Lazy Ass

Ever since the news broke out that Shikamaru Nara was the only genin candidate that graduated to chunin level during the brutal exams held in Konoha that year, he became a well-known name all throughout the five nations.

His triumph was not to be taken lightly, considering he was up against other ninjas the likes of the Ichibi and Kyuubi jinchuurikis, as well as the prodigious Uchiha and Hyuuga geniuses. The various daimyo and ninjas from the five countries were stunned to say the least, but eventually their surprise turned to grudging respect for Shikamaru when he showed them that indeed, he had the abilities to defeat enemies more powerful than himself, despite his comparatively weaker jutsus.

As he grew older, it became inevitable that his name would show up in the Bingo book, as whispered about and feared as any other. In the time it took for an average person to think of a move, he would have already thought of two hundred other possible moves. His intellect was unparalleled, his strategy unmatched.

However, what people failed to understand was that Shikamaru was notorious in Konoha for another reason entirely: He was quite possibly the laziest person in all of the five nations. Now, such a lack of enthusiasm and motivation would have seemed a fair price to pay for such genius. However, there was only so much his loved ones could take before they finally snapped out of sheer frustration.

Case in point: Shikamaru at five years of age at home with his parents.

"Shikaku, I'm leaving to buy some groceries now. You want anything?"

"No, I'm good."

"Okay. Now, don't forget to take Shikamaru-kun to the academy in a little while. You know how stubborn he could be."

"Quit your nagging, woman. I won't forget."

Yoshino then left, but only after soundly giving Shikaku a clip around the ear for his little indiscretion.

"Troublesome woman," Shikaku muttered, rubbing his abused ear.

After lounging around to pass the time before he took Shikamaru to the academy, he finally called out, "Shikamaru-kun?"

No answer.

"Shikamaru, son?"


"Shikamaru! I know you can hear me, so quit pretending you can't and come down right now. You're gonna be late for your classes!"

After a little while, Shikaku finally heard the merciful sounds of little feet slowly dragging themselves down the stairs. "Daddy, do I have to?" a small voice whined, barely suppressing a yawn.

"If you still want to stay under my roof, you do."

It was a meaningless scare tactic, seeing as how Shikamaru could barely understand it and he could hardly kick out his five year old son out of the house. But its message got through.

"Always making me do stuff… Everyone bosses me around in this house… Troublesome parents…"

Shikamaru could be heard grumbling all the way up to his room.

Shikaku rolled his eyes, thinking, "Like father, like son."

After a little while, he finally heard Shikamaru come down the stairs and reluctantly announce, "I'm ready. I think."

Shikaku got up and looked him over. He was wearing only one sock on his sandaled feet, his cowboy pants from last Halloween and a rumpled shirt that Shikaku could have sworn he already wore yesterday and the day before that.

He shrugged. "Good enough."

As father and son to the hurried to the academy, (well, Shikaku hurried while Shikamaru more or less dragged his feet while trying not to fall asleep) they finally arrived and Shikaku gave his son a goodbye kiss and watched him enter the academy doors.

"Finally," Shikaku sighed. He would daresay Shikamaru was harder to convince to do anything productive at that age than he had been. At that was saying something.

After wandering around the village for a little while, Shikaku finally arrived home and paused curiously when he saw the front door was unlocked. "That's weird," he thought. "I could have sworn I locked this thing."

He shrugged and let it go, only too eager to continue watching his game on T.V. When it finally finished, Shikaku stretched his arms, gave a huge yawn and decided to take a little catnap upstairs.

When he passed by Shikamaru's room, he heard some barely perceptible noises coming out of it. He paused in alarm. It sounded a bit like… snoring? This was either one presumptuous burglar, or… His jaw dropped when he opened the door, and lo and behold, there was Shikamaru in his mismatched clothes, snoring away.

Shikaku gaped at him for a moment, hardly believing what he was seeing.

"Little sneak!" Shikaku muttered, already starting forward to shake him awake and give him a lecture he'd remember and one that would make Yoshino proud.

And speak of the devil, he could hear the front door opening downstairs and Yoshino's voice saying, "I'm home! Shikaku, did you get Shikamaru to the academy on time?"

Shikamaru then snapped awake at that point, giving his father a sheepish grin when he noticed the death glare directed at him.

