the art of wanting

(For Missa. Because she pwns.)

--

"I'm ugly." Ino's voice, sharp and sullen and accusatory, echoed around her bedroom.

Sakura sighed. "Don't be so self-degrading. It's obnoxious." The green-eyed girl stepped over to where her best friend was standing in front of the full-length mirror and proceeded to brush out nonexistent tangles in Ino's spill of waist-length, pale-sunshine blond hair.

Ino scowled, the action marring her pretty face. "Shut up. It's my birthday. I can be as self-derogatory as I want to be. Especially when I am twenty years old and single. SINGLE. As in, 'Hi, I'm Ino. I'm a model, I was voted Homecoming Queen, and I can't get a date to my own birthday party. My life sucks." She crossed her arms and glared at her reflection in the mirror. Her satin, knee-length party dress clung alluringly to her thin figure, the precise color of her blue eyes. Although at the moment she didn't feel like admitting it, she did look pretty damn good.

Sakura rolled her eyes. "That's so sad. I'd write you a ballad, but I lost my pen. You'll just have to make do with going downstairs and being the center of attention of all your guests while getting showered with gifts."

Ino stuck her tongue out at her. "Quiet, you. I'm trying to wallow. Besides, you don't understand. You have Sasuke." An unbidden note of wistfulness entered Ino's voice. She looked at Sakura's reflection in the mirror. Sakura, with her pastel pink hair and spearmint green eyes and delicate bone-structure. Sakura, who had an excruciatingly handsome boyfriend that adored her.

Sakura smiled faintly. "Yeah. But it's not like you couldn't get a date. Millions of guys asked if they could be your date."

Ino frowned and tugged on a lock of hair. "Yeah, but not the guy. Sakura, I turned all the other guys down, I dropped him millions of hints, I flirted myself to death with him. Why didn't Shikamaru ask me?" she whispered.

Sakura watched her best friend speculatively. "Did you ever think that maybe he was too intimidated?" she queried. "I mean, you're you. You snap your fingers and every male within a five-mile radius comes running."

Ino stiffened, offended on a deep and personal level. "At least a ten-mile radius."

Sakura sneered playfully at her. "And here I'd thought that your ego was MIA today. The point is, maybe he thought he didn't have a shot at you. Maybe he thought you'd turn him down for some movie-star or something. Shikamaru's a Typical Guy; rejection is his worst nightmare." She paused, and said musingly, "You know, you could have asked him. It's your party, after all."

Ino exhaled quietly. "But that's not the way it's supposed to work, Sakura. He's supposed to ask me, and I'm supposed to say yes and we're supposed to have the time of our lives and then go out for a year, after which we will get engaged and have a needlessly extravagant wedding and settle down and have kids and live Happily Ever After, goddammit."

Sakura frowned at her softly. "Ino, every relationship can't be like that. C'mon, be a maverick. Deviate from the accepted Disney norm. And besides," she added, inspecting Ino once last time before they went downstairs and greeted the guests, "Happily Ever Afters are for little girls."

The blond girl smiled ruefully, almost bitterly. "I know, Sakura. I know. Happily Ever Afters are only for stupid little girls, but that doesn't stop me from wanting one."

Sakura put her arm around Ino's shoulders consolingly and started to lead her to the door. "Well, maybe Shikamaru's the one who can give you a Happily Ever After."

Ino bit her lip, frustrated. "That's the problem, though. What if he is the one, but I'm letting him slip away? What if there's no one else out there for me?"

"Then we'll buy you some cats," Sakura told her as they approached the spiral staircase that led to the ground floor, where the party was already taking place.

"I'm too pretty to be The Cat Lady!" Ino moaned as Sakura escorted her down the stairs to where her friends awaited her.

--

So far, the party was going really well. People danced, people talked, people ate, and everyone told Ino that she looked gorgeous and wished her a Happy Birthday. Well, everyone but the one person she wanted to talk to her most. Shikamaru lounged against the wall, talking to a few people, looking unconsciously cool in dark jeans and a snug, forest green T-shirt. As far as she could tell, he hadn't so much as glanced in her direction once.

And so she danced. She danced until her legs were sore, tossing her hair and swinging her hips and moving to the pulsing metronome. Guys were literally lining up for their turns to dance with her. She didn't stop dancing until it was time to cut the cake.

Sakura, as Official Best Friend of the Birthday Girl, wheeled out the cake. It was a monstrously large confection, with three tiers. It was chocolate frosting on chocolate cake, with the text Happy Birthday, Ino! written on the uppermost tier in blue icing. Ino's friend Chouji had made it at the bakery he owned as his gift to her.

Ino sighed mournfully when she was served the first piece. "I'm never going to fit in this dress again after I eat this." Still, she took a big bite and almost shriveled up with happiness when it melted in her mouth.

Sakura grinned at her. "Don't worry, I anticipated that and kept the receipt for the dress."

Ino made a rude gesture at her, prompting the green-eyed girl to trill a laugh as she served the rest of the guests. When everyone had mostly finished, Sakura clapped her hands together. "Now it's time for gifts!"

