Word Count: 4,581
Summary:Maybe it's the line of his shoulders. Physical attraction isn't that strange towards your teammates. She figures she can deal with that. Or maybe it's his smile. InoShika.
The first time Ino thinks she might, you know, actually be kinda-maybe-sorta-ish interested in Shikamaru that way, she's seventeen and at the Winter Festival and she's eating chadango, and waiting for the fireworks. He's two meters away from her and she'd say he doesn't notice her except that he notices everything and so that would be beyond stupid.
It's not that he's suddenly changed or anything, she thinks, sneaking glances over at him while he leans forward to talk to his dad. He's still got the ridiculous ponytail and he's still wearing clothes that look like they belong on a trash heap stat (but, really, his dad is a hundred times harder on his clothes and so Ino thinks she ought to be grateful that Shikamaru's only as bad as he is) but there's- something. The line of his shoulders has never been so appealing.
His eyes narrow, like he's aware he's being watched, and Ino nonchalantly looks the other way. Her movements are slow, not hurried, because if she hurries that will give it all away and she's not quite sure what to think of the fact that her stomach has gained a bunch of butterflies just from him sitting nearby with his parents.
That's, like, totally ridiculous, right? It's Shikamaru and he's a teammate and a friend and while he might contest the second when they're having a disagreement, he's never contested the first.
But adding a third seems like a dangerous gamble. Maybe a charm or maybe a curse. Ino frowns a little, but it quickly turns back to a smile as her father reaches her with piping hot tea for them to drink while they wait just a little longer.
She sips at her tea-carefully, so her tongue doesn't burn- and resists the urge to look back at Shikamaru.
Of course, her good intentions are completely destroyed a few minutes later as her mom arrives, in a flurry of scarves and hats and good cheer, and Ino has to get up and move one seat over so that her mom can sit with her daughter on one side and her husband on the other. That's normal.
What's less normal is that, as she gets up, she sees Shikamaru is looking her way. He has his eyebrows arched like he's telling her 'you're being weird' and Ino can't really argue that, as she blushes and hopes he'll blame it on the chill in the air. Just as she sits down, he smiles at her, evidently having decided that she's not being that weird and Ino's blush deepens as her butterflies go wild.
Maybe it's the line of his shoulders, she thinks. Physical attraction isn't that strange towards your teammates, not when you work almost every day with them. She figures she can deal with that and not make a fool out of herself.
Or maybe it's his smile. Which would be a whole lot better and a whole lot worse at the same time. She leans against her mother, who puts an arm around her shoulder, and Ino tries not to think about.
Either way, she's pretty sure this is going to be a disaster if he figures it out before she figures out what to do about it.
Ino can optimistically think that, at least, as he tends to think all that inter-personal stuff is troublesome that she might actually have a chance at beating him to a solution despite his IQ of over 200 and his analytical brilliance and his ability to read her like a book.
… she's doomed.
The next few weeks go pretty okay and that's a relief. She does missions, she does hospital work, she helps her parents out around the shop, she trains and she shops and she goes out to lunch with Chouji and Shikamaru and she manages to not blush a single time.
She does, however, manage to start twenty-nine fights in two weeks with Shikamaru. That's really high, even for them.
It's not like she means to, but when she's at the flower shop and helping her parents out and has the time to think, it's embarrassing to admit but Ino is pretty sure that she's being the little boy who pulls the pigtails of the girl he likes, if they're going by Academy standards.
That's just really kinda sad. Since when has she sunk so low?
Ino picks fight thirty, thirty-one, and thirty-two with him the next day.
No one, she figures, will ever think she likes him. Not after all the shrieking.
A week later and Shikamaru has taken to avoiding her and even while it makes Ino mope a bit, she really can't blame him. If it was possible, she'd avoid herself too.
Fifty-four fights now and the next time she sees him, they're going on a mission, just like they used to. It's Ino-Shika-Cho. He's eyeing her warily and she pretends that a) it doesn't hurt her feelings and that b) he's not justified in doing so.
He relaxes as they head out. By the time they've been out in the field for six hours, most of that spent running, he's completely back to his old-self and despite her best attempts to stay focused, her butterflies are back. Ino tries to tell them that they're not appropriate and that they're distracting and that it's really really not a good idea to show up while she's working, but it doesn't help.
