Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto - all recognizable characters belong to him. Any other characters belong to me, though you can use them if you must. Or, if you do, you ask me first.
Authors Notes: Hopefully, you like. I was inspired to write it, and wrote a first draft in four hours or so, a couple of days before leaving Japan. It's Shikamaru/Ino (duh) so hopefully you'll like it. There's also slight ShikaTema in there, which I actually like better than ShikaIno, but it doesn't stop them from being cute. Then there's also some vague Choji/OC, but that's mostly background stuff, and is only barely mentioned. Anyways, hope you enjoy, and please review!
"Love is friendship set on fire."
"There's a lot to be said for self-delusionment when it comes to matters of the heart."
-Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
They were never meant to be together.
She knew that unequivocally from the start. It was just as obvious and universal as the fact that the sky was blue, or that Naruto loved ramen. It was pure and simple fact.
He was quiet, prone to spending hours concentrating on a single thing – whether it be work, a mission, or a game of shogi. Or perhaps just the clouds in the sky. This patience was a part of his nature, as much a part of him as his intelligence or his dispassionate interest in nothing. As much calm water, as she was dancing fire.
She flitted from thing to thing, almost daily. It was not in her to be patient, though she had learned some of that skill from being a ninja, and could cultivate it if needed. In order to attain that sense of calm, she had to turn to flower arranging. While she was carefully clipping flowers and picking out vases was the only time she didn't feel like her life was on fast-forward.
They followed their natures in romantic pursuits as well. She flitted from boy to boy, having brief flings that lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on how interesting the relationship was. Her biggest accomplishment during the dating phase of her life was a yearlong relationship with Inuzuka Kiba – though it was mostly founded on mutual attraction and good sex. In short, it was a mockery of a relationship.
Shikamaru, however, had long harbored a soft spot for the Temari, the spitfire kunoichi from Suna. They'd had a rocky, on-again off-again relationship. Her temper and fiery personality somehow managed to make him angry, though it usually took a lot to do so. His laziness, and generally unromantic demeanor, oftentimes inflamed her temper. But what she really hated was the brooding he continued to do about Asuma.
Largely, her own relationship with Shikamaru was a result of Asuma's death. She wasn't sure why – it was a very depressing thing to found a romance on. But here it was, just that same.
Their first kiss, too, had been a result of their teacher's death. It was during one of the times he and Temari were "off", and he was brooding. In order to cheer him up, she'd invited him over for a home-cooked meal.
The evening, largely, was pleasant, and Shikamaru thanked her with a smile as they sat down on the couch and nursed two glasses of wine, all the while talking about trivial matters.
She wasn't sure how the conversation had turned to Asuma, but she knew that she was the one who began to tear up. The subject was still tender, even after several years.
The tears soon turned into crying, which she knew was silly, but couldn't help doing anyway. Shikamaru, understandingly, wrapped his arms around her.
She cried into his shoulder, her body pressed up against the lean muscularity of his chest. She knew that he was both flexible and strong beneath his dark green Jounin vest. That strength, in a way, comforted her, and she impulsively leaned closer to it.
Eventually, her tears dried, and she reluctantly pulled away from her source of comfort, somewhat embarrassed at her outburst of tears. Her eyes were likely red-rimmed and puffy, and no doubt her mascara was running. She definitely didn't look her best after she cried.
Before she could pull away completely, however, their eyes met. She could see that his were bright from unshed tears, as hers were likely bright from shed ones. In that moment, they understood each other perfectly. He leaned forward, just like she did, and for a vague second their lips brushed.
Almost immediately, they blushed and pulled away.
"I'm sorry," Shikamaru said quietly. "I shouldn't have kissed you. I don't know why I did it."
She giggled a little. "I thought I was the one who kissed you," she said, a small smile on her lips.
"How troublesome," he said quietly, but he smiled, and began to laugh with her. Then she bid him goodnight, and he left. That kiss didn't hurt their friendship, but they never spoke of it again.
A month later, she began dating Kiba. Soon enough, Shikamaru and Temari were back "on". Choji proposed to his girlfriends, Ayako, the younger sister of Ichiraku Ramen's Ayame. She agreed. The three of them remained friends and every Sunday they had free time from missions, they had yakiniku for lunch. They forgot about the kiss that had passed between them. Months passed.
