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“your body is a museum of natural disasters. can you grasp how stunning that is”~Rupi Kaur

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It was easier to ignore the concept of destiny–karma, especially when she could sort through the many different meanings given to petals. Flowers didn't grow with the purpose of replacing sentences. No living man had ever stopped to ask a daisy if it felt innocent. And who decided that an amaryllis should represent beauty?

And often meanings changed, sometimes contrary to what was once believed. People are so fickle and that's what makes everyone so easy to figure out. There was no such thing as luck or fate. Ino made her mind up about it the day Sasuke revealed that he wasn't who she thought he was– rather who everyone had expected him to be.

Calla lilies.

As she passes under the flickering of lights and closing shutters, Calla lilies struck her to be worthiest of the most beautiful title. Their bell shape reminds her of a cup, and the child in her would daydream about filling its insides with stars.

Ino smiles mournfully at her childhood. She's huddling home with an armful of things that won't let her forget that somewhere along the way she lost her sense of fun. Milk, bread, and a bag of bananas. She hasn't learned how to properly shop for a meal. Part of her doesn't want to because it would indicate just how old she's getting.

Home isn't far, but she is feeling the day on her calves. Standing for hours and faking a smile as women picked over flowers for their weddings took a chunk out of her. Not only was she nearing the middle of her twenties, but she hadn't ever been in love.

"Ino, you're too beautiful to be single."

"A man would be lucky to have you."

"What–you're single!? I bet you're secretly crazy!"

All of the statements and the variations of them had never been a lie. She knows she is too beautiful to settle. If he doesn't have perfect teeth then why should he have the privilege to enjoy her perfect smile? And yes, she has never denied being somewhat insane. Particular is more befitting of her personality. What she doesn't understand is why she is met with such disapproval. She knows what she wants and if waiting for years, kissing a bunch of frogs would lead her to her prince then it was worth it. All women should be that way and to hell with anyone that deems it vain.

Her sandal snags a protruding edge of the pavement and she stumbles. The milk carton slips from her arms, exploding on impact with a stress-inducing pop. She loses her bananas to the dirty curb as well, and a moment from earlier that morning replays itself in her conscience as she ogles the catastrophe seeping between her toes.

Carnations. They never sell well because they are assumed to be too common.

"White carnations are symbolic of love. They're prettier than white roses if you ask me and far less cliché," Ino had suggested with an eagerness.

"But they look so cheap– like those yellow weeds that grow in the summer," the bride-to-be sneered and her wrinkly mother agreed. Further encouragement to give the carnations a chance was promptly struck down with viciousness. The bride had decided on a gross amount of white and pale pink roses.

Ino scrambles to pick up what she can salvage– two bananas and her loaf of bread still neatly wrapped. She couldn't fault that woman and her mother though. Never settle for what you don't really want.  Even if it's ridiculous. That's what her father used to say and she wonders if he ever realized just how deep she has carved it in her heart.

"Ya know littering is a fine?" A familiar voice clucks at her but she is too busy staring at the milk veining its way through the cement.

"I'm not littering. I stubbed my toe." She pinches at the soiled paper bag, the drops of milk spluttering against the squashed bananas. Her brightly painted toe nails are sticky from the waste.

"Well what happened to all that stealth, Ino?"

Ino doesn't have to look at Shikamaru's face. She can hear the smile in his voice.

"I guess not everyone can sit on their ass all day and still be you, right?" With a sigh of defeat, she drops the bag back onto the ground.

"I don't sit on my ass all day. Work smart not hard."

She was wrong, he isn't exactly smiling– but his lips are pulled back in a smug frown. A cigarette peeking from behind his ear. Ino doesn't give him a reply. She simply feigns an attractive leer, her nostrils flaring sweetly.

"It's been a while," he starts when the silence becomes too awkward.

"Well we aren't exactly friends."