She lets them stay in her stomach and tries to ignore them. It's easier on the job, this job, when they're running towards a mission that's likely going to be hard and bloody and wind up with someone dead.
That someone won't be from her team, Ino vows. Let her focus on that instead of the way Shikamaru's bum looks in his uniform.
The mission goes well and the moment they set foot in the village and they've finished their debriefing, Chouji invites them out for a meal, a lot like how Asuma-sensei used to take them out for yakitori after a good job.
She doesn't think she ought to go-she's tired and frayed and now thinking of Asuma-sensei leaves her a little weepy feeling and Ino is pretty sure it's almost that time of the month because weepy isn't her at any other time- but Shikamaru's hand on her elbow is warm and comforting and so she says yes.
Ino winds up falling asleep at the restaurant, leaning over until she's resting her head against Shikamaru's shoulder, and closing her eyes for a second that turns into a minute that turns into more.
When she wakes up, she's in her bedroom and her mother tells her that Shikamaru brought her home.
The next time she sees him Ino goes red and disappears into the crowd too fast to notice that he's gone a little pink himself.
A few weeks after that, and she's remembering why hospitals aren't her favourite place to be when she's the patient rather than the medic.
Ino stares up at the ceiling and ignores the tubes and the beeps and the whirs or machinery and tries to decide of she's angry or… well, sad. Both, she thinks, feeling sick and twisted inside. If she could, she'd give Tsubasa a piece of her mind for messing up so royally, but Tsubasa and Ichigo didn't make it back and it's just her and Machiko who get to deal with the fallout that comes from surviving.
She's got fifteen broken bones, one of them her collarbone and six of them her ribs, and an ankle so busted up that she's been told by three separate surgeons that they're not sure how she even managed to keep moving.
Ino's got some words to tell them about adrenaline and willpower and the use of good old fashioned fear and the fact that, when an Iwa Jounin is coming for you, after having ripped through your teammates like tissue paper, you move.
If pressed, she's got to admit that even she doesn't know how she got away. Or how Machiko got away. But they did, and they lived, and now the mission is in ANBU's hands.
And she's thinking in circles, well enough to have begged off being sedated and yet not healthy enough to do anything else. She's got lacerations up her arms (one of which is broken) and down her front, and bruises that she hadn't even known she'd had, until she'd been in the hospital for a day or two, all black and green and blue, blossoming like flowers only these bring additional pain.
She's bored. She's also angry and snappish and utterly intractable and proud of it. The only person she's talked to levelly is Machiko and that's mostly been trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong and how Tsubasa could have been so stupid?
She's also got her talks with Intel, and with the therapists to insure that she's mentally sound enough to keep going in the field after having been 'traumatized'.
That's their word, not hers. She'd eat a kunai if any of them have been out in the field in the last twenty years. Her teammates dying was a waste and she's angry. And if she sees an Iwa hitae-ite, she's probably going to go after it like a bat out of hell. Ino doesn't tell them that. They'd tell her she's got problems.
Privately, Ino thinks, who doesn't?
All of that comes down to the fact that she's really got nothing going on, and she really doesn't look her best (her hair is a mess and there's a bruise up half her face that she's pretty sure is making her utterly grotesque) and she's slowly shredding her blanket back into its individual threads, when Shikamaru shows up.
He shows up alone.
That's pretty weird, for him, she thinks, offering him a smile that's going to have to do in place of a wave, because the idea of waving hurts more than the way her bruise does at the smile. He's usually with Chouji and if she's hurt, going by the routine of the last few times she's been in the hospital (and, she thinks, it's sad that she's got experience with that, but then so does Chouji and so does Shikamaru and both of them started landing here younger than she did), then both of them ought to be here, with fruit.
But he's not got fruit. And he seems to have misplaced his best friend since they were all practically in diapers.
And, she realizes, stunned into silence, he's got flowers. They're cut, because you don't give flowers with roots to a sick person and while she's not exactly sick, Ino appreciates the thoughtfulness.
He's awkward at her, and she feels like she's about a hundred more times awkward in accepting the flowers, but once he's settled him on her table, beside her, so that she can see them without having to move too much, he looks pleased with himself.