Yoshino walked up the stairs and into Shikamaru's room, raising her eyebrow when she saw both of her boys there. "What's this?" she asked suspiciously. "Shikaku, did you even listen to what I said about taking Shikamaru to the acade—"

"Of course, I did!" Shikaku interrupted hastily. God only knew he didn't need another sermon from her this time, seeing as his ears were still ringing from the last one. "But the thing is, Shikamaru-kun got a little fever, and said he was too sick to go to school today."

She frowned. "Is this true, Shikamaru-kun?"

Shikamaru looked up at his father and met his eyes, which were silently warning him that if he said anything to the contrary, he'd find that his threat of kicking him out of the house would come into fruition.

"It sure is, Kaa-san," he said with a small cough and brought a weary hand to his forehead, an angelic smile on his lips.

Again, Shikamaru at ten years of age at the Academy.

"Hey, isn't Shikamaru supposed to be helping us put these Christmas decorations up?"

"He was, yeah, but he said he had to go to a doctor's appointment."

"What for?"

"Something about his eyelids. Said he had to get them checked."

His companion gave him an incredulous look. "You do realize that means he's off somewhere snoring, right?"

His classmate stopped rummaging through the box of decorations and looked up with dismay on his face. "Goddammit."

And if you're still not convinced, here's Shikamaru just yesterday.

"Isn't Shikamaru-sensei supposed to be training with us today? Where the hell is he?" Kianae, Kurenai's daughter, asked.

"Language, Kianae-chan," Kurenai scolded. The kid had been spending too much time around Naruto lately.

"But we've been waiting for three hours already!" she whined. "I thought only Kakashi-san could be this cruel."

Kurenai smiled fondly at her daughter, who had the (dubious) honor of being the renowned strategist and tactician's first, and probably only, student.

"He probably just got held up by something. Let's wait thirty more minutes."


One hour later

Mother and daughter finally had an unspoken agreement to go over to Shikamaru's house to see why he forgot to show up for training, again. Kurenai had an inkling on what he was currently doing, but she hoped to God it wasn't true, because there was only so many times Kianae could be stood up for training practice without going on a rampage on her poor sensei.

"He could just be doing stuck doing some paperwork or something…" Kurenai tried to tell herself. Unfortunately, no such luck. When they leapt up together to his sensei's bedroom window, they found him there on his bed, dead to the world, one arm folded up behind his head while his mouth was open, issuing soft snores.

"Shikamaru!" "Shikamaru-sensei!" Kurenai and Kianae simultaneously yelled, more than a little peeved at the lazy-ass jounin.

"Ha—what?" Shikamaru sat up with a start, his head turning to the waves of evil intent directed at him from the window. "Oh, training practice," he said guiltily with a small smile. He had honestly only wanted to lie down for a little while before he went to the training grounds, but his bed was so soft, and he was so sleepy. He tried to make them understand his side of the story, but he only got a double bonk in the head for his efforts.

Ring! Ring! Ring!

Shikamaru's hand reached out to turn off his alarm clock, peering blearily at its display: 5:30am September 23. As the soft light of dawn was just beginning to color the horizon a light gold, he slowly sat up and yawned, stretching both his arms. He would never think to willingly wake up at this ungodly hour on ordinary days, but today was the exception.

Today was certainly no ordinary day, as he was apt to remind himself in the days leading up beforehand. For today was a certain blonde team mate's eighteenth birthday, and Shikamaru was determined to make it the best damn birthday she ever had, because in his opinion, she deserved no less.

Shikamaru could not honestly say when he started to fall for Ino. His feelings started to change from brotherly to something a little deeper when Asuma died. All three of them supported each other during that time, but it was Ino who eventually showed him that life could still be beautiful after such a tragic loss. He suspected that it was the kind of love that crept up on people, whether wanted or not. He only knew that he didn't have a choice in the matter, because if anything, he came to realize that love rarely gave people a choice.

Shikamaru was truly not the type to notice people based on their appearance rather than their substance, and Ino was no exception. However, when she started training under Sakura and at times, the Hokage, Shikamaru saw a change in her that made him look at her in a different light. She was stronger, more confident and cared more about the people around her. It was that self-realization that had drawn him to her, before he'd even realized it.

A small, weary smile crept up on him when he thought of all the times their mothers had teased them about getting together. Ino was much like Yoshino, and of course Shikamaru had to be married to a drill sergeant or how else was he ever going to get anything done in life? Fate does have a sense of humor sometimes. He and Ino had taken one look at each other at that time and had burst into laughter. They thought there would be no way they were ever going to fall for each other. The very idea was preposterous. Though, it seems like the universe had the last laugh. It was all so very ironic.

