As the Leaves Fall

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of the characters.

"One more thing," the older woman added, stopping the much younger girl in her tracks on her way out the door. Ino slowly turned around. Her face showed her puzzled expression completely. Her lips formed a small frown and one eyebrow was raised. Seeing that she had regained the girl's attention, Tsunade continued. "Even though Shikamaru is accompanying you on this mission, you are not allowed to tell him about the last part we just went over." Her stern voice vibrated in Ino's ears. The older woman's eyes were focused hard on Ino and her mouth turned into a fierce frown.

Ino stared at her dumbfounded. Her eyes still were wide and bright with confusion. "Why?" spilled from her lips, standing as even more proof of her perplexity.

Tsunade sighed. She seemed annoyed she had to explain. A long and polished nailed-finger tapped on her wooden desk. Books of all sorts surrounded the Hokage. All were scattered about. Some were open and some were closed, laying in all sorts of orientations and directions. Some had papers stuffed between the pages. Ino's eyes briefly glanced over the titles and covers of these books, but then shot back to Tsunade when she began speaking. "This is a spying mission. We have reasons to believe the Sand's feudal lords are plotting to break the new alliance. However, we have no solid evidence. Therefore, I don't want very many people to know about this speculation. If it is false and word spreads, the Leaf is only jeopardizing itself." She paused and gave Ino a small smile. "Therefore it's just going to be between me and you; a secret."

Ino wasn't completely convinced the plan would work. There was no way Shikamaru wouldn't notice that something was going on. He was smarter than that. He was far smarter than that. "Shikamaru's not very easy to fool." Her tone was skeptical. "What's the harm in telling him?" She couldn't think of anything bad that could come out of telling him about the other part of the mission. Shikamaru was trustworthy and he never said more than was needed to say. There was no way he'd slip up and start a rumor about the Sand. No doubt he found rumors too troublesome.

A sigh escaped her lips. "It's just better that way. The less people know, the less likely it will turn into a problem." She paused and stared at the blonde, who still appeared unconvinced. "Look, Shikamaru's skills aren't needed for that part of the mission. We need the Yamanaka clan's spying abilities. And since it's suspicious to send a jounin like your father, I'm sending you." Ino didn't exactly like being classified as inferior to her father, but she did not tell the Hokage this, and instead continued to listen. "Furthermore, two ninja traveling to another village is less suspicious, so that's why we are sending Shikamaru." Tsunade paused and eyed Ino oddly. "If you find it too hard not to tell Shikamaru of the entire mission, we can always send someone else."

Ino's eyes widened. No, she wanted to go with Shikamaru! She hadn't seen much of him lately. She wanted to spend time with him. She shook her head violently and stumbled out," No, that's okay! I can do it!"

A sly smile appeared on Tsunade's lips and she placed her hands together. "Good," she said pleasantly. "Then let Shikamaru believe this is just a delivery mission."


"No, buts! Just follow orders!"

Ino had the urge to retort back, but she knew her place and held her tongue. She was defeated. She sighed dejectedly. She then excused herself and walked out of the office.

Outside the normally green village was shrouded in shades of brown, red, orange, and yellow. The trees were half-bare; their leaves had begun to decay and had thus descended below. Leaves were scattered across the ground, curled or broken, all browning at the edges. Most of the leaves had been pushed into large piles by citizens concerned with neatness. However, the wind was threatening to blow them away. They stirred slightly under it's bustling force and some skidded across the pavement a few inches or even feet. A slight chill was present in the air. It pressed its icy touch against Ino's cheeks, turning them rosy-red. It was an endurable cold.

Shikamaru stood a little to the right of the door Ino exited from. He leaned against the stone wall with one knee bent, causing his foot to be pressed on the wall. The other was on the ground for support. A bored expression toyed on his face. Upon seeing the girl, he rose from his position and strolled over to her.

"Finally," he grumbled. "I thought you'd never get out of there.

She looked up at him. She just didn't understand the Hokage. What could possibly be the harm in telling him about her spying objective? All her conclusions led to nothing. On the other hand, there would be no harm in not telling him, besides the fact that she felt like she was betraying him. It was almost like she didn't trust him if she didn't tell him; like she was lying. She didn't like this situation.

She knew she looked down. She could see a slight hint of concern growing on his face. She didn't want him to be worried. She smiled at him. It was a sort of bright and sly smile at the same time. "Did you miss me?" she whispered in a bit of a devious and seductive manner as she grabbed his arm and pressed her body against him. She snuggled her face against the black cloth of his long-sleeved shirt.

