Summary: After thirty kisses, he loved the taste of honey.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Note: The last one. My precious baby will be setting out all by itself, and I shall be creating a new project and continuing my drabble series of the now. Yet even though it shall be gone, it will remain in my heart as a project that helped me greatly advance my writing skills (or something to that effect, I hope) and my lovechild. In not so many words.

Finally, finishing up with Theme Thirty: Kiss.


The Kisser

He kissed her once.

When they were fifteen, the time when she was tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic all at the same time. The days when perfection was a purple top and his pair of ripped trousers from training that morning. But she was more than a smile and a heartbreak and a dream. He knew only this about her: she was more than that, much more.

He's always known it. Because when they touched her fingers went under his flesh, because some things were better than skin-deep and he couldn't help but think about it every night. She was bright and glorious, so glowing that it burned his eyes until her radiance reflected on him and made him stunning too. But she'd always been brighter, brighter than a hundred-thousand-million of his lights or anyones. She was too good to not be more than this.

Even when Chouji shouted hate, and her hands were mountains away from him, he awoke and could taste the sweetness of it all. It soon evaporated, bitter on his tongue, but he could still feel the saccharine drug of life she gave to him. It was fading, but it could never be forgotten. Like Chouji's large hands, closing on her arm and her turning and smiling. Was she still, one year later? Yes. She was always more.

Even though she was not his to have, he folded the memory like a faded photograph and imprinted it in his mind. He didn't call her for a month, didn't show his face at training, and when Chouji turned up at his door smiling he tried not to take it personally. He also tried not to laugh when she broke up with their team mate of sorts, but that time he succeeded. Some things were better left unheard. If there was something he'd learned by then, it was that wanting more just made you bitter. You could never have more.

But still, he'd kiss her again.

He did the next day.

"We'll make forever." She whispered, tears filling the eyes anyone could drown in. She wanted him, she did, and he knew it – but she didn't want forever, she never would because she was Ino and not some kid who'd settle down easily – so her words were meaningless. There was no forever with her. No holding her and hoping if you did it tight enough, she wouldn't run away like a startled pet and love someone else.

"Someday." He replied, noncommittal in his head. Her words were a loaded shotgun right then, and anything was poised to kill. She could smile at Chouji all she wanted, and his best friend could hate him for however long forever was in their time, because the butterfly boy had never grown up and just told her he loved her. The world was young, and they had everything to lose. Words wouldn't change that.

"Then let's say that we'll make it. Somewhere. Someday." Every syllable she pronounced was almost breathless. She lived in ghosts of will-be, and he lived in ideas of could-of-been back then, and he supposed that was why they never saw eye to eye. He patted her head; kissed her lips a third time and tasted honey thinking she'd forget before he reminded himself of such an idea. She knew he didn't believe in forever, it was obvious when she said that. But even somewhere, someday was a bit of a far stretch. Probability dictated they wouldn't make it past twenty three, and their fathers were all either just extremely lucky or failures.

Chouji didn't make it to seventeen, let alone twenty three. It was then that Shikamaru realised that Ino was like honey. Her taste was too sweet – saccharine, even – like she was trying make up for something. Then he grabbed her skinny wrists as her long fingers tangled in his matted hair, held her close to him and leant in and said it.

"We made it, and this should never have happened." His voice cracked. She broke into him. Her head bowed like she was an animal. She curled into his chest and sobbed. They were a disaster waiting to happen, and that moment was the sharp realisation that they had lost one of the things they loved most because of it.

"You always make me cry." She snapped, as the mascara streaking down her face began to cake itself unto her skin. He let go, rolled over and pressed his face into the trusty old plain white pillow he'd grown accustomed to. Yeah, he supposed he did back then. But he never promised to make her happy. He never promised that he wouldn't leave her. He never promised that he wasn't actually quite like Sasuke, leaving the big things behind when thinking them little and not knowing that he loved them. Promises were for people who dreamed. For people who could take the taste of honey.

But she kissed him again the day after anyway. He never did have the ability to turn her away, and he let her trail down his jaw with her tongue in some new form of comfort that he supposed was somewhat worth it the week after when Kiba threw a glass at him and told him that he was making her sick. He thought he deserved the pain, letting his best friend die and doing that to Ino, of all people. She was in emotional turmoil, and so was he, but it was no excuse and it never would be.

