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Taste (The Someone Buy Me Roses Mix)

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"I'm a what?" Ino shouted.

This was going to be such a pain. "A vampire," Shikamaru said. "Sort of. Look, I -"

"Augh! This is so bad!" Ino kept touching her mouth and newly-grown fangs, feeling the coldness of her skin. "What am I gonna do, I can't be a vampire! What the hell even happened?"

"It's not that bad," Shikamaru said, despite the long-running list of complaints about his condition that he kept in his head and counted sometimes when he was watching clouds. "I've been -"

Ino snapped, "This isn't about you, lazy! Oh man - what am I supposed to do? Ugh, I'm probably all pale and gross..."

"Actually, your skin looks amazing," Chouji offered.

"Nobody asked - wait, really?" Ino grabbed a compact from one of her pouches and flipped it open, then shrieked. "I can't even see myself! SHIKAMARU!"

Shikamaru was already gone. Explaining anything while Ino was having a fit was just too troublesome.

Ino didn't really care about the little things that much; she was only panicking about them because she didn't know how to begin dealing with the big things. Like the fact that, whatever her one-time crush on Uchiha Sasuke might have led people to believe, she was so not into the whole vampire thing. It wasn't about the blood, she was a shinobi, damnit, but - eurgh, blood was probably super fattening. Or bad for her complexion. Or it would make her breath smell awful. (Or no one would ever want to talk to her when they knew what she drank to live - although actually, she'd already gone two days without any and felt fine, so maybe...)

She really didn't like the idea of being stuck with night-only missions, either, at least until Chouji sat outside her locked door and said that Shikamaru had told him the sun wouldn't be a problem for the type of vampire they were, which she probably should've noticed already since they'd had their first little discussion in broad daylight.

Then Ino threw her door open and said, dangerously calm, "Wait. The kind of vampire we both are?"

That was what really bothered her the most. People would get over the blood thing - shinobi had all kinds of quirks, some way creepier than a little blood-drinking - and Sakura could help her with makeup and stuff, if she didn't have to worry about the sun she'd be fine on missions, but Shikamaru keeping a secret from her and even from Chouji - that just hurt. Sure, he'd probably just say that talking about it was too much of a pain, but Ino knew better; he would've told Chouji, at least, if only so he could complain about it. If he'd avoided telling them, it was for a reason - something to do with how Ino had ended up a vampire, probably.

She couldn't remember what had happened, and that troubled her, too. She remembered her team going out on a mission, it had gone all right, and then on the way back there'd been an ambush and - well, something must have gone wrong, because the next thing she remembered she'd been waking up in some dirty little cave, seeing blood and relief on Shikamaru's face.

Some of that had probably been Ino's blood, now that she thought about it. Eurgh.

Well, whatever had gone down, she wasn't about to find out from Shikamaru; he was avoiding her, of course, the total coward. With the amount of effort he was expending to stay out of her way, he might as well have just talked to her, but no, he'd rather spend all day running around and getting other people to cover for him...

She finally got fed up with chasing after him and plopped down next to Chouji at the barbecue place, ignoring the curvy girl sitting across from him. "I can't believe this," she said, waving her arms. "That jerk! He just dumps something big like vampirism on us and then runs off without telling us anything!"

"Excuse me," the girl on the other side of the table said, "but nobody invited you on this date, so -"

"Shut it, this is team business," Ino said, and went on. "He seriously owes me an explanation! You too, Chouji! Aren't you pissed off that he didn't tell you?"

"Well - I don't like it, but -" Chouji started to say, and then the girl snapped, "Hey! Chouji-kun, can't you talk with her some time when you're actually on duty?"

Chouji took a deep breath and said gently, "Sorry, Chieko, but I guess now's just not a good time."

"Fine," Chieko said, glaring at Ino and getting up. "I didn't feel like barbecue tonight, anyway! I'll call you later, if you want to talk with me for once," and she stomped out.

"Couldn't this have waited?" Chouji said, looking after her sadly.

"Oh, whatever, you can do better than a girl like that," said Ino, although Chieko had looked pretty cute. Still, no civilian was laying a hand on one of Ino's team. "Besides, this is way more important! We have to talk to Shikamaru and get him to grow up and handle things. He probably can't deal with it for some stupid reason and needs some loving encouragement from us! Or a good punch, whatever."

"Mm," Chouji said, and picked up a strip of meat off the grill to offer to her. "Maybe you should eat first?"

Ino gagged a bit at the smell of the cooked meat, then said, "Uh, no thanks, I - I think I'm gonna have to get something later." Great, this was worse than she'd thought. If she and Shikamaru couldn't even take the smell of real food, then they wouldn't be able to hang out in restaurants with Chouji anymore, and then they'd never be able to hang out with Chouji or like anyone, or at least not a whole lot of the time, and they'd end up outcasts and - and - "Anyway, he should at least tell me what happened!" she said, trying to get off that train of thought. "I don't even remember, it really sucks."

