First Asuma, now her.
Shikamaru promised himself he would not cry. Even though he isn't an apathetic man with a detached stance on life, he still finds 'crying' fruitless, and troublesome—it seems to be a 'man-thing'. It is ironic that Shikamaru can now feel his own fruitless brine rolling troublesomely down his face (subtle as spring rain).
He cannot seem to look away from Ino's gravestone. Ino was once so full of life, spirited, loving yet ripping on Shikamaru all the same—and now she is six-feet under, represented by nothing more than a slab of rock.
Why does he care so much now that she's dead? Yeah, childhood friend and teammate and whatnot—but he never particularly liked her character. Ino was insufferable and intolerable; she always had a stupid air of pretension. Ino didn't understand when to shut up… not to mention she wasn't the sharpest scissor in the drawer. Most of all—Yamanaka Ino was the most troublesome person he had ever met… yet had the pleasure to get to know.
People are beginning to leave the cemetery. They are lifeless blobs of murk to Shikamaru… parting one by one away from him, away from her. He can't help but feel darkly amused; they were all once her acquaintances and teammates—and they are now leaving her obscured under dirt.
Shit happens, he reminds himself. Kurenai told him that. When Asuma died, Kurenai knew to stop her waterworks and repeat to herself (with a dazed Shikamaru by her side) that death is an unwelcoming friend. Life of a shinobe is not really a steady one, as they all well know.
But this didn't apply to Ino.
Shikamaru lights a cigarette and brings it to his trembling lips. He curses under his breath as he mentally lists everything he dislikes about her. Sure, yes, certainly she was his friend—a close friend—too close for comfort one could say—but he hated her guts. Ino, the blond and chirpy bitch who had a knack of highlighting Shikamaru's indolence, who constantly underscored his apathy to missions, and who emphasized his shortcomings when it came resourcefulness. Ino was far from amazing, but she seemed to outstrip Shikamaru whenever they were together, and the worst part was that Ino knew this and made sure Shikamaru won't forget it.
"You bring out the best in me, Shikamaru. Maybe that's why I like you so much."
"I hate you… I've always hated you, Ino." Shikamaru spats at Ino's grave, feeling cold and pathetic.
"Yeah, yeah… at least you feel something, you lazy bum."
Shikamaru feels a gentle hand upon his shoulder. It is Chouji. He pats him on the back as if to convey his empathy. After all, Ino wasn't just Shikamaru's friend. From the corner of his watery eyes, he spots a trembling Sakura. Shikamaru quickly looks away; crying is contagious, he thinks bitterly. Chouji withdrawals his hand and Shikamaru takes notice that they are the only ones left. Chouji leaves with Sakura, who wipes her eyes with trembling fingers. Shikamaru doesn't feel like leaving just yet. He remembers to take a drag.
"You weren't all that." He says quietly, secretly wondering why everything between them was a competition.
Shikamaru doesn't have a competitive bone in him, but with Ino, he would put some effort in most things he did—and that said a lot.
"I am everything you aren't, Shikamaru."
"The world can do without you, Ino." Shikamaru says unhappily, his voice quivering.
Ino never led anyone in besides Sakura. Behind that sunny personality of hers (obnoxious, actually), she was surprisingly covert. Sakura knows her too well, so she is the exception. Though to everyone else, if they know her well enough to see past her sprightly exterior, but not well enough to unravel what lurks behind it, Ino was quite an enigma. An unnecessary one that is, Shikamaru thinks. It is understandable why she would hide her failing state of health a secret… but why to him? Ino was there to comfort Shikamaru when Temari and he ended their three-year long relationship; he wanted to provide her with some comfort, too, a reimbursement of some kind.
"You can't put a price on friendship, asshole."
"Shut up, shut up…" He whispers.
They had a good run for fifteen years as teammates and friends. One evening, after an inane D-ranked mission, Asuma treated his team out for barbeque for the first time; he commented that working together is important. No shit, Sherlock. Chouji was in his own state of composition, but if only Shikamaru and Ino would work together sinuously, be in synch with every move, their team would be strong. Ino jabbed her tongue out at Shikamaru, "Bite me, you lazy prick." Asuma ignored her comment (Shikamaru was accustomed to it), and continued. Ino is bestowed with the energy and poise on the battlefield, and Shikamaru has the framework of their attacks and coordination orchestrated. So, naturally, they would bring out the best in each other. However, Asuma ate his words after their next ten to twenty missions—where it all ended in a mindless quarrel of the same blasphemy.
