Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto

A Very Important Date

by Dustbunny3 1 Reviews

[Oneshot][Choujino] Ino's never worried about Chouji cheating on her before

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance - Characters: Chouji, Ino, Sakura, Shikamaru, Temari - Published: 2006/12/10 - Updated: 2006/12/10 - 7103 words - Complete

Disclaimer: I just checked, and Dustbunny definitely doesn't own /Naruto/. I have it on good authority that she doesn't even have permission to be playing with the characters like this

A/N: It occurred to me lately just how underappreciated the Choujino pairing is. Sad, really, considering how fandom loves to pair off teammates. Oh, but then I'm forgetting that Chouji isn't ZOMG UBER BISHIE WAI WAI!!!1! How silly of me. Honestly, Chouji is one of three characters that I'd consider dating if reality allowed for it. Choujino is also the only team couple I really support (not counting my on-again-off-again interest in pairing Neji or Tenten with Lee).

Anyway, randomly got this idea as I was pondering another fic I'm working on that has a Choujino subplot that deals with Chouji "cheating on" an unofficial relationship Ino. It occurred to me as I was working it out that Chouij was someone you wouldn't have to worry about cheating for one reason or another, and thus the plot bunny was born biting. Please excuse the above fanranting and enjoy

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Although the sun shone brightly in the clear, blue sky, the air was rough and chilly. Trees and rooftops were dusted with light patches of snow that had collected in the night and stubbornly refused to melt over the course of the morning. A few birds chirped and flitted about, and squirrels scampered around, lured out of their burrows by the relative warmth. Fresh patches of grass and wildflowers gave note that Konoha's short winter was coming to an early end.

Shikamaru and Shikaku, though they would usually be playing up the cold for all the hot cocoa and naps that it was worth, sat bundled in light coats on their front lawn, a Go board between them on a stump. To the side, wearing considerably heavier clothing, Temari observed their game, a smirk on her face in spite of her notable shivers. Shikamaru was doing an admirable job of ignoring her, but Shikaku, not as accustomed to Temari's presence, kept sending her uncertain sidelong glances.

Ino, wearing deep purple pants and a matching form-fitting sweatshirt, snickered as she approached the scene. It would appear that her sources had been correct; the Nara men were in the proverbial doghouse. Taking a quick glance around the yard, Ino spotted a makeshift tent, a ratty blanket tossed over a low tree branch. Inside, she could see a pile of cloth that she could only guess at being what they were using as blankets.

"Ino-san," greeted Temari, the first to notice, or perhaps just the first to acknowledge, the intrusion. "Come to rub salt in the wounds?"

"What kind of a person would I be if I weren't?" Ino replied with a smirk. "So, what's the full story here?"

"Go bug your gossip circle about it," Shikamaru cut in before Temari could answer.

"Oh, but I want an accurate account," Ino pouted as she settled herself on the grass with the other three. "What better way to ensure that than going right to the source?"

"Then go bug my mother about it," Shikamaru said without looking up from the board.

"She scares me," admitted Ino with a nonchalant shrug.

"They forgot that the lady of the house had a birthday yesterday," Temari finally explained with a roll of her eyes.

"That's it?" Ino frowned. "That seems sort of extreme, even for Yoshino-san."

"Oh, that wasn't all," Temari said, eyes glittering and smirk stretching wider as she turned to regard Shikaku, "was it, Shikaku-san?"

Shikaku, for his part, shifted uncomfortably and said nothing. Even Shikamaru had thrown him a slight scowl over the comment. Ino looked at him curiously, then to Temari, to Shikamaru, and back again. Quickly growing annoyed when no more was said, Ino sighed in exasperation.

"Well, what happened? Did you miss an anniversary or something too?"

"Worse," Temari said.

"Worse?" Ino gasped.

"Shikamaru didn't have to agree with me," Shikaku muttered then, earning a short but sure snicker from Temari.

"That's true," Temari admitted with a wide grin, turning her glittering gaze to the younger Nara man. "Shikamaru?"

"What was it?" Ino demanded, curiosity converting to irritation. When neither of the men spoke up, Temari deemed it her duty to answer for them.

"He called her old-looking," Temari said.

"You did /what/?" Ino all but shrieked, looking to Shikaku in utter disbelief. "Wasn't she upset enough already?"

"I didn't intend it as it sounded," Shikaku defended, barely audible, and squirmed under Ino's eyes. "I was trying to apologize."

"You apologize by saying she looks old?" Ino asked incredulously.

"No!" Shikaku finally looked up, irritation painted over his features. "I said that I'd mistaken that day's date. When she was still upset, I tried playing to her side, and said I should have realized because she..."

