Warning: the following story contains spoilers for chapter 328.
- - -
'Virtue isn't 'better' than vice. It's just different.'
One dusty summer's day, out of a morbid sort of curiosity, Ino plucks the dangling cigarette from Shikamaru's lips (filter still damp where his tongue has been) and takes a drag. To her credit she doesn't choke, but she does wrinkle up that pretty face of hers. "I don't see the appeal," she complains through lemon-pursed lips. A daisy chain hangs around her neck and she's started on one for Chouji.
"It's not about appeal," Shikamaru says idly. He licks a fingertip and uses it to turn the page of his book.
He does not look at her and that irritates Ino because attention is to her what sunlight is to the yellow orchid she'd be if she were a flower. "Then what is it about?" she grouses. "Asuma-sensei wouldn't have wanted you clogging up your lungs with--."
"Ino." Chouji's quiet voice is the rock in the river. "Leave it."
While the wind moves the long grass around them, Shikamaru takes his cigarette back.
Ino pouts and shreds her daisy chain.
- - -
Later, she complains about it to Sakura as she cleans up the shop at the end of the day. "It's silly," she bitches, sweeping up broken stems and fallen petals. "It's him being a silly little boy."
"Or it's him growing up," her friend suggests, earning her slitted eyes and the dismissive flick of a ponytail.
"If he wants to grieve, he should get off his lazy ass and go and visit the grave." The severed head of a pink carnation escapes her pile and she picks it up with muted savageness. "That's respectful. Getting cancer isn't."
Sakura smiles and Ino bristles inwardly because it's condescending, because it seems as if everyone knows something she doesn't. "Shinobi don't get cancer," she says clinically. "They don't live long enough."
Ino rolls her eyes as far back into her skull as possible and the carnation tumbles into the waste bin. "Forehead, quit being a nerd – that isn't the point."
"No, the point is that you want Shikamaru to act the way you would." Ino stares at her friend, who is being unusually blunt and patient both. "Let him be. You know how hard it was on him.
In the face of Sakura's kind, understanding eyes, something goes tight and hot in Ino's chest and she swipes at suddenly damp eyes with an angry hand. "I miss him, Sakura," she says.
"I know." Sakura's clothes smell of honeysuckle and antiseptic. "I know."
It is a year and thirteen days since Asuma died.
After her tears have dried and Sakura leaves, Ino fishes the carnation out of the bin and leaves it floating in a bowl of water. Even broken, it is beautiful.
- - -
It is twilight and the village is painted with lazy lilac shadows. Ino finds Shikamaru lounging on his back porch, soaking up the last vestiges of August sunshine. She is not a hesitant girl, so when she kisses him (swiftly, but with unrestrained fervency) it is without preamble.
In response to his raised eyebrow she just flops down next to him, all graceful and long-limbed. "I guess they don't taste that bad," Ino says, spilling her legs into his lap.
She refuses to say anymore, but Shikamaru just smiles knowingly and rests his hand on her knee because, just like the flowers she sells, Ino's words have secret, hidden meanings.
His memories taste of ash and smoke, while hers smell like a forest after rain.
The source is still the same.
- - -
Once again, I am trying to do a drabble at least every two days. (Let's see how long it lasts this time…)
I like Ino. She has wormed her way into my heart and, after roleplaying her in various places, I adore writing her.
She demands her own multi-chaptered fic and is trying to steal the ANBU-centric one I was planning to write about Sakura. Pushy minx.
(Major points if you know what the various flowers symbolize.)