Disclaimer - I don't own Naruto.
Hesitantly, it always seemed like she was hesitating, Ino touched his hand, terrified to look into his eyes. This was something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. It was probably because failure terrified her. Friends came easily, and because she was still young she could do physical tasks almost without thinking about it, and new skills she could master with nothing more than hard work, but not this. This ranked as one of the hardest to bear, one of the most awkward moments of her life.
Was there something wrong with her? Her friends had been in relationships before, although she couldn't be sure of the depth, considering the fact that none of those relationships had lasted. All she knew was that she was desperately afraid of being hurt and had been as long as she could remember. Any and all potential boyfriends had been pushed away the moment they showed interest beyond the superficial. She'd only had two real male friends her whole life, and they'd both started out as guys she wouldn't dream of dating and who she was certain would never dream of dating her. It was safer that way. She'd never voiced this to anyone, not even Sakura. It was probably the result of too many stories with too many happy endings and too much fantasy. Not enough reality in her life, which was hard to believe considering the fact that she was a kunochi. But there must not have been, after all, she'd grown up watching her parents live out happily ever after. But now there was Shikamaru. Just thinking about this made her sick to her stomach. She broke the touch and looked up at him.
Shouldn't she be able to read his emotions by now? In every relationship, weren't there indistinguishable glances cast from one partner to other, inside jokes without words? It wasn't fair he could read her so easily when his eyes told her nothing. Nothing, she repeated mentally for emphasis. How was she supposed to know the meaning of those sidelong looks he sometimes gave her, when he excelled at hiding everything else from her?
Ino didn't think he'd noticed how much that touch had cost her. When it came to romance, he was the dumbest smart person she'd ever met.
"What do you want?" he asked her, his tone slightly annoyed though she knew he was curious. In the past, she'd always got his attention by yelling or hitting him over his head. How was it that a light touch had proved more effective than all the abuse she'd rained down on him over the years? The irony made her smile.
"Will you walk me home?" she asked, knowing he'd ask why and she'd have to tell him.
He only stared at her a moment. "Sure."
She'd been wrong then. He wanted her to tell him on her own.
He held the door open for her on their way out of the administration building. They hadn't left together, arrived together, or been in the same place together more than once a week in months. She was horrible at maintaining relationships. It was much easier to stay busy, to train in her spare time, or work in the flower shop, than to search for him, only to find he was out on another mission. But lately the stress was becoming too much to handle without him. Maybe he hadn't complained because he'd been waiting for her to discover she needed him.
She watched him as he walked along, his long legs carrying him a step ahead of her. His head was tilted up towards the clouds. A ray of sunlight glinted off his left earring, blinding her eyes for a moment. Ino remembered the day they'd all gotten the matching earrings- her, Shikamaru, and Chouji- before they'd even been a genin team. A day a lot like this one, warm and breezy with a few clouds, in the middle of summer. She'd been ten and afraid to get her ears pierced all by herself, but she'd wanted to keep it a surprise for her parents, so she hadn't asked them to come with her. Instead she'd found Shikamaru and dragged him and a chubby boy - she'd seen him around Shikamaru before - to the store with her.
She still would have chickened out in the end if Chouji hadn't suggested Shikamaru get his ears pierced first, to prove to Ino it wouldn't hurt too much. Shikamaru had only sighed and sat in the chair, muttering something about his mother killing him later. But he'd gone through with it. Even then he could take pain. He'd sat through the entire thing with the same bored expression while Ino and Chouji watched with wide eyes. The clerk who pierced his ears declared he'd been so good and they were all so cute that they could each pick out a pair off earrings for free. She'd probably sensed that of all the ten year olds, only Ino had money anyway. Buoyed by Shikamaru's nonchalance at the whole ear-piercing experience, Ino had practically jumped into the chair as soon as he stood. Then she'd made Shikamaru and Chouji each hold one of her hands. Shikamaru had rolled his eyes, but complied without more than a muttered complaint. Chouji had agreed readily enough, his eyes on the clerk, his other hand clutching a potato chip bag. Ino didn't remember the pain, only sitting there with Shikamaru and Chouji on either side.