"Because she what?" Ino pressed.

"Because she /showed/," supplied Shikamaru with a scowl, placing a black stone on the board with just a little more force than necessary.

At this revelation, Ino made a noise that crossed between an indignant gasp and a highly amused snort. This kicked off a round of snickers from both herself and Temari. Shikaku blushed lightly at the reaction and tried to concentrate on taking his turn while Shikamaru simply scowled deeper, refusing to look at either of the apparently sadistic females.

"Don't you have a boyfriend to annoy?" Shikamaru finally asked Ino, looking at her from the corner of his eye.

Sobered somewhat by the comment, Ino answered, "Something came up and Chouji had to cancel our lunch date. We're going to meet for dinner instead."

"What could possibly have come up that he would turn down a lunch?" Temari asked, one eyebrow quirked.

"Lunch he'd be paying for," Shikamaru pointed out, speaking up just a little faster than he usually would have.

Just slightly annoyed that Shikamaru would feel the need to defend his best friend from her temper, Ino answered Temari, "He didn't say specifically, but I think it had something to do with work. He's had to cancel a few of our dates recently, actually."

"I didn't think he had anything important to do today," said Temari, glancing to Shikamaru for confirmation one way or the other.

"If he'd had anything to do today," said Shikamaru, tone and pace of speech back to normal, "they wouldn't have had a date. Ino just said that something came up."

"Well, excuse me," Temari snipped. Then, turning back to Ino, "Seriously, though, you aren't worried or nervous or anything?"

"Why should I be?" Ino asked.

"I'm just saying-"

"Don't," said Shikamaru firmly, sending Temari a Look.

"Just saying what?" Ino asked. Then she made the connection, and straightened up indignantly. "Are you trying to suggest that he's running around on me?"

"Oh, no," Temari held her hands akimbo. "It just struck me odd that you wouldn't be upset that he's been bailing out on you."

"Of course I'm upset," Ino glared, "but I have no reason to think he's cheating. I don't have to worry about Chouji."

"Why don't you?" Shikamaru looked up with a frown. "Are you saying he couldn't?"

"Whose side are you on?" Shikaku asked, looking up for the first time since the start of his prolonged turn.

"Just hurry up and make a move," Shikamaru said to his father.

"For your information," Ino said as she looked down her nose at Shikamaru, "I don't have to worry because I know Chouji wouldn't run around."

"Because he couldn't," Temari finished. When faced with glares from Ino and Shikamaru, she held up her hands again. "I'm just saying what you both know is true. You, Ino-san, wouldn't have given him a second glance yourself if you weren't on the same team."

Ino opened her mouth to retort, but closed it as she found herself at a loss. Choosing not to acknowledge Temari's triumphant grin, she looked down at the stalled game, pretending to study it. Shikamaru, similarly unable to think up a negation, followed suit. Shikaku kept to looking for a path to victory on the board. There was an uneasy silence that slowly wiped Temari's grin off her face and caused her to shift somewhat uncomfortably.

"Yoshino-san really shouldn't have been so hard on you for forgetting," Ino said breezily to break the silence.

"Oh?" Shikamaru asked without looking at her, knowing better than to expect a real compliment or assurance from Ino over such a matter.

"Well, yeah," Ino shrugged, "all things considered."

"All what considered?" Shikaku looked up with a frown.

"Take your turn," said Shikamaru flatly.

"You're both men," Ino ignored that Shikamaru had spoken and answered Shikaku's question.

"So?" Shikaku asked, glad to have an excuse to further stall his move.

"Everyone knows that men have problems with remembering important dates like anniversaries and birthdays," Ino shrugged, implying rather than concluding with "duh."

"Really," Shikamaru said, tone as dry as the desert, not even bother to use a questioning tone.

"Really," insisted Ino with a scowl. "Women have a clearer sense of their importance."

"That's true, actually," Temari said in support. "There have been studies."

"There have also been studies that say men are better navigators," Shikaku pointed out, knowing when to sacrifice ground to win it. "I don't know of any running gags about women refusing to stop and ask for directions."

"There are no running gags about women forgetting important dates either," Temari pointed out.

"And I don't see Yoshino-san living in a tent on her front lawn," Ino added.

"That's true," Shikaku admitted in defeat, finally turning back and making his futile move.

"Oh, for- that doesn't prove anything," Shikamaru scowled again at his father before looking at Ino in mild annoyance. "Even if there were anything for her to have forgotten, we wouldn't have kicked her out of the house. Us being out here says more about women than men. And I happen to know my mother's birthday by heart. I just had a lot of stuff to do this week and lost track of what day it was."

