I was in another of my Shika/Ino moods, and thus, this little story came kicking and screaming into the world. I really don't know where the idea came from (somewhere in the jungle that is my head), but I hope you all enjoy it!
Holy Hair, Batman!
Ino was jostled out of sleep on a Saturday morning by the pitter- patter of little feet on her bed. She had been dreaming of a secluded hot- springs resort in which she and her husband had been engaging in some rather naughty activities before the sounds of twin three-year-olds penetrated the fantastical atmosphere and catapulted her back into the waking world.
"MOMMY!! MOMMY, MOMMY!! WAKE UP!!"
Ino's eyes cracked open, and the two new occupants of the master bedroom flung themselves at her before she had the chance to orient herself. She managed a winded "Oof," before her air supply was cut off almost entirely by a jumble of tiny arms.
"Mommy!" One of the twins, Erilan, cried as she hugged her mother about the neck.
"Daddy's coming today!" Erilan's brother Elian shouted as he, too, enthusiastically depleted Ino of oxygen.
"TODAY, TODAY, TODAY!!!"
The twins began chanting in unison, deciding to abandon their previous positions on top of their mother and take up gymnastics on the springy mattress. Unlike their father, the twins had a boundless store of energy that rivaled even 'Uncle Na-to,' as the 6th Hokage became affectionately known, which was the cause of much chaos in the Nara household. Ino was quite used to her children's behavior by now, as she was home with them more often, but Shikamaru, on the other hand, was a different story. Because of his superior skill as a commander, the dark haired Jounin found an increasing number of missions laid at his feet ("If I had known the job would be this damn troublesome, I never would have taken the test to become a Jounin"), which kept him away from his family, and thus the antics of the twins, for varying amounts of time. Homecomings were always eventful things, usually resulting in Ino collapsing with laughter as she watched Shikamaru interact with 'the two little monsters.' He seemed to want to ignore the fact that he had played a role in their creation, and insisted that they took after their mother more than they did him.
"I have no idea where they came from," Shikamaru said one day after returning from a week-long-mission as the twins proceeded to use him as a living playground. He winced as his hair was yanked and retaliated by inventing the now infamous tickle torture that served to effectively immobilize the twins. And while he complained about the lack of peace and quiet that was now an irreversible side effect of the presence of the twins in their lives, Ino knew that Shikamaru truly adored his children and would never wish to be rid of them for the world.
Now fully awake, Ino began to giggle as she recalled a particular incident when Shikamaru had been attempting to feed Eri and Eli when they were a year old. Most of the twins' breakfast had ended up on his face, needless to say. What made it even more humorous was the little show he put on for the twins as he continued to spoon applesauce into their mouths, ignoring the state of his appearance. Ino had been forced to clap a hand over her mouth to conceal her mirth: if he knew she was watching, he would have gotten embarrassed and stopped. She'd caught him in many other similar situations since then, but he did grow less reserved as the years went by.
Eri and Eli were still chanting when Ino threw off the covers and sat up, her own excitement brewing. Shikamaru had been away for almost a month this time, and she missed him terribly. It was a special treat that he would be home today, on their anniversary, no less. Sakura had offered to cut and color Ino's hair for the occasion, since it was in dire need of both, and Ino could hardly wait. She planned on knocking her husband's socks off when he saw her, which, of course, would lead to other things, she thought wickedly. The twins were going to stay with Naruto and Sakura tonight after they had a chance to see their father, leaving Ino and Shikamaru free to do whatever they wanted without fear of waking them. Eri and Eli loved their adoptive Aunt and Uncle, and so raised no objection when Ino proposed the idea. She smiled at the pair of them and got out of bed, slinging a robe over her shoulders.
"Are you two hungry?" She asked, and laughed as they stopped mid- bounce and clambered to get off of the bed. In a show of strength, Ino scooped a child up in either arm, and was astonished by the weight. "You're getting big!" She exclaimed, hitching them up a little higher. "Pretty soon, you'll be even bigger than me!" The twins giggled. "I used to do this all the time, but you were nothing more than feathers then."
"Don't birds have those?" Elian said, confusion on his tiny face.
"Yeah!" Erilan chimed. "They fly! We can't fly. We've tried, too!"
Ino started down the stairs, holding in her amusement. "Birds do have feathers, baby," she said to Eli. "But they're very light. So when I said that you were feathers, I meant that you weren't as heavy as you are now." She looked at Erilan, "and you can't fly, because you don't have wings." Ino smiled. "Flapping your arms isn't going to get you anywhere, I'm afraid."
When she reached the bottom, Ino bent over and set the twins on their feet, feeling as if she had limp noodles for arms. Eri and Eli scampered into the kitchen with their mother trailing along behind them. Frost covered the windows when Ino opened the blinds, and, peering through the window above the sink, she could see a think layer of unblemished snow.
