Rejoice at last, for this is the last chapter, and more than that, I've fer-friggan-FINALLY gone back and SPELL CHECKED the previous five chapters. I recommend going back and re-reading the so that you aren't stuck with that awful image of the last time you read it and the spelling and grammar were so terrible, it left a bad taste in your mouth.
Wait, I changed my mind. This was my first fanfiction in about five years, and since starting this one a year ago, I've gone astray and completed several much better stories. So, just finish this, and we'll call it done. It's not that great, but it's a resolution nonetheless.
He had decided to give her a day to think about it before attempting to confront her again. After all, she would undoubtedly be angry about his random act of senseless bravery, and needed a little time to cool her heels.
But he couldn't wait TOO long, either. He didn't want her to think that that was all he was interested in about her, and now that he had seen the thing that had so long plagued his curiosity, he'd lost interest. Because that was far from the truth. He hadn't for a moment lost interest. He was starting to believe he never could.
Yes, a day seemed an appropriate length of time for her to replay over and over again the events of their encounter in her mind, for her to consider what the gesture might have meant, and for her to wonder about the mysterious complexity of their relationship.
Because that was sure as hell what HE was thinking about.
He recognized that he didn't have much for talent, luck, motivation or looks, but he did have brains. So, he did the thing he was put on this earth to do. He thought about it. Thought about how to make it up to her, how to explain it to her; thought about what she may have been thinking about it, what she would have done in his place. Well, that was simple; she wouldn't have taken "no" for an answer. So, why should he?
Probably because it really wasn't in his nature to do so. Despite popular belief, he really didn't want to upset her, and it wasn't just because he was too lazy to fight (mostly). It was because he did genuinely feel guilty when he caused offence. Not torment, torment was fun. Getting on her last nerve was enjoyable, because she always had the cutest reactions and retaliations. But actual insult, that he couldn't do to her. He wouldn't want her to think any less of him than she undoubtedly already did.
Damn, it was so stupid. He had only wanted to see her hair! Nothing that would have made any difference whatsoever! She was so much trouble, but man, did he ever invite it. Even enjoy it. Maybe even want it. Just a little.
When a day had passed (nearly to the very minute since the incident), Shikamaru left his house down the familiar road to the Yamanaka flower shop, where she would surely be at this time of day on this day of the week. He had every intention of speaking with her, even if she wouldn't see him, and found to his surprise that he wasn't nervous at all. Ino was easily angered, but most offences she was over by the next day. She was sort of flighty that way. He wasn't sure if she would shun him when she saw him, but he was confident that she would eventually warm up and talk more freely.
Perfectly confident, that is, until he opened the door and saw her.
When she raised her eyes at the sound of the bell above the door and was met face to face with Shikamaru, Ino scoffed and turned her head away, giving him the cold shoulder. For some reason, that felt to Shikamaru like a painful blow to the chest, like he had just been punched directly in the heart, bypassing the ribs completely. He found that he couldn't remember what it was he wanted to say. The air between them felt so awkward all of a sudden, and he didn't know how to break the tension. Was she really still angry? And had his confidence really been shattered by a simple turn of her head?
Damn, she held a lot of power over him.
He stepped into the shop slowly, making small steps towards the counter. She did her best to ignore him, trying to look busy pouring through a catalogue, but found she couldn't keep that up forever as he stood behind the counter and waited patiently. If that guy had anything, it was patience. If he thought he had to, he'd wait for her all day.
Finally, she looked up, putting on a mask of utmost irritation at being bothered from this very important task. "What is it, Shikamaru?" She snapped, hoping to drive him away by the power of pure, unrivaled bitchiness. "I'm working."
"I need to buy a flower."
Her face fell into shock. Those were probably the last words she expected him to say. For a moment, she didn't speak, until she regained her composure and reset her unimpressed countenance.
"Really?" She asked with a hint of sarcasm, clearly not amused, "For your Godmother again?…"
"Yeah." Sure, why not? As long as she's going along with this, it could be God himself for all it mattered.
