Ok, it's stupid. I'll tell you that right now. And it has a bit of a lime-y taste to it near the end...I wouldn't suggest younger readers to continue past this point!!

This is what happens when my insomnia kicks in and I can't sleep for 5 days - my mind wanders and stuff like this comes into existance. It's madness - Madness I tell you!

Either way, enjoy...

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, any associated characters, or settings. All such ideas belong to the talented Masashi Kishimoto, not me...no matter how much I wish they did. I also don't own the song "Spin" by Lifehouse...damn good song though...


In My Shadow



"I'd rather chase your shadow all my life
than be afraid of my own

I'd rather be with you,
I'd rather not know where I'll be
Than be alone and convinced that I know…"


"Don't forget, Shikamaru…we have plans as soon as you come back…" Temari tugged on his arm impatiently.

"I won't." He kissed her cheek quickly. "I promise." She sighed as he pulled away from her with a slight smile.

"Alright, let's go Shika…hurry up!" a sweet voice, laced with impatience, called out to him.

"I'm coming Ino, mendokuse…" Shikamaru grabbed his bag and trudged over to the blonde waiting for him at the village gate.

"Stop saying that, would you?" she groaned, rolling her eyes at him as they began their walk.


She sighed. "You're so frustrating, you know that?"

"If I'm so frustrating, why'd you want me on this mission with you?" he pushed her shoulder playfully.

"I didn't." she said, pushing him back.

"…Suuuure…" he smiled at her.

She smacked his arm playfully. "Oh, shut it…" she grumbled, but a small smile played about her lips.


"This is so unfair!"

"Life isn't fair. Get used to it, princess…"

"Don't you take that tone with me, deer-boy!" Ino snapped at him, every hint of her past playfulness lost as she glared. "I've put up with your grumbling for the last 3 hours. The least you could do is let me have the first break!"

"I'm tired."

"I don't give a damn!" her tone was no longer angry; bitterness swept over her words as a few tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. "I don't give a damn because you never have!!"

With that, she stormed off, running in any direction as long as it was away from that camp and away from him.

'Why does he have to be such an ass?' She thought, finally slumping down on a small boulder on the edge of a small trickling stream, it's banks littered with small rocks, which she had come across. 'It's as though he doesn't feel anything for anyone…' she sniffed, slipping off her sandals and letting her toes run through the lush blades of grass at her feet. 'Except for…wait……grass…?'

She jumped up, slipping on her sandals, and turned to run away, but it was too late. A pair of grass-nins materialized from out of the undergrowth at the side of the water which hadn't been there a second ago. She screamed as one grasped her ankles, his chakra immobilizing her. Before she could call out again, the second ninja appeared behind her, clamping a hand over her mouth to silence her. His other hand wandered down her side, grabbing her chest roughly.

"You're a pretty one…what is such a delicate flower doing in such a place, I wonder?"

From a couple meters away, Shikamaru heard Ino scream.

He had been pacing around the camp, pondering the situation that had just passed between him and his blonde teammate. Why had she gotten so angry? He was just being his normal, lazy self, wasn't he?

'…She's always so…emotional……I can never tell what she's going to feel next! How is anyone supposed to deal with her, if I can't even predict her next move…?'

Breaking from his thoughts at the sound of her terrified shriek, he turned around, looking for her in the clearing, only to remember that she had stormed off moments before.

"Ino!" he called out, rushing away in the direction of the sound. When he came upon the clearing where Ino had stopped, a strange sight met his eyes. The two grass nin, which they had been sent out to search for, were staring at each other, their left hands each gripping the other's throat.

"…Wha…?" Shikamaru mumbled, stunned.

"Shika!" He heard Ino's voice exclaim from somewhere above him, and she dropped swiftly to his side. "You like it?" she asked, gesturing to the two nin who were glaring at each other, obviously fighting the actions of their own bodies.

"…Huh…?" he stared at her blankly.

"It's my new jutsu!" she said proudly, smirking. "I can make them do anything I want just by thinking about it and sending the thought into their heads! Think of the possibilities!"

Shikamaru blinked slowly, the idea finally dawning on him. "Yeah…" he said, appreciatively.

"Duck!" Ino screamed suddenly, tackling him to the ground. He heard the thud of a kunai hitting a tree trunk from somewhere behind him, and he looked up to find another pair of grass-nin climbing out of the underbrush. Ino squealed as another kunai landed next to her head, and Shikamaru pulled her up and out of the line of fire.

Now that Ino's concentration had been broken, the two men she had under her jutsu were free, and they joined their comrades, all walking forward, smirking at the two of them.

"Ah…a flower and a weed……how touching…" one of them said - the same one who had grabbed Ino before. A bit of blood was running down his leg from where she had stabbed him before to release his hold, but the shuriken she had wounded him with was nowhere to be seen.

Shikamaru scowled at them, pushing Ino behind him. Ino scowled as well, but not at their adversaries - at Shikamaru.

'Who does he think he is, trying to protect me? These guys seem to think I'm a delicate little blossom, but I can take care of myself, damn it!'

She pushed Shikamaru out of the way, reaching into her pouch and pulling out three of her senbon needles. Quickly attaching a set of chakra strings to each of them, she tossed them in intervals into the air, each of them landing on the trunk of a nearby tree.

"Ino, what the hell are you doing?" he said, pushing her back again.

"Watch it!" she said, but it was too late, and the chakra strings fell, twisting around the ninjas - and Shikamaru - catching them all in a well-woven net that none could escape from. The five of them struggled against their bonds, but only Shikamaru - who tore them apart with a well-manipulated shadow - freed himself.

"Damn it, Ino…what the hell were you thinking?!" he shouted at her, his eyes ablaze.

"Whatever I was thinking, it must have been right, because-" she gestured to the four ninjas still struggling futilely against her bonds, "-it worked."

Shikamaru sighed, rubbing his forehead slowly. "That's not the point, Ino…you could have been hurt…" his voice had softened slightly and he looked at her with a bit of concern shining in his eyes.

'He…was worried about me…?' she thought in surprise, biting her lip. "I can take care of myself, Shikamaru…" she snapped, regardless of how touched she was by his - albeit misguided - concern. After all, she was still upset about his earlier stupidity.

"I…I know…" he said, his tone apologetic. He opened his mouth, about to speak again, when a glint of silver flashed across his vision, followed by a second, identical flash. Two kunai were flying at the pair; one was deflected by a shuriken he threw into its path just in time, but the second flew over his shoulder. The sound of a thud met his ears, followed by a scream; another, louder thud, and a splash of hot liquid hitting his shoulder.

His mind froze.


As the shadows under their feet began to shift and crawl up their legs, the two ninjas looked at each other with shock written all over their faces. They had failed, and both of them knew it.

With a resonating snap, their limbs were torn apart and their horrible screams rang through the clearing. They fell to the ground, landing with two matching thuds on the rough gravel and watched, soundlessly, as a pair of feet and countless strands of chakra-controlled shadows approached.

With a low growl, the shadow-nin clenched his fists and watched with a smirk as his shadows climbed up their necks and covered their faces, smothering them. They clawed at the dark, thick hands at their mouths; their screams muffled and eyes rolling back into their skulls.

He turned away, sick with his own actions, and clutched at his chest; his rage subsiding into a dull ache in his heart as he gazed at the still body lying before him. With a grunt and a sigh, he leaned down and picked his partner up, holding her body close as he sped off into the trees.


It was that last kunai. How could she have not seen it? She felt it flying at her - she sensed it and should have reacted…she should have jumped out of the way, but she was frozen to her spot. She heard Shikamaru's voice call out to her, screaming her name, but it seemed so far away….he was standing right next to her a moment ago...


'It was only a scratch…'

Shikamaru kept repeating that thought in his head, again and again, as he clutched Ino's lifeless body to his chest. He jumped from branch to branch through the forest, desperately searching for a path, a village…anything that could get him help.

He stopped to catch his breath on a topmost branch of a tree and looked out over the surrounding forest. In the distance - he rubbed his eyes at the sight - a coil of smoke seemed to be rising out of the hills.

'A village?' he wondered, his heart leaping into his throat.

He sped off in the direction of the smoke, hoping with every fiber of his being that there was indeed a village there - somewhere he could get medical attention. It had been almost three hours, but Ino had yet to wake up. He was beginning to worry hysterically; from the looks of the wound, it wasn't serious, but Shikamaru had never bothered to pay any attention during the medical training they were required to sit through as Chunnins, and wouldn't know the difference. Why hadn't he listened?! Ino could die and…it would be entirely his fault…

'It's just a scratch…it's just a scratch…it's just a scratch…'


'Just my luck…' Shikamaru thought while doubled over, trying to catch his breath.

Upon arriving at the village - a small, homely place along a dusty, overgrown path - he had burst into the first building her could find. Not taking time to check his surroundings, he sprinted up to the only person in the place; an old man sitting at a desk in the corner of the room, with graying hair receding on the top his head and growing out of his large, drooping ears. Shikamaru collapsed to his knees, still clutching Ino's limp body in his arms, and tried, breathlessly, to explain what had happened.

The man he was speaking to was patient, waiting for him as he took deep breaths between sentences, and once Shikamaru was finished, he stood up and offered Shikamaru his hand. Reaching up gratefully for the support, Shikamaru groaned and stood. The man asked him his name; Shikamaru answered half-heartedly, receiving a reply that the man's name was Master Ganjou.

He turned to look at Ganjou, who was gazing up at him with a gentle smile, and opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off as the man interrupted him with a few words and motioned for him to follow. His brain seemed to be functioning at an unusually slow pace, for Ganjou's words were lost in his ears. His body, however, seemed to follow in a daze as he was led quickly down hallway and around a corner.

