Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Stumbling Blind

Don't Lets Start

by Virgo 0 reviews

Working the team dynamic.

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Humor - Characters:  Ino, Shikamaru - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2005-05-08 - Updated: 2005-05-08 - 6579 words


Stumbling Blind
4. Don't Lets Start

bgm- "Secret World", Peter Gabriel

It's been a week since they picked up, training more than they've been taking missions though Asuma-sensei assured them that they would be taking part in the upcoming chuunin exams. Shikamaru was ecstatic. Right now, the three of them were on the inside of the front gates. And they looked at Asuma-sensei as if he had told them to do something they would never- under no conditions -do.

He sighed, cigarette currently unlit on his lips. "It's not that hard."

They continued to give him that /look/.

"It'll build up your strength, endurance, speed and teamwork."

They looked down, then back up at their teacher again.

He fidgeted slightly. "What?"

Ino opened her mouth, then closed it. And opened it again, pointing at the offending object. "That," she stated calmly, "is a log."


Her eyebrows jumped in dull surprise. "You mean you're serious."

"Of course!" He frowned, slightly insulted. "I wouldn't say it otherwise."

"You want us to run around the village carrying a /log/!"

"Like I said," he took a drag from his cigarette, then stifled a cough, remember it still wasn't lit, "it's for training."

"You're kidding! A lap around the entire village-"


"TWO laps around the village!?"

"You'll switch sides on the second lap."

Ino was fairly flabbergasted. The boys sunk to their haunches, not wanting to resign to their fate. "I don't think he's so cool anymore." Chouji said quietly.

At the beginning of the week they spent two entire days doing chakura exercises, the third day was more physical training where Asuma had taken them through the five-mile-long obstacle course used to strengthen the body. The fourth was more chakura exercises, the fifth was a mission, sixth Asuma worked on each of their inherited skills (and the only real break any of them received). And today was apparently hell. Like all the other days were.

"C'mon!" He clapped his hands together and smiled as if they were about to be doing something insanely enjoyable. If you weren't the one doing it.. Shikamaru snorted. "I'll treat you to lunch after this!"

Chouji jumped to his feet. "YEAH!" Ino yanked him back by his scarf.

With her patented calculating look, she turned to Asuma-sensei. "Not ramen."


Ignoring Chouji, their teacher put a hand to his chin, thinking for a second. Then he smiled. "Okay."

Ino grinned and Chouji cheered- just for the fact that he was getting free food -and she turned to Shikamaru. "Let's go." She said simply.

He looked up at her, still hunched over his knees. "You guys can go ahead without me."

"Oh, come /on/!" She grabbed his hand. "We have to do this together!"

"I don't want to eat, so I don't have to do this."

"We're a team," she gave him a dark smile- all teeth, "remember?"

Shikamaru stifled a groan, or a sigh. That meant that there was no way in hell she'd let him get away with not suffering with them. There was nothing that annoyed him more than a girl pleading and begging and threatening him into submission.

So he'd rather be automatically submissive.

"Whatever. Let's just get this over with.."


"Here you go, kids!"

They looked blankly at the food in front of them and collapsed in the backs of their seats in a pile of groaning muscles and sore tempers.

"What," Chouji said slowly, his normal optimistic attitude having broken somewhere around mile 8, "is that supposed to be?"

"Rice and pork!" Asuma said happily. "It's good for you, full of protein and other good, healthy things."

"You're just getting us this because it's cheap." Shikamaru retorted, poking idly at a lump of pork.

"Yes, well.." He crossed his arms. "You didn't want to eat ramen."

"She didn't want ramen." The two boys shot similar glares at no, who glared at the below par food.

For awhile, the team just sat there.

"Well?" Asuma finally asked. "Aren't you gonna eat?"

Surprisingly, Chouji pushed his bowl away. "No way. I don't even eat that for a midnight snack!"

"Oh? Shikamaru?"

"If I eat anything right now, I think I'm gonna puke."


She jerked her head back, out of her trance. "You've got to be kidding me! /This/? After all that running?"