She's feeling pretty pleased too, in a warm and peculiar way.
"You like these, right?" he says, like he's not sure, like it matters and Ino doesn't have the heart to tell him that she likes every flower pretty much. And they're bright and bold and the make her little room in the hospital that much cheerier. He doesn't really look at her as he asks and Ino wonders what sort of an expression he's got and realizes, belatedly, that maybe, just maybe it really does matter.
"I love them," she replies, her face flushing. She fidgets with her blanket as he glances over his shoulder to gauge her sincerity. Then he's smiling his slow, real smile and she's suddenly very glad that she's right where she is.
Even with all the broken bones and bruises and cuts.
Chouji shows up an hour later, looking a little startled to see Shikamaru already talking to her, and she beams at him and his fruit basket. She's been smiling a lot since Shikamaru showed up.
He stays, too, after Chouji has to leave. Not for long and she understands that- he's got his own missions and his own jobs and he can't sit at her bedside all day, even though he made a pretty good attempt at it today.
Just before he goes, he brushes a kiss along her un-bruised cheek, and is gone before Ino can think of something, anything, to respond with that's more intelligent than a blank stare of total shock and a flush that leaves her feeling a bit light-headed and butterflies going wild.
A week later and she's lost the smile and is getting annoyed. Shikamaru hasn't been back since that first day and she's got no idea what to think now that the flowers have wilted and the kiss isn't the only thing that she thinks of when she thinks of him. Chouji's been back three times, which is nice, but is also weird because since when has he misplaced his best friend too?
Every time she sees him, she wants to ask. But she doesn't because the idea of asking makes her flush and feel both shy and uncomfortable—asking would make it seem like she doesn't think that Chouji matters, when he does, it's just that Shikamaru's become a little different to her lately and it's not important anyway because it's probably all in her head and she's an idiot.
But that doesn't change the fact that Shikamaru hasn't shown up and she's feeling sulky and angry and that's not good for poor Chouji, because she snaps at him more than a little.
He just watches her with those eyes of his and that unmovable serenity that makes her feel small and silly. It's like he's a mountain and she's a tiny bird that's scolding him ineffectually. "It'll be fine," he says, as he leaves one day, even though she hasn't asked him. "Just- calm down a little and you'll see what I mean."
She flings a pen that hits the door he shuts behind him and then regrets it. She can't get up yet to retrieve her pen and now she doesn't have anything to even write with to express her frustrations that way. She cries a little, too frustrated to do anything else and hating that on top of everything else, and eventually falls into a fitful sleep.
She wakes up in the middle of the night and, after a moment of breathless surprise, realizes exactly why Chouji had said that she shouldn't worry about Shikamaru. He's here, in the room with her, and she's got the funny feeling he's been here before as he moves calmly through the shadows and pulls the chair closer to her bed with a soft scrape.
"You know," Ino says snappily, "I could tell you that it's creepy to watch me while I sleep when you don't even have my permission."
Silence answers her and she wonders if she's surprised him. She turns her head, able to see nothing but the outline of him in the darkness and only able to see even that much because of the moonlight filtering through the curtains.
Ino thinks he's smiling. Given the situation, it would either be a wry smile or a rueful one, and she wishes she could see either.
It's funny, how her bad mood has vanished.
"Are you going to call security?" he asks finally, leaning forward to rest his elbows on her bed. He doesn't sound too concerned and she can see why-he'll just disappear into the shadows. But more than that, she thinks, it's because he knows her.
"I should," she tells him, poking at his arm and glad for the darkness when he traps her hand and shows no indication of letting it go. Ino doesn't mind. "You'd deserve it."
"That doesn't answer my question," he observes, the hint of a laugh in his voice.
"Why answer it?" she asks, wriggling her fingers. "You already know my answer."
"I didn't know. Not for sure. You change your mind so easily." The words are teasing, almost. He means them, she thinks, on several different levels.
Ino narrows her eyes at him, trusting he'll know she's doing that despite the darkness. For all she knows, his shadow powers give him the ability to see in the dark. "If I did," she says, "then you'd deserve it." She takes a deep breath. "Why have you been avoiding me?"