"Were we ever really, Ino?" He rasps her name, but there's a vastness on his tongue. She really looks at him. The nocturnal light above them only illuminates half of his body. The right side of his face is an endless shadow. His uniform looks worn. The hem of his vest is frayed.

"Not really. No. Especially now. Our fathers would be disappointed." To her surprise it isn't that hard to admit. Another silence emphasizes the space and time between them. Ino cradles her loaf of bread and the surviving bananas. Shikamaru reaches for the cigarette behind his ear. Death was supposed to bring people together, but the prospect of picking up where their families left off is painful to consider. Or perhaps she has been projecting her own insecurities onto Shikamaru and Choji.

"I take that back. We were once friends." Her stomach growls.

"Not very good ones." Shikamaru lights his cigarette and quietly observes her. He has always had this intense gaze– never subtle about his ability to dissect the tiniest shift in one's posture.

"Stop trying to read my mind!" Ino snaps at him but she also becomes hyper aware of how she stands.

"Don't flatter yourself. There's not much going on up there anyway..." He laughs and she starts to walk away.

"Goodnight, Shikamaru." Ino huffs as her stomach twists itself, but Shikamaru stands in front of her with his hands up in surrender. The bread squishes in half when she bumps into his chest.

"Hey. Heeey. Let's start over." His eyes are still heavy tools digging into her. She looks at his forehead instead. A lump forms in her throat because he would soon realize that she's still too weak of an opponent even as he relinquishes the upper hand.

"When was our last real conversation?" The cigarette wobbles between his lips.

"Three seconds ago," she replies tersely.

"Ino...humor me a little less," he inhales.

"I don't know, Shikamaru."

"Exactly." He plucks the cigarette from his mouth and a waterfall of smoke spills from his nostrils. She drags her eyes to his and feels herself float into their darkness. Above them, speckles of stars, paper lamps, streetlights, and the occasional nosy civilian peeking out of a bright window.

"Let me walk you home." He slides the cigarette back into his mouth, slowly blinking down at her. Patient. She's only ever remembered him this way. Even-tempered and never in a hurry. Ino could stand there, not answer him for an hour, and he would still anticipate a yes or no. She licks her lips and shrugs.

"Fine. Whatever." Ino gently shoves a hand in his hard chest.

"Gotta make sure you don't litter."

"So you're not concerned about my safety?"

x

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Walking her home had turned into a wrong turn in the heat of a disagreement. Her flushed cheeks and his sly demeanor led them to that familiar ramen shop. Where memories rose from the aroma of the broth. Ino doesn't talk when she eats and Shikamaru smiles as she shovels the noodles into her mouth.

What he doesn't know is that she hasn't eaten in a while. She hasn't felt like it and she wants to retain her petite waist. The ramen fills her with a warmth she had been missing– giving her heartburn that makes her dizzy when she tries to burp.

"You're not going to get any yourself?" She licks the corner of her mouth and looks at him. His amused glare reminds her to straighten herself. Ino clears her throat and slaps a hand against her chest.

"You haven't been eating."

Ino doesn't know if she should react to the audacity of his voice or be mad at the truth. All of her wit fizzles out like old fireworks. She could say what he expects or she could completely surprise him and lose the battle.

"I haven't had the time." She sucks in a breath and settles down her chopsticks.

"You work in a flower shop and there won't be a holiday for some time now." Shikamaru lights another cigarette. She scowls.

"People like summer weddings," she cants, narrowing her piercing blue eyes.

"This place is small. You can count the weddings for the rest of the year on one hand." Shikamaru coughed.

"How would you know?" She leans in and jabs a finger in his arm.

"The answers are always in plain sight, Ino. It's just a matter of how hard you're looking." He blows smoke in her face and she heaves.

x

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And he walks her home in complete silence. Shikamaru finds himself starving for words but the way she casts her eyes down forces him to suppress his melancholy. His heart is squeezing away at the death of their fathers and he wants to ask her if she's been able to sleep at night. He sleeps but not well. Mourning has been quite the process for him. It is strange knowing everything else but the mystery of where his father went. It haunts him like a complicated math problem. There's an answer but it's hidden under all the numbers. But numbers are infinite.