"Eat something too heavy, you'll get sick. Besides, you need it. Protein, carbs, replenishes everything important you've burned off."

"This isn't a meal!" She snapped. "A bowl of rice and a few pieces of meat? How can we keep training with /that/?"

"It's sustaining energy. Better than quick buzz sweets."

"But it's-"

She stopped when a pair of chopsticks came into her view and stole one of her limited pieces of pork. The three of them looked at Shikamaru oddly as he calmly coated it in the sesame and salt dip and chewed, looking elsewhere. Then, with his audience still watching and he still oblivious to them, he reached for another piece.

"Hey!" Ino smacked his chopsticks away with her own. "Back off!"

Shikamaru blinked. "Why? You don't want it."

"But it's /mine/."

"But you don't want it."

She hugged her bowl close "You didn't, either."

"I got hungry. 'Sides, it doesn't taste that bad."

"Then eat your own."

Shikamaru looked at her lazily. "Are you going to eat yours?"

Ino shifted. "..Why?"

"If not, I'll have it."

"Well...," she looked down, "I'm hungry." She reluctantly admitted.

Shikamaru shrugged and turned to his food, Ino slowly following suit. Chouji watched them for a minute before he thought 'what the hell?' and scooped his helping to his face. Asuma leaned back and grinned.

The waitress came to refill their tea by the time the genin had already polished off their serving and convinced Asuma to order them another helping.

"Here." Ino passed Shikamaru's cup back to him.

"Thanks." He said, setting his down before he reached for his second bowl. Before Ino could start on her next serving Shikamaru's chopsticks again came into view. This time putting an extra piece of pork on her rice. When she turned to him, curious, he said, "For the-" he cut himself off. Then, with his chopstick, he indicated toward his cheek. Ino sat there, not understanding. With a slight humored expression, Shikamaru reached over, twisting his wrist to brush against Ino's cheek with the block end of his chopsticks, knocking of a grain of rice from her face. "Food." He explained simply.

"Oh. Um, thanks." She looked down and into her bowl. "Oh, the-"

"For the one I took."

She looked up at him for a moment. Then smiled slightly. "Thanks."

Chouji belched. "Can I get some more tea?"


The genin were waiting on the bench at the corner by the Ichiraku, their designated meeting place after so many Asuma-bought lunches. Today, he said, they were going on another mission. This one, he had told them, was going to be a pretty simple one.

Oh, she hoped so. Ino stifled a groan as she rolled her shoulders. Since the first time they did the log run (or the 'Dammit-not-the-Hell-of-Running- with-the-Big-and-Heavy-and-Really-Uncomfortable-Log-for-Miles-on-End-Again' run, as Chouji had come to call it. He had a way with words) Asuma decided to make it a weekly event.

"The better your time, the better the food and the less training you'll have to do tomorrow." He had promised them. Grudgingly they decided to humor him. True to his word, they did get better food than just the rice and pork (they got soup of their choice) and less intensive training (he worked on their individual skills), but it still hurt like hell for the next half of the week.

They've been going on missions a lot more, too. And, Ino had finally been forced to realize she was both the leader and the weakest person on the team. But, Asuma had assured her, pulling her off to the side, that they all had faith in her. They knew she would do everything they could. And even if she couldn't complete her task, just knowing that she did her best was fine by them.

But, of course, Ino wouldn't just leave it at that. She didn't like to think of herself being a burden, being the part everyone has to worry about because she wasn't as strong or as fast as her male counterparts. She never asked her teammates for help, she took every task she could get her hands on, she wore herself out everyday, even when she was instructed to take it easy for once. And when she was asked why, she said simply:

"I don't want to be okay with just 'doing my best'."

And when Asuma couldn't get her to stop, her teammates had to.

"Jeez, Ino." Shikamaru said, Chouji munching quietly behind him. "Didn't you get it during the test? You don't have to try so hard."

"Well maybe I want to." She sniffed, trying to get all the brambles out of her hair from when she fell off the tree during chakura practice.

