A/N: I hope it's not too late to wish you all Happy New Year!

This chapter is dedicated to beautifulgeek11 for being my 1400th reviewer for I'm Sorry, Shikamaru.

Beta by For the 19th Time. Maidoari!

Chapter 32: The Morning After

Ino woke in the midst of dawn, to a light snore sounding in her ear. She opened her eyes slowly, blinking the sleepiness away. Once her vision cleared, she realized that she was lying on her left side, in a fetal position, facing the room. The blanket was up to her chin, but it wasn't the source of her warmth; it was the arm that draped around her waist and the presence of another body in her bed.

It was no longer dark now. The rising sun blessed her surrounding with faint light, slowly lighting and warming up the room. Ino pushed the blanket down and stared at the male hand on her stomach, watching it rise and fall following the rhythm of her breathing. She recognized that hand.

She reached out her own and grabbed Shikamaru's and slowly removed it from her body as she sat up, careful not to wake him. He grunted a little at the loss of her body heat but stayed asleep. Ino turned slightly to face him and watched him for a while, smiling a little at the light frown on his forehead. The way he slept reminded her so much of someone.

Ino found herself bending down to him and her hand made its way to his loose hair. Out of habit, she began combing the soft black tresses with her fingers, ever so gently, all the while staring absent-mindedly at his face. She took in his closed eyes and his slightly pouting mouth and felt the familiar warmth spread in her chest. She remained in her happy bubble for quite sometime before registering that this was not the same person she used to perform that gesture on and at the realization she quickly pulled her hand away.

A fresh wave of guilt hit her in the face again and she gritted her teeth, feeling disgusted with herself.

She thought she'd done the right thing, made the right decision, but clearly she was wrong. She'd figured it all out last night. She thought after spending three years of isolation in Suna, she'd grown into someone more mature, more responsible, but the truth was, she was still trapped in her seventeen year old body; still selfish and self-centered.

Ino closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Missing the other person while having Shikamaru right in front of her was unforgivable. But she just couldn't help herself. Both of them had become her life source now. She couldn't survive with just one.

On impulse, she opened her eyes and slowly got up. Like every woman who realized that last night was a mistake, she wanted nothing but to escape. She didn't want to be in Shikamaru's presence when he woke up. It could be awkward. They couldn't pretend anymore, like they'd done the first time. His memory might be hazy or perhaps he didn't remember at all, but for her, it was all vivid, still fresh and clear in her mind.

She still could feel his kisses, his touches and the way he made her feel. Although she'd resisted at first but she'd succumbed to him at last. And she'd enjoyed every minute of it.

Blush quickly colored Ino's face at the memory, and for a moment, she was stuck in time as her torturous mind replayed the scene over and over again; Shikamaru kissing her, caressing her, fondling her, moaning her name…their bodies danced sensuously against each other, the room boiling hot like fire…

Desire pooled low in her stomach…

Stop, stop! Stop right there, Yamanaka Ino! Ino scolded her train of thought from entering the dangerous zone. She shook her head out of the memory. Honestly, if she let herself get carried away a little further, there was no doubt she would wake the sleeping man beside her and demand a replay.

But, no. No. She had to get out of there. Fast.

She averted her eyes and her gaze fell on something lying on the floor. Her cheeks burned even more when she remembered how the dress got into that state. Figuring it was too troublesome for him to deal with all the buttons, Shikamaru had ripped the dress away from her body. He didn't give her a chance to protest his method of undressing because his lips were on hers in a hot, open-mouthed kisses and his hands were gripping hers, keeping her immobile.

Ino sighed as she picked her torn dress, her bra and his shirt off the floor. She separated their clothes, folded his neatly and put it on the bed. She did a double take on her bra, noticing that it was ruined, too. Such a waste of expensive lingerie, she shook her head. Now her panties didn't have a match anymore. With a groan, she chucked her clothes in the corner. She'll deal with it later.

