Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Stumbling Blind

From the Outside In

by Virgo 0 reviews

Trying hard not to break.

Category: Naruto - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst, Drama - Characters:  Ino, Shikamaru - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2005-05-08 - Updated: 2005-05-08 - 4586 words

Stumbling Blind
6. From the Outside In

bgm- "Hell Yeah", Ani DiFranco

How long has it been since the funeral? One day? Two?

A week, Ino, get it straight. She snipped the stem of the dying iris with more force than necessary. With everything going off the deep end within the last month, she shouldn't have been too surprised how different things seemed. All the hassle with the exams, then that Orochimaru and the Sand and Sound Nins...

Her hand stilled for a moment before going right back to weeding out the wilting flowers. As much as she hated to admit it, she was somewhat thankful that she had been put to sleep before the whole thing happened. She didn't know if she could handle it, all the people dying around her and her unable to protect herself. Overwhelmed by skill, overwhelmed by numbers. It was something she wasn't strong enough to handle, yet.

That's why you're still a genin.. She thought miserably.

When she had come to, the first thing she saw was a dead Sound ninja lying not too far from her, kunai in his head. She stood up in shock only to find more dead bodies and blood spackling the audience and the walls, sticking to the floor. The first thing she did was try to find her friends. With Chouji beside her, still sleeping, her first thought was he also dead. A thought that quickly died when he let out a snort and began his buzzsaw snoring again. As others slowly began to wake, she realized that Sakura was no longer in her seat. And with that knowledge came the fact that- no matter how hard she looked -she couldn't find Shikamaru, either.

Chouji and Rock- having eventually come around -tried to console her, explaining that he wasn't among the dead bodies, therefore he had to still be alive. Rock even went as far as to get Gai-sensei to explain everything was fine. The instructor looked at them quietly for a moment, and unnerving moment of contemplation. Then, in an unexpected act, he laid a large hand on Ino's head and said quietly- as if only for her to hear -that Shikamaru had gone with Sakura and Naruto to find Sasuke.

She gasped. "Then, Sasuke-kun..!"

"He went after Gaara."

The three fell silent, unable to comprehend just what he was saying. With a gentle, almost sad smile, Gai patted her head and walked off, helping to clear out the wounded. Finding a clear spot on the steps, they sat.

"Shikamaru.." Chouji had said quietly. "He'll be all right, won't he? It's not like he's alone."

"They're going after Gaara." Rock replied. "He's tough, but with Naruto and Sasuke there, they'll be all right." He turned to Ino with a serious look on his face. "Believe in him. He'll come back."

It wasn't that she didn't believe in him. She was just worried. They had heard that there were still hostile ninja prowling around Konoha.

Her hands were clenched in her lap.

It's not that she didn't believe...

"Oh? He's back." A deep drawl told them. The three looked up at Kakashi- sensei, who was staring pointedly at the hole that was made in the wall. On the other side was the burly form of Asuma-sensei. And beside him was Shikamaru.

"Shikamaru!" Ino shot to her feet, taking off for the steps. Chouji clambered after her, wobbling slightly with his body surprised at having to move so suddenly. Rock sat there, watching them go off in surprise.

When Ino reached the bottom steps, she saw Asuma saying something to Shikamaru before the boy nodded, then went off in another direction, turning out of sight into a small alcove.

"Shika-" She ran forward, but was stopped by Asuma. "Asuma-sensei?"

He smiled warmly at her. "Leave him alone. Just for right now."

Ino wanted to say something, but just bowed her head. As Asuma began to pull her away, she turned to try and catch a glimpse at Shikamaru. All she saw as she was leaving was Shikamaru kneeling on the floor, shaking.

"Ino. Ino." Startled, she blinked, surprised that she was holding a flower steam. "Hey, Ino-pig."

"WHAT!?" She growled, wielding the clippers with vengeance. She knew it was Sakura- she was the only one brave enough to call her that -but to actually see her standing there in front of her was still a bit of a shock.

Sakura, though, smiled in the face of sharp, pointing things. "You shouldn't stare out into space like that, Ino."

The blonde frowned at her. "You didn't have to call me that." She turned to snip at another offending stem then turned back to Sakura. "Did you want something?"

"Mm." She looked closely at the flowers Ino had just pruned. "I was thinking about getting some more flowers for Li-san. They've got him back in the hospital for more physical therapy."

"Oh, really?" Ino said slyly. "Isn't it generally the guy that's supposed to get the flowers for his girl?"

To her surprise, Sakura merely blushed and said, "Better than just pining away."