After her ears were pierced, she'd stepped from the chair, still holding both their hands and insisted that Chouji get both his ears pierced too. He'd shrugged and agreed, gotten through it with only a wince, and then they'd all stood in front of the earring wall, staring at the racks and racks of choices. Shikamaru had picked a pair of small silver hoops while Ino was still stunned with the prospect of picking anything from such a display. In her child's mind, she'd wanted to share more with these two new friends and had insisted they all get the same pair. Shikamaru had shrugged and glanced out the window towards the clouds, Chouji had mumbled yes through a mouth filled with potato chips, the clerk had said something about how cute that would be, and they'd gotten the small silver hoops, which had suited Ino just fine.
They still suited her just fine many years later.
"Something wrong?" Shikamaru asked, somehow managing to sound as if he didn't care to hear the answer one way or another. But she was used to that tone from him.
Ino fingered one of her earrings. She almost said no, but she'd learned, as a result of many hard lessons, to think before she spoke. "Not really." Most of the time anyway.
"You aren't your usual troublesome self," he commented dryly.
Ino tried to hold back a smile, "I'm not always loud, bossy and violent."
"So you are aware of your dominating characteristics," Shikamaru mused aloud.
"You didn't have to say that. It's rude to insult a lady," Ino sniffed. Trust Shikamaru to drain all the touchiness away from a possibly touching moment.
"How have you been, Ino?" he asked, totally ignoring her complaint.
Ino decided she could afford to let the issue slide. She didn't feel like having a one-sided argument with Shikamaru. "Busy, since I became a jounin. The pay raise let me keep my apartment, but paying the bills every month makes everything worse. And because of my missions, it's only this past month that I've had time to settle in."
Ino paused and looked down at her shoes as they trudged down the street. Right. Left. Right. Left. Had it really been a month since Shikamaru had visited her? A month for her to sit back and realize she wanted him to? Most girls saw their boyfriends more often, but Ino had told him there was no need for them to be dependent on each other. She'd actually said she refused to be dependent on him. She remembered what that had done to Sakura when they were kids. But now she was having second thoughts. Was dependency a part of love?
"How have you been, Shikamaru? Every time I drop by your apartment you're gone. Has Tsunande-sama been running you ragged?"
Shikamaru sighed. "I only got back last night from a mission and she called me to the administration building this morning."
Ino couldn't help but giggle. "And all you want to do is stare at the clouds?"
"I do have other interests, such as the reason you requested me to walk you home. You're a jounin. You can take care of yourself, and it's only noon."
Damn it! Did he have to go straight for the jugular? It wasn't like he was going to believe her unless he saw it for himself, or heard it, or whatever was going to happen. Assuming something did happen and it wasn't just a product of too many stories, too much imagination, and a little trepidation at the thought of living alone. Or she was going crazy.
"Isn't that what guys do, walk their girlfriends home?" Ino tried.
Shikamaru let out a long suffering sigh.
Ino sighed too. "I'd rather not tell you until we get there," she admitted. "You do have time for lunch, right?"
Shikamaru sighed again. "Ino–"
"I know you're tired," Ino rushed to interrupt, "but this is really important or I wouldn't ask! I've got a feeling it has something to do with you, call it women's intuition. You're the only one who can help me out with this, Shikamaru. Please, just stay for half an hour and if nothing happens, I won't bother you again. I promise."
"You're not bothering me, Ino. I was going to tell you I always have time for you." There was a long silence in which Ino didn't know what to say. "And I wondered if you're cooking has improved."