As she passed the mirror to get her things, she caught a glimpse of herself and nearly screamed at her own reflection.

Her face was pale and there was a light shadow under her eyes, and her hair tousled like crazy. But that was not the problem. She'd always known that she didn't look best in the morning. But her body…

She wasn't entirely naked. She'd put on a short nightgown before she'd gone to sleep, which hid almost nothing. Red-purplish marks on her skin were clearly visible; on her neck, her chest, her stomach, her thighs…everywhere. Shikamaru spared her no mercy at all. He took what he wanted to take without hesitation. He poured all his anger and desire into his actions. No wonder she felt sore all over.

She couldn't get out looking like that!

Ino held up her right hand and produced the green chakra, and began healing the bruises or rather love bites the best she could. She managed to heal most on her thighs and stomach but there was still a few left on her chest and neck. No problem, she decided. Her top could cover them. She just hoped that people won't notice if there was any that visible.

She took her usual ninja outfit out along with other things she needed silently, and tip-toed out of the room. She didn't want Shikamaru to wake up. She didn't want to face him, especially after what they'd done last night. She felt embarrassed at one point, but she also felt guilty to the max, knowing that he knew almost everything now. She'll get dressed in the bathroom and have breakfast outside. After that, she'll go to Tsunade and request a mission, anything to keep herself away from Shikamaru until the feeling went away…

Sakura loved her new house. It was small and the design was kind of old fashioned, but for her, it was beautiful and special in its own way. It had white walls and dark roof, big windows and a cute little verandah. The compound was spacious enough and the wooden fence was still in good condition. The previous owner seemed to like flowers so much; she could tell from the little greenhouse at the back.

That was the main reason Sakura bought the house. Having a ready-made greenhouse could make her job a lot easier. She didn't need to go as far away as the village's greenhouse to store any plants she needed. She could do it right in her backyard.

Sakura let her gaze wander around the living room. Last night's party had been great until her fellow ninjas had gotten drunk. She had left them for about twenty minutes to solve an important matter with Shizune only to come back and find them lost control; there was a fight in the front, couples making out like crazy in the dark corners, her best friend nearly got molested…

Thinking of Ino, Sakura let out a heavy sigh. Since her unexpected pregnancy three years ago, the blonde's life had not been running smoothly like it should. Not because Ino was a big gambler when it came to her life, but she tended to be so full of herself, so pig-headed that sometimes she was blind, ignorant to what was happening in her life. One case was related to a person's name began with 'S'.

No. Two S's to be exact.

Walking a drunken Naruto home proved to be difficult after not doing it for so long. Sakura had forgotten how many stops she had pulled in the middle of their walk for Naruto to puke and when they finally arrived at the blonde's house, she had to nurse him before putting him to bed, and that included removing his shoes, changing his clothes and forcing him to drink water before allowing him to sleep. Quite a long time had passed since she'd left Ino alone to deal with the mess, so when she finally arrived at their house, it had been empty.

That didn't surprise her. Ino had probably sent Shikamaru home like what she'd done with Naruto. Sakura fought the urge to be mad at her best friend for abandoning her job before it was done as she looked hazily at the leftovers on the table, the glittering neon lights, the open front door and the chaos inside the house. Besides, it was too much for a single person to do all that work, her logic told her.

Sakura had been a little drunk by the alcohol she consumed earlier – although it was not much – because she was a lightweight. It didn't throw her off balance but it dulled her senses a little. Due to the pounding in her head, she had abandoned the cleaning up and went straight to her bedroom. She had stayed awake long enough to notice that Ino never made it home, but had she sharpened her chakra sensor a little more, she would notice that Ino was just right in the next room.

Alone with a man.

Sakura could guess what was going to happen if Ino spend the night at Shikamaru's house. Ino was a healthy, normal woman. How could she resist an invitation (if there was one) from the man she loved? Although Sakura fairly sure that Ino probably had learned from her mistake, it wasn't impossible that it could happen again.

