(ShikaIno) One little favor may not have seemed like much to ask for, but in Shikamaru's opinion, there was no such thing as a good roadtrip. Especially when Ino was involved. (AU, WIP)
PCK UP A CURRY BUN, the text message read; all-caps denoting urgency, impatience and, ultimately, laziness. Considering the sender, it was likely a mottled assortment of all three. The battery on his cell phone gave a feeble beep of neglect, protesting the fact that it had been far, far too long since the last time it had been charged.
The noise also insinuated another beckoning: FRM THT MOON BKRY ON CNSTNCE ST.
Shikamaru rued the day this mess had started.
It had been a Tuesday, for sure. Shikamaru swore he’d never forget the date so as to use it as extortion-fodder against the Powers That Were when they tried to send him to hell, or, you know, the /actual equivalent/. Please observe Specimen A: The Day You (referring specifically to Your Excellencies, of course) Ruined My Life.
It had all begun one apparently inconspicuous morning at work.
For starters, someone had proverbially pissed in his co-worker’s cereal, resulting in her rollickingly bad mood from the get-go. Shikamaru, stepping foot into the office, immediately sensed the sinister aura of him own impending doom – a time-honoured result of his strangely innate Angry Woman Radar (courtesy, of course, of his lovely mother), but mostly deduced from the disgruntled snort she gave at the very sight of him.
“Oh,” Asahi said, sighing aggravatedly and turning back to her blinking computer screen. “It’s just you.”
Well, it was starting to smell suspiciously like one of those days. Shikamaru, knowing a relatively hefty handful of things, realised that today was one in which he’d have to sail fairly low – no problem for him, as he was rather agreeable with peaceful solitude. Hostile situations like these usually required an offering of chocolate or something vaguely akin – failing that, there was always the tried and true method of Shutting Up and Sitting Down. He also figured that making any sudden movements might be rather counter-productive.
So Shikamaru tossed her only one tired and confused glance before making his way over to his own cubicle and heaving himself into one of the ridiculously comfortable desk chairs – the sort of ridiculously comfortable that actually resulted in the discoloured wallspace around the door, where bits of paint had fallen off from time and trauma. Or in other words: from that one time he actually disregarded the immense trouble involved in bringing (read: stealing) that chair home to decorate his sparse living room, only to find, to his frustrated surprise, that it had been brought into the office and assembled there. Incidentally, it was also too big to fit. Surprise, surprise.
Lesson well learned, Shikamaru admitted, somewhat bitterly. I’ll never do anything troublesome again.
“You’re not going to leave that there, I hope,” was Asahi's sudden challenge, clearly not seeing the unspoken ‘Leave Me the Hell Alone’ written all over Shikamaru’s perfectly innocuous, currently low-sailing face.
Oh, she was like this for a reason.
In the wake of what was now dubbed The Breakup from Hell (mostly by other coworkers, of the nosier variety), Shikamaru had expanded his plethora of knowledge by a few more desperately unneeded facts:
a) Somewhere in last past six months, someone in the higher-ups had up and broken the whole ‘no soliciting with co-workers’ rule, venerable and integral to the greater workplace hive mind as it was.
b) Aerospace technician #12, AKA: Minato Asahi, was the lucky lady embroiled in said scandal.
c) Shikamaru, painfully trying to avoid getting embroiled in said a)-through-b) scandal, realized that his chair was a freaking sleep-a-palooza in yellow upholstering – a result of many work hours’ worth of careful ignorance and feigned naps.
d) Scandalous topics were likely headed for scandalous ends. This one proved no exception, occurring as a painful break-up with a healthy side of Yelling in Public Places and an Ocean Full of Tears, to add insult to injury.
e) It was now empirically proven that the ‘no soliciting with coworkers’ rule prevented bouts of public workplace distress, drama-queen thrashing sessions and sudden misandry, therefore making it incontestably integral to the promotion of a male-safe work environment.
Shikamaru, opening his eyes with pained and deliberate slowness, kept his gaze on the ceiling, counting plasterboard panels as she spoke.
“I said—” Asahi interjected.
Panel four, light. Panel five, panel six, light. “I heard you the first time.”
That was mouthy, Shikamaru thought, wincing internally. Not quite low enough, sailor.
Wrath incurred, Asahi spun towards him, taking one moment to visually partake in about six different kinds of murder, all of which strangely ended up with Shikamaru gutted and creatively hanging upon the coatrack – necessity was, after all, the mother of invention.
And then she looked at his desk. Out of the corner of his eye, Shikamaru could sense what had happened: Asahi had caught sight of his empty coffee mug and was now glaring utter daggers at it.
It was a little unfair, really. So it might have been ugly and slightly feminine and admittedly unwashed, but as far as Shikamaru was concerned, none of the above had ever been any reason for discrimination.
“Your coffee mug,” the She-Overlord of Darkness intercepted, a tad unnecessarily.
