Not necessarily romance here, but it is a look on Shikamaru's and Ino's relationship.

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There was only one woman he would ever love.

People would misunderstand him if he ever said that, so he kept that notion to himself. If he ever came out and said that he loved her, they would immediately think that sense. It wouldn't be entirely incorrect. But it wouldn't be correct, either.

The realization was a recent one for him. Particularly for someone he resented so much. On some level, he never forgave Ino for being a girl. Unlike others, he had very clear memories of what she was like before the academy. When she would throw down as well as any other boy her age. When she would drag him around in the forest around his house, looking for things that girls usually didn't look for. The slimier the better. In those days, Ino was more of a boy than she was a girl. And back then, he didn't mind hanging around with her. She made sense. They were friends. They were very close friends.

Then they enrolled in the Academy. And things began to change. Ino started growing up. She became a girl. It was then that he found companionship with Chouji, and that occupied him from watching someone who used to spend long hours digging around in dirt grow into something else. Something more feminine.

He hated the fact that Ino was a girl, because being a girl took her away from him. But he still loved her.

Over the next four years, he saw her less and less. He became more and more bitter. She was never there when he needed her, it seemed, yet he had to be there when she needed him. And more often than not, it was usually to whine about Sasuke this, or Sasuke that. For something that used to be so tight-knit, their friendship was pretty one sided. At least in his eyes.

And yet, there were moments. Especially after they were put on a team. Occasionally, he would find himself with company when he watched the clouds. It was almost an echo of their early years, but there were times when he would look over, and Ino would be sitting next to him. It was during a time like that that he realized he loved her.

She wasn't around all the time anymore. Even being their so called team-leader, she was still scarce when they weren't being forced to spend time together. But it was times like this that made up for it. Times like this made him realize he was wrong to say she was never around when he needed her. Despite her overbearing personality, she was always there in the background, quietly supportive. He just had to turn his head at the right time to catch her there. She was always what he needed, when he needed it.

And in turn, he'd do the same. He was whatever she needed, and he always would be. Which was why people would misunderstand it when he said that he loved her. In the past, he loved her as a friend. He loved her as a teammate. Currently, he loved her as a brother figure, because that's what she needed from him the most. And if it came around to it, he would love her as a lover would. Whatever she needed of him.

Because she was already everything he needed.