Pairing: InoChou, hints of ShikaChou
Summary: The original InoShikaChou team takes their kids to the beach and Chouji volunteers to teach Ino how to swim.
She stood awkwardly on the shore, the thin straps of her bathing suit top twisting against her sunburnt shoulders. The wind had tangled her hair around her neck and the salt in the breeze made it frizz slightly. Her lips were chapped and parted in an uncertain noise of dismay and she prodded at the water with her toes.
Even at eleven and a half years old, Chouji knew she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen.
"Come on, Ino," he called to her, raising an arm out of the water and bobbing with the waves.
She frowned at him and clasped her arms around her waist. "It's cold," she said.
"It's refreshing," he said, swimming in a little closer. "Besides which, you said you wanted to learn to swim. You can't do that if you don't get in the water, you know."
"I know," she snapped, making a face at him.
But she stepped forward into the water, shivering as she went. When the waves lapped and pulled at the bottoms of her bathing suit she stopped, turning to look over her shoulder to where Shikamaru was lounging in the sand, face covered with his t-shirt. Chouji sighed and swam closer.
She was stalling.
"It helps if you just dunk yourself completely right away," he offered, splashing a little with his hands.
She glared at him and rose up on her tip-toes before the next wave could soak her to the waist. "I'll get in when I'm ready," she said. "Stop rushing me."
"Okay, okay." Chouji closed his eyes and flipped over on his back, sculling his hands through the water, riding out the next couple of waves with ease. He felt Ino's eyes on him and smiled. He was the best floater in Konoha, in his opinion, and more than qualified to teach Ino how to swim.
If only she trusted him a bit more…
When he opened his eyes again she was chest deep in the water, about three feet from where he was floating. Her eyes searched the horizon anxiously.
"Where's your dad anyway?" she asked, bouncing up on her toes. Her hair stuck wetly to her shoulders and he wondered why she hadn't tied the blonde mass back so it wouldn't get in the way.
He sat up in the water and placed his feet on the sandy bank beneath them, his shoulders just barely breaking the surface, and shrugged.
"I think he went to get ice cream with your dad."
"Asleep by Shikamaru." Chouji pointed towards the shore again, to a snoring face just barely emerging from a pile of sand.
Ino followed the line of Chouji's finger with narrowed eyes, and he could tell that she was trying to calculate how fast their friend's father could get to her if she were to start drowning.
Not fast enough.
"Actually, Chouji can we do this another time?" she asked, still looking at the shoreline with longing eyes.
He frowned at her and then nonchalantly looked away, spinning his bulk around gracefully through the waves.
"Sure, Ino. Whenever you want," he said. Then, in a musing tone, "I wonder if Sakura-san knows how to swim. Maybe she'd teach you, if you think I wouldn't be a very good instructor…"
Immediately, Ino bristled, and Chouji had to repress a triumphant laugh. Everyone knew that the surest way to get Ino to do anything was to imply that Sakura could do it too. He could almost hear her teeth grinding together over the sound of the waves.
"The day I need that billboard-brow to teach me anything is the day I resign from being a kunoichi," she snapped. "Just shut up and show me what to do."
He beamed at her and held out his hands, palms up.
"The most important bit is knowing how to float," he said. "The rest is just moving your arms and legs around so that you keep floating. Just hold on to my hands and I'll walk you around while you kick your legs, so you can get a feel for how it's supposed to go."
She watched his outstretched hands with suspicion, pink tongue nervously licking the salt from her lips. He grinned and stepped forward a little, so she wouldn't have to jump to reach his hands.
"Don't worry Ino," he soothed. "My dad taught me to swim when I was really little, so I'm practically an expert now. I won't let you go under, I promise."
"Who's worried," she scoffed, and then her hands grasped his and she was pushing off the bottom, feet kicking clumsily behind her with loud splashes.
Chouji moved backward through the water, pulling her gently after him, arms braced and stiff so that there was no chance she would sink as long as she kept hold of him. He watched the look of concentration on her face as she struggled through the water in front of him, and thrilled at the firm grip of her fingers on his wrists.
Somehow, holding her hands this way gave him the same feeling in his stomach as he had whenever Shikamaru spent time with him, or when his father praised him. It felt almost like a nice, satisfying bellyful of miso soup, only the warmth lasted much longer and never burnt his tongue.
When Ino let him flip her over on her back and lay her down in the water, with only his hands behind her neck and at the small of her back keeping her up, Chouji realized that he was going to spend the rest of his life fulfilling his promise to her.
As long as she'd let him, he'd keep her afloat.