But kissing her back was still worth it.

The fifth time it happened, he failed her.

He knew that sometimes, she forgot to brush her hair or how to smile or what his name sounded like. Then he didn't believe in her anymore, he believed in something else that she has been like other broken minds like some girl called Ami who killed her sweetheart or that guy from interrogation who was leaking information or some little silly insignificant thing like that because she threw her head back and laughed like them. That was when he realised that he too was losing little pieces of himself to her.

"Save him." She whispered, her voice hushed like the sound of raindrops hitting the ground in a thunderstorm. It was tiny and insignificant. But it was never him who she was begging for, and that whisper crashed loudly down like a downpour on everything he was. Then his heart, drumming slowly, asked him without words to give up. Agony slipped across his body with each breath, and he briefly wondered in that moment if that was what it felt like – to be in love – but then he knew that it was a ridiculous notion because with Ino there was no such thing. Not with him.

"We both make you cry, don't we?" He asked, breathing hazy grey smoke out as he said it without much emotion in his voice despite the nonexistent cracking he desperately wanted to hear aloud. He felt like a savage in the rawest form when she flinched, a jolt echoing through her body sharply and her eyes widening painfully like translucent circles, never quite seeing him there. They were something, sometimes. But whatever they were wasn't love, not to her, and the one she wanted was not him.

"I've never cried for him." Ino told him sharply. He knew that there was something beautifully honest and prideful about that arrogant tone, and he knew that she was telling the truth, but even so, he turned away from her coldly. He'd ask Team Seven and he'd do it for her. He'd ask to be the one to slit his pretty damned throat. Just because doing it for her would be the highest form of indulgence, and he could hide behind messing up before and everyone would think it honorable. But she'd know. Even if she never said it.

"Then why are you messing me about?" He snapped. Ino reached out and smacked him harshly across the face, as it were all she could manage. He was pretty sure he could see her eyes watering, but she was biting her lip and forcing back the tears. Not for Sasuke, she wasn't crying for Sasuke, and she hadn't even done it when he left them behind. Then, she had cried for Sakura and Naruto but never herself. When Kiba told him he snapped at Ino for crying later that day, he couldn't say anything. Because Kiba had thought it was for Sasuke.

The apology turned to ash on his tongue when broken, battered, beaten Uchiha returns on Naruto's back with a smashed spine, and there was an odd peaceful look about both of them like all the suffering meant nothing. When he saw Ino visiting the dark haired one in hospital, watching his sharp angled face attempt some awkward form of what might have once been a smile before pressing his lips softly to her forehead for seconds until he collapsed back into waves of bedsheets he regretted not talking to her for a while. But he'd never mention it. Not even if she pleaded him to see her again. When he noticed her looking out the door into his eyes blankly, he retreated. He could tell her on the day she didn't come for him. He will see her off in the very last moment, fingers drumming on each others souls, and that is something the Uchiha cannot do. The Uchiha cannot proclaim anything for her.

She still turned her cheek to his next kiss.

She kissed him the eight time.

The ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth too. Sometimes, he wanted to go to her apartment and rap on the door until his knuckles bled just to see if she would open it with bloodshot eyes at three twenty three in the morning to see if she was awake and thinking about him at the same time when he was sitting bold upright on the sofa thinking of her because there was no chance of sleep with her in his head.

"I love you." She told him, banging on his door at exactly five in the morning after a week of this ritual. Her voice was weak and tired, and worse than his. But that was the day he stopped cutting his hair, stopped moving things and slept in the same position because change began to scare him. His dark skin started turning pale from not eating, though it never became as startlingly white as hers. His eyes never met people. He saw Asuma, Chouji, Sasuke and loss in everyone and he hated it. She made him ill like that. She made him sick.

It was then she stopped wearing cheerful purple, optimism screaming from every fibre of her body. For him, Ino started wearing black. He was as good as dead to her, and promises that he did too even though he couldn't say it could be made on steeples and arches and churches as many times as he saw fit, but they would never be kept and he knew it.

It was then he knew he was living for other people. It was then that he left the house at three twenty three in the morning on the eighth day, with the tips of his hair soaked in herbal tea and with blood on his scraped elbows just to stand outside her apartment and shout until she slammed the window open and glared at him like she meant it. If she did, she wouldn't have opened the door, wouldn't have let him sleep by her side, hand=in-hand like five year olds, never quite intimate as it could have been.