"Oh, really?" Temari asked. "That's odd. You seemed to know the exact schedule for my diplomatic visit. Shouldn't you have been keeping watch on the date?"

"Starting yesterday, you're just freeloading," Shikamaru grumbled as he captured a few of his father's stones. "We got everything finished ahead of schedule."

"Starting yesterday," Ino said somewhat whimsically as she put one finger to her pursed lips and looked up in thought. "Why that means you must have know the date of the day before that!"

"That it does," Temari played along. "Could our little genius have forgotten how to count?"

"If I have nothing to do, I don't care what day it is," Shikamaru said flatly. Glancing again at Ino, he said, "Can't you bother Sakura?"

"Sakura is busy, and you're not getting out of this that easily," Ino said immediately. "If you knew your mother's birthday was coming up, you should have been paying attention for it."

"Sakura-san is busy?" Shikaku looked up from his apparently hopeless situation with a slight frown. "I was under the impression that she had a day off today."

"This from the guy who forgot his own wife's birthday," responded Ino matter-of-factly, earning a cringe.

"And tried to apologize by calling her old," added Temari, getting a flinch out of Shikaku as he turned his attention back to the game. "Anyway, Ino-san is right. Sakura-san had to rain check lunch plans with me this afternoon because she was called up unexpectedly for something."

"Ah," Shikamaru dismissed, turning back to the game. "With all these unexpected shifts, Ino, are you sure you still have time off?"

"Yes, I do- hold it! I know what you're doing," Ino pointed an accusing finger at Shikamaru's nose. "Just admit that you forgot your mother's birthday because you're a man!"

"You may as well," Temari prompted. "I always remember my brothers' birthdays, Baki's too, but I have to drop hints at least a week in advance for mine."

"That's them," shrugged Shikamaru. Then something seemed to occur to him and he asked Ino casually, "Do you even know what today is?"

"No," Ino shook her head. "Why?"

"If you don't know the date," Shikaku spoke without looking up, "how can you be sure that you aren't missing anything important?"

"Because if anything important were coming up, I'd be tracking it," Ino responded without missing a beat.

"It's the day after my mother's birthday, which makes it the twenty-fifth," Shikamaru said. Allowing just the ghost of a smirk, he went on, "Or did you forget how to count?"

"So now I know," Ino said with a light frown. With a grin, she continued, "I also know that Sakura's birthday is in about a month and Chouji's is in just around two."

"Sounds like a checkmate to me," Temari smirked at Shikamaru, who sighed and gave a quick shake of his head before speaking.

"Really, you don't have work, Ino? Things to do? Other people to annoy?"

"I'm beginning to think my company isn't appreciated," Ino glared.

"What could possibly give you that idea," Shikamaru monotoned, eyes trained on the Go board. "Seriously, though, you can't be somewhere else?"

"As I'm obviously not wanted here," Ino sniffed as she got her feet, "I guess I'll just find somewhere else to be."

"Oh, no," said Shikamaru without feeling, eyes not leaving the board, "please stay."

"Maybe I /will/!" Ino growled. Realizing that it sounded like a threat, she muttered a profanity under her breath and turned on her heal to stomp away. If Shikamaru didn't want her company, she would just have to find some other way to spend the few hours before her dinner date. For a moment she considered inviting Temari shopping, but decided it would be awkward since they didn't know each other well. It wouldn't be as fun by herself, but Ino decided that shopping was the best way to go.

Hm... Maybe I can pick out a little something for tonight/, she smirked to herself, /and make my dear Chouji even sorrier that he's been missing me so often lately.

With a plan of action now in hand, Ino's stomping gave way to purposeful steps. She knew just the outfit that she wanted and where to get it, but had been unable to find time to pick it up. And since she would be there anyway, what would it hurt to browse?

Browsing soon turned to impulsive buying, and Ino was weighed down by over just under dozen bags before an hour had passed. Leaving the clothes shop to head home and begin preparations for the evening after two hours of shopping, Ino was halted by a jewelry display in the window of a shop she sometimes visited. Since it was never too early to start dropping hints about birthday gifts, Ino decided it wouldn't hurt to see if any of the store's trinkets warranted the bother.

"Good afternoon, Miss," the pretty brunette at the small shop's register greeted Ino as the bells over the door jingled. Her eyes gleamed when she recognized Ino, knowing that she had an impulse shopper on her hands. "May I help you with something?"

"No, thank you," Ino said breezily, trying to seem nonchalant even as she caught sight of a variety of spectacular accessories. "I'm just looking."