But Sakura really, really hoped that Ino didn't repeat that mistake. Surely she wasn't that stupid.

When Sakura woke up that morning, imagine her surprise when she saw that their house was surprisingly clean. After her hangover had subsided and her senses were sharp once again, she noticed that there was a slow chakra in Ino's bedroom, probably Ino herself still in bed. So she had sneaked in later in the night or early in the morning and cleaned, and gone to bed, Sakura guessed.

But the dread from last night didn't escape from filling her heart. Maybe it was true, maybe it happened again.

Sakura had many questions to ask, but she knew it was no use to barge into Ino's room and demanded her to wake up and tell her everything. Sakura really didn't want Ino to repeat the same mistake again. Once was enough, and it had cost Ino a lifetime to repent her careless act.

So Sakura brewed herself a coffee and sat at the clean living room, waiting for Ino to come out of her room any moment now. She didn't wait quite long; there was a faint noise the bedroom not long after, followed by some heavy groans and curses, and crashes then finally the door was opened.

Seeing who it really was, Sakura screamed.

Hangover, Shikamaru decided, was a real bitch.

Sakura's scream could have waked the dead. Instinctively, Shikamaru put both of his hands to his ears to try to block out the sound.

"Ugh…" He groaned at the hard pounding at the back of his head, which seemed to increase with Sakura's screams.

"What the hell are you doing here, Shikamaru?" She yelled. "And why are you shirtless?!"

"Volume, woman!" He hissed painfully.

"Where's Ino?" she asked worriedly. Not waiting for his response, she pushed him aside and barged into her roommate's room.

No Ino.

But Sakura's eyes were sharp, and it didn't take her long to spot the torn clothes at the corner. She picked up the dress and examined it, and did the same thing with the bra. Her blood boiled instantly.

For the love of God...

"Shikamaru!" she shrieked furiously and stormed outside, letting the pieces fall out of her hands. "You slept with her, didn't you?"

Shikamaru, who was now slumped in the middle of the living room, in the same exact spot where he had been sitting drinking last night, gave no response. His arms were on the table pillowing his head, his eyes completely shut. Soft whimpers of pain sounded from his lips.

Sakura gave no mercy. She shook him hard. "Answer me!"

He jerked her off of his shoulder. "You're loud."

"Did you sleep with her?"

Shikamaru grunted, searching his memory. "…I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" Sakura hissed.

"I'm not sure. I don't…I don't remember."

"What?" Sakura was about to ask again when she noticed his back. She gasped. "Oh, my God."

"What now?"

"You slept with her." Her tone was confirming. "No, oh, no. Ino, what have you done?"

"What?" Shikamaru turned around and saw Sakura was very upset.

"Your back…" She whispered. And she saw something else. "And those…" She pointed at his neck. "Oh, Ino… You're so stupid."

He had scratches on his back, love bites on his neck. What could it mean but…sex?

"I shouldn't have left her alone with you. You were drunk last night. And she's not…strong enough to resist you." Sakura talked, more to herself. Of course Ino wasn't strong; she was very attracted to him.

Shikamaru's brows were pulled together in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the sex, Shikamaru!"

"Sex? We didn't–"

"You were drunk! So drunk! You don't remember anything! But I know—oh, crap. That's why she's gone."

Sakura covered her face and moaned. Oh, Ino…you must feel really, really guilty.

Shikamaru groaned, massaging his head again. This discovery…the possibility worried him, but right now he had other things that needed to be taken care of. His hangover, the bird…

"Oh, shit." The bird. That was the thing that had woken him up. Now, what was the note say again?

"How troublesome." He silently cursed after remembering. "Briefing. Great. It's my off day, damn it."

He had no choice but to move his lazy butt, and get the hell out of the house as fast as he could.