"Bah," he muttered, turning his head away. She could tell a blush was rising on his face. She giggled a little. She also knew that the worry which had been slowly revealing on his visage had slipped away.

"Hokage-sama wanted to see me."

"What about?" She could hear a slight uneasiness in his voice. His eyes darted at her quickly for an answer, but he didn't completely turn to face her. She knew very well how displays of affection in public caused him to be uneasy, but that only made it more fun for her.

She didn't answer immediately. She just allowed herself to sink into the warmth of his arm, but she couldn't really enjoy the moment. Her mind was a-whirl with thoughts. She knew that question was coming. Of course, it was coming. However, she also knew that she couldn't tell. She had to make an excuse. She had to lie. Her mind searched for a reasonable and good excuse. She couldn't say that she was told the mission summary. Shikamaru had all ready given her the mission synopsis. It wouldn't have been repeated. What should she say? What could she say? She really didn't like keeping this from him! The whole mission got so much more harder due to the fact she had to do her part in secret, and for what reason? Nothing! She would have to sneak behind his back to accomplish her objective. She mused that it was, as he would say, a very troublesome mission, indeed.

Maybe he got tired of waiting or maybe he felt her arms tighten around his arm in uneasiness. Perhaps his eyes caught a look of the panic on her visage. Maybe he just really did care and thought it more a bother to pry it from her. It might have been for one of those reason or perhaps others, for he then said, "Whatever. Let's get going all ready." However, his words weren't harsh or annoyed. Instead they seemed a bit glad in a low undertone. "The Sand's three days form here. A message for Kazekage…Wouldn't bird messengers be faster…?"

He gently pulled his arm out of her grasp and looked down at her with a small smile. His hands clutched her shoulders. She looked back at him. She awaited for him to do something more. He was going to do something wasn't he? Wasn't a mood created? Wasn't it one of those kiss-the-girl moments? He had turned to her. He had grabbed her shoulders gently. He was looking down at her. Yet he wasn't doing anything. Was he at least going to say something? He seemed hesitant. Was he at least thinking about it? If he was, he must had lost his nerve, because he slowly released her and began walking away. Ino stood dumbfounded for a few moments. Nothing had happened. She looked over at his departing form. She heard him sigh and mutter, "This mission is going to be troublesome." Solemnly, she internally agreed.

The two shinobi walked through the golden forest. Leaves covered the dry ground and with each step one of them took, the leaves crunched, ringing in their ears for a moment. The sky above was a hazy blue. It was a bit of a gloomy shade. A few clouds floated along. A faint chill still stung in the air. Shikamaru was walking a small ways ahead of Ino. He was positioned a little to her left. His pace was constant and relaxed. He was strolling along like he was having a nice walk in the park, not as if this was a mission. His hands were buried in his pockets. Ino was walking at a similar pace to him, but she had an urge to move faster. That's what happens when a person is nervous, he or she wants to speed up the thing that is making him or her anxious. And, boy, was Ino nervous now. She just wanted to get this whole mission over and done with. She didn't want to continue lying. She wanted the stress to go away!

"We could go a little faster," she commented. The words slipped out crueler than she intended. She felt bad for taking her annoyance out on him and prayed he wouldn't be angry when he responded.

Thankfully he wasn't. "They didn't classify this as an urgent mission," he replied smugly and motioned to the letter stuffed in the pocket of his green vest. He didn't turn to her when he spoke. "So there's no need to rush."

"More like you're in no mood to rush." Her eyes narrowed on him. There was that icy tone again. She hated herself for it. It churned her stomach with guilt. However, it seemed she couldn't stop them from coming out in such a way. "Of course."

"No reason to rush through life."

She sighed in defeat. There was no way of getting around it. He didn't want to go any faster. It wasn't as if she expected him to, anyway. And she really didn't have the heart to force him to or yell. She already felt bad enough that she had already showed him slight cruelty.

She needed to relax. She looked around at the ground, eyes scanning over the leaves, which were gently skidding across the ground's surface. She needed desperately to be relaxed. She needed to find peace of mind. She closed her eyes. She tried desperately to block her mind of all thoughts that involved this mission. She inhaled slowly and exhaled the air out. Just forget about all this, she told herself. Just forget!