Ino felt a flush rise to her cheeks. Apparently she was a lot closer to losing it than she thought if she freaked out at the thought of Shikamaru refusing to come. Life at her apartment was wearing her thin. But she knew Shikamaru was the only person who could help her solve this particular problem. It wasn't because he was smart either. She didn't know why exactly, just that this was the truth.
"Ino?" he asked.
She didn't know what he was asking exactly, so she decided to answer the easy question. "My cooking has never needed improvement," she said stuffily. "It's been years since I made you anything. I'm low on food though, so how does tea and ramen sound?"
"As long as I have somewhere to sit."
"Don't worry. The place is furnished," Ino said. "I have had time to go furniture shopping." It had been a relief to get out of the apartment.
They were silent.
"So did you hear about Neji," Ino asked, steering the conversation away from her apartment. She'd rather not think about it if she didn't have to.
Shikamaru smirked. "I heard from Naruto the same day. Lee forced Neji and some of the rest of us to go out and party."
"So what happened?"
"Neji's a happy drunk."
"Aw come on, Shika," Ino protested. "You can't leave me with just that."
"Neji would kill me if I told you."
"No way," Ino scoffed. "You reached chuunin rank before he did."
"That doesn't mean much since he's anbu and I'm not," Shikamaru observed.
"He'll never find out."
"He and Tenten are engaged."
"I heard about that. Don't try and change the subject." Ino said, a little upset that he wouldn't answer her question. She didn't want her mind to have room to wander back to the subject of her apartment.
"Tell me why you want me to come to your apartment so bad and I'll tell you about Neji."
Oh he was a sly one.
"Nice try. I don't want to know that bad."
Shikamaru shrugged. "Suit yourself, then."
"There doesn't have to be a reason," Ino said, flustered. "Can't I invite you for lunch because you're my boyfriend?"
"You would have invited me out, not to your apartment."
"But you haven't seen it yet. I want you to know where it is."
"I know where it is. You need me for something else."
"I don't only talk to you when I want something from you."
"This isn't worth arguing over."
That hurt. But there was no way she was going to admit it. Shikamaru was so busy. She felt selfish asking him to come over just to talk when he was needed so much and so often by the village. As a result, the only times she felt she had reason enough to talk to him were when she had no one else to turn to. Because she had to admit, she was troublesome.
"No," she agreed. "It's not."
They walked in silence, Ino slightly ahead of Shikamaru. She suppressed a sigh. Why did she always feel the need to argue with him over things that truly didn't matter? It was probably because he was stubborn and she was stubborn. Sure, he would never claim to be as hard to move as a rock, but he was, oh he was.
She moved in close to him and wrapped her arms around his left arm, leaning her head against his shoulder. She was glad he'd gotten so much taller than her. She could wear heels when they went out! Ino smiled at the thought. If they ever went out. Her smile dimmed.
"Ino." He stopped walking.
She stopped too, holding on to his arm tighter and closing her eyes against the noon sun as she stood next to him.
"Ino," he said again, his voice uncharacteristically soft.
Ino sighed and leaned into him. "Yeah, Shika?" It was pleasant standing here by him. For a moment she wished they'd never reach her house. Spending the rest of her life walking next to him would be nice.
He moved to encircle her in his arms and she let him, moving her arms up and around his neck without opening her eyes. She leaned her head against his chest and listened to his heart beat.
She felt his lips on her hair.
"I'll tell you later."
She wasn't the only one hesitating.
"Okay," Ino said.
He released her completely, but she snagged his hand and held it as they started walking again.
"How long until your next mission?" Ino asked, suddenly never wanting him to leave.
"A week. I requested time off to evaluate some things."
"Great," Ino smiled brightly. "You can take me out to dinner tonight, and then we can go dancing. I haven't been dancing in so long. I can teach you to salsa."
"How about just dinner?"
Ino smiled inwardly as she pretended to pout. If she'd suggested only dinner he wouldn't have given in so easily. "But Shikamaru, we've never been out dancing before."
"What about that fall dance you forced me to go to?"