Where was he anyway? He had barged into the first building he could find in the small, nameless village, not bothering to take in his surroundings.

Ganjou led him up a set of stairs and down yet another hallway, passing several closed doors without notice. He spoke again, his voice soft, and Shikamaru had to focus all of his attention to catch every word.

"You were lucky to have found us, young master…" he said, stopping in front of a door, indistinguishable from every other on in the hallway, and pulled a set of keys from his pocket. Shikamaru grunted incoherently, too tired to respond. "Most of the other inns in town would have turned you away, but not me…" He unlocked the door, opening it to reveal a small, sparsely decorated room. He led Shikamaru forward and motioned for him to lay Ino down on the small bed.

Shikamaru turned to the man and nodded silently, reaching into his pocket to pull out the little money he had been given for the mission, but before he could hand it over, Ganjou shook his head and pushed the money back.

"I won't charge you for your stay," he said with a sad smile, looking over at Ino who was lying as still as ever on the bed. "She needs to be attended to, and I'm sure you didn't plan this into your trip." He walked slowly over to the door, only turning back to Shikamaru when his wrinkled hand was on the handle.

"I'm afraid the medic is out of the village right now, but I can send my granddaughter, Mira, down to tend to your friend…she is skilled enough, I believe, for your needs…"

He then turned back to the door and walked out, closing it behind him without another word.

Shikamaru stared at the door for a moment, puzzled at the old man's actions, before turning back to Ino's side. He kneeled by the side of the bed, staring at her with a well-trained eye. Now that he had found them shelter and had relaxed a little, he could look her over more closely.

Beads of sweat had formed on her forehead, and her cheeks were flushed. He reached up slowly to rest the back of his hand on her face; she was burning to the touch. Taking in a calming breath of the cool air, he pulled his eyes down her chest to the wound just below the swell of her breasts. He gulped; at first glance, the cut had seemed shallow, but upon closer examination he saw that it was much deeper than he had assumed. The flesh around the gash was puckered and had turned a sickly yellow color since the last time he had looked at it. He reached up tentatively to feel the surrounding skin but pulled his hand back almost immediately because Ino had let out a low moan at his touch, her face twisting into a grimace.

'Ino...oh, this is bad...I'm so sorry, Ino...I didn't mean for any of this to happen...I...it's all my fault...'

Suddenly, a knock at the door rang through the room, startling Shikamaru and causing him to fall back to the floor with a thud. He stood up quickly, walking briskly over to the door and opening it to reveal a short, slightly plump, brown eyed girl carrying a tray laden with a teapot, two cups, and what appeared to be some type of healing salve.

She smiled warmly at him, introducing herself as Mira, the hotel owner's granddaughter. Looking around the room, her eyes fell upon Ino's motionless form, and she pushed the tray into Shikamaru's hands. With a frown, she rushed over to kneel at the side of the bed, mimicking Shikamaru's previous actions of feeling Ino's temperature and checking her pulse. She groaned, turning back to Shikamaru, who had set the tray down on a nearby table and was standing just behind her, watching silently.

"Damn that old man…" she grumbled, looking at him with a scowl. "He should have brought her strait to me, but in his old age, he didn't think…"

She sighed, standing up to face Shikamaru. She was considerably shorter than both him and Ino, and he still had to look down at her when she spoke.

"She's been poisoned…" she sighed, rubbing her temples with her fingers. "Wait here…I need to run down the hall for a moment…" She turned and hurried out the door, leaving him alone in the silence of the room once again. At a loss for what to do, he turned and sat on the edge of the bed, gripping Ino's cold hand in his own. He felt her fingers weakly grip his for a second before letting go, but her face showed no signs of stirring.

Within moments, Mira had returned, this time carrying a small bag and a bottle of what looked like sake in her hands.

"Get up, boy!" she snapped at him, and he stood obediently, wary of her sudden anger. She opened the bag and pulled out a knife and a few rags, followed by a small needle and some thread, all of which she set down on the table next to the tea.

"Here." She said simply, handing him the bottle. "Wake her up and have her drink that." At his puzzled look, she added, "It's the strongest proof of alcohol we have…for the pain…."

Shikamaru's eyes widened. '…How much pain could she be in…?'

When he made no move to wake Ino, Mira slapped his arm and pushed him toward the bed. "Hurry!" she snapped, glaring at him. "If the poison spreads, she'll be dead in the next half hour or less."

That got Shikamaru moving; he set the bottle down on the bedside table and gathered Ino in his arms. She moaned and mumbled something against his shoulder as he shifted her weight, sitting down and laying her body across his legs. He shook her shoulders gently, trying not to hurt her as he forced her back into consciousness. She groaned, stirring, and her deep blue eyes opened slightly to gaze up at him.

"…S-Shi…ka…?" she asked, her voice hoarse. He smiled sadly down at her.

"Yeah, Ino…I'm here…"


Mira cut in, grabbing Ino's wrist and feeling for her pulse again. "You won't be able to for a while, dear…" She tutted, letting the hand fall back onto the sheets. "Her heartbeat is weak…we need to move fast. Give her the drink."

Ino groaned again, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

"Mendokuse…" he grumbled, his favorite phrase spilling from his lips even in the midst of such a pressing matter. "Ino…you need to drink this…" he said, pressing the bottle to her lips. She opened her mouth and he tipped the glass, letting some of the strong liquid pour into her mouth. She gagged slightly, but swallowed the alcohol with a grimace.

"…A-Alright…" Shikamaru said, "…What now…?"

Mira turned around, looking at him incredulously.

"You're going to have to take off her shirt," she said in a matter-of-fact tone, "…so I can determine the amount of damage done, and treat it."

Shikamaru stared up at her, dumbfounded. She wanted him to do what?!

"Oh, don't be such a wuss!" she snapped at him again. He cocked an eyebrow at her, and she threw her arms up into the air. "Fine, if you won't do it, I will!" she reached forward for the buttons of Ino's shirt, but before she could grasp the first one, Shikamaru pushed her hands out of the way.

"…No…" he mumbled, looking up at her with pleading eyes. "…I…I'll do it…"

"…Fine…" she grumbled, turning away to give the two of them a bit of privacy, "but hurry up…we don't have any time to waste…"

He looked down at Ino, who was staring up at him with innocent, pained eyes. "…I-…Ino…" He breathed, his voice catching in his throat, "…d-don't hate me for this, alright…?" she stared back up at him, something akin to affection darting across her eyes.

"…I…w-won't…I n-never c-could…" She smiled up at him, her lips quivering. "…J-Just…d-don't hate……m-me…"

He looked at her in surprise, but she only shook her head and looked away in response.

Shikamaru reached down, gulped, and undid the first button of her top, watching with bated breath as more of her smooth, golden skin was revealed. He took a long, shuddering breath, mentally berating himself for his nervous actions. 'It's just Ino…your teammate…your friend……nothing more…get over yourself!'

From over his shoulder, he heard Mira call out "I said hurry!"

He quickened his pace, undoing the 6 buttons as fast as he could with his clumsy, trembling hands. When every clasp was undone, he let the fabric fall open and pulled it off her shoulders, trying as hard as he could not to stare at her chest, covered only in a long strip of fabric bound around her breasts in the place of a bra. He dropped the shirt to the floor.

Mira stepped right up to the side of the bed, now holding the knife in one hand and one of the rags in another. The shadow-nin turned to look at her, his eyes wide.

"W-Wait…!" he said, his blood running cold at the sight of the knife in the woman's hand. "…What're you going to do…?"

Mira sighed, rolling her eyes. "I have to open the wound further to siphon out most of the poison before I can sew the cut closed…" Ino's fingers tightened slightly in his grip, and he turned back to gaze at her, worry shining in his eyes.

"…I-……I'll b-be……f-fine……" she murmured, looking up at him with tired, half-lidded eyes. Seeing the worried look still on his face, she managed a small smile and squeezed his fingers again.

'He's…so kind to me…' she thought, the idea fleeting but true. 'He's…always cared…for me……I don't deserve it…'

Suddenly possessed by a strange emotion swelling up inside his chest, he leaned down and pressed his lips softly to her forehead; Ino sighed and closed her eyes, her eyelashes brushing against his cheek. While she wasn't looking, Shikamaru turned back to Mira and nodded, giving her permission to go ahead with the procedure.

"…Hold her down…" the woman whispered, and he tightened his grip on her arms until his knuckles turned white against her skin. Ino groaned, but the sound was instantly replaced with her screams as Mira pressed the edge of the knife into her skin, cutting open the yellowing flesh. A small stream of clear liquid oozed from the wound, instantly tainted red as her blood pooled out from under the blade and joined the stream. Shikamaru shuddered, trying to block the sound of her screaming from his mind, but all such attempts failed.

'…God…oh, god…I can't believe I'm letting her do this……Ino……I'm so sorry!' he thought, disgusted with himself. 'Please forgive me for this, Ino……I promise…I'll never let anyone hurt you again…'

He turned his head away, his grip on her tightening as she writhed in pain in his arms. He closed his eyes as tight as he could, wishing the whole ordeal to be over.

His mind barely registered Mira's voice calling to him over Ino's cries until he felt her shake his shoulder harshly.

"Hey!" she called, prodding him with two fingers. "I'm done…"

Shikamaru looked down at Ino tentatively. She had stopped screaming, although the sound was still ringing in his ears and he could hardly tell the difference. Instead, she was crying silently, taking in gasps of air. Blood was pooling at the base of her stomach, running steadily from the new, longer wound running below her chest.