When she opened her eyes, she felt a little bit of relief. Maybe she'd just have to fake the rest of the way. She walked over to him gingerly and tucked her hands behind her back. She skipped in front of him, her hair bouncing with each step. Once in front of him, she smiled sweetly. "Soon Konoha's going to be all gold and red," she said enthusiastically.

He stopped in his path, almost colliding with her, and his eyes widened a little. "Yeah," he replied in a slightly shocked voice.

"Don't you like autumn?" she tried again. She pushed her face a little closer to his. She needed this conversation. She needed some sort of conversation. She needed her mind to be free of other matters. Why did he have to be such a difficult person to talk to? She didn't budge from her position and was disabling him from walking anyone.

"I guess." He shrugged. His face was turning a faint shade of red due to the closeness of her body.

She smiled and said, "Come on, it's always fun just to fall into a pile a leaves." She looked around at the ground. By the trees a few feet away was a large amount of leaves. They were forming quite a huge mound. The heap was many shades of browns, reds, yellows, and a little bit of green. Turning her eyes back at him, she walked over to the leaves and let herself delicately flow into them. He watched her a bit peculiarly. She closed her eyes as she laid there. The little decaying vegetation encircled her and covered her outline. Her blonde hair spread out and some pieces of the plants grasped onto a few strands. Her arms were spread out. Her cheeks were a light shade of pink from the nippy air, a contrast to her pale skin. And her ruby lips were spread out in a small smile, her bottom and lower lip slightly parted from each other. Shikamaru couldn't help but notice her bosom, which was protruding more due to the arch in her back from her position. Her chest moved up and down as she breathed. Her stomach was even slimmer from laying flat, showing the indents of her muscles and her last rib bone. Shikamaru's blush deepened when he noticed all the parts of her that held his most attention.

She tapped the ground next to her a few times, signaling for him to join her. His eyes turned to her hands the moment he sensed the movement. He rolled his eyes, but a small smile also came to his lips. Slowly he got down on his hands and knees and crawled over to her. He turned over and positioned himself next to her. He closed his eyes as she had done. A smile crept further on Ino's face when she heard the rummaging of leaves to her right. She turned over onto her side, opening her eyes as she did. She pulled one arm up so that it supported her. As some of her hair lifted off the ground, scraps of leaves clung to it and rose in the air.

She stared at him a moment. He seemed just as relaxed as he did when he gazed at the clouds. Then she said in a slightly sly manner, "You say you don't want to rush. Is that your way of saying you want to spend more time with me?" Her eyes narrowed playfully.

She watched for his reaction. He didn't open his eyes when he replied, "Maybe." His tone displayed a small chuckle and she watched as his lips spread into a smirk. Her smile widened as well. She knew it.

She giggled a little and moved closer to him. She laid her head on his chest. She felt the rhythmical inhale and exhale of his breathe, her head rising slightly along with him. It was a calm and relaxed rhythm. It a way it eased her a little bit or a least, she hoped she would become more relaxed as well. She wished she could be as carefree as him. He just went with the flow and even if he did complain, he never acted upon it much. Did things unnerve him much? She could only count a few times in which he had been severely worried. Would doing something like she must do make him nervous?

"I'm glad we got this mission together," she whispered softly. "I haven't gotten much time to see you lately." She closed her eyes. If there was anyone that she would want to be paired with, it was him. In something that caused as much anxiety as her current situation, maybe with someone as calm as him she could feed off that serene aura and become more tranquil herself. She let out a large exhale of air.

There was, of course, another reason she wanted to be with him. It had been almost a week since she had last seen him. Their missions always separated them and the occasions when they did have time to spend together were always short-lived. They both must have been in some crazy mode when they became an official couple, but few knew about it anyway. Her feelings had been running high that day and at first she thought her heart must had been seriously confused, but with time to think about the matter, she decided that her feelings were genuine and accepted the fact that she had fallen for him.

She felt his hand creep onto her back and slide up it. It sent chills up her spine at each stroke. His fingers brushed through her hair slowly, rhythmically. There was a lazy way in which he moved, a quality which accompanied all his actions. It was almost like he was doing it unconsciously. Maybe he was. When she opened her eyes and cast her gaze upon his visage, he's eyes remained closed. She wondered, a bit amused, if he was thinking of something and if so what was it? Was it about her? She hoped so.