"That was three years ago and we weren't a couple then. It doesn't count. But don't worry, dinner is fine. We'll save dancing for a super special occasion," Ino decided enthusiastically. That would be something to look forward to. She'd have to bring her camera.
Shikamaru must have chosen not to comment because he didn't say anything. He probably figured she'd forget about it eventually. Well, he knew she wouldn't, so he was probably thinking up ways to get out of it. As if she was ever going to let that happen.
"We're here," Ino tried to say cheerfully. He raised his eyebrows slightly to let her know he'd seen through her poor attempt.
"A super special occasion," he muttered, followed by, "so troublesome."
Ino was experiencing too much apprehension to care as she released his hand to reach in her weapons pouch and retrieve her key. Would it start to happen right away, or would it wait until she was settled? A thing like that shouldn't have been able to wait, but it did. Ino shivered as she placed the key in the lock and turned the door handle.
It was dim inside. Ino turned on the light switch. Everything was as she'd left it that morning. Momentary relief washed over her as she stepped across the threshold and placed her key back in her pouch. She heard Shikamaru follow behind her, his steps light on the hardwood floor.
"Where's the kitchen? I want to sit down while I wait for food."
Ino smiled a little. That was just like him. "It's back here on the right. Follow me. I guess I'll put water on the stove for the miso. I can make some rice too if you'd like," she offered as she led the way through the small living room.
"Good. I haven't had time to eat since I got back."
"But I thought you got back last night. You didn't have time for breakfast?"
"I took a shower and fell in bed. I was late waking up, so I had to run to the Hokage's office."
Ino smiled a little more as they entered the kitchen. "You actually ran? I didn't know you had it in you."
"It's only because of what she did to me the last time I was late," Shikamaru muttered. He'd sat down at the table already and was currently staring at her sideways because his head was lying on the table.
This time it was a real smile. Ino shook her head as she grabbed the closest clean pot and held it under the tap. "I don't even want to know," she said over the sound of running water flowing into the pan.
She shut off the water and turned the left front burner on, placing the pot on top of it so the water would boil. She got another pot out and started the water for the rice.
Something in his voice made her turn around. He was looking at her funny. His head still sideways on the table, his eyes still half closed, but alert.
She gave him a questioning look.
He sat up. "Come over here, please."
Please? Shikamaru never said please. Ino's heart started beating faster. Something was happening then. She walked toward him until she stood right beside him, looking down at his face as he watched something above the stove. He wasn't scared or intimidated, just curious, and a little wary.
"What is it?" Ino asked, thankful when her voice came out clear and confident.
He was silent for a moment before speaking. "The cupboards are opening. It's so slow I didn't notice at first. What kind of jutsu is this?" he wondered aloud. "I don't sense any ninja in the area besides us."
"There aren't any," Ino told him, dreading the thought of turning around. "It keeps happening and I don't know what's causing it."
"Your cupboards keep opening?" Shikamaru asked, surprise evident in his voice. "The building must be built on a slant."
"No," Ino shook her head, "Things keep moving on their own," she confessed. "It's weird. Until now, it's only happened when I'm alone. Sakura's been over a few times and nothing happened then. I thought I was going crazy. I've been taking extra missions lately, just to get away."
"Ino, you should have told me sooner. I'm going to find the ninja that's causing this. It must be some kind of genjutsu, or chakra strings like Tenten uses maybe."
"We're both jounin. Do you sense any chakra?"
"None besides yours, but it's the only explanation. This ninja must be beyond both our levels."
"Why would an upper level ninja waste all his or her time haunting my house for a month?"
Shikamaru stood and walked past from her, towards the cupboards.
Ino held her breath and turned around. He was reaching up towards two cupboards. He yanked them violently open in one swift movement. As one, the rest of the cupboards flew open as well. Shikamaru had to jerk his hands away to avoid having them smashed between the cupboard doors. All the doors bounced violently against each other before settling in various half open positions. Shikamaru closed the two cupboards directly in front of him. Then he went around the kitchen and closed the rest. Ino let out her breath when nothing more happened.
