Shove Over, Shikamaru!
Ino stared at the list of Do's and Don'ts, and the timetable of the Nara family's usual activities incredulously.
"You're going to make me memorise that?!"
Shikamaru shrugged. "It isn't a lot, you know."
She held up the list and shook it dramatically in his face as she shrieked, "Five pages isn't a lot? You must be kidding!"
He averted his gazed and scowled. It would be pointless to argue with her; he had never won a single argument with her all these years. So, he changed the subject. "Ino, it's almost eight. Mom could be coming home soon. Could you please lower your volume and not blow your cover?"
"I'm not shouting at you! You're just trying to get me off your back!" she screamed.
Shikamaru sighed. "Okay, okay. You're not shouting. Want some breakfast?"
Ino munched happily on the toast Shikamaru made for her. "You're a pretty good cook, you know. This is the best toast I've eaten in a long time!"
"Huh. You mean you can't make toast without burning it?" He smirked, but let it drop when he glimpsed Ino glaring daggers at him. "Look, I'll be getting a mission today. But my parents don't know about it. So you'll have to be me until I get back, okay?"
"But I'm scheduled to get a mission soon too... What will I do then?"
"Sheesh. Just say that 'you' got a mission! Remember, my parents would think I got the mission, so long as your Henge no Jutsu is convincing."
Ino flushed a deep red, embarrassed that she was so stupid as to be unable to solve her own problems. She knew she was being a little too reliant on Shikamaru at that point in time, but she couldn't help herself. He was so reliable, so trustworthy, and such a great friend, and whose brains were just waiting to be picked by her. And the best part was, he was more than happy to let her exploit his intelligence.
She sighed contentedly as she polished off the last of her toast, and then shuffled to the sink to wash the plate. When she was done, she saw Shikamaru wearing his sandals at the door. Anxiously, she hurried towards him. "You're leaving so soon?"
"Yeah. Hokage-sama wants to see me."
"Will it be dangerous? The mission she'll be assigning you, I mean." Her hands were clasped together above her heart.
He cocked his head to one side and eyed her closely. "Don't worry. I'll be back alive."
Without another word, he walked out the door and shut it firmly behind him.
Ino lay on Shikamaru's bed, reading through the long list of Do's and Don'ts Shikamaru had prepared for her. She was duly moved by the amount of effort he was putting into helping her, but a small part of her felt that his desire to save his own skin was a bigger motivating factor than the need he felt to help her, his old friend. The seeds of doubt had embedded themselves in her consciousness, and try as she might, Ino was unable to completely rid herself of the nagging feeling that Shikamaru was not really out to help her, but was more concerned about not getting burnt by the trouble she had brought him.
Unhappily, she hung around the empty Nara house, whiling her time away by looking through the old photo albums proudly displayed in the living room.
The third photo album was filled with photographs of Team 10 from cover to cover. She was amazed at the number of shots taken of them training, on missions, and doing silly things together. She giggled as she imagined either of Shikamaru's parents concealing themselves in thorny, dense bushes just to record their son's development as a ninja. It seemed highly implausible for Shikamaru's lazy father to do something as troublesome as that, although she could just imagine Mrs. Nara nagging at him into doing it.
She allowed a faint smile to tug at the corners of her mouth as she recalled those moments they had as a team. They had met up occasionally since Shikamaru's promotion to Chuunin, and as the years went by, and as they slowly but surely climbed the ladder of the ninja hierarchy, their schedules barely permitted those cherished gatherings they had together, and soon Team 10 hardly saw one another at all.
"Shikamaru? Why are you smiling to yourself? Are you okay?"
"Oh my gosh! Shikamaru! You're actually looking at photo albums! You must be really ill!" Concerned, Mrs. Nara placed her hand on 'Shikamaru's' forehead to check if 'he' had a temperature.
"Mom, I'm fine, really." Ino brushed Mrs. Nara's hand off and scurried upstairs, leaving the puzzled woman to draw her own conclusions from her son's strange behaviour.
"Hah. So he just likes to act gung-ho, eh. He's just a sentimental little sweetie beneath that grumpy exterior of his." Mrs. Nara muttered to no one in particular, a smug smile on her face now that she had discovered her son's little secret. Now, this was something she absolutely had to tell her friends the next time they met up at the Akimichi's...
Ino flopped herself onto Shikamaru's bed, completely shaken by the close call she had just now.
Gosh. I've really got to start acting like Shikamaru already. I was careless. I should have kept in mind that Shikamaru's mom was coming home soon.
Ino checked the list of Do's and Don'ts. Shikamaru did not give her concrete guidelines on how to act like him, only a vague 'just be lazy and act like an old man'.
Right. That probably includes playing Go and Shougi. Ino frowned. She had never been good at those games, although she roughly knew their rules. However, she was close to being a complete flop when it came to playing decently.
At least only Mrs. Nara's home right now. As far as I know, it's only the Nara men who are crazy over those silly yet profound games. Ugh. I can't wait to get my mission! Or for Shikamaru to return from his!
Grudgingly, Ino picked up one of Shikamaru's many kifu, and began laying out the stones on the goban, in a lame attempt to act like Shikamaru. She did not really understand what was going on in the game, but placed the stones on the board between long and deliberate pauses anyway to give an onlooker the impression that she was considering the various possibilities of the game.
Ino caught herself mid-yawn as she heard the front door open. She heard some low mumbling, and then Mrs. Nara snapping angrily at the mumbling man.
Great! I'm done for!
True enough, Nara Shikato soon opened the door to Shikamaru's room. "Hey, son."
Ino looked up from the goban and tried to look grumpy. Shikato was muddy and tired, and his left arm was in a sling, but the gleam in his eyes when he saw the goban was unmistakeable.
"Shikamaru, you ready for a game? Or do you want to discuss this game? Or maybe I should bathe first..." He grinned sheepishly at Ino, scratching the back of his head.
Oh my God, please, bathe first!! Ino prayed silently.
"Looks like your mother just cleaned your room; I think I'll bathe first, then." He turned to go, then stopped suddenly, his hand on the doorknob.
"Wait. Is that perfume I smell?"
Ino froze, certain that her game was over.
A/n: Hoho, a cliffhanger for you guys! :D (Sorry if I seemed jolly about it XD;;)
To B4By K4K4Sh1, reiko, Cyberwing, Kyuubi no Tai, Smiling-Fox and flubby , thanks a bunch for your support! I'm glad all of you have enjoyed my fic so far. Hope you've enjoyed this chapter too
I'll be away on vacation for the better half of next week, and I hope I'll be able to update on time :)