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Chouji sat down next to me on the grassy hill that cloudy day like I knew he would.
He pulled out a bag of chips and started eating like I knew he would.
I could tell there was something he wanted to say by the way he kept on looking over at me, lying down in the grass with the arms behind my head. So I waited until he was ready to speak, like I knew he would.
"I'm in love with her."
The cloud I was focusing on drifted away as my eyes settled on Chouji and then what he was staring at in front of us.
Ino was picking flowers a little bit ahead and making a ring of them, smiling as she counted them one by one.
I never knew.
To say she was troublesome would be an understatement.
Ino craves attention from everyone and since I seldom give my attention to anything that isn't white and floating away in the sky – she makes it her priority to make sure she has mine.
Even when she should know perfectly well that she's always had my attention.
I'm more aware of her movements, words, gestures, than I am of anyone else's. But the one thing I'm most aware of is her eyes. Sky blue orbs that are always shining and happy, always teasing and light.
They say that dark is automatically attracted to light.
I wish I wasn't in love with her. I wish I hated her. Heh, on some levels I probably do hate Ino… but on other higher, more important ones…damn.
To me, Yamanaka Ino is the unattainable. She's perfection and reality and its best and worst.
Perfection meaning she's the most gorgeous girl I've ever seen and reality that I don't stand a chance in hell with someone like her.
Acceptance is something I haven't quite mastered yet.
Ino would push me to the limit of playing the aloof, bored, uninterested shadow-nin until she had me right where she wanted me. Ino is anything but efficient. She always got her way… or at least put up a damn good fight that usually consisted of screeching and scratching. On her part, anyway.
And yet, Ino was reality as I said before. Right now, she's off chasing down that Sai guy to go on a date with her.
That's just what Ino was – showing you something you'll never have and dangling it in front of your face so it's always just out of your reach.
In many ways… it's almost cruel.
And now, Chouji's in love with her too.
I really didn't know how to feel about that, so on that day, I didn't say anything…
Neither did Chouji.
The day afterwards I asked Chouji why.
I was calmly lying down on the grass once again, I had asked him that morning to meet me here. So he showed, just like the good friend he was. At my question, he put away the bad of chips he had been munching on and focused on me instead, and my questioning gaze.
The sky was clear that day, without a cloud in sight, to my displeasure.
I wonder if that should have told me something.
My best friend leaned back on his hands with a sigh, "It started when we were twelve, I guess." He admitted slowly.
"That's a long time to like someone." I replied, ignoring how a part of me was called hypocrite by myself. "After all, we are fifteen."
Chouji laughed, "Yeah, I suppose it is. It's just… Ino – well, she's different. And it's not just because she's my teammate, either."
"Ino…her insults always hurt the most, out of everyone's. Back when we first formed a cell, I always wondered why. And…" Chouji stammered at this, "When she smiles at me, I get this ache in my stomach. At first I thought it was because I was just hungry but I'd always get them around her, even when I was full."
He silenced at his confession for a moment, "That time when we went on the Rescue Sasuke mission, Ino visited me in the hospital. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world. That was the first time a girl ever bought me something, and Ino gave me flowers and a fruits basket. Ate them with me, too."
When he looked over at me, I simply nodded with a word. I didn't exactly know what to feel at that moment. I knew I felt confusion, that I felt torn. But besides that, all I could remember was silky golden hair and eyes like the sky.
I knew Chouji was waiting for my response but what could I possibly say? He didn't know how I felt about her. She definitely didn't know. Nobody knew.
On the spot, I started naming all of Ino's faults. I listed them in a monotone, making sure Chouji listened and paid attention as I lazily grumbled my question in a wondrous inquiry of how he could possibly like her. She was bossy. Vain. Selfish. Loud. Stubborn. Arrogant. Flirty. Annoying.
I even said that in a way Ino was worse than my mother. No, she was.
Chouji, however, just laughed.
… That wasn't what I wanted him to do.
One of the bad things of being a recognized genius is that everyone always expects more out of you.
Expectations can be a real hindrance. Not to mention troublesome.
Being in ANBU as a new rookie, I couldn't train with my chunnin team that much anymore. Ino had complained to me about it a few times, but Chouji had remained silent, assuring Ino that it was for my own good and that I get experience in such a dangerous job.
Of course he wouldn't object, this way he got to spend more time with Ino. Alone.
As much as I tried to tell myself, convince myself, that I didn't care… I did. No matter how many times I said it wasn't a problem it was. I started wondering if Ino and Chouji were training together while on missions, distracting one of my many thought patterns from my task at hand.
So instead of 200 strategies, it was 199.
After a while as my time with them became less and less, it went from 199 to 150. I knew this was a problem that I had to address, but I didn't know how to all the same. Chouji was my best friend. I was in love with Ino. He was in love with Ino.
All those facts did nothing to help the matter, least of all solve it.
