Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, I'm not getting paid for this, etc.
Notes: At first glance, one character might seem completely out of character, but people do crazy things when they're... well, you'll see. And this is in no way connected to my other Naruto stories.
Summary: Ino discovers a mysterious bruise on her neck, but can't recall how it got there.
A Naruto Ficlet by
Nate Grey (XMAN0123-at-aol-dot-com)
"Looking good, Ino. Looking sooo hot and sexy and WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?"
The blonde kunoichi's daily admiring of herself in her bathroom mirror came to an abrupt halt as she spotted something she'd never seen on her body before.
A veritable stain on the gorgeous tapestry that was Yamanaka Ino.
Admittedly, it was a small one, so tiny that Ino had nearly missed it, but it was still there, and that mere fact alone demanded that something be done to correct the situation.
And yet, ten minutes and a small mountain of assorted beauty products later, the stubborn thing remained: unchanged, unmoved, and unwilling to be brought down or covered up in any way.
Clearly, this was war.
But Ino had no more time to be bothered with it just then. If she didn't leave the house in the next five minutes, she'd be late for her morning training session, and then that damned Shikamaru would mutter something about how troublesome women in general (and Ino in particular) were, and there was no way she was going to let him badmouth her today. Chances were, she'd be too distracted by her little imperfection, and would therefore be unable to deliver a properly scathing comment in return.
"I hope you're happy," Ino growled, glaring at the offending (but again, tiny) crimson mark on her neck. "You've managed to ruin my whole day, and it's barely even gotten started yet!" She probably only imagined that the bruise grew darker and larger in response, but it was difficult to be sure, angry as she was at the moment.
So, certain that nothing good would come of this particular day, Ino stomped off, muttering and swearing under her breath all the while.
"Chouji, gimme your scarf."
The plump boy barely had time to look up as Ino snatched the scarf from his neck and wound it tightly around her own. "Hey, that's my-"
"Here," she snapped, dropping a bag of powdered doughnuts in his lap.
Quite predictably, all thoughts of the scarf were forgotten as Chouji tore into the bag as if he hadn't just been eating potato chips.
Ino sighed in both mild disgust and relief, glad that her little problem was solved, at least temporarily. It didn't matter if she had to blow a year's allowance on keeping Chouji chewing today, she wasn't taking off the scarf for anything. She couldn't possibly let anyone see the bruise, not unless she just couldn't find any other way to get rid of it.
Unfortunately, Ino was so focused on hiding her bruise, that she didn't stop to think about the implications of wearing that particular scarf.
Shikamaru did the moment he walked up, though.
"Hey, Ino. When did you and Chouji hook up?" he asked with a smirk.
Ino's eyes widened in horror at the very thought, then narrowed dangerously. "We didn't! I'm just cold!"
"Suuure," Shikamaru answered, grinning wickedly at her. "Just your neck is cold. I believe that."
"Shut up!" Ino shouted. "I am too cold!"
"Yeah, warm, sunny weather like this always gives me the shivers, too."
"Oooooh! If I didn't need to wear this, I'd strangle you with it!"
She didn't care for the way Shikamaru's face practically lit up at that comment.
"Oh, so now you need to wear it, huh? You must be freezing without the warmth of Chouji's looove..."
"You... GAH! Chouji! Tell him we're not together!" Ino demanded.
Chouji looked up, his lips a frosty white. "Huh? Oh. Yeah, we're not. Whatever." He popped another doughnut into his mouth.
"See? I told you! So there!" Ino crowed triumphantly.
She wasn't surprised to see the defeated look on Shikamaru's face. She was, however, shocked when his expression became one of pure rage.
"Fine. Keep the stupid thing on!" he snapped, causing Ino to draw back in shock. "You look like an idiot with it, anyway!"
Usually, Ino could brush off any of Shikamaru's insults, because she knew he didn't really mean them in a sincerely hurtful way. This time, however, the words had hurt, because deep down, she knew that he really did feel that way.
