Thunderstorms and Shadows

The clouds were not very nice today.

Nara Shikamaru sighed and frowned at the ever-darkening sky overhead. It was definitely going to start raining soon. The air was heavy and humid, crackling slightly with the promise of lightning. Thunder grumbled in the distance as the black clouds rolled in from the general direction of Sunagakure, where the cold air of the storm had probably rolled down the mountains and into the devestating heat of the desert.

One. Giant. Thunderstorm. How troublesome. He still hadn't gone and gotten the groceries for his mother, either. She wouldn't be too happy about that.

Yare, yare... he decided that it would be so much easier to just hide out at Chouji's place and say that the rain had caught him there. Or Ino's. But Inoshi would be a lot quicker to tell his mother where he'd been than Choumaru. (If Choumaru even realized that he was there.)

The sky was almost entirely slate-grey by then. Shikamaru sighed again as a lone raindrop plopped down right between his eyes. He really didn't feel like getting up. The late summer grass was so springy and comfortable. His favorite hill hadn't been mown in God-knew-how-long, so it was a veritable bed of clover and dandelions. An eyesore to some, a weed-covered hill overlooking nothing but the forest stretching into Otogakure and the jungle of bones left over from Sabaku no Gaara's battle with Kimimaro some years before, but Shikamaru found it the best place to just lie down, watch the clouds, and think.

Unfortunately, his three best friends knew exactly the location of said hill and none of them ever let him lie there if they felt even the slightest need for his prescence. It was usually Temari who would track him down, stomping the dandelions flat in her annoyance over something, but this time it was Ino.

At least Ino had the prescence of mind not to stomp the flowers down. The little clover blossoms smelled so good, but that scent didn't last long if they were squashed.

"NARA SHIKAMARU!" Ino's voice shrilled at him from the top of the hill. It was amazing how she could make her voice carry, even in the dead and heavy air before a storm. "I know you're out here! Quit hiding!"

He raised a hand lazily from his spot in the grass, which was about a foot tall and just enough to block him from view if his pursuers weren't looking hard enough. He listened to the dull thumps and rustling as the blonde kunoichi stormed towards him, approaching with more menace than the grumbling thunder on the horizon. The stomping stopped about a foot away from his head and he craned his neck back to look up into the dark aquamarine eyes of his ex-teammate.

She scowled down at him, face darkening rather like the sky, and planted her hands on her hips.

"It's going to start raining soon," she announced, stating the obvious. He regarded her with bored, muddy brown eyes for a moment before she continued, "You're going to get drenched and look even stupider than you already do with that dandelion in your hair."

He reached up, felt around his head for a moment, and plucked the fluffy yellow flower from his ponytail, then turned his attention skyward again. The view from the ground was definitely not one Ino would want him looking at for too long; his field of vision was filled with long white legs, violet fabric, and her chest if he looked back the way he had been. His cheeks warmed as he blushed slightly, but he kept his gaze stubbornly set on one anvil-shaped, dark cloud.

"I'm gonna head in before it starts," he muttered. She had a strange power of making him feel both brilliant and stupid whenever he talked to her. He knew damn well why, but it was far too troublesome to acknowledge.

"You'd better." She sat down next to him and snatched up the little flower that he had just tossed aside, toying absently with the petals. "If you get yourself sick on your birthday, you're a lot dumber than anyone gives you credit for... Which reminds me! You still haven't told me what you want!"

He eyed her curiously, carefully gauging how serious this statement was. She seemed thoughtful, so he opted for avoiding the question. "You still haven't told me what you want. I can't track down anything really good in only a day, you know."

It was beyond the point that he had already gotten her something; a thin gold necklace with an aquamarine rose charm that matched her eyes, because he had heard her narrating how pretty it was to Chouji on their last barbeque night, dropping hints subtle as sledgehammers that she wanted it for her birthday. Chouji hadn't even heard her (Shikamaru had no idea how he couldn't), so the lazy chuunin gave his best friend another idea and gone to get the necklace himself.

But that had been told to Chouji. Technically, technically, Ino had never said a word to Shikamaru himself about getting her anything. He found this utterly annoying, because if he turned up at her house on the 23rd giftless, she would be pretty pissed.

She was staring back at him levelly in the present, the wind starting to pick up and toy with her pale blonde hair. A slight frown was on her face as she tried calculating him as he did her, something she was remarkably good at, especially after all these years.

"What I want," she finally said, breaking a silence filled only by the keening of the wind, "is for you not to get sick. I want you to come by my house tomorrow with a smile on your face and to say 'Happy birthday, Ino' and not go in my backyard to watch the damn clouds. Got it? Now get up, it's starting to rain."

