she screams. She leaps up to jump at him, to claw at his face, to return his slap, but the drunkenness has not completely left her. She stumbles. An ANBU member of six months and she stumbles and falls to the ground like a toddler.
The impact is jarring. Tears spring to her eyes, though she hides them well. She can feel his eyes boring into her and hates him for it.
"Get up, Ino."
"What do you know…" she mutters bitterly, refusing to obey, "You don't know what the hell it's like… Even as ANBU, it still isn't enough... My landlord's about to kick me out… and…" Her blue eyes stare at the ground as she whispers hoarsely, "Killing people's not my thing, you know? Chouji's only two. I don't want to die before he grows up… And it makes me wonder how many people have I killed had kids and felt the same way… It's hard… It's so goddamn hard…"
His hand is on her shoulder. He pulls her up.
"I understand better than you think," he says, "But these missions are crucial. They ensure the survival of the Leaf. You kill, we all do, so that children like Chouji can grow up. It's a horrible job, but hell of a lot easier than watching kids die because of some bastard like Orochimaru. Don't you agree?"
She gives him a look. Of course, she agrees!
"Good, I hoped you would."
"It's still hard…" But with his reason, which somehow seems impeccable, she no longer feels as lost.
"We kill people," but his tone is somehow less smart and more human, "It'll always be hard and I'd rather it be that way."
She pauses, finally seeing the meaning in his words and says slowly, "Me, too, when I think about it…"
Their eyes meet, and they smile each other. It is one of those rare moments when Ino feels nothing but appreciation for her teammate. Shikamaru, you make things a lot less confusing sometimes…
Then he tells her that his apartment has more than enough room for two extra people and that, too, makes things a lot less confusing.
It is quickly becoming one of their biggest arguments and all because of one, stupid, insignificant picnic. It's not that he refuses to take Chouji, not that he doesn't see how much the boy wants to go, not that—dammit, woman, why don't you ever listen? It's because, simply, that the event is not an option. It's for fathers and sons. Only. And no, he's not insulting her intelligence but c'mon, really now, it's not that hard to understand, is it?
"You're just being a coward."
"You haven't heard a word I said, have you?"
"Since when did Nara Shikamaru ever care about what other people think?"
She is starting to get on her nerves. This argument has lasted well over two hours. He rubs his temples and regrets ever letting her move in. Chouji is tolerable, even pleasant to have around. His mother is like a wild cat that never starts snarling.
"Last time I checked, it was a father-son-only thing."
"His eyes are green," he replies flatly.
"Yours are blue and mine are brown. Last time I checked, blue and brown don't make green."
"Get to your damn point already, Shikamaru!"
"He's not my son."
She pauses, "That's only true if you base it on blood. Are you saying that you don't love him?"
The words become increasingly harder to say, like rocks that he must force from his throat. "He's not my son."
"Do you or don't you?"
Their skills as ninjas are both too fine-tuned to not sense the little boy outside the door. Though out of sight, they can feel his small, eavesdropping presence. His usual noisiness is gone, replaced with what they both know to be heart-pounding desperation to know his opinion. The opinion of the man he understands is not his father but whom he loves and adores anyway.
Shikamaru breaks out into a sweat. He has never faced such a dilemma, not even as an ANBU captain. If he says no, Chouji will never look at him in the same way. If he says yes, he is stepping into a role that does not fit him, into a life that he wants and does not want.
"Even if he's not yours, he still belongs to you."
"Don't say things like that," he mutters.
"Not even if it's true?"
"Not even if it's true," then louder, so that Chouji can hear, "Dammit, Ino. You know I can't say no to that question… That boy, he's…" He falters; the depth of his feelings is too hard to convey, "He's…"
The fumbling for words finally ends with a sigh, "When's this stupid picnic anyways?"
She grins, grabbing his hand and squeezing it tightly, "Arigatou, Shikamaru."
Then the door swings open and that is when Chouji runs in wordlessly to give the biggest hug his little arms can give.
Ino is delighted, Shikamaru touched more than he can admit.
I love you, Otou-san, the child says to the man that is not his father.
She doesn't know why she dreads it when he sees the boxes. His gaze, normally slack and disinterest, abruptly becomes sharp as he looks back at her.
"It's better this way, you know, Shikamaru?" she says, not meeting his eyes, "It's not that far, only be on the other side of town. Of course, you can still visit Chouji. Whenever you want."
"You're leaving." It's more of a statement than a question. Shikamaru doesn't ask unnecessary questions. He only states necessary conclusions.
"Hai! The apartment's really nice," she begins cheerfully, trying to make her smile more genuine than it feels, "You should see it! It's got two bedrooms, one guest room, a kitchen, and nice wallpaper, too. Really, it's a great apartment…"
Better than this one? He doesn't say anything, but the question is there.
