Disclaimer - I do not own 'Naruto'.
This was written to the song 'Why Can't I?' by Liz Phair.
"Hokage-sama." Ino bowed to the strongest ninja in Konoha and waited to be acknowledged, reminding herself to keep a firm hold on the mission report in her hands.
"Ino," the hokage remarked, her voice neutral. Ino thanked her good fortune for that. At the end of a long jounin meeting, the hokage's mood was usually far from charitable. "Where's your squad leader?"
It was the squad leader's duty to report the mission details, but Naruto had been injured, so Ino had sent him to the hospital with the promise that she'd fill out and personally deliver the forms that contained the sensitive details of the mission to the hokage. Everyone knew Naruto sucked at mission reports anyway.
Ino kept her head bowed. "He's in the hospital for treatment. I offered to write the mission report. He said to tell you he'll drop by tonight after he has some ramen."
Tsunande grumbled. "Naruto needs to learn to take things seriously."
Ino knew she didn't really mean it. Naruto did take things seriously, the things that mattered anyway, and he'd always been one of the hokage's favorites.
Tsunande held out her hand and Ino gave her the mission report. "You too, Shikamaru?" the hokage asked. "You were supposed to have turned this report in yesterday."
Ino kept her head down, partly from respect for the hokage, and partly to hide her smile. She hadn't seen him in a while, but he was still as lazy as ever. Some things never changed.
"It was long and troublesome," Shikamaru replied from beside Ino as he handed in his report. "I took a few breaks."
Yup. Still lazy.
Tsunande sighed. "Don't let it happen again," she admonished, although everyone knew it would. Ino knew Tsunande let Shikamaru get away with it because he was also one of her favorites. "Shizune," the hokage ordered, "let's go. I have a headache and I need some sake."
"Hai, Tsunande-sama," came Shizune's prompt reply from across the room.
Tsunande placed a hand briefly on Ino's shoulder as she left. "Thank you for writing the report, Ino. I wasn't looking forward to reading another one of Naruto's." She met Shizune at the door, heels clicking across the floor. "I'll see you both later."
Ino waited until the sound of Tsunande and Shizune's heels had faded before pumping her fist in the air. "Yes! Tsunande-sama acknowledged me!" She jumped triumphantly up and down. The few jounin still left in the room were staring, but she didn't care. Her idol had acknowledged her existence. Sure it was only for paperwork, but that was a start, wasn't it? She threw her arms around Shikamaru, since he was conveniently still standing next to her, and squeezed as hard as she could. "I'm so happy, Shika!"
"Ino," Shikamaru said in a strained voice. "I can't breathe."
Ino released him and giggled. "Sorry."
He rolled his eyes and started walking out of the room, away from the rest of the snickering jounin. Ino fell into step beside him. "So how's it going, Shikamaru? Done any cloud watching lately?"
"No time," Shikamaru complained as they walked down the stairs. "If I'm not on a mission some annoying person always wants me to do something for them. And that something usually leads to something else."
"You must be busy. You haven't come by the flower shop lately either. But my schedule's picked up too, since I became a jounin. There's never a spare moment any more." She sighed, content, as they walked outside into the dark of the warm Konoha night.
"Why do you care so much what Tsunande thinks of you?" Shikamaru asked after a few minutes.
Ino glanced over at him, surprised. He usually indulged her by letting her chatter and didn't initiate their conversations.
"I've seen all she's done for Konoha since she became hokage. She's a great ninja and a great medic. Ever since she saved Sasuke-san, Lee-san, and Kakashi-sensei when she first arrived, I've admired her," Ino admitted. She glanced at Shikamaru again to make sure he was paying attention. Even though he was walking idly with his hands in his pockets, she could tell he was listening. "I knew there was no way I could ever be a medic, but I thought maybe, if I just trained hard enough, I could become as strong as her, the best kunochi in our village."
Ino thought of herself at twelve, of her pitiful match with Sakura in the preliminaries of their first chuunin exam. "The fact that Tsunande-sama acknowledged me means I'm a step closer to that goal."
"I always knew you were obsessed," Shikamaru commented.
"Motivated," Ino corrected with a laugh. "Hanging around you all the time as a genin only made it worse. Sometimes I felt like I had to be enthusiastic enough for the both of us."
"Keh. You still blame everything on me."
Ino suddenly noticed where they were. "Hey, are you walking me home?"
"So what if I am."
"But I'm a jounin," Ino protested, hands on her hips.
"You're a girl."
Ino rolled her eyes. "I could take that one of two ways, but I'm in a good mood, so I'll choose to take it the way that benefits you," she informed him sweetly.
Ino grabbed his arm and latched on. "This is so sweet of you, Shika-kun!" she exclaimed happily as they continued to walk down the street, "It's been forever since you walked me home."
"Yeah," Shikamaru agreed. He hated to admit it, but it had been a long time. Ino bringing that fact up was a subtle hint to get him to ask her to hang out. He decided to avoid more of Ino's hints and just ask. Once she got it into her head that they should get together, they were going to get together. "Are you doing anything tomorrow night?"
"Nope," she answered, a little surprised he'd actually asked. "I'm free."
"Want to go out for dinner or something? I'd ask Chouji and Asuma, but they're both away on missions."
Ino hugged him. Or rather, she hugged his arm, which she was still latched on to.
"That sounds great. Pick me up at six?"
Shikamaru wished she wasn't leaning against him quite so comfortably. He'd been having problems with his new girlfriend since the start of their relationship. Who knew what would happen if she or one of her friends saw him walking down the street with Ino alongside him like she'd been born attached to his arm. He could never tell Ino to get off him though, not when she looked up at him so innocently with those huge blue eyes. He hadn't thought about her in a while, but maybe that had been on purpose. She'd turned out beautiful.
"Dress up," Shikamaru found himself saying.
"This is going to be so much fun!" Ino exclaimed. It was really great of him to actually take her some place nice. He always said dressing up was too troublesome. She leaned into Shikamaru. Today was a good day. Not only had she returned to Konoha after the completion of a successful A-rank mission with only minor injuries, but the hokage had acknowledged her, and she'd run into Shikamaru. She never felt more comfortable than when she was around her best friend, who'd turned out a lot taller than her so she could wear heels tomorrow. Score.
Get a load of me
Get a load of you
Walking down the street
Naruto was staring at him that way. His eyes looked like they were closed, but they couldn't be because he'd proved more than once he could see that way. It was his I-don't-like-it-I'm-confused stare. Shikamaru couldn't think of any reason for Naruto be unhappy, and especially with him, but Naruto invented reasons occasionally. His mind worked in strange and irrational ways.
Shikamaru felt vaguely uncomfortable. At the ramen stand Naruto's whole world became the ramen in front of him. There wasn't usually room for other people in there. Unless Shikamaru had turned into a giant bowl of ramen, which he hadn't, something was off.
"Hey, Shikamaru?" Naruto asked, his mouth full of shrimp ramen.
Shikamaru yawned and looked vaguely in Naruto's direction. They'd just come back from a long, tiring mission. Why he'd let Naruto drag him to the ramen shop instead of going home to sleep, he didn't know. Oh, wait. It would have taken too much energy to argue with him.
"I never thought you'd work up enough energy to become a two-timer."
