Disclaimer: I own not Naruto.
At long last, folks, here it is -- the final chapter.
And They Say Chivalry is Dead
Chapter 14: Their Happy Ending
Shikamaru was being plagued by nightmares. Horrible, horrible nightmares that would be forever scarred into his mind. He hated nightmares; although he rarely had them, and if he did have them, his logical mind would dismiss them easily and think no further of them. But these -- these nightmares were truly, truly frightening.
They included Ino, and worst of all, Sasuke.
There was nothing too explicit, of course, but there was enough to definitely scar him for life.
He didn't know exactly when it had started, but he figured it had been about three weeks ago, when he had found Ino sitting on his porch on that wet, rainy afternoon. He remembered how she had lied, how she had been unable to tell him she'd regained her memories, and he had been angry and hurt. It was probably around that time that the nightmares began.
First, it was simply Ino rambling on and on about her dear Sasuke-kun. She would be together with a throng of other Sasuke fangirls, gushing over how cute his hair was or how cool his deep, dark eyes looked, something to that effect, and Sasuke would ignore them all pointedly. That part hadn't been too bad.
Until Ino confessed her feelings for Sasuke.
At this point, it should be mentioned that Shikamaru was almost... invisible. Like he was simply a passer-by, standing in the background, blending in with the scenery, watching as every moment unfolded in front of his very eyes, unable to do a single thing. With a pang, he realized that that was how he had experienced most of his childhood.
And so he was unable to do nothing but watch as Ino, blushing profusely, approached Sasuke with her characteristic boldness and determination. Her hands were clenched tightly into fists, and she stared at her feet for the longest time until she finally reached the stoic boy.
"Sasuke-kun," she would say, as she always did, "I have to tell you something."
Shikamaru realized that this was the exact same scene he had witnessed oh... about five or six years ago, perhaps? He already knew how it would end. It was always the same, every time.
And Sasuke turned, eyes still cold. "What is it?" he would ask.
Ino's cheeks darkened, but as she always did, faced the situation boldly and refused to run away. "You see, Sasuke-kun, I have a crush on you! I know all the other girls have crushes on you too, but I'm different. ...what do you say?"
Shikamaru noted mildly to himself that Ino's confession lacked a little something. Sincerity?
He waited for the blow to come... Some kind of snide remark, a glare, a snort, and definitely a smirk from the Uchiha prodigy. But when nothing came, he lifted his head to look at what was happening --
And promptly keeled over.
The reason no one was saying anything was because Sasuke -- the Uchiha Sasuke, cold, brooding, mysterious boy whom Shikamaru was sure had more than his fair share of issues -- had taken Ino into his arms, his arms, and was hugging the life out of her.
And when the words came out of the boy's lips, "I like you too," Shikamaru checked the skies for signs of any flying animals.
But the worst came when the two began to move steadily towards each other, eyes closed, lips mere inches away from the other... Shikamaru told himself to look away, but his neck would not obey and his eyes would not shut themselves and he was forced to watch the horrendous sight...
And then he woke up.
When he awoke sharply, he glanced out at the window -- pitch-black, with a thin, wispy moon hanging over their village. He glanced at the clock and was able to make out a blurry 2:15. Crap.
He wasn't able to fall asleep until around six in the morning.
That night, he was again visited by those awful, awful, awful nightmares. This time, it was worse. It was almost like a follow-up dream to the previous one, with Ino and Sasuke finally becoming an official couple and always going out on dates every week. There was no one in the village who didn't know -- Sasuke was extremely popular, after all -- and there was no girl in the village who didn't envy Ino.
And he was, again, nothing but part of the background.
"Oh, Sasuke-kun!" Ino would squeeze her boyfriend's hand tightly, "This is amazing!"
Somewhere deep inside the pineapple-haired boy acknowledged the fact -- the restaurant was one of those classy, fancy, sophisticated kinds, the type of restaurants that girls like Ino lived for, and the type of restaurants that guys like him could never afford. Not for the first time, he thought, he would never be good enough for her.
"I knew you would like it."