The moment their training session ended, Ino ran off, feeling Shikamaru's angry gaze on the back of her neck as she did so. She couldn't imagine why he'd gotten so upset over a silly thing like her borrowing Chouji's scarf. Chouji didn't care, and he was compensated for it, so why should Shikamaru make such a big deal out of it?
"Maybe he thinks we really are dating, and he's upset that we didn't tell him," Ino mused aloud as she headed for the hospital. With any luck, Sakura would be there, and hopefully her medic-nin training included vanishing odd bruises. Although, she'd probably accuse Ino of being vain, and list a whole number of reasons why it was better to let the bruise fade naturally than to waste chakra on it. But Ino could always accuse her of being unable to clear up the bruise, and that would hit Sakura where it really hurt. Sure, it was a little underhanded, but if being sneaky was all that stood between Ino and her usual perfection, the choice was all too clear.
"Hmm. And you say you don't know how you got it?" Sakura asked curiously, giving Ino's bruise another firm poke.
"Yes! I mean no! Now quit poking at it!" Ino growled, slapping Sakura's finger away. "Can you fix it or not?"
"Well, I'm going to need some more information first. I mean, do you have any idea how long it's been there?"
Ino opened her mouth, but then shut it. She had nearly missed the bruise entirely this morning. Maybe it had been there for a few days or weeks, possibly even longer than that.
"Ino, you can't just go around healing things you don't know anything about," Sakura explained patiently. "It could have a bad reaction to my chakra, and I might make things worse. And since you don't know when you got it, for all you know, you could've been born with it."
"It's not a beauty mark!" Ino shouted.
"For all you know, it could be," Sakura replied uncertainly.
"Don't you think if I'd had this thing on my neck all along, you would've made fun of it by now?" Ino demanded.
"That's... actually a good point. Okay, so let's say it's new. You still don't know where it came from. It could be the start of a rash. Maybe you brushed a weird plant while you were training."
"So you're saying you can't fix it," Ino deadpanned.
"I'm saying I care too much about your health to risk making it worse," Sakura corrected with a thin smile. "One of us should, anyway. But just one more question."
"What?" Ino sighed.
"When's the last time you went out on a date?"
"I think I've seen this sort of thing before," Sakura murmured, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "It could just be a love bite."
Ino stared at her blankly.
Sakura sighed and puckered her lips. "You know, when the guy kisses your neck, and then kinda suck-"
"I know what it is! And that is none of your business, forehead girl!"
"It is since you came to me first, little Ino-pig!"
Ino's face turned bright red, both from anger and embarrassment. "I haven't been on any dates, ever," she muttered at last.
Sakura gaped at her in shock. "Really? You?"
Ino glared at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! It's just... you've always been so pretty and popular, Ino. I just figured you had tons of guys-"
"I didn't mean it like that, honest! I just thought you could have any guy you wanted, whenever you wanted, that's all."
"Well, even if I could, I haven't, okay? So thanks for nothing!" Ino stood up and turned to leave, but Sakura gently caught her arm.
"Ino, wait! Please. I really do want to help you."
"Why?" Ino muttered.
"Because you're my best friend. I promise I'll help you find some answers, if you'll just be patient."
"And you really think it's just a love bite?" Ino asked quietly.
"Ino... I don't think it's 'just' anything," Sakura clarified. "It'd be one thing if you were dating. But the fact that you have this bruise, and no memory of getting it... it could mean that someone took advantage of you. Maybe they used genjutsu to confuse you. I think we need to tell someone."
Ino's face drained of all color. "But... it's just a little bruise. I'd know if... if..." She trailed off uncertainly, staring at the hopelessly sad look on Sakura's face.
"Ino, please," Sakura whispered. "I'm really worried. I know you don't want anyone to know, but... if someone did something to you... if someone hurt you... we need to know, to stop it from happening again. It might only get worse if you don't do something."
"Nobody touched me," Ino insisted weakly, shaking her head. "I'd know... if someone... if anyone..."