After a few moments she notice him peek open his eyes and look down at her. His eyes opened slowly. She smiled at him and stared at him with big blue eyes. He stared back and a smirk came to his face. She snuggled nearer to him. She neared her face close to his and closed her eyes in the moment. She saw his eyes had been closing as well. Closer and closer; nearer and nearer their lips came. Here, it was! Her first kiss was just around the corner. Finally, she was going to kiss him. He had avoided it earlier, but not this time!

Right before their lips embraced he suddenly sat up. She was forced up with him. She clung uncomfortably to his chest, her back arching in an awkward stretch, sending pain through her muscles. Her legs still rested on the ground. She shot her eyes open at the movement and blinked. She looked up at him puzzled. His face was beet red and he refused to look at her.

"Come on, we better get going," he muttered and then detached himself from her and stood up. She could only stare up at him as his hands pried her off him. She sunk onto her knees, the dirty leaves running over her thighs. He began walking away, leaves crunching under his feet.

She couldn't believe it. Utter shock was the only way to describe what she was feeling. He had completely blew her off. "But you said you weren't in a hurry!" she stuttered back in a high voice. Her heart hurt. She almost had an urge to cry. He now had avoided kissing her twice. Maybe he didn't want to kiss her. Maybe he didn't care for her all that much.

The next few days went by in a blur. They walked or ran the familiar trail to the Sand Village. Leaves fell all around. The ground was full of them. The trees were lacking them. For a long time half bare trees were all she saw, but then they reached the desert. Then all there was to the eye was an endless pile of sand. There was no longer any fountains of reds, browns, yellows, or gold incasing the scenery. There was only one color: tan, and a dull blue that filled the cloudless sky. Little bits of debris floated in the air. The cold chill of autumn was slowly replaced with a scorching sun in the day and freezing nights.

It had been late when they arrived and they were forced to spend the night at a local inn after successful delivery of their letter. They had gotten two separate rooms. Ino had insisted. True, they were a couple, but at the time Ino wasn't feeling too comfortable towards Shikamaru. Also it was better for her to be isolated from him if she was to complete the part of the mission that gave her a major migraine. She had been up all night thinking about her secret mission. Not only that, but the other nights on their trip to the Sand were full of restless sleep. Her mind was wandering too much with thoughts.

Her spy objective was one of her problems, yes, but there was another. Ino just couldn't understand Shikamaru. It was completely beyond her. Why did he pull away? Why? For the last couple of days all their romantic moments seemed to be flushed away. It wasn't that he was avoiding her, or vise-versa , but, instead, that the moments were just not present. It hurt her more than she knew, but she didn't want to confront him about it. She was afraid of what would happen if she did. So she let it be. He seemed all right. Maybe it was nothing to worry about. Maybe she was just over thinking the whole manner. Yet, she couldn't help but dismiss the thought. As she watched the leaves fall, she couldn't help but think that, perhaps too, the little love they had was falling apart. Relationships were destroyed all the time. Maybe that was meant also for theirs. Maybe even though they had said they had feelings for the other before that wasn't enough for love. Maybe he just didn't love her enough.

Ino sat on the end of a bed, her legs dangling over the edge. The mattress was hard and the comforters a bit itchy. It was a cheap bed because they were at a cheap hotel. She twirled a lock of her long hair around her finger nervously. She was desperately trying to think of a plan. She forced and forced her brain to come up with something, but nothing came. Her eyes hurt from being unable to sleep. She felt light-headed. It was almost like she would fall over if she tried to stand. She was too tired to carry out the mission, but she knew she had no choice.

She knew her objective: find out if the Sand was disloyal. The "how" part was more complicated than just stating the facts. She knew that if she was going to spy, she needed to use her jutsu on someone with relatively high status or at least on someone who had connections. But she couldn't leave her own body lying around like a rag-doll just anywhere. That was too dangerous! And if Shikamaru saw her, he'd know that she used her jutsu. Why, oh, why couldn't she just tell him? Her time limit was dramatically short as well. She could stay in her jutsu for ten -maybe she could squeeze out eleven- minutes at most. She knew her limitations, but still no plan came to her. Shikamaru was the one that created all the plans. Oh, she needed him so bad.

All of a sudden a knock came at the door. Ino nearly jumped out of her skin. All her thoughts slipped from her mind. Slowly she stood up and walked over to the door. It must be Shikamaru, she thought disgruntled. He must be ready to go. But she couldn't leave yet. She had to finish her mission. She tried in a desperate panic to create an excuse so they would stay longer. Each step she took made her stomach feel worst and her mind strain harder. Her hand crept slowly over to the handle, twisted it, and pulled the door open. To her shock the spunky face of the Sand kunoichi Temari stared back at her.