And that's why I was glad that I had a two week break from missions, at least ANBU ones. Tsunade had said she wanted to give me a break but the truth was she'd call on me anyway if an emergency came up. For extra sleep and a less weighted mind, I hoped it didn't.
Walking over to Team Asuma's training grounds was like a natural routine. I didn't even have to direct my feet, they knew instinctively where to go. When Asuma died, Ino was determined to take care of us like she promised him she would. She had arranged that Team Asuma continue a weekly meeting and training session, she as our group leader, of course.
Chouji and I had agreed, knowing we didn't really have a choice in the matter but also wanting to grip and hold the bonds the held us together so that they'd never be ripped from us. Never again. Not if we could help it.
Not if I could.
When I got there, I saw Ino and Chouji chatting as they did a few warm-ups. I waved to them as they greeted me enthusiastically. Ino ran up and hugged me tightly, shouting how she hadn't seen me in a week and that I should take breaks more often.
When I retorted that it wasn't my choice she punched me in the arm with a beaming smile and said that wasn't a good enough excuse. Chouji had just grinned at me, clapping me on the back as we began to spar with each other.
After we had all sparred the other person once, Ino poked me in the ribs with a smile as I squatted her hand away.
Her blue eyes peered down at me, sitting cross-legged in the grass next to Chouji who was taking a breather.
"I'm not tired yet, Shika!" She said, "Will you watch my body while I work on my technique? I need to practice it and you haven't been around for a while, so…" Ino trailed off as I gave a lazy nod of understanding.
Whenever Ino practiced her mind-jutsu technique, it was my duty to watch over her body and make sure nothing happened. It was like that on missions and in training. It was our thing, me and Ino's. Whenever she did the jutsu, it was always with me.
The first time she told me to 'watch me body, Shikamaru!' was when I was twelve, the first real training practice of Team Asuma. I had been extremely nervous as Asuma and Chouji trained off to the side, Asuma had just finished with Ino and me so I was the only logical choice at the time.
Also, Ino and I were childhood friends. Although we didn't socialize with each other before we got sorted together in a team, I still knew Ino. I still…
When her mind left her body and she went limp in my arms, I remember feeling panicky and overwhelmed. I wondered what it felt like to do something like that and I wondered if she would feel it if I pulled her hair or pinched her.
But instead of doing that because she was loud and bossy and proclaimed that she didn't even want to be in our team, I stared down at her closed eyes and pooling blonde hair and found myself oddly protective. Strongly so, as a matter of fact.
I had thought that it was troublesome at the time but after she woke up and gave me a nod of thanks with a small smile (the first one that day) I knew I wanted to watch over her again. And so, it became a pattern. Whenever she trained, I would be the one to guard her.
I got up immediately to follow her, dusting myself off from sitting on the ground as I walked over to her. Would she smile when she wakes up?
Ino moved her attention on Chouji who had spoken and when I reached her, I too, turned my gaze on him.
"Shikamaru, if you want to get some rest – I could always watch Ino while she practices. I know you must be tired, just coming back from an ANBU mission and all…" Chouji commented, getting up and standing as well.
I stared at him, partially stunned for a minute. Chouji was volunteering to take my role? My place in Ino's training? Resentment laced with a lingering anger filtered through me in a sudden wave, making me narrow my dark eyes on him.
Chouji noticed and arched a confused brow at me. I blinked, realizing what I was doing and lazily shrugged in response, turning to Ino who was regarding Chouji like she had never quite seen him before.
"Um…" Ino started but then abruptly stopped and looked at me, "Are you tired, Shika?"
I gazed into blue eyes and without caring shook my head no. "No, I'm good." I said indifferently, keeping my eyes away from Chouji's reaction at Ino just nodded. I thought I saw relief in her eyes for a second but I might have imagined it.
When I looked back at Chouji, he just nodded to us good-naturedly and waved, saying he was going home to catch some lunch. I was grateful of that because I spent the rest of the afternoon watching over an unconscious Ino and giving her critiques when she was awake about her fighting to make the day with her last longer.
After another such sparring session later that week, I saw a blushing Chouji walk up to Ino. The pretty blonde was putting away her weapons, collecting her stray kunai and shuriken that had embedded itself in the ground and trees.
Chouji picked up one of her kunai before she reached it, handing it to her as she muttered a light thanks and took it from him. I was off to the side, knowing Chouji well enough to know that he was about to ask Ino something.
"…Ino." Chouji said so that Ino turned to him from packing her bag.
"Yeah?" She questioned, throwing him a bright smile that made the red on the plump teenager's face deepen. Ino didn't seem to notice.
"Do you want to come over for dinner?" Chouji rushed out in a coherent manner, turning beet red as I tensed inwardly. Both our gazes were on Ino who still busied with her weapons.
"Sure, Chouji!" Ino answered happily as I stiffened. She said yes, I thought in my mind. She wasn't supposed to say yes. Ino was supposed to be vain and mean and shoot Chouji down.
Nobody knew. Nobody did what they were supposed to do.
