Shikamaru reached the top of the hill and scanned the area for Ino. He saw her sitting about 50 feet away and swallowed. His heart hit the ground running, but he forced his feet to move slowly in her direction.

He was ten steps away. Nine.

She was sitting on the grass, hugging her knees.

Six steps. Five. Four.

She was staring at nothing through half-closed eyes.

Two steps. One step.


He spoke softly. "Ino."


The only part of her that moved to acknowledge him was her eyes. They shifted left to meet his for a second, and then moved back. Shikamaru had to swallow again to distract himself. He'd gotten lost in thinking about her eyes before, but now was not the time.

He took a breath and carefully kneeled down next to her. "Ino."


Her tense shoulders dropped slightly, as she closed her eyes.

"Shikamaru," she breathed.

He knew why she was sad, but waited for her to continue.

She spoke in a soft voice, like a flickering flame on the verge of being blown out. "I'm lonely."

He had to fix her. He carefully held his left hand out to her, palm up, and whispered, "Lonely, but not alone."

Ino turned her head slightly toward him for the first time, and it was her turn to swallow. Shikamaru held his breath, but kept his hand where it was.

Ino slowly put her left hand out, her fingertips barely touching his. Shikamaru waited. It was her move.

Leaving her left hand on his, Ino turned her torso toward Shikamaru, carefully placed her right arm lightly around his neck, and closed her eyes, and whispered. "I know."