He shifts, his grip on her hand tightening a moment before he looks away. "I've been busy," he says. "Night's the only time I've had to come and-"
"Bullshit," she interrupts. "I'm injured, not stupid. If you're not going to tell me the truth then maybe you shouldn't tell me anything and save your breath."
She tugs at her hand, feeling the grumpies coming back. That's okay, it's better than tears. Or admitting that her imagination was thinking that there was… well, that maybe she'd get more than this from him.
He lets her hand go. She pulls it close to her and stares up at the ceiling and tries not to blink too much because then he'll think she's going to cry and that's not true. She's got her pride.
"That's part of the reason," he says finally, just as the silence grew unbearable to her. "You're right; it's not the whole reason."
She permits herself a few quick blinks and asks, "What's the real reason?"
He's smiling again she's almost certain. "I'll tell you later," he says, "once I'm sure you aren't going to change your mind."
"That's not fair," she protests. "I'm not that flaky."
His hand brushes her hair. It feels good, so she doesn't tell him to stop. "Call it my insecurity then," he says, "if that makes it more palatable for you. And, too, there's something I want to do before-before we talk."
"We're talking now," Ino says, wishing she could see his expression.
"I'll be gone for a while," he tells her. "I don't want you to worry about me, okay?"
"Idiot." She curls her fingers around his sleeve. "Who'd worry about you?" Her words say one thing, her tone says another. She's already worried. Her voice is soft as she asks, "What have you done, Shikamaru?" Her eyes have adjusted by now, and his uniform isn't the one he normally wears though she can't quite place it.
"Only what needs to be done," he replies, which reassures her none at all. "I'll come back, I promise." He pulls his hand away from her hair and she feels colder all of a sudden. "I should probably go."
"If I hadn't woken up," she asks, "were you going to tell me at all?"
He stands up, the chair squeaking at the movement. "I hadn't decided."
Her chest feels tight and funny at the fact that he's leaving and he's talking like-like he's promising to come back but, she knows, promises like that don't happen unless there's a chance that he might not.
"Shikamaru?" she says, seizing her courage in both hands despite the way her voice comes out tiny. "Can you kiss me?"
She'd have asked if she could kiss him, that would have been right and proper, but she can't get up off the hospital bed and so any movement needed is going to have to be on his part. It's not very romantic, Ino mourns, but it's the best she can do.
He's still for a long, long moment, and she's wondering if she's misjudged the situation badly, when he moves towards her.
His lips are a little chapped, a little dry, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't seem to matter that her breath can't be great since she's just woken up. What matters is that he's kissing her gently and carefully and slowly, like she's someone important, and that she's kissing him back.
It's both an eternity and too soon, when he pulls away. "I've got to go," he says roughly. "That wasn't a lie."
Ino, her head reeling, watches him. "Don't forget to come back," she says, wishing he didn't have to go. Wishing that she wasn't worried about him, that this was routine. "I'll never forgive you if you don't."
His laugh fills the room before he disappears.
Once he's gone, she stares up at the ceiling. She knows where the uniform is from now.
But what is Shikamaru doing in ANBU?
A month passes and she doesn't get an answer to her question. Shikamaru's gone and Chouji doesn't know (she asked, while dancing around the question until she realized that he did, in fact, know Shikamaru was in ANBU) and while the romantic in her thinks that she probably should spend her time pining for him and their postponed conversation, but well...
She's a busy girl.
There's healing and then there's exercising to lose the stiffness and get her timing back up to speed and flinging herself into training. There's working at the hospital and helping her mom out and talking to her dad and looking after her cousins and arguing with Sakura and inviting her for a sleepover in the same breath and finally, going back out on missions.
Talking to Machiko gets pushed off again and again, and she's okay and Machiko's okay with that too. If a mission fails, common wisdom is that it either pulls the survivors close together or pushes them further apart. Ino doesn't fight as their friendship trickles through her fingers like grains of sand and, instead, keeps an eye on the future.
It's good to be back on the job. Wind in her hair, speeding over the ground so fast that she's a blur to civilians, if that, and getting her work done well. They're not giving her super difficult missions yet and she knows why: she's still recovering.