He picked up the bottle of sake, holding it to Ino's lips again, and she drank the liquid as though it would be the last thing she'd ever taste, no matter how bitter it was.

As he set the bottle back down, a rag was thrust at him, hitting him squarely in the face and falling down onto his chest. He looked back up at Mira in a daze.

"I need you to hold that below the wound to dry up the blood." She said, turning back to drop the knife on the table and grab the bottles of salve and sake she had brought in. Shikamaru groaned, pressing the cloth to her exposed stomach with quivering hands, attempting to be as gentle as he could. Despite his efforts, Ino whimpered at his touch, rolling her head to the side.

Without warning, Mira poured the salve into the open wound, and Shikamaru had to pull Ino as close as he could to keep her from twisting out of his grip. She opened her eyes, gasping in pain, and fresh streams of tears began to cascade down her cheeks.

Shikamaru cradled her in his arms, kissing her forehead again to calm her. Her sobs grew quieter and she looked up at him with her big, blue eyes, a question in her gaze.

"I need to sew this up now…" they heard Mira say from somewhere nearby. She had put the bottle down and returned to the bedside with a needle and a roll of thick fishing line. Ino whimpered at the sight of the needle, long and dull, in the woman's fingers. She squeezed her eyes shut, burying her face in Shikamaru's shoulder, and she spoke, her voice muffled.

"Do it."

Mira thread the needle skillfully, and looked back up at Shikamaru, waiting for his permission as well. His hold on Ino, which had relaxed for a moment, tightened again, and he nodded, trusting the woman to finish the job.

Ino made no sound as the needle pierced her skin, but her tears continued to fall, landing on Shikamaru's jacket, dampening the fabric and his skin. She waited, seemingly holding her breath, until the line was tied shut and cut off, before sobbing softly into his arm. Mira helped Ino sit up for a second a wrapped a few bandages around her middle in a thin strip, then let her lay back into Shikamaru's arms again.

He looked up and Mira, a silent thanks in his eyes.

"Lay her down, and keep giving her that drink…she'll probably sleep for a while, and her fever should break soon…" She smiled at him again - the same sweet smile she had presented them with when he had first answered the door. "Your friend is going to be fine…"

He nodded, and Mira gathered up her things, winked at him once and left, closing the door behind her with a click. Shikamaru listened until her footsteps had receded all the way down the hall before moving again, lifting Ino and laying her down on the bed. She looked up at him, her eyes half closed, and sniffed.

"…Blood…" she mumbled. Shikamaru looked at her curiously, wondering what on earth she was talking about. "…Y-You're…covered……in b-blood…" she repeated.

He looked down at his body, and - sure enough - his hands, legs, and chest were covered in Ino's blood. He almost gagged but hid his disgust and glanced around the room. Seeing a door at the back of the room, which he hoped led to some sort of bathhouse, he stripped off his outer shirt and fishnet and dropped them to the floor next to Ino's discarded shirt. She giggled softly from beside him, but he ignored her and walked around the bed.

"I'm going to go take a quick bath…" he said, turning to look back at her, "…Are you going to be ok…?"

Ino nodded and let her head fall back on the pillow, closing her eyes.


There was no bathhouse.

Shikamaru sighed, walking out into the small, enclosed area outside the door and looking around. The air was misty...no - steamy, making it almost impossible for him to see where he was going. He stumbled a few times over loose rocks on the ground before his feet, and almost lost his balance on a particularly uneven bit of path.

Suddenly, the ground dropped out from underneath his feet - or so it seemed. In truth, the ground stopped, but he hadn't.

In an instant, he was plunged head-first into a bath of near-boiling water, the heat searing his open eyes and the few small scratches he had on his arms. Righting himself, he emerged, soaking wet, from the hot spring that had materialized in the private yard.

'Damn it!!'

He gasped for air, attempting to come to terms with the initial shock of falling into a pool of water. Clambering over to the rough edge of the spring, he pulled himself out and sat for a second, letting the cool air wash over him.

After calming down a bit, he stood up and discarded his soaked shoes, followed by his shorts and boxers, and eased back into the water. His hair, which had been pulled out of its tie when he had first fallen in, fell down in his face and stuck to the skin on the back of his neck, so he dived under the water and pulled it back out of his face, letting it fall freely over his shoulders.

He splashed water up over his chest and arms, but all traces of Ino's blood had already been washed from his skin.

Sitting down on a rock near the ledge where he had discarded his clothes, he leaned his head back and let the heat of the water lap at his tired muscles, alleviating the tension built up in his nerves. His body soon adjusted to the heat of the water and he relaxed, letting his mind wander.

How could he have been so careless?

"Watch over my body, Shikamaru…"

Wasn't that what she'd always said? It was an unspoken promise they held with each other - Ino trusted him to watch over her body; to protect her from any dangers that may present themselves…and…it was a promise he'd made to himself…to always guard her from pain…

…and he'd failed…

Why did he promise that to himself in the first place? She was just Ino…wasn't she? Just his teammate? Just his close friend? Then why…?

For the first time, he couldn't think of a singlething to do…he couldn't read ahead twenty-two moves or instantly find a solution…

Why did she have such power over him? Why did he feel his heart lurch every time she ran to him crying or flutter when she smiled in his direction? What caused his utter devotion to her, despite her every put down? Why did he want to hold her close every night and know every inch of her…?

For the first time, he didn't have a single answer.


Ino tossed and turned on the bed, listening silently as Shikamaru entered his bath; the sounds of the water shifting drifted in through the open door and she sighed.

'Oh, Shika…what're we going to do?' she thought dreamily. 'You've been gone for a year…then, as soon as you get back, we have this mission, and…'

She rolled over, looking out the window to the clear right sky. '…and it's as though nothing's changed…'


'What about Temari…?' Shikamaru thought, running his hands through his hair. 'I mean…we've been together for, what…? Almost a year now…?' he sighed.

'I…being back with Ino…it's like…nothing's changed outside of this little world we're in……I…I can't stand being around her now…because I'm slowly remembering how much I love her…'


'…I can't help but remember……how much it hurt when he left…' Ino shifted her pillow under her head. 'He left with Temari…they've been together for so long now……I don't have any chance with him, do I…?'

She groaned softly, turning to glare at the ceiling.

'I was here first…' she thought grudgingly, 'I had him first…then that tramp came along and stole him from me…'


'It's going to be so hard to go back…'

Shikamaru groaned, stretching out his feet in the scalding water.

'I…I don't want to have to leave…but……we achieved our objective…as soon as Ino's ok again…we'll have to go home……Back to Temari…'

He sighed, looking down at his hands. 'Why did I end up with her anyway…?' he wondered, 'I mean, if anything, she's more troublesome than Ino is……I should have been with Ino……I………no…I couldn't have…she never would have loved me…'

He sighed, rubbing his temples.


'He was my teammate first...my...my...best friend...I...I loved him first...' Ino gasped at that thought.

'I…love him…?' she thought, stunned. 'I…I do, don't I…?'

She heard a splash of water and froze. 'Oh, he's coming back…' she shifted back into the position she had been in when he's left, closing her eyes and trying to get her breathing back to a normal pace.


When he felt as though he couldn't stand any more of the sweltering heat on his limbs, he pulled himself out of the spring, wrapped himself in a towel, grabbed his clothes and shoes, and strode back into their room. He was stopped dead in his tracks when he reached the doorway and looked over at the bed, for the sight that met his eyes was enough to take his breath away.

Ino must have fallen asleep, for she had rolled over on her side, letting her hair fall down over her shoulders and arms. When had it been taken down…? He couldn't remember. Her golden skin shined in the dying rays of the sun, setting over the far mountains, and she seemed to glow under the fading light.

In a daze he dropped his things at the side of the door and made his way to the bed, fully intending to climb up and lay with her, hold her close to him for once…but he thought better of it. She was half dressed, and he - in only the towel he had draped around his waist - wasn't appropriately covered either.

With a sigh, he trudged over to his bag, pulled out his spare boxers and slipped them on. He ran his towel over his hair to catch the excess water dripping down his neck, then tossed it into the corner of the room as well. He paused for a moment, staring across the room at Ino's still form again, contemplating his options.


'Oh, great…he's coming back over here, isn't he…?' Ino thought, keeping herself as still as she could. 'Oh, what do I do…? What do I do…? I…I want to be with him, but…what about-?' she cut herself off as he moved again.


After a moment of indecision, he shrugged to himself and walked, as quietly as he could, over to the bed, climbing up onto the mattress and laying down at Ino's side. Up close, he could tell she was still flushed, but it seemed that her fever had indeed peaked, as Mira had promised. He sat there, perfectly still, for a moment, taking in the sight of Ino, sleeping before him peacefully. She had never looked so beautiful to him.

Emotion swelled in his chest again, and he felt the urge to lean forward and kiss her right then and there. Resisting that urge, it seemed, would be far too difficult and waste too much energy…especially for a lazy man such as Shikamaru.

Perhaps…just a kiss on the cheek…? Just to satisfy his need? Ino would never need to know…she wouldn't remember a thing…

'I…I want him…so badly……I love him……but……I……god…what do I do…? He's…so close now…I can feel him breathe…' Ino thought as he drew closer.

He leaned forward, his lips mere millimeters from her smooth skin, when her head turned suddenly and his lips brushed against hers. He felt her hand on his hip, a touch that wasn't there a second ago, and he opened his eyes to look at her.

"…I-…Ino…?" he questioned, his voice quivering. That move had caught him completely off guard, and he gaped at her in stunned silence for a moment.