"Look at it Mommy!"
The twins' had climbed upon one of the chairs around the kitchen table and had their noses squashed up against the bay windows nearby, their blue eyes wide with wonder. Ino grinned at them and began bustling about, putting a teakettle on the stove and rooting through the pantry for cereal. Once they had eaten, the two children were hustled back upstairs to get dressed. Ino brought out their winter clothes and made sure that they were completely bundled up, with fleece-lined sweaters, long pants, and knitted woolen socks. She then moved on to their outerwear, which consisted of jackets also lined in fleece, mittens, boots, hats, and scarves. When she was finished, Ino stood back to look at them, and laughed. They would not be cold on the journey to the Hokage's domain, that was for certain. She quickly threw on a pair of jeans and an oversized sweater, and slung her jacket over her shoulders.
It took about fifteen minutes to get to Naruto and Sakura's place, the snow making the journey a bit longer than normal. Erilan and Elian delighted in kicking up the whiteness as they toiled along, occasionally packing the stuff in their mittens and hurling it at each other. Ino gave up on trying to calm her children down and took to dodging some very well- aimed snowballs herself, the noise that all three made bringing Sakura out to the porch of her house.
"Hey you animals!" She yelled, laughing as snow was pelted in her direction. "Come in! You'll freeze to death out here!" She beckoned, and the twins ran to her. Sakura caught them up in a fierce hug, showered them with kisses, and ushered everyone inside. "Why don't you go tackle your uncle?" Sakura suggested with a twinkle in her eyes once the twins had their jackets off. "He's in the family room." Not needing any more encouragement, Eli and Eri took off. From the hall, Ino and Sakura heard a startled 'YAH!' from Naruto, and knew that the twins had found their target.
"They are getting huge!" Sakura said as she wrapped an arm around Ino's shoulders. "What have you been feeding them?"
Ino chuckled. "I know. I said the same thing today when I tried picking them up." Her voice was accompanied by the sounds of roaring and laughter drifting in from the family room. The blonde girl smiled. "Where's the baby?"
"Sleeping, finally. He was being stubborn today." Sakura's face took on a glow at the mention of her son, who was born not three months ago. "I hope he'll nap for a few hours, at least, because he gets grouchy if he doesn't. Anyway," she changed the subject, and began leading Ino down the hall. "Are you excited? I know I'd be bouncing off the walls."
"You have no idea," Ino said, plopping herself into a chair. "I've been going crazy."
"But you've got the rug rats to keep things interesting," Sakura said with a grin. "At least you're never bored."
"It's a good thing, too, otherwise I really would lose my mind." They heard more exuberant laughter from the family room.
"Why don't we give your hair a go then, eh? I found a blonde that's a bit darker than your color now, and I think it'll look fabulous." Sakura began gathering up materials: her special scissors used for cutting hair, a cape for Ino to wear over her clothes, bowls for mixing up hair color and a comb. She yelled to Naruto to keep the children entertained and then went to work. The Hokage's pink haired wife had become quite good at doing hair over the years, so good that her friends were trying to convince her to open up her own salon, an endeavor that Sakura said she'd think about. As she slathered the color on Ino's hair, the two began talking about what the plans were for that night, stopping periodically to giggle like little girls.
"Just make sure you go easy on him, Ino," Sakura said wickedly. "I'm sure the poor thing is going to be tired after all that hard work."
Ino snorted. "I'm sure he can handle a little extra exertion, particularly of the kind that I'm planning." Her grin was wolfish. "Besides, it's our anniversary. What better thing to do on one's anniversary than spend the night getting reacquainted?"
"Touché." Sakura replied, and checked to make sure that she had applied the color evenly. "Leave that on for about thirty minutes. It should pull up by then."
A half hour later, Ino leaned over the sink while Sakura rinsed her hair, using liberal amounts of shampoo and conditioner. When she finished, Ino wrapped a towel around her head and sat back down in the chair she'd occupied before. Sakura joined her and removed the towel, a very strange expression on her face.
"What's wrong?" Ino asked, anxious. Her hand went automatically to her hair.
"Oh it's...oh...why don't I cut it first, okay?" Sakura took out the scissors and began to trim, biting her lip. I hope it looks different when it's dry, or we may have a problem. Ino did not like the sound of that answer, but she let Sakura snip away. Her apprehension increased when Sakura took out her blow dryer and used it on Ino's hair. The look was still on her face when she finished.
"Oh dear." Sakura said, frowning.
"What does 'oh dear' mean?" Ino asked, not wanting to know the answer.
"Well...erm...here," Sakura towed her from the chair and into the bathroom. When Ino looked into the mirror, her eyes went wide and her mouth hung open.