Shikamaru had never liked Sasuke, but he positively despised and hated him now. He had an urge to... to... strangle him, and feed him to the vultures.
"Look at the selection they have!" Ino would gasp, letting her eyes roam hungrily at the menu. "And crab, they have crab, I love crab!" Then her face would fall, "but is it okay? Crab is awfully expensive..."
"Of course it's okay."
Shikamaru imagined sneaking up on Sasuke, slipping a noose around his neck without being noticed, and tying said noose onto an extremely high tree.
'Of course it's okay,' he mumbled to himself in his dream, mocking Sasuke. 'Okay? Okay. Crab. You want crab? I'll get a crab.' And then the boy imagined capturing the biggest crab in the universe and using it to hurt Sasuke. Badly.
'Ohh, damn.' In his dream, Shikamaru slapped himself on the head. 'It's nothing but a dream. A troublesome dream.'
Then, the dream promptly became more troublesome as dinner was finished and Sasuke walked Ino back to her house. Shikamaru let his mind wander for awhile and thought of what Inoshi thought of Sasuke. Ehh.
Ino and Sasuke were now on her porch steps, and looking at each other with wet and starry eyes. Shikamaru resisted the urge to gag. Something, however, nagged at the back of his mind -- what exactly did people do on dates, on their front steps?
He received his answer once Ino and Sasuke began to move closer to each other.
Closer...... ever steadily, closer, and closer, and --
Shikamaru's eyes burst open, and he jolted out of bed.
"Well..." he mumbled to himself, "it's nothing but a dream. I probably won't have anymore. God, how troublesome."
Of course, as irony would have it, he of course had another dream the next night.
And this next dream would prove to be the worst.
Shikamaru was now outside of some fancy building, and there was a limo and other cars parked out front. Flowers he recognized from the Yamanakas' flower shop decorated the outside, and there were sounds of laughter and cheer coming from the inside. Curiousity piqued, he went in.
There were people dressed up in fancy clothes... guys in tuxedos, girls in pretty, flowing dresses. There was a large table filled with all sorts of food, and in the middle of those, standing tall, was a white cake that Shikamaru recognized as a wedding cake.
'A wedding, huh?' he thought. 'Who tied the knot?'
That was one question he did not want the answer to, but that didn't stop him from finding out.
There was Uchiha Sasuke, looking handsome -- well, not to Shikamaru's eyes, but anyway -- in a dark tux. And next to him, in a white, flowing wedding dress, was Ino.
His heart came to a stop.
Ino and Sasuke..
So the blonde girl of his childhood was now Uchiha Ino. Shikamaru disliked the name immediately. It didn't suit her, it sounded awful together. Nara Ino, now that was a name...
Then the scene disappeared, and he reappeared in front of a grand hotel suite, with a huge, king-sized bed, and thick, velvet curtains with soft, plush carpet.
'Not bad,' he thought -- and then the door to the room opened, and in walked Sasuke, carrying Ino in his arms, just as the groom does to the bride...
Shikamaru frowned, deeply.
And his frown deepened even more when the two began kissing, passionately -- Shikamaru scowled; he had always woken up before this point.
His frown deepened beyond reality when the two began to tear at each others' clothes.
His eyes widened.
Shikamaru had never been so glad to be back in his bedroom before. But one thing was definitely clear...
He needed help.
Chouji was the one he went to, and whether that was a mistake or not, Shikamaru didn't care. The thing was, he needed help, and Chouji was really the closest person he had to a psychiatrist. Plus, he knew that Chouji would never tell anyone, and that was the main thing he needed at this point. Privacy.
For a moment, Chouji was almost sort of stunned. He tugged at his scarf and let his eyes drift away to some other place, and then about five minutes later, burst out laughing.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes.
"I'm sorry," his friend said, gasping for air. "But you should have seen the look on your face when you said that. It was hilarious. Priceless. One of those Kodak moments."
"You're supposed to be helping." Shikamaru sighed and watched as Chouji dug hungrily into his ramen. They were at Ichiraku, where everyone was talking loudly and so there was no chance of him being heard.