"You don't remember?" Chouji asked.

"No, just those stupid missing-nin showing up and then it's all blurry after that..." She shook her head and flipped her hair back. "Maybe if I remembered, I'd be able to figure out what the hell Shikamaru was thinking!"

"Um, well," Chouji said quietly, "we thought you were dying."

For once, Ino had nothing to say. She sat there, one hand still frozen in her hair, and listened to Chouji talk about the ambush and the missing-nin with the really nasty wind jutsu and how he'd carried her to the cave Shikamaru had noticed on their way out of Konoha, and his voice sounded a thousand miles away. We thought you were dying - well. That changed things.

She suddenly realized he'd stopped talking and said, "Oh - sorry, I was just -" She got up to leave, feeling trapped by the stupid booth and the stupid restaurant she couldn't even eat in anymore and everything.

"He's camping out on top of the Hokage monument tonight," said Chouji as she slid out of the booth. "Uh - don't tell him I told you, okay?"

"I won't," Ino said, and leaned back in to give him a quick hug. "Thanks, Chouji, I'll pay you back for that girl's half," and she ran out, heading for the monument.

Shikamaru preferred cloud-watching during the day, but there was something to be said for night-time watching, too; the way the quarter-moon's light shone on the edges of that particular cumulonimbus formation was pretty spectacular, for one thing, though there might be a storm later.

He heard footsteps. Or there might be a storm now if he didn't run, but Ino wasn't shouting yet, and he was tired from not avoiding work all day and pretty comfortable right where he was.

She sat down on the First Hokage's head next to him, wrapped her arms around her knees, and looked up. "It's probably going to rain," she said.

"Mmm," he said.

"So, when did you turn into the team Uchiha?"

Shikamaru winced at that.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Ino said. "I mean, before I actually almost died, which I had to find out from Chouji because I couldn't find you all freaking day, but anyway. Why have you been hiding it from us?"

"It was just - complicated," he muttered, but she kept looking at him, waiting for more, so he said, "I thought it was something from the war, at first."

Ino snorted. "What, you got being a vampire confused with PTSD? Some genius you are, lazy."

Of course it was different for her. Konoha was (mostly) at peace now, and he'd been there to explain; it wasn't like after the war, with everyone still running on battle-nerves and trying to rebuild, and after the things they'd all seen it hadn't seemed strange that Shikamaru hadn't been able to handle food, or that he'd been hyper-aware of even the faintest trace of blood anywhere near him. Even when things had cooled down he'd thought it was just his way of not handling what had happened, and then Kiba had asked him if he'd even tried showering since the end of the war because he still smelled like dead bodies and he'd started putting it together.

Talking about all that was too much trouble, so he shrugged and said, "I figured it out after a while, but then it seemed like a pain to tell people, so I didn't. It's not a big deal."

"Of course it's a big deal!" she shouted, and he winced again. Damn, she was loud tonight. "Keeping secrets from your team is a huge deal, like, a giant-neon-lights-flashing-'don't do that'-kind of big deal!"

"You're angry because I made you a vampire without asking, aren't you," he said. Shit. He would have asked, but there'd been so much blood and no medic and it might have been too late already and he had just done it because he'd rather have Ino yell at him for the rest of eternity than the alternative. So troublesome...

"I'm not angry, you stupid bum," she said, sniffling. "It's just - it's so big and you didn't tell me and you didn't even tell Chouji, and now - I'm supposed to look after you guys! How can I look out for you when you won't tell me the important things?"

He looked back up at the clouds, but the wind had blown the bulk of them away, leaving the sky mostly clear and starry. "Ino..."

"It's because it means you died during the war, right?" she said. She put her hand over his. "Otherwise you'd still be human... You just didn't want to tell us that we failed and couldn't protect you."

"You didn't fail," he said, curling his fingers around hers. "I'm still here."

"And a great big jerk," said Ino, wiping at her eyes. "If you ever keep a secret like this again I'm going to rip your guts out and hang them on the Hokage's tower!"

"Geez, you're hanging out with Sakura too much," Shikamaru grumbled, but he didn't let go of her hand, and after a moment she lay down next to him and they were blissfully quiet for a few minutes.

Then Ino said, "I guess it can't be all bad... Like, how bad can blood really taste? It's not too gross, is it?"

"Sorry," he said, "it tastes disgusting."

"Eurgh, I knew it... I'm gonna make you pay for this, you jerk!"

"Yeah, yeah..." But she was still here, her cool hand in his, and it looked like there wouldn't be a storm tonight after all.