Ino's jaw dropped and she spun around. "I-I am not pining!" But other than that she said nothing. For that matter, she did nothing, just stood, staring blankly at the waiting flowers.

Hesitantly, Sakura leaned over a little. "Ino? Is something wrong?"

"What happened?" Ino said quietly. "What happened out there?" She turned back to Sakura, eyes lowered. "I only barely managed to see Shikamaru when he came back. I've never seen him like that before." When she looked at Sakura directly, the other girl was surprised at the raw pain there. "What happened that made him so scared?"

"He-He hasn't talked to you?"

Ino shook her head. "Asuma-sensei said it would be best if we left him alone for a while. The last time I saw him was at the Sandaime's funeral. I was going to talk to him but he and his dad left right after." She looked away. "I.. I didn't want to bother him.."

That, Sakura decided, was a surprise. Ino was never afraid or shy of doing anything. The way she was acting right now was more of what Sakura did. And she certainly didn't like how that act looked on Ino.

"Maa, Ino-pig!" She joked, giving the other girl a light punch on the shoulder. "Don't look like that! Being shy isn't you! Leave that stuff for the people good at it! Like me or Hinata!"

A hand covered her fist and her false humor fell. "Sakura, please." Ino begged. "Tell me."

She shifted, a little uncomfortable. But she had to relent. "Okay. Let me get the flowers for Li-san. Do you think you can take a break for lunch or something?"

Ino nodded. "Just give me a few minutes."


Despite its tiny appearance, the Ichiraku always got good business because of its close proximity to the academy and its cheap prices. Besides, who didn't like a nice, big bowl of delicious ramen?

The girls took a seat a little way away from the rest of the crowd, talking idly until their food arrived. As the bowls were set in front of them, Ino looked at Sakura expectantly.

She cleared her throat, reaching over and breaking her chopsticks in two. "Shikamaru, Naruto and I were going after Sasuke, I'm sure you already know that." Ino nodded but said nothing. "On our way, one of Kakashi-sensei's summoned dogs said it smelled some ninjas following us. Naruto said that he'd stay behind while we kept on Sasuke, but Shikamaru said that he'd stay, instead. He said that he had the best chance of surviving and keeping them busy." Sakura shook her head, mixing the noodles around. "I didn't believe him. I thought he was just going to run. He didn't even want to come in the first place." She smiled somewhat sadly. "But Naruto said that Shikamaru would keep his word. Even then I wasn't convinced, but, sure enough, we were no longer being followed. And when we got back, Naruto went to find out what happened to him.."

"Well?" Ino prompted.

"He was safe. He didn't get hurt." But she seemed hesitant, somehow. "But he was alone, a genin facing nine or so full-fledged ninja on his own. I over heard Kakashi-sensei talking to Asuma-sensei on accident. I remember Kakashi-sensei saying that he never would've figured Shikamaru to be a self-sacrificing kind of guy. Asuma-sensei said," she paused for a moment, "he said 'If I were any slower, he would have been'.

"We've had some really hard missions. Both Naruto and Sasuke-kun have been hurt really badly, but that one time, when Sasuke-kun had really, almost died, he acted so differently for a while. I don't think Shikamaru ever had to deal with a battle like that before, so having to face that situation, with the knowledge that he probably wasn't going to survive.."

Ino's bowl was left untouched. For that matter, she hadn't even made a move toward her chopsticks. And as Sakura spoke, she felt something inside her sink deeper and deeper.

"Ino." Sakura called. "Ino." Seeing the blonde in this funk scared her almost as much as anything she'd seen. So, she did the only thing she could thing of that would bring the regular Ino back. "Oi! Ino-pig!" She kicked her sharply in the shin.

"Ow! Sakura!" Ino glared, looking about ready to knock the other girl down.

"Sorry, sorry." Even though the small grin on her face took the sincerity out of her words. "You were just starting to make me nervous."

"Hmph." Ino rested her head on one hand, the other twirling her unbroken chopsticks in her bowl. Even though she was still uncharacteristically somber, at least she wasn't worrying Sakura anymore. "Can you blame me? One of my teammates and best friends goes out, I find out he nearly kills himself and I'm supposed to be fine with not talking to him because he's 'shaken up', as Asuma-sensei says. I don't know how I do anything but worry."

Sakura blinked, blowing on her hot noodles for a moment. "Is he really?"

"Hm? What?"

"Is he really one of your best friends?"

She was about to say something, but a part of her that was hers alone cackled an evil thought. "Why? Are you jealous, Sakura?" Ino gave that laugh that she knew got Sakura riled up.

