The petals are falling. Pink and white, a blizzard of them swirling in cyclone dances across the courtyard. Everything is set up. Chairs line in two rows beneath the cherry trees and the altar is all ready, draped with a green cloth with the leaf of our village worked on it. Everyone is here, talking amongst eachother in small groups. Lee glowing with enthusiasim, even though this ceremony has nothing to do with him. He's had his ceremony already. Though, to anyone who could do math, judging by the pink haired, bushy eyebrowed baby in Sakura's arms, the ceremony came just in time. Naruto is once again trying to be the center of attention, talking animatedly to Iruka who seems to listen, but keeps glancing toward Kakashi when Naruto isn't paying attention. Sasuke and Gaara are glooming under the shade of the trees. Separate trees, almost directly opposite each other. They'd gloom on any day. But today they seem particularly dour. Every once in a while they'll glare at eachother across the space, I hope no one gets caught in the crossfire.

A shadow falls over me. A barely there shadow with skinny hands on equally thin hips. I pop another chip in my mouth, pretending not to notice. Perhaps she'll go away, though that's doubtful.

"Chouji!" she shrieks. Her snake quick hand snatches my snack away.

"Ino," I say, forced to look up at her.

"How could you be eating at a time like this!" she snaps, shaking the bag. "You're such a pig! You make everyone look bad."

"So? I'm hungry. Could I have it back please?" I ask, trying not to let her words get to me. They always do though, sneaking under my skin, slicing at my heart. I can't help but glare just a little. She throws her blond hair back and glares. I knew I wasn't going to get it back.

"You are the best man! It's up to me to see that you actually look decent for once."

"Why is it up to you?" I ask, trying not to let my annoyance show.

"Because it is." She smiles then. It's a thin, not at all happy expression. "Besides, you want Shikamaru to have a nice ceremony, don't you?" I watch her. Her smile becomes more and more forced the longer I stare.

"I thought you liked Sasuke," I say, patting around for the candy I'd hidden somewhere.

"This has nothing to do with that!" she says, throwing the chip bag on the ground. "You just find Shikamaru and bring him back here. I don't care if you have to drag him."

I blink at her. I didn't know he was missing. I still thought he was getting ready. Ino makes a huffy noise and stalks off, hair swinging. I watch her go. I didn't think she liked Shikamaru that well. Or maybe, I smirk, she's just jealous because she's becoming an old maid. I indulge in that thought for a moment as I pick my chips off the ground and take out the contaminated ones before turning to the task at hand.

Shikamaru isn't here, that's for sure. I start to leave the courtyard, pausing for a moment as Gaara and Sasuke glare lasers at eachother. Hinata and Kiba are coming from the other way, passing through the hate beams without getting singed. Though that might have something to do with the fact that their hands are linked together. Neji is behind them though and hangs back, either sensing the danger or because he's broody himself. I eat another chip. Sasuke and Gaara drop their gazes and it's safe.

I wander out of the courtyard. A fresh spring breeze shifts through the air, sending a flurry of petals with it. A few spiral down to greet me, landing light as a butterflies kiss on my nose. I smile at it, brushing it off with two fingers, and then tuck it in my shirt.

Kanoha is near deserted, everyone either out on outings or gearing up for the ceremony. Not a lot of people will be coming, of course, not like they would for Neji or Sasuke. Nor ever would they. Both seemed content on staying under their storm clouds of resentment. I glance along the walls, in the comfortable places. Shaded alleys, benches in the overhangs of buildings. Something quite and dark but with a nice view. Then I see him crouched by the wall, fingers steepled, head bowed.

I sit next to him, flopping on the stone, staring up at the clouds. I say nothing but munch my snack. Shikamaru knows I'm here…and he knows why I'm here. And I think I know why he's here, too. I glance at him. His face has sharpened over the years. The hard planes of maturity has sharpened his cheekbones and filled the curve of his shoulders. But he's still beautiful. The soft breeze comes down to play with us, ruffling his dark hair in a quiet sigh. I want to touch it…bury my fingers in the dark silky strands.