Obligingly, Shikamaru glanced at the offending item. The / ‘this entirely innocuous, completely harmless, and existing-solely-within-the-confines-of-my-desk coffee mug? /’ went unspoken, but lingered sarcastically in the air. Oh, it lingered indeed, and Asahi was having none of that today, or ever.
“It’s hideous and it’s been sitting there for three days. You could wash it, at least, or possibly throw it away.” She gave a harsh and embittered laugh. “Oh no, you’re a guy. Of course you couldn’t do that.”
A ventured ‘why’ would likely end up with her shoe in his mouth, so Shikamaru figured he’d avoid the trouble. What he really needed, though, much more than a mouthful of cheap and foot-rash-ridden pleather, was a smoke. As in, right now.
“God,” Asahi chuckled seethingly, tapping a frantic staccato against her knee with a poor pencil. “It’s distracting me from over here, and god knows you’re not helping with the project deadline.”
Touché, Shikamaru thought blandly, watching the snake-trail shadows of passers-by across their ground-floor window. The afternoon daylight mingled hotly with the sunshine and somewhere out there was a patch of sky with a perfect number of clouds – not too many but far from being vacant blue – and him without an afternoon off. A tragedy, indeed.
Asahi snorted and asked, in a totally unsociable way: “Where the hell did you get that thing, anyway?”
Which Shikamaru, for all his purported brains, should have seen as one of her evil leading tactics a mile away, but didn’t, instead weighing the relative tradeoff of her mild satisfaction (and possibly, possibly her shutting up. Or failing that, her discrimination headlights aimed at someone who wasn’t him) and a stroll down grassy memory lane, and came to the conclusion that even though said lane was nowadays unkempt and burly with weeds, the latter was the kind of reward even he would walk through searing fire for.
So, fine. The mug: ostensibly green and Pepto-pink, chipped along the rim and once smelling of an array of flowers he would never admit to knowing the names of. Shikamaru looked at it sitting there, innocuous in all its odious glory; thought tiredly of a scattered childhood of potato chip bags, tiger lily petals and shougi pieces, and finally conceded: “It was a gift.”
“God,” snorted Asahi in all smugness. “They must’ve hated you.”
Interestingly enough, Asahi had a terribly decent throwing arm.
And so Shikamaru was made privvy to when he had stood up abrubtly, cutting their conversation despairingly short, and left to smoke out that niggling gut-wrench feeling of craving. Solving the new dent in his head was another matter, though.
Contrary to popular belief, one couldn’t live on a strict diet of Marlboro lights, and conquering this one yearning had cleared the stage for another – of the rumbly sort. Maybe it wouldn’t be too troublesome to get something to eat, he conceded, slouching over to the only restaurant cum trendy hipster café providing remotely edible food.
When Shikamaru passed the small parkette around the corner, shoulders hunched against the frigid gale, his plan was mildly thwarted. “Well, well,” said an incongruently jovial voice from his left. “If it isn’t the shitting genius.”
In an act of utter geniality, Shikamaru forcibly restrained himself from groaning out loud and/or uttering inappropriate profanities. It was Mr. Narita, of course, the kind and rather toddly old man that seemed to be around every available corner with a Go challenge after that one and only time Shikamaru had stopped playing games of shidogo (of course, Mr. Narita wasn’t good enough to realise) and completely swept the floor with him. When Shikamaru, learning from his mother that respect of his elders was far, far above cleanliness and godliness and all that other tripe, relented back into his original pushed losses, Narita would kick up a storm and demand rematch after rematch, until Shikamaru managed to somehow wrangle himself away and grudgingly return to work.
Sometimes, Shikamaru sort of suspected Mr. Narita was one hell of a self-masochist in loafers if he had ever seen one. But then again, it took one to know one.
“You’re not going to let this out-of-town whippersnapper get away with that last win!” Said the shougi partner du jour, a tiny old man Shikamaru had seen Mr. Narita playing before and remembered by the sheer voluminous mound that was his head. The man clearly had some sort of hat-hoarding fetish, and insisted on wearing them one on top of the other every single day – for reasons that Shikamaru was fairly sure would forever remain indecipherable to most human beings. The weather’s sudden turn for the worse had just given him an additional reason. He grinned widely at Shikamaru from a silly and toothless mouth.
Mr. Narita bristled. “An out-of-town whippersnapper he may be, but he’s a bloody genius on the board. You’ll see. Shika, boy, how about a game?”
“Nah, old man,” he declined lazily, looking down the road at the two or so more blocks left to overcome. “There’s a sandwich waiting for me at The Watering Hole. Maybe later.”
“Hippies, the whole lot of them,” Mr. Narita harrumphed in his low, grumbly way, but embroiled as he was in a heated game-battle with Tiny and Toothless, he was, for once, willing to let it slide. “Alright, alright. Say, Shika, what’s this? You’re bleeding, you are!”
Right. Sandwich, another cigarette, and back into the male-employee-harassing-coffee-mug-hurling-lion’s den. “Coffee mug,” he explained cryptically, not bothering to elaborate even at their puzzled faces. Then, taking one long look at their game, added: “Checkmate in sixteen moves.”