It was too troublesome to react to a ridiculous comment like that. Shikamaru yawned again. "Me either."
Naruto jumped off his counter stool like it was on fire. He looked crushed and angry at the same time. "Shikamaru! How could you!" he yelled, pointing his finger in the other man's face. "Neither of those women deserve such dishonorable treatment! I'm ashamed of you Shikamaru! I thought you were a better man! It seems two-timing has become your ninja way!"
It was just like Naruto to talk in exclamation marks. At least Lee wasn't around to add fuel to the fire Naruto had going.
"Sakura-chan and Hinata-chan know about each other," Shikamaru said dryly, just to shock him, "They're fine with it."
Naruto's jaw dropped and his bottom lip trembled simultaneously, an impressive feat. Shikamaru didn't know how he did it. "Four women!" Naruto wailed.
The other customers in the ramen shop were staring. Shikamaru sighed and paid for his bowl of ramen and all four of Naruto's. He was feeling charitable and he was done eating anyway. He slid from the stool and walked outside.
Naruto followed him, momentarily forgetting his half-finished bowl of ramen on the counter. "Four women, Shikamaru?" he demanded again.
Shikamaru stared up at the sky. It was windy, and the clouds skittered across the almost-full moon. "No, Naruto. One has always been enough for me."
"But what about Sakura-chan, Hinata-chan, Ino-chan, and Aiko-chan?"
Shikamaru sighed and wished Naruto had more common sense. "Sakura-chan and I are just friends. Hinata-chan and I are just friends. Ino-chan and I are just-"
"It doesn't seem like it," Naruto broke in. "It doesn't seem like you're just friends. Neji's kind of mad about that."
Neji and Ino had had the same verbal sparring match going for the past five years. Shikamaru wished it would stop. Lately, they seemed to be showing signs of respecting each other, but each loved insulting the other too much to ever stop. That probably explained why Neji had been acting colder than usual the past few missions he'd been on with Shikamaru.
"Ino and I have always been friends, Naruto. It's not like Neji to involve himself in something that's not his business."
"Forget about Neji then," Naruto said, "Aiko-chan is nice and pretty, Shikamaru. You shouldn't hang out with Ino-chan so much. You've always been friends, so treat Aiko-chan to dinner instead of Ino-chan some time. She'll understand."
Women were such a pain. He hadn't been having much luck with Aiko since their relationship had started, to tell the truth. They'd started going out the week before he'd met up with Ino at the last monthly jounin meeting. Just this once, Naruto was actually right. New relationships needed a lot of time, and he hadn't given his relationship with Aiko as much as it deserved. That time had all gone to Ino. Maybe it was only fair to give Aiko time now, before it was too late. Too bad being smart didn't help with women. Ino was going to be pissed.
"See you later, Shikamaru," Naruto called, knowing he'd had an impact on the other man.
"Troublesome," Shikamaru said. Whether he was speaking to Naruto or women in general, he wasn't sure.
And I hardly
"Hey, Ino," Sakura said suddenly. They were running the Yamanaka flower shop for the day while Ino's parents celebrated their anniversary.
"Yeah?" Ino asked distractedly. Her head was in her hand as her elbow rested against the counter. No matter how long she worked in the flower shop, she still got lost in the beauty of the flowers displayed throughout the place.
And she might have been thinking about the fun time she'd had with Shikamaru last night before he'd gone on a mission. They'd been hanging out whenever they could lately.
"How are you and Sasame-kun doing?" Sakura asked.
Ino smiled. "Fine. He's taking me out to dinner again tonight."
"I didn't think you two had been out lately," Sakura commented.
"Oh we have," Ino corrected, "Just not as much as we used to. I've had more missions." Just where did Sakura think she was going with this?
"Hmm," the pink haired kunochi murmured. "I was talking to Sasuke-kun, and both of us weren't sure you two were still going out."
"Sasuke-san doesn't notice who I go out with," Ino scoffed. "Nice try Sakura."
"He said he's seen you with Shikamaru a lot," Sakura continued without missing a beat. "That's why he was surprised you were going out with somebody else."
"I am not going out with Shikamaru," Ino spluttered, sitting up ramrod straight. "He's my friend!"
"Naruto-kun is your friend. So are Kiba-kun, and Lee-san, and the rest of the guys from the old rookie nine. You don't hang out with them all the time," Sakura pointed out.
"You use the term friend too loosely, Sakura. Neji and I aren't exactly on easy terms, and I'm not friends with Shino or Sasuke. Neither of them talk enough to establish any kind of relationship. And what? Am I not allowed to talk to other guys now?"
"You go out with Shikamaru more than you do with Sasame-kun," Sakura pointed out. "Look Ino, I'm just saying, maybe it's time for you to evaluate your relationship with Sasame-kun, before he takes it the wrong way and gets hurt."
Ino sighed and deflated in her chair. If even Sasuke noticed she was hanging out with Shikamaru more than her boyfriend, something must be wrong. The man's ego usually prevented him from noticing that type of thing. And Shikamaru obviously wasn't doing anything to stop these rumors. She knew how guys talked about women, how they bragged. She was going to kill Shikamaru the next time she saw him.
"Maybe you're right, Sakura-chan," she said.
It's just like we were meant to be
"Hey, Ino," Shikamaru said as they left the bar, "You've been quiet tonight." And she'd hardly eaten or drunk anything at all. He didn't think she was angry, but she definitely wasn't herself. "Did something happen?"
Ino half smiled. She knew he'd notice sooner or later, no matter how normal she tried to act. "No. Nothing happened."
"Is it that time of the month?" he asked, just to animate her a little.
Ino flushed and shoved him a little. "No! Why do you have to automatically assume that?"
"I've seen how moody kunochi get."
Ino's left eye twitched. "Moody?"
"You ask her if she's feeling alright and she hits you, then she feels guilty and asks you if you feel alright, which you don't since she just hit you, but you have to say yes or she'll call you a sissy and hit you again just to prove to herself that she didn't hurt you."
"It's what you deserve for asking such a rude question," Ino defended her side of the population primly.
To her surprise, Shikamaru stopped and took her hands. "What's bothering you, Ino?"
Ino bit her lip, deliberating whether or not to tell him it was him that was bothering her. She didn't want to choose between him and Sasame-kun, but she had to. And she hadn't decided why yet, but she thought she was going to choose him.
He let go of her right hand, but kept her left in his right and started walking again. "I think I know what this is about, but we can walk and talk if that's easier for you." He knew she felt at ease in motion if the subject was sticky.
Ino panicked for a second. How could he possibly know? Then again he was Shikamaru. Ino took a deep breath of the flower scented summer night. "I had a talk with Sakura a week or so ago. We were working in the flower shop as a favor to my parents on their anniversary."
It was just like Ino to give him irrelevant details before she got to the point.
"Their twenty-second anniversary." She waited for him to say congratulations, but Shikamaru didn't comment. She hadn't really expected him to. "Anyway, Sakura informed me that she was under the impression we were going out." Ino laughed forcefully to cover up her nervousness. "I basically told her it was just her imagination, you know Sakura, but she said Sasuke-san thought so too."
Shikamaru snorted. First the Hyuuga, and now the Uchiha prodigy? Maybe it had something to do with their abnormally large egos. "Sasuke?"