Shikamaru ceased his musings and proceeded to get ready. He had a big day ahead of him, after all.

Yokoi, one of Konoha's many meat vendors, tried to muffle a huge yawn as she made her way over to her humble store. Just as she was fumbling for the store's key in her pocket, she caught sight of a shadow at the corner of her eye. She spun quickly around, frantically repeating to herself, "Please don't be a mugger, please don't be a mugger, please don't be-"

The fish vendor did a quick double take. "Shikamaru? Is that you?"

Shikamaru emerged from the shadow of the alleyway, decidedly making himself look less nefarious.

Giving her a small smile, Shikamaru said, "The one and only, Yokoi-san."

"If I didn't have my two eyes, I wouldn't have believed it," she teased, as she tried to discreetly calm her pounding heart. "This is probably the first time I've seen you up this early. What's the occasion?"

"Oh, you know, this and that. For a friend's party, actually," he amended, seeing her still staring at him expectantly.

"How sweet and thoughtful of you," she said, while Shikamaru gave an embarrassed laugh.

"Is the fresh delivery of the rainbow trout and veal already here?" he asked.

She opened the door to let them both in. "As a matter of fact, it is."

As she began gathering and weighing the items, she speculated with a nonchalant air, "She must be an awfully pretty friend to motivate you to get up at this unholy hour."

Shikamaru sighed. "Am I that obvious?"

"A little bit."

"Great," he said morosely, thinking that perhaps all his efforts to appear cool for all intents and purposes were a lost cause from the start.

She laughed. "Don't be so glum. Girls like to know they hold a boy's heart in their hands."

"I'd rather keep mine secure behind a wall of feigned indifference. Less messy that way."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just a piece of advice from a girl who's been there." She proceeded to hand Shikamaru his purchases, continuing, "But seriously, Shikamaru, let loose once in a while. Shout your feelings from a rooftop. Anything."

He snorted. "I'll keep that in mind." He gave her a parting wave, saying, "Bye, Yokoi-san. And thanks."

"Bye, Shikamaru," she replied, thinking just how lucky was the girl to have caught his eye and heart.

The bell above the door of the bakery jingled merrily when Shikamaru stepped through. An old man looked up from his vigorous mopping of the floor, exclaiming, "Ah, Nara-san, you're certainly early today!"

Shikamaru chuckled. "Yeah, I've been told. Is the cake ready?"

"Yes, yes, all designed to your specifications. Vanilla angel cake with blueberry and lavender cream, topped with iced honey drops and sprigs of candied lilac."

Shikamaru looked appreciatively at this masterpiece of a cake. "Yum. You did a great job."

The baker beamed. "Thank you. It was an ambitious venture, but the end result was well worth it."

As he bustled to the counter to begin packaging the cake, he asked, "Will you be paying in cash now?"

"Yes. How much will it be again?"

Knowing the meager salary of a ninja these days, he gave a little cough and replied, "600 yen, sir." He was all ready to begin bargaining with what he was sure would be a series of "Oh my gods" and "Are you shitting me's" when Shikamaru just pushed his hand across the counter to hand him a wad of bills, saying, "Here you go."

He tentatively picked it up and leafed through it, seeing that it was the exact amount. "Ah, thank you very much, Nara-san."

Shikamaru nodded and began to make his way out with the cake, when he was stopped by a quiet voice behind him. "She's must be a lucky girl, whoever she is."

Shikamaru looked back to see the baker giving him a knowing smile.

He smiled back in return. "She is."

Shikamaru took a deep breath to steel himself before going into his last stop of the day: the Yamanaka Flower Shop. He knew for a fact that Ino wouldn't be inside since today was essentially her day off, but this still didn't mean he wasn't terrified of what awaited him inside: Her parents. They would no doubt be suspicious on why he would be buying flowers today of all days, though he guessed he could tell them it was entirely coincidental that he was buying Ino's favorite flowers on the day of her birth, and in fact this was for another girl entirely- another beautiful, opinionated, gorgeous blonde (as if such a thing were possible!)- Shikamaru took another deep breath. Focus.