Ino looked over her shoulder at me with a happy-go-lucky smile on her lips, "Did you hear that, Shika? Dinner at Chouji's place!" She laughed, "It's a good thing I'm not on a diet!" She giggled, "Anyway, are you coming? We could make it a huge Team Asuma party pig out night!"
My eyes widened a fraction as I stared at Ino who obviously hadn't realized what Chouji meant when he asked her to come over for dinner. I glanced at Chouji to see him looking down at the floor, his hands fisting and un-fisting.
I gave Ino a half-shrug, "Sure."
Nobody was doing what they were supposed to do. So neither was I.
The week ended and then it was Konoha's New Year festival. Days blurred and collided as Chouji and I didn't speak any more about what Chouji told me a couple of weeks before. Ino was still oblivious, and the world still spun as I did what I always did.
Studying the clouds with vague interest and tuning out the sounds of Chouji's munching I winced as the sunlight that had been blocked by a fairly large cloud burned into my eye.
I brought up a hand from behind my head to block it as a shadow fell over me. My gaze traveled up long slender legs to a purple and black skirt with a midriff bearing top. Ino brushed away a few strands of blonde hair away from her clear cerulean eyes as she gazed down at me.
I miss the bandages. At least with them on it was easier ignoring all the curves Ino had. Now however, one glance sent my mind reeling with fantasies and other unappreciated thoughts that I didn't need while she was staring me down.
"Ino," I said with a covered up yawn to make up for my staring, "I thought you'd be getting ready for the festival."
I saw Chouji nod from the corner of my eye. He had been really disappointed when Ino had arrived at practice the week prior with an announcement of a date for New Year's. I knew he had been planning to ask her and I couldn't stop myself from feeling relived. But even that relief didn't stop the slight aggravation I felt at how damn popular Ino was around the male population of our village.
Every guy wanted to date her, not that I could rightly blame them but still…
She smiled broadly, "Since the guy who asked me turned out not to be good enough, I'll go with you two instead."
I twitched. That statement was so Ino I had to shake my head at her. With a look over to Chouji it seemed he had resorted to gaping as Ino giggled.
We both didn't like the idea but when she threatened with her fists and even worse – puppy dog blue eyes – we both relented as I cursed how troublesome women really were. They were devious creatures, addicting and wicked in their siren-like ways.
Ino linked her arm with both of ours that night as we headed into the blaring lights and excited shouts of the Konoha New Year Festival. There was street venders lining the main street selling masks and small fireworks as an up-beat music pumped through the air and the crowds jostled.
People were playing games to earn prizes, eating ice cream, and couples dancing in an area set apart from the festivities where a band played. Children ran down the streets and adults strolled while the younger ones tried held hands with their dates.
"Be grateful, now you guys have the hottest girl here as your date!" Ino exclaimed in a bragging tone as I rolled my eyes.
Chouji seemed to be speechless as he just darted his eyes from Ino and then to her arm on his. I scowled and looked away, even though I had to admit it was pretty hard to.
Ino looked beautiful tonight. Her long blond hair was down, falling in waves over her shoulders to her tiny hips. She had on a light blue kimono with white flower patterns everywhere, going in a spiral form up her length. Her pale complexion was glowing as her kimono brought out the ocean blue of her eyes and the gold in her hair.
The cloth was also thin and managed to accentuate every dip and curve Ino had. Her lips were painted a light red as she beamed at us in turn.
Ino whipped her head to the side to see Sakura on the arm of one Uchiha Sasuke walking over to us, breaking their way through the crowd.
I couldn't say that the news that Sasuke and Sakura got together was all that surprising. I mean, in all honestly, Sakura had been waiting the whole three years Sasuke was gone for him to come back. And Sasuke…well, in my view the guy didn't have any feelings whatsoever. But, if anyone could restrain him well enough, why not the boulder-breaking Haruno Sakura?
Besides, for some reason she seemed completely devoted to him. That's just the way it was, I guess. Nobody really gets what they deserve. Sasuke, who didn't deserve anything after returning to the village got an ANBU job (in which I had to see more of the Uchiha than I ever wanted to), and Sakura. But that was life, in all fairness and unfairness.
I wondered when I came to be so pessimistic.
"Hey, Forehead." Ino called back as she broke away from me and Chouji to stride over to her best friend, Sakura, who also let go of Sasuke's arm.
They began to chat in a corner about the festival and other stuff I couldn't hear over all the commotion. I mentally shrugged and looked over to Sasuke again. I really did hate this guy, but ever since he came back from Sound a few months ago it seems he's been slowly gaining the trust and respect of the old rookie nine.
No doubt Sakura and Naruto's influence – the Uchiha looked like he didn't care one way or the other. I was still surprised on how he only managed to get probation after a month in jail for all the crap he did. Then again, Kakashi vouched for him and with Naruto, the soon to be next Hokage on his side, along with the present Hokage's apprentice, I suppose I shouldn't be all that shocked.