"But it's not good for you." The larger boy said then, his small eyes creased with concern. "You get hurt and you act like it's no big deal, but we've seen you when you think no one's looking. You don't have to act strong."

She shot them a glare. "Don't think I'm not strong because I'm a girl!"

"We're not. We're just really annoyed." The dark haired genin responded.

"How come?"

"Because you don't trust us." She blinked. "You don't depend on us, you don't trust us. You think you can do everything by yourself because you're so self-conscious, you're completely forgetting about us. How's that supposed to make us feel when our team leader won't even recognize her teammates?"

"T-Team leader?" She sputtered slightly. "How did I become the team leader?"

"Because you like to boss people around."

"And you sound like you know what you're talking about." Chouji added.

"And you're focused."

"And you're not afraid of anything."

"And you actually want to expend the effort for it." Shikamaru finished, both looking at her expectantly.

Ino looked down, face flushed and somewhat speechless. "..Oh."

"And any good leader knows when they're pushing themselves." He added, fully knowing he had complete control over the conversation. "That's why they're good with orders. Because they get the people they're leading to do the things they're good at, so the leader doesn't have to exhaust themselves and so the ones under them understand that they're following someone competent and someone not so self-centered as to realize they need the people they're leading."

She flickered her eyes up at them and then back down. "And.. Do you guys think I'm doing a good job?"

"Depend on us a bit more and it'll be okay. If you got hurt just because you didn't believe in our abilities, or because you're too stubborn for your own good, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves."

Ino thought for a moment. Then slowly, with some hesitance, she smiled at her teammates. "All right. I'll try my best to be a good leader."


"A race course." Ino scowled at their mission, barely quelling the urge to crumple and rip that paper to tiny shreds. "This is the worst one /yet/."

"What's the point of it?" Shikamaru rescued it from her grasp, reading over it, Chouji at his shoulder. Skimming through the unimportant parts, he said out loud, "Securing a track for the annual kinder-nin track and field.." He grimaced as he had never grimaced before. "For crying out loud."

"Will we get free food?" Chouji asked. That had always been his favorite part of the kinder-nin field day.

"It doesn't matter!" Ino told him. "We have to work through it! All the little kids! And standing around looking foolish!" She put her hands over her face and managed a muffled scream: "AAAAAAAARGGGH!"

"Come on, kids." Asuma said mildly. "It's not that bad."

"How is this not /bad/? It's awful! I'd rather go looking for that old lady's purse at the market again!"

"Which she just misplaced in her house." Shikamaru said dully.

Their teacher shrugged. "You're the ones that wanted a easy mission."

"Yes, but a mission worth taking!" Ino complained.

"It has to be done." He said with gentle force. "Every year some team has to stand the track. This year it's us." He gave them a kindly look. "I didn't really want to agree to it, either, but it's the principle behind it that I agreed to it."

The three students frowned. "What principle?"

He indicated for them to sit down on the benches as he took out a cigarette and lit it. "Like I said, every year some genin team has to work the track for the kinder-nin track and field meet. Every year the higher ups pick which teams they'd want to work it and it's up to the teacher to accept the mission or not. They always pick the ones they believe are skilled and dependable enough to keep the rugrats under control. I'm sure you remember, if not a little, how rowdy they can get."

Shikamaru and Chouji let out pained sighs, their class having some of the biggest troublemakers Konoha had ever spawned within several generations. Ino had to bit her hand to keep from guffawing out loud, her last memory of the meet being Sakura stopping in the middle of the track and crying because she was left behind.

"I get it." Shikamaru said wearily. "The principle behind it is if you turned the job down, you'd be gaffing off the higher ups. Or you'd be sending the message that you didn't have faith in us. And if you took it and we complete it as flawlessly as you hope, it would look good on us, get us better mission- possibly. Moreover, it would look good on your record, successfully leading your team to completing a mission given from above."

Asuma sheepishly rubbed his neck. "You didn't have to add in that last bit, but yes."