Shikamaru isn't scared of dying but he's scared of not knowing what void he'd become trapped in when the time comes.

They make it to the stairs that lead to her front door.

"Thank you..." Ino clears her throat. She's felt the heaviness of their empty walk. He follows her up the steps with an unawareness.

"No problem. I felt bad watching you try to salvage those bananas." His voice has thinned out but Ino assumes he's just tired.

She gives him a real smile and he forgets the snotty little girl that used to disgust him.

"It's very gentlemanly of you–stacking up on all your good karma." Her pony tail splits across her shoulders as she digs around in her bag for keys.

"I'm always a gentleman." He adjusts his vests.

"Since when?" She shoves her keys into the lock and the door clicks open.

"Hey...Ino..."He begins but she's distracted by the light switch when she steps inside. Ino hums a soft 'shit' when the light doesn't come on and stumbles into the darkness of her apartment.

"Shikamaruuu." She whines and tosses her bag against something unstable. Ino's house smells like a burnt out candle. It's an old lingering sweetness like candy.

"Shut the door behind you," she calls to him from a distant dark room.

Shikamaru nudges the door shut with his foot, hands buried deep in his pockets. An anxiousness swells in his chest as he scans the darkness. The kitchen window is open, moonlight sprinkles in and along the sink faucet. Drips of water like tiny diamonds peck against a dirty bowl. From what he can make out, Ino is surprisingly tidy. Every window sill is shadowed by vases of varying size and flowers twisting into each other.

"Change my light bulb for me, Shika." Ino appears from a dimly lit space that he assumes is her bedroom. He can tell that she's barefoot as the balls of her feet pound against the wooden floor.

"That's what you got arms for." He sighs and she's like an apparition before him. Her eyes so blue that they absorb the faint moonlight creeping through the mini blinds.

"You're useless." She huffs and scatters about for something to stand on.

"You're troublesome and lazy." He's quick with his response.

Ino stops searching and floats toward him.

"Yet you still ended up spending your money on me. So who wins?" She jabs a finger in his chest and twists it like a dagger.

"Nobody wins." He says with a little more emotion and grabs her wrist. They say nothing for some time. She allows him to peel away her touch and their hands drop.

"My mom's a little upset that you don't come by anymore." Shikamaru's voice is small.

"Well..." There really isn't an excuse and she quickly closes her mouth. Ino silently thanks the higher powers that be for the blanket of darkness. He can't easily see her guilt. Maybe he felt it in the timbre of her voice but all that matters is that he can't see her as a criminal.

"I mean I understand why you haven't, Ino." It's so dark and he doesn't know how to escape to the couch or a different corner, but he dips from her blue hazy stare. It's upsetting that he can still see her eyes in the dark.

"No no. You don't have to understand. I haven't been a good person lately." She folds her arms.

"Not seeing my mom doesn't make you a bad person." He stops himself from stubbing a toe.

"But it does and I'm not a very good person at all."

"Says who?" Shikamaru is louder in the dark– or her mind is playing tricks.

"Says you. All the time."

"No I don't!"

"You do though. You always have. If you don't say it then it's how you look at me."

"Look at you like what!?" Shikamaru's hand finds the back of a chair and he slumps in it like a depressed flower without sunlight.

"Shikamaru, don't be obtuse!" She knows where to go and steps towards him. Clumsily grazing her hip against a table, she finds him in the looming shadows.

"Do you even know what that means!?" He slides his face into his palm.

"There it is! Whatever look you've got is the look I'm talking about!" She stumbles in front of him.

"I probably look tortured." He breathes a half-hearted laugh.

"Well, Shikamaru." The way she drags each syllable stirs him. He groans at his heightening sense of sound and rubs the bridge of his nose.

"If you're not going to help me change my light bulb then you're free to leave."