"Sorry, I forgot where I was." He said when he felt her stir in the morning. The pillows shifted under her heavy head, and her hair spilled over to tickle his nose and in that moment she could say anything and he'd stay there just for her. Because she was worth more than false promises, fake pretence and something that was never quite altogether that slipped into his words when she was around.

"I forgot you were here." She smiled, her words not meaning to be cold. Then one last movement and she was sitting up in her crop top and tracksuit bottoms from the night before, and he wanted to come to life again so he stops and stares at her with something akin to warmness in his voice, or so he hopes at least, and when she flinched under his gaze he hoped it showed it meant something to her more than just love.

"It's fine. Sometimes I forget I'm here, too." Shikamaru whispered. In the pregnant silence that followed, she went away and returned with a pair of scissors then yanked his hair and lopped it off unevenly back to shoulder length. He fed himself some of her terrible cooking, and then noticed he was eye to eye with her just a few minutes ago. When she watched his movements afterwards, he stepped forward; pulled a bright purple outfit she'd long forgotten from her wardrobe and pulled it unto her limbs like she was his personal mannequin. Then for the first time in a long time, they smiled at each other and he laughed so hard for no stupid reason so hard it made his eyes water.

He kissed her the thirteenth time right then.

Fourteen kisses and he still couldn't say it.

A cagey, rattling breath that meant she hoped he remembered her said it all. Sometimes, he knew she blu-tacked photographs to her wall and took them down years later when she felt hurt, but when she saw that the blu-tack left a mark she'd still be knowing of the existence of such a thing to begin with. She would pick and pick at the marks over and over, trying to scrub them away with her fingernails, but it meant nothing. The memories still remained.

"I've been meaning to forget you, again." Ino whispered, clinging to his arm so hard he nails raked under his skin and drew blood. She could say it over and over, if she wanted. Each time it'd hurt a little more, but that was ok with him. As long as she was happy. As long as things didn't return to living for others, to five in the morning and visiting the supposedly actual last Uchiha this time around. He wanted to trap her in between his fingers right then, webbed by fear and keep her to himself. Instead, he smiled weakly as he bowed his head into her shoulder and dreamed it meant more that way. She deserved freedom, and anything but him.

"Yeah, me too." He said plainly back into her skin, hoping the words would scorch underneath and burn into her more than any act ever could. But maybe when he returned the next month, his photo would be under her bedroom rug along with the photos of Chouji and when she was young, wishing to be indifferent to the entire matter. She was Ino, and hence she would never be forgotten. She'd never let that happen. Not even if it meant being nothing to anyone but him in order to achieve it.

"So why haven't you?" Ino asked, playing with the ends of his hair. If only things were that simple. Some days, he tried to gather the times when things didn't matter and they had so much and everything to lose, and take back the scent of insomnia and the taste of honey coating over everything she said. Others, he craved losing an eyelash so he could make a wish to hold on to everything she was and really did wish that he didn't believe in her so much.

"Because these things never stop." He would never stop loving her; even though some people told him not to. She was too delicate, more fragile than she wanted people to believe and that day he wanted to trace her limbs unto himself with hesitant fingers just to see if she buckled under his touch. He did it, lifting his head, and she collapsed into him weakly.

"Don't leave me." She told him. She'd told him a thousand things before; that she liked boys who smoked because it showed they needed something, that she liked roses with thorns because ugly tacky things like that shouldn't be picked to show love, that she liked it when Chouji was still there and his pudgy hands held hers because it made her feel less lonely, anything that came to mind that she could tell him and he'd always tell her something to make her feel better. But she could tell him that she loved him again, and he would say nothing. Those three words were better. They made things less awkward.

"Me too." He replied, clinging to her dearly. That was everything. Because he never wanted her to not know, but those words were so much easier and less messy. Paint was for writing permanent things and redecorating, renovating all the things they said and that way things were not permanent. That way, he didn't have to tell her anything he couldn't mean right then. But it seemed enough. Ino understood things without words. But he wanted to say them, even though anything like that seemed wrong to scream aloud or even cry out slowly.

Fifteen kisses and he felt hollow.