"It's going to be worse now," Ino heard herself say.
Shikamaru turned narrow eyes to meet her wide gaze.
"It's always worse when I try and fight it," she explained. At once, all the adrenaline drained from her. She sank down in the chair Shikamaru had just vacated, suddenly tired. "Maybe I should just move out and let whoever rents this place next deal with it."
The water was boiling. Shikamaru turned to the stove. "I'll cook."
Ino nodded tiredly at his back. "Thanks, Shika. I just need to rest until something happens." Her voice grew softer. "Just a little while."
She dreamt of the day Shikamaru had asked her to be his girlfriend. It had been a windy night with an almost full moon. They'd been lying out in his field on the grass, watching wispy clouds as they blew across the stars. She'd gotten cold and rolled into him so she was no longer facing the stars, but watching his face as his chest rose up and down. He'd put an arm around her and she'd pressed against him, trying to find the warmest position. She'd stilled with a sigh after she'd gotten comfortable and closed her eyes.
"You're troublesome, you know that Ino."
He'd told her that many times. Ino made a noise of acknowledgement in the back of her throat.
"But I don't really mind," Shikamaru continued thoughtfully.
Well that was news to her. He always complained about how much she bothered him and how often she forced him to do troublesome things. 'I don't really mind', practically meant 'I like it' in Nara language. He'd never said that to her before.
"So when you say I'm troublesome, you really mean you can't live without me, huh?" Ino said with a smile.
Shikamaru smiled slightly. "I mean you're troublesome. I just don't mind as much as when other people are."
That practically meant, 'I like you better than everyone else'. Actually, it did mean that, which was fine with Ino, she realized. In fact, it was more than fine.
"I like you too, Shika."
He must have thought she was being sarcastic, because he rephrased his words. "I want something different with you, Ino." He paused. "I don't usually want things."
Ino opened her eyes and sat up. His arm fell to the grass. "Do you want to ask me something, Shika?" She was cold again from the wind.
"You're going to make me say it? You are troublesome, Ino."
Ino rolled her eyes but remained silent.
"It sounds so dumb," Shikamaru complained. He waited a moment. "Fine. Will you go out with me, Ino?"
"Yeah." Ino nodded.
"Then, it's time to wake up, Ino."
Ino wasn't cold anymore.
"Wake up, Ino," Shikamaru said.
"Huh?" Ino asked, opening her eyes sleepily. She was in her kitchen, in her apartment, and Shikamaru was leaning down so his face was in her face, which was on the table.
"Hey," Ino yelled, jumping up from the table. "You put me to sleep with a genjutsu!" She barely restrained herself from punching him.
"Are you going to eat that?"
Ino looked down at the table. He'd made ramen, rice she hadn't known for sure she actually had, and tea, and had it all set out neatly for two in front of her. "Don't do that again," she warned him, refusing to let his actions melt her resolve. Shikamaru never cooked for her. "Why did you?"
"To test a theory," Shikamaru replied, sitting down across from her. "About the apartment."
"Oh," said Ino, suddenly anxious. She sat down as well. "How does putting me to sleep prove anything?"
"It might prove something, but I can't tell you until I know for sure."
"You already know the problem," he told her, picking up his chopsticks. "I just have to figure out how to solve it."
"But I don't know the problem," Ino argued. "I only know the symptoms of the problem."
"Are you studying to be a medic-nin now?"
Ino blinked. "What?"
"You used the word 'symptoms'. I caught you with an elementary genjutsu. Have you come to the conclusion that you're not fit to be a jounin?"
"It's not like you to start arguments," Ino observed instead of getting angry. They both knew perfectly well that she made an excellent jounin.
"I think you were too busy being angry to notice before."
Ino admitted to herself that he was probably right. She was certainly beginning to mellow with age.