"Well I'm not going to help you change your stupid light bulb..." He slams his hands down on the arms of the chair before rising and Ino grabs him by his vest.

"You're such a jerk. Why are you such an asshole?" Her voice cracks. He swallows the urgency to call her stupid, but in what little he could make out of her face something in him knew better.

"I wouldn't be a jerk if you weren't such a vacant person." And that feels wrong to say but it's the best he can do. Ino doesn't let go of him and through the thick veil of night they stare at each other.  She makes a small noise as if she is about to speak, but decides against it. Ino lets go of him, her fingers running down the front pockets of his uniform vest.

"I'm not vacant." She whispers.

"Then who are you really, Ino?"

She's never been asked that before.

Marigold. It's the flower of pain. Thick and vibrant. Gorgeous and easy to look at but underneath all of its petals there's untouched despair.

"You tell me." Would it make her a coward if she admitted to not really knowing? Shikamaru is smart enough to see through her. She thinks sullenly– maybe he already knows and is patronizing her.

"Ino, I can't tell you who you are."

The light suddenly flickers on and her gaze dawns on him. A million things come to fruition as he beams back at her. His heart skips a beat when he understands that she's looking for an answer, but he's lost in how pretty she is. Ino has always been pretty but he doesn't know why it hits him like an aftertaste this time.

"You know everything else." She pleads. If he had to choose the most attractive part of her body it would be how her full lips anchor the entirety of her appeal.

"You're lonely." Shikamaru feels himself drifting into her growing sadness. "You always have been but it's only getting worse the older you get."

"You're right." She doesn't look away. He's the ship and her irises are the ocean, anticipating to devour him into her cold depths.

"I don't have to be right." He reaches and brushes back her bangs, running his hand through her scalp. The gesture loosens the hold of her pony tail, she draws herself into him and Shikamaru has practiced with enough women to know. He tangles his arms around the curve of her back and she raises herself to steal his soul. Ino catches his gasp in her mouth and Shikamaru is washed in a dizziness. In all of the years of their forced proximity he has never entertained the thought of kissing her. He wonders if he should've. It probably would have saved him from the shock of her tongue tracing his bottom lip.

She thinks deeply– he smells like smoke. The way his hands slide beneath her top, spilling her breasts, she can tell he's going to be a mistake, but what is one mistake compared to a closet of them?

They messily undress each other and there's a high that comes with picking away at their familiarities. What they thought they knew unwinds with the discovery of how wide she can crack her hips and the river of his abdomen against her palms.

Shikamaru kisses like he's broken many hearts and Ino is different in that she's had her heart broken many times.

"How often do you do this, Shikamaru?" It's a strange question to ask, but she loves confrontation.

"If I told you we might not get too far." He smiles against her lips, creeping his hands at the sharp curve of her hip bone.

"You think I'm jealous?" Ino pulls away and feigns a glower.

"I know you're jealous." She's the most transparent person he knows. Ino is the type of girl that will make a man wait. She likes the idea of falling in love. Normally he doesn't go for the good-girl but she's different. All of her feels like home. Ino isn't a box to fill with his proclivities.

"Only a little bit." She doesn't want to understand what compels her to shake free from their knot and show him her back. Ino rests her hands against the coldness of her wooden table. Mirroring a vast valley of flourishing opportunity, she sprawls and bends herself like a wind kissed dandelion. Brushing aside unopened letters and bright pink pens. She arches her back like a sharp wave and a rises her hips.

"How often do you do this, Ino?" All those years of not paying close attention to her collapse at his feet. He then accepts the epiphany that he's looked away on purpose. Her allure commands his vulnerability.

"Not often." Combing her fingers through her hair, she leers over a well defined shoulder. Her lips stop at a short simper.

Home calls. Time stops and makes the reproach of his own heart gentle. Little thumps like bubbles rising to top. Shikamaru reaches his hands for her hips, his fingers extending along her soft skin. Under the hotness of his touch she presses herself against his erection.

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