She rolled her eyes but continued. "And what sort of flowers are you looking for this time?"
"Dunno," he answered, "What kind of flowers say 'Forgive Me'?…"
Her mask broke, and she looked at him very clearly now. He was very serious, she could tell. Though his body language was very relaxed and casual, his eyes were determined. She remembered that look from yesterday, when he bound her shadow. There was something he wanted, was all she could read. Yesterday, he got it. What was it today?…
She crossed her arms firmly, setting aside the thought for now. "Don't think she'll forgive you so easy, just because you bought her flowers," she scolded.
"I didn't think it would solve the problem," he replied impassively. "I thought it might be a good start, though."
She sighed, and Shikamaru thought he saw a hint of a smile. He felt relieved to see it. Clearly, his nonchalance was the key to winning this battle. She was already beginning to forgive him.
"Why don't you look around," Ino began with a slight smirk, "And decide for yourself which one says 'I'm Sorry'. She'd be more willing to believe you, I'm sure, if you personalized it."
Shikamaru smirked and stepped back from the counter. Clever girl. She sure had a way of manipulating people. He glanced around the flower shop, but it didn't take him long to make a decision. Taking a flower and (very obviously) hiding it behind his back. He approached the counter very seriously.
"Ino, I have a present for you."
At that, she couldn't help but to burst into giggles, and he smiled just a little. She shook her head as she laughed.
"Look at you, acting all serious. I know it's for me, Dummy," she smiled brightly. Shikamaru handed her the flower. It was a small, plain, white carnation. She took it and looked very carefully at it, before raising an eye to Shikamaru with a smirk.
"Why a carnation, then?"
His answer came without a pause. "Because it's just like me. It's simple and practical and doesn't feel the need to show off."
Ino was surprised to hear that. Never in her life had she expected to hear Shikamaru compare himself to a flower, and for the description to fit so well. She was actually shocked at how accurate it was.
And to think, she mused as she inhaled the carnation's scent, I always had him as a daisy, content to lie all day in a field.
"Very clever," she smiled slyly, "But for someone who knows so much about flowers, it was still sort of silly for you to give one to the girl who works at the flower shop."
He smirked wryly in response as she found a vase for the flower and set it beside the register. Shikamaru knew what should come next, but it felt like a bad idea now that he had succeeded in attaining her forgiveness. Still, he had to do it. He took a deep breath, and exhaled loudly.
"Sorry I pulled down your hair after you told me not to."
"Don't be," she waved it off. "It didn't really matter to me." She stepped around the counter to stand beside him in the store.
"If it didn't matter, why did you say no?"
"I was gauging your reaction," she replied so simply, as if it were nothing at all. Shikamaru was floored by her disinterest.
"You were what?" He demanded, his eyes wide in shock.
"I told you," she replied just as casually, leaning against the counter, "I wanted to see what you would say. I didn't think in a million years, though, you'd use the kagemane against me!" She said it with a hint of a laugh, as though it were an amusing thing. Shikamaru, meanwhile, was caught between several emotions. Unable to express any of them coherently, he finally just tossed them all.
"Jeez!" He shook his head in irritation. "You're so annoying."
"You love it," she grinned, and by God, she was right. Very smoothly, almost unnoticeably, she moved herself just a little bit closer to where he was leaning beside her against the counter, so that they're shoulders were pressed against each other. Shikamaru blushed slightly. He knew full well that she was doing that on purpose. She wasn't just gauging his reaction, again, was she?…
"You know," she said, concentrating very hard on her fingernails but determined to keep her voice casual, "You looked pretty good with your hair down. You should wear it like that more often."
His head turned quickly to look at her, face flushing hot, and noticed the slight tint in her own cheeks. He smirked.
"Yeah? You, too."
Was there any plan to what he was doing? There didn't seem to be, and it was working despite.
"So if you're a carnation," she began, raising her head to look about the store, "What sort of flower am I?"