For her response, she pulled him back to her, their lips crashing together in a hot and furious kiss. He didn't respond for a moment, his body frozen until his brain seemed to kick on and he moved his mouth against hers. Ino moaned, reaching her other hand up and running it through his hair, tugging at it slightly. She nipped lightly at his lip and he groaned. The tension between them grew and grew until they had to part for breath for a second.

He could still taste a bit of the alcohol on her lips, but her sky-blue eyes were clear as she gazed at him.

A second passed; Shikamaru simply hovering above Ino, feeling lightheaded and breathless, while she ran her fingers in slow circles on his hips. She tilted her head to trail kisses down the side of his neck, nipping lightly at his skin. He moaned, winding his arms around her small waist.

"…Ah…I-Ino…" he panted, his breathing already ragged. She stopped her actions, pulling back to look up at him with wide eyes.

All at once, the weight of the situation seemed to fall on her, and she gasped, pulling out of his grasp and rolling over to bury her face in the pillow.

'Oh my god…what the hell did I just do?! What was I thinking…we're both spoken for…this was just supposed to be a simple mission…God…I……I've really blown it this time…!' Ino screamed at herself, her eyes clenching shut.

Shikamaru stared at her for a moment, bewildered by her actions. What on earth was going on?

"…Ino…?' he asked again, placing a hand gently on her shoulder. From somewhere below him, he heard her muffled voice mumble something, but he couldn't catch a single word of it. Growing frustrated, he gripped her shoulder and turned her around to face him. She stared up at him for a second, her eyes wide with fear, then shifted her gaze down to the right.

"…Ino…" he said again, placing a finger beneath her chin, directing her to look back up at him. Her eyes met his again, tentatively, and she bit her lip.

"…Ino, what's going on…?" he asked gently, looking deep into her eyes. She leaned her head against his bare chest, sniffing slightly, but didn't answer. Shikamaru sighed. "…What is it…? Why…?" he questioned softly, his words drifting off slightly

"…I……I d-don't know…" he heard her reply. Something wet landed on his chest, and he realized that she was crying again. Was she that scared about what had just happened between them?

"…Oh, Ino……please don't cry……I'm not upset…" he whispered into her hair, running his hands softly over her lower back.

There was a moment of silence, and then - "…R-Really…?"

Shikamaru smiled slightly. "Really."

Ino raised her head to look up at him, surprised. "…B-But-…" Shikamaru cut her off with a soft kiss. "…I don't mind…" he mumbled against her lips. Kissing away the stray tears on her cheeks, he felt her smile under his lips.

"…S-Shika…I…I d-don't know-"

"-how you feel…?" he supplied, finishing her sentence for her. She nodded, looking away guiltily. "…That's alright……neither do I…"


"…I'm not sure how I feel either…" he repeated. This wasn't entirely the truth, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Besides, she had alcohol running through her veins - anything she did in her current condition shouldn't be blamed on her, he reasoned.

He reached for her hand, giving it one last squeeze before rolling over and closing his eyes.

"…Go back to sleep, Ino…"

She stared at his back for a moment, watching the steady rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathed.

'You say it's ok…but…what about……them…?' she thought, frowning. Lying back on the pillow, she mused, 'Oh well…maybe……maybe it will be ok……I'll…worry about it tomorrow…'

With a sigh, she rolled over as well and let her eyes shut, but many silent hours passed before either of them drifted to sleep.


Shikamaru woke early, before the sun had even risen, with the sounds of night still surrounding them. Looking around, he found Ino still asleep on her side of the bed, the steady rise and fall of her chest familiar to him. A lock of her hair had fallen in her face, and his hands reached up - almost of their own accord - to brush it out of her eyes. They opened for a moment, bright blue orbs replacing the creamy white skin for a second, and Shikamaru sucked in a silent breath, but she smiled dreamily at him and closed her eyes again, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"…Shika…" she murmured, nuzzling against his neck. He wrapped his arms around her as he felt her breathing fall back into a soft rhythm, letting him know she had drifted back to sleep. He buried his face in her hair, breathing deeply, taking in her scent. Unlike the girls in the trashy romance novels he had once found in his mother's bookcase, Ino didn't smell like sugar or vanilla or lavender or anything like that. Instead, she smelled…human. Human; skin, sweat, soap, and a hint of the flowers she worked around all day. He found that he liked her scent much better than vanilla or lavender - it was simple and familiar.

Pulling himself away, regretfully, careful not to wake her again with him movements, he sat up and looked down at her. The moon, which was falling steadily over the mountains to the west, left a soft, shimmering glow over her skin and he had to wrench his eyes away

'You've been through this before, get over yourself…!' he said to himself, closing his eyes and shaking his previous thoughts of his companion from his head. 'Ino's your teammate…your friend………your…best friend… …you d-don't want to ruin that, do you…?'

He looked down at the sleeping kunoichi beside him fondly.

'…No……I don't want to ruin that…'

A soft knock at the door, so quiet he almost didn't hear it, brought him back from his thoughts and he slipped silently off the bed to answer it.


The next morning came slowly, the sun creeping over the hills taking its sweet time.

When Ino woke, she found the space on the bed next to her was empty, and she sat up, looking around in a daze for the man who had been laying there mere hours before. Her eyes fell on his still form, sitting silently next to the door, gazing out on the small clouds on the horizon.

"…Shika…" she whispered, in spite of herself, for he looked so tranquil, with his eyes staring languidly at the soft blue sky.

The sound of her voice drifted to his ears and he broke out of his reverie, turning to stare up at her instead.

"…Hm…you're awake…" he murmured, his eyes fixed on hers. To his credit, they didn't immediately fall on her chest, still covered only by that strip of cloth. She nodded, only just realizing that he had been waiting for her patiently, something she had thought was beyond him.

He stood, walking over to the bed where he sat next to her.

"Mira came in earlier to check on you…" he said, his voice tired, "We're going to have to stick around for a couple days…the medic will be back later tonight, and she wants her to look you over once before we leave…"

Ino stared at him blankly.

"Mira's the woman who took care of you last night……you were poisoned, Ino……don't you remember…?"

…A glint of silver crossed her vision, flashing under the rays of the midday sun. It took a few seconds for her mind to catch up to her body, moving a second too late - pain shot through her body, stunning her instantly. A familiar voice called out to her, much too far away…

Darkness seeped into her vision, calling her into peaceful shadows…

Ino clutched at her head, the barrage of images crossing her mind stopping as the snapped her eyes shut. Though she couldn't see him, she was sure Shikamaru was looking at her in concern, probably reaching out to her…

She shook her head, trying to clear it of the headache that had settled behind her eyes. When she opened them - sure enough - she saw Shikamaru gazing at her, worry etched across his face. He had placed a large, warm hand on her shoulder, and in spite of herself, she had to admit that the touch was comforting.

"…Are you alright…?" he asked her quietly. She nodded her head, letting her hands fall back into her lap.

"…We can't pay for this room for a couple more days…" she said, looking around.

Shikamaru smiled slightly, the worry dissipating from his face. "We don't have to."

She cocked a pale eyebrow at him, but his only response was a shrug. He turned away, getting up and grabbing his discarded clothes from the floor.

"You should get dressed…" he murmured, not looking at her. She glanced down at her body, her eyes widening slightly at the sight of her exposed skin. She grabbed the sheets and pulled them up to her shoulders, gripping them tightly and staring at the back of his form in the doorway.

As if reading her mind, he mumbled, "…Nothing happened…" then, with a sigh, walked out the door and out of sight.

She wracked her mind, searching for anything that might explain the whole situation…anything that might explain what he had just said…

But she drew a blank.

What had happened to her…? Why…why were they here…? Nothing came to her, as though there was a huge blank in her memory of the last 24 hours or so.

She frowned, but followed Shikamaru's advice and slipped out of bed. Her clothes were nowhere to be found and she scowled.

Clutching her hand over the gash along her stomach, she walked slowly over to the door, sticking her head out into the hall and glancing around. The hallway was empty except for a small plump woman a few doors down, stacking towels in a closet.

Ino crossed her arms over her chest, covering herself up as best she could, and approached the woman. As she came closer, she could hear the woman singing softly - a haunting melody that stopped suddenly as she turned and spotted Ino standing next to her.

A sweet smile crossed her lips, and - although she couldn't quite place it - something about the woman made Ino feel at ease.

"…Ah…young miss…it's good to see you up and about!" the woman spoke kindly, though her smile didn't quite reach her deep brown eyes.

"…Um…" Ino was at a loss. This woman seemed to know her, and something about her was definitely familiar, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember.

"…Oh dear……" the woman said, the smile falling from her face instantly, "I was worried this would happen…"


"…You don't remember anything, do you?" she questioned. Ino shook her head slowly.

"…Well then, I suppose proper introductions are in order!" she said, her smile back in a split second. "I'm Mira, and my grandfather owns this inn. I tended to your wounds last night," she gestured to the bandages, "You were lucky your boyfriend found this place…you were on the verge of dying when he brought you here."

"Oh, he's not my boyfriend." Ino said quickly.

"…But…I…I thought……Oh, well, it's not important. He's cute though, you've got to admit…if I was a few years younger…" she drifted off, and turned back to the towels she had been stacking.

'What a strange woman…' Ino thought, then, remembering why she had approached the woman in the first place, tapped her on the shoulder.

"…Um…I can't seem to find my clothes…do you-?"

"Oh, I took them to be washed…they were in a ghastly condition, all covered in blood and dirt…"

Mira gestured back toward the door Ino had come through. "Go back to your room, dear, and make yourself comfortable. I'll bring up some clean clothes for you to wear until yours are dry, and then you and your…friend can join us for breakfast."