She stood, dropping the flower all over again, and grabbed a hold of his wrist, tugging with all her might. Shikamaru could proudly admit to being able to turn himself to dead weight if he didn't want to move, so Ino only succeeded in dragging him a couple inches before she let go of his wrist and glowered at him with the full promise of wrath only a Yamanaka could attain.

"Nara Shikamaru!"

"Mendokuse na..."

"Either you get up right now or you tell me what you want for your birthday."

"What if I don't do either one?"

"Then I get to try out some new jutsus on you." At his startled stare, she scoffed, "Why won't you just let me do something nice for you just this once?"

Just this once summed it up rather well, he thought. Usually, she would get him a gag gift for his birthday and his real gift would be a birthday cake (she made the best) or just her "glorious prescence" for the day. In the case of the gag gift, he usually returned it to her the next day for her birthday. He was already plotting out what clever location to tie the "Over the Hill" balloon in that she'd tied to his mailbox that morning, maybe even with a note reminding her that a day's difference wasn't enough to escape the "hill."

But the look in her eyes at that moment was making him reconsider being an ass about it. She really did want to do something nice for him. Probably just because it's my eighteenth birthday. It's important. Or maybe she just wants something tomorrow... "Fine, fine. But I don't think you can get me what I want anyway."

"Oh really? Try me. And don't say something stupid like a cloud or a month off of missions, I'm being serious."

So am I. "Why does it matter if you can't get it?"

"It matters! C'mon, Shikamaru, tell me!" She had turned the puppy dog eyes on him now. His stomach turned a few somersaults and he made it a point to look anywhere but at her face. She hopped around him to make sure that he couldn't avoid the Stare. With a relenting sigh, he sat up and frowned at her.

"You're troublesome."

"I know." She seemed to have no problem with this. "Tell me."

"...I'll tell you what I want tomorrow. That'll be your present." Ino's jaw dropped, blue eyes widening in disbelief. He smirked at her. Her face reddened frustratedly.

"Fine! Go ahead and be like that!" Ino turned around so fast that her foot twisted a whole chunk of grass right out of the ground. And off she went, just as stormily as she'd come, the clouds' drizzle finally starting up as she'd promised. "So sorry for interrupting you, Shika-kun. Sorry for caring about the guy I love."

His cringe from the nickname he hated being called 'Shika-kun' quickly turned to a surprised stare, but she was already stomping off and up the hill. Shit, had he screwed that up. It wasn't supposed to go like that! She was supposed to get annoyed, storm off maybe, but not... not say that!

She loves me? I thought she...

Ino had reached the top of the hill and seemed to have no intent of so much as looking back. Shikamaru's hands flew into the seal of the rat before he could think twice, sending his shadow flying through the grass (now whipping in all directions from the increasing wind). He felt a gentle tug as his shadow snagged a hold of hers, freezing her to the spot she'd been in at the top of the hill. He stood slowly, eyeing her to see if and when she'd retaliate. Her left foot, swung forward in half step, jerkily eased back down onto the ground, her shoulders stiffened, her head slowly turning to look over her shoulder to mirror his own actions.

He nearly released the jutsu at the look of cold fury on her face. "Let me go, Shikamaru."


"You realize that I can make you?" she asked, fighting the Kagemane, struggling to bring her hands into the seal for Shintenshin. He watched his hands twitching towards that position for a moment before calmly turning around (she turned in unison) and walking towards her.

"Hai... but you won't if I tell you what I want for my birthday, right?"

That seemed to have caught her interest. One pale eyebrow rose in acknowledgement as the drizzle gained some strength, turning to a light rain. He smirked at her and stopped, his toes right up against hers in the damp grass, and wrapped his arms around her waist. She, of course, mirrored his actions exactly, down to the reddened cheeks. It was at this point that he released the Kagemane, but she made no move to pull away.

Shikamaru's smirk turned to a genuine smile as he leaned down towards her, with a whisper just audible above the rain's hiss:


And he kissed her.

Lightning lanced past overhead as they pulled apart, Ino no longer blushing though Shikamaru had turned an interesting shade of pink. She beamed at him.

"Happy birthday, Shikamaru," she said brightly, reaching up to toy with his chuunin vest.

"Happy birthday, Ino."

"You're a day off," she teased. He sighed.

"Don't be so troublesome."

"You love it."

And damnit if she was right.

Author's Notes: Happy birthday, Ino-luv! -huggleglomp-