"Here's the Kazekage's reply," she said swiftly and shoved an envelope into the fellow girl's hands.

"Uh, thanks," Ino managed to stutter, still too much in shock to think correctly.

She looked down at the letter and then back at Temari, who was all ready turning around to leave. An idea came to Ino. "Um, wait!" Ino hollered. The older kunoichi turned to her slowly, with a face that looked slightly annoyed; a what-do-you-want face. The word's caught in Ino's throat. Her heart started to beat faster. Temari was a very strong and wise ninja. She wouldn't fall for just anything. She had to look innocent. She only had one shot. If she missed, the Leaf would look like the traitors. She knew her hands were sweaty; the envelope had become damp. She hoped she didn't looked panicked nor sound of it as she asked," Can I talk to you a minute?"

Temari looked very skeptical. She didn't budge. She didn't say anything.

"Please, just for a minute."

Staring at Ino hard the whole time, she took a few steps in the hotel room. The door slid close behind her.

"What's wrong?" Temari inquired, eyes narrowed.

"Um…" Ino paused and bit her lip. This was it. This was her only chance. She couldn't waste anymore time. She had to complete her mission in the next ten minutes, starting right now. She swiftly rose her hands to the correct position and cast her jutsu. Temari might had been a much more skilled ninja, but in those moments she had let her guard down. She saw the move coming much too late to do anything about it. She flinched the last split second before the mind transfer hit her. Instantly, Ino's body collapsed to the carpeted floor.

Ino felt herself awaken in Temari's body. She couldn't help but have an odd sensation rush over her as she stared at her lifeless form. Now all the pressure was on her. She had to proceed swiftly. Now everything she had dreaded doing was real. She was taller in Temari's body and was fully aware of it as she walked over to her real body. Even though she knew she had to be fast, she just couldn't leave herself like that. Quickly she dragged the body to the bed and heaved it up. She pulled some covers over the figure. She was thankful that Temari's muscles were stronger than her own and allowed her to do this task swifter. She made it look like "Ino" was sleeping.

Then she rushed to the door and pulled it upon. She almost had a heart attack when she saw who was standing behind the door, ready to knock on it. Panic rose in her body like wildfire. She couldn't risk getting caught now. She couldn't risk time now either.

"Uh…Shikamaru…" she stuttered more by reflex than by actually wanting to speak his name. She hoped she didn't make Temari appear too nervous or worried. She knew Temari was strong and always sure and composed. She saw Shikamaru glancing at her oddly and then looking past her to the collapsed body on the bed. She needed to make something up and she said the first thing that came to mind, "That girl sure is tired! She just collapsed when I gave her the Kazekage's response!"

He looked at her even more strangely. Then took another look at Ino. She prayed he wouldn't think anything of it. But if it was one thing Shikamaru would do it was think. He rarely acted, but boy, did he think about things. Things didn't get past him.

"Sorry, but I'm in a hurry. Would you move?" she snapped, hoping Temari would say something like that. He didn't move, only stared. She pushed him out of the way and walked right past him and down the hall. She didn't look back. She was sure he was staring at her with confusion and some bit of irritation. Or maybe he had walked in to see what was wrong with Ino. She half expected him to call her back, having caught on. As soon as she turned a corner and was sure he couldn't see her any longer, she broke into a run and dashed out of the hotel at full speed.

She allowed herself to catch her breath once she reached a reasonable place outside the inn. Her heart felt like it was going to explode in her chest. She prayed that Shikamaru wouldn't come after her. Just find the whole thing "too troublesome!" she thought mentally.

Okay, she told herself. She let out a deep breath. She didn't have time to let herself recover. She didn't have time to worry about what Shikamaru would do if he found out. There was an "if" there anyway. Right now, she needed to dig around for some information. She stood up as straight as she could and breathed in and out heavily as she walked, so she would recover quickly. She scanned the area for anyone that could prove useful.

I have to find information and fast, she told herself as she walked. She whirled her head around and around, looking and praying she'd find something. The best people to find out information from would probably be Gaara or Kankuro. They were high on the food chain here and she knew for a fact that Temari had connections to them. She wouldn't be talking to someone that didn't know Temari if she asked one of them. However, the thought of asking Gaara scared her to death. If he found out she was a spy she had little doubt in her mind that the "to death" part wouldn't remain figurative. She gulped at the very thought. She remembered the Chunin Exams with a growing fear. Sure, people said he changed, but she wasn't in the mood to test it.