Right now the 'former' traitor didn't look too happy being in this place. His face was stoic enough but I could tell from the slight narrowing of his eyes that he was getting annoyed. Not that I could blame him really, I disliked crowds and socializing as well.
Not that I'd ever tell him that.
This was all too troublesome, really.
I turned to raise a brow at Sasuke who stood there staring at me evenly.
"Yeah?" I answered in a bored tone, frowning at my ANBU teammate. See? Life isn't fair.
"Tsunade wants to talk to our team tomorrow morning. Tell the Hyuga." Sasuke said emotionlessly, disinterested black eyes looking away from me again as my frown deepened.
Of course he would add the -sama to Tsunade's name like he was supposed to. The only people this guy even showed a semblance of respect to was Team Seven. Feh, I hate him. And now I have to find the damn Hyuga on top of that. God forbid he relay the message.
"Sakura." Sasuke inquired lowly to the pink haired medic as she spun around from her conversation with Ino. "Let's go."
Sakura frowned at him but then her eyes widened, "Oh no! Your right, Sasuke-kun! I told Naruto and Hinata we'd meet them by the food tables now," She grabbed his arm again as he lightly scowled in return.
"You what?" The prodigy snapped as Sakura started pulling him away, towards the food area.
"It'll only be a little while!" She said to Sasuke as she looked over her shoulder, "Bye, Ino-chan!"
Ino waved back with a smile as I stared at her. When Sasuke and Sakura had gotten together, Ino hadn't showed any jealously or bitterness at all. I even asked her about to one time, but she had just poked me in the ribs and said she stopped liking him after he turned traitor and left the village.
When I said that it was a good thing, that Sasuke was bad news anyway, she shook her head at me. She had said it wasn't because he was a traitor that she stopped liking him that say, it was because she had found out that Sakura was for real.
I let the subject drop afterwards, knowing from the look on her face that she didn't want to say any more. Besides, I could gather enough just from that. Ino had had a crush on the Uchiha, but Sakura had been in love with him.
Well, that had been plain to see that day on the rescue Sasuke mission. Even the dense Naruto had said it when Sakura came up to him, crying and begging for him to bring Sasuke back.
I guess I had known it since the chunnin exams but I didn't care at the time. Team Kakashi made they're own mistakes, as did Team Asuma.
Later on that night, Chouji entered a pie eating contest and Ino cheered him on. I watched as he out-ate all the other nine men and women participating and claimed the prize. It was no contest, really. He picked out a large panda bear and gave it to Ino, blushing and mumbling something I couldn't hear as she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
I felt a cold stab of jealousy and turned away from the sight. As the night carried on, my sour mood didn't get any better. In fact, it worsened as when we were eating our snacks at the wooden tables laid out in the eating area next to the dance floor, I didn't eat or engage on the conversation between my teammates.
In my mind it was just another thing that was unfair. A thing that really hit home, to make it worse. Suddenly Ino stood up abruptly and grabbed my arm, hoisting me up.
"Ah, what are you doing?" I asked, not pulling my arm away from her as Chouji looked up at us from his seat.
"Well, these foods are way too fattening for me to eat and Chouji's not done with his yet. And you – you've been grumpy all evening and it's starting to piss me off!" Ino declared, tightening her grip on my arm, "And since you don't feel like talking or eating your going to dance with me!"
I stilled, "No way." I answered instantly, nerves of insecurity already jumping as I glanced over to the crowded dance floor and the now slow music playing.
"Er, Ino…" Chouji began, putting down his chopsticks as Ino just shook her head firmly.
"You're not getting out of this." Ino growled as she charged her way over to the dance floor, still latched onto my arm as she forcibly dragged me over.
I gave in, figuring it was too troublesome to argue about it and Ino did look really pissed off about my attitude. She pushed her way so we were in the middle (I really would have preferred the edge, but Ino did like being the center of attention) and faced me once more when she found what she deemed the perfect spot.
I stood there awkwardly as Ino wrapped her arms around my stiff shoulders and lightly swayed to the music. It was a slow melodic beat, making couples move closer to lean one another's head on their shoulders. We didn't, I nervously placed sweaty hands on her waist, lightly gripping the soft material of her kimono unconsciously but she didn't seem to mind.
I worked up the nerve to look her in the eye and saw that she was smiling at me. Willing my face not to turn beet red and give me away, I darted my gaze off of hers.
"What's wrong, Shikamaru?"
I stared down at her again and tensely shrugged, "What do you mean?"
She narrowed her blue eyes at me, "Answer the question! I can sense something's off with you – you've been acting weird all night!"
"It's nothing, Ino." I lazily reassured.
Her face flushed, "Quit lying to me!" she said in a voice loud enough so I would get her point and low enough so that others dancing next to us wouldn't hear, "I can help, you know."
In the back of my mind, I knew that if I was on Chouji's side – if I wanted him to have a chance with the girl I was 'dancing' with (if you really call me just standing there while Ino moved dancing) I would choose right now to put in a good word for him.