Her grip tightened slightly on her chopsticks, but Sakura threw that laugh right back at her. "Jealous? I thought he was your /boyfriend/."

That made Ino choke in mid-laugh. "Wh-Wh-Wh-What makes you say that!?"

"Oh? You mean your not?" Sakura turned back to her meal. "That's hard to believe, you certainly seem to like him enough."

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Ino practically tore her chopsticks in half. "I don't have any weird relationship with Shikamaru!"

"What's so weird about liking him? You like Sasuke-kun, after all."

"Sasuke-kun is Sasuke-kun. Shikamaru is Shikamaru. He's my friend and my teammate. If I start thinking like that about him, it will get awkward." She swirled her noodles around, determined to drown out this upcoming conversation with her food.

Sakura leaned over with a wicked grin. "So then you do like him." She was surprised when Ino started choking on her food. "Ah! Ino! Breath!"

Pounding on her chest and doing her best to swallow her ramen, Ino managed to cough out, "Don't say weird things while I'm eating! That's dangerous!"

"Sorry, I didn't think you'd take it so extreme." For a moment they ate in silence though Ino's mind was still reeling. Then, of course, Sakura decided it was time to add more to Ino's already boggled thoughts. "So, what exactly do you feel for Shikamaru, then?"

Ino shot her a sharp look. "What are you going for, Sakura? Are you trying to push me onto him just so you can have Sasuke-kun all to yourself?"

"No, I really want to know." She said with genuine honesty on her face. "He does seem really important to you. You were cheering your heart out for him during the tournament."

Ino shot her an odd glance. "Is Naruto important to you? I distinctly remember you cheering pretty hard for him, too. And I'm sure you worry about him when all you know about where he is is he could be in a lot of trouble."

"Naruto is a lot of trouble, I know." But she smiled warmly. "But I know I don't have to worry about him. He's always come out of everything okay, and he's never broken his word yet. I believe that he'll come back fine every time he says he will. I'll believe that he can do anything he says he will." Stirring the small portion of broth she had left, Sakura kicked her feet idly. "Do you feel the same way about Shikamaru?"

Ino sat and thought, playing with her noodles having eaten considerably less than her friend. "I.. I don't know. He's never let any of us down before, and he always knows what to do. He's taken care of me and Chouji, he always makes sure we're all right. With him around, it always seemed to be that everything would be all right. And he was always there, one way or another, but he was always close by. So when he just suddenly left like that.."

"Because he didn't say anything?" Sakura hazard.

Irritably, she stabbed at her food. "I'm not some lovesick kid." She declared, almost too loudly. "He's my friend. It's only natural that I would worry about him."

"Just out of curiosity," the pink haired girl asked, "weren't you worried about Sasuke-kun?"

There was an odd clack as Ino's teeth skidded together. Sakura didn't need an answer to see that she was correct.

Pressing on, Sakura continued. "And your locket? You're not wearing it, did you give it to someone already?"

"I'm not," Ino's head was bowed and her voice low, "in love with him. He's just my friend."

The other girl's lips pressed together as she realized that Ino wasn't just saying it. She was trying to convince herself. "Ino, it's not healthy to be like this. Just go talk to him."

"I can't." She put a hand to her forehead, bitter smile on her face. "If I talk to him, I feel like I'll just break down and cry. How pitiful is that? He's just my friend, so why does it seem so hard?"

For a moment neither of them said a thing until Sakura slid off her stool and placed her money on the table. "I told you what happened, and I really can't help you with this." It felt so strange. It was always Ino that was strong and gave out the advice. For their roles to suddenly switch like this left her at a complete loss. Grabbing the flowers, she paused before she gave into the impulse to give Ino a quick hug. "Thank you for the flowers. I should put them in some water before I get them to Li-san."

That said, Sakura left Ino to stare forlorn into her cold broth.


What exactly brought her to his home that day, she really didn't know. Maybe it was because they hadn't seen each other in a long time, maybe because she had to make sure he was okay. Maybe it was that weak feeling that was eating away at her, the one that she hated and cursed at in her sleep, the fine, coiling serpent it was.

After several minutes and more than a couple false tries, Ino finally brought her hand up and connected the back of her knuckles against the door lightly. Again she waited and those moments stretched. She would've given into her fleeing instincts if she didn't force herself to stand before the door, soft sounds coming from the other side.

