A/N: I know… the last thing I need right now is to start another damn story…. But I've had this brewing for a while… ever since the introduction of Ino to Kankuro in "Wounded." I'm putting this chapter out there to test the response.

As soon as I wrote Chapters 6 and 7 of "Wounded," I knew I'd want to carry on this storyline – the conflict and potential for crack romance is just too juicy to pass up! I decided to make it a spinoff story so it wouldn't interfere with the main plot in "Wounded."

I'm not sure what to do next from here that's not going to be a total cliché…. But I'll try. Anyway, read and review to let me know if you'd like to see more. Obviously, the title is a working title.

My peeps who are reading "Wounded" and know the lead-up can skip the prologue and go on to Chapter 1.

I've written the prologue to put the story in context for people who haven't read "Wounded" because Chapter 1 kind of starts out of nowhere if you don't know what's going on. I really hope you will read "Wounded," but if you don't want to read the whole thing, I still strongly recommend you at least read the end of Chapter 4 and all of Chapter 6 – lots of development between Shikamaru and Ino that is relevant to this story.

Thank you, SilverWolfStar, for beta-reading this for me!

Kishimoto-san created these characters and this series. I just write silly stories about them.


Prologue

"Okay, everybody!" Sakura announced over the carnival speakers. "Here's the deal. We're going to play Ferris wheel roulette. Guys line up on one side and ladies on the other. Chop chop!" She pulled a lever and two walls rose from the ground, blocking the two lines' views of each other. "You get who you get. No substitutions, exchanges or refunds."

Temari shrugged. "It could be fun."

"I bet I can arrange it so we end up together," Shikamaru bragged, squeezing her hand.

"I'm sure you can," she replied, trying to look and sound bored but failing miserably. It was clear they were smitten with each other.

Kiba felt lonelier than ever watching them. "I dunno what I'd say to some girl I don't know." He wished Hinata were there with him. They'd split up recently and he was still miserable. Shikamaru had practically dragged him here.

"Stop being a baby. You're getting on the Ferris wheel." Shikamaru pushed him into the guys' line, spying Ino and giving her a covert hand signal when Hinata wasn't looking.

"Ino, are you sure this is a good idea?" Hinata looked intensely unhappy and nervous.

"C'mon…. Where's your sense of adventure? You could meet a total hottie."

The last thing Hinata was thinking about was meeting 'a total hottie.' She wished Kiba were there with her. She knew it was all her fault he'd left her. She felt terrible.

"Let the game begin! Hey-oh!" Sakura cried as she admitted the first pair of riders into a partitioned car.

The line moved quickly and soon Ino climbed in. "See you on the other side, Hina!"

She watched, pleased with herself, as Hinata and Kiba unsuspectingly boarded their compartment below.

"Shika! We pulled it off! It's only a matter of time now." Ino pushed open the partition and raised her hand for a high five.

"What'd you and my sister's asshole boyfriend pull off?"

Her jaw dropped when she discovered Kankuro looking back at her instead of Shikamaru. 'Damn it! I was sure we coordinated so we'd end up in the same car… Probably left me hanging for Miss Thing. Ugh.'

"Don't ask…"

"'Kay. I'm Kankuro."

"Ino. I think we've met before." They shook hands.

"Come to think of it, you do look familiar."

"So…" she searched in the air for small talk. "How's life in Suna?"

"Meh… a lotta sand. Hot as Hell. Comin' here's a nice break." He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "Plus Temari's in a better mood when she gets to see Shithead. Tem in a better mood means we're all in a better mood."

Ino laughed at Kankuro's commentary on his tempestuous sister and Shikamaru.

'Y'know, in normal clothes, without the face paint and stupid kitty hat, he actually looks kind of tasty,' she thought.

"I've never seen you without your puppets and battle gear. You like doing this civilian stuff?"

"Yeah… Nothing like loadin' up on junk food and then tryin' to make yourself puke it up on rides." Kankuro added with a charming smile, "Not to mention that instead of bein' in the desert with a bunch of dolls, I'm up in the sky with a cute girl right now. Can't exactly complain about that."

"Well…" Ino cocked her head to the side and twirled the end of her ponytail around her index finger. "That's sweet of you to say. You're not so bad yourself."

"Really?" The older boy stretched his arms, letting one rest across the back of her seat as it came down. "I'm intrigued. Tell me more."


Chapter 1

Kankuro stepped down from the car and held out a hand to help Ino down. She accepted it, marveling at how strong yet gentle his grip was. She commented on as much, tittering flirtily.

"Well, you know what they say about us puppet users… We're very good with our hands. Maybe I can show you sometime." He winked at her.

"Geez, how often do you use that line?" she breezed, strutting ahead of him. "Don't think you can pull that 'Cool Older Guy' crap over on me… I won't fall for it."

"Ahh… Good lookin', smart, and feisty! I like it." A sly smile decorated his face.

"Ino-san… is my idiot brother getting fresh with you?"

Temari didn't even wait for an answer before she smacked Kankuro on the back of the head.

"I swear… I can't take you anywhere."

"Ow! Bitch…" He rubbed the sore spot as he cursed his sister.

Ino suddenly had an idea.

"Quite the contrary, Temari-san..." Her voice took on a quality it hadn't possessed before, Kankuro noticed.

"Kankuro-kun is quite the charmer. We're getting along very well." She reached out and took his hand in hers.

He was confused at first, but went along with it.

"Yeah. Don't jump to conclusions."

"Whatever." Temari turned to walk away from them, dragging a flummoxed-looking Shikamaru behind her.