Ino thanked her with a smile and retreated back to the room, collapsing on the bed and looking up at the ceiling with a sigh.

'Why can't I remember anything…?' She wondered, running a hand through her hair; it was matted and dirty, and her fingers caught in one knot after another. Patiently, she worked through each clump with skilled fingers, straining her brain to remember something - anything - more than she knew already, but the only things that came to her were a sharp, slashing pain, darkness, and the feel of a soft kiss against her lips.


Shikamaru walked down the hall, dressed in clean clothes that had been provided for him. The long pants and shirt weren't exactly his style, but they didn't look too bad and they were comfortable. He reached their room and stepped inside, but was pushed back out in an instant by Ino, whom he had walked in on while she was changing.

He didn't understand why she had made such a big deal over him being there, seeing as he had already seen her half-undressed before, but it was Ino - always safer not to ask questions.

After a few minutes, the door opened and Ino pulled him back in.

"…God…would it kill you to knock…?!" she was saying, but her words were lost on him as he stared at her. In the place of her usual purple outfit, she was wearing a pair of light blue shorts that barely covered any of her legs and a black tank-top that showed off some of her cleavage. Her hair was pulled back into its customary pony-tail, and it cascaded gently over her shoulders.

He watched, stunned, as she turned around and walked back over to the bed.

He had never seen so much of her legs before - all her life, she had worn long pants, bandages, or tights over them - and now that they were exposed, he couldn't help but stare. She pulled on a long sleeved, collared shirt to cover her arms, and it fell below the ends of her shorts, giving her the appearance of wearing nothing beneath it at all. Shikamaru gulped.

"…and I think we should go into the town too…" Ino was speaking again, having turned around. "Shikamaru, are you even listening to me?" she asked, frowning. He was openly staring at her chest, obviously not paying attention at all, and - without thinking - said, "…No…"

Ino glared at him. "…God, Shika…you're too lazy to even pay attention for one second…?!" She slapped his arm playfully, then walked over to the door. "C'mon, lets go get some breakfast…I can smell it from here and I'm starving!"

Shikamaru nodded stupidly, watching as she walked out of the room and down the hall.

'…Kami…' he thought, rubbing his temples slowly. 'I won't be able to make it through the day at this rate…'

From somewhere down the hall, he heard Ino's voice calling to him. With a sigh, he grabbed the bottle of sake from the bed-side table and downed its contents in one gulp, feeling the bitter liquid burn his throat with a grimace.

'…I'm going to need that…'

He tossed the empty glass onto the bed and called out to Ino, "I'm coming……mendokuse…"


Breakfast was waiting for them downstairs, in a dining room off of the main room Shikamaru hadn't noticed the night before. Ino sat down next to him, and he was grateful that the table covered her legs from his view. Despite that fact, he inched his chair away from hers slightly, just as a precaution.

He ate silently, barely paying attention to what he was putting into his mouth - in fact; it was a miracle that the food made it to his mouth at all.

Half-way through his eggs, he felt Ino's leg brush against his. '…Just an accident…' he thought, taking a deep breath, 'She was reaching for the salt…'

But her leg wrapped around the back of his, and there was no way it could have been accidental. He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye, but she gave no sign that what she had done was abnormal, and kept on talking to Ganjou, who seemed to have taken a liking to her.

Their chat lasted them through the entirety of breakfast, but Shikamaru kept himself silent, attempted to keep his sanity when Ino's toes ran over his ankle. When their plates had been taken away and Ino stood up, Shikamaru was so relieved to be free of her tantalizing touch, he let out an audible sigh. All three of his companions looked over at him with odd expressions on their faces, so he yawned to cover it up, looking away quickly.

They thanked old man Ganjou and Mira for the meal, then Ino dragged Shikamaru out the door and into town.


They had been shopping non-stop for 3 hours. Shikamaru groaned; how could someone who had been in such excruciating pain the night before be filled with such energy now? Every once in a while, she would stop and run her hands over her stomach from the pain, but other than that, she was her normal, bubbly self.

His arms were already heavily laden with bags filled with clothes and shoes and god knows what else, but Ino took no notice, piling 3 more boxes into his hands. '…Where did she get the money for all of this?!' Shikamaru wondered, staring down at the assortment of items in his grasp.

To his relief, Ino stopped at a café in the middle of the street and motioned for him to sit down; he dropped into a chair opposite her, letting the packages in his arms fall to the ground beside them. Ino frowned at him, but it seemed she didn't have the energy to chastise him and let his laziness pass without comment.

"I'm going to go grab something to eat, ok?" she asked, "You want anything?" Shikamaru shook his head and watched as she walked off into the café to order. He stood up, wanting to get away for a moment to clear his head, and trudged down the street.


Ino watched, unknown to Shikamaru, as he walked past the café windows and out of her line of sight.

'Where the hell is he going?' she thought, stepping forward as the line for the register moved slightly. 'Is he just going to leave me here…?'

Ino paused, thinking over that last question. 'No…he wouldn't leave me…he promised, remember…?'

It was a sunny day, warm and balmy. A few clouds skirted across the deep blue sky, and a sigh came from her left, where Shikamaru lay in the grass with his head propped up on his hands.

"Hey…Shika…?" she asked, looking down at him with a soft smile. He quirked a dark-brown eyebrow at her words, but gave no other sign that he had heard her speak at all. Her smile turned quickly to a frown, and she prodded his shoulder impatiently. 'Shikamaru, I know you can hear me…'

"Ugh….mendokuse…" he mumbled, opening one eye to squint up at her. "What do you want, girl?"

"Why do you lay around out here all day…?"

He paused, his other eye opening and his gaze shifting to the clouds.

"I like to watch the clouds…"

"…But…" She had heard him say this before, but it still puzzled her young mind. "…Why a cloud…? They just float around and never do anything interesting!"


"…But Shika-"

"…Clouds are free to float around; blissfully…they never have to do anything except…exist. It's a simple thing to be…just gliding above the world. They get to be free of all of life's worries and travel wherever the wind takes them, without doing anything at all."

He looked back over at her, taking in her puzzled expression.

"You wouldn't get it…"

"…So……you want to just float around……float away…?"

"…Mmhmm…that's right…"

"…B-But…" Her lower lip began to quiver.

"What is it now…?" he groaned, sitting up.

"…S-So…you j-just w-want to float away from here…? F-From m-me…?" She had tears welling up in her eyes now.

"…Ugh…that's not what I said…mendokuse…"

"…So, you're not going to leave me…?" she sniffed.

"…Ino, I'm eight. You're eight. We're still in the academy. Where could I possibly go…?" he asked her incredulously.

"I…I d-don't know…I…was just w-worried…"

"Don't." he said simply. Her lip still quivered, tears threatening to fall from her big, blue eyes.

"Ino…I promise…I'm never going to leave you, alright?"

She nodded and Shikamaru, seemingly content with her answer, lay back on the grassy hillside again. She watched as his lips moved again, but the voice that she heard wasn't his.

"Hey, lady…you gonna order or not?!"

Ino snapped out of her daze to find herself standing right in front of the cashier. How had she gotten up here?

"Well…?!" the man snapped, tapping his fingers on the register impatiently. She murmured a quick apology and paid for the drink and muffin she must have picked up in her daze, walking away dreamily. From behind her, she heard the man murmur "Crazy foreigners…"


Shikamaru looked into one or two stores without interest, and was beginning to think that leaving the table at all was a waste of his time when something in the next shop caught his eye. He stared through the window for a moment, then came to a decision, walked into the store, and bought the item in question. Slipping the box into his pocket, he walked swiftly back down the street and slid back into his seat just as Ino stepped out of the café, carrying a cup of tea and a muffin.

A small, mischievous smile was permanently fixed to his face for the rest of the evening.


Ino walked outside just in time to see Shikamaru slipping back into his seat. She pretended not to have noticed, sitting back down in her chair across from him with a smile. After apologizing for making him wait, she took a long sip of her tea, which was incredibly bitter. Ironic. And the muffin was wheat…she hated wheat! Why had she bought it again? Oh, right…Her thoughts drifted inadvertently back to her daydream.

'God…we were so naïve back then…but…thirteen years later and look at us…I'm still worrying over him…'

She gazed across the table at him over the rim of her cup. His skin looked soft in the midday sun, and she smiled slightly.

'I wonder what it would feel like if I-' she caught herself before her mutinous mind could think any more thoughts about the shadow master sitting across from him. 'No, Ino…watch yourself…he's your friend…you have to be careful…don't lose yourself, girl…he's not like all those other guys……with him…you don't stand a chance…'

Shikamaru glanced over at her with a casual kind of indifference under his gaze, which - on most occasions annoyed her to no end, but today…he'd never looked so amazing, with a couple strands falling down in his eyes…those…gorgeous brown eyes…so nonchalant as they looked her over.

'…No matter how great he may be, Ino…keep you head on and your mouth closed…you have to stay strong…don't fall for that…amazing smile……there are people still waiting for you at home…and-'

Oh, he was talking to her. Damn her mindless tendencies.

"…I said, 'are you done'…?"

"…Hmph…oh, yeah…" she said quickly, blushing. 'Damn, girl...I said get it together, not let yourself fall into a pile of mush at his feet!' She mentally kicked herself and smiled up at him.

"…Troublesome women …" he mumbled, standing up. "Let's go then…"


They returned to their room as the sun was just setting over the far mountains. Shikamaru lounged in one of the armchairs in the corner as Ino sprawled out on the bed, sighing.

'This is so nice...' she thought, glancing out the window, 'It's so peaceful...serene...and I get to be with Shikamaru for once...it's been so long since we've had any time together...what with his missions...and Temari...'