"We've lived together for two years," he begins carefully, "Why the sudden change now, Ino? Tell me why."
He doesn't know of her guilt, which has been growing steadily ever since the day she first moved in. She has spent two years in this apartment, during which she has grown to love its plain, light-blue walls and white doors.
She looks at Shikamaru, the owner of this humble abode, the father of her child not by blood but by love alone, the teammate that is always ready at her side, the man that gives to her over and over again. She is not so arrogant as to think that she has made it through the trials of her life alone. She is not so stupid as to ignore all the times he has saved her and all the sacrifices that he has made. She cannot believe as she once did at sixteen, that he is below her when he is actually above, that he is nothing to her when in fact, he is everything.
Time has taught her this and so, it is not as much a surprise as it is an awakening that she has grown to love him, too.
Ironically, it is because of this love that she has decided to leave. She has taken too much from him and there are other women out there, far more deserving than she.
"Look, Shikamaru, You need your space. I've been leeching off of you for two years. That's more than enough. I don't want to be bother anymore."
"You're not a bother," he replies.
"You're just saying that," she snaps, mistaking honesty for lies, "You've been helping me all this time and I've never given you anything in return. Not a goddamn, single thing."
"That's not true, Ino."
"But it is! Shikamaru, name one thing that I ever gave you!"
She stares, "What?"
"You said before that he belonged to me. But if you think about it, it's only because you gave him to me."
"That doesn't count. He loves you on his own. I never once told him that he had to."
"We're not a family."
"Not by blood, no," he says without hesitation.
"Don't say things like that," she mutters, turning away.
He stops her, brings her chin to face him, and leans forward, "Even if it's true, Ino no baka?"
In a movie, this would be the part where they would kiss. They are that close. Ino can feel her heart jump, can feel the slightest breeze on her cheek that is his breath. But the front door shoots open with a bang and Chouji is home from school, bubbling about the details of his day without being asked.
Ino cries nevertheless because in that one fraction of a second before the door opened, the man she loves leaned in to whisper his love in her ear.
It was just one, simple word, but somehow, it's worth more than all the love songs and poetic metaphors in the world.
The mission has failed. He does not know how but somehow, the Hokage's plans were not privy to him alone.
"Yare, yare, I was afraid it would come to this," he sighs and jumps to the next branch, wincing as the movement causes him to cough up blood.
"Shikamaru, are you okay?"
"Our four-man team's been cut in half. The Kyubi's chakra has been blocked by a seal that can't be lifted for twenty-four hours. The enemy outnumbers us five to one. You and I are running for our lives. What do you think?" he replies dryly. He cannot help it. Sarcasm is his best defense at times like these, when death is like a relentless dog at his heels.
"I meant you, you dumbass. Are you badly hurt?"
The other's legs are badly cut and his arm hangs limply at her side. Yet, Naruto's concern is for him alone. He notices this and feels a rush of warmth despite the chilling rain all around them.
"I'm fine," he lies, "Worry about yourself."
"We'll make it through this, right, Shikamaru?" As if answering his own question, he bursts out desperately, "We HAVE to!"
"Ah, don't worry. We will." Or at least, one of us has to.
"I'll meet you there," he says.
Naruto wants to believe his grin. But it is too light-hearted for this situation.
"You're lying." When the other man scowls, he knows he is right.
"Tch, I thought you wouldn't be convinced." He smirks and Naruto relaxes for it looks much more natural on him than a charming smile. That is when he strikes, hand to neck in a move that drops the blonde silently to the ground. A series of hand seals and then the last of his chakra is gone to the summoning of a wolf.
"Tch, it's raining like hell out here," the animal mutters.
"Don't complain, you bastard," he replies, rolling his eyes.
"What's the sitch?"
"Two dead. Five to one. Execute plan 3," all of which translates to, Take him and go. Run to Konoha as fast as you can. If anyone tries to stop you, kill them.
It's a common protocol, one they've done many times before. The wolf nods and then asks, "Should I tell the Hokage you'll be back in three days?"
"…Iie, you can… you can leave that part out." He removes a kunai from his kneepouch, tasting the tip with a finger until a drop of blood appears. Good. Still sharp.
The wolf stares, "What?! What are you doing? Your taijutsu isn't good enough for numbers like that!"
"Shut up and go!"
The wolf blinks, yellow eyes clouding with realization, "You know, you should be saving yourself. You're more valuable than he is."
"Heh, that's what you think," he smirks, removing a kunai from his knee-pouch. "That guy's gonna be the next Hokage."
Skeptically, "Oh, really?"
"I'm counting on you. Keep him safe."