"I see," the woman said, almost salivating. "Please don't hesitate to tell me if I can be of service."

"Oh, don't worry about that," replied Ino, voice trailing off slightly at the end as she began eyeing a display of necklaces hungrily.

The store was quite small, but obviously not for lack of funds if the jewels were any sort of indication. Dazzling diamonds, rubies and other precious and semi-precious stones called out from their respective display cases all around Ino. The walls were lined with a selection of jewelry boxes and cases. One necklace in particular had caught Ino's eye, a delicate gold chain dotted with diamond chips and featuring one well-sized, tear-shaped diamond.

"Spoiling yourself?"

Ino looked up at the unexpected voice to find the counter girl beside her, looking at the necklace over her shoulder. Ino stood, hoping that she hadn't been inspecting it as eagerly as she thought she'd been.

"Actually, I'm browsing for something to drop hints at my boyfriend about," Ino said, trying to get across to the woman that she would not be making a purchase that day, as well as remind herself of the same thing. If the woman pressed too hard, Ino just might go ahead and buy the necklace, and then what would Chouji do for her birthday?

"Ah, found a new one already?" the counter girl smiled knowingly.

"A new one?" Ino asked sharply. "What do you mean?"

Surprised and uncertain, the woman frowned and backed off a step as she answered, "I'm sorry, I thought I recognized you as being with the, uh, large gentleman?"

"I was with him the last time I came here," Ino advanced. "Why?"

"Oh," the woman looked like a trapped animal, and for an instant Ino thought the woman would bite her and run. "It's just that he's been around here since then, a few times last week and today in fact, and, um-"

"And /what/?" Ino demanded in a growl, pinning the frightened woman back against the counter.

"I-it's probably nothing," the woman assured quickly. "Just a, a misunderstanding on my part! I wouldn't want to say anything to cause any trouble between-"

"He has no female relatives and all of his female friends that I know are busy today," Ino ground, dropping her bags to take a fistful of the woman's uniform shirt. "Does that clear it up?"

"W-well, he was h-here with a woman," the counter girl confirmed, looking as though she might wet herself at the expression this elicited from Ino. "But I'm sure-"

"Who?"

"I-I wouldn't know! He never called her by name. She was pretty and-"

"/Pretty/?" Ino hissed venomously.

"Not as pretty as you are, Miss!" the woman's voice went up a few pitches as she tried to smooth everything over and ensure her life. "In fact, she wasn't all that pretty at all! She could almost be a man!"

"/My boyfriend is running around with some whore who looks like a man/?" Ino demanded in a tight growl.

"A feminine man!" the woman insisted, sweating profusely. "A-a /femiman/! She was, well, her legs were stubby, to be perfectly honest. And she was so /flat/! I don't know what I was thinking when I called her pretty before!"

"An ugly woman who could be a /man/..." Ino said.

"Oh, no, not /ugly/! Just not, well, um... heh, heh... Er, she had the most obvious dye job I've ever seen! And her hair was so-"

Ino stopped paying the terrified woman any attention, mind whirring. She considered Shikamaru's behavior earlier that day. He had jumped so quickly to cover Chouji's recent cancellations, been indignant at the suggestion that Chouji couldn't run around... Something was clearly going on and Shikamaru knew about it. Leave it to men to stick together over something like this.

"I'll kill him!" Ino spat.

"Yes! Do that!" the relieved counter girl encouraged. "I'll even look after your bags while you do! Just please don't hurt me."

With a snarl, Ino released the counter girl, who immediately slid to the ground in relief. No longer even caring about her purchases, Ino fairly sprinted for the door and jerked it open, almost taking it off its hinges. Seeing red, she made her way back towards the Nara residence, rudely shoving her way through the crowd. She didn't know where Chouji was at the moment and wasn't about to give him the honor of her searching for him. But she was sure that Shikamaru was still where she'd left him, no doubt schooling his father in another round of Go. He would pay for keeping this from her.

Lost in her anger, Ino didn't notice that she'd reached her destination until she heard Shikaku point her out. Snapped back to reality, she saw Shikaku look at her uncertainly, saw Temari's mix of annoyance and nervousness, and finally spotted Shikamaru's frightful look. Oh, he had better be afraid. Ino broke into a run then, making a beeline for Shikamaru.

"Ino, what-"

"/You/!" Ino roared and grabbed Shikamaru by the front of his coat, lifting him off the ground. As Shikaku and Temari watched in fascinated shock, Ino roughly shook her prisoner, demanding, "Who is she?"

Shikamaru looked at Ino as if she were insane, asking, "Who?"