Not ten minutes after they had sat down and gotten comfortable, a knock at the door broke the comfortable silence they had settled into. Shikamaru groaned, standing up and stretching his arms above his head, then trudged over to the door.

He opened it to find that Mira had come to check up on Ino, and she had brought the village healer with her.

"Where is she?" the healer asked Shikamaru bluntly, brushing a few strands of her graying hair out of her face.

"…Have some patience, Shana-san…" Mira said, rolling her eyes at the older woman. She pressed the tray of tea she was holding into Shikamaru's arms again and brushed past him into the room. Shana followed her silently, walking over at a brisk pace to stand at the side of the bed where Ino still lay, watching the other three inhabitants of the room soundlessly.

Shikamaru walked over after setting the tea down and sat by Ino's side, extending a hand to her to help her sit up. Mira smiled over at the two of them, a twinkle in her eye.

"…You, girl…take off your shirt. I need to see your wound." Shana said, her tone sharp. Ino and Shikamaru stared at her bluntly and she sighed, slapping her forehead. She pointed at Ino with one long, bony finger, her expression darkening. "Shirt. Off. Now."

Ino blushed, glancing at Shikamaru out of the corner of her eye; he kept his eyes trained on the two healers, but a slight red tinge seemed to be rising in his cheeks as well.

"Oh, this is no time to be bashful!" Shana snapped, "I have other patients to attend to and foreigners are not usually high on my list. Now get moving!"

Ino rushed to get her shirt off, obviously a little frightened by the odd woman ordering her around.

'Why does this keep happening to me?! And in front of him, no less?! He must think so badly of me now…'

Her fingers fumbled over each button, only getting them off after several attempts, and she pulled the shirt off and set it beside her on the pillow. He blush intensified when she moved to strip off her tank-top, but she managed to pull it over her head without much trouble, wincing only once or twice as it rubbed against her tender flesh, and placed it with the other shirt. She unraveled the bandaged across her abdomen and let them fall to the floor.

"Good, now drink this…" Shana said, her tone lighter now that they were following her instructions without argument, handing Ino a bottle of sake similar to the one that had been provided for them the night before. Ino downed the drink without complaint, but she still grimaced as the acrid wine splashed onto her tongue.


She passed the bottle back to the healer, who set it on the table then turned and placed her hands on Ino's shoulders, pushing her back onto the bed, saying, "Lay down so I can have a look."

Ino gripped Shikamaru's hand tightly as Shana's face drew closer to her exposed wound. She stared at it for a second, running her hands over the skin around it lightly, and Shikamaru squeezed Ino's fingers when she whimpered.

Shana drew back, turning to whisper something in Mira's ear, who then proceeded to leave the room, returning a few moments later with the same bag she had brought in the night before. Ino whimpered again at the sight of the bag, knowing full well what was coming, and Shikamaru placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Sure enough, Shana took the bag from Mira and pulled out the knife, needle and thread, and a small blue vial filled with an unknown liquid.

"I'd hold her down if I were you…" Mira waned from over Shana's shoulder. Shikamaru's arms instinctively wrapped around Ino's shoulders before he had time to register their movements, and without warning, Ino's body convulsed against his hold. Shana had cut through the stitches, pulling them out one-by-one with the edge of the blade; Ino squealed slightly as the cold metal hit her skin and moaned when the wire was pulled sharply from her wound.

Shana dropped the wire into Mira's hands before turning back to position the blade above the newly-opened gash. She paused, glancing up at the two of them again.

"I'm going to have to open it a bit further…" she said to Ino, "Mira didn't get all of the poison out the tissue the first time." Ino mumbled something incoherent against Shikamaru's arm; it seemed that the alcohol took effect more quickly this time, for her cheeks were flushed and her eyes clouded over and distant. Shikamaru re-adjusted his grip on her torso and nodded to Shana.

She slid the blade into the gash slowly, slitting open the flesh with a single swipe. Blood seeped out from under the knife again, running down Ino's creamy stomach, and to Shikamaru's surprise, Ino was unusually still in his arms. Looking down at her, he found her eyes shut and her breathing stilled; his eye went wide, seeing that she had passed out from the pain. Shana seemed to have noticed this too, for she pulled the knife away and shook Ino's shoulders sharply. The girl cried out, being brought so abruptly back to consciousness. She grimaced, curling around her middle, but Shikamaru pulled her back into his arms, holding her tight.

'God...Ino...please...don't scare me like that again…' he pleaded inside his mind, gazing down at the whimpering girl in his arms.

He kept a watchful eye on her, making sure she didn't pass out again, while Shana walked away and returned moments later with the small vial and the needle and thread in her hands.

She uncorked the vial and poured the clear liquid into the wound. Ino hissed, her eyes focusing on a spot just above his shoulder as her body trembled. After waiting a few moments for the antidote to set in, Shana threaded the needle and pierced it through Ino's skin. Ino clutched at Shikamaru's arm; her grip tight but shaking. Shana made quick work of sewing up the wound, tying it off, and cutting the needle loose.

"Alright…she should be fine now……let her rest for a couple of minutes, then take her out to the spring and wash that wound. The mineral water will do her some good, and it'll get all that blood of both of you…" she said with a small smile. "Mira will bring you some towels and clean clothes."

Mira, who had remained relatively quiet through the whole ordeal, now stepped up to the side of the bed and placed a hand gently on top of Ino's head.

"Feel better, dear…" she said with a motherly smile. With that, she and Shana packed up their things, bid the two of them goodnight, and left the room as quick as they had come. Mira returned for a few seconds with the promised towels, laying them by the door, and then slipped out of the room for the last time.

Shikamaru gazed down at Ino, who was resting peacefully in his arms know, gazing up at him with those big, blue eyes of hers. They were still a little misty, but the expression behind them was serene.

"C'mon Ino…we need to get you cleaned up…" he sighed, picking her up and getting to his feet. "Can you stand?" he asked her, and she nodded slowly. He let her down on her feet, and she stood, swaying slightly, for a moment, then fell against his chest. He caught her just before she slid off him and fell to the floor.

Ino let out a soft "Oh" as his arms wrapped around her again. "Watch it!" he said, holding her close to him, her face pressed against his broad chest. "You alright…?"

"…Y-Yeah…" she mumbled, righting herself. She took a hesitant step forward, gripping his arm for support, and found that she could hold herself up. They made their way out to the bath that way; taking it slow, step by step, until they'd reached the water's edge.

Ino pulled away from him, turning around. "S-Shika…t-turn around s-so I c-can g-get undressed…" she mumbled. He couldn't see it, but Shikamaru was positive that she was blushing now more than ever.

She reached up for her hair-tie, but Shikamaru's hand wrapped around hers. "…Let me…" he whispered against her neck. Ino shivered against him but no argument fell from her lips. Her hands dropped to her sides and Shikamaru slid the tie off with ease, freeing her golden hair to fall down her shoulders; he slid his hands through the shimmering strands, delight swimming in his eyes. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he turned her around to face him.

She refused to meet his eyes; her blush, if possible, intensified under his gaze. He leaned forward and kissed her cheek softly, his hands wandering down her smooth arms and back up to her shoulders. They trailed down her spine as his kisses skimmed over to her ear and down her neck. He paused for a moment, pulling away to glance at Ino; her eyes were closed and her lips parted slightly. His hands wandered down her sides, the rough pads of his fingers brushing against her pale skin, glowing in the newly-risen moon's light.

When he reached her chest, he paused, staring down at the cloth blocking his way. His gaze traveled back up to Ino's face, and her eyes opened to meet his. She stared back at him for a moment, and then nodded shyly. Slowly, tentatively, his hands made their way up her smooth back to the knot keeping the fabric taut across her chest. He kept his eyes trained on hers as his fingers made quick work of untying the knot and slid the fabric off her rosy flesh, his fingers lightly stroking the slope of her breasts.

They skirted around the edge of her ribcage and down to the waistline of her skirt, and she blushed a deep red. She grabbed his wrists, stopping them from moving any further.

"…No…p-please…" she murmured, not daring to look up into his eyes. "…J-Just…uh...…t-turn around and I'll get in…"

Shikamaru nodded, noticing the fear skirting behind her eyes, and backed away, turning around; from that distance, all of the steam made it impossible to see her clearly, but he turned anyway to make her feel more comfortable. He waited until he heard the water shifting in the pool and a sigh come from behind him before turning around and walking back over to the side of the spring.

He bent down, prepared to get into the bath fully dressed, but Ino's voice stopped him in his tracks.

"You're g-going to g-get those clothes all w-wet, y-you know…"


"T-Take them off…y-you can't take a b-bath in your c-clothes…" It might have been his imagination, but Shikamaru could have sworn he heard a bit of amusement under the apprehension in her voice.

"…B-But-" Shikamaru started, but Ino cut him off.

"Oh, just d-do it…I c-couldn't s-see you if I w-wanted to…"

Shikamaru walked off a ways, thanking the heavens for the thick steam rising from the water that blocked her view of him, and stripped out of his clothes, discarding them by the door and grabbing a pair of towels. Wrapping one around his waist, he walked back over to the water slowly. He could see the outline of Ino's head and shoulders against the steam; she was turned around, facing the night sky to give him privacy as he entered the water.

He stayed as far away from her as the confines of the bath would allow while he sat down, not wanting her to feel threatened by his presence. To his surprise, however, she turned around; her body mercifully covered by the water, and approached him. He gulped as she drew closer, freezing as her hands brushed over his chest.