The meal passed in silence. At first Ino was too preoccupied wondering what Shikamaru's theory was and then she realized his ramen tasted better than hers and was too busy eating to talk. They were both waiting for something to happen.
"Shikamaru?" Ino said, when she was done eating and nothing had happened.
He looked up and met her eyes.
"I was wrong before, when I said I wasn't dependent on you," she admitted impulsively.
"Why are you telling me this now?"
Ino winced inwardly. "Because it's only worth telling if I'm telling it to you." She stopped, but he just stared at her. "Don't you know how long I've tried to stay independent?" she asked in irritation.
"Well I'm sorry you need me then," Shikamaru said sarcastically.
"Don't be," Ino said. "I'm just not used to it."
"Fine. So why are you telling me this now?" he asked again.
"You're making this really awkward," Ino accused, starting to get angry on purpose. Hey, that's what defense mechanisms were for.
"You feel awkward?"
Ino waited. "Hmm?" she asked when he said nothing more. "That's it?"
"You're not answering my question," he told her with a shrug.
A thump came from the living room.
"Do you have a cat?" Shikamaru asked.
Shikamaru sighed and stood from the table. "This is troublesome."
"You're going in there?" Ino asked.
"Why wouldn't I?"
A louder thump.
"It's better if you wait until it's over," she told him. "It'll last longer if you go in there."
Shikamaru blinked at her. "You're saying it likes attention?"
"If you ignore it, it gives up after a while."
"It doesn't have a personality, Ino."
"You think it's some kind of natural occurrence then, like a thunderstorm?" Ino asked sarcastically.
"Maybe," Shikamaru answered, turning his back on Ino and walking down the hallway into the living room.
Biting her lip with worry, Ino stood and followed him. She stopped in the doorway.
Ino hadn't been living in the apartment for very long, so she didn't have many knickknacks lying around. There wasn't much in the living room besides a couch, a couple chairs, a desk, and an end-table with a lamp on it. The thump she and Shikamaru had heard from the kitchen was the clear glass paperweight her mother had gotten her back in her academy days. The tiny bubbles in the glass made up a bouquet of flowers. It was banging itself against the floor in the center off the room.
Shikamaru walked towards it.
"Shika, I-", Ino started.
"Shh," he said. He reached down in one quick motion and grasped the paperweight in the palm of his hand.
The couch cushions flew up behind him, spun him around with a hit on the shoulder, and knocked him flat on his behind. Then they fell inanimate to the floor in front of the sofa. The expression of surprise on his face was so comical that Ino would've laughed if it hadn't been for the fact that her couch cushions had just attacked her boyfriend.
"Are you okay?" she asked, rushing over to him.
"Your floor's hard," he grumbled, accepting her hand and allowing her to pull him up. "You should get carpet."
Her eyes widened incredulously. "That's all you can say?"
He grimaced and opened his other hand to reveal the paperweight he was still holding. "Is your mom working in the flower shop now?"
"What does she have to do with anything?"
"I need to talk to her. Is she there?"
Ino shook her head. "She's at home. The girl she hired runs the shop alone today."
"I'll talk to her while you go grocery shopping. You need to restock anyway."
"I don't want you alone in the house."
Why Shikamaru needed to talk to her mother, she had no idea, but she trusted him to help her, so she nodded.
"I'll find you in the market," he told her, sitting the paperweight down on the end table next to the sofa.
They left the house, Ino locking the door behind her, and stood in the street. The market was left. Ino's parents lived away towards the right. "Thanks for doing this," Ino said. Knowing Shikamaru was solving the problem made her feel a lot lighter.
He shrugged. "It's the least I can do for lunch. Oh wait. I made that."
"Don't forget you're taking me out to dinner too," Ino said, sticking out her tongue at him and turning to walk to the market.
"Women," she heard him mutter.