"Oh, you know who, you damned /traitor/," Ino spat.

"Ino, the only 'she' you could be asking about here is Temari and you know-"

"Don't play dumb with me," Ino hissed, pulling Shikamaru closer to look him in the eyes and relishing the fear she saw in them.

At this point, Temari stood to break the two apart, but Shikaku put one hand on her arm to stop her.

"Don't bother, Temari-san," he said. "This is how they play, has been since they were kids."

"Are you sure?" Temari asked uncertainly as she looked over the scene playing out.

"Positive," Shikaku waved her worry off. "Just leave them be."

While Ino continued to rage unintelligibly, Shikamaru managed to break out of her grasp and smooth out the front of his jacket. Regarding Ino with his usual look of apathy, granted by more will power than usual, he attempted to calm her.

"Ino... Ino!" Shikamaru finally got her to stop screaming. "Would you please calm down and tell me, /civilly/, what the hell you're rambling about?"

The next thing Shikamaru knew, Ino had him in a headlock and was breathing on him sporadically as she spoke.

"I went shopping after you so rudely dismissed me, Shikamaru/," Ino began. Before he could protest to either her words or actions, she continued, "I stopped by the jewelry store and said I was looking for something to drop hints at my boyfriend about. So the sales lady says, 'Oh, you have another one?' And so I say, 'No, why?' So /then she tells me that the man she recognizes as my boyfriend has been frequently in and out of the shop /with some unshapely woman who looks like a man and has bad hair/!"

Rather than deny or confirm anything, Shikamaru flailed in Ino's grasp, which had tightened since she began speaking. When she finally did loosen her hold, he could only cough and gasp for air. Shikaku frowned up at Ino over the implication as Temari stared in dumb shock. Ino breathed shallowly, waiting for Shikamaru to respond. It turned out to be Temari who was the first to recover.

"Ino-san, just a couple hours ago you were saying that you didn't have to worry about Chouji-san cheating on you. If you just think about it-"

"Ino, you're being ridiculous," Shikamaru cut in, tone laced in irritation. He took advantage of Ino's surprise at his sudden words and pulled out of her hold, rubbing his neck tenderly.

"Ridiculous?" Ino demanded. "You honestly think I'm stupid, don't you?"

"You're just jumping to conclusions, Ino-san," Temari spoke up quickly. "If you just consider the situation as a whole-"

"How many fat guys do you suppose go into that store, Ino?" Shikamaru pressed, ignoring the glare Temari sent him. "With good-looking blondes on their arms? And really, Ino, an unshapely man-woman with bad hair?"

"An unshapely man-woman with bad hair..." Temari trailed off with a frown, sharing and uncertain look with Shikaku.

Mouth opening and closing like a fish, Ino found herself not knowing what to say. Was it possible that the woman at the store had really mistaken her for someone else? Blonde hair was actually quite uncommon in Konoha, but it seemed like more women were dyeing their hair lighter every day. Slowly, leisurely, the train of thought took Ino away from her rage and dropped her off on a platform of guilt. Chouij cheat on her? Never!

"Ino-san?"

Snapped back to reality by Temari's voice this time, Ino blinked slowly and looked to the older woman. Temari's eyes seemed imploring, as if there was something she was trying to get across without saying it. Ino shook her head to clear it, already sure of her misconception.

"Excuse me," said Ino, "I left some things at the jewelry shop."

Not sparing any of them another glance, Ino turned and headed back to town. With any luck, the woman at the shop had been sincere in promising to look after Ino's bags, and Ino could gather her things and go home to prepare for her date as she'd planned.

"Good afternoo- oh!"

Passively regarding the woman who hid behind the counter, Ino said coolly, "I forgot some things here?"

"Ah, yes," the nervous woman said as she gathered up Ino's bags from behind the counter. "I have them right here."

"Thank you," Ino breezed, taking them. She turned to leave then and the counter girl held her breath, but Ino stopped as she reached the door and looked at the woman over her shoulder. "By the way, you should be more careful about what you say to people, especially about things that aren't your business. You could cause trouble."

"Er, yes, I'll keep note of that," the woman assured, starting to sweat.

Ino made a non-committal noise and left as though she hadn't terrified the woman only a short while ago. She had more important matters to attend, namely preparations for her date with her boyfriend- who, in case anyone should ask, would never cheat on her.

Walking at a leisurely pace, Ino milled over her behavior from earlier. She had never been the hardest person to anger, still wasn't, but she was utterly embarrassed at the way she'd behaved. No doubt the jewelry shop had many customers every day, and Ino had only visited with Chouji once. Even then, it had been a little over a month since they had been there.