Her hair was orange.
Ino was speechless.
"I don't know what happened! Your hair must pull more copper tones than blonde." Sakura said, wringing her hands.
"Orange," Ino murmured in shock. "I have...orange..."
"I'm so sorry!" Sakura was beside herself. "I had no idea it would do that!"
Instead of crying, however, Ino did the opposite. She laughed. Hard. "Oh, Sakura..." Ino gasped. "The cut is beautiful," she said, and laughed harder.
Sakura stared at her, baffled. "You mean...you're not mad?"
"No! How were you supposed to know?" She calmed down enough to examine herself again. "Oh my..." The full realization of what happened hit her, and this time she did cry, big, choking sobs. "W-what is S-shika going to t-think? H-he's going to h-hate it!" She buried her face in her hands. "I'm n-not mad at y-you Sakura," she said, her voice muffled. "I just...what am I going to do?" Ino wailed. "I c-can't let him s-see me like t-this!"
Without a word, Sakura dashed from the bathroom and returned a few seconds later with a bandanna and some clips. "Here," she said, and began arranging Ino's hair until none of it was visible beneath the bandanna. "I'll re-color it again in a few days, I promise. I would do it now, but that isn't healthy for your hair. I'm so sorry, Ino! I feel horrible!"
"Don't worry about it," Ino said, drying her eyes on a tissue. "Like I said, it's not your fault." She shook her head ruefully. "What a disaster."
Ino and the twins returned home soon after. Eri and Eli were not bothered by their mother's new look, and merely brushed it aside. Ino, on the other hand, was feeling quite self-conscious, even though her hair was covered. It would not be able to stay that way very long, she knew, which only made things worse. Time passed in a wink, it seemed, and before anyone knew it, the front door opened, and in walked Shikamaru, dirty and sweaty.
"DADDY!!!" The twins screeched together, and launched themselves at him, not caring that he was covered in grime.
"Woah!" Shikamaru was bowled over, and he started laughing as he hit the ground with the twins on top of him. "Hey guys! Look at you!" He hugged each of them in turn. "Have you been good?"
"Yeah!" Eli said, beaming. "We didn't break anything!"
"Is that so?"
"Uh-huh!" Eri replied.
"Wow!" Shikamaru said, raising his eyebrows. "Label me impressed and ship me off to Wind Country. You managed to go four weeks without destroying something." Erilan and Elian looked at each other, and then tackled their father again. Ino, who had been watching off to the side, laughed out loud. Shikamaru managed to disentangle himself enough to crane his head back and look at his wife.
"Well there you are! What's with the bandanna?" When Ino's brows knit, Shikamaru said quickly, "I was just curious. It's adorable." He grinned.
"I...just decided to try something new, that's all." Ino said, and crouched down next to him. She mentally kicked herself. Oh this is awful. He's going to laugh at me, I just know it! A browned hand reached up and caressed her cheek, bringing her back to the present.
"You know I think you're beautiful no matter what you do," Shikamaru said softly, his brown eyes tender. "I really missed you, kid." Ino found herself tearing up.
"I missed you, too," she sniffled, wanting nothing more than to throw herself at him as the twins had done, but she held back. There would be time for that later, when they were alone. When he'll see your hair, a cynical voice in the back of her head taunted. Your nice, bright, orange hair...
"Ino, is something wrong?" Shikamaru asked, concerned.
"No, no, I'm fine," Ino replied, forcing herself to smile. Shikamaru did not believe that for a second, but he decided not to press the matter now, choosing to attack the twins, who were attempting to work his hair free of its bindings, with the tickle torture instead. Whatever was bothering her, he was sure she'd tell him eventually.
Ino and Shikamaru dropped the twins off at Naruto and Sakura's a few hours later, slogging back through the snow hand in hand. Their house seemed strangely empty without Elian and Erilan wreaking havoc around every corner.
"I never thought I'd get used to all the noise," Shikamaru said, bemused, as he and Ino cuddled together on the couch, a cheery fire blazing in the hearth. His wife smiled.
"Honestly, I can't even remember what it was like without them."
"When I was a kid, I used to say that I wanted a girl first, and then a boy, and that they would both be sensible and quiet." The Jounin chuckled. "But now when I think of that, it sounds so...boring, you know?"
Ino snuggled deeper into the protective circle of Shikamaru's arms. "Mm-hmm. There's never a dull moment with those two around, that's for sure." There was a comfortable lull in the conversation in which Ino and Shikamaru stared into the dancing flames, enjoying each other's company. After a few moments, however, Shikamaru's curiosity took center stage.
"So, would you like to tell me the real reason you've got that scarf on your head, or are we just going to pretend that it doesn't exist for the rest of the night?"