Did I want them together?
I said nothing.
"Shika!" Ino hissed in annoyance at being ignored, like I knew she would. At least I could count on Ino to do things I'd expect.
"Ino." I said in my usual monotone as my eyes settled on hers once again.
"What?" she snapped, still fairly pissed off.
"Tonight…" I started as I forced myself to put down my cowardice and keep her gaze, "you look pretty."
Ino's eyes widened as a pink tint took hold of her face, "Wow, Shika, I never heard you compliment me before!" She said with and amazed tone in her voice, "…okay, now I'm really worried about you. What's the matter?" She took a step closer to me so that we were nearly touching.
I tensed, "What, just because I compliment you something's wrong?"
"Yes!" Ino insisted, "You never do that. You just insult me all the time, remember?"
I arched a brow at her, now thoroughly confused for once. "When do I insult you?"
The blonde girl rolled her eyes, "By calling me troublesome - ,"
"- I call everyone troublesome." I cut in as she went on.
"– and annoying, vain, loud, bossy, bitchy…"
"That was once!" I said sternly, clenching my fists at her sides.
Ino frowned and looked down at her feet, "Yeah, I know." She said, laughing slightly.
Hearing the forced laugh made me inwardly cringe. I moved a hand to rub the back of my neck, "It's not like I meant any of it…well, except the troublesome part…" I muttered, not meeting her gaze.
"…yeah…" Ino agreed silently, "…me either. I don't think you're a lazy bum. Well, maybe lazy, but not a bum." She admitted, laughing a bit for real this time.
I meet her eyes again to find her already staring at me. I swallowed as my suddenly dry throat and worked my mouth to say something. "Listen, Ino…I think…"
We both turned our attention to Chouji who had just made his way from the crowd, which was now dancing to an up-beat tune. I hadn't even noticed.
Whatever I was about to say was lost as Ino danced with Chouji next and I walked back to our table by myself to wait for the dance to end, annoyed and frustrated with both Chouji and myself.
A week after that, Team Asuma was assigned a mission that dealt with our infiltration and capture skills. It was in Cloud country, and had been long and tedious to say the least. After the work locating the identity and would-be assassin of the Fire Lord, we swiftly took care of the imposing threat and made our way home.
It was just as well that in the battle with the intended assassin and his lackeys, Ino's tent that was in her bag she was carrying got destroyed in the process as she dealt the final blow to him.
That evening as we settled down to make camp before making the final trip back home, fortune had chosen to scowl at us as a heavy pour of rain doused on us.
"This is great, just great." Ino spat, anger flashing in her eyes as she kicked the muddy ground. "Now what am I suppose to do? I can't even tough it outside!"
"Calm down, Ino." I said with a tired sigh, "you can take my tent. It's not that big of a deal."
Of course I'd give up my tent, even though it was troublesome it was what was expected. As the gentleman it was my duty. Not all my father's lessons had been in vain, after all. Even though I still persisted that women were more trouble than warranted, as a man I couldn't just sit back and watch Ino tough it out in the rain.
"What?!" She screeched, making me wince. "But what about you? You can't bunk up with Chouji, the tents we brought are only made for one person and that would be impossible!" She quickly looked over to Chouji, "No offense."
Chouji just frowned and nodded, staring at his pack thoughtfully.
"Listen; there is no point for us all to be standing here in the rain arguing till we get colds." I said sternly to Ino. "I'm the captain of this mission and you'll do what I say, Ino. You're the medic, anyway. We need you to be in top form in case anything happens."
I reached over to my pack as Ino steamed and started setting up the tent, purposefully ignoring her. Really, old Ino would have been more thankful she wouldn't have to rot out in the rain.
I told Chouji to start setting his up as well and he did, moving a bit further from mine. The green tents were up in a matter of seconds as I took Ino's pack and placed it inside. I heard a cough and looked up to see Ino glaring down at me, my pack secured in her hands.
"…Ino?" I questioned with an inquiring stare. I hoped she wasn't going to make any more of a fuss.
"I have a solution," Ino said stiffly as I narrowed my eyes at her. "Obviously, you can't share a tent with Chouji. Or me, for that matter since mine's destroyed." I glanced at Chouji to see him silently following Ino's words, a sudden tenseness in his shoulders.
"But," Ino continued, "You can share a tent with me." My eyes widened as she just huffed audibly over the storm. "It's only for a while and even though we'll have a share a sleeping bag, its necessity. We're ninja. It's just the way it is." She said while sounding very mature as my face flamed.
Images of Ino and me in a sleeping bag together flooded my mind as I lowered my eyes instinctively to the ground. I hoped the rain would be able to cover my face's sudden redness. 'I can't believe she suggested that…I had thought of it in the back of my mind but I was sure she's never go for it…' Who was I kidding? For me, this scenario only happened in very good dreams.