"That's what I said!" Ino exclaimed. "But if Sasuke-san thought so, we must be giving these people some reason to think we're dating. He doesn't notice anything that doesn't directly concern him." She paused. "So I've been wondering where we stand. We have been hanging out more than we used to," she finished uneasily.
Shikamaru hadn't missed the 'these people' statement. It meant more people than he'd thought had noticed. That or she just meant Sasuke and Sakura. He sighed. It was all so troublesome. "You know we're not going out, Ino. We both know something like that wouldn't work. It doesn't matter what everyone else thinks."
"Sometimes it does, Shika," Ino disagreed, conscious of the fact that they were holding hands as they walked down a public street and he still said they were just friends.
Shikamaru winced. It sure mattered to Aiko. One of her friends had seen him walking Ino home after he'd run into her at the market the other day. It hadn't taken the girl long to tell Aiko, and now their already shaky relationship was wobbling a little more. Aiko wasn't the type to lash out, like Ino would have in her situation. She'd just cried when she'd told him she knew about him and Ino, who her friend had recognized from the flower shop. Crying made it so much worse. Naruto was right. Aiko did deserve more attention than he'd given her. He'd been selfish enjoying Ino's attention.
"You're right," he told Ino. "We won't go out anymore."
She wrenched her hand from his grasp. "I didn't say that!"
"It's the best way to stop the misconceptions, Ino."
"Nara Shikamaru, I don't believe what I'm hearing! You can't just break off our friendship like this!"
Shikamaru winced. "It's not breaking it. It's just on hiatus."
Ino threw her hands up in the air. "Hiatus? That is the most pathetic reasoning I've ever heard. Until when? People are always going to talk!"
"Ino, I have a girlfriend."
Ino knew her mouth was hanging open.
"So I guess I owe her to put us on hiatus. You and I will always be friends, but if I don't pay more attention to her, our relationship isn't going to last."
Since when had Shikamaru become so rational about women? "Fine, Shikamaru," Ino said. Since she had nothing else to say, she walked away. Well, stomped actually. Why did he have to be so reasonable all the time?
Holding hands with
When we're out at night
Got a girlfriend
You say it isn't right
He followed her home even though it was only making her angrier. He knew he'd made the right decision, the honorable one. It wasn't even like he'd wanted to, damn it. But Aiko deserved it, and wasn't Aiko the average wife he'd been dreaming of since he was twelve? He wanted to say more to Ino, but there wasn't anything to say. She was pissed that he put Aiko, who he assumed she didn't know, above her. Ino obviously felt she had a right to be pissed. It couldn't be because she was hurt though, not Ino. No one had hurt Ino since Sakura had given Ino back her ribbon when they were little. Ino had told him and Chouji the story in the forest of death during their chuunin exam. There was no way Ino liked him enough that he could hurt her. Because only the people Ino loved could hurt her.
"You're right." Ino said to him when they'd reached her house and she stood in its open doorway. "We can put our friendship on hiatus."
Hell yeah, she was pissed. "Ino-", he started, irrationally wanting to take it back already.
She cut him off. "Thanks, Shika. Now I'll have more time for my boyfriend."
She slammed the door in his face.
He could hear her stomping up the stairs.
He didn't know how she did it, but he was pissed.
And I've got someone waiting too
"Still two-timing?" Kiba asked from beside him. The three of them, Kiba, Naruto, and Shikamaru, had just come back from a mission. Kiba had been bullied into treating them all to ramen. Naruto had done all the bullying. He could be persuasive when he wanted to, and he still wasn't above using Sexy-no-jutsu.
"Or did you pick one of the lovely ladies over the other?" Kiba asked.
Shikamaru didn't bother to reply. He was too sleepy.
"Shikamaru!" Kiba said, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Oh," Shikamaru blinked. "Were you talking to me?"
"Well I don't see any other two-timers around here. Do you, Naruto?" Kiba asked the man sitting on Shikamaru's other side.
Naruto slurped down the rest of his ramen and grinned. "Nope. Did you take my advice, Shikamaru?"
Shikamaru glared at his empty bowl. He actually had taken Naruto's advice. And Ino still wasn't talking to him. Not that he'd tried to talk to her. Common sense said approaching her now wasn't safe. "I don't see why it matters to you two," he mumbled resentfully.
Naruto was still grinning out of the corner of his eye and Kiba was petting Akamaru with an identical grin on his face.
"You're Konoha's top strategist, Shikamaru," Kiba answered. "And Konoha needs its top strategist in excellent mental health. And you're our friend."
"Yeah, and Ino-chan is our friend too," Naruto added. "So did you take my advice?"
Shikamaru decided there was no reason to hide the truth any longer. "Yes. I told Ino I had a girlfriend and that I needed to spend more time with her, and I suggested we put our friendship on hiatus."
Naruto looked green. "Did you really say that?"
"Baka!" Naruto shrieked. "I didn't tell you to say that!"
"Naruto!" Kiba yelled back, hitting Naruto on the head. "You said you would give him good advice!"
"I didn't tell him to say that!" Naruto shrieked. "I swear I didn't!"
"Baka!" Kiba yelled.
"I didn't say that!" Naruto defended himself.
"Yes you did," Shikamaru put in, rather enjoying the sight of Kiba punching Naruto to emphasize every word that came out of his mouth.
"Naruto, you baka! You messed everything up!" Kiba yelled, hitting Naruto a good seven times over the top of Shikamaru's bent head.
"Kiba, stop so we can help Shikamaru," Naruto whined, cowering down in his seat.
"Fine," Kiba agreed, "But only for Shikamaru." He sat back down on his stool and Naruto timidly rose up into his again.
"Shikamaru, that wasn't want I meant for you to say," Naruto started when Kiba didn't try to hit him again. "I told you to think about the attention you were giving each girl, Aiko and Ino."
"I know their names," Shikamaru muttered.
"You were supposed to notice that you were paying Ino much more attention than Aiko, your new girlfriend. This is noticeable because usually when a man gets a new girlfriend, he pays a lot more attention to her than to his friends." Naruto paused, probably to let it sink in or something. He was acting like Sakura when she explained chakra techniques. "So, even though you had just decided to go steady with Aiko, you began going on dates with Ino whenever you were both free, spending what would usually have been cloud-watching time with Ino instead, accompanying Ino home from the market, etc. The two biggest egos, Sasuke and Neji, who barely have enough social skills to have friends, thought you were going out with Ino."
"So?" Shikamaru asked. He really was very tired.
"So all this points to dumping Aiko-chan and going out with Ino because she's obviously the woman for you!" Naruto exclaimed.
"Obviously!" Kiba echoed. Akamaru barked in agreement with his master.
"Aiko-chan is nice and all, but you can't string her along while you pine subconsciously after Ino!"
"Yeah!" Kiba punched the air for emphasis.
"That's my advice! That's the conclusion I thought you were smart enough to come to!" Naruto finished.
Shikamaru scratched his head. His scalp itched. How Naruto had expected him to come up with that was beyond him. Besides, he didn't feel right not giving Aiko a chance. He sighed. "It's done guys, stop stressing."
"Noooooo!" Naruto exclaimed, looking as if he'd like to rip his own hair out from frustration.