Sighing and shaking her head, Ino glanced around wearily to gauge how long it would take her to get home. In so doing, she noticed that her journey had taken her past the hospital. Ino paused and checked her watch, finding it to be roughly a quarter to three. That meant about four hours until her date. Even Ino didn't usually take that long to get ready, so she decided to see if Sakura had taken her lunch break yet. Ino really needed someone to laugh the past while over with, and she doubted Shikamaru would be that someone.

Mind made up, Ino took better hold on her bags and pushed open the hospital door with her shoulder. Her soft shoes made no sound as she made her way to the front desk.

"Good afternoon, Ino-san," said the older redheaded woman at the desk, easily seeing that Ino wasn't there for any sort of emergency. "Are you here to visit someone?"

"I was actually wondering if Sakura had gone for lunch yet, Minami-san," clarified Ino.

"I'm sorry, Ino-san, but Sakura-san isn't in today."

"She isn't?" Ino frowned. "She told me she was working."

Frowning, Minami checked some papers on a clipboard at the desk. Her eyes widened slightly in realization as she caught sight of a note that Ino couldn't see from where she stood. Placing the clipboard back on the desk and looking back up at Ino, Minami corrected, "I'm sorry, it looks like she was here earlier for a matter of emergency. She left just before I started my shift."

"Oh," Ino said in disappointment. "Thanks anyway."

"Sorry, Ino-san," shrugged Minami hopelessly. As Ino turned to go, Minami said, "Oh, by the way, Ino-san, how is that charming boyfriend of yours?"

"Chouji?" Ino adjusted the bags on her arm to hide her squirm and chose to examine them rather than look Minami in the eye. "He's back to eating normally, if that's what you mean. I can't believe he actually needed to come in over his stomach again. It hasn't happened since he was a kid. Stupid Naruto and his stupid eating contest..."

"Hm! Sounds like Naruto," Minami chuckled. "I'm glad that Chouji-kun is doing better."

Ino looked up sharply.

"Chouji-kun?"

"Ah," Minami chuckled again. "He asked all of us nurses to please call him 'Chouji-kun' and tried to flirt and get us to release him early, insisting he was fine."

"He did," said Ino tonelessly.

"It was rather refreshing, I must say," continued Minami, not noticing Ino's reaction to the news. "Certainly a change from Lee-san sneaking out of bed."

"I see," said Ino, tightening her grip on her bags. "Excuse me, I need to be going. I have to get ready for a date."

"Ah," Minami smiled slyly. "Sorry to keep you, then. That's quite a catch you have there, even though people might not think so at first glance."

"No, not at first glance," Ino agreed, offering a dry smile as she turned to leave. "Hope I don't have to see you again too soon."

"Back at you," Minami laughed and waved before turning back to some papers on her desk.

Face a total blank, Ino walked quickly from the hospital and turned smartly towards home. So, that was the sort of game Chouji liked to play. Minami was right, of course; Chouji really didn't seem like such a catch at first glance. But Ino had been lucky enough to get far more than just a first glance at him. While it was true that Ino believed that Chouji would never sneak around on her, she also had to admit that it helped that most women didn't give him a second look. Now, Ino was finding out that Chouji flirted with his nurses, offered them that second look, and apparently made quite an impression on them.

/Charming/, Minami had called him. How many other women were there who thought Chouji was /charming/, who thought he was /quite a catch/?

Ino quickened her pace, wanting to get home and into a nice hot bath before she started thinking about the matter too hard. The rational part of her mind told her that she was being silly, that these thoughts were stemming from her earlier scare. But the better part of Ino's thoughts were occupied with the way Minami had grinned, the way her eyes had twinkled, the way she spoke.

/Chouji-kun/.

Lost in thought for the umpteenth time, Ino nearly ran into the front door of the house she still shared with her father. She and Chouji had discussed finding an apartment together; could that really mean so much more to her than to him? Moving on autopilot, Ino went to her room and dumped her things on her bed. The outfit she'd bought specifically for that night fell out of its bag and onto the floor. Ino picked it up, fingering the cool silk. The best thing to do, she decided, would be to get ready as she'd planned and bring the matter up to Chouji on their date. After all, she had no reason to think Chouij had done anything but sweet talk the nurses. Surely there were many patients who did just that.

But... were they all /charming/? Was each and every one /quite a catch/?

"Ino?" Inoichi knocked on Ino's ajar door.

"What is it, Dad?" Ino asked, looking up from the clothes now clutched tightly in her hands.

"You walked right past me when you came in," Inoichi entered the room just past the doorway. "Is everything alright?"