I studied the tent which now looked even smaller than it had a few seconds ago. I met Ino's gaze again and opened my mouth to say something but she beat me to it.
"What? Are you going to say its inappreciative? Ungentlemanly? That you're the captain of this mission and therefore it's okay for you to get a cold? Because that's just plain stupid and unnecessary, Shikamaru." Ino insisted, glaring at me to try and deter her. "And what's the big deal, anyway? We used to share a bed all the time when we were five."
"Five and fifteen are very different, Ino." I said blandly, shaking my head.
"Uh, maybe there's another solution." Chouji interjected, his frown deepening.
"There isn't!" Ino persisted, hugging herself. "And I'm freezing out here so I'm going to go inside that tent and warm up." She threw a scathing glance at me, "And if you're a genius like they say then you would see that this is the only logical thing to do. As a medic, I can't on good will and allow my teammate to get sick, especially on my account."
I drummed my fingers nervously on my knee for a few seconds as Ino narrowed her blue eyes at me in the rain, raising her chin up stubbornly. I glanced at Chouji to see him watching me very carefully.
I had always considered myself a good friend.
"Okay, Ino you win." I amended, "You have a point, anyway." I muttered as she beamed at me and got in the tent. Grabbing my pack as well, I made sure my gaze didn't waver to the deathly quiet Chouji as I crept into the small tent.
I had always considered myself a good friend – but not today.
"I can't sleep!" Ino whined.
I groaned into the sleeping bag under my head. I had given Ino the tiny pillow that went with it. As if it wasn't bad enough that Ino's left leg was pressed into mine, that her bare arm was nudged into my own arm, and that I could feel her breathing fan across the back of my neck all warm…
I rolled over to face her and jerked back when our noses touched incidentally. She giggled under her breath as I frowned and looked away from her. "Whatever," I murmured as her giggling increased.
"Really, Shikamaru – are you sulking?" She cooed as I glared at her.
"No." I said in a bored manner. Disinterest always worked for me when I was embarrassed.
"Don't be like that, I was only teasing." She responded, adjusting to that her pale arm was under her head as she viewed me. "I do need to talk to you, though."
I regarded her warily, not liking her tone. "About what?"
"About what we never finished at New Year's." She answered confidently.
I shifted in the sleeping bag, having a vague sense that I was trapped. "Oh?"
"Yes." She replied with a raise to her cerulean eyes. "What were you about to say when Chouji interrupted us?"
I stared blankly at her blunt question and guessed I shouldn't have expected any less. This was Ino, after all. The same way she didn't like it when things were kept from her she also didn't like it were things were left unsaid.
". . ." I ran a hand through my dark spiky hair and pulled roughly on my ponytail, thinking of how to word an answer that I knew Ino wanted. Or else.
Should I tell her the truth? What was the truth? That both Chouji and I had feeling for her? Jeez. Would that freak her out…or would she be flattered? Hn.
Either way, at the festival I was about to ask her a question – a simple one, really. I sighed tiredly; figuring making up a lie on the spot really was too much trouble.
"What's your favorite color?"
She blinked down at me curiously, "What?"
I turned my dark brown eyes on her imploringly, "What I was going to ask… I was going to ask what your favorite color was."
"I just felt like it."
"…what color for what?"
"Then why ask?"
"You're asking a lot of questions."
"I just wanted to know."
"Because my favorite is blue."
"So? A lot of people like the color blue."
I moved to my side and inched a fraction closer to Ino. Her now wide blue eyes stared at me as my dark ones gazed in them. I stopped cautiously moving closer when our noses were once again about to touch.
"I haven't mastered acceptance yet." I admitted slowly, my fingers moving to trace her wrist from her elbow to her shoulder. "That's why this probably wasn't a good idea."
"What acceptance?" She asked softly, moving the spare inch closer to our foreheads were touching.
I blushed as my heart hammered away in my chest, "That I don't stand a chance."
"Shikamaru," She murmured as I felt her lay her arm over my side, making me pulse quicken. "I have one more question."
"…yeah?" I consented, running my tongue over my suddenly dry lips. It accidentally brushed her bottom lip as I tensed on reaction.
She, however, just moved a bit closer so we our fronts were pressed together.
"Why is your favorite color blue?" She whispered, leaning over gracefully to press soft lips against my cheek.
I closed my eyes, "Ino," I muttered, sliding my hand that was still tracing up and down her arm back to her hip.
"Is that your answer?" She questioned a light sound of amusement in her voice.
I stalled, gulping as I felt my hair tie be pulled out. My messy dark hair fell around my face as Ino threaded her fingers gently through it, working out the knots. It was more sensual than I expected it to be.
"…as long as your okay with it."
I felt her snuggle into my side. "What if I am?"
"…Then… I guess I'd conclude that I wouldn't have to master acceptance." I said offhandedly, distracted by the way she fit so perfectly against me.
"What made you think you had to?" She scolded as I felt her hand that was running through my hair give a sharp tug. "I've only been trying to get you to notice me forever!"