Make no mistake, Shikamaru liked Ino's parents just fine, but he had this nagging suspicion for some time that Ino's mom knew, on account of all the covert glances she's been throwing his way for the better part of the year, all because of an embarrassing incident where she'd caught him discreetly ogling Ino's rear during their customary weekly dinners with the Ino-Shika-Chou clan. He'd been prepared to receive the scolding of a lifetime, but to his relief and confusion, she didn't do anything but go back to her meal with a knowing smirk on her face. And as to what Inoichi would do to him if he found out Shikamaru had been eyeing up his daughter, he shuddered to think.

As he entered the shop, Ino's parents were talking, but both whipped their heads around to stare at him like a couple of lions sensing prey. All in all, it wasn't a bad comparison, because Shikamaru was feeling distinctly prey-like as they sized him up. Finally, Ino's mom broke out into a sweet smile and asked, "What can we do for you, Shikamaru-kun?"

He struggled not to stammer. "I just wanted to buy some purple daises. And some periwinkles," he added as an afterthought, thinking of just how similar they were to Ino's own sky blue eyes.

Inoichi apparently thought the same thing, as his own eyes narrowed. "This wouldn't by any chance be for Ino, now would it, Shikamaru?"

"Oh, hush," Ino's mom chastised. "Don't embarrass the poor boy, Inoichi."

"Wouldn't have dreamed of it," he replied.

Shikamaru wiped a hand across his forehead, which came away sweaty. Also, was the world starting to wobble a little, or was that just him? He tried to cover up his nervousness with a laugh. "Uh, of course not, Inoichi-san. I've just… taken a liking to daises and periwinkles as of late," he finished lamely.

Inoichi snorted. "You're as bad a liar as Shikaku, Shikamaru."

Shikamaru smiled weakly and thanked Ino's mother when he got his flowers and change, before positively fleeing out of the shop.

She shook her head. "Unless I'm mistaken, I think that boy's in love with our daughter, Inoichi."

Inoichi stared at Shikamaru's fast retreating back with a half-amused, half-threatening expression on his face. "I think you're quite right, dear." He went back to their storage room at the back of the store and rummaged around for a little bit.

"What are you looking for?"

"Ah, here we are." Inoichi came back holding a large shovel, tossing it to and fro between his hands. "I'll just go have a little chat with Shikamaru-kun, be right back."

"Oh no, you don't!" She hissed, catching him by the back of his shirt.

Inoichi pouted. "Why not?"

"Don't you remember when you were the one in love with me?"

"Of course I do, darling. But I was just going to remind him not to fool around with our daughter's heart and-"

"We've known Shikamaru since he was a baby, Inoichi. For God's sake, he's your best friend's son!"

"I know, I know, but Ino's our only daughter! You know there's only one thing boys think of at this age…"

At this he gave the shovel another glance filled with longing.

"I'm pretty sure I still have a good idea," she said dryly. "It seems like it was only yesterday you were the one cajoling me to spend the night because it was 'cold outside'." She snorted. "That was an unbelievably lame pick-up line, by the way."

Inoichi grinned. "Yes, but you fell for it."

"Urgh, don't remind me. It was because of you we had Ino that night."

"Exactly! It's my fatherly duty to make sure Ino doesn't get up to the same kind of mischief."

She gave him a pointed look. "I'm sure Shikamaru is whole lot more responsible than you give him credit for, Inoichi; which is a lot more than I can say for you at that age."

"Anyway," she continued, while Inoichi sputtered, "I think he really does love her."

"How do you know?" he asked with a palpable amount of confusion.

"Women's intuition, Inoichi," she said with a smile, tapping her temple. "Women's intuition."

As Ino walked up to the steps of her apartment, she thought of what a crappy day it had been so far. It was a pity, since today was her eighteenth birthday, and wasn't it an unwritten rule that eighteenth birthdays were supposed to be one of the highlights of one's life? She could beg to differ. All Ino had wanted to do was to just go shopping and relax in a spa- two of her most favorite things.

As luck would have had it, when she showed up for her appointment five minutes late, it had already been given to someone else. After giving the receptionist a piece of her mind, she turned to shopping, which turned out to be a dud, since her credit card got rejected just after she'd spent hours browsing through the stalls to find the perfect pair of shoes to go along with the perfect dress she'd found. She'd given up after that point, and decided to just go to the various haunts she and her friends frequented to, in hopes that she might spot Sakura or even Chouji, just so she'd have someone to commiserate with on her crap-tastic day, preferably over margaritas. And speaking of her friends… she fought to fight down a twinge of disappointment that none of them had even wished her a happy birthday today. Granted, she knew they were probably all busy, seeing the current influx of border skirmishes between the land of fire and water in recent years, but still.