"Black Eyed Susan."
"You're kidding!" She turned to him sharply, her hands on her hips in mock offence. Really, he'd said that without even pausing to breathe! "And how is that?"
He smiled coyly, turning to meet her eyes. "'Cause it's the type if flower that if it were a person, could kick my ass."
She slapped his shoulder with a grin. "And don't you forget it!" She laughed, and he laughed too, just a little.
His confidence was building up. There was no better time. If it was going to be done, it had to be done now.
"Hey, Ino," he began his voice catching only slightly, "I have another present for you."
She turned to face him and was just about to ask what it was when she found herself suddenly encompassed in a dizzying kiss.
It was warm and soft, more than he had ever expected, and caused his heart to race. She was startled at first, but responded quickly, melting into him, encouraging him. He'd never felt so exceptionally good in his entire life. It was perfect. She was perfect. He could get used to this.
Finally, they pulled apart. Both were blushing heavily, their breath caught slightly, and they gazed deeply into each other. Finally, Ino cracked a smile.
"You took long enough."
"I was getting mixed signals," was his defense, and she laughed. With a smile, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close, resting his cheek against her head comfortably and she nuzzled into him.
And finally, he was filled with contentment. He didn't really understand what had happened here today, was still trying to convince himself that it was real, but the end result was precisely what he had wanted. He was happy.
"You didn't pay for that flower, you know," she said.
"You can put it back now," he smirked, "It served it's purpose."
They pulled apart at the bell above the door sounded, signaling a customer. Kiba entered, looking somewhat abashed, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
"How can I help you?" Ino asked professionally.
"Um…" Kiba started haltingly, "What kinda flower says 'I'm Sorry'?…"
Kiba left the Yamanaka flower shop with a small (somewhat inexpensive) bouquet of flowers. Ino had managed to convince him that choosing it himself would be more "personal", and even something that simple can seem very thoughtful to the receiving party and help break the ice for the apology. Willing to try just about anything, Kiba searched for a flower that reminded him of Hinata. Not knowing very much about them, though, he ended up with a lily, because it was the same color as her eyes. Kinda.
He knew it was stupid, but it was something at least. He didn't think he could win back her favor with a dumb plant, but it seemed like a fair enough start - girls seemed to like flowers, anyway.
Shino had told him yesterday to meet Hinata in his place at the edge of the forest. He also said that she had been avoiding Kiba, as he had dreaded but presumed. It would be difficult to apologize, but they needed to talk. Otherwise, things would never be right between them, and they would break up the team. He couldn't let that happen. They had been together too long to let that happen.
He saw her as he approached and he knew she saw him too; she was a Hyuuga, after all. She had probably seen him coming for miles. As he neared, her look of embarrassment and discomfort intensified on her face, and his stomach wrenched at that look. The last thing he wanted to be to her was a source of pain. But she did not turn away and she did not leave. Evidently, she knew this needed to happen, too.
He stopped just in front of her, and for a moment, no one spoke. He looked at her while she looked away, frowning visibly. Kiba set his teeth, and held up the lily.
"Um…" He began very awkwardly, "I… brought you this."
She turned her eyes towards the flower, but did not smile.
"Why?" She asked quietly. Kiba's heart sank.
"You… you should know why!" He sputtered loudly, "To apologize! I mean- it can't stay like this forever! Unless… you don't want to be friends anymore? Unless you never want to see me again?" His face was very distraught, very intense. Hinata looked shocked.
"I… I'm sorry! I meant… why…. A lily?…"
His face fell in surprise. Oh! …Was that all? Maybe he should think before he speaks.
"Oh… Uh… 'Cause it's white…. Like your eyes…" He explained stupidly, rubbing the back of his neck.
"But…" she began "…Aren't lilies associated with death?…"
God damn it, Ino! She could have mentioned that part when she sold it to him!
"I didn't… I don't… That's dumb! I mean… I didn't know that!" He sputtered loudly, trying desperately to explain himself. He growled loudly, and threw the flower violently to the ground. To his surprise, he heard Hinata giggling lightly.