"Feh. Since it's already been accepted, I suppose we have no choice but to deal with it." He clicked his tongue as he leaned back, obviously annoyed. "Jeez.."

"Really." Ino agreed, similarly put out. "I wish you would've consulted us about something like this. As team leader, shouldn't I be reviewing the missions we get?"

Asuma blinked. "Team leader?"

"When does this thing start?"

"This weekend." He said automatically, still slightly off balance from the 'team leader' remark. "Tomorrow one of you and myself will scout the track, figure out the best places to have each member. That night the three of you will be staying with me so we can get an early start in the morning."

"What for?"

"In case they need help setting up, of course. And to familiarize yourselves with your designated areas."

"Oh.. Of course." Shikamaru couldn't help but roll his eyes at Ino.

The bearded shinobi smiled at them. "That's it for today. Be sure to do your Daily 16, now. Tomorrow will be a light training before we scope out the place, we don't want to get too worn out and sore for the kinder-nins, do we?"

"No~!" Chouji and Ino chorused cutely, Shikamaru just shoved his hands deep in his pockets. However, before the dark haired boy got very far, a heavy hand fell on his shoulder.

"One moment, Shikamaru." Asuma-sensei smiled warmly at him, making Shikamaru automatically thinking the worst. "Have a moment for your dear teacher?" Great, another talk. That was the worst of the worst.

Frowning, he turned to his instructor. "Why?"

"You don't want to chat with me a while?" When one of Shikamaru's eyebrows cocked, Asuma dropped his overtly friendly pretense. "Okay, okay, I'll get right to it." He inhaled slowly, glad that he had been saving this particular one so well. "What did Ino mean about team leader?"

"She's the leader of this team."

"Why is Ino the leader?"

"Who else would be?"


"I don't want to be team leader."

"Come, come." Asuma smiled around his cigarette, the smoke hazy and curling around his face. "You're a great leader."

"I don't want to be."

"Why not?" His teacher seemed truly astonished. "You have the intelligence, you have the ability, why don't you want to?" The boy looked away and after a pause, Asuma continued. "Ino and Chouji listen to you, they do just about anything you say. You know the best way to utilize everyone's abilities and the best way to take care of a job."

"Ino's the leader."

"Every time you two disagree, half the time she winds up listening to you. The other half was just because you got annoyed with arguing."

Shikamaru gave Asuma-sensei something akin to a glare. "Ino is the leader. She likes being the leader. And I'm fine with supporting her. I don't care what you tell anyone else or what you write down in your reports, but she's the one in charge. I just let her do what she wants."

Asuma held up his hands in peace. "Okay, okay. Just wondering, really. Just giving you my opinion." He took a final puff before flicking the butt to the ground. It extinguished before it hit the dirt. "If you and Chouji are satisfied with it, I suppose I can't say anything against it."

Shikamaru looked uncertain at that.

"Most teams don't figure out leaders this early. Besides, I'm technically part of the team, I just guide, instruct and am here for chaperone type reasons. And if something completely unforeseen happens you get in over your heads."

Seemingly satisfied, Shikamaru nodded. "Good," was all he muttered before he walked off.


It was getting to be an early evening the next day, clouds low on the horizon and blotting out the growing sun and the staining sky. All that day Ino had noticed something off in Shikamaru. She was going to ask Asuma- sensei and Chouji if they had noticed it, too, but they carried on as if nothing was the matter.

So when Asuma had asked her who should go with him to inspect the track, she had easily said Chouji. He looked surprised, obviously expecting her to go. But she had already decided. She had to find out what was wrong with Shikamaru.

"Hey, Shikamaru!" She called out, raiding Asuma's refrigerator despite the fact they had already eaten dinner. "Do you want some ice candy?" He was out on the balcony and for a moment she thought he didn't hear her. But in floated the low answer:


She drew out two green bagged ones- everyone loved melon flavored, she decided -and went out to hand Shikamaru his. He took the ice candy with sullen gratefulness, gazing at the town below his feet. Sitting next to him, Ino wove her arms and head through the bars, shoulders pressed into the metal as she peered intently at the market going on down the street.

