Mind Over Matter

by Juturne

Ino looked up from her reading as the tiny bell rang above the door to alert her that a new customer had arrived.

“Hey Shikamaru!” she shouted, running around the corner of the counter to give him a huge Ino-style hug.

“Yeah, hey there,” he replied trying to remove his neck from the vice grip of her arms, not that he didn’t appreciate the warm welcome but, well, someone might see them locked together and that would just become a whole other problem.

“I’m surprised to see you here. Oh wait,” she remembered, spotting the calendar posted behind the cash register, “it’s the 24th, your mom’s birthday. I guess your dad’s still too lazy to come and buy his own flowers,” she teased, having hit the nail on the head.

Every year Shikamaru was given the errand of purchasing his mother’s birthday gift. It had always been a real pain until he discovered that Ino worked in a flower shop. He figured that flowers were thoughtful enough. At least his mom might actually think that it was his dad’s doing although he figured she was probably a bit tired of always receiving the same gift. Fortunately, Ino always knew how to find a different bouquet with special meaning, somehow shaking it up so that his mother seemed even more pleased with each passing year. More importantly, however, he knew that coming back here time after time was as good an excuse as any to find Ino no matter how badly he tried to convince himself otherwise.

“Well lucky for you, I have just the perfect idea for a bouquet in mind,” and she went to work collecting various blooms from around the shop.

While she set about her task, Shikamaru glanced down at the book lying on the counter. Curious, he picked it up. (‘Shit,’ he’d lost her place.) He read the title, An Anthology of 18th Century British Poetry. How appropriate for Ino. It was probably filled with poems of love and woe, the kind of annoying things he figured girls must appreciate. Still he flipped through the pages, wondering what she might be reading in her spare time.

“Find something interesting?” Ino questioned.

A startled Shikamaru snapped back to reality and realized that he was deep into a poem.

“You can borrow that if you like.” She motioned with her head to the book.

“Uh, well…” he hesitated.

“Oh go on. It won’t kill you,” she joked.

“Hey, how much do I owe you?” he asked to quickly change the conversation.

“Seeing as it’s for your mom and since you’re such a faithful client every February 24th, it’s on the house,” she handed him the freshly wrapped bouquet. “But only if you promise to pay for my part of barbeque the next time we get together with Chouji. You can give me the book back then,” she added, handing him the tome.

How did she do that? He hadn’t even had the chance to get a word in edgewise and now he was going to be leaving with not just a huge bouquet, but a heavy ass book and the promise to pay for her next meal like it was a date or something.

“Ok, thanks,” was all he could respond, gathering the flowers and the thick anthology in his arms as best he could. Fortunately a new customer was entering as he made his way out of the door. He wouldn’t have to lose time fumbling with the doorknob, a fact made all the better as he was being sent off with a frantic wave ‘good-bye’ and an embarrassingly loud “See you next Friday, Shika-kun!”

Where did she find all of that bubbly energy?

That evening in bed, Shikamaru was surprised to find himself returning to the book where a certain passage had caught his attention in the shop. He quickly located it again:

In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself abus'd or disabus'd;

The words had been written by a certain Alexander Pope, not that the name meant anything to Shikamaru, but those lines somehow curiously hit home for the young genius, locked in his infinite wisdom, yet slowly losing control to emotion.

XXXXX

It was Friday night and Shikamaru, Ino and Chouji had gathered together at the Akamichi’s favorite barbeque restaurant.

They were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company when the conversation inevitably turned to Asuma’s death. The mood took on a somber note.

For the first time Shikamaru felt like sharing with his teammates the events that had led to Hidan’s death. Perhaps it was something sparked by the poem or maybe he was just feeling unusually talkative but he just needed to finally open up some- to explain how he had played god, taken his first life as a chuunin, but felt none the better for it in the end. His mind had tried to reason that what he had done was right, how this was what was to be expected of a shinobi- yet still not finding the proper words to express his feelings to his friends, he knew that his logic was conflicting with thoughts and emotions which up until present he had been able to keep at bay.

Finally after ending a strange, highly uncharacteristic litany which had probably meant something only to him, Ino spoke up: “Shikamaru, can I ask you something? And I want a serious answer.”

He didn’t like being put on the spot but Chouji looked quizzical as well, having picked up on his friend’s strange mood that evening.

“Yeah, sure. What do you want to know?”

Ino got straight to the point: “Why did you sideline me and Chouji during the fight against Hidan and Kakuzu? Initially Kakashi wasn’t even supposed to be there but you and he handled everything. You barely even let us help.”

Shikamaru looked over at Chouji who nodded to acquiesce.

The shadow ninja squirmed in his seat. “Look, I didn’t even know what Kakuzu’s abilities were so I couldn’t calculate them in and it turned out that he was nearly invincible. There was no way I could let you guys go up against a madman like that. Kakashi was much better placed as an opponent and even he couldn’t finish him off alone.”