Then that left Kankuro. He was scary too; only a little degree lower than Gaara. She hoped she'd be able to find him and fast. She hoped he wasn't out on a mission and her search was just pointless. Where would he be? She didn't know the area well. She could ask for his location and directions, but wouldn't that give her away? People would no doubt find it peculiar that his sister asked them for information on where he was.

The heavens must had been smiling on her or something. After all the torture of the mind and heart she had been put through, finally something good was happening to her. In the next minute she found who she was looking for.

"Hey, Temari!" Kankuro bellowed. As soon as she recognized his voice, which took awhile because she was not used to hearing it nor was she used to being called "Temari," she spun around. She saw the man walking over to her. He was almost completely dressed in black, except for his face which had makeup strangely outlining his mouth and other features. Ino couldn't help but think that it looked tacky. Men just shouldn't wear makeup and no one should wear makeup like that. He carried his puppets in a wrapped container on his back.

"Oh, Kankuro…" she said, trying to act as naturally Temari as she could. She found it very hard. She wished she knew a bit more about the girl's personality. Ino was lively and gregarious, but from what Ino knew, Temari was cool and collected.

"Hey, where are you going in such a hurry?" he asked innocently enough.

"Actually, I was looking for you." She didn't have to lie. In this case it wouldn't be suspicious. He gave her a questioning look. She knew he was wondering why she was looking for him for in a brotherly concern. He didn't appear to suspect her at all. Okay, now she had to pull off some sort of miracle. She needed to get to the goods but she needed to do it without bringing that much attention to the subject. She hoped some of Temari's intelligence would rub off on her. "I heard some people talking about the Sand breaking alliance with the Leaf. They think the Sand will betray them." She tried to look serious and worried. She hoped she didn't sound awkward. She held her breath, waiting for his answer.

"You're still worried about that?" His voice sounded affectionate and sincere. Ino couldn't believe what she had heard. Somehow she had chosen the right words. "Don't worry. As I told you before, there's no way Gaara's going to allow that to happen. He knows you hated the idea of breaking the alliance back before the Chunin exams. He may act like he doesn't care, but really, he does. You know that right?" He smiled at her.

Ino felt at a lost for words. His whole response came as sort of a shock. She really didn't know anything about the Sand ninja at all. "Uh…yeah, I know…I guess I just needed the reassurance." She shifted uncomfortably to add to the effect she hoped she had built. "I was just a little worried when I heard it going around the village."

"Nah, it's all the fault of that stupid lord. Running his mouth like that." His features darkened to a scary degree. "But you know, he can run his mouth all he wants, but if he doesn't have an army to back him up, his words mean nothing. He's too afraid of Gaara to make a move anyway." He smirked a bit devilishly at his last comment. Then he smiled at her reassuringly.

The woman smiled back. "Thanks," she said roughly.

"No problem," he stated as if it was nothing. He then looked like he just remembered something as the shocked appearance of realization dawned on him. "Oh, I have to go see Gaara." He turned and waved a hand at her, biding a farewell of, "I'll see you later, okay?" He waved and walked away.

Ino celebrated inside Temari. Her mission was complete! She had found out that the Sand wasn't betraying the Leaf and she was certain her information gathering was accurate because it came from Kankuro. She had pulled it all off without suspicion to top it off. Somehow she had succeeded. Now all she had to do was get back into her own body and report to Tsuande once she and Shikamaru returned home. Her time limit was almost up anyway and she was feeling the fatigue and strain of remaining in Temari's mind.

The exhaustion inside her dwindled away when she saw a certain person approaching her. Of course, something had to ruin her moment of joy. She had had too much all ready. She felt a sickening feeling well up in her stomach. The panic from earlier returned in a rush. She wanted to run and hid, but she couldn't do that. That was un-Temari-like.

The form of Shikamaru slowly and agonizingly stepped closer to her. He had a laid back expression on his countenance and his hands were stuffed deep within his pants' pockets. His eyes were set lazily on her. The dread increased inside her. Oh, God! He was coming right towards her! Each stride brought him closer and closer to her and his step sent her heart beat racing faster. What was she going to do? What would Temari do? She wasn't very aware of Shikamaru's and hers relationship. Would she greet him? Would she ignore him? Would she give a rude comment with a sneer? Ino didn't know!