"What am I, a shrink?" But Chouji was only joking, of course -- Shikamaru was paying for the ramen, after all.
"You're the closest thing I have to one," Shikamaru immediately replied.
"Oh." Chouji sobered up. "Well, how do you feel about Ino and Sasuke?"
"Yeah. Like in your dreams."
"I hate it," Shikamaru admitted. "They just don't go together. It's like... pickles with butter."
"How does that taste like?" mused Chouji -- but instantly went back to the subject upon seeing the look on Shikamaru's face. "Oh. Okay. Then, how do you feel about you and Ino?"
"Me and Ino?" Shikamaru frowned. He'd never thought about it much before.
"Yeah. ShikaIno!" Chouji grinned broadly.
Shikamaru shot him a Look. "I mean... I dunno."
"Would you like to be with her?"
Shikamaru grew uncomfortable, and his hand drifted to his neck and began scratching at it. "Well...yeah."
"Forever? And ever?"
Shikamaru furrowed his brow. "...yeah."
"Do you care about her?"
Shikamaru had a fleeting flashback of being at Ino's house, being interrogated by Inoshi. "Yes," he answered, with no hesitation.
"As what?" repeated Shikamaru in bewilderment.
"As what," repeated Chouji, patiently. "As a teammate? An acquaintance? A friend? Or... something more?"
Shikamaru couldn't help but wonder if Chouji had been visiting with Inoshi lately. But -- this was his best friend, and he had never lied to his best friend, and he would never dream of doing so.
"As a teammate," Shikamaru answered, slowly. "And as a friend. And," he paused, biting his lip, "as something more."
"Uh-huh." Chouji slurped at his soup. "And -- if those nightmares of yours come true, how would you feel?"
Shikamaru thought about it. "Miserable," he answered, depressingly. "Just plain miserable."
"Because you want her to be with you."
Shikamaru sighed. "Yeah. That."
"Because you love her."
"Yeah." The dark-haired boy blinked, "Wait, what?!"
As irony would have it, Shikamaru ran into Ino an hour later -- with his mind in a complete mess. What with this sudden realization that he was in love with his blonde teammate among his horrific nightmares which had forever been embedded into his mind -- well, we couldn't really blame him.
But Ino was still Ino, after all, and so she broke the silence. "Hi!" She greeted, trying and failing to sound like her regular old chipper self.
And Shikamaru was still Shikamaru, so he managed a bored and lazy reply. "Hi."
Ino was suddenly serious, and she bit her lip and wasn't able to quite look at him in the eye. She stared at her feet. "You know, I had something to tell you."
"Oh. Right." Scenes of the little bathroom incident flitted across his mind -- the most memorable one being her clear blue eyes, shining with some unreadable emotion.
There it was -- hope.
In his heart.
"I was going to tell you..." She fell short, and tried again, "I was going to say..."
Shikamaru suddenly noticed that she was shaking.
"Ino?" He tentatively took her hand. "You're shaking."
"Ugh!" She stamped her foot angrily. "Why can't I do this?!"
"What is it?" His tone was oddly gentle. Ino was genuinely frustrated about this, which had to mean that it meant a lot to her.
"I wanted to tell you something." Somehow she'd managed to lean into him, resting her head on the crook of his shoulder. Her voice was muffled against his shirt, and she took in the fact that he was now so many inches taller than her.
He loved the feeling of her against him -- and he relished the moment. "Then tell me," he said.
"I can't." There was disgust in her voice. "I don't know why. God knows I've tried so many times."
"Is it something about Sasuke?" His voice was strained.
She shook her head. "No. I don't care for him anymore."
Again, hope rose in him, and he thought once more of the emotion he'd previously seen in her cerulean eyes.
He decided to risk it, and he asked, "Is it something about me?"
He held his breath.
"It is," she replied, voice still subdued.
He let out the breath he'd been holding. "Is it something about you and me?"
She stiffened again, and for a moment Shikamaru was afraid she would run. "Yes," she whispered.
There was only silence, and Shikamaru took a deep breath.