That's okay too, she thinks, when the time comes to run home. It keeps her busy and keeps her mind off anything like Shikamaru isn't coming back or Shikamaru is hurt or the more selfish, Shikamaru will come back and not want to talk to me.
She focuses on the first two thoughts and hopes for the best. The third she ignores. It's beneath her and pathetic and needy.
Time, despite her, keeps moving.
Three weeks after that and she's tired and smiling slightly as she unlocks the door to her room. It's just past midnight and the movie she saw with Sakura was pretty good and all she really wants to do is fall on her bed and sleep because there's not nearly enough hours between now and four in the morning and she's got to be up then, for work.
Ino pauses on the threshold of her room. There's someone there, a shadow leaning against her window, and it would be mysterious except that his hair gives him away. She rolls her eyes and shuts the door, cutting off the light.
"Hot date?" he asks.
She scoffs. "Sakura," Ino says and pretends she doesn't notice the way he shifts. "Just a movie." She drops her purse on the desk and kicks off her heels as he watches. Her earrings go next, and then her hair clips, which leave her with hair spilling down to nearly brush the floor, but that's alright. It's her floor.
Once her hairbrush is in hand, she makes her way over to him. "Are you hurt?" she asks, assuming that if he had been seriously hurt that he'd have looked after himself before daring to show his face to her. "Have you slept? Eaten?"
"None of the above," he says, sounding amused as he reaches for her brush as he stands.
"You should," she replies, letting him take the brush despite feeling a bit dubious about that. He's never wanted to brush her hair before. That's new. "Want me to sit down?"
"Stand," he tells her. "It's easier to do this if you're on your feet."
"The hair?" she has to ask. "Or talking to me? Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
"I'll sleep in a bit," he says dismissively, gathering up her hair with deftness that surprises her until she realizes that his mother has fairly long hair too (though Ino's is longer) and that, perhaps, he's got the practice. "I wanted to..."
"How long were you lurking in my room?" She closes her eyes as he works. Ino should be more annoyed, but there's certain things people she cares about can get away with. "You should have napped when you realized I was out."
He huffs. It's amused but she can't say that it was a laugh on his part. "How would that look?" he replies. "Your mom comes in, sleeping guy on your bed..."
Ino shrugs. "She likes you. She wouldn't murder you or nothing." Now her dad on the other hand...
He doesn't bother answering that and it's a few seconds before she realizes that he hasn't answered her other question either and that, as he brushes her hair, his hands aren't quite steady.
She likes none of that and her happiness at seeing him is muted by annoyance. When the silence gets to be too much for her to bear, her hand flashes out and grabs his, the one holding the hairbrush. "I'll take that," she says, and does, and then wraps her arms around him in a hug.
He freezes up, which is fair, and then relents. His hands are warm and she can appreciate the fact that he's got more strength in his arms than she thought as he returns her hug with interest. She's got her mouth open to object when she sees his face, his eyes shut and realizes that he's tense, like he's waiting for a blow to fall, and she doesn't have the heart .
Ino doesn't have an IQ of over 200, but she's better than he is at inter-personal things and if he can read her like a book, well, she's not so bad at reading him back.
She's been a bit of an idiot, she thinks.
"Shikamaru," she says, "you didn't have to join ANBU to get back at those who hurt me."
He opens his eyes. His lips are soft against her forehead. "I wanted to," he says, which means rather more to her.
"I should flay you," she says, "or possibly boil you in oil. I'm not much liking the damsel in distress role. Do you know how many revenge plans you've completely wrecked because you took things into your own hands?"
She doesn't need to ask if he succeeded: he wouldn't be here if he hadn't.
He has the nerve to laugh. "You wouldn't have been allowed after them," he reminds her. "And I thought it would be a good way to lead into what I wanted to say."
"Don't bother," Ino says. "You'll say it all wrong and I'll have to correct you and that will just fluster the both of us and really, I think that I deserve some eloquence to prove you're done acting the caveman and-"
Shikamaru kisses her.
It's definitely, she thinks, rather occupied with returning that kiss, a charm rather than a curse, and maybe not such a disaster.
The fluttering of the butterflies in her stomach seems to indicate their agreement.
That's good enough for her. For them, even.