"Why are you so upset, anyway?" Ino suddenly asked. Shikamaru looked at her in vague surprise.

Finally, he asked, "What are you talking about?"

"You're upset." She repeated, turning to look at him, the popsicle still wrapped in her hands. "You've been upset since Asuma-sensei took Chouji with him to check out the trail. Why? Did you want to go?"

"Of course not." He scowled. "I'm not mad at that."

"Then what are you mad at?"


"Tell me."

He gave her a halfhearted glare. "It's nothing."

"Oh, come /on/."

"Fine." He tried a different approach. "It's nothing you'd care about."

She was aghast. "How could you say something like that!"

Jamming the ice candy in his mouth, Shikamaru mumbled out, "Because it's something you don't know about. And I don't feel like explaining it."

She glared at him. Then, haughtily, she turned back to unwrap her own with an air of wounded supremacy. "Fine/! Be that way! I was /trying to be friendly, but apparently you just want to be a stubborn brat." Turning her head to deliberately not look at him, Ino missed his near imperceptible wince.

They sat in quiet for several minutes, their popsicles finished, Ino chewing absentmindedly on her stick, Shikamaru twirling his between his fingers. He had been gradually feeling guilty.

"You know," Ino said suddenly, the end of the stick bobbing up and down rapidly, "you don't have to act tough around me." Surprised, Shikamaru looked up at her. "I know you never really had friends, I know you've always kept to yourself. But remember, you're part of a team, now. And like Asuma-sensei's been saying," she tried to imitate his voice and failed far too miserably to be funny, " 'Your team is your second family. If you can't depend on them, you have no hope in making it as a ninja'."

His shoulders slumped as he looked at her incredulously. He suddenly felt like hitting his head against something hard.

"So." She said with a smile, taking the stick from her mouth. "I know you're not used to it and you like to be alone, but we're your team. And your team is always here for you to depend on."

Shikamaru looked away. "I thought you didn't want to depend on anyone."

"Un. I don't. But, it's a pretty stupid thing to want when I'm already depending on you guys." She then added brightly, "And it's not too bad. Because I'm only depending on you guys when I really need you. And it's really nice and refreshing, not having to be strong all the time. Because I know you guys won't think I'm weak, just because I need help."

He raised his head, tilting it towards her slightly, amazed. He had never known she had taken his advice that much to heart. Never once had he thought her less because she had needed help. And as she became more welcoming for her teammates' assistance, the more he respected her. Because she knew her limitations, because they didn't have to tread over her swollen pride, because they were more of a team and they were closer to her...

Shikamaru trailed that thought.

"It's hard to be open." He said slowly. "Because no one cared before."

She smiled, humming in the back of her throat as her lips curled, slitting her eyes like a cat. "Now's a good time to start. You're not so grown up that you can't learn to trust people again."

"It feels like it."

"But wouldn't you rather start now?" She looked at the roofs across from them. "After all, we're all friends in this team. Isn't it best to trust people you know care about you? And risk getting hurt by people you know would never hurt you? Then to gamble yourself and your future with people you don't even know?"

"Hn. I'd rather not have to gamble at all. Taking care of other peoples' problems, having them deal with mine.. It's just too much work. They'll all go away eventually, even without the effort."

"Or," Ino said, "you can tell me and let me deal with it." When he turned to her with his annoyed expression she just stuck her tongue out at him. "You've already helped me out a bunch of times. So I'm going to help you. I don't like having to owe people, even if it is you."

Shikamaru didn't know what to say to that but inadvertently let out a huff somewhat resembling a chuckle. Giving her a small smile, he leaned back on his hands, watching the sky change color behind the clouds.