Exactly sixteen moves later, Tiny and Toothless blinked carefully at the board, the memory of Shikamaru’s strange prophecy lingering in the air between the two of them. “I… resign,” he confessed, utterly dumbfounded.
Mr. Narita pushed aside his surprise and, breaking into a wide grin, taunted: “I told you so, didn’t I? Boy genius, he is. An utter genius.”
“Yeah,” conceded T&T gruffly. “But he’s still an out-of-towner.”
A cold front had taken hostile charge of the city in recent weeks, sweeping in from the north and causing the delicate morning-time etchings in frost along windows everywhere. Despite the fact that Shikamaru was the (not-so-proud) owner of several colour-permutations of scarves large and ugly (courtesy, once more, of one overbearing mother), he was still dressed bone-chillingly wrong for the weather, resulting in the consumption of about four cigarettes in the six-block distance between his office building and the deli, plus one-and-a-half handfuls worth of brittle and very blue fingers.
Looking back on it all, the sandwiches were typically a little dry, making the tradeoff of one (1) very tasteless meal to the frost-bite induced risk of seven (7) digits – with the exception of the cigarette-holding forefinger, middle finger and thumb – seem a tad unbalanced.
There was a very good reason for this, in addition to the mere fact that digging up the purposefully buried winterwear was totally bothersome. And it was that Tiny and Toothless had been completely right in the first place, since Shikamaru wasn’t from around here, at all.
He had grown up in the local suburbia of another town in another part of the country, a quirky little winding-street neighbourhood possessing its own name at that. The Leafy Gales, or more affectionately, The Leaf.
The general (and fairly sparse) populace teemed with young, plastic yuppies recently moved in, laden with money but not enough things to spend it on other than copious amounts of picture-perfect home décor and golf paraphernalia. These couples usually had the standard amount of young children (2 or 3, all within one or two years of the other) but the not-so-standard waistline measurements for the new mothers (“25 inches,” Shikamaru’s mother tutted once, after their new neighbours had come over to introduce themselves. “The poor thing was about to break in half.” Shikamaru was about to assert that her pity had come after she had laced the girl’s café au lait with 18% cream, thus rendering it redundant, but kept his mouth shut in the end, inevitably knowing far, far better.)
As such, there had been a pretty set number of kids in their general age group and few new ones moved in (the only one being that Sai guy… and the bizarre tanlines everyone now associated with him), leaving them with necessity-honored friendships of familiarity and convenience, but god knew those were the best kinds, anyway.
So it was funny that the issue of the mug should have come up that day. Since only the night before, Shikamaru, for once slightly sleepless (!) at the bizarre weather change, had stared at the urgent and blinking cursor on his computer screen and actually considered writing home. And if the power hadn’t gone out and Shikamaru had no choice but to go to bed, since waiting it out would be mighty troublesome irregardless of the fact that it was still 7:30 at night, he might have done it, too.
It had been a while, anyway.
“Coffee with that?” The barista asked him, sliding the boring ham sandwich across the counter. There were other choices, probably tastier and around the exact same price, but that would involve an amount of personal investment Shikamaru had never really been up to. Food was for sustenance, not personal indulgence. At least not for Shikamaru, anyway. He had always left that up to Chouji.
“Nah,” he replied, fumbling through his pockets.
She paused for a moment, then asked: “You know it’s the same price, right?”
“You should get the coffee, you know. Someone out there might be drinking up beans and water that you’re entitled to.”
Shikamaru sighed. He knew he shouldn’t have used the sans-change pants; interac only, and here was a comedian in a barista apron. “And what a deal it is,” he complied tiredly, scooping up the overly garnished plate as he spoke. “But I pretty much have a hayload of vices, so let’s not break the camel’s back—”
THUD. One person collided very heavily with his back and the sandwich launched forwards, ejected from its parsley-laced place of rest, and landed on the floor with a mucky splat.
“Oops!” Said a voice from behind him, uttered from the mouth of the sandwich-ruining-perpetrator.
God, he realised to his painful and interminable horror, why did it have to be so ridiculously familiar? “You should watch where you’re standing! Look at my papers!”
“Are you alright?” The hilarious barista asked tentatively, wiping trace cranberry mayonnaise from the corner of her now-soiled apron.
Shikamaru heaved a tired sigh. “You’re wasting your time,” he said to her under his breath. “She hasn’t been alright for years.”
“Excuse me?” The voice demanded from behind him, leaving the barista looking back and forth between the two of them, confused but nosily intrigued. “Look at me when I’m talking to—hey!”
Shikamaru turned around tiredly, then, eyeing the lineup that was building up behind the irate complainee and himself, grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her outside.
It had been one hell of a day, apparently, but before Shikamaru could say something along the lines of: gee, it's nice to see you. Note that I was nearly brained using the hideous coffee mug you gave me seven years ago —
— Ino kicked him, with full intent, quite squarely in the shin.