She'd been especially disappointed that she hadn't seen Shikamaru all day. "Ah, Shikamaru," she thought, with a hint of fondness and exasperation. Why was it that she kept falling in love with boys who had absolutely no interest in her? There was only so many times a heart could be disappointed before it eventually gave up.

She couldn't honestly say when she had started to fall for him. It had started out slowly, most likely after Asuma passed away. She had looked at him, him with his quiet strength and fierce determination, and she remembered experiencing this profound epiphany that she had been loving him for longer than even she had known.

"At least the day hadn't started out horribly", Ino thought. She'd been exceptionally happy to see a vase of her favorite flowers along with a birthday card from her parents when she woke up that morning, but that was about it. She sighed. At least nothing would stand in the way of her plans for the evening, which was to eat her way to the bottom of a carton of chocolate ice cream, soak in her tub with her favorite lavender bubble bath and listen to some relaxing music, preferably all at the same time. Maybe the day won't been a total loss after all.

Just as she was turning her key and pushing open the door, she found that something wasn't quite right. It was far too silent, with a thrum of electricity in the air, almost as if- "SURPRISE!" Ino jumped a foot in the air and almost went careening down the steps, but someone caught her arms and hauled her back inside. She could only stare in dumb wonder at her fabulously decorated apartment filled with grinning people as various shouts of "Happy birthday!" and "Got you good, didn't we?" were tossed around by all her friends and family.

"Happy eighteenth birthday, Pig!" Sakura grinned, draping an arm across her shoulders.

"Oh my god, Forehead, did you set all this up for me?"

"Nope, I just got a message to help throw this party for you. I've got no idea on who sent it. But how could I say no?" she winked, pressing a gift to Ino's hands.

"Hey… thanks," Ino said, trying not to choke up at the sight of so much people who'd spent this much effort on her. "Thanks so much."

Her parents came to her side and beamed at her, ecstatic at her obvious approval. Inoichi slung an arm around her shoulders and proclaimed, "Well, what are we all waiting for? Let the birthday girl here blow out her cake and then let's all eat!"

This was met with a roar of support, and they all gathered around the magnificent cream and violet cake situated at the center of the table, amidst all sorts of mouthwatering dishes. Ino was startled to see that it was all her favorites, including the grilled rainbow trout and barbequed veal. "Now who could have…?" she thought dazedly.

As she was bending towards the gorgeous cake (done in her two most favorite colors), she looked around the smiling room and locked gazes with a particular someone standing at the very back of the room, a tall, pineapple-haired someone. Shikamaru. Ino took a quick intake of breath and sternly told herself to stay cool. She grinned at him, wiggling her eyebrows. He returned her grin with a twinkle in his eyes, and made a little shooing motion with his hands, telling her to get a move on and make a wish already. She shut her eyes and did just that.

As she finished, the room interrupted in cheers, and everyone started serving themselves, with Naruto and Kiba at the front of the line. Ino shook her head with an amused smile on her face, and began to play the part of the perfect hostess, graciously accepting their greetings and gifts and thanking everyone for coming.

The party went on for quite a while, and Ino felt full to bursting with all the delicious food she'd been shoveling into her mouth with wild abandon. Especially her birthday cake, which had been absolutely to die for. As she went around talking with everyone around the room, she caught sight of Chouji and raced over to his side, certain he had been the one to throw this bash.

"Chouji!" she gushed, giving him a huge hug.

"Oof," he laughed, massaging his ribs. "Easy there, birthday girl, I've still got three more plates to go through."

"Well, you deserve it, after all your hard work," she teased.

Chouji blinked. "Uh, hard work?"

"For throwing me this party, what else?"

"I didn't even know today was your birthday," he grinned sheepishly. "You know I'm terrible at remembering dates." He leaned in to whisper in her ear, "But Shikamaru seems pretty incriminating. You should ask him."

Now it was Ino's turn to blink. "Shikamaru? There's no way!"

Chouji raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

"Well, for one thing, he's too much of a lazy ass to throw something like this together."

"You'd be surprised. This," he waved a hand at the room, "was all Shikamaru's doing. After he bought the food, cake and flowers, he gathered all of us up to throw you this little shindig."