She shouldn't have bought that crate of Clementine oranges, Ino reflected as she headed to the next stand to buy some rice, but really, she was in love with Clementines. The little fruits were so tart that they made her lips pucker, and they were seedless and easy to peel. They were only ripe a certain time of the year, and this happened to be it, so of course she had to buy a crate so she could enjoy their citrusy goodness later. Only, why did they have to come in crates?
She sat down her three bags in front of the rice stand and contemplated the prices. All rice tasted the same to her, so if she simply bought the cheapest one, life would be good. And she seemed to be lucky today, because the price of rice was at an all time low. She bought ten pounds.
No doubt she looked pretty comical, headed to the fish stand, juggling four grocery bags, but sometimes you had to shop even at the cost of such things as grace and dignity. If only someone she knew would walk by, preferably Lee. He'd probably carry all her bags. And just where the hell was Shikamaru? He'd probably seen how many bags she was carrying and decided to meet her at her apartment after all, the lazy ass. Just why was she in love with him again?
"I'll take that," he said, shouldering the heaviest bags – the one with the rice and the one with the Clementines.
He did have his redeeming qualities.
"What took you so long?" she asked huffily, actually able to see now that she only held two bags.
"Your mother," he said, leaning forward and surprising her by kissing her mouth lightly. "Let's get back to the apartment and take care of our problem."
"But I still need-"
"We'll come back," he cut her off, turning and threading his way through the crowd. She followed him. Shikamaru was becoming a little too accustomed to giving orders for her liking, but she'd straighten him out once she had her hands free. He'd kissed her just now. He didn't usually show much affection in public. He put an arm around her waist at a rare party maybe, but he didn't kiss her.
She waited until they were back inside her apartment to explode. "What was that!"
He blinked at her from where he stood in the middle of the kitchen, hands in his pockets. "What?"
"You kissed me!"
"You're my girlfriend. Aren't I allowed to?" he pointed out.
"You never kiss me in public, so why did you just now?"
"I want to kiss you a lot, Ino. It's just most of the time you're too far away."
Ino blushed, but narrowed her eyes. "So this time it was convenient!"
"This time you were there and I was there and I wanted to kiss you and I thought you'd let me get away with it. I guess I was wrong."
Ino rubbed the palm of her hand against her forehead in frustration. "I'm not understanding."
"No," he agreed.
"This is a lot harder than I thought."
"Us." There. She'd said the dreaded word. Either he'd run away screaming from commitment or he'd start getting all defensive or something. But she'd made up her mind to talk about their pitiful excuse for a relationship, so that was what they were both going to do. She waited for his reaction.
It wasn't quite the reaction she'd been hoping for. Ino sank down into a chair at the table. Copying the way he'd sat earlier, she slumped forward so that her chin rested against the table. Her eyes were on level with his waist. "I just want you, Shika. Why is this so hard?" Judging by the way she'd acted towards him in the past, she'd only made it harder.
He sat down across from her. Now she got an eyeful of his dark green jounin vest. "You never act like you do."
"What do you want me to do, throw myself at you all the time?" Ino scoffed. "You'd start avoiding me like the plague."
"It's too troublesome to avoid you," he told her.
"Do you want to know the real reason I took off work for a week?" he asked, leaning forward against the table so that his position mirrored hers. They were staring across the small table at each other. "You," he continued. "To find out if you still want me around."
Ino's eyes widened in surprise. Unbidden, a memory surfaced in her mind of the day he'd told her, back when they'd first started going out, that he probably wouldn't be able to see her as often as she liked. She'd been too disappointed to stop the words flowing from her mouth. She'd said that was fine, they didn't need to be emotionally dependent on each other. She'd hurt him and known it, but she hadn't known how to take it back.
"Of course I want you around," she said, reaching across the table and taking one of his hands in hers. This slumped position was getting really awkward. Her chin hurt. How could Shikamaru stand sitting like this?
