This is my first Naruto fic. I have no idea how popular ShikamaruxChouji is, but I hope someone enjoys it! I also hope everyone is is character. If not, please tell me. I would like to get it right next time.

No spoilers, light shounen-ai warning

"You should be lazy and watch the clouds with me."

Butterfly Wings

His hands weren't sweaty like mine. I tried not to notice the firm grip of his fingers, tried not to wish there was something more to his grasp then a friendly helping hand. Shikamaru's clutch was clammy and cold, and barely roughened by training.

He didn't train much, especially if you counted all the times he wandered around town kicking up dust and humming off-key. On some of his more productive days I would find him playing shougi, or more often sitting alone muttering over the pieces. He had tried to make me play once, and I had finally agreed, blushing with embarrassment as I crumbled within a few moves. "It's okay," he had said, grinning slightly over his win, "You don't play much."

But I knew I would never be any good, no matter how many times I played. Just as I was never any good at anything else. He was always better. Always. Even when I got decent at something, he could still best me. I couldn't help comparing myself to him, even though it wasn't fair. My emotions bubbled viciously around him, seesawing back and forth between jealousy and admiration. I never showed him my scores on the tests; I never wanted him to think I was stupid. Even though I knew I was, somehow it would be even worse if he thought so too.

One time he had seen a test of mine. He had smiled, and said, "Don't worry, I didn't try either!" But I had tried. I had studied, studied like crazy. I went home, crumpled my 75, ripped it to shreds, and cried. The next day he complained to me about his 93.

He wasn't trying to be malicious, though. He always stood up for me, always assured me I had meaning. I didn't know why. I didn't understand this great compassion. I feared it was something he had to do. I was petrified that he thought he was taking care of me because he was better. I was the stupid one, and he, being wise, would make sure I didn't do anything too terribly dimwitted. "It's okay," he would always say as Ino stomped off after a day's training, complaining about my uselessness. "You did fine."

But I knew it wasn't okay. He was just being nice. Like always. I knew him well. I knew that he wouldn't hate me if I told him the embarrassing truth, but somehow my heart didn't believe it. The truth. The truth was I liked it when his body would rub against mine while we were fighting each other—my heart would race and the nerves in my body would become wired with excitement. I was terrified that this would disturb him, terrified that he wouldn't want to be around me anymore. Terrified my protector would disappear, and I would be left alone all over again. I hated that feeling of being alone. I hated that feeling of not having anyone to be there for me. Or even just to talk to me. I still didn't feel, though, that I deserved friends. But I still wanted them, even though it was so hard to open myself when I thought I had nothing to give. Selfishly, I wanted them, even though I was useless. I wanted friends that wouldn't use me, or boss me around, just because I was weaker than they were. Friends that would help me stand on my own two feet.

We reached the top.

"I like watching the stars from up here," Shikamaru explained our arduous journey up the dying grass hill. "But usually I don't bother, because it takes too long to get here. I thought you might like it, though." His grip loosened, and I reluctantly dropped my hold.

Did he really come all the way up here, just to show me a mediocre hill and some cloud-obscured stars? He always saw the beauty in things that didn't appear to be beautiful at all. I shrugged appreciatively and gazed upwards. "It's…pretty. It's really pretty," I said, even though I didn't see this beauty that he so casually believed in. This invisible light in everything.

He flopped onto the grass, flinging his feet forward and leaning his head back. "Good. It always seems like too much work for me to come up here by myself. If you like it, then it's cool."

"I like it a lot." I liked it because he liked it, and because he had given it to me.

"Awesome." He was silent for awhile, his breathing soft and gentle.

I sat down awkwardly, picking at the grass. Finding an ant crawling on my finger, I gently coaxed it back onto the ground.

"That cloud looks like a sheep," he said presently, raising a lazy finger towards the sky. "I like sheep."

I followed his direction to a lumpy little gray blob. Vaguely, I pieced it together into a lopsided animal of some sort. "Yeah, it does!"

"Hee," he giggled, rolling over on his stomach, closer to me. "It's cute!"

"Yeah…" I whispered quietly, "Yeah…"

We lapsed into silence again. His face formed into a serious frown, and I watched him. I felt slightly nervous, slightly sweaty.

"Chouji," he said finally, "How do you feel, now?"

"What? I…just the same as always. W-why?" I twisted my hands together, so hard that pain laced up my pudgy fingers. Just like always. I just felt the same. I felt this kind of painful feeling that never goes away. It was a feeling that made me want to not get up in the morning. It was this feeling of wanting to screw myself over because I just don't care. It hurt.

He eyed me speculatively, almost like he was studying me, judging my actions. Like he always did before a battle. "What is the same as always?"