The latch fell back with a heavy thunk and the door creaked slightly as it opened. The light poured in and shone on Shikamaru's pale face, lines drawn on his expression, eyes dark and restless. For a moment the two stood there, Ino suddenly struck with fear, Shikamaru looking on the verge of exhaustion. Then the moment passed.

"Can I help you?" His low voice was thicker and Ino thought he saw the arm holding the door ajar trembled slightly.

"You look terrible!" She declared forcing him back into him own house. "Have you been eating anything? Or even sleeping?"

Knowing better than to argue with Ino as she was building up to her 'boss' mode, he allowed her to charge into the foyer, scowling at both her presence and the state of the house. "What do you want, Ino?" He asked again. She turned on him with a glare.

"Don't take that tone with me. You look like hell! You're lucky I decided to check up on you, I knew you wouldn't be able to survive on your own."

"Is there a-" he winced as Ino threw apart the curtains, letting light flood the rooms, "a point to this?"

She tsked at the mess and automatically went to tidy it up, all those years working a store demanding things be presentable. "Honestly, how can a person live like this? It's no wonder you're about to keel over!"

"I'm fine." He gritted out, wanting only to be alone. "What do you want?"

She stopped, laying the cushions out in a neat line. "You haven't talked to either Chouji or me since the tournament. Are you avoiding us? Do you think we can't help you?" She turned to him, lips a thin line. "I heard what happened and I know it's hard, but you can't let it get to you like this."

Shikamaru snorted and crossed his arms, eyes eerily vague. "What do you know about it?" He waved a hand carelessly. "Fine, you want to know what I've been going through? I can't sleep, I don't eat, just thinking about it scares the hell out of me. Because I couldn't do a damn thing. I didn't doubt for a second that Gaara would have killed us. Not when we would've found him in the forest, not when me and Naruto passed him in the halls, not when we stopped him from killing Rock. And each time I saw him, I couldn't do anything.

"I'm not strong! I don't care about being strong! But sitting by quietly, waiting for someone to kill you, someone you don't know for a reason you don't understand, that's all I'm good for, apparently! I'm not brave, I know this! I'm not like Naruto or Kiba or Rock, I can't just blindly fight someone I know I can't beat, finding some courage from somewhere I never had! I'm not like Neiji or Sasuke and pull some uber cool technique out of my ass!" He fell against the wall, hands weeded through his tousled hair. The sudden burst and long days of logically irrational fear and frustration at the fear were taking their toll on him. "It doesn't matter who it is. So long as they're stronger than I am, I won't do anything. They could kill me and I'd just let them." Shikamaru slid to the floor just as Ino went to his side. "I hate it.."

"Shikamaru.." She knelt next to him, a hand rubbing the tense muscles of his shoulders. "Shikamaru, c'mon. It's okay to be scared. Everyone is." She tried to pull his hands from his face, but he refused to look at her. "Dying is a scary thing, no one blames you for not fighting back. Everyone's just glad that you're okay. And you helped Sakura and Naruto find Sasuke-kun. Don't you think you did any good?"

"What's the point in doing all the good in the world if you're not alive afterwards?"

"But you /are/." She pressed. "Asuma-sensei made sure of that."

"I was lucky he found me."

Furious, Ino stood up. "So is that all you're going to do? Just sit there and sulk? The Shikamaru I knew wouldn't just whine about all this! He'd go out and do something about it!"

Finally he looked up at her. "No, I wouldn't."

She gave him a sharp smile. "You wouldn't be moping for a week, either." The smile dropped suddenly. "It's not like you. You complain, yes, and sometimes it's annoying, but you never just hid yourself away like this. You wouldn't go out to face the problem, but you'd meet it head on. The Shikamaru I like wouldn't let anything get to him, he'd just let it roll off his back."

Shikamaru brought his knees up to his chest, chin resting on them. "Then maybe you shouldn't like me."

"That's rude!" He looked at Ino, surprised at her sudden anger. "Just who do you think you're talking to? I don't like just /anyone/! If I like you, then you can be someone really great! I know you can, but not when you're just sitting around like this!"

He glared at her and looked away sharply. "Look, I don't want a motivational speaker, okay? I just want to be alone." Pushing himself up, he headed towards the steps. "You can let yourself out."

At a time like this, a part of her pleaded, even she could be honest. If it was once, it would be okay. It sounded an awful lot like Sakura. Ino frowned a bit. She didn't want an Inner Sakura, she wanted an Inner Ino. Maybe even an Inner Sasuke, though he'd probably just ignore her. Just like the real one.

But, she realized, he's walking away. Ino panicked.