I blinked in confusion, "What?" I asked, sitting up as Ino mumbled her aggravation and sat up as well.
"Well, yeah! I mean, when I was at the Academy I always sat next to you in class – but you never seemed to care! You always ended up laying your head down on the desk and drooling a few minutes later." Ino admonished, crossing her arms.
I gaped, "What?" This couldn't be. I always watched Ino – I knew her behavioral patterns, her attitude changes, and even the way she ate her food with how many sips in between and everything! How could I have possibly missed this…?
"That's impossible – you liked the Uchiha." I said, an annoyed tint already taking over my tone with the mere thought of the bastard. "You even told me yourself – many, many times!"
She shrugged with huff, "Well, yeah. I had a crush on him for a while – he was cute, okay?" Ino shrugged, "And I wanted to distract my attention away from liking you because you never wanted to play with me when you visited my house with your Dad."
I openly gaped at her, "That's when I was six!"
"I was just a little kid; I was just going through the phase that girls were stupid and troublesome." I replied.
"And you never seemed to grow out of that phase, either." She dared with her volume rising slightly, "I remember you once told me I was pretty when we were six."
I blushed, remembering that day as well. Ino had wanted me to pick flowers with her and that was way too much of a girly thing to do. "So…? I thought you liked me?"
"Yeah, well when I said thanks, you said and I quote: 'It just means that I'll never like you.'"
My mouth dropped open as Ino huffed and looked away, "That's the day I decided to start liking Sasuke."
"…Oh," I said lamely, not realizing the words of my six year old self would come to screw me over that badly. I mean, what were the odds? "I never knew you liked me that way back then."
She snorted in a not so ladylike manner, "Why else do you think I kept telling Daddy to bring you over for play dates?"
" . . ." I scratched the back of my head, "I thought those were just an excuse for our Dads to get together and play cards."
She sighed, "Well, it probably was a bit of that, too."
All this information was reeling in my head, "Then when did you start liking me again?"
She raised a brow in return, "When did you start liking me?"
"…when we had our first training practice as Team Asuma, and you had me watch over your body when you practiced your jutsu. I think I had a crush on you a while before that but that's when it really become pronounced." I said, not seeing how it could do any more harm.
Her pretty blue eyes softened, "But I had been such a bitch that first week."
I shrugged lightly in response, "I knew you were just angry about Sakura being on the same team as the Uchiha."
"…That changed, you know." Ino replied, "Sooner than you think."
She smiled, "I started liking you again during the chunnin exams, when we were in the forest." Ino's smile deepened as she reflected, "If it hadn't been for you, we never would have made it to the preliminaries. But what really made me see you again was when we came upon Sakura being ganged up on by those Sound ninja."
I nodded in remembrance as she went on, "You immediately asked me what I wanted to do about it, no qualms at all. You said I was your teammate and that you had to do what you had to do to back me up, even if it was troublesome."
Ino rubbed her eyes, "In your eyes that was it. You have no idea how much I admired you… or how grateful I really was." She said softly. "That's when I saw the brave man you were going to be behind the boy who said he was a coward. I liked you again, after that – I couldn't help it."
'Ino…' I thought in bewilderment. 'I had no idea…'
I watched how she squeezed her fists and looked up for a moment, "And I knew how real my feelings for you were when I visited Sakura after Sasuke had left Konoha. I knew she had been crying and back then I was forced to see how deeply she loved Sasuke…and I couldn't help but be so happy…"
She sniffed, nodding. "I was so happy that it wasn't me. That it wasn't me who'd have to go through all that pain that Forehead was feeling. That you came back when Sasuke didn't. That you were still here were I could see you and listen to you…" I wiped a few tears away from her face. "I was so happy…"
I swallowed, moving over so our sides were pressed together. "Where would I go anyway, eh? Ino?"
She tossed me a glare, "Chouji and the others nearly died on that mission! What was I supposed to think? When I found out you only had a broken finger I was so relived that I nearly fainted! And then what do you do after Asuma tells me to look after you – you join ANBU! Do you want to put me in an early grave?!"
At the mention of Chouji I froze and recollected myself quickly, "Listen, Ino…there's another thing I have to tell you…"
The way she smirked at me made my muscles tense. Ino moved so that she was facing me and wrapped her arms around my neck, "I have something I want to tell you, too." She said distantly.
I stiffened as she pressed her lips to my neck and started to trail small kisses down the length of it. The implications of what she was showing me rather than telling me ran through my head at light speed.
She crawled onto my lap as I felt her hands slip underneath my fishnet shirt and glide up and down my chest. I struggled to breathe as I gripped her waist, intending to make her listen to what I was about to say but lacking the nerve to end what she was doing.
I leaned down and kissed her, and she deepened it instantly as I sighed into the kiss. She really was perfection at its best and the reality was even better than I ever imagined. Even though I knew I couldn't be that great of a kisser since I had no experience, it didn't seem to matter as I explored her mouth and caressed her tongue with mine.