"I was signaling you, Shikamaru—open your eyes on the field for once!"
"Stop ignoring me when I'm talking to you!"
"I said, right—not left! Which part of that did you not get, halfwit?"
"Go drop dead in a ditch."
"Fuck it, Ino…" he croaks through broken sobs, "you were a bitch, you know that?"
"Yeah, but I say it with love."
Shikamaru chucks his half-finished cigarette down and rubs his eyes frantically. Ino didn't have to hide it from him—out of everyone, why him? He wasn't that bad of a guy, he occasionally bickered back ("Go fly a kite, Ino."), but he knows she knew he can be understanding—sympathetic even.
The month before she passed away, Shikamaru saw little of Ino. Whenever he was assigned leader of high-ranked missions, Ino was always his team's medic-nin and worked defense when necessary—best of both worlds. Shikamaru noted Ino's absence in his total of eight missions during March. Other medic-nins proved to be very helpful, but it didn't feel right when they mended his minor wounds. Their chakra levels weren't right… they gripped his arm awkwardly… they either healed him leisurely, or didn't give his injuries enough time… they—they just weren't Yamanaka Ino. Also, they didn't criticize him at the end of the mission, or provided him with snarky remarks.
Shikamaru didn't care, of course. Having her back is like having a constant reminder of how much you can suck at everything. Wherever Ino was, she probably unleashed hell. Nevertheless, Shikamaru couldn't resist asking Chouji—with feigned nonchalance—where "that troublesome woman" was over noodles one evening. Shikamaru remembers it well when Chouji sat down his chopsticks and looked at him with a sad eye; he informed Shikamaru that Ino was working late shifts in the hospital with Shizune. Little did he know Ino was the patient.
"You were sick… I could've helped—why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"Don't over-inflate your ego, Shikamaru. I was a hopeless case, and you know it."
Ino was pale as a ghost. She might've well been a ghost.
Ino was resting on the bleached hospital bed: frail and thin. She had always wanted to be thin—crazy, stupid woman. Ino was already slender with her revealing, purple ensemble ("Hey Ino, put on a jacket, you look like our team's certified hoe." "Then stop with the leering, Shikamaru!"). But she was too thin, sitting helplessly on the hospital bed. Her golden hair laid ethereally down her willowy back; Shikamaru had rarely seen her hair let down before, he just wished this wouldn't be one of the times. Ino's lips are full, but pale as she glanced up at Shikamaru. Her stunned expression melted into a soft smile.
"Hey, you." She greeted.
Shikamaru didn't know what to say, he was still having a difficult time digesting the sight. Ino pointed to the chair nearby her bed, gesturing for him to sit down. Shikamaru noted she tried to fight off an incoming cough with surprising success, but looked feebler doing so.
"How are you?" She asked.
"Fine," he replied halfheartedly, "…you?" Stupid question, how do you think she is?
"Fine," she said. "I heard your mission went well."
"Yeah, it was okay."
"Glad to see you were able to accomplish something without me." She teased lightly, but couldn't outweigh the lingering maudlinness.
Shikamaru remained silent and looked into her bright eyes. Ino's vivid pools of blue were the only part of her that still retained liveliness; externally, she was barely there. He withdrew his gaze miserably; he couldn't stand knowing it wouldn't last. Ino called out his name softly as she tried to capture his eyes, but Shikamaru refused. He glowered at his knees—mind boggled with hundred of questions. Shikamaru wanted her to let him in, he wanted her to tell him everything, he wanted her to want him the same way he wants her—but most of all—he wanted her to stop looking so goddamn pale and thin.
"Why?" He managed to ask.
"Why…" Ino echoed him; her voice light. "I'm sick and I'm dying, Shikamaru, there's no 'why'. I just am."
He looked up at her with weak abhorrence. What does she mean by that? Fifteen years of tongue-in-cheek bantering and she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of honesty? Ino's hands found his on top of the bed sheets; Shikamaru wanted to pull away, but couldn't. He hadn't felt her touch for a long time—and a simple handholding is better than nothing. Shikamaru hates her candor sometimes. Another aspect of Ino he hates.Why? Why do you hold my hand when you are sitting on a hospital bed, dying? Why now?
"Do you hate me?" Ino asked softly, boring into his dark eyes.