"Don't worry, Naruto," Kiba said confidently. "Even Shikamaru himself can't stop the love flowing between him and Ino-chan! This is just the beginning!" He realized what he'd just said. "Oh my God, I'm turning into Lee!"
The problem is, this is just the beginning
We're already wet and we're gonna go swimming
"Ino, are you alright?" Sakura asked. "You're breathing funny."
She'd been thinking about Shikamaru again. Just thinking about him made breathing difficult, she was so mad. She wished he'd walk in to the flower shop, then she could carry out some of the fantasies she'd been dreaming up about him lately. The one with all the shuriken was particularly satisfying.
"I'm fine, Sakura," she managed, pushing Shikamaru from her mind.
"You're still angry with him, aren't you?"
Ino choked on her own spit.
Sakura sighed and hit her on the back a couple times until she stopped.
"With who?" Ino managed after a moment. "I can't think of anyone worth my time that I'm upset with."
"What about Shikamaru?" Sakura asked with a roll of her eyes.
"I said I can't think of anyone worth my time that I'm upset with," Ino repeated.
"It's not all his fault, Ino."
"Not his fault that he lied to me?" Ino said incredulously.
"He didn't lie. He just didn't tell you he had a girlfriend. It's not like you ever asked. You just assumed he didn't. And you didn't tell him about Sasame-kun either."
"Whose side are you on?"
"Yours, Ino," Sakura soothed. "I'm just suggesting that you forgive him so you two can actually have a chance at some type of relationship."
"He betrayed my trust, Sakura. That's not something I can easily forgive. You know that."
Sakura mentally winced, thinking of the day she'd given Ino her ribbon back. How different would things have turned out if she'd stayed friends with Ino back then? Ino wouldn't have sacrificed their relationship for Sasuke. That hadn't been one of the best decisions of Sakura's life.
"Can you at least start trying to forgive him, Ino?" Sakura asked. "The relationships where you fight once in a while are the most solid. I know he's willing to start over. If you are, you two could have something great."
Ino doubted he was ready to start over. Throwing the fact that Sasame existed in Shikamaru's face hadn't made him happy. It had made him just as angry as she'd been. She knew. That was why she'd done it, to make him feel as hurt as she was. He was usually so laid-back that she'd wanted him to feel as much as she did. And now what was she supposed to do, when she wanted them to trust each other again, but she couldn't make herself trust him?
"I can't, Sakura."
Sakura sighed. "Ino…"
Why can't I breathe whenever I
think about you
Why can't I speak whenever I talk about you
Its inevitable... it's a fact that we're gonna get down to it
So tell me...
Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you
"I'll take first watch," Shikamaru said from where they sat perched in the branches of a tree.
"Are you sure we can't make it back before dawn?" Ino asked. They'd successfully retrieved a stolen scroll and now they were forced to bring it back to Konoha under cover of darkness. The scroll was too fragile to be exposed to daylight, and they could be more easily spotted by any pursuers they'd missed on the way out of the fort. It had been a two man mission, infiltration rather than attack, making Ino and Shikamaru perfect candidates.
Ino had wanted to refuse the mission, but that wouldn't make her stronger. And Sakura had told her it was better she faced Shikamaru sooner rather than later. She was glad she had, but she could see in his eyes he was still angry. Well so was she.
"We'd be an hour away," Shikamaru answered her. "We can't risk damaging the scroll. This is a good spot. There's enough leaf cover to block the sun in the day time, and whoever's watching can see the approach of any enemy ninja."
Ino nodded. "I'll keep the scroll in my pack then," she said because that was the mission plan. She leaned back to make herself comfortable against the trunk of the tree.
"I'll wake you when I need to sleep."
"Before," Ino said. "So you're alert if I need to wake you."
"Before," Shikamaru repeated.
Twenty minutes later, Ino still wasn't asleep. She was exhausted from the mission, but she'd been wondering if breaking off their friendship had helped Shikamaru with his girlfriend. She still didn't know the girl's name. Sakura knew, but Ino hadn't wanted to find out. She didn't know how she'd feel with a name and a face. Shikamaru's other girlfriends hadn't seemed as important, as threatening, as this one. But he hadn't chosen any of the other ones over Ino.
"How are you and your girlfriend doing?" Ino asked softly as the sky lightened. It was dawn.
Shikamaru didn't react. He knew she was still awake. "No girlfriend anymore."
Ino winced. So she really had been hurting the relationship by keeping Shikamaru to herself. Now she felt guilty. Shikamaru had been right to halt his friendship with her. She'd wrecked what could have been a perfect marriage, for all she knew. He was old enough to get married. Tenten and Neji were.
"How about you and your boyfriend?" Shikamaru asked.
"Sasame-kun and I broke up," Ino told him. "He's got another girlfriend. I'm not with anyone."
Neither of them spoke for a while.
"I guess we may as well take our friendship off hiatus then," Shikamaru said as Ino was finally drifting off to sleep.
"Yeah," Ino agreed. "It won't be the same though."
"No," Shikamaru agreed. "How about ramen as soon as we get back?"
Ino yawned. "Sure."
Isn't this the best part of breaking
Finding someone else you can't get enough of
Someone who wants to be with you too
"We should go on missions together more often," Ino blurted halfway through her bowl of beef ramen. "We certainly finish mission reports quicker anyway."
"Are you talking about reviving Ino-Shika-Cho?" Shikamaru asked, scowling down at his ramen. He really needed to stop offering to pay for Ino's food too, or he was going to go broke.
"Not really," he saw Ino shrug from the corner of his eye, "I forgot how it was with just you around, that's all."
"Just me?" Shikamaru asked dryly.
"You remember when you used to watch the clouds all the time and sometimes I'd watch with you, but I'd always get bored and leave?"
Of course he remembered. She'd given him a lot of abuse for boring her too. He could hear her shrieking at him now.
Playing it safe, he only nodded, watching her through narrowed eyes.
"Well, will you watch the clouds with me tomorrow, Shika?
Only Ino did this to him. Staring down into her eyes he almost imagined they were the sky, a sky clear and free of floating clouds, fierce in its intensity. In summer a cloudless sky meant unbearable heat, in winter chilling cold. As for fall and spring, it meant the weather was perfect: just warm enough or just cool enough, and always welcome. At this moment Ino's eyes were a clear sky in late spring.
"Yeah," he said. His voice must have held a hint from his thoughts because she blushed and her smile was uncharacteristically shy. He reached a hand forward to trail along her face and watched as she closed her eyes. He leaned down to kiss her.
And he was shoved forward so abruptly that his face almost ended up in his ramen bowl.
"Hey, Shikamaru. Hi, Ino-chan," Naruto said cheerfully after having slapped Shikamaru on the back in greeting.
Ino was laughing. Apparently she'd seen his almost-face-plant into his ramen bowl. "Hey, Naruto-kun."
Naruto seated himself beside Shikamaru and yelled his order to the cook.
Shikamaru was more than mildly irritated. He'd been about to kiss Ino, and Naruto, who competed with Kiba for the role of head ninja matchmaker, had just ruined it. Wait. He'd been about to kiss Ino?
"Just get back from a mission?" Naruto asked, fishing in his old frog pouch for the money to pay for his ramen.