It was just before sunrise when Team 10 arrived at the field. Tents and events were already being set up by volunteers, parents and instructors who had things well underhand. The genin, however, were used occasionally to run simple errands but were mostly left alone. Once the food came, however, a parent-volunteer let the three have themselves a small volunteer- rations box that held a box drink, a piece of fruit, some carrot sticks, one boiled egg and two buns- one pork and the other sweet bean. It took over twenty minutes to convince Chouji that no, he did not need two ration boxes. He wasn't actually going to be doing a lot of work.

"Besides," Shikamaru said, "you still have your entire knapsack to go through."

"But I was saving those for my mid-afternoon snack." He sulked, but let it be.

They had already gone through what was to be expected of them, what they were to expect and where each one of them would be stationed. At the moment Ino was looking at some of the displays and little shops some of the older children had set up- Asuma had told them before hand that they were not, under any circumstance, to buy anything until after the completion of their mission. Asuma himself was talking to this year's director- who was actually the director every year since he was saddled with it his first year teaching -and the two boys were standing together, bored. Chouji had taken the excuse that he was bored to already start going through the first bag of chips in his knapsack.

And when he had run out of chips and finally wrestled the decision it was best to wait to start on another, he felt inclined to do something. He decided to talk.

"You know, it always amazes me how open you are with us." Chouji said, vaguely fingering the empty bag dejectedly. "In class you were always quiet and never did anything. Except for sleep, really."

Shikamaru frowned slightly, not really knowing where this was going and, frankly, surprised at the sudden conversation. "So?"

"Well, now it seems like we know you fairly well. Not the personal you, but the you inside your head."

He wondered idly if Chouji even knew what he was talking about. He stayed silent.

"She's really pretty, isn't she?"

"Ha?" Shikamaru didn't think he was ever that off balanced by a conversation before in his life.

"You know a lot of older guys thinks she's hot."

"So what?" What, did Chouji like her? Something shot down his spine uncomfortably at the thought. Maybe because they were all friends, or maybe because he'd feel out of place if anything happened between the two or he'd have to take sides if one of them got hurt. His cheek twitched. It must be the thought of Chouji doing just about anything with anyone that made him feel weird. It wasn't something he really wanted to think about.

"Do you think she's pretty?"

"I suppose, why?"

"You've been getting especially close to Ino." His slim eyes gauged Shikamaru's reaction critically, deftly folding the chip bag in his palms. "You never even looked at a girl before."

The other boy's face darkened. "She's my teammate, what am I suppose to do? Ignore her? I doubt I'd act any different if we were teammates with someone else."

"Ho.." he looked at the origami shuriken he held, "if you say so.."

Something in that tone didn't stroke Shikamaru the right way at all/. "What's /that suppose to mean?"

Chouji blinked at him. "What's what suppose to mean?"

"That 'if you say so' thing."

"Dunno." He shrugged throwing the flimsy weapon with amazing accuracy into the nearest trash bin. "I'm not having second thoughts about my words."

"I'm not doubting my words!"

"I didn't say you were."

Shikamaru stopped himself just barely from clicking his jaw shut. He had to remind himself not to get into a battle of insinuations with Chouji again. If he could help it.

Instead he just scowled and said, "Let's just drop this."

"If you say so."

He scowled again, his attention caught as the instructors were lining the children up for the race. "Let's get back to our positions. It's about to start."


The meet lasted most of the day, bouncing from one event to the next. It wasn't really that bad of a mission, looking back on it. Only a few kids decided it would be fun trying to run off the track or try and trip an opponent, but immediately one of the three genin were there to take care of it. There was only one case of a kid that had peed themselves in the middle of the race and it was only by Ino's glare of insufferable death and eternal nagging that made Shikamaru go out and take care of that particular incident.

He tried not to shudder too obviously as he was forced to walk the child around the track to the service tent- which was set up on the exact opposite side, how perfectly typical -and having to hold his hand as he cried.

It'll be over soon, he told himself, wincing as the kid hit a particularly high wail, and then I can go home and be lazy and stay in bed until tomorrow morning. It was about then that he noticed a slight tugging at his hand, turning to realize that he was practically dragging the bawling boy behind him.

