Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any characters, things, places, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Viz Media, Shonen Jump, and Masashi Kishimoto. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.

Summary: Her social butterfly had landed, rejecting all other men she'd dated in favor of a pineapple-ponytailed genius who liked gazing at clouds, playing shougi, and sleeping until noon every day. Since when had Shikamaru been such an irreplace part of her life? ShikaIno fluff

Rating: K+

Warnings: None

Pairings: Shikamaru/Ino, slight Neji/Tenten

Spoilers: Tie-in to my Eyes Like Open Doors pieces Warning (chapter 43) and Stars (chapter 47) , but you don't have to read those to understand this.

Author's Notes: I've had this idea since I wrote the piece Warning in my prompt compilation story Eyes Like Open Doors. Shikamaru/Ino is my second-favorite couple in Naruto - I just love them so much, and I didn't get to write nearly enough of them in Warning. So I had to write this piece to compensate (besides, I adore writing ShikaIno fluff, even if I don't get to do so nearly as much as I'd like to)! Thank you to all of you who kindly reviewed my other Shikamaru/Ino centric piece, The Flower Girl, and thank you to everyone who takes the time to read this story! I hope you enjoy it!


Ino skipped her fingers along the row of books, blonde head tilted to the side as her blue eyes scanned the titles. She'd read so many of them already, and the few that she hadn't were Shikamaru's and just didn't appeal. He called them "windows to the world," explaining that each one revealed new information and new experiences to those eager enough to read them. It was no surprise that Shikamaru enjoyed them, since his status as a genius gave him a brain that soaked up information like a sponge did water.

Her own tastes in reading leaned a little more toward pleasure than education. Shikamaru always scoffed when he came across one of her books, which was often since their tomes (and other belongings, really) had mingled even over the few months they'd been in their new apartment.

Bored and dissatisfied, Ino turned away from the bookcase. She ambled across the room, trailing her fingers along the edge of her husband's desk as she headed back toward the door. The extra-bedroom-turned-office had lost her interest, though she wasn't sure what else could possibly occupy her mind. Tomorrow promised a (hopefully) busy day at the flower shop, so maybe she could work on some new arrangements before bed...?

The balcony just off the main room of the apartment was small, made even tinier by the scores of flowers covering every available space. A narrow walkway snaked through the various planters and pots, and Ino wandered aimlessly, picking a blossom here and there. She had arranged flowers for so many years that she hardly had to think about what she was doing, naturally picking out the perfect things to go together until she had a large armful of blooms.

Shikamaru always muttered at her when she put flowers on the dinner table, saying it was meant for food. She always (cheerfully) returned that some flowers were edible, and then they would stare at each other until he stuffed his hands in his pockets and disappeared into his office, declaring it too troublesome to argue with her. As long as she cleaned the table well after she was done, he'd leave her alone.

Smiling at the memory, Ino gently spread the flowers on the table and returned to Shikamaru's office long enough to get one of the boxes of vases she always kept on hand for when she did some work at home. Settling onto one of the cushions at the table, she immersed herself in the soothing art of flower-arranging, enjoying the stories she told with each one. Her first bouquet was meant for lovers; the next for apology; a third for friendship; her fourth a get-well-soon; her last...

I miss you. Ino blinked at the newly-assembled bouquet, feeling uncharacteristic tears prickle at the corners of her eye. She swallowed thickly as she gently hugged the flowers to her chest, knowing she'd be keeping these all to herself. Inhaling the complimenting scents of the flowers, she closed her eyes to keep her tears at bay.

This was all Tenten's fault. Earlier in the day she'd met her fellow kunoichi for lunch, and her brunette friend's anxious mood had rubbed off on the younger blonde. Of course, her husband was supposed to be gone for three months - it had already been two - so it made sense that she'd be this-close to a nervous wreck.

However, Shikamaru was only supposed to be gone a week, a mere blink in time compared to Hyuuga Neji. Ino scowled, reminding herself to scold Tenten for being contagious the next time she saw the weapons mistress.

This is the first somewhat significantly lengthy mission Shika's gone on since we got married, Ino considered. Her steps faltered slightly on her way to the bedroom, where she planned to set the bouquet on her bedside table. And the first he's gone on alone, too, since then. If something goes wrong, he won't have anyone to back him up ... to watch his back, period.

Ino set the vase down a little harder than necessary, then whirled away determinedly to go back to the kitchen and put the other arrangements in a box to take to work with her tomorrow. Shikamaru is a big boy. A lazy one, granted, but he is a genius. He can think however-hundred-many moves ahead on a shougi board, and it's the same way with his actions during a mission. He'll be fine.

Funny, she'd never been this anxious about him when he went on missions before. Then again, back then he'd only (ha, only) been her teammate and friend. Now it was totally different: he was her husband, her lover, her confidante, her best friend... Things she'd never allowed anyone else to be (well, Sakura was still her best friend, but that was different: she had to be able to talk to someone about fashion and gossip, after all). Her social butterfly had landed, rejecting all other men she'd dated in favor of a pineapple-ponytailed genius who liked gazing at clouds, playing shougi, and sleeping until noon every day.