"I think I know what you're trying to say."
"You do?" She raised her head and their eyes met. Shikamaru saw, for the first time, the same emotion he felt reflected in her eyes.
He barely managed to nod.
"So.." his voice sounded so different, "you don't have to say anything."
"No!" Her eyes took on a familiar determined blaze. "I will tell you. I have to be able to tell you. And when I tell you, you'll tell me back, won't you?"
At first, Shikamaru was too shocked to say anything. Then he realized, this was Ino, this was her resolute, flaming spirit, the very essence of the girl he'd somehow fallen in love with.
"I'll tell you back, when you're ready," he said. "I'm a pretty patient person."
"Something good happened to you, didn't it?" Shikato's lip curled amusedly.
"......" was the reply, but somewhere Shikamaru knew that he would never be able to fool his father.
"Look.." Shikato clapped a hand gently on his son's shoulder. "I know we're not that close, and I blame myself for that, kinda. But what do you say to a father-son moment?"
"I know!" Shikato snapped his fingers triumphantly. "I'll tell you how your mom and I started dating."
This finally prompted a response from the silent Chuunin, "Are you drunk?"
Shikato laughed, then sobered up slightly. "Actually, yeah." He held up a half-empty sake jug. "But c'mere anyway. Sit." He patted the empty seat next to him, and Shikamaru grudgingly sat down. A nostalgic smile appeared on the older man's lips, and he pointed out the window, over to the bridge.
"That," he said, words just a little slurred, "is where I first met your mom."
"The bridge?" That was apparently Team 7's meeting spot, where Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke had spent many happy hours waiting for their silver-haired teacher.
"Yes," Shikato replied. "I was just walking along, and then I saw this pretty girl standing over the bridge. So naturally, I stopped to talk to her."
"You tried to hit on her."
"And then she started yelling at you."
Shikato scowled slightly. "Who's telling the story here?"
Shikamaru shrugged and let his father continue with his story.
"So we didn't get off to a very good start. But then, a couple of days later, I was walking by the bridge, and there she was again. And me being me, I stopped to talk to her again." He laughed. "See this scar?" he gestured to his eye. "Made by your dear mother."
Shikamaru's eyes widened slightly.
"And you know, it's natural for men to chase women they know they'll never have. It's been that way since the dawn of time. So I kept chasing after her, and I guess I got to her, because she gave me a chance. She gave me one chance for dinner, but there was one condition, I had to cook it myself." He smiled grimly. "It was painful work, boy, but in the end my efforts were rewarded."
Shikamaru thought of the dream he'd had -- with Sasuke taking Ino out to that fancy restaurant. That was something he would never be able to afford, but he was a decent cook, he could probably make a good meal..
He slid off the stool. "Thanks," he mumbled gruffly before he grabbed the cordless and escaped to his room. Shikato shook his head.
His fingers instinctively dialed Ino's number, not stopping to wonder exactly how he'd managed to memorize her phone number, and he waited for someone to pick up on the other end.
Shikamaru bit his lip. "Do you want over tomorrow night?"
Silence. "For... dinner?" she asked.
"Yeah.." He trailed off, feeling uncomfortable. "I can't afford to take you out to some fancy restaurant, so I thought maybe I could cook you something.." He neglected to mention his father's story. "...but if you'd rather not --"
"No," she cut in, "I'd like that. Really."
"Oh." He didn't know what to say next; he'd never expected to get this far. His mouth opened out of its own accord and the words just fell out, "what's your favorite food?"
"Crab," was the instant reply.
"Crab." His heart sunk. Crab was awfully expensive. "Okay. I'll cook you some crab tomorrow night. Okay?"
"Okay. And..." She trailed off, "I think maybe I can tell you tomorrow night."
Shikamaru couldn't help it; he smiled. "Right."
The next day, Shikamaru went to the grocery stores and strode to the seafood section. Live crab.
His eyes widened at the price.
He couldn't afford it. Not even the tiniest little crab. He cursed as he exited, and he racked his brain for some kind of solution, any solution.
He paused as he looked out at the wide body of water under the bridge.