Ino still couldn't fully wrap her head around it. Shikamaru, her Shikamaru? Making the initiative to remember her birthday and even throwing her a party?

Chouji smiled kindly at her. "Go on, find him, and ask him why."

She was about to do just that, when Sakura grabbed her arm to coax her into dancing with all the others in the center of the room. She gave Chouji a helpless smile in return before joining Sakura, thinking she'd just ask Shikamaru when this was all over.

Chouji wandered away to go to the veranda, where he could see Shikamaru standing alone.

"What were you two talking about?" he asked, leaning both of his arms against the railing.

Chouji shrugged. "She thought I was the one who threw her this party."

Shikamaru shot upright. "You told her yes, right?"


Shikamaru almost fainted. "W-what do you mean, nope?"

"Exactly as I mean it. C'mon, Shikamaru. You've been hung up on Ino for nearly two years now. It's about time you told her how you feel."

"It's a moot point. I'm not the type of guy she goes for," he said, running a frustrated hand through his hair.

Chouji sighed. "Are you seriously fishing for compliments? Fine, I'll bite. How about the fact that you're the smartest guy in Konoha, and possibly even in the whole of the fire country?"


"Don't interrupt. As I was saying, you're the smartest guy I know, Shikamaru, but you're awfully stupid sometimes."

Shikamaru stayed silent.

"I've seen her staring at you when you don't notice, you know. She gets this wistful little smile on her face—"

"She's probably thinking of the many ways to kill me whenever I'm late for practice—"

"Not to mention the fact that you were the one who came up with that plan to avenge sensei from those Akatsuki bastards. Everyone didn't know what to do after he died, but you did." Here Chouji stared hard at Shikamaru. "You're kind, loyal and you obviously love her, so why on earth wouldn't she love you back? Trust me, when it comes to love, Ino's a hell of a lot smarter than you."

The truth of Chouji's words and the utter conviction in which he said them made Shikamaru pause and let his mind wander to that fragile hope he'd been harboring deep in his heart, ever since he knew he loved Ino. He always thought he'd never have a chance with her, though sometimes their little interactions had him thinking otherwise. The way her hand sometimes lingered a little too long around his when he tried to hand her a kunai during training and the way she gazed at him a little longer than necessary during their many team dinners. But Shikamaru always thought he was only deluding himself, seeing the things his mind and heart wanted him to see. But could it really be possible?

"It's never going to work, Chouji," Shikamaru argued, trying to avoid his friend's stare. "What if I ask her out, and if by some miracle she agrees, but it doesn't work out in the end? I'd rather keep being her as a friend than risk losing her friendship. What if I hurt her? I'd never forgive myself."

"Life's gonna pass you by if you keep giving these 'what-ifs', Shikamaru. Wouldn't you rather see where it could possibly go instead of wondering forever? I bet it's what Asuma-sensei would want."

"How could you possibly know what he'd want?"

"I know because he wants all three of us to be happy. You're making yourself unhappy if you keep convincing yourself that being her friend is enough, it makes me unhappy to see you like this, and I can see that you're making Ino unhappy by not at least giving you and her a chance."

Shikamaru was about to answer back, when suddenly, footsteps could be heard rapidly approaching, and the girl in question poked her head through the gap in the glass sliding doors. "There you guys are! I've been looking everywhere for you two."

"Hey, Ino," Chouji said with ease, as if he and Shikamaru hadn't spent the last twenty minutes talking about her. Suddenly, Shikamaru felt a little dizzy with the realization that only a few steps separated him from the girl he's been in love with for the past two years.

"Oh, hey, is there any cake left? I still haven't tried some."

"Help yourself," Ino said, moving sideways to let him pass through. As he did, Chouji discreetly turned to mouth to Shikamaru, "Screw this up, and your ass is mine." Then he winked before going out the door.

Shikamaru restrained himself from rolling his eyes.

"Hey, you," Ino smiled, coming nearer.

Shikamaru felt a hot flush creeping up on the back of his neck.

"You weren't planning on leaving without wishing me a happy birthday, were you?"

He succeeded in returning her smile. "Wouldn't have dreamed of it."

Ino went to stand by him, and he couldn't help but notice that she looked exceptionally beautiful tonight. Her cheeks were flushed a light pink, and there was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes that reminded him of the stars shining above, though in his humble opinion, they didn't hold a candle to the sheer beauty of the girl right in front of him.