"Yeah," Ino answered. "I'd say it was a success." She smiled at Shikamaru. Maybe the local ramen stand wasn't the best place to kiss Ino for the first time. Too public.
It's an itch we
know we are gonna scratch
Gonna take a while for this egg to hatch
"You're early," Ino said, sitting down beside him in the grass.
Shikamaru lifted a hand in front of his face to block the sun. "You're late."
"In my defense, my hair wasn't cooperating this morning." Ino lay down next to him on her back and closed her eyes.
He turned his head to look at her. She was wearing a purple tank top, a pair of jeans, and her hair looked like it always looked. He hadn't known her hair caused her trouble, but then all women complained about their hair.
"A pony tail wasn't the way to go today after all," Ino muttered. Instead of her head lying against the grass, it was balanced uncomfortably on top of her ponytail. Sighing, she leaned upward so her head was off the ground and drew the tie from her hair. She slid the hair-tie onto her wrist and lay back down, staring up at the sky.
Shikamaru found the whole process fascinating.
"The clouds are blowing fast today," Ino said after a half hour of silence. "Why do you think there's wind?"
"Nature trying to balance and equalize pressure," Shikamaru answered mildly.
"Well what causes pressure?" Ino asked. He could hear a slight frown in her voice. She hadn't expected him to know the answer.
"The warming and cooling of the air. The pressure exerted by a gas changes as it becomes more or less dense-"
"Just stop talking," Ino cut him off. "I didn't really want to know."
Shikamaru couldn't help smiling a little as he stared up at one particular cloud that reminded him of a dragon, or Ino when she was angry.
"Your hair makes your head look like a pineapple," Ino said fifteen minutes later.
Shikamaru had almost fallen asleep, but the sound of her voice compelled him to turn his head towards her and open his eyes. She was watching him, no doubt to see his reaction.
"My mom tells me that all the time."
"I like it," Ino said decisively. "Just wait 'til you're in the bingo book. You'll be the Genius-Pineapple-Shadow-nin."
"Joy," Shikamaru said sarcastically.
Ino started laughing. "You'll be the most well known ninja in the whole bingo book," she giggled. "Your parents will be so proud."
It actually was funny, but he didn't particularly feel like laughing, so he let her laugh beside him while he listened.
She yawned and stretched, sliding her arms along the grass above her head so that her hands met in a clasp she used to stretch her body further. Her tank top slid upwards, revealing an inch or so of skin, but she didn't seem to care. She merely relaxed and left her arms lying in the grass above her head.
"I don't know why you watch the clouds," she said, "but they are peaceful." She paused for a moment. "I didn't know there was time for peace in a ninja's life." She rolled on her side and sat up. "Then again, maybe I did," she said thoughtfully. "I'll see you later, Shika."
Ino froze in the act of standing. Shikamaru was watching her with a slight frown on his face and the stubborn look he got when he felt he was being forced into doing something he ordinarily wouldn't have bothered attempting. Ino sat back down.
"I've been waiting for you to give me grief about my last girlfriend. It's not like you to hold back, so why are you?"
Ino grimaced. "I wanted to be a bitch and yell at you for not telling me about her, but I didn't tell you about Sasame either. It was impossible to convince myself that it was all your fault." She'd tried real hard too.
"That hasn't stopped you before," Shikamaru observed.
"Guess I'm growing up," Ino said lightly. "Can we not talk about this now?"
"We can't avoid it forever, Ino," Shikamaru said.
"Do you really want me to get mad at you again?" Ino asked. If he didn't make her talk about it, didn't make her feel what she'd felt that night, she could ignore it all. She didn't want to be mad at him anymore.
"No," he was watching her eyes, trying to read her emotions. She met his gaze and held it. "But I don't want you keeping your frustration to yourself. You'd explode and kill me someday."
That last sentence was meant as a joke Ino knew, but it didn't work, because she really didn't want to talk about this. "I won't, Shikamaru," she said, but her voice sounded strained and unconvincing.
"I felt angry," he told her, still lying on his back, still watching her. "It takes a lot for me to care enough to be angry."
"I know, Shika," Ino whispered.
"I never asked you whether or not you had a boyfriend. Dumb, right? I assumed you would've told me. You're one of the few people I trust enough to make assumptions about instead of sticking to the facts."
Now she was angry. As if he'd flipped a switch, she'd gone from denial to anger in less than a second. If he was going to make her remember their latest argument, one of their few arguments that had actually been serious, well then, he wasn't going to blame the entire thing on her.
"You've got a lot of nerve," she said coldly, although she could feel her cheeks flush with heat. "If you remember correctly, Shikamaru, you didn't tell me you had a girlfriend. And you can't put friendships 'on hiatus'!" She made little quotes in the air with her fingers. "I trusted you. I was going to dump Sasame for you, and I was going to tell you, but instead you went and decided to end our friendship. How was I supposed to feel besides rejected? My oldest and best friend had just rejected me for some woman he'd known for a month. If you'll do something like that, how am I supposed to ever trust you again?"
Shikamaru's face was red now, and he'd sat up as well. "What about all those times you chose Sasuke over me?"
"I only acted the way I did towards him to get on Sakura's nerves. It was the only way she'd ever notice me. I'm sorry I put her before you, but I was a dumb twelve year old and you wouldn't pay attention to me no matter how hard I tried to make you." She shrugged. "It's hard not to give up on someone when you don't get a response."
"I didn't give up on you," he said bitterly.
"What do you call ditching me for that girl?" Ino retorted.
He looked away. They were both silent.
When she couldn't stand the tense silence any longer, Ino decided to suck it up. Shikamaru was too stubborn to break the silence and she really didn't want to argue anymore. "I betrayed your trust," she said, "and I'm sorry."
"I guess friendships can't be put on hiatus after all," he said.
Men. That was as close to an apology as she was going to get. Ino thought she could live with that.
"So you were going to dump this Sasame guy for me?"
Ino looked up at him. He had a funny little smile on his face. She rather liked it.
"Yeah," she admitted. "I did dump him later, but more for me."
"So if you had started going out with Sasuke back then and I'd said something, you would have dumped him too?"
Ino blushed. "After I let you squirm a little, yeah."
"And if you were going out with Kiba you'd dump him for me too?" he asked, still with that same funny smile on his face.
"I'm not going out with Kiba, but yeah," Ino replied. Where was he going with this?
"How about Shino or Naruto?"
"Lee? Neji? Chouji? Gaara? Kankuro?"
The boy must have gone out of his mind. Ino smiled and stood. "I really do have to go, Shikamaru."
"Asuma? Konohamaru? Kakashi? Gai?", he called out to her as she walked away. He was all too obviously trying not to break out into laughter.
Ino just shook her head and started walking. She figured he'd have just as much fun amusing himself.
But wouldn't it be beautiful?
"Just like that?" Sakura hissed, her voice low. "You forgave him just like that?"
Ino had just filled her in on the restart of her friendship with Shikamaru, not that she was sure 'friendship' was quite the word for it anymore. Ino glanced around the bar. No one seemed to be paying attention to her conversation with Sakura. The two kunochis were sitting on stools on the far end of the bar counter. It was Kiba's birthday. Everyone else in the room was focused on watching him open his mountain of presents. Ino glanced over at Kiba long enough to witness him open his present from Rock Lee: orange leg warmers.