Their next kiss was at Choji's wedding. Shikamaru had left for a minute to go smoke a cigarette – he had started the nasty habit after Asuma's death, in some sort of tribute to him. Ino left because Kiba was annoying her with vaguely lewd jokes and making suggestive glances in her general direction, which she would have normally encouraged. This night, however, it simply annoyed her.
They met by chance in the carefully manicured garden adjoining the hotel the reception was being held in. The lights from inside spilled out onto the expansive lawns in a sphere of ambient light, but she met him outside of the glow of electricity. Only the silvery moonlight allowed them to see each other at all. He was leaning against the railing of a bridge spanning a manmade creek, and staring moodily into the water.
"Ino," he said quietly, his voice betraying neither surprise nor annoyance as he continued to stare into the water. She took that as an invitation to lean against the railing of the bridge next to him.
"Shikamaru," she said quietly, looking toward him, a vaguely bored expression on her face.
"The water's very beautiful, the way it reflects the moonlight," he said quietly, in an odd poetic moment.
She simply nodded and made a vague sound of affirmation.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, each of them staring as they watched the water flow under the bridge. Each of them was lost in their own thoughts.
He absently flicked the ashes from his cigarette into the water. She scowled, reaching over and snatching the cigarette from his hand.
"Stop that," she admonished quietly. "You'll kill yourself."
He frowned vaguely as she dropped the cigarette into the water. "How troublesome," he muttered, moving to grab another one. She grabbed his hand, giving him a reproachful look.
"There's many ways I could die," he said quietly. "This is just one of the many."
She looked up at him in surprise. His usually lazy-looking eyes were dark and intent. He looked, she thought unbidden, quite handsome.
Slowly, without rushing, he pushed back the hair that hung in front of her right eye with his free hand. And still as slowly, so she knew exactly what was going to happen but was still powerless to stop it, he leaned forward to kiss her.
He paused on the threshold of the kiss, his lips barely brushing hers, before pulling her closer.
The kiss itself was slow, though there was heat behind it, and when he opened his teeth for her she eagerly allowed her tongue to invade his mouth. He tasted of smoke, and of the dinner they had eaten not too long ago, and also of something vaguely earthy that she couldn't quite identify.
They broke apart, just as slowly as they had come together. Then they both turned back to watching the water.
"Sorry," Shikamaru muttered quietly.
"It's alright," she replied, just as soft.
She watched the water for a few more minutes, before quietly excusing herself to go back to the party. He gave no indication that he had heard, nor did he make any move to keep her there, or to follow. So she left.
She looked back as she was leaving to see him lighting another cigarette. She smiled ruefully and shook her head, before continuing back to the hotel.
There was some initial awkwardness in the weeks following that second kiss, but it was quickly dismissed.
Their third kiss was different. They'd gone out for yakiniku – one of their weekly Sunday rendezvous – but by some crazy happenstance Choji wasn't there. (He was actually out on some training thing with his father – they would likely eat Yakiniku all by themselves, so Ino and Shikamaru didn't feel too bad about going without him.)
On that day, gloomy storm clouds had given way into a downpour. They looked outside the yakiniku restaurant, and Shikamaru went back in to call Temari in the hopes that she would give them some umbrellas. Neither of them fancied walking through the rain. But the blonde-haired kunoichi wasn't due to be there for another twenty minutes, and the store owner was staring at them with a vague expression that said "get out or order something" – they had been sitting there for several hours just talking already.
So they hung out under a small overhang, out of the rain and mercifully dry. She felt the electric tension when he brushed against her arm accidentally. The forced proximity made the air heat up, even though the rain was cool and fresh.
It was her who initiated the kiss this time. She pressed her hand up against his shoulder, feeling the wiry muscle concealed by his shirt. Then she simply leaned in and kissed him.
A shock flew through her as he kissed back. All the electric tension built up over the past few moments culminated between their lips. He pressed in, to deepen the kiss and her grip on his shoulder tightened.
And then it was over, as quickly as it had begun. And she was blushing and straightening her hair, and he was acting like nothing had happened, but doing a very bad job of it.
"If Temari hears about this, she'll break up with me again," he said, slightly amused.
"Sorry," she mumbled, still absently straightening her hair.
"No – I'm sorry for dragging you into this," he said. "You don't need to be a part of my relationship problems. It's troublesome."