Sakura gently drew Ino into her arms, rubbing her back soothingly. "We'll ask Tsunade-shishou about it, okay? She'd know for sure, and it would just be between the three of us, I promise." She lowered her voice a little. "If you want, you could stay with me until we get this cleared up. Just to be safe. I know my parents won't mind."
"I think I'd like that," Ino whispered, closing her eyes. "Thanks, Sakura... I don't know what to do anymore..."
Sakura pressed a finger to her lips. "Let's go find out what we're dealing with first," she advised, giving Ino's arms a little squeeze. "Then we can decide what needs to be done."
"Oh, it's definitely a love bite. No doubt about that," Tsunade concluded calmly. "I know you girls are worried, but it's probably nothing too serious. More than likely just a sneaky boy showing off."
"Are you sure?" Sakura asked hesitantly. "What if it gets worse?"
"I wouldn't worry about that. He obviously didn't want to do anything too noticeable, or Ino would've said something after the first time."
"Wait, wait!" Ino cried. "You mean it's happened more than once?"
"I'm afraid so. But all he's done so far is refreshed the bruise, so to speak. He keeps working on that same area, almost as if he wanted you to see it eventually. It might be his way of marking you as his. Any other boy would know you were with someone else recently."
"I can't believe this," Ino whispered. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Are there any blocks of time you can't account for? Have you ever woken up somewhere not knowing how you got there?"
"Well... not that I can think of, but if I can't trust my memory, then-"
"Wait a minute!" Sakura said abruptly. "What about when you send your soul into people's bodies? You have to leave your body behind, right?"
"Of course I do!" Ino snapped, feeling like they were going in circles. "But I never do that unless Shikamaru is there to look after it!"
Tsunade and Sakura glanced at each other before looking back at Ino.
"What?" she asked slowly, still not having caught on. "Why are you two looking at me like that?"
"Um, Ino," Sakura murmured, gently taking her friend's hands. "If that's the only time you weren't aware of what was happening to your body, and you only do it when Shikamaru's there with you, then..."
Ino stared at them, and then her eyes widened as she realized what they were thinking. "You're wrong!" she shouted at once, yanking her hands away from Sakura. "Shikamaru would never do anything like that to me! He just wouldn't! We don't even like each other that way!"
"And yet you trust him completely with your body's well-being on a regular basis," Tsunade remarked quietly. "You may not like him, but you do trust him. And since I can find no indication of any genjutsu being used on you recently, he is the most likely suspect. He's a boy you have regular contact with, he's always with you when you're at your most vulnerable, and more than likely you'd be too distracted at the time to actually see what's happening to your body."
"But he wouldn't," Ino whispered. "He's my friend... he wouldn't do this to me..."
Ino had been to Shikamaru's room many times before. Most of those times, Chouji had been there as well, and even when he wasn't, Shikamaru had been the one feeling intimidated. She'd always assumed it was because he was a private person, and felt uncomfortable with even his best friends seeing his personal belongings.
But this time, Ino was the one feeling out of sorts. She didn't know what she was going to say to him. She didn't want to believe what Sakura had implied. Shikamaru would probably laugh in her face when she told him. And even that was infinitely better than Sakura being right. Because if Shikamaru really had been the one to give her that bruise, how could she trust him or Chouji anymore?
How could she trust anyone?
Ino tried not to think about that as she hesitantly pushed open the door to Shikamaru's room. He was sprawled out on his bed, his eyes closed as his chest rose and fell slightly with each breath. Before she could even think of leaving, his eyes snapped open, startling her.
"Ino?" he asked sleepily, rubbing at his eyes as he sat up. "What are you doing here?"
She stared at him, unable to say anything at the moment. Finally, she rushed to the bed and threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck as she sobbed into his shoulder.
"Hey! What...?" He trailed off, realizing that something was very wrong, and carefully embraced her. "Ino, what is it?" he whispered uncertainly. "What's wrong?"
"Just... just hold me, Shikamaru," she whimpered. "Please..."