"Shikamaru!" He stopped and half turned and Ino was at a momentary loss. "W-We were worried. Chouji, I mean. Rock was a little, too. But he was more worried about Sakura." She turned her head from his steady gaze, feeling somehow anxious. She heard a soft 'ah' and heard him walking off again. Ino's frenzied mind grabbed at something else to make him stay. "And!" He stopped, but didn't turn. "And," she said quietly, "so was I."

She had to swallow hard passed her tension. "I was really scared," just this once, be honest, "that.. you wouldn't come back."

For a long minute, neither did anything. Then, with deliberate slowness, Shikamaru turned fully, on his face an expression so serious, so determined, she thought for a moment she was looking at someone else.

"I will always come back." He said, low voice almost impossibly deep, its rumble resonating with the fine shivers that went down Ino's back. "No matter what."

"Do you promise?" Hope swirled undeniable in her chest.

Barely a pause. "Yes."

"No matter what?"

"No matter what."

"Even in the face of someone stronger than you?"

Shikamaru looked away sharply, still remembering the rush of air behind him, feeling the frozen fear in his bones, unable to do a thing. He honestly didn't think he could ever find the courage to be stronger than he was, and he knew it was foolish to promise things he wouldn't be able to keep. Being shinobi meant you liked to roll the dice. Far too many young and far better deserving ninja than he had gambled and lost everything. He didn't like playing the odds. Not even when the numbers were in his favor.

So then what was it that made him say those things? Why was he so determined to make himself seem more courageous than he was?

'Don't you dare promise the impossible, boy.' His father said. 'Trust is a fragile thing and it's something you have to respect and treasure. Destroying someone's hope is worst thing you could ever do to them. Take their lives, their homes, their families, but if you give them hope and don't deliver, you'll see the worst sides of people.'

Yet, somehow.. he cast a glance at Ino, it didn't feel like he was telling her a lie.

Because she's my teammate, he thought, and I'll do anything for her.

"Yes." It came out before he could think to stop it. And the way her face lit up, relief and hope filling her bright face, he thought briefly that he'd take on the world to keep her happy.

Then, of course, it came to an end. She gave him her bossy look again. "Good! Now that that's cleared up, get to bed!"

An eyebrow twitched at the sudden change. "What?"

"You heard me." She went and poked him in the chest. "You look ready to fall over. So you go, get some sleep. I'll make you a big dinner and you will eat it." The glare she gave him convinced him that would be lucky if he could regret not eating if he didn't. "Until I come and get you, you will /sleep/. Even if I have to knock you out myself, got it?"

"All right, all right." He scowled, even though there was something relieving about her assertiveness.

"And if you do anything stupid like you almost did in that last mission," Ino said, "I'll never forgive you, you know."

For a moment, Shikamaru stopped and slowly his hand went up to the locket, resting lightly under his shirt. "Good." He said quietly. "I wouldn't want you to." Because if she never forgave him, she would never forget him. And to him, he could be happy with that.

At least, he thought, for right now.



Okay, first time trying my hand at Sakura. Like, really trying. She's not a character I really like, so I hope she turned out right. If not, uh.. I'm sorry?^^;; I tried, really. And, yes, I'm a RockSaku fan. I really don't like her with anyone else, especially Naruto or Sasuke, though that may just be because I'm a SasuNaruSasu fan^^.

Oh, yeah. Fun fact: The dead Sound Nin Ino woke up to was one of the two that were going after Sakura that Kakashi killed. Just thought you might like to know XD

Anyway, I don't know how long it was between the Hokage's death and the entire Itachi thing, but judging by how people are going about with a bit of normalcy, I'd judge about one, two weeks. Or, if you really want, this could take place the day before the Akatsuki thing, I don't mind. Whatever floats your boat, ne?

On an added note, going into a fight is a lot different than nearly losing your life. It shakes you up a lot more than you could think. And given the fact that every fight Shikamaru had gone into had someone to keep them from killing each other, it would have shaken him up more than it would, say, a chuunin or jounin.

And, er, don't mind the darker, more dramatic side to this particular installment. I've just been reading some darker, more dramatic and wonderfully written fics so it got kinda influenced. My writing style is so easily swayed^^;;

By the way, does anyone know how long Naruto was out looking for Tsunade? I'd hazard about a month. Just wondering because it didn't look like Shikamaru got promoted until shortly before the returned to Konoha.

I hope you people are happy. I'm pretty much neglecting my other works for this because- for no real reason -I'm on a big ShikaInoShika schtick. grumbles I really wish I was still subscribed to Weekly Jump.. cries at her lack of manga
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