"Of course," Ino answered without conviction. When her father looked unconvinced, she allowed, "I'm a little worried about Chouji. He's had to cancel a few dates lately."

"Oh," Inoichi nodded, cringing faintly. He held a small white envelope out to Ino, saying, "I hope that's not what this is. Chouji stopped by earlier and asked me to give it to you."

For a moment, Ino stayed silent and merely stared at the unassuming bit of paper product. Then the clothes Ino was holding were dropped unceremoniously to the floor and she was tearing viciously into the envelope. Knowing better than to stick around one way or the other, Inoichi left, closing the door behind him.

Only when the offending envelope was on the floor in shreds did Ino unfold the note within, hardened gaze darting over the writing. Blue eyes softened as Ino read it again and again, and a faint smile graced her features.

Dear Ino,

Sorry for the last-minute notice (again) but I changed our dinner plans for tonight. No, I'm not canceling again. I just thought it would be nice if we could be by ourselves instead of in a crowded restaurant. It's been awhile since we last had a picnic, and I heard that there's going to be a meteor shower tonight, so I thought it might be a good idea to meet on our hill for dinner. If you don't like the idea just tell me when I pick you up and you can decide what we do. Hope you at least consider it.

Love and licorice,

Chouji


A wave of shame crashed over Ino as she read the short message once more. A picnic date. A meteor shower. Their hill, the hill he'd first kissed her on. Ino had thought only she thought of that hill as being their hill. Ino grinned widely, almost squealing as she read the note for the fifteenth time at least. Chouji was really so adorable when he was insecure, such as assuring that the final decision would be up to Ino. Said blonde rolled her eyes that he would even consider that she would turn down such a romantic offer, one no doubt intended to make up for his frequent cancellations as of late. Ino was almost surprised that Chouji had thought of it, but he seemed always to be surprising her.

Not bothering to put her new clothes and perfumes away or even to pick her treasured outfit up off the floor, Ino pocketed Chouji's note and hurried off to find the man himself. She wanted to assure him as soon as possible that she was pleased with his idea, and right behind it.

Looking around keenly as she walked through the village, Ino noticed Chouji sitting at an outdoor table to a new diner. Ready to run up and hug him and assure him that she was looking forward to their picnic, she almost didn't see that he wasn't alone. Ino halted completely, smile frozen in place, when she finally caught sight of the other person, a woman, sitting at the table across from Chouji, talking and smiling and laughing with him.

Sakura.

As Ino stared in stunned silence, chest tight, the connections were made rapidly in her mind. Short legs, lacking breasts, allegedly dyed hair, not as pretty as Ino. It had been Chouji in the jewelry shop, and Sakura had been the woman with him. Ino's eyes darkened and narrowed as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place: Shikamaru's behavior, Chouji's absences, Chouij trying to flirt his way out of the hospital, Sakura's unexpected work, Minami saying that Sakura hadn't been to work and then changing her story. On the table between the oblivious couple, Ino spotted a purple velvet jewelry box. Somehow, this all made sense. Who knew better about the deception of first appearances than Sakura?

Moving towards them before she knew it, Ino's lip curled up in a snarl. So, Chouji was not only running around, but with Ino's own best friend. Ino had heard about scenarios like this, but never expected to find herself in one. As she went, picking up pace bit by bit, Ino felt the sensation of cold steel piercing her back. When Sakura had broken off their friendship in childhood, there was justification. It had been a couple of years before Ino understood this justification, but it was there and she accepted it. And now? Was there some hidden meaning that Ino couldn't understand just yet? As the sound of Sakura's laughter reached her ears, as she saw Sakura reach across the table and put her hand casually over Chouji's, Ino decided that, no, there could be none. /For either of them/, she concluded as she flicked a glance over Chouji's smiling face.

Beside their table before either were aware of her, Ino glared at the picture of content painted before her eyes. A million things to say- profanities, accusations, demands- crossed Ino's mind, but what won out in the end was simply-

"Ah ha!"

Sakura and Chouji looked up in shock, Sakura immediately pulling her hand away from Chouji as he tried to hide the jewelry box from Ino's view. Ino could see in their faces that they knew they'd been caught, and could see that the wheels were turning as they tried to think up some sort of excuse.

"Ino, I-"

"What are you-?"

"I cannot believe you!" Ino yelled over both of them with a fierce glare, earning quite a bit of attention from the people surrounding them. Rather than look guilty, Sakura and Chouji now looked confused, regarding Ino as if she'd gone insane. Play dumb with /her/, would they?

"Ino," Sakura stood, uncertain in the face of Ino's rage, "what's wrong?"