I hate that you are dying. I hate that I can't have you if you die.
Instead, he offered nothing but complete silence. Ino let go of his hand and sighed heavily.
"I didn't want you to see me like this." She explained. "I'm not exactly an eye-candy right now—and clearly, I'm in no position to entertain."
"You make everything out to be so superficial." Shikamaru said grimly.
"It's simpler that way."
Shikamaru placed his hand over hers and looked at her pale face—still pretty, still Ino, still alive. He wanted to kiss her, something along the lines of articulating her delicate existence; her troublesome pair of lips countless stupid criticisms seeped from looked inviting. Ino smiled at him; she pulled away her hands and gestured towards Shikamaru to join her on the bed. Naturally (and helplessly), he did.
Ino placed her head on his shoulder and her fingers entwined with his. Shikamaru closed his eyes peacefully, taking in the poignancy. It felt odd to share a genuine moment with Ino without their lighthearted jabs at one another. Shikamaru could smell lavender on Ino and it placed him at a proverbial ease.
"Your head feels light, airhead." Shikamaru mentioned with a little smile.
"You're impossible. Piss off." She laughed.
"Do you really want me to?"
Ino stubbornly refused to fill the silence, partly because she knows she tolerates his company more than she should. Ino could feel his rough fingers gently graze over hers. She could also smell his earthy scent—one she is too used to and had grown to like. Ino could detect his stupid earring dangling pointlessly. She was there when he had it pierced—his father had one, his father's father did, too. It was some kind of Nara tradition. Ino only laughed at him for a week.
Ino had hoped she wouldn't remember all the trivial memories—because it tends to be the small things that brought her most joy. Ino desperately wished she had appreciated Nara Shikamaru entirely before now.
"I'm sorry…" she whispered.
Ino didn't know who she was apologizing to: Shikamaru or herself.
"Don't be so troublesome." He said wistfully—knowing that is impossible with Ino.
Ino was troublesome; everything about her was beautifully troublesome.
Shikamaru walks home with an empty heart from the funeral. His hands are stuffed in his pockets as he fiddles with his pack of cigarettes.
Ino understood his nasty habit when Asuma died—their former teacher's infamous habit adopted by his ingenious student. After the first few months, Ino stopped feigning tolerance and told Shikamaru flat out to stop being such a rebel, and he should dispose of his cigarettes straightaway if he wants to live long enough to see his first-born graduate from the Academy.
"Go shit on someone else, Ino."
"Why do you care so much, anyways?" He shrugged, obviously bothered.
Shikamaru took a long drag and blew it in Ino's general direction. She rolled her eyes and turned away. It was a quarter past midnight; they had just come back from an intense two-week mission. Shikamaru was walking Ino home when he decided to light up. He saw her glaring at him that way from the corner of his eyes—that incoming-snarky-remark way, yet all she said was for him to put that cigarette out.
"Why do you care if I care?" Ino retorted.
"I don't. Go shit on someone else."
"Do what you will, Shikamaru." She stared hard at him. "Write your own eulogy for all I care, assface."
"Well, maybe my ass of a face will."
Shikamaru watched Ino stomp home in the opposite direction and sighed. He chucked away his pack of cigarettes absentmindedly into a trashcan as he walked behind her that night.
Well, she is dead now. Shikamaru can smoke as much as he wants without having to endure that condemning look on her dainty face. Shikamaru can take care of himself… the last thing he needs is a nagging woman by his side, breathing down his neck and ready to pounce. Shikamaru can't think straight—random recollections reels around his disoriented mind.
No one wants a pesky spouse, brash and—clearly—troublesome. His father spends most of his time away from the house while his mother sports a temper so feisty it is unheard to mankind. Though rarely, but surely, Shikamaru can catch the love in her mother's eyes when she looks at his father. Nonetheless, Ino—Shikamaru contemplates—is ten times worse than his own mother in terms of temperament.
"I don't need you. I'm better off without you." He whispers.
"We were never 'with' each other, Shikamaru—that's just wishful thinking on your part."
"Then why didn't you just 'fuck off' every time I told you to?"
Three years down the drain with Temari.
Shikamaru couldn't tell you why he had asked her out in the first place. Frankly, he couldn't tell you even if he wanted to. They just happened—it wasn't officially commenced by any means. Shikamaru didn't particularly ask her out formally, nor did Temari tell him straight up, "why, yes, take me out." He honestly thought that if it were meant to be, they would have flowed.