The wolf nods and then bounds away, lightning fast, his faint growl being borne back by the wind, "Sayonara, Nara Shikamaru, the smartest albeit stupidest human I've ever met…"
When he is completely alone, the easiest thing to do is to focus on taking down the enemy. It is not too hard. His fingers work nimbly despite the cold rain and not a moment too soon for within seconds, he finds himself surrounded on all sides.
"Shinobi of the Leaf, do you surrender?" someone calls gruffly.
The bombs he has prepared respond with giant explosions of fire. The Rain-nins leap toward their target, weapons barred.
"You can't catch us with that," one snarls in mid-air.
But the words have been spoken too soon. A thick cloud of steam begins to billow out. It is a man-made fog, the heat of the fires destroying the raindrops. Konoha, after all, is not just the Village of the Leaf but also a place in the Country of Fire.
Their target has vanished in the smoke. For a moment, it seems as if he's gone. Then, the sound of a kunai hitting flesh proves his existence. One man groans, another screams. Those still alive strain their ears for the sound of footsteps, the whistling of a blade ready to strike, anything besides the falling of the rain.
As for the attacker, he hears nothing but what he chooses to hear.
The sound of a child, eager and happy.Then, will you teach me how to play when you get back?
A woman's voice, a blend of memories, complex one minute and then so utterly simple the next,Your heart is like a house with a million doors… Even if he's not yours, he belongs to you…
…The same goes for you, Ino. Even if you don't care, even if you never did. Was it so hard to see? I loved you, I love you, so much. I would've given you all the keys back then, if you had told me what the hell you meant. But it's not too late, is it? Even this, it's not so bad a way to die. Take care of Chouji for me, he's a good boy, just like the other Chouji. My son, too… I don't know why it was so hard to say in the first place… my son…
He manages to kill four Rain-nins before something hits him in the back and the world goes dark.
"But you could help me raise him anyways," she says softly.
It is her plea, the only kind her pride will permit her.
It is only when he sighs, not agreeing but not refusing either, that she feels the crushing weight of her burden becoming more bearable. Somehow, life seems a little easier when she knows that Shikamaru doesn't completely hate her though he has all the right to, when his eyes say without words, I will stand by you in this.
The visit is over and it has done wonders for her. She feels just the tiniest bit refreshed or at least, more ready to face the situation in the eye. Even the moments of anger have been helpful, distracting her from her predicament. Maybe that's why he tried to piss me off…
Because Shikamaru never says anything without knowing what kind of reaction he will get, because he knows her well enough to give her exactly what she needs. It helps to have a guy like that around. And she doesn't have the courage to say it, but her heart is filled with gratitude.
She's on the way out when a question strikes, puzzling her, "Neh, Shikamaru, how'd you know it was a boy?"
"I didn't. I don't." He leans against the doorframe, staring up at the sky.
"So it was just a—"
"—a hope, yeah."
He continues cloud-gazing, not daring to look at the woman who's purchased his future with someone else's child.
Ino wipes at her eyes and then turns them upward. The clouds are pure white, fluffy-looking and little blurry every now and then. But that's mostly her fault.
"Girls are so troublesome, you know?" he finally mutters in a voice low and choked with emotions she can't read.
"I know," she whispers, "I know."
"But he said he was going to teach me shogi when he got back!"
She can't answer. The innocence in Chouji's eyes makes the throbbing in her chest all the more stronger. They are in his bedroom. It is quite plain, not stylish at all. And few accessories. Only a bed, a desk, and a shogi board. Typical Shikamaru, really. But there is no irritation, no distaste in the thought. She feels a million miles away from reality, and that's how she knows it is grief.
"Okaa-san, is he dead?"
"Then where is he?"
"Here," she says, taking his hand and placing it over his heart, "Right here."
Without losing her composure, Ino gathers him up in her arms and hugs him close. Whether he understands her words, whether the loss will make him weaker or stronger, she cannot know. But his arms hug her back and when she gently requests for him to go to his room, he only gives one last, wistful look at the shogi board before complying. .
She moves to his bed and sits on it, realizing abruptly that not once did they ever do anything on it. She thinks distantly, feeling the blankets beneath her, soft and soothing, Must have been because he always had his door shut. There is more than a pang of regret.
Hours pass, a century and an eternity if one measures not by time. But she does not care, too lost in reflecting upon all the moments wasted, all the chances lost, and all the happiness gained despite.
It is only when the thought of Chouji and whether he is asleep or not that she finally stirs herself to leave.
"All this time... I'm sorry for being so troublesome," Ino says to the empty room, to the ghost that may be lingering, "Forgive me, neh, Shikamaru?"
The door never closes behind her. She looks at it. She sees it now, so clearly it hurts. It had always been open, just like all the others.