"I'm sure Temari makes a beautiful bride," I say, mostly to distract myself from my thoughts. But already my heart is beating fast. I put the chip bag down and resume my search for the candy. I need to bite into something. There is silence for a while.

"Getting married…might prove more troublesome then I thought," Shikamaru says. His voice has deepened too, not by much, but enough to send a chill through me. Where is that candy?

"To live with someone else. To adjust to their temperaments…"

"Did you think your wife would live in a separate house?" I ask, surprised my voice sounds normal when my insides definitely do not.

"No." He sighs and opens his eyes, staring off at nothing. "I couldn't even imagine that I'd know her so well. That I'd love her so much."

Well that killed the need for candy right there. Killed the need for pretty much everything. Though I knew it. Had known Shikamaru's feelings for a while. Even before he even knew they were there. That had been a depressing time.

"Love is troublesome," I say. It makes you unsure. Awkward. It's not just one emotion, but all emotions rolled into one. It's as if the whole world is spinning and one moment you're delirious and the next… "It's depressing."

"I don't know if I've ever felt depressed." Shikamaru sits, thinking finished, whatever decision he had to mull over made. He reaches out and I hold the chip bag under his hand. Wonderful talented Chouji, always knows when someone is ready for food, I can't help but think. I clear away the bitter thoughts before they have time to root. The ceremony will be broody enough.

"If love depressed you, I don't think it would be worth it," Shikamaru continues.

"Not when it's the only thing you have," I say. Then close my mouth tight. Did I just say that? Out loud? Voicing feelings is not an option here! I tell myself, quite firmly. Shikamaru glances at me. It's only a brief glance, but it tells more then a years worth of words. He knows what I just said. And what I meant by it. Though hopefully not the full extent of it. Please not the full extent of it. My heart is slamming against my ribs and every beat sends a sick cold feeling through me.

"You shouldn't settle for pain," Shikamaru says finally, revealing nothing of what he knows. "If you're in love, you should do something about it."

Like what? Kiss you. Oh, that would go over well. Though how many nights have I dreamed about it? How many nights…days even had I imagined. How many times had I nearly had an embarrassing incident because of it? Shikamaru sighs.

"I mean find someone better. You're a good person, Chouji. Someone is out there for you." He crosses his arms behind his head. "You probably don't even have to look. I bet he'll just fall into your lap one day."

I don't want to believe him. I want to feel bitter and depressed and resentful…but darnit… It's hard not to believe someone so intelligent. In the distance, a bell rings. We'd better get there soon.

"One day," I say, standing. "But today is your day." I hold out a hand to him. "Stop worrying. It will be all right." I smile. He stares up at me, then his hand is in mine. I can feel the heat of his palm, the callusos on his fingers. Hot electric sparks shooting through every part of my body. Need candy. Chips. Anything distract self. Must distract self.

"If you get an erection now, Ino will kill you," Shikamaru says. I stare at him, totally off guard.

"Huh?" I say. Way to sound intelligent, Chouji.

"Can you just imagine the look on her face?" Shikamaru continues. And suddenly, I can. And suddenly, it's funny. Hilariously funny. Before I know it I'm laughing so hard it almost hurts. I crouch, grabbing my stomach, trying to contain myself. Shikamaru is laughing too.

"Are you insane!" Ino's voice pierces the air. "There's a wedding happening. One of you needs to be there!"

"All right, Chouji," Shikamaru says, in perfect seriousness. "You're up. Make Temari happy." I stand, brushing off my clothes and nod.

"It will be my honor."

Ino narrows her eyes, folds her arms and cocks her hips to the side.

"You had better be joking."

Shikamaru gives her a look and we walk past her without another word. Ahh. Snubbing Ino. Is there anything better? I fold my arms behind my head and watch the petals swirl. It's going to be a beautiful day. As we pass into the courtyard, I see Neji standing by the wall, arms folded, blank eyes narrowed. He looks up at me as we pass.

"Hey, sexy," I say, winking. Neji stares, looking like I'd just hit him upside the head with a sack of bricks. Shikamaru laughs again and I laugh too. Yes, it's going to be a beautiful day.


Yay for Naruto!Fic

And thanks to my bear! You know who you are.