"It isn't like you, Ino," Sakura said, "You trust him again already after what he did."
Ino knew the kunochi was thinking of the years it had taken for the two of them to trust each other again. "It's not that I ever stopped trusting him, even when we were fighting," Ino told her in a tone just as low.
"Then what is it? I don't want you getting hurt again."
Ino searched for the right words. "I've accepted the fact that he's going to hurt me, that's all."
"You sound like one of those wives who gets beat by her husband and hides it from the rest of the world," Sakura said wryly. "What other personality traits are you hiding?"
Ino ignored the half-joke. "When Shikamaru does hurt me again, it won't be on purpose. It never was in the first place. Only the people I care about can ever hurt me. And Sakura, what kind of person would I be if I didn't let him make mistakes?"
Sakura sighed. "I get what you're saying. I just don't like seeing you hurt." She rested her elbows against the counter and stared into her glass for a moment. Her short pink hair prevented Ino from seeing her face. "A few weeks ago you said you'd never forgive him. What changed?"
"I think I grew up when I realized he wasn't going to wait on me. It's funny 'cuz I hadn't even realized I was making him wait in the first place." Ino took a sip from her glass. "Or that I wanted him to wait."
Sakura lifted her head to look at Ino, her elbows still resting against the counter. A slow smile was spreading across her face. "So what are you saying?"
"If I tell you, you won't go blabbing it to the world?" Ino asked, knowing Sakura's potential for gossip from experience.
"I promise," Sakura said, bemused.
"Or to Naruto, because that's just like telling the whole world," Ino said, making sure to cover all her bases.
"I won't tell Naruto." Because he's already guessed it, she added mentally. How, Sakura had no idea.
"I think I'm in love with him," Ino admitted quietly.
"Ahhhh," Sakura squealed.
The party stopped. Ino resisted the urge to groan.
Sakura turned towards the crowd, her face beet red. "I thought I saw a worm in my drink, but it was just my straw."
Ino resisted the urge to bang her head on the table over and over again.
"Go back to your business people," Sakura crossly ordered the bar full of fifty some odd ninja. It didn't work. "Um, happy birthday, Kiba?"
The crowd probably would have continued staring at Sakura, but Kiba chose that moment to drop his present from Shino, a glass jar full of mutated trainable poisonous spiders, and there was a mad dive to save it from breaking. Luckily, Shino himself caught it and all was well.
"The worm was just your straw?" Ino asked sarcastically once everyone else was focused on the last of Kiba's potentially lethal presents again.
"Shut up," Sakura muttered, her face still red. "So what does Shikamaru think about you?"
Ino sighed. "It feels almost too good to hope he likes me back. He did ask me if I'd dump just about every male ninja in the village for him. Does that count?"
Sakura's eyes widened as she tried not to laugh. "Even Gai-sensei?"
Sakura giggled. "You'd have to be crazy to go out with that old man in the first place."
Ino shook her head vigorously in agreement. "Oh, and I think he was about to kiss me when we went out for dinner at the ramen stand last week, but Naruto came in and ruined the moment."
"You think he was about to kiss you, or he was about to kiss you?" Sakura asked shrewdly.
"Well," Ino mulled it over. "I'd say he was, but I'm biased since I want him to have been about to kiss me. Naruto didn't seem to notice anything."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Naruto doesn't usually notice stuff like that."
"Stuff like what?" Naruto asked, arriving between the two women. They both jumped. It seemed Kiba's presents had all been opened.
"Stuff like stuff we're not going to tell you," Ino told him, twisting on the bar stool so she was facing him.
"Aw, Ino-chan, you're no fun," Naruto said, sounded very much like a little boy much younger than the man standing in front of them.
"I'm not? I try hard, really I do," Ino teased.
"Don't listen to her, she's not trying at all," Shikamaru said wryly, ambling over towards their group of three with his hands in his pockets.
Ino made a face at him.
"Hey, Shikamaru," Sakura said in greeting.
"Hey, worm woman," he said. "What was that all about anyway?"
Sakura's face, which had just faded into a more presentable pink, flared red again. "Shut up, Shikamaru." She slid off her stool and grabbed Naruto's wrist. "Come on, let's go see those spiders Shino got Kiba. I swear he won't be able to train them."
Naruto waved good-bye as he was dragged into the crowd.
"What was that all about?" Shikamaru asked, making himself comfortable in the seat Sakura had just vacated.
Ino blushed lightly, but hoped it was masked by the dim lighting in the bar. "Girl stuff."
Shikamaru didn't look like he believed her, but he held up a hand. "I don't want to know."
"You're looking spiffy tonight," Ino observed.
She smiled. "Yeah." He was wearing black dress pants, a white short sleeved dress shirt, and black shoes. If only she could put a tie and a nice jacket on him. She did love a man in a suit. But it really was too warm both outside and in the bar for a suit.
"I'd be in uniform if Kiba's sister hadn't wanted us in 'presentable, but casual outerwear'."
Ino shrugged. "She actually said that? Eh, you can't blame her for wanting to get rid of the whole 'my work is my life and I will dress accordingly' attitude."
"I can. These shoes pinch my feet."
"And why do you think I'm sitting down? These heels are killing me," Ino declared, raising her leg and lifting the bottom of her jeans for display.
Shikamaru whistled at the sight of her three inch stiletto heels. "I can see how that might be more painful."
"Damn straight," Ino agreed, letting her designer jeans fall to their normal place on her leg and facing him sideways with the counter on her right.
Low-key music flooded from the speakers. The party-goers had pushed some of the tables to the side and cleared the floor for dancing. Ino watched quite a few couples bounce onto the dance floor, including Kiba with three women: Hinata, Sakura, and Tenten. Neji was going to be pissed when he noticed. How satisfying.
"So what did you get Kiba?" she asked, just for conversation. Shikamaru really was looking attractive in his 'presentable, but causal outerwear' and she needed to get her mind off him. Kind of hard with him sitting in front of her.
He reached up a hand to scratch his head. "I was going to get him a go board, but it was too troublesome to find one, so I blessed him with my presence at his birthday party instead."
"Uh huh," Ino said skeptically.
"You have to admit, I am one of the better dressed men here."
"You should get a prize," Ino said.
He sighed. "I should. Or maybe just a month's vacation with full pay."
"Gasp. What if the prize was a month's vacation with full pay?"
"I thought so too."
"Wanna go on a real date?"
Ino blinked in surprise. Her heart started beating twice the normal rate.
"I figured it's my turn to ask, since you asked me to go cloud-watching."
Ino was still surprised. Shikamaru sounded just the slightest bit… nervous.
"I thought you might want to," he continued.
"I want to," Ino said, before he had the chance to think she didn't. "When?"
"Friday night? Or do you have a mission?"
"Friday night's fine." She felt a little awkward. She'd never felt awkward around Shikamaru before.
"How's seven sound?"
"That's fine." Ino could hardly believe they were discussing a date. Okay, so they'd discussed dates before, but not a date that both of them were going on. Together, nonetheless.
"Dress up, alright?" He was blushing slightly. She wondered if it was because he could hear her heart pounding, but he was too polite to comment. Nah. Shikamaru was never too polite to say anything.