"'What's wrong/?'" Ino threw the words back with a snarl, cheered vaguely when Sakura took a step back. "How the /hell can you ask me that?"

Getting over being stunned at Ino's behavior and looking around at the crowd cautiously, Chouji got up, still trying to keep the jewelry box where Ino couldn't see it. When Ino turned to glare at him, Chouji blanched and looked like he wished he'd never stood up in the first place.

"Er, Ino, if this is about dinner-"

"Dinner?" Ino growled. "You think this is about /dinner/? You think I'm /stupid/, don't you? You all think I'm stupid!"

"What? No!" Chouij blinked in surprise, forgetting to hide the jewelry box as he quickly held his hands up in defense. Realizing his mistake when Ino's gaze fell on it, he hurriedly thrust the box behind his back.

"Ino, all who?" Sakura cut in, obviously trying to draw Ino's attention away from Chouji and the jewelry box.

"Don't you play dumb with me, you back-stabbing little slut," Ino raged. "You know what I'm talking about!"

"'Back-stabbing'?" Sakura asked incredulously, eyes narrowing. "'Slut'? Ino, what the hell?"

Around them, the crowd murmured, causing both Chouij and Sakura to flush, but Ino really didn't care. Let there be witnesses; all the more satisfying.

"Um, Ino," Chouji said carefully as though he were dealing with a wild animal or a crazy person, "you're not really making any-"

"And you!" Ino turned on Chouji yet again, her tone and volume causing him to jump. "Don't think I haven't heard about what you've been doing, you good-for-nothing, smooth-talking ass!"

The most intelligible thing Chouji could think of in response was, "Huh?"

"Ino," Sakura said, bolder now and looking mildly amused, "if I didn't know any better, I'd think you think this," Sakura gestured to herself, Chouij and their table, "is a date."

"She thinks /what/?" Chouji looked between Sakura and Ino in confusion.

"Huh?" This time it was Ino who was at a loss for real words. The looks she was getting from Chouji and Sakura over this display... the confusion... Ino's rage began again to subside, replaced this time with uncertainty.

"You think I'm cheating on you?" Chouji gaped, looking hurt. "With /Sakura/?"

Trying to save her skin, to justify herself, Ino pointed accusingly to the box held in Chouji's hand, once again in her line of vision. "What's that then?"

"This?" Chouij now held the box up reluctantly for her to see clearly. On one corner, Ino noticed her name inscribed in elegant sky blue script.

Blinking slowly, again pulling the goldfish routine, Ino tried to make sense of things through the haze of her confusion. If that box was for her, why was Chouji with Sakura? What about the missed dates? What about... everything else?

"Ino," Sakura snapped Ino back to the scene, which Ino was just noticing had a lot of spectators, "do you know what today is?"

"It's... yesterday was... today is the twenty-fifth. Of February," Ino finally managed.

"/And/?" Sakura implored.

When Ino failed to understand whatever it was that Sakura was trying to say, Sakura and Chouji shared a look between them, Sakura looking further amused while Chouji seemed to be upset. At a nod from Sakura, Chouji held the jewelry box out for Ino to take. Doing so as if it might blow up in her hand, Ino's eyes darted between Sakura and Chouij. As carefully as if it were booby-trapped, Ino opened the box while Sakura went about trying to disperse the curious crowd.

Gasping as she caught sight of the gorgeous necklace, not unlike the one she'd admired earlier that day, and the matching earrings and ring, Ino looked up at Chouij uncertainly. There had been no rings or earrings like this at the shop when Ino had been earlier, so these were some sort of special order. But why all that trouble..?

One eyebrow quirked, Chouji no longer appeared upset, rather taking on a look of amusement much like Sakura's.

"Happy /anniversary/, Ino."

.9.8.7.6.5.4.3.2.1.9.8.7.6.5.4.3.2.1.

I get the feeling that the ending isn't a surprise to too many people. Well, I spent the better part of an evening typing this up, so I don't care if you had it figured out from the title. If, however, this story reeks of the worst kind of suck, I do care. This corner of fandom is in enough of a rut without me littering it with badfic.

Oh, and before any Sakura fans jump on my back, I'm one of you. No insult towards Sakura was on my part, and some of the insults used have a ring of truth. Don't blame me for that. Also, if anything seems really out of place, let me know. This was originally supposed to be funny, but a few things had to be cut for the sake of flow and order. Since this came to me after some of the typing was done, I had to go back and rearrange some stuff. As a result, there may be some things that don't quite fit either because I missed them or forgot to tweak them. Sorry.

Praise appreciated, concrit treasured, flames raspberried
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