Ready or not, the moment rushed upon her. Shikamaru was standing right in front of her, staring at her with the most peculiar expression. She was still trying to think about how to react. She just stared at him oddly; foolishly. She must had looked shocked or just plain dumbfounded. "Dumb" being the key term. What to do?

"You're acting odd," he observed.

"O-o-odd?" she stuttered. She couldn't afford to fall into a trap now, but she had just totally screwed up. She shouldn't had slurred her words. She should had been calm and confident. Maybe she should had replied with some sort of jeer. It was too late. The look he had aimed at her gained intensity with confusion. "What are you talking about?" she snapped, trying to regain her composure. She needed to stay cool. She tried her best to obey herself. She straightened herself up a bit, looking more relaxed. She narrowed her eyes and added more ice to her voice. "Nothing's wrong with me!"

"Really?" He perked an eyebrow. "'Cause normally you would add some sort of insult to that comment. Like cry-baby or something."

Dammit! Ino thought. Why did Shikamaru have to analyze people so well? Why did he have to know Temari?

She let out a "hmph!" and turned around. "Whatever! I'm leaving." She was just about to leave him standing there when another thought came to her. She was in someone else's body. Not her own. This was her chance to confront him about the incident in the leaf pile. This could be a chance to at least start fixing things. Maybe she could find out if he really did love her. "Hey," she called to him without turning about. Her voice was soft and a little sad. She didn't want it to be, but she couldn't stop it. Never did Temari's voice sound so foreign to her ears than in the words she spoke next. It was a gentle voice. "You, know that girl you came with? I think you should talk to her. She seemed really down."

He didn't answer. And the depth of her words dawned on her. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to say them! She felt the familiar sensation of panic gurgle in her stomach. "Um… yeah, that's all I wanted to say! Bye!"

She had just taken one step forward when she felt a hand clasp around her wrist. Her heart skipped a beat. What was going on? She whirled her head around instantly. She found herself staring face to face with Shikamaru. There was an odd look in his eyes. It was a bit of a sad and regretting expression. Perhaps a guilty one.

She didn't have time to stop what he did next. Her eyes widened and she couldn't move. She was paralyzed with complete and utter alarm. What did he think he was doing. In a matter of a second he ahad pulled her close and pushed his mouth rather roughly on hers. He kissed her! This would had been all fine and dandy if she was in her own body and if he wasn't kissing Temari- a girl that was not his girlfriend. Things might had been better too, if half the damn village wasn't watching.

She jerked away in an instant. She didn't believe what had just happened. She couldn't believe what had happened. She felt a stab to her heart like a cold knife slowly easing its way painfully through. Tears were forming in her eyes. There was no times for words. There was no time for accusations. She couldn't say anything anyway. If she did he'd know everything. She could only endure the pain on her own.

Why? Why didn't he love her-Ino? She loved him so much, but did he not feel the same? He had just kissed another girl. He never once kissed her! Why would he kiss Temari? Was there something going on that she didn't know about? Was he two-timing? Why was he doing this to her? How could he do this to her? Did love and loyalty mean nothing to him.

She gave him one last deathly glare and began running away. His hand grabbed her again and he shouted, "Wait!" His voice was a bit desperate. There was also an odd look in his eye. Something full of pain. Something that wanted to apologize. Whatever else he wanted to say, she definitely didn't want to hear it. She didn't pay much attention to his pleading look, for she only saw it for a split second before she pulled her hand away and pushed him away. In that moment she was glad Temari's body was stronger than her own. She didn't look back as she dashed away and he didn't pursue her again.

She didn't know exactly when she returned to her body. She was not paying attention to anything but her aching heart. Tears blurred her vision and her feet kept running. At some point or another she was in that hotel bed, face in the pillows, soaking it with her tears. It still felt like she was running; like she was running from the facts and from the truth. She'd run forever just not to confront those facts. It was why he pulled away from her before, was it not? It was why he didn't want her. He wanted Temari.

She lied in that bed for a very long time. How much time elapsed? She didn't know. She just knew that each second felt like forever and in every second her heart was pierced by a thousand needles. Her pillow was damp with her tears. She remembered throwing the covers over herself. Maybe she fell asleep at some point or another. She only returned to the normal world when he came to get her. It was noon at that point. She composed herself the best she could in front of him. And whipped the tears from her eyes. Her cheeks, however, remained flushed and her eyes puffy. He didn't know that she had been Temari at that time. What choice did she have but to act like nothing happened?

