Chouji loves to eat. The only feeling in the world that is better than that of the hard ridges of chips rubbing against his fingertips is the feeling of the hard ridges of chips rubbing against his tongue. It is more than just desire that sends his fingers rustling through his chip bag every few seconds; it is need, a need so strong it is an addiction.

…Chouji loved to eat. The only feeling in the world that was better than that of the hard ridges of chips rubbing against his fingertips was the feeling of the hard ridges of chips rubbing against his tongue. It was more than just desire that sent his fingers rustling through his chip bag every few seconds; it was need, a need so strong that Chouji's fingers still tremble whenever he so much as hears mention of food.

But really, how can he eat when his best friend is a shuddering heap on the ground, blood (too much blood) leaking from him because he expected Chouji to guard his back and the Akimichi failed miserably? How can he eat when he allowed an enemy ninja to sneak up on Shikamaru, his fingers so greasy from his chips that his kunai sank like a stone instead of pinning the enemy in the back?

He had no answer for that question. He didn't even want one.

At Shikamaru's funeral (which was too sunny—not a single one of those clouds you loved so much in the sky), Chouji's fingers were trembling just slightly more than the rest of him as he stood a good ten yards away from where the other mourners were clustered around the black coffin. No one blamed him (why not? I took him away), not even Shikamaru's hysterically sobbing mother, or the genius' grave father, whose head was bowed low into his chest. However, Ino gave him a sharply curious look before commenting about how much skinnier he seemed.
Chouji lay sprawled out on his bed, sweating profusely as his arms and legs trembled without cause. His eyes were tightly closed, his ragged breathing echoing in his ears. Beneath that torn sound, he can hear other, more subtle noises, like the press of large Akimichi feet on the stairwell, and the breathing of another man as he stands in front of the door to Chouji's room. Nearly a minute passes before someone knocks on his door, leaving Chouji to wonder why he hesitated so long. It takes less than a second to find the answer. (It starts with an 'S' and is nine letters long.)

"Hello, dad," Chouji greeted his father, his eyes still closed and his trembling fingers still turning white as they gripped his sheets. The words come out a harsh rasp for reasons Chouji does not understand.

The older Akimichi ignored the sick quality in his son's voice, for his duties as a father help blind his pure ninja instinct. "Chouji," he replied, sounding slightly concerned. "I thought you'd left an hour ago. Don't you have a mission today?"

He did, and it probably started quite a while ago, but he just couldn't bear to go hunt kittens and see only Asuma-sensei and Ino standing there, the grass nearby empty where Shikamaru's form should have lain. Though it was almost painful to admit, he didn't have the strength to go, either. Chouji decided that the latter made a better excuse than the former. "I'm not feeling so well today, dad," he said.

His father relented slightly. "Well, I suppose…" His eyes quickly darted over to Chouji's bedside table. It was spotlessly clean, devoid of even crumbs. Another peek proved that his trash can was empty as well. "Do you want anything to eat?" He asked.

"No thank you, dad."

"…all right." The door closed.

Chouji's grip on the sheets tightened until they were pulled from one corner of the bed, revealing bare mattress. In the ringing of his ears, Shikamaru's ghost screamed.

"Hey, Chouji, you in there?" That was most definitely Ino's voice, the tone of annoyance in it quite obviously false, though it was tinged with a sort of genuine concern that was becoming very familiar, very quickly. She swore beneath her breath as something that sounded vaguely glass-like banged against the wooden banister, water sloshing around as she plodded up the stairs. "I brought you some flowers," she continued as she turned the doorknob, "just don't eat them, you fata—"

Though only thirteen, Ino was enough of a kunoichi to know on sight that Chouji was dead.

"Metabolism failure?"Thehead of the Akimichi clan and father of a now-dead boyrepeated in pure disbelief. "But—he hadn't even taken any of the pills, so why—"

Tsunade pursed her lips. "The autopsy report showed nothing in his stomach or his intestines, not the slightest traces of any digested foods. He probably starved himself to death."

He frowned. It was a built-in instinct of the Akimichi clan to eat, he knew. That was why he himself was holding a bag of chips, the only item he grabbed before setting off to the Hokage. How could Chouji…

The answer was on his lips before he even thought of it. "Shikamaru." It was the only answer, for there could never have been anything else.

Ino always liked to block out the memories of both Shikamaru's and Chouji's funerals; they wouldforever be far too painful for her. However, if there was one thing she ever had to recall about the way Chouji looked in his sleek black coffin (which would have been too narrow for him, in the days before Shikamaru's death), it would be how oddly still his fingers were. The entire time she watched the service, she expected his fingers to tremble.

'Best Friends Forever...'

' long is forever?'