For a second, there was only silence and the drum of the rain on the roof.
"Why?" he asked softly.
She'd have to be a complete moron not to know what he was talking about.
"It seemed like the right thing, at the time," she said, just as soft.
He nodded, and said nothing more.
"I think I'll chance the rain," she said, and then paused. "Tell Temari I said hello."
He nodded again, once, and she ducked out from under the overhang and left quietly.
It was not long after that she realized that she could come to love him, if the opportunity ever arose.
She realized that while watching him kneel in front of Asuma's grave. His face was somber and composed, but his eyes expressed all the feeling that his face didn't. His dedication, his patience, his intelligence, his eternal and immutable sadness, and also the brief moments of true happiness she had – everything that made him what he was, was captured in those eyes.
She realized then that she could learn to love him.
Not long after, perhaps a week later, her and Kiba went through a mutual break up. They both decided that they really didn't need to pursue a relationship anymore, and that it was nice while it lasted. They managed to stay on friendly terms afterwards.
She had no more romantic encounters with Shikamaru for nearly eight months. In that time she had a brief fling with a waiter who worked not far from the Yamanaka flower shop. Temari stormed back to Suna for a month, raging at Shikamaru all the way. When she finally came back, they were "on" again. Ino wasn't quite sure why but she was somewhat disappointed. Choji and Ayako had their first child – a plump and healthy, red-face girl they called Chikako. They still had yakiniku every Sunday afternoon.
Then, quite suddenly, her and Shikamaru were alone together again. She was over at his house, in the kitchen peeling potatoes for the supper they would soon share. He was carefully ladling ingredients into a large soup pot.
Suddenly a stinging sensation flew up her arm, and she could see the blood on her finger before it really started to hurt. She'd cut herself with the knife, and raised her finger to her lips, sticking it in her mouth to suck off the blood.
Shikamaru left the kitchen and reappeared with a bandage that he carefully wrapped around her finger. Then he moved to stand behind her, as she returned to the potatoes, his hand covering hers and guiding it in a smooth practiced motion.
"Slower is better," he said in a calm voice. "That way they're perfect."
She nodded, and they finished the rest of the potatoes in this way. Then when they were done, they simply stood there in silence, his fingers absently stroking her hand.
"If I asked you to marry me," he said quietly. "What would you say?"
She paused, wondering if he was joking. She laughed a little, though it sounded forced. "I'd say you had the wrong kunoichi, and that that the one you want is attending to business in Suna. You might even be able to get there before a bouquet wilts, if you hurry."
He looked at her his, eyes holding a passion she had never seen from anyone before, let alone him. All the sex she'd had in her life was not as intense and personal as that look. She found herself unable to speak.
"And what if I told you I was, without a doubt, speaking to you and you alone, Yamanaka Ino, kunoichi of Konoha?"
He kissed her then, his lips meeting hers until they melted together. She made a sound – of protest or passion even she didn't know what, and allowed the kiss to deepen. She parted her lips, almost begging him entrance into her mouth. He obliged, and she again tasted smoke, as well as the faintly earthy scent.
And then, suddenly realizing what she was doing, she pushed him away, her hands connecting with his chest almost violently.
His eyes locked with hers for just a second, looking hurt and confused. And then she bolted from the house.
That night, he came to her door. When she opened it, he began to apologize.
"Why the hell do you say sorry after every time we kiss?" she cut him off. "Why don't you just stop kissing me then, if it makes you so sorry?"
He froze stiffly, and his expression went oddly cold and formal, and his spine was rigid.
"That's all, then," he said, his voice as forbidding and rigid as his posture. "I'll see you later."
He left, no doubt brooding the whole way.
When she saw him next, she had to ask the question that was on her mind. So as soon as she had the chance, she sought him out at training, and asked bluntly, "Do you really love her, Shikamaru?"
He paused, turned around slowly and met her eyes. "She's a wonderful woman," he said quietly. "There's no way I couldn't love her."
She got angry then. "Then stop fucking stringing me alone!" she hissed. "You've made your fucking decision! So just go and leave me alone!"
He smiled at her somewhat sardonically, gave her a mocking bow, and then obliged by leaving the training grounds, saying quietly, but loud enough that she could hear it, his mantra: "How troublesome."