And they did.
Their personality—though clashed occasionally—worked quite well together.
"I hope this one lasts, Shikamaru." Ino remarked over dumplings one afternoon. "Your last relationship only lasted two weeks, and I've heard an earful from your ex about you."
"Yeah, yeah." Shikamaru changed the topic. "What about you? How is Sasuke 2.0?"
"It's Sai, you idiot." She spat. "We are doing great for your information."
Ino constantly teased Shikamaru for being the laziest boyfriend ever. She also noted on various occasions that Temari could do a lot better, but then again, she lives in a sandcastle and flies around on a fan. Shikamaru would sporadically jab back that Sai is a socially awkward vampire that doodles in his room all night long and writes poetry about friendship (or his lack thereof). Personally, Ino and Shikamaru had nothing against each other's significant other—more or less—it was amusing to rip on each other and their flawed love interest.
Nevertheless, Ino looked genuinely astounded when Shikamaru came back from his date and offhandedly informed her he and Temari were over. Truthfully, Shikamaru was a tad upset, but more so at his three troublesomely wasted years. Ino invited him over for tea (yeah, right; it was beer, actually) for a little heart-to-heart.
"I'm sorry, Shikamaru." Ino said honestly. "I thought if there is one person you'll settle down with, it will have been Temari."
"It's fine." Shikamaru shrugged. "It was just all so troublesome."
"Chill for a week or two, then get back on the field." Ino suggested.
Shikamaru smiled to himself; he appreciated Ino's casual stance on this kind of subject. As troublesome as Ino can be, he knows she won't fuss over everything like most women and magnify every insignificant detail. Shikamaru's smile widened and he cleared his throat.
"…I can't believe we ended things over squid." He chuckled. "How classy."
"So—who was the dumper over the said squid, classy boy?" Ino grinned.
Shikamaru laughed and looked at his friend fondly. He took a swig out of his bottle and sat it down, peeling off its label all the while. Ino continued to look at him, waiting patiently (oh—now she has patience) for his answer. Shikamaru shrugged sheepishly.
"Does it matter?"
Shikamaru wasn't there when Ino died.
Ino passed away at three in the morning, give or take. Shikamaru didn't want to know, but Sakura told him anyways. Shizune went to check up on Ino and felt that she was stiff and cold.
Ino was lying on the bed peacefully with a subtle smile plastered on her serene face. Her hair was long and it gleamed prettily under the merciless moonlight. It didn't look like she suffered one bit—she died in her sleep. A good death. She left nothing—no sacred notes or pious last words—and she took nothing with her.
"There are hundred of people dying everyday—what about Konoha's honorable shinobes dying a cold death on the battlefield? Sooner or later we all die. Not a big deal, Shikamaru."
"You were a pretty damn big deal to me, Ino."
"Well, I'm sorry if that's how you feel."
Shikamaru abruptly stops in the middle of his walk home. He allows himself to wallow in Ino's death with no one in sight—not even in the presence of Ino's unresponsive gravestone.
When Asuma died, a part of him died, too. The grief of losing someone who had a big impact in your life is indescribable. You feel as empty as a vacant hotel room, yet your heart pummels heavily—a penetrating pressure weighing it down in agony. Shikamaru is cold. His eyes are now dry, but he feels shittier than back at the cemetery.
"You are more troublesome now that you've gone." Shikamaru mouths to himself.
"You never told me straight-up if being troublesome is a bad thing. So, I guess I can play ignorant on this one."
"With you, it's always bad… wonderfully bad."
Once upon a time when Shikamaru and Ino first met at the young age of ten, their fathers introduced them to each other.
Shikaku cracked a joke to Inoichi, who bursted out in deafening laughter, something along the lines of their children holding each other's hands in matrimony one day. Typical jests old friends crack at the expense of their kids, obviously oblivious to their children's flushed face.
Ino observed Shikamaru with a critical eye as she held on to Inoichi. Ino wondered why on earth his father would give his only daughter away to such an indolent and stupid-looking boy. Shikamaru remembered looking at Ino with fleeting interest (not really) and wondered if they will be happily married or spawn silly fights similar to his parents—naturally, being Nara Shikamaru, he decided on the latter and hurried after Chouji (there's something he thought he'd never do).
It is an understatement to say his longest relationship was with the last woman he'd ever expect.
"Do you ever wonder why I always give you so much shit?"