There had to be... some crab out there, right? Shikamaru scratched his head. He'd never bothered to learn about aquatic creatures and where they dwelled.
He really had no other option.
Throwing off his jacket and sandals, Shikamaru dove into the lake.
Dammit, he cursed as he spotted another crab. The lake itself was quite shallow, but he was not much of a swimmer, so that did little to help him. There had been a number of crabs he'd managed to get his hands on -- but, he winced at the pinch marks on his hands, that hadn't worked particularly well, either.
Crabs were tricky, he realized. Their shells protected them, and he couldn't go and kill the crab, because apparently dead crabs weren't good for eating. Or something, it had to be alive up until the point you were about to cook it? Gah. How troublesome.
Ah! There was another one! He swam silently towards it, and had managed to wrap his hands around its shell when...
"Damn!" He rushed up to the surface for air, surveying his newest scar. He hissed. At this point, a wind blew, causing him to shiver. The seasons were changing, and the air was growing colder -- but he had to have himself a crab, by hook or crook.
"Shikamaru?" He winced at the voice; he did not want to be seen right now. "It is you, isn't it?!"
He turned around wearily. "Ino.."
Her mouth dropped open at the sight of him, in dripping wet clothes, hands and arms covered with scars. The chill air did little to help his condition, and she ran to him. "What is wrong with you?! It's freezing out here! Why are you in the lake?!" She caught sight of the scars on his arms and hands, "and what are these?!"
That was Ino, Shikamaru thought with a sigh, barreling one question after another whenever she was feeling nervous. "I was trying to get you some crab for dinner," he replied lazily.
"You --" Ino didn't know whether to laugh or cry, "You mean you were doing this for me?"
"Well, I wasn't doing it for me," Shikamaru replied sarcastically, rubbing at his sore arms. "God, that hurt."
"You're such a moron!" Ino cried, punching his arm, although there was no strength behind it. "I swear, for someone with an IQ of 200, you're really stupid!"
Shikamaru scowled. "Oi. I did this for you. You wanted crab, didn't you?"
"Then why didn't you just buy some?"
"Crab is expensive, you know."
"It didn't have to be crab!" Ino was practically yelling. "You could have just taken me out to Ichiraku, I would have been just as happy!"
"Then why didn't you just say that?! You were going on about crab, crab, crab... and if you went out with Sasuke, I bet he would have been able to afford to take you to some fancy restaurant with crab, and just because I'm not like him and I don't have --"
Ino silenced him by placing a finger on his lips. Shikamaru was surprised by what she did and by what he had said. He let a long-suffering sigh escape his lips, and she glared at him.
"I don't care about Sasuke. Got it? I don't care if he's richer than you, smarter than you, stronger than you, cuter than you, whatever. I care about you. I don't care if he can afford to get me the finest crab in the world --" She was growing extremely emotional at this point, "and if you can only afford to buy me cheap ramen! Okay?!" There were tears in her eyes, "God! I can't believe I fell in love with such an idiot like you!"
Again, Shikamaru was rendered speechless -- but that was a talent Ino and Ino alone possessed. He always had some sort of smartass remark in his head for whatever conversation, but with Ino, she had the power to make him stop and lose all train of thought. He smiled, tentatively, deciding that he liked this part of her.
"You're crying," he said wonderingly. "How could I have fallen in love with someone so emotionally unstable as you?"
Ino managed to glare at him through her tears, "Well, you'll have to deal with it!"
"I know I will."
"Because you'll have to deal with me for a long, long time to come, you got it?!"
"I'm looking forward to it." And he was.
Standing knee-deep in murky water under the bridge, he took her into his arms and held her tightly, as if he were never going to let her go.
And you know what?
He never did.
Erk, I'm so sorry that it took me practically forever to get this final chapter out! It's just, I completely blocked out at the end. I must have rewritten it six or seven times.... and then in the end I decided to take a little break from it and work on a couple of one-shots... and then I came back to this and got this ending. XD All in all, I think it's pretty cute.
Just want to say, thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed. Love you guys!