"Don't be mad at the flower," she laughed, "It wasn't its fault."
"Can I be mad at Ino?" He asked, calming down slightly, "She didn't tell me these things had meanings. I thought it was just nice looking."
Hinata leaned over and picked the flower up off the ground. She looked at it tenderly, but did not turn her eyes back up towards Kiba. There was another strained moment of silence. Kiba sighed.
"Look, I'm sorry. I don't… want it to be awkward between us anymore."
She looked up at him slightly, meeting his eyes finally, but said nothing.
"Is there some way we can work this out?" He continued desperately, "So that things are all right again? What should I do, or say? Hinata?"
"I… don't know…" she answered quietly, looking down again. "I mean… I understand… and I know it hurts Shino, too, the way things are between us… I was just… confused."
"Confused?" He questioned, "About me? About us? About what happened?"
"Yes," she replied solemnly, "all of that. I was afraid to see you. I'm sorry… I shouldn't have avoided you… But I knew I hurt your feelings… I was… scared. I'm sorry."
He was looking at her very softly, sadly. He wasn't certain where this conversation was leading and he wasn't certain what he had to say.
"Don't be sorry…" he finally began, "It's… my fault. I shouldn't have… you know… done what I did. But!" he looked at her very seriously now, leaning in a little closer, "Hinata, I meant it! That day, all of it! Do you really…" His face fell now, and he looked in pain "…not care for me that way at all?…"
"Kiba…" she turned away sadly, and for a moment was quiet. She did not face him as she spoke.
"You… stole my first kiss that day. …I had been… saving it. It wasn't meant …for you."
At that moment, Kiba's heart broke. He set his teeth firmly, and closed his eyes.
"For Naruto, right?" He asked bitingly. For a moment, Hinata looked surprised to hear it. But her face returned to sadness without questioning where he had received that information.
"…Yes," she quietly replied. Kiba turned his back, so that she wouldn't see the pained look on his face. God, did he ever hate Naruto at this moment! But that wouldn't do any good. It didn't matter. He turned to her again, and forced a smile.
"Well, then… I hope that works out for you."
"Don't be. What can I do?" What could he do? "Another fight I lost to him. BUT!" he sounded very sharp, "If he ever hurts you, don't think for a minute I won't kick his ass! Even if you don't want me to!" He smiled again, and this time, he didn't have to force it. She smiled weakly in response, but said nothing. He turned to leave.
"See you around, Hinata."
"Kiba!" she called, and he stopped and turned his head. She looked very embarrassed, but her eyes were on him.
"I won't avoid you anymore. I'm sorry! I don't want things to change between us. Kiba, you're… important to me." She smiled lightly at him, and he did feel a little better, just a little. "But… if you want to avoid me… I'll understand. I didn't imagine that you liked me that way… I didn't mean to hurt you…" She was turning red, and her eyes had lowered down to the lily in her hands as she spoke. He sighed, and turned towards her completely. As she raised her eyes bashfully, he grinned broadly.
"Hinata," He began softly with a genuine smile, "let's be friends!"
She smiled happily, and to his surprise, threw her arms around him in a warm embrace. He stood for a moment, unsure as to whether or not he should hug her back, before finally deciding in favor of it. He wrapped his arms around her, and she was so soft, he wished he could do this forever.
"Thank you, Kiba," she said quietly, sounding very much as though she wanted to cry.
"No sweat." He smiled widely as she pulled away. "And if it doesn't work with you and Naruto, I'm always here for you."
She giggled a little, and he put his arms around her shoulder affectionately.
"Furthermore," he continued, "Since your first kiss is wasted anyway, if you ever wanna make out, I'm here for that, too. I dunno what you thought, but I think I did pretty good last time." He grinned at her, and she laughed, her face flushing red.
It wasn't what he had wanted, but he could live with it. If she was happy, he could learn to be happy, too.