A/N: For space_machine, because that is who it was asked for/inspired by. ^__^ Also adapted into a self-imposed challenge I came up with for the team_10 LJ community.

. . . actually, I was really cruel to myself and went for all three requirements from each option, including the art ones. ^_^;;

Ahem. Set before Sasuke runs away, but contains a slight spoiler for that arc of the manga in regards to Chouji. ShikaChou.

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"In the Sky"

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Shikamaru doesn't have a plan.

He has definitely never had this problem before. He always knows what he's doing: it comes with the whole "super- genius/over 200 IQ" thing. Sure, it's irritating to deal with the idiots, but at least it's always meant that he was never stuck for ideas.

But today he feels suspiciously slow-witted. Like, Naruto-level denseness- and not even normal Naruto-level, but Naruto in a ramen stupor and simultaneously pissed off at Sasuke, being picked on by both of his perverted teachers, and making goo-goo eyes at Sakura level. If it is even possible to reach such a state without a serious head injury, Shikamaru is sure he has done it.

It doesn't help that he is in a cloud-watching stupor and pissed off at Ino, being picked on by Asuma, and has the dreadful feeling that he has made goo-goo eyes at Chouji on more than one occasion today without realizing it.

Shikamaru can't sleep. Usually it's hard to sleep anyway, because he can't make his head shut up, but that's mostly at night. He wanders through the majority of his days in a vague haze, trying to catch a nap or at least some rest wherever he can. In fact, he'd like to be asleep right now, but Ino somehow had the brilliant idea that they should all have a picnic. Well, more like she'd shown up at training with four bento boxes and announced that they were GOING on a picnic and going to enjoy themselves, dammit.

So now they're in the park, another day behind the other rookies and eating Ino's overcooked rice and undercooked fish. Asuma is drowsily smoking just out of earshot, long since finished with his own meal, which Shikamaru thinks is strange, because Chouji certainly eats faster than Asuma ever has. Chouji himself is nearly done with his meal and eyeing the remains of Shikamaru's. Ino is asleep- so unfair- and her own portion, which was much smaller than any of theirs, is barely touched, except for by a squirrel that Akamaru and Kiba chased through it about fifteen minutes ago before disappearing over a hill.

Someday Shikamaru would like to strap Ino to a chair until she has eaten one decent meal.

But it's hard to think of things like that now, with Chouji sitting right next to him and eating quietly, a small, content smile on his face. Shikamaru stomps on the urge to cross the space between them and wipe the rice from his friend's cheek.

Ino stirs slightly on the grass. "Mmm," she says sleepily. "Wha' time is it . . .?"

"Lunchtime, of course," Chouji says cheerfully.

"It's always lunchtime with you, dummy," Ino mutters, rolling off the blanket and onto the grass to stare up at the sky. "So beautiful . . ." she murmurs, still only half-awake. "Easy to see why you like those clouds, Shikamaru."

"That's not why," Shikamaru says sourly.

"Then whyyy?" Ino whines. She's always a little childish when she's drowsy. Shikamaru doesn't think she'll even remember this conversation later. They've had such talks before, and she never really recalls their occurrence, only the information exchanged.

The space between Shikamaru and Chouji is shrinking. Shikamaru can feel heat in his cheeks and his groin and is trying to ignore it. Chouji has finished his rice and is happily moving on to Shikamaru's leftover fish. Ino looks pleased, in a sleepy, catlike way. She likes it that someone can put up with her lackluster cooking without complaint. Asuma and Shikamaru both grimaced while eating theirs.

"There's a kite," Ino muses, tracing its pattern with her finger. Shikamaru looks at it, glad that she's forgotten her question.

The kite is red.

Shikamaru HATES the color red. Because the color red means "red pepper"- that pill that Chouji carries in his pocket, the one that will make the bad thing happen.

He hates to think of that thing.

Shikamaru glares up at the kite, silently wishing to tear it to shreds. He recognizes his anger as misplaced, but doesn't care.

He doesn't want the bad thing to happen.

Ino has drifted off again, and Chouji isn't looking at the kite. Shikamaru follows his line of sight and sees a butterfly flitting around Asuma's head, dodging through the smoke in circles.

Didn't someone once say that fireflies carry the souls of the dead?

What, Shikamaru wonders, do butterflies carry?

"So you like clouds because . . .?" Chouji glances over to him, curious. Shikamaru knows that if he blows this question off, Chouji will let him.

But he doesn't want to.

"Because they are everything you want," he replies in a low voice. "Whatever you want. And everyone sees something different, and that tells you a lot about what that person is like."

"Ah, okay," Chouji says with a smile. "So what do you see?" It is a very personal question. They both know that.

"A butterfly," Shikamaru says finally, very carefully not blushing.

Chouji smiles again. "I see you," he says.

Really, he was never that subtle compared to Shikamaru.

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* fin *

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. : what do you see in the sky? : .