"Just…normal…" I stuttered, fear devouring my chest. I didn't want him to ask anymore. I wanted him to think I was fine, very, very badly. I didn't know why, but somehow these feelings bottled up inside of me weren't allowed to escape. I didn't like people to see what was inside of me. Somehow I thought people would like me better if I didn't show any of it to them. Nothing at all or everything at once seemed to be the only way I could manage my feelings with other people. Holding it in, holding it in, holding it in until all the taunts and jibes became unbearable and I cried.

"Come on," Shikamaru muttered, letting out a half-muted sigh. "You're being difficult. What's normal, for you?"

I didn't want him to worry about me. I didn't want him to see me as even weaker than before."I…don't feel that bad…" I didn't want him to know. I just didn't want him to know how I believed them. Every word they said.

"So you do feel bad." He winked at me, a signal of friendly victory, before returning to seriousness. "Why?"

"I-I…nothing…I just…feel that way…no…reason." He always found the meaning behind the words. Sometimes that bothered me, made me frightened to talk to him about anything.

"Nobody feels like that for no reason."

"Some people do."

"Not you." He rested his head on folded arms. "I don't think so. Ino calls you stupid a lot. Neji beats you up sometimes, and calls you a loser. The other kids call you fat, and useless."

"It's true, though, so…"

"Nobody should beat you up!" Shikamaru snapped, giving me a rather shocking glare.

"I deserve it." Burying my face in my arms, I hunched my back protectively against the world. "I deserve it, Shikamaru!" I did deserve it. I truly deserved it when Neji would stare at me with those frightening eyes and read my mind, chanting my horrible, private thoughts like a mantra as he forced me to the ground.

"You're acting stu—!" I heard Shikamaru sigh and stomp his foot harshly into the ground.

"I am stupid, you can say it," I whispered, lip quivering uncontrollably. "I'm stupid, and fat, and ugly, and weak, and useless, and—" My voice rose uncontrollably, shaking with suppressed tears. Even he thought I was stupid. Everyone was right.

"Why do you think," Shikamaru's voice was tight and a bit shaky, "they say that about you?"

"Because it's true—"

"—Because they can get away with it! You're not stupid—"

I clenched my fists hard enough to hurt, heart pounding with agony. "—then why did you call me—"

"Acting stupid and being stupid are two different things! You're acting stupid because you allow yourself to believe it!"

"I always do bad on tests, and I can never do anything as good as you! You're so much better—"

"Don't measure yourself by me, damn it!" He sounded truly angry, and his breath was coming out fast. I heard him sit up sharply. "You always measure yourself by me!"

"Who else do I have to—"

"Yourself! Not everything is measured in percentages!"

I shivered under his argument, quivering weakly. He always won. "…What's important, and what is what's important measured by?"

"I think it depends on the person."

"I don't have anything I'm good at. I don't have anything of value." I picked up a small rock and flung it as far as I could, filling it with my pain and sending it flying down the hill.

"One time, I saw you rescue a butterfly from a spider's web. The butterfly was so small. It didn't seem important in the world. You can see that the little things are living and breathing too. You can see that the feelings inside everything, and everyone, are important."

I sobbed, the wet tears running down my cheeks and lodging themselves in-between my lips. "It was just…a little…butterfly…" I stuttered in between sniffles, shoulders shaking violently. "Th-that's all. It was so small. It was so helpless. It felt like me. I couldn't…let it die."

"I think that kindness isn't measured by grandiose schemes of valor. I think it's measured by how far a person can spread their wings, how far a person can see the importance in every little thing. You have bigger wings then me. I would have left it there."

He let me cry for awhile, gave his silence to me. No. No, Shikamaru, your wings are very big too. You see the beauty in everything too. Even me.

After a long time I was silent too, even though my shoulders would not stop moving.

He glanced at me, and I glanced timidly at his chin, unable to look up any further.

"…You like me, don't you?" He asked, smiling softly as I raised my tearful eyes to his.

"I-I…um…I…" I hid my face again, quickly, as he turned his body towards me. "I…Shikamaru…I…I…please…"

"Hey," he snuck his legs and arms around me from behind, gently holding me in an unfamiliar embrace. "Don't hide. You're pretty cool, you know, as long as you stop calling yourself stupid and useless. That's just annoying."

"N-no…" I stuttered frantically, unsure of what to do or where to put my hands. My chest exploded with heat, warmth and amazement. "Everyone will be mean to you!"

"Not if they don't know," Shikamaru told me craftily. "Besides, I've always said girls were troublesome. Especially Ino. What's up with dieting all the time?" Lips pressing against my ear, he grinned as I clutched sweaty fingers to his wrists. Taking one of my hands in his, he raised it to the sky with him, pointing out a small, wispy cloud.

"That cloud," he said, "Looks like a butterfly."

;; Thank you for reading!