The weirdest thing of all was that her marriage to Shikamaru had been an arranged one. At first she'd been furious with her parents and the Nara clan, railing about how medieval arranged marriages were. That was something their great-to-the-thousandth-degree grandparents (yes, she wasn't above exaggerating when she thought it would help her cause) did, not present-day people, and shinobi at that!

But, in the end, Ino had decided that if she did absolutely have to marry someone (even if not by choice), Shikamaru was the best man to fit the description. She'd known him since they were babies (their fathers were former teammates and best friends, and she and the shadow-nin had been born only a day apart), they'd been teammates for several years, friends for even longer, and their special techniques worked excellently together. Really, he was the perfect man for her (even if she rarely admitted it to anyone, even herself).

And now, without her realizing, Shikamaru had become an irreplacable part of her life. That's what they say about love: you don't realize how much it means to you until your other half is gone. Ino's eyes widened, and she firmly shoved that thought out of her mind. She wasn't superstitious, by any means, but she didn't want to take any chances. Thinking like that ... well, it would only make her feel guiltier if something did happen to her husband.

Determined not to worry any more, Ino headed for the bathroom to take a long, relaxing bath before she went to bed. Alone, her heart added bitterly.

So much for positive thinking.

Ino smiled smugly as she closed the drawer to the cash register with her hip. Every one of the arrangements she'd made the night before (save for the one she'd kept for herself) had already sold, and the shop had only been open for two hours. The ones her parents and the "hired help" had arranged still filled the shop, though, enticing new customers in through the doors. Several people browsed - among them, she noted with interest, one Hyuuga Neji.

Perhaps she wouldn't have a chance to talk to Tenten for a while, then.

The jounin smiled distantly at her as he set a vase on the counter. Ino nodded at the amaryllis arrangement he'd picked, knowing from the moment she'd seen him that Neji would choose that one. From the beginning of his relationship with Tenten, he'd always given her amaryllis, and Ino didn't foresee any changes in the near (or far) future.

"You're back early," Ino said as she accepted Neji's payment.

"Hn." Neji ran the pads of his fingers up and down the side of the vase, pale eyes focused on the flowers.

Knowing that was as forthcoming as he'd be, she handed the change across the counter to him with a smile. "Tell Tenten hello!" she called after him as he left.

He repeated his earlier repsonse as he exited the open doors, one hand lifting in a distracted wave over his shoulder.

Sighing, Ino propped her chin on her fist as she examined the other people in the shop. None of them looked familiar, which was disappointing. She'd been halfway hoping Sakura would stop in, just so she'd have someone to talk to since her parents had taken the day off and she was running the shop by herself. Even the three future kunoichi they'd hired as part-time help so they could gain experience were on vacation.

The afternoon dragged on, and Ino sold only five more arrangements. On a good day, she was so busy she hardly had time to breathe. Even though the morning had seemed so promising, things were so slow now she wanted to cry from boredom. Anything was better than this!

Pouting slightly, Ino turned to the table behind the counter and started arranging a few more bouquets. The hum of conversation and Konoha living life as usual filtered in through the open door, and she kept one ear tuned to the comforting sounds as she worked. Eventually she started to hum, once more getting caught up in the language of flowers and the things she could convey with different arrangements.

"Excuse me, could I please get an arrangement of peonies, aster, and arbutus?"

Distracted, Ino glanced over her shoulder. "Those three flowers don't really look that good toge-" She cut herself off abruptly as she did a double-take. "Shikamaru!" she shrieked. Pushing away from the table, she ran around the counter to throw herself at the shadow-nin.

He caught her easily, arms winding around her waist as she squealed at him between peppered kisses on his lips and face. "I missed you, too, troublesome," he murmured. Anyone else would have missed the hint of a smile on his lips.

"You're back two days early!" Ino pressed one last lingering kiss on his lips before withdrawing. "I've missed you," she said wistfully, her tone moderated to a quieter one.

This time Shikamaru smiled visibly. "Maybe those flowers don't look good together, but their meanings sure compliment each other," he drawled. His arms loosened around her, but he didn't let go completely. "But that's how I feel about you."

Ino snuggled her head against his chest, ear over his heart to listen to its reassuring beat, assuring her that was home, alive and safe. "I'll make your arrangement later," she murmured, eyes closed. "Right now, I'm afraid we're closed."

It had been a slow day, anyway. It wouldn't hurt to close the shop a few hours early, she thought fuzzily as Shikamaru drew her in for another kiss.

After all, Shikamaru didn't come of a mind to be romantic very often. She'd learned to take advantage of the times when he did.

*~The End~*

Author's Ending Notes: I've had this idea since I wrote the piece Warning in my prompt compilation story Eyes Like Open Doors. Shikamaru/Ino is my second-favorite couple in Naruto - I just love them so much, and I didn't get to write nearly enough of them in Warning. So I had to write this piece to compensate (besides, I adore writing ShikaIno fluff, even if I don't get to do so nearly as much as I'd like to)! Honestly, I don't know much of anything about flower arranging, so I'm not sure if peonies, aster, and arbutus look well together, but their meanings are as follows: peonies (happy marriage), aster (symbol of love, contentment), and arbutus (I love only thee). Amaryllis bulbs can bloom up to 75 years, which (at least to me) indicates a long-lasting love. I found their meanings quite appropriate. Thank you so much for reading this piece, and I hope you enjoyed it!