Disclaimer:I do not own Naruto or any of the characters.

Forward: Sorry for the long wait! I just had a long writers block, but I just started watching Naruto again and this came to me. I also promised I would try to write more in the New Year, so there is that too. I hope you enjoy!

With Temari's hasty exit, a silence fell over the group. Aside from Shino, all of the Leaf Ninja were left and it was time for some old feelings to be laid bare. No one felt ready to reveal their secret, but they all knew that with each reveal they were one person closer to having to admit their feelings. Finally, Lee spoke.

"That was completely unexpected!" Lee exclaimed, staring at the door in genuine surprise. Temari was a sand ninja and one whom Lee doubted had any good feelings for any of the leaf ninja. Perhaps she felt some gratitude towards Naruto for fighting her brother off of his descent into insanity, but other than that he had only seen her show the leaf ninja's a distant disdain. Shikamaru was similarly withdrawn and didn't seem to have many friends outside of his team. It was a complete shock to Lee that these two would get along, let alone have any romantic feelings towards each other. Perhaps it was the fact that Shikamaru had bested Temari in the Chounin Exams? But wouldn't that only cause her to harbor feelings of resentment? As Lee finally started to come out of his thoughts and back to the present moment, he noticed that most of the room had fallen silent and was watching him incredulously. Tenten smacked her palm against her forehead.

"You are so hopeless." Tenten muttered, shaking her head. To her, it had been obvious that Temari liked Shikamaru. The girl seemed to respect those who showed their strength and intelligence in the battlefield, which Shikamaru had most surely proven by defeating her in battle. Also, she had totally been noticing the flirting going on through the village when Temari visited. Anyone could see it. Well, anyone aside from Lee- she supposed.

"Right…" Sakura said, watching Lee warily. She turned her eyes back to the group as she continued. "But that still leaves one question. Who else picked Shikamaru?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Sasuke snorted under his breath. He had been silently calculating the names that had been called with the people in the room and he believed that he had figured out everybody's votes. It was simple, really. All it took was some observational skills, which should have been a given to any ninja. Sakura just glared at him.

"This is such a drag." Shikamaru piped in, rolling his eyes. This whole topic was making him feel exceedingly uncomfortable and he just wanted to get it over with. Whose idea had this game been anyway? It was just a trigger for unnecessary drama and somehow, with two people casting in his name, he had been dragged right into the middle of it all.

"Right, because every guy's worst nightmare is having two beautiful girls like him. How awful, man! I feel so bad for you!" Kiba piped in, annoyed at Shikamaru for his attempt to evoke pity from him. The guy had girls drooling over him, god only knew why, and he was complaining? How arrogant and ungrateful could a person get?

"Oh, right." Ino nodded vigorously, as though understanding was just dawning on her. "You're just jealous that nobody picked you."

"How did you guess?" Kiba exclaimed in mock surprise. He then narrowed his eyes at Ino, openly glaring at her. "Who did you pick then?"

"There is no way I'm telling yet!" She looked around for support, but found none. Everyone was only too happy to allow someone to go before them. "My name is still out there." She added, realizing that she had a decent excuse.

"You're just scared!" Naruto yelled, pointing at Ino. Ino rolled her eyes. Pointing and shouting was his attempt to make her go? Seriously?

"I am not scared!"

"Ino-pig is too scared to say who she likes!" Sakura added, grinning tauntingly. Oh, this was just too much. "Hah! I knew you wouldn't be able to do it!" That was it. Naruto screaming was one thing, but Sakura's taunts were the last straw.

"Oh, really?" Ino retorted, her smile smug. "I wrote down Shikamaru!" The moment the words came out of her mouth, Ino realized what she had been tricked into doing. Her eyes widened in shock and she covered her mouth immediately- but it was too late. The words had already been spoken and there was no taking them back now. With a gulp, Ino turned to Shikamaru with fear-filled eyes. It wasn't like her to be so scared at anything in terms of romance, but this was her best held secret. Weirdly enough, Ino actually cared how Shikamaru would respond. This was so not good. Shikamaru looked taken aback, awkward, and completely unsure of how to respond. To the girl who spent every day with him, knowing how near-impossible it was to faze him with anything, this was completely unnerving.

"Wow…" Shikamaru began, unsure of how to respond. "…thank you." Even as the words came out, Shikamaru knew how woefully underwhelming they were for the situation. But, for once in his life, Shikamaru was at a loss for words. Ino quickly back-peddled, wanting desperately to get rid of her feelings of discomfort.

"It's not that I love you or anything like that, I just…" Ino began, trying to word this in a more dignified and acceptable manner. This was important and she didn't want to botch it. "I mean.." Ino shook her head, annoyed at herself. What was she doing, stuttering like an idiot? She wasn't Hinata, after all! "Okay, you know what? I don't need to make any excuses. I like you, Shikamaru. As more than a friend. I have for a while now. I know you said that you weren't ready for a serious relationship and I respect that. So if your answer is the same as what you said to Temari, just tell me so that we can move past this. Okay? Okay." Ino took a deep breath, praying for the best. She would have preferred that this could be a private meeting, but this was what she got for agreeing to play stupid games like this. The ball was in Shikamaru's court now and there was nothing more she could do. Chouji turned to Shikamaru, trying to lighten up the mood

"Dude, she must really like you. I haven't heard her babble like that since back when she liked Sas-" Ino's eyes widened in anger as Chouji spoke and she elbowed him in the stomach-hard.

"Shut up!"

"I was just saying." Ino's glare was lethal and Chouji immediately shut up. Ino turned to Shikamaru, just wanting the answer so that she could get this over with already. Shikamaru looked just as unprepared as he had a moment ago.

"Wow, Ino." Shikamaru spluttered, scratching the back of his neck in a Naruto-esque mannerism. Looking back, it seemed like an obvious conclusion that Ino liked him. The way she acted around him, especially recently, the way she treated Temari, and the numbers with the name cards should have given it way. Yet Shikamaru was taken by surprise. "I had no idea…"

"Seriously?" Sasuke smirked, wondering how dumb Shikamaru had to be. I mean, really. Ino's crush was almost as obvious as Sakura's crush on him was! The signs were clearly there! Shikamaru glanced with disdain at Sasuke.

"Well, at least I still have some subtlety." Ino bragged, glaring at Sakura. Sakura stuck her tongue out in response. Shikamaru closed his eyes for a long moment before giving his reply.

"Ino, I would love to date you, but I…I can't right now. It's not that I'm lazy. It's just that I need some time to digest this." Ino nodded hurriedly, trying to cover the blush of humiliation that was covering her face. Ino had never been rejected. Okay, maybe Sasuke hadn't been eager to get to know her, but he rejected everyone and so it didn't count. Other than Sasuke, nobody had ever rejected her. Especially not in front of her friends. Especially not when she cared so much.

"Of course." Ino managed to say. "I understand." Sakura turned to Ino and gently placed a hand over her friends knee- for once not a trace of mocking. Ino smiled gratefully at her friend as she struggled to hold herself together.

Ending Note: I know I said that I wasn't going to force my ships in here…but I couldn't help it. I really prefer Shikamaru with Ino, rather than Temari. But I don't know who he would choose. I hope I got Shikamaru and Ino in character! And I promise I don't hate Kiba XD Reviews and Criticisms are welcome!