"Alright," she agreed.
It probably would've gotten more awkward at that point if Kiba hadn't yelled, "Hey, Shikamaru! Come look at these spiders! I trained one to go after Naruto!", followed by the sound of Naruto screaming like a girl.
"I think I'll go over and have a look," Shikamaru told her, sliding off his stool. "Don't leave without saying bye alright?"
Ino nodded. "Sure." She fought the urge to squeal and/or jump on top of the bar counter and start dancing.
"Hey, Yamanaka, what are you doing here?"
There went all her happy urges. "I was invited. What are you doing here?"
Neji slid into the seat Shikamaru had just vacated. "I was invited too."
"That's surprising. I didn't know you and Kiba got along," Ino said calmly, careful to keep her temper in check. Neji took a special joy in making her lose her cool. The more pissed he was, the more pissed he tried to make her. Judging from the way he kept glancing at Tenten, who was still on the dance floor, he was extra-pissed.
"Why are you bothering to glance when you have three-sixty vision?"
"Glance at what?" he asked, looking at her as if she'd just grown another head. Well, the Neji version of that look anyway.
"Tenten," Ino said recklessly. "You know you looove her."
Neji frowned. His frown made Orochimaru's frown look like a happy smile. "Like you love Shikamaru?" he asked coldly.
"Who told you that?" Ino asked, willing him not to see her slight flush.
"Some of Kiba's relatives were bored watching him open his presents. Apparently, listening to your conversation with Sakura-san was much more entertaining."
Damn the Inzuka clan for eavesdropping.
"So what are you going to do about it, Hyuuga?" Ino said, deciding to believe Neji and not waste her time denying what she'd said.
"Warn you not to screw him over."
"Since when do you care about Shikamaru?" Ino retorted. "And you can't talk about screwing people over. Remember what you did to Tenten before you two got together?"
"Leave Tenten out of this. Shikamaru is Konoha's top strategist. I don't need you messing with his head and affecting his performance at work."
"The last time I checked," Ino said slowly. "You weren't the hokage. And if we're leaving Tenten, Konoha's top weapons specialist, out of this, then we'll leave out its top strategist too."
Neji glared at Ino.
Ino glared at Neji.
"Well the mood's sour in this corner," Kiba said.
Ino pointedly ignored Neji and slid off her stool to hug Kiba. "Happy birthday! Are you enjoying yourself?"
Kiba nodded to Neji over her head and looked down to meet her eyes. "Sure am. Mind giving me a birthday dance, Ino-chan?"
It was going to kill her feet, but anything to get away from Neji. "I'd love to," she replied, taking his elbow and leading him away from the bar counter, head held high.
Here we go we're
at the beginning
we haven't fucked yet, but my head's spinning
"Shikamaru." He turned at the sound of Ino's voice behind him, his pulse suddenly quickening. "I'm headed out with Sakura and the girls," she said. "It's sleepover night at my place."
"Be right back," Shikamaru told the group of ninja he'd been standing with. Who were they again? He took Ino's arm and led her to a vacant corner closer to the door.
"So should I go all out with my outfit for Friday?" Ino asked.
"I thought what you're wearing now was all out," he teased. He'd have a wonderful time imagining Ino's version of 'all out' lying in his bed tonight. She blushed. Five points for him.
"I can do much better than jeans and a dressy top," Ino assured him with a toss of her head, watching him the whole time.
"Go all out then." He couldn't help but smile. "So Friday at seven I'll ring your doorbell."
She poked him in the chest. "You better not be late."
"I know. You'll set Sakura and the rest of your posse on me."
"No." Ino's smile was full of sugar. "I'm fully capable of dealing with you myself."
Five points for Ino. He'd probably dream about her dealing with him tonight. God, let him dream about her. He momentarily forgot to breathe when she slipped her arms around his neck and smiled up at him. His arms automatically slid around her slim waist. She closed her eyes. Shikamaru realized she was waiting for him to kiss her. He hadn't felt this nervous since. Well, he couldn't remember ever feeling this nervous. Apparently his body knew when to take over, because one second he wasn't kissing Ino and the next second he was kissing Ino.
He was kissing Ino.
She tasted a bit like pineapple. The free punch being served was pineapple flavored. She mostly tasted like Ino. Her lips were soft and a little slick from her lip gloss.
Life didn't get much better than this.
"I'll go all out then," she said when they broke apart. She looked embarrassed, although Ino had certainly kissed men before. Shikamaru just hadn't expected to be one of them. He was feeling kind of dazed.
She kissed him on the cheek and pushed out of his arms. "See you Friday." She waved a little. He waved back. She giggled and headed towards her friends. Shikamaru watched as the group of women left the bar.
"Kiba! Kiba! Our plan worked! Shikamaru just kissed Ino!" Naruto shrieked from behind Shikamaru. Kiba was all the way across the room, surrounded by a large group of jounin who were saying bye to the birthday boy before making their exit.
"For how long?" Kiba yelled back.
"They kissed for like thirty seconds!" Naruto shrieked, exaggerating as usual.
If Shikamaru wasn't in such a good mood he would've had to kill both of them.
Why can't I breathe
whenever I think about you
Why can't I speak whenever I talk about you
It's inevitable, it's a fact that we're gonna get down to it
So tell me
Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you
"Maybe he's taking you on a double date with his parents," Tenten said just as Ino had been about to fall asleep. They'd already gone over the kiss, what Ino was going to wear, whether or not she should buy a new outfit, how much makeup she should wear, where he might be taking her, if Shikamaru liked kissing girls with lipstick or lip gloss or chapstick, what he might be wearing, what he expected her to wear, how she should do her hair, and if she should wear heels or not.
"We've already been over this," Sakura said with a yawn. "I thought we agreed it wasn't going to be a double date."
"I already know his parents, but what if he is taking me on a double date with them?" Ino said, suddenly feeling a little panicked. "That would be so awkward!"
"Shikamaru-kun wouldn't do that," Hinata spoke up from her spot on the couch. "No one does that on a first date." Ino felt a little reassured. Hinata always was the voice of reason. And Shikamaru knew better than that anyway. He'd probably be more likely to put off the parent issue.
"You're right," Tenten said with a yawn. "I don't know what I was thinking. Not even Neji did that."
"Speaking of Neji," Ino remembered. "He looked pretty pissed when he saw you dancing with Kiba."
Tenten laughed. "Kiba's a hottie. I can see how Neji'd be jealous. Everyone knows Kiba's stuck on Hinata though," she teased.
Ino broke in to save Hinata some embarrassment. "All three of you dancing with him though…" she trailed off.
"It's his birthday. We probably fulfilled one of his fantasies or something," Sakura said crabbily. "Shut up. I wanna go 'sleep."
No one felt like arguing, so they all settled down to sleep again. Ino smiled, thinking of Shikamaru. She was doing a lot of smiling lately.
I'd love for you to
make me wonder
Where it's goin'
I'd love for you to pull me under
For this that we can control
Baby I am dyin'
Good. He was on time. "Just a minute," Ino yelled, wondering where she'd shoved her purse in the rush to find her shoes. Deciding she should at least let him in, and he could wait while she found her purse, she made for the door, hopping to put her shoes on as she walked.