"You've got to be kidding me," Shikamaru muttered under his breath. His hand itched; he wanted so badly to rub his temple. Although the aching in his head was not as terrible as before, it still pained him. But still, he remained in his posture, standing straight with both hands behind his back. He knew the reason he was there, though Godaime Hokage hadn't said anything yet. Another mission for sure. How troublesome.

On his right, standing no more than two feet away (much to his surprise) was Ino. She was inside the room when he walked in. Blue eyes widened as they made contact with his and he swore he saw a faint hint of blush on her cheeks. He thought about what Sakura had said earlier and tried to put two and two together, but… Ugh, damn headache.

It was too troublesome to think.

Ino was silent; she seemed oddly tense and was staring intently at the floor. He didn't need to sense her chakra flow to know how she was feeling at the moment; her body language gave it all away.

She was fidgeting behind her back – a sign that she was nervous.

And she looked like she wanted very badly to leave the room, or magically disappear if she could.

Shikamaru had the feeling that it must've been something to do with him. But what, he didn't have a clue. He didn't remember making her uncomfortable. Whatever it was, something must have happened last night that he didn't know about.

Ah…thinking of last night awakened the pain in his heart.

He only half-remembered the event. When he'd arrived, the party was already on. He'd talked to Choji, eaten some food, and had gone searching for her. And upon finding her, he'd discovered something that she'd kept secret from him during the three years she had been in Suna. He remembered feeling angry and jealous and hurt, and all he wanted to do was destroy something or hit somebody to ease the burning pain inside him. He remembered leaving the two blondes in the shadows and walked back to the house – for what reason he didn't know – when he should have gone straight home and slept, and hopefully, when he woke up it would be nothing but a dream.

Against his better judgment, he'd entered the house and decided to find Sakura or Hinata, wanting to dig out some truth from them instead of digging the truth from Ino herself.

Because he knew he wouldn't be able to control his raging emotions if he talked directly to her.

But upon the sight of him for the second time, Kiba grinned maniacally again and (with Naruto's help) Shikamaru let the two persuade him for a drink, just one drink, which led to another and another.

And he'd drunk like there was no tomorrow, glad for the alcohol now swimming in his veins that somehow dulled the pain he was experiencing in his heart. And the more he drank, the more he forgot; the less he cared about everything around him.

He knew he'd drunk more than the last time, because when he'd woken up the next morning, his head had nearly exploded from the hangover.

Even worse, he didn't remember anything.

Did he do something to Ino? Shikamaru tightened his face, thinking hard about last night.

"I know you just came back yesterday, and that today's supposed to be your day off, so quit making that face, Shikamaru." Tsunade's voice broke his thoughts. Obviously, she'd mistaken his expression for annoyance. "But this mission just came up. I'm going to send Ino to do it, and I'm afraid you'll have to go along."

See? He knew there would be a mission. "Troublesome…" Shikamaru grumbled as quietly as he could. Tsunade shot a pointed look at him.

"Ino's jutsu works best with yours – you told me yourself – so whether you like it or not, you have to do it," Tsunade reasoned in a clipped tone. "Besides, the person who requested this mission is an old client of yours, so I think he'd like it very much if you would participate in the mission, too."

Best 'customer' service was really a double-edged sword, Shikamaru inwardly seethed. Money and trouble at the same time.

"I'm sure you know who I mean, Shikamaru, and you know how this mission works." Tsunade threw him one last pointed look before averting her gaze to Ino. "But you don't, Ino, so I'll brief it to you. The client is the feudal lord's nephew. He's here on a business trip and today he's going back home. He has a personal bodyguard and likes to keep his presence as low as he can. But clearly, a bodyguard is not enough, so he needs a backup. He personally ask for one ninja only because he didn't like bigger crowd, but if I send you alone, Ino, then you will be alone on the journey home, which is dangerous, even though I know you're capable of protecting yourself. That's why I'm including Shikamaru in this mission."