'…Damn…' she thought as her hands skimmed slowly over his taut muscles, '…for a lazy ninja, he sure must work out a lot…' Her fingers brushed over one scar then another, making their way down his torso towards his stomach. She paused, the tips of her fingers brushing over a particularly nasty scar.

"Shika…" she said, her voice soft and sensual. He wasn't sure if she meant to say his name like that or not, but something inside him snapped, and he reached out, pulling her into a warm embrace.

Ino gasped at the feel of his chest against hers, his heated skin firm and smooth, the water gliding between them. She drew her arms across her bosom instinctively; hiding her breasts from the slippery friction of his chest, and rested her palms flat on his collarbone, but didn't push him away.

"…Ino…" he whispered, his voice low; his breath cascaded over her shoulders, the cool air causing goose bumps to spring up over her damp skin. "You're covered in blood…"

Ino looked down at the water surrounding them, and - sure enough - it was tinted a deep red from her blood. Shikamaru pulled away for a moment, disappearing behind her. He was back before she could turn around with a washcloth in his hand.

"…May I…?" he asked, dipping the rag into the water. She nodded, stunned, and closed her eyes. She heard the water shift around them, then felt a pair of hands on her shoulders, slowly kneading her tense muscles.

She relaxed slowly, surprised by the fact that he was taking the time to exert any physical effort, choosing to massage her shoulders skillfully; his touch gentle, caring.

"You're way too tense, Ino…you need to relax more…" she heard him say from behind her, and she nodded dumbly, too absorbed in the feel of his large hands on her to really pay attention to what he was saying. His hands strayed further down her spine, expertly locating and rubbing out the knots that she had accumulated over the years.

He was so close; she could feel his body heat even through the intensity of the hot springs. She missed him. She wanted him.

His hands retreated to be replaced by the washcloth; the slightly rough material brushing over her skin as he rubbed it along her shoulders and up her neck. With a gentle touch, he turned her back around to face him, bathing her collarbone and down the top of her chest, stopping just above the swell of her breasts. His hands moved down to her stomach, continuing his actions there, carefully skirting around her wound. She hissed softly as his fingers brushed over the sensitive flesh and he pulled away, looking at her in concern. She pulled him back to her, leaning up to kiss down his neck, urging him to continue.

His hands ran just above the lowest point of her abdomen, avoiding any area of her body that would turn his actions to anything besides purely innocent.

He dipped her below the water to wash out her hair, cradling her head in his hand; she closed her eyes, letting the searing water to run across her scalp and down her cheeks. Shikamaru pulled her back up and ran his hands through her hair again and she moaned as his fingers ran over her head.

"…Hmm…that feels g-good…" she moaned. He leaned forward to kiss her forehead gently, reaching out to pull her arm out of the water. He ran the cloth from her shoulder to her hand, then repeated the action on the other arm, enticing a moan from her lips. Winding a hand behind her knee, he lifted her leg and proceeded to rinse that as well, followed by the other.

When he was finished, they sat in silence for a moment, Ino smiling up at him while he gathered her into his arms. While his attention was elsewhere, she reached down and tugged the cloth from his hand, pulling away from him with a sly smile crossing her lips in place of her previous, naive one.

She mimicked his prior actions, running the washcloth over his chest and down his stomach, her fingers tracing around his physique in awe. He shivered under the contact, watching in a daze as she lifted one of his arms out of the water, kissing her way down the skin, her lips followed by the washcloth. The rough texture of the cloth singed his skin, instantly washed away by the warmth of the water and her touch running up his arm.

She kissed the tips of each of his fingers, sucking one into her mouth slightly, before letting the arm fall back into the water. She bathed the other arm in the same fashion, and Shikamaru watched her with lazy, half-lidded eyes.

She turned him around, washing off his back and shoulders in the same manner he had bathed hers, smirking as a moan escaped his lips. She ran her tongue under his ear, leaning forward to lick the salty droplets clinging to his skin.

Turning him back around, she acted as though she was about to rinse of his legs as he had to her, but, as his head fell back and his eyes closed, she straddled his hips in a moment of boldness. His eyes flew open as her body moved against his, and he pushed her off quickly as a shiver ran down his spine.

Ino looked up at him in surprise, hurt swimming behind her sapphire eyes.

'Wasn't that what he wanted? He acted as though...m-maybe he doesn't like m-me like that after all…'

As if reading her mind again, Shikamaru took a step toward her and pulled her back into his arms. He tilted his head to kiss up the side of her neck, saying, "If you're going to do that…" He paused, nipping lightly under her ear, "It would be better in there…" he gestured toward the door.

Ino gasped slightly, then nodded and he pulled away, offering her his hand. They waded to the edge of the pool, where Ino turned around so that Shikamaru could get out and drape a towel around his waist. He extended her the same courtesy as she emerged from the water as well, turning to offer her a little privacy as she wrapped a towel around her body as well, then extended his hand to her again. He led her to the door, but she pulled away when they entered the room, looking over her shoulder at him with a sultry smile. He grinned at her, pulling on his discarded boxers quickly and following her over the threshold.

Ino walked ahead of him, sitting down on the side of the bed, tilting her head look up at him. He leaned down and kissed her again, slowly; his hands came to rest softly on her hips and he pulled away, looking deep into her eyes.

"…Lets just…try this for a bit…and see what happens, alright…?" he asked.

Once again, instead of a reply, he felt her lips press against his own. Forgetting all of the promises she had made to herself, Ino kissed him eagerly, impatiently, her need for him growing by the second. Her hands snaked up his sides, running in small circles over his muscles; he groaned as they rippled under her touch, and gripped her hips tightly. She grabbed his arms, pulling him down onto the bed next to her.

Her hands caressed the muscles on his arms as Shikamaru's mouth left hers to trail damp, open-mouthed kisses along her jaw to her ear, where he nibbled softly on her earlobe, earning him a groan. From there, his lips moved down towards her neck, his teeth grazing softly over her skin. She whined, her fingers digging almost roughly into his sides.

His lips found their way to the base of her neck, sucking lightly on the skin beneath them until a small mark began to show. He nipped at the skin playfully while rolling her over and pressing her back into the sheets, lying on top of her, careful to hold his full weight off of her.

Gazing at her for a moment, he took in her image; her hair, the ends still damp from their bath, fanned around her head, framing her face, the gold complementing and highlighting the flushed porcelain of her complexion.

He smiled, continuing his trail of kisses down to her collarbone, and ran his tongue over the small dip in her skin, memorizing her taste. She shuddered softly as his warm breath pooled over her, running down her shoulders and her chest.

Spurred on by a sudden curious thought, she turned her intentions towards discovering whether or not Shikamaru was immune to the same treatment he had been torturing her with. She was pleasantly surprised to find that he was not as she flipped him over to lie on top of him and her hands wandered over the planes of his chest and his stomach, her touch feather light, causing a delicious friction and heat to rise from his skin. He moaned and groaned under her, writhing as her hands drifted towards the nether regions of his abdomen.

Ino squealed when he suddenly jerked forwards to latch on to her neck, biting down lightly before sucking on the tender flesh. After a few moments, he pulled away slightly to admire his work, caressing the mark with his tongue.

'It...it's so different with him...he's so...gentle...so soft...' she thought as his breath rolled over her skin.

He rolled over, leaning his forehead against hers, his breathing ragged, and she found herself pressed into the crook of his neck. A longing rose up in her, sweet - his golden skin was so close, so tempting. She couldn't help but take advantage of her position, despite the fact that her head still swimming and her vision blurry.

Her lips found their way to the delectable golden skin and she nibbled at the base of his jaw, trailing light kisses and nips along his collarbone and down to his chest. The exploration of her mouth led her increasingly lower, first kissing the flesh that covered his ribs, then licking and nipping the taut set of muscles around his navel, finally blowing on the concave of the top of his hips.

She reached the waist of his boxers, smirking. She planted a rough kiss on his left thigh, smiling, then nipped leisurely at his groin.

A mix between a moan and a yelp escaped through the back of his throat, both of his hands reaching out almost involuntarily, pulling her away. She looked at him in confusion.

"Ino..." he groaned, his eyes clenched shut, "…n-no……I…c-can't…"

'...I can't do that...to Temari...and you...you can't do that to him either...'

The expression on her face changed to surprise, a bit of hurt drifting behind her eyes, but he only smiled, capturing her mouth with his own. She moaned as he plunged his tongue into her mouth; it twined with her own in a battle for dominance that neither seemed ready to give up on.

He trailed his hands down to linger over the smooth expanse of her chest, lightly stroking the slope of her breasts.

They pulled away for breath, her gaze finding his eyes, and the way they lingered on her parted mouth caused her breathing to grow consciously shallower. Raw emotion swam in their depths, the tangibly desperate passion behind it literally stealing her breath away again.

He tried to kiss her again but she wrinkled her nose at him teasingly.

"Ino…that's not fair…" he mumbled before pressing his lips against hers again.

"I know…" she panted when they broke apart. They stared at each other, faces mere inches apart. Shikamaru smirked at her as his calloused fingers skimmed over the tips of her breasts, languidly circling and tugging at the hardened nubs as she gasped. Shikamaru used that opportunity to kiss her again quickly, his mouth then leaving hers to trail damp, open kisses along her jaw and down her neck, his breath as soft, moist puffs of air against her skin.

She held onto him, her shaky hands desperately clutching his forearms as he leaned closer. Without warning, he captured one pert nipple between his teeth and flicked his tongue over the tip.

Her mouth fell open as she struggled to breathe, her throat tight under the onslaught. All too soon, Shikamaru noticed her acclimation to his touch, her pulse slowing ever so slightly as the shocking sensitivity dulled with repetition. Not one to be undone when he had so been enjoying her reaction, Shikamaru transferred his attentions to her other exposed orb with renewed vigor, his self-satisfaction returning as her heartbeat quickened once again.