He frowned but continued to do as she asked, reaching up to stroke her blonde hair.
Ino closed her eyes and pressed her face harder into his shoulder. Sakura was wrong, she had to be. Shikamaru was her friend, and always would be. And yet... Ino knew she would never be able to sleep tonight unless she asked him. Even if it cost her his friendship, she just had to know that he hadn't been the one to give her that bruise.
Once she had calmed down somewhat, Ino slowly raised her head, drawing back enough so that she could look him in the eyes.
"Are you ready to tell me what's going on with you?" Shikamaru asked, his hands still resting lightly on her arms. "I've never seen you like this, Ino. This... isn't about what I said earlier, is it? Because I was-"
"No, it's not about that," she interrupted. "Well, not really. But I do need to ask you something, and I need you to be completely honest with me."
Oddly enough, he looked as if he'd been expecting her to say that. "Okay," he replied simply.
Ino turned so that her back was facing him and tilted her head slightly. "Have... have you ever seen this mark on me before today?" She leaned back against his chest so he could get a closer look.
"Now that you mention it, I think I have," Shikamaru murmured as he carefully ran his fingers over the bruise, causing Ino to tremble.
"Really?" Ino asked eagerly. "When did you first see it?"
"Let's see. It must have been... oh, now I remember. The first time I saw this..."
"Was right after I put it there," he replied, brushing his lips against her ear.
Ino's world slowed to a crawl. He was lying, she told herself. He was only saying that so she wouldn't have to think about some stranger having his way with her body.
But then she felt his warm breath on her neck, and when his lips came down on the bruised skin, an undeniably pleasurable, yet strangely familiar shiver shot down her spine, leaving her entirely defenseless when she felt his arms sliding around her waist.
"I honestly thought you'd figure it out eventually. But even if your mind doesn't remember, your body does." Shikamaru sighed softly as he nuzzled her neck, breathing in her scent. "You have no idea what it means to me, to finally be able to hold you for real, Ino," he murmured.
Ino shut her eyes, still trying to convince herself that this wasn't happening. But Shikamaru's touch was too real to ignore, and more than that, too familiar to forget now. She took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Tell me why, Shikamaru," she whispered. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Why? Because I knew it would take something real to get your mind off of Sasuke. Because I knew you'd never let me touch you this way if you had a choice. And because... every time I've nearly lost my life, I only survived because the thought of never seeing you again was too horrible to even consider." His arms tightened around her waist, and he tenderly kissed the back of her neck. "I did it because I love you, Ino."
"This isn't love!" Ino cried as she pulled away from him. "You... you necked me without my permission! Do you have any idea what I've been through today, Shikamaru? Do you? I thought... some stranger was... was... and now I find out it was you, and... I don't know which is worse!"
Shikamaru actually sighed and leaned back on his bed. "Maybe you're right, Ino. Maybe this isn't love at all. I mean, how could it be? Even in the back of your mind, where you feared it was me, you still came to me for comfort in the end. I'll bet you even got angry at anyone who suggested it was me, didn't you? After all, how dare they accuse me, the person you trust the most? And it's not like you couldn't date any guy you wanted. You can tell yourself that Sasuke is the one stopping you, but he's never done more than glanced your way, while I've had time enough to mark you several times over." His eyes took on a dark, unfamiliar feel as he stared at her. "This isn't love, Ino. It's way past that now. We're bound to each other, you and I. The mark was just my way of getting your attention."
"What if I say no?" Ino challenged. "What if I decide I don't want this?"
"You won't," he replied with a shrug, "though it might be amusing to see you try. And before you say anything, I'm not controlling you. I could only influence your body, anyway. The mind is your specialty." Shikamaru paused, apparently not surprised when Ino slowly brought her hands together. "Your jutsu won't change anything, Ino. All it'll do is show you just how deep my feelings for you really are. And I'm guessing that would only scare you more at this point. But I won't stop you."