“But what Ino says is right. You never really calculated us in. You set up all those traps for Hidan in your family’s forest. Neither of us could have led him in there. You knew you were going to take him head-on the whole time.”

Shikamaru was losing his cool. “Look if it had really been up to me you two wouldn’t have even come along but I knew you’d want to avenge Asuma just as much as I did so I couldn’t fully exclude you.”

Ino and Chouji glared in shock. He hadn’t even wanted them there?

“Don’t look at me like that!” Shikamaru raised his voice. “If anything ever happened to one of you guys…well…well, that’s the thanks I get for fucking caring!” and he rose to his feet to exit the restaurant but not before tossing the anthology and a wad of cash from his pocket on the table in front of Ino.

Ino was about to get up to follow after him, never expecting the question to get him so worked up. She had never seen him this angry before, but Chouji insisted that Shikamaru would best be left to his own thoughts.

“I never thought Shikamaru cared so much about our safety. It’s not like him to calculate emotion into his tactics,” Ino said.

“No, it’s not like him and it did almost get the two of us killed and I think he realizes that. He might have destroyed Hidan but he’s lying about the mission being a success, for him at least.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know as well as I do that he hasn’t been the same since Asuma’s death. I overheard his dad telling mine that that was the first time he’s ever seen Shikamaru break down and cry and he had to push him to react. Shika’s not a guy who shows his emotions. He’s always figured that everything can be decided on through sheer logic and reasoning alone. He’s good with his mind, not his heart but it doesn’t mean that it’s not in the right place.” He reassured Ino. “After what he just said, it’s obvious that he never equated us into his revenge project. I think he feels he’s turning soft.”

“You really are a good friend to be able to read all that in him. With me he just always shuts up like this book,” she said tapping the anthology with a finger.

“Probably because you’re the biggest test on his brain. You’re pretty hard to read yourself. Even I can’t do it.” Chouji teased. “You’re spontaneous and you wear your emotions on your sleeve. You defy Shikamaru’s logic and that kinda scares him.”

“Damn,Chouji, you talk like you two have this discussion every day. Where was I?”

“Well actually we do talk about you a lot but I don’t think Shikamaru would like to let on just how much. I think you’d be surprised by how much he really does care and it doesn’t stop with the Hidan/Kakuzu fight. Did you know that he turned down a post as one of the Fire Lord’s guards? He finally mentioned it to me the other day. I couldn’t believe it though. That has to be a pretty easy job compared to the missions he’s getting now but he seemed to really want to stay in the village to make sure nothing happens to us, especially to you.” Chouji insisted.

Ino looked up, startled. She knew she was blushing and quickly diverted her eyes from the friend sitting before her. Just what was Chouji trying to get at? He obviously knew a good deal about what Shikamaru thought and felt but never expressed. The strange smirk on his face had only implied it all the more but still she found it hard to believe what he was cautiously suggesting.

“I don’t know Chouji. I mean, I can understand that he’s concerned with our well-being and I can forgive him for sidelining us because of it, if that’s the reason why, but I think it stops there for him,” she explained.

“That’s where you’re wrong. I was curious to hear his answer to your question too but did you see how much of a nerve you hit? I think his smarts are beginning to wear thin. His emotions are starting to show.”

“Well I’ll believe that the day I see our emotionally-challenged shadow ninja make his first spontaneous, uncalculated move,” she replied and signaled for the bill.

XXXXX

Now following a briefing of the situation, Shikaku has left with Inoichi to search for Nagato at the highest point nearest to the village.

Ino makes the motion to stand to leave when Shikamaru speaks: “Ino, you know I can’t move to help but I don’t know how you’re going to use your technique without me. Once you’ve located a tracker I think it would be best that you come back and stay here with me and Shiho to watch over Shizune’s body.”

Ino sighs… “Shikamaru, you can’t sideline me forever. I’m a kunoichi and as your teammate and friend you just have to trust that I can take care of myself sometimes.”

Shikamaru hesitates. All of his reason dictates that he shouldn’t let her go. He knows little about Nagato and even he is frightened as he looks over the wasteland that was the Village Hidden in the Leaves. He wants to comprehend, to predict, to plan but somehow understands that given the innumerable lives already lost that he is ‘lucky’ to have Ino sitting before him now and that luck has no place in reason or logic. Unfortunately, he knows what he must allow her to do, but not before newfound emotions influence him make a bold and uncalculated move.

He leans into Ino, ignoring the pain in his leg, and with all of his force locks her in his arms. If he could he would never let her go but the time has come and man cannot fight time.

He only releases the embrace to cup her face in his hands. He needs for her to look him in the eye as he speaks: “Ino, I won’t hold you back any longer, but you had better…better…watch your ass out there.”


Shikamaru and Ino are copyright to Kishimoto Masashi. This is simply a fanlisting/fansite.