"I've needed you forever," she confessed, toying with his fingers. "But I don't want to be selfish. Konoha needs you too."
"I need you to be selfish," he whispered, locking her gaze with his own.
The table between them crashed on its side. Only their shinobi reflexes saved them from bruises. They both jumped to their feet as the chairs they'd been sitting on decided to levitate, floating around the ceiling in wobbling circles. Ino and Shikamaru crouched on the tiled floor to avoid being hit in the head by a chair leg.
"Being around you is very troublesome," he muttered.
"Did you find out why this is happening?" Ino asked, keeping a wary eye on the rotating chairs.
"It's your fault."
"My fault!" Ino screeched. "How is this my fault!"
A chair swooped down and almost hit Shikamaru in the head, but he seemed to have been expecting it, because he calmly moved his head to the left.
"That's what your mother told me."
"You told my mother, and she said it's my fault!" Ino yelled incredulously. "And I suppose I make it rain and write porn novels too."
The chairs clattered to the kitchen tile between them. A drawer opened. The knife Ino used to chop sushi floated towards her.
"Shit!" Ino shrieked, reflexively reaching into the weapons pouch at her waist and pulling out a kunai. If she threw the kunai, what would happen? Would it stop in midair and float back to her? Even if she knocked the knife to the ground and it stayed down, she owned more than one kitchen knife.
"Ino, stop it!" Shikamaru said, standing once again, a kunai in his hand as well.
"You're telling me to watch my language when a haunted knife is attacking me!" Ino shrieked.
"Your mother said this happened before," he told her, eyes clouded with worry, "when your father went away on a year long mission. You were three. She said it stopped once he came back and never happened again. It's a subconscious jutsu your body performs on its own, Ino."
Her eyes widened in shock. "You're saying I did this to myself?"
"Earlier, the paperweight was a gift from your mother. The couch cushions meant I was supposed to sit and talk to her. And now the table crashed to the floor to eliminate the space between us, the chairs above our heads to bring us closer together."
"The cupboards?" she asked, startled that Shikamaru had a rational explanation for all this. And here she'd been thinking an ancient shinobi burial ground was the cause of her problems.
"I think you wanted me to make lunch."
Well, she had. "The knife?"
"You're subconscious is trying to force you to understand."
Ino shook herself from her daze and nodded. "I think I know why this is happening."
"You miss your family."
Ino shook her head slowly, eyes trained on the kitchen knife. "I miss you."
The kitchen knife clattered against the tile. She'd finally given in to the fact that she needed him. With the type of jutsus her family used, the type that relied heavily on control over not just one's own mind, but over the mind of another, she had to possess a strong will. Anything less, and she'd literally lose her mind. Control over herself was essential to Ino's life. That was why she hadn't admitted she was in love with Shikamaru more than whispering to herself. There was no control when it came to her feelings about him. She'd barely let herself think it- love. 'Like' was alright. Sure she 'liked' him, but love was something else.
So she'd put it off- saying she was in love with him- put it off until her own subconsciousness gave her an ultimatum. Maybe she was crazy after all.
"You Yamanakas have too many mind tricks," Shikamaru observed, relaxing his stance and replacing his kunai in his weapons pouch. He glanced down at the kitchen knife.
She dropped her kunai on the floor, stood, and threw herself on him in a tight embrace. "I miss you so much when you're gone."
"It's not like you don't go on missions too," he said, reaching out and gingerly returning her embrace.
He didn't say anything for a while, just stood there and held her as she breathed in the scent of him through his jounin jacket.
"Are we going out for real this time?" he asked.
His tone was slightly hesitant. Shikamaru never hesitated. He took his time and thought things through maybe, but he never hesitated. It made Ino feel a little better, knowing she could make him act a little out of the ordinary. Maybe she could get him to take her dancing after all, one of these days.
"I hope so," she said, leaning back and meeting his eyes.
They smiled at each other.
A/N - I hope you had a wonderful time reading.