Ino slowly lowered her hands. Through all this deception, Shikamaru had never actually lied to her, so she doubted he would now. That, and she was pretty sure that she didn't want to see and feel how he really felt. The way he was acting now was disturbing enough.
"I can't trust you anymore, Shikamaru," she whispered. "I don't even know you..."
"That's your fault, don't you think?" he asked calmly. "Had you spent more time with me, or even Chouji, and less time drooling over Sasuke, you'd probably know me just fine. Like I said, I had to get your attention somehow."
"I never would've done this to you!" Ino shrieked at him.
Shikamaru sighed again, shutting his eyes once more. "Yeah. That's the problem, far as I'm concerned..."
Ino couldn't believe it. He actually looked disappointed that she'd never consider taking advantage of him, or leaving mysterious love bites on his neck when he wasn't paying attention, or secretly admiring him from mere inches away...
Suddenly, Shikamaru didn't seem all that abnormal. Just... in love.
Really in love, and being both clever and lazy about it, as was his way. He hadn't really changed, he'd just never been in love before.
Ino bit her lip hesitantly, watching Shikamaru lay there calmly on his bed, almost if she weren't there anymore. Slowly, she took a few steps toward him.
He opened one eye. "Now what?"
"I don't think you can kiss me when I'm standing right in front of you," she stated, lifting her chin defiantly. "I think you're too chicken to do it while I'm actually in my body."
"And I know you're too chicken to kiss me, period," he replied without missing a beat.
Glaring at him, Ino stomped over to the bed, and crawled across it until she had positioned her body squarely over Shikamaru's. Before she could lower her face to meet his, however, she felt his fingers lightly caressing her hip.
"Now, if you'd just done this earlier," he said quietly, "I never would've had to play this game with you, Ino. But you just wouldn't let me do it the normal way, would you? You always have to be in control, and the only way I could ever sweep you off your feet is to have you unconscious first. It's just sad, when you think about it."
"You're supposed to be the lazy one. I didn't think you had it in you to stalk me," she pointed out.
"Some things are important enough to get off my butt for," Shikamaru said simply.
"Yet you couldn't walk three feet to kiss me a minute ago?"
"Why would I do that, when it was easier to get you to come to me?"
"We are definitely going to have to work on deciding what is and isn't important enough for you to put some effort into."
Shikamaru laughed softly. "Trust me, I know exactly what to put effort into, and what not to."
"Then why are you still talking?" Ino whispered, just before she pressed her lips to his.
It didn't feel familiar at all. Shikamaru had obviously never kissed her lips before, but Ino had to admit that he did seem surprisingly eager about it, and more than that, good at it.
Suddenly, she pulled away from slightly. "You ARE going to stop stalking me, right?"
"Is it really stalking if you know I'm doing it, and we're dating?" he asked.
"Who says we're dating?" Ino asked sharply.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Try to keep up, Ino. I stalked you because we weren't dating, so if you want me to stop stalking you..."
"For future reference, Shikamaru? Mystery love bites are NOT romantic."
"Maybe not." He smirked. "But they got the job done, because here we are."
"You're conveniently forgetting that you're pretty much a sick pervert in Sakura's eyes now," she pointed out.
"So? She's not the one I'm interested in. Or do you need another bite to prove that?"
Ino blinked, and a smile slowly spread across her face. "I think I do. But this time, I want you to do it while I'm awake."
Shikamaru looked puzzled, but only for a second. "Any particular reason why?"
"So I'll know exactly what to do when it's my turn to mark you."
Okay, maybe it wasn't a genius plot worthy of Shikamaru's brain, but it knocked Ino off of her game. And I really think that's the only way someone like Shikamaru could get her attention (by unbalancing her, not mystery hickies).
I suppose you could argue that both Ino and Shikamaru are out of character. But I really don't think they are. Though I welcome comments on that subject.
Anyway, if you liked the story, please tell me so, because I doubt I'm ever going to write this couple again otherwise. It's not that I don't like them, just that they're difficult for me to put together (as you may have noticed).