Sixteen and he felt nothing.

"This is pathetic." Shikamaru broke the silence of the shared hospital room, reaching out his fingers and curling them around her broken and bandaged ones. It was like watching all the things he'd ever done wrong, looking at her right then. She was battered and bruised and messed up a little in the head, but she was still smiling for him. Or trying to, anyway.

"I agree, hospitals are horrible." She murmured, probably knowing that wasn't what he was talking about. He might have been in bed under pressed white sheets with a shattered leg while she moved and sat next to him on the chair, but somehow it felt like she was the one who needed more painkillers for all the things he was pulling her through. That was the first mission since he came back from Suna, and he supposed things couldn't have gone much worse than that because begin around her right then felt like learning to suffocate.

"Liar." His monosyllabic response reverberated around the almost-empty room, and she smiled a little brighter. In an hour, she would fight him for a television remote just to watch some film her favourite star was in and he knew it. This would all be forgotten, just as all the other things he wanted to say would be once she realised someone else could love her properly. He clung a little tighter, and then looked directly at her. She was shivering.

"Does tormenting me make you feel alive?" Her voice sharpened, almost cracking. She was pushing back the one million false things she'd stowed away behind her teeth that were waiting to spew out, and in the end he was left with that. The truth was a – brutal, slashing, honest to God – dirty mess, and he didn't know what to say. He spilled words out to her like she was a blank canvas and he was the ink, painting her in black again.

"No, it's like suffering on purpose because I love you." Then he stopped making excuses. It wasn't permanent like other things he'd said, but it was something honest like she'd said although he never meant it to be painted out for her to see. If he had the choice, he'd make a love story and create some sort of happy Romeo and Juliet, but there was no such thing. She'd write of the nonsensical feeling hitting his stomach, her promises to him and his not keeping of everything he said. That would make more sense.

"That's ok." Ino said. Plain as day. She didn't need hyperboles of lust, she'd have been a heartbreaker (or rather she was, when she had the chance but not to him) and he'd be in love in her world just like this one and everything would be sorted and ordered and perfect as daylight shining through windows in the morning. But this wasn't her world and she didn't mind suffering for him, and so for the first time it wasn't her crying. It was him sobbing.

He kissed her until they numbered twenty nine, and didn't know what else to do or say or anything. He felt content, strangely. For once, he was happy, just being with her, whilst there were needles lacerating his veins and pumping some sort of half-hearted dreams into him and she was not-quite-there with her ribs sticking out showing him ugly purple bruises he'd let the enemy inflict until he could go running to her.

Twenty-nine seemed lucky.

But he never believed twenty-nine was a nice number.

"I aim to please." She said lifelessly, spinning around in her wedding dress that he wished he'd had her wear for him. He'd called her beautiful, and she was. Her lips were painted red and daring, not smiling and her cheeks were rouged pink and not flushed, her eyes were so very dead it almost made him laugh. Neither of them wanted this.

"Then expect disappointment." He replied, holding up her hand with the ring on in front of her eyes. She looked at the glittering sapphire surrounded by diamonds. A token of affection, some would say, but she'd tell Shikamaru later that it was just a ploy to buy her love. As if anything that important to her could be purchased.

"Let's elope." Shikamaru said, suddenly looking directly at her. She laughed and edged away, spinning in the layers of white silk and taffeta waterfalls until she got giddy and fell over on to the floor. With all the stars she must of seen right then, he wondered how she could ever be alone, but knew better than to ask that instead.

He kissed her for the thirtieth time that day, because fairytales where people fell in 'true love' and kissed only once wasn't enough. That was like letting go, and to him she was much more than a silly little girl who he could toy around with when he felt like it. She was like honey, sweet and sometimes saccharine and he'd take her for better of for worse or for anything because she was who she was and she loved him too. That was enough.

After thirty kisses, he loved the taste of honey.

I really don't like this last one. Maybe because I feel it could have been more, but I just could not do much with it. It seems a bit sad really, to see this end, too. My lovechild baby shall now make it's own way in the world, but if you care to amuse me please answer this: which one was your favourite of these thirty oneshots? Reviews will be loved and cherished and read over and over until they bleed from my eyes raking them, as I want to know this quite a lot.

Thank you for reading this series, and I hope you enjoyed it!