Ino humored her child-like enthusiasm and nodded, so the cake was taken off its trolley and the remnants were placed on the buffet table in case anyone wanted a second slice (which most everyone did). After that was out of the way, the presents were brought in.

Once again, Sakura, as OBFBG, was first, and naturally, Sasuke was with her (if it was possible, Sasuke did everything he could with her). The couple approached Ino, Sasuke's arm folded loosely around Sakura's waist while Sakura carried a moderately sized box in silver wrapping paper, tied with a pale blue ribbon.

Sakura held it out to her. "This is from Sasuke-kun and me."

Ino accepted it, remarking dryly, "I never would have guessed."

Sakura stuck her tongue out good-naturedly, her eyes gleaming. "Oh, the wit."

Ino carefully unwrapped it to discover three smaller boxes inside of it, along with a card. She raised her eyebrows at Sakura. "Is this going to be one of those 'box-inside-the-box-inside-the-box' things?"

Sakura bounced impatiently on the balls of her feet. "Just open them, will you?"

Ino extracted the card first. The front depicted a penguin's birthday, and the Hallmark message on the inside was too corny to be repeated (Sakura loved to inflict cheesy cards on all of her friends). Below the message, Sakura had written: Happy birthday, Pig. Just think: in one more year you'll be able to drive AND drink! Uh, separately, of course. You know.

You rock like a muffin,

Sakura (and, in different, neater handwriting) Sasuke.

Ino set it aside, smiling, and opened the three boxes. One contained the latest Boys Like Girls CD; another, a black leather belt studded with small bits of metal shaped like guitars; and the third, the pair of lace-up high heels that Ino had drooled over at the mall with Sakura.

Ino ran her hands over them appreciatively. "Oh, Sasuke, how did you know?" she cooed at him wickedly.

Sasuke glared half-heartedly at her while Sakura snickered. Ino stood up and frowned pointedly at Sasuke's arm around Sakura's waist. Sasuke grudgingly retracted the offending limb, allowing Ino to glomp her best friend. The two girls hugged each other and spun around once, which was quite a feat in high heels.

Sasuke coughed, and they reluctantly released each other. Ino sat down again to receive her other gifts, and Sakura assumed her position at Sasuke's side, his arm once again holding her to him.

For a moment Ino watched them walk away, and thought: I want that. But now was not the time. By the time she had opened every present (there were maybe a hundred in all; many people had come), it was past midnight and people were heading home.

Sakura kissed her on the cheek and Sasuke grunted at her. If Sasuke had been anyone else she would have been offended, but a grunt was as good as anyone but Sakura and occasionally Naruto got, so she waved them cheerfully out the door.

An hour later the entire place was deserted except for her. Too pumped up on caffeine and sugar, Ino popped the Boys Like Girls CD into her CD player. Knowing that playing more music would probably push her neighbors too far, she rummaged around for her earphones and plugged them in. Kicking off her heels, she lounged on the sofa and tried to let the music wash away her errant thoughts.

The cost of misery is at an all-time high

I keep it hidden, close to the surface, in sight

I'm learning to fall, I can't hardly breathe

When I'm going down, don't worry about me

Don't try this at home, you said you don't see

I don't wanna know that you know

It should have been me

Ino blew her hair away from her face and couldn't help but think about him. Shikamaru. The only time he had talked to her was when he gave her her gift, which was an ice-blue, fleece scarf. Practical, like Shikamaru. It was also pretty, but it wasn't…it wasn't special. She'd wanted him to get her some extremely thoughtful gift that she never would have seen coming, something that awed her, amazed her, let her know that he cared. But, no. A scarf. After he gave it to her he departed with a curt "See ya." And that was it.

It just wasn't fair. Why couldn't he just love her back? She'd never worked so hard to win the affection of one person in her life, and it still wasn't enough. Was there someone else? she wondered. Sabaku Temari, maybe. Ino had always seen that the older girl was interested in Shikamaru, but she hadn't thought that—

Her earphones were tugged from her ears. "Oi, Ino."

Ino shot up into a sitting position, startled, her heart thrumming erratically. What the h—Shikamaru. Shikamaru stood over her, holding her earphones, which were still blaring loud enough to be heard without putting them in one's ears. Ino gaped at him. What was he doing here? He had left…

Shikamaru grimaced and fumbled around on the stereo for the power switch. "Jeez, woman, are you trying to deafen yourself? It's too loud."

"Spoken like the middle-aged," Ino shot back, a reflex for her. "What are you doing here, anyway? Party's over."

Shikamaru finally managed to turn the music off, and stared at her like she had asked him if a beaver and a duck could mate. "I have to give you your present," he said slowly, as if she had been outdone on an IQ test by a potato.

"You already gave me my present," Ino pointed out crabbily, confused and suddenly tired. "The scarf, remember?"

Shikamaru snorted. "Oh, that. That was just a placeholder, I guess you could say. Your real present is outside. I had to leave in order to set it up."