"Ah jeez, c'mon." Shikamaru pleaded with him. "It's only a little while longer and then we can get you changed into some clean, dry clothes, okay?"

The boy shook his head, still crying and refusing to budge another inch.

"What's wrong?" Shivers began going the wrong way on his spine. Had he done something wrong? Did he screw up the mission? Man, this was important to both Ino and Asuma-sensei. He'd never hear the end of it. "Do you want to stand around with pee drying on you?" That came out a bit more snappish than he intended, but thinking about getting chewed out for some kid's uncontrollable urinary tract got his hackles up. But the boy shook his head again. "Well, come on, then." Yet he still wouldn't move. "Kid.."

"They'll laugh at me." He sobbed out, his free hand trying to scrub away the tears. "Dun wanna be laughed at..!" And he began crying anew.

"Man, stop that, will you, kid?" Shikamaru shifted uncomfortably, looking around before deciding he should probably do something. Kneeling doing, he nearly gagged on the smell of little kid urine before he resolutely told himself not to breathe too much. "Just forget about it. They've all gone through the peeing themselves thing before. And when they get older, they won't remember a thing about what's happened."

The boy peeked through his chubby knuckles. "Really?" Through trembling lips and the gap in his teeth his words came out slightly slurred.

"Yeah, for the most part." Shikamaru scratched his head. "I barely remember all the stupid things I did during the kinder-nin track meet and I'm only 12."

Tears came to his eyes again. "But. that's so far away!" He began wailing again.

Shikamaru felt like slapping himself. Mainly because he couldn't slap the kid. "Look, kid, why did you pee yourself in the race?"

He shifted slightly, hiccuping. "'Cause.. 'cause I was nervous.." sniff "and I didn't go in a long time.."

"There, now you know your problem. Next time just go before you do something like this, okay?" After a thought, he patted the boy on the head. "Then you won't have this problem again." The boy looked unconvinced. "And," Shikamaru searched for something to say. He didn't like kids, they always made him so uncertain. "If anyone gives you a hard time, just tell them.." great, what was he suppose to say, "just tell them. 'so does your mom'." He clicked his mouth shut, surprised and more than a little aghast that something like that popped out.

The little boy looked at him for a moment. Then collapsed in a fit of giggles. Shikamaru scratched his head, unsure if that was the reaction he was going for.

"Ah! There you are!" Shikamaru looked over his shoulder to see a young girl running toward them. "Look at you!" She scolded the boy as she came up, picking him off the ground. She began to reach down to brush off the grass that clung to him, but thought better of it. "You're such a mess, I can't believe you!"

Shikamaru stood up. He had seen the girl before. Even though they were the same age, her birthday had just missed the required date to get into his class. But he could remember seeing her every once in a while in the halls of the academy or on the streets or playground. He remembered some of the guys saying that she liked him, but he just shrugged them off.

And watching as she fussed over the boy, occasionally glancing at the genin and blushing, he couldn't help wondering if that were true.

"Um, thank you," she said softly, "for taking care of my little brother. I'm sorry he caused so much trouble."

"It's fine." He replied.

She blushed again. "Thank you." Hustling the small boy forward, she ducked to avoid his eyes.

"Bye!" The boy called out around his sister. "I'll remember what you said!"

The rest of the day went by fairly quickly, Asuma-sensei stopping by to tell Shikamaru that he did good work in handling the situation. The instructors told they weren't needed for the break down or clean up so Asuma quickly scurried them away before anyone's minds were changed.

As they walked back into the heart of the village, Ino fell back to walk with Shikamaru.

"Did you have fun with the kid?" She asked, teasing.

He grunted. He'd have to get her back for that one.

"Oh, come on. It was a learning experience."

He grunted again. This one came out more as a growl.

"I saw that girl go up to you, too. She was kinda pretty, wasn't she?"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. Whatever.