He smiled at her again, and hoped she couldn't hear how loudly his heart was pounding in his chest.

"You know," she began, "Chouji told me this funny thing."

"What did he tell you?" he asked, though he already had a clue on what it was.

She bit her lip, and met his eyes. "He said you were the one who organized this party. That you picked up the food, my cake and those lovely flowers."

It was probably pointless to deny it, so he held up his hands. "Guilty as charged."

She took a deep breath, and tried to adopt a casual tone. "Can you tell me why?"

Shikamaru tried to avoid her gaze, with not much luck. "Well… why not?"

"It's just that I could have expected his from Sakura or Chouji, but definitely not from you." She gave a soft laugh. "Don't tell me you've forgotten all the times we had to drag you from bed when we were younger, just so you'd show up for practice? No offense, because you're great, Shikamaru, it's just that you're quite possibly the laziest person I know, so for you to do something like this for me… well, it's got to mean something, right?"

Ino couldn't bear to think on how she'd live it down if Shikamaru told her that it didn't mean anything. That he was doing it for her as a friend and nothing more.

Shikamaru stared at her. Stared at her for so long, that Ino began to fidget, looking away in utter mortification. "I-I mean, I know it means anything- I mean, nothing- I mean-"

"You're right."


"You're right," he repeated. "It does mean something."

He had a funny look on his face, as if he was on the cusp of some life changing moment. Ino held her breath, confused, then began edging a little closer to him to decipher just what that expression meant. His eyes met hers, and she gasped, stunned. "He had been hiding it the whole time," Ino thought breathlessly, "the same as me." The love she saw there, the adoration, and the longing, it literally took her breath away. She suddenly felt unsteady on her feet, as if she was drunk, or finding out the boy she loved, loved her in return. She grasped the railing, or tried to, except Shikamaru took a hold of her hands and drew her closer to him.

She looked up at him. "How long?"

He stared back and said, "More than two years now. Ever since Asuma died…" he trailed off, but it was more than enough, because it was exactly how she'd come to love him too.

"Do…" he began hesitantly. "Do you feel the same?"

Ino broke out into a smile so beautiful, he thought he could die.

"Of course I do, you lazy ass," she affectionately whispered in his ear.

Shikamaru exhaled, feeling as if a great weight he didn't even know was there had been lifted from his shoulders.

"Good," he said. "Then there's no stopping me from doing this." And with that, he wrapped his arms around her waist, held her even closer against him, and kissed her, the force of it slightly bending her backwards, though Ino was not to be outdone. She grasped his hair and ran her fingers through it, pleasantly surprised in a dazed sort of way on how soft it was. After a few seconds, or minutes, or quite possibly a few hours, Shikamaru broke their kiss to press gentle ones on her cheeks, her forehead, her nose. He nuzzled her ear, murmuring, "You can't imagine how long I've wanted to do that."

"I believe you," she said with a small, contented smile, breathing in the unique scent of him that was a combination of soap and pineapples. Was it possible to feel so much love for a single person, it felt like you could burst at any moment if you weren't careful?

"Can I ask you something?"


"What did you wish for, anyway? For your birthday, I mean."

"You," she whispered. "And it came true."

He gave her one of his rare smiles, the ones that made her feel like butterflies were having a party in her stomach, and it was heartbreaking in such a sweet, sweet way that Ino found she wanted to make him smile like that more often.

They kissed again, longer and sweeter, until it felt like they were one person instead of two. They were so preoccupied with each other; they didn't notice that everyone who had been crowding around to peer through the little gap in the curtain of the veranda all heaved huge, relieved sighs, with Chouji's grin proving to be the biggest.

"Never thought I'd see the day," Sakura muttered.

Kiba and Naruto screwed up their faces. "Makes you wanna puke, doesn't it?"

"Oh, be quiet," she admonished. "It's sweet, actually. Hey, Chouji, didn't you say Shikamaru was the one who threw this party?"

"He sure did," Chouji replied proudly.

"Is that tongue I see?" asked Kakashi.

"Awww…" sighed the majority of girls present.

"Ewww…" the majority of boys countered.

As a raging Inoichi was being calmed down by his wife, Ino and Shikamaru smiled at each other and linked hands to jump out into the street below, so they could both go somewhere a little more private.

A/N: This one's for Shikamaru and Ino, because they need more love. I'd really appreciate a review! :)