Ino looked at him curiously, her interest piqued. "Outside, like, in my yard?"

"No, outside, like, somewhere else," he mocked before inspecting her. She was still wearing her dress. "Go change and meet me outside."

Newfound adrenaline coursing through her system, she scrambled up stairs—scrambled with all the grace and poise of a model, of course—and slipped the dress off, throwing on a pair of jeans that had been lying on her floor and mechanically sliding on a T-shirt.

Finished, she took the steps two at a time to the bottom, where she shoved her feet into a pair of battered flip-flops and practically flew out the door, thinking, maybe he does care, maybe he does care, maybe—

And then she was standing outside with him. He started walking towards his car when he saw her. "Finally. You took forever."

Ino knew her change of clothing had taken all of three minutes, but she also knew he was just saying that to get a rise out of her. Too excited to rise to the bait, she clambered into the passenger seat, fastening her seatbelt. Only then did she notice that her jeans were her old, holey pair, and that her T-shirt was the yellow one splattered with green paint-stains. Well, damn.

Shikamaru didn't even seem to notice her less-than-stellar attire, too focused on driving. She got the feeling that she could approach him wearing a bathrobe, hair-curlers and fuzzy bunny slippers (as his wife, maybe?) and he wouldn't even bat an eyelash. It was part of what made him so cool, in her eyes.

After a while Ino began to recognize the route he was taking. "You're taking me to the park?" she inquired, a bit disappointed. She'd expected something more…well. She'd make do.

"Catch on quick, don't you?" Shikamaru muttered. "Yeah, we're going to the park."

Ino felt obligated to say something. "Um. Cool?"

Shikamaru sighed. "It will be very cool," he assured her. "Now shut up and let me drive."

Ino huffed without any real irritation and stared out the window until they arrived at one of her favorite childhood haunts. She remembered playing here with Sakura all the time. She also remembered playing here with Shikamaru and Chouji on the many occasions that their fathers had set them up on play-dates.

The park was basically what one would expect. There was a sandbox, slide, swings, the usual. What made it slightly unique was that, across from the swing-set, it had a small stage and back-drop for local, nothing-special outdoor concerts. Tonight a projector was set up to, well, project onto the back-drop. Shikamaru motioned for Ino to take a seat on one of the swings, the perfect place to see the stage from, and went to fiddle with the projector.

Extremely curious, she waited impatiently while he turned it on. He came back and sat on the swing by her while the standard 3, 2, 1 countdown was projected onto the back-drop.

And then she gasped.

Shikamaru had compiled what seemed like millions of her childhood pictures, punctuated by a few of the professionally taken ones that were now daily for her as a model, into a slideshow. Ino recognized her favorite songs as remixed and playing in the background. It was the most vivid trip down memory lane that she had ever taken. She saw younger versions of herself with all of her friends, her family, at her house, on vacation, at school, at the very same park.

It lasted fifteen minutes, but they were some of the most incredible fifteen minutes of her life. When the final image faded, she turned her head to gape at him. She'd know he was a good filmmaker (he was going to school for it), but this…this was… "Shikamaru…"

He rubbed the back of his neck and avoided looking at her. "I just didn't know what to get you, and I found an old file of your pictures on my laptop, and I figured…" he shrugged; an attempt at nonchalance. "So…do you like it?" he asked, still not looking at her.

Ino smiled faintly, a smile that grew slowly but surely until it was dazzling. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah."

And then she leaned across the space dividing their respective swings and kissed him, a sweet, gentle touch of the lips that left her giddy. Best of all, he kissed her back.

They broke away after a moment, Ino smiling and Shikamaru staring. Ino felt that this would be the perfect time to tell him that she loved him, that this wasn't quite a Happily Ever After, not yet, but it was definitely the Happiest Moment of Her Life. But Ino had thought about what Sakura had told her, and she decided that she'd have time to tell him all that and much more later, because now, she was creating her own fairytale and Happily Ever After. And so she said, "I'm still keeping the scarf."

He exhaled softly, bemused. "Yeah, I figured."


A gift!fic for Missa, AKA HPBabe91, AKA "Hey you, little girl, yes you, can you get them--" insert pointing of person here-- "for me?" ...Yeah, I know, I'm not funny. Shut up. But you rock like a muffin, girl. This was another bout of word-vomit, so if you don't like it, I'll do it over.

In case anyone cares, the prompts were: chocolate cake, fuzzy bunny slippers, earphones, and "Happily Ever Afters are only for stupid little girls, but that doesn't stop me from wanting one."

This was my first ShikaIno and my first AU, so I was kind of floundering for a while there. And yes, the ending is...well. You all know what it is, so I'm not going to make myself feel worse by going into the gory details. The lyrics in the middle(ish part) were from "Learning to Fall" by Boys Like Girls. Awesome song.

Disclaimer: Why do I bother? You all know what I'm going to say. Except I'm not going to say it now, because you all know. SO HAH.