Smoothing her dress down and taking a deep breath, Ino glanced through the peephole in the door to make sure it was Shikamaru. Yup. He was standing there with a scowl on his face, no doubt because she'd made him wait, and a black pinstripe suit. Ino loved pinstripes. Good sign.
Taking a deep breath, she unbolted the door. She'd hadn't felt this nervous about a first date since she'd gone on her first date.
"Hey, Ino," he said.
"Hi," she said, giving him her best smile, which wasn't hard at all, considering how happy she felt. "Come in for a minute, I have to find my purse."
He nodded and she held the door open, stepping aside so he could walk past her. Ino studied his profile as he walked by. Athletic figure, severe mouth, casual posture. Ino appreciated how relaxed he was all the time, even if she'd never tell him that. Sometimes it made her mad, but most times he calmed her just by walking in the room.
She shut the door behind him, and turned to find him watching her. "What?" Ino asked with a slight blush, remembering how it felt to kiss him.
"You did go all out," he said with a shrug.
"I said I was going to," Ino said with a huff, secretly flattered that he'd bothered to comment.
"I know," was all he said, sliding an arm around her waist and bending down to kiss her.
And then she woke up.
Why can't I
breathe whenever I think about you
Why can't I speak whenever talk about you
Sakura was shaking her. Ino sat straight up in her sleeping bag and burst into tears, hugging her pillow to her chest.
"Eh?" Sakura managed incredulously, drawing away from her. "What's wrong with you?"
"I was having the most wonderful dream ever." Ino sobbed.
"And this makes you upset because?" Sakura asked in disbelief.
"It's just a dream!" Ino wailed.
"What the-" Sakura started to say, plopping down on the floor and staring at the sobbing blond.
"It's alright, Ino-chan," Hinata said, dropping down on her knees in front of Ino and wrapping her arms around her. "Just cry a little. It's alright. I know you're under a lot of stress right now."
"She is?" Sakura said.
"She is," Hinata said soothingly as Ino cried into her shoulder. "Of course she is."
Ino pulled away from Hinata, sniffling. "I don't know what's wrong with me, guys. I just woke up like this."
"It's okay. What's wrong?" Sakura asked.
Ino sighed. "It's a lot of things. I have to pay the bills for my apartment and buy food and cook for myself on jounin pay. And I go on missions all the time and come back exhausted wishing I had someone around to just hug or something. And in my dream there was Shikamaru and it was so perfect, but in real life he's never around and I'm always somewhere else and I'm scared to rely on him anyway." She sniffed, the picture of misery.
Sakura sighed her worldly sigh. "Why can't we girls just go for Prince Charming? Sasame doted on you. You know Shikamaru's not that kind of guy."
Ino smiled ruefully. "We're kunochi. I feel like myself around Shika. That's all I want. Prince Charming would freak and you know it."
Hinata nodded her agreement.
Tenten emerged from the bathroom and stopped to stare at them: Ino's red eyes, Hinata in her tear-covered night shirt, Sakura still managing to look worldly. "I missed it didn't I?" she asked.
Ino laughed. "You sure did."
Tenten walked over and gave Ino a hug. "I always miss it."
Ino laughed again as Sakura and Hinata joined in on the hug.
"It's alright, Tenten. We forgive you," Hinata told her.
"That's good," Tenten said, still clueless. "Aren't you going to tell me what I missed?"
Why can't I breathe
whenever I think about you
Why can't I speak whenever I talk about you
It's inevitable, it's a fact that we're gonna get down to it
So tell me
Why can't I breathe whenever I think about you
Two days later, Ino was locking up the flower shop when she heard Shikamaru's voice behind her.
She turned around fast in surprise. "Shikamaru? What are you doing here?"
"Good to see you too," he said wryly.
"I never said it wasn't good to see you," Ino said lightly, wondering if something was wrong. "What's up?"
"The hokage gave me a three-day mission. I leave Thursday, so I'm going to have to cancel our date."
"I'm sorry, Ino," he said simply.
"Can I walk you home?"
"You don't have to ask, but can we go cloud watching for a little while first?"
They walked to the field in silence. Shikamaru was afraid Ino would start screaming at him if he said anything and Ino was wondering why she wasn't screaming at him.
"You know why I wanted to come here?" Ino asked as they were walking up to the top of the hill. She didn't wait for him to answer. "I feel it's a good place for us to talk about us."
Shikamaru winced inwardly. That didn't sound good.
Ino plopped down violently on the ground. "You're always slaving away for the hokage. I'm always on missions. Do you know any ninja couples?"
"Do you want to be one?" she demanded.
"Dating is a hassle. Can't I just marry you and get it over with?" he said, just to shock her. But he meant it.
He watched the surprise flood across Ino's face. "Women like romance."
"So that means no?"
"It means you better have a ring if you're going to rush the process."
"It feels like I've been dating you my whole life."
Ino narrowed her eyes. "And that's bad?"
"Life's about progress. Don't you think it's time to take the next step?" Shikamaru reasoned.
Ino held out her hand. "Do you have a ring?"
Shikamaru pulled a hand from his pocket and opened his palm.
Ino swayed visibly on her feet before she caught herself.
"You thought I actually had one, didn't you?" Shikamaru smirked.
"No," Ino said loudly, avoiding his eyes.
"Seriously, Ino. Life's short. I'll eventually give you a ring. You wouldn't want me to pine away in Konoha while you're off on missions seeing the world, would you?"
Ino sighed, but he knew she was caving in. "You don't pine, Shika."
"You don't see it because I'm more cheerful when you're around."
"Yeah, right," Ino scoffed.
"You brighten my world, Ino."
"You did not just say that," Ino said, hiding her smile.
"You should see how depressing and exponentially lazier I am when you're not around. That's what drove Lee crazy, the need to be extremely cheerful to make up for the morose feeling he gets when he's around me."
"Lee is not crazy, he's just inhumanly enthusiastic," Ino said with a grin.
"Because of me."
"Because of Gai," Ino corrected.
"It's your duty to save Lee from going insane with cheer, because he's going on Thursday's mission too. If you say yes, that should give me enough motivation to stay as cheerful as I am around you."
"You'll be this talkative?" Ino asked doubtfully.
"Whenever I think about you."
"What am I saying yes to?"
"Marrying me in about a month."
"I don't have time to plan a wedding."
"I'll get Shizune to do it."
"Can't you at least get down on one knee and ask me?"
"It's troublesome," Shikamaru grumbled, but he lowered himself to the ground and held her hands in his. "Will you marry me, Yamanaka Ino?"
"Good," he said, pulling her down to sit next to him on the hillside.
"We should shop for rings together," Ino said thoughtfully. "Who knows what design you'd pick alone."
"Are rings all you think about?" he asked.
Ino grinned and let the happiness flow through her. "It's to keep me grounded, otherwise I'll freak out and jump all over you or something."
"I think the whole point of me asking you to marry me is because I want you to freak out and throw yourself all over me." He pulled her so that they were both lying down in the grass. "No holding back, Ino."
Whenever I think
Whenever I think about you
Whenever I think about you
Whenever I think about you
I've loved that song for a long time, so I had to write a story for
it. This one-shot took me all summer to write actually, off and
on. My first Naruto fic.