I ran a hand up her slender form, up her back and into her hair as I massaged the back of her scalp. She moaned into our kiss as I pulled her closer. "Ino…" I said against her mouth as we broke for air.
Panting, I lowered my head to plant open-mouth kissed down her neck, groaning when she pressed into me.
The flap of our tent zipped open, "Hey, the rain's stopped and I was wondering who'd…" Chouji's voice died down as I stiffened with my head in the crook of Ino's neck, who was still on my lap. "…take the first watch." Chouji finished, blearily.
Ino moved away from me uneasily, looking at anywhere but Chouji as her face went past red and into magenta. I stared at Chouji, moving slightly towards him as I tried to say something, to explain it all.
"It's…not what you think. Not all of it," I said desperately to my best friend who just gazed at me with utter betrayal in his eyes. "Ino – I…I've been in - !"
"No." Chouji said tersely as he backed away, not looking at either of us and I scrambled out of the small tent after him. "No." He repeated sullenly and his eyes glowered at the mud ground.
"Chouji, listen to me what you saw - ,"
"How long?" He cut in, "How long have you been seeing her behind my back? Oh, I bet you've been really laughing it up, haven't you?" Chouji spat venomously.
"No!" I interjected, "Today – now – it just happened! I've had feelings for Ino since forever!"
"How convenient!" my teammate roared, "how freaking perfect for you!"
"It's not like that, Chouji!" I replied anxiously, "Think about it, would I ever do something like that to you? You're my best friend."
"YOU JUST DID!!" Chouji shouted with rage and Ino climbed out of the tent behind me, wide-eyed. "YOU KNEW HOW I FELT ABOUT HER AND YOU DID THAT!!"
"THAT'S NOT FAIR!" I screamed back in anger, "I liked her too, I noticed her first, I wanted her way before you – so why should I back off just because you suddenly love her, too?"
"You never said anything! I did!"
"I never knew this was something you had to call on!"
"Argh, it's not!"
"I'd hope so, she's a person!"
"Dammit, Shikamaru…" Chouji cursed as I silenced and stared at him, waiting for what he was going to say. The plump teenager fisted his hands and glared heatedly at me, "Why."
"…why?" I echoed, not liking his tone.
"Why do you always get everything…" Chouji muttered, his voice gaining strength as he continued, "You always get everything! Always! You were the one made chunnin at the exam when we were twelve, you were the genius in our team – the damn leader and we all knew it, you were Asuma's favorite, you're the ANBU jounin who speaks and advises the Hokage…your buddies with the other geniuses and acknowledged by jounin and shinobi way older than you…and now…now you have her, too!"
Chouji shook his head, his face red and turning redder, "I hate it how you get everything you never even wanted. I hate it…!"
"…Chouji…" I started.
"No…!" Chouji said firmly, "I don't want to talk to you anymore today…" He scoffed, looking away. "You like him too, don't you Ino?"
I stilled and turned to look over my shoulder at Ino who was staring at Chouji with a shocked expression on her face. Her blue eyes were watering quickly and she stood there silently.
"Don't you?" Chouji repeated intently, turning his back to us.
"…Yes," She said softly, "but Chouji please wait, I didn't even know you - ,"
"What does it matter?" Chouji stated coldly as he started walking away.
"Where are you going?" I called out, taking a step forward.
"Konoha…by myself." Chouji glanced at me, "I'll leave now if that's okay, captain. Beat rush hour and all."
"No, Ino…" He sighed heavily. "Just leave me alone for a while, okay? Let me at least pretend I'm okay with this…"
I balled my hands as Chouji walked away alone. The return trip to Leaf here was short so I wasn't worried about anything happening to him but…was it a good idea to leave him with his thoughts in that state of mind? Would he even listen to me regardless?
I felt a hand on my shoulder and moved to face a teary Ino.
"You never told me that…" She didn't finish as I lifted my shoulders.
"I know, I was going to but I was…distracted." I muttered lamely, turning away.
"Shika?" Ino questioned as I grabbed her hand on my face and squeezed it tightly.
"I haven't been a good person lately, Ino…" I mumbled, looking down and Ino wrapped her free arm around my waist.
"Don't blame yourself…it's not your fault." She said, squeezing back gently.
"I think it is," I replied tonelessly, "And…now my friendship with Chouji will never be the same."
"…you don't know that." She answered, frowning.
But I did know. That was one of the few things I was certain of. Whether Chouji is ever fine with the idea of Ino and I together their will always be a new strain, a new awkwardness that wasn't present before.
Or maybe it was – maybe it was just that no one talked about it. Yes, that was my fault. I didn't speak up when I had the chance. It was my fault.
And we were both addicted to the same blue drug that was Ino.
That I knew.
Okay, my first Shika/Ino one-shot and another addition to the drug series! Woot! So, did you like it? Hate it? Please tell me in a review!