This time, they stopped speaking to each other. Ino always found a way to be busy on Sunday afternoon – she stopped going to Yakiniku. Choji attempted, in vain, to keep the peace. She threw herself headlong into a fling with a Jounin nearly six years older than her. It lasted about a month, before she realized there was no fire in the relationship. They endured a nasty breakup.
They only spoke to each other again after he passed her on the street, saying to her quietly,
"I thought you should know, I made up my mind. I'm going to propose to Temari tomorrow."
She turned around, and for the first time in a while gave him a genuine smile. "Good," was all she said, before moving away.
That Sunday she didn't devise to be busy. Instead, she headed out to yakiniku and thoroughly surprised Choji.
Her friendship with a person that she treasured was back on, and that was all that mattered. It was enough to make her happy.
Meanwhile, the planning was on for Shikamaru's wedding. Ino gladly helped with the flower arrangements. She wanted, for Shikamaru's sake, the wedding to be perfect. But even so, she couldn't stay in a room with the happy couple for longer than a minute. They acted sickeningly in love.
That, however, didn't last, as a week before the wedding was due to happen, they suffered a spectacular fight.
"This is all about HER, isn't it?" she demanded. "You just agreed to marry me so you could get back with her!"
"OK, first off, you agreed to marry me-"
"Some marriage this is, you cheating, lying… bastard!"
"If you ever even trusted me for one minute, you would see-"
"I don't trust you because you're a lazy, lying bum who does nothing but mope about over your stupid teacher's death-"
Shikamaru was white with rage now, and his hands clenched and unclenched uncontrollably. "Get out," he said, in an icy tone, his eyes narrowing. "Get the fuck out of here and never come back, because I never want to see you again, you bitch."
Temari stormed out, in a jealous rage, snapping as she left, "Call the damn wedding off. What you've done is unforgivable."
That was when the mutterings began – the wedding was off. What would happen now? All that wasted work, all for nothing. Nothing but a fiery break-up that left the groom-to-be quite shocked.
He soon began to come out of his shock, the gears in his mind incomprehensible to the girl who watched him with confusion, and sorrow, and not a little bit of hope that she could hardly explain. She could do nothing but watch as he stood and walked toward her, his stride deliberate, his face calm.
He took her hands in his, and her heart sped up inexplicably, as he said, in almost a whisper, "Yamanaka Ino, would you marry me?"
A shocked silence pervaded in the room, as Ino struggled to think, her mind working furiously. As she thought, she realized that, yes, she did love him, and that yes, she would very much like to marry him.
She just smiled and calmly said, "Of course."
He smiled then, and called out, "The wedding's back on!" before leaning forward to kiss his fiancée soundly on the lips. She kissed back eagerly.
This time, when they broke apart, he didn't say sorry. This time, he looked around at the shocked wedding planners, and muttered, "How troublesome", before leaning in to kiss her again.
A week after their wedding, Temari reiterated her statement that she wouldn't forgive Shikamaru by sending them a nasty letter. When they received it, they laughed – they had shared seven kisses, and one date, and now they shared their lives.
At that moment, nothing in the world could destroy their happiness.
And, though Temari had said she would never forgive them, she did just that when she returned to Konoha three years later, bringing with her a gaggle of refugee children from Akatsuki attacks.
She smiled when she learned they were married, and had a child, and nodded. "I knew it," she said, a knowing look in her eyes. "You look perfect together."
She left with them a young refugee girl, named Koino – so named, Temari said, because she'd had no name, and reminded Temari of the other kunoichi. She was a healthy child, and played under the watchful eye of her foster parents – along with their own son, Shikatetsu, and Choji's second child, Choshin.
Ino smiled at the three of them, as they played together one day – so happy and carefree. Koino had taken to her new life in Konoha brilliantly. Shikatetsu and Choshin accepted her readily; despite the fact that she was "a girl" and "had cooties."
She leaned back into Shikamaru's strong arm, still reveling in the sense of security he gave her. "It's Ino-Shika-Cho all over again, isn't it?" she said, vaguely amused.
Shikamaru nodded. "That it is," he said quietly, holding his wife closer. "That it is."
He let her go, for a minute, and though she missed the feeling of his arms around her, she didn't begrudge his absence as he sorted out a quarrel between the three children. Instead, she simply watched the man she loved, content with her life.
They were never meant to be together. But, somehow, they were just the same.