Maybe as they walked back to the Leaf village he noticed the signs of her tears. Maybe he noticed that her eyes were bloodshot and tired-looking. Maybe he noticed that he cheeks were red and tear stained. Maybe he didn't notice anything. Maybe he noticed that she was speaking less to him than their journey to the sand. Maybe he noticed that her cheerful and commanding nature had been sucked out of her. Maybe he didn't.

On the third day of their trip home he spoke to her. They were finally back in the forest and it would only be a few hours before they arrived. The tops of the trees were even more bear than when they had last seen them. Most of the leaves were on the soil, brown and decaying into the earth; much like the love they once said they had. Maybe he had in fact noticed her curious behavior the whole time and maybe with the fact that they were almost home, he wanted to clear up any unresolved matters because he knew he wouldn't get the chance to for a long time.

At last he asked, "What's wrong, Ino?" His voice seemed a bit desperate. It also had a hint to it that proved he had given up trying to figure her out.

She almost burst out laughing at the question. However, she decided not to answer. She continued walking, ignoring him.

She felt his hand grasp around her wrist in attempt to stop her. She didn't want to talk about it and she definitely didn't want him touching her! She pulled her arm away in an instant. What a strong and violent tug it was. It was the same pull she used when she escaped his grasp when she was in Temari's body.

She turned and stared at him, eyes furious and maybe filled with a little pain as well. He stared back. He seemed a bit taken back, but he quickly straightened himself up. He seemed to be thinking and thinking very hard.

"So did you see it through your own eyes or hers?" he inquired suddenly. His tone was sly and almost mocking. He looked at her a bit too confidently. He raised his head back a little and looked at her with eyes that seemed to look through her.

She knew right away what the question was implying. Yet she couldn't believe he knew. It was her time to be off guard. She was well aware of her eyes narrowing on him and filling with contempt. She gritted her teeth a bit.

"I knew it was you," he stated plainly.

"So you did now?" she nearly screeched, the anger that she had been building for so long was rushing out of her with full ferocity. She sneered, "Well, that makes it all better!" She gave him the dirtiest look that she could muster. "If you knew why'd you do it? The fact remains that you kissed her, not me! And why'd you wait so long to bring it up?" She felt the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She wanted to look strong and fierce, but she knew she was failing miserably.

She heard him mutter something under his breath. She knew it was some sort of complaint. He raised his hand and massaged his temple before saying in a low voice, "It's not what you think."

"How can I trust you?" she choked, the tears fully embracing her tone. "You kiss her but before you pulled away from me."

He gave a puzzling look at her last comment.

"Before! In the leaf pile!"

He didn't say anything at first. He was searching for the memory. Then he shouted back, his voice almost pleading, "I was thinking!"

"About her?"

"No! About what Tsunade spoke to you about." His voice softened and his eyes cast away. "I was trying to figure it out."

"Well, I guess you know now, huh?" Her voice had attained its venom once again. "I was spying on the Sand!"

They remained silent a few minutes. It seemed like an eternality. She just stared at him with rage and he just stared back, not ready to act but not ready to back down either. The fire she had built was still sparking and burning all the wood at a furious pace. His next words were soft, "I was going to speak, before you ran away, but I didn't get a chance. I didn't know how you were feeling until you brought it up as Temari. I just didn't know what to do when I saw you like that. I wasn't thinking."

"Maybe you should have talked about it before you kissed her," she growled. She then dropped her gaze from him. She hated this feeling. How could such a genius be such an idiot?

He walked over to her. She didn't move. She told her ground. She couldn't move. She didn't have the heart. She was scared, but yet, at the same time, she wanted to forgive him. His hand reached up to her chin and caressed it. She didn't look at him. A part of her wanted to pull away. A part of her didn't. A part wanted to accept him again. A part didn't.

"You're so troublesome," he breathed. "You're the only one I want to kiss." He drew his head close to her and neared his lips to her. He didn't kiss her. It was like he was waiting for her permission. She could feel his breath on her skin. She didn't look up still.

She wanted to forgive him. And she would.

"Then go ahead," she muttered. "It's troublesome waiting."

He smirked at her comment and then drew close and kissed her.

The End.

I'm finally done! Yes! Only one more season story to write. This one took much longer than expected. I wasn't satisfied with the rough draft and kept adding and adding and I'm still not fully satisfied. I think it's because it's so fluffy for me! Please review if you liked it! And if you like it maybe you'll like my other Shikaino stories!