He repeated this action over and over and over again. Each time that her nerve endings would be lulled into complacency, the intense heat of the initial contact reducing to a dull warmth in her veins, he would reawaken her senses by lavishing new attention on the neglected twin, refusing her body respite from the ever higher spiral of pleasure that he drove her towards.

He was stopped in his actions as Ino gripped his head and pulled him away.

"Please…please, no…too much…" she begged, her entire frame quaking. She had thrown herself into his arms, her chest heaving under the strain of her attempt to gain control of her mutinous body.

Shikamaru smiled, knowing exactly what she was feeling; her nerves had been unable to endure such teasing for so long. He moved his hands over her skin instead, hoping that she would not be too upset with him in the end. A low rumbling growl reverberating through her as his fingers caressed between her shoulder blades, drifting down her back to the curve of her hips.

She flipped him over, taking courage from the sharp indrawn breath he took, and nipped lightly on his shoulder.

The hand curled around her nape pulled her forwards, the other sweeping restless circles over her bare back. She groaned and her body arched off the bed into his touch; a burning hardness was growing in her center - such a strange sensation she had never felt the likes of before.

He kissed his way down around her chest, careful not to stray too close to her breasts; his hands, with their slow movements burning against her skin, traveled over her shoulder again.

She brought her hands up, her arms circling his neck in a feeble attempt to cling to reality, to retain some control of her body.

A low hiss escaped her lips as his fingers traced the outline of her curves, from her shoulder down to the curve of her hip; the rough pads of his fingers fitting perfectly against her. He leaned down, running his thumb over the underside of her knee as he kissed just below her breasts, careful not to get too close. His fingers trailed down her calf to her foot, his nails brushing over her smooth legs; he loved the feel of them against his palms.

His kisses moved down to her waist she blushed feverishly.

'Oh god, oh godohgod!!' she thought, the words jumbling together even in her head. Before moving even an inch further, he once again glanced up at her, his eyes searching hers for some sign that what he was doing was ok. She took in a long, shuddering breath, her gaze fixed on his. The two of them grew completely silent, waiting for her answer.

After a long, impossibly awkward moment, Ino stretched out her hands and grasped Shikamaru's wrists, bringing his hands to her hips. With his attention still fixed upon her face, she guided his hands to the fabric of her towel and together, they inched the offending cloth down her legs and off her feet to be tossed away.

Shikamaru, sensing her sudden fear, leaned back up to kiss her softly, reassuringly; his hands remained firmly clasped with hers. She relaxed a bit as his tongue ran smoothly over her lips, and they parted to allow him access. He ran his tongue over hers and across her teeth, then back to her lip, which he nibbled on softly and sucked into his mouth for a second before pulling away.

He gazed down at her lovingly, taking in the full sight of her - her slightly swollen, rosy lips; parted and moist, quivering - her blue eyes, now clenched shut from desire - the slight rise and fall of her chest as she took deep, labored breaths, her throat tight - the milky glow of her skin…

He let go of one of her hands, reaching up to rest it lightly above her hip. Her eyes shot open, staring up at the ceiling, her body tense under his hands before she relaxed and blinked slowly.

Without looking down at him, for she was far too nervous, she whispered, "…I trust you…"

He caressed her trembling lips with his thumb, his other hand tracing a small circle repeatedly on the inside of her thigh, and she squirmed.

"I…t-thought you s-said…you c-couldn't…" she said between gasps as his fingers trailed higher and higher.

Instantly, his movements stopped. "…You're right…" he pulled away from her slightly, looking deep into her eyes. "I…I c-can't do t-this…to T-Temari...to y-you…not unless……you know how you feel…?"

Her eyes widened in surprise. "S-Shika…I…" she paused, glancing down at her hands, still splayed across his chest.

"I love you, Ino…" he said, cutting her off. Her eyes jumped back to his, shock written all over her face. Before she could respond, his lips met hers gently, tentatively; a question behind the kiss.

They pulled away to a stunned silence, broken only by their labored breathing.

"I…I love you too…" she said, her head falling to rest on his shoulder.

Her words brought the faintest of smiles to his face.


Ino woke the next morning to find the space next to her on the bed empty. The sun had risen over the horizon, and she squinted, covering her eyes as she sat up and slid out of bed. She groaned and looked around the room, but Shikamaru was no where to be seen. Neither was any of their stuff, come to think of it…just her outfit, clean and mended, sitting on the end of the bed.

She stood up and dressed quickly; brushing her hair with her fingers and pulling it back into its customary ponytail.

'…Where's Shika…? What happened last night…?' she wondered, clutching her head as it throbbed. Walking as quickly as she could to the door, she looked out it and down the hall, but saw no one again. However, the sounds and smells of breakfast wafted up from downstairs and she smiled.


After a warm breakfast and a few touching goodbyes, Ino and Shikamaru departed; their walk out of the village quiet and tense.

They trudged along wordlessly, the silence only broken by Ino, who began to hum a soft tune under her breath. Shikamaru let himself relax, listening peacefully to the song; it was somehow…familiar to him…and comforting.

"…The bluebird's wings carried him higher, over the clouds and above the world..." she sang, her voice soft and sweet, and Shikamaru looked over at her in surprise. It was the song her mother used to sing to her when they were little children…he had heard it once when he had been sent over to Ino's house to see her while she was sick. He had walked in on her mother singing her to sleep…no wonder it seemed familiar to him…

He smiled as she continued singing, letting her voice wash over him.

They made the rest of the trip that way, in companionable silence, or with Ino singing…they didn't speak unless necessary, stopping only at night to sleep.

As they drew nearer to Konoha, with the village gate visible between the trees, Shikamaru stopped, looking back at Ino. She stopped as well, looking over at him in confusion. He grabbed her arms, backing her against a tree and holding her there soundly, gazing into her eyes.

"S-Shika…w-what…?" she said, blushing.

"I couldn't bring myself to go back…" he brushed his lips over hers. "…without doing this one…last…time…"

Ino looked at him with wide eyes, then gasped as their lips came crashing together in a scorching and furious kiss that rivaled the one she had forced on him earlier. His hands crawled up her slight form, causing her to shiver against his touch and moan into the kiss.

They broke away, both panting slightly, and Ino gazed at Shikamaru warily. He showed no sign that he thought what he had just done was out of the ordinary; he simply smiled at her and turned away, continuing his walk toward the village.

'...S-So...it w-wasn't a dream...' she thought, her mind jumping back to the night before. she smiled slightly; Shikamaru stopped at the top of the hill, looking back at her. She nodded up at him and he resumed his stride; Ino followed silently behind him, her mind buzzing.


"Shika-kun! You're back!" a female voice called out to him as they walked through the village gate. Shikamaru smiled slightly, walking in the direction the voice had called from.

"Temari…" he sighed, embracing her.

"You're late, buddy." She said after they pulled away, frowning slightly at him.

Shikamaru rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I know, I know…we had a little mishap and were delayed…" he mumbled apologetically, "but I'm back now…you still got those plans on your mind?"

"Oh, you remembered!" Temari squealed, her frown replaced instantly with a broad smile.

"Of course I did…" he smiled, then leaned down and kissed her softly. Ino turned away, her heart aching and tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

"Happy anniversary, Temari…" she heard him say over her shoulder. Ino scowled, wiping away the tears that were now steadily falling down her cheeks.

'...H-How c-could he...d-do that t-to me...?' she thought hopelessly, '...a-after everything t-that...h-happened...I...I knew it...I n-never h-had a c-chance...did I...?'

A thin finger tapped her on her shoulder, breaking her out of her thoughts.

"Ino…?" Neji's voice called to her, and she turned around to face the pale Hyuuga. He looked at her in concern, his sharp eyes taking in the sight of her slightly red eyes and hurt expression.

"N-Neji…!" she said, quickly wiping off her face and putting on a fake smile.

"Ino, are you alright…?"

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine…just an…" she paused, glancing back at Shikamaru, "…old injury that's bothering me…" she said, grinning at him and brushing her hand over her chest. Her heart was beating irregularly, and it throbbed painfully inside her ribcage.

'Damn him...he...he did this on purpose...he knew we both had someone waiting for us here, but he...he still...!'

Neji didn't look convinced, but he figured that it would be better not to ask. Shikamaru was in the vicinity, and, knowing about their past, he decided to keep out of it until Ino wanted to talk.

"Alright…I'll have a look at it later, ok?" Ino nodded at him, saying a quick thanks and kissing his cheek. He wrapped his arms around her waist, but his touch didn't register in her mind, for she was looking over his shoulder at the other smiling couple.

'…Was it…just a one-time thing, Shika…did it really mean nothing…? You...you said you loved me…b-but…'

"Come on, Ino…let's go home…" Neji said, pulling away and holding out a hand to her. She nodded, taking his hand in hers and letting him lead her away.

As they walked off, hand in hand, Shikamaru glanced over at Ino's retreating form in silence, Temari rambling on at his side.

'…I'm sorry, Ino…' he thought regretfully, then let Temari take his arm and drag him away.

'…I wish it didn't have to be this way…'


"The world keeps spinning round,
my world's upside down
and I wouldn't change a thing…
I've got nothing else to lose,
I lost it all when I found you
and I wouldn't change a thing…
No, you and I wouldn't change a thing…"


Ok, I feel really stupid now...that was one of the dumbest, most pointless dribbles of random thought I have ever let escape from the confines of my head. I apologize...

Either way, I'm secretly hoping that someone enjoyed it...Review, please!