When he was nine, Chouji had taken to the habit of going for walks early in the morning, when there was nobody out to make fun of him and spoil the perfect quiet. Stopping to lean back against a tree and munch on some chips was much better when nobody was throwing things at him and laughing when he failed to dodge in time.

Now he was twice that age, and nobody would have dreamed of throwing things at fully-fledged shinobi, especially not a chuunin who had put his life on the line for his village so many times, but he still went for those walks. Chouji was not the sort of person who changed something that worked out so well for him. Routine was not a bad thing when used right.

But every so often, his routine got interrupted.

Today that interruption happened when he sat down against a tree, looked up, and saw something stirring in the branches.

He narrowed his eyes up at it. He didn't want to have to get up and cut into his valuable snacking time to find out what was going on up there. "Hey," he said instead, "who's there?"

The tree rustled a bit. Then, very slowly, a familiar puff of hair poked into view from behind the leaves, followed by the rest of Shikamaru's head. "Chouji," he said, his voice uncharacteristically urgent, "have you seen Temari?"

"What?" Chouji scratched bemusedly at his head and popped another chip into his mouth. "I thought you'd still be in bed with her or something. Sorry, I have no idea where your girlfriend is."

Shikamaru just sighed in resignation at that. He'd long since stopped trying to deny those allegations. Trying to keep an intervillage affair secret had been an intriguing game for a while, but it quickly grew more troublesome than amusing. Especially when the other player in the matter had a tendency to shove him up against random walls in public and stick her tongue down his throat. "Could you just keep an eye out for her?"

Chouji squinted dubiously up at his friend. "Why?"

Shikamaru ducked his head back behind the leaves. "That's not important," he mumbled. "Just...warn me, okay?"

"Warn you?" Chouji frowned even though Shikamaru couldn't see him at the moment. "Wait, are you in trouble or something? That's not right, Shikamaru, making me work things out between you and your girl. If it were me and Ino--" He cut off, a little embarassed. He tried not to go on too much about Ino these days, but falling in love was a little like finding religion. You wanted to tell everyone about how wonderful your life had become.

"If it were you and Ino," his teammate replied wearily, "your bodily integrity wouldn't be at stake. I don't know what she's going to do to me if she catches me, but--"

"Um," Chouji said. "What exactly did you do?"

For a long, awkward moment, there was silence, save for the chirp of a bird nearby and the faint rustle of leaves as Shikamaru shifted his weight. Then he said, "I asked her to make me a sandwich."

There was a pause. Finally, Chouji said, "I don't get it. Why...?"

"It was a really stupid thing to ask, I know," Shikamaru went on. "But I was only half-awake and really hungry, and--"

"That's not what I meant! Of course you'd ask for a sandwich when you wake up. I always do. If there aren't any pancakes around for breakfast, that is." Chouji absently shook his empty bag of chips, just to be sure there weren't any left. "Sometimes I ask for pancakes and a sandwich. Why would she get mad at you?"

Slowly, carefully, Shikamaru peered back out from the tree. "You don't know Temari at all, do--" He paused. "Wait. Ino makes you pancakes and sandwiches?"

"Sure, sometimes," Chouji said. "It's all about giving and taking...that sort of thing," he finished lamely, aware that there was something horribly awkward about his telling Shikamaru how to deal with his love life. Shikamaru was the smartest person he knew--surely he didn't need advice from him.

But instead of being annoyed, Shikamaru asked, "How'd you get her to do that?"

"Uh..." Chouji looked down hurriedly and tried not to blush. "I...could you come down from the tree?"

A beat. Then, finally, "I don't see Temari around anywhere, but could you check...?"

Chouji leaned forward a bit to get a good look at his surroundings. "She's not here."

Shikamaru dropped lightly to the ground and fell immediately into a crouched position. Watching him in that stance was oddly fascinating--it was like his body wanted to fall automatically into a lazy slouch, but his fear dragged him upwards. "Okay," he said. "Tell me."

"Well..." Chouji realized he was blushing. This was not turning out to be the relaxing morning he'd wanted. "It's that give and take thing, like I said...only...in bed."

Shikamaru stared at him, mouth falling slightly open. Chouji turned even redder. Finally, he muttered, "...she makes me one sandwich for every time I can, um...make her come..."

"Shit," Shikamaru said, with more resignation than shock. "There's no way I can make a deal like that with Temari. If I slacked off on that with her, she'd do something really horrible. Like get out of bed in the middle of sex and pin my hands down and just stand there, completely naked and with that terrifying grin on her face, until--"

Chouji rummaged frantically in his pack for another bag of chips to distract himself with. Eating would help him regain his composure. Food made everything better.

Shikamaru paused at the sight of his friend's reaction. "Not that she's ever done anything like that...of course," he muttered without much conviction.

"There's got to be something you can do," Chouji said, opening his new bag of chips. "Maybe you can ask Ino?"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "She'd make fun of me the whole time for being into crazy foreign girls, and she'd probably sit on me or something while doing it. I'd rather wait until I've had time to recover after Temari goes home to Sand before I get more bruises."

Chouji opened his mouth. Shut it.

"What?"

"Never mind," he said. Then he looked up from his chips. "Huh?" There was an odd shape in the distance. He leaned forward and squinted until it resolved into two shapes: a person and a giant fan. "Uh-oh."

Shikamaru turned his head slightly to follow Chouji's gaze. He groaned. "Why does she have to make me run so much..."

"Maybe she's trying to make you build up endurance," Chouji suggested. "Ino said something about that being a problem with guys other than me--" But at that point he stopped. Shikamaru was already fleeing.

Chouji started to lean back against the tree and dig into his chips again, but after a moment, he thought better of it. He didn't want to be around for questioning when Temari got here.

Oh, well. He figured it was about time to get home anyway; there were sandwiches waiting for him.