Kankuro raised his eyebrows. "Good lookin', smart, feisty, and conniving… Nice. What've you got up your sleeve, femme fatale?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Ino stared at him as he shook his head. She didn't think to release his hand as they walked a short distance behind Shikamaru and Temari.

"You don't like Shikamaru dating your sister, right?"

"Hell, no," he answered, also forgetting about their interlaced fingers.

"And I don't like it, either, for my own reasons…"

"You, too?" he questioned, frustrated. "What is it about that guy? All I see when I look at him is a huge tool, but you girls think he's a frickin' gift from on high. I don't get it."

"That's not the point," she cut in. "The point is that we both want them broken up. Right?"

"Well… yeah."

"So we can help each other."

"How?"

Once again, she looked at him with an expression that clearly stated her belief that he was an idiot.

"Shikamaru won't admit it, but he kind of wants me. I can tell by how sexy I am."

"Wow, you're humble," Kankuro snarked.

"Modesty is for ugly people," Ino huffed. "At least that's what Daddy says."

"Okay… points for honesty," he chuckled.

"Thank you. So anyway, when Temari sees Shika getting jealous over me, she'll dump him. Poof! He's mine again and you don't have to put up with him anymore."

"Damn, you're devious… I might want to keep you for myself." He was genuinely interested in just how deep this girl's sneaky brand of cunning went.

"Keep your mind on task!" she ordered, earning her another impressed look from the puppeteer. "How good are you at acting?"

"Not very, but this'll be a piece of cake. I've always had a thing for daddy's girls."


"Temari?"

"Yeah?"

"I've got to tell you something."

"Sounds serious... what is it?"

Shikamaru cleared his throat as he sat down on a bench with Temari in front of his apartment building a couple of days after the carnival.

"Ino kinda... sorta... kissed me."

He held up his arms in anticipation of the beatdown. "Please don't bruise me too badly. My mom will be pissed if my body's too messed up to show at the funeral."

Temari, famous throughout the Sand, the Leaf, and beyond for her brutal temper, responded in a surprisingly calm manner to this news, simply asking, "Well, did you kiss her back?"

"No..."

"Then you didn't do anything wrong. I trust you."

Shikamaru's jaw dropped at how easy that exchange was.

"Now, that bleach-blonde bimbo, on the other hand..." She cracked her knuckles. "I owe her a talking-to."

The usually cool and collected shadow nin sweatdropped, thinking better of reminding his girlfriend that the hair color of the "bimbo" in question was natural. He looked up to see an interesting diversion from the tense moment.

"Looks like you'll have to pry her away from him." He laughed from amusement, relief, and another emotion he couldn't quite place.

Temari followed Shikamaru's gaze. Sure enough, approaching the couple was a grinning Kankuro, with a squealing Ino flung over his shoulder.

"Well, she moves on fast," Temari remarked dryly, observing the flirting pair. "They fit the 'jock and cheerleader' stereotype perfectly... how cute. Gag…"

"Aw, c'mon, Tem..." Shikamaru chided. "Looks like they're having fun. They're not hurting anybody. In fact, this'll probably get them both off our backs."

"Good point."

Shikamaru, despite his performance, wasn't sure how he felt about this new development. He didn't envy Kankuro (a genius is above such things), but something was bothering him, and he worried Temari would sense that. He was both relieved and further unnerved when Kankuro arrived in front of them, dropping Ino onto her feet.

"Hey, Sis."

"What was that for, you big meanie?" Ino swatted his shoulder harmlessly and batted her eyelashes, a playful look of offense on her face.

"I had to prove to you that you're not fat, silly girl. Look how far I carried you, and I didn't even break a sweat. You're light as a feather."

"Maybe it just seems that way because you're so strong…" She traced a finger along Kankuro's bicep, a gesture that was not lost on Shikamaru. She'd done the same thing to him just a few days before.

"Oh, come off it. You know you're gorgeous. Don't make me carry you to Suna and back." He put his arms around her as if to pick her up again, and she squirmed, giggling.

"So, guys…" Temari broke into the conversation, reminding them that she and Shikamaru were sitting there. "We were just going to dinner. Care to join us?"

'Keep your brother close and the tramp closer,' she thought as she plastered on a fake smile. She was determined to figure out what the hell Ino was doing with Kankuro and put a stop to it.

Temari didn't trust this chick any farther than she could throw her skinny ass. She'd already tried to steal her boyfriend. She was trouble, and Kankuro had plenty of that already without her sniffing around him.

"Well… uh… sure," Ino accepted. "I just need to go by the bank to get some cash out."

"Don't worry about that," Kankuro responded, as he was coached to in this type of situation. "I'll take care of your meal. No problem. How expensive can that rabbit food you eat be?" He'd improvised that last part. It had to be believable, right?

Ino let the wisecrack slide for the moment. "Oh, you…" She kissed him lightly on the cheek, eliciting a laugh. It was the only thing he could do to keep himself from blushing. This may have been an act, but it wasn't exactly a stretch for him to appear interested in the wily blonde.

Shikamaru was growing more uncomfortable by the minute. If he didn't know any better, he'd think Ino was trying to make him…

"Shikamaru!" Temari's voice derailed his train of thought. "Stop staring off into space and come on, lazy bum!" The group was already a few paces ahead of him.

"All right, troublesome woman…" He grudgingly followed, dreading what might come next.

Ino linked her arm in Kankuro's as they walked. "He's turning green already," she whispered in his ear. "I can read him like a book."