Ino froze. She should have known that her husband's intelligence would end up being the end of her deception. "I...I don't want you to see." She said in a tiny voice, her face flushing. Shikamaru cocked an eyebrow.
"Now, what's this?" He gently grasped her chin and forced her to look at him. "It can't be that bad."
"Oh, yes it can!" Ino burst out, and tried to inch away, but Shikamaru would not let her.
"What do you think I'm going to do? Chuck you out on your ass because you had a mishap with your hair? Don't be stupid, Ino," he chided. "Let me see, please?"
Seeing that it was pointless to delay any longer, Ino sighed and removed the bandanna. Whatever he had been expecting, orange hair was definitely not it. He managed to choke back the startled laughter that was fighting to escape him, though just barely. "It's horrible, isn't it?" Ino asked as tears cascaded down her cheeks. "I wanted to surprise you when you got home, but it turned out all wrong." Her tears fell more rapidly. "H-happy Anniversary," she said, her voice bitter.
The laughter would not be held back any longer. Shikamaru pulled Ino into his arms, shaking with mirth. "Oh Ino," he chortled, "I love you."
"Huh?" Ino was too emotional to understand what was happening. Shikamaru wasn't disgusted by her? "B-but I l-look like a c-clown!"
"Orange is such a nice color, Shikamaru said gravely, inspecting a lock of Ino's hair. "Very becoming."
Ino stared at him, and he stared back, his eyes wide and innocent. In spite of herself, she began to giggle. "Shut up," she said, still laughing. "You know it's awful."
Shikamaru leaned in and captured her lips in a kiss. "Yes, my dear, it is quite an eyesore, I must say, but I do appreciate the effort. Perhaps you should try blue next time, or purple, even-" Ino smacked him on the arm, and he grinned impishly before kissing her again. When he released her, she held a long, velvet box in her hand. She looked from the box to her husband, puzzled.
"What is this?"
With trembling fingers, Ino lifted the top of the box, and her breath caught, her hand going to her mouth. Lying on a bed of blue velvet was a worked golden pendant shaped like a heart with two diamonds in the center, to be secured around her neck by a delicate gold chain.
"Happy Anniversary, angel," Shikamaru whispered, smiling.
Ino blinked, and then flung her arms around her husband, burying her face against his neck. "I can't—when—oh Shika!" She sobbed.
Shikamaru kissed the top of her head. "I was hoping that you'd like it."
"I love it!" Ino exclaimed, pulling away enough to see his face, her eyes shiny with tears. "It's perfect." She examined the necklace again, and Shikamaru lifted it from the box, clasping it around Ino's neck.
"It looks well against the orange," he said with a straight face, and Ino snorted.
"I could slap you again, you know."
"You could, but you won't," Shikamaru said slyly, fixing Ino with an almost primal look. "Well, now that I have played the role of the sappy, lovesick husband, I think it's time we take advantage of the fact that there is no one in the house with us." Before Ino could object, Shikamaru lifted her off the couch and marched to their bedroom, dumping her on the bed.
"Always such a romantic," Ino sighed, rolling her eyes. A smile tugged at her lips.
"I took a shower," Shikamaru retorted, tossing off his clothes with deliberate slowness. "I'm clean, and I gave you jewelry. If that's not romantic, I don't know what is." By the time he turned to face her, nude, she was about ready to pounce. The hungry expression that greeted him made him smirk. "Impatient, are we?"
"Would you shut the hell up and get over here?" She glared at him. "NOW, please?"
The Jounin's smirk grew wider. "If you insist."
"Yes, I do." Ino said through clenched teeth. Half of her own clothing was off. Shikamaru advanced upon her like a predator stalks its prey, pinning his hands above her head.
"Let's play then, shall we?" He growled, tearing off the remaining bits of fabric that kept him from his prize. Ino laughed at his eagerness.
"Looks like I'm not the only one who's impatient," she teased, and then gasped as Shikamaru began raining kisses all over her body. I forgot how wonderful that felt, she thought giddily.
"Anything else you'd like to say before I render you speechless, my orange vixen, or are you going to take your own advice and shut the hell up?" Shikamaru asked, his smirk returning.
In reply, Ino wrenched herself free of his hold and tackled him, putting him in her previous position. "You can stop being so cocky, for one," she said with an arched brow, and grinned. "There's going to be quite a bit of a racket in here, if I have anything to say about it."
Indeed, there was a spectacular racket in the Nara house that night, and both Shikamaru and Ino were grateful that their children were not anywhere near the vicinity: it would have been difficult to explain what they were doing to inquisitive three-year-olds, not to mention highly embarrassing. What Elian and Erilan thought upon returning home to increasingly affectionate parents, they did not say. Grownups were always confusing, anyway.