Ino nodded, understanding.

"You'll leave in an hour. They'll be waiting for you two at the gates, so don't be late. It will be two-day journey back and forth, so I expect you to be back the day after tomorrow." Tsunade caught the look Shikamaru threw at her. "Yes, Shikamaru, I promise you an off day after that. Dismissed."

As soon as Shikamaru was out of the office, he didn't waste any time before leaning on the wall and clutching his throbbing head. Having a hangover was such a pain. Standing was one thing, but walking was another matter.

Ino turned, already a good distance away from him. But at the pitiful sight of him (and despite her reluctance to go near him) she hurriedly went over.

"Are you okay?" Shikamaru detected concern in her voice.

"No," he grumbled.

"You drink too much." Ino sighed then placed her fingers on his temple. They felt cool and soothing. And before he could ask what she was going to do, he felt it.

Her green chakra was pouring out from the tips of her fingers to his temple, and a sudden, cooling sensation filled his head. He felt a lot lighter.

"Feel better?"

Shikamaru nodded. "What was that?"

Ino shrugged, smiling a little. "Something I picked up in Suna."

Shikamaru raised his brows.

"They like to drink, those Suna nins," Ino explained. "And they drink a lot. Apparently, they discovered how to treat hangover using the healing chakra so I asked them to teach me." Ino laughed at a memory. "Actually, it was Hinata who asked it first – obviously for Kiba, you know how Kiba likes to drink – then Sakura learned it, too, although she doesn't have to because Sasuke-kun is a really good drinker and Naruto, well, his Kyuubi usually heals his system pretty quickly. I don't want to lose to Sakura, so I learned it, too. Pretty handy, huh?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he kept staring at her.


He chose to ask her directly. "Tell me the truth. Have we had sex last night?"

Ino went still. She knew that he would ask that question, but never expected it to be so soon. She blinked, processing her answer.

And for a moment, Shikamaru thought Ino would lie. But then she bit her lower lip and asked in a small voice, frowning, "You don't…remember?"

"I don't know." He groaned. "It's not like it's the first time." He saw her flinch at the memory. "I must've drunk a lot last night."

"You did."

"So…" He demanded the truth with his eyes.

Ino let out a long sigh and shook her head. "No, we didn't."

Did he hear correctly? She almost sounded…disappointed.

"But I have those scratches…hickeys…" He examined her then, trying to find similar marks. She had none.

"We made out," Ino confessed. "Quite a bit. Then you…passed out." Before we got to the good part, she added silently.


"So, nothing happened."

Shikamaru nodded. "Nothing." But it was so close!

Unexpected disappointment filled his gut. He had almost gotten her back! If he had been lucky, he would've gotten her pregnant again. Then everything would've been back where it had started, and he would surely do the right thing then…

Wait. What was he thinking?

to be continued.

Not too much of a cliffhanger huh? I'd like to think this chapter as a nice wrap for the last two chapters. I hope it's good, because I kinda wrote it in between my "busyness". Not really my best writing. Sorry if it sucks.

New Year Greetings from both Shikamaru and Ino to: Rikarox, chidori532, WolfFlowerz, goddess-training, Wings-chan, revenence, gummy bear, aki-child, ShikaIno1, 93addict, NarutoXFANBOY, 342514, EmoPrincess21, sad little monkey, hungrytiger11, Sakura12, XFamousXLastXWordsX, Shizuka Taiyou, bluestrdrmr, beautifulgeek11, Celestartial Blossoms, Shera-girl, greensapphire, milkahasii, Tori Sohma, kngrulz, Aoki Aya, xXxTrueXloveXisXundyingxXx, jalicelove, loves-emo-guys-with-hair, shikainofan2, KoalaSnow, amalli, Gothic Queen, shikashadow, ImCutePoison, Riss, flare-hugs, CloudedSun and Everlite.

Thank you so much for reviewing the previous chapter!