"She liked you." Ino's voice got a little musical and he was wondering how long she intended to annoy him. "You really shouldn't feel bad about yourself." That got his attention, mainly because he had no idea what she was talking about. "I'm sure girls would be all over you if you were a bit nicer. I mean, you're not gorgeous like Sasuke-kun, but you have certain.. look to you." She tried to think of the proper term. "More sort of suave." She looked at him and frowned. "If you stopped looking like that."

He snorted. "What the hell are you going on about?"

"Try not frowning so much, get that line out of your forehead." Shikamaru shook his head and looked away. "And try being nicer!"

"I'm not out to get girls, contrary to popular belief." He said, corners of his lips pulled back slightly in a grimace. "So I have no reason to go and treat them nice."

"Well.." Ino said suddenly, "you treat me nicely."

There was a pause. A long, long pause. He flickered his eyes at Ino for a second, and noticed that she was giving him a wide grin. Because she had won this round.

With an inconspicuous frown, he heaved a breath. "It's not like I'm going to be an ass to my teammates. I have to deal with you guys until we get promoted."

Ino rolled her eyes. "Gimme a break. It's more than just-"

"And you're my friend." He interjected quickly, not taking notice to her talking or to her dumbfounded expression. "I won't let anyone treat you badly."

She smiled warmly, obviously the answer she was looking for. She sidestepped to bump gently into him as they walked. "You enjoy giving me a hard time?"

"You started it."

"I did not."

"Did so."

"Did not!"

They went on from there, like little kids until Asuma finally told them to shut up and mumbling about making him sound like an old man. Chouji helpfully said he was, indeed, a rather old man to which Asuma threatened not to get him a slice of cake for a job well done. Shikamaru smiled to himself and glanced at Ino, who was laughing warmly at her teammate and her instructor. And he couldn't help but to admit to himself that she was, indeed, rather pretty.



C'mon, who doesn't like a 'your momma' joke?

I apologize for the delay and I have to apologize for another long update interlude. No, don't think I've given up on this story. Far from it. However, I have a big project coming up for the Christmas months that I want to get out of the way so I can focus entirely on something else without a last minute scramble. I always hated those XP

I want to thank all the people that have been replying with corrections and comments and such. I'm glad you people are trying to help me out. I was sort of worried that everyone was reading just for the ShikaIno parts (which, honestly, won't be getting more than just occasional fluff until much later into the series) because then it makes me think I'm like all the other writers out there. Not that I'm saying they're bad, but.. Okay, there are writers out there that really makes me think they put no effort whatsoever and they get a lot of reviews. Just because it's a popular pairing (i know because i've read a lot of them) and I don't want people reading this just for that. But getting these responses let me know that you're actually reading and paying attention. Thank you all, you make me feel so much better about writing.

Again, I want to say that I've been unable to read passed Naruto issue 179 (which sucks because i want to see first hand shikamaru being super kick ass!), so again I apologize for the entire Shikamaru's mom thing. So I guess this is totally AU after all. Oh well, it would've been by the end of the entire fic, anyway :P

Anyway, on the fic itself, we get a view of Chouji being observant and a bit different than people would expect from looking at him. Have you ever been around people that really didn't like each other and always tried to goad the other subtly? You pick up a lot of tricks with words from interactions like that, even by just listening in on them. I've known a couple of people that live in a home like that and they got pretty good with word play. Besides, it's fun to write XD

Also, the entire kinder-nin thing I just made up for the sake of the story. I needed a mission for them to go on that would offer more interaction than just action. For those of you that don't know, 'kinder' is German for child. And nin being.. Well, nin. I'm sure you've seen that enough times in Naruto as it is. Kinda like kindergarten for ninja, you could say. Or maybe slightly older. I suppose it's the class they go to before they actually start training for genin.

And, um.. If it seems to jump around a lot, especially at the end, I'm sorry. I occasionally get these flashes of scenes or dialogue of parts I haven't gotten to yet. And since I couldn't really think of a way to let it flow straight through- and I was too lazy to write it all out, this is getting kinda long, anyway -I just separated them into different scenes or just fast-forwarded it. But, hey! At least it's done, right?
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